Czech us out, we made it to Prague!

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Arriving in Prague was easy enough and the walk to our hostel was straightforward. We were staying in the Chili Hostel, which if I’m honest, isn’t that great. It is massive and has a kitchen available to use, but it’s small in comparison to the number of people staying there. And because the hostel is so big, there’s a lot of free roaming and I didn’t really trust the other people staying there, which is a shame because everywhere else I’ve felt safe. We were on the fifth floor. There are no lifts here so we had to walk up ten flights of stairs. TEN FLIGHTS. Once we came down for something there was no way we were going back up until sleep time.

The first night in Prague we decided to catch up on sleep. None of us seemed to have the energy to do anything. So with home cooked bangers and mash in our bellies we called it a night. There was only one other person in our dorm and he was Spanish I think. He didn’t really speak to us and didn’t introduce himself. So naturally we dubbed him José.

The following morning we met at 11 o’clock in the Old Town Square to go on a free guided tour around the city. I would recommend this option to anyone. Because it’s free, they do ask for tips. Around 100 Czech Koruna (about £3.30) is plenty. Our guide was called Australian Ashley and, dare I say it, he was more amazing than Australian James from Rome. I had no idea about the history of the Czech Republic but Ashley made it so interesting. He told us about the success under Charles V and the decline under the King Wenceslas. He took us through the Old Town and told us about how the Astronomical Clock was voted the second most disappointing attraction. He talked us through how Mick Jagger and Keith Richards funded the lights that light up the castle. He walked us through the Jewish Quarters where the ground was raised by three metres because the land was prone to terrible flooding from the river. We loved Ashley.

In the afternoon we visited the Pinkas Synagogue. Inside, the names of the 22,000 Hungarian Jews who were killed in the Holocaust are scribed on the walls: the names, date of birth and the date of death are all grouped in families, according to where they live. The first room was daunting enough, but there are four more rooms the same. Inside, there is also an exhibition of artwork produced by the Jewish children of Hungry during the Holocaust. The story behind their survival is as follows.

The Jewish population of Hungary were forced to migrate into the Terezín ghetto outside of Prague, under the Nazi regime. The living conditions here were terrible; there were more Jews forced to live there than the area could sustain, they were given curfews and their use of public transport was restricted. Life was depressing. In order to help the children of the ghetto cope with a lifestyle their friends and families did not choose, an artist named Friedl Dicker-Brandeisová held art therapy classes. The children aged between 10 and 18 were encourage to draw memories of home, dreams and happier times. For these lessons to take place, there was a lot of smuggling of art materials into the ghetto, under the noses of the Nazi’s. Eventually, Friedl was transported to Auschwitz. However, before she left she buried suitcases full of the children’s work and told a friend of their location. After the war ended, the suitcases were recovered and the drawings displayed.

The optimism portrayed in the drawings is heart wrenching, especially as the fate of each child artist is displayed adjacent to their artwork. Only a few survived the Holocaust. The colours of the drawings are surprisingly bright and clear; a constant reminder that this slab of history was only around seventy years ago. The exhibition has provided the opportunity for permanent recognition of the names of Jewish children who would have otherwise been forgotten.

Prague, the party capital

Well, it certainly lived up to it’s reputation. After another home cooked meal, we ‘got ready’ for a night out. I put that in apostrophes because I assure you I would never go out at home in what I wore. All four of us girls put on some denim shorts and donned our Prague pub crawl t-shirts. For €20 we were greeted by reps who showed us where the bars were. We had an hour of free wine, beer, vodka and absinth shots in the first bar. Needless to say it tasted vile, but hey it was free and we are students so we take what we can get.

We attended three bars and a club. I would simply love to tell you the names of the places we went to but you have to let your hair down once in a while don’t you? These bar crawls are often slated by seasoned travellers, but I think it’s a great way to meet people. We spent the night with travellers from Brazil, France, Canada and Australia. We even met a bloke from our neighbouring village back in England! What are the chances? All continents united under reciting the theme tunes to The Sleepover Club and Coronation Street.

The club at the end was a five storey beast, playing the best of all genres of music, including an aptly named cheese floor. The night ended with a drunken detour to the famous Charles Bridge, where we were much less appreciative of the gothic statues which lined either side, or the fantastic view of the Castle Grounds (lit up thanks to the Rolling Stones) than we should have been.

We decided that a twenty-past one in the afternoon train to Kraków, Poland, would suit our hangover timetable just fine. Emily, Chloë and Kieran went to the shop to get food and would meet Rebec and myself at the train station. Rebec and myself left 40 minutes for a walk that should have taken us only 20 minutes. Well, we get lost. And stressed. The others were waiting for us the station and I had the details of the train. I phoned them and told them the train was at 13:19, what was the platform? 6. Okay, we had seven minutes, we could make that. Ladened with our backpacks and day bags, Rebec and myself could see the station, but could not see a way in. We were walking on a very busy road and the pavement was diminishing. We took a risk and turned right off a slip road into a car park which luckily took us straight onto platform 1. Having bypassed the entrance, we called the others to meet us on the platform. We made it with four minutes to spare. I double checked the train details, just to make sure. Our train wasn’t the 13:19 but the 13:16. Massive booboo on my behalf. Our train was departing from platform 4. As we ran on to the platform, we watched our train leave the station.

No, I thought. We are not changing our plans for a mistake I made. “Stay here,” I said, throwing my big bag down on the platform with the others. I marched to the ticket office to find out what our options are. There was a train leaving in 6 minutes which got us into Kraków at the planned time, or one at 16:30 that arrived at 6:00 in the morning. This was not an option. 6 minutes it was then. I called the others to tell them to get to platform 1. You have 5 minutes. I still had to pay for our reservations. The woman at the desk understood my panic and worked as quickly as possible.

“You have 2 minutes. Turn right out of here, then left, then up the escalator and then the first left up the second escalator.” How far? Now I like to think at this moment in time, Jesse Owens’s spirit helped me out or something, because I ran so fast, shoving people out the way (well, I was still very British about it because I did say ‘excuse me please’ before elbowing them). We clambered on to the train together. We’d made it.

As the train pulled out of the station, we looked around at each other to make sure we’d made it. With adrenaline still pumping through our veins, we began to laugh. I looked as if I was about to be sick and Em looked like the Hulk. She was wearing her big back on her back and mine on her front, whilst Clo was clutching Em’s day bag. As it turned out, we still made the connecting trains that we had originally booked on to, so we would arrive in Poland according to schedule. It was funny because it worked out. Thank God.

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Ashley the tour guide

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The Astronomical Clock

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Statue at Prague’s main train station. A reminder of all the Jews who were transported from Prague to the ghetto Terezín and the to Auschwitz

Bathing in Budapest

The train journey from Ljubljana to Budapest (Sunday 18th August) is about 10 hours long, despite it only taking around five hours to drive there. Although it was a direct train, as in we didn’t have to get off and change, the journey began by heading south into Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, before going back up north to Budapest. We always knew it was going to be long, but it was delayed for a further 70 minutes. The train was hot and stuffy with temperamental air conditioning. Needless to say the cabin fever had seriously set in. The man I mentioned in my previous post made a few more appearances, emerald green speedos aglow.

We hopped onto the metro (we were not foolish enough to test the public transport system for a free ride) which is now becoming second nature. The walk from the metro station to the hostel really wasn’t far, but Budapest smells a bit funky and there are a lot of homeless people. One man was obviously on something (we’ll call him ‘Ponytail’ for the sake of the story) and walked towards us and followed us once we had passed him. However, we felt less threatened when he was distracted by a squirrel or something and turned to follow that instead.

Like in the Hunger Games, Budapest (Buda is the surrounding hills, Pest is the city) is split into 23 districts and our hostel was situated in the Bohemian district, District VIII. Hostel Minoo House is easily the best hostel we have stayed in. It’s a converted house set back in a square, owned by four travellers who have drawn on their own experiences to create a place to stay that caters to every traveller’s needs. Instead of boring bunk beds, the rooms were made up of single and double beds set in the wooden beams. The showers were lovely and the toilets clean. The highlight of Minoo House was the kitchen. It contains everything with a hearty, chunky wooden table in the centre of the room. It was our cheapest hostel yet.

We dumped our bags and headed out to find a supermarket to buy supplies for dinner. Em made a fantastic take on bacon and vegetable risotto. The quality home cooked meal tasted like a slice of heaven. We then got ready, bought some drink and socialised with the other travellers. We really wanted to have a night out, go for a bit of a boogie but we were also shattered. We went for a drink with some other travellers: two Swedes, an Argentinian, a Brazilian, two English girls from London and an English boy from Birmingham called John.

We were drunk on the alcohol and tiredness but it was such a laugh. As we didn’t leave the hostel to go to the bar until just before 1am we had to keep drinking to stay awake. We went to a bar which was half inside and half outside with a voodoo-esque theme. The alcohol is cheap and we whipped out the cocktail that was recommended to us called Happy People, which was sweet with a tequila kick. At about three am, they moved to a club, but as it was a Sunday night it was a little quiet. The girls (Em, Rebec, Clo and myself) were drunk and cream crackered and decided to walk back. It was a hilarious walk home involving Emily walking face first into a pole whilst trying to read a map. We crawled into bed about four in the morning and we did not rise until about 11 the following day.

On Monday after our late start, the girls headed out to the Széchenyi Roman Baths. I found this a bizarre experience. The temperature outside was about 36 degrees Celsius and I was desperate to cool down. I set down my towel and jumped into the closet outside pool. I rapidly clambered out. The water temperature was 38 degrees Celsius – hotter than it was outside. I managed to find another that was 20 dc which did cool me down. Outside are three pools at various temperatures and inside there are about 10 baths all at different temperatures. After testing them all, I concluded that 34 dc was my optimum temperature. Having successfully made the transition from human to prune, I sunbathed to dry off. We chilled there until about 6 o’clock when our stomachs dictated we must find food.

We walked back via Tesco (I don’t think you understand how excited we were to find a Tesco) and bought ingredients for dinner. Because we had spent the day at the baths, we wanted to see a few sights before the night was up. We went back out again at 10 o’clock, usually pyjama time at home.

In Budapest, the metro runs at certain times, such as every 10 minutes and stops fairly early on at around half past 11. We didn’t realise this until we left, but we were keen to see things before we left on a morning train the following day. We hopped off the metro at Kossuth ter which opens out on to Parliament. From the river bank we saw The Castle and Mathais Church, or as we donned it, Hogwarts. However, the main reason we came here was to see the ‘Shoes on the Danube’. It is a holocaust memorial made up of fifty pairs of iron shoes. The shoes belonged to 50 Jews who were in hiding. When they were caught by the Nazi’s, they were lined up along the Danube (river running through Budapest), asked to remove their shoes and then they were shot. The memorial is harrowing. 100 iron shoes line the river side in a way that look as if they have been hurriedly kicked off and abandoned. The attention to detail on each pair of shoes is so realistic. Like Forest Gump says, you can always tell a person by their shoes. There were cared for shoes, worker boots and shoes that had quite clearly been passed down from child to child, each belonging to a man, woman or a child. We wondered back to the metro station contemplative.

With three minutes to spare to get the last metro home, we were throwing money at the machine to get our tickets. I have never laughed so much whilst running down a steep escalator. Needless to say we missed it. It wasn’t too bad though as we got to see what we came to see and the walk back was only about half an hour. We were more concerned with the fact that we’d wasted a grand and a half in four metro tickets we couldn’t use (around 350 Hungarian Forints is the equivalent to an English pound. So really we only spent about £5 but we were still ‘maring out. (At one point Kieran referred to the currency as ‘magic beans’ because we were seriously finding it hard to grasp an understanding of the money.))

I wish I could have stayed in Budapest another night. I feel like there was more to see but alas we have only 22 days of travelling time. On to the next city!

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The inside baths

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Not an amazing photo but this is what we called Hogwarts

Ljubljana and Lake Bled

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We arrived in Ljubljana, Slovenia, around 15:30 from Vienna on a direct train. When we pulled into the station, we weren’t that impressed. All it appeared to have to offer was an array of slightly run down buildings, something we’ve seen in every city, only everything looked a bit dryer. A little like a poor man’s Italy. We were so wrong.

Ljubljana is like Disney Land, only it’s not cheesy or tacky. The pastel colours of the buildings, the cobbled streets and the blue river brings a certain enchantment to the city, not to mention the lack of a metro because its so small. We bumped into the people we knew repeatedly, without arranging to meet. It’s also not a massive tourist destination, which adds to it’s charm.

We settled into Alibi Hostel pretty quickly. We’re getting used to moving around and relaxing in shared accommodation. The hostel is in the perfect location in central Old Ljubljana and has a communal area where there is access to free – albeit temperamental – wifi. Having the wifi in the communal area brings fellow travellers out of their rooms to mix with each other. It’s a bed at the end of the day, but there is no kitchen area and not the cleanest and most efficient shower and toilet facilities. In fact it felt like there weren’t enough bathroom facilities for the number of guests. However, if you’re not bothered about a kitchen area, it’s really not that bad.

We showered and freshened up before heading out for something to eat.

The travelling and late nights had really taken it out of us and we were absolutely shattered. We settled for the biggest slice of pizza I’ve ever eaten and went to a bar for a drink and decent wifi. After a glass of wine or a cocktail each, we were slurring our words, but we weren’t sure whether that was due to the alcohol or the tiredness. All we wanted to do was crash and burn, but as it was 19:45, we thought that was particularly uncool. Like Venice, Ljubljana has wifi all over the city, with 60 minutes free every day. We took a seat in the main square in the famous three bridges where we were entertained by street performers. These performances are of a good quality where you are delighted to be part of the audience, not watching because you feel you have to.

By the time we made it back to the hostel, we were pyjama-ed up and ready for bed. We were sharing a dormitory with four boys (Kieran was staying in another hostel with Sían and Ryan). They must have thought they’d gotten lucky when four girls rocked up in their room, so it wasn’t our coolest moment when they asked us if we wanted to go out, offered us drugs and cigarettes and we politely declined because we were tired. So lame.

(NB: I’m writing this blog post on a 10 hour train journey from Ljubljana to Budapest. It’s incredibly long and hot as there is only intermittent air conditioning. The train has been at a standstill for about 20 minutes, and we have just witnessed an old man, around 60, walk past our cabin in a pair of glittering emerald green speedos. We’re on a train in the middle of nowhere. Speedos I tell you! It’s not pretty. Oh wait he’s just walked by again. It is so bizarre.)

The following day, we signed up to the Ljubljanan equivalent to Boris bikes. You have to apply online, and for a euro you can have access to the bikes for seven days. The first hour is free and a fee of a euro per hour after that. But we did the cheapskate option of putting it back after an hour, waiting five minutes and then getting them out again for free. We got a little lost whist riding them, taking a scary trip through a tunnel under a hill whilst on the search for the castle- thanks for the directions Clo! Turns out the castle was on top of the hill, so we ditched the bikes and walked up. It was a bit of mission. After the castle, we took out the bikes again and cycled along the river.

In the evening we went out for dinner (shared meals obviously because we’re on a budget), and met Sían, Ryan and Kieran for drinks, where we became happily drunk on €1,50 glasses of wine. Until midnight when the music cut out. It was really funny, but we headed back as we were getting up fairly early for a day trip the next day.

On Saturday, day 9 of the interrailing trip, we boarded the train up to Lake Bled. This is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. The blue lake is surrounded by mountains and holds a church on a small island in the centre. It is stunning. (A shop assistant who I later got talking to back in Ljubljana informed me that the island is the only Slovenien island, including along the coastline. “And what do they do with the only island in Slovenia?,” he asked. “They build a ****ing church on it.”) You can swim anywhere in the lake, but we paid €4,50 to spend the day in a slightly enclosed area where you could lock your stuff up and sunbathe on jetties in the lake. The water was cold, refreshing and utterly wonderful. Clo and myself spent the day topping up our tans, the Harris girls spent the day burning.

Whilst there, we hired a row boat for a few hours and rowed to the island in the middle. It was a laugh but we were safe in the knowledge that whatever situation we rowed ourselves in to, Rebec’s Camp America skills would save us. You are able to access the church but for a fee, so instead we invested in an ice cream. (Before we purchased an ice cream, Rebec really fancied a pancake. She accidentally asked the lady behind the counter “do you sell craps?”. The woman spoke English.) We hopped on a train back to Ljubljana around 19:30. It was easily one of the best days of the trip so far.

There are other things to do at Lake Bled, like canyoning, skydiving, hiking, caving and mountain biking, but we simply don’t have the budget for it. It was not heaving with tourists and was mostly uncommercialised giving the lake a fresh and pure atmosphere. I would love to return to Slovenia for a week with more money. I would stay in Bled for a week of adventure and then retire to Ljubljana for some rest and relaxation time. I feel an interrailing reunion coming on already…

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Ljubljana town square

The best of Vienna! (Mostly Mozart)

You will be pleased to know that the journey from Venice to Vienna was a huge success. Although Venice was beautiful, we were all pleased to leave Italy; the sweltering heat, the dodgy metro and the additional charges that seemed to be on everything we bought.

The total duration of the journey was just over 10 hours, including a window of 20 minutes to change. It sounds like being stuck on a train for that long would be a nightmare journey, but it was day four of our trip, and we had had an intense past few days, so it was nice to be able to sit down and chill and write our diaries. On the first train we were in a cabin (is that what you call it?) like we were in Harry Potter (we’re all avid HP fans to Kieran’s dismay). There was a spare seat so we were all (except K) waiting for Professor Lupin to rock up. He didn’t. The second train was a little more posh. On this train I felt a bit skanky. In Italy it was too hot for makeup and fashionable clothes. However, in Austria the weather was overcast with a little rain. Here’s some advice for other travellers: pack a wash bag with a tooth brush, toothpaste, baby wipes and spare pair of underwear. Perhaps a pair of leggings. Pack it so it is easily accessible whilst on a train. It felt amazing to freshen up!

We had access to wifi on the second train, which cut out whilst we popped over the boarder to Germany to take a more direct route to Vienna. However, by the time we made it to Wien West Bahnhoff, cabin fever had set in. We greeted Austria at 23:24 with the choruses of all the Sound of Music Songs we could think of (we only really knew the choruses), accompanied by a little jig to ‘So long, farewell’, which was tricky with all our gear on, but I feel we pulled it off.

Using the U-Bahn to get to the hostel was easy, and we made it to our hostel just after midnight. We were staying in Hostel Hütteldorf. It is more like a hotel than a hostel, with communal toilets and showers, unless you booked into a private twin room where there is an en suite available. It was nice, but again not so communal. And the kitchen area consists of a microwave and no cooking utensils so make sure you bring your own bowl.

We are becoming accustomed to living out of our backpacks and planning ahead. We dumped our bags and immediately began leaning over the map of the city to decide what we wanted to do the following day, not because we felt we had to but because we were buzzing to see what the city had to offer.

We decided we would take our time in Vienna because we didn’t want to keep rushing things or our trip would be over before we knew it. Breakfast was included in the price and serves until 10. We made our way down around 9ish to consume tinned fruit (bleurgh), bread and ham and cheese (this seems to be our staple diet at the moment) and instant coffee (bleurgh). But it was included so we ate it and enjoyed it.

Kieran, having had enough of our girl talk, set out on his own path, so we headed over to the Schönbruun on the U-Bahn. The palace is beautiful and walking through the grounds is free. Again, I would recommend taking an architect with you. For lunch we walked to the Nasch Market, a permanent food market. We each bought a small portion of something and shared it amongst each other. We sampled falafel and mango hummus, followed by carrot curry, sushi and tiramisu covered almonds. They were beautiful. The people here are much friendlier than in Italy and the just love the English. One waiter, around the age of 40, decided that he would set his brother up with Chloë and that if Rebec thought that the tender age of 22 (her age) was old, then what must she think of him?

On the map we found an attraction called ‘Dog Shit Boulevard’, so naturally we set out to find it. Unfortunately it was very disappointing, consisting of an ordinary street and three dog poos. We’re still not entirely sure why it was called that on the map but hey ho, we continued our walk through the city. We also saw the art and natural history museums, and the Hofburg, all within walking distance. We also did the ‘Phoebe (from Friends) run‘, which consists of running and flailing your arms above your head, down the sloping approach of a rather fabulous building. It turns out that was where the Austrian parliament sits. Oops. We had a toilet stop in Museums Quartier where we were required to hand over €0,50 and were shown to our cubical by a very friendly woman. We also finished our day by getting caught up in a protest about refugee rights whilst sitting on deck chairs outside what we thought was St Stephen’s Cathedral. There were some beautiful Austrian policemen escorting the protest, and we would have stayed to admire them, only in her excitement, Rebec threw her right arm straight in the air. For fear of being accused of Nazi-ism we scarpered.

Making our way back to the hostel, we had planned to stop off at the supermarket to grab some dinner, only it was shut. We were reduced to attempting to make our dried packet pasta that we purchased in Venice, in the microwave. Rebec and myself purchased a tomato pasta. Only it wasn’t. It had dried prawn and squid in it. Squid. You should not be able to do that to seafood. Needless to say we forfeit our dinner.

On day six Kieran took to the mountains and we took to the city again. We left the hostel about 12ish and hopped on the U-Bahn. We didn’t bother to buy the €2,10 ticket because there are no barriers and no one checks them. STUPID MISTAKE. Plain clothed officers boarded the train. We had tickets from yesterday which we hadn’t validated but still it was so stupid. We were escorted off at the next platform and were told we had to be fined €100 PER PERSON. We managed to play the innocent foreigner card but were still charged €50 each. It was the most idiotic move we could have done. Completely our fault, but that was the equivalent to three nights in a hostel each. We had to pay it and, rather than dwell on it, be thankful it wasn’t €100 each. I wouldn’t recommend not paying to anyone.

We made it to Karlsplatz where we ate our lunch. We also finally found St Stephen’s Cathedral which isn’t that amazing from the outside but stunning on the inside. We also went on the search for Mozart’s house. After walking round in circles for around 15 minutes, we realised we had already walked passed it many times without realising it. Feeling elated that we found it, we swiftly left when there was nothing to do there that was free. After all, we had been fined €50 earlier that day. We headed back to the hostel where Kieran’s brother and his girlfriend, Ryan and Sían, who are also backpacking had arrived. It was nice to see them and compare our trips so far.

Around 8 o’clock we made our way to the Rat Haus (town hall) where the Vienna Film Festival was being held. We treated ourselves to a meal there (Rebec and Em ate kangaroo. They said it was fabulous) and sat down to watch an opera written my Mozart with a bottle of wine. The scenery was beautiful and the opera wasn’t that bad. We were all alive with the experience.

I write whilst on a direct train to Ljubljana, Slovenia. No I didn’t sit on my keyboard, it’s a real place!

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We ate lunch outside the Karlsplatz

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Vienna Film Festival outside the Rathaus

An unexpected night in Venice

Well today was a tad of a stress.

It was our first day using our interrailing tickets so we wanted to get to the station early to make sure we got the right train and use our tickets correctly. We aimed to get the 6:50 train which would get us to Venice for 10:33 and then leave on a train at 15:40 to Slovenia. Well, that was the plan.

We got up at 5 to get to the station in plenty of time. After waiting about 40 minutes, we attempted to board the train which we didn’t realise we had to book. So in a panic we went to reserve seats, but the queues to speak to someone about tickets took too long and we ended up missing it. Although we were frustrated, we weren’t on a tight schedule so we booked ourselves on to the next train which was a hour later for an additional €10. The four hour journey provided a wonderful nap time.

Arriving in Venice, we aimed to immediately book ourselves on the later train to make sure we could get out. After queuing for 20 mins we were told that there were no trains going to the Villach (where we were going to change trains in order to get to Ljubljana) but there was a bus. We queued again to book a bus which we were informed was fully booked. So we asked about tomorrow, which was also fully booked. The panic was rising because Venice doesn’t have very good connections to anywhere and whatever way we tried to adjust our route we still had to go via Villach. The staff at the train station were very unhelpful.

When we asked the woman from the travel agents when it would be possible for us to get the next train to Villach, all we were answered with was “foolah” (Full). Now normally I wouldn’t mock someone’s accent, but this woman spoke to us with a sneer and at one point even asked Em a question, and as Em answered it she put her hand up to stop her mid sentence so she could laugh hysterically with her colleague. She was rude, so it seems okay to mock her accent. An eye for an eye and all that. Also it just adds to the hilarity of the conversation that followed.

We decided to alter our plan and travel to Vienna, Austria. Now before I enlighten you to the next scene of the comedy act, I must inform you that Vienna is also spelt Wien, pronounced ‘Vien’ in German, ‘Wen’ in the Romance languages. Em and myself asked the woman how we could get to Vienna. The woman said “Wien”, we said “yes”. The woman said “Wien”, we said “yes”. The woman said “Wien” and we said “Yes! Wien! Vienna! Sí!” She said “Yes okay! But when?”

After about two hours of stressing, we were able to book ourselves onto a train that leaves tomorrow at 13:34 to Innsbruck in Austria. On a tight budget and wanting to leave Italy, we resided to the fact that we had to stay in Venice. But we were then faced with the prospect of finding somewhere to stay last minute in one of the most expensive cities.

Tourist Information provided us with a list of hostels who we frantically called but none had any room. I was now beginning to understand how Mary felt when she was pregnant with Jesus. The train was our ass and there was no room at the inn. We would’ve been grateful for a stable. We spoke to other backpackers at the station who gave us names of places but they were all fully booked. A Canadian boy-man (later named Trevor Toenails) said he was also looking for somewhere to stay. Instead of helping us out, he just latched on and became an annoying nuisance. In the end, someone at Tourist Information managed to call us a hostel which had room for five at the reasonable price of €25 each-for Venice that’s cheap.

Feeling incredibly grateful, we trekked (and I mean trekked) through the maze that is Venice, boarded a water taxi and then found our way to the place we were going to stay, all the while Trevor Toenails was following us. You know how in the olden days when people used to seek sanctuary in churches? Well for our generation we stick to what we know and our respite came in the form of University Halls. Yes, we stayed in Venice University’s Halls of Residence. And it was luxury. A two storey room with our own shower. Sorted. The only bummer was there was no wifi but we would deal with that later. We needed a break. We ditched Trevor Toenails.

Having to stay in Venice was one of the best things that could have happened. Venice is stunning, affluent and so safe. We visited St Marco’s Square and the Rialto Bridge and envied those who could afford a gondola ride. We made our way through the narrow alleyways which provide the main routes for the Venetians and walked in awe past Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Chanel. We finished our night perfectly with an Italian ice cream – easily the best I have ever tasted.

The other interesting thing about Venice is that the whole island has wifi. If you pay €8 you can have unlimited Internet access across the whole of Venice. But then again, round the corner from the station on the left is a Gelato that has free wifi for customers. So unfortunately we had to buy an ice cream in order to use it…

We have all concluded that we would all return to Venice when we were older, richer and probably in love.

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San Marco’s Basilica at dusk

Rome, pickpockets and passports

Yo yo yo,

We made it to Rome! We had to pay €14 to get from Rome Fiumicino airport to Rome termini station because our interrailing tickets weren’t activated until the 10th.

We met the other three at the Youth Hostel we had prebooked – Hotel Beauty (it wasn’t). Situated around the corner from Roma Termini station and on the second floor, it’s not that bad. We were immediately upgraded to a twin private room. It was nice because we could explode all our stuff, but we were a little secluded from the other travellers. We hung out in the others’ room as they were in a shared room of eight.

As it was our first night of our trip altogether, we treated ourselves to a meal out, and we were accompanied by a cool Australian guy called James who we met at the hostel. It was nice but it was confirmation that Rome was going to hit our pockets hard… We found a fairly decently priced restaurant but we didn’t take into consideration the service charge (which we reckon we might’ve been ripped off for) and not to mention the street sellers. In our meal we were offered music, Psy singing doll (which quite frankly was not even worth a look because it didn’t even dance Gangnam Style) and roses. Kieran made the mistake of buying one when the street seller didn’t leave. He bought one for €1 and then was offered two roses for €3. Anyway, Kieran ended up buying us one each, including James, for €6. It wasn’t the most relaxing meal, but tasted sweet of the success that we’d finally begun our trip.

We ventured through Rome at night, slightly tipsy, to find the Spanish Steps, which were impressive and a nice place to chill. After Kieran and James had performed a few impressive press-ups facing downwards on the steps and we decided against the tequila shots that were going to cost us €5 each and headed over to find the Trevi Fountain.

Rome is beautiful to walk through. You have to be wary of your bag, but Rome is made up of blocks -like America- but the alley ways open up onto squares that are hidden and you wouldn’t know existed. And that’s what happened when we found the Trevi Fountain. It’s in a small square but stunning. A definite must see and I would recommend seeing it at night when it is all lit up. A very romantic sight.

Day two consisted of a rough start. We had to leave our hostel and move across the city to another one as there wasn’t enough room for us to stay another night in Hotel Beauty. With sleep in our eyes and our minds heavy with the alcohol from the night before we set off with our backpacks on our backs and our rucksacks on the front. We had to take the metro. Italy is swelteringly hot normally but underground and donned in all our travelling gear and without breakfast was irritatingly sweaty. The metro is busy and people offering to do anything for you for money. It’s not relaxing. As soon as we entered the metro train, immediately I saw a group of women dart straight for the tourists and begin their swift art of pickpocketing. Rebec, who was wearing her rucksack on her back noticed her bag had been opened and she hit the hand away that was rummaging through her stuff. Slightly spooked and stressed we made it to the next hostel, Happy Days. Once we ventured up the fifteen flights of stairs to the fifth floor we weren’t in best shape.

Happy Days is much livelier than Hotel Beauty and serves free Sangria and Pasta dinner and is cheaper. We were in a room of six, so some poor buggar was left to stay in our room. However, he was a British student from Bristol, who we were convinced was on something. He was later referred to as Stinky Pete. He wasn’t horrible, but lets face it, he was no James.

Rebec couldn’t find her passport. It appeared that the pickpocket had found what she was searching for. Accompanied by Kieran, they set off back to Roma Termini to report the missing passport and to find the British Embassy. The Embassy was closed on the weekends but they were told to return on Monday.

Meanwhile, Em, Clo and myself went for a walk through the city. We visited Castel Sant’ Angelo, walked across Pont Sant’ Angelo. After stopping for lunch via Carrefore, we visited the Piazza Novena (pretty but unforgiving in the midday sun as there is no shade.) The Pantheon is also worth a visit, and I would recommend taking an architect with you (Em) because she’s very useful in describing how the dome shaped roof survives with the massive hole in it. (Whilst walking through Rome, at one point Emily did mutter the words “ooh check out those columns”. We don’t judge, it’s whatever works for her I guess).

Whilst there we received a call from the other two. In true Rebecca Harris style, she’d found her passport in her bag… But anyway, with the stress of the missing passport no longer with us, we met the others at the Vatican.

The queue was long but fast moving and you have to have your shoulders and knees covered up, but it is definitely worth seeing. The grandeur is incredible and the decor is almost daunting. We weren’t able to see the Sistine Chapel because we were too late but it is still a good activity and free.

After crashing back at the hostel for a bit, we went back out on the metro at night to see the Colosseum. It is beautiful. I would recommend seeing it at night because of the way it is illuminated. I’m a bit gutted that we weren’t able to go inside, but hey ho, time to move on! Early train to Venice for the day tomorrow and then on to Ljubljana in the evening.

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Trevi Fountain

La Romieu, shoes and au revior

Packing again, but you’ll be pleased to know that it was a lot less traumatic this time round, partly because it was just a case of repacking. Although I did pack all my underwear and spent 10 mins unpacking it all to retrieve a pair to wear today. My bad.

I offer an explanation to the word ‘shoes’ in the heading of this post. Since being here, Chloë and myself have lived by the ethos ‘do we really need to buy this? or is a night in a hostel more worth our money?’ So far, it’s worked out well, until the other day when I sacrificed a night in a hostel for a pair of shoes. They’re the kind of shoes that every girl needs to take travelling: a pair of bright orange wedges. I jest, I’m not actually taking them, but seriously they’re gorgeous. Only I would purchase a pair of massively impractical shoes before I go backpacking.

Another thing I forgot to mention before was the ‘travelling God bracelet’. It’s a wooden bracelet I purchased in Chile in 2010 and Max, Clo and myself have tried to take it to as many interesting places as possible. It’s been to Chile, Swaziland, Lanzarote, Paris, Glastonbury Fest etc. So you might see it in the pictures!

I’ve spent the last 9 days here in the small village I feel like I’ve spent half of my childhood in. I have been coming to Le Camp de Florence since I can remember – 10 years? Maybe a bit more, a bit less – and it’s a place where I grew up. Here, age is regardless, as is nationality. We all just ‘hang out’ in the same ways we did when we were eight years old. Siblings from the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Belgium and the UK come together to form a very sociable group of friends, considering La Romieu is in the middle of nowhere. It’s safe. It’s a second home.

But now it’s time to pack up and leave. We’ve got our backpacks on (after another packing session. My mother has always referred to me as messy. I’ve always believed that my ability to convert a respectable room into my own personal wardrobe is a gift rather than a nuisance. But seriously, I’ve noticed how annoying it is when it comes to rounding up the troops into one backpack. It turns out, I am, as my mother has always said, annoying.)

I write to you from Toulouse airport. It’s the airport I have always flown to or from when journeying from one home to another, to-and-froing from France to England, trying to make use of my opportunities both in the UK and in France. But today I fly to Rome. Today I fly to the unknown.

I am so excited.

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These are the shoes every girl needs to take travelling…

Chantilly

Chantilly – pronounced Shont-y-ee. I found that out when I asked for a train ticket from Paris to Chantilly in French, but with the most English accent ever. Needless to say, I sounded like a boob.

I made my way from Tours (where my mum dropped me off at the station) to Paris and then Paris to Chantilly. Word of advice, print off a metro map before you start your journey because they don’t have maps in abundance at the stations. The metro is dead easy to use. My direct line was closed but it was simple enough to jump on another line and change elsewhere.

I stayed in Chantilly avec my pal who is au pairing there. We chilled for the few days I was there as she still had to work, but we visited the Château which was stunning. However, it did rain and was quite chilly.

Making my way from Chantilly to Agen (to meet the rest of my family who are holidaying near there) was a little bit trickier. No, not trickier, more expensive… French trains don’t run as frequently as they do in England, so always look up your journey beforehand. Where the train may run every hour at home, here they run when they are most needed. Another word of advice: book your long trains in advance. I wasn’t entirely sure which train I needed to get but I thought I was guaranteed a ticket even if I turned up on the day. Thankfully, I was able to get on the train I was aiming for, but the lady behind the desk did tell me that all the seats were booked, but I could get on the train if I didn’t mind the seats in the area where the doors are. Of course I didn’t mind. Travelling on trains in the UK doesn’t guarantee a seat on the journey.

Well I made the five hour train journey and am now bronzing up in my favourite holiday place in La Romieu.

Speak laters.

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Packing

I find packing one of the most traumatic aspects of going abroad. You may think that is the opinion of a spoilt brat and I totally agree. First world problems eh? This part of the trip requires a high amount of organisational skills which I do not possess, or more accurately, I can’t be bothered to possess. Chloë is the list writer. I’m lazy.

My backpack is filled with summer clothes, but I can’t guarantee I have packed anything useful. My holiday almost always begins with a trip to the local supermarket to purchase some underwear or socks which I inevitably forgot to pack. One year I ended up wearing my uncle’s jeans because it rained the whole holiday and I had only prepared for the sun. I know full well I haven’t packed a cardigan, which I know most of you will understand the usefulness of a cardigan. For instance, a cardigan can be scrunched up and put into a day bag and can be used to protect you from the cold weather at any time. My cardigan wasn’t in front of my face when packing, so I simply struck it from my list.

However, my organisational skills do stretch in other ways where Chloë’s do not. I dealt with the paper work. Here’s a list of important things travellers need to take and prepare for in advance:

. Passport. It’s obvious but photocopy it a couple of times and take the copies with you. If it gets stolen or you loose it you the haven copy to present to the English Embassy
. Print off all boarding passes at home so you don’t get charged for printing it in a cafe or something
. Print all booking references for pre booked hostels
. Change up some of your money before hand in order to avoid cash withdrawal charges abroad
. Budget. You don’t have to know exactly how much money you’ll need for each country, just a rough idea. You don’t want to skimp in cities that you didn’t need to, and vice versa, you don’t want to blow all your money in one place and not afford others
. Even though its sunny, take a scarf or shawl so you can cover up bare skin, like your shoulders, when visiting religious places!

I’m sure there’s plenty of more things to take, so I’ll let you know what important things I’ve forgotten. I’m at Folkestone now about to board the Channel Tunnel, so speak to you on the other side!

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Above is Clo’s packing, the bottom is mine. Make of it as you will…

One week today!

In case y’all didn’t know, I’m celebrating my last ‘summer holiday’ in style: I’m heading out of the country for 38 days – that’s five weeks and three days or 2,280 hours – whichever you may prefer.

I’m going to document my travels here, so you can keep up to date with all that is going on (and also because it’s easier than writing individual emails – just sayin’. I love you all, even the ones of you I don’t know, but I don’t want to spend the whole time telling you all individually…).

This is an indication of what I’m doing, who with and where.

Firstly, my sister Chloë and myself are heading to France with the old parents (sorry Mum and Dad, you’re not old really). When we get nearish Paris, I’m getting dropped off at a station and heading to see my pal in Chantilly. After a few days I’m getting the train from Paris to Agen to meet up with my family again to enjoy a lush week and a bit in Condom (I kid you not) in the South of France. Then on the 9th August, Clo and myself will be flying to Rome to meet the rest of the crew Edenbridge masseev.

In true ‘Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents’ style, I’ll introduce you to ‘the gang’. We have Clo, my 18-year-old sister who has completed the International Baccalaureate (ooer) and knows she’s going to Leeds University in September and who has already enjoyed a week in Malia. Emily, 20, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year, so she’s pro with a backpack. Rebecca (also known as Rebec) is 22, Emily’s sister and is currently on her second summer at Camp America in Massachusetts. She’s going home for a few days before flying to Rome. She has also purchased a backpack with wheels “which will make everyone else jealous because she can wheel it along when everyone else’s backs hurt.” Then there’s Kieran. ‘The boy’. His hopes are that he meets another boy en route so he can have some ‘guy time’. He’s not gay.

We are all students so this is inter railing on the cheap. Well, we say cheap but we’re not camping… But still, you get the gist.

Our itinerary is loose. We’ve booked a couple of night’s stay in Rome and a couple of night’s in Amsterdam, but the rest is as we go. This bit is for Kieran’s mum who has no idea where her son is heading: The route so far consists of Rome (Italy), Venice (Italy), Ljubljana (Slovenia), Bled (Slovenia), Vienna (Austria), Budapest (Hungary), Kraków (Poland), Warsaw (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), Berlin (Germany) and finishing in Amsterdam (Netherlands).

I can’t wait. All we have to do now is pack!