“I was twenty years old and at large in a perfect world” – a fortnight in Europe, August 2016

Wednesday 3 August

Hallo! I am in Cologne. I arrived here but three hours ago and all it has done so far is rain. I have been looking for a cafe to sit in to shelter from it, the first: I got some lunch but didn’t stay there long enough to benefit from worthwhile rain protection, the second: The waitress served me coffee in a paper cup and said “Ciao”, which I took as a farewell (my multilingual skills aren’t great but good enough to understand such a gesture). I’m so glad I took an umbrella as a last-minute thought, otherwise I doubt the fatigue mixed with sogginess would’ve put me in the best mood.

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People are friendly and chatty here but don’t speak much English, leaving me, a solo soggy English girl just going ‘Ack! Ack! Ack!’ as a response until they get the hint. Although it’s wet, it’s warm. I’m sure the first few days of travelling alone aren’t the easiest anyway.

14:30

I’ve found somewhere to collect my thoughts: In God’s House. Cologne’s cathedral (Köln Dom) is beautifully serene bar the low hum of yakking tourists and epilepsy-inducing camera flashes going off every few seconds. I can’t help but feel it’s fairly similar in majesty to Peterborough Cathedral (I know right, you can take the girl out of Peterborough…)

I might go to Amsterdam tomorrow. Well, chuck a stoner girl into Germany for a day and she’ll always find a way out. The train’s only a couple of hours away and it’ll be nice to get away from the rain – although it complements Gothic architecture beautifully. Right now I’m going to do a few laps of this cathedral, maybe get a coffee and something sweet and head to an art gallery before it closes. Then I plan to go back to my hostel, shower, incinerate this sweat-stinked top and go out for a huge plate of spaghetti.

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Caffe Greco, Renato Guttaso, 1976 (Museum Ludwig, Cologne)

Thursday 4 August

Fuck it, I went to Amsterdam! How could I not really, being so close (kind of), and it being so easy. Not only can you smoke weed here, you can have someone pre-roll your joints for you, which is important for a stoner girl – who’s always had a designated joint-rolling mate around her – on her first solo trip to Europe. I was into Cologne (kind of) but I’d done the free thing – the cathedral – and I somehow still managed to spend €60, so I got me the hell out of there and on the first train to Amsterdam (well, not the very first, I treated myself to a decent 10-hour sleep to rid myself of first-day fatigue). Amsterdam is full of smiley English boys walking slowly along the canals with pizza boxes.

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(cont.)

Wow, Amsterdam truly is the best city on Earth. Coming here a second time has only proved that. I was a bit worried that certain memories here would remind me too much of my ex-boyfriend (we holidayed here last August), and it has at times, but in a really nice way. It fills me with a smug sort of feeling of a girl having travelled and being able to point out street corners where she’s been kissed. I’m so so glad I came here. I’ve had such a nice day in a city planned in heaven. I’m yet to go anywhere else that tops it, except maybe Rome. I’m happy to leave a place filled with happy people, happy in the knowledge that I got to spend eight and a half hours there today.

Friday 5 August

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It has rained since I got to Munich, there’s something about Germany, hey! It took around 13 hours to get here from Amsterdam, which in hindsight was a total ordeal, but at the time I suppose I didn’t really know what lay ahead of me so I just plodded on.

 

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Sunday 7 August

I haven’t written for a few days because every time I go to write I get chatting to someone. This hostel in Vienna is perfect, as is Vienna (although everything is shut on Sunday/Monday). I can’t believe I’m halfway through already. I’m going to walk for a bit and write some more later. I want to document what I’ve done and who I’ve met so far because I’ve drank approximately 25,000 litres of beer in the past week and I’m struggling to remember already. I didn’t write anything in Munich, but Munich = good. Pub crawls and 3am walks with American boys.

(cont.)

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Schonbrunn Palace, Vienna

I’m sitting outside the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna. It is baking hot, the sky is as blue as this pen [see below] and the building is totally beautiful. I’m going to see two more places today – I’ll pick them out on the map, even though I could melt in the heat. All I’ve been doing is napping and drinking. Drinking litres upon litres of beer and getting no bad hangovers because it’s a 24/7 thing. 

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I hung out with a group of volunteers who work at the hostel yesterday. We left at around 2pm (lazy, dreamy Sunday – on Vienna time) and walked slowly through the city looking for cheap apple strudel for a French girl who left later that day and really wanted to try some before she left (EDIT: She was disappointed). We dipped our feet in the fountain at Karlsplatz for an hour or so and then headed to the Wien Museum which is free on a Sunday, don’tcha know.

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Ferninand Kruis, Wien Neuer Markt, 1914 (at the Wien Museum)

After I nearly bust an eyeball after not having a cigarette for about two hours (those Camels can have a certain hold over the Smoker-on-Holiday) we finally found some apple strudel, got some beer and walked down to Stephensplatz. God, this sounds like a Young Adult novel doesn’t it? I’m really having the best time. We came back to the hostel in the evening and met some terribly nice people and drank a terrible amount of beer. Fell in love with a Brazilian guy, too (EDIT: Still a bit heart-eyes for that night).

It seems that all I do in Vienna is walk a lot and do nothing a lot, in equal measures. It suits me though. When I’m in London I like to go to museums but I haven’t been to one yet (possibly because they’ve all been closed). In Munich too, I didn’t go to a single museum. I went to an art gallery in Cologne, which was great actually, but I didn’t go to one in Amsterdam either because apparently you can smoke weed there. I want to in Berlin though; I think they’d be hard to avoid in Berlin.

18:45

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I just napped for half an hour; a restful little cat nap. I feel so free and happy.

8am-9am: Get up/pack/shower

9am-10am: Breakfast/check out

10am-2pm: Explore more of Vienna

2pm-4pm: Cook lunch at hostel

5pm: Catch train to Prague

19:45

It’s funny documenting the time of writing as you realise just how much can happen in a hour. Just as I was writing the above list, there was this hot young couple sitting over the way from me, all intertwined and smooching and generally looking Hollywood-worthy. I would’ve got a little jealous, but they seriously looked way too good together to incite envy – the sun was shining, and here were two hot young things smooching around in Vienna. I felt weirdly enthusiastic about it: Young love’s poster couple, right here in front of me. I put my shoes on, got up and thought maybe I might want a boyfriend again soon, say, within the next 45 years or so, when this guy approaches me and asks me on a date. He was all: “Hey, I’ve been watching you from over there and wanted to come and talk to you”, ending in an only-slightly awkward exchange of broken English and phone numbers. I was kind of baffled by it as I’d just woken up from a very deep nap and people don’t really do that since Tinder happened, and I haven’t shaved my legs for a week (but then he probably couldn’t see that from wherever he was stalking me. Also, he was French, so whatever). Maybe I’ll go and see him tonight, being my last night in Vienna and all. I’ve finally got out of my sun-induced comatose with a huge black coffee, and I feel very, very happy to be here. This feels like my kind of city.

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Tuesday 9 August

Was just speaking to an Australian guy in my dorm who’s been backpacking for six billion years or something. He tried to convince me to go on a walking tour with him, but I was all like, “Actually, I was thinking about going to Forever 21 today” (I didn’t actually say this, but c’mon, dude. I’m a slow walker. And I want to go shopping! Whatever! It’s my holiday!)

Friday 12 August

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There is a god. I’ve somehow managed to bag the only seat on this train without a reservation. That’s four and a half hours of uninterrupted sitting. My kind of holiday. I’m a bit baffled as to my luck with this. Everyone standing up’s looking at me like I’ve performed a magic trick right here on the carriage, and in a way, I have. I’ve not had to reserve any trains yet – this is my last of the trip – although most of them have been near-empty. This one’s come from Budapest and is going all the way to Hamburg, somewhere I would have loved to have gone if time allowed, so it’s picked up ALL the Europeans along the way, tourists or no.

I had the nicest time in Prague. I thought it was going to be a huge party place that revolved around nighttime but there was so much to learn about during the day – so much recent history. It’s also one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever been to. The beer’s cheap, too.

The hostel wasn’t too sociable though, in fact, it was a little stark, but I was lucky enough to meet a girl on the first morning when the shower water was cold and I asked her for help. We then hung out for 48 hours straight – we didn’t share aforementioned shower, mind – but we had a great, great time.

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I’m staying in two hostels in Berlin – it’s a really long story, but basically I’ve figured out that when you’re travelling alone the type of hostel you stay in can make or break a city, and I had a bad feeling about the one I’d initially booked. The new hostel’s called Heart of Gold, so I have Neil Young looking over me if anything. It has a kitchen, which is important, as I’m cruelly broke (EDIT: Didn’t use the kitchen once). I had loads of Czech money left over that I couldn’t convert into Euros for some reason so I just bought loads of snacks for the train. AND I got a seat! Hey hey!

Saturday 13 August

I’ve already checked into my second Berlin hostel and I’m so glad I did. The first felt a little like a Travelodge; full of Brits on Snapchat in the bar. I met this amazing guy last night from Jordan who’s been travelling alone for more than two and a half years. He wasn’t annoying about it though, the opposite – a really fascinating person with a particularly kindred soul. I only wanted to have one beer last night and thought I’d hit the jackpot with an atmosphere-lacking hostel, alas, we started talking and I ended up having seven or eight beers and going out for falafel at 2am. I’m really feeling it this morning though. I knew I needed to rest last night and I feel totally exhausted today. Berlin is so beautiful but it’s so big, I don’t even know where to start. I guess you just start somewhere. It’s Saturday so it’s busy – like a Saturday in London – so naturally things are a little harder.

(cont.)

It’s so hot and I seriously considered throwing myself into the Spree when I decided to follow the crowds t’ward the Brandenburg Gate. There was a huge protest down the Unter der Linden for the legalisation of marijuana. Literally thousands of people smoking weed down a street just metres from what was referred to as a ‘death strip’ only 27 years ago when the Wall was up.

I’m going to walk again. I’m currently sitting at the Holocaust Memorial, loads of big blocks like this in a whole square:

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Police keep having to stop kids from climbing all over them, which you wouldn’t think they’d have to do – being a Holocaust memorial – but kids are kids and it’s the summer holidays. Today started shakily but has turned into the most gorgeous day. Tomorrow I’m going to do a walking tour and then find a flea market. On Monday I think I’ll go to the zoo.

Tuesday 16 August

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Victory Column, Berlin, 15/08/16

Today’s one of those horribly discombobulating days where you have to catch a flight at 6pm, thinking you’ve given yourself a whole extra day to enjoy a city, whereas all you’ve done is give yourself a day of anxiously checking your watch every five minutes to make sure you haven’t taken an involuntary nap.

I’ve had the most wonderful few days in Berlin. What an amazing edge this city has to it; not any one thing at all, but rather a city of contrast and a feeling that it’s on the brink of something special.

I’d definitely come back here again and check out more of the nightlife. If I were here with some close friends I probably would have; they could have lent me some money as I am truly stone-cold broke now. Also, I’m not madly into techno unless I’m up to my eyeballs in something illegal. I was happy instead to buy bottled beer from the shop and stroll around dark corners of Berlin with a boy from Barcelona. What a perfect three-day relationship we had, arguments and all. We were together quite intensively for a few days, and I was almost glad to be back alone and having a solo travel experience once again when he left for Amsterdam.

14:45

I’m waiting for my train to the airport with the heaviest of hearts. I wish I were going anywhere but home. I’ve truly had the most wonderful fortnight, filled with positivity and curiousity – I’d do anything to be getting on a train to Hamburg now, just one more hostel, one more stop. Berlin has so much to offer a visitor and I am 100% going to save up to do this again next year. Maybe the States, but then again, I’m not quite done with Lady Europa yet. I’d want to do it for longer – a month at the very least – and although I’d be happy to go with a companion, I think what I’ve really found over the past two weeks is just how fun it is to do these things alone.

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Screenshot 2016-08-22 at 22.03.46 - EditedI can heartily recommend reading Bill Bryson’s Neither Here Nor There if you’re into the Continent, a book I swallowed up in four hours on a train to Wales a few months ago which convinced me to go to Europe in the first place. Amazon link is here.

 

 

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