I am Sixteen, Going on Seventeen*

My two-stop tour of Austria started in the home of The Sound of Music and ended in that of the Sachertorte. Salzburg is a charming and playful bric-a-brac city, the centre of which is made up of a rabbit warren of cobbled streets and alleys, with beautiful gems along every path and around every corner. Delicately intricate shop signs hang above each and every window, filling the narrow passages with a homemade sense of character; a maze-like map of your surroundings overhead. And all of this simply the opening scene for the magnificent backdrop of endless mountains disappearing into a hazy pastel-coloured sky. In contrast, Vienna is like its bigger, more sophisticated (and less fun) older sister. The streets are wider, the shops more glamorous, the architecture more grand. The city feels more secure in itself, but lacks the quirky, handmade feel of its younger sibling, to whom life still feels an adventure to explore.

After lunch with latest new friend for life Justyn (of Kraków fame) at understated and delicious vegan kitchen GustaV (I had the house salad with cashew cheese – highly recommended), I embarked upon one of Salzburg’s most famous sights: Festung Hohensalzburg (a whopping great fortress atop a whopping great hill). Given that it was 32°C (and rising) I went for the funicular option, which whizzes you up (and down) in a jiffy. Marvellous. The grounds were historic and interesting, but the best feature by far was the spectacular view. A sea of blue, green, grey and cream hues paint an idyllic scene which you could gaze at for hours without getting bored. I spent the rest of the day wandering, wondering if my eyes would survive looking at a mere averagely beautiful city after what they were just exposed to. The jury’s still out…

Along with some obligatory modern art exposure, the rest of my time in the baroque city was very much The Sound of Music focussed. Shown at 8pm EVERY SINGLE NIGHT at my hostel, it would have been rude not to spend one of my two evening’s watching the classic in the place it was filmed. And boy it did not disappoint. (With the addition of ordering a pizza to be delivered straight to my armchair midway through; things couldn’t have got much better.) Full of the rays of golden sun (and pizza), I endeavoured to hit up as many of the famous featured locations as I could the following morning before catching the train to Vienna. I leisurely do-re-mi’d my way through Mirabell Gardens. The luscious green lawns embellished with millions of bright blooms would have given some serious garden envy (if I had a garden (or even a house (or even a damp basement flat)) to my name). I took far too many photos of the Pegasus Fountain where Julie Andrews and her troops do-re-mi’d before me (and you’ll be relieved to hear that I didn’t reenact the scene, playing the part of youngest and cutest von Trapp, Gretl, with my selfie stick to capture it all on film (or did I…)). Having exhausted Mirabell (and my vocal chords) I headed to Nonnberg Abbey (to beg for forgiveness for my sins against music). Situated ‘at the foot of’ the whopping great Festungsberg (felt like at least halfway up as I clamboured towards it), the convent itself was closed! Looks like I wasn’t going to be granted forgiveness after all, but at least my pedometer would be thankful for the trip.

Then – to Vienna! The hostel – not that I thought possible – was to overtake Munich to claim Worst Hostel Yet, but the city was large and there was lots of exploring to do. A looong walk to the city centre from said hostel took me down a pretty trendy street full of cool and quirky bars and cafés with fairy lights galore (anything sporting fairy lights gets a thumbs up from me), with plenty advertising reasonably-priced Hugo Spritz (my new fave heatwave tipple). So that was my evening sorted! As I made my way into the heart of the city everything got bigger and more exaggerated – the size of the buildings, the width of the streets, the grandeur in general. Gelato in hand (pistachio, every time) I strolled the stylish streets, constantly gazing up at the impressive architecture, soaking up the Viennese sun. I soon realised that no matter how beautiful the architecture, there are only so many churches / palaces / politically important buildings a girl can take. I’m sure they each have their nuances and significance, and in isolation would be fantastic places to explore, but I was finding going from city to city to city was getting a little boring. On this realisation, it was definitely time for some prosecco. That helped. A lot.

My remaining few days in the Austrian capital involved visiting Schönbrunn Palace (lovely, but see previous paragraph); an ‘alternative’ free walking tour (meeting place was in a super dodgy area, where I waited (next to the sausage stand, as advised) for a total no-show); my first try of traditional Viennese Sachertorte (wasn’t that taken); and free outdoor opera broadcast live from the opera house (seemed a great opera, but sang in French with German subtitles – so I was a little none the wiser).

Now I’m all citied out, I’m heading to the mountains in Slovakia for some relaxing, trekking, and generally just frolicking around in nature for a bit. I can’t wait!

*Just kidding (but that’s clearly how old I look – sans make-up (and, for that matter, avec make-up) – having induced more than a handful of heart attacks when I confirm that I’m actually twenty-five).

Munich… Meh

My latest escapade back into Deutschland was… a bit disappointing really. The hostel (nodded to in previous post) set the initial tone – one akin to a perpetual headache  – but I won’t bore you with the details. (Just a few quickfire bullets to set the scene: extremely rude and annoyingly good looking Romanian receptionist; full-to-the-brim fridge of old forgotten food; the bed bug scare of 2017.)

And now for the city. To me, Munich felt like just another big city. From it I didn’t get a sense of charm or personality, just a handful more bier gartens than usual and an abundance of laiderhossen-clad legs in the main square (the city celebrated its 862nd birthday while I was there, and I think they use any excuse to don their famous trouser). The biggest and most renowned brewery, Hofbräuhaus, was a huge indoor chamber of ornately decorated curved cream ceilings with dark wooden panelling; old fashioned streetlamp-esque light fittings hanging down from the high arches; an expanse of great long wooden tables and benches set out in dozens and dozens of rows; and crammed full of thirsty / hungry / merry / replete Bavarian beer lovers and wide-eyed tourists. Beer by the bucketful splashed here, there and everywhere; gigantic mega-portions of meat-based German delicacies were scattered across the tables at varying stages of demolition; and a jolly, beer-bellied brass band took centre stage to cheer on proceedings. I imagine if you’re a hungry, meat-loving beer enthusiast in the depths of winter this would be your holy sanctuary. (Being more of a wine-drinking pescetarien in what felt like the peak of a European heatwave, I decided to decline on a hearty portion of whole roasted knuckle of pork and litre of Hofbräu Dark.)

A little out of town is the BMW Welt (not quite sure what the heck ‘Welt’ means) and museum, where you can pretend you are an extreme off-road motorcyclist, the owner of many a swish new model of BMW car, and shopping for your latest Rolls Royce to add to the collection, all in the one convenient visit. A little too embarrassed to clamber onto one of the fierce looking motorbikes (I was wearing a pink bardot top under a twee denim dungaree dress after all), I did make sure I sampled some of cars (one of the few girls getting into the driving seats in a roughly 20:1 male:female visitor ratio, and inspected the roped-off Rolls Royces scrupulously (in my expert opinion they looked pretty freakin’ awesome). After a morning of automobilic day dreaming I headed to next-door Olympiapark for lunch and a chill in the sun. Tumbling hills of bright green grass surrounded a large, glistening, pedalo-filled lake; a pretty acceptable view with which to enjoy my sandwich and rest my legs (impersonating a filthy rich car shopper is tiring work).

Along with the UK, the temperature in Munich was ever-increasing so for my last full day in the city I decided to explore Englischer Garten (when I say explore I mean find a nice spot for which to conduct an exhausting day of lying in the sun) (it’s a hard life). The garden was INCREDIBLE. Acres of grass, woodland, rivers and waterfalls intertwined to create a chunky slice of paradise away from the stuffy centre of the city. (Of course in the epicentre of this natural haven was an extensive outdoor beer garden.) The streams rushed by at such a pace that there were a number of surfing spots where amateur surfers came to practice their skills, lining up along the bank and in quick succession taking it in turns to ride the narrow waves for as long as they could before being swept away then clamouring back up to rejoin the back of the queue. It was fascinating to watch. All of them clearly talented, you got the egotistical know-it-alls who hogged the limelight with one too many turns, and then the unfortunate cringe-inducing non-starters who were swallowed up by the rapid current almost as soon as their boards hit the water. But they were still having a great time! After watching them all go I am definitely going to take surfing lessons in Portugal… Here’s to being a wetsuit-wearing cringe-inducing non-starter!

***

Postscript 

Am starting to feel a little poor and lonely. If any of my lovely, loyal and generous readers (did I mention that you’re lovely?) would like to send a gift – perhaps a handsome, charming gentleman (nationality unspecified) to take me out for a candlelit romantic dinner for two – it would be gratefully received. (You could even share the postage cost of my ‘lost’ interrail tickets being sent to me in Budapest which, it transpires, I did in fact leave (BY MISTAKE) at my dad’s windmill, for him to find 6 weeks after I left the UK… Ooooops 🙈)

Czech Mate

Back to life in a hostel (worst one yet) sharing the midnight hours with seven fellow travellers (worst ones yet (after Callum and Rory’s departure (not bitching about you two (yet))) staying for my first time in yet another new city (one of the best ones yet). When I arrived into Prague’s central bus station* (one hour behind schedule) the sky was overcast and heavy and with it a hum of humidity accompanied me on my walk to the hostel. Not the best first impression. Check-in was standard (now that I’m such a backpacking pro an’ all). By the time I had dumped my stuff I was absolutely ravenous. It was almost 4 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch. What a travesty! I needed to find somewhere quick. And I needed to find somewhere good. A thirty-second stroll along a winding alleyway from my hostel entrance brought me to the most idyllic looking restaurant. Seating in an outdoor garden, a menu that was right up my street, and – to my surprise – prices to match the budget of someone who had recently lost £438 worth of travel (if you’re lost see asterisk, below). Warm chickpea salad with spinach, courgette, aubergine and sundried tomatoes. That had my name written all over it. And it didn’t disappoint. (I even went back two days later for round two of the same.) prague was taking a turn for the better.

Aside from the obvious – beautiful buildings to admirably gaze up at, narrow cobbled streets to get wonderfully lost in, delicious ice cream to indulge in around every corner – I had insider info that made my stay in Prague even more spectacular than it might  already have been. I’d met a Praguer (correct – I looked it up) at my first hostel in Ghent, and dropped him a quick line in preparation for my stay in the Czech capital. Expecting a few quick bullet points of tourist hotspots, I instead received a long email detailing all of his favourite spots in the city (including how to get to them) which opened up my stay to a whole new world of the real city behind its touristy facade. This was bloody brilliant. Following said advice I discovered the most amazing secluded secret garden full of perfectly preened bushes, perfectly sculptured statues, perfectly placed pretty pink flowers, and about two other people to share the whole place with. It was like stepping into a different world of serenity amidst the hectic selfie stick clad tourist filled streets of the city centre. And relax. A chilled evening on the shore of the Vltava river with a couple of beers and a catch up on life since Kraków with Californian babe Sophie was another recommendation that made me feel like I was way cooler than all the other tourists who didn’t have the local lowdown. And to top it of, the best recommendation of all was an incredible rooftop bar, just steps away from the Old Town square, which had fabulous views over the city centre. We arrived up at the fourth floor terrace and as we were being seated were amazed to find that we were the only people up there! The whole bar to ourselves, delicious cocktails, wonderful views and the early evening sun as a lovely warming blanket of happiness. It was pretty perfect.

But it wasn’t just the insider spots I checked out. No. I totally did the tourist thing too. On the heaviest day (31,873 steps taken, 18 km covered) I walked up to the gigantic Prague Castle complex (the largest in the world I’ll have you know), making my way around the extensive grounds, exploring the cathedral, basilica, palace… They were all great to see, of course, but I’d definitely overdosed on my quota of historical buildings that day. Now for some of the great outdoors. I embarked upon the tall, steep and sweat-inducing Petřín Hill. And if climbing its hefty 327 metres wasn’t enough, I decided to tackle the lookout tower poised at the very top. ‘Loosely inspired by the Eiffel Towel’ (slightly offensive to the Eiffel Tower – it is actually quite ugly), I conquered its 299 steps and got yet more beautiful views across the whole of Prague and beyond. Thank God a breeze got up as I was seriously sticky. After a successful descent I made my way back to the dorm for a quick power nap before more fun and games in the evening with new Scottish pals Callum and Rory.

First stop: renting a pedalo to cruise around the river. Wahoo! (My long-awaited first time on any waterway during this trip.) I suggested bringing my selfie stick with trepidation and was received with unanimous positivity. We were definitely on the same page. After dinner (and much pissing about time, on their part) we made our way down to the river, chose our pedalo, and off into the sunset we went. With three in a boat it was a bit of a balancing act (literally) but the selfie stick got a lot of love, and our thighs a much needed workout. We avoided the danger zones successfully, rounded the island (Shooter’s Island to be precise) and made it back to the pontoon in three (whole) pieces (after some interesting mooring navigation from one of our party. (Not me. Or Rory.) Now it was time for football. It was the England friendly against France and, as I was with Scots, they were going to support the French, obviously (they were still wounded from the Scotland / England draw the previous weekend). But first we had to try the city’s gelato-en delicacy: trolo – rolled dough that is wrapped around a stick, grilled, topped with a sugar and walnut mix, and filled with ice cream and a whole host of other calorific delights. I went for the ‘King’. It truly was regal. The deep fried dough spiral was filled with vanilla ice cream and topped with – wait for it – chocolate brownie pieces, walnuts, salted caramel sauce AND chocolate sauce. I mean… trés bon. Trés, trés naughty. Now for the footy. We found a cosy Irish pub from which to watch. The game, although disappointing (on my part), was fun to watch, and we got the added extra of a live Irish band post match. We just needed someone Welsh to complete the kingdom! After a quick costume change à la hostelle we headed to the Jewish Quarter for a cocktail in airplane-themed bar Hanger. Interesting. The cocktails were inordinately strong (maybe that was the altitude), and the waitress was wearing a rather comical and kitsch stewardess-wannabe outfit (tilted hat included). We survived the gin-induced turbulence and called it a night before being dragged out of our double-booked seats kicking and screaming.

For my final night in Prague I decided to treat myself to the opera, darling. An interesting performance of Rusalka (basically the story of The Little Mermaid) awaited me, with even more interesting English subtitles alongside. I wouldn’t say that it was the most earth-shatteringly exsquisite artistic performance I had ever been witness to, but it was rather jolly. (The merlot I ordered during intermission #2 was barely drinkable, but that’s another matter.) And that concludes my stay in the Czech Republic! 

I’m now in Munich, in a hostel that strongly contests the first bracketed clause (of many, I’m aware) in this post. I’m midway through my stay here (I started this post while on the bus two days ago but couldn’t power through the travel sickness enough to type), so will get back to Bavaria and fill you in in due course (wish me luck).

*Now that my mum knows, and the associated worry has been and gone, I can disclose that there was in fact another mildly infuriating event in the Polish capital (this one unfortunately less mild) which, previously unstated for fear of inflicting unnecessary maternal worry, was the cherry on the dumpling-filled cake that was my trip to Warsaw. As I started packing my valuables back into my backpack in preparation for checking out I soon came to realise that I could no longer find my month two and three interrail passes… How mildly  i n f u r i a t i n g.  As I emptied my ENTIRE backpack onto the dorm room floor (much to my room mates’ delight) I checked every pocket and zipper (thrice each) to no avail. Warsaw really had run out of luck. So obviously the first thing I did in this situation was go to the hostel bar and order a beer. (Well it was happy hour.) As I – all at once and in a hurry – offloaded to new Dutch gal pal, emailed every hostel I had stayed in so far to see if they had the passes and downed a bottle of Tyskie, the panic began to subside (that’s Polish beer for you) and I calmed, ready to tackle this latest revelation with positivity. Now I didn’t have to begrudge paying compulsory reservation fees; didn’t need to always get the train because of my pass, even if the bus was more convenient; and didn’t have to carry around the stupid ruddy old fashioned paper (paper!) ticket and fill it out by hand for each and every journey. No. Now I was free to travel whichever way I wanted. Now I was officially a bus wanker. (And thus I celebrated with my pierogi dinner (and you know how that ended).)


Vrots-wahf

Wrocław (pronunciation above (I bet that’s not what you were expecting)) was a very different stop compared to my previous destinations. The first place I have not stayed in a hostel, I instead booked an Airbnb for three nights. I could pretend that this was because I wanted to treat myself; stretch out in a double bed, do yoga in the comfort of my pyjamas, be free from the incessant snoring / door slamming / alarm clocks of fellow travellers. I could. But that would be a lie. (And, in the infamous words of Jeremy Atkins (daddy dearest for those who have not yet had the pleasure), “I never lie”.) Truthfully it was because I left it until my last day in Kraków to book a hostel, and there were absolutely none available (not even with my rating and price filters well and truly out the window). So an Airbnb it was. I was very much looking forward to some luxury and privacy. A movie night, perhaps, or maybe even a full on pamper evening with face mask and cucumber slices – why the hell not?! (Obviously my backpacker budget would not permit buying a whole cucumber for two measly eye patches, but it adds a flourish to the story so…) But this was when I thought I had booked the whole apartment. Ohh no… Definitely misread the blurb. I arrived to a nice enough flat in a great location, but with 4 separate bedrooms and a shared kitchen and bathroom. Definitely wasn’t going to be doing downward dog in the nude in the entrance hall.

Nice cobbled streets, large main square, interesting buildings, multiple churches / museums / baroque architecture, hundreds of cafés / restaurants / bars, etc., etc. Wrocław ticked all the boxes of a good small Polish city, and did so with ease. And the added extra? Scattered around the city were over 300 little dwarves carrying out day-to-day activities (posting letters, checking oneself out in the mirror, chilling on a bench), posed outside hundreds of doorways and entrances, just waiting to be spotted. Maybe I was suffering from a lack of social interaction; I made it my mission to meet as many of these gnomes of possible, and obviously introduce them to the art of the selfie. (Unlike real people who can be who can be fiercely opposed to this modern form of photography, the dwarves didn’t give me any grief about my selfie stick.)

Unfortunately for the blog, not a lot of momentous events took place during my time here. I mean, I can tell you about the food (always). I treated myself to sushi (solo) on my first night, after two failed attempts to eat at a recommended sushi bar in Kraków (attempt 1: I took us to the totally wrong building (I blame maps.me); attempt 2: fully booked (agh)), and it really was deliciouso. Five pieces of sashimi; five pieces of uramaki (inside out sushi roll) filled with aubergine (totally my favourite vegetable), spring onion and turnip, topped with raw tuna; about a dozen different dipping sauces; a glass of sweet choya = very happy girl. One lunch I tried out a vegan burger joint and it was the best burger (vegan, vege, cow (or buffalo)) I have ever eaten. Magnificent portobello mushrooms, creamy coleslaw (still vegan), sensational sauce… just trust me on this one. If you ever go to Wrocław – try it: MO. And last night I celebrated cooking my first ever baked sweet potato (filled with spinach, red onion, cherry tomatoes and cottage cheese: yum.

Now my time in the land of the Poles is over and I am currently en route to Prague. Never (ever) thought I would say this, but… I can’t wait to return to staying in a hostel!

A Krácking Time

My second stop in Poland beat its predecessor hands down. Kraków was lively, interesting, historic, authentic. I had been recommended the city by a number of friends and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Arriving early afternoon, my first day was spent wandering aimlessly (a pastime I would definitely recommend for your first day in a new city), making my way through the Old Town and stumbling across the Wawel (which I like to pronounce with the British ‘W’ because… well, it’s just more fun that way). The grand castle consisted of numerous paid rooms and exhibits (I wasn’t willing to pay for anything), so I wandered around (aimlessly) and took in the magnificent grounds. It was like a real life fairy tale castle with beautiful brickwork and stunning greenery, and quiet enough by this time in the afternoon that I wasn’t swamped by herds of children on school trips (a daily occurrence in Poland, from my little experience). I was beginning to tire and headed back to the hostel, via a bar for a glass of wine, naturally. This cheered me up and brought back my razzmatazz. (Can you tell I’ve had a beer before writing this?)

The hostel I was frequenting was very social and like a great big family, with home-cooked dinners, team games and a group night out each evening. A bit too much ‘organised fun’ for my liking, but it did make it very easy to meet fellow travellers, and the ones I met here were second to none. Both in quantity and quality. They really were great. Harriet from Melbourne (I think?!) (defo Australian) was LITERALLY the funniest person I have EVER met. EVER. I swear I must have lost weight just being in her vicinity due to constant hysteria. I wish I could take her in my backpack for the rest of my trip. (I would have a banging body come November.) California-based Sophie (Kate Upton lookalike) was a total sweetheart. Just graduated from college (in American accent) she was travelling around Israel (a fellow Jew-by-default), Asia and now Europe before starting her career. We shared a bottle of red wine post-Auschwitz (we needed it) and anyone who is up for sharing a bottle of red wine has got to be a friend for life, right? Intimidatingly cool American newly-graduated interior designers Ayla (A-luh not I-luh) and Meave turned out not to be intimidating at all, but quirky, creative and brainy. (We had a wonderfully intelligent discussion about world politics over dinner, and a bottle of red…) And not forgetting Justyn (not a typo) who fooled Hilarious Harriet into believing he was 37 (he is 26) and who did his back in sharing my umbrella in the rain (he is about 7-feet tall). So, all in all, a great bunch of lunatics!

Along with a plethora of cafés, restaurants and bars (serving, among other delights, a large array of wódka), Kraków was a base for lots of cultural and historically important sightseeing and trips, most notably to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Nine from our hostel went on the day trip together which started out, ironically, rather comincally. Our minibus driver was a middle-aged, rotund Polish guy who insisted on telling each and every one of us (one at a time), in broken English, the exact instructions for what was going to happen once we arrived at the concentration camp (which was a two-hour drive away). This tickled us all no end. We finally set off (once we were all well versed in the afternoon’s itinerary) in two separate cars (Ayla & Maeve missed out on the party bus (my bus obviously)), and the two driver’s proceeded to call each other semi-frequently (we knew they were talking to one another as we could see the other driver on his phone out the rear windscreen), talking a whole lot of Polish that we did not understand. A little dubious as to what was so important that needed to be discussed continually, while the journey seemed to be taking far longer that expected, and worrying whether we would ever reach Auschwitz, we did eventually make it and made our way to the entrance (not before being told the afternoon’s itinerary). (I figured the drivers must have just been catching up on last night’s TOWIW (The Only Way is Wódka).)

Auschwitz itself was not what I was expecting. It was very much a tourist spot which I feel lessened the impact it could (and should) have had. Without doubt I think it is vitally important for us to be knowledgeable about our history and learn from past mistakes (monstrosities), but the sites were so well set up for hoards of visitors and guided tours that you immediately felt detached from the stories and the people whom the memorial is for. It was very interesting and shocking to see the appalling conditions and hear about the horrific treatment the prisoners were subject to while standing in the very rooms, courtyards and pathways within which the unforgivable events took place. A huge glass display case filled with deteriorating hair cut from an estimated 140,000 victims was an overwhelming sight which I think would struggle to leave any visitor unaffected. But the headsets that we had to wear to hear our tour guide speaking through a microphone (when stood two metres away) and the constant photographing (me included) took away from the solemnity that those who suffered at these camps truly deserve.

Along with Auschwitz-Birkenau I visited Schindler’s Factory (a bit of a let-down as I was hoping to explore and learn more about Schindler’s Factory (too presumptuous?!) and it was in fact a museum about the war in general (and rather over crowded); followed by next-door MOCAK (the museum of contemporary art) which was super duper (positively overbalanced the disappointing morning); and on my last full day Kościuszko Mound which was, literally, a big grass mound that we paid to climb up, but was actually a really good and different trip which gave great views overs the whole of Kraków (and great selfie stick opportunities).

I have now left Kraków (but totes gunna go back) and am in Wrocław. Pronunciation (not what you expect) and my take on the city to come…


Warsaw: A Series of Mildly Infuriating Events

I arrive in Warsaw on a grey Thursday afternoon, and am surprised by my first impressions. What stands out to me the most initially is the urban landscape scattered with fantastic architecture. I’m not sure if Warsaw is famed for this or not, but it certainly drew my attention, and intrigued me to what other gems the city might have to offer. My hostel was right in the centre of the Old Town, next door to a very traditional looking Polish restaurant – Zapiecek – with waitresses (no male waiter’s – slightly sexist) dressed in rather comical fancy dress style red floral frocks with navy corsets (gorsets) and a big red flower slapped subtly in their hair. (See more in penultimate paragraph.)

The hostel itself was good (bar the funky (used negatively) smelling toilet which one did not become accustomed to), and the series of aforementioned events did not commence until the following morning…

Equipped with my Lonely Planet guide for Warsaw, a city map from the hostel and maps.me at the touch of a button (tap of a screen), I planned my first full day with fervour. The ‘alternative’ Praga called to me; the ‘gritty’, ‘bo-ho’ and ‘up-and-coming’ district, home to the ‘artistic’ Soho Factory. Sounds great. Waking up to a super sunny morning, I decided to walk the journey rather than take the bus (half true…half because I didn’t have a clue where to get the bus to and this conundrum of which bus to get and where to alight stresses me out, mightily). The walk was actually very pleasant; along it I topped up my tan and listened to the WHOLE latest Ed Sheeran album (it was quite a walk) (but I do love Ed Sheeran). As I arrived into Praga I realised the tantalising description of the suburb was a little…optimistic. More hobo than bo-ho. I reasoned perhaps this was just the outskirts, and that the fabulous Soho Factory would well and truly knock my socks off. As I entered the factory complex things did begin to improve. I tracked down Kofi (a pre-existing pin on my map after my research session) the ‘cool cafe’ at which I was going to refuel following my trek. Approaching the counter it looked very much like a cool (don’t get me wrong) cafe, but serving coffee and only coffee. “Do you serve food?” I asked tentatively, after ascertaining that the guy in charge of the coffee beans spoke ‘a little’ English. His answer? “No.” Fabulous! “Apart from sandwiches and cakes.” Phew! Talk about making me sweat. I chose my sandwich (teeny tiny filled roll), egg mayonnaise, and ordered a flat white – the first time I had seen this on a menu since departing from St Pancras. While he was making my coffee I tried to engage in a little conversation, you know, to get some local tips about the area and the best places to visit. “So where are the best places to go around here?” “ONE MOMENT!” came the curt reply (clearly the heating of my milk required such a depth of concentration that any small talk was totally out of the question). This better be a bloody good flat white. Once he had artfully (and arrogantly) poured my coffee, creating a nice, but not spectacular, milk leaf, he was ready (able) to talk. “So where are the best places to go around here?” “There is nowhere around here worth going to. Except us.” Fabulous take two! I can’t believe I had just walked an hour for an egg roll.

As I savoured my morsel of lunch, I went back to the drawing board. There must be something worth seeing in this district. I had already planned a visit to the Neon Museum (a few buildings away), but wanted to see if there was anything else to make this trip worthwhile. After a quick Google I found, relatively nearby, the artistic centre Fabryka Trzciny and the vodka factory Koneser. Aha! Screw you coffee guy.

I visited the nearby Neon Museum (receptionist – unwelcoming; exhibition – quite interesting) and then headed to my newly found spots. Well. The Fabryka Trzciny? Couldn’t find an entrance for the life of me. And Koneser? I’m not sure if it was yet to be built or recently demolished, but I’m pretty sure you weren’t allowed on site without a hard hat and fluorescent jacket. (I didn’t have either.) So I made my way back to the hostel, another  l e n g t h y  walk, cheering myself up with a Magnum (almond) for the road. First series of infuriating events: complete.

The following day was a bit of a write off (starting the previous evening with Beer Pong was never going to end well). I attempted the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews but my brain wasn’t really in the right gear to make the most of the exhibition, although I did appreciate the craftsmanship that must have gone into its creation, and I would recommend a visit (after a good night’s sleep). In the evening I attempted a sunset wander along the river but – now maybe I was just having a very off day on the navigation front – I couldn’t work out how to bloody get there! So after a noisy wander along a very main road, peering hopefully towards the water, I decided to call in a night. Second day of infuriating events: complete.

My last full day in the Polish capital was full of…yet more infuriating events. I walked all the way to the central station (again half good weather / half foreign public transport anxiety) to buy my ticket for Kraków and exchange some more money. Both cashiers were exceedingly unfriendly, which improved my upbeat mood no end. I then got totally ripped off buying a smoked salmon baguette in the station, and I wasn’t even freaking hungry. I was determined to improve my day, and set off for Łazienki Park (by foot – lol) for a free open air Chopin concert at 4pm. How very civilised. I arrived at three and set myself up on the lawn, now peckish and ready to embark upon my extortionate baguette. It turned out to be pretty damn tasty – things were finally looking up. After lazing in the sun for half an hour or so, I sat up and prepared for my afternoon of classical piano. But as soon as I engaged those abdominal muscles and peeled my dusty pink cap adorned head from the grass my hopes of a nice, peaceful, relaxing (read: non-infuriating) afternoon were dashed. The most infuriating couple had placed their backsides on the most infuriating fold up seats infuriatingly right in front of me, scuppering my view of the piano ahead. (Now let me just set the scene: the park is HUGE and there was ABUNDENT seating provided around the ENTIRE area, with grass in the middle for people to SIT OR LIE DIRECTLY ON THE GROUND). Why would you do that!!!!! I gave their infuriating backs evils for the entirety of the recital.

For my last night I decided to treat myself to my first solo evening meal out on this European escapade. I was keen to try pierogi (traditional Polish dumplings) and so where best to go but the traditional ‘Grandmother’s country cottage’ pierogi kitchen next door to my hostel. I went for the spinach and cheese pierogi with warm blue cheese sauce and a local beer on the side. The beer was good. This was promising. The pierogi arrived and I had high hopes. But, unfortunately, and maybe controversially after all the recommendations I had received, I wasn’t that taken! They were slightly overweight versions of the gyoza you get from Wagamama, but not as tasty, and, unlike being served as an appetiser, here they are the main event! So my dinner was a pan full of stodgy dumplings with a seriously over-seasoned sauce with which to wash them down. A little infuriating. Kind of appropriate for my last memory of the city.

Kraków is my next destination (in approximately 90 minutes), and during this stop I promise I will not: walk one hour for an egg roll; try to absorb any hard-hitting historical knowledge on a hangover; order dumplings for dinner.


One Week on Bernauer Strasse

From ‘The New Berlin’ to the organic, original and, in my opinion, one of a kind city itself, my time spent in the German capital was made even more special due to the fabulous hostel I stayed at (a solid 9.6), a.k.a. Kirsten & Jamie’s second floor pad, just a three-minute walk from Bernauer Strasse U-Bahn station. Free breakfasts were included every morning. You can forget about the corn flake shoots, drying up slices of processed cheese and overdone hard-boiled eggs in shells so hot you singe the tips of your fingers trying to break into them (a common spread at European hostel breakfast buffets). Oh no. Not here. Not with Kirsten as Head Chef. Smashed avocado and scrambled eggs on toasted rye bread; homemade spelt porridge with almond butter and fresh peaches; deep fuschia smoothie bowls topped with desiccated coconut, pumpkin seeds and droplets of honey. I mean… for the past week I have been in absolute breaven (breakfast heaven). And it didn’t stop there! A dorm room all to myself… free linen and towels… my own personal tour guide… I would definitely recommend.

So my Berlin experience started on Friday afternoon, and by twelve noon on the Saturday I had arrived (after being ID’d, which apparently never happens: brilliant (I’m not old enough for this to be a compliment)) at Sisyphos, a fortnightly all day / all night, outdoor / indoor club with a sandy beach, mini pond and sauna, where all the cool kids go. Sounds glamorous? Hmm… The sand was covered in cigarette butts and broken glass, the pond full of dead fish (and I dread to think what other fluids), and the sauna… it was already thirty bloody degrees! But despite the slight hygiene horrors, the club itself was just so interesting to witness. The spectrum of clientele ranged from topless and barefoot (ouch) hippie in green velvet three quarter length trousers to mysterious oriental beauty in high-waisted leather shorts, fishnet tights and a colourful sun-shielding umbrella reminiscent of something you might find in the costume cupboard of a musical theatre am-dram society. Bizarre. But no matter how idiosyncratic, inebriated or insane these Berliner’s were, they were the most chilled out and sun-protection conscious clubbers I have ever seen. Unlike in your average British club, rather than standing firm and blocking someone’s path if they wanted to walk past you on the dance floor, you moved out of their way to let them get by unhindered (can you believe it?!) and unlike on your average British seaside resort, rather than being surrounded by a sea of unprotected skin so scorched it could be mistaken for a Donald Trump appreciation conference, everyone was sharing sun cream, doing each other’s backs, and there was not a single lobster in sight.

Following six hours of daytime dancing on my first full day, the following day called for some well-earned relaxation. We headed to a huge lake in the west surrounded by a vast man-made beach, picnic in hand, and spent the day sunning ourselves, drinking beer and playing volleyball in the water. It felt like we were on a Mediterranean holiday frolicking in the sea, the only downside being that I hadn’t expected to be in a bikini until July, so the beach body was a little more Belgian waffle than Baywatch ready. (But at least I wasn’t sunburnt.)

The next few days called for some sightseeing; each day I had a long list of places I wanted to see, each day I massively failed to complete (or even make a notable indentation to) my itinerary. One memorable example is when I queued for not one, two or even three hours outside in the slowest moving snail trail to visit temporary street art exhibition The Haus. No. I queued for a whopping – wait for it – FIVE HOURS AND FIFTY MINUTES. What a bloody idiot. But let me redeem myself slightly: I arrived (75 minutes behind schedule) to a looong queue which stretched almost three sides of the entire block which, I estimated, would be a two-hour wait. I pondered, assessed my options, and concluded that I was ok with that. After two hours I had progressed by approximately one half of the initial queue length, which actually seemed to go by quite quickly, and I was still in (relatively) good spirits. Then the heavens opened. It started absolutely pissing it down and I was dressed in the most inappropriate attire – denim shorts (short shorts), a dusty pink tee (that was becoming more and more translucent by the second) and my trusty dusty pink cap (thank god for the cap). I had no jacket, no umbrella, no friends to cuddle. There was barely any shelter so we all huddled as close to the building as possible, trying to avoid the SHEETS of rain (not kidding) as much as possible. At this point my dilemma started. Firstly: after two hours of queuing, is it more stupid to leave the queue and admit defeat, not knowing how quickly the queue might go down or how many people might give in to the storm, or to stay in the queue and risk an indefinite amount of further queuing in the rain and catching a cold (or pneumonia) for the rest of your trip? Secondly: where the hell am I going to go (run to) in the middle of this crazy storm, or would I be better keeping semi-sheltered at the side of the building, at least until the thunderstorm subsides? Thirdly: will I look more of an idiot standing in this queue in the rain covered in goosebumps, or running aimlessly through the streets in the rain covered in goosebumps? I decided to wait it out. In hindsight (there is another three hours and fifty minutes until I eventually reach the exhibition entrance) this was a terrible idea. But it’s done now, and I met some interesting and inspiring people in the queue (shout out to Alex and Michael who, very kindly, lent me a shirt from his backpack to delay the onset of pneumonia – very much appreciated). The exhibition itself was very good and different but, come on, nothing is worth almost six hours of waiting in a queue.

When it got to my last day in the city my personal tour guide (Kirsten) decided enough was enough: I was going to see the sights whether I liked it or not. After a morning spent learning fascinating things about the Berlin Wall doing the Gedenkstarter Berliner Mauer, we headed to Teufelsberg in the afternoon. Directly translated as ‘The Devil’s Mountian’, a beautiful walk through an idyllic sun drenched forest led us to a mysterious graffiti-covered ex-spy station. On arrival we had to sign to declare that we were entering at our own risk (warning sign?), and then had free reign to explore every path, staircase and crevice as we wished, the visit culminating at the top of a tall tower with fabulous views for miles over the entire city. It was fabulous. After congratulating ourselves with a Berliner Kindl at the attraction’s bar (lounging on deckchairs, catching some rays) we headed back down the hill and back into the city.

The following couple of hours were a quick fire tour of the remaining famous sights. The Reichstag – tick; Museum Island – tick; the Cathedral – tick; the Brandenburg Gate – half tick (covered in scaffolding); Memorial to the Mudered Jews – tick; the longest ever walk home with achey, tired legs and bladder about to burst – big tick. Phew. That was close. A delicious home-cooked dinner (of course – remember the breakfasts) was the perfect end to my stay, before we gave in to our exhaustion and got some well-needed beauty sleep.

I am now on the train to Warsaw, in a Harry Potter-esque cabin, wondering what Poland has in store for me. All I know for sure is that I have to try the dumplings. Will report back in due course…