After quitting my job, I searched around for a little but the one little detail in the back of my mind was going with my dad’s family to Ireland and England in June for two weeks. Our departure date was quickly approaching, and I figured it would be pretty difficult to find an employer and be like, “Hey, by the way, I need like half a month off.”
So instead of having to go through that whole ordeal, Michael gave me the idea of just staying in Europe after my family leaves to travel on my own. I had some savings, so after getting the approval of changing my flight I immediately went to REI and bought a pair of hiking boots and backpack that went way over my head when filled. I poured over my laptop for hours deciding where I wanted to go, what I wanted to see, how to get there, and whether trains or taking a cheaper, kind of sketchy, Ryanair flight was worth the risk.
I looked for hostels that were in the heart of each city and poured over maps of main squares, museums and attractions. Planning this adventure had me sleepless at night in the best way possible. It gave me a new sense of joy in my life that my previous job had seemed to rip out of me.
When our departure date arrived, it was cold, raining, really just a crummy day, but the important thing was that I was finally getting out of here and (most) of our giant family, separated by our own hectic schedules, was coming along.
Our trips to England and Ireland were such great experiences. Ireland is by far the most gorgeous country I have ever seen, and spending time with my family was something long overdue. The two weeks went by so quickly.
The night before I was scheduled to venture on my own, I took a glance at my itinerary. It was wrinkled, stained and falling apart from my countless hours of flipping through it. My destinations were:
My experiences in Berlin were simply magical–for lack of a better word. It was like a big kid Disney World. Every street you walked down would somehow spit you out at a new square with beautiful sightings, shops, and the food was to die for. The structures were beautiful, especially the Berlin Catholic Cathedral. I swear I was going to pass out walking up all those stairs, but it was totally worth it when you got to the top and saw all of Berlin spread out in front of you.
I was so disappointed to say goodbye, but excited for my next journey into Amsterdam. Amsterdam is the kind of city I heard mixed reviews about–its a place you have to visit at least once in your lifetime, then get out. Lucky me, I got a more real version of Amsterdam than expected. I happened to pick a hostel that was on the main red-light district and since marijuana is legal, and from what I saw–probably some harder stuff is easily accessible, you’d see people walk past you with zombie-like expressions on their faces, or see the more strung-out people riding bikes down the streets shouting obscenities and just complete jibberish. It was quite the experience.
I was able to explore Amsterdam for exactly one day–my birthday. As I did in Berlin, I walked up and down the streets taking it all in. There was a huge line at a foodtruck that I stopped at and got a smoked salmon sub. I walked some main streets doing a little shopping here and there. I also stopped into a smoke shop and looked at all the intricate glass work and crazy things I’ve never seen before, like Space Muffins, cannabis lollipops, basically if you were craving any food and wanting to get high–there was a way.
After traveling, I was really exhausted. I met some people in my hostel that wanted to take me out for a beer for my birthday, but I ended up falling asleep around 8 pm. The last thing I really remember before the nightmare that would begin is someone sneaking over to my bed to shine a flashlight in my face and someone whisper “Yeah, she’s knocked out cold. Let’s head out.”
And that’s when it hit me. I thought throughout the night I was just having some stomach cramps, maybe the smoked salmon I ate wasn’t the best idea, but this was way more serious and I was in complete denial. I was lucky–all 8 of my roommates seemed to have gone out for the night, so I rushed to the bathroom and didn’t stop heaving until every bit of substance was out of my body. My first stop in the morning would be the doctor, but the night never seemed to end.
Getting out of bed was so incredibly painful the next morning, even my roommates could tell something was wrong. I don’t know how or why, but I swear it was divine intervention that I was able to find literally the smallest doctor’s office on a little street corner across a canal.
As soon as I walked in, they took me to the back and immediately diagnosed me with food poisoning. They gave me some medicine to settle my stomach and I was on my way. I kept thinking to myself, what a waste of time.
Bittersweet news though was that the next morning I would be on a bus to Brussels–maybe this sickness would pass? I hadn’t been able to keep any food down, only a few sips of water here and there. My worst fear was passing out or accidently puking on myself during the bumpy 4 hour ride, but I pressed my head into the seat in front of me, looking down at my knees, eventually drifting off to sleep.
When we arrived, I found the first taxi available and wanted to jump into bed ASAP. I felt depressed, I wanted so badly to have that same energy and excitment I had in the past cities, but all I could do was just wander from my bed, to the bathroom, actually wanting to get sick so that maybe I could have one moment of sweet relief from the pain that was growing in my stomach.
One thing that a lot of non-travelers aren’t aware of is the fact that hostels don’t have A/C. They are generally pretty basic with some cots, lockers and bathrooms. But some (as this one) have really cool amenities like social areas, bars inside the lobby and if you’re lucky, places to grab a quick snack or even a full on meal.
But despite all these things, I thought I was literally the most unlucky person in the world starting off my 23rd birthday in crippling pain, in a strange country and completely at a loss of what to do. My room literally felt like a greenhouse which made me feel a million times worse, I couldn’t tell if I was just overheated, had a fever or what the hell was going on. My poor roommates were from Korea and only knew a few words of English, I can’t imagine how confused they were when they walked in to find a strange girl soaking her sheets with sweat and groaning at every move she made.
Eventually I gathered up the courage to checkout and go somewhere more private to rest. I went online and booked two nights at a hotel further into the city (with A/C of course). I figured if by some chance of a miracle I felt like walking around, at least I would be able to do it much more easily.
When my Uber dropped me off, walking into that hotel was like a breath of fresh air. I walked into my room with a king-sized bed, fluffy white linens and had my first hot shower in over a week. I turned the temperature down as far as it could go and slept all day and night. By the morning, my stomach was still hurting, but not nearly as bad. I had a new found desire to see at least something in this beautiful city.
I took a taxi to a square called the Great Place. It had tons of chocolate shops, little jewelry stands and a vast amount of artwork. I decided to stock up on souveniors here for my family and friends because sadly, I was going home early the next day. After staying in touch with my parents, they desperately wanted me to come home and I can’t say I disagreed.
I still look back on this journey with fond memories, but wish to god I could have finished it. In a way, I feel like I failed. Who knows when I’ll have the time or money to travel Europe in the same way again. Sure, I know I’ll have vacation days lined up with a job to go somewhere for maybe a week or two, but not in the same way. I probably won’t be staying in hostels anymore trying to act out words or phrases with my bunkmates, trying to break our language barrier. I won’t be wandering the streets anymore of cities as a person in my early 20s. It will all be different. And this is what was on my mind during my 10 hour flight back to Atlanta.