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Where Am I Now? Time to Catch Up!

It has been many months since I have updated my blog. In fact, it never really took off from the ground. I have tried a few times to sit down and get some work done. But the sheer magnitude of what I have seen, done, accomplished, suffered through (yes, travel isn’t all glamorous!) and ultimately triumphed is beyond a few hours here and there. To update and complete my journey to text would be a full time job!

 

At the moment of writing I am on a train from Budapest to Zagreb, Croatia with the intent of hopping on a bus onwards to Ljubljana in Slovenia. I attempted a direct train this morning, but in my naïveté arrived at the wrong train station and missed that train. After over seven months of steady travel and many close calls, it was about time for this to happen and so I am not too upset. Luckily, it happened at the start of my five days off and I do have a way to correct my mistake, albeit a much longer one. The monetary value of this mistake is also quite a bit less then it could have been, with a grand total of only 30 euro. I’d rather miss a train then a flight.

 

I’ve spent the past five and a half weeks living in Budapest and using it as my base to travel elsewhere in central Europe. In this time, I managed to spend an amazing three-day weekend in Krakow, Poland. Full of excitement, I went back home to Budapest only to leave a few days later to spend the workweek in Prague, Czech Republic. Afterwards I went to Bratislava in Slovakia for the day, which was rather underwhelming so I returned home to Budapest a day early to hang out with friends and finally enjoy some time off in the city that I lived and have come to love.

A beautiful Southern Albania in full Spring time bloom.

Before arriving in Budapest, I was lucky enough to travel around many of the Balkan countries in the south. I took nearly two weeks off of work and used this time to backpack around multiple countries. Previously, someone had been approached me online to do some video blogging type work. We had been going back and forth irregularly for a couple of months, but finally the money came in and I was able to use the payment from that to fund the entire two-week trip! Adventures, oh, did I ever have adventures! After I left the coliving space in Montenegro where I had been living for three short weeks, I found myself a party in a hostel in Kotor. (The Old City Hostel is one of my favourite hostels to date!) A rather hung over me peeled herself out of bed the next morning and onto a bus south to Albania near the Greek border. I mostly slept because I had had way too much fun before, which is too bad because the few times I peaked my eyes open I witnessed one of the most stunning coastal views that I have ever seen in my life.

 

What followed was an amazing week backpacking through Albania, which remains one of my favourite countries ever visited. I dipped into Macedonia for a few days to hike and explore the pristine and beautiful Lake Ohrid, staying at the Sunny Lake Hostel (another amazing hostel that I really enjoyed). Back into Albania, I found my way north to stay deep in the mountains of Valbona after an incredible two-hour ferry ride across Lake Komen. I spent only one night in Valbona despite intending to spend more. Fresh snow the day before, a complete lack of appropriate gear and a satisfaction of having seen even just the scenery was enough for me and onwards I went to Kosovo. My journey to Kosovo was an exciting one to say the least, something that taught me utter patience and tested my ability to stay calm, focused and shake off the unfortunate weird things that happen when travelling! (I’ll write about this in detail another time. For now, I’ll summarize by saying the bus did not take me to the city I expected. Or even the right country…)

The classic Tree Pose on a rock, overlooking a gorgeous canyon and natural hot spring outside Permet, Albania.

The Balkans and all through-out most of central and Eastern Europe experienced pretty bad weather for Spring time and I experienced my first taste of snow in over a year while staying in Kosovo! Wintering in Thailand and then hanging out in a coastal town in Montenegro meant that my Canadian roots hadn’t had a chance to really come out in a while. Luckily, the snow didn’t stick to the ground but I mostly stayed inside during my two days between Prizren and the capital Prishtina.

 

By this time, I had been moving around almost every day since leaving Montenegro and I was thoroughly exhausted and needing to stabilize my life a little bit. Because I left Albania a day early, I had an extra day in my schedule that I intended to use for my last country in the region. However, I opted to stay in Macedonia’s capital Skopje for an extra day instead and was able to go on a long, beautiful, and extremely cold hike up and over a mountain, through a valley and into the gorgeous canyon Matka. This hike totaled around 16km and was a perfect distance. I was lucky to have met up with a fellow Canadian who I’d met the week before in Albania. Having company on a hike was a nice change!

 

My vacation was ending and it was time to sort out how I would get to my new home in Budapest, where I had found a shared flat online to rent for six weeks. I decided that I wasn’t quite ready to go there yet, and checking out flights in the nearby area found an affordable one leaving from Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. I rented a private room in an Air Bnb for two nights and managed to do almost a full day of teaching from this apartment, exploring only the immediate area on my breaks and in the evening. I will need to revisit Bulgaria in the future because I could only fit in an extremely limited amount due to my schedule.

Enjoying the view overlooking Budapest from Gellert Hill.

Living in Budapest was a striking change from my previous life in a quiet island town and the months I spent in Chiang Mai. I found a great thrill every time I stepped onto a tram or a metro, because we don’t have these where I am from! I found the buildings to be gorgeous, even the ugly abandoned ones in my neighbourhood. I met so many friends, both new and ones I had met previously in Chiang Mai. (Seriously, last night I hung out with four friends from Chiang Mai and they weren’t the only ones I saw in Budapest that I’d met before!)

 

My next adventure is now upon me. I will return to Budapest after two weeks working and travelling through Slovenia and Croatia, but only for one week. Finally, I have booked my flight to return to North America. Not home yet, but a place that is familiar and a good way to reintegrate into an English speaking society. A couple of weeks climbing and camping in my favourite locations of the United States will be a good farewell to what will have been nine months living, working and travelling abroad.

En Route to Chiang Mai!

I was ready to leave Bangkok and start my new life living in Chiang Mai. Although I barely brushed the surface of Bangkok and what it had to offer, I knew I’d be back and therefore was content to leave. Although originally I was to spend a few days lounging around and recovering from my jet lag before moving to the Thong Tos Foundation near Wat Arun to volunteer teaching English for two full weeks, I left after only 7 days. The opportunity to volunteer had been a great one, but it wasn’t what I expected. School was on a break and they had been well over staffed by volunteers, so there wasn’t much to do. By this time I had been teaching online with VIPkid and the internet at the foundation was not stable enough to hold a connection with my Chinese students and I knew my job was suffering for it. I said goodbye to my new friends from the foundation and eagerly set off on my journey across Thailand.

Due to financial reasons and a significant amount of time, I decided that the 12-15 hour train from Hua Lumphong station in Bangkok to Chiang Mai would be my form of transport. I had heard good things about the overnight train, so I figured this was the best opportunity I would have to take it. Because I did have extra time, and not wanting to spend so long in one go on the train, I stopped just over halfway in Phitsanulok for two nights at a cute little hostel in a very sleepy city. Although I ended up spending more money on the train by breaking it into two separate journeys, the cost difference was marginal and worth it if it provided me the opportunity to see more of the country I would be calling home for a time. I spent around 480 baht to Phitsanulok, and around 640 leaving to Chiang Mai. Both times I chose the 2nd class sleeper car with fan, no air conditioning and was not disappointed or uncomfortable.

Now that I have the Thai overnight train experience under my belt, it is unlikely that I will opt for it again. Time prohibitive, it is not much more money to take a flight direct from Bangkok to Chiang Mai if you plan ahead (not my strong suit). Even the bus, though potentially less comfortable for longer journeys, is much faster.

Phitsanulok was an enjoyable experience but it was nothing to write home about or revisit. The nearby heritage site of Sukhothai sounded amazing but I didn’t have the opportunity to go there, because I wasn’t completely sure how! I am sure if I really dug deep, I could have easily found a route and tour to get there. But as I wanted to spend one day wandering around the temples and markets in Phitsanulok and was leaving the next day, I left Sukhothai for another time or trip.

My train was scheduled to depart Phitsanulok at 8:37pm. Having come from Bangkok, it was obviously late and arrived approximately 20 minutes after its scheduled time. I arrived in Chiang Mai before the sun at 4:30am. Knowing I likely could not check into my hotel for several hours, I used the time to sleepily freshen up in the train station bathroom and enjoy a cup of tea in the food court area. Taking the train to or from Chiang Mai? Have no fear! Hot food is available for you at any time! Once my stomach caught up I had a healthy plate of fried rice and vegetables before finding a songthaew (the red trucks that function as Chiang Mai’s overpriced, pollution ridden public transportation) to take me to Nimmanahemin Rd, where I had booked a hotel. I bartered with the driver a bit, since I had lounged around for almost 2 hours after my train arrival there were no other passengers to take and this driver needed a fare. I paid around 160 baht for the 20 minute drive to Nimman Boutique Resort on Soi 17.

Next up? Finding an apartment in Chiang Mai!

(c) Copyright 2016 - Searching for Sanuk, Michelle Leech, mexxlee.