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…
Hello! I am in beautiful, summery Canada and it is FABULOUS! Calum and i had a fairly arduous journey over driving from Inverness to Aberdeen, then getting an Air France flight to Montreal via Paris CGD. This was my first time flying Air France and i’d be hard pressed finding another airline that serves better food than it. We even got a mini wedge of brie with dinner, how cute! We spent the first two nights in Saint-Anne-Des-Lacs with a couchsurfer named Jonathan, who lived on a beautiful house on a lake with his parents. Over the next three days we had a BBQ, visited a wildlife park called Park Omega which was home to black bears, moose, elks, beavers and other Canadian critters, went to a fromagerie, saw a log Chateau that was built in the 1930s, jumped in the ice cold lake after a soak in the hot tub, cooked lobster and visited Montreal. It was an excellent first few days and Jonathan gave us the perfect welcome into Canada. Apart from one day so far the weather has been HOT, so i have been religiously applying sunblock to avoid getting burnt. I dont want to be the grooms creepy red sister at Kyle and Kristen’s wedding next week!
On the third day of the trip we met up with my mum and stepdad Dan who arrived in Montreal from Toronto, and after a nice rooftop meal at a steakhouse on the outskirts of Montreal with Jonathan we drove west to Quebec city, which ended up taking about 3 hours since we had to stop for Tim Hortons coffee along the way. Timmys is a chain of coffee shops all across Canada and is like a tastier, better, cheaper version of Starbucks. I have never had such succulent donuts and pastries in my life before, i shudder to think what they put in it to make it taste so good but i have already put on heaps of weight 😦
Quebec City reminds me of Fort George and Edinburgh rolled into one. It is super european looking and very french. Since i am trying to learn italian it has taken a few days to adjust to French, luckily people here can pick up from your stuttering bonjours and mercis that you arent local and they switch to speaking english pretty fast. We spent the day walking along the promenade and through the old town, the weather was a scorching, humid 32 degrees so everyone got a tan. After such a hot muggy day the clouds rolled in and i got to experience one of the longest, most intense thunderstorms i have ever witnessed – even after living in Durban!
I have been trying to read The Alchemist and so far i am about a quarter of a way in, as far as holiday reads go its pretty philosophical but i will keep at it. I like to think that i have learnt a thing or two about packing, and so far the most valuable things that i have packed on the trip are my camping water bottle – its freeing never having to buy plastic bottles of water and its a good way to stay hydrated during the day; my dylon travel wash which was only £1 and since ive brought such little clothes its great being able to do a load of washing in the sink at night; and my straw hat. I dont care about looking like a dork, as long as it keeps my precious skin out of the sun i am happy.
The next leg of the trip involves driving from Quebec City to Toronto where Calum and i will drop off Mom and Dan in Montreal along the way, and meet up with Dad and Cecily at Toronto Airport who are flying in from Durban. We are 4 days into the trip already, i cannot believe how fast time is flying! Until next time, au revoir!
Before I start I want to tell you about the best flight I had of my life from Brisbane to Singapore. Being 6″1, flying can be a hit or miss experience. If I cant secure an emergency exit seat I spend those first 20 mins boarding the plane in trepidation, eyeing every overweight sweaty person walking up the aisle and praying that I don’t get trapped next to them. On the way over all three of my long haul flights had large important businessmen next to me, and I was expecting the same on my return. When I went to check in at Brizzy there was literally no one in the queue, I got a bit worried thinking I had gotten my flight times wrong, but I hadn’t. At the check in gate, there was only a handful of people milling about . I couldn’t believe it, was I really lucky enough to be flying on a near empty flight? No, I couldn’t get an exit seat for this flight but I got one better – a window seat with literally no other passengers in my peripheral vision. The Etihad cabin crew were so personal and incredibly accommodating, they kept walking past and handing me snacks and drinks off a tray. At one point I had two muffins and three drinks, the one guy kept walking past saying “Here, have some more” – which NEVER happens on normal flights! I was able to stretch my legs out and sleep a few hours and watching some mediocre films. One of the crew even tapped my shoulder while I was watching some Maggie Gyllanhaal one to have a discussion about the film. The only other similar experience I had has on a flight from Johannesburg to Amsterdam with KLM, where the flight was about half full and I got a whole middle 4 seats to myself, but this flight wins in overall experience.
I came crashing back down to earth (not literally) though when I arrived at Singapore airport where the flight to Abu Dhabi was crammed full of Filipino spiritualists all dressed in purple robes – the advantage being that the nun lady next to me was so tiny she only reached my waist, so she didn’t even have to get up from her seat to let me past, AND she didn’t speak a word of English so I didn’t feel bad about not making small talk. After 8 hours, the plane touched down in Abu Dhabi at midnight, and after an hours wait I got the shuttle bus to Dubai and arrived at Ricky’s apartment at 2:30am. Ricky is an old friend from Inverness, who has been working in Dubai for four years and lives with his girlfriend Myla. Back in 2005 we were both little emo’s going to gigs, taking road trips and generally being young and carefree – nowadays Ricky is a hotshot consultant and im doing my thing. Its fascinating how times change.
Since the last time I visited, Ricky and Myla have gotten a rescue dog- the most precious Pug called Dobby, who was snuffling a lot and seemed like a happy guy. After catching up and getting a good nights sleep the following day the three of us headed to the creek area of Dubai. Having spent the last three weeks in the Aussie lifestyle of just throwing a bikini and dress on it was difficult to adjust and be in heat and having to dress modestly, even though I wore a tee I still felt eyes on me because I was wearing shorts. Ricky assured me that people just stare because I am white, and in their culture staring isn’t considered rude. Ricky lives uptown in the Karama district, which was a strong indian demographic. Not only is it a cheap area to live in, there are also incredible little restaurants lining the streets that have such diversity: Korean, Ethiopean, Lebanese, Filipino – the list goes on.
Since my backpack was completely full (I was worried the zip would burst) I decided to spend the rest of my travel money experiencing the vibrant and varied food that Dubai has to offer. I wasn’t disappointed, for lunch we ate at an outdoor Lebanese restaurant that was situated right on the creek. I knew it was a good restaurant as soon as my drink arrived – fresh guava juice. It was the most beautifully refreshing drink I had tasted in memory, so cold and sweet. For lunch I had lamb kebabs, where the mince had pine nuts mixed into it and then it was shaped like a sausage and grilled, which was presented on its own mini bbq with some flatbread and tomato. This dish was outstanding, I don’t know if it was my jetlagged state or what but I was seriously impressed. Ricky let me have some of his baba ganouch which was so zesty and healthy tasting, and Myla had a chicken shwarma roll which had the same grilled deliciousness. The Creek area of Dubai is a quaint selection of cafes along the river, with gold and spice souqs nearby. When we wondered into the spice souq I was taken aback at how forward the hawkers were, they would hold out a pashmina/frankincense/bag of spice and force you to touch it. If you made eye contact they would start yelling at you about how you should buy from them. “Madam! Madam! Where are you from?? You like?” I couldn’t handle it. I felt awful ignoring the vendors and ended up keeping my eyes on the ground until we got out, since if you showed the slightest interest in anything the hawkers would descend on you. The sad part was that there were some interesting scarves and clothes which were dirt cheap, but I felt so worn down by the constant harassment that I just let it go. The insane part is that apparently these guys are tame compared to the ones you get in Egypt or Morocco, so god knows how I will cope with them if I visit there.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around and after a quick nap at the flat we went to Bento-Ya for dinner, a Japanese restaurant near the stadium for an authentic bento box. I was horrified to discover that my jeans were suddenly way too small for me, damn all those wines and puddings in Australia! In Dubai, the weekends are placed over Friday and saturday, so a Saturday night in Dubai is very different to a Saturday night in the UK. There are still crowds around, but the streets and metro are quiet. After another excellent meal (chicken teriyaki bento box for mains and a matcha cake for dessert) we leisurly made our way back and I had another brilliant deep sleep. As far as first days go in a new country, it was pretty spot on! Ricky and Myla(and Dobby) are so accommodating and welcoming, and knowledgable about Dubai it was such a pleasure to spend time with them again.
As i sat around the table on the hot patio of a holiday cottage surrounded by family and friends, tucking into bbq’d chicken and drinking, it hit me – you couldn’t get any more Australian than this. My first weekend in oz has been perfect. The journey across was arduous, my flight from Inverness to Manchester was delayed by half an hour, which resulted in my luggage not being loaded onto the Abu Dhabi flight in time. It is hard to describe the emotion one feels upon discovering that after 4 flights spanning 3 continents and time zones, your backpack isn’t on the baggage carousel. The worst part was that due to space issues I decided to put Kermit into my main luggage so i was sans frog.
Anyways, fast forward two days of traveling and sleep deprivation to me getting greeted at the airport by Sue(cousin in law) who kindly took me shopping for an outfit before whisking me down to the Gold Coast to meet the rest of the ladies for Caitlin’s hen weekend. Despite only getting 4 hours sleep for the previous two nights I managed to stay awake until 10pm that night, after a day of relaxing on the verandah listening to tunes and catching up with everyone. The following day I was wide awake at 6am and eager to see the town we were staying in, Hastings Point. The novelty of waking up and stepping outside into bright, warm air will never wear off. I spent the morning walking along the beach with my fellow jetlag buddy Aunt Karen who flew across from South Africa.
The beach was littered with these creepy big jellyfish, identical to the ones in Finding Nemo. The sea was beautifully warm, however i was too freaked out by the jellyfish(scardeycat Scot alert) to swim but we did swim in the lagoon later. There was this sweet little cafe called Ripples where Karen and I had Byron Bay coffee and breakfast – while an iguana casually watched over us. There is something so fundamentally good for the soul about dining al fresco, it is a pity it is near impossible to do in the UK – unless you are a fan of hypothermia.
After a day of frolicking by the lagoon Caitlin, Leigh (another bridesmaid), Karen and I headed back to Brisbane and i saw where i would be staying for the next 3 weeks. Caitlin and Clint have a beautiful 3 bedroom bungalow in the suburb of Wishart, with a large garden and veggie patch. My bedroom has been converted by Clints man cave, so it is fun to wake up to car posters in the morning. Sunday night was spent visiting Clint’s parents who live close by and afterwards we got food from a Malaysian restuarant which was divine – best tempura of my life! I managed to fit making a carrot cake with lemon cream cheese icing into the afternoon too, its interesting after a few days my hands itch to bake. Clint’s friend makes his own vodka and sambucca which we have been tucking into over the weekend, plus i got some cheap Smirnoff at Singapore duty free (£8 for 1litre!!!) so we are having lots of party times ja.
So far my first impressions of Australia are positive, it reminds me of the best parts of South Africa mixed with friendly, easy going locals. Caitlin and I have a “Meanwhile, in Australia” running joke, so i will endeavour to find the most Aussie pic. This week is filled with lots of wedding planning, so until next time my friends! xo