Europe. Is it not the epitome of all great vacation and travel destinations? Europe, I suppose, is not America light, its not on steroids and doesn’t have an identity crisis like Australia. As I’ve learned from several trips through various places you can’t group it all together as one Europe because each location, each place is completely unique. It would be like grouping Texas with Minnesota; it just wouldn’t work. They might be on the same continent, but that doesn’t necessarily make them any more similar than Florida and South Dakota. On this odyssey, I was enthralled by Trieste Italy; confused by Budapest and wooed to tears by Paris.
From Tuesday the 21 July to Sunday the 26th, I was in the old port city of Trieste, Italy. Historically, it was controlled by the Austrians, and various other groups (Among them, Americans and New Zealanders after the war). It is a strategic piece of land only a few minutes from Slovenia and Croatia. Rocco says it isn’t a very typical Italian city, and Matt and I found it to be 99% free of crowds of tourists (much to our delight and to their dismay). The city has about 75,000 inhabitants, built next to the sea and hills and boasts the Illy Coffee Factory as one of its major employers. A much overlooked Italian city and completely off the trail of pesky Asian tourists, I fell in love with its unassuming people, streets, food and especially the girls.
The elegant and pristine main square is the focal point of the town, it even it isn’t very busy. The largest square in Europe built on the sea, which is just across the road. My first taste of the Aperol Spritz and coffee. I find the shopping, the way you can walk from bar to bar in the evening having your apertives and then on to dinner. One of the nicest, most civilized ways to spend your time in the evening. Floating from place to place, drinking, eating, laughing and cavorting with the local lovelies, the young and old, we spent countless hours and nights completely beside ourselves trying not to overindulge in the gratuitous amount of liquor and food we were consuming only to be woke up at noon the next day, ready to start all over again. When people in Trieste refer to the “beach” it is actually just concrete areas with steps down into the beautiful sea – Annie says they prefer the concrete to the sand, and after an afternoon there, I looked completely past it into the warm Adriatic and let me mind slip away into the late afternoon sun.
Along with having small bars with coffee and liquor all along the waterfront, topless women abound along with all the typical men’s euro style bathers. No surprise really, but to some, this is a definite and unavoidable difference from America. Here’s to Italy!! No matter what day of the week, the seaside was always crowded. The summer is a time to rest, take a break and a lot of students were back in town.
The most amazing and rewarding part of Trieste was the empty streets, easy-going attitude and honestly, genuinely lovely people. Everyone seemed to be enjoying their day, life in general, the sun and just have a bit of a relax. None of the stress you would tend to associate with Italy in the summer was found. So the time we spent there seemed to me, so slow, as it was happening, and all of a sudden it was over. And after a nice lunch of local anchovies, oysters, and risotto, we got a lift to Ljubljana Slovenia to catch the night train to Budapest.
Slovenia is a country of contradictions. If Disney built a small European town by a river, it would look like Ljubljana. Lovely, and from what I can tell, terribly boring. The most exciting thing going on seemed to be the amazing amount of cheap kebabs you could get within a 5 minute walk of the train station. We waited for several hours at the station – bathrooms closed at 10PM, and our train left at 2am. Train stations late at night tend to encourage certain types of activity, and invite certain types of people into them, but we were left unbothered, and apart from large groups of English backpackers and a few local people, were pretty much alone on the cold platform. The only time on the trip I remember being actually cold, with pants and a jacket on. We apparently were higher up in elevation that we realized.
The EuroNight train came from Venice and on the way to Budapest, we stopped, amoung other places, Zagreb Croatia. Four border crossings later at 11.30 AM we rolled into Budapest, no worse for wear, but completely exhausted and to be frank, a bit gross feeling. We felt bad for the English chap in the compartment near ours who, at the Croatian border got taken off the train for not having a passport, and not having the right documentation to get to Budapest to get a new one. Oh well, 3 more trains for him – at least he has a story.
We were in Budapest from 27 July to the 30th. What to expect from a recent communist country in the east? How about Burger King and lots of them! No idea why. No clue at all. From Trieste to Budapest one would assume that they would be quite opposite of each other. Budapest was on the verge of a Louis Vuitton take over, but was still quite nice. Good things had moved into the country, but the whole place felt, well, just like a place, not really a destination. You knew things were happening, but it was hard to see where, why and for what reasons.
I feel that the biggest difference in Budapest compared with the rest of the places we visited was that we didn’t know any locals. We rented a small flat for the nights we were there and that could have been our downfall because if we were in a hostel, then we might have met some other travelers. Dan joined us in Hungary and we sourced a few things to do around town such as visiting the oldest coffee house (1898) and the public baths in town were fantastic and possibly the highlight of Budapest. Eleven different pools, indoor and outdoor with varying temperatures, all with a large amount of minerals and other earth goodies in them. We felt completely relieved of stress, soreness and travel fatigue.
Again, like in Slovenia, kebabs were nearly on every corner, next to all the Burger Kings. Falafel became my go to food there, and unfortunately on this trip there was no goulash to be had. The architecture is really astounding –Parliament house, castles, a citadel and lovely bridges over the Danube River. The fast moving, muddy artery divides Buda from Pest and gives the city a sort of focal point and connection. Easily, we could have taken a boat to Vienna or Bratislava and enjoyed the Austrian/Slovakian mountains – a mere 5 hours away.
At the end of the week we took a quick Easyjet flight to Paris. Oh, Paris. That is a story for another time.