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The Day it Happened

The Day it Happened

I was cold. It had been warmer in London. I was wet. In London the sky had been blue without a rain cloud in sight. I was tired. Staying awake for most of the previous night packing and re-packing my backpack had been a bad idea. My shoulders were still aching from the hour I’d spent wandering around with my heavy backpack trying to find my hostel and I was starting to wonder if I had already missed the best of the European summer weather by opting to travel  towards the end of August and into September.

This was my first multi-destination trip and I had chosen to fly the solo flag – but I was starting to wonder if I’d be able to handle it. Earlier, I’d successfully navigated my way from the airport to the area near the hostel using public transport but it hadn’t been without anxiety. This also happened to be my first time staying in a hostel. 

Thankfully I met nice people.

A fellow Brit and I set out to have a wander around Prague. It turned out we’d been on the same delayed flight from London that morning. Whilst we were out, the rain had started and we’d ended up getting drenched which quickly turned our excited moods to annoyance.

A rainy day in Prague

 

I’d planned the first half of my route in some level of detail and I knew that I’d eventually be flying home from Madrid – but I needed to create at least a rough plan for the second half of my trip. So I sat down on my bed to have a read through the chunky European guide book that I’d brought along.

And then I got chatting. For several hours.

Two lovely ladies from Slovenia were also on a multi-stop trip. They’d been travelling by car and Prague was their second to last stop – they were ending in Bratislava. Some of the places they had been to were places that I hadn’t even thought about visiting – Bosnia being the main one. They spoke about the country with such excitement that I seriously considered taking a detour in order to add it to my route.

But then they started to tell me about their own country…

The Baroque style mixed with 20th Century Architecture along with the old town and green spaces made the capital city of Ljubljana sound like my kind of place! However, my interest really piqued when they started to speak with passion about the awesome beauty of the mountains and lakes. I have always loved natural beauty and I could easily stare at a spectacular view for a very long time.

I knew there and then that I wanted to visit Slovenia.

In my head, I started planning out another InterRailing trip around Europe that would include Slovenia and a few of the other places that we’d been taking about. Later that evening, I grabbed my InterRail map and guidebook and spent some time searching the routes and train times online to figure out if I could include some of these places on my current trip.

In was then that I realised that it had happened.

Nothing could’ve stopped it.

Not the cold weather, or the rain or the anxiety that I’d been feeling.

It was too late. It had already hit me.

I had well and truly caught the travel bug.

And that was that.

 

Bewildered in Budapest: The Kindness of Strangers

Bewildered in Budapest: The Kindness of Strangers

When I planned my InterRailling trip, Budapest was one of my must-see destinations. After a wonderful week in the Czech Republic visiting Prague and staying with an amazing family in Olomouc, it was time to move onto Budapest. I set off from Olomouc and travelled for almost two hours to Břeclav. It was supposed to be a 30 minute wait for the train to Budapest but I arrived to find that there was an 80 minute delay!

Břeclav station was tiny and there wasn’t really anywhere to sit other than on the platform. There was a public toilet and a tall potted plant and that was about it. With no luggage lockers available, I had to carry my backpack with me when I went down to the local supermarket. I had wanted to do some more exploring but decided to head back to the station instead of wandering around town with my heavy backpack.

At the station, I got chatting to a couple of fellow Brits who were travelling to Turkey by train! It turned out we were all waiting for the same train to Budapest.

The train eventually arrived 80mins after the scheduled time but as it journeyed on, it stood at every station for a good 5 or 10 minutes so the delay got worse and worse! It eventually arrived in Budapest TWO HOURS later than it was supposed to!

I got off the train and quickly located the piece of paper that I had scribbled the hostel address and public transport directions onto. However, when I left the station, I found out that there were road works everywhere and the bus stop was impossible to find! It was almost 9pm and I was exhausted so I decided to look for the taxi rank – but I couldn’t find that either.

By this point, I was fed up and my backpack was weighing me down. But just at the right time, I came across a bus stop where a lovely lady was waiting with her daughter and baby granddaughter (who was asleep in her arms). I showed them the address and they spoke to each other in Hungarian and then signalled to me to follow them. I know that as children we are taught not to trust or talk to strangers but sometimes you have to throw the rule book out of the window!

I followed them down the road and round the corner to another bus stop. Although there was a significant language barrier and I was clueless about where we were going, I felt in my heart that I could trust them. Within 5 minutes a bus arrived and we jumped onto it. I had no idea how far we were going or if this would be the only mode of transport we would take but just a few minutes later we had got off the bus and I was following them down the road again. A tram journey was next. I sat and watched as the buildings and lights of the city passed by and wondered if I was getting any closer to the hostel.

Fifteen minutes later, we were off the tram and walking down the street again. I hoped that we were heading to the hostel but lo and behold we boarded another bus. I guess this hostel was a lot further from the station than I thought!

Twenty minutes and two bus journeys later we arrived somewhere that seemed quite busy and cosmopolitan. After crossing a few major roads, I saw them look up at the road name and realised that we were on the road where the hostel was!

Finding the hostel was another story though. In Prague I wondered around Wenceslas square several times before I finally spotted the TINY sign that indicated that the hostel was on the first floor above a shop. This hostel was almost as tricky to locate.

I followed the lady and her daughter down what seemed like a semi-residential street. They looked up at the building numbers and eventually stopped outside what seemed like a large old house. I looked around for any signs that that it may a hostel – and then I spotted one – a set of buzzers on the wall!

I ran over and scanned the set of buzzers and then…Eureka! I saw the name of the hostel and my face lit up!

I could barely contain my gratitude to the lady and her daughter (and her sleeping baby granddaughter). I hugged them both and was so touched by the fact that they went out of their way in the late evening whilst carrying a sleeping baby just to make sure I got to my hostel safely. The next thing I knew they had handed me the baby and were taking a picture with me but I was more than happy to oblige!

There have been many incidences on my travels where the kindness of strangers has been truly touching. In Vienna, a man got off his bicycle in order to direct me to the Museumsquartier after seeing me looking lost. In Ayutthaya, a man directed me all the way to one the temples, then showed me a local market to buy food and then took me to the outdoor seating area of his friend’s restaurant so I would have somewhere to sit and eat my food. His friend then gave me fruit and a drink and let me sit and rest for as long as I wanted because I had spent most of the day cycling around the city. In Ko Lanta, one of the members of staff at the hostel drove me to the repair shop after an accident with a bottle of water drowned my phone and camera.

Growing up in a big city has made into a quite cautious person but travelling has taught me to trust my instincts and ask for help when necessary. Sometimes things don’t go according to plan and I have to rely on the kindness of a stranger to help me fix it.

Such kind acts put a smile on my face and really make my day. I love the fact that amongst all the negative things that happen in the world, there are still good people around who are willing to go out of their way to make someone else’s day better.

Barcelona-Bound Runaway Train

Barcelona-Bound Runaway Train

When I decided to take an InterRailing trip in 2013, Nice and Barcelona were on my list of must-see destinations. From the research that I had conducted beforehand, I knew that travelling between these two cities was no easy feat but I hadn’t realised just how long-winded the journey could potentially be.

When I went online to check the different route options, I found that the shortest option would take eight hours and involve at least two changes.  I would also need to buy seat reservations for some of the trains but I decided to wait until I had arrived in Nice to do this. Big mistake.

When I got to Nice and tried to buy the reservations, to my surprise, the official behind the counter told me that those particular trains were full. He then wrote down an alternative (long-winded) route that I could take which didn’t require any seat reservations – but it was 16 hours long and involved taking four trains!

The first train in the morning was at 6.55am but thankfully the station was just a 5 minute walk from the hostel. Nevertheless, I woke up at 5am in order to get ready, do last minute packing (in the dark), check out and get to the station in good time.

The first train journey was pretty uneventful. I tried to catch up on sleep (that didn’t happen) but I enjoyed the picturesque scenery. When I arrived in Marseille around 9.30am, I decided to put my backpack in a locker and do some exploring. After all, I didn’t have to catch the next train until around midday.

Maerseille

Marseille 2

When I got back to the station and found my way onto the next train, I spotted a guy with an InterRail pass in his hand so I decided to say hello. We got chatting and it turned out that he was also taking the same route to Barcelona!

Ninety minutes later we arrived in Avignon, and with no locker facilities at the station, we decided that it would be too tiring to try to explore whilst carrying our backpacks so instead opted to buy some food and relax in a park (which also happened to have free WiFi!).

After an hour or so of relaxation, we headed back to the station for a four hour train ride which took us across the Spanish border to Portbou where we met two girls and a guy who were also travelling to Barcelona. Thankfully, we only had to wait an hour for the next train.

Portbou

The journey to Barcelona took two and a half hours and by the time we arrived there, it seemed that only the five of us and two other guys (who had bicycles) were left on the train. As Barcelona Sants Station, was the last stop, we thought we would have plenty of time to get off the train and so by the time it was pulling into the station, we were just about leaving our seats. None of us were ready to get off when it finally came to a stop.

Then the doors opened…

For what felt like two seconds…

Before they closed again and the train started to move!

All of us looked at each other in disbelief. At first we thought that the train was just moving further into the station but once it started to speed up and all of the information about the stops and destination disappeared from the screen, we soon realised that we were being taken to the middle of nowhere!

João, one of the boys was Portuguese but he could also speak Spanish and decided to try and find a guard or train official to see what on Earth was going on. He walked up and down several carriages but couldn’t find anyone and by that time, we’d already sat through 10 minutes of a high-speed blur of buildings, trees and graffiti-covered concrete.

With no sign of the train stopping, panic started to set in. We had no idea where we were going and whether or not we would be able to get back to Sants Station that night. I for one didn’t fancy a night of impromptu camping!

I suggested we press the emergency alarm to which João replied ‘We’re not dying!’

We endured another 10-minute haze of buildings and trees before the train eventually started slowing down and we plastered ourselves to the doors ready to escape as soon as the train stopped.

It finally came to a halt at what seemed to be a train depot masquerading as a train station and we flew through the doors.

By this point, it was after 11pm and we were tired, irritated and ready to demand an explanation from the train driver. However, João was the only one who could speak Spanish so he went off to find the driver in order to vent the frustration on our behalf.

It turned out that this station was where the train was going to be kept for the night and earlier when it had arrived at Sants Station, the driver and guard has assumed that there was nobody left on the train because most of the passengers had disembarked at earlier stops. It had been running late and they wanted to get it to its final resting stop as soon as possible, hence why it only stopped for about two seconds!

In order to get back to where we needed to be, we would have to go through the tunnel to a platform on the other side of the station, wait 5 minutes and then catch the train going back to Sants Station. However, in the time it took for João to find this out, the 5 minutes had already passed and the train was arriving on the on the other side.

So we ran.

With our big backpacks on our backs.

With two guys carrying bikes laden with luggage.

We ran.

Down the stairs, through the long tunnel and up the stairs on the other side.

And we caught the train.

Just in time.

Exhausted and out of breath.

But the running didn’t stop there.

Neither did the long-winded journey.

When we arrived at Sants Station, we ran to catch the Metro to ensure that we didn’t miss the last train. The two girls headed off to their friend’s apartment and the two guys with bikes cycled off. I had booked a hostel in advance but João and the other guy we were with liked to throw caution to the wind and find accommodation once they’d actually arrived at their destination. So they decided to come to my hostel to see if there was any space.

That would have been straightforward if the directions I had received from the hostel booking website had been correct.

By the time we realised the error, we had already taken the Metro to a station that turned out to be quite far away from the hostel! We asked policemen for directions but somehow still managed to get lost. At this point, we were exhausted and fed up and had been walking around for what felt like several hours – with the weight of a large sack of potatoes on our backs.

But thankfully João was still thinking straight. He used his phone to navigate and we found the hostel.

At 1am.

After 18 hours of travelling.

With only 3 hours sleep the previous night.

It was no wonder I woke up the next day with a bad cold.

It didn’t stop me going to the beach though!