Travelling Alone For the First Time: Frightening or Exhilarating?

Hello lovely people,

After making the decision to travel alone to Milan I had a mixed response from my family and friends. Some thought I was insane for undertaking a week of loneliness and danger, others thought it was a great choice to explore a new place exactly how I would want to. Regardless of what people thought though it felt like the right decision. I’m a pretty seasoned traveller at this point, and I don’t want to restrict myself from seeing new places just because I don’t have anyone to travel with at that point in time. So, here’s how I feel after my first trip alone.

travelling alone

My journey to Milan was, quite frankly, a bit of a trek. I had to take a 2.5 hour train to Manchester Airport, go through the airport experience on my own for the first time, fly to Bergamo, take a 1 hour bus to Milano Centrale, and take the metro to my hostel. It was time-consuming, but I can’t say I found anything too difficult. It’s really not that different to being in a group, you’ve just got to have more awareness of your surroundings. My main tip for this part is to account for the possibility of things going wrong, because when there’s only one brain working solving problems can be more difficult. My train to the airport was cancelled whilst I was on it (love our fully functional privatised rail network), but I was able to get on another one and still had time for a drink in the airport because I’d accounted to have spare time.

I opted to stay in an 8 bed mixed dorm at Meininger Milano Lambrate for a number of reasons pertaining to being a solo female traveller. I know and trust the brand, so I had the peace of mind of going to somewhere I knew would be safe. This particular hostel was located across the road from a train station too, so it meant I never had to walk too far at night. Staying a dorm was a new and interesting experience. I didn’t feel unsafe or uncomfortable at all, as most of the other people in my room were young solo travellers too. I even got chatting to a few of them, shoutout to the linguists from Oxford who quizzed me on my degree a bit too much for it to be normal. I obviously kept my belongings padlocked away at all times to make sure nothing was stolen or lost.

Being able to do exactly what you want whenever you want is such a liberating way to travel. I’ve travelled in a big group before, and whilst it’s obviously so much fun to hang out with your friends, it’s also enjoyable to be completely on your own agenda. I was able to go to museums that my friends perhaps wouldn’t have enjoyed, and didn’t feel like I was ever letting anyone down by things like getting up earlier or later on a certain day. I was also a big fan of sitting on benches or in cafes and watching the world go by for far too long, something I doubt other people would tolerate!

Eating and drinking surprised me as being one of the hardest things. I didn’t eat out very much as I felt the social stigma of being in a restaurant alone and I have a bit of anxiety surrounding ordering food (sounds ridiculous because it is). I also didn’t like that I couldn’t drink as much as I usually would on trips, because I definitely didn’t want to be even slightly drunk whilst alone. I did save money as a result of this though, so it wasn’t all a loss.

Now for the important bit – safety. I don’t think I once felt at risk. Obviously Italy is a very safe country, but it’s still dangerous to be alone anywhere at certain times of day or in certain places. I was catcalled a little bit here and there, but the sad fact is that I almost expect that now when I’m in a big city, regardless of if I’m alone or with female friends; #whyimafeminist. To stay safe I just took the normal precautions you would expect – not being out late at night, not having valuables on show, not walking around with earphones in and not giving away personal information. It can be more dangerous to travel as a woman alone inevitably, but I think as long as you take suitable measures to protect yourself you shouldn’t let it stop you.

I actually thought I would be a lot more lonely than I ended up being, as in the end I really enjoyed my own company. I was still in contact with friends and family back home as well which helped, but I was mostly distracted by all the culture and exploring so I never really got lonely. I also chatted to a lot of people in my hostel. I spent most of my evenings chilling in the communal areas, and got chatting to travellers about where they’d been and where they were headed – my favourite kinds of conversations. If I had spoken Italian I’d probably have spoken to more people when I was in the city, so perhaps socialising would’ve been more likely if I had been somewhere I spoke the language.

img_20180919_110636917
Look at me with all my pigeon friends

So if I were to sum it up – travelling alone was the best thing I’ve ever done. I learned a lot about myself and how I cope with things, as well as growing in confidence even after such a short length of time away. It really was the best bit of relaxation before university and spending almost all my time with other people. Have you ever travelled alone? Would you, or would it worry you too much?

-Megan, listening to Brave New World by Iron Maiden (I rediscovered this album today and remembered how much I love it)

Advertisements

Milano, Italy; The Ultimate Travel Guide

Hello lovely people,

Milano is considered the fashion capital of Europe to many, but I think it’s Italy’s best kept secret when it comes to backpacking. Situated in the Northern Lombardy region it is a vibrant and thriving city, with everything from urban neighbourhoods to Italy’s largest church. Whether it’s relaxing with an aperativo or taking a ride to the nearby Lake Como, Milano has something for everyone.

Quick Facts
Currency: Euro
Language: Italian (very few people speak English, which is great to see!)
Airports: 3 – Bergamo, Linate & Malpensa
Public Transport: Metro, buses & tram (€4.50/day)
Safety: 4/5, I travelled here alone and never felt at risk, except a few catcalls

Visit Duomo Cathedral
Duomo is far from underrated. The building is quite the feat to behold, with some beautiful white architecture. You can enter the cathedral and attached museum for €3.50, but I chose not to because whenever I looked the queues were always pretty long. I still loved sitting in the square and just taking in the architecture instead (because we all know I love a nice building).

Walk around Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II
Now, you can probably tell by the way I dress myself that I know virtually nothing about fashion, so it might seem unusual for me to reccomend the main high fashion shopping mall. However, to bang on about architecture again, it’s a stunning building. I adored the glass roof and intricate wall design, so just walking around was definitely worthwhile. I’d also reccomend going to the nearby streets for cheaper shopping, you’ll find the awesome European brands Bershka, Pimkie and Pull & Bear.

Explore Santa Maria Delle Grazie
I love me a good church, always necessary to pray the gay away (too spicy?). This one is much smaller than Duomo (obviously), so I was able to visit the quieter interior and grounds easily. Inside there were lots of different Catholic shrines and art, which I actually found really interesting.

 

Eat & walk in Semipone Park
This is a fantastic place to eat a picnic lunch and watch as people cycle through the park (why do Europeans cycle so much?). After eating my lunch I wandered a little and it was really lovely to be back in a green space after the bustle of Duomo.

Discover Isola’s street art & the Bosque Verticale
Isola was one of my favourite districts. It’s a working class area with a huge community feel that has progressively been gentrified with the introduction of industry. The Bosque Verticale is a pair of residential towers that appear to have trees growing out of them, and it’s so cool to see nature in the middle of an area dominated by skyscrapers. However, the real gem of Isola is the street art. There’s some truly stunning pieces that are best discovered by wandering, but if you’re short on time head to Porta Garibaldi station and see the way artists have made it their own.

Eat gelato at Artico Gelateria Tradizionale
Could you really go to Italy and not try out the ice-cream? Located in the heart of the Isola district, this gelateria is family-run and classically Italian. There’s lots of choice and the gelato is so tasty!

 

Visit Lake Como
Como is around an hour away by train, and definitely worth a day out. I want to write a full post on this truly stunning location, but for now I’ll just say DO IT.

Drink aperativo (tbh I’d go just for this)
The Italians have got this one right. At around 6pm bars and pubs begin to fill with people going for a post-work cocktail, but there’s an amazing catch. Buying a drink means that you’re entitled to a pre-dinner buffet! I don’t understand how this only happens in Northern Italy, because it’s fabulous. I paid anywhere from €2.50 – €6 for my aperativo depending on what drink I ordered and where I was. You cannot miss this one.

 

Head to the Navigli district to see the canals
Fair warning, this area has become a little overrun with tourist traps, but the canals were so worth it. I visited at sunset and loved seeing the sunlight reflect on the river, truly stunning. There are also a lot of small artists’ studios alongside the river to watch out for. This is considered a “good” location for aperativo, but I found that the prices were ridiculously inflated in comparison to less touristy areas, so I’d say it’s one to avoid when you’re drinking.

Learn something new at the Museo Nazionale de Ciencia e Tecnologia
This was a really interesting museum, and absolutely huge. I specifically loved their exhibits on nutrition, the history of CERN and television. As a pansy humanities student science is usually quite foreign to me, but this place was very accessible for those of us who aren’t scientifically minded. Furthermore it was housed in a great building, and I loved the way the exhibits were laid out. Definitely one to remember your student card for, as the entrance fee goes from €10 to €7.50 when you present one.

 

So it’s safe to say that I absolutely loved my trip to Milano. It was the perfect balance of relaxing and adventure before university begins again, and I would really reccomend it. Aperativo has absolutely ruined me though, when is the UK going to wake up to that one?

Have you ever visited Milano or Italy? Where should I go next?

-Megan, listening to Radio X and writing with my housemate BECAUSE I HAVE HOUSEMATES NOW AND IT’S EXCITING

A Day in York, England

Hello lovely people!

My travel posts have been few and far between recently, because as I said in the August Edit, I just haven’t been anywhere. But eventually sitting inside your house and doing nothing all day gets really dull, so myself and my friend decided to take a trip to York a couple of weeks ago. This is what we got up to!

york

We arrived in York at around 11am, after a couple of hours of driving and a shuttle bus. I don’t usually opt for park & ride schemes as I find them a little cumbersome, but this one was too cheap to say no to in comparison to the extortionate city centre parking prices. I know you all love a good parking-based money saving tip, that’s what you came to this blog for right?

York is much like Durham. It has a cathedral, cobbled streets and a river running through it, so I felt very at home. More importantly, its traditional vibe means the city has absolutely beautiful architecture. It’s definitely one to just wander around and see what you can find, whether that be the ancient city walls or pretty side streets. The big attraction of the city however is York Minster, an extremely impressive looking building. We didn’t pay to enter the Minster, but it’s worth walking into the area before the box office to check out some of the stained glass windows, which are just stunning!

 

I wish I’d had more time to check out the city’s coffee shops, as there were some awesome looking espresso bars and places with locally roasted beans. I’m a bit of a coffee nerd, it has to be said. We did make time for lunch however, at the cafe attached to the Lawrance Apart-Hotel. It’s vibe was a little more corporate than I tend to prefer, but the prices were surprisingly acceptable and the staff very friendly! I had a mozzarella, pesto and tomato panini (vegetarian cafe staple), while Thomas opted for a bacon sandwich, which was commended for it’s value for money!

img_20180822_131223310
I took a picture of my food! Am I a real blogger now?

Our main love in York however was the bookshops – God bless my bank account. The city is full of amazing second-hand bookshops which have books on everything from the history of Unilever (one of Thomas’ choices) to the specifics of what the communists were up to in Paris during the second world war written in French (no prizes for guessing that was one of my purchases). We spent a good couple of hours wandering around these places and uncovering some real gems. I’d highly reccomend Ken Spelman Bookseller for their second-hand stuff and Minster Gate Bookshop for their bargain basement (£3/4 for brand new novels? Yes please!).

 

It’s not just bookshops that York is great for though, it’s the shops in general. If you shy away from the high street you’ll come across some really quirky independent places with really friendly staff. Of course The Shambles is included in this; York’s famously narrow medieval street which is lined with some of the most fabulous smelling food shops ever! Just off The Shambles there’s also a lovely market which was again nice to wander around.

 

In conclusion if you like walking around and looking at pretty things, York is for you. For the bookshops and cafes alone I’ll definitely be making a return very soon – it’s so worth the trip!

-Megan, listening to…. actually nothing for once – THIS IS A FIRST!

 

 

 

Veggie burgers are life, and other tales from Budapest, Hungary

Hello lovely people!

Today from my very hungover bed (I just napped for three hours, today is going great) I’m going to be finishing up the story of my latest interrail trip. Our third and final city was Budapest, the first of the three that I’d never visited. Budapest is comparable to Prague due to it’s traditional Eastern vibe, and for me resulted in some of my favourite times of the whole tour.

received_10209009303869853
Personally I think we look quite fresh here considering this was the morning after we slept on floors and buses all night

How It Went Down

I finished my last post by saying that Flixbus saved our trip to Budapest, but there’s a little more to it than that. Our bus was due to leave Prague at 2am, which when the subway stops running at midnight was not ideal.

Let me tell you the story of how we travelled to the suburbs of Prague, got kicked out of the subway station, then got kicked out of the carpark we took refuge in, slept on the streets, and even got our passports checked by the police. Yes, I can say that I spent a night falling in and out of sleep in a sleeping bag on the Czech streets, huddling with my friends for warmth. Whilst it wasn’t the most pleasant night I’ve had at times, it was also completely hilarious and looking back it makes for one hell of a story.

Our first bus finally arrived an hour late, and it was pretty hot and uncomfortable. Still, I slept most of the way to Brno, where we changed buses for the final leg of the journey. Brno at 6am was an experience; some walking to work, some coming back from a night out, some (aka us) wandering around sleep deprived and a bit confused. Our second bus was much nicer – it even had WiFi and plug sockets!

We arrived in Budapest at nearly midday, in desperate need of a shower and some sleep. But, as our prophet Oli Sykes once said “sleep is for the weak”, so I just got on and kept exploring.

 

The Hostel

This hostel was run by a lovely man who made every effort to make us feel welcome. Toucan Hostel was the cheapest at £12 per night, for a very light and open-feeling 8 bed room.

The only other people I saw the whole time we were in this hostel were a father and daughter making fish fingers one evening, which is probably a good thing considering we spent most of our time in that hostel shouting at each other over games of cards. In fairness though it would be quite difficult to meet people here, as the only communal space is the kitchen (which, on the plus side, is very well stocked).

Our main issue with this hostel was that the showers didn’t drain properly, so you couldn’t run the water for too long in fear that the place would be flooded. But, the central location and close proximity to Tesco more or less made up for this for me.

Wait… What Actually Happened?

After the pretty taxing night we’d just had we decided to keep day one pretty chilled, with a trip to the Gellert Baths. Budapest is, for some reason, famous for having heated baths. I have no idea why, but I won’t question it, because they’re so nice! As someone who looks more like a dog than Michael Phelps when swimming I appreciated the baths, as it’s all about sitting around in warm water rather than who can do the most lengths. However, the main thing I loved about the baths was the architecture (which won’t surprise anyone), as the place is filled with beautiful stone columns and mosaic walls. Also, the wave pool is my fave thing ever and every home should have one.

 

Day two was again handed over to Natalia, as our Eastern European tour guide. Armed with a map and vague plan we visited some of the main landmarks in the city. We started the day at St. Stephen’s Basillica, a very impressive Catholic church which heads up one of the city’s squares. After a scheduled ice cream stop (the plan was tight, snacking was only allowed in designated areas), we moved on to Budapest Castle – a personal architecture highlight. One of my favourite things is that on one side of the castle you get amazing views of the Danube, yet on the other you see the reality of the city – towerblocks and somewhat run-down housing. I found that a refreshing break from tourism, a reminder that these countries, however beautiful, still have a wealth of social issues.

After seeing the Hungarian Parliament Building we took a boat down the Danube to our lunch spot. In Budapest for whatever reason the public transport people have decided that adding boats to their offer is a fabulous idea. Whilst yes, we didn’t pay any more for it, I still didn’t like it. Boats are a bit terrifying in my opinion.

 

If you’ve ever seen anyone go to Budapest on Instagram you’ll know that one of it’s big highlights is ruin bars. Located in the Jewish Quarter, these bars are built into abandoned buildings, shops or lots, and they’re really damn cool. We visited Szimpla Kert, the biggest and oldest ruin bar, and I loved how eclectic the place was. I also appreciated a bit of traditional Hungarian Palinka (cherry brandy) to round off a lovely afternoon.

The final evening of the trip was spent climbing Gellert Hill, with the aim of watching the sunset with a picnic and drinks. Thanks to my classic bad luck it was very cloudy and even rained for a bit, so the sunset was basically impossible to see. But hey, we had alcohol to rectify the problem, so all was good. This evening was not only a trip highlight, but a life highlight. I sat surrounded by my best friends watching over the lights of Budapest, discussing life, our adventures and everything in between. It was honestly magical for me.

 

Fast forward a few hours and I’m asleep on the floor again, this time in Budapest International Airport. Our flights left at 6:30am, and because yet again the local transport was unhelpful, team UK had to arrive at the airport 6 hours early. I loved sleeping in the airport so much that I’m taking my snooze tour to Manchester Airport next month when I fly back from Milan and have to wait 6 hours for the first train home.

But Really Are You Eating Tho?

I pretty much made this whole section just so I can talk about veggie burgers. I really love veggie burgers. Anyway, we were looking for somewhere to eat on the second day as we had no plans, and after abandoning the meat eaters us vegetarians stumbled upon Istvanaffi. It’s like a combination of the choice at Subway and McDonald’s, except instead of Big Macs it’s oat burgers. Everything is vegetarian/vegan, it’s cheap, filling and delicious!

img_20180709_144145_922
Still dreaming about this meal

I literally have nothing else to put here because I’m almost certain every other meal I ate was from Tesco so… shout out to Hungarian Tesco and reminding me of doing my weekly shop in Durham?

 

And so the trip drew to a close, with me as usual not recovering fully before 7 days straight in work. I can’t pick a favourite city, but I know that I have so many favourite moments from this trip – from domesticated family arguments about carrier bags in the Budapest hostel to dance routines in a Czech carpark at 1am. Travelling does crazy shit to people, but I wouldn’t ever change it.

 

-Megan, listening to The Story So Far because pop punk isn’t dead (and I just got back into it)

Prague; tired legs, drunk bodies, cultured minds

Hello lovely people!

Onwards and upwards with more adventures from my European trip. Round 2 for my tour team signified my return to Prague, a city which firmly stole my heart this time around. It’s a beautiful city, with a much more traditional feel than Berlin. But, perhaps more importantly, the beer is cheaper… (thanks Eastern Europe).

received_10208999557506200
John Lennon Wall; the perfect opportunity for our first full group picture

How It Went Down

The team arrived in Praha Hlavní Nádraží at 9:30pm, leaving our new German friend (who had spent the whole journey laughing at our idiocy) behind. More importantly at this point my lovely college wife (don’t ask, I’ll explain later) Oana joined us; you bet I jumped on her in the station. We then walked to our hostel as it wasn’t so far from the station, checked in and made it our home for the next 2 nights.

The Hostel

This might be one of my favourite hostels I’ve ever stayed in. A Plus Hostel cost the equivalent of €18 a night, and god was it worth every cent.

We shared an eight bed room which was very spacious, and even had the exciting added extra of a table (you know you’ve done too much budget travelling when even a table excites you). The main thing I loved about the room was that the four bunk beds were arranged in a circular fashion, which made it much more communal than the traditional rows often used by hostels. It’s the little things.

LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE SHOWERS. After living in a flat with shower pressure that was more dripping hosepipe than hair-washing for a year this hostel’s showers felt like you were being pelted in the face, it was so good! The boys would like to make it be known that the men’s showers didn’t have curtains though, something which I only heard about once or twice (or eight times…).

Two words. Free. Breakfast. I’ve been disappointed by far too many hostel’s offer of a bit of bread and some weak juice to feel anything but apprehension for that kind of advertisement, but this breakfast was mad good. Cake, coffee, meats, bread, fruit, yoghurt, and a toastie machine (!!!) was a perfect way to wake up everyday. Oh and did I mention that this was all served in an underground bar/restaurant with the coolest aesthetic ever?

My final plus because this section has gone on for far too long already is that the hostel is located across the road from Florenc metro station, making travel super easy. However, it’s also a short walk away from most of the city’s main attractions, so we only found ourselves using the metro on our second day. When I next find myself in Prague I will definitely be staying at A Plus again.

received_2282623901764834
Look how spacious and communal it is! Fab fab fab hostel

Wait… What Actually Happened?

After arriving pretty late at night we woke up ready for a full day of sightseeing. As I said earlier we chose to do it all on foot, which definitely felt fitting in an older city. We saw all of the main sights thanks to our fabulous Eastern Europe correspondent Natalia, from the Astronomical Clock to Charles Bridge, the John Lennon Wall and Old Town Square. The main thing I loved about doing this was the wandering; cute little side streets, chilling in parks and getting to know each other on that level you never really get to until you travel together along the way.

After all that walking it only felt right to spend the evening sitting down. Naturally, we found a bar in which to do so. When I visited Prague for the first time in 2017 I stumbled upon U Vejvodu by accident when looking for somewhere cheap to have drinks on the last night of our trip. Turns out it’s a pretty big deal online, and more importantly it’s absolutely huge, with outdoor beer gardens as well as spacious indoor rooms. The night started with Czech beer costing a dangerous £1.50 a pint. Enter a lot of rounds of never have I ever, a few more rounds of beer, and we found ourselves at shots of tequila and absinthe. Safe to say I was a little worse for wear by the time we arrived back at our hostel…

My notes for day two start with the words “Big hill and tower – cool view but v hot”, which just about sums it up. The hill in question was Petrov hill, with stunning views across the whole city. Personally I was a bit out of it on this particular morning (no, it wasn’t due to the alcohol, which surprises even me), so I probably didn’t appreciate this opportunity as much as I usually would.

My highlight of the day was Prague’s beautiful Old Town, the area which surrounds Petrov hill. There we visited Prague castle, as well as spending a little more time taking in the architecture and general surroundings. If you take anything from this post, take that I love having a good wander and a good look at cool stuff.

dsc_0507
Natalia is wasted on Philosophy and Psychology, please harass @nataliagola on Instagram to become a full time tour guide

Obviously then we had to watch football come home, returning to our haunt from the night before for another beer alongside the game. To complete my middle-aged Englishman aesthetic I chose to put bets on this particular match (and by I, I mean Callum chose me some bets and I paid for them and pocketed the cash), bets which actually came through and won me £18. Thanks England, guess I’m a football fan now.

Our Unplanned Escape

Now, the plan was to leave Prague at around 9pm and take a night train onto our final destination; Budapest. Whilst this was only for half of the group due to the train being sold out, it seemed like a pretty solid way to wake up feeling refreshed in a brand new city.

Oh how wrong we were…

When the four of us arrived on the train, we were told (quite rudely, might I add), that our ticket had been booked for the wrong date. Arriving back on the platform we found that yup, our ticket was for the wrong month completely, after a nightmarish booking scenario involving lots of phonecalls and badly designed Czech websites. So, we obviously had to find another route.

We quickly discovered that the next train out of Prague that was heading to Budapest wasn’t until 6am the next morning. Now, I don’t know about you, but spending the night in an Eastern European train station was a little too on the terrifying side for me. There had to be another way. I mentioned earlier that only half of our group were taking the train, as the remaining four were opting for Flixbus, a Polish bus company who work just like National Express coaches in the UK.

FLIXBUS SAVED THE DAY; HELL YES! We were able to book four seats on the Flixbus our friends had been taking all along, and whilst it was a little bit of extra money and stress, personally I didn’t find the ordeal too horrific – it’s all part of the life of a traveller. There’s a lot of entertaining little stories to go along with the journey, but I think I’ll save those for the next post (hah, now you have to come back)

snapchat-590872132
Ok but Oana’s face is the biggest mood (Brno, near the Hungarian border, 6am)

So, that was Prague! A cultural gem best discovered on foot, with bar prices to die for thrown in for good measure. The city has definitely given me an appetite to see more of the Czech Republic – who knows where I’ll go next.

Come back next week to hear about my Flixbus “nightmare” (I’m still not sure if it was tragic or hillarious).

-Megan, listening to Mellow Pop on Spotify because I’ve gone mad

Berlin, the city of veganism, gayness and lefties

Hello lovely people!

It’s been a while since I posted anything, because I’ve hardly even been in my area, let alone my own house! Sorry not sorry though, because I’ve been having far too much (expensive) fun and now you will get far too many (overindulgent) posts.

So, let’s kick it all off with a throwback to the start of July. I spent a week travelling through Berlin, Prague and Budapest using pretty much every type of public transport possible with 7 other friends – staying in hostels, seeing the sights and drinking (a bit too much of) the beer. There’s going to be a post for each city because I am very extra like that, and in the interests of chronology we’re venturing to Berlin, Germany first.

img_20180705_163304821

 

How It Went Down

After an uneventful train ride to Manchester and an overpriced airport pint, myself and my friend Ffion arrived in Schönefeld airport mid-Tuesday afternoon. We met the rest of our group who had arrived earlier that day from Warsaw and London before checking into home for 2 nights; Generator Prenzlauer Berg. We spent 2 further days in Berlin before taking a train to Prague on Thursday evening. All good in the hood.

The Hostel

At €27 per night, Generator was our priciest hostel, and whilst it’s difficult to compare value for money between Western and Eastern Europe, this was by far my least favourite hostel.

42768_15111100110037644953
I stole this photo from Google because I’m too shit at blogging to remember to take accomodation pics

We were greeted by a pretty grumpy receptionist, although to be fair I can sympathise as someone who works in customer service and also has to deal with the hell that is the general public. We had one room of three and one of four, and whilst they were small, they were pretty functional (even a mirror!), so no real issues there. The real problem was the school trip.

Yup. Come on holiday only to feel like you’re back at school again.

Thanks to my almost constantly awful luck we had been allocated the very room that the teachers had decided to sit in front of all night. Combine their chats with the screaming kids at 6am and it’s safe to say not much sleep was occurring in Berlin. This is my main gripe with hostels like Generator & Meininger; they’re just too big-business. I’ve stayed in some Generators with better atmospheres, but for me they always miss the home-grown atmosphere of the independents. I like those that are off the beaten track and communal, not chosen by teachers for their overzealous branding.

That said, the showers were alright and the public transport links were ridiculously close so I shouldn’t complain. It was okay, we were comfortable, I just wouldn’t rush back.

Wait… What Actually Happened?

Well, England were playing in the World Cup on night one, so that was basically required viewing. This resulted in us ending up in a locals-focused German smoking bar full of opposition fans, in which my friend Natalia got yelled at to leave because she didn’t want to drink. Carlsbergs all round then, mostly drunk by me, some thrown over me by Callum (I’m definitely not still bitter about that). On the plus side England won, so we quite rapidly paid the bill and got the hell out of there.

A big highlight for me was Museum Island. There’s an option to buy a ticket for all the museums on the island, but we decided against paying as it was quite expensive, and that would cut into the beer money. Instead we spent a good while just wandering around the area. Some of the buildings there are absolutely stunning, whether that be the museums themselves or the famed Berliner Dom cathedral. We even decided to walk from the island to see the Brandenburg Gate and Reichstag, which in hindsight wasn’t our best decision on one of the hottest days of the trip, but I live to tell the sweaty tale.

 

 

Out of all of the museums we chose the DDR museum, because I fucking love Cold War era history. It was definitely worthwhile! The place was completely packed with information taking you right from the rise of Hitler to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I particularly loved their mockup of a typical East Berlin apartment during the German Democratic Republic, as well as the interactive exhibits throughout the museum.

 

 

You can’t go to Berlin without seeing the iconic symbols that map out 20th century German history, so we made sure to head to Checkpoint Charlie, the East Side Gallery of the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. Checkpoint Charlie is very tourist-heavy now, with even a lovely ironic McDonald’s alongside it to cater to all this capitalism. Crossing the road however you’ll find information boards everywhere; plenty more fuel for my Cold War fix.

I love the East Side Gallery so much. It’s the ultimate fuck you. The Berlin Wall was the biggest symbol of division and oppression in the world for 28 years, so to see it transformed into an area of artistic freedom and diversity is just beautiful. To me it represents every value I hold of fighting for a better world for everyone, regardless of anything that may try to divide us.

 

 

We also visited the Olympia Stadion which I’m reliably informed is one of the last standing buildings that Hitler commissioned. I had no prior knowledge of this, but it proved yet again to me how much I love a good monument with a bit of past behind it. Also, quick fix for my architecture obsession, so I was very happy.

But Really Are You Eating Tho?

Berlin’s food is INSANE. Like, wow.

My biggest favourites were Vöner and Pizza Peppino. Voner is an all-vegan kebab place, and I don’t think I’ve ever felt more content to eat a kebab whilst sober. Located in the vegetarian/vegan heavy neighbourhood of Ostkreuz, my vegan kebab was cheap, filling and served by very friendly staff. If you’re in Berlin you’d be mad to miss it. Pizza Peppino was a bit more of a random choice, as I can’t for the life of me remember what we were doing by Oranienburger Tor that lunchtime. That said, it was another cheap choice, and made sure everyone was full-enough to be satisfied by our train picnic dinner.

Special shoutout to Prater Garten for being the cutest beer garden I’ve ever drunk in – it’s not the cheapest but has such a cool atmosphere!

Other special shoutout to REWE supermarket for providing me with my supply of ricecakes and knockoff hazelnut spread for the week’s breakfasts; you the real MVP.

 

 

THAT WAS BERLIN, I’m going to leave it there before I fall asleep at my keyboard.

I wouldn’t think twice about returning. Berlin has a very modern feel to it, with efficient public transport, quirky neighbourhoods and it’s openness to veganism and us LGBTQ+ folks. However, it’s still steeped in history and geopolitics and I love it for that too. Basically, it satisfies my edginess, gayness, vegetarian tendencies, nerdiness and political interests all at the same time. I was one very happy Megan by the time I got on that train to Prague, if a little sad to leave such an amazing city behind.

Stay tuned for the more chaotic stories that are Prague and Budapest 😉

 

-Megan, listening to the Love Simon soundtrack like an actual piece of gay trash

A beginners guide to Interrailing, every 18-year-old’s post sixth form dream

Hello lovely people!

Last summer I took to the rails and headed out to Europe for my first Interrail trip. Myself and three of my friends had just finished our A-Levels, and fresh with our new-found freedom we smashed 12 cities across 9 countries in 14 days, hearing 6 languages and dealing with 3 currencies (definitely didn’t just include the stats because I think they’re impressive).

It was quite the adventure, but I’m not here to talk about the specifics of the trip. Instead I’m going to share all of my tips and tricks, as there are definitely things I did right and things I’ll be doing differently on my next Interrail style trip to Berlin, Prague and Budapest this summer.

20232244_1058718604259283_5194410828266288185_o.jpg
Yes, you can Interrail in the countryside too! (Schaan Vaduz, Liechenstein)

Before your adventure

Planning this kind of trip is a lot more complicated than a few flights and hostels.

First of all, you’re going to need a route. I’d reccomend Interrail Planner for doing this, as it allows you to visually map out where you’re going to go, complete with distances. You are going to have to make sacrifices. Sometimes a city is just that little bit too far out of the way, or it doesn’t make for an easy route. It’s also worth considering how long you want to spend in each city at this point. We spent either a day or two in each, which for most cities (save Paris, I always need more time in Paris) I found worked out just fine!

Next stop; flights, trains and accommodation. For flights, as always, I’d reccomend Skyscanner. If you can, search for flights from a few different UK airports near you, as there will always be one that trumps the other on price. Once arriving in Europe, you’re going to need a place to stay. We used a mixture of hostels and airbnbs to keep costs low. I want to do a full post on how much I love hostels, but I’ll give you 3 main tips for now; choose places with kitchens, don’t worry too much about location (most cities have excellent public transport), and don’t expect much from a free breakfast. Next stop; trains (they’re a bit of a nightmare). Some will need further reservations not covered by your Interrail pass, especially in Western Europe and on night trains. When booking trains I’d reccomend making travel plans that allow you as much city time as possible, whether this be by making use of night trains or early morning trips.

Also, get travel insurance and an EHIC. You never know.

 

 

How to pack, for those who have had their Mum do it their entire lives

If you think you’re taking a suitcase, you’re sorely mistaken. Invest in a hiking backpack (think dofe in year 10 style), and use a smaller day bag for sightseeing. Preferably one that doesn’t have to be held together with string by the end of the trip like mine did last year.

I’m not going to tell you exactly what to pack, because quite frankly there are hundreds of lists online. But there are some random things that you will 100% need but will 100% forget. You will need: an extension lead for trains with only 1 plug, a headphone splitter to share comedy podcasts, playing cards so you don’t have to buy some in broken French, a First Aid kit for when blisters strike, photocopies of your passport and ID, and a fanny pack, because they’re oddly versatile.

received_1044025935728550.jpeg
Are we real backpackers yet? (Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

Dollar dollar bills (or Euros? Francs? Zloty?)

My main point here is DON’T TAKE CASH YOU IDIOT. If you lose your wallet (which I did in Prague…. who’s an idiot?), have it stolen or get in a fire somehow (???), boom, all your money is gone. Instead, I’d reccomend using a Caxton card. It works like a prepaid debit card which you load before or even during your trip, without any of the nasty international fees often charged by UK banks. It covers a lot of different currencies, and even for those it doesn’t, you are still able to withdraw money from the card in whatever country you’re in (found that out the hard way in Liechenstein). Alternatively, I’ve just switched my current account to Monzo because they allow international transactions without fees, but you don’t need to be so drastic.

As for a budget, I found that 25EUR per day on average was about right, plus the cost of hostels on top. Some cities like Paris topped this budget, but others like Prague went way below. Everyone’s happy.

 

 

Getting from A to B

You’d be stupid not to use public transport, especially as it is generally much cheaper and more efficient in Europe than in the UK. Upon arriving in a city I’d advise checking out what tickets are available to you for your stay, as sometimes there are deals for students, or those staying 24h/48h/72h. This is easier said than done when you don’t speak the language, which is probably why we got better deals in France and Belgium. That said, guessing and looking confused when the train man speaks at you in Czech works well too.

received_1388376341248849
We love the S-Bahn (Munich, Germany)

Keeping yourself entertained

You’re going to see and do a lot more if you sit down and have a quick google in advance. We each took a few cities and did some research, even if for Thomas this consisted of asking a random German lady on the train what she’d reccomend we do in Munich. Personally, I’d reccomend checking out travel bloggers and instagrammers, as well as just generally googling “things to do in x city”. Don’t make a rigid plan though, as it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stick to it and don’t want to spend the whole trip rushing around. Most of the time we took a few minutes the night before to work out what was vaguely close to other locations and came up with a rough idea of what we were doing. Make sure to take a student card if you have one, as many museums and galleries are much cheaper or even free!

 

 

Final tips

These are all of the random things that I couldn’t fit into any other boxes, but that I think deserve a mention.

STAY ORGANISED. To maximise your time and reduce stress, make sure you know exactly where you’re going, when you’re going, how you’re going and where you’re staying. A simple shared google doc or spreadsheet should do the trick.

For getting around I’d reccomend City Mapper if the city you’re in supports it, or failing that, Google Maps. Each app gives you a detailed travel plan including any public transport, which means you’ll be wasting much less time than you would staring aimlessly at Subway maps all day.

Document your trip however you can! You will thank yourself for your memories a year or twenty down the line. From our 2017 trip we have a vlog, the photos we shared in our group chat each day and a set of disposable camera photos each. For my 2018 trip I’m going to be doing the exact same, along with writing a diary each day.

Food wise, you want to keep costs low (more beer money right?). Breakfast for us consisted of rice cakes, chocolate spread and fruit on most days. Lunch options were either eating in a cafe if it was cheap, or heading to a supermarket and going picnic style with a baguette, cold meats and cheese. Dinner can either be something that’s quick and easy to cook in a big pot in a hostel kitchen (think spag bol and stir fry), or eating out depending on your budget.

 

 

So, now you have all the wisdom you need to go out and “find yourself” on a train in the Alps. For all I joke, my 2017 trip was easily a life highlight, and something I love looking back on all the time. If you get the chance to Interrail, take it. I can’t wait to be returning to the train-hostel lifestyle next week, and introducing my uni friends to it. LIVE THE ADVENTURE KIDDOS.

 

-Megan, listening to my release radar on Spotify because I’m so up-to-date and hip.