Before arriving in Italy i backpacked from Vienna to Bratislava and then Budapest. Both cities were sort of the ‘meh’ part of my trip, so I will tell the story in pictures:
Firstly, sorry due to a combination of no internet, laziness and the weather being too good i dropped the ball on keeping the blog going. However i can assure you that I have had the best summer yet which was full of ups and downs, and luckily i have kept a record of it, so here goes!
After amazing wedding times in Canada with the family i flew back to Inverness for a couple of days with Ross and one last DJ gig before heading off to Europe. The first night of my travels was an upsetting one. Messed up flights and £210 wasted later I arrived at Prague airport which seemed like a ghost town. Suddenly I realised how alone I was, this was a stark contrast to the wonderful family holiday id had last week. I somehow got the wrong bus (I should have realised when the only people traveling on it looked like airport workers) but thankfully there was a nice lady who explained that the bus I got is just going to take a little longer but I will eventually end up right outside the metro station. My bags were heavy and the hostel took a bit longer to find and I arrived at the Mosaic House Hostel feeling like a (sweaty and hot) lost lamb. My mood improved though when I saw the “dorm” I was staying in- it was more like a posh hotel. 3 bunk beds (with only 2 occupied) and an en suite that looked brand new, and most importantly there was AC! That night I wandered up to Charles Bridge and to the Old Town which hasn’t changed much since my last visit in 2010. When I got back to the hostel there was a friendly Brazilian girl there who I chatted to for a few hours before going to bed. In bed, I lay awake fretting and panicking about this big decision I have made to spend the next 4 months traveling. I felt incredibly homesick and very far away from the people I loved and considered just buying a ticket back the following day.
Thankfully I awoke the next day feeling slightly better, and hung around in the air conditioning until my bus to Brno to stay with Sue, a couchsurfer who is Czech and studying law at uni. As soon as I met Sue (and Gabriel, her friend from Bolivia) I was glad I made the decision to soldier on and enjoy my trip as much as possible. We got on like a house on fire, chatting about life and boys and everything in between. That night, we went to a local bar called Savoy where they had a swing dancing night. It was so different and fun to watch, and drinks there are so cheap! (About £1 for a beer). Sue introduced me to drinking Tonic Water on its own who turns out to be refreshing and hydrating. Since it was 36 degrees, it was a warm night in Sue’s flat, but her friendly cat kept me company until I fell asleep. The following morning we woke up early to explore the city centre, and catch a 45 minute train journey out to “The Caves.” Public transport is very cheap in CZ, and there is little hassle with ticket inspectors harassing you to see your ticket. While waiting for the bus to get to the caves I had an ice cream that was essentially strawberry puree that had been frozen and covered in thick dark chocolate, delicious!
We had an action packed day at the caves, and even though it was so hot we had a fun time. That evening, Gabriel came over and Sue made us potato rosti pancake type things which were very good, and I luckily the recipe is easy enough to remember so I will definitely be trying to recreate it. We went back to Savoy this time to watch salsa dancing, and also visited a tea house (Chai-Ovna) to sample some cold black rooibos and an apricot shisha and get to know each other even more. Sue and i got on so well, i couldnt believe we had only met a few days prior. She had an exciting summer ahead of her too, firstly spending three weeks in France and then volunteering at a flower farm in Ireland!
The following morning it was a scorcher again, so we decided to go to the public pool for a swim. It was only about £2 entrance, which was hours of fun in the twelve meter deep pool which was sparkling clean and very well run. Since it was still crazy hot we went back to the apartment for lunch and Czech this out, over there a typical breakfast would be a cheese and ham toastie, and lunch would be scrambled eggs! By this time I had gotten a pretty good feel for Brno, and I can only describe it as a smaller, tourist free version of Prague – you still have all the bars, restaurants, sights and attractions, its simply crowd free and cheaper. Winner!
After an emotioanl goodbye to probably the best host i will ever have I got the 2.5hour bus across the border to Vienna, and apart from a stop to get our passports checked it was a pleasant, luxurious and cheap journey.
Vienna was suffering the same heat wave as CZ, and I arrived to Martin’s flat in the east end of the city close to the Danube absolutely dripping in sweat. Martin is the brother of Robert, who stayed with me in Inverness in March with his friend and hails from Berlin. He is a typical German who loves beer and David Hasselhoff, and is an interesting and funny character. When I mentioned to him that I would be passing through Vienna he told me of his brother who lived there, and how miracle of miracles he was actually going to be there at the same time as me! Martin has a couple of flatmates, Seb, Dom and Jelli, and after I had literally walked through the door I was whisked away by them by bike along the river Danube for a BBQ. Despite the mosquitos it was tonnes of fun, and a good way to get to know the people I’d be staying with for the next four nights. Over the weekend there was a festival held on the island of the river Danube which had such acts like Amy MacDonald, Chase and Status and… Maximo Park! (My favourite).
On the Friday morning I woke up early after a pleasant sleep on the couch, and Martin, Robert and I hit the Historic Centre of Vienna to explore. Martin took us to a gelataria where the queues were out of the door for, so I knew it would be good. I settled for cranberry (it was really hot I wanted something refreshing) and GOATS CHEESE!!! It was really, really good! Very creamy and tasted like GC but it was sweet, an interesting concept. After a very hot stroll around the historic centre and seeing the university (Harry Potterville) I left Martin and Robert to do a sewers tour (apparently it was featured in The Running Man) and went off exploring on my own to find the Vienna Botanic Gardens. At this point of the trip I was feeling pretty reflective and ended up finding a spot in the shade to call home and also get in touch with Keldon and Cara in Perth, Australia. After a good catch up I found “De Spar” to get Martin and his friends a housewarming present. Now usually with couchsurfing it is polite to arrive with a gift, and since I was in such a flap to get from Brno to Vienna and then find the subway in Vienna I was too rushed to get anything and my shoulders ached so much (pro tip: PACK LIGHT PEOPLE!!!) and I felt really bad about arriving with no gift and I think they assumed I’d at least bring my own alcohol which I hadn’t had a chance to get either. So to make it up I got a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt, since it holds a special place in my heart due to Ross and my trip to the distillery in May. When I arrived back at the flat in time for dinner it seemed to go down well, although Seb suggested drinking it with coke… shudder. Martin and his girlfriend had cooked a huge bowl of spaghetti carbonara and the six of us had a nice summer dinner in the lounge, before heading out to the park (beers in hand of course) to play some table tennis and basketball. Parks in Austria seem to be seriously jacked up with table tennis tables, basketball courts, football nets… the works! Plus since drinking in public isn’t illegal there’s a great family friendly atmosphere, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a cloud of mosquitos hanging around. Poor Jelli broke her finger while playing b-ball, but for me it was great to play a sport that I was actually good at since I bombed at table tennis. After quick showers we headed out to the festival, which involved a riotous journey on the tram to get there with much singing and “ach JA’s!” The festival itself felt like a small scale Rockness, lots of food stalls and people teeming everywhere with big happy smiles on their faces and music coming from all areas. The first band we saw were called the Pharsyde or something, some big rap group from the 90’s who knew how to keep the crowd going. Then, after a beer stop, we went to the headline stage to see this German band (kind of like a Coldplay/Snow Patrol feel) which everyone went nuts for. It was a lot of fun and totally unexpected.
The next morning Robert and I headed out to the palace, which was like a huge scale version of Dunrobin Castle. The weather was still boiling hot but it was muggy and overcast, and a storm was definitely on its way. The storm arrived when Robert and I were in the Sacher Café sampling some sachertort. I have to say that considering you pay 5euros for a slice it is a total con. For that price I’d expect a chocolaty party in my mouth, and what I got was just dry, bland disappointment. Since everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been to Vienna told me to try it im glad I went but I would never do it again. That evening, I wanted to get a crate of beers for the guys but by 6:30pm literally EVERY shop was closed!! It was horrific! And they stay closed until Monday morning. So we had to make do with 1.30euro cans of beer from a street vendor, which apparently is a rip off (little did I know that beers in Venice are 6euros and I’d be crying for these kinds of prices again) and before heading out to the festival again we had some Glenfiddich and played ring of fire until the beers were gone, and then I got to see one of my fav bands of all time Maximo Park! They were great, and even though the guys weren’t familiar with them they seemed to enjoy it. After we went to a few bars and late night sausage vendors and walked home at about 4 or 5am.
The next day was definitely laid back, everyone slept in until about 12. At the park there is a church called the Mexican church and there was some huge what seemed like Latin American event going on which was a huge racket, and after packing my bags and saying bye to everyone I headed to the bus station to get the bus to Bratislava. I was sad to go, I could have happily stayed for another few days but I didn’t want to let my couchsurfing hosts down. In hindsight, I have learnt that if you are enjoying a place, stay! Because you never know what’s around the corner…
Since coming back from Australia and Dubai the last three months have flown past in a blur of work, baking, djing and partying. My career break officially started on 10 May, which has left me two weeks to organise for the next leg of the trip: Canada and Europe.
Before leaving Scotland i wanted to have one last trip to take some memories away with me, so over the May bank holiday weekend (and my birthday weekend…) Ross and i planned a cross country road trip which consisted of Glasgow, Aberfeldy, Glenshee, Dufftown and Nairn over three days. In Glasgow we stayed in a hotel on Great Western Road which was in the heart of the West End right next to the Botanic Gardens and Byres Road. It had been over a year since I last visited Glasgow, and i was eager to get back. It seems to be a city that draws you back, since the atmosphere and lifestyle is so buzzing.
After a 3 hour drive down snacking on birthday goodies and listening to Frank Ocean and JT’s new albums (both mediocre save for a few songs) we arrived in a balmy Glasgow and went for a walk to the Botanic Gardens, where the rhododendrons and orchids were in full bloom. That night we enjoyed wine and tapas at Cafe Andaluz, a well known Spanish restaurant which is renowned for its baked goats cheese and marmalade dish. The most outstanding dish i had that night though was honey glazed battered chicken, it was so succulent and sweet and went perfectly with the choritzo, aubergine and patatas bravas sides. Afterwards, we had a bit of an epic pub crawl and ended up in Oran Mor for Rekorderligs until late in the night.
On the Sunday we woke up to a humid, overcast day and strolled down to Stravaigin for brunch. I just love the architecture in Glasgow, rows of tenement flats with manicured front gardens and high bay windows. After a morning of reading the paper, lattes and eggs benedict we walked through Kelvingrove Park admiring the daffodils and cherry blossoms (and skateboarders!) and spent the afternoon at the museum.
After more meandering through Ashton Lane and Byres Road, we crossed the river Clyde to Springfield Quay so that Ross could experience his first Nandos and at about 5pm we went back on the road back up the A9 to Aberfeldy. By this time it was pouring with rain, and i was driving and after a near miss in a 4 car pile up we got pretty lost, but it was fine because the scenery was so lush and green it was a pleasure to see more of that type of countryside. Eventually we arrived at Lurgan Farm B&B, and Jane welcomed us in to her home and showed us our room and private lounge downstairs. We spent the evening curled up on the sofa playing cards by the fire, it was perfect.
The following morning we had breakfast by the window looking out over rolling fields which were teaming with bird life, and shortly after that we set off again on the back roads to Dufftown, via Tomintoul (which by the way according to the news is currently snowed in.. in May!!!). The drive is incredible; you pass through green fields with sheep, forests, bare scrubland which looks as if its never been touched by humans, mountains… it has it all! After a creepy stop at the Spittal of Glenshee we grabbed coffee in this inn which wouldnt look out of place in Twin Peaks, and by the time we got to Dufftown in the afternoon it was a scorching 17 degrees. The 5 star Visit Scotland rated Glenfiddich Distillery sits proudly to the north of the town, and was crawling with tourists when we arrived. A distillery tour is free, and at the end you get to sample 3 of their most well known drams: the 12 year, 15 year and 18 year single malts. All were delicious, but the 18 year was really special – a nice after dinner dram. After a walk along the grounds we hit the road again and carried on the back road to Forres, and then through to Nairn. After stopping off at a family friends house to say hello i showed Ross the Geddes Trout Fishery, where my dad and i had fished in January. There were 7 fisherman(and ladies!) trying their luck in the early evening light, and after watching them for a while we decided to head back to Inverness since time was getting on and we both had that “Sunday Night School Tomorrow” feeling.
After getting fish and chips we watched Into the Wild, since we had both recently read the book. It was a nice end to the weekend, and since i only had 4 more days of work until i was finished i was in good spirits. I will leave you with a quote from the film: “Happiness isn’t real unless its shared.”
Had a busy week! On Monday 4 Feb i finally got my luggage and went into the city with Karen using the bus. Brisbane really has its shit togethor regarding public transport, on one highway there is a seperate bus lane that runs parralel to the road so there are no buses clogging up the main roads. The jetlag eventually hit me after two days of feeling fine, and i had woken up feeling like i had been flattened by a bus. In the city we looked around a few malls and got cheap sushi for lunch, and headed to a district called Paddington to pick up a friends car. Paddington reminded me of Florida Road in Durban, super bohemian with alternative shops everywhere and a dotting of hippies. We picked up the car and went to meet Caitlin and Leigh to do some wedding shopping and went home. On Tuesday Karen and I went on a road trip up the Sunshine Coast and did a spot of exploration – we found the famous big pineapple and Australia Zoo, and visited a small village called Montville which was very olde worlde with little shops and pensioners everywhere. I really enjoyed our car journey, we had some good Aunt-Neice bonding, and i learnt more about Karens student days and what her and I dad got up to before my brothers and i were born. I am so grateful that my family all get along and we are so close.
Wednesday was spent running errands for the wedding and on Thursday we spent most of the day setting up the venue for the wedding on Friday. The venue was in a family friend’s back garden which was massive. The wedding on Friday was magnificent, such a laid back casual do. The grooms party wore boardshorts and flip flops(thongs lol) while the bridesmaids were glammed up in the full wedding regalia with professional hair + make up and a long gown. After the ceremony we partied HARD. There were two cocktail slushie mashines with homebrewed vodka in it – a whole 6 days later i still cannot stomach the thought of mango or passionfruit. Shudder. The band were excellent, they were set up on the pool deck with the dancefloor beneath it. It was amazing to party under the stars in the warm air. Unfortunately i dont have many memories from that night, so lets skim to the next day. Saturday and Sunday were pretty much written off as we spent them recovering and tidying up. Hand on heart i can say that that was the best wedding i had attended, so laid back and well catered for: friends, families, food and drink.