It occurs to me I haven’t provided some closing information relating to Europe. What are some things I learned, what would I do differently? How much did it cost? Just how much ground did I cover?
Let’s find out!
The final costings for the entire six week adventure came to $14,441.36 (AUD). Considering this is the sum total cost of a six week trip I think budget-wise I did extremely well. I could have done better but this was still much less than the 20k I was anticipating.
Undoubtedly one of the things I would do differently is, where possible, have cash rather than relying on the card so much. I could have chased coming in under 14k if card and currency exchange fees didn’t eat up $453 of the budget. It wasn’t until I was leaving Switzerland and jumped on to transfer money to pay off the credit card that I realised I was getting ravaged with currency exchange. So I definitely made sure to get Euros out of an ATM when I got to Stuttgart and Pound when I got to London. I still had to use the card at stages but certainly dodged a lot more fees than I could have ended up with.
If you are ever planning similar rail travel to my journey in Switzerland, buy the half-fare card. It doesn’t halve the price of seat reservations but for the tickets themselves it saves a heap. Half-fare on the Glacier Express alone almost paid for the pass. All the other rail travel I did between cities more than paid for itself and half-fare first class tickets .
DB have a similar setup for Germany. I would definitely recommend having a decent idea of cities you want to move between and book seat reservations EARLY for those trains (I’m talking weeks early). I struggled with two of my connections thinking I could book them a couple of days beforehand. Regularly found trains were fully booked, even in first class. There were often second class travellers running the gauntlet on riding in first class and sitting for a while before being sent back to second class by conductors.
If you are travelling to a lot of European countries, look into a Eurail Pass. It covers most train travel in some 33 countries and can be bought in X days over Y duration (i.e 7 days travel in 1 month) or solid blocks up to 3 months. All you need to purchase is the seat reservations if you don’t feel like risking it and not getting a seat, but all the other train fees are covered. As I was sticking to only a couple of countries it was better for me to purchase passes directly through SSB and DB.
On the food front, I definitely lived a low-cost lifestyle. Migros and Co-Op in Switzerland were my friends. Pretzels (the normal ones not the US snack ones) were surprisingly efficient at keeping one satisfied on the food front. Although my salt intake increased dramatically during those six weeks. It was super easy to just walk into a Migros and buy a take away sandwich or roll. Sit in a local park or find a spot in a station and watch the world go by for a while. Around train stations is not as easy to do in Germany as there are a lot more professional beggars who will pester you for change.
There was only two real instances of splashing out for food. Once in Chur where I ate a ~$50 bowl of pasta at an Italian restaurant, it was a good bowl of pasta too. The other was a steak lunch in Piccadilly when I was in London. That was about $100, however I didn’t need dinner that night so I think it was value for money!
What about how much distance I covered? The end result weighed in at 578,498 steps totalling 461.5km walked! So I basically covered the distance from Victoria’s Parliament building in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra (if you went in a straight line, that is), that’s 463km as the crow flies. Not that I’d make that walk in a six week period if I were to try it here!
What would I do differently?
If was doing this trip again any time soon (and I would like re-do at least parts of it as there’s locations I would like to revisit at some stage) the three key things I would do differently are:
Learn more of the local language (German in this case), probably do a professional basic language course rather than rely on Duolingo. I found that Duolingo teaches you the more formal words. I got a lot of strange looks saying sorry because I was using the more formal sorry rather than a casual sorry. It’s a bit like going around saying “my apologies” to everything.
Use cash more, card fees are a killer!
Purchase local sim cards that include data. No more getting caught out without tickets!
I think I would also throw in being more strategic in hotel choice, especially location. This trip was 100% booked to lean heavily into the Travelling Ibis gag, the loyalty discount was nice, but often was offset needing to actually get to the damn hotel! Actually I’ll add a fourth:
Target being in locations that I would stay in for longer and use them as more of a base to do day trips to other locations. Using Dusseldorf as a base and going to Wuppertal and Bonn worked really well but I didn’t feel like I spent enough time in Dusseldorf itself in the end. So basing myself in a location for 4-5 days instead of 2-3 days and day tripping around. Less suitcase hauling thanks.
Also, I’m pretty sure I mentioned it, avoid Stuttgart until the station is finished and the city centre isn’t a construction site. Although, if I was doing this trip again as it was, I would stay in Frankfurt and day trip back to Stuttgart for the Porsche Museum.
Lastly, and I think this speaks to the overall travel experience, I’ve done my solo gig and enjoyed the experience but I think my time spent with Heather and Sean highlighted the fact that travel is just better done with others. So if you’re in the market for a travel companion let me know!
Don’t have mystical issues with your ankles either.
It was a bittersweet moment passing through security. The reality of heading home was starting sink in. I was ready though, six weeks is a long time to spend living out of a suitcase moving between destinations every few days.
The waiting game for boarding and departure was eased by using almost the entire 60 minutes of included international call minutes on my phone plan calling Mum to let her know I was through security and waiting to find out what gate I needed to go to. Once I found out what gate, the hour wait was somewhat offset by watching just how much air traffic arrives and departs through that airport.
The flight itself from London to Singapore was amazing. A380’s are just on another level and it will be a shame to see them go. The flight was so smooth and even in economy it was more spacious than I was expecting. I ended up watching a couple of movies between attempts to get some sleep. I figured it wasn’t going to happen so I was glad for what came at the end of that flight.
Time for the 27 hour layover in Singapore.
Trying to find things to do for 27 hours in an airport is exhausting. I ended up walking the entirety of the airport in the first four hours. Luckily to check into the transit hotel I needed a boarding pass for my connecting flight, I say luckily because they caught at that point that my luggage was not scheduled to join the connecting flight. Due to the length of my layover it was incorrectly labelled as a stop in Singapore not a layover. I thought it was odd that I saw what I thought was my case in an unclaimed baggage area outside the arrival gates but put it down to a coincidence at the time.
Baggage sorted and boarding pass collected I booked in a time to stay in the transit hotel and made my way through customs with a complimentary exit to visit the Jewel at Changi.
The impressive indoor garden is crowned by an eight (five visible) storey high water feature that runs from the roof down through the floor past windows of restaurants below to a water reservoir. An impressive place, the only downside was needing to pass security to get back into the airport again!
(I have a clip of the water flowing in “The Way Home” video)
I had booked for 12 hours figuring getting to bed at 8 or 9pm would give me enough time to wake in the morning and have a shower before checking out. Not to be. I overslept the alarm and woke to a phone call from reception letting me know it was after 8am and I needed to vacate the room. Whoops!
The transit hotel provided guests with a voucher for the transit lounge, I had 45 minutes for a light breakfast and then wandered the terminals some more before heading to the gate for my Melbourne-bound flight. This was a much better flight as it was 11am to 8pm, no need to worry about trying to get any sleep on this 8 hour flight. I ended up having a mini Pixar marathon. Encanto, Cars, and Inside Out. The flight landed just after 8:15. The experience coming through customs was much different to returning from China in 2017. The entire area had been redesigned and realigned. Still it was pretty quick to move through the bio and luggage declaration checks and before I knew it I was in the international arrival pickup area with Mum waiting, camera in hand, to greet me.
And with that the trip was over, I was home with a bunch of memories and a list of places and locations I would like the opportunity to revisit one day.
Thank you for following along on this adventure, I hope you have enjoyed living it vicariously!
It’s the final day. With my bags packed Sarah dropped me at the station and I was back on my own. The journey back to London Paddington was a direct ride as opposed to the one out where I had to change at Bristol Temple-Meads. I had purchased the ticket a few days beforehand and ended up going for a first class ticket so I didn’t have to deal with trying to cram my suitcase in somewhere. It was another beautiful day, forecast to get to around 29 degrees. Even with the air conditioning on the train there was a bloke across the carriage complaining to his mate on the phone that he was roasting, and he didn’t even have the sun beaming in his window like I did!
Back in London I made my way from Paddington station’s GWR terminal across to the new Elizabeth Line which would take me directly to the airport (amazing, there’s four train lines that go to Heathrow airport and we can’t even manage one back in Melbourne). This was in incredibly smooth ride compared to some of the other Tube trains I’ve travelled on this trip (looking at you Piccadilly Line), I was the airport before lunch.
Figuring I had plenty of daylight left I ditched the bags and headed straight back out. The plan was to jump on the train to head back into London to have a bit more of a look around, however my incredible run of good weather immediately looked under threat when I looked beyond the hotel.
I felt I left some things on the table when I missed half a day due to the sightseeing bus shenanigans so it was good to get a chance to get back into the city for the day. The one thing I still managed to miss though was Borough Markets. Next time I will make sure it’s at the top of the list!
It felt like I walked across most of the city again; despite this time making use of the Tube like a sensible person. I managed to get around to Buckingham Palace (since I missed this key location the first time), Wellington Arch to visit the Australian War Memorial, the outside of St Pancras station, and – of course – the inside of Harrods. Walking through Harrods was just impressive. The amount of retailers and the interior design were on another level compared to anything we have back in Melbourne. Emporium and Myer pale in comparison.
It may sound silly to say, but my journey came full circle by finishing with dinner at Burger King since the first thing I ate in Zurich was Burger King due to the time I landed being desperate for a feed.
Despite the dark clouds and plenty of thunder and lightning, it didn’t really rain on me at all until I was almost back at the hotel.
It was a day for staying fairly local, after a busy six weeks of adventuring the legs were starting to cry enough (can’t wait to see the full stats of this trip, I feel like I’ve walked hundreds of kilometres)!
How interesting it was to be back in a car after several weeks travelling by train!
One last day of adventuring remained. A slow start to the day finalising getting my suitcase packed and then it was off to lunch at the carvery. When I was told by Scott to have a light breakfast (or preferably no breakfast at all) it was a clear indication of how lunch would be. Sure enough what was served up on the plate almost defied belief in just how much food they were able to cram onto the surface area of porcelain. Roast lunch and a cider later we were off up the motorway to Clevedon to check out Clevedon Pier, a Victorian era iron pier that is still in use today.
True to the nature of the trip it was closed. There was a ferry service coming in and the pier was going through renovations so to limit the number of people on the pier they closed it down to everyone but those boarding or alighting from the ferry. No matter, had a look in the gift shop and bought a fridge magnet anyway. Then we went and got ice cream. A good walk back to the car later we jumped in and made our way to a local shopping centre in Bristol that had a small Harrod’s outlet as I wasn’t sure I would get back to the one in London on my way back home.
We finished the day with a light dinner as lunch was still with us and sat down outside to have a final pint of cider as Scott is heading of early for work tomorrow morning. Sarah has kindly agreed to drop me at the station with my 28kg chonker of a suitcase to make my way back to London and the hotel near Heathrow.
The Dig for Victory Festival is held every year in Somerset, showcasing fashion, vehicles and military weapons of the 1940’s wartime era as well as some modern elements with historic flair. We arrived early after picking up Scott’s father-in-law Steve, found a parking spot close to the entrance and queued up. As we made our way in the organisers and staff were all dressed up in period fashion.
We wandered around the stalls checking out some of the wares on offer from the various stallholders, a lot of knick-knacks and fashion items inside the marquee there were a few food stalls and the sewing centre (where they held various workshops across the weekend). On the other side of this was the main stage where various period dancing classes and live music were held, along with the food trucks and drinks.
We tried the local cider, I had a half pint of the sweet variant. I must be working my way well along the spectrum because I found it way to sweet (where a few years ago I probably would have enjoyed it).
After the quick break while Steve had a chat with the St John’s Ambulance crew we made our way to the anti-air cannon display. Here they had three British anti-air cannons set up to perform a live-fire demonstration. Though as they were setting up the third cannon had jammed and they were only able to fire with the two remaining cannons.
After the demonstration we stopped to have a bite to eat for lunch and another wander through the market stalls. Not that I could buy much more at this point because my case is already over the weight allowance so I need to try and keep it within the 5kg extra I’ll need to pay for (or just buy another case and go for it over the next few days). Sarah mentioned they still have one of Scott’s sister’s cases that I might be able to use in a pinch if I need to. Everything still fits in my current case though, it’s just overweight.
The next demonstration was artillery display. One of the mobile artillery platforms was set up as though it was being deployed in the field and was then fired in similar fashion to the anti-aircraft cannons. This thing was bloody loud. You actually felt it in your chest when it fired. Three shots from that and then the crew packed it up as they would have in the field and moved it on to the next destination. In this case the next field over, but back in the war the artillery was moved between various fronts to help push or hold a line.
The last demonstration we checked out was the skirmish. Two squads imitating being a British and American training exercise. The Americans had a RPG and the British had a personnel transport that was taken out by the RPG to initiate the skirmish. After some back and forth between the squads the British came out on top and then the skirmishers combed the field for shell casings as we were in an active farm and nobody wanted the old farm animals eating bullet casings they shouldn’t be eating.
That pretty much brought the day to a close. The time here is coming to an end but it has been an amazing time.
Today I caught the train out to Bath. A town rich with Roman history.
There are two bus routes in Bath, with both routes intersecting at the train station. I caught the inner city Red Route first to see the sights around the landmarks of town and get a lay of the land for walking later.
The tour started by passing the rail viaduct from Bristol. Designed by none other than Brunel. His work on the entire train line between Paddington and Bristol means his name pops up a fair bit along the entire GWR corridor. The stone pillars provide a bit of architectural flair along with the functional purpose of structural support.
We then entered Queen Square and passed the iconic Palladian frontages designed by John Wood the Elder. These facades set the architectural style seen around most of England with the strong rectangular blocks, pillars, and window awnings “setting fresh standards for urban development”. The most interesting part is that Wood only designed and built the facades. The plots themselves behind the facades were then on-sold to other developers to construct the buildings themselves behind the facade resulting in a lot of the buildings being different sizes behind the frontage.
We looped around Queen Square again and made our way up hill towards the top of town, passing the Jane Austen Centre and Mary Shelly’s House of Frankenstein before reaching The Circus. Also designed by John Wood the Elder, The Circus is a circular townhouse construction around a green roundabout with grass and trees. Each of the three floors of townhouse have different designs to highlight different architectural styles. Doric, Roman and Corinthian.
Construction started but Wood died early in the construction and the project was taken over by his son John Wood the Younger. Wood went on to design connections to The Circus from the main city of Bath as wel as a connection to his own project. The Royal Crescent, a large semi-circular construction similar to The Circus but comprised of only one half that overlooked expansive green land and the main city.
From here the bus headed along Weston Road past the golf training field and the north side of the Victoria Botanical Gardens. It was here that we heard the story of then Princess Victoria visiting Bath to open the gardens in her name. A journalist at the time reported that her outfit on the day of the opening was gaudy. A conflicting story also mentions that it was a town resident who commented on the size of her ankles. Either way the then Princess heard this and vowed never to visit the town of Bath again. And she didn’t for the entire duration of her reign. Such to the point that when the train would pass through Bath on the way to Bristol the handmaids would draw the blinds of the train so Queen Victoria did not gaze upon the town and the townspeople would be unable to see her as she passed through.
The Skyline Green Route took us out through the outskirts of the city up to the hillside heights on Claverton Down Road where there would be prime views of the landscape of the city… Any time other than Spring. The new growth on the trees made it almost impossible to see anything of the city, despite old mate’s best efforts to stand on the top deck even after various warnings for us not to do so.
So the Skyline Route was not the best but there were still some interesting bits of information. There was an old gatehouse that was once used to collect taxes on trade merchants that was now a private residence. The descent down Ralph Allen Drive that used to be a quarry line for trains to carry goods down to the Bath train station. And the Churchill Bridge, named after wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill who apparently frequented the area.
After the Skyline tour I had a bite to eat for lunch, well, I tried to have a bite to eat but when I stepped inside to grab cutlery for my food a seagull made off with some of my chips! The restaurant kindly offered to replace the chips and everyone around my table got a laugh out of it, they could have shooed it off though…
After lunch I jumped back on the Red Line City Tour and headed to the top end of town again and walked my way all the way back down to the riverfront. Snapping some photos on my way before deciding that I had seen enough. I would have visited the local market however I feel like I’m already pushing my luck with souvenirs and baggage weight so I don’t want to go to too many more places I might end up buying things.
Jumped on the train to head back to Worle. Overheard a rather nasty woman verbally harassing a woman for the colour of her skin, thankfully the GWR staff walk through the trains regularly and I suspect they booted her off the train at the next stop. The woman being abused was incredibly calm about it and many people down her end of the carriage gave her support when the other woman was removed. An eventful train ride to wrap up the day.
Tomorrow we are heading to Dig for Victory day, a history day for the 1940’s including period vehicles, period fashion, and wartime memorabilia. Should be an interesting day.