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…

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