Travel

Looking back with gratitude

I enjoy writing about my travels very much and while somehow I didn’t find a moment to sit in front of my laptop and do so until now, I hope this post finds you well, healthy and safe wherever you are in this unsettled world at the present time. I promised to update you about where I had been these past few months so the simple answer is I took a gap-year from my life in Australia and found myself in Italy via Prague and Austria. If you had to put a label on it I suppose you could call it an extended holiday with the possibility to work as well, a “working holiday” – it’s a way to recharge my batteries and re-focus my energy and just find my happiest self again, which has always been when travelling. I have now called Italy my temporary home for nearly 7 months and everything was going reasonably well until the world got turned upside down over the coronavirus pandemic. Italy was devastatingly impacted by COVID-19 but now we are slowly starting to live a “new normal” type of lifestyle. One that includes wearing a face mask and gloves when interacting as a community and staying at a physical distance from one another.

Looking back on the past 8 months of travel that I have been very fortunate to do, it’s worth acknowledging that my memories of the trips I have taken and moments I experienced stand a tower above the anxieties and fears I felt during these past 2 months. What we’ve lived through and continue to live through is unprecedented and unnerving so let’s dive straight into the good moments, shall we?


Prague is a timeless, majestic city that impresses you from the first moment you step onto its streets. I had visited Prague one time before and on this occasion wanted to show my mum around the city I once fell in love with at age 19. Prague has so much charm and elegance and I could spend hours gazing up at the details in its architecture, with its intricately ornate facades and buildings straight out of a fairytale. There are so many more things I could tell you about Prague but thinking back to my visit in September feels like a lifetime ago, so let’s allow my photos to tell a better story…

Remaining in the Czech Republic, my mum and I travelled onto Cesky Krumlov by bus from Prague one afternoon for a short stay. It was love at first sight! I know I mentioned that I thought Prague was a fairytale city but this town was straight out of a classic children’s storybook! The town has a castle overlooking a river, picture-perfect squares with typically cute buildings, lots of green spaces and many spots to just stand still and admire the views of this incredible place.

We needed to make our way into Italy from the Czech Republic and Austria was the perfect place to spend a few more nights as we navigated south. The town we chose was Kufstein, “the pearl of the Tyrol”, a town so beautiful in autumn that I found myself thinking a lot about it during lockdown. Thinking about the heavenly mountain views and breathtaking vistas that opened up when we braced ourselves for dear life on the only single open-air chairlift remaining in Austria and reached an altitude of 1,256m for an experience I will never forget. Kufstein had some of the friendliest people and most amazing memories for me and from there it was a 6 hour direct train ride to Bologna, Italy.

If you allow me, I would like to devote more time to the Italian cities that I visited in future posts. I can just simply tell you that in 7 months I was fortunate enough to call 6 apartments my home in Bologna, Pistoia, Florence and now Viareggio. I have barely scratched the surface of this fascinating country when travel was halted but I have hope within myself that there’s still more discoveries just waiting to be made and I can see a few more cities before returning home around October this year. Nothing is for certain during this time but at least I have these incredible memories to look back on and be proud of. Hopefully we can make more travel memories together again very soon. Stay safe out there, dear friends!

If you enjoyed these photos, please feel free to follow me on Instagram where I post a lot more often. Cheers!

Travel

Travel Souvenirs

magnets

If I could have it my way I would never stop travelling. Being a 19-year-old student on exchange in Germany really ignited this passion I have for discovering new countries and experiencing different cultures. I cannot be more thankful for having had that opportunity in my youth. Now, eight years on I decided to capture some snapshots of the sort of travel souvenirs I brought back home with me and have created a physical photobook of these and more.

I always try to buy a magnet from the cities I visit and now the fridge is decorated in colourful little fragments of my adventures abroad. I always try to send a postcard home also as there’s something really satisfying about finding an old postcard from a beautiful city you’ve visited years ago, with your handwriting on the back describing that place and a nostalgic stamp in the corner. I love snail-mail!

For this post I’d like to share with you some of the things I have bought from various countries that I’ve visited. Please feel free to leave comments about the sort of things you like to bring back from your holidays.

amsterdamclogs

Dutch Clogs – Amsterdam

I remember the day perfectly. It was February of 2009 and it had just started to snow on the canal-lined streets of the Dutch capital. I was walking along a street that led straight to the main train station when I saw this large souvenir shop. It was every tourist’s haven! I picked up these symbols of Holland to always remember my visit by. They’re only miniature as actual clogs would never have fit in my suitcase after 8 months of life abroad!

mainzelmannchen

Mainzelmännchen from Germany

The city where I studied on exchange was Mainz and I couldn’t come home without the symbol of this charming city on the Rhein – Mainzelmännchen. They are the symbol of the ZDF broadcasting company located in Mainz. I’ve got my extra Euro coins in there now!

mozartfigurine

Mozart Figurine – Salzburg

I was in Salzburg on a day-trip from Munich. It was winter so it was dark by around 4pm. I remember being so scared about being all alone in a foreign city as night fell but still had some time before my train departed back to Germany. I found this tiny shop to kill time at and couldn’t resist buying the symbol of Salzburg in his birthplace, just a 5-minute walk from the building he lived in. This small figurine of Mozart is one of my favourite souvenirs to date.

portofinonecklace

Portofino, Italy

I remember being in such a hurry that day because I was confined by time to get on my booked train back to Pisa, where I’d be staying. I probably spent about 2 hours in Portofino altogether but every single second was worth it. This place was a dream come true and an adventure I’ll never forget. I entered a small gift shop in the main square, where all the buildings are colourful and the millionaire yachts dock, and bought this shell necklace to wear and think about my whirlwind trip to this beautiful part of Italy.

praguedoll

Adorable Doll – Prague

My first trip out of Germany was to the beautiful Czech capital, Prague. I had always wanted to go there and it definitely didn’t disappoint. I found this beautiful doll in a gift shop just behind the castle on the hill of Old Town. Prague was magical to me.

venetianmask

Venetian Mask – Italy

The memory I have about this mask is that after buying it, dad and I went on a photoshoot around Venice with me wearing the mask and posing in all sorts of silly ways. This was one of my big purchases and even though it cracked a little on the way to Melbourne, I’m so glad to own it.

frenchsouvenirs

Collections from the French Riviera 

My dad, sister and I were holidaying in the south of France back in the summer of 2012. When I saw the notebook with the three roosters arguing I just knew I had to buy it. We didn’t argue with each other, mind you, but we all had different plans for our 10-day stay. The little lavender doll I bought in the perfume capital of Grasse when I visited there all by myself and the mini duck statuette was from a beautiful homewares shop in sunny Cannes. Until this day I have no idea what it actually says on it in French!

barcelonacandies

Candy Box – Barcelona

I spent many amazing days in Barcelona and have since longed to go back pretty much on a daily basis! I bought this candy box from the Sagrada Familia gift shop after having just been inside what can only be described as one of the most awe-inspiring interiors of my life. The candies were absolutely delicious too and I wish I could have written down their name before devouring them in front of Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece.

londonangel

Guardian Angel – London

When I travelled back to Europe in 2011 to live in London for two years I never thought I’d miss home as much as I did. I found this precious angel at a Wilkinson’s in Watford, where I lived, and sent it home to Mum during Christmas time. My family hung it up on the tree. Nowadays, we always bring her out during the holidays, hang her on our tree and I get emotional every time I look at her because in this small figurine lies a story. My travel story.

Travel

Timeless Prague

Church of St. Nicholas_Jan Hus MonumentAnyone that’s ever visited the capital of the Czech Republic knows that Prague is sure to leave its mark on you in some way or another. The city is filled with beautiful squares, striking building façades, breathtaking views and enchanting vistas.

I first came across Prague when watching the film Chasing Liberty (2004) starring Mandy Moore and Matthew Goode. The plot centres around the US president’s daughter as she decides to run from the Secret Service agents that monitor her every move in order to feel a sense of freedom and explore Europe without their constant protection. Long story short, she bumps into a man on a motorcycle in Prague, they fall in love and go on a journey through Venice, Austria and Berlin, without her knowing that he is actually employed by her father as an agent. It’s a cheesy romantic comedy but with lots of stunning European scenes. After seeing Prague as the backdrop in this film I felt a very strong desire to go there some day and experience the Bohemian capital for myself.

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

When I travelled to Mainz in September 2008 for my university exchange program, I knew that I had to put Prague on the top of my list of must-see European cities. Within two weeks of settling down in picturesque Mainz, I entered a travel agency in the city-centre to enquire about travelling abroad. Perhaps the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done is booking a ticket for an 8-hour overnight bus to Prague from Frankfurt departing the next day! Luckily for me we had acquaintances living in the Czech Republic that I could stay with. Nothing was going to stop me from squeezing in this trip before study would commence in October, as I knew that my course would take up a lot of my time.

So on a cold, dark autumn night I boarded the train from Mainz to Frankfurt and awaited the bus to Prague to depart at 10:45 pm. My memory of the trip is a bit hazy, as I was in and out of sleep, but I do remember the driver letting us out of the bus for a quick bathroom break at a petrol station somewhere in Germany. It was freezing cold and we were all happy to be back on that warm bus once again!

Architecture

As dawn broke over the Bohemian capital, the bus arrived at Florenc Station and I had butterflies in my stomach, having never felt so uncertain in my whole life. I’d like to point out that this was the very first time (apart from my solo journey into Mainz from London on board 3 different trains!) I had ever gone on a holiday all by myself in a foreign country. Excluding Mainz, which would later become my home away from home, Prague was a really BIG deal for me as I was out of my comfort zone on so many levels. Even til this day I think it’s the bravest trip I’ve ever completed.

The city was only just starting to wake up. I took the metro a couple stops and disembarked near the main square. Dragging my suitcase along the old cobblestone path and making a heck of a lot of noise, I ended up in Prague’s empty Old Town Square. I was beaming with happiness and even though I still had the difficult task of finding my accommodation in a town miles away, nothing could stop me from smiling. I made it to the iconic Charles Bridge, usually filled with artists, musicians and entertainers with crowds and pick-pockets also a common occurrence. Upon seeing the view of Prague Castle (the largest ancient castle in the world) before my very eyes, I remember very vividly laughing out loud and whispering to myself “I’m here, I’m in Prague!!”. The bridge was deserted at that time of morning, making the moment just that extra bit special for me.

The research I did on the internet prior to travelling informed me that to reach the home of our family friends, I would have to catch a train from Praha Masarykovo nádraží Station. This proved a difficult task for a tired and hungry 19-year-old adventurer who was by then running solely on adrenaline. I ventured into a fancy hotel where the kindest lady printed out a map for me and pointed me in the right direction. Next thing I knew, I was on board the right train heading towards my home for the next 5 nights. I disembarked at Úvaly in central Bohemia.

Uvaly Station

With a hand-drawn map of the small town and the address I needed to find, I had absolutely no idea where to start. This was at a time prior to GPS tracking on iPhones I might add! After about 30 minutes of aimlessly wandering around the town, I located a name on a gate that sounded like what my dad told me to look out for, so I buzzed it. A second later, a lady appeared in the second-storey window of the building and started yelling something in my direction. I was so scared that maybe I’m in the wrong place but decided to tell her my name and the name of the woman I’m looking for. She nodded and granted me access to their property!

I wasn’t going to waste a single second and after a quick lunch and a short round of getting-to-know-each-other-better questions, I headed back for Prague. By this time I was already much more confident in my abilities to navigate myself to and from the capital and could now explore in a more relaxed way.

Breathtaking Views

Prague is such a timeless city filled with many beautiful vistas of the Vltava River and countless bridges that cross it. Fragments of history are on every single building façade, monument, fountain and sculpture wherever you look. I must admit, I didn’t read a great deal about Prague before my spontaneous trip. I wanted to learn about it as I went and to be surprised by what I discovered. This had both its advantages and disadvantages. If I could do the trip all over again, I would patiently queue up for a visit to St. Vitus Cathedral, explore the Jewish Quarter more thoroughly, enter a few more notable buildings and try some authentic Czech food. As a young and inexperienced traveller, I only took inspiration from the exteriors of buildings, ate home-made sandwiches or store bought snacks and walked from morning to evening, never setting foot on any iconic Bohemian trams.

Old Town Square Buildings

Enchanting Prague dazzled me from beginning to end. I walked up and across Charles Bridge to Lesser Town and up the winding roads for breathtaking views of the city from near the Castle. I marvelled at marionnettes and handmade glass in souvenir shops, felt the grandeur of some of the most striking national buildings and enjoyed river views second to none. Wandering the intricate lanes of the Old Town was my favourite activity and admiring the beautifully decorated façades of buildings that looked like they came straight out of The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), made my days so much more enjoyable. I found the Czech people to be friendly, helpful and kind and their city mesmerising, magical and full of unforgettable memories. It was the jewel of Eastern Europe to me.

Views over Prague

The journey back to Frankfurt was quite uneventful. I remember shopping in a large shopping centre during the evening, before taking the metro to Florenc Bus Station and awaiting my Eurolines Bus. I strongly remember how customs personnel boarded our bus, took everyone’s passports, left all of us sleepy passengers for about 15 minutes and then returned all our documents. I was so worried that something were to happen to my passport or that I would be given someone else’s back but thankfully not! I got back to Mainz by about 7am and spent the rest of the time convincing myself that it wasn’t all a complete dream. Prague is the land of fairy tales after all.

Travel

European Stories

I find myself reminiscing about the past more and more these days. Maybe it’s because I keep seeing beautiful photos on Instagram that remind me of my own travels or maybe it’s the millions of various other channels of information such as TV travel shows, websites, newsletters and social media that keep taking me back to the time when I was young and free in Europe. Either way, I felt like writing a series of blog posts to tell my story. A story about a 19-year-old ambitious, Australian girl with a dream; to travel and discover who she is.

When I was a teenager I lived in Germany as an exchange student for 6 months. I never thought this experience would help define my life, but it has in ways that I continue to discover every day. It allowed me to experience how people in many different countries in Europe worked, played, loved and lived. As a 19-year-old visitor, I saw with my own eyes just how many bicycles there truly are in Amsterdam, felt just how cold a European winter in Munich can be, believed in fairytales again in Prague and got lost in the most narrow, beautiful streets of Florence. I enjoyed delicious Belgian chocolates in Brussels, felt the presence of Mozart over the city of Salzburg, crossed canals of picture-perfect Strasbourg in France and held up the Leaning Tower in the mandatory photo everyone simply must take in Pisa.

Travelling opened my eyes to the beauty of the world around me. I boarded overnight buses to the Czech Republic all on my own and climbed towers for picturesque views of cities from above. I engaged in the art of photography and learned about the importance of money by paying rent for the very first time in my life. Sometimes I was joined by my dad on travelling expeditions, sometimes it was just me and the wide, open road. I felt the friendliness of complete strangers when I was totally lost and saw the hardships of locals just scraping by with the clothes on their backs. It sure was an eye-opening experience.

In many ways travelling helped me find myself and grow to become an independent, mature human-being. I was forced to make my own decisions, whether it be leisurely, academic or financial. I’ll never forget the night when my friends and I were working on a group assignment until 1 am and I had the sudden urge to call my mum and tell her not to be worried about me, that I’d be home soon and that I’m safe. Then it dawned on me that I was responsible for finding my own way home in the middle of the night and apart from the people around me, I had no family to immediately rely upon. One of my team-mates fortunately lived in the same apartment block as I did so we caught the bus home together. I’m extremely close to my family and found it the hardest not having them immediately next to me, especially in moments when I’d usually rely upon them.

It would bring me so much joy to be able to re-live some of the most precious moments of my youth again by writing about them here. The human mind can only retain a certain amount of information until slowly but surely pieces of the story become blurry. I didn’t keep a diary of my time as a solo traveller, I simply didn’t have the time but I’d like to write about my solo travels in the cities of Prague, Munich, Salzburg, Strasbourg, Amsterdam and Brussels so that some day I could look back on those days and know that I TRULY lived when I was younger.

I got to experience all these places for different lengths of time and while I can’t go back to any of them unless I board a 20-something-hour flight from Melbourne, I’d love to travel to each of them again through my memories, photographs and stories on this blog and I hope you’ll join me.

Europe Intro