When Luck FiNALLY Smiles back at you


Was at Basel EuroAirport on the Swiss-French-German borders, exhausted from a sleepless night at the dorms, thanks to INTENSE “girls’” snoring whom I was sharing rooms with. During check in, I was told that “there has been a tickets overbooking” -my ears refused to listen and was like “oh no, my bad luck again, come on give me a break”, she continued “accordingly Swissair will offer you 250 euros in addition to another flight ticket after 6 hours if you accept to give away your flight ticket”. I thought to myself “250 euros, WOW, now I will be able to do the longed for shopping, and will spend quality time on a non-budget trip”, but a thought struck me “what if after I gave it away, the next flight never arrives? what if it crashed & I died? It was my destiny to be on my initial flight, psychologically I am not ready for any surprises or willing to take any risks, a 6 hours layover is too much, haven’t slept the night before, no no that’s not the smartest idea, would rather arrive early and spend those 6 hours wandering around Barcelona than arriving late drained of all energy unable to enjoy the day”, not hesitant for too long, I replied with a slight sense of guilt “No, thank you I’ll stick to my flight.”

Around the boarding gate was the weirdest vending machine, that instead of selling snacks & drinks, sold toothpaste, shaving cream and CONDOMS. Who would need condoms right before boarding anyway?

photo

Weird vending machine at Basel Airport (by me)

Arrived at Barca totally worn out, so I decided to try one of the tourist traps by hopping on a hop on hop off bus, truth to be told it is the most convenient option whenever tired and traveling solo in big cities, where places are not accessible on foot, as you get a first glance on the city as a whole whilst comfortably seated and listening to loads of historical useful info. The bus went from one station to another, until it was at Camp Nou, the legendary Barcelona football club stadium, a moment longed for ever since I became a football fan -back in the late 90’s- and looking forward to once I decided to travel to Barcelona. It was around 8pm, the museum was already closed and the ticket shop as well, I wanted to avoid tomorrow’s tickets queue but now that it is closed, there ain’t no escape. Out of curiosity a walk around the stadium was a must, noticed crowds entering the arena, I knew that there weren’t any games to be played during my 4 days stay, so why the crowd? I talked to one of the security guards: “Hola, would you please tell me when does the ticket shop open?”, in excitement he answered with broken English and a big smile “eet opens at 9”. Pointing at the crowds I said: “why all the crowd? why are people entering the arena? is it for free or should I already have tickets?”, he replied in more excitement: “Go, go, go eenside.”. Completely taken off guard, I couldn’t believe that I am actually entering the arena.

Camp Nou from inside (on the web)

It was huge nicely decorated with the MES QUE UN CLUB sign, filled up with true fans cheerful and excited, chanting the Blaugrana anthem, wearing the club’s t-shirt, bands performing at the middle of the field, found myself a good seat, my heart filled with joy, as if accidentally came across my childhood crush, it intensely skipped a beat. For God’s sake being at Camp Nou was no more a wish or a dream, I was cheering and singing along in a language that I do not speak, songs that I did not even learn by heart. It was not long before I had to leave in order to catch the last hop on-hop off bus stopping at Camp Nou station, I did not feel an urge to stay, the music and atmosphere were great but I had to rest in order to be in great shape on the next day.

On my way out of the arena, I wanted to make sure that I had received the right piece of info, I managed to ask one of the security guards: “Hola, would you please tell me when does the ticket shop open and the museum as well?.”, he replied: “Hola, it opens at 9.”, me going down the stairs asking randomly: “Are these celebrations only on today, or there are more tomorrow?”, he responded “No, only today and the team is coming.” Me climbing slowly up the stairs, staring at him in disbelief: “what! Which team?”. He replied in a “how stupid this girl is” tone: “Barca team.”, I said “Do you mean the football team? Messi, Pique, Iniesta, Villa?”. Smiling totally understanding how excited I was he said: “Yeeeees.”, I told him with a big fat smile: “You can’t be serious! Are you? Why are they coming?”. He replied: “To celebrate their Copa del Rey trophy.”

May 25th, 2013 after their Copa del Rey trophy, how I wish I was there (on the web)

Me hesitating my steps, my eyes rolling, looking up & down: “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. Can I get in?, Oh no, this can’t be real, it’s too good to be true”, Him in excitement: “Go,  goooooooooo.”, climbed the stairs very quickly, so excited, yet not believing, looking back at the guy saying “Graciaaaas”. Shortly the bands stopped performing, the lights went off, a duo came in singing “I got a feeling” in Spanish or Catalan, then another duo sang “Amigos para siempre”, a girl doing acrobatic moves on hanging ropes, the lights went off again, from one corner spotlights were focused on Iniesta who came in speaking, followed by Valdes from another corner, Xavi from a third and Puyol from a fourth, thought to myself that “this is Super, but come on, that’s it? Where is the rest of the team? Weren’t all the players available so only four of them showed up? That’s saaaaad! Am I not going to see Pique, Messi, Villa, come on where is Guardiola? I’ll wait and see”. Shortly Fireworks were beautifully done in a rhythmic sequence, a Golf car driven through to show off the Copa del Rey cup, followed by the whole Barca team; where every player was called individually and his fans would cheer for him -Messi got the most cheering of all- until the team was complete by the entry of their technical team headed by their coach Guardiola -It was his last championship as Barca coach. They all lifted the cup cheering, singing “We Are the Champions”, confetti and fireworks kept coming (Celebracion Copa del Rey 2012).

This is how they looked like, this is what I’ve witnessed 😀 (on the web)

I was still in denial, not believing that this was actually happening, after all the bad luck I have had through my travels -from almost getting kidnapped, to bumping hard into a tree, from missing several flights and connection trains to crossing the highway carrying my bike– I am finally rewarded in this way! This is sooooo unbelievable, if only I had accepted the 250 euros offer I would have missed all of this, I would have missed something that I wouldn’t have wished for in my wildest dreams. It was on my bucket list to visit famous football stadiums and watch live games there, and all of a sudden with no planning, effortlessly, without spending one single penny I was lucky enough to witness a trophy at Camp Nou. This is literally when luck finally smiles back at you.

Moments of awesomeness

– When you get a message from your mobile operator as you roamed in three countries at the same time (Welcome to Switzerland! Welcome to Austria! Welcome to Germany)

– You were planning to have an overview on a newly visited city, but the city offers you in one day something that you would have never imagined, so you end up falling in love with it.

– Amazing things could happen when you least expect them, without prior planning, so don’t always go by the book, make your plans more or less flexible and make room for out of the box ideas.

Bonus tips

– Whether a football fan or not, you cannot miss visiting Camp Nou by touring the stadium and entering the museum.

– To have the complete Barcelona experience and a real sense of place you cannot miss:

 1. At least visiting one of Antonio Gaudi’s masterpieces. Although will not be completed before 2026 a visit to La Sagrada Familia is a must, this church is not similar to any church that you’ve ever visited as it’s a mixture of gothic and art nouveau, Park Guell is also a not to miss, a mix of good scenery, wide greenery surrounded by sculptures & modernist art architecture, and Casa Batllo after having a glance at its spectacular colorful facade you will understand what I am talking about (Passeig de Gracia has a wide selection of houses, you’d truly enjoy walking down there).

2. Walking at Las Ramblas, where all sort of goods is sold from pets to ice cream and spanish delights, from souvenirs to accessories & tour tickets, eating tapas, and to not miss La Boqueria for an exceptional food market experience, as well as Placa Reial where lies one of the finest and cheapest restaurants in Barcelona serving Catalan food Les Quinze Nits (queues are endless but totally worth waiting).

3. Savoring seafood and paella (noodles paella is insanely delicious, very moist with a pinch of lemon for a bitter taste). The best and cheapest seafood restaurants are those lying near the beaches, not near the port & the best churros -a cruchy dessert sugar n’ cinnamon coated- are those sold near the port specially on weekends and special occasions.

4. Walking down La Barceloneta and enjoy a swim in one of the beaches along the shore on a sunny day.

Mombasa: 1 Destination, 1 Day, 3 SUPER Fun Rides


My friend has been living in Kenya for almost 5 months, she got pretty used to living like a local, on her last weekend in Kenya, she decided that we hit the road in the direction of the coastal city of Mombasa, by the Indian ocean, 8 hours by bus, or 13 hours by train, locals say the reason behind the 5 hours delay is that sometimes animal herds cross the railways, hence trains stop completely until they traverse safely. Ultimately, taking the bus was our best option.

on the web

Animal herds crossing the railways (on the web)

In order to get to the bus station we hopped on a matatu; as the minibus is known among Kenyans, the driver was like all Kenyans a huge buff of Barack Obama who was back then running for presidency, they all loved him due to the fact that he had Kenyan roots, they had t-shirts, badges, and photos, they even had a song with at least a six repetitions chorus of “Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Eh, Eh…”. We cracked up in laughter when we first heard this song, trying hard to decode its lyrics which were half English, half Swahili. The driver was driving recklessly, so fast and the matatu was too small and extremely tight to the extent that every time we passed through a bumpy road, our heads would bump hard into the top of the matatu.

on the web

(Matatu with a Barack Obama photo) on the web

We were dropped off at a main matatu station, it was at the heart of the city where a variety of goods was sold; tiny salted fish, pineapple and papaya cut into pieces, coconut juice where straws were stuck in the coconut shell, biscuits, cakes, chocolates and refreshments. It was a 20 to 30 minutes walk to reach the bus station, was truly enjoyable to getting to discover the traditional Kenyan everyday life through this  particular lively typical neighborhood as it was alive, full of action and most importantly far from being touristic.

on the web

Main Matatu Station (on the web)

The bus was big, well ventilated, but the road was AWFUL, turned out to be very bouncy, believe it or not, we were told that it hasn’t been renovated since the British occupation. It was similar to riding a crazy roller-coaster. Everyone slept except the two of us, apparently they were more acquainted to the bumpiness of the road. Five hours later, it was already dusk, the driver had unexpectedly pulled-over, we thought something went wrong with the bus, all passengers including the driver got off, each heading towards a certain direction , and out of the blue they all disappeared in the bushes. Taken by surprise, with no one around to ask, we found ourselves alone in the middle of nowhere. Ten minutes later, one of the passengers came out of the bushes zipping his pants, we both burst into laughter, by then we realized that they were answering the call of nature.

Upon arrival, there wasn’t a single way to reach our destination but a ferryboat, which was so crowded to the extent that people were literally squeezed. On board there were people, cars, matatus and bikes. In fifteen minutes, the ferry reached the shore, a quick tuktuk -rickshaw- ride was required in order to catch another matatu from a distant station that should take us directly to our so called “resort”.

Entrance to the ferry boat (on the web)

Entrance to the ferry boat (on the web)

After haggling with many tuktuk drivers, the one we picked wanted to give us the whole 30KM ride to the campsite instead of taking a matatu, but as it wasn’t the quickest nor the most comfortable ride, we decided to ride it only to the station. We were comfortably seated in the tuk tuk, which was spacious enough to take the two of us and our backpacks, though it was slow, and too close to the ground.

African tuk tuk (on the web)

African tuk tuk (on the web)

After finally reaching the station, we hopped on a matatu that was carrying 25 people while it should only carry 16; a lady holding her son were seated on a stranger’s lap, four guys were sitting next to the driver, some others squatted, they were literally sitting on air, we got squeezed just like them while enjoying some Kenyan crazy driving and loud Swahili music. We finally made it to our FINAL DESTINATION; the campsite (a.k.a. resort),  exhausted yet overwhelmed with the amazing cultural encounter that we’ve been through, it was a true “live like a Kenyan” adventure that will never be forgotten.

Congested matatu (on the web)

Congested matatu (on the web)

(5) Almost got lost on my way to Munich


(5) Almost got lost on my way to Munich

Me to my friend Urs: One thing that I really wanna do; is attending a football game in Europe. El-Clasico will be the optimum, but I will not decline other available options if any.
Urs: How about a match in Munich?
Me: Well, Germany is not currently on my list of countries that I am looking forward to visit. You know how the language is a barrier to me -given that I have been living in a german speaking city for almost a month, a language that I do not speak or understand at all and have had it.
Urs: Everyone in Germany speaks English, people are extremely nice & helpful and the city is awesome.
Me: Mmmm, so what matches do we have this weekend?
Urs: It is one of Germany’s derbies “Bayern Munchen vs. Stuttgart”. It is going to be a very powerful game as Bayern Munchen has  won over Real Madrid at the semi-finals of the Champions League last week, so all the cheering and the playing will be not to miss.
Me: Bayern Munchen, Oh WOW! Yeaaah, I can imagine how they will be into the game and the cheering will definitely be on fire. Are there any reasonably priced tickets? I guess it’s a little too late. It is Monday & the match is on Saturday.
Urs: I’m a Bayern Munchen member, so I might find good seats reasonably priced, so let me check.
Me: Do you think it’s wise to attend a football game all alone? It wouldn’t be that fun. And might be dangerous for a solo female, you know how fans might get crazy.
Urs: Noooo, it is not dangerous for a solo female at all, you could go without any problems, and if you want I could pass you my future brother-in-law’s number who lives in Munich if any problems occured. I have attended so many matches by myself and enjoyed them so much, so being alone cannot be a barrier, do it, do it.
Me: Oh, how nice of you, but that’s really not necessary, thank you. Mmmm, I will think about it & let you know.
Urs: Well, currently the tickets are a bit expensive, let me keep checking every now and then and I will keep you posted.

inside the stadium (on the web)

inside the stadium (on the web)

The next day…
The telephone rang.
Me: Morgen Urs.
Urs: I have found a 50 euros ticket, a very good seat. Are you interested?
Me smiling with excitement: I’m coming to your office right away with my credit card.

Booking done, Munich BABY!
The next thing was booking 2 nights at Menninger hostel, followed by booking a train ticket from the station -Bern Bahnhof; Bern-Zurich-Munich (4 hours) then return Munich-Stuttgart-Zurich-Bern (5 hours) via the Swiss railways trains SBB.

Like every weekend, I packed one night before, it was always my tiny backpack that had 2 tops, underwear, socks, a towel, a toothbrush & toothpaste, my iPod and most importantly my Lovely Lonely Planet guide “Europe on a Shoestring”. Headed to the train station right after work, due to my bad luck the 1st connection train from Bern to Zurich went out of order that caused a 45 minutes delay, which meant that I will never catch my connection direct train Zurich-Munich that should have been after 1 hour from my arrival to Zurich. I explained to the train lady my terrible situation, she told me that my only option is to catch another 5 hours train with so many stops and 5 changes, I was staring at her while saying “NOWAY”, she asked me to step immediately off the train in order to catch another one that’s leaving in 2 minutes to Zurich while reassuring me that the railways company will find a way to get me to Munich.
I ran to get my jacket & my tripod that I left where I was seated which was pretty far, then jumped off the train to catch the other one. The train left the station after 15min, I was pretty stressed, wandering around trying to find the train lady, somehow mumbling until a very handsome guy sitting infront of me approached me “what’s wrong?”, I explained to him my unfortunate story, he smiled back at me in a reassuring tone by saying “Don’t worry, everything will be alright, the Swiss railways company SBB will definitely find a way to drive you to Munich in the most convenient way, it’s whether a private car, a jet or another train.”. I was so relieved after what he said, finally someone is talking to me, trying to ease my anxiety, he was so sweet. He started to chat, asking what am I doing in Switzerland, he told me that he lives on the mountains in the German part of Switzerland and that he came to Zurich to attend a conference, he also told me that he’s not a huge fan of Bern, “It’s a business oriented city, not like Zurich that has the best night life, yet very expensive.”, he also asked about the cities that I have visited so far, I said “Bern, Interlaken, Lucern which is my favorite & Zurich that I did not like that much as I’m not a fan of big cities”. The train lady finally showed up for tickets check, I handed my ticket and started to explain my situation, the guy started explaining to her in German, she again told me that there is only one connection to Munich which requires changing trains 5 times, or another train the next day at 6am, but that she’ll write on the ticket my situation so that once I arrive to Zurich SBB will find a way to take me to Munich in the most convenient way.

Once we arrived, I said goodbye to the handsome guy, while he wished me good luck and a pleasant stay in Switzerland. I stepped immediately out of the train, looking for SBB office to get things in order, but their reaction was totally below my expectations, the lady was acting boldly, she was very cold, told me that my options are taking that damn 5 hours train with 5 changes, or spend the night at Zurich then leave to Munich at 6am the next morning, so I replied:
“Why should I pay for a night in Zurich while it’s the company’s fault? And a train with 5 changes!!! This is torturous. Also if I take the 5 hours train I will arrive very late, so there won’t be any public transportations, I will have to take a taxi to the hostel.”
She handed an SBB card along with a ticket that has the platforms of my 5 changes, while telling me “keep your receipts, SBB will pay for everything, I’m sorry I really can’t help you, it’s whether you move very fast to catch the train which is leaving in 5 minutes, or as I told you spend the night in Zurich and catch the early morning train.”
“But I am very tired, I planned to sleep all along the trip, but since the train requires 5 changes, I will have to be awake during the whole trip”.
While so stunned she replied “sleeping on the train, that’s not allowed”.
“No I don’t mean spending the night on the train because I am homeless, I mean sleeping during the trip” in the back of my head wanting to tell her you jerk. I looked at the ticket and said angrily “this ticket indicates only two platforms, how about the rest?”.
She replied “I’m sorry, that’s the available information for now, they will be announcing the platforms inside the train”.
“But the announcement will be in German, and I don’t speak any German”.
“Then you could ask the SBB guy on the train.”
I was shocked, in disbelief, unable to think, speak or react, anxiety was killing me, my options are not practical, if I take that train I might hop on a wrong train during the 5 changes specially that one of the train changes -to Bregenz- should happen in a one minute time, or spend an expensive night at Zurich that might not be refunded by SBB -after this humiliating situation I do not trust them- take the early morning train at 6am, which means a sleepless night, also exhaustion will prevent me from having fun in Munich, and who knows maybe the train will be out of service again and I’ll miss the football game, which to me is not an option. All I started to do is running towards the platform in order to catch the train, hoping that things will go my way.
Once I stepped inside the train I couldn’t stop myself from crying hysterically, I was scared, frustrated, filled with anxiety, with lots of what if questions inside my head. Although I was DEAD tired, I couldn’t lie my head down or get any sleep, I was too scared to miss one of the connections, and get lost somewhere on my way to Munich. I changed one train after the other,  until I almost missed my connection to Bregenz -the one minute train change & the second last change before getting on the direct train to Munich, once I stepped my feet inside this train, it moved immediately, I was petrified, asking and re-asking if I’m on the right connection, the train was filled with teenagers, all dressed up, ready to spend an exotic weekend, I was envying them for being relaxed and happy, while my destination was completely unknown.

When the train stopped, I stepped out of it, a very nice girl named Caroline, whom I asked on the way if I was on the right connection to Bregenz, came and spoke to me, asking “why do you seem so anxious, are you Okay?”, I told her my whole story, she was totally understanding and told me that it has happened to her before, and that we could stick together as she’s heading to Munich as well to meet with her school friends that she hasn’t met in so many years. I was so thankful to find her, having her around made me feel comfy, and that I don’t care if I get lost as long as I’m with someone, and that someone is Swiss, who speaks a little German as she’s originally from the french part of Switzerland. We were on the Swiss-Austrian-German borders, facing Lake Constance, I still remember that once we arrived to Bregenz my mobile sent me a welcome sms; once as if I am in Austria, another as if I am in Germany & a third one as if I am in Switzerland -how I love that feeling, being in 3 countries at a time, wouhouuu. We had around 30 minutes to catch our next train, so we walked together down the station -as Caroline wanted to have coffee-, to find lots of parties overlooking the lake, they were more like beach parties as the land was covered in sand, people were barefoot, chairs had a beachy feeling. We stayed at a very nice cafe/restaurant on the lake, I did not order anything as the menu didn’t seem appealing to me, while Caroline ordered coffee. Then we headed to catch our last connection to Munich. The train was really good, we were seated alone in a compartment coach, I badly needed to sleep but we kept chatting all along our 3 hours journey. We mainly talked about Egypt’s GREAT Revolution & the Arab Spring, her daydream of going to Africa, her engagement party and wedding that should be arranged soon, our different perspectives of marriage and relationships, my love and passion for travel, etc.

We finally arrived at 1am in the morning at Hauptbahnhof which is Munich’s main station, I was drained, wanting nothing but a bed to lie my head on. Caroline’s friends greeted me, while trying to read the map that I have, to show me directions to the station, but they couldn’t tell where Meininger Hostel was, luckily somebody overheard us and showed me directions, he told me that it was a 10 minutes walk from the station, I was tired to the extent that I couldn’t ask if I could go by tram, or is it too far from my hostel, or from where to get tickets, I was not ready for any surprises, I didn’t feel safe to take a cab at 1:10am, and I didn’t want any more adventures I just wanted to follow the said directions, arrive at the hostel & have a nice sleep. I walked for over 20 minutes, as I was walking art a very slow pace, every part of my body was aching hard. Everything was closed but the city was not dead, there were lights everywhere, lots of people in the street mostly driving or cycling, or coming out of night clubs, I felt safe so I decided to keep walking, I was impressed to see Sofitel Munchen that seemed very fancy. Finally arrived at the hostel, only to discover that it was 4 tiny stations from the main station, the tram was a minute walk from the hostel -how stupid I was- entered the room while walking on my toes, it was 1:30am, the girls whom I shared the room with were already sleeping, I put my jacket and tripod, climbed to my bed while carrying my backpack, was tired to the extent that I only took off my pants and slept…

And yes this is what should be called a journey from HELL…

After all, all I wished for was attending a football game in a European stadium and being at Allianz Arena is truly to die for 🙂

view of Allianz Arena from outside at night (on the web)

view of Allianz Arena from outside at night (on the web)

Only in Hostels: What kind of creatures could be snoring like that?



It wasn’t planned to visit Spain at all, but after i have given it a deep thought, i found out that within nearby -from Switzerland- European countries I’ve already been to 10 cities in Switzerland, to France & Germany, Italy is not an option since i promised mum not to go without her, and Austria i have a feeling that I’ll get bored if i go there alone on a 4 days trip. I thought about going to Croatia since I daydream of hiking at Plitvice national park but flights were insanely expensive and by train it was a 14 hours journey in addition to approximately 8 extra hours to get to Plitvice, torturous it is specially that I’ll be alone. My sister suggested that I go to Spain, everyone i know who has been to Barcelona told me that it’s a super cool city, flight tickets were cheap, accommodation as well, I’ll get to visit Camp Nou, my friend Urs telling me Do it, do it, life couldn’t be any better…Barcelona here I come!!!

I decided to go to Basel to spend the night there, then take a flight to Barcelona the next morning, after being offered to stay at a colleague’s place in Basel, i decided not to accept her invitation as we are not close friends, though her house is big and she lives next to the airport i felt that it was inconvenient as she gave birth to a new baby boy only few weeks ago. Booked a night at YMCA hostel 5 minutes walk from the main train station from where i should take the bus to the airport. Arrived safely to Basel, the hostel was pretty nice, one of the tidiest and cleanest hostels that I have ever been to, situated at a very calm area. The owner was named Hassan, I could tell from his looks that he is Turkish or Kurdish, or from somewhere near this area, there was a big lounge with LCDs, wifi connection and tea & coffee served free all day long. I headed directly to my room, but once i stepped in I highly doubted that i was at the females dorms, since there was a sound of snoring that sounded very high, strong and manly to the extent that I stared at the sleepy creatures’ bodies to identify whether they are males or females. Two other ladies entered the room; an asian -probably chinese- and a european -probably german- also stunned at what they were hearing, staring at me with a “what the fuck?” look on their faces. We couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing hysterically, it was crazy the snoring was insanely intense. I had a cup of tea, got my clothes ready for tomorrow  and read a bit about things to do in Barcelona in my “Europe on a shoestring guide” by Lonely Planet, but everytime I tried to focus a lousy snore would distract me and make me laugh hysterically, had a hard time to get myself to sleep, and from that day on i decided to never sleep in a shared room without having earplugs on.

(4) Almost got kidnapped by a Jamaican


(4) Almost got kidnapped by a Jamaican

It was a well deserved vacation after 1 month in Switzerland, while I was barely communicating with people as the Swiss are a bit shy or I would say they don’t easily get along with strangers like me. My best friend who promised me to come visit has finally decided to meet me in Amsterdam, it was a decision jointly taken after I gave her the choice between Amsterdam & Prague. Well, I have to admit that I am talented at persuading people of what I really want to do. In fact, Amsterdam is my favorite European city and since my visit in 2011 I was dreaming about going there again in order to see the tulip fields of Keukenhof in Lisse, which is almost an hour drive from Amsterdam. But I was more into Prague since I have never been there, but after showing Keukenhof photos to my best friend it was really difficult to persuade her to go elsewhere.

on the web

on the web

Due to flights availability and prices, I had to arrive one night before my friend. On the way to my hostel from Schiphol Airport -the BEST airport that I have ever been to- to Centraal Station, I have met with two brits who were asking for help to catch the right train going to the city center, they were pretty cool & funny a PE & a science teacher coming to Amsterdam for the weekend to attend a Bachelor’s Party while spending the night at Dirty Nelly’s hostel.  We chatted on the way, I told them “You know guys, this is my first time in a month to hear people speaking while I am actually able to understand every word spoken”. The PE teacher laughed and replied: “Why?”, “Because I have been in Bern for a month, the capital of Switzerland in which German is widely spoken, around 95% & 5% are french speaking, I do not speak even one word of German, all the menus in restaurants, nearly everything is in German, so it is whether I don’t understand a word, or barely understand the mix of French & English spoken, or use hand signs to find a common understanding, hahaha”, I said. They were very loud, but very entertaining. Trying to find their way to their hostel, I tried to help them using my Rough Guide to Netherlands -that I bought during my trip to Malta back in April 2011-, but Dirty Nelly’s wasn’t mentioned in there. Having a guide book and knowing the way to the city made them believe that I’m a travel geek (TRUE, haha, I cannot move without one of these guide books, they are my true friend and helper). I showed them the way to an information desk inside the train station, wished them a pleasant stay and a wild Bachelor’s party -in the back of my mind “Bachelor party in Amsterdam, at Dirty Nelly’s…mmm, it will definitely be a wild weeked :)”-,  then headed to the hostel where I was staying.
I could never rely on my instincts to lead my way, although I was in Amsterdam a year ago but I couldn’t remember any directions, I recognized every street, every canal that I walked through but not directions. Amsterdam was quite busy that night as they were celebrating their independence day. It took me more than a one hour walk to get to Shelter Jordan Hostel -which is roughly 15 to 20min walk, but I got lost several times- a very nice & clean hostel located in a wonderful classy neighborhood called Jordan, where I checked in back in May 2011. I was sharing a room with 3 other girls.

The next morning I packed, had breakfast; Muesli with yogurt, a banana and a cappuccino, taken some photos of the breakfast area that has been renovated & decorated nicely, then started to hit the road to meet with my friend, as we were supposed to meet at the hostel where we were staying -better not to mention the name as it wasn’t a very pleasant experience- located right next to Heineken Experience. When I saw her right across the street I screamed out loudly & hugged her “OH MY GOOOOOD, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU MADE IT, I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT I’M GOING TO SPEAK MY NATIVE LANGUAGE FOR 5 DAYS, I MISSED YOUUUU.” We were joined by another friend of my best friend’s and we really had lots of fun; we went to Vondelpark where we had hot dog sandwiches with curry sauce, to Heineken Experience where we took pictures at every corner, recorded videos, to Jordan where I showed them Anne Franck house from outside as well as the church right next to it & the hostel where I stayed the night before, to Leidseplein with the wide range of restaurants, Holland Casino & cycling tours office of Joy Ride tours by which I had an AWESOME Countryside bike tour back in 2011, to Rembrandtplein where we had the most amazing breakfast at St. James’s Gate Restaurant & enjoyed buying colored paintings, not to mention the pleasure of walking around this area, to Museumplein where we had the famous photo of  jumping with Rijkmuseum & I Amsterdam sign in the background & eaten breakfast at one of the small cafes lying there, to Dam Square where hundreds on souvenir shops lie, took a hop on hop off boat, had Vlaamse Frieten from the AMAZING Chipsy King. Our second day (May 5th, 2012) coincided with the Liberation Day called in Dutch Bevrijdingsdag, so concerts, people singing and dancing everywhere. We spent a full day at Keukenhof, Zaanse Schans (oldest windmills in Holland), Volendam (a harbor and a fishers town with amazing fish restaurants), Marken (a tiny village, with a mix of countryside, boats & tiny traditional houses). It was an intense trip, extremely enjoyable.

by Me

By Me

By Me

On May 8th, it was time to go back to Bern, my friends dropped me off at Centraal Station to catch the train to Schiphol Airport, took the flight, arrived at Basel Airport to take the train to Bern which is one hour -Bern only has a tiny airport and barely had flights that’s why I always traveled from Basel or Geneva. The train was around 15min late, It was already 12:10 a.m. and I was really exhausted, looking forward to being at home. The train was half empty, so I was lucky to be seated comfortably on two chairs, I tried to get some sleep but in vain, so I just relaxed stared at the window, until a guy started talking to me, I answered in return he was like: “What are you doing in Switzerland?, How long have you been here?, Where are you from?”, I responded and asked “how about you?” in return, until he finally told me: “I’m from Jamaica. Sooo, you’re a lawyer, that’s interesting! You are definitely looking for me.”, I replied naively looking into his unconscious reddish eyes: “What the hell are you talking about?”, he replied sarcastically: “Because I’m a criminal.”. In the back of my mind I was screaming “God help me, what should I do now!!!”.
The train finally stopped, I got out while saying out loudly: “Somebody saves me from this asshole.”, nobody moved or showed any sympathy, they just walked out of the train as if I do not exist at all!!! -If I was in Egypt, people would have been him up & taken him directly to the police station. The guy was waiting for me outside the train, so I decided to get on the train again to look for someone from the railways company, until I found one, I told him my story so he asked me if I want to report it to the police, but I decided not to as I was scared that the guy would find me in the future as Bern is sooo small, I also wanted to go home immediately & the last thing I wanted is going to the Police Station while I’m a girl all alone in a foreign country. I just asked him to take me to the taxi station to make sure that I am safe and sound. I took the taxi back home, looked behind to make sure that the guy wasn’t following me, arrived around 1am exhausted, looking forward to tell my colleagues at work about this unfortunate story, yet funny.

The good part about these stories; they are the memorable fun part of any trip ;)…Enjoy your travels, your experiences, and cherish every moment with JOOOOOY…

Lessons learned:
1. Never speak to strangers if they look suspicious or have red eyes -drunk or drugs.
2. Never take a late night train when you are a solo female traveler -from this day on all the trains I caught where morning or evening trains, even if I had to spend one extra night somewhere, it’s better to be cautious than sorry.
3. Avoid late night trains because you will have to take a cab instead of public transportations -that’s for better money allocation.

When Laundry prevents you from Sleeping…


on the web

on the web

It was my first time ever to do my laundry, since back in my hometown my amazing mum does it for me. I was on a three months internship in Bern, Switzerland, so I had to do it for myself, and use for the very first time a washing machine and a drier -in the place where I was staying, doing the laundry had to be done through a pre-booking of the machine & drier, 1 hour of washing & 50min of drying. The first time went great, everything was neat & clean, I put my laundry in the drier & had SUPER results. The next two to three times were DISASTROUS, the laundry came out totally wet, covered with soap, OMG I have to wash off the soap & squeeze all the laundry hard in order to have it ready to be put in the drier, the results were still HORRIBLE; somehow unfully dried, smelling funny -unaired-, impossible to use, so I had to do the washing all over again with the same wet results, but the decision was made to not use the drier and to have all the clothes half wet hanged & thrown in every corner in the room, hoping that it will get dry by next morning. Apparently there is a problem with the washing machine I thought, maybe I should use another machine the next wash.

Actual Laundry place

Actual Laundry place photo taken by me

It was the night before going to Barcelona it was a trip VERY quickly planned, planned in terms of logistics, nothing else. At first, I was planning to go to Croatia mainly to visit Plitvice Lakes but I couldn’t find any reasonably priced flight tickets, and going by train was a torturous 14 hours long journey and up to 8 hours from Zagreb to Plitvice, and I’ll be all alone, nooo that’s a little too much. Barcelona’s one hour flight costing 60€ on Swissair as it was a last minute booking, and a 16 per night at Serenity Gotic hostel at a females dorm sounds like a PRACTICAL plan ;).

Collage of Barcelona City, Gaudi's artwork - on the web

Collage of Barcelona City, Gaudi’s artwork – on the web

The night before, I had lots of laundry to do, all my clothes, literally all my clothes were dirty, except the t-shirt and pants that I was wearing -half dirty they were but they were my only option to wear. I put them at once in the washing machine, hoping & praying that it will get out half dry & soapless as it should be, but AGAIIIIIN, it was totally wet & covered with soap, I have no time for this MESS really, if my clothes don’t get dry by next morning, I will have nothing to wear in Spain, I will have nothing to wear tomorrow at work, oh noooo. “What on earth can I do now? It’s 12am, I am so EXHAUSTED, I wanna sleep & all my clothes are DIRTY…Ok, ok, take a deeeeeeep breath, wash the soap off, squeeze the laundry hard put them in the drier, things can’t go wrong for the fourth time, it’s gonna work out.” I thought to myself. After a 50min round in the drier the laundry was half weeeeeeeet, “No no nooooo, what mistake could I be doing in here? are all the machines malfunctioning, or am I a stupid jerk? My only option in order to have my clothes ready for tomorrow is putting them again in the drier, maybe I’ll leave them in the drier for the whole night, yeah it sounds like a plan. I have to make sure first that the driers are not pre-booked, oh thank GOD they are not. But, what if all my clothes shrinked from overheating? or if somebody stole my clothes while I’m asleep? All my clothes are in there, I have to make a wise decision. Well It doesn’t matter, all my options SUCK.” I woke up at 6am, checked if my laundry was still there & if it got dry. Oh well, I must be finally lucky because it’s still there, totally dry, unsmelly & ready to be used. I started to pack, lied in bed for 30 min, then got ready to go to work. Seems like a Bloody HECTIC day is on its way.

 

on the web

on the web

Moral of the story: For a satisfying laundry experience, NEVER stuff ALL your belongings in the washing machine at once, NEVER stuff it till it can barely be closed, because the machine can carry a limited number of items, if you exceed this number, the results will be as DISASTROUS as mine. Oh daaaaamn, is that why I have been failing to do the laundry???!!! hahaha, hell yeeees!

Answering the Call of Nature at the City of Lights (NOT RECOMMENDED)


One of the main disadvantages about discovering a city by walking its streets all day long is your continuous need to consume water, specially when it’s winter & you continuously drink to get rid of the feeling of dehydration, which definitely urges you to pee like babies.

on the web

 
It was April 4th, 2012, 3 days after my arrival to Bern, Switzerland -where I have spent 3 months on an internship as Research Assistant in Law- when I have decided to spend Easter vacations in Paris with my friends who are living there, instead of spending it on my own since I haven’t made any friends in Switzerland yet, I have made an online train booking via www.sbb.com my true friend all along my 3 months stay, after consulting 3 of my work colleagues, it cost me 197 CHF which is around 1200L.E. -WOOOOOOW, that’s too much-but it’s fine since I’m not paying for accommodation and I have few euros that should be enough to enjoy a  4 days, 3 nights stay.

On April 7th, 2012, the weather was still chilly at the City of Lights .It was my second time
in Paris that I tend to call the City of Love, as it has the “Love is in the air” feeling, but this time I wanted to live the parisian experience from the perspective of a resident not a tourist.
We went almost everywhere, our day started at 9-10am and ended around midnight, we would spend the whole day out without taking any breaks, we would eat, drink, rest and pee while discovering every bit of Paris.

On that day, we were at St. Michel where I couldn’t handle my urge to pee no more, we searched the area until we have found a veryyyyyy long queue, we thought it was a museum queue, but it turned out to be a bunch of people standing in front of a public toilet waiting for the moment of salvatiooooon. At first I thought that I would drop it since the queue is too long then I thought to myself that it’s finally a parisian public toilet that does not smell, so I finally decided to wait in the queue. This toilet was not an ordinary one, in fact it was a self-washed toilet, this is how it works, you  push a button  so the toilet door closes , then you hear a the loud sounds of a battle that’s happening inside which is the self-wash mission, once the toilet is washed the button turns a green light, you push it, then the door opens and you are ready to go. Although it is kind of clean and not smelly, it takes a hell of time to get it washed and ready, at least 2-3 minutes until the whole cleaning operation happens then at least 5-10 min inside the toilet which could drive you to pee in your place.

 

 

on the web

 

on the web

 

on the web

We spent around 50 minutes to get in there, but were laughing our ass off as we were watching people entering the “rest room”, well named in fact; it was hilarious seeing a guy already unzipping his trousers, taking the pissing position while the WC door was still sliding very slowly to close, it was also funny to see that exciting look on a person’s face who has been waiting for forever in the queue but now only waiting for the WC to be washed and ready to use, needless to say how funny it was to see people dying to pee but having to wait for that bloody slow door to close. It was pretty entertaining to hear people talking about that extraordinary invention and worrying too much from thinking that they will push the wrong button or will not be able to deal with.
It was very embarrassing and stressful to enter the toilet and you have a long queue waiting for you counting every minute that you spend in there, all envying you for being the lucky bastard who finally got rid of the pee-pee.

But after all it was a pleasant experience although the floor was covered with water, but there was toilet papers, clean and unsmelly, which is very unusual in Paris, generally you would smell the public toilets 100 metres away, maybe only 50.

Tips:
1. Public Toilets in Paris are DISASTROUS, VERY SMELLY. I’ve never dared to enter one other than the self-washed at St. Michel.
2. Toilets at fast food restaurants or coffee shops require you to use the code on your receipt, otherwise you will not be able to enter, unless you become friends with someone who’s eating/drinking inside the restaurant/coffee shop and ask them for the code on their receipt.
3. If you have the urge to pee in Paris, go back to your hotel/hostel and do it.