There is nothing more exciting than the thought of leaving everything, even just for a moment, and being free. No responsibilities and an endless list of possibilities. It's a surreal feeling, venturing out on your first proper trip. A bubbling of excitement and wonder of the unexpected. Just one month was all Esther and I had to adventure out and see all we could of four incredible countries. A trip that bonded two best friends for life and a entire book of stories to share. Too many clothes in our suitcase and not enough money to our names, but there is no other way I would have spent my summer of 2016.
A city in which I find everything so incredibly romantic and enchanting. I adore the Parisian way of life, the stunning architecture, the beautiful parks that dot the city, the smell of freshly made crepes. It's a city that I believe fascinates many, including myself, hence the reason it was our first stop. We arrived after our short trip on the Eurostar and were quickly immersed in what the city had to offer. Arriving at Hotel Joséphine, where we would reside for our time in Paris, it felt like we stepped into the early 1920's. Beautiful red wallpaper laced with white chandelier patterns lined our room, while the whole hotel smelt like expensive perfume. There was an aura of elegance that the building held and with it being located just a few hundred metres down the road from Moulin Rouge and the metro, I don't think anywhere would have been better.
The first morning in the city we went on a walking tour with Hidden Paris. The tour consisted of visiting the little gems of the Parisian side streets filled with little specialty macaroon shops and Churches rich with history. We were led down little fruit markets and cute cafes, the types of places only locals would find. I found it all wonderfully interesting, but the highlight was we were informed about the infamous Fireman's Ball. Located at every Fire Station in the Parisian districts, it was conveniently located relatively close to us and with attractive French firemen on the cards, I couldn't think of a better way to spend the nights.
We dressed ourselves up then headed off to the metro, rearing to dance the night away. We spent the night drinking €15 champagne and having to explain to nearly every boy who spoke to us that we didn't speak French. It was an absolute ball (literally) and we ended up having more fun than we could have imagined. The next morning we set off into the streets of Paris, again. Wandering through the alleys exploring and trying to find all the landmarks to tick off our bucket list. The Lourve, Champs Élysées, Eiffel Tower, Arc De Triomphe, Jardin des Tuileries, and love lock bridge were all on our agendas and while we got lost more than once, Paris was a complete and utter success.
WHAT TO DO IN PARIS
1. FIREMAN'S BALL
If you have the pleasure of visiting Paris during Bastille Day, make the trip to go to a Fireman's Ball! A fun way to spend the night's and with one in each District you're never too far away from one.
2.HIDDEN PARIS WALKING TOURS
If you're interested in learning more about the depths of Paris and it's history, or if you want to discover the back alleys and best secret macaroon shops Hidden Paris walking tours is the perfect way to learn a little bit more about the history and true Parisian culture.
3. ARC DE TRIOMPHE
It may be an obvious one, but walk to the top of the Arc De Triomphe! There are amazing views and it's the perfect Instagram spot for you and your friends.
4. JARDIN DES TUILERIES
A perfect place for a picnic in the summer and even better is the annual Fête Foraine held within. Heaps of rides and attractions for people of all ages and some great views of the entire of Paris if you go on the Ferris Wheel. Not the most sturdy invention but you have to do it for the pictures!
5. HOTEL JOSÉPHINE
If you're not really into hostels or you are just looking for a nicer place to stay during your time in Paris Hotel Josephine is the perfect option! Close to the metro and not too far from the city centre (or Sacré-Cœur), but also far enough out to do some exploring around the red light district.
6. SIT AND WATCH THE EIFFEL TOWER
Whether you're sitting on one of the bridges over the Seine river, or sitting under the Eiffel Tower in the Parc du Champ de Mars watching the Eiffel Tower light up at night is absolutely incredible, Romantic, alluring and everything in between. Bring some friends or just go by yourself and enjoy the Parisian night with a bottle of wine and a fresh loaf of bread.
A place of indescribable beauty and a real life post card, Switzerland was a dream. A mix between green rolling hills and snow peaked Apls that glistened in the toasty sun. We glided on the train from France into Switzerland and were instantly shocked by the natural beauty the country held. Every town we passed through was surrounded with pristine lakes and untouched countryside, we thought it was a country near perfect. That was until we met the people. It's strange how people in such a beautiful country could have such abrupt and rude personalities. Getting yelled at for being on supposed 'private' property that had no fence or sign, getting told off in a store for folding a shirt back the wrong way and getting yelled by the lady checking our train tickets for not having the right ticket were among the few pleasant experiences we got to encounter, and that was all on the first day. Aside from the bad company, there was nothing to complain about. Our hostel was in Lauterbrunnen, which surprisingly had more Australian and Kiwi backpackers than not.
I found Switzerland to the most expensive country we visited. Sandwiches were €10 each, smoothies little cheaper at €8. Not to mention our groceries broke our budget on the first night. By the end of our second and last night we were eating bread and cold baked beans (we couldn't afford to pay for using the kitchen equipment in our hostel). It wasn't all bad though, because there was genuinely no where else I would rather be eating cold baked beans than sitting on the steps of our hostel with cold baked beans watching the sun set against the snow peaked Alps.
We stayed in the Schutzenback Backpackers and Camping hostel (I believe it's one of two hostels in Lauterbrunnen). It was a great way to meet people and it was jam packed with backpackers and three different Topdeck tours. They even had their own little club downstairs, and while the music was questionable, it was a world of fun to dance and have fun with everyone. The downside major downside to Schutzenback, however, is you only really get a bed for the initial price you pay. Every shower you have you need to pay for and if you want to use the kitchen, you'll have to fork out some franks to use the different appliances. Luckily, it's easy to get around these. Esther, myself, and our new friends had found some showers for free, and ate two minute noodles by plugging the kettle into a different power socket, to avoid paying. The other great thing about our hostel, was a small river ran through it, right by the reception, and if you bought beers from the hostel, you could lower it into the river with a little metal cage and cool them in there. Definitely a fun experience.
While theres not a heap of activities to do in Lauterbrunnen, unless you want to give your left arm to afford to get to the top of Jungfrau, you don't really need a long list of things to keep you entertained. Walking under waterfalls, hiking to and from towns, climbing up the side of mountains illegally (don't recommend from what I've heard) picnicking on boulders over the freezing rapids, Switzerland is a place of surreal beauty and should be on everyone's bucket list.
WHAT TO DO IN LAUTERBRUNNEN
Switzerland is renowned for its incredible scenery, so why not take advantage of it? Rolling green hills, lakes, snow peaked mountains, all at the touch of your finger tips, it's the perfect place for exploring the countryside (and grab some great pics).
To accompany your amazing hike, pack a picnic! Don't think too extravagantly, but perhaps some bread and jam, chocolate, water and a beer or two by the icy cold rapids or in a lush field is a great way to relax.
3. ADVENTURE ON JUNGFRAU
Now, although I didn't actually get the opportunity to do this, I met many people who did and all said it was incredible. There's many options to paraglide, climb, jump and just stand to look at the incredible views up at the top of Europe's highest peak. However, doing all these activities come at a cost, even just going to the top will cost you a good £80. Definitely worth it though!
4. WATCH THE SUNRISE/SUNSET
You're in the one of the most beautiful places in the world, how can you not bask in it. Spend the day in the sun, then watch as the sun turns the snow and sky into pinky orange hues. There is nothing more serene than just sitting and watching.
Venice was the first stop on in Italy, and what better way to start the Italian adventure than the city of love. 177 canals that run through the stunning city, hundreds of alleys to explore full of interesting shops and yummy gelaterias to try, we were set for the three nights we had there. We had the most incredible Airbnb, with the most stunning rooftop covered with window boxes of blooming flowers where we could sit and eat breakfast in the morning. Venice is an absolutely stunning city, but as for activities to do, it's relatively limited. Instead, we spent the three days exploring and eating a whole lot of food, which was all incredible. If you're interested on doing a boat ride through the canals I would definitely recommend, but they can be pretty expensive so not the best option for someone on a budget. We opted out of the boat rides and instead walked everywhere instead. We ended up stumbling upon the Venice prison where we got hollered at from the window which was both strange but ultimately hilarious.
Another destination I couldn't wait to dive into exploring. After spending hours scrolling through Instagrams of these stunning colourful buildings, I was ready to see it for myself, and of course it didn't disappoint. We arrived off the train into Manarola, one of the small towns along the coast, and were instantly blown away. A picturesque little destination with colourful buildings dotting the hill it was situated on. Clothing lines ran between houses and the smell of freshly made focaccia filled our noses. We lugged ourselves up one of the steepest hills I've ever had to endure and reached our hostel at the top of the town. It only took us about 20 minutes until we were back at the bottom of the town basically running towards the incredibly inviting water (with a quick stop for gelato on the way). We spent our stay swimming and visiting the different coastal neighbours of Manarola. Each had their own quirky personality and if you wanted to you're more than able to hike from town to town. If you're looking for a true Italian getaway there is no where I recommend more.
The capital of Italy and our final destination before we were off to Greece. We only had 24 hours to spend in Rome, which isn't nearly enough time to become fully immersed in what the city has to offer. That didn't stop us though. We spent our short time roaming through the streets ticking off all the major sites off our bucket list, while having time for a feast every few hours or so. Our stay was short and we didn't see half of what we would have liked to but it was the best way to end the Italy leg of the trip.
WHAT TO DO IN ITALY
1. CINQUE TERRE
A stunning series of beach side towns that are a must to visit if you have a spare few days! Amazing gelato and pizza squares are always on offer and lounging on the warm rocks to get a tan is a must.
2. EAT A TAKEAWAY PIZZA ON THE CANALS OF VENICE
What's more Italian than sitting by the Canals of Venice eating a freshly made pizza big enough to feed four people (but it's just for you, obviously). Such a lovely way to eat your dinner and if you're lucky you can grab a shot of an incredible sunset while you eat.
3. HIKE THE ITALIAN COAST LINE
The Italian Riviera isn't short of incredible beaches, rugged mountains, cute towns and the best gelaterias you can find. If you're ever in the region, a great way to spend your days is walking from town to town and stopping off for a swim and some food. Even staying a night each of the five towns is a great way to see what the coast has to offer and will give you a chance to experience each of the different personalities they have to offer.
4. BE A CLASSIC TOURIST IN ROME
Clique, yes. Necessary? Yes. Sometimes things are popular for a reason. Rome is full of history, culture and incredible landmarks and architecture so there is no point not visiting every corner of the city and immersing yourself in an much history as possible. The Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, Roman Forum, Panthenon and Sistine Chapel should be among the top of your list.
Ending the trip with an absolute bang. What better way to end a summer adventure than a week in the sun swimming and drinking with other Australians and Kiwis. Conkiki is a right of passage for many Oceania youths and what better way to see Greece? Esther and I flew into Athens late one night, and ended up paying a hearty €55 for a taxi to our hotel in the centre of Athens. We only really had one full day in Athens, which we spent relaxing by the rooftop hotel pool. Although I wish we had gone out and done a bit of exploring, it was nice to relax after spending the last three weeks on the go. That night we met up with the rest of the people on our Contiki and then headed into the old part of Athens for a traditional Greek dinner. We had an endless supply of both red and white wine (literally) and plates of food that just seemed to keep coming out with no end. It was a really beautiful evening and a great way to start the final leg of the trip. The next morning we were off to the docks to our boat. The next five days consisted of visiting Mykonos, Patmos, Rhodes, Crete and finally, Santorini, the destination I was most looking forward to.
Mykonos was absolutely beautiful, the traditional white buildings lined the beach and the we watched the sun go down from a bar which has a great view of the windmills. It seemed like such a serene place to begin our trip around the Greek islands, and as the sky turned from burning orange to a soft pink then fading into a rich blue, I was truly sad the trip was nearly over. That small moment of self reflection was quickly overruled when our Contiki leader brought out a round of shots, and the night truly begun. We spend our Monday night in one of the Mykonos clubs dancing to cheesy top fourty, and fortunately/unfortunately for me the owner of the bar keep insisting to give me free shots in return for a kiss on the cheek.
Patmos was a dainty little island with a lot of heart. It was by far the smallest island we visited in Greece, but one of my favourites never the less. We looked through the shops and then headed to the top of the hill to get a view of the entire town below. However, it seemed that after we had gotten a bus to the top of the island, the bus that would return us to the bottom wouldn't arrive for another hour and a half. So after being stranded at the top of the hill for around 40 minutes Esther and I, along with a small group of people on our Contiki, walked through the trees and shrubbery for nearly an hour to get back to the bottom in order to make it back on the boat in time. It ended up being something we laughed about and by the time we made it to the bottom there was an incredible sunset we could bask in while sitting by the water.
If you're looking for an incredible island to spend a long amount of time in, Rhodes is the place to go. It has a diverse range of things to do and people to meet. From clear blue water to take a dip in, ruins, and cute little shops, it was such a lovely place to visit. There's also a lot of very interesting history, so if you love travelling back in time Rhodes can provide an abundance of historical sites for you to wander through including the Colossus of Rhodes, Acropolis of Rhodes and Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights of Rhodes.
The place where thousands of years worth of stories were formed and home to the ancient Minoans, Crete was the centre of all things historical. We spent the morning walking past dozens of cute boats moored up to the plethora of docks, fresh lemonade stands and incredible ruins that are absolutely fascinating to walk through.
The dream destination for Esther and I, we were ready to end our trip at the place we had been looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. Santorini was a sheer mass of rock protruding out of the ocean with cliffs falling straight down into the ocean. We took a bus from the dock along the barren landscape until we reached Oia. White buildings with blue domes, flowers vining around the roofs of houses and a fantastic view at every corner made for a stunning stroll through the streets.