I Really Really Really Like Leipzig-a-zig-ah

My high hopes for Leipzig were well and truly satisfied; this city a vast improvement on my slightly disappointing first stop in the land of the Deutsch. As soon as I got off the train I knew I was going to enjoy my time here. The locals seemed friendlier, the streets safer, and the atmosphere in general felt light-hearted and arty in a non-pretentious way. They clearly don’t take themselves, or their city, too seriously, which I really (really really) like (Leipzig-a-zig-ah). (Sorry.) One of the main ring roads is the Martin Luther Ring (lol), and even the light signals at pedestrian crossings come with a sense of humour. For STOP you get a luminous crucified scarecrow, and for GO the side profile of a radioactive Mario who has lost his kart and in somewhat of a hurry on foot.

The hostel I’m staying in is slap bang in the middle of the action, and possibly my favourite hostel thus far (and the cheapest by far: ker-ching). I arrived on Tuesday, which, as I waited patiently to check in at reception, I learned to be ‘Free Pancake Tuesday’. So my dinner that night was two freshly made Nutella and banana pancakes – gratis… I don’t think life gets much better?

And the people here just add to the charm of the place. I have met an aspiring German architect (Greta) who invited me on an evening walk around the city, post-pancakes (❤️); a one-part German / one-part English busking duo – I think the first buskers I have ever met?! – who have the best anecdotes; and a Sudanese classical singing student whose voice is like a warm chocolate fountain melting a marshmallow covered palace of diamond encrusted silk pillows. Seriously.

Right now it is quarter past three in the afternoon, I am sitting in the courtyard of a bar right next to my hostel, a glass of cool (temperature not temperament) dry white wine in hand (almost gone), a water fountain in front of me, and the afternoon sun for company… I really really really like Leipzig-a-zig-ah.

From Frikandel to Frankfurter

My last stop in the land of the Dutch was Utrecht. A university city, it was full of students and much less touristic than Amsterdam. However this meant that the hostel bar was full of local students working on their laptops which is not the ideal environment to meet fellow solo travellers. I checked in to my room and was surprised and disappointed to be the first to have arrived. On the upside, though, this enabled me to swap my allocated top bunk to a roomy bottom bunk (every cloud) and make my bed in peace. After a tasty tuna nicoise in the bar (see previous post) I headed back to my room to see if anyone had arrived. I was in luck! As the flush went on the toilet I wondered what delightful new travelling buddy I was about to meet. Out walked Matt from South Africa*, an early twenties, eagerly friendly, uber talkative type. I introduced myself and shook his hand (straight away) and then swiftly regretted my eagerness (hygiene wise…).

We went for a wander in the city and I tried my first Belgian waffle (lol – even my geographical knowledge sees through that). Smothered in Nutella, it was a calorie-laden matrix of unadulterated indulgence. Yum. Post-sugar high I soon came to realise that Matt from South Africa was a philosophical, “spiritual” (his words) individual who required such a depth of meaning to each and every sentence to be conversed that, frankly, to me, was a little tiresome. My talk about the latest shenanigans in towie really wasn’t going to cut it. So I humoured him. After a few hours (long hours) we were back at the hostel, and eager (desperate) I was to see if any newbies had landed in room 501. No luck.

We headed down to the bar to claim our 50% off your first drink voucher, and I couldn’t be happier to see a glass of Sauvignon Blanc. It wasn’t the best but…it contained alcohol. After dinner we went back to the room – high hopes again, again to no avail. We had discussed going to a wine bar with live jazz but, at this point, a date with Netflix, my headphones and the second series of Fargo seemed much more appealing. As I settled down on my bunk, trading vino in Utrecht for violence in Minnesota, I did not hear the door to room 501 open. My eyes flickered from the screen and fell upon a slightly portly, big-bearded, friendly looking sixty-something man, followed by his wheely suitcase, come trundling into the dorm. Hallelujah! I mean, he wasn’t a perfectly sculpted Greek Adonis with a rose between his teeth by any stretch of the imagination (no matter how many Sauvy Bs you had consumed) but he was ANOTHER PERSON TO SAVE ME FROM THE SOUTH AFRICAN! He turned out to be Ludo, a Belgian professor living in Bruges who was in Utrecht for a conference, and reminded me of a cross between Santa and the curly-haired male doctor from Holby City (I don’t even watch it so don’t know where that came from) who I have just Googled – Elliot Hope. Ahh. Now I could sleep easy.

The following day I had another mooch around the city, going to the cathedral (average) and the Miffy Museum (when the ticket lady warned me it was for children she really wasn’t lying). Touristy to-do list ticked off, delicious traditional frites and EXQUISITE mayonnaise (in nifty cardboard cone with balcony for sauce – genius) were for dinner. Despite the fact that I’m ‘not a huge chips fan’ these organic hand-cut fries from Frietwinkel (😉) were, in my opinion, the highlight of my stay.

Next morning I was off to Cologne – my first time in Germany. As I entered the city I immediately sensed a difference in feel. People seemed less friendly, the city somehow more gritty, and as I walked to my hostel I clutched my phone just a little bit tighter. The city itself was interesting once explored; the nicer, quirkier and more authentic side of town was the opposite end to my hostel, which was situated in the midst of the more touristic, run-of-the-mill neighbourhood.

I had a chilled few days in the Colognial sun, but would say that my experience in the fourth largest German city was not much to write home about (oh the irony)… I am now en route to Leipzig, ‘The New Berlin’, which I have high hopes for. Due to arrive in an hour or so, so, for now, Auf Wiedersehen, pet.

*Name and identity has not been changed in any way – praying he doesn’t stumble across this blog.


Finding Netherland 

Prelude
I just want to point out that I had written one third to one half of this blog post already, and then deleted it by mistake. Gah. Therefore I would urge you to be even more appreciative than normal of the below, as I am so bloody frustrated that I have to write it out again. Thanks v much.

***

I had high hopes for The Netherlands after a disappointing, lack lustre, boring, [insert derogatory adjective of your choice] twenty hours or so in Antwerp. (Twenty hours that I will never get back.) To my delight I arrived at my hostel in Rotterdam – King Kong – to find it was, like, totally the coolest place ever. The walls were decorated with signs made of lights and teddy bear apes and the staff were of the Urban Outfitters / The Breakfast Club variety: I-can-pull-off-even-the-most-ridiculous-of-outfits-because-of-my-vibe. Their over-enlarged personal sense of coolness didn’t fool me, however, but, you know, I just went with it.

Too early to check in and with Belgian beer withdrawal symptoms intensifying by the second (it had been over an hour since crossing the border), I took a seat in the hostel’s quirky and mismatched cushion adorned bar (continuing the UO theme nicely) and ordered my new favourite tipple. Ahh. Now? Lunch. After a quick perusal of the menu I HAD to go for the falafel and houmous on toast (totally up my street). It was everything I thought it would be and more, and will be one I recreate back in the UK (you can thank me later).

In my post-houmous happy place I checked in to my room to find ropes and monkey bars hanging from the ceiling; new elements to the playground of bunk bed ladders I am becoming ever more accustomed to. (I only now – well, the first time I wrote this post in actual fact – have realised the reason behind these objects (if you’re as slow as me, clue: hostel name). I can’t believe I didn’t catch on sooner. Haha.) Also in my room I met the super cool (and super tall) Trine from Norway. Four years younger than me and about four feet taller, I spent the following two days trotting along about a yard behind her, out of breath trying to keep up with the effortless strides,  wondering what an hilariously ridiculous duo we must look. (Now I have an understanding of how my mum must feel when walking with me when I’m in a hurry…sorry Moo.) Despite the disparity in leg length we were mature enough to put our differences to one side (isn’t that what travelling’s all about?) and set out to plan our first night in Rotterdam. Having left the UK a good five days before the EuroVision song contest final, I thought (naively) that I would escape the lengthy and painful experience that is watching it on the TV. Wrong. Turns out Trine is a super fan… So I spent my first night in The Netherlands in a gay bar watching the EuroVision song contest surrounded by Trine’s fellow Dutch super fans. It was actually quite a good laugh.

The following day in Rotterdam marked the final of a national football tournament in which the local team – Feyenoord – were playing for gold, a feat that they had not achieved for 17 years. We watched the game in a little Dutch pub that was full to the brim of die-hard football fans (plus the little and large blonde duo), and managed to get a spot right by one of the screens. Feyenoord scored their first of three goals within the first minute, causing the entire pub to go absolutely mental and what felt like an entire pint of beer to be poured straight over my head… They went on to win 3-1 and it was fun to experience such sporting patriotism in another country (albeit a little bit sticky).

After a thorough hair wash the following morning I headed to the second ‘Dam (this time of Amster). Again, this city did not disappoint! It was chilled, interesting and beautiful (if you ignore the omnipresent scent of weed) and is the city I have felt safest in thus far. (I think everyone is too high to care about pick-pocketing or being leery.) My time spent in the capital was an equal mix of culture and…cocks. The high brow Van Gough Museum was balanced with the raise of an eyebrow Sex Museum, and the picturesque canalside walks were cheapened by attending my first (and last) peep show. Without getting too graphic, picture an out-of-shape bold man dunking his undercooked supermarket own brand frikandel into an out-of-date and overcooked steak pie that is lacking some gravy… Given I was in the capital of sex it was truly the least sexy thing ever. If you weren’t turned off already a stroll around the red light distict past window upon window of desperate looking ladies really does the trick. But, it was an appropriate way to end my last night in the city!

I have now touched down in Utrecht – unknown to me before being recommended by fellow travellers – for my last couple of nights in Holland before moving east to Germany. The hostel seems cool so far, and I can recommend the tuna nicoise (although it is nothing on the houmous and falafel on toast).


Belgian Beer

I am delighted to report I have survived my first FOUR (can barely believe it myself) nights in a hostel, which now makes me a fully fledged travelling pro. No?

I managed to get the bottom bunk in both hostels (wahey) but this fortune was instrumental in the 157 bangs to the head I have suffered thus far (not so yay). The showers proved better than I was expecting, and with my trusty flip flops on foot (complimentary from Dormy House Hotel, obviously) I can confirm I have stayed clean and smelling fresh all week. (Except today, as I forgot to take my towel – apologies in advance to the people of Antwerp (next stop).) The only slight hiccup was on the first morning, during my post-first-pre-breakfast-run-in-Belgium shower. I couldn’t detach my brand spanking new travelling watch (rose gold, digital display, H&M) from my wrist (which I think was faulty in the first place as it required a pair of pliers to put on back in the motherland (with the mother). (She can vouch for the palaver.) So after spending 10 minutes in the shower cubicle in nothing but my secret bum bag (I can’t remember what the term is but not at all crude), breaking my fingernails like New Years resolutions on February 1st trying to get the ruddy watch off my wrist, I decided: enough is enough. This watch was not going to stop me getting my free breakfast, the time limit for which was rapidly decreasing. So I had my first one-handed shower, with my left arm outstretched throughout to protect my beautiful and infuriating watch from the spray. The following day was hair-wash day, which definitely requires a two-handed shower. As painful as it was, as attached we had become, as elegantly it told the time; Mr Watch had to go, and we haven’t spoken since.

Other notable disasters include: trying to pay with a 10 kuna (Croatian currency) note for drinks in a bar on my first night in Ghent (very much in the Eurozone). It took me a good 30 seconds to realise why the barman was a real-life boomerang video, eyes flicking from me to the money, me to the money, with one eyebrow fiercely raised. Another was while eating a money-saving supermarket dinner in my dorm room on my first night in Bruges. Bread, houmous, cheese, red wine…what more could one want? A mixed pot of olives, sundried tomatoes and mozzarella balls – belissimo! That was until I had my first ball of mozzarella…which turned out to be a whole clove of GARLIC. Eughehgh. (That one’s for you, dad.) The third and final mishap mis-happened just last night. All week I have been droning on about getting (sorry father – having) moules frites. And last night – my final night in Bruges – was going to be THE night. I researched online (obvi) “where does the best moules frites in Bruges?”. After some deliberation I settled on Poules Moules. Poules Moules! So we got dressed up, strolled into the city and arrived at said moules joint. Unbeknown to us (and the lack of watch did NOT help), it was 10pm already and Poules Moules were serving no more. Distaster! We then trekked round the ENTIRE city (I was in heels) to find every single restaurant was closed (even McDonald’s, which, yes, we did try). Thankfully someone was looking over us (who goes by the name of Siri) and we managed to find a relatively busy bistro on the corner of the main square. And what was their special of the day? Moules Frites! Thank f*ck for that.

Anyway, I digress. Back to the point. Other than the aforementioned travesties, my time in Belgium so far has been beer, beer and a little more beer. A beer flavoured Belgian chocolate (incredible), a beer tasting with a twee-looking long-bearded kind of elf man (interesting) and generally just getting on the beers son (init).

The Adventure Begins

Slight anti-climax when I got to my allocated seat on the Eurostar (coach 14, seat 11 – in case you were wondering (and I would recommend)) with the realisation of no onboard WiFi (not one of the ‘new and refurbished trains’ to my despair). How could I write my first legitimate interrailing post with no onboard WiFi? I was (and am) outraged! Spent the first hour or so eating my lunch (M&S Food, naturally) (didn’t take the whole hour) and embarked upon the one book I had remembered to download pre-departure. What a bloody relief. Thus far have read the first two chapters, which (for those who know me well) is nothing short of miraculous.

Then. I had a brainwave. (I mean you don’t survive one third of an arts degree without this kind of creative thinking.) I could type now and post later. Genius!

I thought I would be a quivering wreck with mascara down my face and a runny nose when I said goodbye to my lovely mother (Moo Moo) at St Pancras. (I thought she might be too.) But, after our swift half at the station’s champagne bar we were verging on the tipsy side of excited and I was raring to go! After our long-awaited farewell hug and a photo of me going through security (always a photo opportunity) I was on my way.

And now I’m sat (still in coach 14, seat 11) on the Eurostar on my way to Brussels and then onto Ghent. I’m excited to see Belgium for the first time and can’t wait for my first Belgian beer. I wonder who I will be ‘cheers’ing (or even what cheers is in French / Flemmish)?! Really must do my research before my next stop…

That’s the end of the first rambling you’ll be devastated to hear. It’s 14:52 UK time as a type, who knows when I will post…Au Revoir!

Amuse-bouche

What better way to ease myself in to the idea of interrailing for 6 months; do some vital preparation for the 10-bed shared dorms, living on a budget, lugging around a hefty backpack; and truly get a feel for the European way of life than… a week staying in a beautiful family home in a secure gated community with private outdoor swimming pool, sunning myself in South Africa – obviously.

This little (ahem) guy is Giraffey, who I bumped into at Gauteng’s Lion & Safari Park. I tried out my Italian on him, but, he wasn’t much of a talker…

Giraffe