NYC Part 2: Morning in Little Odessa & Afternoon in Coney Island

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I spent a long weekend in NYC. You can read about Day 1 here.

On day 2, Saturday, we were ready to brave the subway. We’ve both traveled to cities with metro systems, together and independently, so despite coming from NC where people will clutch onto their giant pickup trucks in a cloud of smog before they use public transport, we were both familiar with the concept. However, New York City’s subway system is confusing as hell. There are a million lines, some of them are numbered, some lettered, all of them are colored, but there are multiple green lines, for example, so that’s not helpful. Thank God for Google Maps.

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We walked about 15 minutes to the subway station nearest to our Airbnb, then took the R train from Astoria, Queens into Manhattan, and the Q train all the way down through Brooklyn. Our stop was Brighton Beach also known as Little Odessa. Little Odessa is home to many Eastern European immigrants, especially those from Russia and Ukraine.

If someone had said to me “imagine a cross between Eastern Europe and New York City” I would’ve pictured Little Odessa, even before going there. We walked up and down the main street, under the raised train tracks. A variety of Slavic languages swirled around us; I didn’t hear anyone speaking English. There were tons of little convenience stores, delis, and shops. We went into a “department store” that was essentially an Eastern European style Walmart. David observed that it reminded him of similar stores in Serbia. They sold everything from underwear to kitchen appliances to pharmacy items and everything was very cheap by NYC standards.

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Next we stopped in a bookstore. They sold English books in Russian, Russian books in English, kid’s books, romance novels, adventure stories, language books, and Russian cultural books. David definitely enjoyed it more than I did, considering he speaks some Russian.

We left the bookstore in hopes of finding a good lunch spot. Many of the restaurants looked amazing, but were sit down and we didn’t really have the time or money for that. Others had folks lined up down the sidewalk, but didn’t have a dining room. Did I mention it was 40F and windy the entire weekend? We aren’t Russian, and I can’t quite enjoy eating outside in the cold wind. We finally found a little corner restaurant selling 2 slices of pizza and a soda for $5. Sold. The store owners seemed to be Russian, even though the food wasn’t.

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After walking around a bit more, we hopped back on the train to Coney Island (we totally could’ve walked, but woulda coulda shoulda, eh?). Since it was March, none of the rides were operating. Many of the shops and arcades were closed. It was a really cool way to experience an iconic piece of Americana.

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We visited one of the few shops that was open, a candy store. They sold all kinds of novelty candy; giant boxes of cereal marshmallows, giant gummy bears, a huge variety jelly beans and gummies, Harry Potter themed candy, alcohol themed candy, and a bunch more. We had fun looking around before stepping back into the wind. There was a cute cafe/restaurant down the street with great views of the still amusement park rides. David got a macchiato and I had a hot chocolate (I’m a kid at heart, what can I say?). We enjoyed our hot drinks and people-watched for a while.

ConeyIsland

We had dinner plans with a friend of David’s in Manhattan that evening, so after finishing our drinks we went back to the train, which we road from Brooklyn back to Midtown Manhattan, so that David could see Times Square for the first time.

Read about our adventures in Times Square, the upper east side, and the village in my next NYC post! (5/20/18 update: the whole story has been posted!  See part 4, part 5, and part 6 now!) Did you enjoy this post? Have you visited NYC before? What’s your favorite neighborhood? Did you brave the subway? Tell me about it in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Weekend in NYC! Part 1: Getting There and Day 1 in Queens

This past weekend, my husband and I visited the Big Apple.  NYC.  New York.  THE City.  Is it obvious yet that New York is my absolute favorite city?  I’ve been about 5 times before this trip, and I would go again in a heartbeat. (Anyone want to buy me a plane ticket for next weekend….?)

A few weeks ago I was looking up cheap airline tickets, just for fun.  David and I had been hoping to do something for spring break, but all of our other plans had fallen through, and besides, we had different breaks (mine was last week and his is this week).  I looked just out of boredom, hoping to get an idea of what we could do for our next trip.  The site required me to put in dates, a departing airport, and a destination.  I picked our local airport and NYC, any airport, just to get an idea of the price point.  For 2 people, round trip, 2 weeks in advance it was $420, including fees.  We booked it 2 days later.

We were going to New York!! I was giddy for the two weeks while we last-minute planned our long weekend.  We booked an Airbnb for Friday-Monday, I asked off work for Monday, and we got in touch with friends and family in the area.  We each made a list of things we wanted to do/see and tried to match them up the best we could, knowing we would barely be able to get a taste of NYC in a single weekend, albeit a long one.  Our flights were early Friday morning and late Monday evening, giving us *almost* 4 full days.

NYC-Day1-Airport

Friday morning we woke up at 3:30AM to get to the airport by 4:30 for our 5:50AM flight with a layover in DC.  Unfortunately, even in the urban areas of central NC there are a grand total of ZERO Ubers or Lyfts at 4AM on a Friday morning.  ZERO.  We scrambled to drive to the airport, knowing we’d have to pay out the ass to park at the airport all weekend, also knowing we had no choice.

So we threw our backpacks in the car and drove to the airport.  We got through the surprisingly long line at security and to our gate, boarding exactly on time.  We then waited in the plane for two hours for American Airlines to get themselves together.  We finally took off, late, and arrived right when our connecting flight was leaving Ronald Reagan for LaGuardia.  Fabulous. 21 people on our flight were supposed to be on that connection and I must say American did nothing to help us other than quietly assign us to a new flight, which no one could access full information on.  The full story is a different story for a different day, but lemme just say #DisappointedAmericanAirlines

We finally got on the right plane, took off, and arrived at LaGuardia.  NEW YORK CITY, BABY!!

NYC at 9AM on a Friday is crawling with Lyfts and Ubers, so we had no problem getting a Lyft from the airport to the Airbnb to drop off our bags.  Then it was on to the adventure.  We weren’t quite ready to brave the NYC subway system, so we took an Uber (Uber has shared rides in NYC, which are cheaper.  Bring that to NC please!) to Jackson Heights, Queens, where there is a South Asian neighborhood and an AMAZING dosa restaurant, Dosa Delight.  I knew about the place because 4 or 5 summers ago I went there with my cousin, Holly.  We walked around the neighborhood for about 30-45 minutes, taking in the atmosphere and the culture.  Different languages swirled around us, and different people surrounded us on the streets.  We visited a couple of shops, just window shopping and killing time until the restaurant opened for lunch.

NYC-Day1-Dosa

We split an order of samosas, followed by different kinds of dosa.  David, of course, ordered like a pro, having spent last summer in India.  I stumbled through ordering something that I hoped wasn’t ridiculously spicy, but would still be authentic.  The samosas and dosa were amazing, and I would absolutely go back a third (and fourth and fifth…) time.

We ubered back to the Airbnb and crashed (we’d been up since 3:30AM!) until dinner time.  We were sick of paying for ubers and lyfts, and weren’t quite ready to brave the subway system at night, so we looked for food near us.  We were in Astoria, Queens, in a mostly residential area, but there were a few restaurants near us.  We found a pub in walking distance that looked reasonably priced and headed out, already starving again.

Dillingers Pub and Grill was about a block away.  It had a nice casual atmosphere, especially at 6PM.  They were playing pop music from about 2000-2010, so I knew basically every song.  It was a nice, nostalgic pick.  The food was great pub food; David had a burger while I enjoyed a buffalo chicken sandwich.  He got a beer and I had their rum punch, which was on special for $5.  The whole experience was very enjoyable, and we went home full and happy, but totally ready to shower and go to bed early.  We knew we had a big day ahead of us in Manhattan and Brooklyn!

NYC-Day1-RumPunch

Look out for future posts on the rest of our trip!  I can’t wait to share the full story with you.  (5/20/18 update: the whole story has been posted!  See part 2, part 3part 4, part 5, and part 6 now!) Have you been to NYC? What were your experiences there?  What’s your favorite city in the US?  The world?  Let me know in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this.

Destination: Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India

Rishikesh: A quick look

Language: Hindi

Currency: Indian Rupee

Drinking Age: 21 in Uttarakhand (the state), but alcohol is banned within the city itself

Public Transportation: Rishikesh is very walkable, but taxi and shuttle services are available downtown. The closest airport is in Haridwar, about 20 km away.

Passport: Yes, US citizens are also required to obtain a tourist visa prior to arrival in India. For visits of fewer than 60 days, an electronic visa is the easiest and quickest to obtain

Vaccines: Routine, plus Hepatitis A and Typhoid. Malaria medication may also be necessary; visit your primary care physician prior to leaving your home country to receive vaccinations and recommendations for additional medications based on your specific trip itinerary.

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Before you leave:

Known as the “Valley of the Saints,” Rishikesh occupies the beginning of the Ganges river in the Himalayan foothills. In addition to being a very important area in Hinduism, Rishikesh is also a very popular spot for yoga and other spiritual education.

Remember that Rishikesh is a sacred city in Hinduism. Because of this, alcohol, drugs, and meat are banned in the city. Although alcohol and drugs are not hard to find if you know where to go, please be respectful of the culture, and do not use within Rishikesh.

Hostels are usually the best places to stay in Rishikesh. The one we stayed in was on top of the hill, which gave a wonderful view of the Ganges and the surrounding mountains. Many have AC, reliable Wifi, and breakfast included. In addition, a popular activity is studying yoga and mindfulness in an ashram, which often includes lodging.

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Once you get there:

Don’t be afraid of the street food. Classics like chaat, samosa, pav bhaji, and pani puri are all extremely cheap at street stalls. Be careful and ensure the food is hot, and you shouldn’t have any trouble. The best way to find the good stuff is to go with a local.

Use common sense to avoid scams. Scams are incredibly common in touristy parts of India, and Rishikesh is no different. Do some research beforehand on the most common ones and tips to avoid them.

  1. Beatles Ashram

    beatles-ashram-rishikesh

This is probably what Rishikesh is best known for in the United States. In 1968, the Beatles traveled to Rishikesh to study transcendental meditation. At the time called Maharishi’s International Academy of Meditation, it’s now simply known as “Beatles Ashram.” There is so much myth, legend, and controversy surrounding the Beatles in India that I can’t cover it all here. Everyone knows where Beatles Ashram is, and it’s definitely something to see when you’re in the area.

2. Trekking/Outdoor activities

Outdoors

Rishikesh sits next to the Ganges river, and right at the foothills of the Himalaya. This puts you in the perfect spot to enjoy activities such as trekking, rock climbing, white water rafting, and plenty of nature tours. You can find guides for these activities at the guide services downtown.

3. Mussoorie Hill Station

Mussoorie

Okay, so this isn’t technically in Rishikesh, but it’s close enough you can do it from the city. Hill stations are small towns that sit atop high mountains, mostly to keep them cool in the summer. It’s a really nice experience looking down the steep mountains into the valleys.

4. Kunjapuri Devi Temple

Kunjapuri temple

Kunjapuri Devi sits high atop a mountain, about a half hour drive from Rishikesh. You can charter a car to take you up there for about 1800 rupees, so try to go as a group to split the cost. The view from the top is *amazing.* A popular activity is to make it up there early in order to see the sunrise. On a clear day, you can see as far as China and Nepal. Culturally, it is the temple to Sati, the wife of Shiva. The super abridged version of the story is that Sati ended her own life after her father humiliated Shiva. After this, her father carried her body throughout the Himalaya, and pieces of it fell throughout the mountains in 52 different places, known as Shakti Peethas. These Shakti Peethas are found throughout Nepal and India. Kunjapuri Devi is where Sati’s chest is believed to have fallen.

5. Neer Garh Waterfall

neer-garh-waterfall

This is a great place to go to get out of the city and enjoy some beautiful Indian nature. After a steep hike, you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the waterfall and surrounding mountains. The water here is nice and clean, and it’s a popular place to jump in and cool off. All in all, it’s a fun place to explore for the day.

6. Visit the temples and bridges

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There are *tons* of temples in Rishikesh. Far too many to name in a short blog article, but I’ll rapid fire off some names to get you started. For temples, the popular ones are Badrinath, Parmath Niketan, Neelkanth Mahadev, and Tera Manzil. Even though it’s not a temple, the Lakshman Jhula bridge is a fun thing to see. A long suspension bridge that connects the two banks of the Ganges, it’s a cool place to get photos of the city and river.

Rishikesh is a great place to get out of the Golden Triangle and see what the rest of northern India has to offer. It’s a great stepping off point to go deeper into the Himalaya, head west into Punjab, or as a weekend jaunt from Delhi. It’s a must see for anybody traveling around northern India.

Disclaimer: I am far from an expert in Indian culture and Hinduism, so I apologize if any cultural facts are incorrect. Let us know in the comments!

Many thanks to David Anthony for creating this guide to Rishikesh, India.

Did you like this article? Have you visited Rishikesh? Tell us about it in the comments! Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Sources:
Beatles Ashram photo: http://www.haridwarrishikeshtourism.com/beatles-ashram-rishikesh.html

Rappelling in Rishikesh photo: https://www.thrillophilia.com/rappelling-in-rishikesh

Mussoorie Hill Station photo: https://www.euttaranchal.com/tourism/mussoorie.php

Rishikesh photo: http://industrips.com/rishikesh/

 

 

Photo Dump! Tikal, Guatemala.

Hello, Globetrotters!

My life is still balancing out; we found a car, but I’ve been sick all week, and found myself behind on homework.  I am working hard to bring you all great content in the coming months!

For this post I wanted to share with you photos from my recent trip to the historic site, Tikal, in Guatemala.  Located in a National park, Tikal is the ruins of an ancient Mayan city, thought to have been called Yax Mutal by the Mayan people.   It is one of the largest archaeological sites and urban centers of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization.  Learn more about our trip to Tikal in A Quick Guide to Taking a Day Trip from Belize to Guatemala.  Please enjoy my travel photos!

-The Globetrotting Scientist

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The ancient Mayans studied astronomy.  They calculated the position of the sun based on the time of year.  The celebrated the Fall and Spring Equinox and the Summer and Winter Solstice.

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They built some of their temples and monuments based on the position of the sun at certain times of year.

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They used some structures to observe the stars.

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Today we have an amazing view of the rain forest.

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The entire site made up a large city in ancient Mayan times.  It was abandoned when the Spanish conquistadors began their conquest of Latin America.

20171215_132418 Much of the city hasn’t been excavated, due to the risk of erosion and high cost of maintenance. However, the city center (pictured above and below) has been mostly restored.

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The city was built by hand, on the backs of the lower-class workers.

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They did not use pack animals, so every stone was carried by humans.

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The average life expectancy of a lower class Mayan was 25-30 years, due to the nature of this hard labor.

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Today many Guatemalans have incorporated their historical Mayan culture into Catholicism.  When we visited, many locals were gathering to celebrate.

Did you enjoy this post?  Have you visited Guatemala before?  What about Tikal?  Tell me about it in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

How I Moved to India for 2 Months with Only a Backpack

A big thank you to David Anthony for sharing his packing skills in this post. If you would like to learn more about packing light, check out my posts: 6 Tips for Packing Light,  A Backpacker’s Guide to Packing: Winter Edition, Essential items every traveler needs before the next big trip, and Travel Mistakes I Made (So You Don’t Have to).

“Ounces make pounds” is a phrase that’s often thrown around in an infantry platoon, often by your team leader when you start trying to pack another hokey gadget. Spend enough time carrying around your life on your back, and you get a first-hand feel for the consequences of not packing light. In so many aspects of life, overpacking causes grief for a number of reasons.

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This past summer, I completed the US State Department’s Critical Language Scholarship in India. Besides goals like learn as much Urdu as possible and eat my own body weight in chaat, I had another specific goal: successfully survive and thrive in India for two months with only a 38L carry on sized backpack. To do that, I had to be very diligent in which clothing and gadgets I took. I didn’t skimp though. I had my computer, clothing for a week, a towel, business casual clothing, and space for souvenirs. Sure, I didn’t have eight pairs of shoes or a personalized bathrobe, but you don’t need that stuff to travel. Trust me.

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For clothing, the best advice I can give can be summed up in a few key points: make it interchangeable, bring lightweight stuff, and roll it up. Lay out all the clothing you plan to take with you. Now, close your eyes, mix it all up, and pull out a random shirt and a random pair of pants. If they don’t go together, your stuff isn’t interchangeable. This rule should apply for everything you bring. Every single thing should work with everything else. This will give you more options with less clothing. In India, I had about four button up shirts, two or three t shirts, four pairs of pants, and a single t shirt and shorts for working out. You’ll have to do laundry, but you probably do that about once a week anyway (right???). I also took a comfortable pair of running shoes I could use for walking around the city and a pair of flip flops (sandals are very common in India). The final tip for clothing is to roll it instead of folding. For my grunts out there, we all know the Ranger roll is superior to folding. The same applies to packing for travel. Linked is an instructional video about rolling clothing.

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In India, I knew that I’d be spending most of my time in class. The city I was in was also not exactly known for its thrilling adventure, so I knew I would need something to keep me busy. For me, that was my phone and computer. On my phone, I kept the Amazon Kindle app, which had several books for reading while trying to adjust to the jet lag. For a computer, you want to take something lightweight and durable. I personally had a Chromebook. While big PCs and Macbooks are nice, they aren’t always light or easily replaceable. Chromebooks, being tied to your Google account, are a snap to replace if they break or are stolen. Simply log into a new computer with your Google account, and it will instantly start to backup your stuff. They’re also cheap. For my coders out there, it’s easy to install a custom Linux distro called GalliumOS on a Chromebook, really allowing you to unlock its potential. Light, durable, flexible, and easy to replace. No computer is perfect, but for those who are planning to travel light, the Chromebook is close.

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The fact that I was moving to India made things much simpler than if I was backpacking from city to city every few days. I could afford to spread out a bit and get comfortable. Knowing this, I intentionally packed very light in terms of toiletries. I really only took some travel sized items to use if I got stranded in an airport for the night. The best thing to do is buy most of your toiletries once you get to your destination. Not only will this save room in your bag, but exploring the shops is a great way to get to know a new city. I also only packed a small microfiber towel, and upon arrival in India, I bought a larger bath towel for everyday use. Many sundry items are also going to be cheaper abroad than they are in North America. If you’re concerned with having to throw it all away when you leave, look into donating them to an NGO or non-profit. My classmates and I gathered all of our unused toiletries as we were leaving the country and donated them, meaning there’s no issues with having to use up an entire bottle of shampoo before you leave.

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The principles for longer term stays are the same as the ones for short jaunts: be a fanatic about weight and space; always assess and reassess if you really need the things you’re packing; try to pack items that are as multipurpose as possible; and trim down the items you can buy once you’re in-country. It’s that simple. So get out there, start paring your stuff down, and enjoy the simplicity of lightweight travel!

Did you enjoy this post?  What are you hacks for packing light?  Share them in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Disclaimer: if you follow the Amazon link in the body of this post and make purchases through it, I will receive a small compensation from Amazon. This compensation comes from Amazon, not from you, and the price you see through my links is the same as the price you would see otherwise.

Shout-outs:
Microfiber towel link: http://amzn.to/2DCHvdv
Ranger roll video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq07hyTlrcU
Rolled clothing image: http://forum.expeditionportal.com/threads/57992-Clothes-Storage-for-travel
Travel-sized toiletries photo: https://www.travelfashiongirl.com/5-tips-to-travel-size-toiletries-for-minimalist-travelistas/

 

Destination: Knoxville. Part II: International Eats

Knoxville, TN is one of my personal favorite destinations. It’s a bit of a hidden gem in the south: people tend to focus on Atlanta, New Orleans, Nashville, or beach towns like Myrtle Beach, Miami, and Charleston when planning visits to the southeast, but Knoxville has a lot to offer. If you’re interested in a general guide to Knoxville, including entertainment, museums, bars, restaurants and general tips, check out my Destination: Knoxville post here.

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If you’re interested in out-of-the-way, unique, international eateries and markets, Knoxville has you covered, and so do I. See below my recommendations for cool places to eat and shop.

Quality Turkish Market

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The folks are Quality Turkish Market are very kind and helpful, especially to a noob like myself who had never tried Turkish food before. The setup is order at the counter and pay in advance, but the food is, as the name suggests, quality. It’s delicious and filling, even the 100% vegetarian dish I enjoyed. They also have a small market area where you can buy imported sodas, candies, and other non-perishable treats.

Gosh Ethiopian

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Have you ever tried Ethiopian food? You should, and you should start at Gosh. They have lots of options and simple explanations of the unfamiliar food. Get ready to eat with your hands!

Sitar Indian Cuisine

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Sitar serves up traditional Punjabi dishes, just what most Americans expect when they sit down at an Indian restaurant. I would recommend starting with Samosas, which are crispy turnovers stuffed with potatoes and veggies. Our table devoured ours in record time. For main courses they have a variety of curry dishes, many vegetarian, but plenty of meat-lovers’ options: lamb, chicken, shrimp, etc.

Indian Grocery

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The Indian Grocery on Kingston Pike is quite large; this is no corner store. They offer many fresh, non-perishable dry goods, and frozen ready-to-eat meals. The selection is impressive, and there are plenty of options for the novice cook!

Holy Land Market

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This middle Eastern/Mediterranean market features a grocery section and a small deli. You can pick from an impressive array of olives, teas, and Turkish Delight, as well as many other grocery items.

What are your favorite international restaurants and markets in Knoxville? What about your hometown? Share with me in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Shout-outs!

A big thank you to Maria Grissino for allowing me to use her photo of the Tennessee Theatre as my featured photo on this post!

Original Destination: Knox: https://theglobetrottingscientist.wordpress.com/2017/09/10/destination-knoxville-tn-usa/

World’s Fair Flags Photo: http://www.knoxvilletennessee.com/downtown/worlds-fair-park.html

Sitar Indian Image: https://smokymountains.com/restaurants/sitar-indian-cuisine/

A Backpacker’s Guide to Packing: Winter Edition

So you just booked a trip to Europe. The plane lands on European soil in January. Hard, frozen, European soil. How do you pack? Do you have to lug around an extra suitcase for all your scarves, boots, and coats? NOPE. Just follow my tips and you can travel with only a backpack in any weather.

  • Wear your bulkiest clothes to the airport

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    Your chunky boots, thick scarf, and big coat should be on your body, even if it’s a little warm when you’re traveling. It will save you a ton of space in your bag. Don’t try to pack 5 pairs of shoes either–throw in some shower shoes and be okay with the shoes on your feet.

  • A down jacket is more packable than a fleece one

    Coat

    For an all around insulation layer, I prefer a packable down jacket. It’s lighter and more packable than the standard fleece jacket everyone seems to take with them. The one I have weighs less than two pounds and packs up smaller than a football. Sure, there’s some fleece jackets out there that meet that criteria, but this jacket was less than $30 on Amazon. It’s a good all around insulating layer that I use traveling, hiking, climbing, etc.

  • Pack layers

    Layering

    When I traveled to Scandinavia in October a couple of years ago, I wore a coat and scarf over a sweater over a shirt to the airport. Layer up so that you are prepared for any weather instead of packing separate outfits for potential temperature fluctuations.

  • Stick to a color scheme

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    This is a good general packing rule, but is especially important with winter clothing. Make sure you match your clothes to your coat and scarf and don’t pack anything that doesn’t fit in the theme. This means you’ll have many different outfit combinations to choose from.

Pretty simple, huh? For more general packing tips, check out this post, 6 tips for packing light and this one, Essential items every traveler needs before the next big trip. Good luck!

Did you enjoy this post? What are your packing hacks? Tell me about them in the comments below! Share via Facebook or Twitter and f ollow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Links:

Bulky clothes photo: https://goo.gl/images/qDZ5D8

Down jacket photo: https://goo.gl/images/yXZpsh

Layers photo: https://goo.gl/images/4oYvs6

 

Essential items every traveler needs before the next big trip

Worried you might’ve forgotten to pack something for your big trip? Need a holiday gift for your favorite traveler? Check out my list of essential lightweight, durable items every backpacker needs.

    1. Sleep mask
      It’s not easy to sleep on a cramped and crowded airplane, or in a shared room at a hostel. A sleep mask will help you block out light and ease you into sleep. Try this one from Amazon with 4.5 stars. It is a 3 pack for $6.30+, and brags “Fully Adjustable, 3D contoured shape, skin friendly, and soft”

      5 star review from Cotton Candy:
      “The most comfortable sleep mask ever. I had been searching for them for a long time. My favorite feature about these masks is the design of their nose area. They don’t press against my nose bridges like other ones do. Not only the straps has elasticity, you can manually adjust the fasteners in the back. They are definitely one size fits all type of mask.”
    2. Ear plugs
      Have you ever had noisy roommates? Imagine having a dozen of them in a shared room at a hostel! Ear plugs can be a lifesaver in a noisy hostel or long flight. These babies are $10.99+ on Amazon and come with 5 pairs of reusable, washable ear plugs, 1 ear pick, and a storage box on a keychain so you’ll never lose them. They have a 4.3 star review on Amazon and a 36dB Noise Reduction Rating.

      5 star review from an Amazon user:
      “Soft squishy material that fits my ear very well! My boyfriend snores and it drives me to the living room, so I got these earplugs just for that reason. I found that if you squeeze the memory foam plug into a small thin rod, then insert in your ear (as opposed to trying to fit the puffed earplug in), the earplug will puff open in your ear and shut out sound. Make sure you get the end of the plus inside your ear (so it doesn’t slide out). It doesn’t shut out all sound but TREMENDOUSLY quiets sounds.“Comfortable and when you have them in your ears, it just feels like a good comfortable pressure.”
    3. Neck pillow
      Every traveler knows we sometimes must sleep in weird places. Whether you have an overnight flight, a long bus ride, or a layover in an unfamiliar airport, you gotta sleep sometime. A neck pillow is worth having on hand. You can get this one from Amazon for $10.95. It is a memory foam pillow with a removable, washable microfiber cover, and a strap so you can attach it to your luggage instead of trying to pack it. It also has a 2-year guarantee and 4.3 stars on Amazon.

      5 star review from Amazon user Sharon G Hook
      “This pillow is very comfortable because of its softness and [cradling] effect. I use it everyday as I have a neck problem. It seems to give me the support I need. I would recommend this pillow to anyone who is looking for a bit of relief.
      If I had one negative it would be that on hot days the composition of the pillow can be a little warm.”
    4. Backpack
      What is a backpacker without a backpack? If you would like to travel light, you can avoid checking a bag by fitting all of your belongings into a backpack. But you must be sure that that backpack is comfortable, or you won’t want to haul it around. Not every style works for every person, but Osprey backpacks are my personal favorite. They have a lifetime, no-questions-asked repair and replacement policy. I’ve carried Osprey packs in all sorts of climates and conditions spanning three continents and I’m still convinced they’re some of the best bags on the planet. Tortuga also makes some really amazing packs that are designed with international travel in mind. If you want some examples, here is a men’s and a women’s backpack from Osprey to get you started. The men’s one is my current go-to pack for hiking and international travel.

    1. Converters
      Whether you need an adapter or a converter often comes down to the voltage in the country you’re going to, and the type of device you’re trying to use. Most modern laptop and cell phone chargers will convert automatically, while simpler appliances such as hairdryers and electric razors won’t. Do some research on your specific destinations and devices to determine if you need one. If you do, grab this all in one converter. It’ll work in most destinations and one gadget is better than five! It’s Prime eligible, has an average rating of 4.5 stars, and is $19.97.

      Four star review from Taylor:
      “Honestly, before I went on my trip to South Korea, I was freaking out about adapters and feared that my things would get fried. Thankfully, this adapter worked amazingly well! I used it for my computer and iphone. There are a lot of reviews about other adapters out there and how they don’t work or they worked for a short time. I can definitely say that this adapter worked for me while in Korea.”
    2. USB travel adapter
      For those times when you need a to plug in your phone or camera but don’t want to mess with a converter, travel adapters are a good option. These adapters come in a pack of two, and each one has two USB ports. Offer to lend the second one out to someone in your hostel who forgot to bring one, and make a new friend! At $10.99 for a two pack, these are definitely a worthy investment. They’re also Prime eligible! They average 4.1 stars over 287 reviews.

      5 star review from Fred Sandsmark:
      “We bought a two-pack of these for a three-week trip to Italy. They performed perfectly for charging two iPhones, a Fitbit, and a Kindle. They also provided a nice green night light. Well worth the price.”
    3. Packable rain jacket
      A good rain jacket is one of those things you’ll forget you have until you really need it. For lightweight international travel, the best thing is a jacket that packs into itself. These jackets usually have a small pocket or stuff sack that allows you to stuff it away into a beer can sized lump. The outdoor industry has made some incredible strides here, with some jackets packing small enough to go into your pocket and weighing only a few ounces. You don’t have to go that high-tech though, a simple one from Columbia will work fine. That’s what I carried in India to keep the monsoons out. It is $54.58+ from Amazon where is has a 4.5 star rating over 47 customer reviews.

      Five star review by Brian Baker:
      “What can I say. It is a Columbia!! Every Columbia product that I own is a great piece of equipment/clothing!! Hands down some of the best gear you can buy. Love this jacket! I would buy again for sure!!”
    4. Packing cubes
      It may seem counter-intuitive to add items to your luggage to save space, but packing cubes are a lifesaver! They help to pack down clothing and to organize it so you don’t have to dump your underwear everywhere to look for that red t-shirt you just have to wear today. These cubes from Amazon are lightweight with a zipper and handle on each of the 4 bags. They’re $16.02+ and have a 4.8 star review.

      5 star review from Deb:
      “I love these packing cubes! I got them to help organize my backpack for an upcoming trip to Thailand. They are the perfect size and free up a lot of space! I fit all my clothes in 3 cubes and I’ll use the 4th cube for my toiletries and accessories. The quality seems good, I will add to my review if anything negative happens after my trip. Fast shipping as always. Happy customer!”
    5. Sink laundry detergent
      You gotta do what you gotta do, and sometimes that means scrubbing your underwear in the sink because you don’t have access to/can’t afford a laundry mat. This sink-friendly laundry detergent will be a lifesaver. This one from Amazon comes with 12 packs of Tide for $16.83 total and a 4.1 star rating.5 star

      review by Nine Cats Corner:
      “This was far more useful than I thought it would be. We recently made a 3 week trip to the United Kingdom, hopping around the country, and staying in multiple hotels. Packing lightly was a necessity. Every night we washed out our shirts, socks and undies, hanging them to dry on cheap plastic hangers we’d brought with us. Having these little sink packs of Tide was easy and convenient. One pack usually washed out 2 shirts, 2 socks, 1 undershirt and 2-3 undies…These Tide sink packs sure beat lugging bottles of anything.”
    6. Roll-up clothes line
      Hey, if you’re washing your clothes in a sink, chances are pretty slim that you’ll be able to throw them in a dryer when you’re done. So, you’ll have to hang them to dry. Please don’t dump them on your roommate’s bed. Try out this clothes line instead! $19 and Prime eligible, with free returns. It’s also solidly rated at 4.5 stars.

      5 star review from W3KO:
      “I now have two for traveling. Longer trips need more hanging space for two people. The Velcro straps make it adaptable to hanging in a variety of places. Highly recommended for travelers.”
    7. Microfiber Towel
      A lot of people absolutely hate them, but there’s no beating a microfiber towel for its weight and quick drying ability. I never travel abroad without mine. The biggest drawback for some people is that it’s not the warm and soft sensation you’d get from a normal bath towel. If you can get used to it, there’s no better alternative though. They pack up teensy tiny and weigh just a few ounces. So far I’ve used mine on three continents in climates ranging from icy Stockholm to scorching Lucknow, and it’s been a lifesaver every time. This one comes with a hand towel and stuff sack, in addition to being an Amazon’s Choice item at 4.5 stars and $13.35+.

      5 star Amazon review by Sam:
      “These are amazing for travel! Very small and compact for easy travel that doesn’t take up your entire suitcase. I bought these for study abroad and they are great. The large towel is very big so I can wrap it around my body and it is quite modest.”
    8. Shower Shoes
      Shower shoes are an essential for every traveler. You do not want to catch a foot fungus from a grimey shared shower. Don’t spend your vacation fighting athlete’s foot! Just wear shower shoes. You can get these slide-on slippers from Amazon for $8.99+. They come in 7 colors and men’s or women’s sizes. These are quick-drying which makes them perfect for travelers.

      5 star review from YR:
      “I took these on vacation to Mexico. I wore them on the beach, at the pool and in the shower. What I liked most about the shower shoes is that they didn’t slip or slide off my feet. They are very comfortable.”
    9. Sunglasses
      A good pair of sunglasses will be your favorite travel buddy. If you’re like me, you don’t want to spend any time squinting in the sun, or you’ll end up with a migraine. Trust me, you don’t want to spend your vacation in your room with the lights turned off and the curtains drawn because you can’t face the sun. These Ray-Bans fold up and come with a little leather case, which is perfect for throwing in your backpack. They have a 4.6 star rating and a $150 price tag.

      5 star review ByA. Daytonon:
      “I’ve bought many Ray-Bans on Amazon and so far have had good luck getting authentic ones each time. This folding pair is my favorite pair I’ve ever owned. I love being able to fold them up and put them in my jeans pocket or shirt pocket, then I don’t have to hang them from the front of my shirt or hold them while I’m inside.”Another 5 star review, by: L. D. Rafeyon
      “These are absolutely splendid! As advertised, lenses allow perfect clear vision, looks great on my face and fold-able. I dropped them on a hard surface with no breakage. Worth every cent! Accompanied by a beautiful zip case.”
    10. Flashlight/reading light
      Please don’t be that guy in the hostel who leaves a bright light on at 2am because they want to read a book or write a postcard. Invest in a small reading light and be a courteous roommate! This one is lightweight, USB rechargeable, and has 2 brightness settings. It has a 4.7 star review on Amazon and is $11.95

      5 star review from Amy:
      “I really like this book light!! Being able to recharge it in any USB port is such a great feature! Two lighting levels and the swivel light gives me flexibility wherever and whatever I am reading. I would highly recommend this light!”
    11. Passport cover
      Passports are valuable, and not just to you. Many passports are stolen. A common scam regarding passports is RFID skimming. Hackers and thieves can “skim” your passport information while it’s in your pocket or bag using simple electronics equipment. In doing so, they can steal your personal data remotely and either sell it or use it to make black market passports. The easiest way to protect from this is to invest in an RFID blocking passport cover. This one also has a slot for credit cards (another common target of RFID skimmers). At $7.99 and Prime eligible, it’s a worthwhile investment. There’s also free returns, just in case you change your mind.

5 star review from DKP:

“Great soft feel. Beautiful color. Passport fits perfectly with room for extra documents, credit cards etc. Glad I bought it”

  1. Tablet/kindle
    If you’re traveling long-term, you won’t be able to take the library with you (sorry!). Invest in a tablet or eReader instead of trying to pick your favorite book to bring along. The Kindle fire 7 tablet is available for $49.99 on Amazon. It comes with Alexa and Prime members have access to many books and movies for free.

    5 Star review by Julie:
    “…[The Kindle Fire’s] small size and light weight makes it ideal for carrying on car trips.”
    Another 5 star review, by Tammy:
    “Great, just the right size! [The Kindle Fire] fits in my bag. Great product”
  2. Pen and journal
    Write about your journey! Invest in a good pen and journal that you love so much you’ll be dying to put pen to paper and share your experiences. Even if you just keep the journal for yourself, future you will be glad you wrote everything down. Here is a great journal that should serve you well on the road. It’s lightweight, an Amazon’s choice item, and carries a 4.4 star rating. It’s Prime eligible, and affordably priced at $9.99.

    4 star review from Amazon User:
    “I’m happy to inform you that this note goes above and beyond what I expected. I’m a heavy fountain pen writer and travel in rough environments often, so any notebook I end up using for daily journaling needs to live up to some really high standards most consumer quality paper goods doesn’t seem to be able to match most of the time. This notebook completely surprised me. The quality of the paper is good enough that my thickly laden Lamy Safari with fine-medium nip is capable of writing on them without worrying about smudges or spill over into the back of the page. The spine and the requisite finish and binding are also excellent, with no wiggles or any weakpoints I can identify that could cause earlier than expected damage to the notebook structure itself.”
    For a pen, I recommend the Zebra F-701. It’s an all stainless steel pen that’s more than durable enough for traveling. I’ve been carrying one virtually every day for almost two years, and it still works fine. They’re only $6.72, and come with free shipping if you use Prime. They also average a 4.4 star review over 1,185 customer ratings.

    5 star rating from Dana Muwwakkil:
    “I love this pen! As a writer that still loves pushing pen to paper I am a huge fan of this pen. The ink flows out very smoothly and it’s a joy to write with. There is no skipping or streaking from the ink either which is a plus. I also love the way it looks, being stainless steel, it looks professional and has more weight to it than the average pen, making it feel expensive and luxurious. The clip feels strong and works well. There is a fine metal, mesh grip where your fingers hold the pen and it feels very comfortable. In all I say it’s definitely worth the price.”

Many thanks to David Anthony for all of his help writing this article, for his guidance in picking the perfect products, and all of the IT support he provided. Happy traveling!

Did you enjoy this post? What are some of your favorite travel must-haves? Share them in the comments below! Share this post via Facebook or Twitter and follow me right here on WordPress for more great content like this.

Disclaimer: if you follow the Amazon links in the body of this post and make purchases through them, I will receive a small compensation from Amazon. This compensation comes from Amazon, not from you, and the price you see through my links is the same as the price you would see otherwise.

Destination: Charleston, SC, USA

Charleston: A quick look

Language: English
Currency: USD
Drinking Age: 21
Public Transportation: 2 free trolleys, and a paid bus service
Passport: No (for US citizens)
Vaccines: Routine

Before you leave

  1. Stay with Airbnb! Charleston has many cheap Airbnb options. (If you sign up using my link you’ll get a $40 credit and I could receive a small compensation as well.)
  2. Charleston is pretty far south–if you’re going during the warm months (that’s April-October down here, y’all) be prepared to sweat, and pack appropriate clothing and sunscreen.

Charleston

Once you get there:

You will likely have to drive to get around Charleston. If you’re flying in I would recommend renting a car. However they do have a bus service (CARTA) which offers bus rides for a fee, but their trolley, which operates through parts of historic Charleston, is free. Another service, DASH, also offers free trolley rides.

Be prepared to walk. Even with cars and buses and trolleys, to get around downtown you simply have to walk. There are plenty of paid lots and garages where you can park your car.

  1. Charleston City MarketOld-City-MarketThe Charleston City Market was established in 1788 by Charles Cotesworth Pinckney and has been a public marketplace ever since. While it was once primarily a meat market, it has evolved into an artisan’s haven. You can find everything from hand-woven baskets, to paintings, to souvenirs, to cheesy hand-painted wine glasses.
  2. Hunley Submarine (civil war history)hunleys-daring-submarineThe Hunley is fun for any history buff. Scientists are working to restore a Civil War era submarine that’s open for tours on the weekends. The tours to the submarine itself are led by a guide, while the museum tours are self-guided. It’s a good introduction to the wealth of Civil War related history in the Charleston area. Tickets are $16/adult and $8/child.
  3. Fort Sumter (civil war history)Fort Sumter Battlefield HeroFort Sumter National Monument is probably best known as the place where the American Civil War erupted. Nowadays, it’s another must see for anyone interested in American history. Getting there requires taking a tour boat to the fort, and taking an approximately two hour tour. Information on tours and facilities can be found on their website.
  4. Folly BeachFollyBeachA 20 minute drive from central Charleston, Folly Beach is a cute Carolina beach town. It is home to many tourist-y beach stores and hipster-y cafes.
  5. Kickin’ ChickenkickinchickenA local chain restaurant, the Kickin’ Chicken has great food and a relaxed atmosphere. With tons of big screen TVs, wings, and a bunch of beers on tap, it reminded me of Buffalo Wild Wings (with better service). The food was fantastic, and the service was excellent. I subbed in a barbecue sauce for the buffalo sauce on the menu for my sandwich and the server didn’t bat an eye.
  6. Black Magic CafeBlackMagicFollyBeachThe original Black Magic Cafe is located in Folly Beach with a new location in James Island. The Folly Beach location is in a tiny old house, with seating outside and in, including on the enclosed screened-in porch. It’s packed on a Sunday morning with plenty of 20 and 30-somethings enjoying coffee, muffins, eggs, and many breakfast combos.
  7. Aqua Terrace Rooftop BarRooftopBarLocated on top of the Charleston Marriott, the Aqua Terrace Rooftop bar has good views of the city, and a gorgeous view of the Ashley River. The drink prices are a little higher than the college bars we usually frequent ($10-15 for a mixed drink) but the cocktails are good.
  8. The Gin JointGinJointLocated right downtown (and near a parking deck, bonus!) the Gin Joint is hopping with 30-something hipsters on a Saturday night. It has a speakeasy theme and a variety of gin drinks, whiskey drinks, and cheeses.
  9. Fudgery IncFudgeryLocated across the street from the Charleston City Market, the Fudgery is conveniently located when you’re out on the town. They offer gourmet homemade fudge, hand-squeezed lemonade, and a variety of ice cream flavors. We picked up some chocolate caramel fudge to take home and a strawberry lemonade to sip on while we walked around. The staff is very friendly and offer free fudge and ice cream samples!

Charleston is a cool city, and I would love to see more of it in the future.  I’ve heard great things about their murder mystery parties, ghost tours, and other historic Charleston spooky attractions.

Did you like this post?  Do you have any recommendations for visitors to Charleston?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!  Share this post via Facebook or Twitter, and, as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Links:

Trolley info: http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com/free-public-transportation-charleston-dash-trolley/

Hunley submarine site: https://hunley.org

Kickin’ Chicken photo: https://www.thedailymeal.com/kickin-chicken-2

City Market photo: http://www.visit-historic-charleston.com/things-to-do-in-charleston-sc.html

Charleston City Market: http://www.thecharlestoncitymarket.com/main/history

Rainbow Row photo: https://www.sciway.net/sc-photos/charleston-county/rainbow-row.html

Fort Sumter photo: https://www.civilwar.org/

Hunley Submarine photo: http://cdn.history.com/

 

Destination: Pristina, Kosovo

Pristina: A Quick Look

Language: Albanian; Serbian spoken by a minority
Currency: Euro
Drinking Age: no minimum legal drinking age
Public Transportation: Buses and taxis are common in the city, and between cities
Passport: Required for US citizens. US Citizens may stay in Kosovo up to 90 days without a visa
Vaccines: Routine vaccines, plus Hepatitis A. Hepatitis B and Rabies recommended for some travelers

Before you leave:

  • Pristina is the capital city of Kosovo, a small somewhat disputed nation in Southeastern Europe. It would be wise to do some research regarding the Yugoslavian civil war, which is still in very recent memory for many Kosovars
  • Avoid discussing Serbia if possible. Serbia’s control of the region for many years is not a pleasant memory, and no matter what your opinion of the conflict is, it’s best kept to yourself.
  • Kosovars are very warm and friendly. You will find that many are genuinely eager to be your friend. It’s not uncommon to be invited into someone’s home shortly after meeting them.

Once you get there:

    • The easiest way into Pristina is to fly into the international airport, or to rent a car and driving up from either FYROM (Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) or Albania. Keep in mind that in the past, people have had trouble crossing the border between Kosovo and Serbia due to the border not really being formally recognized by Serbia. It’s possible to drive across, but research the immigration practices before attempting or you could end up with fines and unneeded hassle.
    • Public transportation can be a little hard to figure out in Kosovo. The easiest way to figure it out is to ask a local! You might have to try a few people before you find someone that speaks English, but they will point you in the right direction. Pristina is also rather walk-able, if you so choose.

1. Bill Clinton Boulevard

This is always my go-to fun fact about Pristina: there’s a 10 foot tall statue of Bill Clinton along “Bill Clinton Boulevard.” It was built in 2009 to commemorate Bill Clinton’s support of Kosovo during the Yugoslavian civil war. I remember being caught totally off guard when I was driving through Pristina and happened across a giant Bill Clinton statue next to the road. Good times…

2. Newborn Monument

The Newborn Monument is a must see. Unveiled on 17 February 2008, the day that Kosovo declared independence from Serbia, it symbolizes Kosovo’s status as a new nation. The coolest part about it: It’s repainted every year, with the new design being unveiled on February 17th.

3. Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square marks the beginning of the pedestrian streets in Pristina. It’s also the site of a statue commemorating Skanderbeg, an Albanian hero. There are plenty of nice hotels in this area, and when the weather is good you can see lots of people out and enjoying themselves.

4. Kosovo Museum

The Kosovo Museum is full of artifacts found throughout the country. Its mission is to preserve the history and culture of the country. It is also the headquarters of the Kosovo Archaeological Institute. They’ve carefully preserved thousands of artifacts, some dating all the way back to the Ottoman Empire. It’s a good way to spend half a day if you’re into museums and history.

5. Natural Beauty

Travelling in Kosovo is not complete without also taking in the natural beauty. If you’re used to travelling in North America or Western Europe, Pristina might feel a little run down. If the city is getting to you, there’s tons of things to do in the surrounding countryside, oftentimes these things are also not in any guidebooks. All of the following are not more than a few hours by car from Pristina.

  • Summit Mt. Ljuboten
    At 8196 feet, Mt Ljuboten is the tallest mountain in Kosovo. Climbing the mountain takes most of a day unless you’re really fast, and in the summer it is nothing more than a steep walk and a casual scramble. In the winter, however, you’ll need proper climbing gear as it’s covered in snow and ice. The summit sits right on the border between Kosovo and FYROM. On a clear day, you can see incredibly far from the top. It’s a good place for a #kosovo photo op.
  • Mirusha Park
    Pictured above, exploring Mirusha Park is a great summertime activity. It’s a large canyon with all sorts of waterfalls and lakes to swim in. It’s a great place to cool off in the summer and meet other people. Don’t miss this one.
  • Brezovica Ski Resort
    Called “the most delightfully dysfunctional ski resort in Europe” by the New York Times, Brezovica is a fun place to learn to ski. If you’ve ever been to a ski resort in the United States, you might want to forget about that experience, as Brezovica Ski Resort is nothing like that. The lifts are rickety, the rental skis are well loved, and the kids will literally ski circles around you and laugh when you fall backwards on flat ground. If you don’t know how to ski, my recommendation is to just rent a pair, go up the slope right outside the hotel, and start riding down. You’ll figure it out!

In summary, Pristina (and Kosovo in general) is a good place to start if you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Europe. It’s safe, the people are nice, and the countryside is beautiful. Espressos and wine are fun, but there’s a whole other side to the continent most Americans never take the time to get to know. Kosovo is incredibly unique, you won’t find anywhere quite like it. After having lived there for 9 months, it sorta grew on me in a weird way. If you’re looking to break out of the old Paris-Berlin-Budapest route, hop on over to Pristina for a few days.

Many thanks to David Anthony for creating this guide to Pristina, Kosovo.

Did you like this article? Have you visited Kosovo? Tell us about it in the comments! Share via Facebook or Twitter, and as always, follow me here on WordPress for more GREAT content like this!

Links:

Bill Clinton Boulevard: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Clinton_Boulevard#/media/File:Bill_Clinton_statue.jpg

Newborn: http://pages.kiva.org/node/10892

Skanderbeg Square: https://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g295385-d2476250-i131836377-Swiss_Diamond_Hotel_Prishtina-Pristina.html

Kosovo Museum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kosovo_Museum#/media/File:Muzeu_i_Kosov%C3%ABs.JPG

Mirusha Park: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirusha_Park#/media/File:Unseen_Mirusha.jpg

NYT Article about Brezovica: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/28/travel/kosovo-ski-holidays.html?mcubz=3

Pristina photo: https://sk.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pri%C5%A1tina