Perhaps had I have spent 35 days in south-east Asia, I would consider it the greatest place in the world. As it happens, I didn’t spend 35 days in SE Asia this summer past, I spent them travelling Europe by rail.
Let me make it known that no words in the English language or any language for that matter can explain exactly just how brilliant, how awe-inspiring and how beautifully intricate Europe is.
From bullet ridden buildings in Bosnia to the ornate and magnificent Habsburg parliaments in Vienna, Europe offers a completely different flavour, a completely different texture, a completely different sight, a completely different smell, a completely different world – and all you have to do is cross a border and all these things will take on a brand new and exciting form.
Its people, its history, its food, its music, its art, its architecture, its pleasure, its business, its night, its day, its politics, its reformists, its views, its sounds, its smells, its tastes.
They all make up the continent of Europe but yet, they are all irrelevant. The reason I say this is because every single country has something else; something new, something better, maybe different, but never worse.
When my mind drifts back to my time in Europe, my imagination lifts off like Concorde and it flies through a mountain gorge, it dives through the deepest clear waters, it gallops through dense forests and meanders through towns and cities. I try to explain my feeling through rhetoric but honestly, I’ll never be fully satisfied with this text because it will never paint the full accurate picture. Now, it is a time restricted to my memories, and every time I think of them, I’m lost within.
Many times I’ve tried to analyse why I loved my time in Europe so much and I think the best explanation I can come up with, is that it’s the only time in my life when I didn’t have to consider.
Consider what? You may ask. To my reply; anything.
The only thing that I planned was where I was going to sleep. Not where I was going, just where I would sleep when I got there.
This church in a suburb of Bratislava is an example of many hidden gems in Europe.
As I hovered over my Europa road-map purchased in Belgrade, in a Swiss hotel lobby, I decided my next move would see me in Liechtenstein. After a swift booking of a bed in a very alpine looking lodge, perhaps I would go for lunch, or just a dander for a cigarette by the river, or maybe I would visit the sights or simply walk around and wait for a hidden gem to fall on my lap, as happened in Basel, Switzerland, when I came across the military tattoo. Hundreds of Scottish looking chaps all dressed in kilt tooting their bagpipes. T’was like I never left the UK at all. And for the first time I missed home. Though the misery was soon swept aside by the world’s fattest sausage with the most strong-tasting mustard I have ever had the pleasure of wallowing my face in - and a pint.
I would probably literally kill for just one more sausage/mustard/pint combo.
Other examples I may offer are of the spontaneous nature that travelling will submerge you in. While I walked the Munich streets after lavishing on a burger king, I decided that I would simply lift my bags from the hostel and take a train to the black forest and camp the night under the stars in nothing more than a plastic bag. As it happened, I got on the train, fell asleep and then awoke in Frankfurt airport which was a confusing mess – “This isn’t a forest” – but was soon heading south on the train for Basel, where I would simply hop off at the black forest en-route.
I boarded my second train from Frankfurt and after a chat with a dim-witted American army reserve as to why Britain and America are the greatest nations on Earth – I was soon fast asleep and on my way to missing my stop completely and arriving at Basel, a city I had no intention of ever visiting.
“Oh well. I’m here now.” (It’s probably this attitude which I treasured most)
There were many times while walking through Europe that I thought to myself, “I’m not appreciating this”. I thought to myself, “You are in Europe, you can go anywhere you want any time you want and money is no issue. Yet, I am not appreciating this.”
It was at these times when I stopped to reflect and I came to the conclusion that it was those times that I would remember most, above all else. And I was right.
When my eyes receive the pleasure of a map of Europe, the movie theatre in my mind becomes alive with people and acts. I picture the insignificant things. The fish I ate in Lille sitting outside with the awning protecting me from the lashing rain. The view from my one-car-train taking me from Vienna to Braunau-am-Inn, in the west of Austria, across open fields and farmland. Staring down from the train at the most brilliant colour of blue I have ever seen, rushing over the rocks and dancing around the riverbank and looking up to see soaring, snow-covered mountains reaching high into the Alps.
I don’t know what I had hoped for from Europe – but whatever it was, I got it – and was given much more.
If only my words portrayed thought and my images portrayed emotion – because without ever embarking on the same journey – it is impossible for you to understand.
All in all, 17 countries (some not on labelled on map, IE, travelling from Italy to Croatia by car when I first arrived, we drove through Slovenia. We stopped for food so that counts! But not enough to label it...) and 35 days outside of the UK.
You won’t regret it.
Click here for larger image and THEN click the image to make it larger, again. Cities in blue have been visited on separate occasions.