My Six Week Jaunt Around Europe
(Yet another trip well before the era of digital cameras! I’ll have to scan in some photos sometime…)
While I was interning at ABB Power Generation in Switzerland in 1998-1999, I was able to negotiate six weeks off to backpack around Europe over the summer. Here’s a summary of the trip, with extracts from a group email I sent around in italics.
My first stop was Vienna. I skipped Salzburg because I’d been there before and caught the night train to Vienna. I really liked Vienna and spent a few days there doing the tourist stuff – museums, parks, palaces etc.
First stop was Austria and Vienna, which is still an incredible city care of the Habsburg dynasty. Huge gradiose buildings all over the places, wide boulevards, statues and fountains on every corner. Real opulence. I did think it was missing a bit of heart though…. Manage to time my trip well with the Vienna Love Parade, rubbing shoulders with the entire Austrian gay community and all technoed out by the end of that night.
My next destination was the small town of Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. This World Heritage-listed town is set on the bend of a river with a castle and gardens set up on the hill on the other bank – gorgeous! I then traveled to Prague, which back then was waking itself into the tourist destination is today. I had a great few days there hanging out with a couple of fun travelers, and we covered the city pretty well. We even took a day trip out to Kutna Hora to visit a spine-chilling chapel decorated with human bones and skulls. Here’s more from the emails:
After five trains, one bus, seven hours and a shit-load of dicking around, I rolled into Cesky Krumlov in the Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic after midnight. What a view walking down from the station – a tiny village unchanged in centuries camped on a horse-shoe bend of the river, with a huge castle and tower on a cliff overlooking the city. It turned out to be a great few days there. After half a day I’d seen all the sights, and it was fab just to unwind, relax, sleep, wander about, drink pints cheaper than a dollar, and try and get that damned travel journal up to date!!! (still somewhere in May at the mo.)
A much easier train ride got me to Prague. This city really grew on me over the days I was there and I was disappointed to leave. Prague Castle, numerous churches (now a bit churched out), the old town square and astronomical clock, and the incredible 13th (?) Century Charles Bridge with amazing views across either side of the river. Needless to say that the city was enjoyed to it’s fullest extent with some great company, including a few big nights partaking in a bit of absinth (70% al.!). Oh yeah Mum, your goulash is waaaaaaaaaay better than theirs!!!
Also did a day trip out to Kunta Hora to see a fascinating but slightly morbid ossuary – some monk decided to decorate the inside of the chapel with the remains of 40,000 people. It really looked like something you’d find in Goonies or an Indiana Jones adventure. But well worth the trip.
I first caught a train back into Germany and stopped off in Dresden to see how the city was repairing itself after the fire-bombings of 1945 and the subsequent 40 years of Communist rule. My destination was Berlin which I loved. There was so much modern 20th century history there, lots to see and do, and I was staying in a cool backpacker hangout. Here’s an excerpt from an old group email I sent out:
Berlin turned out to be quite an interesting experience. It was fascinating for me because of all the recent history tied up in the city: the Berlin wall, Checkpoint Charlie, buildings built during the Nazi era, the square where National Socialist students burned 20,000 books in 1933 (quite errie), Hitler’s bunker, the room where the WWII surrender was made official in 1945, war-damaged synogogues, the list went on.
But it’s really undergoing a transformation at the moment since re-unification in 1989. The Reichstag (Parliament) has been rebuilt and Berlin is the capital of Germany once more, and all over the city there are cranes, building sites, cranes, cranes and more of the bastards. EVERYTHING is being rebuilt. It’s definitely a place I’d want to go back to in 10 years to see the results.
It was a lot of train travel to get me to my next destination – Stockholm. It was a loooong train up to Hamburg followed by another looooong train ride up to Copenhagen. I didn’t stop off there as I was passing back through it and instead got straight on another train direct to Stockholm. Here’s some more from the group email:
Time to move on then. Did a big long haul up to Stockholm, stocking up on lotsa cheap grog on the ferry because their prices are soooooo exorbitant (what is it – $8 a pot or something?!?!?!). Met up with my ol’ rugger buddy Ludde (the Swede for those that know him) at the train station and within two hours we were swilling beer underneath the statue of some king looking over the waters of beautiful Stockholm, which would have to be one of the prettiest cities I’ve seen – just as watery as Venice but with thousands of islands and parks everywhere.
So began a few big days of partying and not much sightseeing (I did it all on the last day in town). Ludde was kind enough to show me the student scene at his university town Uppsala, and I was kind enough to empty my wallet at the bar (it’s still empty). Also got treated to some real Swedish cuisine: pickled herring x lots, spuds, boiled eggs, rye bread, and some potent aquavit to wash it all down. Now that’s living. Also had the great pleasure of being introduced to Swedish beaches – picture a freezing cold lake with rocky bottom, shelving onto a rancid little brown pebble beach and you’ve got the idea. Give me home…
Also had the highlight of my trip when my clothes were stolen from a apartment building locked washing room. Some little thieving turd actually went through my stuff in the dryer and decided what he did and didn’t want – Big Day Out t-shirt didn’t get a gurnsey but he must’ve taken a liking to my reg grundies (non-Aussies read: undies). So left with not much to wear I took on Stockholm for some clothes shopping (just my luck to pick the most expensive fucking country too….). Hate to see the Visa now.
From Stockholm I traveled to Oslo in Norway to visit another friend, Marte Lid, who I met in Thailand the year beforehand. I enjoyed my time there (an Oslo “beach” – interesting) but I found myself city-d out. On a hunch I decided to travel up north and it was a GREAT decision.
Going up to the Lofoten Islands turned out to be the highlight of my trip so far. It took 1 1/2 days on a train to get to the town of Bodø, which is above the Arctic Circle, but it wasn’t so bad because I got to have a squiz at the town of Trondheim along the way.
At Bodø I jumped onto a ferry and it was a stormy three hour ride across to the islands. As we got closer the islands appeared through the cloud – 1000m high glacier carved islands rising straight out of the ocean, a jagged line of snow-capped mountains. Impressive!!!
Once off the ferry I bussed down to the old sleepy fishing village of Å (“or”). Went for a walk and just took it easy up there – the mountains right behind the town were great for hikes, even though the weather wasn’t. I was staying in this rather unique place, actually part of the old bakery so I was woken up every morning to the smells of cinnamon rolls. Mmmmm…..
A two hour bus ride along the island’s coasts, over bridges and through tunnels, with views out of this world around every corner, saw me to another fishing town of Stamsund (at 68 degrees north latitude, that’s higher than Iceland or Hudson Bay!). This place had one of those hostels which you wish you could stay for weeks – basically you ran the place yourself and everyone was just great. More walks and relaxing and then it was unfortunately time to go.
Bus, ferry and two trains got me back down to Oslo, where I then headed for the fjords around Bergen. Where it rains for over 280 days of the year, I was really chuffed to get two good sunny days in the fjords. They lived up to all expectations – huge snow-capped mountains and cliffs falling straight into the water below, with waterfalls and villages stuck to their sides. Beautiful!
Back in Oslo I caught up with my pal Marte who showed me the plerasures of a Norwegian beach on a good day. Needless to say that any full-blooded male would be impressed with what he saw! Norwegians living up to THAT reputation!
Travelling down to Copenhagen I stopped off in Malmo, a Swedish town which is actually where this Anderson clan comes from (five generations ago just in case you’re interested). I caught the ferry across to Copenhagen, and I’m there now. It’s quite a pretty city and great for walking and riding, with some good museums to do and things to see. But right now it’s time to drink some more beer, so I’ll sign off.
I spent a couple of enjoyable days in Copenhagen before heading south to Amsterdam. I spent a few days there and then in Delft to visit a friend Richard (a colleague from ABB in Switzerland), and from there I went back to Zurich for the street parade. I still had a week vacation after that and went to Paris to do a short trip across northern France with Seren. Here’s more from my group emails:
So let’s pick up where I left off. Oh that’s right, I was going for some beerage in Copenhagen. Well that turned out to be a bit of a fizzer because the prices up there sort of precluded excessive alcohol consumption. But apart from that, and the fact that I was in The Noisiest Hostel Ever, inadequately called “Sleep In Heaven”, Copenhagen was great: strolling down Ströget (the world’s longest pedestrian road), a boat cruise through the canals of the city, the disappointing Little Mermaid, the hippie town of Christiania and the fantastic Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek Museum.
Next stop Amsterdam. I wasn’t originally going to stay in the city but with a mate outside, but next thing I knew I was dragged into a big drinking sesh (making up for lost time in Scandinavia I told myself) with a few mad Canadians. This was followed up by the Heineken brewery tour for breakfast, with all the free beer you could drink for 45 mins. GO!!!!!! Somewhere in amongst the blur we critically (and amusingly) perused the works of van Gogh. I also had a squiz inside the Anne Frank house, but other than that I just moseyed through the streets of the city, over and along the canals – quite a pretty city indeed. By night of course the Red Light District was a must, and I did what most people do when they go there! (as this e-mail is Rated G for kiddies, I’ll only tell you more on request) All I will say was that it was definitely good for a laugh!!!
Rich the Krazy Dutchman met up with me the next night and we sampled many beverages throughout the city until 4am, when we caught the train to his house Delft (thanks for warning me about the multiple-kilometre walk with pack Dutchman!) Next afternoon I was ready to tackle the town of Delft, which only took a few hours as there wasn’t THAT much to see (there’s only so much Delft Blue Pottery that one guy can take). After a “typical Dutch meal” of pancakes (still trying to work that one out!), we found heaven in a bar with 400 beers to choose from, of course including my fave Newcastle Brown Ales. Oh, it’s been a looooooong time between drinks…… No time to rest though. Next day I travelled to Arnhem, site of the terrible and unsuccessful allied airborne attack in WW2. It was quite an interesting day for me seeing places I’d read a lot about.
Next stop ZÜRICH! But hang on, I hear you all say, you’ve got a weeks holiday left – why go home now? Well because once a year this consevative bankers’ city totally lets go, and every weirdo from everywhere comes on down for the huge Zürich Street Parade (basically a huge techno dance party down the streets of the city). The parade floats are these massive semi-trailers loaded with a veritable shit-load of speakers, a big fuck-off generator to run the whole thing, one DJ, and a hundred semi-clad dancers. I was working on one of the floats and so I had a great view of the 750,000+ people there, and I was up there dancing with the best of them (OK, stop laughing now). Turned out to be a great day and great night (!), and I ended up crashing in an all-girls dormitory inside a convent. Might just go to hell for that one! Heh heh.
Last stop was France for a week. But you know what, I couldn’t be bothered writing that much about it and I’m sure you’re sick of reading. So I’ll make it brief. Paris, with Seren across from the UK, beautiful city, Louvre a disappointment but the fab Musee d’Orsay a must for all, up the Eiffel, Notre Dame Cathedral, freaky catacombs. Eclipse from Sacre Coeur whoop-dee-doo. By myself to Normandy. Amazing 70m long 1066 AD Bayeux tapestry. Absolutely incredibly totally impressive Mont St. Michel (you know, ye olde abbey on top of big rock surrounded by water). Rude French (the Parisians were the nice ones!). Sobering D-Day beaches. Back home.
So I’m back in Baden now and at work. In all it was a great trip, but I probably wouldn’t attempt backpacking through Western Europe in summer again – it’s just too hectic. But there’s always somewhere else to go and something else to do…
Too true! 🙂