I’ve been trying to put into words my experience while I was backpacking, but honestly it’s very difficult to articulate. There were so many individual things that happened that I could turn into stories (& I probably will at some stage!) & it’s hard to place them in any type of order. So I’ve decided that I’m just going to keep it in the order of when it happened. So here goes.
I flew from Dublin to London with my heart in mu mouth. I spent months planning the trip of a lifetime &when it finally came round, I couldn’t quite believe it was actually happening! I’ve been to London before, & frankly it was important for me to start somewhere that was somewhat familiar, as I was going to be travelling alone at certain points.
London was lovely. The trip was, for me, a cultural tour of European cities. Art galleries, churches & museums are some of my favourite things & it was an opportunity to see some things on my Bucket List. I took a tour of Shakespeare’s Globe on South Bank which was just so enjoyable. The history of the building & Shakespeare’s works was fascinating. I then wandered around the Tate Modern, which I had very much mixed feelings about. I’m not a huge fan of the very modern art, I love the abstract but some pieces of modern art make no sense to me. Anyway, the Tate is an impressive building.
I stayed that night in college halls that are rented out for the summer, that was fun :-)
I had to leave really early the next morning to catch the eurostar to Paris. For anyone travelling that route, I’d highly recommend that route! Its quick, its comfortable & there is a real novelty at taking the Channel Tunnel…provided you don’t think too hard about whats over your head!
Paris was…well, it was Paris. I had never been before, & had probably not paid much heed to the city apart from reading Hemingway or old classics & imagining the city as the fabulous playground of the rich and famous! (I completely live in a fantasy world half the time.) I hadn’t realised how vast Paris was, it was much bigger than I had imagined, everything is so spaced out! Needless to say, my legs were well & truly walked off when those 3 days were over!
Ruairí met me in Paris, to have our first holiday abroad together. It was really wonderful. Before I met him at the train station I hiked to Sacre Coeure to see the cathedral. Standing on the top of those steps at the door of the church, a huge section of Paris is laid out at your feet & it is breathtakingly beautiful.
I sat on those steps for a while & just took it in. By the time I went to meet Ruairí at Gare du Nord I was blissed out from the view from the hilltop.
The three days in Paris were amazing. It had been on my wishlist to spend 8 hours in the Louvre, we managed 6 hours so I’m counting that as an achievement! I can’t even begin to describe the effect that the Louvre had on me. Its an absolute dream come true being surrounded with not only fabulous works of art, but also ones that I had bookmarked in my mind as ‘I hope I get to see that someday’. & I have to admit, even though my expectation of the Mona Lisa was that I would be disappointed, she’s pretty dn impressive when you stand in front of her & realise her history & her creator. I could dedicate an entire blog to the wonders of the Louvre, but for the moment it’s enough to say that if the opportunity to go there ever presents itself; go, & spend as much time there as you possibly can. It is almost impossible to see everything it has to offer, 6 hours & we didn’t manage it!
Just to wander around Paris is to witness beauty & magnificent architecture. It is an unbelievable city. The eiffel tower is impressive, & so is the light show that it puts on in the evening, if you wait till dark it is breathtaking. We also spent time in Les Invalides which has a huge collection of military artefacts & weapons from across the centuries. There are halls upon halls of swords, muskets, one-shot pistols, ancient rifles & knives, it’s really cool! Also, Napoleon’s tomb is there. That man was beyond mad, he had what can only be described as an obsession with Rome & Caesar, seeming to think that he was the next Caesar himself. His tomb & it’s church are covered in Roman symbols & paintings, it’s extremely impressive.
Another favourite of mine was Notre Dame. I saw Notre Dame cathedrals in several cities but none were as vast or beautiful as Paris. We weren’t able to go up the bell tower to see the gargoyles but Ruairí has promised me we’ll go back someday! 3 days is definitely not enough to see Paris in.
After an unbelievable few days, Ruairí returned to Ireland & I went on, backpack strapped on & really wonderi how I was going to get on being alone. My first solo stop was Amiens, & unfortunately it was not what I had expected. Jules Verne is buried in Amiens & being a huge fan of his, I was planning to see his grave. It didn’t happen however due to a few different issues. Dejected, I went for a walk in their fabled floating gardens to cheer myself up & followed a family of ducks around the lake for a while. While there, the weather turned quickly & what can only be described as a monsoon hit the city! I managed to escape a small island that was rapidly being turned into part of the lake & retreated to the hotel to watch television & eat french crisps.
The next morning, I caught my train to Bruges with high hopes for the adventure getting better. & it really did. Bruges is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. It is so enjoyable to just wander the streets of Bruges. The people are so friendly, everyone speaks English (which really does make a difference, I have to admit!), there are beautiful bridges & pathways over the many branches of the river, street performers, vendors & just all manner of wonderful things there. As an Irish person, the movie In Bruges was what drew my attention to Bruges, but I can tell you that it is even more beautiful than in the film. The first evening I was there, Belgium played in the world cup & I stumbled across a town square that was decked out for the match with food stalls, beer & a giant screen. I decided to stay & watch the match with the thousand people that filled the square & I really had a good time cheering them on.
I climbed the fabled bell tower early the next morning & I’m very glad that I did it early, less people equals less squeezing past bodies on the stairs, because the stairs are so narrow that it is terrifying to hang on to the wall while letting others climb past you, panicked looks in everyone’s eyes! But I would recommend it, very highly. The view from the tower is indescribable, I took photos but they do it no justice, Bruges & it’s rooftops are as beautiful as everything else in the city.
I took a boat tour of the river too, its a great way to see the city & all it has to offer. The captain of our 40 seat boat was a great entertainer & made the journey even better.
I visited the Notre Dame of Bruges, which was beautiful & holds a real treasure – Michelangelo’s virgin & child sculpture, which was so moving to view.
When I left Bruges, I could have cried. It was such an enjoyable place, I will have to promise myself that I’ll get back someday.
After the magnificence of a place like Bruges, any regular city is soul-destroying. Brussels was next on my trip & I was not prepared for either how much I’d miss Bruges, or what Brussels is like. I wasn’t a fan, I admit that it is not a place for me.
Starting to feel a bit lonely, I sought out my true comfort & found a huge second hand bookstore that had quite a large English book section. I spent a more than happy half hour there & finally settled on 2 books, remembering that I had limited space & weight in my backpack. I then found an Irish bar & spent a few happy hours curled in a window seat reading a book & nursing a good Belgian beer.
The next day it was raining really hard but I was determined to find a good side to Brussels, so I put up my hood, steeled myself to the rain & trekked to the natural history museum. It holds the largest selection of dinosaur fossils & bones in Europe so I was told, & it was really cool. I love dinosaurs, I am the generation that Jurassic Park was made for & since then, they have always been an obsession of mine. So to spend a considerable amount of the day surrounded by them was pretty great for me! I also got a selfie with a t-rex who was nicknamed Stan :-)
So that was Brussels, some beautiful buildings, the main square is very picturesque but it is not the place for me. I went on to Amsterdam hoping that the adventure would improve there. & it really did. I’d been to Amsterdam before, when I was about 19 or 20, & smoked a lot of weed but did little else. This time I was determined to spend as much time as possible in the Rijksmuseum & wandering, taking in the city. By this stage, I had developed a real love of wandering round cities & doing whatever took my fancy at the time. Amsterdam was no different. My hostel was in the form of a boat with tiny cabins with bunk beds & a shared bathroom & shower. But it was clean & the novelty of it was too much to pass up on it! It was great fun, I spent time sitting on the deck in the sun reading in between wanderings. I hit the Rijksmuseum on my second day & was more than rewarded with a view of 4 (yes FOUR) Vermeer paintings hanging in what they’ve simply named the Master’s Hall. Vermeer is, as you might have guessed, my favourite artist. That doesn’t even begin to describe how much I enjoy his work. The hall of Masters work in that museum is fantastic, the room itself is impressive, let alone the artwork. Having gorged myself on art & sunshine (it was 29 degrees that day), I resumed my wandering. Amsterdam is beautiful, reminded me of Bruges actually in how pretty it is.
I left Amsterdam a very happy girl, & headed to Frankfurt to my uncle & aunt who lives there. As a coincidence, my other uncle had taken a trip out there too so I had an almost family reunion in the train station!
I had a relaxing few days in Frankfurt, I did go to the art gallery there which has quite a selection of Christian art & also a beautiful Vermeer :-)
Four nights with family had me refreshed & ready for the last leg of the journey. I caught an early train to Nurenburg & then a 3 & a half hour bus ride to Prague through fabulous countryside, the forests in Germany are beautiful.
Prague is a city I would recommend to anyone. I had been there with my mother 5 years ago & was delighted to discover that I needed no maps, I remembered my way around like I was following the ghost my footsteps from the previous trip. Everything in Prague is beautiful, the astronomic clock, the town square, the hundreds of churches scattered around the city, the palace at the top of the city with even more of a fabulous view than from Sacre Coeure in Paris. The cathedral at the palace is also amazing. Due to having a lighter bag from discarding clothes as I travelled, I actually indulged in a little bit of shopping in Prague, which I didn’t do anywhere else. Wandering in Prague is so enjoyable, theres so much to see & even crossing the famous Charles Bridge takes almost an hour when you stop to admire the view & all the statues along the bridge. It was the perfect end to my backpacking, I was so happy to be back there.
I flew home after 18 days of travelling. I visited 8 cities in 6 countries & honestly had the adventure of a lifetime. I was so grateful to Ruairí, my mother & my manager at work for letting me follow a dream. I learned a lot about myself while I was away, & came home feeling more grown up, more comfortable in my own skin & really looking forward to coming home & settling into my life & the plans that I have made.
Coming home was strange, I almost felt like I hadn’t been away at all! For the week after I returned I woke in a panic every night, not knowing what bed or hostel I was in!
The feeling has remained though, that I’m more settled after fulfilling my wanderlust. I literally fulfilled a dream & I haven’t had much opportunity to say that before. I am ready for my next step, for my next college year, to finish my course, get my degree & fulfill another dream of mine.
Obviously there are little stories & curiosities that happened while I was away but to put them all in here wpuld take forever! I am working on a ‘things I leaned while I was backpacking’ post but it’ll be a while before its ready.
So thanks for reading friends, its been fun reading blog posts that I missed when I was away.
Until next time :-) <3