September 9th 2014
Belfast, Northern Ireland
Belfast was the beginning of something amazing – I could feel it immediately. It made me realise that this is possibly the best decision I’ve ever made, choosing to go it alone. Obviously it’s scary doing anything on your own and, certainly as a female, I had all the anxieties and worries you’d expect – will I make friends, what if I get lost, what if I end up alone after dark etc. Belfast made me realise I had nothing at all to be worried about and spurred me into making a go of this.
I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried a little saying goodbye to Ma and Pa at the airport.. Such a strange feeling walking through security on my own, shaking and everything. I seriously hate flying after a bad experience in China (what did I expect, paying £30 for a 5 hour flight?) so it was quite tough for me and a huge achievement. Super proud of myself. Definitely sat staring out of the window for the longest hour of my life, admittedly being distracted by the incredible views across England and Northern Ireland as we flew. And I definitely cried. Only a little bit, and only when we were taking off.
The hostel was great and I was greeted by a tour of the place along with the phrase universally loved by all travellers – “We’re doing a bar crawl tonight, you in?”. What a silly question. And it was FREE. I attached myself to an awesome couple of Spanish and Colombian girls along with about 20 others, Aussies, Germans, Canadians and the like. This is what I loved about travelling, becoming friends with a group of people who otherwise would never have met. Under any other circumstances we’d not know each other and have little in common but the love of travel makes sure you’re all best pals after the first beer, and best friends forever after the last shot of Jamesons. A great night was spent perusing the various pubs and bars of Belfast, including Fibbers McGee and the Empire where a traditional Northern Irish band were playing live. Bad dancing, lots of drinking and even a fat lip (bottled myself in the face whilst dancing, I’m such a catch) made for a brilliant time.
Belfast isn’t a huge city, certainly in comparison to others I’ve been to, but even so I wanted to make sure I saw as much as possible. The hop-on hop-off bus tour was £12 and ran pick ups every 30 minutes so I jumped on that. You can do it for cheaper if you book in advance FYI, for a tenner I think, but I was very hungover and had just smashed down an Irish breakfast courtesy of Maggie May’s (GO THERE – it’s incredible, they do a “Hair of the Dog Hangover Cure” which is basically a Baileys milkshake with loads of other crap in it.. Amazing) so jumped on the next bus I saw. We saw all the murals, the Falls and Shankill streets and the peace walls which were quite unbelievable – I didn’t know too much about the Troubles in Northern Ireland and it was humbling to learn what has happened, some of which continues today.
We first jumped off at the Titanic museum and I’m not going to lie to you… Do not waste your time. It costs £15 to enter and there is genuinely very little mention of the actual ship. It’s more about Belfast itself and the economy, imports, exports etc. There are some cool parts at the end and eventually they tell you the real story which is so sad, but you could cut out the first hour and not miss a thing. Fifteen bloody quid. Pfft.
September 11th 2014
The Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
I have had the best time ever in Belfast, dampened only slightly by the realisation that I’m flying home on September the 11th. Not ideal.
I had a wicked second night in Belfast after my day of sightseeing and city touring, and met up with a local from the Duke who just so happens to work on the set of Game of Thrones of which I am a HUGE fan. The absolute legend that is Matt managed to sneak me into the set and show me around – I sat on the ACTUAL Iron Throne and walked atop the ACTUAL Wall of the Night’s Watch. You may address me as, Joanne Suter the first, Queen of Westoros and the Seven Kingdoms, from now on. Thanks.
We went for a wicked Indian meal afterwards and “just one Dark & Stormy” in the Spaniard (amazing bar which plays the best music, from Elvis to Johnny Cash to all the other old school stuff I love) turned into five Dark & Stormys, sambuca shots galore and God knows what else. We got chatting to an awesome couple of girls, one a local with her friend visiting from the States plus we were with some of the other film crew from GoT; great company, great conversation, not so great hangover in the morning.
I got up super early to get to the Causeway – I paid £25 for a bus tour which encompassed loads of other places too such as the famous rope bridge, some beautiful derelict castles and a really stroppy bus driver. I nearly fell off of the rope bridge into a ravine whilst trying to take a selfie (don’t try this at home kids), all the while taken aback by the similarities between Northern Ireland’s coastline and that of New Zealand. Beautiful secluded beaches with perfect emerald waters and rocky shorelines. It was the most beautiful day, sun shining and not a cloud in the sky – absolutely stunning.
After a stop at Old Bushmills whisky distillery for lunch (steak & Guinness pie and chips – incred) we finally made it to the Giants Causeway and it did not disappoint. Luckily for me I’d nicked Charl’s National Trust membership card (cheers) so everything was free – otherwise it’s about £8 to get in, not too expensive and this includes the newly opened visitors centre too which is good for souvenirs and gives a little more history about the place. I opted to walk down to the Causeway which took about 20 minutes, although the shuttle bus is only £1 each way (also free with an NT card).
The Causeway itself is quite unreal – it looks so symmetrical that you can’t believe it’s a natural formation. Thousands of hexagonal cylinders jostling for place along the coastline, jutting out here and there spiking out to sea, trying to reach over to Scotland where the legend began. It’s really, really cool – only when you get up close can you see the different shapes, sizes and colours of the rocks. I spent a good few hours hopping up and down from stone to stone and taking about a thousand photographs (all the while trying to avoid the biggest and most obnoxious group of American tourists I’ve come across in my time).
Item #1 of the bucket list, check. So worth it, and it felt so good to have actually done it. People always say “I’ve always wanted to do that / go there”. Well I just bloody went and did it, didn’t I. Think that deserves a pat on the back.
September 23rd 2014
So I’m writing this from my sick bed.
I call it a sick bed, because it’s about 28 degrees centigrade outside yet I’m burrowed under sheets, duvets and jumpers with what I’m starting to think may be a touch of sunstroke.. Sun cream, kids. Golden rule #12 (or something like that) out the window. (I broke my own #1 already when I arrived here in the dark. With a severe lack of directions to my hostel. Fail).
Naples has been an up and downer, but overall pretty cool for a starting place in Italy. I spent a day literally walking around the city, only consulting the map once or twice on my way back to work out where I was and where the metro was. It’s so cheap to get around, a full day ticket for the Metro in Naples is €1.90 – incredible eh. Unfortunately the Castel di Sant Elmo was closed (you get a 360 view of the city from the top) the day I rocked up, but from the base you still get a pretty banging look around. It’s a strange city, built on hills and mountains so it looks flat but you find yourself huffing and puffing or struggling to keep balance going either up or down most of the time. There are bustling markets (watch out for pickpockets), buskers singing the most stereotypical Italian songs (I love it) and the cutest hole-in-the-wall cafés I’ve ever seen. I stopped for a pizza, my first in Italy (item #2 of bucket list, “have a pizza in the spiritual home of pizza, Napoli”, check) and it was incredible. So different to home, just beautiful. And CHEAP.
Pompei was also cool – albeit slightly anticlimactic. The truth is, after seeing the Terracotta Army in Xi’an, China, nothing was really going to compare when it comes to buried things becoming unburied. I thought it would be creepier; that feeling of, “Can you believe what actually happened here?” never really materialised unfortunately. It didn’t help that my tour guide (I don’t usually do tours but it’s 8km of walking and I wasn’t about to get lost and locked in the place – apparently it happens if not often, at least occasionally) had what I can only describe as an extremely shrill voice.. Which I got to listen to for 2 and a half hours. Ooft.
My third and final night in Naples has been cool – a Californian girl (the name of whom I can’t remember) who works at the hostel rescued me from the VERY Italian barman who was feeding me shots of God knows what and a group of us ended up watching an “interpretive dance show” on one of the back streets. Not entirely sure what they were interpreting as such… Even so, it was a beautiful, warm evening and we had a beer in hand so I shall not complain. It’s amazing how nights turn out to be so very random but such a good laugh. To Rome.
September 29th 2014
Rome is amazing, I love Rome.
I was actually tempted just to leave that there; alas, I shall endeavour to explain why Rome will possibly forever now hold a special little place in my heart.
It’s a beautiful city. I had great food here, met incredible people. Saw incredible sights, relaxed, drank (a lot). Fell in love (paha). It has everything. As soon as I stepped off the train (with my little Arizonian pal who I’d met at the afore mentioned “dance” show last night) I could tell immediately that my parents had not exaggerated about how gorgeous this place is – standard buildings look like works of art, incredible architecture at every turn – and it’s CLEAN. No burnt out dumpsters lining the streets, rubbish strewn everywhere. Rome makes Naples look like a shit hole, not going to lie. You know that naughty family member everyone has, the cousin that fucked up somewhere or brother who got into trouble and is now kind of estranged from the family; the one who you don’t talk about or mention at family parties but everyone still loves them because you kind of have to? That’s what Naples is to Rome. The dirtier, poorer, rebellious cousin. Rome is the Oxford grad who even the vaguest of aunts and uncles have a photo of in their front room.
So I spent 5 days here instead of the intended 3, mainly because I loved it but also because I was so hungover every day that I barely made it out of the hostel other than to crawl across the road to my fave restaurant for some food (the waiter said I looked like Kate Middleton. Win). (No he wasn’t blind). I met a group of girls (from Oxford, no less) who I knew immediately were “my type of girls” and we proceeded to get blind drunk 3 nights on the trot, interspersing beers and cocktails only briefly with a few hours sleep of a night and a couple of days laid out in Villa Borgese, the only place you’ll find grass in Roma. This led to what I managed to pass off as “food poisoning” on my 4th day in Rome – still pretty convinced it was alcohol poisoning. I’m pretty sure. Mumma would be proud. Not proud so much of the “hood of shame” which passed between the three of us, but that’s a story for another time…
Anyway, cultural stuff – the Colosseum was WICKED. Suuuuper super amazing – now this place gave me the, “wow can you believe” feeling. I could nearly see the gladiators being ripped apart by boars and bears whilst 70,000 people looked on cheering. It’s seriously impressive and impossible to grasp the scale of it from photos – it’s huge (said in Charlotte’s voice – pronunciation “hyyyoge”). For €7.50 (€12 if you’re over 25 years old) it’s an absolute must.
From the Colosseum I went straight on to the Vatican (mistake – it’s the other side of the City and having been up since 8 I was knackered by the time I got there) which again is something amazing. Not only in that it’s a country in its own right, but, even being an atheist of the highest degree, I almost felt.. Something. I didn’t have an epiphany or any stupid shit like that but it has a real power, a regality about itself which makes you think about how it all began. Not the world I mean, just religion, God in general, that kind of thing. The riches of the Catholic Church are like nothing I’ve ever seen – copious tapestries, paintings, works of art galore. I felt quite privileged to have seen a couple of Leonardo da Vinci’s works and of course, the almighty Sistine Chapel. Michael Angelo’s incredible ceiling work – wow. I have to say – and again I reiterate I am NOT religious in the slightest – I felt so peaceful in the Sistine Chapel, so much so that I didn’t want to leave when the tour guide hurried us through. I even managed to get a sneaky pic, REBEL. Some guys on the same tour as me definitely got thrown out for taking photos just seconds after I’d snapped mine – winner.
My general advice for Rome would probably be to NOT do what I did and get horrendously drunk every night so that you have to fit everything in one day. The Colosseum deserves a good hour or two to admire which is fine, but the Vatican will kill you – the tour is 3 hours long, 4 on a busy day (like mine, unfortunately – they get up to 30,000 visitors a day! No wonder it’s on the rich list of countries..) and it is super tiring. But definitely worth doing – you can get a tour outside of the walls for anywhere between €30-€50 which allows you to skip the queue (averages 2-3 hours wait time). Otherwise you pay €21 for standard entry. Just blag it and say you’re a student, sweet talk the guys and you’ll get a discount. Everywhere in Rome is so easy to get to by Metro, or you can walk it – again, beware, it seems closer than it really is. The Colley to the Vatican was a good 45 minute walk without getting lost or taking a wrong turn. The Metro is €1.50 for a one-way to anywhere. See how you feel in the morning (FYI – I was feeling optimistic about my walking ability and stamina when I set out, and regretted it. Just saying).
So after an accumulative 7 hours or so of walking I retired to my dorm and was greeted by Utah 1 & 2 who had been out drinking. What transpired was a very strange evening of back scratching, spooning and there was even a little praying. They were Mormon and I was feeling contemplative after my day of culture, so we got talking about God etc. Utah 2 said a prayer for me to be given “a sign” that might help me onto God’s path or whatever the fuck it is. I know this sounds weird and they sound like bible bashing weirdos, but it was all very funny and actually great conversation. They were cool – I hope I see them again. Florence it is then I suppose.
October 2nd 2014
I write from a train heading for Pisa. It’s raining for the first time since I’ve been here. Boo.
Yesterday I arrived in Florence and I’m not going to lie, I was having a down day. Everyone gets them whilst travelling – the days where you could happily be in your own bed, or on your own sofa, or you desperately want to just sit and chat (not over a crappy wifi connection) with your mum/dad/sister/cat etc.
But I woke up this morning and oh my goodness Florence is the most beautiful city, hands down, in the world that I have seen yet. I was in such a bad place yesterday I didn’t take in a thing but during my 10 minute walk to the train station this morning I basically had my mouth open in awe the whole time. And my camera was most definitely out – proper tourist style.
Last night, in the grand scheme of things, should have been a pretty good night. I got to the hostel and had to wait 4 hours to check in (I am on the final season of Breaking Bad so must ashamedly admit I was quite happy to sit and wait), during which time I met two guys from Nottingham and Leicester respectively who are travelling together. We ended up in the same room and so went out to a couple of cute local markets to get some pasta and veg and the three of us ended up cooking a super nice (typical budget) meal, which we ended up sharing around with the various others at the hostel (Germans, Australians, South Americans etc – nice mix last night).
Sounds like a good night, right?
WRONG. Okay so last night is definitely up there with the weirdest nights I’ve ever had whilst travelling for the following reasons…
1) The hostel is super creepy. SUPER CREEPY. It’s run by a group of Asian men (not a problem in itself) who are SUPER AGGRESSIVE, really unfriendly, unhelpful and generally sit in the corner of the room watching everyone. It was so weird and so unsettling. Also during the day you get thrown out of the hostel – no, not just the rooms for cleaning, you have to leave the physical building – from 10am til 4pm everyday. Why, you ask? I have no idea. But one of the Ozzie’s from last night said he snuck in because he’d left his camera and he saw the staff taking apart all of the bunk beds, completely dismantling them and then putting them back in different places. Wtf. So yeah, creepy hostel is reason number 1.
2) This is the real clincher.
There is a guy who stays in this hostel long-term, who has a foot fetish. Last night, I had the misfortune of meeting said man.
Apparently I have “beautiful Greek feet”.
I am still shuddering right now… He had the worst case of rape-eyes I’ve ever seen. I read in one of the reviews on Hostelworld about this guy but was like “Haha that’s funny, he won’t still be there”. How wrong I was. I was mistaken. He is very much still there, and very much still into feet.
So, this morning I woke up super early and have gotten myself out of there, as afore mentioned currently on the train to Pisa (49 mins, €8 one way, not bad). I will return only when I have to and tonight will be staying in my own bed (if they haven’t dismantled it), in my own room, with the door firmly closed.
Well… That’s another off the list I suppose?
I’ve spent the day in Pisa which is okay, but not a scratch on Florence in terms of architecture and general culture. I jumped off the train and walked to the Leaning Tower, the sole reason for my excursion. It’s about a 20 minute walk in a relatively straight line, bar crossing a bridge at one point, so I found it with ease. In fairness to the place, I might have enjoyed it more had it not been PISSING DOWN WITH RAIN. I was wearing flip flops. Fail.
Anyway the Leaning Tower of Pisa is beautiful, as are the surrounding cathedrals / churches (whatever). All beautiful marble structures with the typical Italian domes, really pretty. You can pay to go up to the top of the tower buttttt we all know my cheap ass wasn’t a) going to pay anything just to see a view of the route I’d just walked and b) going to walk up 300 odd steps, no siree. But you can get great photos from the outside and I have to say, watching all the people doing the old, “holding up the tower” poses made for great entertainment of an afternoon. It really does seem to defy gravity; photos don’t do the degree to which it leans justice.
Back to Florence and I felt it was time, finally, for me to experience the ultimate in Italian traditions… Gelato. And I will tell you now – it did not disappoint. I just had to try the pistachio which completely took me back to our family holidays in Cala D’Or, Spain, but the chocolate looked too good to pass up. I opted for both and it’s up there with the best decisions I’ve made this trip so far – so creamy, with little chocolate chips and actual chunks of pistachio in amongst it. I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t finish it but I’m not a huge cream person anyway. One thing’s for sure, I’ll never be able to eat ice cream at home again!
Whilst pigging out on the old gelato I took a walk around town and decided to go and have a look at Il Duomo, Florence’s cathedral. It’s an incredibly impressive building – not so much the size but the detail and time that must have taken to carve every single ornament and line on the building. One of the most beautiful I’ve seen, probably in the world – slightly reminiscent of St Basil’s cathedral in Moscow for some reason? Perhaps because of the colours – either way, it’s fantastic and well worth a look. I was lucky in that there weren’t too many people around at the time of day I was there (4:30pm/5ish) so I managed to get some amazing shots without the crowds around. Really cool place.
So back to my creepy hostel and tonight was “free pasta and sangria night”. Again, you know me – if it’s free, I’m having some. It was good actually, regardless of the creepiness of the staff AND being cornered once again by Foot Man (he genuinely stood in the kitchen doorway when I was throwing my rubbish in the bin, thankfully a German girl from my room noticed and shooed him away). (HAHA “shooed”.. Foot fetish man.. Get it?!)
Going to Venice tomorrow after a NIGHTMARE of trying to find accommodation, but it’s sorted and I’m looking forward to chilling there for a few days. Wish me luck!
October 4th 2014
I feel like I’m at Butlins.
That’s all I will say for now.
Ha ha ha, many Brits will (or certainly should – if not, you had a terrible childhood) understand what I meant by the above. I rock up to hostel “Camping Jolly”, only to realise that it’s a little holiday park / resort in its own right, down to the rows of chalets, crappy party dance area and mini supermarket. Even a swimming pool (which I never used. Why did I bother bringing my bikini if I refuse to actually put it on?). All of that said, it was actually a wicked place to stay and the best value for money I’ve come across so far at just £14 a night. It’s not too close to the city, but the local bus gets you there in about 20 minutes and it’s a nice walk to get to the stop. Plus, generally the bus drivers are too busy / can’t be bothered to take money for tickets – cheapo Jo strikes again, and scores.
Yesterday we spent the day walking around Venice for hours and it’s truly unlike any other place I’ve been – and, I imagine, in the world. I know everyone knows there are no roads, but when you get into the city it’s like… Wow. There really are no roads, just the most picturesque canals and bridges and buildings. It’s just stunning. I think Venice has a really bad wrap and in fact I almost thought about giving it a miss – it stinks, there are rats everywhere, bla bla bla. So let me clear a couple of things up.
1) “The rats rule the streets”.
I don’t doubt there are rats everywhere. Are there not in every city? You get a bloody rat for a train companion in London. However, I didn’t see a single one in Venice. I’m not doubting that they come out when it’s quiet and the tourists aren’t around (which is never), or stick to the tiny back alleys (which are too narrow for people to walk down anyway), but seriously, it’s not the problem that everyone makes out it is.
2) “Venice stinks”.
IT DOES NOT SMELL. Every single person says, “Ooh, but doesn’t Venice stink?”. The answer is no, it really doesn’t. You can smell the water at times but it’s no different to going for a walk along a river or being near the sea. It’s actually quite nice and no doubt a smell which will be reminiscent with my time in Venice forever now.
3) “The water is filthy and full of rubbish”.
…What?! I would have drank the water from the canals had I been desperate!! You can see the bottom it’s so clean. I actually specifically kept an eye out thinking, yeah the canals are going to be full of crap, but only once did I see any rubbish. It was a fruit juice carton, which someone picked out as soon as it was spotted floating under a bridge. (It actually inspired me to buy a carton of juice this morning which really helped my hangover. Mmm, pineapple).
Honestly, it’s beautiful. So romantic, so cute and so rustic. The buildings are just fantastic – the more derelict, the better – with crumbling frescos and beautiful stone and iron balconies out front. Every turn was a photo op, as was every bridge we crossed (I think our gondola man said there were 400 odd bridges in Venice! Crazy). I can’t think of a better word to describe it than picturesque, everywhere. And that doesn’t seem like a good enough word.
We took a ride on a gondola (€80 for 30 mins but that’s for the boat, so get a group together and split the cost) which was on my bucket list too. Thick and fast now eh. It was so relaxing, one moment you’re on the grand canal and the hubbub of the markets is making a racket in your ears, the next you’ve floated softly down a narrow canal where you can’t hear another human being and can relax in your own world. One day (fingers crossed) (lol yh right), I’ll have my honeymoon here. Again, we were so lucky with the weather and the sun shone all day. I super don’t want to leave.
We’ve had a couple of good nights at the campsite too, “Ciao Bella” bar wasn’t too much of a let down. A highlight would have to be getting the barmaid so rat-arsed that the bar had to stop serving for an hour so she could go take a nap, only to return and carry on smashing the vodka shots. Good girl. I’ve spent so much time with Australians the past 3 days that I’ve actually started saying “eh” at the end of sentences. “It’s so beautiful eh”, “Shall we get some food soon eh”, “I need the loo eh”. This has to stop.
Me and my set of new Aussie girlfriends (I have to say, the accent is growing on me) parted ways this morning with promises all round to meet again somewhere soon. Paris, Rome, Vienna. The funny thing is, yesterday these girls were the best friends I had in the world yet I know that realistically the chances of us all getting together again are slim. It would be great, but it’s difficult when “life” gets in the way. Something I’ve learnt about travelling is that you have to be willing to let people into your life so quickly, but be ready to let them go just as fast.
I’m attempting to get to Slovenia now – the journey seems relatively complicated, train-tram-train, so we shall see what happens… Ljubljana, here I come!
5th September 2014
It was supposed to be Llubljana…
..Buttttt it’s not yet.
I’m currently sat in a deserted train station car park, on the Italian / Slovenian border, waiting for the bus that is supposedly replacing my train to Ljubljana. Do I think it’s going to arrive?
Am I screwed if it doesn’t?
Wish me good luck – I’m going to have a fag and whimper to myself a little bit about how I got here. Bah
The bus is here… And it is dodgy. As. Fuck. It’s literally just me and two Slovenian drivers. Don’t get me wrong, they seem nice enough but… This is the kind of situation which freaked me out last year. And I have no credit on my phone. Arrrgggghh. I’m sure it’ll be fine – they say I have to switch buses at Sezana which is just over the border, so hopefully there will be more travellers / women / people in general there. Anyone will do at this stage.
They are playing Radio 1 though, touch.
Well at least they’re punctual, we’re leaving right on time. Bit of Shania on the radio, what more could you want? An English person, policeman perhaps. Or a British Embassy rep on board. I’m also quite hungry now. Hmm.
I just remembered that when they pulled up two Spanish looking boys jumped off so hopefully that means they’re legit. We shall see.
God my mum is going to kill me when she reads this.
My mum just rang me, what a coinkydink. I made a show of telling her exactly where I am now and where I’m heading so the drivers will have heard and will know that someone knows. Ha, take that.
Why am I acting like I’m being abducted?! I have an overactive imagination. Calm down Jo, this is what you get for doing the cheap route. Pah.
Mum’s going mad, asking why I’m on my own on a bus and, “Isn’t that a bit weird?”. Yes, mumma, it is a bit weird. But thanks for pointing it out and making me feel even more anxious.
SOMEONE HELP ME, I’M BEING TAKEN
Mum has left the phone because she had to change the San Mig, but I just had a fab daydream about Liam Neeson rescuing me from the grasps of the Slovenian Mafia (should they so have one). Lovely stuff.
Well I really am a paranoid mess. I’m now at Sezana, on a bus full of people, heading for Ljubljana. That’s all for tonight kids, over and out.
Mumford & Sons is playing on the radio, Jo FTW.
October 7th 2014
Lake Bled, Slovenia
I write from the shore of the magnificent Lake Bled.
My day started off well, being awoken by the kindest, most softly spoken lady I’ve met in a long time with the words, “Miss Suter, will you be leaving us today or would you like to stay longer?”. Err, was definitely supposed to check out this morning and completely forgot to book another night. All was fine and, as the sun was shining, I decided today would be the day I ventured North to see the lake which I’ve heard so much about.
Hangover-free somehow (all will be revealed), my Irish pal and I ventured to the bus station where we had THE BEST coffee ever (for bloody €1.40 no less, too) whilst waiting for my bus. 1 hour 20, €6 and a lot of confusion later (“This stop??” “No, England! Sit!”), I arrived in Bled. It’s North West of Ljubljana, close to the border with Austria. The town itself is tiny and very cute, lots of cosy pubs and a gorgeous church. After asking numerous locals for directions, all of whom seemed to know where the lake was but equally reluctant to help out an ignorant tourist, some guy took pity on my and pointed me in the right direction. The lake itself is stunning, crystal clear emerald waters and the most picturesque island in the middle, where the famous church and “Wishing Bell” are situated.
I took a boat (€12, pfft) over to the island and, despite being told off for unbalancing said boat by moving around to take photos, it was a beautiful ride. I am basically Japanese (no hate) when it comes to taking photos. I think the actual Japanese people on the boat even thought I was overdoing it. I took like two hundred. Whatever.
The island is tiny and I walked around it in about 15 minutes. You can go into the church and ring said “Wishing Bell”, but I am so content and happy at the moment that I couldn’t think of anything I need wish for, so I gave it a miss… Only joking, it cost like 8 euro. You know me.
I met a couple of Brits (Oxford again!) at the tip of the island (who had rented their own boat to get to the island and didn’t want to go back because their arms hurt from rowing, fail) and had a chat with them about travelling – they gave me some great hostel recommendations for Bosnia & Serbia which is ace because I’ve not met anyone coming from that way as of yet. A thousand photos later and I’ve just hopped off the return boat to the mainland.
It’s so peaceful and beautiful here and again I’ve been so lucky with the weather. This is my perfect climate – it’s quite brisk, but the sun is shining. I could sit here forever. Alas, Ljubljana and a free “concert night” at the hostel call my name.
Side note: LOL I just saw someone get bitten by a swan. Class.
So let me backtrack a bit.
I woke up the day before I went to Bled feeling SO ILL. I mean SO ill. I have had a cold / cough type thing since Rome which I’ve been blaming on the amount I drank but realistically I think I’m actually sick. So I got out of bed at about 10, showered, breakfast etc, attempted to find a cash machine that actually worked (failed) and was back in bed by 2pm.
I slept until I was awoken by Sinead at about 7pm.. No joke. After like 10 hours sleep the night before and everything. It was at this point we realised I would never sleep that night unless I had a few beers – logical, even sensible some would say.
So this is where it began. It ended in the clutches of the Slovenian policija.
We sat and had about 5 beers, somehow ending up absolutely hammered and completely out of cigarettes (NIGHTMARE). On recommendation of the hostel man, we decided to walk into town to a) find cigs and b) find somewhere still serving beer.
But we crossed the road. We crossed the road at the wrong time, in the wrong place. God forbid.
We were cornered by two policemen who I swear from the baby faces and ill-fitting uniforms could have been 14 years old. We were given a lecture about “respecting the laws of J-walking” (a law we later found out does not exist in Slovenia), which led to a huge rant, which led to a €500 fine. Which we OBVIOUSLY weren’t going to pay.
“So we will take you to the police station and you can call your parents to come and find you.”
Err, that’s not likely to happen either given they’re a few hundred miles away, pal. Half an hour, some AMAZING fake crying (hats off Sinead. It’s a talent) and some sweet talking later we were on our way, extremely cautious to ensure we crossed at “the right place”. The hope dropped from their faces at the mention of the British Embassy. Pahahaha. My first run in with the police (ever, I swear).
So imagine our fear when we eventually stumbled back to the hostel (after a cheeky beer at “Box 24hr Bar”) and there was a police car parked out front. FUCK, they’ve changed their minds and come for us.
No, not us?
…Oh, a gun fight you say? Oh cool. Well that’s fine then. Okay. Cool.
Ljubljana is actually a really nice city. Just don’t go out at night. Ever.
That said, we did go out tonight for a pretty epic Bosnian meal – I ate 7 sausages. Yeah you heard, 7. With bread and cheese. This was followed by a game of “Stop the Bus” which our whole rag-tag group took part in; a Brit, a Yank, an Aussie, an Irish, a German and a Frenchman – it sounds like the start of a bad joke, but makes for great company.
Screw this, I am going to Croatia.
October 8th 2014
I’m going to keep this short and sweet.
I thought I was being clever by hopping on the early train (08:25) from Ljubljana to Zagreb. It meant I would have enough time to see the city throughout the day and then move on in the morning, so as to not waste a second night.
Not only was my train delayed by 3 hours (I styled it out like a actual vagabond at the station, wearing every piece of warm clothing I had in my bag and using jumpers as blankets. People definitely thought I was a tramp), but it’s Croatian National Independence Day.
Everything. Is. Closed.
Only me, seriously, only me. On the plus side, I have found a wicked bar which serves local beer for 13 Kuna for a large (about £1.30), plays great music (The Fugees, Elvis) and everyone is super friendly.
To Zadar in the morn, to meet my Canadian pals. Pah.
I am pretty rubbish at this travelling crap.
October 12th 2014
Zadar & Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Oh god, Croatia is amazing.
I write from 3 hours into a 7 hour bus journey to Dubrovnik, with a stinking hangover.
Right I actually had to stop writing then in order to concentrate fully on not throwing up on the poor girl who had sat next to me on the bus. Another NIGHTMARE journey (although I can’t say this one wasn’t somewhat self-inflicted).
As I was saying, Croatia is truly amazing. Such a beautiful country. I arrived in Zadar which is about 3 hours South and West of Zagreb, right on the coast of the Adriatic Sea, to one of the coolest hostels I’ve stayed in yet, the Wild Fig. About 20 minutes after I turned up my Canadian pals rocked up in the crap car they’d rented and kidnapped me, taking me to their hotel which was in a small town called Petracane. We ended up spending the remainder of the day and evening by at the sea side (they don’t have “beaches” here as such, i.e. sand, just banks and piers – which sounds horrible but is PERFECT for me, a true believer in sand being one of the utmost banes of all life), drinking, laughing, swimming. The two douchebags somehow even convinced me to get into the sea; now, anyone who knows me even remotely well will know that I have an utterly ridiculous phobia of fish and all sea creatures (thank you, Hollie Seddon, for scarring me at the age of 7 with a wind-up fish in a swimming pool), so for most this isn’t a big deal – for me, getting in the sea is equivalent to facing my ultimate fear, but it was so unbelievably worth it. Watching the sunset, beer in hand, IN the actual sea (treading water really gives the old legs a work out) is one of the best ways I’ve ever spent an evening. Incredible.
There are some experiences that you never expect to happen, which are usually the best. It’s like when you and your pals plan a “quiet night”, and it turns into one of the best – and likely messiest – you’ve had in months. So imagine, in our drunken state, our surprise when we got chatting to a chap who turned out to be a professional opera singer from Greece. An almighty sing-off ensued, with Italian opera and Eddie the Canadian busting out some incredible Afro-Cuban tunes, whilst Pete and I filmed the whole thing. Incredibly random, amazing memories.
The next day was spent chilling out and taking a walk around the old town of Zadar which is super cute, really pretty. Apart from being harassed by a Croatian man wearing the tightest Speedos I’ve ever seen, the day, and my hangover, passed without event. It’s nice to have what I consider “a day off” from travelling and sight seeing. Everyone laughs when I say, “I am so knackered” – “Knackered?! You’re on bloody holiday, how can you be knackered?!”. You know that feeling when you get back from a week-long holiday and feel so tired, even though you’ve been relaxing the whole time? Imagine that times by however long I’ve been away for. Trust me, travelling is tiring lark. NOT THAT I’M COMPLAINING. Just saying.
So the next morning, by recommendation of my favourite ginger, Scott Marlin, I boarded a bus to the famous Plitvice Lakes National Park, or Plitvicka Jezera, as the locals call it. An expensive day (it’s only about £12 for entry, but the bus was just over £20), but my god, was it worth it. Anyone reading this should be Googling Plitvice Lakes RIGHT NOW and adding it to the “Must See Before I Die” list. Im proud to say I’ve been to some pretty incredible places and seen some amazing things – none (so far) compare to this place. It is truly stunning; the most outstanding scenery I’ve seen anywhere in the world. There are about 16 lakes in total, all of which are interconnected with waterfalls of varying sizes, all of which are equally beautiful and just mesmerising to watch. You need a good whole day to see them all I’d say, given that the park covers circa 250 square kilometres (my legs ache SO MUCH). I got an early bus so as to give myself as much time as possible and honestly, even arriving at around 9am and having to leave at 5pm, I could have stayed longer. Breathtaking views, truly breathtaking. Until now I’ve never genuinely had my jaw drop through pure amazement. The lakes are of the clearest water I’ve ever seen, beautiful greens and blues, with crashing waterfalls giving them each a unique musical backdrop. It’s honestly magical.
Absolutely knackered (as per), I returned to my hostel with a view to getting a good nights sleep. What actually happened is that I got chatting to someone, then someone else joined, then someone else and so on and so forth, until there was a group of 15 or so of us playing stupid drinking games, including the most epic game of King’s Cup (or Ring of Fire) I’ve ever had the misfortune of being a part of. We ended up, as you do, with about 29 different rules, to the point that in order to have a drink you must shout out your nationality, lift your feet from the ground, drink only with your non-writing hand and say a sequence of ridiculous words once you’d finished drinking. Such a childish game, but so much fun when you’re already that pissed. Excellent.
We finished the night (or some would say morning by this point) down at the docks of Zadar, having a proper hippie love-in with a guitar, a bottle of rum and a good old sing-song. This is the first time I’d sang in front of anyone in years and made me remember how much I love it. Despite claims of, “Yeah, we’re all going to stay up and watch the sunrise!”, we were clearly all slaughtered and stumbled back to the hostel at about 5am (whilst singing La Cucuracha, of course).
So this is how I came to end up on the bus to Dubrovnik, incredibly hungover and feeling decidedly sorry for myself. But, I love travelling, I love nights like last night, and I am happy to have this hangover in return for being lucky enough to have met so many amazing, like-minded people.
October 13th 2014
They say you learn a lot about yourself when you travel, especially when you travel alone.
I have learnt just two things so far.
1) I have little to no willpower.
2) I may well have a drinking problem.
Both of which aren’t exactly good traits to have.
I arrived in Dubrovnik last night at around 11:30pm rather than the anticipated 18:30, after the worst journey I’ve had so far. Not only did the 6 hour bus journey turn into 8, but as afore mentioned, trying to hold in last night’s alcohol intake the whole time is no fun.
But enough of that, I shan’t moan because Dubrovnik is seriously, seriously beautiful. I’m staying in a hostel which is actually within the city walls and – when I eventually found the fucker – I ran into a guy completely by chance who I met back in Ljubljana. It never amazes me how small this world is.
After a full 12 hours sleep (yessssss) I spent the day walking the city walls in blazing sunshine (hello freckles / sunburn) and got a full 360 view of the city and coastline, which is absolutely stunning. It’s very quaint and majestic – hence why the use it as the setting for Kings Landing in Game of Thrones (super geek). It took a good couple of hours and multiple bottles of water to get around the whole lot, as I’m told the temperature was about 28 degrees… Not a bad way to spend a Monday I suppose – how’s work everybody? (Ha ha, sorry but I feel I’ve gone this far without gloating and I’ve earnt just a little one).
So this is where the non-existent will power comes into play; I went to a cute little bar to unwind after the walls and treated myself to a little glass of wine, then returning to the hostel at about 7ish. With every intention of going to bed by 9 I got myself all cosy, had a catch up with the big-little sis and was just ready to go to bed… When a little ragtag group of guys, including Rob who I’d met in Ljubljana, accosted me and downright forced me to go out for beers for fear of the consequences if I didn’t. It was scary so I had to give in.
Obviously that’s a lie – it took about 4 seconds for them to convince me to go out, grab my bag and leave the hostel. Yet another boozy night took place, all the while with the little voice in my head reminding me “Your bus to Mostar leaves at 8am Joanne…”. But, as I’ve said before, the hangovers are becoming commonplace and I think I may have finally accepted them as a part of every day life. It was a hilarious night – having to translate between an Irishman and an American, having yet again the age old debate in which no one believes my age (the passport always comes out at this point), and generally swapping travelling stories and tales of home alike, which to all seems so far away at the time.
The fact that I’m going to Mostar makes the hangover bearable. I can’t wait.
October 15th 2014
I write from one of my favourite hostels in the world, in Mostar, in the RAIN. What the hell is this? Don’t they know I’m “on holiday”?
Somehow, after the drunken night in Dubrovnik, I managed to haul my ass out of bed at 6:15 to pack my shit up and make my bus to Mostar at 8am. To give you a bit of back story, a few months ago I was umming and ahh-ing about going travelling again – not because I didn’t want to, but because it was not necessarily the most “sensible” choice to make at the time. One day I was on Google, having a look at things to do and places to see, and I came across a picture of the bridge.
I didn’t even know where it was at this point but, for some strange and unknown reason, I needed to go and see it. Don’t get me wrong, there are more exciting, exotic and probably beautiful places out there; this one stuck with me and it was at that moment I decided to travel again.
Mostar is a seriously cute town, but incredibly humbling. We stepped off the bus (one of the guys from last night joined me) and were immediately greeted by what looked like general derelict buildings. On further inspection, you can see that the buildings are undoubtedly riddled with bullet holes, shrapnel marks and the devastation of the war which ended not long ago. It was pretty mind blowing, honestly. I did some, but little, research before coming to Bosnia about the previous Yugoslavian conflict etc but I never expected this. It’s so plain to see the scars at every turn.
We spent the day walking around the old town and city, stopping for lunch in a local restaurant serving only local cuisine (which was fantastic – vegetables stuffed with shredded meat and rice served with sour cream – be better) and then made our way to the old bridge, the Stari Most. It really is magnificent at 22 metres, and has recently become a UNESCO World Heritage site – it was blown to pieces during the war (but stood up to 64 grenades before finally giving in) and reconstruction finished in 2004. I felt so, so happy and proud to be stood in front of it, taking my own version of the photo which was the inspiration for this whole trip. I really can’t explain it, but this place will always be very special to me.
Last night was only semi-drunken; Miran, the hostel owner and probably the favourite person I’ve met on my travels so far, showed us home videos taken during the war which again, were truly mind blowing. What struck me is that amidst the wreckage of homes, the sniper fire you can hear in the background and the general devastation, each and every member of his family is smiling and laughing, making light of the situation throughout the whole film. Including Miran himself. He then showed us some of the sights we could see in the film, and how they’d been rebuilt etc. Truly amazing people. We finished off the night with a bottle of wine from a local shop (for a quid – winning), and it was so nice to go to bed not drunk, just very relaxed (probably helped by the bottle of red). A lovely but harrowing evening.
October 17th 2014
Currently in a little mini van on my way to Belgrade. The first hangover-free journey I’ve done in a while, and it’s going well so far – hostel man told me the bus would pick me up at 9, by which he meant 8, so I was greeted by evil stares from everyone who’d had to wait 45 minutes for me to rush and get my shit together. Perf. I’m now plagued by the distinct feeling that I’ve forgotten something… Ah well, I have my passport. Anything else can be replaced.
This guy has got an interesting taste in music. So far we’ve had Madonna, Wham, The Beatles… And now some kind of Bosnian Techno. As you do. So I’ve had a few chilled out days in Sarajevo, which is a really lovely city actually. It’s strange because one moment you’re walking past H&M and Mango, the next you’re surrounded by tiny little tat markets (or “shit shops” as my beautiful mother calls them”). The streets become cobbled and winding, lined by locals drinking Bosnian coffee in tiny little outlets on all sides. Very cute.
Not a lot to report then, in fairness – I had a walk around the city, saw the famous old assassination bridge etc. All I’ve really done since being here is eat and sleep – I had the most incredible lunch yesterday – salma (meat and rice wrapped in cabbage leaves) again served with sour cream and potatoes, followed by a Bosnian coffee and a huge chunk of baklava. So, so good. And it all came to a grand total of… £2.40. My kind of place.
So as I say, I’m off to Belgrade now for what I think may turn into rather a heavy weekend. I woke up this morning with the shakes, big time. Thought, “I need to eat, that’s it”. Had some breakfast. Still shaking. “Maybe I need a cigarette”. Smoked cigarette. Shakes worsened.
Then it hit me.
I’ve not had a drink for 48 hours now, which is longer than I’ve gone with no alcohol for the past month and a half.
Uh oh. Someone get me a beer.
October 21st 2014
Faaaaack. Best weekend ever.
Okay once again I kind of just want to leave it there as writing it down just isn’t going to cut it. But I can honestly say that not only is Belgrade a super beautiful city, I have met some of the best people of my life here. We’ve drunk too much, laughed constantly and made some ever lasting friends.. Such an incredible time.
First and foremost, any hostel which you walk into and the staff all stand up to give you a high five is immediately a winner in my book. When they then tell you that a friend (who I met in Mostar) has already signed you up for this evening’s barbecue, things get better. Such a cool hostel, awesome chilling areas but with a real party vibe beneath the surface. The evening’s barbecue turned from a civilised meal with about 50 people, into a select few of us going to check out Belgrade’s notorious night life – we ended up in a live music bar with a traditional Serbian band, dancing and partying until God knows what time in the morning. I really don’t remember getting back to the hostel.. But I’m told we all had the time of our lives.
The next night was a similar story – amalgamating two Brits, two Aussies, a Canadian, Texan, Virginian and a Finnish guy makes for fucking excellent company. I think pre-game started at about 4pm, which probably explains the lack of memory once again. We got hungry mid-way so, after stalking a Serbian marching band for a bit (don’t ask), made a drunken trip to the local supermarket and ended up cooking a huge spag bol for everybody – somehow, everyone enjoyed the meal and my non-existent cooking skills were highly praised (although this may have something to do with the whole bottle of red wine I added to the sauce…). After the messiest game of 7s I’ve ever played we headed out to go to one of the infamous boat clubs on the river which was so busy you could barely move, but so so good. And cheap as.
The night entailed the following activities:
- Shot drinking
- Pole climbing
- Money throwing (“It’s only money guys… Who gives a fuck!!!”)
- LOTS of group hugging
- Selfie taking
- Andddd even some crying from one or two.. (Don’t ask, because none of us really know)
Needless to say, we missed our 11am check out and extended the stay, standard procedure. The final night was to be a chilled one – we all headed to the Citadel to watch the sunset (which we missed – fail) with some beers. Such a beautiful view over the old ruins and the river, listening to the buskers (who are super talented here) and laughing about the previous night’s antics. I’ve never felt so chilled as I did right there… Amazing. The group of us then headed to a Serbian restaurant for a dinner of further beers and lots of mystery meat (we didn’t actually know what was being eaten, but it tasted ace so.. We’ll move on). Whilst the group opted to go out again my body outright told me no, so an evening was spent watching crap tv shows and chilling the fuck out. No matter how many times you’ve seen an episode of The Inbetweeners, it never gets old.
The crew has semi-disbanded but I’ve somehow ended up on a night train to Budapest with three of the guys, all set with our beer and blankets for the long ride. I massively have the shakes, feel like shit, and have probably had about 4 hours sleep this weekend but it has been so epic. Actually feeling genuinely sad to be leaving this city. The food is amazing, the night life is incredible, the locals are beautiful people and I just don’t want to go.
I really don’t want to go. I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go I don’t want to go
How is it that the best times and memories you have are sometimes the ones you don’t remember?
Fuck it, I’ve just realised I left my iPad charger at the hostel.
October 25th 2014
I swear I’m nearly dead.
I don’t even really know where to start. Everyone says how fucking crazy Budapest is but seriously… What the fuck just happened?
So first of all let me talk about the most insanely hilarious train journey I have ever taken in my life. Myself and three of the guys hopped on the train at Belgrade and I’m not sure if it was the beer, the strange smell in the train (distinctly cannabis-esque) or just the excitement of going to Budapest but, I swear to you, we laughed non-stop for 6 hours. Everything was HILARIOUS. From Martyn’s blanket, to not being able to remember the words to the nursery rhyme about the cow jumping over the moon, to the border crossing itself. A poor chap behind us got out the most fake looking British passport I’ve ever seen, claiming to be called “Bill”. Honestly, it looked like it was made out of tissue paper. The picture had clearly been pritt-sticked on or something, in the wrong place no less. The border officials literally burst out laughing as soon as they saw it, even showing us so we could have a laugh too. Then they showed it around the train, still laughing, whilst poor Bill looked on. God it was funny. He was eventually escorted from the train. Wonder what happened to him, poor guy.
So we arrive in Buda to get to our hostel, the notorious Carpe Noctum Vitae. It’s part of the big party hostel chain of the city and it did not disappoint. Such good people, staff who just ask you what you want to pre-drink on and get it in for you, then take you out and get you smashed. What more could you ask for?
In fairness, apart from the drinking we did do some pretty cool stuff in Budapest. There’s a bar called ExitPoint where essentially they lock you in a room and you have to solve clues and puzzles to escape and get your beer – we did an Alice in Wonderland themed room and it was a bit of a head fuck after each downing a bottle of jaeger, but wicked fun.
I fell asleep in a bar on night one. Sweet as.
The second night entailed some form of bar crawl – I was so smashed by the time we went out I didn’t actually realise I’d been to most of the bars the previous night, to everyone’s amusement. Partied with some insanely cool Canadians, who I must say can hold their drink a lot better than the rest of the world makes out.
In my hungover state the next day, a group of us decided to check out the thermal baths which Budapest is famous for. They’re really beautiful, huge pools of water which naturally stay at around 40 degrees centigrade. Anyone who is planning to go to Budapest, I will tell you now, it was an almost instant hangover cure, fucking ace. Especially the outside pool – it can’t have been more than 10 degrees outside so to chill in a hot pool whilst it’s drizzling with rain feels INCRED.
So, third night was the infamous Boat Party and honestly one of the best nights I’ve ever had. About 4 hostels meet for it, around 150 people. I’ve never seen so many people just having the absolute time of their lives in one place – everyone is given a bottle of (shitty) champagne upon arrival and I don’t know what they do with it, but I was fucking slaughtered after about a third of the bottle. Lots of dancing, singing and general partying was to come, not to mention Budapest’s most important rule: If you don’t kiss somebody as the boat goes under a bridge, you’re cursed with 7 years of bad sex. Dodged that bullet.
I had every intention of leaving the next day, mainly because I need to get a move on to Paris, but also because I can completely see how people get stuck in Budapest. Alas, a pal I’d met in Zadar turned up so I moved over to her hostel and had yet another messy night out. It’s incredible you know, how the staff at these places do it every single night. Absolute heroes. I ended up actually recognising a few of the bars this time – ashamed to admit however that I only knew I’d been there before because of the graffiti on the back of the doors in the ladies toilets. Classy hey.
So, I’d love to tell you how beautiful a city Budapest is, full of culture etc etc. I’m sure it is. I just didn’t see any of it because I was hammered for 4 days straight. So here we find me on a train to Bratislava, after spending a day with the staff of the last hostel eating “Langos” – essentially a Hungarian fried bread covered in cheese and sour cream and meat and tomatoes and chillies and anything else you can imagine. Apparently there is 8000 calories in each one…
Detox starts tomorrow. My body hates me so, so much at the moment.
October 26th 2014
Is a nice city, really. But nothing you’re not able to see anywhere else.
This has literally been a pit-stop to get me the fuck out of Budapest. Such an easy place to get stuck. I’ve done nothing but sleep, so really have fuck all to report except that I had the weirdest dreams last night, which I’m putting down to it being the first fully sober sleep I’ve had in a week. Bad times.
I’m going to Vienna. Can’t believe I’m making my way back to the UK now… Somebody stop me. I might cry.
FYI I had fruit for breakfast this morning, and think my body may have gone into shock from being given even remotely nutritious substance for the first time in weeks.
October 27th 2014
Jesus fucking Christ, it’s cold here. I’ve actually had to invest in a hat and some gloves. My poor little face is all cold and sore and my poor nose all red. Looking haaaaaat.
Vienna is a super beautiful city, really pretty. BUT. Why is there so much construction going on? I didn’t do a lot yesterday, still in recovery and all that, but have spent all day today walking around the city and I swear every single building is either surrounded by scaffolding or cordoned off for “upcoming work”. Even the streets are being dug up all over the place. I literally couldn’t get near the cathedral, or the parliament building. But, they are still beautiful from afar. I suppose.
Unfortunately I’m staying at a SHIT HOSTEL which is about a half an hour walk from the centre, but quite a nice walk all the same. Loads of cute second hand shops and food places. They love their Asian food here hey – so far I’ve seen “Lucky Noodle”, “Happy Noodle” and the rather cheeky “Naughty Noodle”. Not forgetting of course, “Asia in a Box”. Pure class. I’m really embracing the Austrian culture.
On that note – three times today I was approached by people on the street trying to sell me shit. In each case, when I explained I was English, each of them responded with something along the lines of “Really? You look as though you are of Austria.” Of Austria? Why? What does an Austrian look like, exactly?
Tomorrow I am having my first “BlaBlaCar” experience… It’s essentially a European car pooling service, like a transport equivalent of Couchsurfing I suppose. Not entirely sure what to expect, but there is not a fucking chance in hell I am paying €90 for a train ticket to Munich. As my beautiful Hazel would say, you literally have more chance of shitting in the Queen’s handbag.
My language has gotten so bad. Sorry Mumma.
Had one of the actual best meals of my trip so far this evening, Viennese goulash. I have no idea what meat it was, but Christ it was tasty. When I got back to the hostel there was a huge business conference of 6 buses which have just arrived – I’ve spent the last 3 hours having beers bought for me by rich, Dutch businessmen, ha. Cheers united.
October 18th 2014
Somewhere near the Austrian / German border…
Hahahaha I just had to write this down, because it would only happen to me.
DISCLAIMER: This post is all about me needing a wee. Yes, that’s right (at least I don’t bother pretending to be lady-like hey).
I’m about half way into my Vienna-Munich bus journey (which I got for €19 euros somehow, no BlaBlaCars for me just yet) and I’ve needed a wee literally since I stepped foot on the coach. Most people who know me will have heard the story of how I once held my bladder for 10 hours straight on a bus in China (unlike everyone else, I didn’t feel hugely comfortable peeing in a plastic bucket in the aisle), so I’m feeling quietly confident I can manage until we take our first rest stop on this journey.
Not this time. Oh no. I have spent the last 2 hours nearly in tears from needing to pee so badly. Even Mack’s relatively motivational album isn’t helping. Oh good god. I am going to piss myself, publicly, for the first time in my life. Knees are jiggling, fingers tapping away. And it hurts, oh does it hurt. This is it for me, people. I will be changed forever. They’ll call me Girl Who Wet Herself On The Way To Germany. Goodbye cruel, toilet-less world.
Can I just point out that, at this point, I’ve already asked the bus driver several times whether there is a toilet on board (nein) and if we’re going to be stopping soon (also nein). In fact, he is point blank refusing to speak in English to me. Even though he’s speaking near-perfect to the American girl sat across the row. This seems fair.
It’s at this moment, as I’m turning to blind panic, that an Austrian girl behind taps me on the shoulder and says, “You have no toilets on English buses?”.
There is a toilet, right behind me. Literally two rows back.
I laugh in relief (which almost makes me piss myself anyway). I run to the toilet. Best feeling ever.
As I’m washing my hands, the bus slows and comes to a stop. Our first rest stop. How is that for timing?
Hahahaha. Ha. My life is a joke.
October 30th 2014
Currently undergoing my first BlaBlaCar excursion (€140 for a train from Munich to Cologne, are you even sure) and I must say it is mighty comfortable. The girl is so cute and reminds me sooo much of SARAH HARBOUR! Harbs, I’m pretty sure you don’t read my blog but you had better start girlfriend. Not just anyone gets a mention by name.
Had such a delightful time in Munich and actually wish I could have stayed longer. It’s a lovely city, from the architecture to the food to the busker who played the violin so beautifully and so sadly it brought tears to my eyes (am I going soft? Da fuq?) First night in Munich turned messy – quite funny really, I was having a quiet drink with an English guy from my room, when a group of baseball players from Florida came over to our table. They said that they were sat with some douchebag football players from Cali, and did we want to go and rescue them. So we joined the table and drank lots of beer. American overload, when the English guy went to bed and I found myself playing Kings Cup with 10 dudes. Then, a group of guys came over and asked if they could join the game – San Fransiscans this time (apparently they don’t class themselves as even Americans, let alone Californians). We then played touch the cup and by this stage I’m pretty slaughtered. When the first guys from Cali all went to smoke, the Flordians and San Fransiscans talked about what douchebags they were.
When everyone but the San Fransiscans left, they told me what douchebags the whole lot were. Paha.
Anyway it was fun. Americans are really big on taking selfies hey.
So I had the full next day in Munich (with a hangover) and had every intention of getting up for the hostel’s free walking tour of the city but, a) I don’t particularly like scheduled tours where you can’t just do what you like and b) I had a banging headache and was relishing the first lie in I’d had in days. So I did my own tour instead and got completely lost in Munich, through the cobbled streets, food markets and beer gardens. Some of the buildings could honestly be from a fairytale, they’re so ornate and magical looking. I climbed the 306 steps to the top of St Peter’s cathedral and got an incredible view of the city from all angles – not going to lie, the hangover hindered my already non-existent stair-climbing ability but I soldiered through and it was so worth it. Yesterday was just as cold, about 5-6 degrees, but the sun was shining so it was really lovely.
Here is when I made my TV debut. Ya, I’m basically a star now. As I’ve said, I won’t let it go to my head or anything, I’ll always remember you little people. Chill guys. I don’t want anyone treating me differently.
So I’m wandering through the streets and see the prettiest looking park, deciding to go and sit on the grass and read my book for a bit and chill after my climbing etc etc. A huge crowd is gathered around across the way, so I went over to have a look and lo and behold, there’s a film crew making some kind of TV show. I had a gander for a bit, took some snaps, but as I’m walking off a guy starts shouting into the crowd. I had no idea what he was saying until one of them walks over to me and keeps saying, “Extra? Extra?”. Well we all know I’m pretty shy so I took some convincing (lol) and the rest, as they say, is history. I walked past that bench like no one has walked past a bench before. I strutted my stuff. I rocked it. They loved me. Everyone was asking for my autograph by the end of it (that is definitely not true). It was fun hey.
So after retiring to one of the famous Munchen beers gardens for my first taste of real German bratwurst and a beer (which finally took the edge of my hangover), I waited for the sun to set so I could see all of the pretty buildings lit up at night, and then went back to the hostel and met with the San Fransiscan guys from last night, who were slaughtered having been at a football game during the day. I had some serious catching up to do. I succeeded. I regret that decision now. German beer gives me a really bad headache.
I’m on my way to Cologne now which is supposed to be really beautiful, I can’t wait. Going to meet up with Uncle Leslie and his beautiful family for a Halloween party tomorrow night. Exciting stuff.
Now, I am going to sleep. Good day to you all.
Just slept for like 3 hours and we’re nearly there. Not only that, but I was awoken by the German chick playing none other than a Razorlight album… Winning.
November 1st 2014
What up party peeps
I had such a wonderful evening yesterday – so good to see Uncle Leslie again and neither of us could believe it’s been more than a year! Time fucking flies. He was actually going for dinner with a business associate of his who is just in from China. They invited me along and we went to a beautiful Thai restaurant which rivals even some of the food I ate in Thailand itself… It was incred. It still amazes me how Les is treated like a celebrity everywhere you go; just a touch overwhelming (my stardom from Munich clearly hasn’t spread to Cologne just yet). He took us on a mini nighttime tour of the old town too, showing us the old Roman ruins and of course checking out the famous Dom by night. It’s such an incredible building, so gothic and eerie looking but beautiful all the same.
Leslie dropped me back to my hostel and it ended up being one of the funniest nights I’ve had; from sitting outside having beers on the street with two Northern lads from the UK, talking about “rum turkeys” (still don’t know the meaning of this – anyone?) to giggling all night with the people in the dorm. I ended up with two gay guys – one German, the other from the States – trying to teach me some of the language with hilarious results. I think we stopped laughing at about 2am. There is no better feeling than getting a fit of the giggles until your stomach cramps and you can’t catch your breath.
I’m having a funny day today; bizarrely, I feel like I have an early onset case of the travelling blues. I’m not even back in England yet… Excellent sign of things to come. I just can’t bear the thought of going back to the UK, as much as I miss the family and friends etc, which I really do. I just feel super down about it. But, it is only temporary, plus I’m going to Edinburgh which is going to be awesome.
I just don’t want to go back to real life.
Anyways, this evening I’m staying with Leslie and the family and we’re going to his village Halloween party which should be ace and will hopefully cheer me up! As soon as I get this bloody laundry finished that is.. Bah.
What a way to finish up in Germany..! (For now anyways).
So first and foremost let me tell you. Remember when I climbed St Peter’s in Munich? Remember when I nearly threw up after 380 steps and vowed to never do exercise of the sort again? Remember when I said that?
Today I climbed the Dom. 530 steps.
It’s easy, they said. You won’t even feel the last 150 steps, they said.
Well I can tell you I didn’t feel the last 150 steps, purely because my legs were essentially NUMB at that point. Christ, it is a tall building. 149 metres if I remember correctly. Bloody hell it hurt. But, again, the view at the top was incredible and so worth it. I love city skylines, seeing all the tiny cars driving around and little people running around like ants. Really beautiful.
After my monthly exercise I jumped on the S-Bahn (most confusing rail system I’ve experienced worldwide so far) to Sindorf, where Les picked me up and showed me his neighbourhood, from the lucrative business he’s been with since day one to the out-of-this-world house he’s just purchased in the suburbs. So gorgeous (not to mention fucking huge). Then we went to, strangely, one of the best parties I have ever had the pleasure of being invited to.
It started on the streets, a group of maybe 30 of their close friends and neighbours plus the kids – SO cute, all dressed up as witches and skeletons and princesses. We perused the streets of Sindorf, trick-or-treating, sharing beers, eating the children’s candy. Then we retired to one of the neighbours’ houses for food, wine, and more wine. And whisky. And red champagne (never tried it before, awesome stuff). Butterscotch liquor. Rum. More whisky. Normal champagne. Pink champagne. You get the idea I assume.
We got SO DRUNK. Never have I been in a situation before where I do not understand a word of conversation, but have had so much fun and just laughed so much. It was truly fantastic – all was said in German, but somehow, from the tones of voice and facial expressions I suppose, I managed to keep up with the general conversation and just had such an awesome time. Everyone was so incredibly welcoming; to be welcomed into essentially a stranger’s home and be treated like a family member (albeit an illiterate one) was just so lovely and so humbling. Such beautiful people.
So today I’m hanging. So needless to say, when uncle Leslie drove me to the station in his customised Aston Martin at 180 MILES PER HOUR this morning, I very nearly lost my shit. He is such a flashy bastard, but it is an incredible car. Now, I’m in a little mini-van with a random bunch of Frenchies, Spaniards and Germans (BlaBlaCar strikes again) on the 5 hour drive to Paris. I could really do with spending some more time in Germany and can’t wait to come back after I’ve headed back to the UK. Such an amazing few days. I am feeling so happy.
I could also do with not having 3 hours left of this journey. I might be sick on the French guy next to me. Sorry dude.
November 4th 2014
Oh my gaaaaad I can’t believe I’m sat waiting for my Eurostar to Landan. What the fack. But, what a beautiful way to end the first part of my trip.
I’m kind of torn on Paris; it is a shithole, but it has serious charm, too. As a city it has one of the strongest characters, or personalities, I think I’ve come across so far. As soon as I arrived I kind of felt it – it’s a beautiful place, but I’m super glad I was here with a pal.
So I settled in to my hostel which is literally a stone’s throw from Gare du Nord, one of the best I’ve stayed in so far (St Christopher’s Inn GDN) and met up with the beautiful Amy, who I met back in Venice. So nice to catch up on eachother’s travels and have a proper chinwag over a few beers in the hostel’s incredibly cheap bar (€4 for two mojitos, don’t mind if we do).
So, over the next two days, we discovered that we are, in fact, the worst tourists in the world. Two twenty-something girls in Paris with a map (neither of whom can read said map) actually resulted in hours of wandering cute Parisian streets, and ironically very little sightseeing. But we had fun and lots of laughs – from Amy attempting to feed the ticket machine coins via the credit card slot, to me stuffing my face with macaroons. We spent the first day wandering around Notre Dame (I had the opening song from the Disney film stuck in my head ALL DAY), which is where we ran into our new best friend NATALIE PORTMAN (boys, she’s even better looking in real life) in the famous Shakespeare & Company bookstore – those of you who know me will know how much I adore reading and I honestly could have stayed in that shop for days. It’s a really stereotypical, Parisian little store, with antique chintz furniture all over the place and sliding ladders along the shelves. As it happens, we did spend a good couple of hours in there, myself perusing the history aisles (geek) and Amy making best friends with Natalie Portman’s kid. So chilled. We saw the famous padlock bridge which was sweet, and then made our way across the city to check out the infamous Catacombs… Very, very fucking creepy. More than 6 million skeletons are piled up hundreds of feet below the city. What got me is the way the bones are arranged – not just all thrown on top of eachother, but very carefully stacked into perfect arrangements. In places, they’ve even piled skulls into shapes – hearts, stars. Very strange.
So that evening I ticked another item from my bucket list, as we made an impulse decision to go to the mighty Moulin Rouge. Rather begrudgingly, as it was DAMN EXPENSIVE – but you know what they say, “When in Paris” (…). We got our gladrags on and made our way to the seediest part of town (followed by some creepy men on a motorcycle – as you do) and guys, it did not disappoint. It was €112 per ticket, including a bottle of champagne, and it was SO worth it. Such a brilliant show; the costumes, the acrobatics, dancing – everything was just out of this world. All in French of course, but it almost added to the enjoyment. Seriously, if you’re ever in Paris, you have to check it out.
We spent the next day wandering around Montemartre, the famous shopping markets of Paris, and being proper tourists taking thousands of photos at the Sacre Coeur. We got a brilliant view of the city from up there. And, this was the moment I had my first ever glimpse of THE ACTUAL EIFFEL TOWER. I know it’s not that exciting to anyone else. But I was seriously fucking excited about seeing that rusty piece of crap. So after a day of wandering in the rain, we decided to check it out at night. Amy, bless her, has already been up the tower 3 times (4 maybe?) but the beaut that she is still came with me. I felt like a little kid, literally screaming. I have no idea why it excited me so much, walking around a rusty tower in the pissing rain, but it is SO PRETTY. Why does no one like the Eiffel Tower?? I feel like it’s so underrated. I thought it was epic.
But it was seriously raining. So after I had had my Japanese moment at the top of the tower, I grabbed the now shivering Amy and we jumped back on the subway home, wherrrre I checked my emails to find out I’VE JUST HAD MY AUSTRALIAN VISA GRANTED!!!!!!! Now not only is it the last night of my trip, but I actually had something to celebrate; a night of beer, mojitos and jager bombs (four for €10, how could we say no?) ensued. I am still on such a high from getting that email, the Strraaaaalia dream is becoming real! GET ME OUT THERE
…And off of this train to London.