Published: June 22nd 2012June 22nd 2012
Time to join the 'Eastern Wanderer - TopDeck Tour'!
(just a heads up, this is a long entry ;)
I check out of the hostel and catch the metro and a hot and crammed bus to Camping Roma where I'm meeting up with a tour group the afternoon. I'm joining a group on day 13 of a larger Grand European Tour (by bus in case you were wondering).
We stay in a range of accommodation - hotels, hostels and campsites. Let me explain that some of the campsites in Europe are quite well equipped facility-wise. For example, the sites we stay at have at least 1 pool, poolside bar, restaurant and a supermarket close by. And while there are campsites for campervans, we stay in cabins with self-equipped bathrooms. Not too shabby indeed.
There are 6 of us newbies joining the tour group for the next 2 weeks. The tour goes all the way to London but I'm getting off at Berlin. After meeting the entire group (42) at dinner, we get ready for a traffic light party at the bar that night. So, green=single, amber=unsure/it's complicated, red=taken. Green it is, and we could buy cheap tshirts on site. A pretty funny night, there was the limbo at one stage and an Elvis impersonator although he didn't sing and wanted to just dance with all the girls. On reflection probably a bit creepy haha.
Heading to the holy capital of the world I elected to skip the guided tour and sites again. I just don't think anything can top seeing the Sistine Chapel for the first time. Still amazing though. 5 of us girls decided to wander the streets for coffee. As we're walking along, Lee suddenly announces 'I've got wi-fi'. We all stop dead and pull out our phones to get on the net. And no joke we are all motionless on the sidewalk in a vague circle for a good 10mins not saying much at all. Some of the locals notice and laugh at us. It must've looked ridiculous and incredibly anti-social haha. You've got to take free wi-fi when you can though!
A pitstop at McDonalds later and before you know it we're back on the bus headed for Venice. Not before a bit of drama. 2 girls are late for the bus, and with good reason. Unfortunately they were mugged in broad daylight after taking a wrong turn down a lane. This shouldn't happen in the Vatican! They were ok but shaken and handed over some money and ran away.
I must've had an inkling that I'd need my full backpack for this day. I packed a poncho, umbrella, change of shoes and top, a hat and sunscreen. It was a day of crazy Melbourne weather - hard rain and hot sun. I loved seeing this place again, so unique.
After an incredible lunch and shopping with a couple of the girls, we go in search for a mask for a masquerade party back at the campsite that night. A deep purple glittery one takes my fancy for €12.
The party was a lot of fun. Teagan and I purchase a 5L glass barrel of white wine at the onsite supermarket for €7.48.
Just. Because. We. Could.
Needless to say we didn't need many drinks at the bar, even after sharing the bottle's contents around. Felt a bit average the next day but manageable. It was painful o watch one girl really struggle the next day.
I was excited to see Croatia after hearing from others how beautiful this country is. Croatia hoping to become the 28th member I the EU in 2013, in the meantime we exchange Euro for Kuna.
Our bus caught a ferry to Pag Island and our first impressions were of a rocky, quarry-like baron earth above deep blue calm adriatic ocean. A 20min bus ride after the ferry had us in the centre of town near our hotel.
The hotel overlooked water, a port and was surrounded by cafes, restaurants and bars. After a quiet dinner we had a quiet-ish night in.
After a morning run, spending half the following day at the beach was not a problem and very welcome in the 30-something degree heat. Although rocks and pebbles make up the beach, we all lay on deck chairs and dip in the clear blue water intermittently. That night is out at a cocktail bar to watch the soccer and then onto another bar called CocoMoco which was a lot of fun. I remember at one point I was juggling limes, a skill we had to learn in year 11 PE at school.
The next day I decided to do the optional day trip to Rab Island whilst most of the girls were getting pedicures. Only 7 of us decided to do this trip and I feel sorry that the group didn't know what they were missing out on. I was blown away by how stunning this island is.
A 90min ferry ride each way for €20 included the option of some early morning alcohol. No joke, at 9.15am, after 10mins into the trip there, a middle aged woman approached us with a tray of drinks- some plastic cups filled with fanta and more importantly plastic shot cups filled with tequila. Seriously?! I couldn't go thought with the tequila.
We spent most of the day getting in and out of the clearest and refreshing blue ocean. It was so addictive and incredibly hot. I lost count how many re-applications of sunscreen were necessary that day. I wandered up a mountain of stairs at one stage and captured spectacular views of the island's scenery and town centre. Only 9000 people live on Rab island. Out again to a couple of bars that night and wine was 10 kuna a glass that's around €1.30, not bad at all.
I thought Slovenia was a cute place but we didn't spend much time here. I went for an early morning run with one of the girls before breakfast and I wish I took my camera. We ran down a road where there was a hay field and with the sun rising it was so peaceful.
We took a quick walking tour around the town centre of the country's capital Ljubljana. A wine festival just happens to be on. Cute. It's so hot though, must've been around 35degrees+ around 5pm. Sorry to inform all of you at home experiencing winter...
The home of redbull and jäger. A coincidence? I think not. Great combo. The hostel/hotel we stay at for 2 nights is a cute large cottage, just so homely. Importantly it has wi-fi and a bar with staff who have a fantastic sense of humor :)
Where we are in Austria a dialect of German is spoken, some words are slowly coming back to me after all those tough years learning the language at school. Wir gehts? Mir gehts gut, danke!
There are plenty of activities to do here- mountain bike riding, paragliding, canyoning, high ropes course and skydiving.
So after toying with the idea of a skydive over the past couple of months, I decided to go ahead. After seeing the breathtaking scenery of forest covered mountains (the highest is Austria), beautifully cared for fields, houses and town from above, I'm so glad I waited.
I can honestly say I wasn't scared until the door of the small light plane opened and the instructor Albert gave the go ahead for me to put legs out on the step outside but bear no weight on them. The hardest thing was putting my feet out and resting back against him not holding onto anything. Oh my god, just the biggest rush. After the first few seconds of free fall I really enjoyed it. 40 seconds of free fall from 12,000 feet. Such a spectacular experience, thanks to the scenery of Austria, oh yeah and the Skydive company for not killing me! Don't worry mum it's all good x. Albert's been skydiving for 30 years. Don't you think I asked him that beforehand?! haha. I got a DVD and photos on disc to share later.
Just to shake things up a bit in Austria our tour manager organizes a traditional 3 course Austrian dinner and opposite sex party. So yep the guys made the most effort, honestly they think it's such a novelty being in a dress. I go with oversized boardies, thongs, singlet, trucker cap and bushy eyebrows. Dinner was interesting, had a shandy in a bottle(?!), beef broth with sliced savory pancake bits, a grosti (potatoes chopped, boiled, panfried with bits of pork, bacon, herbs and fried egg on top) served in a saucepan at the table. Finally, what else but apple strudel ifor dessert. I must admit I am looking forward to a bit of a clean diet and detox soon.
The next morning we headed to Mauthausen concentration camp and memorial. It's difficult to comprehend and describe a visit to a concentration camp. Only 70 years ago this was in operation, which just seems so recent. There's such a eerie feeling walking along the barracks where prisoners were held despite it being a hot 30-something degree day, set on a hill in the beautiful countryside. We can walk into some of structures and in seeing some tourists taking pictures inside, I can't help but think that it's just not appropriate. This isn't a tourist attraction, it's a memorial to mark a terrible period in history. That's my personal opinion.
Without wanting to make this too much of a depressing somber entry, I think it's important to share some facts about this camp.
The first inmates arrived on 8 August 1938 and the camp was liberated by the US Army in May 1945. It was used at a 'hard labour' camp due to surrounding quarries where prisoners were forced to carry some 50kg rocks up unbelievably steep stairs on as little as 200 calories a day. The gas chambers claimed approximately 10,200 lives and in all, around 100,000 inmates died at Malthausen, Gusen and satellite camps (other camps close by). They had the highest death rates of all concentrating camps under the Third Reich.
The numbers are really difficult to fathom, and we then see a documentary in the museum which includes some personal accounts from people who survived (incredibly), a US Soldier and local residents of the area. Some of the personal accounts reveal details of what they saw - how prisoners died in front of them through for example, being injected with petrol, and many more details which I don't want to repeat.
I come away from this visit with an overwhelming sense of pure sadness and disbelief. How one man could orchestrate such a widespread eradication of people is fascinating yet also makes me angry. I guess this really hits a nerve with me being in a profession advocating for people's rights (obviously particularly in the workplace) and anti-discrimination. It makes me so grateful living in the society I do today.
All German children are required by law to visit a concentration camp during their primary school years so the coming generations never forget. I don't think the rest of the world will either.
Just Prague and Berlin to go, then I'm on my own again!