Europe is a great choice for those who are looking for adventure on a budget. Avid explorer Ben Fletcher embarked on his European adventure with his friend Ollie, deciding to spend a month trying to travel to as many countries as possible and see as much of the world as they could. Travelling by Inter-rail as their mode of transport and staying at hostels or night trains, this post highlights some of his favourite parts of Europe to visit.
Their method was simple - find a map and select the city, locate the hostel then explore. All their accommodation was booked in advance via the internet, and they shopped around for the best deals on a budget. Check out Ben's post below and hopefully this will inspire you to follow his footsteps!
In France we went to Paris and Avignon, staying a night in each city/town. Paris when we arrived was quite nice, the sun was out even though it was October and we headed off to go to the hostel we were to stay in for the duration of our trip. A memorable moment of the trip was when we went for a 20km round walk through Paris with our very heavy rucksacks to see if we could find the Cathedral of Notre Dame and Eiffel Tower.
We were mugged about 20 metres away from the Eiffel tower (not the best start) so it was a quick toss of change on the floor and a short dash off. That's when we decided it was best to leave the bags in a safe place to stop us looking like tourists, much to our disadvantage because after that we started being mistaken for locals in almost every city!
Avignon was gorgeous, quite a walk from the train station to the hotel we were staying at that as my friend Ollie told me had a pool in it...he lied! Avignon was a beautiful little town with amazingly well kept parks and eateries, we were shamed to leave so soon but it was onwards to Switzerland!
Another quick stop here which was required if we were to make our 17 country target. We stayed in a lovely Swiss hostel in Zurich. The train station itself was so large with 54 levels and it had a huge tent erected in the main station area which was housing a pre-October fest concert in it! What an amazing way to start our stay! Switzerland is a fantastically clean city with so much space, the trams system was superb and it certainly put our UK train system to shame!
The price for public toilets there was unbelievable - a good £4 just to use the restrooms! So make sure you bring enough change with you if you are planning on going out and about exploring all day! Another thing that was quite pricey is beer - we were waiting for our night train on the fourth night but went to a Switzerland's attempt at an English pub which wasn't too far off UK standards. The back streets around the city were full of life even at night, there were clubs and bars and restaurants that were open well past 2am which is great if you're looking for a party atmosphere.
The next stop on the itinerary was Austria - we headed straight for Vienna, and famous capital of architecture and romance. Despite having high hopes, we were a little disappointed with the city, it seemed very bland and empty almost. We spent the morning attempting to find our hostel in the maze of back streets and building works... and in the afternoon we travelled to a local area to see what the more residential areas are like (although we did not get to spend much time in the smaller towns they were certainly prettier). The night life in Vienna was also quite tame, we went for some drinks with a guy we met in our hostel but it was pretty empty. Needless to say we did not miss Vienna once we left although our stay might've been better if we had completed some more research on where to go before we arrived.
In to Prague, and into our cheaper hostels throughout our trip but they did not scrimp on the goods. Our hostel was small but cosy, had free Wi-Fi and games like ping-pong should that take your fancy. We only stayed for one night unfortunately, but we could've stayed for longer as the city itself was fantastic and the food so cheap! A 3 course meal with drinks came to less than £15 for the both of us!
After a quick tour around the stunning buildings and 'tourist points' so many adult stores had been set up right next to historical monuments, it was a strange clash of modern and historic life.
We didn't spend much time in Slovakia, it was a pit stop for us while we were heading to Hungry, the few hours we spent there were on an old fortress that was built in medieval times and had been fortified in the cold wars, there was an interesting war museum there that showed off some of the weaponry that had been placed in the fortress during times of war.
Hungry was the main stop, we spent a few days here exploring the huge city of Budapest, we tried to do as much as we could, heading out to the small isles in the river separating the two halves of the city. I had the largest paprika based meal I think I will ever have - it was delicious!
We ended up also getting stopped by foreign police, as there had been a football game on in which the police were gearing up in case there was any trouble... we unwittingly wandered into the little 'camp' they had made which made us feel on edge. Especially since they didn't really speak English and we didn't speak Hungarian, it made communicating a charade!
I think the highlight of our stay here was that the area we went to was being renovated so the majority of the town was 'well used' and added character. We had a 12 hour bus journey to get from Serbia into Greece meaning we left our hostel at about 5am, and once on the bus we realised we hadn't paid...and they just let us on for free!
We only had the day in Thessaloniki, Greece, as we were catching a night bus again to go into our next stop Turkey. We tried to speak to a guy who didn't speak English, so we showed on a map where we wanted to go and he sent us off with his friend who also... didn't speak English. The language barrier here was an issue but after an hour of searching we foundour destination and parted ways. After our transport was booked we had the whole day to look around the sea fronted city and we found a wonderful pub boat that intermittently took tours around a circuit while serving beer!
Paragliding in Greece was a pretty cool experience, as we found a watersport company that lines the shores near the hotels. The company we chose had all of their own gear and all we had to do was turn up, pay our way then get into a boat and be jetted out into deeper waters and higher winds. I'd never done any form of watersports other than swimming before and a little boating so the entire experience was new to me. The only instruction I was given was to hold my breath if I fell into the sea... very comforting!
The feeling of being up in the air seemingly free from everything except the rope that keeps you attached to the boat is nearly indescribable. The views from up in the sky were fantastic and excitement didn't end because anytime you looked down your legs were hanging uselessly over this huge expanse of water. It's definitely something I would do again and to anyone looking to do this sort of activity - even if you are scared beforehand I can guarantee you will enjoy it - it's something you have to make yourself do.
I have to much to say about Istanbul, the whole city is alive, no matter what the time of day there is always something happening! Each street seems to have it's own personality and offers an endless bounty of culture - you could say that it was my favourite stop out of the whole trip. We took a tour bus to try and see as much as we could and chose to cross the great bridge that joined Europe with Asia. We visited the plain but lavishly carved stone coffins of the Emperors and Kings too!
At nights we would plan what to see and do the next day, although we could never do everything we planned and could have stayed there longer. The Grand Bazaar unfortunately was closed during our time in Turkey which was a shame but we compensated by seeing the Egyptian Bazaar which was just as diverse. It seems to still be a hub of cultures blended together, and the items on sale range from traditional ottoman wares to modern day phones.
I think the highlight of these few days in Turkey was seeing the Blue Mosque at night - there was a fountain in front of the mosque and illuminating lights that changed colours. Our hostel was suprising though - my friend said that we had booked 'a room with a view'. Little did I know that our 'room with a view' was basically sleeping on the top of the hostel underneath the stars! When we arrived we climbed to the top of the building and into a bedroom, clearly used by travellers like ourselves for years (there was a little something from everyone left behind), and were then shown to the balcony were giant pillows had been placed. Our hostel guide pointed to the pillows and walked off! Sleeping outside in Istanbul is something I will always remember and I hope to return to see more soon.
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