Tag Archives: third year abroad

How To Have A Cheap And Amazing Holiday

1 Jun

After nine months of being in the Netherlands, it was now time to explore the country with my friends. In the cheapest way possible, of course.

The plan:

  • A – Tuesday 22nd May – The end of finals week and hence the final party at UCU (The Beach Party)
  • B – Wednesday – A night camping on Texel (one of the Dutch islands)
  • C – Thursday – A night at Myrte’s house in Alphen aan den Rijn
  • D – Friday – A night at Anton’s in Wezep
  • E – Saturday – A night at Gerrianne’s in Aalten so we could join her for her confirmation
  • F – Sunday – A night at Sofie’s in Apledoorn
  • G – The day in Apeldoorn and back to Utrecht
The route

The Route

This was a great plan as we would get to visit lots of people and get to camp on the islands, which we had wanted to do for a long time. Plus staying at people’s houses means free accommodation and potentially free food. As ever it is great to know locals.

Tuesday

I had finished my last exam the day before but everyone (except Gerrianne) still had deadlines and other exams to do. I thought they would have been done by lunch time but they actually continued long into the day. Whilst they were working hard I laid on the Quad and read Dave Gorman’s Unchained America.

The beach party in the evening was a big deal and something that is looked forwarded to all year. However, the name threw me a little bit as I assumed it would be in the beach party area (a room in dinning hall), but my logic was apparently wrong and it is held in a different location every year. Last year it was in a swimming pool and this year it would be in the football stadium near our campus. I was already unexcited by this as I guessed that once you were in the stadium it would be the same as just being in the bar. I was to be correct in my assumptions.

First, however, there is the pre-beach party hosted by one of the fraternities – Primus. It started at 5pm and ran to 11pm when the beach party started, and after this was the after party starting at 3am in the bar. I was pretty sure there was no way I would make the whole thing. I loved the pre-party – it was for charity, the sun was shinning and we were listening to students singing and playing music whilst we had a few (drink as much as you want) beers. It’s pretty much my favourite thing to do. We had a great time even though the pump for the beer was broken meaning the beer had even more foam than usual (about half and half). It started off with only Sofie, Myrte and I, as Myrte was to be playing at 7.30pm with her band. But as the night continued more people joined us and we celebrated our new-found freedom.

However, when the switch to the actual beach party came around, things didn’t go so smoothly, with difficulties getting the group  ready to leave at the same time. Eventually we gathered everyone and walked the short distance to the stadium. When we were in it was just a room with the bad “boom boom” bar music that we don’t enjoy. We sat down in another room. My feet hurt so everyone went to dance while I stayed sitting. Long story short, I laid around on a bean bag and people didn’t come back for a long time so I ended up talking to Life. He is one of our unit mates and this was really nice as he is part of the unit we don’t talk to at all. The other guys came back and we ate some snacks. Everyone then went back to try the dance floor again, but after the stories of what it was like I wasn’t keen on that, and instead had a little nap.

We then left having a little sit in the middle of the road on the way back. When we reached the after-party people were too tired to even go up the stairs to check it out, so we all went to bed. Such party animals!

Wednesday

We woke up early for the last brunch and hence last meal ever in dinning hall, as in the summer term it would be closed. We called all the stragglers who were not there on time and discussed our excitement for the plans ahead. The aim was to get to the campsite in Texel before five, and so after brunch we packed the car. The task looked impossible but in the end we could fit everyone’s luggage in, plus three people. As Dutch students get free public transport they were going to go by train to Texel and the rest would go in the car with Myrte. At the end of the week we would split all petrol and any extra train ticket costs. Simple.

We nearly killed Klementina on the way as she became very travel sick, but we made it. We waited for Veerle, Anton and Gerrianne to arrive and then we boarded the ferry. It was the calmest piece of sea I had ever been on. It hardly even felt like we were moving. At the other side the car continued to the campsite while the public transport people took a route via the shops to get some snacks for the evening.

An Anton imposter

The campsite was not what I was expecting. It was actually on the sand dunes and you got to camp amongst them!  This was a little weird as other times I had been to some Dutch dunes they had been protected – meaning that you couldn’t even walk on the them, let alone camp. But I wasn’t complaining. We found a nice pitch and had just started setting up when the others arrived. We made camp and then walked back to the entrance to get some pizza.

We grabbed the bag of drink and snacks on the way back and walked the two minutes from our campsite to the beach. The weather was glorious and we enjoyed the late sun and ate. We played a bit of ultimate frisbee, flew a kite and some even had a swim in the sea. Our night was cut short though as there was a huge lightning storm on the horizon so being in the sea and on the beach was very dangerous. Unfortunately a very sad thing had also happened and my camera had broken so I am not able to provide you with footage of this storm, but it was incredible. It never rained on us and we couldn’t hear any loud cracks of thunder, but the lightning was beautiful with lots of fork lightning lighting up the dark sky. We watched, chatted and went to bed.

Thursday

We had to wake up early again as had to be off the pitch by 11am, but this wasn’t so bad as we could still park the car on the site until 4pm. This meant we had a whole day to spend on the beach. It was another day of blue skies and heat. We played more frisbee, sang, sun-bathed and went paddling in the sea. It was very relaxing and crazy that two days ago we were all stressing over exams and deadlines. The sun turned out to be a bit too hot for some and as it approached 4pm Veerle and I were under our towels with Myrte sitting in the shadow of the chair. The aftermath of this day would last the whole week – Tina’s feet are still burnt now. Myrte also had problems as she burnt the back of her legs. So, a lot more red than before, we departed for Myrte’s house.

Here everyone met Myrte’s dog James and Myrte’s parents who kindly bought us Chinese for dinner which we really enjoyed. Sofie joined us afterwards. We all put our bedding down and got attacked by James who thought it was all a very fun game.

Friday

Klementina and Gerrianne had another early morning as they had to return to Utrecht for a SIFE competition. Veerle was to join them and Myrte needed to drive them to the station. So sadly Anton, Sofie and I had to sleep-in longer!  We awoke at 11 and had a late breakfast. We then played Jack Straws (Mikado) and Cluedo. I chanced it and decided to guess – even though I wasn’t sure of the item – as Anton was very confident. It back fired, though I had the other two correct, and many turns went by where I could’ve discovered the item easily. The game ended with Anton winning. Sad times.

Anton and Sofie then left to get the train to Anton’s where Gerrianne would join them. Myrte and I were first going to go to town to try to rescue my camera, and if not to get a replacement. The shop said it would be €65  just to look at the camera, and then more on top to get a new lens if that was causing the ‘zoom error’. So, with that being a ridiculous amount, and with the fact I would be missing a lot if I didn’t have one, I got a shiny new one!  Expect many pictures from now on…

Today was the weekend before Pentecost, which is a holiday in the Netherlands so people have the Monday off work. Hence this is a time for everyone to go on holiday and thus we sat in a massive traffic jam for three hours on what was supposed to be an hour’s journey, plus we had to make a detour to campus to collect Klementina and Linda who had decided to join us for this part of the trip.

Anton’s house was beautiful and the garden vast. We were treated to a BBQ even though we had missed eating with the family, like we were supposed to. We spent the evening in the garden, swinging in the hammocks and sitting by the candlelight.  We said “hi” to the miniature ponies next door and, when we went inside, played with Anton’s very cute bunny. Sofie, Myrte, Anton and Klementina played a game about trading animals that was very long and got very serious, which was quite dull in the end for Gerrianne and I. We then retired to out respective sleeping places.

Saturday

When I arrived downstairs Linda and Klementina were doing work and I was offered a nice breakfast. We then got into a game of DVD Cluedo which was interesting. In this version, you also had to work out what time of day it was and you could do things like ask the butler for a clue and look up a secret message in the rule book. In the end I thought it ran too long and preferred the original.

After the game Linda headed home and we continued onto Gerrianne’s. Here we met her dog Jackie, her chickens and her many cows as she lives on a farm. It reminded me a lot of my Grandma’s house with the sounds and the atmosphere, though she doesn’t have a herd of cows to milk everyday. We were introduced to the family and had some drinks whilst we waited for the public transport people to arrive as they had missed their train.

We stopped on the way for ice-cream and I introduced people to the amazing Wich

We made pancakes for dinner and set up the tent as this is where we would be sleeping tonight.

Jackie Gerriane’s dog


The professional pancake makers


I then sat in the living room as Eurovision was to be starting soon.

I like Eurovision and was looking forward to it coming along all year as I thought it would be fun to watch with other nationalities. However, I have gathered that the Netherlands are into it even less than people in Britain are. I also learned they have boring, optimistic, serious commentators and not funny ones like us. As a nation they also do not take the competition seriously, and have not made the final in the eight years that there has been a semi-final.

Klementina was also not that interested which left me being the only one who thought that it was fun. Myrte and Sofie watched a lot with me, but it was not the same atmosphere as normal, even though I appreciate their effort. I was in fact a little torn as those who weren’t watching Eurovision were doing my other favourite thing sitting around a fire.

For those who are interested the UK entry was as terrible as to be expected (but we didn’t lose, coming second to last to Norway!). My favourites were Sweden, Germany, Iceland and Denmark. Sweden was obviously going to do very well and indeed did win, thankfully beating the grannies of Russia, and Serbia – who I do not remember at all. My lasting favourite, though, is Denmark as I still have their song in my head now – even though they did badly, for some unknown reason, in the results. Politics!

Germany

Iceland

Sweden

Denmark

Sunday

Breakfast was freshly baked rolls with strawberries and spread. After this we then left for church where Gerrianne was to have her confirmation. Attending church – which is something I don’t do – and in another language, is a very interesting experience. Even with some translations from Sofie I didn’t entirely follow what was happening, but Gerrianne enjoyed it which was the main thing. We returned to the house where we were joined by some of Gerrianne’s friends and family. We ate some very nice home-made soup and salad.

We were also in for a treat. One of the cows was giving birth! It was her first calf, and after a few hours she needed to be assisted. This involved quite a scary device that cranked the calf out of the mother. Thankfully it was attached to the calf’s hooves and wasn’t used to crank something else, as others first thought. It looked scary at first, but soon the calf was breathing. It was a boy and so was named after Anton, which we all found amusing.

After this we left Anton and Gerrianne behind, whilst the rest continued to Sofie’s where we would be joined by Christina and Linda. Here we felt very relaxed as we didn’t have to feel so awkward about not speaking Dutch as Sofie’s mum is an English translator, so it was easy. We were treated to Maltesers and ice cream and watched Calendar Girls and Alice, now that the boy of the group was no longer with us. The Alice series was on too late for me (hence I fell asleep) but everyone else enjoyed it and talked about it over breakfast in the morning.

Monday

After breakfast we had a tour by car of Sofie’s beautiful town Apledoorn where we dropped Linda at the station. We then continued to Paleis Het Loo where William III, who was one of the few to conquer England (so people like to tell me a lot) had his summer house, but now the Dutch royal family only occasionally has parties there.

It was very beautiful, though to my eyes was just like another big stately home, or similar building, like at home. The gardens were very impressive and as the sun was shinning all day like it had been for the whole of the week, we happily dipped our feet in the fountain – something that Sofie said she had never seen any of the times she had been there before. We were true trend setters! After this we laid around on the grass admiring the trees around us.

The Paleis closed at 5pm so we headed to the outer grounds to try to find the maze. It was a terrible maze, as you enter there are 4 paths, one leads to a dead-end, two lead in 30 seconds to the centre and the last actually gets you to do the maze. Tina took the last and as a consequence took some short cuts through the hedges to reach the centre. A big disappointment.

Back at Sofie’s house we had the first proper meal of our week (as in the meat potatoes and vegetables kind) and a huge slice of Vienetta.   We were then to take a detour on the way back to campus to the Veluwe. Driving through it was very pretty with lots of thick forest on each side and small roads. We eventually got to the place Sofie wanted, even with a turn into a dead-end in a field. It was 7.5km of sand to the coast with heather growing amongst it. We are told to return there in August where everything will be transformed to purple thanks to the heather. It was truly gorgeous and definitely a secret place to visit that I’m sure many foreigners don’t know about.

This was the end for us as we arrived back at UCU to close with a trip after-party, where we chatted and looked at photos of the trip. It was a great week.

Now to some conclusions I have drawn from this. It might be the houses that I visited here, or it might be the houses that I have visited at home, but Dutch houses are much more modern and families keep them much more organised. Lots of things match, Ikea is a favourite, and open plan is preferred. People are very proud of their homes. Of course they are all of a different style to our own, with big sloping roofs making them look like toy houses. A sentiment that is mutual as Sofie says the same about the houses in England.

A typical Dutch House

And if you are wondering how cheap this cheap holiday is, €40! All-inclusive. Definitely worth it!!

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Stockholm Archipelago – Boating and Sunsets in Sweden

24 Mar

24/03/12

We we’re in for a treat. Jonas’ local bakery had the title of the fourth best bakery in the world! Before we had gone to the supermarket to get some supplies for boating on the Archipelago latter. Here we saw for  real the Swedes ideas about buying alcohol. Supermarkets are only allowed to stock beer up to a maximum of 3.5%! If you want anything stronger then there is only one shop in Sweden, which is state owned,  where you can get it. Luckily cans of Rekorderlig (strawberry and lime flavoured cider) were below 3.5% so I could introduce Klementina later on.

We bought other picnic nibbles and now it was time to go to the bakery. Jonas bought some amazing olive bread, apple bread and croissants. In the shop Jonas told us that Swedes love queuing where I was a little offended about as that’s a British thing! Klementina and I also bought some nice Swedish pastries. We ate the bread with cheese and an amazing jam. It was all delicious.

[Klementina modelling the tasty olive bread]

[Klementina’s pastry]

[My custard pastry]

As normal we were rushing to get the T-bahn to central Stockholm. After this we needed to catch a bus out of the city again to where Tobias lived, the couch surfer who had organised the boating event on the archipelago. We arrived at the destination 30 minutes late after all the other guests had already been picked up and taken to the house. We had to wait for Tobias to come back to the bus stop, but now he had no transport, hence we continued the theme of the trip and hitchhiked from the road. We got a lift fairly soon form Lift 10 – Non-Swedish guy who went to Thailand. Nichola:3 Klementina: 6 Tobias:1. We were surprised to get this lift as Jonas had told us a story where he was hosting some girls who wanted to hitchhike to Norway and back, but no one picked them up for hours and in the end a police car did and took them home.

When we arrived we were amazed by the site that greeted us. Tobias’ house (well not really his as he was an au pair) was amid a forest and sat right on the edge of the archipelago, where you could look across and see all the other islands around you. It was beautiful. Tobias had managed to get quite a group together with couch surfers from Iran (Nona), China (Li Di), Hawaii and three Germans. Tobias himself is English and from Okehampton in Devon (the same county my university is, and my grandpa lives).

Up to this time I was curious what kind of boat we would be using and it turned out to be a rowing boat. We couldn’t all fit inside it and so there was discussions of whether people should just potter around in the boat as they wished or go with the original plan of rowing to an island, even though it would take two trips because of the group size. I tried to steer the decision and whether it worked or not what I wanted happened. Next stop that island over there! However we stayed in the group to go second, hence I ran over to the rocks and started to climb and explore. Klementina came too. Our group decided to walk around the bank to a closer pier to make Tobias’ rowing easier. We took the adventurous climbing route and the Germans took the more conservative one. Klementina said how this was a trait of theirs and they reminded us of Alex from campus.

[Our supermarket beer]

[My favourite picture]

We enjoyed a cheap supermarket beer and awaited Tobias’ return. Soon we were in the boat being rowed across the sea. It was great. Then we were on the island. What to do now? We grabbed another beer and explored of course. We thought no one else was on the island but there turned out to be others in the house there. We chatted and also chatted amongst ourselves too. Also learning more facts;

  • Tobias gets paid €350 a month as an au pair plus he gets somewhere to live and food as well. It sounded like a dream job as he was basically hired because he could speak English i.e. he could teach the children.
  • Chi Tea isn’t Russian, it’s Chinese.
  • The woods nearby contained foxes, hare, deer and – in the north – moose.
  • Not every 18-21 year old goes to uni – this is obvious, but we didn’t consider it as an option when talking to Tobias as he was our age and we were trying to work out how he had managed to live and do so many things that we listed on his couch surfing profile. We are very jealous of his life. We were also jealous of everyone else’s as they were able to travel whilst at uni, unlike at UCU.
  • “Hi” means shark in Swedish so there is a joke that some Swedes are in the sea, but there is a shark in the water and they are shouting “Hi, hi!” to shore, but the people on the shore just wave back!
  • Tobias had a good experience hitchhiking in France, which is in complete contrast to our experience.
  • The guy from Hawaii even more surprisingly was told it was illegal to hitchhike in the Netherlands and didn’t manage to get a lift between Delft and Bonn. Even crazier he was also told he had to sign in with a Dutch police station when he arrived. This might be true in Macedonia, but in the Netherlands? No.
  •  There are no public toilets in Sweden and you have to find a MacDonalds if you want to use one. Well there are, but you don’t want to use them, Tobias used one and found a plucked and skinned goose remains inside!
  •  It’s illegal to drink in public in Sweden, but no one cares. “In Croatia it’s very illegal.”
  • The UK and Sweden share all the same nautical terms because of the Vikings.
  • Klemenetina’s favourite question of the trip “Have you ever been to Bulgaria?”. When she lives in Macedonia and they border each other!
It started to get chilly so we rowed ourselves back to shore. We then all venture into Tobias’ accommodation. It was really cool and like a tree house as you had to climb a ladder to get there. Here he had a special surprise for us as he was hatching chicken in the microwave! They were nearly ready to be born so when you shone a light through the egg you could see the chick inside. Tobias also said how beautiful the sunset was over the archipelago and we could believe that so Klementina, Nona and I decided to stay to watch it. It was so peaceful and nice to sit amongst all the nature and just take it all in. Especially as the next day we knew we’d be returning to UCU to a very hectic work schedule. Here Klementina made my favourite comment “How high up are we?” when we were sitting on a peer 30cm above the sea. I could see why she said this as we were around mountains and so you couldn’t tell it was the sea, it could’ve been a lake.

[Tobias’ home]

Nona was kind enough to offer to show us around Stockholm. On the way to catch the bus Tobias took us past the only Buddist temple in Sweden which was close by. We had excellent timing and caught our connecting buses by stepping off one and the next one arriving straight after. When in the city Nona showed us Gamla Stan (the main street), city hall and we walked along the port. It seemed such a contrast to the countries we’d been in and it felt a little boring. Perhaps this is because everywhere I had been this year was the Balkans and Central Europe so Stockholm just looked like London to me.  Hence not that exciting. Jonas had told us that the Swedish thing to do is to get Fika – which is what you do when “you go for coffee” i.e. have a warm drink and a little pastry. Klementina and I did this but it was insanely expensive. I spent €8 on a hot chocolate and a little cake.

[Klementina, Tobias and I]

[Klementina’s “fika”]

[My fika]

It was late so we thanked Nona, said goodbye and went back to Jonas’ place. Here we decided our plans for tomorrow to wake up early and walk into the city centre to see more of Stockholm and get our bus to the airport at about 11am. Our trip was almost over.

We also decided to watch a movie as Jonas had a home cinema system. He showed us a few Swedish films and we decided on “Let the Right One In”, as I knew my dad had raved about it and Hollywood had also done a remake “Let Them In”, so it must be good. I watched the very beginning but knew I would be falling asleep during and there I stayed till morning.

Zagreb – To Hitch Or Not To Hitch? That Is The Question.

21 Mar

21/03/12

Grostilna 6estica was our destination, the traditional Slovenian restaurant Xena had told us about. It was really cute inside like an indoor garden within a conservatory. Tina got mushroom soup within a bread roll and I got some dumpling soup. It was much nicer than that restaurant we care to forget yesterday. Stomachs full we moved onto the station.

We first checked the bus station, the next bus was on Friday. Not helpful when it was Wednesday. It wasn’t looking good. We tried the train station next door and thankfully there was a train, but it would be leaving in 3 hours time. With a long wait happening whatever we did, we decided to  see if we could hitch a ride from the main road. We walked past a sign saying Zagreb on the way to the station so it couldn’t be impossible.

[The train station]

We walked along the road we believed to be the right direction, but we couldn’t find a petrol station to  start at. We took a turn off the road to see if we could work a car park. No luck, so we walked a few metres further past a bush and there was a petrol station. Yay! We started to get into the routine, me making the sign and Klementina trying to grab them whilst they were filling up. However when I turned round Tina was hugging someone. Tina knows a lot of people, but I though it was unlikely for her to know someone in Ljubljana. I went over to investigate. It was “Lift 7”– the girl who gave us a lift to Ljubljana the first time!! What an insane coincidence. She however confirmed our suspicion that this road was not going towards Zagreb but Austria. We were wasting our time.

Disappointed we sat on the grass outside the petrol station and decided what to do. It was pretty obvious we would walk all the way back to the station and get the train. Our hitchhiking luck had run out. Oh well it was still an adventure.

When we arrived at the station we still had a bit of a wait for the train. We chilled and looked at all the graffiti around us, with Tina commenting that these were real trains because of the art splurged across them.

Arriving at Zagreb we realised we didn’t have any Croatian Kune. We’d have to change some of our euros, however I have a bank card that allows me to withdraw money anywhere in the world with no conversion fee! Plus the exchange rate I get is basically business. It seemed obvious to use this instead as we’d get a better deal. We knew the exchange rate so when confronted with the ATM we selected 2000 Kune at an exchange rate of about 1 EUR to about 7 HRK. If you are good at maths you will see what I just did. The aim was to draw out about 20 euros worth and actually I had drawn out more like 200! What a stupid mistake, especially when I had confirmed with Klementina if the 2000 was correct. What a fool.

[The view from the station]

[Foolish me]

With nothing I could do about it I sat outside the station feeling stupid whilst Klementina found out how to get to our hosts Maja and Andrea’s place. She came back out from the station saying the people inside were the most helpful ever. They had looked at which buses to get and printed out a google map of how to get there. However it was not necessary to get the bus as Maja had text us saying she could collect our stuff and take it back to the apartment if we liked. We waited for a confused face to arrive, and it did, along with another male one. This was Blake a fellow couch-surfer, from Canada, who was also staying at their place. He was to show us around the city a bit, while Maja ran some errands.

[Blake]

Zagreb was much grander and larger than Ljubljana. Unfortunately it was dark when we arrived so the photos aren’t amazing. Blake had been here for a while so new the area but not so much the history. This was fine though and we enjoyed seeing everything.

[We’d previously read this ball was famous, we don’t know why]

[Street market]

[Kaptol – Zagreb’s cathedral]

[Here’s a better picture – not by me (shh!)]

We were hungry, but apparently there aren’t that many good eateries in Zagreb, especially when you’re after traditional food. Blake led us to a place he had been before where we had some Croatian beer. Klementina ate some pasta and Blake and I had some Strukli. It was a bit weird, it was pasta with filling inside and something on top with the texture of sugar, but not sweet. It was good, however there wasn’t very much of it. I finished off Klementina’s pasta.

[Strukli]

We learned a lot about Blake, he had been teaching English in the Czech Republic to gain some money before this. He was now trying to get to Greece, as he was supposed to have left the Schengen area. However with all the economic riots and things going on in Greece this was appearing tricky. Klementina could help with this though, telling him there was a definite bus or train from Belgrade into Greece. She also said there was a bus from Skopje too. He didn’t know where this was. He was aiming to get to a city near the Greek border to which Klementina enquired about all of them. After much discussion, “Ahh Skopje, that was it!”. Fool.

Blake was also a psychology major which gave us something to talk about later. Klementina also learned that psi (Ψ) is shorthand for psychology as Blake had a tattoo of it on his hand. Blake and I were also joined as he had a ring of St. Christopher and I a necklace, meaning we would be safe on our travels, but we couldn’t say the same for Klementina. This was almost true when Klementina nearly got run over by a tram.

[St. Christopher]

Afterwards Maja came to collect us and we picked up some beer on the way. That evening we chatted on the balcony and came to the beautiful conclusion that cognitive neuroscience and cognitive psychology are exactly the same thing. Which I was very happy about. The evening came to a disappointing end for me as Klementina left for bed and Blake wanted to watch an ice hockey match online, which was not fun for me. Basically alone I also went to bed.

[Blake being boring and watching his Canadian sport..]

Ljubljana – How do you get there with no bus or train?

20 Mar

20/03/12

After waking up at 5.30am we get the 7am train to Trieste. However after this our plans for getting to Ljubljana stop. Hopefully there will be a bus into Slovenia from Trieste as it’s on the border but then again we thought there would be  a train between Venice and the closest capital city, Ljubljana too…

Tina snacks on some carrots and we take a little kip before we get to Trieste. On arrival we first go to the train information, who tells us that we would have to go back to where we came from AND change trains 3 times, taking 5 hours before we would get into Slovenia. It was extra silly as the station that would take us to Slovenia was only 14km away. It would make more sense for us to get a bus to that town, Sezana, and then the train from there. “The bus station is over there”.

[Trieste Station]

We check maps and ask prices for a bus to Sezena and Ljubljana. We decide to chance Sezena as this bus left before Ljubljana, but the Sezana bus was still 2 hours away. We kill time by trying to find the beach as it looked so beautiful on the way in. Unfortunately where we walked was more like a harbour than a beach, but we still enjoyed the sea.

Around the sea were some cars and so I suggested we should look at their plates to see if any were Slovenian or going in that direction. Most were obviously Italian. We first saw a guy exit his car and Tina asked if he was going to Slovenia, he was but he was also waiting in Trieste for his wife so he would also be a few hours. We thank him and walk along the car park some more. We see some more Slovenian plates and a lady inside the car pulling away. Tina knocks on the window and success! She lives in Nova Gorica but can drop us off at Gorizia on a road to Ljubljana. We jump in and forgive ourselves the €2.70 we lost on a bus ticket. Lift 9 –  Slovenian Business Lady. Nichola: 3 Tina:6. She tells us how she also went on exchange to Florida when she was at university. She loved it there, though as she was foreign she missed out on a lot of scholarships offered in her classes. I don’t think anyone ever regrets a year abroad.

We get dropped off at a petrol station – we’ve been here before, our hitchhiking tale was not over in Venice. Tina takes the pumps and I take the sign to wave passers-by in. True to Venice form in no time a truck pulls over and says he can take us. I call Tina over and off we go. Nichola:4 Tina:6. Lift 10 – Bosnian Truck Driver. We are quite excited by this lift as we didn’t manage to get a truck on the way to Venice, plus we had wanted to visit Bosnia afterwards but couldn’t due to time. He couldn’t speak English so Tina chatted to him. He explained the mystery to us about the Vignette. They have these things stuck on the windscreen that open the barrier and take money out of your account automatically when you go through. As a truck driver he has several, one for each country.

We must also visit “Postojnska jama” the caves we had seen on the way to Ljubljana the first time. He and Tina told me how in Yugoslavia there were many school trips to go see these beautiful things. Another thing he told us was that the road we were taking is often closed as it is a point where two air currents meet causing very strong winds that can even knock trucks off the road. It sounded very dangerous.

He dropped us off at Rudnik which is a big industrial estate outside Ljubljana. Here we decide to buy lunch and in so doing enter the biggest supermarket I have ever seen! It blew my mind and was not something I was expecting from little Slovenia. Among other things they had about 4 isles of cake and even more impressively it was full of different types of cake and not just the same type filling a whole section (Tesco!). All this cake meant we had to buy some so we ate it in the car park and texted Xena (our couch surfer) our location. We were only a bus ride away.

Here we learn Ljubljana buses are not our forte as we try to get on the first that comes but they say we need a special card, can’t use money and drives away. We then buy this card and wait for the next bus, however when we scan it a red light says were not allowed on. Luckily we bargain with the bus driver and he lets us get on without us having to wait for a third bus. We make it to the Filoza and meet Xena in the university where she is working at bar K16 there. We also meet her friend Natasha who shows us around the city.

We are blown away by Slovenia and Ljubljana. It is absolutely stunning. The scenery is gorgeous and Ljubljana has this small town feel not that it is the state capital of a country. Natasha studied architecture (along side many of her other talents, studying Japanese, skateboarding, break dancing, belly dancing, playing violin, drums, recording with her band, though she hurt her foot so they had to wait a while for that. She was generally crazy but truly inspiring with what she has done with her life considering she was our age) so she tells us about all the beautiful Baroque buildings and other history of the city including;

Joze Plocnik is a famous architect who designed many of the buildings in Ljubljana such as Ursulinska cerkev.

France Preseren was a composer and was in love with a girl Julija who was to become the unfulfilled love of his life as it would never become mutual. There is a statue of him in the city which faces a window where Julija used to live. A small statue of her is also there.

[Peresen]

The dragon is the national symbol of Ljubljana and is on their national coat of arms.

[Dragon Bridge]

[The castle reminds me a bit of Edinburgh castle]

Natasha then left us as she had to get to her Japanese class. Tina and I sat in the park and then returned to Xena’s flat to see if she had ideas for dinner, but she wasn’t there. In the end we asked her house mate for ideas, although we couldn’t find what she described. Our search for Slovenian food ended disastrously as we sat in a restaurant that said it served Goulash outside, however this was only at lunch time.  He gave us the menu and we ordered. Later we realised it was the same menu as the fast food place two doors down. We decided to not speak of this again and got some ice cream for pudding in another place.

We returned to Xena’s apartment and thankfully she was there this time. We chatted to her and she explained how that weekend was very important as there was a referendum being held in the country to allow gay marriages. Xena was at the front of the campaign in support of marriages and Tina and I agreed this was very cool.

We tried to look up trains and buses to Zagreb, but again it was ludicrous that there wasn’t more travel options. We decided to get up and have an early lunch the next day at a proper Slovenian place Xena had recommended to us. We’d then walk to the station and see what was going on. After we chatted some more, but I was falling asleep on the couch and Xena had to get up early the next day for work. We organised our sleeping quarters in Xena’s living room and slept. Tomorrow Zagreb, Croatia!

Utrecht to Venice? 16 hours? Hitchhiking? No problem.

17 Mar

I have been snowed under with crazy amounts of work so this is why there’s been nothing for a month, but hopefully this will keep you all satisfied with Tina and my grand hitchhiking spring break!

17/03/2012

9am and similar to the last hitchhike (http://sansebastianhitchhike.wordpress.com/) I had to wake Klementina as we had to go buy all our snacks from town. Before we’d both had a busy midterms and so had no time to prepare anything. But it was ok we were professionals now.

However the 10am plan to leave for town as usual went out the window as Tina still had two laundries to do as well as email people and pack! At least I had done that.

10.30 am and with Tina having put a load of laundry on we were in town grabbing some sandwiches for lunch. It was open day on campus which means we got a packed lunch rather than the usual brunch. Thus we decided to have lunch in town and take brunch with us for dinner. Genius.

Whilst cycling around we were very happy to see the first emerging daffodils and other flowers. Spring was on its way and we were very glad of it too. We did the usual UCU thing of breaking unspoken language barriers and discussed the English names for flowers, snow drop (Tina’s favourite), daisy, bluebells and daffodils (with the extra fun factoid of being the national flower of Wales – so international!)

We got some things in Hema and I had to go to the V&D to get some super cool sunglasses that I had wanted to get for the prom but then they were an impulse buy and now, as I’d been thinking about them since then, it wasn’t. They will feature heavily in the upcoming photos. Realising we might miss the end of brunch, which dinning hall are insanely mean about if you do i.e. no food for you if you’re one minute late, we had to rush through Albert Heijn. We made it. Dinning hall guy locking the door when it was time to close so you couldn’t get in even if you wanted too. Meanies.

At 1pm, departure time, we were all ready to go. No. Obviously not. Tina still had lots to do so we met for the group photo and got our destination, but unfortunately it would be 2pm before we left. Our chances were high as we set off on the hitchhiking competition an hour behind everyone else…

Our plan was to go to Bunnik and walk to a service station on the A12 near there towards Koln. This was an adventure in itself as I had no idea where this place was and only information from google maps and hitckwiki to go on. It was especially difficult when the bus driver gets confused when you ask him if he was going near a petrol station. Luckily a kind lady on the bus understood we were planning to hitchhike and told the bus driver where to drop us and how to get to the highway. It was a bit of a trek but we eventually made it to the Texaco petrol station. We had to cross a train track on the way which was a little dangerous but we survived. Now to start the hitchhike. We prepared ourselves and approached the first car.

Tina did most of the talking and then suggested I should have a go too. “Hi, are you..”, I started to say. “We’re going to Arnhem, do you want to come?” he said. A little stunned by not having to negotiate, I said of course and called Tina over. Lifts secured Nichola: 1 Tina:0. Lift 1 – 3 Dutch Guys, Shooters (as Tina put them in our book, but I think they’d prefer to be cameramen). They were really cool and were filming an advert for some Dutch construction company. It was in the style of kids say the darndest things which sounds really fun to film. We gave them the website for this so hopefully they will read this sometime – hey guys, thanks for lift, read on to see how we did ;). They dropped us outside Arnhem and on a road towards Germany. Confusing the sign to Koln also pointed to Utrecht, but this was because there was a roundabout ahead.

There were fewer people at this station, but we had the advantage of knowing which cars were German by their license plates. We decided to split, me with the Koln sign out by the road and Tina talking to the people who stopped. It didn’t take that long, probably 15 minutes. Tina called me over. She had found Lift 2 – German old couple who could take us to Koln. Nichola: 1 Tina: 1.

Here Tina decided to prove her excellent German skills she was raving about when we went to San Sebastian. Unfortunately her Spanish on the French/ Spain border was better. We weren’t that skilled at German and even couldn’t remember useful words like petrol station, as learning from previous mistakes, people have to drop you off at one before the town you’re getting to. After a fumble of language exchange we had been told Tankstelle and our message was clear.

[Our lovely German driver]

Ariving we were in for a surprise. A fellow UCUer who told us the grand news that this was a terrible petrol station and people had been stuck here before us for all of 30 minutes! Tina and I realised he was new to this – 30 minutes is nothing – you should try 6 hours whilst having to try and sleep in the freezing cold on a roundabout while you are only 10km from your destination, that is “stuck”!  We weren’t pessimistic though. The UCUer had already secured their lift and so it was just us and the station. I asked someone if they’re going to Frankfurt? No. I saw a guy who looked a bit dodgy, but I thought I would ask anyway as he’d probably say No. Oh dear, he’s not saying no. But he’s not saying yes either? What is he saying? I eventually say its okay as I am understanding he can take us, I just don’t understand the finer details. I call Tina over. Are we really going with this guy? Apparently we are. We get in the car and he comes back with two drinks for us. Are they poison? We say “thank you” and start to talk map to him. Map is an international language everyone understands. He says he is going to Limburg which is a city between Koln and Frankfurt. That’s fine and we set off. Lift 3 – Rap Loving Nice Guy, Nichola:2 Tina:1. 

[After this I was told not to take any more sneaky pictures of drivers as I could tell he was a bit annoyed]

He does love the rap, and he also loves to drive a bit fast, but we are not fussed. We’re a little concerned about the juice, but when we see him drink his we are reassured and it’s good. I feel bad for thinking he was dodgy, but Tina enlightens me she thought similar so I don’t feel so bad. We get to Limburg and start trying to find our next lift to Frankfurt. We are happy as we know we are not an hour behind everyone anymore. We’re doing well. We ask a few people going into the shop, then Tina approaches some guys in broken German: “Entchuldigung, fahren sie vieleicht nach Frankfurt?”. They look confused and say something to each other in not-German. Tina perks up and switches languages. Turns out they said they didn’t speak German in Bosnian, but now they understand her. She persuades them with her Balkan charm to take us to Frankfurt. Lift 4 – epic Bosnian Guys. Nichola: 2 Tina:2.

Unfortunately I am not blessed with a Slavic tongue so do not follow what was being said, but I did know we were progressing well through Germany.  Tina talked to them and learned they were working in Germany and were now headed to Frankfurt to have fun on their day-off. They knew lots of people driving home to Bosnia for the weekend who could easily drop us off in Innsbruck – unfotunately they had all gone on Friday and not Saturday. Ah well, Frankfurt is not bad wither. We get out at Frankfurt and survey the area. I consider using the toilet when another surprise happens. The people who left before us at Koln were just arriving. We’re awesome. “How long have you been here?”. “5 minutes” we reply. We ask them where they were heading. Munich they say. We were heading to Wurzburg. I ask a lady filling up her car. She speaks to me in English, yay we can converse. She says she’s going that way but is not sure if it’s good for us so Tina brings over the map. They chat for a while. “Shall I ask these other people?” I ask Tina. There’s no reply so I go for it anyway. “Entschuldigung, fahren Sie nach Wurzburg?”, “Ja”. “Tina she’s going to Wurzburg!”. We thank the other lady and say our commiseration to the others. “It’s fine”, they say, “we have a better chance when you’re gone”.

We hit the road with Lift 5 – German Lady (we’re not very creative with names as we couldn’t talk to them to gain any other information..). Nichola: 3 Tina:2. We have the Tankstelle conversation, but then we see that it’s only 8pm and her sat nav is saying 11pm. Wurzburg isn’t that far away. Where is she going? I recognize that the hanging doll in her car looks like what my grandma brought me from Austria – hey, she might even be going to Insbruck! We ask. “Munich”. A light bulb flashes above my head. I went to Munich on a trip round Lichtenstein and we came from Innsbruck, Austria, so it’s not that far between the two. We see the map and Tina gets the same brain wave too. “Can we go with you?”, “Ja”. Amazing. We feel a little bad as this is the exact lift the other team needed and they could have got it so easily as we we’re talking to the other lady. But it’s their loss. I try to have a little sleep, though we have been progressing at such speed through Germany that we have hardly had time to eat or go to the toilet. Part way through Tina asks if we can stop for the toilet. “5km” she says. Tina is in doubt: Did she say fünf (5), fünfzehn (15) or fünfzig (50). She sincerely hopes for the first. Turns out she actually said 50km so when we got to the McCafe Tina was bursting. We were very grateful for this stop and ate our pack lunch sandwiches as we set off again. Munchen bound.

During this time we receive the text from TripCo giving our current positions. We are winning!! We were gobsmacked, how could we be winning?! We looked at the map and saw the others must be at Nuremberg. We are quite ahead. We celebrate, but we are remain focused and with our eyes on the game keep driving along the A3.

At Munchen we are now on the lookout for Austrian plates on the way to Innsbruck. We ask a few cars and Tina asks a blonde girl. She is going in that direction, but not to Austria, but can take us to a better petrol station leading to Austria, we are happy with this and make the short trip round the Munchen ring road. Lift 6 – Blonde, Cute German Girl. Nichola:3 Tina:3. Tina comments that German girls are definitely cool. Here, this was our second woman giving us a ride – in France, we were so hardly picked up by men, let alone women.

It is now quite late, around midnight, and we consider that this petrol station will be the one we’ll be sleeping at this evening. We eat a few snacks and check out the place. It’s quite big with some petrol pumps and then a car and lorry park to the side. There isn’t much incoming traffic so I decide to go see if any of the trucks could take us. I also saw a car with Dutch plates go over there, so I go after them, but they drive away too quickly. I ask a truck driver coming back from the cafe if he can take us. “Sorry Pause” he says. So no trucks for us then, we really are going to be sleeping here.

I go back and tell Tina the bad news. We are still trying though and Tina asks a few more cars. She calls me over, very excited. “Oh my God, guess where she’s going?”, “Innsbruck?”, “Ljubljana!” . This is ironic as this is where we plan to go in Slovenia after Venice. “Is it on the way?” “She can drop us off here” (Tina points to the map, we follow her finger from Ljubljana to Venice, doesn’t look that long.), “Looks good, let’s go!”.

Lift7 – Slovenian Girl. Nichola: 3 Tina:4. They speak in English to start but eventually switch to er? One of the Balkan languages? I decided to spend most of my trip sleeping in the back, so it didn’t matter. She has had a meeting in Munchen and is now driving back home. What a journey to take, especially when she won’t be arriving back till the early hours. For this we are a little glad as we won’t be sleeping outside for this time. They talk. I sleep. Tina learned that they’re lots of amazing places in Slovenia that need to be seen. They discussed how the euro-crisis is felt in Slovenia, why doesn’t Slovenia share the same Balkan mentality as the other ex-Yugoslavian countries and so on. Eventually Tina got sleepy too, but she felt bad to fall asleep while the woman needed the conversation to keep her awake driving in the middle of the night. I am told we’ve just gone through a really long tunnel which had the border in the middle. It was really cool, apparently. I missed it. But we were in Slovenia! So amazing! We never thought we’d be anywhere close to our destination at this time. We were very happy. Near the cross roads where we stop for coffee – poor girl she needed a lot on this journey – and Tina says there is a better junction just outside Ljubljana and on the map it is the direct road to Venice. Looked good to me. Tina makes arrangements and we get another hour of not sleeping outside. The woman decides to drive for us a bit further north of Ljubljana just so that she can drop us off at a petrol station exactly at the motorway for Italy.

We arrive and get out, it was surprisingly warm, we’d be happy to sleep here a few hours till the more likely being picked up time of 6am. But there are some cars here ANDone of them has Italian plates! Our victim, an unsuspecting, chubby Italian is filling his car with gas. While still thanking the Slovenian woman, still dizzy from the trip, we slowly approach him from the side. We ask, “Skuzi, Venzia?”, “Si”, he signals to the car. Unbelievable! We hug. Its 5am. We don’t have to sleep outside this night. We have our final ride to Venice. We will be there in an hour. It had all gone so well. Lift 8 – Italian Guy. Nichola: 3 Tina: 5. (I thought she only won by one, but turns out to be two!). We are excited we enjoy the ride, I sleep and we watch the sun rising. We get into Venice at 6am. The saying of the trip “If we had organized lifts ourselves, it wouldn’t have gone that smoothly”. Average speed of the trip 90.5km/h (56mph). 16 hours.

But it wasn’t over yet we had to get to the hostel, the official end of the competition. We had to get a boat there from San Marco Square. We just had to find San Marco. We asked the driver and he pointed us in the direction. Unfortunately Venice is a lot bigger than I remember from the school trip I went on. So many streets, are we going the right way? It can’t be that far. Do I recognise anything? No. We ask a nun. She says to take a boat taxi. The guy there says its €6.50 to get to San Marco and we are better off walking there. We go back to where we asked the nun and see a sign for San Marco Square. We follow these for what seems like forever. Venice is a place you definitely need a local or a map for. We eventually get there very hot and sweaty. We don’t like San Marco.

We find the boats and are confused by which to get and how to buy a ticket. We try to ask an old lady. Language barrier. We just decide to wait. A boat arrives and we get on. €6.50 for two stops, a 10 minute journey, a rip-off. We have to go though. An hour after we arrive in Venzia we are at the hostel, 7am. Is there anyone else here? Any UCUers? There isn’t. We’ve WON!!!!

We have an awkward conversation with the receptionist where we say we don’t want to pay yet and wait for the others. We actually plan to couch surf as the place is €20 a night, although we don’t have a host yet. We collapse on a table. We discuss our epic adventure. We cannot believe what just happened. Everyone around us is eating breakfast. I pull out a salad and Tina with only one hours sleep the whole journey (her plan to sleep in cars failed) has a nap on the table. We await the others. We send our morning text and wait for the reply. At 11am we receive where the others are. The next team is 126 km away. We work this out to be Verona. Not that far.

The next team doesn’t arrive till 3pm.

[Our route]

UCU Hitchhike Competition Champions Spring 2012 – Nichola and Klementina. Spongebob 2.0.

But this isn’t the end. This part of the break wasn’t very exciting, though I appear to have made a good story out of it. More is in store.

EXPLORING VENICE. MORE HITCHHIKING.SLOVENIA. CROATIA. SERBIA. SWEDEN. Coming soon..

[A taster]

UCU Proms in the Castle

5 Mar

Five weeks in, where does the time go?

Last week was very hectic with two tests, a presentation and an assignment. It’s busier than my midterm week! At least we had Prom at the weekend to make up for it.

Prom at UCU is an annual event where the people of UC actually put an effort in when planning a night out. Usually at the bar it is OK to go in the same clothes that you went to class, no one minds. Whilst this is refreshing from the having-to-change-to-your-evening-clothes mentality when heading out in Exeter, it’s nice to dress up sometimes. However this did mean that I was a little disappointed when I saw what others had chosen to wear. Prom has a certain style of dress, the kind you can only wear to a fancy event. These were the kind I was expecting. Yet I guess as UCUers don’t get to wear going out dresses to the bar they wear them to Prom instead. Essentially I felt a lot more shiny than others.

However everyone still looked good and it was exciting to get outside the bubble together. Unfortunately we were not the entire friendship group we would have like to have been. Most of the Dutchies (not including Linda, Myrte you’re awesome (; ) had decided not to go. For these kind of uni events I have the mentality that you should always go to them as if you don’t go you’ll just consider what it would’ve been like if you did and if you do go and it’s not good at least you experienced it and will know what it was like – in essence there is a smaller risk of regret in going than not. I hypothesized it had something to do with the much stronger home life they have as in their mind they see us uni people all the time. When really this isn’t the case and when we are a group it is often only in Dinning Hall and at these times we are thinking of other things “Oh no I have class in an hour”, “I have so much reading to do”, “I’m so tired” etc. Not time just going out and having fun, plus this will be the only UCU Prom I can go to so I am sad that now I will never go with everyone.

The theme of Prom was “Once Upon A Time”, but in typical UCU style I did not see any of this reflected in what people had chosen to wear or inside the venue. The venue did appear to fit the theme as it was in a castle, however when we arrived all we could see around us was houses and it turned out to just be in the middle of a housing estate. It was not very castle-like and actually more like a big house. We entered anyway and made our way to the dance floor. The rest of the evening consisted of toing and froing from the bar to the dance floor. We we’re interrupted a few times for the announcements of Prom Kings and Queens, which is to be expected from an Americanised system such as that of UCU. I am not really a fan of this Prom King and Queen stuff. 1. because it dented the atmosphere every time there was an announcement and 2. you had to give your vote in before the Prom, hence it was nothing but a pure popularity contest.

The waltz came on latter which for me detracted a bit too as I remained partner-less. I was hot though so I tried to go outside to cool down, but ridiculously we were being forcibly trapped there. You were not allowed out unless you pleaded with the guy on the door to go get something from your coat at which point you had to return immediately anyway. This was the most ridiculous thing of the prom.

I realise in this I am being quite negative, but that is not what I thought of Prom. It was a fun night out it was just not what you imagine a Prom to be like. It was a good party.

I have concluded since that I am not that big a fan of Prom, I enjoy the pre-Prom part but when actually there I am a little disappointed. I think I will stick to the more creative ones at Exeter such as the Adventure Ball (It is held in a children’s soft play area!).

I also had company in my room for one night this week, “named” Figaro.

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