Melbourne: It’s pronounced “Melbin,” not “Melborn”

So, for my whole life, I’ve always pronounced Melbourne as Mel-born. Maybe it’s an American thing, or maybe I’ve just been uneducated on the subject for 22 years. After arriving in Melbourne though, I quickly learned that the city is pronounced Mel-bin. It really makes no sense to me, but I can’t say much about it coming from a culture that pronounces food and good with completely different vowel sounds.

The morning after Sasha’s party, we woke early for another busy day ahead. One of the guests had accidentally made off with my phone that night, so Sasha’s gorgeous friends Jeremy and Nadine drove me to that friend’s place to retrieve it. On the way, they gave me a tour of the outskirts of Bendigo, and even stopped to show me the local university and student residences.

Because I was still dying to see a kangaroo, they even took me to a bush (meaning wooded area) where a pack/heard/gaggle of them dwell. We parked the car and walked into their domain and I got to see real, wild kangaroos for the very first time. So cute. And the joeys? Forgetaboutit.

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Those two dropped me back off at Sasha’s parents’, who live nearby, where I had brekkie with the fam and caught up since the last time we’d seen each other in New York. Sasha’s adorable mom give me Vegemite to try and I’ve got to be honest, I hated it. So salty and brown and thick and…uhh, just not my thing. But I’m happy I tried it!

I would have loved to spend more time with Sasha’s folks, but we had to rush to the train station to catch an express to Melbourne. Sasha’s boyfriend had prepared a group outing to the footy (Australian football, quite distinct from American football and European/Latin football a.k.a soccer), and we needed to get good seats.

The two-hour train ride through the country flew by quickly, and before I knew it, we were pulling up to Melbourne’s train station. The stadium was a short walk away. We stopped to get food first, and drop off our bags at the hostel where Sasha and I were staying the night, then headed to the stadium.

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Aussie football  is intense. It has the aggressiveness of rugby and American football (lots of running into each other and tackling), the cardio of soccer (dedicated sprints from one end of the field to the other), and the past-paced nature and high scoring frequency of basketball.   The fans reminded me of any other sports fans: loud, passionate, spirited. Lots of drinks were passed around ring the game and it seems like Aussies like stadium food just as much as Americans do.  I had a great time, but halfway through the jet lag really hit me and I felt completely exhausted.

Sasha and I bid adieu to her comrades and made our way back to the hostel for sleep. On the way we popped by a few Melbourne landmarks including the beautiful Flinders Street Station and lively Federation Square, and open area with seats and a big LED screen for public media broadcasts.

(Sorry for the suuuper crappy photos, but I’m including them here anyway.)

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Overall, my first impressions of Melbourne were all good. The city reminded me of Chicago or Portland, maybe (two cities I’ve never been to, so really this is all speculation) in that it is big city element with tall skyscrapers and people in suits with briefcases, but mixed throughout is art and very down-to-earth type people. It’s the kind of city that feels expansive, but at the same time feels like you could run into someone you know any minute.

On day one in Melbin, I didn’t experience enough to make a full diagnosis of my feelings toward the city, but Sasha and I had a big day ahead the next day and I couldn’t wait to see more.

Hellooooooo from Bendigo!

Greetings from the other side of the world!

Initial thoughts — it doesn’t feel like I’m on the other side of the world.

Australia is so westernized that it feels like I’m in a U.S. city I’ve just never visited before but people talk funny and drive on the wrong side of the road. Oz in a nutshell.

Okay, well there are a few more differences than that. Here are my initial observations:

  1. Drive-thru bottle-os are a thing. These are open-air liquor stores where people can pull up, tell the teller what they want, then pick up the order and pay. Alcohol on demand. Not a common occurrence in the States!
  2. Shoes = optional.
  3. Some people are very friendly. Some people are very weird.
  4.  Some people are strikingly beautiful. Some people are very weird.
  5. There are distinct Aussie accents based on geographical regions. Generally, the more country, the thicker the accent.
  6. Most houses are one story. No upstairs, no basement. A second level is a commodity for the well-to-do.
  7. It’s hot. Even in the winter.

Does that paint enough of a picture? Probably not but that’s okay. That’s what photos are for!

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I arrived at the Melbourne airport Friday night where my beautiful friend Sasha picked me up from and drove us two hours back to her house. Unfortunately it was too dark  to see much off the highway on the way, though I was yearning to see some kangaroos.

Sasha lives in a quaint city outside Melbourne called Bendigo. At first glance, it seemed very similar to small-town (well, mid-sized-town) America: a bustling Main Street, plenty of mom and pop shops and cafés, a local park, bars, theaters, pharmacies, etc., and then residential areas surrounding downtown. Sasha lives in a spacious one-story home with a big back yard. Though she lives with roommates, she still has two spare guest bedrooms — enough for me and my stuff!

I passed out early that night after a quick take-out dinner, but I needed to sleep off the jet lag to prepare for the days ahead. It still didn’t feel like I was in another country that first night, but I knew the realization would sink in shortly.

The next day, Sasha was preparing to have guests over for her birthday party that night. I got a chance to see everyday Bendigo as she and I ran around town running errands and picking up goodies. We went to a shopping mall where I got a party dress and cute shoes (the first of many pairs of shoes), then to a Walmart-type store for party decorations and a punch bowl, then to the chemist to pick up a prescription, then to a discount store for party lights.

Meanwhile, we stopped to get lunch with Sasha’s darling friends Jeremy and Nadine at an eclectic, hippyish café in downtown. I got my first Australian cappuccino — delish — and had a go at the Aussie version of nachos.

Later we headed back to Sasha’s to prepare for the night’s festivities. Slowly her friends trickled in and one-by-one I got to meet the gorgeous Aussie youth. (Wait that sounds weird — they’re not children, just, like, young adults you know?)   And as the bottles popped, we got more and more in the party spirit and had an awesome time. I even taught her friends good ‘ol American Flip Cup 😉

Photos courtesy of Sasha and her friends.

Later we headed a bar that is pretty much a staple for the kids in Bendigo and I got my first Australian night out. Turns out, partying in Oz is not much different from  partying in the U.S. Who would thunk?

We stayed out for a few hours but headed home before it got too, too late. After a busy day and eventful night, I finally felt like I was in Australia. But just, the western part….

Needless to say, I slept well.

I’m back…and I’m going to Australia!

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Helllloooooo world.

Long time no see…or write…or travel.

The past few months have been crazy. I graduated, moved to a new apartment in northern Virginia, began work at a creative agency in Washington, D.C., and started dating the most wonderful guy in the world.

For a thrill-seeking nomad like me, settling into a 9-to-5 (well, in the agency world it’s really a 9-to-9) is a difficult adjustment. No more spontaneous weekday adventures, or month-long traipses through Europe. No more getting up and going at a moment’s notice when an opportunity presents itself.

And saying I’ve been stir crazy is an understatement. The map of the world on my wall teases me every time I get home from work late and flop onto my bed. So many countries to see still, and I am so eager to get out there.

But on the plus side, I absolutely love my job. The creative field is the right fit for me and I love the diversity of projects that comes with working in an agency environment. Plus, I get salaried income and a few vacation days, so it’s not quite the end of the world.

My company allows vacation only after the first six months of employment, so you better believe from day one my butt was planning a trip right at that six month mark.

And six months later, here I am at the Abu Dhabi airport, typing this during my layover to Melbourne, Australila.

That’s right, I’m going to AUSTRALIA!!!!!!

I’m finally visiting my wonderful friend Sasha who was my best friend on my Contiki tour two summers ago. Last January, she visited me in D.C., so it only natural that I take my turn now seeing her in her home!

Excited doesn’t begin to cover what I’m feeling. But it’s the word I’ll use for now.

My flight’s about to board so I’ve got to post this quickly and skidaddle…

See you soon Oz!!

Buenos Aires on a Student Budget

What do you get when you mix the beautiful architecture of Europe with the rich cultural traditions of Latin America? You get Buenos Aires, Argentina. Buenos Aires, known as the Paris of the South, is a treasure chest of the most iconic features of France, Italy and South America: neoclassical architecture, intricate sculptures, lively tango dancing and, of course, delectable food.

With so much to do, see and eat, it’s easy to let your savings account dwindle down after only a few days in Buenos Aires. However, for those on a student budget, there are ways to explore the city without having to take out another loan.

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WHAT TO DO

  • Free Walking Tour – Buenos Aires Free Walks are a perfect starting point for travelers new to the city. The tour company offers free tours daily at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m. which visit main attractions including the Obelisk, Teatro Colon, Plaza de Mayo, the Pink House and the Cathedral
  • Free Tango ShowClub Tango’s website lists tango shows and classes almost daily, with several of the shows costing less than $5, and some free. This site is in Spanish, so if it’s been a while since you’ve brushed up on your high school Spanish, you should know that to find free shows, just look for the word “Gratis.”
  • Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes – the Museum of Fine Art, Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, is always free to enter because it is a national museum.  On display are works by El Greco, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Manet, Sorolla, Gauguin, Degas, Cándido López and other Argentinian artists.
  • Feria de San Telmo – Every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., visitors and locals alike enjoy the San Telmo Fair in one of Buenos Aires’ oldest neighborhoods. You can spend the day strolling through rows of shops offering all sorts of antiques and crafts. With a market this big, it may take more than one Sunday to explore the whole area.

WHAT TO SEE

  • Recoleta Cemetery – Cemeteries may not be the usual tourist attraction, but Recoleta Cemetery is a must-see while in Buenos Aires. The cemetery hosts an array of ornate tombs adorned with stained glass, life-sized statues and even furniture – the most famous vault being that of Eva “Evita” Perón. Entrance to the cemetery is free.

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  • Casa Rosada – The Pink House, known for its light pink exterior, is Argentina’s presidential palace. While there is more than enough to take in from the outside, the palace offers free tours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.

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  • Madres de Plaza de Mayo – Thursdays from 3:30 p.m. to 4 p.m., you can see the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo march in a circle around the plaza to commemorate the disappearance of their sons and daughters during Argentina’s Dirty War. It’s a tradition that has been kept up for 30 years and still stirs emotion.

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WHERE TO EAT

  • Las Cabras  While the service may not be the best, Las Cabras (on Fitz Roy) is renowned for its good food at low prices. While in Argentina, trying the carne parrillada, or grilled meat, is a must – so dig into the menu of Argentinian steaks and chorizo (probably not the best place for vegetarians) paired with fried eggs and fries.
  • Pehache – Art exhibition, store and café, Pehache is an old house turned into a space for design and art. There’s a café in the house’s garden that offers dishes, drinks and pastries at low prices. While you’re there, be sure to explore the inside of the house to check out the modern and exquisite interior design and art studio.

As you can see, there are more than a few ways you can experience the culture of Buenos Aires without hurting your wallet. Be sure to check out StudentUniverse’s student flight discounts to Latin America, and begin your journey today!

This post first appeared on StudentUniverse.com, where I am a guest blogger. Read the original post here: 

https://www.studentuniverse.com/blog/world-travel/buenos-aires-on-a-student-budget

8 Ways to Experience Stockholm For Free

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Stockholm, Sweden has never been known to be an affordable vacation spot. While it may not be the most expensive Scandinavian city, there are few European countries that can compete with Sweden’s prices. Luckily, from tours to galleries, Stockholm offers plenty of free things to fill up your itinerary.

Free Tour Stockholm – As with most European cities, Stockholm has free walking tours. These 90 – 120-minute tours, operated by Free tour Stockholm, run daily with three route options:

10:00 a.m. The City Tour  takes you around Stockholm’s main city area.

1:00 p.m. The Söder Tour takes you to the hipster, bohemian area of Södermalm.

4:00 p.m. Old Town Tour  takes you through the historic, original island of Stockholm.

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Old Town – If you want to skip the tour, embark on your own adventure through Stockholm’s Old Town. This enchanting neighborhood with cobblestone streets, narrow walkways and colorful cottages will make you think you stepped out right out of modern day and into the pages of your favorite fairy tale. Take your time perusing the shops, grabbing gelato and snapping lots of photos.

Södermalm – Even after your free walking tour ends, you’ll want to spend more time exploring Stockholm’s hip, bohemian neighborhood. This island is packed with antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, hip coffee shops and classic music stores. You could spend a day walking around this area alone!

Subway Art – Can’t afford an art gallery? Not to worry. Stockholm’s subway stations are home to extensive works of art by local artists. Spend a few hours going around the stations, or take a few minutes to appreciate the art each time you get on and off.

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Changing of the Guard – From May to September, catch the Changing of the Royal Guard at 12:15 p.m. every day (1:15 p.m. on Sundays and holidays) in front of the Royal Palace. The ceremony is 40 minutes long, completely free and features performances by the Military band — it’s a must see for any visitor in Stockholm.

National Museum – the National Museum of Stockholm is closed for renovation until 2018, but you can see the temporary exhibitions at Konstakademien (The Academy of Fine Arts) and Nationalmuseum Design at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern on Sergels Torg. Discounted tickets are available for students, but admission is FREE for visitors under 26. So have your ID ready.

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Stockholm Public Library – Listed as one of the most beautiful libraries in the world, Stockholm’s library, Stadsbiblioteket, features a high, dome-like ceiling and cylindrical bookcases that give the building a massive, elegant look. Take some time walking around or cozy up with a good book; it’s all for free.

Monteliusvagen – Nestled along the edge of Södermalm, this short walking path offers some of the best views of Stockholm’s Old Town, city center and connecting waterways. Take a rest on one of the benches along the path and watch the boats go by as the Scandinavian sun sets over the beautiful city.

Don’t miss out on the trip of a lifetime in Stockholm just because you’re on a limited budget. Use StudentUniverse to find a cheap flight to get there, a hostel or hotel room to stay in and visit these free attractions to experience the city’s art, tradition, shops and vistas without breaking the bank.

 

This post first appeared on StudentUniverse.com where I am a guest blogger. See the original post here: 

https://www.studentuniverse.com/blog/destinations/europe/8-free-things-to-do-in-stockholm-sweden 

How To See Oslo, Norway on a Budget

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Oslo, the beautiful, historic capital of Norway, is known to be one of the most expensive cities in Europe. And not take-the-bus-instead-of-a-cab expensive, rather walk-everywhere-because-you-can’t-afford-transportation expensive.

But not to worry — this doesn’t mean anyone on a budget can’t explore this Scandinavian tourist hub. There are plenty of ways to beat the high prices, if you do a little homework.

Eating

Sorry folks, but eating out is pretty much out of the question if you’re on a budget. A typical meal in Oslo costs between 200 – 400 NOK ($25-$50 USD or €22 -€44 EUR). Multiply that by three meals a day and, well, you get the idea.

The best solution is to visit a supermarket, such as Rimi or Kiwi, and stock up on local goodies you can prepare in your hostel’s kitchen. I managed to scrape by with the basics — eggs, bread, veggies, chicken, yogurt and fruit — and saved tons of money.

With few extra bills in your wallet, you can splurge on one or two meals out without breaking the bank. (If you’re like me and love visiting restaurants in other countries, try simply ordering a coffee or a crescent, then eat a full meal when you get back to the hostel).

Free things to Do


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Frogner Park and Vigeland Sculpture ParkProbably my favorite spot in the city, this 79-acre (32-ha) stretch of land is the largest sculpture park in the world made by a single artist. The 212 life-size sculptures in bronze, granite and cast iron depict the human experience and are positioned in parallel lines that guide you through the park. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting the Norwegian capital and entrance is completely free.

Changing of the Guard – Enjoy watching soldiers march, toss their rifles and salute each other? Every day at 1:30 p.m. catch the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Royal Palace of Oslo for free. Look out for a few ponytails sticking out from under the helmets; many of the guards are women.

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Oslo Opera House – Attending a show may be be a distant dream, but you don’t have to spend a dime to visit the outside of the Oslo Opera House and walk around its artsy exterior. The majestic structure sits on the the Bjorvika waterfront and looks like an iceberg emerging from the fjord. Climb to the top for an amazing 360 view of the Oslo waterfront.

Oslo City Hall – See art for free. The entrance of Oslo City Hall is an art gallery, showcasing modern paintings, sculptures and photographs from Norwegian artists. It’s no Prado Museum, but the small gallery is a free way to get a glimpse of the contemporary Norwegian art scene.

Cheap things to Do

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Akershus Fortress – This medieval castle-turned-fortress is one of the coolest attractions in Oslo. Entrance is 50 NOK ($6 USD or €5.5 EUR) for a student ticket; but you can forgo going inside and walk around outside for free. Walk along the hill outside the fortress and it will take you to an overlook where you can see all of Oslo’s harbor and cityscape.

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Viking Ship Museum – As usual, have your student ID ready. Admission to this museum that features some of the oldest Viking ships and artifacts in the world is 50 NOK ($6 USD or €5.5 EUR) for students. Bonus! Your ticket will also get you admission to the Historical Museum, so save the stub! Learn from my mistake, though: the Historical Museum is closed on Mondays so don’t plan to go then.

Transportation

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Walking or biking will always be the cheapest (and healthiest) option, but for some attractions, like the Viking Ship Museum, you’ll want a lift.

Ruter, Oslo’s tranport system, is *reasonably* priced at 30 NOK ($3.70 USD  or €3.30 EUR) for single use,  90 NOK ($11 USD  or €10 EUR) for a 24-hour pass, and  240 NOK ($30 USD  or €27 EUR) for a 7-day pass. Note: if you’re in Oslo for three days or more, the 7-day pass is the cheapest option.

A transport ticket will give you access to buses, trams, subways (t-bane), local trains and ferries. Yes, I said ferries. Hop on a boat to a neighboring fjord and get a relaxing ride with a great view of the Norwegian waterways and islands.

Olso may be one of the most expensive cities you’ll ever visit, but that doesn’t mean you need a small fortune to be able to see some of the best sights the city has to offer. Follow these tips and you’ll have a few bucks to spare for a few troll doll souvenirs.

 

Welcome to Oslo, Norway: the most expensive city in Europe

Well, the headline pretty much sums up this leg of our journey. After flying out of Schipohl Airport in Amsterdam and landing in Oslo, Norway, Sarah and I were immediately shocked by the horrendously high prices — $8 USD tall Americano at Starbucks? But…why?

We had prepared ourselves for the unpreventable blow to our wallets due to crazy high prices, but we we didn’t expect all of the extra fees we would have to pay. We had to take a train from the airport to Oslo’s central train station ($25 USD for adults, $12 for students if you remember your student ID!) and then from the train station take another street car to our hostel. We decided to forgo the second train and go by foot.

As we wandered through the streets, looking for our hostel, I took in the sights around me. Pained as I was by the high prices, I will admit Oslo is a beautiful city. The buildings stood tall and dark, and something about the architecture screamed power. The wide streets accommodated hoards of pedestrians, cars, buses and trains, but somehow the chaos seemed orderly, purposeful. Though the city is located right on the coast, there was no beachy vibe, rather an industrial, highly urbanized one. It was a place of productivity. And the people were tall, good-looking and surprisingly diverse in appearance.

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After a few wrong turns and a lot of “Didn’t we already pass this?” we spotted Anker Hostel. Again we were taken aback by the expenses. We had to pay for our linens (about $7 USD each) and were told kitchen supplies were to be rented from the front desk with a deposit of 100 NOK (or $15 USD) for three hours.

Welcome to Norway.

We were pleasantly surprised by our room, however. We had an incredibly spacious private room with a private bath, a large wardrobe, a coffee table with two chairs, and big bright, windows. But the best part was the full kitchen, equipped with stove, sink and mini-fridge, and a dining room table. We squealed with delight at the sight. With these amenities, we could avoid high prices at restaurants and cook our own meals – which is exactly what we did.

After settling in, we headed out to figure out the transportation system and find a grocery store. We struggled with both – from discerning which tickets maximized our budget to time ratio, to finding a grocery store that was open past 6 p.m. (weird), but we finally succeeded in both.

We made a healthy dinner of chicken and salad that night with our rented utensils from the hostel and headed to early. So far, Oslo was beautiful, but it seriously was a pain in my wallet.

Amsterdam Part 2 – Red Light District, flea markets and new friends

On our second night in Amsterdam, we wanted to have a little fun. We tried to rally a few of the other hostel guests to come into the city with us but only managed to convince our one new buddy, Corbin.

We planned to go to a bar or club in the city and pass through the Red Light District on the way just to see it, but ended up spending the whole evening there! Corbin had walked through the district several times before, so he acted as our personal tour guide, pointing out all of his favorite…uh…stops.

Honestly, the Red Light District was a little overwhelming for me. I’m slightly prudish, so seeing all of the barley clothed, fake-boobed, make-up caked-on women standing in windows twirling their hair and blowing kisses to summon impressionable, horny tourists into their lairs, was a little much for me. But Sarah and Corbin had fun with it!

After walking around for at least an hour, we decided to forgo the bars and catch the last train back to the hostel. Sarah and I were both tired and I had definitely seen enough for the night. With minutes to spare before the last train departed from Amsterdam Central, we ran (like, actually sprinted) to the train station and bought our tickets just to find that the trains were halted for the night for track maintenance. We then had to find the bus that was running in place of the train, which was two blocks from the train station.

The bus ride to the metro stop near our hostel took about 30 minutes. The hostel was an additional six-ish minutes via highway from the metro, and the hostel shuttle had stopped running by then, so we called a cab. Oh mah gah ya’ll. The cab driver told us the cost was 40 euros to get back to the hostel. SIX MINUTES. We negotiated down to 30 but it was still the most ridiculous cab fare I’ve paid. We got back to the hostel and finally clambered into bed, still huffing and puffing.

On our second and final full day in Amsterdam, we met with some of Sarah’s friends from outside the city. She had been to a convention in Amsterdam two weeks previously and she met some young cool cats from all around the Netherlands. She kept in touch with them and coordinated a meetup in Amsterdam when we were there.

Sarah and I got to the meeting place a little early, so we stopped in a café (which we learned to call a café, not a coffeeshop. Ha.) and got some lattes. Then we perused the neighboring shops to pass more time, and finally made our way to Central Station to meet her friends.

We enjoyed a leisurely day with them walking around the city. One of her friends, Jordi, was a Starbucks barista and knew all the Starbucks locations in town. He gave us a tour (which included free coffee, holla) of a few of his favorite locations. Caffeinated, we then stopped for lunch at an outdoor Irish pub on the canal.

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We later met up with a few more of Sarah’s friends who had been running late and the big group of us continued our tour of the city. I had been itching to go to a market all day, so Jordi showed us to the famed flower market and then the flea market. I bought some gouda from a sketchy-but-probably-fine cheese stand, and finally got my hands on a Dutch waffle! The one I got had strawberries and milk chocolate on it… deeeeelish.

At some point in the day, I also bought a muffin from a coffeeshop but felt no effect. That was my first and last attempt at indulging in the local delicacies.

Sarah’s friends were delightful. They were so funny and had such a similar sense of humor to ours. We had a blast walking around singing, laughing, and making jokes about our different cultures and languages. Apparently, the American pronunciation of “waffle” means “mouth” in Dutch, so everyone had a field day when I offered them a bite of my chocolately waffle. High-larious.

We finally made our way back to Central Station with her friends. We said goodbye, but not before snapping a selfie with my totally-awesome-and-not-cheesy-at-all selfie stick.

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We went to bed early that night, tired from our long day, and ready to take on Norway the next morning.