Here it is. My final post from my trip, exploring my last adventures in Europe. The story I shall begin with is called “Helltrain,” as named by a few of us who were trapped on this train for many hours.
We boarded a train from Berlin to Amsterdam, excited for the next adventure. We were expecting a six and a half hour journey, our longest train ride yet. We were actually excited, settling in for the long journey. After a couple hours of relaxing, the journey quickly went downhill.
The air conditioning broke in our train car, causing a significant climate change within the very full car. After passing out some free water, we were notified that we should move to another part of the train. So, we crammed into another train car with multiple people – only for that air conditioning to break as well and we were forced to move yet again.
Sitting in a car completely packed with people, we began chatting with some guys sitting and standing near us. Brandon and Levi, who were from Texas. Brandon spoke German and began to translate for us. It was extremely helpful, seen as the people decided that the tourists might not need to understand anything they were saying over the speakers. In short, they told everyone to get off the train. While we were not near our stop. In some random area.
After finding out that we were actually in Rheine, we ventured to find someone who could help us figure out how to get to our final destination of Amsterdam. We hung out with Brandon and Levi, and got new information for which train to get on. We would have to take a train back in the direction we came from in order to catch another train to Amsterdam.
So, taking two more trains with free water, heat, and good conversation, we finally arrived in Amsterdam. What should have taken six and a half hours, turned into a more than ten hour day with a great story. You know, after we survived it and began to create great jokes about it. We left the guys at the station for all of us to find our accommodations.
Our apartment was only a few minutes’ walk from the station, and was also quite close to Dam Square and multiple other places. With a very steep staircase, we got to our room. It was quite nice and comfortable! We loved our location. But to be honest, we were so exhausted that we all had showers and fell asleep early.
The next morning was our first full day in Amsterdam. We got up, had a quick bite to eat, and headed to our first destination: renting bikes! We rented bikes and headed out on our adventure. I was very excited to be doing something so stereotypical and touristy.
I led Zach and Kirstin to Vondelpark, and we rode our bikes around the beautiful park. It took so much less time riding our bikes than when I walked it last time! I was so excited to be in Amsterdam again, as I had loved the city the first time, too.
We continued down to Museumplein, stopping at the iconic ‘iamsterdam’ sign, and looking at the amazing buildings for the museums. We then stopped to wander around the Flower Market before deciding that we were all quite tired from the previous day. So, we went back to the apartment and had a siesta for a bit.
Upon waking up refreshed, we contacted our new friends and decided to meet for dinner. We also invited another new friend, Josue. We had met him in Prague, and had ended up in the same cities since. He brought his brother, Juan, and another friend along. With a big group, we had a great dinner at a kitschy little restaurant and drank some beers. It was fun!
Kirstin and some others wanted to see the Red Light District, so we walked to the other side of the city to see it at night. It is exactly what you would expect – super crowded with drunken people everywhere, red lights and girls, and lots of coffee shops. After wandering through the insane crowds and having a lot of laughs at the ridiculous stag parties, we headed to another area to hang out at a bar. We had some drinks, some laughs, and then laughed even harder when we realized we had forgotten that it was Canada Day. Suffice to say, we did not really celebrate, but it was great fun.
The next day, I got up early and headed to the train station to meet my friend Bert. We hadn’t seen each other in over a month and I was excited! It was crazy to hang out in Amsterdam without our other travel buddies though. 😉
After getting Zach and Kirstin, we went out for brunch to try pannekoeken, Dutch pancakes. I ate one with apples and syrup, and it was delicious! It was a great start to our day. We wandered around Dam Square and saw the Red Light District in the day time. It was kinda gross, just in the way that there was garbage everywhere. We went back to the Flower Market, wandering through and buying souvenirs.
We walked to the other side of the city again – this seems like a common act in Amsterdam – and found a short line for the Anne Frank House. I was ecstatic and made everyone wait in line right away. Usually, the line is longer than 2 hours, but we only had to wait for 45 minutes.
The experience was extremely interesting and moving. I had always wanted to be able to walk through the Anne Frank House. It was amazing. We walked through the various rooms that they hid in, saw multiple artifacts. I was able to see the pictures that Ms. Frank herself had posted on the wall of her shared room, and the numerous versions of her diary in original handwriting. It was amazing to see that these had survived through so many terrible things. It was an incredible experience.
After the Anne Frank House, we grabbed something to eat before beginning some more wandering. Our last adventure of the day was to go on a canal cruise, similar to the one I had taken the previous time in Amsterdam. It was a lot of fun, to see it when the sun was setting. We also learned a lot about Amsterdam and the canals, and I listened to part of it this time – mostly because it was coming from a speaker instead of an older gentleman with a raspy voice. We grabbed a drink and then decided to turn in for the night, as we were all quite tired.
The next morning, we all headed to the train station. We said goodbye to Bert and boarded our train. It was hard to yet again say goodbye to another one of my great friends from Ireland. It was even harder when it became a repeat of saying goodbye to Carlos, and Bert boarded the train on the track beside us. Thanks, Bert, for making the trek to hang out with us for a day. It was a lot of fun!
We got to Sloterdijk station where we would catch our bus. And another snag in our travels occurred. I began to stress out a bit as I couldn’t access our bus tickets electronically on my phone. The bus had not arrived yet (it ended up being quite late), so I could not speak to the bus driver about it either. A kind older gentleman who was working at the station saw that I was stressed. He offered to let me print the tickets from their computer. Fearing for myself a little, I followed him through a few key-activated doors and down a hallway where he set me up at a computer in their break room. I was incredibly thankful for the kindness of allowing me to print the tickets that I had messed up on.
Our bus ride wasn’t too bad, and we arrived in Brussels. Again on familiar turf, I led Zach and Kirstin to the hostel we would be staying in. Which, funnily enough, turned out to be under construction. I guess that was a great culmination of our entire trip. Many sites had been under construction, so it was a little funny when our final hostel was the construction site. Something, probably a roof shingle, even fell from above. It was some great irony for one of the last cities of our trip.
We checked into our hostel, and set out to explore Brussels for our only partial day in the city. I led them to Grand Place, the main square. It was just as pretty as I remembered. Except it was louder this time, with a handball game occurring in the middle of the square. It was entertaining! It was also fun to see if they could pick out the building that is unsymmetrical. We found Mannekin Pis in the rain, ate frites and waffles, bought chocolates, and wandered the great city to see the cathedral and pretty views. It was a lot of fun to hang out in our last city of our travels.
The next day, we caught a train to the airport and got checked in for our flight. Not very long, a little bumpy on landing, and an hour time change later, we were landed back safely in my beautiful Ireland. Kirstin and I walked to pick up my giant suitcase that had been stored at a hotel in Dublin. The man scared me when he began to use his Irish sarcasm to joke that my suitcase was not there. After collecting it and meeting back up with Zach, we caught a bus into Dublin. Kirstin’s dad had been generous enough to use some Honour points to give us a night at the Hilton for the last stay of our trip. It was incredibly nice and we were extremely thankful to be able to stay in a nice room, with comfortable beds, and somewhere that we could print off all the tickets for our flights (plus free hot cookies upon arrival – yum!).
From the hotel, we set out to spend our last night in the city. We walked to Temple Bar, where we picked up a few more souvenirs and ate some delicious burritos at Pablo Picante. We met up with my friend, Raul, to go to a few pubs to finish the trip right. Raul had been living in Dublin and led us easily through the streets and across the Liffey to a really cool pub – The Church. Yes, you read that right. It is a church that was converted into a pub. There is a bar in the middle, and a pipe organ at the back. It was such a cool place to be!
Our next stop was The Porterhouse. Probably one of my favourite pubs that I have ever been to. There was an awesome live band, yet again, and we got to have one last, Irish craft brew on tap. We had a lot of fun before moving on to our last destination, THE Temple Bar.
Somehow, I had not been to The Temple Bar itself, only in the area multiple times. So, for my final Guinness, on tap in Ireland, I went to the most famous pub in Dublin. I was not disappointed, as I found music, a fun atmosphere, and great company to hang out with. My only dislike of the bar: it was all tourists. I think the only Irish person was the guy working the bar that I ordered my pint from.
I said goodbye to Raul and thanked him for spending the last night of our trip with us. It was great to see him before going home! I wish him luck as he stays in Ireland, working and travelling Europe, and safe travels home! We walked back to the hotel and crashed into our amazingly comfortable beds.
The next morning, we caught a bus to the airport. We had to split up, as we were all taking different flights to get to Heathrow to fly home. So, while Zach and Kirstin got dropped off at one terminal, I went to another. We all made it through security and waited for our flights. Zach was first to leave, followed by me, and Kirstin last. My flight was wonderfully comfortable. However, I do have to admit that as I looked out the window and saw the coast of England, I teared up a little, knowing that my trip and time in Ireland were both over.
After a little trouble, Zach and I made it through security in London and set out to find Kirstin. Panicking, as our flight got closer to departure, we headed to the gate to see if she was there. The panic grew as boarding was starting and we couldn’t find her anywhere. Because her phone had broken, we had no way of getting a hold on her. Luckily, the universe was on our side, and she showed up just in time. We boarded the plane and began our journey home… after an hour delay on the runway.
The flight was 9 hours long. Thankfully, there were movies and shows to keep us occupied as we were sitting in different parts of the plane – Zach just behind me, and Kirstin on the opposite side of the plane. The two people I was between were friendly, and we talked for a while, passing the time. I also watched Into the Woods, and tried to watch the final Hobbit movie, but fell asleep merely ten minutes in. In my defense, I was very tired. And oddly enough, the food was pretty good!
We had a great landing, despite the recent forest fires in the area. Thankfully, the airport is close to the coast and the smoke is mostly cleared away there. After quickly finding our bags, it was time to be reunited with our families. There were lots of hugs and hellos, quick anecdotes about the crazy travel day, and I had to get my Tim Hortons Iced Cappuccino before we piled into the car. Despite it technically being far too early in the morning for us in European time, we had to stay awake to adjust our clocks. At home, I unpacked some things and talked to my parents for a bit, before crashing and sleeping for twelve amazing hours.
I have now been home for over a week, and it is definitely weird. I had expected to have culture shock, but perhaps the truth is I am experiencing reverse culture shock. Soon, I will write a post about it.
And there you have it. My entire trip has been put into words for you, in an attempt to document for myself and anyone who might read this. It has definitely been a moving and interesting journey, from living in Ireland to backpacking Europe for the first time. I am incredibly grateful for these amazing experiences and know that they have helped shape who I am now. And I apologize for the multiple references to pubs and alcohols. It’s a different culture towards alcohol in Europe from here.
As for this blog, I plan to continue it in any way that I can. Although my adventures at home may never be as grand as those abroad, I am not going to let that stop me from finding new adventures here. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m excited.
“In the world through which I travel, I am endlessly creating myself.” [Pinterest]
After saying goodbye to a great friend and an amazing city, we moved on to our next adventure in another country: Italy!
Our first stop after a flight was the city of Pisa. We knew that there wasn’t a ton to do in Pisa, other than take tourist photos with the tower. Basically, it was just going to be a stopover for us to get to Cinque Terre the next day. However, Pisa turned out to be pretty fun – if only for an evening.
After we checked into our hostel, we headed out into the streets of Pisa. Wandering was pretty cool actually – we found street vendors with very unique items for sale, and we even ran into a street procession with a band and everything. It was a ton of fun! And of course, we got gelato for our first evening in Italy.
We headed straight for the Piazza dei Miercoli to see the church and the torre, or ‘leaning tower.’ Many people had told us not to take the ‘typical leaning poses,’ so we went for other poses instead… and making subtle fun of some other people taking the photos as well. We had a lot of laughs and fun. Then we went for pizza at a local restaurant after – and it was probably one of the best pizzas I have ever had before. It was massive and delicious.
The next morning, we hopped on a train to La Spezia, where we transferred to another train to get to the town we would stay in Cinque Terre, Corniglia. The weather looked gross, as we knew a storm was blowing in. We had actually seen rain and lightning on our train ride to La Spezia. But we crossed our fingers for better weather.
Which didn’t happen. We got to Corniglia and had to wait to check in. We went to a little restaurant for a great lunch and coffee (yes, I have taken to drinking espresso for some reason. This was the first of a few through Eastern Europe), and the woman told us to move inside because the sky looked so dark. Well, that’s what we got from the broken English and hand gestures as we all tried to communicate. But it was a good thing that we did move – as soon as we got inside, it started to absolutely pour buckets down. Needless to say, we took our time eating lunch.
That afternoon, it cleared up, so we decided that we would take the shorter hike along the hills to one of the other towns. So, we took a train one town over, to Manarola, and we hiked to Riomaggiore. Matt, a guy staying in the same room as Zach, had done the hikes earlier that day. But, being that he had just met us and we all got along well, he decided to come to do the hike with us! We all had a great time, even with the hike being almost an eighty degree angle for the whole hour and a half. And the towns and views were so amazing!!! Of course, we got some gelato again, because Italy. We went back to shower and hang out for a bit, before we all went out for dinner together in Corniglia. It was a great day and start to our time in Cinque Terre.
The next day was the serious hiking day! We were going to do the coastal hikes from our town, Corniglia, to Vernazza and then Monterosso. It was going to take basically the whole day, a good chunk of hours. And it was definitely hot out. Matt accompanied us on the first leg, to Vernazza, and then we went our separate ways. It was tough going at a few points – there are a lot of stairs, ups and downs, and the heat is impeccable – but the views were amazing and the towns were worth it alone. Vernazza was so pretty, with the harbor and the boats. I think I enjoyed Vernazza and Manarola the most. We hung out in Monterosso before heading back to Corniglia.
After taking the wrong train (we somehow ended up on an express that went straight to La Spezia), and showering, we met up with Matt to head out for a night of dinner. We met a few other girls staying in our room, and invited them along. Annie was from the US, while Megan was from Australia. They were really nice, and again, everyone got along great! We took the train to Monterosso, had a great dinner (after we finally found a place to eat), and then ate gelato by the beach. It was an amazing evening with some great people.
We had another panicky night when we found out that the next morning, there was going to be a rail strike in the area. No one could tell us if it would merely be a regional strike or a country-wide one. We wouldn’t find out until morning. So, we had to attempt to get out of Cinque Terre at least before the strike began at 9. Flash forward to a 5:30am morning, catching a train, and then paying a lot to be able to take 2 trains to Venice.
Once in Venice, we were utterly exhausted. We found our bus to the area we would be staying – a campground outside of the city where we were staying in a cabin. We got on the bus, got to the cabin, were slightly disappointed, ate pizza, and then just hung out in the cabin before crashing. It was an odd day. We didn’t even want to attempt to explore the city yet.
The next day, June 17, was our day to explore the entirety of Venice. And it was our only day. So, we planned to make the best of it! We planned to head out early – but ended up running late and almost missing our bus. This somehow turned into a regular thing for buses, which became sort of annoying…
None of us really knew any of the places that we were supposed to visit in Venice, and maps cost money, so we just set out exploring on foot and following signs. We made our way to Piazza San Marco, the one place Kirstin had knew of. It was cool, but there was scaffolding and tons of pigeons! It was also very crowded, which made it difficult to maneuver and slightly claustrophobic. BUT – it was pretty and super Italian. We wandered along and went to the Grand Canal, a place that we definitely had heard of. The water was gorgeous and there were boats everywhere!
We walked a lot, found some gelato, got into some arguments about what we wanted to do, and decided that it would be best to split up. Kirstin wanted to go and explore more of Venice. Zach and I really wanted to ride a boat. We didn’t want to pay the insane amount of money to ride a gondola, so we decided to catch a vaporetto, a ferry-type boat, to the other island of Murano.
Murano is the glass-blowing island, so there were multiple shops with beautiful glass-blown artwork. The island itself, or at least the area we ended up in, was quiet and quaint. It was a nice break from the crowded and busy streets of Venice. There was room to breathe and relax, with walking space. So we tried to spend a little extra time there. We stopped at a little café to grab a drink. I tried an Aperol Spritzer – basically sparkling water mixed with an alcohol called Aperol. We believe that you can only get it in Europe. It was pretty good! We caught the boat back to Venice, and ended up getting very lost trying to find Kirstin again. I definitely suggest getting a map on your phone or buying one if you can. Venice is quite confusing.
We got some dinner at a little restaurant along one of the main streets. The waiters were hilarious, offering pizza to random people walking by or asking them to pay someone’s bill. We had some good laughs with them. We wandered a little more to see the canal at night, and grabbed some dessert. I had a great chocolate mousse! We caught the bus back to our accommodations.
The next day would be a travel day to yet another city and country – Budapest, Hungary. I was very excited to see my friend, Kitty. I hadn’t seen her in quite some time. But that’s for the next post.
Bye for now
P.S. – sorry I am a little behind on the blog posts. I actually just wrote and uploaded this post from Prague, basically a week after I had left Italy. However, I am trying to keep everyone updated through my other social media when I have wifi, with pictures on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.