Belgrade: The unexpected foodie haven

When I first saw Belgrade, Serbia on our itinerary for Remote Year, I had no idea what to expect. In the month leading up to our stay there, I started hearing rumblings from our RY2 friends that we were in for a treat. They couldn’t have been more right.

2016-08-28-14-44-08On our first day there, a few of us had signed up for a food tour with a company called Gastro Balkan. Uros Zivkovic, the brains behind the operation, excitedly met our crew in front of our workspace and led us to our first stop, Ambar Belgrade. It was located in a long row of restaurants in what we would come to know as the waterfront warehouse district.

At our first stop, we tried some local dips and were treated with our first official shot of Serbian rakija, the local drink of choice. Rakija is made from the distillation of fruits, making it a sweeter drink. It can also be made with honey, and is served in a shot glass. Don’t let that fool you, it’s still meant to be sipped. At any time of day, you’ll see people of all ages with a coffee and a shot of rakija. Our group’s favorite flavor was quince. I definitely recommend that you try it if you have the chance.

2016-09-20-00-41-08After introductions with the chef at our first stop and some more tasty treats, we continued our tour and tried a series of amazing plates. Some of the more notable items were the mint and chocolate “flower pot dessert” (pictured right) at Homa Bistrot, fried cheese at miamiam and an assortment of meats, especially the pork, at Restoran Patlidžanz. The concept of a “tasting portion” was also completely lost due to the generosity of all the business chefs resulting in plenty of wonderful leftovers throughout the day.

We closed out the evening with artisan ice cream from Crna Ovca and a coffee at a new spot around the corner. As if the day wasn’t special enough, Uros had also put together a little goodie bag of macaroons and a cheese board with our initials engraved. Without a doubt, this was the best welcome I’ve ever had to a new country.

2016-09-15-10-32-34 After the tour, Uros promised to send along more spots that we needed to check out. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of offices. Give me a café, restaurant, couch, beach, whatever; just not a desk in an office. So, when we got the long list of other restaurants that we needed to check out, it gave me the perfect outlet for new work spaces.

On practically a daily basis, Miranda and I would check in with each other to see which café we’d select as our workspace. A few that that we ended up frequenting were Smokvica B&B, M:eating and Savanova. Each of them were in a different area of the city with completely different vibes. Savanova could have been a Scottsdale bar, Smokvica had a cute little patio and M:eating was as hipster funky as you can get. It goes without saying that the food was amazing; among my favorites were the white chocolate lava cake, pizza and salmon burger from Savanova.


There was one restaurant that was my personal favorite in Belgrade. TRI was a small Berlin-inspired hole in the wall that you had to know someone to find because it wasn’t on the map. Everything was amazing, from their perfectly made spinach and goat cheese “triangles” (similar to our version of a quesadilla) to the filet mignon salad. My favorite dish though was the lavender ravioli. I proceeded to go there three more times specifically for that before the end of the month. Not only was the food amazing, but it was beyond affordable. While I was on a date, we ordered a bottle of champagne, an appetizer, two entrees and one dessert; the total came to $35 USD.

This short post doesn’t even begin to do Belgrade’s food culture justice. The revitalization of the city, welcoming nature of the people and the economic growth makes me believe that Belgrade will absolutely be a hotspot for travelers in the years to come.

With love, Paige

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“Just bend like a banana”

2016-08-24-17-07-15One of our boys, Jacek, has done over forty jumps in his life and wanted to plan an excursion for us to experience it with him. There were about fifteen of who signed up, and it was one of the most incredibly terrifying and awesome experiences of my life.

Being a novice in the world of jumping out of planes, I was unaware that there were different types that you use to jump out of. For our jump, our plane opened in the back, which is apparently not all that common. I was the second to last person to jump, and my tandem partner

2016-08-22-13-47-21told me to “just bend like a banana” so that when we did a backflip out of the plane, we would follow the current of the wind. Because that’s not terrifying or anything.

The backflip itself was actually my favorite part. The free fall that followed was the hardest part for me, which lasted for about two to three minutes until my tandem guy pulled the parachute. Those few minutes were a weird mixture of my eyes tearing up, screaming, feeling like it was practically impossible to breathe and trying to tell myself I wasn’t going to die. After he pulled the parachute, I finally believed I might make it out alive. After that, I was able to relax and enjoy the view, and damn, was it beautiful.

2016-09-08-18-44-27When I finally got to the ground, I was hit with the most incredible rush of excitement and adrenaline that I literally ran and jumped on Adam with what felt like all the force I had. I looked around and saw everyone else doing the same. It was so cool to be with such an amazing group, experiencing something so powerful. Afterwards, we all piled back into our rental cars and headed back to the city.

A couple weeks later I received the over 600 photos of my jump that the tandem guy took, and let me just say, I give so many props to anyone who can look attractive in those photos. I would say 99% of mine I look like a flailing lunatic, but hey, it was totally worth it.

With love, Paige

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Another margarita, please.

2016-07-31-20-17-49-hdrOf our Remote Year itinerary, Prague was the only city I had visited previously. It was also my favorite city from my time studying in Spain. Due to that, I was incredibly excited to have an entire month back in such a magical city.

For our accommodations, we were split up into mainly two. One was nicer and practically brand new while the other was older and sort of quirky. June, Adam and I ended up living together in the quirky one, which was also right next to what would become known as The Baby Tower. While we were a bit further from the workspace, our place had a certain charm to it that made it feel like home. This was honestly the first time I had felt this way on Remote Year.

Not only was our place cozy, we were caddy corner from a cute Italian bistro and only two blocks from the best Mexican restaurant I’ve come across on Remote Year. Lisa and I may have set up a secondary residency there. Our workspace, K10, was brand new and totally beautiful. It even had a chef who cooks lunch daily and a courtyard area where we could lay out and work.

2016-08-03-20-28-50-1So yeah, Prague was just as awesome as I had remembered it. It was also one of the more normal months I’ve had, which was a nice change of pace. We had a lot of wine and cheese dinners at either my place or on the rooftop at Brecht and Eric’s as opposed to going out to dinner, which we had tended to do in previous months. And the sunsets? They were spectacular.

When we went out, we checked out the awesome underground venues or went to festivals and shows. The first weekend in town we went to a warehouse show last minute after one of our dinner parties, despite the fact that I was dressed in a rain jacket and workout clothes. Then we ended up seeing Skrillex and Disclosure while we were there, too.

2016-08-14-15-38-50Conveniently, Sziget Festival was happening only a few hours away from us in Budapest, so a group of us decided to go check it out for a few days. It’s hard to explain the experience aside from saying it seemed like something out of the festival scene in Across the Universe. It was an entire hippy island community co-existing and appreciating the magical experience. Almost 500,000 people came out to this incredible week-long festival, and I know all of us wish we could have stayed longer.

After we got back from the festival, we had couple weeks left, which we spent just enjoying our favorite parts of Prague. I went on a date at one of the restaurants by the water (my favorite), scoped out one of the craziest public pools I’ve ever seen, ate oysters, went on runs, checked out the cook beer tap bar and, the cherry on top, was going sky diving. But that experience deserves its own post.

With love, Paige

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My one real week in London

This is the third post about London, and I haven’t even mentioned the actual place we were living, which had very mixed reviews. The Collective is a dorm-style building made for young professionals. The rooms are minimalist, but provide everything you need. I’ve heard comparisons between the rooms to cruise ship rooms, and while I’ve never been on a cruise, I sort of see what they mean.

2016-07-29-17-30-50-hdrAll of the rooms were identical with a twin bed that basically formed a little nook where I spent many a morning hibernating. There was one small, oddly shaped closet, and then a small bathroom with an even smaller shower. I mean, I had issues just trying to pick up the shampoo on the floor. I can only imagine how some of the larger people dealt with it.

The real perks of The Collective weren’t the rooms, though. Each of the 13 floors had a unique community room and kitchen, creating an environment like a massive house rather than a big apartment building. One floor had a spa, one had a tea room, one was a library (my personal favorite) and so on. On the bottom floor there was a restaurant and patio I ate probably every other day if not every day I was in London. All in all, the building was pretty cool. The problem was that it was about 45 minutes to get just about anywhere in the city. Basically we all got very good at using the public transportation or just stayed around The Collective.

2016-07-26-00-51-04One of the things that did entice me to leave my cozy nook were the shows we had access to in London. I finally had the opportunity to go see Wicked and Book of Mormon, both of which were fantastic. I was a little surprised by how much of a bimbo they make Glinda out to be, and by how insanely offensive Book of Mormon was (ex: the AIDs song), but hey, that’s what makes them great. Both nights were accompanied by a lot of rose, obviously.

The Collective also about an hour away from the Olympic Park. The last Sunday we were there I was in need of some quality alone time, so I ventured over there to see what it was all about. When I got there I was in awe of how beautiful the facility was and all of the parks in the area. I immediately purchased a new suit and spent the next few hours unwinding doing laps in the Olympic 50m pool. Despite the hike to get there, I went back a few more times before our time in London was up.

2016-07-28-18-52-58Quickly, the end of the month was encroaching, which meant it was time for the closing festivities. This ended up being one of my favorites nights in London without a doubt. The party crew (Lindsay, Lev, Brecht and myself) went out for date night to Burger & Lobster where Brecht had his second lobster ever, and I got to have the best lobster roll of my life, all accompanied by champagne and fish bowl cocktails. After that, we hustled to the harbor to jump on the party boat Remote Year had rented for our closing party. I think for about half of the party I just sat downstairs with my head out the window admiring the beautiful city and all the lights.

2016-07-29-15-37-04With one day left, there were three things left we had to do. One was go to high tea, another was take a phone booth picture and the other was to ride The Eye. A few of us got dolled up and dragged ourselves to tea despite our incredible hangovers, making a pit stop at a phone booth for the necessary photo shoot. If you ever go to tea, go hungry. When they say unlimited sandwiches, they mean it. And they’re actually pretty delicious.

After that, a few of us proceeded to drink our way over to The Eye to meet the rest of the Remote Year group who was joining. Right as we were getting on, it started sprinkling, adding a calming mood to our last night.

The calm didn’t last long, as when we arrived back at The Collective, it seemed everyone was in a frenzy of packing and partying. With a 5:00 am wakeup call, we decided to spend the time drinking and playing ping pong as oppose  d to sleeping. There’s always time for sleep later, right? Next stop: Prague.

With love, Paige

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Birthdays, Belgium & Bottles

2016-07-16-12-13-10After the spontaneous adventure our first weekend, it was time to buckle down and start planning the RY Birthday Duo for Shawn and myself that would take place that Thursday, July 14th. We researched a few different spots and ended up deciding on Archer Street, a venue I’d never been to, but seemed cool online so we went with it.

On my actual birthday, I got up, went for a run, came back and honestly felt pretty disconnected from all my loved ones back home. I’m a huge family person, so not being with them was a really hard pill to swallow. Nonetheless, I went for a birthday lunch with some of my closest friends at the time, which naturally included some rose.

Later that day I was finally able to get ready in my entirely new outfit I had purchased the day before, including my first pair of heels all of Remote Year, and then head off to the bar. New clothes on Remote Year are a big deal. Everyone notices, you get that close. Slowly, what had started as a relatively low day ended up turning into one of my favorite nights on Remote Year. The venue was perfect, everyone was there and it seemed like everyone had a great time. When I went home that night, I felt a sense of complete gratitude for this year, this opportunity and the wonderful people who had come into my life.

2016-07-16-14-31-07-2What I did not feel gratitude for was my seven am wakeup call the next day to jump on a train to Belgium where one of our Remotes, Brecht, was from. He had planned an entire weekend trip for about 16 Remotes, including tours of the city, a tour of the Stella Factory and a big BBQ with his family and friends. While we made a stop in Brussels the last day, we spent most of the weekend in Leuven, his home town. Imagine cobblestone streets, cute bars and restaurants, lots of beautiful people and a nightlife that never stops. If nothing else, we all had a little bit better idea as to why Brecht parties the way he does.

I also never realized that mussels and fries were such a staple in Belgium. Also, Belgian waffles are no joke. Especially when they come with chocolate sauce and ice cream.

2016-07-20-13-11-31To say the four days there was a whirlwind is an understatement, but, our adventure wasn’t over yet. One of the other Remotes, Matt, and I were off to Venice to meet up with Kirsten for a few days of pizza and wine. To be entirely honest, Venice is pretty underwhelming unless you have lots of money or a hubby there with you. But, we did the gondola ride, ate the pizza, roamed the streets and spent the last day at the infinity pool at the JW Marriott located on one of the islands. Not a bad way to end a week-long excursion.

We had a sunset dinner and a few bottles of wine to close out our last night. When Friday morning finally rolled around, we were all happy to be heading back to our little nooks in London Town to live up our last week. It definitely did not disappoint.

With love, Paige

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The #almostthreepeaks challenge

2016-07-10-12-11-05-1July was possibly one of the craziest months on Remote Year so far. We were based in London after our initial plan to be in Istanbul was changed early on in the program. For most of us, this wasn’t entirely a welcomed change.

After spending four months completely out of our element in Spanish-speaking countries, we
were going to be in London, one of the most Americanized cities in Europe, in my opinion. Due to this, lots of people went home or took side trips, which meant there were always people coming and going. My month was no exception.

2016-07-09-20-48-12-2After my short trip back to Maine, I arrived in London reinvigorated and ready to explore. I ended up joining last minute on a trip that would come to be known as the #almostthreepeaks challenge. The actual three peaks challenge is to hike the highest peaks in England, Wales and Scotland in 24 hours. No easy feat, but hey, gotta love those rose-colored glasses.

The first bump in the road was when it took us about four hours just to get to the airport and rent the car. I believe we took somewhere between 5-6 trains and buses before finally getting to our destination. From there, we had another six-hour drive to Wales, our first stop. When we woke up the next day, it was pouring rain with no end in sight. We’d made it this far though and we were going to hike the mountain, rain or not.

2016-07-10-11-25-41After four hours, the six of us were completely drenched and frozen to the core. We immediately huddled back in our van and found the closest restaurant to warm up and reassess our weekend goals. Initially, we had intended to continue on and hike a second mountain that day, but that clearly wasn’t going to happen. At this point, the only dry clothes the boys had to wear were ours.

We decided to opt out of the mountain in Scotland and continue onto England to hike the third mountain the following day. We found a cozy hostel next to the water after lots of calls to different places along our route. After an amazing Indian dinner, we went to bed early to prepare for another early start and long day. While it wasn’t raining when we woke up, the wind and fog was beyond anything I had ever seen.

2016-07-09-17-48-40To provide some additional motivation as we trekked up mountain number three, there was actually a marathon happening on the same path we were hiking. So, a few of us dug down and found some energy to ran down the mountain, splashing through the puddles and trying not to tumble the whole way down. While there may have been times I thought I was going to collapse or be blown straight off the mountain, the whole experience was wildly exhilarating.

At the end of the day, we ended up only hiking 1.5 of the three mountains, but it was an adventure nonetheless. We celebrated our relative success with wine and pizza in the van all the way back to London.

With love, Paige

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A welcomed homecoming

When I joined Remote Year, I never had any intention of going home during our year adventure. I got to globe trot and roam around the world for a year, why would I want a break from that?!

2016-07-02-14-33-06-2As we came to the end of our fourth month, though, I could feel myself getting a little too wrapped up in the craziness of the travel, side trips, new friends and trying to balance all of that with my work at Hopscratch.

So, when I found out that my brother would be visiting my dad back in Maine, my home state, I immediately jumped on the opportunity to take a break and reset.

My travel home, which included five different legs, proved I was in dire need for some rest and relaxation. I managed to sleep through my three flights, one bus ride and one drive home, totaling about 24 hours of travel/complete dead sleep.

Side note: avoid going through Florida when you come back into the country. It took me almost three hours to go through customs and then check back in for my flight to Boston.

I could have cried when I finally got home. There are no words to explain the happiness of seeing my family and laying in my own bed. Normally, I sleep about six to eight hours a night. Almost every night I was home, I slept 12 hours and still had to drag myself out of bed.

2016-07-02-15-55-21The week I was home was also Fourth of July, which meant extra celebrations and quality time. We roamed down to the Old Port where I got to see more family and then to the lake for a little holiday fiesta.

My advice? If you’re traveling for an extended period of time, especially with a group as large as our Cousteau Remote Year family, take time to reset and be by yourself.

It’s so incredibly easy to get wrapped up in the go, go, go lifestyle and lose touch with what’s most important to you. Going home gave me some time to reflect on why I decided to go on this adventure and reminded me to make sure, despite being pulled in so many directions, I stay true to myself.

Oh, I also got to eat all the lobster, which is clearly the most important part of this whole post.

With love, Paige

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The story of nine Remotes, five days, 75 km and a lifetime supply of Snickers

The majority of the tourists who came through Cusco were only there for about a week. This is just enough time to land, stay a night or two, then head off to trek to Machu Picchu, come back, and take off for their next destination. Traditionally, people tend to do the Inca Trail, the original trail hiked to Machu Picchu.

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The Inca Trail tends to be incredibly crowded and a bit more expensive, so a few of us started discussing doing another trail called the Salkantay Trail. We had heard it was longer, harder, less crowded, less expensive and more spiritual. For the adventure type like myself, that sounded like a pretty good deal. So, I ended up organizing three Remote Year groups who would leave on consecutive days to trek the 75 km to beautiful Machu Picchu.

My group, which consisted of eight other Remotes and myself, started on June 16th, 2016, and we reached Machu Picchu on Monday, June 20th. Here’s a look at my experience over those five days.

Day 1: Our first day we were picked up bright and early from our houses, mine at the time was R House. We drove a few hours out to the starting point Challacancha and then did a short three to four hike from there to Soraypampa, our stopping point for the first night. Once we arrived at camp, we hiked to a lake at the top of the mountain, which a few of our boys actually got into despite the freezing temperatures. The highlight of the first night was probably the fact that we were staying in glass-roofed igloos out in the middle of nowhere so we could see all the stars while we were in bed. Our boys also made a bonfire that we shared some whiskey and weed around before we all crawled into our igloos to rest up for Day 2, so that wasn’t too shabby, either.

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Day 2: We were told that this would be the hardest day. Looking back now, I definitely don’t agree. But, that’s not to say it was any stroll in the park. The first half of the day was basically straight up with the highest elevation hitting 4650 meters. That’s no joke, especially since we covered 22 km that day. We took quite a few breaks, had lots of snacks, and eventually made it up to the top where we had a small ceremony to give our thanks to Pachamama, the earth goddess. After we poured out one for Pachamama, took a swig of some rough alcohol and then made our cairn, we continued on. After this, it was mostly downhill, which for most of our guys was a little rough on the knees. Either way, we all made it down to the first lunch stop, ate some delicious food, took a quick nap and continued on. At this point, we were moving into more jungle landscapes, which meant more bugs and humidity. JP, Eric and I took up the lead and got to camp first where we promptly purchased some wine, beer and snacks. That night our group joined the rest of camp to watch one of the soccer playoff games and then crash out in our tents with a nice little buzz to fend off the cold that had snuck into camp.

original_url: 51FB1A92-4BB0-4C64-B5F2-7123D43E0EF9Day 3: Another early wakeup call as we had a full day ahead of us. We actually had a cake for breakfast that day, which was fun surprise for al off us. After breakfast, our tour guide Freddy told the group to “follow guide Paige,” and then wasn’t seen until our lunch stop. But, our group powered ahead and found our way nonetheless. This was my favorite day, personally. Once we got on the actual trail, it was basically a rolling path along the side of a mountain with small waterfalls leading down to the river that flowed alongside us. JP, Eric and I again took up the lead and actually ran a good portion of the day. During one of our stops, we actually got to hangout with a very friendly and hungry donkey, which was incredibly entertaining. We found out firsthand that giving a donkey an apple will quickly cause a rain storm of apple juice, so that was fun. Along the path some of the guys also found strawberries, passion fruits, avocados and bananas that we were snacking on along the way. After a long morning, we finally came to our lunch spot where we kicked off our shoes and enjoyed some delicious food by our amazing chefs. Lunch also included beer since our hiking was done for the day and we were heading off to spend the afternoon at the local hot springs. We relaxed in the springs, got pretty drunk, and then headed back to camp for a boozy dinner, an awkward interaction with our tour guide and an early night to bed.

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Day 4: It could have been the alcohol the night before, or maybe it was the humidity, but Day 4 was by far my least favorite day of the trek. The morning we hiked what seemed like straight uphill through coffee plantations. Every time we hit what I thought was a downhill reprieve, it was just the mountain teasing us. Finally, after lots of moments close to tears, we hit the top of the mountain where we could see the waterfall in the distance that marked our lunch stopping point. The lovely part of going straight uphill for hours is that eventually you’ll have to come straight back down. And I’m not talking gentle rolling downhills. This was like straight downhill; use your poles of you were going to fall on your ass sort of downhills. Nonetheless, we finally made it to the lunch spot where we all sat sullenly eating our lunch. Thankfully, we had a quick nap break in some hammocks outside of the restaurant before continuing on. The afternoon portion of the trek was my least favorite of the entire five days. We spent the next four hours walking on a rocky path that followed the train tracks all the way to our next stopping point in Aguas Calientes. There was really no change of scenery and all of us were in some sort of pain. About halfway through, I started carrying my backpack because my back was in so much pain, another one of our guys kept having to run to the bathroom because of stomach problems, another one was limping due to the massive blisters he had developed from the three previous days; you get the idea, we were a hot mess. Finally, FINALLY, we made it to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu. We all immediately broke off and went to grab drinks, went to the hotel or just roamed around before we had a big group dinner later that night. We were told we’d have a three or four o’clock in the morning wake up call, so the majority of us called it an early night and passed out.

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Day 5: Our handicapped group decided to bus the trek up and down from Machu Picchu. We got to the top of the mountain right as it opened. Our guide, who had mostly stayed away from us due to some unfortunate interactions, gave us probably a 30-minute tour around the grounds and then said he had to take off to make his bus home. So, there we were, with a noon reservation to hike Huayna Picchu, the mountain in the back of the iconic Machu Picchu photos, and about five hours to kill. As most of us were sick of each other by this point, we broke off into groups and roamed around looking at all the amazing passageways, structures and buildings in the city. For a while, we just watched the clouds roll in and out of the valley. With every few minutes, the entire view would change. Finally, it was time for us to hike up to the precipice. Imagine the most insufferable set of tiny stairs that just kept going up, up, up. That was basically Huayna Picchu, but, it sure as hell was worth it. It gives me chills just thinking about getting to the top and looking out of Machu Picchu and the journey to get there. This was truly the climax of the trek for me, personally. After we made it to the top, we were mentally exhausted and decided it was time to drink, play cards and hang out until our train back home where we continued to drink, play cards and hang out for a few more hours. After the train, we had another few hour car ride back to Cusco where we all half-asleep dragged our smelly selves out of the van, into our homes and into bed. I was exhausted, but there are no words to explain how incredibly grateful I was for such an amazing experience with such an amazingly diverse and talented group of individuals.

2016-06-20 10.53.28As for the Snickers bar reference, our group apparently has a massive sweet tooth, because Snickers were the coveted snack along the trek. Each day, we would bring a few and celebrate hitting the highest point or finishing a difficult part of the trek with a delicious nutty chocolate bar. Between this and the amazing food served to us for each meal, I don’t think I attained my goal of losing any weight during the experience, but hey, what can ya do.

Moral of the story, I have no doubt that when I look back on Remote Year, this five-day adventure will stand out as one of my most memorable and challenging experiences, and I wouldn’t trade any of the horribly ugly blisters or tan lines for a single minute of it.

With love, Paige

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