I had just finished my first year of university, 4 months off beckoned and I was faced with the prospect of how to spend my summer.. Prior to university I had worked full-time for 2 years at a large Engineering company, so instead of spending the majority of my summer twiddling my thumbs, I managed to get my old job back for a few months, giving me the opportunity to save up some cash and plan my next adventure.
I managed to rope one of my best friends into the idea of travelling around Europe for a month before heading back to university. It didn’t take much convincing on my part before we were sat down, beer in hand, planning our route around Europe…
The original route looked like this:
- Paris, France.
- Ascona, Switzerland.
- Milan, Italy.
- Munich, Germany.
- Budapest, Hungary.
- Bratislava, Slovakia.
- Prague, Czech Republic.
- Berlin, Germany.
- Amsterdam, Netherlands.
However, things didn’t quite go to plan… Ascona wen’t out of the window when we missed our train. Having seen loads of folk whizzing around Paris on roller skates, we decided to buy some for the rest of our trip, which in turn led to us missing our train. As if this didn’t annoy us enough, we soon grew to hate those skates as the majority of the places we visited had cobbled streets…we live and learn!!
We also cut our visit to Bratislava short so that we could visit Krakow and Auschwitz. Such is the nature of travelling that you can’t be too rigid with your plans and should embrace the opportunity to visit somewhere you didn’t plan to.. In my case, visiting Auschwitz was somewhere I’ll never forget and somewhere I’d have never seen if I had stuck to our original route!
Flicking back through my photo’s from the trip, we visited many famous landmarks throughout the trip. A touristy mentality and the need to come back with some proof that we didn’t spend the whole month partying, meant that I have seen some pretty cool buildings, landmarks and historical sites across Europe!
My personal top 10 are listed below:
- Dachau Concentration Camp, Munich, Germany. – We visited Dachau after a recommendation from the hostel we were staying in. I’ve always been quite interested in War history and wasn’t disappointed. Dachau unlike Auschwitz is still pretty much as it was and hasn’t had much in terms of restoration done to it making it eerily authentic. It was the one place I saw that really left me speechless and a place I highly recommend you visit!
- Auschwitz Concentration Camp, Oswiecim, Poland. – We visited Auschwitz after seeing the horrors of Dachau. Unlike Dachau, Auschwitz has been partially restored and turned into a museum. It’s a lot more informative than Dachau and has more to look at in terms of what actually wen’t on there but has that museum feel to it whereas Dachau felt more authentic. I still highly rate it as a place to see if you’re travelling around Europe, it really gets you thinking about how things could have been!
- Gellert Spa, Budapest, Hungary. – I loved this place! I have been to Budapest twice now and both times I spent a fair few hours relaxing in the Spa! If you’ve had a heavy night partying (like we did) or you fancy relaxing in one of their many thermal pools, ice baths, steam rooms or sauna’s then I recommend you visit! Even on a cold day, relaxing in their outdoor heated pool is a treat!
- The Louvre, Paris, France. – Now I’m not really an Art person, I don’t look at a picture and ponder the depths of the artists psyche, however I did enjoy what the Louvre had to offer in terms of entertainment. Whilst most people who visit the Louvre cram into a small room to take a look at the Mona Lisa, I was more interested in the hundreds of odd statues litterred around!
- Checkpoint Charlie/Holocaust Memorial, Berlin, Germany. – I had heard a bit about Checkpoint Charlie in History lessons at school. The stand off between the American and Russian tanks which almost sparked World War 3… Again it was a place that got you thinking about what could have been! The Holocaust Memorial was also pretty cool, 2711 concrete slabs of differing heights, created to make an uneasy atmosphere. Personally I thought it would be an awesome place for a game of hide and seek but nevertheless it was pretty cool to see!
- Eiffel Tower, Paris, France. – Not much to say about this that hasn’t already been said! Seeing it in person is still much better than looking at a picture on the Internet or in a book! The queues to go up it were unbelievable so we had to settle for the standard picture in front of it!
- Cathedral Duomo, Milan, Italy. – I’m not a religious person but I can appreciate an awesome bit of architecture! Unfortunately the time of year we visited this magnificent building, it was undergoing some maintenance but you could still tell just how much effort went into the design and build of the building!
- Prague Castle, Prague, Czech Republic. – A bit of an uphill trek to get there but worth the views at the top! You can also get a picture with a guard here, though I was slightly more nervous than if I was taking one at Buckingham Palace, I had visions of being shot at or arrested but I’m sure you’ll be fine!
- The Dancing Houses, Prague, Czech Republic. – An architect who created a pair of buildings that appear to be dancing together…need I say more?!
- Anne Franks House, Amsterdam, Netherlands. – An interesting place to visit although rather touristy! You get a look around the house Anne Frank hid in, but like Auschwitz it’s more of a museum now so looses a bit of authenticity!
I was 19 at the time of the trip and still very much into partying (though not much has changed now).. The thought of partying our way around Europe was part of the reason it happened! We had some crazy nights and I still find myself laughing about some of them now…Here’s a few that still make me chuckle:
- We met some French guys in Paris, in a Pizza Parlour, at about 11pm at night. They had picked up on the fact we were talking in English and in French they started ‘slagging’ us off a bit saying we were Americans..I could speak a bit of French at the time and corrected them, saying we were English, not American. Next thing I remember, we are being escorted around Paris by these two guys, me speaking to them in broken French and my mate following along kind of bewildered by the whole event. We ended up at a door, the type of door with a sliding lookout hole, like in the movies.. One of the French guys said that we were with them and a few shifty glances by the bouncer later we were inside this amazing underground Salsa type club. Looking back on it, the night could have gone a lot differently if they had turned out to be criminals or something as we just tagged along not really knowing what was going on but it turned out to be a pretty awesome night!
- In Milan we made the mistake of asking a taxi driver to take us to a hostel, without booking one prior to turning up. 20 minutes later we were on the outskirts of Milan at a hostel in the middle of nowhere! We were a little annoyed to begin with but later that night we had forgot about it as we had one of the craziest nights I’ve ever had! Like most hostels, a journey to the common room with a few beers and a smile on your face can lead to a great night! In my case, I ended up partying the night away with the strangest mix of people you could imagine and even played some late night basketball in the rain against a bunch of Korean guys! Definitely one of the most random nights I’ve ever had..
- Karaoke is always fun, making a whole nightclub stop and stare at you is not.. In hindsight, it was pretty funny at the time! We had met some guys from the UK in our hostel in Budapest and had started playing some drinking games one evening. A few hours later we had located a local nightclub with a young crowd and proceeded to party the night away… The next thing I remember, I am on stage with an Australian lad, dedicating an Elvis song to all the ladies in the room! Needless to say we got a few funny looks but ploughed on nevertheless!
We had some great nights out in Europe and met some really interesting characters along the way! Even now, I much prefer to stay in a hostel than a hotel just for the social side of it!
My inter-rail trip was one of the most hectic, exhausting, yet exhilarating months of my life to date and one I’ll never forget!
When I threw a blind vote out on Facebook last month to choose my next city destination to visit, I was rather pleased when the majority went with choice A, Oslo.
I’d heard it was expensive there but I was eager to visit Scandinavia, the land of the leggy blonde, stunning countryside and the odd viking atrocity.
Having got back from my whirlwind trip on Sunday night, I’ve just about recovered from the shock at just how pricey it is enough to give a little insight into the things I saw there.
Last weekend it was my 28th birthday and I spent it in the fantastic city of Dublin.
Living only a 45 minute flight from Dublin, I’m surprised that it’s taken me all this time to visit, given its reputation for a lively night out and my reputation for enjoying a lively night out.
The airport is fairly close to the city centre, a 20 minute taxi ride costing around 30 euro’s should get you there quite comfortably.
As it was my birthday, the weekend consisted of three main elements; Food, drink and sightseeing. I’ll start with the sightseeing first!
As I was only in the city for a couple of days, I decided the main two “must-see” attractions were the Guinness and Jameson factories. They both cost in the region of 10-15 euro’s including a sample of each at the end of your tour.
The Guinness Storehouse is located at St. James’s Gate and you can either buy tickets online before you get there, at the kiosk or at the self-service machines *(tip – the guy at the entrance told us to use the self-service machine and pay for a student ticket as they don’t check them).*
They run tours throughout the day or you’re welcome to make your own way around the factory. We opted for the latter so that we could take our time and take advantage of photo opportunities, of which there are many.
The tour guides you through the entire process of making a pint of Guinness including how it’s been advertised and distributed over the years. At one point near the end of the tour you are gathered into a darkened room and taught the correct way to taste a Guinness. It turns out that getting it down you as fast as possible isn’t the right way to go about it!
Once the tour has finished you take your ticket up to the famous Gravity bar, a 360 degree glass lookout tower that provides panoramic views of Dublin. It’s here that you’re given a free pint of the black stuff (it’s actually ruby red but the name has kinda stuck!).
The whole tour took around an hour and is well worth a visit!
Next up was the Jameson Distillery. I was actually looking forward to this one more as I do enjoy a whisky every now and again and had never drank Guiness prior to the trip.
The Distillery is located in Smithfield and again you can purchase tickets prior to your arrival or at the kiosk. Tickets were slightly more expensive here than at the Guinness Storehouse.
The tour is a fully guided tour, which kicks off in a small cinema room where a tongue in cheek film about a journalist from New York who flies to Dublin to seek out John Jameson is played. I thought this part was a bit tacky but some people may enjoy it.
You’re then led around the distillery and taught the entire process of how Jameson’s whiskey is made. Mid-way through the tour, the guide hands out about eight cardboard batons to people who will be taught the correct way to sample whiskey. I had already been given one before the tour started as it was my birthday!
During the whiskey tasting session, recipients of the batons are taught how to taste whiskey and to compare Jameson’s to a Scotch and a Bourbon. I have to say I do prefer a Jack Daniels but the Jameson’s definitely tastes better than the Scotch!
At the end of the tour, tasters receive a printed certificate stating they are official Whiskey tasters, which is a nice touch.
Again I think this tour is well worth a visit if you’re in Dublin.
St Stephens Green
One other part of Dublin I’d recommend spending some time is at St. Stephen’s Green, which is a city centre public park. There is over 3.5km of pathways that surround an ornamental lake and is a popular place in the summer for locals and travellers alike to gather.
It’s a really tranquil place to relax after the chaos of the temple bar region of the city (more on this later..).
I’d heard about Bobo’s Burgers before I arrived when researching places to eat in Dublin.
Bobo’s serve gourmet Irish burgers and I have to say they are fantastic! Their creations would fit in with the epic Dubai skyline and it must take their chefs a degree of practice to stack their monstrous burgers without them collapsing on the plate.
If you’re in the mood for a burger, forget Burger King and grab yourself a Bobo’s!
The Brazen Head
We were told about the Brazen Head by the taxi driver who emplored us to grab some food there.
It turns out that the Brazen Head is Ireland’s oldest pub and it also turns out that they do fantastic traditional fish and chips.
It was really busy there, probably given it’s the oldest pub in Ireland and that they do some really tasty food so get there early to avoid disappointment.
What’s a birthday weekend without a few cheeky beverages?!
Fortunately for me, Dublin has a fantastic nightlife and although I can’t actually remember all of the cool bars we visited, I do remember that the hub of the action takes place in the world famous Temple Bar region of the city.
The Temple Bar
The Temple Bar is a “must-do” when in Dublin. It’s one of the most famous pubs in the city and it would be sacrilage not to have a Guinness there, which is exactly what I did.
It’s also a really cool place to visit the morning after, with live music on for the majority of the day and a wicked Irish Coffee to wake you up!
I’d like to have had more time in Dublin. There’s so much more to see in the city as well as some stunning scenery to see outside of the city, needless to say I’ll be back there at some point in the future!
A weekend in Kaunas, Lithuania
Kaunas, once the capital of Lithuania (temporarily), is the second largest city in the country behind Vilnius (the capital).
Having previously travelled Europe quite extensively, I was keen to explore further east and the once described to me “wild west of Lithuania” was just a cheap flight from my local airport.
When I booked the trip at the end of summer 2012, I’ll admit I didn’t really know anything about Kaunas only that Lithuania was amongst the Baltic States, which are infamous for producing extremely attractive females. Ironically, I met a lovely Lithuanian girl in my hometown a few weeks after booking the trip, who eventually ended up coming with me.