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Friday, February 17, 2017

Instagram is cool for a number of reasons, but one of the reasons I love it the most is how people are able to create and share comics. I'm an absolute sucker for adorable comics, so I figured I would share some of my favourite accounts. 

Gaston Millefeuille

I LOVE Gaston. Gaston is my number one motivator to learn French. Gaston is this adorable cartoon about this Parisian baker bunny who lives in a neighbourhood full of cute animal friends. I've showed Gaston comics to my French teacher and many of my French I classmates, and we all love him. He was so relatable on Saint-Valentin eating chocolate all alone on his bed :(


Cantana Comics are amazing. Cantana Comics are relatively new and have quickly gained a ton of popularity. I think it's because the comics are simple and relatable without trying too hard. The best part about the Cantana Comics to me is that they strongly resemble me and Erik. While Erik isn't super tall like John is, they both have awesome beards. The comics have also inspired me and Erik to put googley eyes on a Roomba if we ever get one. 


I know Pusheen is really popular and that a lot of the account is merchandise these days, but it doesn't mean Pusheen isn't cute. Pusheen is this silly cat that only vaguely resembles a cat, and I absolutely love him. He's so soft looking and does silly things in his little comics. I do wish they would post more proper comics on their account these days, but I still love Pusheen anyways. 

Speaking of Instagram, you should go follow me at natalie.mei where I post photos of my travels, aerial and life! 

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Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I've been traveling a lot since returning to Geneva for my spring semester study abroad. Two weekends ago I was in Scotland with one of my best friends, and last weekend I was in Lithuania. In both locations, I stayed in hostels.  Hostels are a really good option if you're traveling alone or want to save money as a group. Along the way, I've picked up some tips for how to make the most of your hostel experience. 

1. Location is everything. 

You're probably wondering why the title picture of this blog post is the Edinburgh Castle and not a hostel. It's because there's a hostel across the street from the Edinburgh Castle that I sadly did not stay in. The point here is that getting a hostel in a good location makes your life easier. The ideal hostel location is accessible by public transport in a well-lit area close to the attractions you want. It might sound impossible, but it pays to look carefully. You never know what you'll find! Also, I try to make sure that any hostel I book is in a decent area and is reasonably well-lit. You can never be too careful. 

2. Be careful what is included at your hostel... and what is not!

Read the print carefully when you're booking hostels. I personally always go for hostels that provide linens, though I don't really care if the bed is made for me or not when I get there. I don't mind coughing up a pound/euro/franc/yuan for a towel though, because I find carrying around a towel adds a lot of unnecessary bulk to my weekend backpack. Additionally, I think 24 hour front desk is a great feature in larger hostels. 

3. If you're in a dorm room, mark your bed (territory). 

Part of hostel culture is marking whichever bed you pick with some variety of non-valuable personal item... and it's an important thing to do, otherwise the hostel might strip your bed or someone else could try to take it. I like to spread out a pair of pants, a t-shirt and a towel when I first get my bed so I don't have to worry about it later. Leaving valuables or sentimental items to mark your bed is a terrible idea, though.  I have been known to sleep with my purse and camera in my hostel bed. I also hide my money (I'm not going to say how I do it on the internet, in case someone reads it and knows exactly where to find it). I have never had anything stolen at a hostel, but I don't need to break that trend. 

4. Pay the extra dollar on HostelWorld and make your booking refundable. 

Before I continue, I'd like to say that I'm not paid a cent by HostelWorld. Anyways, HostelWorld is my personal favourite website of choice because I've never had any issues with the hostels I've booked through them and their phone app is fantastic. That being said, I've also had to last-minute cancel hostels from their site due to spontaneous trip changes. To me, it's worth paying a tiny bit of money to make your trip refundable rather than outright losing loads of cash.

5. Talk to people in your hostel. 

This one sort of depends on where you're staying, but in general, you will never meet more interesting people than the ones you'll meet in a hostel. This past weekend I met a woman who happened to live in Singapore at the same time I did! We had a great time getting to know each other and went to dinner together. The next day, two Belgian guys I met at my hostel and I went and climbed a frozen hill to the Three Crosses. 

I have met people from all over the world in different hostels and had the most interesting conversations. Even though it's not likely that you'll meet those people again, it's still fun to meet people from other cultures and share a beer together. I have learned Swedish swear words, a Hungarian traveler's opinion on climate change, and basic break dance moves from different people at hostels. While not all of those things are terribly useful, they were all interesting events at the time. 

Sure, staying in a hostel isn't exactly a glamorous experience. Sometimes the dorms are loud or there are weird people. At the end of the day, I prefer staying in hostels while traveling alone so I can meet new people wherever I go. While I don't generally stay at "party hostels",  I've always come out a hostel with a new story to tell! 

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

I have found the Baltic countries interesting since learning about their difficult place in history, but I never expected to actually go to one. Since I was back in Europe for a term, I figured Lithuania would be a good place to go for the weekend. I went by myself, stayed in a hostel and met fabulously interesting fellow traveler and local Lithuanians alike.

Vilnius is a weird city in the winter because the streets are really empty and quiet. There hardly seems to be anyone around-- but there's evidence that people live, work and party (drink) there. The bars are full and the people are quite friendly once you learn their second religion is basketball. I found it to be a city of extremes-- absolutely beautiful in some places, but decaying in others. It's proud of both its pagan and Christian heritage... it seems like it wouldn't make sense, but they fit together some how. It's a city full of sad history and human suffering, but it is also home to a very strong art scene. 

One place that is going to stay with me for a long time is the KGB museum in Vilnius. I am a firm believer that any time a city has a museum dedicated to a dark part of its history, it's worth going to visit. It was an interesting museum because it celebrated life while also explaining the suffering under the KGB. The basement of it was the KGB prison area. Of all the disturbing things in that museum,  the paddled cell with the straitjacket was the worst.  I don't think I'm ever going to forget what that room looks like. 

Vilnius was an interesting place to visit for the weekend, and I suspect it was a good introduction to the Baltic states in general. I enjoyed my time there and loved the deeply artistic energy that runs through the city. While I can't say that it was a "super fun party weekend city" that a lot of my peers travel for, I definitely think it's a good place for a solo weekend alone. 
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Sunday, February 5, 2017

I finally went to Scotland!  My friend Bram is studying in London, and we decided to meet in Edinburgh. It's one of the prettiest places I've ever been. In some ways it reminded me of Budapest, Hungary. I think it's because in both places, the people are extremely proud of their homeland and heritage. 

I learned a fair bit about Scotland over the weekend. First of all,  kilts are actually quite common and ordinary wear. Since it was the Scotland versus Ireland 6 Nations rugby game, loads of Scotsmen were out at pubs in kilts. The man on the bottom was working at the castle and gave out historical information. 

I also learned that whilst in Scotland, the chances of you coming across someone standing around on the street playing bagpipes is quite high. The man in green was standing near one of the main churches. We saw another man playing bagpipes when it was evening and I couldn't get a good picture of him, sadly. 

Bram and I decided to get tea at the Edinburgh Castle, since we were unsure of when we'd get to have tea at a castle next. The tea was excellent, and that piece of lemon-meringue cake was really good. On a side note, the whiskey samples elsewhere in the castle were also great. 

Bram and I went on a bus tour to Loch Ness and around the Highlands. The Highlands are absolutely beautiful and well worth a visit. This is Loch Ness. "Loch" means "lake" but can refer to both fresh and saltwater bodies of water. Sadly, we didn't see Nessie. 

Photos don't really capture how beautiful the highlands are, but they are absolutely wonderful. I couldn't believe I was still in Europe! It sort of felt like going to a more sloping version of New Zealand. Highland colours are also really vivid. There are lots of greens, blues, purples and browns that this photograph doesn't capture.

I loved Scotland, and I actually liked haggis! Scotland is a quirky place that is very attached to its own identity. I tend to say that I'll go back to places and then never end up doing so, but I think I'll return to Scotland for sure. I really want to do Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland in a trip some day in the future.
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