Seville

Why Seville? It’s a nice and sunny place that’s not too overwhelming!

When I go to big cities I always feel a bit stressed, because there are always more things to do than I can fit into my schedule, and that makes traveling a bit unpleasant. It may seem like a good problem to have, but if I am stressed about having to see everything, doesn’t that defeat the whole point of traveling?

I am at a point in my life where I can really use some down time to reflect on recent happenings, so I intentionally picked a place that’s not quite as busy as other places I’ve been to in the past – Seville!

Not quite as popular or well-known as places like Barcelona or even Madrid, but it’s still a city with magnificent architecture, epic stories of cultural clashes and conquests, religions, and art. A lot of art.

Many famous operas were set in Seville, and they serve as testimonies to its beauty. To name a few among a dozen – Carmen, Marriage of Figaro, Barber of Seville (where the Bugs Bunny theme song came from), and Don Juan.

The city is also an enduring record of the clashes between the Moors (Muslims from North Africa) and Catholics in the 8th century, and as a result the architectural style is a unique blend of Jewish (came with the Moors), Gypsy (also came with the Moors), Muslim, and Catholic. Often in the same buildings as well, and that’s super cool!

Also, circumstances dictate that I travel by myself again, so I’m back to meeting strangers! Like last time, I’m going to number them in this post instead of giving their names – both in order to protect the innocent, and also because I am shit with names.


The hostel is nicely nestled in the middle of Santa Cruz, a labyrinth of narrow alleys that make up the medieval Jewish quarter of Seville.

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It all looks very confusing, but for some reason, I can always manage to find my way back to the hostel without a map if I just follow my instinct. Maybe my brain decided to grow some grid cells?

The hostel is a bit anti-social with everyone doing their own things (like me on my laptop typing this post…), but the decorations are interesting, and there’s free dinner!

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img_20161110_220904I love hostels with free dinners! Dinners are amazing for bringing people together and getting people to start talking. And talk we did.

Dutch girl #1 used to live in Brussels doing spreadsheets for an insurance company, but decided that’s too boring and went to live in Australia for a few months, and met Australian guy #1, and they started dating. They now travel all over the world as nomads. How cool is that?!

Belgian girl #1 also works in Brussels, and after a few moments of confusion, established that she actually works at the same insurance company that Dutch girl #1 worked at. They did not know each other.

She also speaks perfect English, despite English being her 4th language. Belgian people are amazing.

American girls #1 and #2 were from Chicago and Michigan, and they are on an exchange program, spending a semester at a university in Madrid, while teaching English for 4 euros/hour (that’s not survivable even by Spanish standards). They are doing some traveling before going back to the States, and they both speak Spanish really well! I really need to work on my Spanish. Being only bilingual is getting a bit old, when everyone I meet at hostels are at least trilingual.

Canadian guy #1 is a mechanical engineer from London, Ontario, working for General Dynamics. We mostly just geeked out and talked about mechanical engineering shit that I assume most of my readers aren’t terribly interested in, but he did tell me how a friend of his in the bio-med field mentioned to him that there’s this simple device many research labs pay thousands of $s for that he (and even I) can build in a few days for about $200, and he is going to launch a startup to take advantage of that. I don’t want to say too much about it since I’m not sure if he wants more people to know, but as an engineer, I’ve had lots and lots of people pitch their startup/project ideas to me, and I found most of them BS in some way. Not this one. This one is actually cool.

Norwegian guy #1 is a vet working in a research lab at a university in Madrid doing research in animal nutrition. I don’t remember what he works on exactly, but it’s impressive.


There are wars and power struggles in the history of every city, and while in northern/western parts of Europe the big war is usually WWII, here it happened centuries earlier – between Muslims and Catholics. This results in interesting architecture. For example, La Giralda, one of the most symbolic icons of the city used to be a minaret – a Muslim tower for prayers. Now it’s in the middle of Catedral de Sevilla – the largest Gothic cathedral in the world… which used to be a mosque.

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The cathedral itself is huge, but not really impressive otherwise. Looks like someone had a few crates more gold than they knew what to do with, and just poured it all over this place.

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The tower is amazing though!

The way up is a very very very long ramp. It’s a ramp instead of steps because the imam had to go up 5 times a day, and the imam was usually a very old guy. With a ramp he could ride a donkey up. DONKEY! UP A TOWER!!

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I am not the proud owner of a donkey, so I walked. And walked. And walked. 20 minutes later… bird’s-eye view of Seville!

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How amazing would it be if I could jump off with a paraglider or something?


To be continued… (spoiler: I did not jump)

Polyamory

You are walking on a 100-metre long trail, and there is a pebble every metre. When you encounter a pebble, you can choose to pick it up or leave it. If you pick it up, the game is over, and you get to keep the pebble. If you leave it, you cannot go back to it later.

Your goal is to get the largest pebble. What’s your optimal strategy?

This is the famous secretary problem in decision theory.


Monogamy feels a lot like the secretary problem to me – you encounter a more or less fixed number of potential partners over your relationship forming year, and you have to pick one without being able to peek ahead, and you can’t go back to potential partners you have passed over.

Does that make much sense to you? It doesn’t really to me.

Does loving a person really turn off our capability to love another person? It doesn’t for me, and judging by the number of “monogamous” people who cheat, I don’t think it’s just me.

Love is just a more intense form of friendship. We can have multiple best friends and no one has trouble understanding that. Why do we have to be so selfish with love? Why can’t we just love everyone we want to love?

Why do romantic relationships have to be formed and broken with so much deliberate effort? Why can’t they evolve organically just like friendships?

Those are questions I’ve had for many many years (in fact, I believe I wrote a blog post about this back in 2010 or something). Questions that I never found satisfactory answers to, and as a result, I mostly just refrained from dating.

Until recently, that is. I came across the concept of polyamory a few months ago, and have been reading up on it since. Everything just makes sense!

If you are not familiar with polyamory – it’s a relationship model where each person can have multiple partners, but with the knowledge and blessing of all partners involved (this is a huge over-simplification – there at least as many different kinds of poly relationships as there are mono relationships).

Is it for me? I don’t know. It makes perfect sense on paper, but I don’t know how my brain will actually react.

There’s the practical aspect as well – my friend who did give it a try didn’t find it worthwhile, due to the effort required to maintain multiple relationships. As a famous poly saying goes: “Love is infinite, but time and energy aren’t.”

In any case, if I do actually go into poly, it will probably end up being a mono-poly sort of arrangement with me on the mono side… I barely have enough time for one person!


So, what’s the solution to the secretary problem?

As it turned out, there is an elegant mathematical solution – the optimal strategy is to skip over the first n/e pebbles, and then take the first one that is bigger than all you have seen.

n is the number of candidates, and e is the base of natural logarithm (e ~= 2.72).

For example, in the case of 100 pebbles, that means you should skip over the first 100/2.72 = 37 pebbles, and then take the first one that’s bigger than all of the first 37 pebbles.

See the Wikipedia page for proof.

 

2015 in Review

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something. – Steve Jobs

2015 was about answering “yes” to that question unhealthily often. It was a good year.

I quitted my job last year to do an MSc in London, but it was mostly just an excuse to spend a year living in a new country, and ticking a few more things off my list of things to do before I die. That turned out to be a very good decision.

I am finally at a point in life where if you tell me I am going to die today, and ask me what I wish I could have done but never did, I would have to think long and hard about it.

Gliding

In the first half of the year, I finally got into gliding with the Imperial College Gliding Club. It’s something I have always wanted to do being a powered airplane pilot, and I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint. We went on quite a few trips to the local airfield (Lasham), as well as a week-long trip to Long Mynd over the Christmas holidays, where we flew an unhealthy amount, and got to try out a really cool launch method. See this post for videos and photos.

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I didn’t end up getting licensed in gliding because gliding is very time-consuming (whole days at the airfield), and unfortunately time is one of the things I don’t have a lot of… it was still amazing, though!

SCUBA Diving

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Thanks to all the fine people in the Imperial College Underwater Club, I was also able to get certified in scuba diving! It was a bit cold, but everyone in the club, especially the instructors, were absolutely amazing! It’s something I definitely plan to keep doing. Somewhere warm?

Judo

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I got orange! I probably should have gotten it a long time ago, if only I didn’t switch dojo every few months.

What’s more important though, is what I learned. I felt like I really made quite a bit of progress in my understanding of Judo this year. I am much more relaxed now when I go into a fight, and can more accurately use my opponents’ force against themselves, which is really what Judo should be about. My fighting style is now much more reactionary (that sounds like a bad thing, but it really isn’t). Instead of always initiating and trying attacks from stable positions, I am starting to be able to let the opponent attack first, recognize weaknesses in their movements or balances, before moving in to attack. That made Judo a whole lot more fun.

Still have lots and lots to learn. Looking forward to another year of Judo!

Musicals!

Imperial College subsidizes musical tickets through the Art Society, and we were able to get tickets to most West End shows for less than £30.

Living in Vancouver, I am used to only be able to watch musicals when they go on tours, and it’s often necessary to book half a year in advance. Living close to West End was really nice. I could watch pretty much anything I wanted, and only had to book a few days in advance.

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It was amazing.

Woodworking

I was in desparate need of an excuse to travel outside of my room during the thesis writing period, so I decided to join a week-long full time course on woodworking and furniture making.

It’s something I have always wanted to learn. I am into DIY and I would say I am pretty good at DIYing electronics stuff (maybe having a degree in that helped?), but I have always sucked at making mechanical stuff, so this was an attempt to fix that.

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We each built a coffee table! I was surprised how much we learned in just one week.

Can’t wait to start building more stuff!

Also, sawing wood is therapeutic.

Backpacking

There was supposed to be a graduation trip, then everyone else bailed. So I ended up going backpacking on my own. It ended up being a whole lot more fun than I ever imagined!

I took about a month to visit Lisbon, Prague, Vienna, and Budapest, staying in hostels and meeting new people every day. I was a bit apprehensive at first, and wasn’t sure if travelling by myself would be a good idea, but it turned out to be probably my best decision of the year!

I wouldn’t go as far as calling it self-discovery, but I did discover a very fun way to travel, and met tons of really cool people and heard tons of really cool stories.

My travel log, if anyone is interested:

Solo Eurotrip, Prelude

Solo Eurotrip, Lisbon Part 1

Solo Eurotrip, Lisbon Part 2

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 1

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 2

Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 1

Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 2

Solo Eurotrip, Budapest

Degree, Piece of Paper, and Being (Briefly) Famous

Oh yeah, and I worked on an MSc degree on the side, and got another piece of paper.

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I also discovered my love for machine learning after taking the introductory course, and ended up doing a machine learning project for my thesis… and that’s where the fun started.

I posted my thesis on arXiv, and it was miraculously picked up by MIT Technology Review, which started my approximately 3 weeks of fame. It was reported on by quite a few tech and even mainstream media, and I started getting 10-20 emails from random strangers every day about the project, or their new hot startup. That was unexpected.

It was pretty fun in the beginning, because I am passionate about machine learning, and loved talking about the project. But over time, it became pretty consuming, when I realized I was spending 2 hours a day responding to emails.

I always thought ignoring emails is rude and that I would never do it. Then I started doing it, because there’s just no other way. I couldn’t really afford to spend hours replying to emails everyday. Wouldn’t be able to get anything else done! On the bright side, I am much faster at writing emails now. I’m sure it will be a useful skill later.

The fame left just as quickly as it had come. I was back to my normal level of emails within a few weeks. That’s good. No more feeling guilty about ignoring emails!

One good thing did come out of this whole ordeal, though – a job!

Google DeepMind

Having read a few of their papers during my research, I was really impressed by what they were doing. I didn’t apply there, though, because I thought it was way out of my league, being one of the most famous machine learning labs in the world.

One of their research scientists saw my paper on arXiv, and got me in contact with their recruiter!

We then had a series of Google Hangouts interviews with a bunch of people, including a research scientist, a PM, their research engineering lead, an engineering lead, and one of the founders!

It was a pretty gruelling process totalling to about 10 hours of Hangouts, but although they were all heavy weights in the industry, they were also all very nice and down to earth people, and I really enjoyed talking to them.

It was also a bit scary how smart they are. We talked about my project in one of the interviews with a research scientist. He hadn’t read about it before, and as soon as I am done describing it (it wasn’t a trivial project), he was able to immediately offer a few very helpful insights and things to try, and things to think about. Those are things I never thought of, and I spent a few hours a day working on the project for a few months. That was cool.

I also really enjoyed talking to the founder about more high level ideas in artificial intelligence and machine learning. Really cool insights on how they believe ML will play out in the future, about the nature of intelligence, and possible routes to achieve artificial general intelligence. I don’t think I’m allowed to disclose the details, but it was cool. How often do you get to talk to a founder of a company like DeepMind about AI for half an hour? Not very often for me!

I got an offer in the end!

Next

I didn’t originally plan on returning to the UK, but hey, I am used to making last minute decisions on where to live, and Google isn’t half bad :).

Looks like I’ll be flying back to London next week, and also shipping all my stuff over… most of which I just shipped out of London a few months ago… at least someone else is paying for the shipping this time!

I am not going to write about what I plan to do this year, because looking at my past predictions, it seems like I am terrible at making plans. I do hope it will be as exciting as this year, though!

Love of a Woman?

Who’s got time for that?! 🙂

Sidenote: I decided to try OkCupid recently at a dear friend’s suggestion. After all, I am a machine learning guy. Why not trust machine learning to solve this?

Did not work very well. I don’t like the shotgun approach, so after going through tons of profiles of potential matches, I only sent messages to 2 women. No reply. I do understand that women get a lot of messages on OkCupid, but if I have to write 10 thoughtful messages to get 1 reply… who’s got time for that?!

I am not sure why it worked well for my friend but not me. My guess is it’s because in addition to being very intelligent and humorous, she also happens to be highly conventionally attractive. I did not work as hard and was not as gifted :).

I guess that means it’s back to real world dating for me. Hopefully I’ll have more time this year? Apparently a lot of people (especially men) choose online dating because they are too shy to talk to women. I am not. I have no trouble talking to anyone. I just don’t have the time. Arghhh.

In any case, if you are interested in what a Unsuccessful Application for the Affection of Women looks like, here it is.

By the way, the OkCupid blog is very cool. Lot’s of data analysis and making inferences from data.

Solo Eurotrip, Budapest

Armed with the gift of the last of a book of 10 transit tickets from Japanese guy #1 and some amazing kebab from the Vienna Westbahnhof, I boarded the bus to Budapest (not using the ticket… the ticket is for intra-city travel only).

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It wasn’t a very comfy ride, but hey, international buses aren’t supposed to be comfy. These are not the buses you take to be comfy. These are the buses you take because you need to go from one city to another, and you want to do it as cheaply as possible, and don’t want to be robbed on the way (that rules out hitchhiking).

At least I got a first row seat?

Sitting next to me was Unknown girl #1. Did not attempt to talk to her because she had earphones in most of the time (which is the internationally recognized personal door sign for “don’t talk to me”), and also she didn’t seem like a tourist. I didn’t know if she spoke German or Hungarian, but I don’t speak either anyways.


One thing I love about this kind of travel is that you can almost get away with not doing any planning at all. Hostel hosts are usually very friendly people, and can tell you all you will ever want to know about the place.

I usually just plan for getting to the hostel, and leave the rest till I get there.

I stayed at Budapest Bubble. If you read the reviews on HostelWorld, you’d notice that they all mention this mysterious woman by the name of Anna.

Anna is one of the 2 people running the hostel, and she is amazing.

As soon as I arrived, she sat me down, gave me a map, and spent about half an hour telling me all about the city – fun places to visit, cool things to see, etc, and drew a very very detailed overlay on the map – where to buy stuff, historical landmarks, historical stuff, where to eat, where the bath houses are… everything! No independent research necessary! I wish I had taken a picture of the map. Alas, I didn’t :(.

It was a very small hostel converted from an apartment. On this trip I have stayed in hostels with hundreds of beds, as well as very small hostels with only a few beds like this one. I can’t decide which kind I like more. Bigger hostels usually means better facilities, and more people available for meeting (so you can be more picky), whereas small hostels are usually cozier and you get to see the same people more often.

There were about 5 other people staying at the hostel at that time, and most of them decided to go pub crawling on my first night. I didn’t end up going because I wanted to actually get up early to explore the city… pubs are the same pretty much anywhere, right?

So I ended up staying behind, and just talked to Anna for a few hours. I love talking to hostel hosts. They are usually local, are knowledgeable about local stuff (because they are in the tourism “industry”), and speak English! It’s otherwise pretty difficult to get to know locals in cities like Budapest, where very few locals speak English (or any other language I understand… I need a C-3PO).

Apparently Hungarian is so hard to learn that knowing Hungarian is usually seen as a major accomplishment. Most European languages are from either the West Germanic family (German, Dutch, English), or the Romance family (Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian), and they usually have enough common features or even vocabulary that if you know one language in the family, it’s relatively easy to guess stuff in other languages in the family. Hungarian is from a family known as Uralic languages (according to Wikipedia) which also includes Finnish and Estonian. It’s so different from English that although they also use Latin alphabet, I couldn’t guess a single word.

Anna had a t-shirt that says “I speak Hungarian. What’s your superpower?”

She was studying to be a kindergarten teacher, and shared a few stories from her practicum, mostly about kids fighting etc… and apparently running a hostel isn’t that much different from teaching in a kindergarten. Most of the time people are just drunk, but she said there’s one time a crazy Polish lady kept walking around the common area with a knife, and arguing with herself…


Next few days were all raining. Hard. I guess it wasn’t TOO bad that I didn’t get much rain till the final city on my trip? The rain sucked, though, and I didn’t end up getting to explore Budapest much.

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Budapest used to be two cities on two banks of the river (the Danube) – Buda and Pest. Nowadays the hilly Buda side is mostly residential, and most of the touristy places are on the Pest side.

There’s a pretty cool Citadel on the Buda side – a fortress on a hill built by Austrians in the 1800s. Hungarians don’t like it because it was built using Hungarian forced labour. When the Austrians left the walls were destroyed, and it’s now a touristy area, offering a good view of the Pest side of the city… when it’s not incredibly rainy and foggy.

I didn’t have a map with me, so I had to rely on a picture of the very helpful diagram on a sign at the foot of the hill.

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No idea what the words meant. Probably just something very important.

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At the top of the hill. Good reward for an hour of climbing –

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At this point it started raining hard, so I ran back towards civilization, while taking a shower. Food!

This is the Central Market Hall (“Nagyvásárcsarnok”). It is the biggest market in Budapest, and is actually frequented by locals (though there are also many tourists now).

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Bottom floor has a lot of fresh produce, and top floor is almost like a very big food court.

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It was incredibly crowded during feeding time, but the food is good and cheap!

Ok, it’s probably expensive by Hungarian standards, but still cheap by Western standards.

I had this –

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It’s stuffed chicken/duck/something leg. No idea how they made it, but there’s mashed-potatoes-like stuff between the skin and the meat. It was awesome!

Another popular Hungarian dish is the beef goulash (beef soup/stew). There is a famous German dish with the same name, but it’s quite different from the Hungarian version from what I heard. The dish originated from Hungary way back in the days. No pictures because it was too yummy.

Castle? Castle.

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And that’s more or less it… unfortunately. There was a continuous torrential downpour for the next 2 days, so I just packed up, took the bus back to Vienna, and flew back.

It’s a bit sad that such an epic trip ended in such an un-epic way, but I guess not having any rain until this point was more than what I could have asked for already.

Until next time!

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Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 2

Vienna is divided into 23 districts, and numbered 1-23 for easy reference (gotta love German simplicity). The first district, the Innere Stadt, is the Old Town, where all the historical things are. I believe it was the entirety of Vienna before the expansions in the 1800s to include the suburbs.

Unfortunately, unlike the old town in Prague for example, since Vienna has always been inhabited by the rich in each period, many of the buildings in the lnnere Stadt have been built, blown up, rebuilt, blown up again, then rebuilt again, etc.

One thing that stood relatively unchanged in the centre of the old town is St. Stephen’s Cathedral (it was built on the site of earlier churches, but it hasn’t been blown up yet in a few hundred years… so hopefully it will stay?).

It’s huge!

20150919_194535_NightAt the time it was built, it marked the eastern border of the Christian world, beyond which were the  Hungarians.

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Funny story – back in the good old days of rivalry between Catholicism and Protestantism, Catholics tried hard to convince people that their god is the true one because their god is obviously richer.

But it wasn’t until the plagues hit that people really started believing in them. They were able to accurately predict when the plagues would come and go, and people were amazed.

How did they do that? The church archives. Literacy was low, and people generally didn’t read, so no one remembers anything from more than a decade or two ago. Plagues came every few decades, and those smart church people found a pattern by studying the church records of history – plagues always worsen during months of high humidity (summers), and go away during months of low humidity (winters).

Of course they didn’t understand why at that time, but it didn’t stop them from making up some cool stories and prophecies, and converted the whole city to Catholicism.


 

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The Graben has been one of the main shopping streets of Vienna for the past 700 years. For the past couple hundred years, the Graben and 2 adjoining streets (Kohlmarkt and Kartner Rd) have been where the city’s richest shop. Today they have stores like LV and Chanel. Back in the days they had their equivalents of those brands. According to the tour guide, nowadays most of the rich clients come from Russia in the winter, and western Europeans in the summer.


Another one of the most prominent landmarks in Vienna is the Hofburg Palace. Once the imperial palace of the nation, it now houses a few museums showcasing the city’s rich history.

In front of the palace is the famous Heldenplatz (Heroes’ Square). There are two equestrian statues (men on horses) in front of the palace. One of them was more impressive than the other – the one that the artist successfully balanced on just the two hind legs of the horse.

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He was not able to repeat the feat with the second statue, which required additional support (tail of the horse). He also went insane while constructing the second statue.

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There were a few cool things inside the museums. One of them has all kinds of historical musical instruments, like a travel-sized violin, violins with a gazillion strings, and… what seems to be 2 guitars stuck together?

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Really cool armour with a built-in pole?

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I also visited the house of Mozart (in the First District), and also the house and clinic of Sigmund Freud. Sigmund Freud graduated from the University of Vienna, and stayed in Vienna until the Nazies came. He then escaped to London with most of his belongings (only possible because he had a lot of money, from one of his patients). Most of the furnitures in the museum were donated by his also-famous psychologist daughter, Anna Freud, and shipped back to Vienna (from London).

It was a small practice that only has a few pieces of furniture, and of course, plenty of penises.

Unfortunately, neither of those places allowed photographing.

I went back to the hostel relatively early, and met a few more people at the hostel bar.

Israeli girl #1 was from Tel Aviv. Apparently Tel Aviv is a pretty modern western city, except everything is super expensive. So they would often come to Europe to shop, because everything is much cheaper in Europe. It’s a lot like how many Canadians living near the border go to the states to shop.

But still. Vienna. Cheap?!? It’s one of the most expensive places I have been to!

She also doesn’t recommend visiting Tel Aviv, but Jerusalem is fun if you are into religion or history.

German girl #3 is studying medicine in Frankfurt, and is a violinist and a fan of Lindsey Stirling. Yay for Lindsey Stirling!

German girl #4 is a second year mechanical engineering student in Cologne (IIRC?), trying to decide what to specialize in. Apparently traveling is good for that? Their options for specialization are pretty similar to what we have here, and obviously I recommended mechatronics :D.

She spends all her free time restoring a car that has sat on her grandfather’s farm for decades, and hopes to finish by the end of the year. Way cool.

She is also allergic to the sun. Way uncool, but pretty cool in an uncool way. Did you know that some people are allergic to water and can’t even take long showers?

Japanese guy #1 worked for a company that acquires land for the government to build highways on. So when the government wants to build a new highway, they would tell the company to go buy all the houses and land along the way. And no, those people aren’t allowed to say no. Though apparently they do offer above-market $$ as compensation.

We also talked a bit about Japanese work culture. It’s a bit shit IMHO. Japan is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to work there. They strongly value seniority over merit, and many high up people don’t really know what they are doing. There are also many unwritten rules – like how everyone stays till very late even if they have not much to do, because they don’t dare leaving before their managers. And sometimes their managers don’t leave even when they have nothing to do, because they don’t want to seem unimportant (being able to leave on time = you are not important enough). So everyone stays very late. You get about 3 weeks of vacation just like in the US or Canada, but no one dares taking more than a week at a time, or 2 weeks in total. You will be jobless when you return if you do (he made a throat-slashing gesture), and since Japanese people typically stay at the same company for their entire career, it’s very hard for someone who loses their job in their late 30s or 40s to find another one.

And then there’s sexism. Women are expected to start a family and quit their job, so they are generally never promoted. There is also the unwritten rule that they should always bring tea and coffee (and sometimes lunch) to their male colleagues, even if they have the same job. That’s also pretty BS.

Egyptian girl #1 was born in Cairo, Egypt, and moved to Los Angeles when she was young, and now lives in Germany. She grew up just learning new languages for fun, and works as a translator now, speaking 5 languages – Arabic, English, French, German, and something else.

She specializes in translating legal documents, but enjoys doing live translations more. For example, she has been translating for refugees in Germany for the past little while (most refugees speak English pretty well, but not German). She enjoys the human contact.

Translation is not just about languages, and in fact, sometimes it’s not about languages at all. For example, many companies also contract her to do “cultural reviews” of videos and ads to be shown in a different country for example. People from different cultures can see and interpret the same things very differently, and it takes someone who has lived for extended periods in different countries to be able to see those things.

So she tries to move to a different country every few years. How cool is that?!

You may have noticed that they are mostly girls. It’s not an isolated incident, and I’m not intentionally avoiding contact with guys! Solo travellers tend to talk to each other, and it seems like there are many more girl solo travellers than guy solo travellers. Don’t ask me why, but yay for finally finding a hobby that is not 90% male? Only took me 20 tries.

Roommate for the night was Australian guy #4. He was in his 60s, and still travelling around the world by himself! He came all the way from Australia, and this trip has taken him through Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and Switzerland. I loved talking to him. He talked poetry. Loved his poetic descriptions of all those places.

For future reference, Zurich is very nice if you have a lot of money. Though it sounds more like a couple-y place than a place for solo travellers. Maybe I’ll save it till I become couple-y.

And that’s all for Vienna! I booked a train to Budapest, Hungary, for the next day.

To be continued…

 

Solo Eurotrip, Vienna Part 1

Backpacking is a bit like playing a fantasy role-playing game (Baldur’s Gate anyone?) – you go to a small town, find an inn, order a drink, talk to a few people, try to get a few hints on where to go next to advance the story, and be on your way.

At the hostel in Prague I talked to a few people who just came from Vienna, as well as a girl on the hostel staff who travelled to Vienna often. They unanimously recommended Hostel Ruthensteiner, so that’s where I booked.

PS. If I forget to mention this later, yes, I highly recommend it as well.

It was pretty awesome.

There were 3 guys and a girl behind the counter, and they reportedly speak 12 languages between them. Of course, 4 people and 12 languages doesn’t mean 3 languages per person, because there are many overlaps. They all speak German and English, so assuming no more overlaps, that’s still 4.5 languages per person on average!

There was a Chinese family that checked in after me, and the blonde girl actually spoke pretty good Mandarin to them. I was impressed. I should have spoken Chinese, too, just to make their lives slightly more difficult.

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They call themselves a “musical hostel”. That sounded nice, but I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Then I walked in on someone playing Vivaldi in the common room. Pretty cool!

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There is a communal piano in the common room, and people play it continuously from 9am to 11pm every day (not when I took the picture, which was early morning). Anything from classical to crazy pop stuff. The piano really made the hostel a lot more Vienna-y. Favourite common room on this trip!


Roommates for the night were an older German couple (German guy #2, German girl #2) from Stuttgart, and South Korean girl #1.

South Korean girl #1 was cool. She was on a working holiday in Vancouver recently, and actually lived 2 blocks away from my old workplace in Yaletown (downtown Vancouver). How cool is that?!

She is on a backpacking trip to see all the small (and big) towns in Austria, and just came from Salzburg (a city in western Austria), and will be heading up to Munich for Oktoberfest in a few days.

Booking accommodation in Munich in October is a competitive sport, and many people book a few months or even a year in advance. South Korean girl #1 didn’t, so she planned on taking an overnight train there from Austria, spend a day there, and then take another overnight train out of Munich… dedication.

On the next day, everyone (besides yours truly) moved out, and a new batch of fresh meat moved in. They were South Korean girl #2-3 (travelling together), and South Korean girl #4. It was the most anti-social night of my trip.

South Korean girls #2-3 arrived early in the evening with a HUGE pink suitcase, and spent most of the evening in the room, doing I don’t know what.

They didn’t speak much English. The only thing they said to me was “where’s the towel?”. Probably their first time staying at a hostel.

I also felt bad for taking 5 minutes to understand what they were asking. Their pronunciation of the word “towel” is almost exactly how I pronounce “tower”, and I thought long and hard about towers in Vienna… Wasn’t trying to make fun of their accent or anything – I have an accent myself too (well, I suppose everyone does, but I’ve never lived in a place where my accent is mainstream, and I don’t even know if such a place exists!). I just had no idea what they were saying. Maybe that scared them? They never spoke to me after that…

On the next morning they spent about 2 hours getting ready, including about 1 hour on makeup. And about another hour getting ready for bed at the end of the day. I guess their standard going-to-bed routine involves applying pastes and stickers(?) of various colours and consistencies to their faces. No wonder they needed a huge suitcase – they have a beauty salon in there!

There was also South Korean girl #4. She was absolutely the most anti-social person I met on this trip. She didn’t even respond to “hi”, and actually holed up in her bed, inside her blanket, on her phone, and turned towards the wall. The whole time. I don’t think I saw her face at any point. Why stay at a hostel if you don’t want to talk to anyone?

Since roommates weren’t much fun, I decided to go on an evening walking tour to get an introduction to the city, and went to dinner with a few people on the tour afterwards.

Among them were Canadian guy #2, and Filipino girl #1-4. Canadian guy #2 was an electrical engineer from Edmonton, taking a one-month vacation to backpack around Europe. Filipino girl #1-4… I have no idea what they did, and they were about the same age as me. Got some cool travel advices for Philippines, though! Upon learning that I was travelling by myself, they were very impressed (really, it’s not that difficult!), and became extremely friendly… that was slightly weird.


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Vienna was, at one point, the capital of the Holy Roman Empire (even though at that point they were “neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire”). It was the place to be if you were very good at what you do, and have high ambitions.

Many famous musicians called Vienna home at some point in their lives – Haydn, Schubert, Strauss, Beethoven, and of course, Mozart.

“Mozart loved tight pants. Back in the days they didn’t have elastic material, so to make tight pants, they have to wear them while they are still wet, and shrink them.” – Tour guide.


 

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There were a bunch of people dressed up in period costumes trying to sell tickets to some concert, in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. It was pretty funny. I don’t think anything screams “tourist trap” more than a bunch of people selling tickets in costumes.

I passed by the cathedral many times, and at one point one of them tried to show me what they were selling by flipping through a bunch of images of ballerinas and symphonies, probably from Google Images. Uh, yeah, I think I know what ballet is.


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Did you know that hot dogs are called wieners because they were invented in Vienna? Wien is the German name of Vienna. The first hot dogs were made by taking soft pork sausages from Frankfurt, and adding beef to make them stiff. So now hot dogs are called wieners everywhere in the world, except in Vienna, where they are called Frankfurters.

Currywurst (pictured above) is a German snack commonly sold by street vendors, made by adding ketchup and curry powder to sliced (and sometimes unsliced) hot dogs. Yummy!


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And of course, like all other respectable German-speaking cities, alcohol is cheaper than water.

To be continued…

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 2

There are two types of paddle boats – one where each boat has one propeller shared between the 2 paddlers, and one where each boat has two propellers, driven by the respective paddler. Cheating is only possible on the first type because on the second type, a lazy paddler will result in the boat turning in circles.

We had the first type.

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I love paddle boats and I don’t know why. They make me happy.

Like almost all other major historical European cities, Prague is divided in half by a river. Vltava river runs through Prague, and offers a great view of many landmarks.

Boat mates were Israeli guy #1 and #2, and Canadian girl #1.

Israeli guy #1 and #2 were pretty young. They just finished high school and decided to go travel before the mandatory military service (I think?). Did you know that women are required to serve in the military as well in Israel? Conscription is pretty shitty, but at least they are not sexist about it (unlike most other countries, including the US, which still doesn’t allow women to hold some positions in the military). One of them does some software stuff, and wants to continue on with that in the military.

Canadian girl #1 works in the correctional services of Canada, in Ottawa. Her job is to answer phone calls, from inmates who are not happy with… pretty much anything. Apparently food requirements are common, and many people claim to be Muslim to get halal food, which is way better than regular food. And of course, being a woman, she also gets a fair number of wankers and heavy breathers…


At the end of the boat ride, one of the girls (Belgian girl #1) suggested we go to a famous burger place that’s known for their huge portions. I got ribs. Yeah. It was as good as it looks.

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Belgian girl #1 is studying tourism in a small town near Brussels, can speak 4 languages, and reportedly has an amazing fuck buddy.

I originally planned to visit Brussels on the way from Lisbon (since I planned to go by train). Didn’t happen unfortunately since I found out that the train ride would cost a few arms and legs, and involves running through Paris in 55 minutes to get from the south train station to the north train station. Definitely on my list of places to visit, though, especially if I end up back in the UK. It’s so close!


20150916_195031_HDRThis was supposed to be my last night in Prague. I went back to the hostel and tried to book stuff for the next part of my journey, and had a bit of a scare – I originally planned to head to Budapest next, which, despite the refugee situation, I thought would be easy since people are trying to get OUT of Hungary, not INTO Hungary.

What I didn’t realize is that if trains aren’t going westbound from Budapest, there won’t be trains going eastbound into Budapest either. Law of Conservation of Trains!

As a result, all the buses were fully booked (those buses don’t usually require advance booking), and I actually had no way of getting into Hungary. Even the flights were crazy expensive.

So there you go, the danger of impromptu travel. On the other hand, since I had nothing already booked in Hungary, I was able to just look at a map, and pick another city/country to go to.

My options were Vienna or Krakow (Poland). I really wanted to see Munich or Stuttgart, but it’s pretty much impossible to visit those cities (or any German city really) at this time of the year, thanks to Oktoberfest.

I also thought about just flying out again and into Russia, to either Moscow or St. Petersburg. Then I found out that Canadians need to apply for visas to enter Russia. Totally unacceptable. What kind of countries require Canadians to apply for visas!? So no Russia.

It was a difficult choice between Vienna and Krakow. Vienna is very cool with all the musical stuff and history, but Krakow had Nazi stuff and more WWII history.

In the end I decided to go to Vienna just because I still wanted to go to Budapest eventually, and it’s easier to get there from Vienna than from Krakow (3 hours bus vs overnight sleeper train).

Roommates for the night were Slovaskian guy #1 and American girl #1. American girl #1 was amazing. She grew up in South Carolina (or was it North?), decided she didn’t like where the US is heading as a country, and moved to Stuttgart (Germany) by herself, and now works there and speaks fluent German. She was one of the volunteers welcoming refugees at a train station in Stuttgart. It’s one thing to read about those kind of things on the news, but actually meeting someone who was there makes it so much more real.

On a totally unrelated sidenote, her looks, voice, manners, and even political views were EXACTLY the same as those of a girl I had a huge crush on years ago… it was uncanny!

Slovaskian guy #1 was loud, obnoxious, and racist (against Syrians, regarding the refugee crisis). He mostly argued with American girl #1. “Arguing” is perhaps not the right term to use here, since it consists mostly of him saying the same racist stuff and lies over and over and over again, and without any support. It was ugly.

Slovaskian guy #1 is hereby declared non-beautiful. That’s another shitty thing about hosteling – you get to room with crazy people once in a while. That said, in my few weeks travel and rooming with 20-30 people, there was only this 1 crazy guy. Overwhelming majority of people I’ve met on the trip were amazing. Still worth it.

I spent the next day on my laptop being anti-social at the hostel, booking and researching stuff… said goodbye to everyone and departed the next morning on a 5 hours bus ride to Vienna. Back to just me + backpack. Another friendships reset!

If you are ever in Prague, I highly recommend Hostel One Home. Most enthusiastic and friendly staff ever. And free traditional Czech dinner every night. FREE DINNER!! It’s also on the main road, and walking down the road in front of the hostel takes you straight to the old town square, where all the interesting things are.

To be continued…

Solo Eurotrip, Prague Part 1

For future reference, Barcelona Airport is very bad for sleeping, unless you have something soft, like a giraffe’s belly.

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One of the disadvantages of totally spontaneous travel is that you’ll often have to pay more for flights, because their prices change depending on availability. Or, if like me, you don’t want to pay more, you’ll have to take flights at shitty times, or with shitty connections.

I only bought the ticket the day before the flight out of Lisbon, and I actually didn’t care which of several cities I fly into (Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow), because I wanted to see them all, and they are pretty close together, so I knew I can just take ground transportation once I get into any of them.

As it turned out, Prague was the cheapest, so I got that. However, the cheapness came at a price – an overnight layover in Barcelona. It was 1am by the time we arrived in Barcelona, and the huge waiting areas were all pretty much empty, save for a few sleepers and a few cleaners.

Protip: If you are planning on sleeping in an airport during a layover, don’t go out of secured zone (there’s always a marked exit point-of-no-return). If you go out, you won’t be able to get in again until the next morning, since the security checkpoints probably won’t be open until then. Outside of secured zone, security guards are more likely to wake you up, because they don’t know if you are an actual traveller or a hobo, and they don’t want hobos sleeping in airports. In the secured zone they know you have a ticket, and will tend to leave you alone.

I wasn’t disturbed by security guards, but still, the airport was the worst to sleep in, because the floor was marble (cold and hard), and all the seats have immovable handrails. It was terrible. Next time I’m gonna bring a sleeping bag…


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The first thing I did after checking in at the hostel was to get groceries. One of the guys on staff happened to be going as well, so I tagged along. This is Australian guy #3.

He used to be a crazy traveller (before taking an arrow to the knee), and has apparently stayed in 65 hostels. I don’t know how he is still keeping track – I am at around 10-15 and I lost count already! He said this one is the best one he has stayed in, so he decided to stay for a few weeks. At some point, they offered him a job there, because hey, if you are staying there for good anyways, may as well get paid?

Hostel staff – the only job you can get by simply refusing to leave.

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The next day I went on a free walking tour. If you haven’t been on a free walking tour yet, you should! They have free walking tours in just about every city, and it’s absolutely the best and cheapest way to get a nice overview of where everything is, as well as some history of the place. Of course, they aren’t actually free. It’s more like a name-your-own-price sort of thing. People usually tip the tour guide in the end, though there will be no pressure at all for you to tip, and some people will just walk away. Tours are usually pretty awesome, though, and most people tip happily. Tipping 5 to 10 euro ($6-12 USD) is the norm.

It was a nice and sunny day. We had a nice 3 hours walk around the old town, and ended up going to a traditional pub for lunch.

Prague was once the capital of the Holy Roman Empire, and unlike later capitals like Vienna, a lot of Prague remained unchanged to this day. Walking through the gate into old town is like walking into a time machine. All the old buildings and structures are still there, and the ground is still as it was before. Walking into the market square surrounded by all the important buildings and cool statues, you can almost imagine yourself as a 13th century trader dropping by and stopping for a few days to trade with the locals. It was amazing!

The best part of Prague history for me is the defenestrations (the act of throwing someone or something out of a window). The first one was the result of the Catholic vs Protestant conflict. A guy by the name of Jan Hus began by questioning the luxurious and wasteful style of the Catholic church, and called for people to live their lives and worship their god in a less materialistic way. He actually got quite a following in Prague. Of course, the big Catholic guys didn’t like him. They called him over, held a secret trial, and executed him.

His followers in Prague were outraged. They marched to the town hall. Some very bright person inside the building decided to throw a stone at them… bad idea!

They stormed into the town hall, and threw all the council members and the mayor out of the window, and poked them with sharpened wooden sticks to make sure they are dead. Obviously that solved all their problems… and started a war.

There were several more defenestrations in Prague’s history, including one case where someone apparently committed suicide by jumping out of a window… and closing the window behind him. That was not by Czechs but by a Russian. When in Rome, do as Romans do?

They also have a very cool astronomical clock from medieval times. It’s the oldest clock still working today. The different dials show the current time in multiple time systems, position of the sun, position of the moon, and length of the day. It’s amazing engineering!

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Adam tower is the one on the right, and Eve tower is the one on the left. Adam tower is slightly bigger than the Eve tower, to shield her from the rising sun in the morning.

There is also a non-sexist explanation… that I have forgotten. There is still debate among scholars on the true intention of this difference.

Roommates for the night were 3 American guys working in finance. They were slightly obnoxious when drunk, but since they are nice otherwise, I’ll let them keep the “beautiful” label. Also, it’s relatively rare to see Americans travelling. On my trip I have met more Canadians than Americans, which is pretty amazing considering the fact that there are about 10x more Americans than Canadians on Earth.

To be continued…

Solo Eurotrip, Lisbon Part 2

According to Moroccan girl #1, police in Morocco is so corrupt that there’s this one time her friend was stopped for drunk driving (drinking at all is illegal since her friend was Muslim, and Muslims aren’t allowed to drink in Morocco, so a Muslim drinking and driving is doubly illegal), and not only did he get away with it after some bribing, the officer even told them where the next checkpoint is, so they can avoid it. THEN THE OFFICER GAVE THEM SOME WEED and sent them on their way (now not just driving drunk, but stoned AND drunk).

Moroccan girl #1 was quite fun to be around, but I think I’ll skip over Morocco for now on my list of countries to visit…


On the following night, we went out to dinner at a local restaurant with the hostel staff (the beautiful Polish girl mentioned before, and two other guys). Hostel staff are usually fun people, since they are usually avid travellers themselves, and always have endless stories to tell, and travelling tips to share – very useful for newbie travellers like yours truly.

The dinner was pretty unremarkable due to technical problems in the kitchen or something, but we did get to talk quite a lot.

As it turned out, the two people that sat next to me (Indian guy #1, Canadian guy #1) were both doing their PhDs in computer science (one somewhere in Germany, and one in Paris), and they didn’t know each other.

Seriously, I can’t even make this up. One of them does compiler optimisations, and the other one machine learning, but is scared of deep learning (don’t worry, this is the only mentioning of deep learning in this story).

I also got to hear the story of the Polish girl. She grew up in Poland (I gave this away earlier, but I actually didn’t know she’s Polish until this point, since she spoke Portuguese and behaved 100% local), and decided that her day job was too boring, and just learned a bunch of languages (she speaks Polish, English, Spanish, and Portuguese fluently), quit her job, did some travelling, and decided to move to Lisbon and work at a hostel, leaving everything and everyone behind. How cool is that?! And she is only in her 20s according to my highly accurate girls-age-estimator biological neural network!

She then took us all to a local live music bar halfway across Lisbon. I don’t go out too often when travelling since I like to be able to wake up early in the morning and actually do stuff during the day, but hey, it was my last night in Lisbon, and I always have trouble saying no to pretty girls :). Walking on the streets at night was amazing – almost totally devoid of people, warm yellow lights on mosaic pavement, and with a refreshing breeze.

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(Photo courtesy of Karl Gercens, since I forgot to take one, but it looked EXACTLY like this minus the rain!)

On the way to the bar, I talked to an English nurse in her 50s (English lady #1). She has been travelling for a few months every year for decades, and have set foot on all continents and almost every country in Europe, North America, and South America. All by herself. Apparently that’s a good thing about being a nurse – they need nurses everywhere, and with British credentials, you can work pretty much anywhere.

People often say they will start travelling after they retire. But you know, as a nurse, I see a lot of things most people don’t see. I see that many people don’t get to retire. Many people don’t get to be old. And even if they do, many of them don’t have the health to do it by the time they retire.

So I decided I want to do all my travelling now.

– English lady #1

The bars were nice and one of them had an awesome granny DJ.

On the way back, I met a guy from San Francisco (Californian guy #1). He works as an artist doing some freelancing now so he can live anywhere in the world he wants. He just came from Berlin and loved the scene there (“it just felt right”), and will probably be moving back there for a few months. And of course, we talked about crazy housing prices in the Bay Area.

That night I booked a flight to Prague, Czech Republic. Next morning, said goodbye to everyone, and I was gone. I will probably never see any of these people again.

I’ve heard it said
That people come into our lives for a reason
Bringing something we must learn
And we are led
To those who help us most, to grow
If we let them
And we help them in return
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you

– Glinda, Wicked

I had some time to kill before the flight, so I went to check out a few places (a castle and a cathedral). Lisbon is known for being hilly. It was a nice hike.

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To be continued…

Solo Eurotrip, Lisbon Part 1

11936502_10153558853019840_2377981980515560156_oAwesome start of the trip – flight was delayed by 3 hours, because our plane had to come in from Rome, and they had a sick crew member forcing them to return to the airport after takeoff. Sounds like fun.

While at the Luton Airport, I thought I would exchange some euro first since I was not very organized and didn’t do it earlier. Then I looked at the rate. 1£ = 1.17€. Nope. I knew airport exchanges are bad, but I didn’t know they are THAT bad. I later found 1£ = 1.35€ in central Lisbon (interbank rate was about 1.37, so that’s actually pretty good). It’s generally not a very good idea to do cash exchanges while travelling, since foreign ATM withdrawals usually give the best rates (usually interbank rate + 2.5% fees), but my situation was a bit special since I had to get rid of all my £s and close my UK bank account, etc.

Three hours flight and half an hour of AeroBus later, I made it to Praça dos Restauradores, a square in central Lisbon dedicated to their independence after decades of Spanish occupation in the 1600s.

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Can you spot the hostel in the picture? Neither could I. It took me about 15 minutes to find it, but it’s right in the centre of the picture. For some reason, hostels always have tiny tiny entrances.

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A beautiful, young, and very friendly Polish girl showed me to the room (that’s all for now for the description of the girl, but she will come up again later in the story).

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It wasn’t my first time staying at a hostel, but it was my first time actually sharing room with strangers, so I didn’t really know what to expect.

What I absolutely did not expect, though, is to have a 4-hours long conversation with a stranger about everything from our favourite books, to travel, to politics, to violin-playing, purpose of life, self-confidence, and social psychology. And that’s exactly what happened.

Meet German girl #1. She’s from Hamburg, and travelling to figure out what to do with her life. She is pretty awesome.

PS. I am not including names in order to protect the guilty, but also so that people won’t know if I have forgotten their names already.

PS2. If you are reading this, no, Hannah, I have not forgotten your name :).

PS3. Sorry I’m also not including pictures of people, because 1) that’s creepy, and 2) privacy and stuff. You’ll just have to take my words for it – they are beautiful people, unless otherwise specified (there WILL be people later in the story who are otherwisely-specified to not be beautiful).

There was also a German guy (German guy #1). He was slightly older, and works with special needs kids in Germany. I didn’t get to talk to him much unfortunately, because he had to go to bed early to catch an early flight. He was gone when I woke up the next morning. He did give me the last of his awesome Portuguese egg tarts, though.

The next morning, I joined a tour organized by the hostel to Sintra (an old town close to Lisbon). I love it when hostels organize tours. Saves me all the research. It seems like hostels that target solo travellers do this more.

Our tour guide (a guy from the hostel) is a Portuguese guy (Portuguese guy #1) from rural Portugal. He is still in his early 20s, and just finished his degree in international commerce (IIRC), and wanted to learn more about people and their different cultures from all around the world. What better way to do that than working at a hostel? So that’s what he is doing now. Funny guy. Not sure if his going bald has something to do with the job as well, but he didn’t mind, so that’s all good.

Also on the tour were Moroccan girl #1, Australian guy #1, Australian guy #2, and Bostonian guy #1. I didn’t talk to the Australian guys much unfortunately. Bostonian #1 is a life coach. I am still not entirely sure what exactly is it that he does, but it sounded fascinating. Something about helping people making/breaking habits. He is also a fitness trainer.

Moroccan girl #1 does international marketing back home, and is also deeply passionate about politics in that region. I didn’t join that conversation since I know next to nothing about Moroccan and Middle Eastern politics. Sounded intense, though. She also speaks fluent Arabic, French, English and Spanish, and tried to speak French to me upon learning that I am Canadian. That didn’t go very well. Also, apparently 14 hours work-days are normal in Morocco. I’m glad I don’t live there…

Sintra was pretty nice. It’s an old and historical town on a mountain, where many famous poets and writers once lived. Many Portuguese people see it as a spiritual place, and every night, a bunch of people would go up there to perform weird rituals or black magic, etc, often involving drugs, making it slightly unsafe for normal people to visit. But just like all dangerous and mysterious places, it has become a popular place for adventurous teenagers to sneak into at night. It also has a medieval royal palace that is now a museum.

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20150912_142722-2We ended up having Portuguese food at a local Portuguese place (how do you know the restaurant is local? easy. They don’t speak English!). Huge pieces of catfish + beetroot rice + random veggies, for about 6€. Not bad at all! The tour guide said it’s so good that he doesn’t mind going there 3 times a week (every time he does the tour).

In Portugal, they will always bring side dishes (cheese, olives, breads, etc) as soon as you sit down. However, unlike in North America, that’s not free! You are supposed to refuse them if you don’t want them. Usually they are 1€ or 2€, and are basically treated as tips.

As the day drew to a close, we stopped by a pastry place where the deserts were so yummy that I forgot to take pictures.

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Capo da Roca, the most western point of Europe… and where Australian guy #1 slipped and almost died.

“Where the land ends and the sea begins” – Luís de Camões (1525-1580)

To be continued…