Crikey, it’s been MONTHS since I posted on the story of my first ever solo backpacker adventure. Readers may (or may not) recall that I had almost got to the end of my time in Europe, which had seen me through Germany, Italy, France, the UK, Sweden, Denmark yada yada yada. When last I left you, just before I headed off to Myanmar (this year), I had come down from Stockholm to Germany for a wedding. From there I had around two and a half weeks left before I would fly over to my final continent, that of North America, and I would be flying out of Stockholm.
But where was I to go? I had heard awesome raps on Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic before I’d left Australia and even more when travelling through Europe, so it was here I decided to head. A friend I had made in Brugges, more than a month earlier, was living there and he said I had to come so I decided I might as well. Visa got… somewhere. Can’t remember but back in 1999 Australians needed visa for most of Eastern Europe.
I took the train into the pretty amazing Prague railway station, and met up with an Aussie, Cathy, and an American, Pete and we ended up going to the same hostel. They couldn’t find the one they were heading to so ended up in mine. Or vice versa, the memory plays tricks on us oldsters. The hostel itself was ‘retro’ without trying to be. It reminded me of school camp buildings in the 1980s at home. It was cheap, there was breakfast, and we were the only ones at the hostel. It was pretty much perfect!
This was a Prague when the tourists were just starting to come, but I don’t remember many beyond the centre of town. We explored the city for a day or so, we checked out the City Town Square where the Astronomical Clock saw a steady flow of tourists getting their photo taken in front of it. The Tyn Cathedral is one of the more impressive churches in the Czech Republic too, it forms one ‘wall’ of the city square.
Here I met up with my friend Mike and saw the Vltava River and the Charles Bridge where jazz bands often play. It was busy in 1999, but nothing compared to today or even five years later in 2004 when the bridge was chock full of pedestrians.
I took a day trip to Kalory Vary on a grey, drizzly day. The town itself is very nice and quaint, and full of hot spas. I had a massage. I returned to Prague and on the last night we all went to a retro disco which was packed. The night actually started with a party at Mike’s place with lots of ex-pats, and this was the first and only time I tried Absinth. The real heavy stuff, 80% alcohol or so the bottle claimed. I was drunk before I had some. Three minutes after my shot of Absinth, I was no longer drunk.
We partied hard at the retro disco until the early hours of the next morning. The last song, I was told before I went, was always ‘The Final Countdown’ by Europe. The disco did not disappoint. Cathy, Pete and I got back to the hostel after 4am. They both had morning trains, mine must have been a bit later but I was awake before they left.
From there I went to Copenhagen. I stayed there for a few days, I saw a few museums, I sadly remember very little from Copenhagen in both visits there in 1999. I am yet to return. Then via Stockholm to Oslo in Norway.
I remember the hostel was like a scout hall with mats on the ground. The cooking facilities were good and I impressed others with my pasta cooking skills. Oslo is a small but inviting capital, with parks and interesting fountains. There was a sort of medieval festival on I remember. Again, I saw a museum or two, and went out a couple of times and danced nights away. It seems at this point of the trip that was more important than actually doing touristy stuff.
But at the same time, my will for travel was well and truly failing. I did however love the amazing train ride up and down the mountains that took me from Oslo to Bergen on the Norwegian coast. The stop in the middle allowed people to get off and see mountains, at the end of August, covered in snow.
Bergen itself was really a special little place, beautiful coastline and charming European ambience. There was a house to visit where locals did their bit radioing and organising interference against the Nazis in World War Two. Sadly, the further my trip goes on, the worse my memory of it becomes.
And so, Europe was done, although I had to take a couple of trains, overnight, to get back to Stockholm, a city I’d been through a number of times in the trip, to catch my flight to New York. Europe had been brilliant, and yet tiring. I had entered in good spirits, but I left it a little down and struggling to continue on. I decided I was going to shorten my time in North America from four weeks down to around two. Perhaps a little less. This was less about my mood and more about my wallet, which after the massive hit it had taken in Iceland, was emptying fast.
But I still had America and Canada to look forward to. And so do you – in the next instalment in a week or so. Until then – May the Journey Never End!