Europe Trip summer of 2014 – Vienna to Switzerland

A snippet of my 5 week backpacking adventure 6 years ago.

Travelling around was really amazing as a 19 year old. That sense of freedom and possibility was one of the best moments of my life. There was also a neat music festival going on at the Vienna city hall with a gigantic image projected onto the facade of city hall. Made a friend too also backpacking around but forgot to get her number to stay in touch. The train ride was truly spectacular.

Things have obviously changed since then but I hope one day to revisit and see the beauty of Austria and Switzerland once again.

Part 2 London & Journey to Windsor Castle

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London from St. Paul’s Cathedral

London was great, and in retrospect a really unique time, back in the summer of 2014. To set the tone of what it was like, I remember crossing the Thames on one of those sightseeing buses and seeing the sunset behind Big Ben with some nice orchestral music playing (on the bus) and experiencing the peacefulness of the late afternoon. And that felt like a totally normal day.

View from the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral

 

 

The globe theatre, St. Paul’s Cathedral, and London Bridge were definitely highlights. Although a bit crowded they are definitely not tourist traps. I would add the Tower of London as well on the list but the lineups were already quite long on a weekday so it really depends on what you want to see. The crown jewels were beautiful, the engineer in me got a kick from the moving walkways they installed to shuttle people past them. (An ingenious solution!) The historic stuff not so much, although that is to be expected since it was supposed to be “natural” as how it was back then.

Machines inside London Bridge, also my face.

Balcony of the modern art museum, Tate Modern

Tate Modern was a cool gallery, although I’m not the biggest fan of modern art, it was cool even for non artsy people! (I’m sure you will love it if your a fan of it)

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Westminster, Big Ben from the Thames

Westminster was a bit dark on the inside, but I imagine most people don’t go in there solely for architecture so it was actually quite fascinating. With the tombs of Sir Issac Newton, famous historical figures, etc.

In front of Westminster (busy!)

Nelson’s column and square weren’t that impressive. However the shear amount and variety of tourists, touts, and entertainers that were there was. A great sea of humanity was milling around the square that lazy summer day in London.

Sitting in the Quad of Westminster

My favorite experience had to be simply walking around Picadilly, Hyde Park, and touring Kensington Palace & gardens. These were the highlights of London for me.

Gardens of Kensington Palace

I was extra naughty and I opened up one of the curtains in the second floor ballroom with a magnificent view over the Kensington gardens & Hyde park. Sat down in the one and only antique chair right in front of the window, and soaked in the regal view. (I’m sure that the curtains were closed for a reason but I was a bit of a rebel at the time. )

The chair in Kensington Palace

I’m sure there were also some bad experiences during my 5 days there, but the passage of time really has made it difficult recalling them. Perhaps an overly salt breakfast in Swiss cottage? Or the long line for the London Pass? Definitely the diesel fumes in central London. Looking back though they were all such minor, trivial, things compared to the great experiences I had too. Lesson learned, focusing on the positives really helps.

 

The radiant castle

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On the top of the castle

Windsor Castle is conveniently located a short train ride away from London, and I used that opportunity to make a quick day trip to see what it was all about.

Before I get any further, I would say weather was the most important factor for this, gloomy weather would definitely have reduced the experience.

(I also met this interesting chap that was going to see his brother’s wrestling tournament, or something like that as I can’t quite remember. (It was 3 years ago give me a break!)) Anyways he sat in the seat opposite of mine and we had a most unlikely conversation between the most unlikely of people. He was 40+, proper Brit working class from what I could tell (class distinctions still make me a bit uncomfortable and I’m not very good at telling them apart), and I was this Asian looking boy by myself with a completely different background and path. So conversations and bonds can happen anywhere between any type of people, that was the lesson I learned from that)

 

Panorama from the Castle walls

 

The moment I stepped off the train there was this incredible sight of a market dressed to the nines with all sorts of banners and decorations for some event that I could not figure out at the time, still very impressive nonetheless. And the most incredible thing was the total lack of anything to disturb the tranquility of the scene. (remember I took the train straight from busy busy London) Everyone visiting seemed to be strolling along or sitting down enjoying themselves. And of course just beyond the entrance was the view of Windsor Castle atop the hill radiant in the sunlight.

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The orchestra

The moment I stepped into the Castle grounds itself, I remember there was an orchestra in the gardens, in their little orchestra gazebo, playing a beautiful, serene, melody and butterflys were milling over the verdant green glass with the sunshine beaming down. That was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

There was a special tour to the very top of the main tower of the castle that I think was led by a historian to a group of about 7 of us, and we walked a circuit taking in the sight of the British countryside. It really felt like we were royalty viewing our domain from up their! In fact you could even look down into Queen’s apartments at the castle, although that was only allowed since she was not residing there at the time. You could also see Eton, the river, and many other neat things from that vantage point.

Afterwards I bought a tea cloth from the gift shop (for my mom!) and strolled around the markets and restaurants in the little town surrounding the castle, concluding my very happy day in Windsor.

View from atop the castle.

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View from atop Windsor Castle.

 

 

The rest of my adventure through Western Europe, 2 years later

So I made this website way back, 2014 way back, as a way of cataloguing my trip through Europe for posterity. Obviously that didn’t pan out the way I wanted, as I was (and still am), not a good writer. Now with all the time in the world on my hands and combined with the fact I’m not grinding through 2nd & 3rd year Mech. Eng. means that I can now actually write what I wanted 2 years later. Pictures coming later.

Oh also I just joined Golden Words so I need to seriously up my game in order to match up to their exalted writing ranks.

 

Part 0: Overview and Itinerary

So I came with this idea of doing a backpacking style grand tour of Europe around Canada Day, I was totally bored after spending 2 months at home reading books and watching shows and what not. Toronto was so lame to me by that point, especially after the car crash I got into at the beginning of May which really put a damper on my mood. (Nobody got seriously hurt thankfully but minor whiplash is still a pain in the neck)  Needless to say I was itching to get away from it all and do some exploring.

So I planned it out and booked my flights, and bought an EU railpass that allowed me to ride virtually all the trains anytime I wanted in Western Europe. I tried cajoling a few friends into coming but as you imagine my spontaneous spur-of-the-moment idea did not lend itself to finding a companion to travel with.

So alone, anxious, and feeling a bit of holy crap! did I really get myself into this!  off I went!

Friday July 24th, 2014 —England—

Day 1:   Toronto -> London

~London for 3 days~

Day 4: Windsor & Windsor Castle daytrip *Windsor castle has a special tour where a guide will take up to the top of the tallest tower, I would HIGHLY recommend this if visiting. You can see everything from up there. As a side note it’s also possible to look into the Queen’s apartments with some binoculars, although don’t be a creep and do that. *

~London for 1  more day~

Wednesday July 30th, 2014 —France—

Day 7: Eurostar to Paris

~Paris for 2 days~

Day 9: TGV Atlantique to Rennes

~1 day in Rennes~

Day 10: Visit to Le Mont St-Michel *Very incredible, the online images spectacular though they are don’t do this one justice. Definitely must be seen to believe. The alluvial sand flats when the afternoon tide rolls in produces an almost mirror like quality that blends the sky, and the ground into one endless horizon. Oh also your standing on a mountain like giant castle and cathedral with a small town a hundred feet below you.*

Day 11: TGV Atlantique & TGV Lyonnais to Lyon

~1 day in Lyon

Monday August 4th, 2014 —Switzerland—

Day 12: Arrival in Geneva just past midnight

~2 days in Geneva~ *Again one of those must be seen to believe places of astounding beauty.*

Day 14: Train to Lausanne then Interlaken

Friday August 8th, 2014 — Germany—

Day 15: Train to Basel, then night sleeper to Hannover.

Day 16: ICE to Berlin

~4 days in Berlin

Day 19: Train to Potsdam

~Day Trip in Postdam~

Day 19: then ICE to Hamburg

~2 days in Hamburg~

Friday August 15th, 2014 —Denmark—

Day 21: ICE to Copenhagen

*This  one was really cool and shouldn’t be missed on any train journey in Western Europe. As opposed to basically every other high speed train in the world, this one does not run on electricity as the track goes into Jutland andis not electrified. Instead it’s gas powered and, here’s the kicker, the entire train rolls onto a giant ferry that crosses the Baltic sea from Puttgarden to Roedby. A GIANT TRAIN FERRY. That’s so cool! :O see here for more details.*

~1 day in Copenhagen~

Saturday August 16th, 2014 —Sweden—

Day 22: Express train over the Great Belt Bridge to Malmo *This bridge is also really cool, especially when viewed from the shorelines of Malmo on a beautiful August afternoon like I did.

~Day Trip in Malmo~

Sunday August 17th, 2014 —Germany— Again!

Sunday August 17th, 2014 —Netherlands—

Day 22 Continued: Express train back to Copenhagen, then slooow train to Amsterdam

Day 23: Fun in Amsterdam!

~2 more days of Fun in Amsterdam!~

Monday August 18th, 2014 —Germany— Yet again!!

Day 25: ICE to Cologne

~A few brief hours in Cologne~

Day 25: Night train to Munich

~2 days in Munich~

Day 27: Day trip to Schloss Neuschwanstein

Day 27 Continued: Express train to Vienna!

Thursday, August 21st, 2014 —Austria—

~1 day in Vienna~

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 —Swizterland— Again!

Day 29: Train to St Gallen, then to Vaduz, then scenic Bernina Express train to Tirano.

*Bernina Express is actually a very misleading name, this is one of the slowest ways to cross the southern alps. But it is definitely the most scenic. Truly amazing scenery and the highest sections of the journey almost seem like from another world when shrowded in a morning fog. Highly HIGHLY recommended.*

Friday, August 22nd, 2014 —Italy—

Day 29 continued: Sloooooow train to Milan to visit cousin

Day 29: Frecciargento train to Venice after realizing said cousin was road tripping southern Italy.

***On reflection this was an incredibly busy day for me but at the time I remembered it felt normal by that point, I was so used to travelling and going between cities that from leaving Vienna just before midnight to arriving in Venice late evening, I didn’t feel unusually tired or anything.***

Day 30: Venice, the jewel of cities, the most difficult to navigate of cities.

Day 31: Frecciargento train to Milan.

~1 and a half days in Milan with Cousin~

Day 32: Frecciarosa train to Rome

~1 day in Rome~

Day 33: Frecciarosa to Naples, tourist train to Pompeii

~Day Trip to Pompeii & Mt. Vesuvius~ ***Note that my pictures from Mt. Vesuvius were subsequently lost when I lost my second phone, as Copenhagen was when I last backed up and my primary phone’s battery had died by the time (I know, stupid), so don’t hold out for those.***

*Mt. Vesuvius is beautiful, again highly recommended*

Day 33 Continued: Frecciarosa back to Rome.

~a few more hours in Rome~

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 —France— Again!

***Being a stupid kid at the time I decided instead of flying from Rome to Barcelona at moderate expense to catch my flight back to Toronto, I would take the damn rails all the way. Partly due to the fact my railpass would make this cost no money, and partly due to the fact I thought I could squeeze in a few hours of sightseeing along the Mediterranean shores. This would later prove to be a monumentally stupid decision.***

Day 34: A lot of trains through Torino, Grenoble, Montepellier, to Barcelona. ***As you might guess I was getting pretty sick of trains by this point my railpass was although a very wise decision meant that I took the trains EVERYWHERE, I racked up over a hundred train trips by the end of this all I think.***

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014 —Spain—

Day 34 Continued:

/// Barcelona station, close to midnight, totally lost and unsure of how to get to my hostel, I decided to brave the streets with backpack and suitcase in tow.

Not a good idea.

A shifty looking guy started walking beside me as I was walking up the street. I should have taken the cue now to get a taxi. Being the broke student I was at the time with barely any money left, I decided not to.

Really bad idea.

So I feel something wet on my back suddenly and I turn around, the guy exclaims that I got some spit on my back and offers to wipe it off for me. Me being exhausted at the time and totally not feeling good after my stupid 20 hour train ride from Rome. (Did I mention I got on the wrong TGV train in Montepellier headed in the opposite direction of Barcelona, because I was stressing about losing my second phone? Yeah that made my day bad enough already.) So after putting my backpack on my suitcase to let the guy wipe the spit off, he makes a quick departure and I realize that my bag is missing!

Long story short I end up in the hostel with the help of a nice American couple who took pity on me, bagless, passportless, and without all my souvenirs and postcards I had bought along the way through Europe.

Sad story eh? Well I still made it back to Canada just fine a few days later so it all turned out well in the end. \\\

Day 35: Flight to Madrid.

***After realizing I lost the hardcopy of my railpass as well last night my plan of going to the Canadian embassy in Madrid one the AVE train didn’t pan out. I instead took a flight and through the kind help of another couple from Toronto at the embassy as well, and the helpful embassy staff, I managed to get an emergency travel passport and boarded my newly booked flight back to Toronto through Dublin.***

~1 and a half days in Madrid~

Friday, August 29th, 2014 —Ireland–

Day 36: Flight to Dublin

Saturday, August 30th, 2014 —Canada— I’m Back!

Day 37: Flight to Toronto

Collapse on my own warm, sweet, bed. Parents make awesome home cooked meal. I’m happy.

So what was the lesson I learned after spending thousands of dollars, 5 weeks, and some grief near the end?

Western Europe is amazing for sightseers, adventerurers, students, really anyone who wants to experience a lot in a geographically compact place. And a railpass is almost certainly the most convenient way to do it.

I had a really great experience for those 5 weeks and learned a lot of life lessons in doing so, being by myself really tested my own ability and aptitude in navigating foreign environments, cultures, languages, and conditions. I grew up a bit and don’t regret it at all. Even losing my bag and passport was in itself another lesson and test of my abilities to handle high pressure, discomfort,  despair, and still be able to come out the other end through action, struggle, and overcoming obstacles.

 

I’m glad I had the opportunity to do this trip because I realize not everyone could have had the same opportunity, and for that I am grateful to the people who made it possible.

Anyways I will save the rest for a wrap-up section! If your still reading this thanks for bearing with my writing and making it all the way through!

 

 

A snippet of the next section, that will detail my journey.

Part 1 Redux: London

The tube trains got me, I couldn’t stand up straight in them. I was not expecting the famous Underground to be so, in a much nicer way than what I was actually thinking at the time, poorly thought out.

Here I was trying to get all the sights and sounds checked off with my shiny and expensively purchased London pass, and all I could think about, and look at, was that businessman in the suit who got on, slightly taller than me, whose hair was just brushing the ceiling. Quite literarlly brushing due to the swaying and vibrations of the train car.

Anyways all the sights and sounds were great, I won’t bore you with pictures of the Big Ben, Westminster, the London Eye, the Thames, Picadilly Square, the Globe Theatre, all the things you probably seen a thousand times before online.

What was really cool and interesting was the shear amount of tourists from all over trying to take those famous poses in front of the famous places, all at the same time. Whatever those Brexiters say,  multiculturalism from all six continents (no antarcticans sadly) is the nom du jour on a pleasant late July evening anywhere in central London.

 

 

 

Europe Backpacking Trip Part 2

Home Sweet Europe (for 5 days in London) Part 1

Swiss cottage is an incredibly nice neighbourhood, there are no cottages by the way. It’s served by the Jubilee line and two rail corridors border the north and south, and not much else if your looking to get into central London and is home to what I think are the most expensive homes outside of central London. Seriously I checked online and the price was 8 million pounds (~14 million CAD) for a 3 bedroom townhouse (called a row house in Britain) across the street from the hostel I stayed. Add in a good hour walk to the Thames and riding the underground was my modus operandi.

For reference here’s the hostel I stayed in (which is actually a converted mansion, the beautiful wooden frescos are preserved inside and the dormitory style rooms I stayed in are cramped and not as good looking.):

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And these were the $14 million townhouses a few steps away (This style of architecture is very common in London, and the small fourth floor, the top floor, were historically used by servants.)

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Trafalger Square was my first real stop in London, although I first got lost getting there and ended up wandering around Piccadilly circus for a while.

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You can see Admiral Horatio Nelson standing on top of his column, the blue thing in the top right is in fact a giant blue rooster, I have no idea why that was there.

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The national art gallery, I heard it was great but sadly didn’t have the time to go. After that I met up with a guy I met at the hostel and we strolled down the Mall (don’t be confused by the name it’s not an actual mall) and walked around Buckingham Palace. The Mall is separated from Trafalgar square from a giant marble arch, one of the many giant arches in London.

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And everyone likes to knock on the weather of London, and yeah it does rain a lot, but the sunsets after a thunderstorm cleared away were truly gorgeous.

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Europe Extravaganza! Part 1

I finally have the time to write up my summer’s travelling in europe, expect a continuing narrative update (or as close to one I can write) on my adventures.

Part 1: Airplane Boogaloo

Air Transat Flight 522 from YYZ to LGW

On the flight over to London I sat next to a hilarious British girl returning home from working in Toronto, I remember us getting into quite a deep conversation about the differences in her hair stylist job versus British hair stylists, and she did have excellent hair, but what was most interesting was her accent, imagine British with Toronto slang. Thankfully I didn’t get nauseous or had stomach movements so awkward aisle bumping & rubbing (Air Transat has the lowest leg room on their A330’s of any airline) was kept to a minimum.

An identical plane to the one I was one.

Gatwick immigration was less enjoyable. I had to wait in the longest line anywhere I’ve ever seen, you would think there would be another line for citizens of commonwealth countries but nope, everyone without a British passport had to pile up in one line.

After which I managed to buy a ticket for an express train to London Bridge, (note the train station is actually quite far from the eponymous bridge). Below you can see some photos I took of the landscape, and of the Shard as the train was rolling into station. Fun fact the Shard was the tallest building in Europe when completed but it has since been overtaken by a series of skyscrapers in Moscow, it however is still the tallest building in the European Union. Also it looks like it’s from the future.

Stay tuned for the next update.