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…
So after months of vigorous saving and squirreling away £500 each payday I have taken the plunge and quit my job to travel the world for at least 3 years. As you can see this is stage one, the attack phase, where my trusty backpack and i embark from May 2013 until at least March 2014. Gulp. The reason I want to travel is because I have always grown up with a wanderlust. Since my first trip abroad when i was 10 i have longed to see how other people in the world spend their lives, Now feels like the perfect time – I am at that age where i am still classed as young, but have enough life experience under my belt to get me through dealing with harassing hawkers/hostel creeps/scamming cab drivers/killer vermin etc, and I am currently debt free.
The list seems to be changing daily but so far this is what is on the cards:
Leg 1 – The Down Under Experience (Drop Bears Optional)
4 week trip that uses up the last of my annual leave.This is not technically classed as a solo backpacking trip since the reason I am going to Australia is because my darling cousin Caitlin is getting married, and I have the privilege of being a bridesmaid. Caitlin and I grew up together in South Africa before i moved to Scotland in 2000, and we are two peas. To get there I will be flying with Etihad Airlines for a gruelling 31 hours in total – i leave on a Thursday and arrive on a Saturday, but thanks to those helpful folk at reddit I have some great tips on how to deal with such an epic long haul flight. If they work i will make a post about it!
Australia has been on my list-of-places-to-visit (i REFUSE to use the phrase Bucket List, ugh) and I am lucky enough to be visiting one of the most tourist friendly parts – Queensland! I will be staying in Brisbane and I’ve been promised plenty of koala and kanagroo experiences.
On the way back since i am going via the United Arab Emirates, I will be spending some time in Dubai with Ricky, a friend from Inverness who works there, and his girlfriend Myla. I have only been to Dubai once before, and it was during Ramadan which was… an experience. Think smuggling bottles of water in my bag to drink in the bathroom since its frowned upon to consume anything during the day – even though the heat is in the high 40s, and walking around at night with what can only be described as a giant hairdryer blowing hot wind on the whole city.
Leg 2 – Canada (bitches!)
After two more months of work i will be flying from Glasgow to Toronto to have a 20 day tour from Toronto>Montreal>Quebec>Ottowa and South Mountain. Public transport in Canada seems extortionate compared to Europe, I can see why so little North Americans explore even domestically. Luckily there is the Megabus who can do one part of the journey for $10, and i may even try to hitch for the rest of the way (dont tell my mother.) Two years ago I visited Toronto and Ottowa, however they were flying visits and I didnt get to do anything touristy, so this time i am going ALL OUT.
Leg 3 – EUROPE!!
After months of awkward skype interviews and grafting with online profiles (i will write a post about it) I have secured a job in VENICE!!! working for 3 months as an au pair for a lawyer mum and her twins, 4 year old Marc and Anna. Since doing the school exchange trip to Tuscany when I was 14 I have had an affinity with Italia so you can imagine how thrilled I am at the thought of spending a summer there. I’ve been frantically trying to re-learn Italian but my host mom will be paying for me to do a course there so it isnt urgent. The hours are pretty sweet, during the week I will be looking after the kids while their mom goes to work, with all evenings and weekends off. This will be a challenge since the family arent completely fluent in English, but it should strengthen my Italian and any negative experiences I may encounter will be shelved as “character building”.
Before I start this journey I have planned a couple of weeks backpacking through Eastern Europe: Krakow, Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest. The plan is to do a mix of couch surfing and staying in hostels, with a possible Help Exchange job in a hippy aromatherapy retreat place in Austria. It would be a good wind down after all the inevitable partying in Krakow – where the shot girls at.
Leg 4 – Croatia and back to Italy
After my stint in Venice I have two weeks before starting my next au pair job in Turin, in the north of Italy, so i plan to tour Croatia with Sail Croatia. This will be towards the end of the season and *hopefully* a little cooler so i wont suffocate of heat in their cabins. Since Turin is a ski resort town I will most likely have to nip back to Scotland to swap my summer clothes for warm winter clothes. The family I will be staying with are comprised of two doctors and two kids, we have skyped a few times and they seem pleasant enough. By then my Italian should be passable, which will put me in good steed for any future plans.
During summer I plan to complete a TEFL course online, which could help me in 2014 when I move onto phase 2, ASIA! (maybe, or South America… Or fuck it i’ll most likely buy one of those RTW tickets)