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Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Terradrift Guide to Packing Ultra-Light

Alisha McDarris

We are masters of packing light. Self-proclaimed masters, but masters none the less. We take great pride in responding with a sly smile and a confident nod of the head when fellow travelers, friends or family look at the size of our bags and say, "Is that all your luggage?!" Why yes, yes it is. One large and one small backpack for two people for a three week trip to Mexico comprised of beaches, hiking, city exploration and a wedding, professional shooting equipment included. One rolling carry-on and a daypack for two people for a week in Florida. One daypack per person for two months in Europe. Yeah, you read that right. Still not sure? Go ahead and read it again. I'll wait...See? I told you. And those two daypacks? They did in fact hold our camera gear in addition to clothing. Amazed? Want to know how we did it? Why we did it? This is our ultimate guide to ultra-light packing! Our gift to you.

Why ultra-light?

I'll tell you why. Because when you're flying around Europe (or the U.S.) on cheap airlines, it's not uncommon to pay more for a checked bag than you did for your seat. And it doesn't even have to be a checked bag. Even international buget airlines like Wow Air charge extra for as much as a roll-aboard carry-on. All you get with the price of your seat with airlines like Ryanair and the like is the space underneath it. So if your bag doesn't fit under there, you're gonna pay. And after a couple of those flights, you're not gonna wanna do that anymore. So it makes serious sense to carry less with you. Also when you get stuck carrying your luggage around a foreign city all day because you cant check it at you hostel or host's place until dinnertime, you wont threaten to throw everything you own off a bridge just so your shoulders dont have to bear the weight anymore. Also, lugging a giant rolling suitcase through the sandy streets of Jamaica or Mexico? It just doesn't work.

This is actually a bit more than I took with me to Australia for nine months. I removed about three or four articles after I took the photo.

How to pack light

It all starts with a bag. You're going to need a good one. I'm a big fan of Osprey, but that's because their packs feel like they're hugging me from behind. Yeah, your shoulders are going to get sore no matter what kind of fancy pack you have, but a good pack that fits well and is made for long hauls is going to be much more comfortable in the long run. It'll probably hold up better, too. But you'll want to keep size in mind. Nothing bigger than about a 20-22 liter pack (a standard daypack or book bag size), is going to fly (literally) in an airline cabin. A lot of budget airlines like Jetstar in Australia even weigh your bags or test fit them in a little box before you get on the plane, just to make sure.

The next step is not to just start shoving things in to see if they fit. C'mon! You knew there was gonna be more to it than that! It's about planning and order when it comes to packing small. There's a process to it. Enjoy it. First, consider your itinerary and the climates in which you're traveling. Will it be cool? Warm? Hot? All of the above? If so, it'll be tough, but you can do it! Then start pulling items out of your closet and lay them on the floor or bed so you can see what you've got as you go.

Start with base layers. Will you only be in cooler climates? Then tank tops probably won't be necessary. Pack a long-sleeve undershirt instead. Will it be warm? tank tops and T-shirts take up less space, but count on running into cool nights and pack at least one sweater. While traveling I regularly have one at least two to three layers because it means I can shed them as the day warms up or pull them back on as the day cools down. It also means I have more stand-alone pieces without extra bulk in my bag (like I would if I brought three tank tops and three sweaters).

This is the only bag I carried for two months in Europe. Note the clever usage of all the straps and loops! Josh's bag was the same size.

Next, keep it simple. solid colors beat crazy patterns no matter what when traveling light. You just don't have room for the pineapple shorts and the leaf-print top when they can only be paired with one other item in your bag. Neutrals go with everything. That doesn't mean you can't have a few pops of color, but keep it to one or two pieces so you can wear it with anything.

Lastly, multi-purpose items are your BFF's. Ditch the top with the flowy sleeves that you can't put under a sweater and the mini skirt you think you might wear for a night out. You ain't got room for that. Everything has to serve double duty. The shorts you bring have to also work over leggings. The leggings also have to look good under a skirt or dress. The dress needs to be able to be worn over a long sleeve shirt or with a sweater. The sweater has to multi-task for an evening out or walk around town. Nothing should have just one purpose. Except pants. There's not much else you can do with pants. Unfortunately.

And as far as shoes go...let 'em go. Pick two pair of low-volume multi-function models and wear 'em out. For example, a pair of sandals that look just as good with a dress as with skinny jeans and a pair of stylish sneakers with aggressive tread that you can take from cobblestone streets to day hikes without issue.

Want a sneak peak into my bag for two months in Europe? Of course you do. Here it is: two tank tops (that can be used for warm weather, as workout tops and sleepwear), a spaghetti-strap shirt (to be worn as a base layer or under a button up), one long-sleeve shirt (that works under a dress, on it's own, or layered under another shirt or sweater), a plaid button-up (used as a light over- or middle-layer or tied around my waist to cover my bum in leggings), a cardigan, a compact pullover for warmth, a rain jacket, one pair of skinny jeans that roll up quite small, a pair of leggings (for under skirts/shorts/dresses or jeans in extra cold weather), a simple skirt with pockets, a basic dress (that could be worn over leggings and a long-sleeve shirt if it was cool), a swimsuit, and a cute pair of sandals and Evolv city/hiking shoes. Oh, and five pairs of socks/underwear and one bra and sports bra, cause I'm a lady and I need them. And that's it, my friends. Every article of clothing in my bag. And it all only takes up about three quarters of the space in my daypack. Cool, huh?

Take a look at all the combinations that can be made from just a handful of items!

What's harder to pair down in my opinion are personal items. Shower stuff and hair stuff and makeup stuff and sunscreen and headphones and all that. I have the advantage of having very short hair, so I don't feel I need much product, but Josh and I usually bring one small container of some sort of hair goop for the both of us. Whatever you can share with travel companions, do! If you're more high-maintenance that me (and most people are), all I have to say is this: embrace your natural beauty. Your head probably won't explode if you don't straighten your hair for four weeks. I also don't wear much makeup, so all I bring along is mascara and some concealer. If you do wear more, pare it down to the bare necessities cause that crap takes up space! As for shower stuff, I'm generally a fan of good ol' castille soap for just about everything. One bottle works as body wash, shampoo, laundry detergent, face wash, you name it. I like the liquid, but the bars work, too. And for the end of your shower, travel towels take up far less space than fluffy bathroom varieties.

Of course, once you cram all the necessities, you've got to fit the (let's be honest) other necessities. I'm talking cameras, laptops, charging cables. Take as little as you can get away with, but it's important to make room for things you actually need, like a laptop if you'll be working. We tried to get a Chromebook to save space and that we could use as a tablet, too, but we were clearly overthinking/not thinking at all when we decided this would be a good idea because we mostly just wanted to throw it out a window on a daily basis. We should have just brought one of our 15" MacBook Pros, but you'll know better what works for you. We also started bringing along a smaller, lighter, pro-level mirrorless camera instead of our humongous DSLR's that weigh 40 pounds with our most utilitarian lens. No bueno. Instead we have a Fuji mirrorless with a single 18-135 lens.

And yep, it all fits in a daypack. And here's a little tip if they weigh your bag at the airline counter and it's too heavy or you have too many snacks: take out your jacket and stuff every pocket with anything that'll fit, then tie it around your waist or loop it through a backpack strap. problem solved. You still get to carry everything on in one tidy package and don't have to pay any extra. That's a win, my friend.

Have we inspired you to try packing ultra-light? send us a photo or tag us so we can give you the slow-clap you deserve.


Thursday, November 9, 2017

Free Things to do in Prague, Czech Republic

Alisha McDarris

Prague is a beautiful city. Beautiful architecture, beautiful castles, beautiful streets... but it's also swimming with tourists. And I mean swimming. They're everywhere. You can't turn around without running into another traveler or tourist (mostly tourists -- and yes, there's a difference). Is it still worth a visit? Absolutely. And fortunately, there are enough free things to do in Prague to keep you occupied for at least a few days.

Gothic churches and ornate architecture abound in Old Town Square (so do tourists)

Public Transportation

Prague has great public transit. Buses, trams and metro are all well maintained and easy to use. One ticket grants you access to all forms of transport and stops and signs are easy to find. Buses, trams and metro even all have really intuitive screens that not only tell you what stop is coming up, but the next four or five stops ahead, too. All stations operate on the honor system and we didn't see anyone ever checking for tickets, but tickets are cheap, so just buy them, OK?

Public Transit in Prague: Tickets can be purchased at newsstands and similar shops and convenience stores. You can purchase one 30-minute ticket for 24 koruna ($1.10), a 90-minute ticket for 32 ($1.45), a day pass for 110 ($5) or a three day pass for 310 ($14). You'll pay more if you try to buy it on the bus and you'll have to have cash. We went for the three day pass just because we thought it'd be easier, though after we did the math before we left, it would have been about as much to just buy a bunch of single tickets.

From the airport: Getting to the center of Prague from the Prague airport is relatively easy. There are multiple buses that run into the city (The 119 will take you to Metro line A and the 100 to Metro line B) and an Airport Express that goes straight from the airport to the main train station and from there you can get a train or bus anywhere. The express bus is 60 koruna ($2.70) and a normal city bus that takes a bit longer is just 32 ($1.45).

Prague's streets are full of color, be it from the buildings or the city's oldest market

Free attractions in Prague

Visiting Prague on a budget? Fear not. There are plenty of things to do that don't cost a thing.

Take a free walking tour: There are plenty to choose from, just do a Google search. Or make it easy on yourself and just show up for a Sandeman's Free Walking tour. Wear comfy shoes, 'cause you'll be walking for like, three hours, but you'll learn a lot about the history of the city, and at the end you can pay whatever you think the tour was worth. So, technically free, but a couple bucks won't kill you.

Prague's Astronomical Clock is quite a feat of engineering, even if the hourly show is less impressive than spectators might anticipate

Marvel at the Astronomical Clock: Or don't. Apparently it's in the top three most disappointing monuments in Europe, but I'd have to disagree with that one. You may have heard that little people pop out and move around, but don't hold out for anything too exciting: the movement is limited. But take a few minutes to examine the clock itself; all those parts telling time, the phase of the moon, the position of the earth around the sun, it's a pretty impressive feat of science and art. There will be a million people crowded around every hour, though, so be prepared.

Visit the Prague Castle Complex: The Prague Castle Complex is the largest in the world. And it's not a bad place for a wander in the morning. You'll go through a security check to enter, but it's free to take a stroll around the expansive gardens, gaze up at the cathedrals and castle walls, and read up on local history. The exhibits and many of the building charge exorbitant entrance fees, but wandering between them all doesn't cost anything and it totally worth it.

Take in the view: For the second best view of the city (the first one from the observation tower isn't free), walk to the top of Letenské Sady (or Letná park), near that big weird sculpture of the metronome, and take it all in. On a clear day you can see pretty far.

Star Wars spotting at Hamley's of Prague

Play all day at Hamley's: I don't care if you're 5 or 50 -- who doesn't love a toy store? And this one has a slide and everything! A slide! And toy demos. And life size storm troopers. And a merry-go-round! What's not to love? Need an afternoon pick-me-up? this is the place.

Walk across Charles Bridge: We saw this bridge from a distance first and were all, "OK, it's a bridge. What's the big deal?" But walking across it from one side of Prague to the other was actually a little bit cool. There are sculptures, lots of photo ops, and some pretty good views. Go at night, too, to see everything lit up along the river. There are usually street artists and performers (as well as people hawking generic crap) along the pedestrian route, so let yourself be entertained.

The evening view from Charles Bridge

Wander up Wenceslas Square: Which is actually less of a square and more of a long street with shopping on both sides and a nice public chill spot in the middle. Also there's free WiFi. I know this because I made not one, but two internet calls for articles I was working on from a bench in the square. Handy, no?

Take a snap at Lennon's Wall: John Lennon's face isn't visible anymore through all the layers of graffiti and street art, but I'm told it was actually there once. If you're into street art, the display is constantly changing.

A view from Petrin Hill

Take a walk up (or on top of) Petrin Hill: You can hike up it if you want, or for the low price of a bus ticket, you can ride the tram cart (and there is someone checking for tickets here). It's a short ride or a long hike up, and once you reach the top, you can walk around the gardens, gaze up at Observation Tower (once again: not free), and enjoy the feeling of being on top of the city.

Visit Kampa Island: While I feel like the term island is a bit misleading -- Kampa is more like just another neighborhood that happens to be surrounded by a narrow canal -- it's still worth a wander. There's a nice park on the "island" and the buildings along the canal are lovely and there are cafes and restaurants, too.

St. Vitus Cathedral within the Prague Castle Complex is a beautiful work of architecture

Admire some churches: Not all are free, but the impressive edifices that don't charge admission include Old Town Square's Our Lady before Tyn and St. Vitus Cathedral.

Czech Museum of Music: It's only free on the first Thursday of the month, but if you happen to be in town you can check out all manner of instruments, music, and more. If you're into that sort of thing. It's located in the Church of Santa Maria Magdalena.

Sit for a film screening: I'm not gonna lie, I'm pretty bummed we missed this one while we were in Prague. Unfortunately, we didn't know it was a thing until we left. But we don't want that to happen to you, so for your edification, the American Center, part of the U.S. Embassy, often shows free independent film or documentary screenings on Thursday nights. I know, right? Check out the schedule and bring some popcorn! Or don't. I'm not sure what the policy is on snacks, actually...

Cheap things to do in Prague:

These things aren't free, but if you're into them, they might be worth it.

Absinth, anyone?

Drink: In a bar or from a supermarket, it doesn't matter. Booze is cheap. We bought a bottle of red wine so I could make sangria for one of the sites I write for and it set me back all of $3. A beer from the supermarket cost as little as .50 and if you find a bar or pub that isn't swarming with tourists or hipster swanky, you can order a pint for $1-$2. Now you know why Czech Republic drinks more beer than any other country. You're welcome. Beer not your thing? Try some absinth from one of the many shops that sell it. You are in Bohemia, after all!

Petrin Tower in Prague

Climb Petrin Tower: Or Observation Tower, as it's often called. Of course, we didn't do this, because, as you may recall from our recent posts on Bruges or Reykjavik, I don't pay to climb stairs. It's still not that expensive at only 150 koruna (or just under $7 per person), but I wasn't feeling it. Fun fact: it not only looks like the Eiffel Tower, because it's on a hill it's at the same elevation as the Eiffel Tower, too.

Tombstones in the Jewish Quarter are practically stacked on top of each other to fit all the markers for the hundreds of people buried there.

Investigate the Jewish Quarter: While walking around this small, historic neighborhood is free, there's an admission fee to enter the many synagogues, galley and museum, including a crazy cemetery where bodies are buried 12 deep because once upon a time no one would grant the Jews permission to expand their property. We were actually going to pay the 330 Koruna ($15) for this one, if only to see the graveyard and where the Golem is purportedly hidden away (if that tells you anything about us), but the day we went everything was inexplicably closed (and no, it wasn't the Sabbath).

Listen to the music: There are dozens of concert halls and theaters vying for tourist dollars, practically begging visitors to buy tickets to hear orchestras perform classical composers like Mozart, Bach and Vivaldi. But your best bets are The National Theatre, Estates Theatre, and State Opera (tickets for which can all be purchased from the same site), for starters.

Visit a, uh, unique museum: If you've got 30-60 minutes to kill, 250 koruna ($11) burning a hole in your pocket, and you're up for a chuckle, check out the Sex Machines Museum. Probably one of Prague's weirdest museums, it has a bunch of contraptions that, allegedly, have been used in the boudoir in centuries past. Enter if you dare.

These tasty treats did NOT originate in Prague, but that doesn't stop tourists from taking selfies with them. Don't be that person.

Cheap eats in Prague

Prague is a pretty cheap city, even with the inundation of tourists. So it's pretty easy to find budget dining options in Prague, even for vegans.

Supermarkets: I know you know, but it must be said: cooking your meals is always the cheapest option. Billa and Albert are the big ones, but don't expect to find a plethora of vegan options at either.

Pistachio and dark chocolate vegan gelato, anyone? This is the best we've ever tasted.

Creme de la Creme: Some of you may not believe me when I say the best vegan gelato I've ever tasted was in Prague. Not the U.S., not Italy, Prague. But you don't have to believe me, 'cause it's true. Best. Gelato. Ever. The peanut butter flavor was the peanut butter-iest and the dark chocolate was to die for. Even the pistachio was phenomenal and I don't even usually order pistachio! (That was a Josh flavor.) They have non-vegan flavors, too.

Dhaba Beas: One of Prague's ubiquitous pay-by-weight buffets, this one is all Indian, all vegetarian, mostly vegan. We paid 105 koruna (less than $5) for a pretty good sized plate of food that both of us shared and felt pretty good about. And if that isn't cheap enough for you, the hour before they close whatever food is left is 40% off! (There are multiple locations)

Veganland: Another restaurant with several locations is a pay-by-weight buffet, this one all vegan and mostly Asian food. Again, it was pretty cheap at around $6-$7 for a plate big enough to share and was pretty tasty. They also have a few vegan staples and desserts for sale.

Look at that mountain of food from Country Life! Kept us full for hours!

Country Life: This one confused us at first as there are several Country Life locations. The first one we went to was just cosmetics and body care items. The next was a small health food store, but behind it is a delightful vegan pay-by-weight buffet where we paid about 135 koruna (or all of six bucks) for a heaping plate that stuffed both of us. No joke. Of course, it was happy hour when, instead of the normal price per gram, a plate up to 1000 grams (that's a whole kilogram or 2.2 pounds!) was only 135 koruna. It's country-cooking, homestyle-type food, but it's tasty, warm and filling.

Vegan donuts from Blue Vegan Pig in Prague

Blue Vegan Pig: Those of you who are loyal Terradrift followers know I'm helpless to resist a vegan donut. So naturally I would find at least one joint to satisfy my obsession. This place even offered a peanut butter and jelly donut, which was right up my alley. There are other breakfasty items in this tiny storefront, too, but the donuts were the cheapest!

That enough to get you started? Should be! So pack your bags and get yourself to Bohemia!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

18 Ways to be a Dirty Backpacker

Alisha McDarris

For those uninitiated into the mysterious, intriguing, and often fairly unhygienic world of backpacking the globe, slinging a pack on your shoulders and setting off for foreign destinations and unknown adventures may sound fascinating and romantic, but I'm here to tell you that the life of a backpacker is often, if not always, less than glamorous. So if you think you're ready to head to the wilds of Asia or the deserts of Africa with nothing more than some canvas and polyester strapped to your person, read this guide on how to properly approach gaining status as a dirty backpacker. And if you can't stomach the day-to-day nitty-gritty, well, maybe you're not cut out for this.

1. Wash your clothes, including the underwear you're wearing, in a hostel sink filled with cold water and body wash that the guy in the bed below you left behind. They may smell like hormonal man-child for the first few minutes of wear, but it'll pass once your sweat soaks in.

2. Get an eye infection from not washing your hands every time you put in your contacts, then have to go to the eye doctor and get scolded by an optometrist who probably prescribes dozens of these antibiotic eye drops to dirty backpackers every week.

3. Wear the same shirt four days in a row. You've probably been in three different cities in that time span, so it's not like anyone is going to notice. Except maybe the guy standing next to you on the subway who could smell you when he got on.

4. Skip showering for at least a week because you can't find a free shower during a road trip around New Zealand.

5. Have to pee? Pull over and let it out on a cement wall by the side of the road. Everybody else in Europe is doing it.

6. Better yet, keep a small pot under the driver's seat of the campervan you bought/rented so when you have to pee in the middle of the night while freedom camping you don't have to get out of the car to go to the bathroom. Just be sure not to cook with that pot later. That's taking things a bit too far.

7. Do the smell test before you get dressed in the morning. But instead of the normal way where you hold an article right up to your nose, hold it at arm's length. If it still smells rank from that distance, then it's time to do some laundry.

8. Refuse to throw away clothing just because it has a few holes in it. It'll help keep you cool during those treks in 90-degree temps.

9. Likewise, what's a stain or two on a worn-out T-shirt? There's probably a story or two behind those spots! Wear them with pride.

10. Carry all your food in a plastic grocery bag along with a plastic spork and a napkin, both of which came from a McDonalds where you used the WiFi without ordering a meal, and have been used an indeterminate number of times without washing/disposal.

11. Go dumpster diving for dinner. It's a perfectly acceptable way to eat on a budget. Just make sure to sanitize it first; you're a dirty backpacker, not an animal.

12. Wear the same socks at least three days in a row. Drying laundry takes time! Time you don't have!

13. Make a sandwich on a park bench with only bread, a jar of peanut butter, and a jam packet you swiped from your hostel before you checked out. No knife? Spread it with your finger. You'll go back to eating healthy when you get home.

14. Shower in a hostel dorm bathroom. Without foot protection. Who knows the last time that thing was cleaned.

15. Sleep on your Couchsurfing host's sofa-bed, the sheets of which clearly haven't been changed in a while. It's free. No complaining.

16. Go out for the day in the same shirt/pants/socks you slept in because you managed to accidentally do all of your laundry at once, save for the clothes on your back, and everything but that shirt/pants/socks is hanging on the line to dry.

17. Take a sink-bath in an airport restroom because you've been traveling for over 48 hours and you can't stand the feeling of your own skin any longer.

18. After that sink-bath, find a cosy spot on a lightly-stained lounge or, at the very least, two chairs without an armrest between them, and break out the travel pillow and towel: you're sleeping here tonight because you can't be bothered to trek into the city, pay for a hostel, and trek back to the airport for that 8 am flight.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Terradrift guide to Amsterdam, Netherlands

Alisha McDarris

Bikes and canals. It's what makes Amsterdam, Amsterdam. And marijuana. Obviously. These are the things that make it stand out from a host of other quaint European cities with impressive architecture and fascinating history, though it has all of that, too.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Terradrift Guide to Bruges

Alisha McDarris

Right off the bat, lets make sure we get the pronunciation of this Belgian city correct, on the off-chance you haven't seen the Movie In Bruges. It’s pronounced broozsh. Or broo-guh, if you’re using the same name for the city as the locals, which I could never quite wrap my head around. Why don’t we all call cities by the same name? I get that we probably have to spell them differently, especially in languages without Roman alphabets like Chinese or Russian, but why don’t we pronounce them the same? Why is it broozsh in English but broo-guh in Dutch? Why is it Florence for us but Firenze for Italians? Why do Australians allow Americans to mispronounce  Melbourne (it’s Melbuhn, thanks very much)? And by an opposing twist in logic, why does it always seem to be New York or Chicago no matter what language you speak?

But I’m getting off topic. Bruges. Whether you loved or hated the movie where Colin Ferrel pulls off a magnificent Irish accent, this is a city you should visit (whether or not you want to pay for the “privilege” of climbing 366 stairs to reach the top of the famous belfry). It’s a beautiful city of circular canals and medieval architecture and it was definitely one of the loveliest stops on our two-month European excursion, hands down.

Canals and willows. Who could ask for more?

But Amsterdam has canals! You say. Bah. They don’t hold a candle to Bruges. There’s just something about verdant weeping willows dangling over quiet waterways, colorful bikes resting against ancient stone buildings, Gothic spires jutting up into the sky from the tops of churches hundreds of years old, that makes it terribly inviting. Add to it dozens of canal-side restaurants and cafes, swans lazily meandering around the park, and a history brimming with trickery and intrigue, and you’ve got yourself a pretty interesting place.

Swans resting in Minnewaterpark.

However, it is a compact place, and the two and a half days we spent there were perhaps half a day too long. If you’re not taking every meal at one of those canal-side cafes or paying for entry to the handful of museums in the old town (like the Archeological Museum, €4, or quirky Fries Museum, €7), you’re going to burn through the sites pretty fast. But a single day certainly isn’t long enough to be able to relax and take in the calm of the city.

The architecture in Bruges is simply stunning

We arrived early via BlaBla Car from Brussels and hit the ground running, as we do. We stashed our bags in the hostel locker room (sans rain jackets and umbrella, which we would need on and off all day), and before we did anything else, sat down with a map and a coffee (instant, of course, with a carton of soy milk that probably should have been refrigerated, but oh well, we’re still alive). We circled some interesting attractions, noted the time of the next free walking tour, then went into the center to join up with that group.

We learned some of the city’s history, about the blood of Jesus, which is on display in a magic vial in The Basilica of the Holy Blood, saw the aforementioned magic vial of holy blood, and nodded at several sites used in the filming of In Bruges. Interesting. We also took a brief pit stop at one of the only two breweries left in old town where just about everybody got a beer but us. I’m used to this because I don’t drink, but Josh squirmed a bit at not partaking with everyone else. Reason being, 1.) we had been warned not to pay over 3 for a beer or we were being ripped off and 2.) I don’t appreciate being coerced into spending money, like, say, on a free tour where they parade everyone into a bar and expect you to drop 3.60 on a drink when, it seems to me, like everyone on a free tour would not be keen to do. (Don’t worry, Josh tried that same beer for .60 less at another bar not on the tourist trail. We’re clever like that.)

The Grote Markt is the center of the action in Bruges.

After that it was just a matter of retracing our steps to revisit the more tantalizing points of interest from the tour over the next two days. We discovered we would not be mounting the famous belfry as it cost €10 per person to do so and I do not pay to climb stairs for 15 minutes. If anything, they should be paying me for all that physical exertion. Instead we meandered through one-lane streets with narrow sidewalks, not consulting a map, accepting the notion that we would get lost. We peeked into art galleries, interesting local home goods stores, stumbled upon a small hidden park, Hof De Jonghe, that contained apple trees and sheep, of all things. We crossed bridges, took photos, stared up at windmills, visited the garden of the original feminists, the Begijnhof, and saw the country’s oldest bar, Cafe Vlissinghe.

Bruges' famous Belfry, or Belfort.

Tilting at windmills in Bruges.

And ate. But not well. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was disappointed at the state (and price) of vegan food in the city. I mean, it is a pretty small place, but after the lack of cheap, original offerings in Brussels I was hoping for something better. All we found was Vero Caffe that made a tasty soy latte and had one kind of vegan cake.

I love a good cafe that doesn't charge extra for soy milk!

Of course, this is really unfair to Bruges. There were other options, but they were pricey or uninspiring (think falafel) and as we were still feeling the price gouging of Iceland from not even a week before, we were loath to pay 25 for a meal. So the supermarket it was. Fortunately, we managed to get our hands on staples like bread, fruit, museli and hummus, though even finding tofu or ramen was tricky. Needless to say, we put the hostel microwave to work every night and mostly ate sandwiches for lunch. Classic Terradrift.

We opted for another free tour at night that claimed to show a “different” side of Bruges. I’m not sure how different it was, but it wasn’t the same as the afternoon tour and you got free beer at the end, so what’s to lose? Actually, Josh got several free beers in Bruges. Both tours offered tickets for free house beers at local bars and, as I don’t drink, he got two each time. One was a trappist beer that he said was much better than the overpriced brew they market to tourists and was served in Le Trappiste, an underground tavern that had Josh planning our own future medieval cave in our next tiny house. The other was actually from our own hostel bar at St. Christopher's Inn at the Bauhaus (which had extraordinarily cheap beer, especially at happy hour), so that was convenient. We got to hang out front with some of the other folks on the tour, one of whom had shared a room with us one night, the other whom convinced us that we absolutely must go to Romania this trip (which we did end up planning). Of all the things I often don’t like about hostels, the ones that do it right have this in common: they make it very difficult not to socialize with other travelers.

And I do like to socialize with other travelers.

But we also like it to just be the two of us. So we didn’t invite anyone to join us when we went to 27 B Flat Bar for an evening of live Chicago blues that was simply divine. And free. Minus the cost of the cheapest beer on the menu.  Because Josh. Wandering through the various markets on weekend mornings is also free and might offer an opportunity for a cheap snack, so hit up one of those, too. And don't miss the windmills standing on the edge of the old town, right along the canal. Those are free to gaze upon, but if you want to go into the one still in operation as a mill, it’ll cost you a couple euros.

27 B Flat is a cozy bar with hot music.

Would we go back to Bruges? Definitely. Maybe in the summer next time so we don't get rained on every day. Was it touristy? Yeah, but not too bad. However, next time I’ll plan ahead and bring a stockpile of vegan staples along.

Even when it's overcast the beauty of Bruges shines through.

Tips for Visiting Bruges:

  1. The city is extremely walkable and public transit is available but hardly necessary. Bring your comfy walking shoes!
  2. The cobblestone streets can be a pain, especially for rolling suitcases. Backpacks or duffles are your best bet.
  3. Bruges is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the North.” If you fancy a motorized boat trip on the canal, it’ll only set you back about 9, a lot less than in Venice.
  4. Shops and many restaurants, including supermarkets, often close early (like 5-7:00) and don’t open at all on Sunday, so plan accordingly.
  5. If you’re under 26, you can get into many museums for a lot less; sometimes for as little as 1.50.
  6. If you want locally made Belgian chocolate, look for the word “handmade” on the door or inside the shop. There are scores of them.
  7. Beer is cheap in bars, but it’s even cheaper in the supermarket. Stock up there and you’ll pay something like .80 for a can or bottle.
  8. Revisit the city at night; it’s just as beautiful as during the day.
  9. The main language spoken is Flemish (similar to Dutch), but just about everyone speaks English, too.

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