Monday, August 22, 2016

Serbia, Our Weirdest Stop Yet

We have about 4 days left in Serbia so this will probably be my only post from here.  Who would've guessed this place would keep me so busy?  Belgrade is a pretty awesome off the grid city which has been a nice change from all the tourist destinations we've had thus far.  It was the first time we got dropped in a city and didn't have to worry about fitting in all of the sights and museums in one month.  At least to me, we got here, moved in and just lived.

The food is shockingly good, it's the cheapest city we've been to by far, and aside from the fact that we're now in the Cyrillic alphabet and I can't tell anyone where I live - it's a clean and cool place to be.  Kind of has a 90's grungey feel that I really dig.  Also - the fashion is still in the 90's and makes for some serious people watching.  Jorts anyone?  At risk of actually saving some money in this cheap city, I made the last minute decision to hop to Montenegro for a long weekend and get away from everyone for a few days. I also had my brother's 2nd visit which always takes a few days to recover from.

Below are some of the pictures from the last few weeks.  On the line-up for this week: BBQ, escape room, going away party, and traveling to Croatia where I'll meet up with my parents for a week!

Sunset over the Sava river.  About one mile to the right is where the
Sava & Danube rivers connect.  Those boats across the river from our dinner
are all nightclubs that rage every night of the week.

This was where I spent a good chunk of my time in Montenegro, another small
Balkan country on the coastline.

Montenegro is BEAUTIFUL.  I've been told it looks a lot like Split, Croatia
which is where I head next weekend.  It's still off the grid as far as tourism
goes which makes for a nice relaxing weekend away. 

I took a little cruise around the coast and stopped in a few port towns.  This
Church called "Lady of the Rocks" is built in the middle of the water on
a man-made island made of rocks and sunken enemy ships.

This is part of the Belgrade fortress built by the Romans a LONG time ago.
It's right on the merger of the Sava and Danube rivers.  Most countries would
go way out of their way to protect something like this but being that Serbia
is super weird - they have a basketball court inside and a nightclub.
Ball is life. 

This is the view of the fort from the other side of the Sava.  A few of us spent
the afternoon at this club/pool called Hot Mess to wait out the heat. 

We also attended Belgrade Beer fest which is the largest in South East
Europe. Whatever that means. Spoiler alert family : Todd has a girlfriend
(pictured above). 

Better than beer fest was our discovery that there was an amusement
park just behind the vendors.  Cue drunken rainbow ride selfie. 

This past weekend we headed to the South of Serbia to explore this working
monastery (which is actually a convent so, as always I'm confused by
religion).

The tour also felt this massive waterfall was worth a stop.
Impressive.

The highlight of the trip was this massive cave we explored at the end
of the day.  The pictures don't do it justice and I can't say much about it
because our guide only knew the words stalagmite and stalagtite. 

Finally we had a little Sunday Funday at the local man-made lake
called Lake Ada.  Played some catch, had beers, and just laid out around
the water.






Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Six Month Mark

Apologies in advance for a long post!  In my last post I mentioned that Remote Year - while wonderful - isn't all wine tastings and welcome parties.  Straight up: t's not easy being on the road for six months non-stop.  You miss weddings, the first of your friends having babies, birthdays and just normal family or friend get-togethers.  You go to South America and the rest of your world goes on.  I know it's hard to complain - I get to travel the world and do things most people don't do in a lifetime in one year.  But reflecting on six months (a mark I wasn't sure I'd make given how long I lasted in Boston) I thought I'd share some of the feelings that come with picking up your life, leaving it in multiple family members basements (thank you) and hitting the road.

There were times in New York where I felt like that line in the Dave Matthews song "All the little ants are marching".  It just felt routine, safe, and dare I say NYC of all places was boring me. And while it's true that there's comfort in routine, that's exactly why I joined Remote Year.  I needed out of my routine.  Best way to do that? Twelve countries, 8 languages, over 3 continents in one year.

Part of the appeal of this program is that they plan your travel for you. You're picked up at your apartment, handed a breakfast snack, driven to the airport, handed your ticket, handed a SIM card when you land and dropped off at the door of your new apartment. You get a welcome packet that tells you things like how to use local transport, avoid local scams, what standard tipping is, etc.  But that same exact ease of travel is what makes this program hard.  You hand over control of where you're living, working, how you're traveling and maybe even who you're living with.  Someone hand picked the people you'll hang out with for a year and they might not be who you'd pick for yourself.

You have 75 new friends but not one who just knows you.  Not one who knows the same people, same places or same things that you can just say something to them and they get it. For the most part, it's refreshing to be around all new people. But sometimes you feel like you live in a social experiment. There are days where I'll work from my room and not leave because it's just a LOT to work, live, travel, vacation, party, dine, etc.etc.etc. with the same people.

This being said, I wouldn't change the last six months for the world. I've challenged myself, gone SO far out of my comfort zone, and learned a lot about myself and the world around me.  So, in a quick summary, here's a round up by month of some of the ups and downs that were probably sugar coated by pretty pictures in earlier blogs.

Month One: Montevideo, Uruguay 
The Pros:  I met the crazy, ridiculous, diverse and insane group of people known as Batutta - my fellow nomads - for the first time.  We took side trips to hippie communes and lived without power, we tried surfing and tango, mostly we failed at learning Spanish but we did it together.

The Cons: Leaving home was hard. I've never gone somewhere permanent that was more than 3 hours away from my family.  The whole way leading up to leaving I kept thinking, I can always just stay.  Boarding the plane knowing I might not see home for a year was hard and the only reason I think I made it was because I had a fellow Batutta on board and couldn't bitch out. I missed my friends. A lot.  It was hard missing the jokes, weekends out and still trying to facetime everyone all the time.  It took me a little while to find the balance of both worlds.

The sand dune house we lived in in our hippie commune, Cabo Polonio. 

Some of the girls I met the first week of the program at the Goddess Festival!
















































Month Two: Buenos Aires, Argentina 
The Pros: We had beautiful apartments, in an amazing city filled with delicious food and incredible energy.  I met my "Botanico Family" which was the name of our apartment building.  They paired 10 people who had barely interacted month one into one small apartment building and it was magic.  We turned into a mini-family making pot-luck dinner once a week and drinking cheap wine (or cheaper fernets) until 2 or 3am laughing our asses off.  A tradition we still hold every month. I also had my first visitor with my brother coming to visit for a long weekend. I could finally have someone from home understand the people and places and things I was doing.

The Cons: I got pick pocketed at a concert and lost my cell phone.  And some cash. Knowing me there's a chance I spent it on beer but I'm pretty sure it went with the phone. The first member of our tribe left who was one of the most interesting people I'd ever met.

Botanico Family Dinner taking awkward family photos.
Cue a weird song just as the timer snaps, cracking us all up. 

My brother and I taking selfies in the Recoletta Cemetery.
Classy as always. 










































Month Three: La Paz, Bolivia
The Pros:  I jumped off a cliff, biked 40 miles down death road and finished thanks to the cheering of my fellow bikers (it was not easy, especially when you have a not so good hand to start), I hiked for 4 days in the Uyuni region of Bolivia which was one of the most if not the most beautiful places on earth.  I realized how supportive our group is when (see cons) I had someone stocking our floor with gatorade, someone else bringing toilet paper at 2am, and seeing messages on our group app at all hours of the night that someone needed a ride to the hospital and people jumped up to go.

The Cons: We had too many occasions where people needed to go to the hospital.  Bolivia life was rough.  Anyone who's lived at 13,000ft would get it - you can't breathe, you're constantly exhausted, dehydrated and cranky.  The food was always a risk and we had almost every single stomach bug there was including a few I think the doctors made up to mess with us and provide more butt-shots.  I caught it my last week and had I been anywhere in the world but Bolivia I probably would have gone to the doctor but I stuck it out and called in a TP run at 2am.  The times you're so sick and want to call your Mom and you can't. We were stuck in shit. Literally.  Did I mention you can't flush toilet paper here? #ThirdWorldProblems

Exploring the Salt Flats. That's me looking like I got some air at 13,000ft. 

Volunteering as traffic zebras for the day. And sweating profusely.

The start of death road, I can assure you we weren't this happy 40 miles later.





















































Month Four: Cusco, Peru 
The Pros:  I went to a wonder of the world by hiking 4 days across the Inca trail which kicked my ass but was incredible.  I flew to Lima and met members of Remote Year 1 and Remote Year 3 (I'm on 2) and learned from a bunch of skill-share workshops. My best friend from NYC came to visit and met all of my friends here.  Something about your home-life meeting your travel-life brings it all together. I now have friends here who get a little bit about the people I talk about from home, and I have a friend from home who can put faces to names here.

The Cons: Our living situation was ROUGH.  My first apartment was lucky to have hot water, we had spiders everywhere and we were basically living in a treefort.  I hated it so much I packed up my stuff (which is a lot) and lugged it to a someone's apartment who was traveling for the rest of the month.  This month morale of the group was really low - the honeymoon phase was officially over.  People who were struggling booking clients or realizing that travel wasn't for them left the program.  Our tribe started to shrink and after living on top of each other for four months, each loss was hard. I left the month questioning whether or not this program was for me.  When you have someone control every aspect of your life you expect them to treat it the way you would. At this point none of us felt Remote Year put the same faith in us that we put in them.

The  view from our campsite at 430am on the Inca Trail 

All of my favorite things in one picture: best friend, snacks and llamas. 






































Month Five: Lisbon, Portugal 
The Pros:  I passed up on Remote Year this month.  I spent 2 weeks living on the beach with my good friend, eating seafood and getting away from everything and LOVED it. Then I went home for the next two weeks and finally saw my family and friends.  I was lucky enough my cousin and two-friends decided to get married a week apart so I could be there for both.  I spent time on the beach, went to a concert (thanks Dunny), ate all the pizza NYC had, and just got to reconnect with my home life.

The Cons: It wasn't easy going back.  I missed home, I missed being able to pop 2.5 hours upstate and hang out with my family, eat real food that I recognize and the next weekend pop on the LIRR to Long Beach.  It also was a real hard realization that - a month on my own out of the program caused a lot less stress.  It made me further question if I wanted to continue. In fact, it wasn't until a call with my psychic that I decided to continue onward.  I returned to the group skeptical and anxious for what the next month would bring.

Ladies night booze cruise in Lisbon
My family at my cousins wedding in June 






































Month Six: Prague, Czech Republic 
The Pros: I was back with my group and it felt good.  Maybe a month away was the little refresher I needed. The city was beautiful, and it turned out I really had missed everyone.  Two of my girlfriends from NYC came to visit, and I somehow made it to Vienna, Paris, and Italy all in the same month. Literally hard to believe my life is real.

The Cons: I came back to a group of 50 people.  They've all left for multiple reasons both personal and program related but it's a much smaller group.  Everyone was a little on edge still and not trusting the program so while it was much better than Cusco it took awhile to get the group rolling again.  While in Prague, our community manager who makes sure our group has activities, immerses us in the community, and basically sets up everything we do was diagnosed with MS.  He has a huge personality and is the center of our social lives here so to say we all took it pretty hard is an understatement.  Spin this to a pro though: the way we all came together to make his going away gifts solidified my decision along with many others decision to stick it out til the end.  Seeing how everyone came together, including almost everyone who'd left the program to let Dave know we all love him, seeing us all get (very) emotional over a video we made for him made me realize this is a weird little family.  Sometimes it takes something really shitty happening to realize that it's not the housing, length of a bus ride, or who you room with that's why we're here. It's the people we're here with that are worth it.

My girlfriends and I visiting Vienna's Belvedere Castle.  Disclaimer:
Not related to the vodka brand :( 




















Really cool live art display at our last professional junction

























So to sum it up, the last six months have been a lot of ups and downs.  Mostly ups, but sometimes the downs are rough when you're on the road.  Our group of 75 is down to 50 and will most likely drop more in the coming months.  BUT for now I'm sticking out this weird journey with this weird tribe I now consider family.

Did I mention we're weird? We now travel with a cut out of Dave's head
to ensure he reaches his goal of 30 countries before age 30.  I can't imagine
this was the first or last time this has been done at the Louvre.



























The Six Month Mark

Apologies in advance for a long post!  In my last post I mentioned that Remote Year - while wonderful - isn't all wine tastings and welcome parties.  Straight up: t's not easy being on the road for six months non-stop.  You miss weddings, the first of your friends having babies, birthdays and just normal family or friend get-togethers.  You go to South America and the rest of your world goes on.  I know it's hard to complain - I get to travel the world and do things most people don't do in a lifetime in one year.  But reflecting on six months (a mark I wasn't sure I'd make given how long I lasted in Boston) I thought I'd share some of the feelings that come with picking up your life, leaving it in multiple family members basements (thank you) and hitting the road.

There were times in New York where I felt like that line in the Dave Matthews song "All the little ants are marching".  It just felt routine, safe, and dare I say NYC of all places was boring me. And while it's true that there's comfort in routine, that's exactly why I joined Remote Year.  I needed out of my routine.  Best way to do that? Twelve countries, 8 languages, over 3 continents in one year.

Part of the appeal of this program is that they plan your travel for you. You're picked up at your apartment, handed a breakfast snack, driven to the airport, handed your ticket, handed a SIM card when you land and dropped off at the door of your new apartment with a welcome packet that tells you things like how to use local transport, avoid local scams, what standard tipping is, etc.  But that same exact ease of travel is what makes this program hard.  You hand over control of where you're living, working, how you're traveling and maybe even who you're living with.  Someone hand picked the people you'll hang out with for a year and they might not be who you'd pick for yourself.

You have 75 new friends but not one who just knows you.  Not one who knows the same people, same places or same things that you can just say something to them and they get it. For the most part, it's refreshing to be around all new people. But sometimes you feel like you live in a social experiment. There are days where I'll work from my room and not leave because it's just a LOT to work, live, travel, vacation, party, dine, etc.etc.etc. with the same people.

This being said, I wouldn't change the last six months for the world. I've challenged myself, gone SO far out of my comfort zone, and learned a lot about myself and the world around me.  So, in a quick summary, here's a round up by month of some of the ups and downs that were probably sugar coated by pretty pictures in earlier blogs.

Month One: Montevideo, Uruguay 
The Pros:  I met the crazy, ridiculous, diverse and insane group of people known as Batutta - my fellow nomads - for the first time.  We took side trips to hippie communes and lived without power, we tried surfing and tango, mostly we failed at learning Spanish but we did it together.

The Cons: Leaving home was hard. I've never gone somewhere permanent and been more than 3 hours away from my family.  The whole way leading up to leaving I kept thinking, I can always just stay.  Boarding the plane knowing I might not see home for a year was hard and the only reason I think I made it was because I had a fellow Batutta on board and couldn't bitch out. I missed my friends. A lot.  It was hard missing the jokes, weekends out and still trying to facetime everyone all the time.  It took me a little while to find the balance of both worlds.

The sand dune house we lived in in our hippie commune, Cabo Polonio. 

Some of the girls I met the first week of the program at the Goddess Festival!
















































Month Two: Buenos Aires, Argentina 
The Pros: We had beautiful apartments, in an amazing city filled with delicious food and incredible energy.  I met my "Botanico Family" which was the name of our apartment building.  They paired 10 people who had barely interacted month one into one small apartment building and it was magic.  We turned into a mini-family making pot-luck dinner once a week and drinking cheap wine (or cheaper fernets) until 2 or 3am laughing our asses off.  A tradition we still hold every month. I also had my first visitor with my brother coming to visit for a long weekend. I could finally have someone from home understand the people and places and things I was doing.

The Cons: I got pick pocketed at a concert and lost my cell phone.  And some cash. Knowing me there's a chance I spent it on beer but I'm pretty sure it went with the phone. The first member of our tribe left who was one of the most interesting people I'd ever met.

Botanico Family Dinner taking awkward family photos.
Cue a weird song just as the timer snaps, cracking us all up. 

My brother and I taking selfies in the Recoletta Cemetery.
Classy as always. 










































Month Three: La Paz, Bolivia
The Pros:  I jumped off a cliff, biked 40 miles down death road and finished thanks to the cheering of my fellow bikers (it was not easy, especially when you have a not so good hand to start), I hiked for 4 days in the Uyuni region of Bolivia which was one of the most if not the most beautiful places on earth.  I realized how supportive our group is when (see cons) I had someone stocking our floor with gatorade, someone else bringing toilet paper at 2am, and seeing messages on our group app at all hours of the night that someone needed a ride to the hospital and people jumped up to go.

The Cons: We had too many occasions where people needed to go to the hospital.  Bolivia life was rough.  Anyone who's lived at 13,000ft would get it - you can't breathe, you're constantly exhausted, dehydrated and cranky.  The food was always a risk and we had almost every single stomach bug there was including a few I think the doctors made up to mess with us and provide more butt-shots.  I caught it my last week and had I been anywhere in the world but Bolivia I probably would have gone to the doctor but I stuck it out and called in a TP run at 2am.  The times you're so sick and want to call your Mom and you can't. We were stuck in shit. Literally.  Did I mention you can't flush toilet paper here? #ThirdWorldProblems

Exploring the Salt Flats. That's me looking like I got some air at 13,000ft. 

Volunteering as traffic zebras for the day. And sweating profusely.

The start of death road, I can assure you we weren't this happy 40 miles later.





















































Month Four: Cusco, Peru 
The Pros:  I went to a wonder of the world by hiking 4 days across the Inca trail which kicked my ass but was incredible.  I flew to Lima and met members of Remote Year 1 and Remote Year 3 (I'm on 2) and learned from a bunch of skill-share workshops. My best friend from NYC came to visit and met all of my friends here.  Something about your home-life meeting your travel-life brings it all together. I now have friends here who get a little bit about the people I talk about from home, and I have a friend from home who can put faces to names here.

The Cons: Our living situation was ROUGH.  My first apartment was lucky to have hot water, we had spiders everywhere and we were basically living in a treefort.  I hated it so much I packed up my stuff (which is a lot) and lugged it to a someone's apartment who was traveling for the rest of the month.  This month morale of the group was really low - the honeymoon phase was officially over.  People who were struggling booking clients or realizing that travel wasn't for them left the program.  Our tribe started to shrink and after living on top of each other for four months, each loss was hard. I left the month questioning whether or not this program was for me.  When you have someone control every aspect of your life you expect them to treat it the way you would. At this point none of us felt Remote Year put the same faith in us that we put in them.

The  view from our campsite at 430am on the Inca Trail 

All of my favorite things in one picture: best friend, snacks and llamas. 






































Month Five: Lisbon, Portugal 
The Pros:  I passed up on Remote Year this month.  I spent 2 weeks living on the beach with my good friend, eating seafood and getting away from everything and LOVED it. Then I went home for the next two weeks and finally saw my family and friends.  I was lucky enough my cousin and two-friends decided to get married a week apart so I could be there for both.  I spent time on the beach, went to a concert (thanks Dunny), ate all the pizza NYC had, and just got to reconnect with my home life.

The Cons: It wasn't easy going back.  I missed home, I missed being able to pop 2.5 hours upstate and hang out with my family, eat real food that I recognize and the next weekend pop on the LIRR to Long Beach.  It also was a real hard realization that - a month on my own out of the program caused a lot less stress.  It made me further question if I wanted to continue. In fact, it wasn't until a call with my psychic that I decided to continue onward.  I returned to the group skeptical and anxious for what the next month would bring.

Ladies night booze cruise in Lisbon
My family at my cousins wedding in June 






































Month Six: Prague, Czech Republic 
The Pros: I was back with my group and it felt good.  Maybe a month away was the little refresher I needed. The city was beautiful, and it turned out I really had missed everyone.  Two of my girlfriends from NYC came to visit, and I somehow made it to Vienna, Paris, and Italy all in the same month. Literally hard to believe my life is real.

The Cons: I came back to a group of 50 people.  They've all left for multiple reasons both personal and program related but it's a much smaller group.  Everyone was a little on edge still and not trusting the program so while it was much better than Cusco it took awhile to get the group rolling again.  While in Prague, our community manager who makes sure our group has activities, immerses us in the community, and basically sets up everything we do was diagnosed with MS.  He has a huge personality and is the center of our social lives here so to say we all took it pretty hard is an understatement.  Spin this to a pro though: the way we all came together to make his going away gifts solidified my decision along with many others decision to stick it out til the end.  Seeing how everyone came together, including almost everyone who'd left the program to let Dave know we all love him, seeing us all get (very) emotional over a video we made for him made me realize this is a weird little family.  Sometimes it takes something really shitty happening to realize that it's not the housing, length of a bus ride, or who you room with that's why we're here. It's the people we're here with that are worth it.

My girlfriends and I visiting Vienna's Belvedere Castle.  Disclaimer:
Not related to the vodka brand :( 




















Really cool live art display at our last professional junction

























So to sum it up, the last six months have been a lot of ups and downs.  Mostly ups, but sometimes the downs are rough when you're on the road.  Our group of 75 is down to 50 and will most likely drop more in the coming months.  BUT for now I'm sticking out this weird journey with this weird tribe I now consider family.

Did I mention we're weird? We now travel with a cut out of Dave's head
to ensure he reaches his goal of 30 countries before age 30.  I can't imagine
this was the first or last time this has been done at the Louvre.



























Monday, August 1, 2016

From Bonjour to Buon Giorno

We are officially at the halfway point of Remote Year wrapping up our sixth month in Prague.  For the most part I keep thinking I'll wake up and this was all a dream.  BUT it has been a LONG six months.  We get to see the world, eat new foods, drink all the drinks, and experience more things in our one  year than most people do in a lifetime.  That being said, we DO live in a social experiment:  starting with seventy-five people coming from twenty-two countries, already visiting two continents and six homes.  It can be exhausting, overwhelming, and emotional.  I'll write more on that at  some point BUT for now the good stuff - for my six month mark I decided to treat myself to two side trips.  I went to visit my college roommate in Paris and then took a little getaway to Italy.  OK so it wasn't for 6 months that I booked them but I think it humors my parents to justify my spending.



We spent the whole day strolling around Paris and scoping out views like this.  

We also stopped by the Louvre to see this babe, and got a great tour of the museum a la my college roomie who's studying Art History at the Sorbonne!




Tourist photo at the Louvre...kind of had to... 


Stopped by the Saint Chappelle for a Baroque concert (aren't you proud Uncle Dick?!) at sunset which was beautiful.  My iPhone was not capable of capturing how dope the sun coming in these stained glass windows was. 













We spent all day in Versailles which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been.  Marie Antoinette knew how to get shit done.  We were so hooked we stayed through an 11pm fireworks show coordinated to classical music. 







Me and my college roomie waiting for the fireworks! 




Obviously had to stop by the Eiffel Tower, which was extra cool because the Tour de France was passing through the same day. 

























Finally we stopped by L'Aduree for macaroons. Easily the most expensive macaroons I've ever eaten but also worth the price.  Note: we did to to Notre Dame but I forgot to take pics (sorry Mom).

On to Italy...where dreams are born and waistlines die.

























We spent our first night in Florence taking in the sunset at Pizza Michelangelo and eating a a real authentic Italian meal home cooked by a woman named Gilda.  She spoke no English but did invite herself to a glass of wine and "chat" at our table anyways.  This was me on the Ponte Vecchio bridge where I'd like to think I'll own a vacation loft some day.

























Our B&B was just around the corner from the Church of Santa Croce which was beautiful but unfortunately closed for the night (I've had a few too many churches this year anyways).



After a night in Florence, we took the bus up to a very secluded part of Sienna where we had a little villa overlooking the vineyards to ourselves.  It was hard to pry me away from the pool but one of the only other buildings on our little hill was this adorable restaurant that was Michelin rated and worth the cleanse I'm not putting myself through.

























It was hard to wait for the delicious meals until 9pm but we couldn't miss out on sunsets like this just for some pasta.



After two days of pools, wine, and too many carbs, we headed to Chianti for the night.  Our inn was probably the cutest place I've ever been and had this for a view.  No complaints here. 



They also greeted us immediately with a tasting of their wines which was an excellent start to the day.  I think they were worried about us losing our buzz because they drove us into town, dropped us at their favorite winery, and like any good Italian informed us we needed to be home for dinner. 
















This was where we had a delicious home-cooked dinner, our backyard overlooking vineyards.


























Finally we popped through Rome for 1.5 days to do a little sight seeing and catch our flight to meet up with the group in Serbia.  Turns out not many airports fly direct there.
























And since this post is already all over Europe, I'll wrap up with peace and love from the John Lennon wall in Prague.  I almost didn't leave Italy but I'm at risk of not fitting any of my clothes so it's time to go.  Next stop:  Belgrade, Serbia!  This post was already pretty long so if you want more pics head over to instagram @rabsontheroad.