It began with a longing to visit places I had never been to. Curious about the obvious historical, cultural influences on each place. Europe. After doing a bit of research I stumbled upon an advert on a bus stop, "Europe Summer Expo". I had to go. After deciding on a few (actually 13) countries that I sort of wanted to see, I roamed around the expo and stumbled across the Student Flights stand greeted by "Leisa". We chatted and discussed a few options and finally decided on "The Grand European". 28 days, 13 countries - London, Paris, Lauterbrunnen, Avignon, Pont Du Gard, Barcelona, Nice (French Riviera), Monaco, Pisa, Florence (of Italia), Rome, Vatican, Venice, Postojna Caves, Pag Island (off the coast of Croatia), Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Kirchdorf, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Amsterdam, Brugge and back to London. Truly epic.
Day 1. Brisbane to London via Hong Kong.
Up early and ready to go. Having pre-packed (if that's even a thing), I disrupted my roomies slumber by sms. Wake up, it's go time. Arriving with enough time to spare at Brisbane International Airport, luggage checked, passport checked. Waiting for the first flight. A first flight ever leaving Australia #achievementunlocked
Arriving in Hong Kong at around 5:30pm, my connecting flight to Heathrow not departing until 11:30pm - ish. Overwhelmed with tiredness and being in a foreign country, I wandered aimlessly for a bit and finally found the ticket concierge (as I only had a ticket to Hong Kong). Got my ticket for the final leg, I found passport check and continued. Not knowing my gate I was constantly checking the timetable to see when my gate would be announced. Food, basically I went for the simple option of a sandwich. How boring, I know. After eating I felt like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal". People watching and checking Facebook and Instagram seemed like priorities and of course people watching.
All of the people. Who most of which sported the latest Nikes #funfact. This later backed up by my return trip through Hong Kong en route to Brisbane.
Day 1 > 2.
Time to go, the final leg. Another lengthy plane ride, filled with engine hum and a selection of music and music to both amuse and perhaps even bemuse one's self. Rise & shine I arrive in Heathrow. Made it.
Day 2. Viva La London.
Immigration, etcetera etcetera etcetera. Each leg of the journey so far, being a completely different and new experience. All travel, much amaze. After gathering my sundries, I headed out into the main bit where the countless picker-upers awaited their arrivals, I aimed my sights towards the train. After figuring out where I had to go / be (sleep deprived and confused of what time it actually was), I jump on a train bound for London town. Meeting a fellow chazwallop traveler from the Gold Coast "Chuck" we'll call him. We chatted about home and our travels. He was bound for Europe via Contiki, I was with TopDeck.
I eventually got off at Liverpool. Seemed the easiest option (probably not after I realised I had to lug my luggage around with limited abilities and a few directions from locals (some of which proved to be usefully useful.)
After getting out onto the street, getting my bearings I was off. Greeted by the greyish London sky, I set off to find my abode for the night "Wombats" Backpackers on Dock Street. Arriving around 9am I was a bit early. So I dumped the great weight of my suitcase and set off exploring, let's just say Chuck Taylors and jeans were a bad idea, much like milk. Note to self, summer can actually be summer even in London and on a grey day. Nikes and shorts would have been more suited to the summer climate. #travelhottip
Wandering the streets for a bit, on the south side of the Thames, looking some not-so touristy areas, I get (another sandwich) for lunch and return to my abode and check in for the night. Bumping into my main man "Z" and American who after a bit of a chat discovered would be joining me on my TopDeck tour! Hoorah!
I finally get to see my temp bed, chat with a dude from California doing some travel, he heads off, I shower, then crash. Again meeting some fellow travellers from Australia. A couple "Bill and Mary", who I discover were heading off another TopDeck tour for 49 days! Outstanding :). We decided dinner was a good idea and head down to the kitchen for meal time and chats. Then to the bar "Wombat" as it's appropriately named, a few drinks, laughs and chats with other backpackers, then hit the hay like a horse.
Day 3. Paris.
Mustered early morn in the reception, 2 groups of TopDeckers, meeting our fearless leader "Sarah" #besttlever. An ex-pat from the land of promise - Australia and a Brisbaner too! 2 stones, 1 bird? "Let's get this road on the show!" After packing the bus with a very prompt and proper local bus driver "Bob". We head off to Dover, a cool morning, with the sun shining and was certain of birds singing "Mary Poppins" somewhere.
I don't normally forget breakfast but when I do I often make up for it. The bus ride we each had a bit of an opportunity to chat and meet a few of our fellow travellers. I sat nigh Rachel and Courtney, 2 Kiwi girls. Rachel a teacher in the UK and Courtney who worked on a contract basis with WETA Workshop! Arriving in Dover, we farewelled "Bob" and mustered into the shop for chow and brewed beverages. With more opportunities to meet and chat.
Final Call! Time to get on a boat! Gathering outside and regular head counts, of which all were, we boarded out boat which would ferry us across the divide that is The Channel. The ferry was roomy and well catered for, including a pub or 3. Some of deciding 10am was an excellent time for a drink! Like any good sailor would.
A viva la France! We arrived in Calais and meet our new Bus Driver "Tim". "I just drive the bus", a crazy Irishmen, who would provide the occasional dad joke, chilled beats and on point driving like a boss. With our personal belongings packed onto the bus, we head to Paris. A bit of chatting, some snoozing, we enter Paris, the city of lights and love.
A marvellous city, full of history, food, architecture and all of the culture. The Eiffel Tower is spectacular, the museums are wondrous, the streets are tidy.
On the bus into Paris we started with a driving tour of the city and came across this view. A quick snap peering through the massive windshield of the bus.
Day 4. With our first night in Paris, staying at a backpacker close to the city, perfect the following day for setting off and exploring. Getting around on foot is fine, provided you drink lots of water (hot summer days in Europe), good comfortable shoes and appropriate summer attire. After wandering about and seeing some sights including a famous church on a hill and Musée D'Orsây (blown away). A bunch of us meet up for a bike tour, more seeing of sights and drink on the way!
Following the bike tour most of the group gather for a picnic dinner in the park in view of the Eiffel Tower. Then it's time to party, in traditional french culture. A live show, drinks and more drinks. A long night haha!
Day 5. Switzerland / Lauterbrunnen.
An early morning waking just in time for the bus... 7:30am. I don't always party in Paris, but when I do, I don't remember half of the night. Check out, on the bus and we're off. This is going to get crazy, country and city hopping. Adventure! The countryside as we head into Lauterbrunnen nestled amongst the spectacularly snow-capped Swiss Alps was so much amaze. So mountain much amaze. Lauterbrunnen is now one of my most favourite places on the earth. A little tourist town nestled amongst the mountains.
Arriving in Lauterbrunnen, we chilled for a bit, then we each had our fill of Swiss food camp style. #ivehadagutfull Then roaming the streets into the night, enjoying the fresh mountain air and sparkly clear cold mountain water running a stream into town.
Day 6. Mountain Time - Jungfrau.
A small group of us headed up the mountain to Jungfrau, approx 3+kms above sea level, accessible via mountain train. Other adventurous types went skydiving, others mountain biked around town.
'The Jungfrau is one of the main summits of the Bernese Alps, located between the southern canton of Bern and the northern canton of Valais, halfway between Interlaken and Fiesch. The views were absolutely spectacular, one of my favourite experiences and photographs of mountains.' Wikipedia reference.
Another night in Switzerland and then south onto Barcelona via Pont Du Gard and Avignon in the south of France. A few of us decided to go for a walk and found ourselves at the local. Which had wifi. Facebook / Instagram updates abound. I'll have a coke, thanks. Met a dude from Dusseldorf Germany who moved to Lauterbrunnen in search of a new life, tired of the everyday mundane greyness. Summer and winter sports equal year round coverage. Perfect. Also another dude from California who was working on some footage from the day's skydive. Great job, great lifestyle. Wonderful spot in the world.
Day 7 Pont Du Gard + Avignon.
Pont Du Gard an ancient Roman aqueduct, still in not quite working order but a wonder to see anyway. 'The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in the south of France. Located near the town of Vers-Pont-du-Gard, the bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometer system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes).' Wikipedia reference.
A short stop en route to Avignon. With some of the locals (birds).
Avignon, a medieval town in the south of France, a short 1 night stop-over on the road to Spain / Barcelona. Wandering through town admiring the very old buildings mixed with some not-so old buildings and of course the people, modern touches of the 20th / 21st century fashion brands, convenient stores, ATMs and lots of tourists. I wonder what it was like back in the early days. Reminded me Assassins Creed, the computer game.
After wandering and taking photos, I met up with some of my fellow travellers and we found a restaurant. Having some French, Italian, a bit of German tastes on offer, I had grilled Bream. Getting use to the idea that dinner at 10pm is a common thing. Take note Brisbane!
Day 8. Barcelona
On the bus from Avignon onwards to Barcelona (Bah-seh-loa-na). Heading into Barcelona we spotted the local equivalent of the Gherkin from London, not quite the same, but almost! Driving through the streets and noting the difference in architecture from city to city. Of course later we come across the famous 'La Sagrada Familia' which was still under construction. Designed by the famous Antoni 'Gaudi'. With quite a unique style, the Spanish Catalan architect with flavours of his work stamped around the city.
Spending 2 nights and 1 full day, just enough to explore and see some selected sights. Me of course in search of something a little different. Exploring the city a bit more and then in the evening it was party time. The night started with dinner at a local restaurant with lots of Sangria... followed by a traditional Spanish 'Flamenco' show and then we hit a club on the beach. With the usual doof doof and unce unce unce.
Day 9. Wandering and seeing some different sites with Caitlin, we visited some Gaudi Architectures, a famous garden and attempted bad / limited Spanish eating lunch at a small bakery. Mmmmm.
On the final night in Barcelona, tapas were on the menu. After dinner I went walk-about in town, snapping a few photos of Barcelona night time.
Day 10. French Riviera/ Nice and Monaco
The next day most of us rose early enough for breakfast. And then with the bus packed we headed to Nice. Which I must say quite nice. Situated in the southern France, an old town with modern touches like most other cities.
The first night we had dinner at a local restaurant, coupled with another TopDeck group with plenty of food and that of some who decided to hunt and gather their own tucker. Following this we headed to a pub down the road a bit, with plenty of drinks, dancing and generally frivolous behaviour.
Day 11. After a bit of sleep-in the next day I wandered down the main street. Reminding me of a Hollywood set. With touches of old and new and a Tram Line which travelled most of the way.
Heading to the sea, to see what I could sea. I was wanting to get a birds eye view, so after seeing a Facebook post from a fellow traveller I headed to the lookout.
That afternoon / early evening we head into Monaco! Dressed to impress and most heading into the Casino De Monte Carlo, I opted to go wandering with my camera. Next time I must pack a tripod. Shooting cinematic styled stills film, this is what I got.
The first image of the harbour, when we first arrived. Normally it's recommended to use a filter to correct the tungsten white balance to daylight colour temperature but as I didn't have one, the result is actually quite nice. Shot at 1600, I had to compensate for the level of sensitivity by decreasing the aperture to f/22.
The second shot, as steady as it goes of the Casino. Love the colours from both! Monaco, with it's high rollers and fancy cars racing the streets.
Day 12. Florence of Italia via Pisa (some leaning tower thingo)
Popular with the tourists and the usual cliché photo opportunities. I decided that the tower needed an extension and straightening.
Continuing onto Florence we checked into our campsite which we would call home for the next 2 nights. I managed to to score a cabin to myself for the 3 cities we were staying in Italy. Dinner, greeted us with enough pizza, pasta and red wine to feed a fleet.
Day 13. Florence day trip. Into the town of Florence we headed, seeing the sites, admiring the ancient architecture, enjoying the culture of Italy. Gelateria De Neri. Amazing. It had to be done.
More glorious food, followed by another 'street' party with the gang. Tonight we engaged in some drinking games...
Day 14. To Rome! Via Orvieto, City on a hill.
Up on the choo choo, we were greeted by the ancient town of Orvieto. Recommended food stop for some wild boar on bread at a local baker / butcher. Look for the boar head outside ;). For 5Euro, it was pretty good!
And then onto Roma! We arrive in Rome later that afternoon. With a brief guided tour of the city, we got our bearings with the local public transportation - the train. Once we hoped off, down a side alley and into some main square.
Day 15. The next day in small groups we headed back into town and did some more seeing of sites. The Colosseum being one of the highlights. Such an iconic structure! Amazing architecture and building methods for that time. And how it has (mostly) lasted the test of time.
Day 16. Venice via the Vatican.
Early morning we head back into Rome for 1 final hoorah and see if the Pope was home. Although the Pope was unable to catch up for tea, we were permitted to have a look around his house.
And then onto Venice.
Day 17. Venice
We arrive the night before with our last city in Italy, the most coverage of any country on our trip. On the bus and dropped off at the Bonefied Electrified 6 Car Monorail (actually only about 2...). Over the water and into Venice. Guided by our Fearless Tour Leader Sarah, we navigate through the labyrinth of bridges and buildings, hoping not to run into any Minotaurs. Some cultural delights and then with a time to get the bus back, I joined a small group, first up was lunch. Pizza of course, stupid question. And then Masquerade mask shopping. And plenty of iconic site seeing / photo taking for good measure.
I don't always go to Venice, but when I do I only shoot black & white.
Day 18. Pag Island via Postojna Cave
En route to Pag Island (off the coast of Croatia), we had a short stop at the Postojna Cave. A 24,120 m long karst cave system near Postojna, southwestern Slovenia. Cold, intriguing and mystifying. A popular place for tourists. Curious about how it all forms over such a long period of time. And the amazing creature 'Olm' or Cave Salamander. Cave Dragon more like it.
Days 19, 20 / 21. Afterwards it was across the sea via ferry to Pag Island. With gloomy weather setting in, felt a bit like Far North Qld in the wet season. Off the bus, braving the downpour we made it to our accommodation for the next 3 nights. Although I didn't really get up to much, I managed a couple of spectacular landscape photographs.
Day 21. Ljubljana Slovenia.
A brief 1 night stay at a Packerback in the main city area. A smallish city with and interesting past. As most European cities do. With lots of stories to tell, it has facets of the old and new.
Day 22. Kirchdorf, Tyrol in Austria + Lake Bled in Slovenia.
A big day ahead, first off is a trip to the glorious Lake Bled in Slovenia. Dropped off on one side, with a lovely stroll around the lake on the most perfect Summers day.
Arriving in Austria we check into our Gasthof for the night. Followed by a bbq with lots of wonderful food.
Day 23. A day of not much at all really. I set off to a nearby paddock and got a couple of scenic photos.
One of the highlights of the day, venturing into town, buying some chocolate and speaking German with the lady clerk. Danke, auf wiedersehen.
Day 24. Onto Prague via Mauthausen.
Being in the camp, I got a better perspective of the conditions, the atmosphere of a terrible thing that happened some time ago. The stories, the history.
Entering into Prague, we stopped briefly at the large shopping centre just outside of the main city. Currency was interesting as I withdrew 500 of the local currency, realising that it wasn't much at all. The nights festivities included dinner at a local restaurant. I and Rachel and Courtney opted to head back to the hostel . Others headed out for some night time action.
Day 25. Prague wander.
I set off at a sensible hour in search of all kinds of wondrous spots. After working out how to use 'Crows Flight' I managed to navigate around the city quite easily. Armed with 2 cameras, I ventured through the city and got some amazing photos and into the evening as well.
After searching around for some more film, I finally stumbled across a small tourist shop and paid a truckload for 2 rolls of Kodak Color 200. Later on I found a camera shop with all of the cameras from digital to film. Plus a a range of film! So bought 2 more rolls. Then discovered another camera store stocked with some very nice cameras, lens and motion picture cameras. resisted.
Day 26 Dresden and then Berlin.
On our way too Berlin we made a brief lunch stop in Dresden. Baring some scars from WW2, and parts rebuilt. Love the architecture in this city.
We arrive early evening with a driving / walking tour of the city. Followed by dinner in the hostel restaurant.
Day 27. Berlin roam.
With an early start walking tour, some highlights and history of Berlin, I then wandered off and headed to the Hauptbahnhopf for lunch. Ordering in my limited German speaking abilities, I got a baguette with meat and cheese. Very German of me. Whilst at the station I took a few snaps.
Wandering the streets and admiring the scenery. And architecture too of course.
Later that day and into the night I ventured up the Fernsehturm (tower) from the old days of Soviet rule post WW2. The views were spectacular.
Day 28. Onto Amsterdam.
On the bus with a huff n puff onto Amsterdam in Holland. Amazing cit, actually what a journey it had been. So many new experiences, so many photos. After visiting a small farm outside of the city for clog and cheese demo, we continue into the city and check in. Followed a by a walking tour of the city and takeaway.
Day 29. Walkabout Amsterdam
Walking about the city with early morning rain, clearing to a glorious day. I wandered about 3-4 kms and found some amazing architecture *as expected.
Finding lunch was easy, at Lombardo's.
Day 30. Back to London via Brugge (Belgium).
A quaint little medieval town with it's roots dating back to the 11th century.
From Brugge we head to Calais for one final ferry ride and then back to London. Arriving around 8:30pm due to a few delays we arrive back at Wombats for one final night.
Day 31. Home time.
Bumping into fellow traveller Jess, I accompanied her to the shop, then joined her for breakfast. Chatting and reflecting over the trip, I said goodbye and then got a train bound for Heathrow. Repeat Hong Kong in reverse.
Wowzers. What an experience. New places, new friends. And now I look forward to my next adventure o'seas. Info about my Solo Exhibition here.