Did you know you must be chosen by an oracle and must sign your name in blood if you wish to join the small hand society of the world? You must also love and be very nice to cats. This is just one of the random but interesting facts I have learned on this exciting journey thus far. As I wrote in an earlier post about the people you meet on the road, travel is all about these random encounters and making new friends rather than ticking off an endless list of must-visit destinations.
It’s also possible to drop $150 on sushi for a lunchtime snack in New York. $150 for LUNCH! That’s something I learned from my travel buddy, someone I had only met once in my life before embarking on this trip. He decided to join this adventure on a total whim and our entire planning process took place via Facebook messenger. Apparently he had had a bad day at work, was enjoying a few beers, and made the brilliant drunken decision to quit his job, move out of his apartment and book a one flight to Ireland to come travel with me.
Having spent the past 4 years working in finance for Goldman Sachs, living the New York high life, I was equally nervous and excited about our journey together and how well he would adapt to travelling on a budget, sleeping in hostels and living a nomadic life on the road – minus the $150 sushi ! I doubt I’ll ever fully understand his deep and passionate love for McDonald’s, his need to sleep with three pillows instead of one or the fact that a five-hour bus journey is an eternity to him – but we have survived an entire month of travelling together – which is almost my record for travelling with another person – so I believe things are going outstandingly well so far.
From the moment we stepped on the Irish Ferries ship at Rosslare, waving goodbye to my parents and to Irish soil for what could be anything between six months and a year-long absence, I knew that this journey would be one I would never forget. And right I was.
You can read all about the first few days of our journey, taking the boat to France and then spending a few relaxing days in Paris, drinking by the Seine and chilling out with some old school friends, in this post here. After Paris we took a high-speed train down to Annecy, one of the most beautiful towns in Europe. We spent two days wandering through Annecy’s fairytale streets and cruising around Lake Annecy making friends with eccentric Frenchmen!
Switzerland, in my eyes, is where the adventure really began. It’s hard to believe how much we manage to cram into our 8 days in the world’s wealthiest country. We found ourselves walking up 10km a day, sometimes while carrying our monster backpacks trying to find our hostel which always seemed to be way further than we imagined. I partly blame the free map app that Ian downloaded – it’s called Maps.me and always seemed to bring us the longest way possible, forcing us to walk up the biggest, steepest, most infuriating hill in every town. I swear my back will be broken but I’ll be fit as a fiddle by the time I reach Cape Town! In fact one month in and I’ve already dropped a dress size so I guess all this exercise is doing us the world of good!
In Lausanne, our first stop in Switzerland, we were treated like Gods. While staying in a luxurious 4-star hotel and being treated to meals that consisted of €100 cheese platters surely helped cement our love for this city, it was the general vibe and incredible location on Lake Geneva that placed Lausanne as the best city in Switzerland in my eyes. And I think Ian would agree. From our morning spent in awe at Lausanne’s Olympic city, to our three-hour cruise around the mesmerizing Lake Geneva, there’s just something special about Lausanne.
The only problem with our tour of Switzerland, one which we have already learned from, was that it was far too rushed and there was too much travelling. We only stayed in most towns and cities for 1 night, which meant we had to carry our bags to a new hostel and pack and unpack and pack again every single day. It was absolutely exhausting and by the time we got to Lugano, where we decided there was not a chance in hell we were only staying one night after walking up a hill so steep it might as well have been Everest, we were totally wrecked. Essentially every time we arrived in a new hostel we would be sweating like pigs, looking totally flushed, gasping for air. Hardly the glamorous arrival look we were going for.
While in Zurich, having arrived quite late after a jam-packed morning of chocolate-making, hiking and another 4-hour train ride, we decided to cave and treat ourselves to McDonald’s for dinner. Ian was obviously delighted and thought all his Christmas wishes had come true until we were presented with the bill. €15 for a Big Mac meal. That’s right, we spent €15 each in McDonald’s and left feeling dissatisfied and disappointed in our life choices.
In Interlaken we paid €60 to do a chocolate-making workshop. While it was loads of fun, the workshop resulted in us making 3 bars of chocolate each. That’s €20 per bar. Damnnn those are some expensive bars of chocolate. My Dad is still waiting on one to arrive home to Ireland in the post – I just don’t have the heart to tell him I already ate it all. The chocolate monster that I am.
Once our whirlwind tour of Switzerland had come to an end, we headed south for a few days in Venice. Most people who travel to Venice complain about how expensive it is and what a rip-off so many of the shops and restaurants are but if you’ve just come from the land of the €15 Big Mac prices in Venice are like a dream. I also strongly believe that anyone who buys a drink or an ice-cream in San Marco Square in Venice is nothing short of an idiot. It must be the only place in the world where they add €6 to your bill to pay for the background music. NOTIONS. I’ve a post in the works schooling people on what not to do in Venice….watch this space.
We stayed away from all touristy areas, went to no museums, skipped the Film Festival and even found one of the only parts of the Grand Canal where we were 100% surrounded by locals on the afternoon of the annual Venice Regatta. We had great fun cheering the gondolas on in Italian, not really having a clue what we were shouting but enjoying being part of the “cool crew”. Sunshine, lots of cheap beer and an afternoon of mingling with locals and eccentric characters from around the world in off-the-beaten track squares selling €4 Spritz – magical.
Getting from Venice to Slovenia was interesting to say the least. What should been a very easy and direct journey could not have been more complicated. Considering the two countries share a border, we were left feeling dumbfounded when the lady at the train station told us we would have to go via Austria if we wanted to take a EuroLine train from Venice to Ljubljana. I refused to believe such nonsense, and did not want to go 7 hours in the wrong direction to get to a city just a few hours away.
I found some local train timetables and here’s how we got there: We took a boat to the station and a local train to a town on the border with Slovenia. We then took a bus which took us over the border and to a small local train station in Slovenia. We then took two more trains to get to Ljubljana where we had a private transfer to Novo Mesto. From there we were picked up by Ana from Big Berry who drove us the 20 minutes to our campsite – a grand total of about 10 hours of travelling and four methods of transport!
We spent an entire week at Big Berry Luxury Landscape Resort in Slovenia. I had thought it was a campsite, as did Ian, and all our friends and family thought we were heading off camping and “roughing it” for a week. What we were greeted with on arrival in Big Berry was bordering on laughable compared with what we had imagined! Each luxury cabin had its own hot-tub, flat screen TV, fully equipped kitchen and two large bedrooms. We also had some seriously luxurious bathrobes which we pretty much lived in for the week. We even jokingly planned a photo shoot where Ian would sit there by the hot-tub in his robe, smoking a fat cigar and complaining about how difficult life backpacking on a budget was. To say we were spoiled rotten for the week would be an understatement but I will leave that for another post which I can’ wait to share with you!
While in Big Berry we met one of the most interesting people on our trio this far. A professional clown who is a member of the Red Noses association which goes around to hospitals and uses comedy and laughter to cheer up the patients. He will also be travelling to some of the Refugee Camps in Greece in the next few week with a team of clowns to try spread some smiles within the camps. He told us that it’s a very difficult gig as the kids have such mixed emotions and are so troubled that they don’t know whether to laugh and smile or to throw rocks at you. Sometimes they do both.
We were devastated to leave Big Berry and honestly could have easily spent another week there – happy campers indeed. on we went to Ljubljana where a friend of mine, Andreja, (who is a fellow blogger who I met on Kerala Blog Express earlier this year) was able to organise a brilliant few days hosted by Visit Ljubljana. Blogger perks are always welcomed and our three days in Ljubljana were full with fun activities.
We stupidly joined (and I take full responsibility for this decision as Ian even raised his eyebrows) a pub crawl on the Sunday night, taking it wouldn’t be too crazy and we would only have one or two. Well as anyone that knows me well, or as anyone who has ever been on a pub crawl in a foreign city will know, you can’t really go on an organised pub crawl and just have “one or two”. Suffice to say it was a long, fun and shot-fuelled night with very little sleep.
What should have been one the best days of our entire trip, and still ranks pretty high, was tarnished for me as I was suffering from the hangover to end all hangovers. As I stood on my paddle board, the bright sun beating down on pasty Irish skin and sending waves of pain through my eyes, paddling through one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, I knew I had made another poor life decision. As the day continued and we spent 4 hours cycling through the Ljubljana countryside and a further hour hiking – I knew I had made one of THE poorest decisions to date. Never, ever, ever go drinking the day before an insanely active adventure-filled marathon. Lesson learned, I promise.
Thankfully I didn’t get eaten by any brown bears, of which there are over 400 in the Slovenian countryside (so many, in fact, that they export the bears to neighbouring countries like Austria!) and I loved to tell the tale of my first month travelling overland from Cork to Cape Town.
Next stop on this fun-filled adventure? Croatia.