11 weeks. 11 countries. 50 croissants (rough estimate).
If I were to look at the European itinerary I just completed before I set out on it, I would have been like “hahahahahaa no. Too lazy, did not travel.” Yet here we are, at the start of my second highlight reel article. (The first being about South East Asia which you can read here.)
UNITED KINGDOM – 25/04/16 – 28/05/16
My European travel virginity popped as I taxied through the night to Egham, about 5 minutes from where Simon Cowell, Sir Elton, and the Queen live. All the houses looked like Harry Potter’s muggle residence.
I have written about London already, how it’s very similar to Auckland, also my conversations with travellers and Syrians, plus a review of the Lion King at the West End. I have not written about my tattoo I got there, which I’ll do now: it’s big, it hurt, and it was expensive. (That’s what she said?)
London was of course about the music. Filming videos, doing open mic nights, and making this track.
– Binge-watching Game of Thrones. I went from S1E1, to completely up to date
– The people! Staying with Jack, Jono, Erena and Jonathan, working with TJ, meeting up with Gavin, and hitting the park with Jacob. Thank-you again for making my stay so wicked
– Snickers ice-cream. Why have we only been introduced now?
– Not being there during Brexit to make the most of the weak pound
Playing at an open mic in Kingston where most of the audience had instruments too. Someone ran up on stage and played the drums for me once I started, while everyone else was singing and collectively contributing. It went down very well, and was another example of music bringing people together.
FRANCE – 28/05/16 – 6/6/16
Except for my significant lack of dragons, I felt like Daenerys finally on her ships as I crossed the ferry to the mainland of Europe. After so much build-up, the moment had arrived.
To avoid repeating myself check the London to Rome by bus article I wrote. To summarise: it was raining, I had the best birthday ever in Nice, and ate a lot of bread. Like a hammock of bread. Possibly a cauldron of bread.
– The Louvre. Please go to the Louvre if you ever get the chance. If I had energy I would have stayed all day
– Listening to a busker sing ‘Imagine’ on the stairs of the Sacré-Cœur – singing for world peace
– Attending the French Open in Paris, plus watching the final in Nice on my birthday
–The catacombs. A two hour wait in the rain for stairs and skulls. Yes the history was interesting but mate I’ve seen plenty of skulls at the killing fields in Cambodia. It really didn’t do it for me.
When I tried to shave my beard but it was taking too long so I had to leave it half-finished to not miss the tennis. I have the horrendous photo, ask me in person and I’ll show it to you. (Not putting that photo out there for blackmail prevention reasons.)
ITALY – 06/06/16 – 15/06/16 (+ Vatican City technically…)
(Also see London to Rome by Bus for more on Italy.)
Alas the top of my bucket list. The place I used to drop the little orange man on google maps and just virtually walk around when I was lusting for wander pre-trip. To my surprise, it didn’t disappoint.
The Vatican was amazing but the museum tour with the Sistine Chapel was the most packed attraction I’ve done on my trip. Some of the tourists were particularly without etiquette, stopping in the doorway to take photos while hundreds of people behind them continued to walk forward. I was ready for some silence after that.
– The Colosseum. I can’t believe the tip top of my bucket list exceeded my expectations
– Driving down the coast. Dam stunning
– Pasta in Milan
– Accidentally paying $16NZD for an ice-cream in Florence. Like a one scoop. Dam rip-off artists.
OK my friend Andrew and I stumbled across this random swing-dance session at night in Florence. There were a few couples dancing really well together, and we watched for a bit.
Naturally we were discussing what we were seeing, trying to keep it quiet, before this old weird drunk Italian dude completely shushed us. He tried to shoo us away like pigeons. We thought that was rude, so we tried to throw our ice-cream wrapper into his drink. It was an open glass of whiskey next to him. He chased us down the street, for quite some time actually. We started by briskly walking away which turned into a run. I had to pick my jandals off my feet to get away. Quite silly for all involved but still a fun experience.
HUNGARY – 15/06/16 – 18/06/16
I flew to Budapest to kick-off my Eastern European trip. After pretty full-on travel since ‘leaving the UK’ (oooh unintentional Brexit joke) I was tired in Budapest. I couldn’t particularly get my swag on in the ruin bars.
Still the famous baths were pretty cool, the parliament was pretty, and the people were fun so it was far from bad.
– 40 degree pool at the Budapest baths
– Watching the Euro football game at the hostel bar with a bunch of Frenchman
– Jewish street food! Ate there every night
–Being super tired from travelling intensely
– Getting up at 5am for my bus
Walking back from the club at 4am with these super dodgy dudes following us and loitering with intent, while my friends were drunk and mucking around. It felt like it was going to get ugly but we got out of there aiight.
AUSTRIA – 18/06/16 – 22/06/16
I ventured to Vienna to see my buddy Injoo, and her new husband. We went to the zoo, the opera, and a castle that looked like Winterfell. It’s essential to mix up hostels with friends or hotels or just something that isn’t hostels. It takes a lot of energy to constantly do the hostel thing.
– The polar bears at the zoo were so cool!
– Seeing a full-on opera at the beautiful opera house. It was in Italian but we had little screens with subtitles. It was a wonderful experience
– Playing football in the park with the Austrian community of my old church
– Walking with all my bags in the hot sun for about an hour. Shoulda gone balla and got a taxi
The fire in our hostel! Electrics at the base of the stairs just sparked up, so we were all filling up pots and pans from the kitchen to get it out. Upstairs there was so much smoke, and someone was sleeping so they were shaken when they woke up. The place stunk of smoke for hours.
SLOVAKIA – 22/06/16 – 25/06/16
I headed for the mountains after getting sick of cities and nice churches. I ended up in Liptovsky Mikulas, the obvious inspiration behind Guns n Roses’ ‘Paradise City’, as the grass was green, and the girls were pretty (although didn’t speak any English.)
I’ve already written a detailed description of my hike along with a crap ton of photos. Long story short it was absolutely gorgeous, I got lost twice so the hike actually took me two attempts, and I got rained on super ridiculously hard.
– Finally finding the start of the hike after hours of being lost, knowing I’ll nail it the next day
– Making it to the top. OMG I am so unfit now that I exiled my mildly healthy lifestyle. It felt like I won Wimbeldon when I made it
– Having a hotel room to myself, since accommodation was cheap enough
– Getting lost. Twice.
– Walking 4km into town in the 12pm summer heat after giving up on the hike day one because I got lost
– Thinking I was going to see a bear
When I was lost and was retracing my steps, I ended up a bit higher along the mountain then I planned. So I had to head down, but ended up slipping pretty far on the leaves down the slope. I stayed calm but I fell quite a bit. I felt like Sam in LOTR: The Two Towers, when he’s at the Black Gate and they almost get snapped.
POLAND – 25/06/16 – 01/07/16
Poland appealed to me for two very different reasons: WW2 history, and Polish girls. Both were very interesting, and were like nothing I’d seen before. I started in Krakow, where I visited Auschwitz. This was the last sombre place I was to visit, having already been to the Cambodian killing fields, the graphic war museums in Vietnam, Hiroshima, and some London war memorials.
The weirdest thing about Auschwitz is how eerily beautiful it is. It’s set among the forest, with the trees in the background, and the infamous brick building that over a million people came through in trains to be murdered. As someone who would have been killed there if I was born in that era, I felt incredibly lucky to have walked in and out on my own terms so leisurely.
The last gas chamber still standing at the camp was easily the heaviest part. As soon as I entered I could hear the screams that would have ensued once everyone figured out what was happening. Apparently the gas takes 15 minutes, and I just can’t imagine how terrifying those must have been.
The main massive gas chambers were all destroyed but the ruins are still there. We saw a Jewish memorial service at the base of one; there were about twenty or so Jewish people singing and laying flowers on the ruins. It was very moving.
The most intense thing I heard was the story about some Jews escaping, so the Nazis decided to murder 10 random Jews via isolation and starvation as an example. One man was selected, and was later found crying by a priest because he was to never see his family again. The priest asked the Nazis if he could take his place, which they allowed. The priest died an awful death, while the man lived and ended up surviving the death camp.
Anyway I was very moved by the place so I wanted to explain a little about it. The rest of Poland was great. The food, people, beer, and prices were all fantastic.
– Jumping on the bandwagon and watching Poland vs Portugal with thousands of screaming Polish people
– Watching the Game of Thrones finale with other shocked hostel-goers
– Meeting a professional wrestler (not the Olympic kind, the WWE kind) who proceeded to use me as a test dummy for his moves after a few beers
– Some of the walking tours were super boring. Some were great, but we did so many for some reason
When Poland scored two minutes into the game. We were watching on the beach, on the big screens with so many other crazy screaming Polish. Two flares were lit up when we scored. Just like that’s a normal thing that happens.
BELGIUM – 01/07/16 – 04/07/16
When you are faced with a decision to go to a festival, if it’s within budget and you have the time, just commit. I was up the front for all these incredible acts: James Bay, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Macklemore, and Florence. I was right in Macklemore’s face when he was crowd-surfing, which you’ll most likely see in my GoPro movie I’ll edit together when I get home. At this rate it’s going to be about four hours long.
– The amazing Unknown Mortal Orchestra played my favourite song
– Climbing the Bell Tower in ‘fooking’ Bruges
– Dancing to Florence with my new friends from Belgium
–Missing Tame Impala and the Chilli Peppers because I decided not to go that day
After the last act, people were trying to start fires with the rubbish. If the fire got big enough, a bunch of people would encircle it, so when the fire volunteers came to put it out, they would do their best to block them from doing so, while chanting, “Defence! Defence!” There were dozens of fire circles; It turned into a big, hilarious, surprisingly aggressive game.
THE NETHERLANDS 04/07/16 – 06/07/16
I went to Rotterdam to drink beer, eat Kit-Kats, and recover.
SPAIN – 06/06/16 – 12/06/16
Finally the last place to visit, and the most important as I went to see my bro Bazza graduate from his masters course from hell. Poor bastard was in the library for a year and barely saw the city.
The six days I spent there felt like one because my sleep was all over the place. I’d have Siestas, then wake up for a few drinks, stay out till 5am, sleep till 11am etc. It was basically sleep when you are tired.
I was amazed at the drinking culture there. They are super chill, don’t get too drunk, and just lax out playing guitar and chatting. I wondered where all the fights outside Burger King were. Cultural differences are hard to understand sometimes.
– The sunset atop the bunkers. What a view
– The bigass church was a pretty cool bigass church. Considering I’ve seen a bigass church in practically every European city, I was still impressed
– Watching 21 & 22 Jump Street night after night. Sometimes went you’ve spent the last 11 weeks travelling you need to chill
–Just a bit too sticky-hot, but what do you expect during the Catalan Summer
Some guy slapped my ass so super hard at the bar, and I was pretty weirded out. Ladies, I don’t feel your pain but yeah nah it’s not right. Not a nice way to make a first impression.
The last 11 weeks have been dope as hell, and utterly tiring. I saw cities that were completely flattened 70 years ago and rebuilt, as well as ancient ruins thousands of years old, still standing. I danced alongside 70,000 others into the next morning, and also experienced complete silence as the rain fell on the Slovakian mountainside. I’ve met hundreds of new mates who I shared drinks with at the hostel, along with a few dickheads who turned the light on at 5am. I wish very mild inconveniences upon them.
I don’t know when I’ll be back to Europe. It’s pretty dam far from home but I feel I’ve seen a real good chunk of it and I’m satisfied with what I’ve seen. I now begin exploring a third continent, one I’ve seen a bit before. I’m writing this at my relative’s country house on a lake about an hour out of Montreal, Canada.
One journey ends, another begins, while the year of my life continues.