The Sun Always Sets.

Five months on, this is my final post about my European adventure. I loved my time away, but by the end I knew it was time to come home. Here’s a poem about closing old chapters and starting new ones, inspired by the breathtaking sunset at Rheinfall, Switzerland.


The picture doesn’t do it justice.

The sun always sets, as the sky shuts its eyes.

Its allure, so brief, yet somehow growing.
So you stare at its perfection, knowing
That soon it will be gone, forever.
Capture it while you can, then remember,

The sun always sets, as the sky shuts its eyes,
As without a sunset, there can be no sunrise.


Quantity vs Quality.

Throughout my time away, I would meet new people by chance and we would compare our respective travels. Often the people I met were surprised by the ambition of my trip – twelve countries (and over thirty cities) in five weeks. I had an uncontrollable hunger to experience as much as physically possible. It was the first time I had visited many of these countries, and with that I wanted to see and do everything.

The pace of my travels were never more evident than when I was in Italy. In my week there I planned to visit Pescara, Rome, Pompeii, Cinque Terre, Pisa, Florence, Bologna, Milan, Venice and Como. Just reading that list now is enough to trigger a familiar feeling of exhaustion.

Unbelievably I hit every place on that list. Some cities were allotted entire days, while others were given a slot of a few hours. Often I would run to catch trains, eat on the move and speed walk between sights. By my last day in Italy, even sleep had become a rare luxury.

So I achieved my goal and ticked each place off my list – but was it worth it?

Looking back now, I know I should have done things differently. Even though, I made it to each place, my eagerness to do so much actually meant I couldn’t do much at all. While my whistle stop tour allowed me to complete my mental tick list, it didn’t provide me with the time I needed to fully appreciate these towns and cities. Though each place holds a special memory of what I did there, each place also reminds me of something that I missed.

Not to dwell too much, I now see Italy as an unfinished adventure. I look at my time there as a warm up for the next trip, as research for when I next visit. As what I didn’t seem to understand at the time was that everything doesn’t need to happen right now – Italy isn’t going anywhere, and it’ll be waiting for me when I’m ready to go back.

In this life, time is precious, so should be cherished not rushed.

Rome-ing Around.

Travelling from Croatia to Italy was less than smooth. That night, I wandered the streets of Split, killing time as the ferry I had originally rushed to catch was delayed by two hours. Another delay – shock. As I arrived back at the ferry terminal, it became apparent that the two hour delay we were informed about was rather optimistic. By the time we actually left port, the two hours had become closer to five. By now, I had become a master of the delays. Being stranded in Berlin with nowhere to go was traumatic, being on a stationary train for two hours in Krakow was inconvenient and indefinitely waiting on a platform in the deserted ski town of Schladming was just confusing.

Luckily, during the hours I spent delayed in Croatia, I found friendship in two Canadians, Fred and Adam. The company of these two guys removed a lot of the anxiety that I would normally feel when things don’t go to plan. I knew I had found good company when Fred managed to talk his way back through port immigration to undertake a beer run and bring a couple beverages back through.

That night I got about four hours sleep on the overnight ferry. Most of the ideas I had for when I arrived were no longer possible. It was even unclear whether or not I’d make it to Pescara in time to train that evening, which had been my only concrete plan. However, a rather fortunate coincidence meant that I was able to hitch a ride to where I needed to be, rather than waiting around for trains all day. Fred and Adam, were hiring  a car and visiting the war graves in Ortona before heading west to Rome. Conveniently, Pescara was en route so they offered to drive me. On paper – Yes, I got in a car with two strangers, that I had only known for about 12hrs. However, in these 12hrs I had come to firmly believe that these guys were pretty similar to me – the only thing harmful about them was their questionable humour and bad puns (mainly Fred).

The fact that I’m writing this post confirms that this story is not one of sinister endings, just one of friendship. After a short but fun road trip, I was dropped off outside the apartment where I was staying with an invitation to get in touch when I reached Rome the next day.

When I did get to Rome, it was refreshing to know that I already had friends in the city. That day, the three of us spent our time visiting all the famous Roman landmarks. The guys wanted to visit the filming locations from Angels and Demons while, embarrassingly, the child in me looked to visit the locations from the Lizzie Maguire Movie. The city was pretty formidable. Like everyone, I’d seen pictures of the Colosseum and the Roman Forum and the Trevi Fountain and the Castel Sant’Angelo, but nothing compares to seeing them in person. I was unprepared for the sheer size of each of these landmarks, and naively I was also unprepared for the vast crowds and associated pushing and shoving that each place would attract. Luckily, my immediate company made the crowds and queues not just tolerable, but actually enjoyable.

I spent a total of three days in Rome, and while the city continued to amaze me, it didn’t have the same glow as it did on the day I arrived. I had spent weeks enjoying the peace that my solitude provided but, I suppose, up until my first day in Rome I had been underplaying the value of friendship and the enjoyment that good company could bring – a place can look entirely different when its seen from behind a smile.

Believe the hype.

I’m a little behind (oops). It’s been almost three months since I got back from travelling and I still haven’t finished writing about it. So much has happened since then, so finding the time has been difficult – but determined, I will complete my write up of the trip that changed so much for me.

At last, it’s time to write about one of my favourite cities – Dubrovnik. All I can say is that it really was as beautiful as they say. For anyone interested in Game of Thrones, the city is a deserving necessity (although, unfortunately many people share this view…). A big issue is that Dubrovnik is Europe’s worst kept secret, its streets are as busy as they are beautiful. While I’m a fairly social person, I’m not really one for crowds. My first quick scan of the city involved me scouting each GoT filming location I could find with some help from Google. While attempting to study the small map on my phone as I walked, one eye on the screen and the other on the streets, I travelled slowly while being pushed and shoved in multiple directions. The situation was more than hectic.

From my experiences that day, I knew that Dubrovnik was a city to be enjoyed at a quieter time (possibly not in August, the middle of peak tourist season – d’oh). With that in mind, I decided to wake up as early as possible on the following morning to discover the city in peace and solitude. The next morning, I left my hostel just after 6am. My first port of call was Srd, a low mountain on the edge of the city. Somehow I found the energy to literally run up the hill side, meaning I arrived at the top just over an hour later. There, I sat for a while, and as the sun’s rays began to fight through the morning clouds I watched the Croatian flag fly proudly over the historic city below. From here I returned to the walled city and revisited the locations I had been at the previous day, this time with minimal pushing and shoving – the streets were unrecognisable.

I know I seem like a loner, as I constantly advocate spending time on your own. However, it’s not the solitude that I’m necessarily an advocate of – it’s the attitude that makes you do things for yourself, it’s the action of making things perfect for you, it’s the drive to change situations that make you unhappy. I suppose I’m really an advocate of doing things for yourself as opposed to by yourself.

This isn’t just about mountains.

Over a year ago, it was a picture of the ‘Stairway to Nothingness’ that first inspired me to start planning my trip around Europe. It was the first picture in what would become an album of destinations I needed to experience. My visit to the Dachstein glacier in Austria was mesmerising yet terrifying – a confusing inconsistency that I’ve found difficult to convey. Sometimes fewer words can bring many more emotions, so here’s a poem about my visit. N.B. This isn’t just about mountains.  

The stairway to everything.

The edge of the mountain,
           where her sure met the unknown,
           in the deep end of the sky.

The clouds reminded her,
           just because you can’t see it,
           doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Was she ready to look?
           To see it would make it real,
           but would that spoil her dreams?

Just in that one moment,
          there was a realisation,
          it wasn’t the heights she feared.

Her fear was absent courage.
          Staying grounded, staying safe,
          never daring to know more.

That day she took the leap,
          cautiously nearing the edge,
          out of character, she looked.

Cloudy, as expected.
          Yet, her vision was clearer,
          clearer than ever before.

Footsteps for thought.

While Budapest is growing in popularity, by comparison to many other European cities, it remains a little off the beaten track. Nevertheless, while visiting this city may be less clichéd than other destinations, there are still many clichéd things that you can do while there. Despite doing most of these, I found that the most enchanting part of Budapest was its maze of streets that allow you to lose yourself in both mind and body.

On my first day in the city, I left my hostel armed with a map but no real timeframe or plan. While I usually work my life to a schedule, I had grown accustomed to winging it on this trip. Over the years I’ve become fairly efficient at orienteering in the wild; however my urban map reading skills leave something to be desired. With this in mind, I stepped on to the streets of Budapest with a general idea of where to go but no exact route of getting there – a common trend in my life.

Much of my time in the city was spent aimlessly walking. I made it to the castle, where the 360 degree views of the city provided my first thinkers backdrop. I strolled along both the eastern and western promenades of the Danube, one side providing the perfect view of the impressive Parliament building and the other providing an understated yet powerful memorial to those murdered on the banks of the river during WWII. I was fortunate to find an empty bench at the musical fountain on Margaret Island. The simple notion of moving water set to music, doesn’t sound that impressive, yet I found it magical and was left hypnotized, staring like a fascinated child.

While I enjoy solitude, it’s possibly only healthy in moderation. Luckily, that night I was able to meet a group of friends that saved me from drowning in my own thoughts. We made the city’s ‘ruin bars’ our setting for a night of cocktails and beers. I drank too much, stayed out too late, and with that faced the unfavourable consequences of my actions the next day.

After a slow and lazy morning recovering at the Szechenyi baths, I chose another day of aimless wondering with interludes of history and beer. A perfect marriage of these two qualities could be found in Red Ruin, a bar with a vast selection of Hungarian craft beer featuring a satirical decor themed on the city’s communist past. It was the perfect waiting room for my appointment with dusk that evening.

As a final farewell to the city, I made my way up to the Citadella in time for a lucrative sunset. This brought my time in the city to an end, in the most picturesque way. You would struggle to find a better backdrop than the city of Budapest for watching the world go by. However, personally, the longer I sat watching the world turn, the more fearful I grew of the world leaving me behind.

And breathe. 

“To sit in solitude, to think in solitude with only the music of the stream and the cedar to break the flow of silence, there lies the value of wilderness” – John Muir

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single favourite moment or place from my European travels, but my time spent in the Polish Tatras was certainly a highlight for me. I chose to stay in Zakopane, a town overlooked by the mountains and essentially untouched by foreign tourism. Although, by this point, I was getting used to travelling on my own, my days in these mountains were my first days of true solitude yet none of my memories are lonely ones.

Currently, I’m reading ‘The Living Mountain’ – a book which truly encapsulates the idea that you can have a friendship with your surroundings. It puts forward the idea that the wilderness and the time you allow yourself to enjoy it, can be some of the most important experiences you will have, especially in our busy, bustling, sleepless society.

Maybe it was an essence of aimlessness that made my time in the Tatras so memorable. I had the gift of time – waking up each morning with nothing to do with my day but walk through the mountains. I did have big goals of climbing both Giewont (1895m) and Rysy (2499m) on back to back days. However, when I set these targets, I wasn’t aware that reaching these heights wouldn’t actually be the pinnacle of my days.

While reaching the summit of a mountain on a beautiful day, to be met with 360 degree views is an achievement to be unrivalled, its important to remember the journey that leads to that point. It’s difficult to explain the worth of climbing higher through the hills with only your thoughts for company, but it’s this part of hiking that I often cherish the most.

Sometimes the hours that you take to climb a mountain and the breathing room it gives you, is the exact amount of time and space that you need to process your own thoughts.

Shaped by war.

It only took a failed bus journey, a few extra days in Berlin and about 9hrs on a train, but I eventually made it to Poland.

Warsaw was my first impression of the country. I knew that the city had been completely devastated during WWII and was unsure how the rebuilt capital would look. When walking out of the train station, I was greeted by a city that, as one would expect, was decidedly modern yet surprisingly metropolitan. At first glance, its skyline seemed a little confused, featuring a mixture of contemporary skyscrapers as well as communist era constructions. This contrast of new and old would become a running theme as I discovered more of the city.

The Palace of Science and Culture vs. the Old Town – which is older? 

I made my way to the area of the city misleadingly referred to as the, Old Town. While on the surface, it mirrored many of the European historic towns; it was in fact considerably newer. The Warsaw Uprising of 1944 saw the remains of an already battered Old Town, almost entirely decimated. Following WWII, the Old Town was resurrected from the rubble but of course would never regain the authenticity of its pre-war design.

While Warsaw may be lacking in some of the material history we see across Europe, its modern landscape is possibly the most blatant reminder of its troubled past. Although the city’s architecture leaves a lot unsaid, its silence really says it all.

The old facade of a modern city. 

As with many other cities in Poland, Krakow was occupied by the Nazis during WWII and faced the same tyrannical rule. However, unlike these other cities, Krakow was left mainly unscathed by the war. With the intentions of making the city a base for light industry and agriculture within the Third Reich, the Nazis left much of Krakow’s infrastructure undamaged. Due to this, much of the city’s Old Town remains in its incredibly picturesque original form, with a busy and bustling atmosphere. As you walk through it, each street beautifully presents a new photo op.

Although the city may have suffered less than its neighbours, it would be wrong to say it was untouched by the events of WWII. On the edge of the city, the remains of the Płaszów Concentration Camp, as well as the Oskar Schindler Factory, can be found. These places both act as a reminder of what can amount from the cruel and cowardly ideology of one man, and what could be achieved through the heroism of another.

Having visited both Warsaw and Krakow, it was interesting to see how two major cities of a war torn country could evolve in such different ways but still hold so many memories of the past.


The best of European history.

When I started this blog, I promised myself I wouldn’t just write for the sake of it, that I would only write when it meant something to me.

My visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau was the most sombre and thought provoking day of my trip, yet, I’ve found myself struggling to write anything about the experience at all. I’ve been searching for the words to describe the harrowing experience with the respect it deserves. However, the truth is that it’s difficult to put into writing what that day meant as I don’t think that there is any combination of words that can truly convey the emotions that walking through the gates of such a place will trigger.

I think that’s one of the reasons that everyone should try to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau at least once in their life. You may watch documentaries about the holocaust or read accounts of what went on at such camps, but until you walk through the gates of such a place, you’re missing the context needed to truly comprehend what once happened there. The buildings of the camp, frozen in time, watch from above as you walk through the quiet streets between them, focused on the unthinkable fact that so many innocent people once suffered and died there by the hands of man.

Poland was an incredibly captivating place, for many reasons; and one that I will never forget, for many reasons.

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.

Berlin was a window into European culture and history; the city’s streets were both modern and historic; and my memories of them were both the best and worst of my travels. I spent a day cycling through the city which provided me with constant reminders of its incredibly dark past as well as its more recent divided history.

They say a picture paints a thousand words, so here’s a short book on my time in Berlin.

I could write about all the places I visited in Berlin, the places that everyone will visit, almost through an obligation to the city. I could write about cycling through the Friedrichshain District, where each grungy street corner was enlightened by some form of mural. I could write about how the 2km journey from the Brandenburg Gate to the victory column is made all the more picturesque by the vast and beautiful Tiergarten.  I could write about how unbelievably empty you will feel when you look through the pane of glass in Bebelplatz, into the barren library situated beneath the square. I could write about all of this and so much more, but instead I’ve decided to focus my writing on one particular place in Berlin – a hidden treasure.

Fuck it all.

On the outskirts of the city, around 10km from all the central sights of Berlin you will find a deserted US listening station from the Cold War – Teufelsberg. Being partial to abandoned buildings I decided that a visit to Teufelsberg would be worth a 40min cycle in the rain. While believe that preserving history for future generations is something that should be important to us all, there is something about a building being left to age naturally that I find particularly interesting. Standing in such buildings can be so eerie, and you can often feel the presence of those who once stood in the place where you are now.

Slightly damp, I arrived at the old listening station, expecting to find a derelict building with some stories to tell but I was met with a structure that housed a wealth of artistic expression. The walls did have stories to tell, but these weren’t the stories I was expecting. I wasn’t just visiting an old reminder of the past; I was visiting a modern day art colony. This former hub of intelligence was now a hub of creativity. Even during my visit, I saw artists sat working on their future projects. As I climbed higher up the central stairwell of the building, my path became darker and darker. With this, alighting at each floor brought a greater sense of brightness and a greater appreciation for the art on display. I climbed to the highest radome of the building and stood in the centre of the spherical structure, sufficiently awe-inspired. By this point I had already decided that Teufelsberg was one of the best art exhibits I’ve ever visited.

Edgy, arty, derelict things.

Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, a sentiment that was brutally true in Berlin. After a pretty phenomenal day in the city, I experienced my first case of self doubt and true homesickness.

That night I had planned to take a night bus to Warsaw, leaving Berlin at 10pm. I won’t get in to the boring details of why this didn’t go ahead, but I was assured by the operating company that a ‘plan B’ was in place, and we would be on the road by midnight. At 3am, I accepted that this may not be the case. The idea that my plan had failed made me doubt whether I could really manage on my own. I was in Germany, surrounded by a hoard of angry Russians and Poles who were shouting at the Latvian operators of our bus service – to use the term ‘language barrier’ in this situation would be quite the understatement. Not only did I feel lost and alone, but I felt as though everyone was actively conspiring against me. I allowed myself to over think, and because of this ended up feeling so much more isolated than I actually was.

€2 refills with a side of coaster collecting.

Upon discovering that it would be at least another 3 hours for a replacement bus, I decided to call it quits. It was 4am, I was in one Europe’s biggest cities and I had nowhere to go. Hopeful, I migrated back to the hostel where I had been staying, which at this hour was an experience in itself. While I couldn’t check into a room until 2pm, the reception staff kindly agreed to let me sleep in the lobby until it was light outside.  After about 4 hours sleep, I headed back into the city. I spent the majority of my day at the Berlin Beer Festival where, by chance, I met a group of fun loving Scots. I don’t know if it was the beer or the banter, but as the day went on my mood was certainly lightened.

It was only weeks later that I was really able separate the failure of my plan from the idea of me being a failure. Sometimes things that are outside of your control will happen. However, it is not these incidents that determine your success, but instead your reaction to them. It’s okay to be your own toughest judge, but don’t be too hard on yourself.

Reality Czech.

I spent two nights in the Czech Republic. During my time there I ran around various towns and cities trying to see as much as possible. It was here that I learnt some of my first lessons on the practicalities of travelling as my naive expectations were met with harsh realities. While some lessons were difficult, they proved to be vital in the weeks that followed.


During my time in the Czech Republic I decided to base out of Prague, with the belief that I was unlikely to get bored here – I was right. The city offered infinite things to do, but of these things, some were better than others. I had been warned that Prague’s astronomical clock was somewhat underwhelming, but I gave it the benefit of the doubt and visited it with an open mind. While I could imagine the clock being underwhelming on an average day, the clock as I saw it, framed by scaffolding, was even less impressive.

While I enjoyed the idea of the John Lennon wall, the sight itself seemed a little misguided. The wall acted as a confused memorial to the influential Beetle, where genuine tributes mixed with generic graffiti. On my first visit the wall was crowded but a local busker provided some acoustic, tranquil vibes. However, it wasn’t until my second, much quieter, visit to the wall when I could truly appreciate its peaceful sentiment.

Some of the best on offer.

Charles Bridge was as busy as they say, but I think that was part of its charm. While the artistry of the bridge was beautiful, its bustling atmosphere gave it its character. Walking across the bridge as the sunset over the historic city and browsing the little bespoke jewellery stalls while the music of multiple street musicians harmonised was one of my favourite moments in Prague.

Prague acted as a great central hub for my adventures across the Czech Republic. Determined to do as much as possible, my schedule was tight and relied on a quick pace and prompt trains. I had hoped to visit the town Karlovy Vary, and while my paper itinerary allowed time for it, I soon learnt that in reality there weren’t enough hours in the day. Luckily, the streets of Prague offered similarly colourful walks with equally beautiful views.

Where the magic happens.

An adventure I did have time for was a trip to the Pilsner Urquell Brewery, about a 90min train journey from Prague. I set off early and around 2hrs later I arrived. Prior to this train journey, I had been spoilt by Dutch and German efficiency, but unfortunately not all European train lines run with the same punctuality (this would become more evident the further east I travelled).

As a beer enthusiast, I felt a trip to the Czech Republic wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one of its famous breweries. The Pilsner tour provided me with a dose of history and a taste of unpasteurised beer. It was also where I was taught my first Czech – Na Zdraví!

Ever wonder what 40,000 skeletons look like?

On my final day in the country I planned to visit the small town of Kutna Hora in the morning, before hiking in Bohemian Switzerland that afternoon, and making it to Berlin that evening – totally achievable… At 6am I caught my first train of the day heading to Kutna Hora with the plan of visiting the Sedlec Ossuary, the Jesuit College and St. Barbara’s Church. What I didn’t consider was that I would be carrying my 60L backpack. I walked through eerily empty streets for about 20mins to reach the Sedlec Ossuary. The idea of being alone in such a quiet, rural town weighed on my mind while my 12kg bag weighed on my back. It was at this point that I decided walking any further would be a task for another day.

I waited for the Sedlec Ossuary to open while seated in its surrounding graveyard. While the outside of the church was covered in scaffolding (a recurring theme of my travels), research told me that the inside would be worth the wait. When the church opened I was, unsurprisingly, the first person through the door. You would think a building decorated using 40,000 skeletons would be fairly expansive, but it oddly wasn’t. That’s not to say it wasn’t both intimidating and impressive.

Sweaty highlights of Pravcicka Gate.

Based on my previous Czech travel experiences I left myself with, what I thought was a generous 40min connection in between my train from Kutna Hora and my train to Decin. Delays meant I actually ended up madly, running through Prague main station trying to find my platform and boarding my train with about 2mins to spare. From Decin I would take a local bus to the Bohemian Switzerland National Park and take a hike up to Pravcicka Gate.

So there were a couple problems with this, the first being where to actually get the bus… Speaking English in Decin didn’t seem to get me as far as it did in Prague. A little guess work and a little good fortune meant I eventually found the right stop. When my bus reached Bohemian Switzerland, another problem occurred to me – I still had my 60L backpack. The bag was heavy and the walk was sweaty, but with a little willpower I made it to Pravcicka Gate. The landscape was unlike anything we have in Scotland with views that reassured me that I had saved the best of the Czech Republic till last.

Views like these make it all worthwhile.

In my haste to start the hike, I had actually forgotten to check the return times of the hourly bus back to Decin. I thought my best bet would be to get back to the bus stop as quickly as possible to avoid being stranded. Although, not before making a visit to the bar situated just under Pravcicka Gate. With a water in one hand, and a beer in the other I began running back to down the hill. At the bottom, I discovered I would need to wait about 30mins for a bus that would get me to Decin in time for my train to Berlin. My day ended as it started, with another train delay but I was soon on my way north to Berlin.

My time in the Czech Republic was both exhausting and enlightening. It gave me the reality check I needed while affirming that even though you can’t do it all – you can, in fact, enjoy all that you do.