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Oh how time flies when you're hopping between countries and having the time if your life. I'm not even sure where to start with this post, it's been so long! I cannot believe two and a half months have already passed and that I'll be going home in less than a month. I never want it to end! But at the same time, it'll be nice not to share a room with 8 other people for a change.
As I start writing this post, I'm sitting enjoying a glass of wine by the Grand Canal in Venice, watching the gondolas go by. Life could definitely be worse. Since my last post on the Greek Islands, I've visited quite a number of places so I'll try to skip all of the boring details and just write about the best (and worst) stories of the past couple of months.
Most places that I'd loved up until this point were largely to do with the people I was with at the time. In Barcelona, I did meet some great people but I also fell in love with the city. It's such a beautiful place with amazing architecture, great food, a beach.. What more could you want! I loved Barcelona so much that I forfeited flights I'd already booked to Ibiza to stay longer. Plus Ibiza is supposed to be crazy expensive and didn't really sound like my type of place.
In one of my typical travel fail moments, I booked a flight in the middle of the night and arrived in Barcelona at a ridiculous time of about 4.30am. I also forgot to save the address to the hostel in my maps. Luckily in the directions, they described the hostel as being next to "Topshop".. So some young girls I asked for directions were able to point me in the right way. Not having booked accommodation for the night, I slept on the hostel couches.
This was the first city I'd visited where (for a couple of days at least) there were no other Australians in my room. Us Aussies tend to be everywhere! Instead, I was lucky enough to meet a couple of lovely Israeli girls, Shay and Leanne. It was incredibly interesting to talk to these girls about their country and such an eye opener to hear that having to take refuge in a bomb shelter several times a day was completely normal to them. They also had to do a compulsory 2 years in the army after finishing school. Their culture was completely foreign to me and really made me appreciate just being able to feel safe in my home country.
I explored the city of Barcelona on a bicycle with a group of Welshmen who were hilarious. I couldn't understand a word they said when they spoke amongst each other but it was a great day nonetheless. They were the first people of my trip to notice the scars in my stomach and ask me about them.. I also think they had the best response when I told them about my surgery in which they asked me "did you start making and selling crystal meth to pay for your treatment? Are you the real Heisenberg" (Breaking Bad reference for anyone who hasn't see the show). At this point, I knew they must be ok.
I made a good friend in Barcelona - a French Canadian girl by the name of Shawn who is studying in Barcelona for the next few months. She has an extremely cool job and helps with camera work during the filming of movies (a little bit jealous). It was great to find a friend to hit up the beach with and we also discovered the BEST tapas in Barcelona by chance when getting completely lost.
After 6 nights, I said goodbye to the city of Barcelona and took a bus to Madrid where I would catch a train the Portugal the following night.
Lisbon and Lagos
I arrived in Lisbon early morning after taking a night train and arrived at the hostel at the same time as a girl who was soon to become one of the best friends I'd make in this trip- Gina from Nebraska. Gina and I hit it off straight away and ended up spending the next few days together in both Lisbon and Lagos - we did a walking tour, we discovered some delicious cheese sandwiches (just cheese, yes), we had some delicious food cooked by "Mama" the lovely owner of the hostel, we climbed a mountain in Sintra to explore a castle and went zip lining through the trees, we did the worst pub crawl of our lives (walking at least half an hour between pubs), we lazed on the beach, drank some cocktails and for the first time in my life, went skinny dipping to celebrate our last day in Portugal together with a little craziness. Basically, we had an action packed few days in Portugal and had a lot of fun in the process. Just to clarify, the skinny dipping was on a deserted beach.. But when the waves started sweeping away our belongings, I looked up to see about 10 elderly people on the cliff watching down at us chasing after our things whilst trying to put our clothes back on.
After Lagos, I took a bus back to Lisbon and flew back to Barcelona to then take an early flight to Munich for Oktoberfest. This was not my best travel day. I arrived at the airport and dropped my phone which stopped working completely. I then took a 25 euro taxi to my "airport" hotel and had to do the same thing the following morning back to the airport. The next few days would be the most expensive.. But some of the best days I've had so far this trip.
I arrived in Munich and went straight to the Apple store to try and get my phone fixed. Little did I know, the iPhone 6 happened to be released on the same day and hundreds of people were lining up outside the store. The chance of getting my phone fixed was minimal but somehow I did the impossible and convinced the staff that the fixing of my phone was of upmost importance and they performed a miracle and fixed it for me (at a cost of 150 euro of course). I then purchased my outfit for Oktoberfest and made my way to the campground.
I was a little nervous getting to a campground on my own but met a girl named Annie fairly soon after arriving who was also traveling alone. The atmosphere at the campsite that night was nothing I could have imagined. It made me extremely excited for what the actual festival would entail. That night Annie and I met James who introduced us to his group of friends and they embraced us as part of their group for the following couple of days.
The first day we woke at 5am to leave by 6.30am just to get in line to get into the halls and get a table. They let us in at about 9am and we then had to wait until 12pm for he beers to start being poured. After this, the atmosphere was absolutely crazy. I cannot even explain how amazing this day was. The beer was great (coming from a non beer drinker), people were standing on tables skulling 1 litre steins, everyone was in costume, we had a great waitress and by the afternoon, the beer hall was just full of having an insanely good time. This was easily one of the best weekends of my life. The second day was hard to follow the first but ended up being equally as enjoyable. This is something I think everyone has to experience to understand.
The following day I took a bus to Prague and arrived so exhausted I went straight to bed.
Prague is another of my favourite places to date.. Mostly because of the people I met there. Prague marked the start of the group that would then on be referred to as "The Commonwealth". The Commonwealth included members from New Zealand, Canada and of course, Australia. Being completely wrecked after Oktoberfest, I had to have a couple of quiet nights but the nights I did go out with The Commonwealth were so much fun that I ended up booking flights after I left to meet up with the guys again in Budapest. It was in Prague I learnt to play the infamous drinking game "Flip Cup" and also discovered that I had quite a talent for playing this game. I also learnt more drinking games in the hostel bar called "The Rave Cave" than any other place.
Prague was not just about partying.. I also completed my first ever escape room. For those of you who don't know, an escape room is basically a room full of clues that you have to solve in an hour in order to escape. I completed the game with a Canadian by the name of Steve and in our case, we had to solve our clues to stop a bomb (pretend of course) from detonating within the hour. We thought we were terrible at the game as we had to keep asking for help and realized we couldn't remember anything from high school like how to read a map or what Roman numerals stood for. However, we found out at the end, there are usually groups of at least 4 people trying to solve the clues and we'd picked the hardest room so as it turns out, we were much smarter than we thought. Steve and I had a great day and little did I know at the time, this would soon turn into a classic case of girl meets boy; girl and boy get along extremely well; boy lives in Canada; girl books flights to go and visit boy in Canada. But prior to this, there was still Berlin and Amsterdam to explore!
Berlin and Amsterdam
I found Berlin to be a strange city. It's a huge city but so quiet in terms of it's inhabitants. I did a couple of tours in Berlin that included a lot if the war history. It was actually quite upsetting to see a concentration camp and hear a lot of the stories from the past. I visited the Jewish memorial museum which included a lot of letters to families along with the history. I found myself not being able to read any of these letters because, although under completely different circumstances, I know what it's like to receive a letter from my mother who I was never going to see again. At that point, I decided I'd seen enough of the war history.
On a lighter note, I did go on a really fun pub crawl which took us on an unusual route and to places that wouldn't usually be included on a pub crawl. These included a bar that Rammstein used to own (very gothic and strange), an absinthe bar and an outdoor club. This was really cool and I made a few good friends including Brandon who I would later meet up with again in Rome.
After Berlin I headed to the beautiful city of Amsterdam. It truly is beautiful. I know it tends to be well known for another reason entirely but going on a walking tour and hiring a bike to ride around the city, I found Amsterdam to be one of the prettiest places I'm yet to visit. Once again I made the mistake of arriving at a ridiculous time of 5am; this time on a night bus. The bus driver seemed to drop us off in the middle of nowhere and pointed us in the direction to the train station. It took 2 hours to find my hostel but I made it eventually and ended up meeting a great group of people on my walking tour. Id also made a couple of fellow Aussie friends in Berlin who happened to be staying in Amsterdam also so I met up with them for a night out and a nice dinner. The thing I'm finding with traveling recently is that I keep running into people I've already met. It makes traveling alone so much easier as I never tend to actually be alone.
Budapest - Part 2. Commonwealth Reunited
After 3 nights in Amsterdam, I caught a bus to Brussels to catch a cheap flight to Budapest and reunite with The Commonwealth. This has probably been my biggest failed attempt at travel planning yet. I arrived at the Brussels bus station realizing I had no idea how to get to the airport and couldn't find wifi anywhere (not even in the Starbucks I bough a coffee from for this sole reason). After an hour, I found the train to the airport, bought a ticket and almost boarded the train until I noticed at the last minute that my flight was in fact, from a completely different airport. I asked at an information desk who were not even 100% sure where I had to go but went for the best guess (which luckily turned out to be correct). As it happened, the airport id booked was actually almost 2 hours away from Brussels. Seriously this is a warning to everyone to never let me plan any sort of travel for you!
Eventually I made it to Budapest to be reunited with The Commonwealth crew and just in time for the Sparty. To explain, a Sparty is basically a giant party in a pool/spa. I wish I had photos to explain further as it's nothing like anything else but nobody was willing to risk taking their phones or cameras. After a couple of hours, things started getting a little too crazy at the Sparty and I witnessed some things in the pool I never needed to witness and felt as though I needed to shower for days. So I left.
The next few days were probably the most fun days I've had in Europe yet. We hired a Beer Bike which basically involves cycling around the city whilst drinking a lot of beer. I felt terribly sorry for the hostel receptionist who had to book extra night for each of us at the hostel which we chose to organise right after the beer biking. One of my fellow commonwealthers, Josh (a kiwi) and I later participated in an open mic night and got the crowd all singing along to some Britney Spears. I also witnessed a Jäger train which involved a lot of jäger bombs being tipped over wit a domino effect. I also got to spend time with my favorite Canadian, Steve, during which time I decided to go and visit him for a few days whilst in New York and booked my flights.
I was supposed to leave Budapest after 3 nights but ended up extending my night to tick something off my bucket list that I've always wanted to do - paint balling. I didn't care how much it cost me to change my flight, I was going paint balling regardless. And I was so happy I did. We had SO much fun and I even got a couple if battle scar bruises in the process. Well and truly worth it.
After 3 nights out in Budapest, we were all pretty exhausted after paint balling and decided to spend a quiet night in with a movie. The movie of choice was Finding Nemo. The following morning I had to get up early and say goodbye to Commonwealth friends to catch a flight to Rome.
I think this is enough typing for one day. I look forward to writing my next post on Italy, London, New York, Canada and Paris soon.. Although I really hope the time goes slowly because it's almost coming to an end!
As always, thanks for reading!