Wednesday, 26 August 2015

My interrailing adventure: Part 5

So here is the final instalment of our amazing trip around Europe, all about our time in one of my favourite countries:Germany.

Day 25

I was initially very nervous about going on a night train, but once we were settled in our seats in the tiny compartment I found it very easy to fall asleep. I had a headphone blasting music in one ear and an earplug in the other, in an attempt to block out the incredible volume of noise coming from the train's engine. It worked pretty well and  was soon dropping in and out of sleep. It sounds weird but when I was sitting there, as the train pulled away into the night I felt incredibly alive. I was doing some that unnerved me, something totally new and it felt great. I was seeing a whole different side to travelling and Europe just by getting a train later on in the day. That's the thing with a trip like this. You're moved by the things you don't expect to be moved by.

The train arrives in Szczecin in the early hours of the morning and I see the first rays of sunlight from the carriage window. The carriage is a lot emptier now, as there were several stops in the middle of the night, but the small corridor is filled with people leaning out the windows, desperate to feel cool air on their face and looking out for the next stop. Like most international trains in mainland Europe, this one is behind schedule, which means we've missed our connection already. When the train finally arrives in Szczecin we realise we have a two hour wait for the next train to Germany.  We have no choice but to sit in a small, draughty waiting room, with no money or food for breakfast. Outside it begins to pour, which reflects my mood.

We have three more hours worth of travelling on three separate trains and I manage to sleep for most of it, failing to keep my eyes open for more than five minutes even when I know I need to get off the train soon The carriages are warm and the seats comfy and I relish the few extra hours of precious sleep.

We arrive in Leipzig just after midday. We are staying at Central Globetrotter Hostel , which is based in an old building next to a weed shop. Everything about the place is rather pleasant except for the showers. Imagine a line of swimming pool showers with the only separation from other people being a thin plastic shower curtain that seems to have the bottom half chopped off. This was not a bonding experience that me and Izzie expected to have on this trip, but I am too sticky and sweaty to care, so hurry in and turn on the taps only to be blasted in the face with freezing cold water. Just get me some lunch.

We head into the town centre of Leipzig to find somewhere nice for lunch, as we decide to eat out to celebrate finishing our last major train journey. I haven't eaten a proper meal since five O clock the day before and I'm in need of nourishment. Whilst we look for a cafe I feast my eyes on the beauty of the city. Leipzig's architecture is a mixture of Bruges and Krakow, and I find the winding streets, passing everything from churches to vegan cafes, endearing. As a German student this is a natural place to visit, as this is where the protests against the East German state began in the autumn of 1989, which ultimately saw the fall of the Berlin wall. We pass the Nikolai Church where the first peaceful protest took place. It feels great to finally see somewhere connected with an incredible movement in history, which truly fascinates me.

On a little street off the main shopping area, we find a little cafe, whose menu makes my mouth water. I order a galette and an eisschokolade- basically a chocolate milkshake with icecream and whipped cream. Each sip is a symphony for my taste buds. The sugar is truly welcome in my flagging body, and I sit and sip and enjoy the sunshine whilst listening to the incredibly talented buskers in near distance.
I got very excited.

We spend the afternoon mooching around the city centre, shopping and generally exploring. We find of all things a WOOLWORTHS! Of course we have to go and have a look. Sadly there's no pick and mix.
Risen from the ashes

When we get back to the dorm in the early evening we meet an American student called Hunter, who is over in Germany for the summer doing an internship in Berlin. We chat about the differences in culture between Germany, America and Britain, covering deep and insightful topics such as mainland Europe's inability to have good pillows. We're so deep in conversation that when I look at my watch I am amazed to find that three hours have gone by.

Around nine two more dormmates arrive: a British couple who have just arrived from Copenhagen. We chat and joke around for a bit before finally having some dinner.  By half ten I am happy to collapse onto my bed and drag my tired body under the duvet, content to be in a bed again.

Day 26

Leipzig is small, so there is no need to rush out this morning in an attempt to try and see everything. We relish a chilled morning, sipping coffee and musing over maps. Most people have checked out leaving us in the dorm with an odd lady who sleeps straight ,like a mummy, and fully dressed.

We spend a few hours in the Zeitgeschichtes Forum, which covers Germany's history from the end of WWII to the present day. The exhibition is so vast that I almost get lost in the museum. At first I am very diligent in reading all the information in German, but soon  my brain gets tired and I find myself just looking at the items on display. I make a mental note to come back if I hopefully get the chance to live here on my year abroad.

It's bright and sunny when we head out of the museum and we decide to head to the botanical gardens after lunch. Leipzig's train station is huge and has several floors of food outlets and shops under the platforms. For lunch we decide on NordSee - a fishy version of McDonalds. Not only is it cheap, but it's also great quality. Why don't we have these back home?

The botanical gardens is beautiful and peaceful, with many locals taking a the time out to enjoy a Sunday stroll in the sunshine. On the way back we walk through the extensive medical campus of The University of Leipzig and are both impressed at how nice and state-of-the-art it is. I'm really excited that I'll  possibly be able to study here for a year.

Day 27

Leipzig to Berlin. Berlin is only an hour's train journey, so we spend the morning mooching around the shops as outside it's pouring with rain. We find a shop that sells products  from the DDR, including spreewald gurken from "goodbye Lenin." This makes us very excited.

The shopping centre we are in has an exhibition of different lego models and they are amazing. Everything from a map of Europe and its important landmarks to a huge church have been made out of the stuff. It does make me question how much time these people have on their hands though. And how big their garage is.

We head back to the hostel to collect our bags and meet the British couple who are getting the train with us. We arrive in plenty of time to find that our train has been cancelled, so have no choice but to camp out in the station for an hour and sponge off the station's free wifi. The train soon arrives, marking our last train journey of the trip. *sobs* Our interrail pass runs out today, making Berlin our final destination.

We arrive at Wombats City Hostel Berlin as the clouds begin to part and let through a slit of sunshine. The hostel is much smaller than its sister in Vienna and it actually has air con. Wooooo! We set up camp in our dorm, before exploring the hostel and find the bar on the top floor, which boasts incredible views of the city. Unfortunately today it is too wet and windy to really take in the view.

The hostel is joined to a restaurant that serves American and Creolean cuisine. I choose the most amazing tuna steak dish, which comes with pasta flavoured with cream, lemon and capers. The perfect celebration to the end of our rail journeys. We have travelled thousands of miles in a matter of weeks and have arrived at the end with little hiccups or any major drama or fall outs. I couldn't be prouder of us.

After dinner, with our pac a macs in toe, we head to AlexanderPlatz to buy some train tickets for the week. The hostel is only a ten minute walk from the centre and passes loads of cool cafes and bars where groups of hipsters huddle over steaming cups of cappuccinos. We pass an office which is nothing more than a desk and chair in an empty room. Yep, we are definitely in pretentious hipsterville.

While we are in Alexanderplatz it tips it down. The locals respond to this by running into shops for cover, but being British this doesn't faze us. We walk around, enjoying the room on the pavement that the bad weather has brought. I'm glad to finally feel slightly cold. This is my favourite type of weather.

In the evening we meet our dorm mates. There is a solo Australian traveller called Bex, who is travelling for a year and so far has been everywhere from Cambodia to Israel. After her week in Berlin she is spending a month camping in Africa. She has loads of amazing stories and I listen in awe, hoping to be as cool and well travelled as her one day.

The day draws to a close and we head to the hostel bar for a couple of drinks. We make friends with a bunch of Australian guys, who we teach how to play gin rummy and bullshit. We seem to have made friends all over Europe from all over the world with just one pack of cards. It's amazing how something so simple can bring people together. It's a shame that in this day and age we prefer aimlessly surfing on the internet, flicking through Facebook pictures of people we hate rather than chatting and connecting with people who have incredible stories to tell.

Day 28

Our first full day in the city. We decide to do a walking tour to see the main sites, and head to the iconic Brandenburg Gate where it starts. On the way we pass many stunning and impressive buildings from several different eras. This is a far cry from the edgy concrete jungle part of the city that I saw in my last visit to Berlin. I begin to realise just how huge and diverse this place is.

Our tour guide is a Venezuelan, who tells us about the city's history in very good English, despite the fact that he is used to presenting it in his native language of Spanish. I doubt I would be able to talk spontaneously about the start of WW2 and Hitler's death in German. 

We pass many incredible sites, including the memorial for the murdered Jews. Walking through there makes me feel very disorientated and claustrophobic. It is such a powerful piece and again I realise how important art is to society. 

The tours ends in the early afternoon and we head back to Alexanderplatz, where we explore the market there. Stalls selling everything from bohemian clothing to handmade soap sit alongside food stalls from all cultures, whilst a variety of street performers perform acts to an audience of tourists. I indulge in the German speciality- Currywurst. A Bratwurst is smothered in ketchup and curry powder. Each bite is pure delight. I love a good  bit of German sausage. 

It is still grey in the afternoon, so we decide to take in a museum, and choose a small exhibition on Anne Frank. It's only two stops on the UBahn from the hostel, so we decide to just wing it, as our train tickets aren't valid yet. On the second train a plain clothes ticket collector emerges, sending us into a blind panic. Luckily he is busy with another customer when the train pulls into our stop, so the minute the door opens we leg it. We decide to walk back. 

The Anne Frank Exhibition is very insightful. It is divided into two parts. One half is a  historical timeline, with one side of the wall depicting the timeline of the holocaust, with the other showing the birth and childhood of Anne Frank  and her sister. Seeing pictures of her everyday family life makes me realise that these people and millions of others like them led perfectly normal, happy lives before the Nazi takeover. It makes the feeling of loss and sadness far greater. 
The other part of the museum is an installation focusing on the everyday lives of six young people from Berlin and compares their views on certain issues such as war and discrimination, hope and dreams with Anne Frank's. What strikes me is how insightful and bold Anne was in her writing. She was clearly a very bright young girl and each word of hers resonates with me, especially as I have the luxury of hindsight. She is an inspiration. It saddens me greatly that she never got to realise just how influential her work would become. 

After dinner we head out for drinks in the hip area of Kreuzberg. It was our favourite haunt when we came here last time and we visit the exact same bar that we fell in love with two years ago. It's a tiny dive bar on a corner, filled with local punks who obviously know the suitably Gothic bartenders. We sit on one of the wooden benches outside and sip on Berliner Weisse- a local speciality, it's beer flavoured with either elderflower or raspberry syrup. Depending on the flavour the drink is either bright pink or bright green,  but delicious either way.
It comes in a  cool glass too.

The area around Warschauer Straße SBahn station is always bustling and full of buskers in the evening. On the way back to the hostel we past a full blown band performing an impromptu concert to a crowd of locals and more bizzarely a guy dressed as a strawberry playing some sort of dideridoo. I love Berlin's eccentricity.

Day 29

The day that I have been looking forward to for the whole of the trip has finally come. ZOO DAY! The sky is still keeping with the grey overcast weather, but it's warm enough, so it's the perfect weather for walking around and seeing the animals. It's not great for standing in a massive queue for ages though. An old man plays his accordion to the waiting public.  It seems that everywhere in Europe we go, there is someone playing an accordion. It's become all too much for Izzie.

When we finally get into the Zoo I am like a little child again and can barely restrain myself from running down the path. Berlin Zoo has the largest selection of different species of animals in captivity in the world and we see and each and everyone. We see hippos yawning and swimming (the word for Hippo in German is Flusspferd which literally translates to river horse), Lions strutting around and a sleepy seal that can't keep himself awake. My favourite part of the day though is visiting the petting zoo.Here goats and sheep are free to walk around and you're able to stroke and feed them. We find the cutest baby goat and follow him around religiously. The sheep seem to get annoyed that the goats are getting all the attention and food and start bleating and running around like crazy, taking out several small children in the process.

Another great part of our visit is watching a sea lion show. Seals and sea lions are my favourite animals and I watch in awe as they perform flips and chase Frisbees. After seeing that the trainers have such a close bond with the animals I'm seriously considering giving up the degree and becoming a sea lion trainer, despite the fact that I am the worst swimmer I know.

Back at the hostel we get chatting to some girls in the foyer who are thinking of checking out a local techno club this evening. They are happy for us to join them and we agree to meet them for pre drinks later.

According to the guy on reception, Berliners don't start clubbing until around one or two in the morning and even that is considered early. We hit the hostel bar around 11 and play drinking games with some Australians, who are clearly on something, to get ourselves tipsy enough to carry on going into the early hours of the morning. By half one I am so drunk that I stumble back to the room to sober up on paprika pringles and chocolate chip cookies. When Izzie comes and finds me I can barely make it down from my bunk bed.

We head for the club around half one, which is still ridiculously early for Berlin standards. The nightclub is an old abandoned warehouse and inside it is absolutely huge. We head for the top floor, where there is a massive dance floor and already a big crowd. The thing with techno is that there never seems to be a change of track, it's just the same beat on repeat with the occasional remix. Amongst the sweaty bodies and cigarette smoke (yep you can smoke in nightclubs over here) I get into my groove. I have no idea how to dance to this type of music, but I carry on anyway. I'm too drunk to care.

Later on we head to the basement, where it is a lot darker and smokier. I want to sit down in the corner, but from what I can make out from the shapes in the shadows it's an area to get down and dirty and I don't want to give people the wrong impression. Soon enough the heat and smoke make it hard for me to breathe and we call it a night. Outside the cool air is just what my lungs need and I soon recover. We have no idea where we are, but make the logical decision of heading for the TV tower, stopping on the way for some well needed post clubbing food. German street food is some of the best I've tasted and the huge Turk-German population means that this is THE place for doner and eastern influenced food. I have a falafel, which sends my taste buds into overdrive. Every bite is exquisite. We mange to find a UBahn, whose name we recognise, after four when they start up again. w]When we make our way through Alexanderplatz the cafes and fast food stalls are setting up for the day. It's weird to think that I am on the way to bed.

Day 30

Our last full day of the trip. After our late night we spend the remainder of the morning in bed. When we finally have enough energy to move we decide to go off and do our own thing for a few hours. Izzie heads to Potsdam, whilst I head over to Potsdamerplatz to visit The Museum of Film and Television. The museum depicts the development of the film industry, from the first black and white film to the present day, with a focus on the German Film industry. As a German film buff I am totally in my element, and devour every snippet of information. The first room is filled with mirrors and several screens showing clips of films throughout the ages. The images reflect off all available surfaces and the effect is utterly breath-taking. I lose myself in the world of film for a good two hours and come out feeling culturally renewed. On the way back to the UBahn I follow the German film hall of fame and find the stars of some of my favourite German actors and actresses.

To mark our last night of the trip, we decide to go to an amazing Indian restaurant in Kreuzberg that we fell in love with when we came to Berlin two years ago and decide to invite our friends we went clubbing with last night to share it with us. It's really nice to show people somewhere you really like. They are just as impressed by the curry and Kreuzberg as we were the first time. We have a great evening with great convo and equally great food. This is their first stop on their trip and I feel a pang of jealousy. I wish I could keep going, but to be honest I'm out of energy and money. England beckons.

Day 31

Home day. Waaaaaa. It hasn't really sunk in that we're catching a plane home this evening. I'm so used to moving from place to place now that it just feels like another journey. But our flight isn't until half nine this evening. We still have a day in the city to enjoy and we aim to fill it with as much stuff as possible.

We intend to spend the morning at Mount Mitte- a high ropes course in the middle of the city, but it's not open until two, so we go and look at the Berlin Wall memorial we passed on the way. When the wall went up in the sixties, dividing streets into East and West Germany, many people died trying to flee from the soviet occupied East into the ally-controlled West. The memorial shows pictures of all the victims, some as young as two years old. I make sure that I read the names and ages of every single victim, even though there are over 100. It's the least I can do. These people deserve to be remembered. I'm deeply moved by the exhibition. I can't believe that these people were killed just because they wanted to choose where to live. It's a freedom I take for granted.

In a historical mood, we go to visit the East Side Gallery. We've been here before, but it's such an incredible and powerful art installation that we want another look. The road is filled with tourists, wanting a cool colourful background to their selfie, or to pose with some of the more iconic pieces. There really isn't anything like it. It's just such a shame that people have felt the need to scribble all over it. Some bellend has written 5SOS on several different pieces all up the wall. This is a historically significant piece. This wall divided a nation for twenty odd years, yet all some people are bothered about are promoting their favourite band. Unbelievable.

He calls himself the Neighkid Horse.

We have lunch at a small schnitzel shop by the wall. You can tell it's good, as it's full of locals instead of tourists. I try a  Jaeger schnitzel, which is the traditional pork schnitzel smothered with mushrooms in a creamy sauce. Just my cup of tea.

Soon enough it's two o clock and we head back to the high ropes course. The sun has finally peeped its head out of the clouds and for the first time today I can take my jumper off. After a brief training session, we are let loose on the three levels of the course. We have a great time, crossing bridges, crawling along a rope mission impossible style and battling a number of obstacles. I feel like I'm on Jungle Run and have a great time, despite falling off a barrel, getting stuck in mid air and having a breakdown.

Before we know it it's time to head to the airport, after a month of travelling thousands of miles, visiting 6 countries and ten cities. I've had a blast, changed my whole perspective on life and will definitely be back in Europe with my trusty backpack again before you can say duty free.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

My interrailing Adventure: Part 4

So far I've you told you about mine and Izzie's time in three out of the six countries that we visited. In this instalment it's all about our happenings in Austria and Poland. Two countries and twice as much adventure.

Day 18

Zagreb to Vienna. A seven hour train journey awaits us. The interrail website said that we didn't need to reserve seats, but when we get on it seems that every single seat is reserved. It takes us a good ten minutes to find the free seating carriage, which is accompanied by a rant about all the people struggling to find seats yet first class is empty. Down with the establishment!

About an hour into the journey the ticket guard comes through. On long haul trains like the ones we've been on the past two weeks this happens several times during the journey, especially if you're crossing country borders and involves an award fumbling around for your massive interrail ticket and passport. It seems that two Irish girls, who we spoke to earlier, haven't got tickets. The ticket guard makes them get off the train at a tiny station to buy tickets, but they have no cash. One of them runs into the little hut of the station to try an sort it out, but the train leaves before they can, leaving them in the arse end of nowhere, in a country with a rail network with a poorer performance than the English football team in the 2014 World Cup.

The train journey drags like hell and I've never been happier to get off a train in my life. After an hour of so of doing necessary travel errands in the station ( reserving tickets, exchanging money, buying food etc.) we treat ourselves to a McDonalds, before beginning the  walk to the hostel. It's a gorgeous sunny day in Vienna, though whilst my huge, heavy rucksack is on my back the heat is not welcome. I arrive at the Wombats City Hostel  a hot mess. We were praying for air-conditioning, but there's no such thing, expect for a tiny fan that does nothing to fight against the intense humidity of the dorm room. Where's the shower?

We head out into the city in the late afternoon, which means that we've missed the most of the heat. The centre of the city is truly stunning, filled with imperial and regal looking buildings and lush green parks. Everywhere I look there is some architectural miracle that grabs my attention. I didn't think it was possible for me to love this country any more than I did already. I was wrong.

We get back in the early evening to cook dinner. Vienna is expensive, and after several cash splashes in Croatia we need to pull tighter on the purse strings, so tonight's meal is a tin of spar budget bean soup. It tastes like an oily, salty spaghetti sauce. It's pretty grim, but I eat it anyway, and Izzie's leftovers. #hungrytraveller.

I'm in need of a rum and coke to wash the soup out of my mouth, so we hit the hostel bar. I'd like it more in here if it wasn't so ridiculously hot. We meet a girl from Oregon called Sky, a medicine student, who is currently living in Berlin. After meeting so many people who are working or studying abroad, loving it and using it to see even more of Europe, I am ridiculously excited for my year abroad next year. 

Day 19

Our first full day in Vienna. Despite it being early, it's already hot when we make it out, so we take refuge in the Albertina art gallery, which, thank the lord, is air-conditioned. After lying about our age we managed to get in for free and avoid the hefty 8.50 adult admission fee. 

The gallery has a broad range of collections, from works by impressionists such as Monet and Degas, to war photography from World War two. I immerse myself in the works, letting my eyes take in all the incredible colours and strokes. We are in there for almost three hours and it is one of my favourite activities of the trip so far. I forgot how much I loved art galleries, and I come out feeling culturally rejuvenated. I have finally learnt the power of art. 

The afternoon heat is too much to go trekking around the city, and it's a Sunday so most of the places are closed anyway, so we go sit in a park and chill with our books. Around us many locals are doing the same; reading the paper or catching up with friends. This may be the country's capitol, but it lacks the constantly moving lifestyle that Londoners possess. Here they take time to smell the roses, and truly cherish the lazy Sunday mentality. As I sit there I can't help thinking that they've got it right. I admire this little country and would love more than anything to live here or become a citizen. I can't blow enough smoke up its arse. 

At seven we meet my friend Helen outside the  Rathaus (German for town hall) for the Vienna Film Festival.  Helen is a friend of mine from secondary, whose mum lives in Vienna, so she spends her summers in city and therefore she knows about all the cool stuff going on. She told us all about the film festival, which screens a different film, concert, opera or ballet every night in the summer on a huge screen outside the RatHaus. Tonight, to celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th Birthday they're playing one of his concerts. The atmosphere is fantastic, as people mill around the vast array of food and drink stalls. We get some bratwurst and beers and take a seat, as we wait for the sun to set and the show to start. An older man a few rows in front keeps turning around and making signals at us to be quiet, despite the fact that the show isn't starting for another hour. If there's one thing I've learnt since being in Vienna is that Austrians are extremely intolerant of bad social behaviour. They will always call you up on it.
Nothing beats an ice cold Radler.

The show begins and I am taken away by the sultry tones of Sinatra. I never thought I was a fan of him before, but his commanding voice and stage presence have me converted. I've found a new artist for my Sunday evening listening. 

After a drink or two in the hostel bar, Izzie heads to bed, whilst I spot some people from my dorm outside, so I bite the bullet and go out and say hey. They're two Mancunian brothers and not only are they lovely, but the oldest, Nick, is insanely attractive. I do love northern men. I tag along with them and two Canadians to a bar, where we stay until the owner gives us each a shot and says "we're giving you this on the house, but you need to drink it and then go home, as we're closing." That's the best way to kick someone out that I've ever experienced. 

At around three in the morning, I find myself in the Canadian's room, eating pasta and hummus and crackers, whilst discussing the differences in the UK's, Canada's and Mexico's ( there was a Mexican guy there too) policies on drugs and drinking in public. Canada seems to be so lax on just about everything. As the clock on my phone tells me it's half four I call it a night and say goodbye to my new found friends. Unfortunately they're going to Prague in the morning and I'm sad that we won't be able to hang out again. But that's the magic of travelling. You make new friends every night. 

Day 20

Despite mixing about four types of alcohol last night, I'm surprisingly perky when I wake up at half 7. It's already so hot that I can't get back to sleep, and I feel as if I have a fever. I have no choice to shower and get dressed, ready for another day. 

This morning we head to Belvedere Gardens, a huge palace and grounds in the middle of the city. The place is gorgeous and we are treated to even more of imperial Austrian opulence. It begins to cloud over and we take some refuge from walking on a double deckchair in the botanical gardens, whilst we wait for Helen. The weather is a lot cooler today and I'm grateful for it. It's been hot and sticky for a good ten days or so and I can't deal with it. The constant routine of putting on sun block, pinning up your hair and trying to find an outfit that won't make you sweat too much becomes totally and utterly mind numbing. I love the sun when I'm relaxing on the beach or have nowhere to go, but when you're trying to explore a city and have limited time to do so then the sun becomes enemy no.1.

Vienna has the most coffee shops in Europe, so as an avid coffee and cake enthusiast, I am keen to get a slice of the action. Literally. Helen takes us to Oberlaa where we indulge in huge slices of cake and I try a Viennese coffee shop speciality- Eiskaffee or iced coffee in English, which consists of a tall sundae glass filled with strong freshly brewed coffee, vanilla ice cream, lavishly topped with whipped cream.  It's oh so bad, but oh so good. The sun has peeked its head out of the clouds and we sit under the café's huge parasols chatting about anything and everything, like a scene out of Sex and The City. When can I move here?

We say goodbye to Helen in the early afternoon and rush back to the hostel. We are going to a classical concert at six and before then we need to pack,shower, eat and do a food shop for the train tomorrow. Like normal my crap is all over my bed and and the floor and I have to shove it all back in and pray that it will all fit. At the beginning of my trip my packing was pretty neat and organised, now it's like a free for all.

We make it out of the hostel bang on time and make our way over to the city centre for the classical concert. We're all dressed up in our interrailing finest and are both excited to go see a performance in the classical music capitol of Europe, if not the world. The concert is in a tiny room in a rather grand theatre. I feel like I am going to an awards ceremony, the décor is so opulent with golden wall paper and chandeliers everywhere, it's definitely the way to end our time in Vienna in style.
Bit plusher than the Brixton Academy

The concert is just fantastic. For 90 minutes my ears are treated to the beautiful work of Mozart and Strauss, complete with both Operatic and Ballet performances. I can't stop smiling throughout the whole thing; I've never really appreciated how beautiful classical music is until now. The concert makes me want to see more live orchestras and explore the fine areas of culture - Opera, ballet etc.- more. Experiences like these, where you not only come away with new memories but a new perspective, are unforgettable and worth every penny.

The night is still young when we come out and we're in the mood for more culture so head over to the film festival, where they are showing a performance from the Amsterdam Orchestra. I'm so glad we came to Vienna. It has been a rich few days of culture and I have found another city that I would move to in a heartbeat. A little part of my heart will always be in Vienna and it's only further fed my obsession with the little country shaped like a pipe.

Day 20

Austria to Poland and another early start. Our train to Katowice arrives just after 8 and is a big lump of a thing. Polish trains are illogical in the way that they arrange their seat numbers. There's no numerical order or any obvious pattern and it's rather confusing. We have reservations for seats whose numbers are next to each other, but our seats aren't. It's all very strange. 

Polish trains aren't the most efficient either. We stop for a good 45 minutes, with the power off and therefore no air-con, in the middle of the Czech Republic. When the conductor finally tells us what's going on he fails to explain in English, despite the fact that he was announcing the stops in perfect English earlier. 
 We arrive at Katowice an hour after our scheduled arrival time. Apparently this is very common in Poland. Luckily our transfer time was 2 hours, so we haven't missed our train to Krakow. We've done the majority of the journey now, it's only two hours from here on a nice inter city train that is pretty much empty. Though that doesn't stop a Polish family try and claim our seats as theirs. They then take the seats of some young Dutch travellers, who have a job of trying to get them to move as they don't speak a word of English. After lots of pointing to tickets they finally move.

We arrive in Krakow in the early evening. Our hostel here is Greg and Tom's beer hostel, which was recommended to us by an American guy that we met in Lake Bled. Our dorm mates are mainly Americans, Brits and Irish. After the long journey, we are desperate to wash, so we jump into the showers only to find that they're freezing cold. After a few minutes, and much swearing and whinging from both of us, I call it a day. My sopping wet hair is now as cold as icicles on my back. 

We head out into the city to explore and get some food. Krakow is beautiful, possibly the most impressive city we've been to so far, which is rather credible considering that's it's one of the smallest by far. The centre revolves around a huge square where various buskers and street artists perform to huge crowds. For dinner I indulge in an eastern European delicacy : the Langosz . It's like a huge, flat savoury doughnut smothered in sour cream and cheese and it's incredible. It sticks to my ribs, but I don't care. Every mouthful is a calorie filled delight. 

In the evening we hang out at the hostel and chat to some of our dorm mates, including a solo traveller called Josh, who's our age and studying at the University of Liverpool. Izzie is happy to finally find someone from her Uni town, as we keep meeting UoM students and Mancunians. Though in the kitchen I outdo her, as we meet two lovely girls , Mim and Avi, who are both studying at my University. It's a small world. 

Day 22

Our first full day in Krakow. We spend the morning following at walking tour of Krakow from a lonely planet guidebook, taking in the sites of the university, and the castle and the cloth hall; a huge building full of stalls selling traditional polish goods, such as amber jewellery, brightly coloured wooden boxes and scarves covered in traditional polish patterns. There are some beautiful things here and I'm annoyed that I don't have the luggage allowance or budget to indulge. I'm so impressed by Poland that I'm glad that I suggested coming here. Krakow is not only a beautifully old city, but the Polish culture is one that I'm quickly becoming a huge fan of. I have been wanting to come here for years and I'm not disappointed. 

Back at the hostel, we meet some new dorm mates; two Australians called David and Julian and  a girl called Sally who is from Syria. Of all the countries in the world I never expected to meet someone from Syria, let alone Damascus and I am both captivated and heart broken to hear about the chaos happening in her country. It's definitely not what the British press have been depicting. 

One of the best things about this hostel is that they do free dinner. We go down with our new dorm mates and meet even more people over traditional polish food, before joining in the hostel bar crawl. We have an hour's open bar in the hostel restaurant, where we are given several different flavours of polish vodka (which is lush) and huge jugs of cocktails, as well as plates of pizza, chicken and salad. I think I've died and gone to heaven. And despite eating loads of food I still manage to be pretty drunk when we head out to the clubs. 

We go to three clubs in total. Within 5 minutes of being in the first one I manage to get stuck in the toilet. I guess it's never a good sign when the door handle comes off in your hand. Luckily one of our friends on the bar crawl manages to find a member of staff,who is able to rescue me. I give toilet cubicles a miss for the rest of the night. 

I have a fantastic time dancing with my new found friends and sampling the polish night-life. The poles know how to party. Krakow is so peaceful and traditional I didn't think it had it in itself to be such a great place for partying, but this is the best night out of the trip so far. I dance like nobody's watching until my forehead is a river of sweat, and we're all too hot and tired to carry on. Outside the club an old lady sits in her underwear showing everything off to anyone that'll look. Welcome to Poland. 

Day 23

Today we're off to somewhere that I've always wanted to visit, but in reality I wish it didn't exist. Auschwitz. 

The weather is suitably gloomy when our coach pulls up into the parking lot of the site. There's a very eerie atmosphere around here, everyone is calm, composed, afraid that a show of too much energy or enthusiasm will be regarded as a sign of disrespect. As we walk under the famous "Arbeit macht frei" sign I get the goosebumps. It's very surreal to visit such a place like this, as what took place here is so horrific that it's hard to even comprehend it. But as I stand and gaze at the uniform rows of brick buildings I can't escape what happened here . No one can.

The former dormitories have been made into exhibition rooms, depicting the daily life and conditions of the millions of prisoners that endured hell here. I knew that the holocaust was horrific, but I had no idea of how calculated the whole operation was. We walk into a room that has a glass cabinet stretching the length of a wall which is filled with human hair. Several hundred sackloads worth. Apparently the Nazis would have the corpse's heads shaved and would then send the hair back to Germany where it would be made into fabric to line coats. I am in complete shock at the level of inhumanity. I can't comprehend how or why you could do that to another human being. 

The hardest part of the tour though is going into the gas chamber. Out of respect for the countless mass murders that happened in here the tour guide isn't allowed to talk, but the building itself speaks volumes. She points to the hole in the ceiling where the gas was thrown in and I almost well up. The experience is very humbling. I feel extremely lucky to be able to walk in and then out again. I know that millions of Jews didn't have such a privilege. 

The thing that astounds me the most about the place is the size of it all. Auschwitz I is big enough, but Auschwitz II Birkenau is absolutely huge. It takes us a good twenty minutes just to walk the width of it, but it would take a good hour to walk the length.Seeing the scale of the Nazi's extermination operation really makes it hit home to me about just how many people they managed to kill. 

Some people though don't seem to show the same level of respect as others. I see at least three people get out their phones and pose to take a selfie or a happy smiling family photo. One visitors even walks onto the train tracks sits down and gets out her selfie stick so she can get a picture of her with the concentration camp entrance in the background. I'm furious. How can people be so fucking inconsiderate? Millions of people died here. This is not a photo opportunity. 

We arrived back too late for free dinner, so head out into the city. Just off the main square there is a stage set up with live music and several food and drink tents. We decide to try some more traditional Polish food, so I try Golonka or pork knuckle with fried potatoes. This part of Europe really knows how to cook meat. I just wish they liked vegetables as much as I did. 

Day 24

Tonight we're taking the night train to Leipzig, so we spend the day mooching around the city, trying to kill as much time as possible. We head to the city's Jewish quarter and explore the various craft and charity shops, where I find several items from Primark. 

We head to the station an hour before our train, and it's just as well we do. It turns out that our train reservation was for the 8 o clock train to Warsaw this morning. We manage to work it out in plenty of time, which is lucky as Polish ticket offices are not the most efficient. And when Izzie finally gets to the desk the woman doesn't speak a word of English, and a random bloke in the queue has to be roped in to translate. It all works out in the end though and we make the train to Warsaw, ready to get on the night train that will take to the Polish-German border.

Find out about the last week of our trip, in Germany, in part 5

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

My interrailing Adventure: Part 3

So the first 12 days of our trip were spent discovering ancient Rome, jumping in Lakes and exploring the beautiful countryside of Slovenia. Then came Croatia. A totally different landscape and a total different set of adventures. Read on to find out more......

Day 13

Slovenia to Croatia and the longest train journey of the trip so far. Our first train of the day is just after 7, so I'm up  before 6 to make sure everything is back in my trusty backpack and to get ready for the next leg of the journey. Outside the sky is a washed out grey and the damp pavement suggests that it rained over night. I silently pray that the rain and cooler weather will follow us to Croatia. 

We leave the hostel at half 6 and begin the walk to the train station. It may be early, but there are already a few locals out and about, walking their dogs and tending their gardens. They seem to be true believers of Carpe Diem out here. I'm not normally an early riser, but being out at this hour, whilst it's tranquil and calm amongst the pine trees and wooden houses, is kind of magical. I make a note to try and do this more at home, to get out earlier and see more. 

The little train station is in a clearing in between pine trees, on top of the hill with the lake down below. I take one last look at the lake, which still looks impressive, though albeit less inviting without the sun's glorious rays beaming down on it. Like most train stations in Slovenia, this one is rather small with no proper platforms. We literally have to cross the tracks to get onto our first train, which takes us 15 minutes up the road to Jesenice,and our first connection. At this time in the UK the trains would be filled with commuters, but here there are just a smattering of locals and other sleepy travellers. 

Our second train takes us back to the capitol, Ljubljana, where, according to  the holy grail for travellers ( the interrailing train timetable) we have a 45 minute transfer time, so we treat ourselves to  a McDonald's breakfast. Not only is it dirt cheap over here ( £2.30 for two sausage and egg McMuffins and a cappuccino), but my sausage and egg McMuffins taste SO much nicer than the British ones. They have herbs and spices in them and everything. And they do freshly squeezed orange juice over here. We are in heaven right now, and spend a good ten minutes foodgasming on the platform of the station. 

McLovin it.

Our next train is a two and a half hour journey, so we're both planning on getting some sleep. We're just getting comfortable, when around around a hundred excited scouts, obviously on the way to camp, get on. Well bollocks to that plan. 

We make our next connection in the nick of time, and start to head over the Slovene-Croatian border. So far there's little difference, apart from the fact that Croatian train stations have station guards in red and white chequered caps that match the Croatian flag. Just like Slovenia though most stations are sheds in the arse end of nowhere. 

An hour later and we reach Karlovac, where have a three hour stopover. The hard bit of the journey is done, as from here it's just one train for the last 5 hours of the trip. We need to exchange our euros, as Croatia has its own currency, Kuna, which we soon discover, after buying train reservations for a mere 8 Kuna (80p) is dirt cheap. We ask in a nearby petrol station about an ATM, and they tell us that there are some in a shopping centre that's 1.8 Kilometres away, yet we can see it out of he window. If there's one thing we've learnt in the last week or so is that metres and kilometres are extremely arbitrary units in mainland Europe. The walk takes us less than 5 minutes. 

I feel rather flash taking out 1000 Kuna out at the cash machine, even if it's only £100. It seems that the entirety of the town's cash machines are here. We have time to burn so we decide to go on a a shopping spree in the huge interspar. When we realised how ridiculously cheap everything is the whole thing becomes like supermarket sweep. We managed to buy chicken and chips for 80p and a 2 litre bottle of radler for £1.50.  
Backpacking essentials
How much?!?

Outside the train station, which FYI isn't a shed in a field in the arse end of nowhere which is rare in Croatia, the local firemen are extinguishing a fire in a bin. Two of the men are sitting on a wall whilst they leave their colleague to deal with it. It's all going on in Karlovac. 

We still have ages until our next train, so we camp out in the train station. My right foot is still swollen like a pregnant women's, so I lie on the floor and elevate it on our rucksacks, receiving some odd glances from the few other travellers in the station. 

Just before four our last train of the day arrives. By now we've been travelling for nine hours. I'm desperate for a nap. 

By the time we reach the 12 hour mark we reach the limit and become delirious, laughing at anything and everything. We schedule in a dinner made out of the meagre rations left in our food bag. I have two packs of crackers and a kit kat chunky. My insides feel disgusting. And I'm slowly beginning  to really hate crackers. 

Soon enough it's pitch black outside, and we don't even have the landscape to gaze at to help lift the boredom. The train seems to be stopping every 10 seconds, and it seems as if this journey is never going to end. Izzie asks the conductor what's going on, and even she hasn't a clue. We were warned about how rubbish Croatian trains were by other travellers. It's only now that we're starting to believe the rumours. 

After what turns into a 16 hour journey, we finally arrive at the end of line, Split. It may be almost 10 o clock in the evening, but the air is still sticky with humidity, and I find myself sweating within minutes. As we wait outside the station for our lift to the hostel, I start to soak up the lively atmosphere of the place. It may be bedtime for a weary traveller like me, but for most people here the night is just getting started. I can't wait to explore in the morning.  

Our home whilst in Split is The Marine Hostel Renalto, a tiny little hostel, right by the marina. As we get into the dorm the cool air conditioning blasts my face and I'm in heaven. Here the beds are little pods with curtains, so you have your own privacy. I collapse onto the comfiest bed and the nicest pillow I've had for the whole trip and sink into a well deserved sleep. 

Day 14 

Our first full day in Croatia.We treat ourselves to a lie in and spend what little remains of the morning exploring the city centre. The centre of Split is based down by the harbour, in and around Diocletian's Palace - an ancient Roman Palace that is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and the city's main shopping area.  Bakeries, restaurants and even supermarkets are built into the ancient stone walls and the open air areas are lined with market stalls selling everything from bikinis and flip flops to little sachets filled with Croatian Lavender.

By around two it's unbearably hot and we can't resist the call of the ocean any longer. We go to a beach a minute or so away from our hostel, which seems to be where the locals go. Surprisingly it is far less busy than when we went past this morning. It seems that Croatians come earlier or later in the day to escape the ferocity of the heat.  The first few laps of water on my feet are ice cold, but when I finally get the balls to put my shoulders under I am blessed with cool refreshment. The thick layer of sweat and grime on my body is washed off in an instant, and I swim and splash around happy as Larry, glad to feel cool and clean again. The water is a gorgeous blue-green and I feel like I am living in a picture from a  travel brochure. Around us locals play a game with a small ball which involves trying to keep it in the air for as long as possible. I look on amusedly as people of all ages, shapes and sizes  frollock around in the water, desperately trying to keep the ball in the air with failed efforts ending up with a fall head first into the water. I later find out from a magazine that it is called Picigin and is unique to Split.

For dinner we eat at one of the restaurants around the marina. Eating out is reasonably cheap here, we both manage to get a pizza for under a fiver. Annoyingly the though the menu has a typo and Izzie unknowingly orders a pizza with mushrooms instead of ham. The waiter apologises, takes the pizza back and returns with the same pizza with a few strips of ham on it, which would be fine if Izzie actually liked mushrooms. We don't leave a tip.

As the sun begins to go down the palace begins to light up and locals and travellers descend onto the streets of the centre to muse round the shops and markets, to sip drinks and to munch on ice cream. We find a really cool bohemian clothes shop and spend a good hour trying on different genie pants, cool dresses and hippy tops, before both leaving with something. Croatia has great style, it would be rude not to take some of it for ourselves. The marina has a totally different atmosphere in the evening as it does in the day and under the glows of pink and orange from the sunset I see the centre in a totally different light; both metaphorically and literally.

Day 15

Another early start, as today we're off to Plitvice Lakes, another of Croatia's Natural Heritage sites, which is a good 4 hour drive away. On the coach ride there we are treated to incredible views of both the Mediterranean and European climate and landscape that Croatia possesses and interesting facts about the country from our cheerful tour guides. My respect and intrigue of this ever surprising country begins to blossom.

The lakes take my breath away. Everywhere I look I see turquoise blue water which is incredibly bright, but also incredibly clear. The landscape looks that of somewhere like Canada, not a tiny country in eastern Europe that didn't exist 25 years ago. I am completely blown away by the beauty of the place and realise how much I still have to explore in my home continent. There is so much diversity here in terms of cultures and landscape, there is no need to jet off to Asia or America any time soon. There is so much I need to see that is a mere Easyjet flight away. I make a mental note to explore as many European countries as I can before I die. There is so much going on here.

There is only one thing that is underwhelming about this place, and that is the so-called "Big Waterfall". It doesn't really live up to its name. We were expecting huge gushes of water, but it's more like trickles. Izzie is not impressed.

Call that a waterfall?
We get back to the hostel just before nine in the evening, but despite our long day we feel surprisingly recharged after a nap on the coach. We take to the beach with our huge bottle of radler and a few mugs from the hostel kitchen in tow and go for a paddle under the cover of darkness. The water is too tempting and I soon go for a full swim. It's so warm and humid that even though I sit in just a towel, dripping wet for over an hour with no sun to dry me I don't shiver once. We sip on our radler and chat about anything and everything. This is a moment worth treasuring. It's not wild or exciting, but purely living and enjoying the moment. After all I could never do this at home.

Day 16

Our last day in Split and the official halfway mark of the trip. We spend it similarly to our first here, taking full advantage of our last day near a beach. I'm really going to miss Croatia. It's gorgeous here, not only the perfect place to lie on the beach, but it's rich in culture and heritage. I know this won't be my last time here. I wan't to come back and explore many of the islands dotted around its coastline. There are plenty more adventures to be had in Croatia.

There seems to be a children's talent contest on by the harbour tonight, as part of "The Colours of Split festival". Children of all ages lip sync to Croatian pop songs, as proud parents watch. The cutest performance is from a local dance school where several 5-6 year olds, dressed up as flowers and fairies, dance around an older girl singing, using any opportunity to wave excitedly to the crowd below.

Day 17

Bye Bye Split. Today we head to the country's capitol, Zagreb, for an overnight stop. The train journey is a good six hours, yet the children opposite don't play up once. I'm impressed, not only by their behaviour, but by the amazing picnic the whole family has. Fresh berries, bread, cheese, cucumber and carrots all come out a Mary Poppins bag of food and for once I'm really craving vegetables. I have carrot envy. An hour in I've already eaten my sandwich and I'm still hungry. I refuse to eat those damn crackers.

We arrive in Zagreb in the early afternoon. After finally working out what hostel we're staying at (we forgot) we check in, freshen up and head back up. Zagreb has plenty of museums and we both fancy doing different things so we split up for a few hours for some solo travel time. I decide to visit The Museum of Broken Relationships in the capitol's old town. After seeing part of the exhibition at the South Bank Centre's festival of love last year I was fascinated by it and couldn't resist a visit whilst in the capitol. The collection is made up of donations by visitors from all over the world, who give a relic of an old failed relationship with the object's story to the museum for them to display. There are some incredible stories here, from the tear-inducing to the downright hilarious. I come away totally inspired and reflective on my own failed relationships.

When we reunite. Izzie tells me of a festival that is starting in the centre and we go and watch. It is a showcase of traditional performances of song and dance from tribes that have origins in Croatia. We watch dances and military displays by people from Kurdishan, and traditional tribes from Germany, Spain, and Macedonia.

Croatia has opened my eyes to a whole new culture and  has been the most surprising of the countries so far. But tomorrow we head to my favourite country in the whole world and the place I wish to someday call home: Austria. A new week is about to start, and two new countries and  even more adventures.

Find out about our time in Austria and Poland in Part 4 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

My interailing adventure: part 2

This is part two of my great interrailing adventure around Europe. In part 1 I shared our happenings in Italy, now here In part 2 it's all about what happened in Slovenia.

Day 7

Time to head to country number two: Slovenia. We head to the train station on the bus, which would be ok if we knew what the train station looked like. Luckilly a nice Italian man tells us what stop to get off at.  We think that that's the stressful part of the journey over, but oh no. At the train station, our "train" doesn't come up with a platform number, but the letters PR and a picture of a bus. Is it a bus? Is it a train? Who knows. We try to queue up at the ticket office to find out, but the queue is going extremely slowly. By this point we only have fifteen minutes left and are starting to panic. I finally find out that it is indeed a bus, yet it's not where it's supposed to be. More panicking. A few minutes before it's due the bus finally turns up. We're finally en route to Villach, Austria where we need to catch our train to Ljubjlana.

The journey to Villach takes roughly three hours. As we make our way through the Julian Alps we are blessed with incredible views of lush green hills and sparkling blue rivers. It's a hot sunny day and the sunlight brings out all of nature's shades in incredible brightness. I can barely put my camera down. In an Austrian Newspaper left on the bus I read that the country is currently having a heatwave, with highs of 38 degrees. I silently pray that it hasn't reached Ljubljana.

We have a two hour wait at Villach, so we camp out in the station and update our travel journals. Izzie makes her way through a couple of packs of crackers from her 20 pack multi pack that she bought in Rome. We thought they'd be finished by the time we left Italy, but we've barely had any.

Our train arrives. It's one of those old Harry potter trains, which makes Izzie really excited. It's only a 90 minute trip to Ljubljana and the journey takes us through leafy woods which give way to huge crystal blue lakes. I can hardly wait to get out and explore Slovenia.

At around half 6 in the evening we arrive in Ljubljana and now have the task of finding our way to the hostel. The directions tells us to go down a street we can't find. We know the hostel is near the city's famous landmark the Dragon Bridge, so we ask how to get there in the rent-a-car office near the station. For a moment the guy looks at us as if we're mad, before finally giving us directions. It's like wading through mud.

We finally find the Dragon Bridge and make our way to the hostel from there. it's only a short walk and within a few minutes we are all checked in. Home for the next few nights is H20 Hostel, which is a lot quieter and smaller than our one in Rome, but really nice. We're in a five bed dorm which is also like an apartment, as we have our own kitchen and bathroom, as well as space outside. Not bad for £10 a night.
There's the dragon.

We head out for a walk in the city and to get some dinner. Ljubljana is rather small for a capitol, but it's absolutely gorgeous and has some proper old town charm about it. There is a great atmosphere too as we head out, as the cafes and restaurants down by the river are full of people eating and sipping on beer and coffee. It's a lot more chilled here than Italy.

We have dinner at a traditional Slovenian restaurant by the river. I have this incredible pork dish with the most amazing potatoes I have ever tasted. After almost a week of past and pizza this is music to my taste buds..
All ready for dinner

Day 8

Our first full day in Ljubljana. We take advantage of the scorching heat outside and do our first batch of washing of the trip, as our clothes are all sweaty and disgusting from Rome. Money is tight, so we do it in the sink. There's not plug, so we improvise with an espresso cup which works like a treat. 

Today we visit Ljubljana castle. For 7 euros we manage to get entry to the castle and all of its exhibitions and a ride up on the little funicular. The view from the top though is priceless. I can see little orange roofs for miles on end.
What a view

The castle has several different exhibitions regarding the palace's  history and heritage, including one on methods of torture. Some of them are truly grotesque, for example one that is called the vaginal pear. I'll leave it to you to imagine what it does. 

We spend the afternoon walking the around the city centre. There are several cute shops selling handcrafted stuff that is made in Slovenia. This is a far cry from all the tourist tat in Rome. My favourite shop that we find is a place called Fox Boutique that sells hand printed tote bags with cute slogans, wooden magnets and postcards with inspirational quotes. This quirky sector of the capitol reminds me of a smaller version of Brighton's lane, only with less vegan cafes and people with dreadlocks.

Ljubljana is amazing for ice cream, even better than Italy. In the course of 2 days I try everything from peanut to popcorn.

Gotta pose with your pudding.

Tonight we decide to cook for the first time. We head to the supermarket to get supplies and come across the biggest bottle ( to be honest it's more like a vat) of red wine that I have ever seen. I don't know when you would ever need that much wine. I guess house parties are a riot in Slovenia.
Are you sure that's enough wine?

We decide on the backpacker's staple: pasta in tomato sauce. We're in desperate need of bacon, yet this doesn't seem to be a thing over here. They have over 50 types of sausage and salami, but seemingly no bacon. We buy something that looks remotely like bacon, but it turns out be Italian ham. We fry it anyway. It's all good. 

Jamie Oliver eat your heart out
By early evening the sky is a charcoal grey and the wind is picking up. We have everything crossed that a rainstorm is coming. So do our French Canadian dorm mates, who are as desperate for rain as we are. By about nine o clock a miracle happens and the sky erupts with beautiful droplets. RAIN! Finally. I stand out in it in my pyjamas, no shits given about how wet I get. It's so warm and the air already smells a lot fresher. I fall asleep just as the thunder begins to start. 

Day 9 

The gods like us today. They give us overcast weather. We spend the morning looking around the shops buying souvenirs and checking out the Metelkova district, a former army barrack, that is now a hipster haven. 
For lunch I try a Slovenian street food classic : The Burek. It's a bit like a Slovene version of a sausage roll, as it's normally a meat or cheese filling wrapped in layers of flaky filo pastry. Mine is filled with cheese and ham. For 2 euros I get several bites of flaky, salty yumminess, with enough leftover for tomorrow's train ride to Lake Bled.  

The sun decides to show its face in the early afternoon, so we head to Trivoli park for a walk in the sunshine. We're expecting something like Hyde Park, but in reality it's a lot woodier. And hillier. Jelly shoes doesn't suddenly seem like a good idea any more. I manage the climb anyway, despite my unsuitable footwear, and am blessed with gorgeous views of the city and beyond.

Standard wood selfie

On the way back we head to the supermarket for supplies. We manage to buy ready mixed cocktails for 70 cents, cans of radler for 50 cents and dessert for 20 cents. We go a bit mad and buy loads of food to send us into a beautiful food coma back at the hostel.
Nom Nom Nom

Our last night in Ljubljana. We take our drinks and deserts and sit with our little picnic on a bridge, whilst the sun sets. It's quiet and serene, until some god awful music that sounds like a demented fog horn starts up. We decide to call it a night and head back for some peace and quiet. 

Day 10 

Today we move on to Lake Bled. Our train isn't until 12, so we have one last wander around the city centre. It turns out that the Spanish couple in our room last night were the people with the vintage camera we saw on the bridge the day before. They wave us over and take a photo of us for free. They tells us that they are heading to Bosnia next. They go wherever they want, set the camera up and make the money needed for the next part of the journey. 

We find this bookshop that is literally filled head to toe with old books. We manage to pick up a few for the next part of the journey and chat to the friendly owner. He apologises for his broken English, yet we understand him perfectly. For the second time this trip I feel guilty that I can't respond in their mother tongue. 

Our train to Bled is only an hour. It is a viciously hot day, and I am desperate to jump into the lake. When we arrive it turns out that we aren't actually in Lake Bled and need to get a bus into the centre. We meet an American guy and two girls from New Zealand at the bus stop. I make the mistake of asking whereabouts in Australia they are from. They do not seem impressed. 

Our hostel is quite a walk from the bus station, but it takes us along a path with incredible views of the mountains. I am so excited to be back amongst  the mountains, it's like being back in Austria. 
We are staying at the Villa Mangart. , which seems to be a converted pension, and is in a traditional Slovenian house. Our room is the epitome of  alpine  chic with wood panelling from top to bottom and complete with gingham curtains. I am in interior design heaven. Pretty good for £13 a night. 

We get to the lake mid afternoon. I have been wanting to swim in it ever since I set eyes on it in a travel brochure several years ago. As I dip my toes in, the first touch is freezing, but when I get my shoulders under it's instantly refreshing. Everywhere I look I am confronted with dark green pine trees and lime green fields. This is easily one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. I lie on my back, let the sun shine on my face and breathe out. I am in heaven.
There's the lake.

For dinner we go to a traditional Slovene grill, where we have the biggest mixed grill I've ever seen. Sausage, pork, chicken, beef burgers, it's all here. It's every carnivore's wet dream. I savour every bite.

It seems that hiking in jelly shoes yesterday was a bad idea. My right foot has swollen up and can barely fit in my shoe.

Day 11

Today we're out of the hostel by nine, to seize the day. We hire bikes and attempt to cycle up to Vintgar Gorge, but the incline is too steep, so we push the bikes up and walk instead, hopping on when there is a patch of downhill.

The gorge itself is completely breath taking. We are lucky enough to get there before the majority of the crowds, and take advantage of the scarcely populated side walks by taking photo after photo and selfie after selfie. The water is so unbelievably blue, that it looks like someone has coloured it in with a turquoise crayon. It's so clear as well, that you can see all the fishes and rocks underneath. We gaze in awe of it all.
At the end of the gorge is a spectacular waterfall. It's so easy to take professional looking photos on your phone here, because everything is so photogenic. All you need to do is aim the lens, click and bam you have an instant work of art with no faffing or extra filters required. Makes getting one of those huge Nikons a bit pointless. 

The route back from the gorge is all downhill. As I wizz down I can feel the wind in my hair as I take in the view. I scream like a child. I feel alive. 

We cycle into the centre of Bled, intending to cycle around the whole lake. We cycle half of it and stop for a couple of hours to swim and sunbath. I could never get bored of swimming in this lake.
I wan't to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.
Whilst having dinner in the hostel kitchen we get talking to a group of Irish girls, a Londoner called George and an Australian called Sean. We all agree to head out for drinks in the centre later on. Apparently there is some big run around the lake this evening with a big after party, so we decide to give it a shot. 

We head out with the Irish girls just before 11 and meet the guys in a bar on the way. Turns out that loads of people from the girl's school are all in Bled at the same time. Literally loads of them. It's a small world. 
We head down to the lake, but there seems no be no sign of this festival, so we head to a bar on the other side of the lake, which has a good atmosphere, good music and reasonably cheap rum and cokes. We mean to leave at one, but end up standing outside talking to two guys from Leeds, Josh and Jonathan, who are hilarious. We finally decide to get moving just before two in search of a kebab shop. There only seems to be one in the whole of Bled, and it takes us an hour to get to it, as we go the longest route known to man through fields and a housing estate. But the walk is worth it for the best kebab I have ever had. I would eat it sober for dinner it's so good. 

Day 12

Our last day in Bled and in Slovenia. I'm not ready to leave this beautiful country, especially as we have a 14 hour train journey tomorrow. 

In the morning we get a cable car up one of the mountains surrounding the lake. The view from the top is phenomenal and possibly the best of the trip so far. But we didn't go up there just for the views. The mountain has a summer toboggan run. As I zoom round the first bend, my initial nerves fly into the wind as I make my way round the track. The adrenaline rush lasts for a good half an hour after.

We meet the guys at three for a swim in the lake. I'm kind of sad that this is the last time I'll get to swim in it, but tomorrows journey takes us to the Croatian coast, so that makes up for it. The boys decide to swim out to the island in the middle, but I'm no Olympic swimmer so I head inland and grab my book. 

In the evening we all sit downstairs and play cards. I'm sad to leave such great friends that I've made here, but everyone else is moving on tomorrow as well, which makes it less painful. Just before one I head to bed, as we have to be up at half 5 tomorrow. Croatia awaits.

Find out about my adventures in Croatia in Part 3.