A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: Hodgeontour


Pamplona, Spain

sunny 30 °C
View 2014 European Busabout Adventure on Hodgeontour's travel map.

After leaving Madrid, I anticipated a lengthy hangover, however; this was not to be of the self-inflicted variety (little did I know that the self inflicted variety would come at the end...). The previous two weeks had been spent in three amazing cities Barcelona, Valencia and most of all Madrid. The next place on the itinerary we were repeatedly told was merely included on the Busabout itinerary due to the San Fermin festival, more commonly known as the running of the bulls. Always looking for positives, we thought it may be a nice chance to experience a small Spanish community and staying with a local couple ensured that we would achieve that.

Pamplona was the first Basque Country stop which we would encounter before moving onto San Sebastián and Biarritz. The Basque, like Barcelona and the Catalonians, speak their own language and share a belief that they should be independent of Spain and France respectively. The only problem is that their claims for independence are somewhat redundant considering that 3 out of 7 Basque provinces (all located in France) speak French and don't utilise the Basque flag. Furthermore, of the Spanish majority, only 30-40% speak Basque. I really can't blame them to be honest, after seeing the language there's far too many k's and x's for my liking.

After getting off the bus earlier than anticipated, it was decided that a beer (or cerveza) would be a good way to start the day. Armed with an artillery of three Basque words to help ease the transition, we cautiously approached a waiter and said Kaixo (pronounced ky-cho and meaning hello). The man smiled and said "Español? Italiano? Francais? English?" Excited that the first person we spoke to knew English, we smiled, nodded and said "English". Our hopes were instantly shattered as he blatantly shook his head and said "No." Awkward silence and feverish pointing was henceforth our Basque-English alternative.

We went to our Airbnb located central to the city of Pamplona and pressed the 3rd floor buzzer. Once again substituting Kaixo for the Spanish 'hola', we were greeted with more awkwardness when it was confirmed that pretty much no one here spoke Basque. Our hosts were born in other countries (Poland and the UK) and despite one of them living in Pamplona his whole life, he never learnt any Basque. The decision was made to bin the language and use the basic Spanish which we had gained in the previous weeks.

Now, language aside, Pamplona is a genuinely beautiful city. Centrally located is a large square, adorned with cafes, restaurants and hoards of locals sitting around drinking and playing with kids. Signs everywhere point you toward the route used during the San Fermin festival toward the huge bullring on the outskirts of the city. Pamplona is also famous because of Ernest Hemingway. A favourite spot of the famous author, streets, cafes and souvenirs are dedicated to him in great abundance.

Pintxos. If there's one reason you decide to visit Basque Country and/or Pamplona, it's Pintxos. Spanish style tapas had become a way of life for us in Madrid but pintxos took it to a new level. Picture more elaborate tapas, on bread and served hot. On our final night in Pamplona, our hosts decided they needed dinner at 11pm and despite having already eaten a full dinner at a normal time, we agreed to join them on a Pintxos crawl. Rookie error. The Spanish like to eat late and they like to eat a variety of things (hence the notion of tapas/pintxos). They also like to drink. We joined John and Claudia for a drink and pintxos at the first bar only to stay for 10mins. We then learnt that the rest of the night would consist of three steps - 1) move along to the next bar, 2) order a drink and pintxos, 3) repeat. It was no wonder that within two hours we were outrageously drunk, doing tequila shots in a gay bar. You really wouldn't have known it was a gay bar though - only every single wall was plastered with naked men boasting large packages. Nevertheless, we finished off our time in Pamplona with a bang and glad that we went against the advice of others to stay a while in this beautiful little city.

Posted by Hodgeontour 07:27 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Milan, with a chance of bedbugs

Milan, Italy

View 2014 European Busabout Adventure on Hodgeontour's travel map.

Milan is the fashion capital of the world. It's the sort of place where you imagine the Beckhams, Miranda Kerr etc rubbing shoulders with other high profile 'fashionistas' at the launch of the new Gucci range or something like that. Our bus drove down an adjoining street laden with sex workers before leaving us at a youth hostel on the edge of town. Brilliant. The check-in was relatively seamless, the highlight being examining old photos of the hostel whilst we were lining up. Yep, we were about to stay in a former psychiatric hospital. Double brilliant. It was less than desirable, however; it was only for two nights, how bad could it be?

Although the check-in went quickly, we still had to wait a few hours for our room. The hostel rooms were inaccessible between 10am and 3pm for cleaning. When we finally retired to our room both travel weary and excited at the prospect of a private room after a week of dorms, we were greeted with inspiration. I am not referring to the inspiration drawn from the dull and lifeless colours of a former psychiatric hospital, but the inspiration to change careers and become a cleaner. No, but I'm being serious here, how good would it be to get 5hrs pay to do absolutely nothing? The sheets were dirty, raising concerns of bed bugs (we somehow emerged unscathed), the room was full of mosquitoes (actually the entire hostel was) and a broken door handle laid haphazardly on the floor. I know what you're thinking... this is where you will stay when you visit Milan! But wait.... There's more! The aforementioned door handle belonged to a door which led out to a wrap-around balcony of the entire hostel. There were no barriers between each room which meant that not only could you walk around and see inside everyone's rooms, but with ours, people could enter from the outside and we were unable to lock it. To add to our heightened sense of privacy and security (the main reason we upgraded to the private room), the little square window in every single door of the former mental institution meant that at all times, we could be seen from the hallway.

I sincerely apologise for the sardonic nature of the previous paragraph, it really wasn't that bad once we laid on our beds in which the springs constantly creaked and were eaten alive by mosquitoes.

Now I must digress from my tangent about the 'Hilton Hotel' (my apologies, this place bought out the sarcastic worst in me). Milan, fashion capital of the world. The central streets of the city made you feel ill at the glance of a price tag. Every big gun in the world of fashion, watches, jewellery etc had a boutique on each of these streets. The modernised nature of the city gives it a more hustle and bustle business district feel in comparison to other European cities we have visited. There was something quite pleasant about it though, unable to escape the grasps of Italian history with monuments scattered throughout and of course, the compulsory duomo. This duomo put its Orvieto, Siena and Florence counterparts to shame, boasting gothic architecture at its finest. We spent both evenings in Milan devouring our final Italian gelatos and marvelling at the epic nature of the building.

Our final sight in Milan was the San Siro Stadium, home of AC Milan and Inter Milan. Prior to the trip, this was one of my 'big 4' stadiums which I wanted to visited. It didn't disappoint. The road toward the stadium was long and bordered on one side by a large cement wall. The street art along here reflected passion for football and horse racing which is also nearby. We arrived early and were second in line when the gentleman in front of us only had large notes and wasn't able to pay for he and his son to get in because they had no change. We chipped in €1 so that the woman didn't have to worry about coins. She then thanked us for our generosity and said she'd 'make a scam' for us, allowing us to pass through with heavily discounted tickets for children under 5. Winner winner chicken dinner! The stadium tour and museum were well worth it, ticking off another thing off my sporting bucket list.

Overall, don't let this blog discourage you from visiting Milan. It has it's own distinct charm which separates it from other concrete jungles around the world. It's a place you could probably lead a 'Melbourne lifestyle' and if we had time to further get under the skin of this global city then I am sure it would have been worth while.

All in a days work for a backpacker in Europe!

Posted by Hodgeontour 09:26 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The Cinque Terre

La Spezia & Cinque Terre, Italy

sunny 30 °C
View 2014 European Busabout Adventure on Hodgeontour's travel map.

Cinque Terre-iffic.

Okay so here's how this works for those of you who are playing along at home. First, I'll begin by telling you about picturesque mountains and greenery stretching for miles with mountainside vineyards, then I'll tell you about gorgeous oceans, sheer cliff faces and bizarre rock formations and last but certainly not least, an entire rainbow colour spectrum depicted by old and slightly decrepit houses. Picture these things separately. Immense beauty, nature and the work of human at its intriguing best. Now combine all these elements into one town. Impressed? Yeah, me too, but I am still not finished. Multiply it by five and now I can present to you the Cinque Terre - Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso. Grab a pen and paper ladies and gentlemen because this should be near the top of your list of places to see before you die.

It is with great pride that, thus far, Georgia and I can honestly say that we have truly experienced each place. At each stop of our journey we have spoken to locals and eaten the region's traditional cuisines along with seeing the tourist 'to-dos'. The Cinque Terre would be no different. As the Busabout coach rolled into La Spezia (10mins away from the first of the 5 terres), I began to think about our impending encounter with Fausto, an Italian man whose apartment would serve as our home for 4 nights. We knew minimal information about Fausto except that his English was virtually non-existent and that he would be the one at the train station wearing a hat. You can imagine how flustered we were arriving at the train station late after being held up with only that minuscule shred of information, however; somehow we rendezvoused as planned in front of a tourist-flooded McDonalds. He was able to use his limited vocabulary of English numbers to point and give us precise walking times to various places along the 14 minute walk to his house. Upon arrival, we were pleasantly surprised with a bottle of Veuve Champagne, a gift from Jo and Crossy for Georgia's birthday the following day. Thanks guys!

After the lofty heights of our Florentine experiences, the Cinque Terre was always going to be met with a small hint of sadness. Our adventures through Tuscany had been paramount to our Italian experience but a split-second glimpse of the ocean and cliffs from the train as it travelled through a tunnel was enough to make us desperate for more. We stopped in the fourth town of Vernazza before completing a seaside mountain hike to Corniglia, the only one of the Cinque Terre to not be situated directly on the sea, but rather a high cliff. This hike was made difficult by a flash storm which meant we climb through torrents of water rather than well-worn paths but the view rendered wet socks and chafing irrelevant.

Earlier on the first day we had arranged to be 'Voluntourists' - an excellent idea pioneered by Busabout in conjunction with Save Vernazza after the landslide disasters a few years ago. Every four days a group of busabout 'voluntourists' make a €25 donation and complete several hours of labour for locals who are still trying to recover from the devastation. To put things in perspective: each Cinque Terre is linked by water and train, there is no direct route for cars, however; it is possible for them to get into the main centres. Furthermore, locals live in the hills and mostly live off what their gardens yield. We were to be helping with tasks such as building fences, digging trenches, fixing homes etc. - whatever was required. Unfortunately when we arose the following morning, a night of steady rain meant that it was cancelled when we arrived. The English speaking guide said regrettably that the rainfall overnight was similar to the weather which caused the devastation years prior. It was a shame that we couldn't contribute to the cause, however; we made several new friends and we now had an entire day to celebrate Georgia's birthday.

The plan was as follows: go home, nap a little (or in my case, a lot), get the train back in, have a wander and have a great feed for Georgia's birthday. Suffice to say, it didn't go to plan. The Cinque Terre region has a series of wineries which make small amounts of commercial wine in addition to what they live off. The two couples which we met earlier in the day suggested that we go to the end town and go on a winery crawl back home. Brilliant. This was the classic example of a "it will be fun they said, you'll be fine on your five hour boat cruise tomorrow they said..." Kind of moment. On a day where nothing went to plan, I can now reveal that we never made it to a winery. First it was some cheap wine at a bar, then it was piña coladas on the beach but it finished with drinking wine out of plastic cups and watching the sun go down in Manarola. It wasn't how we had planned but most importantly the birthday girl had a great time... until the following morning.

Upon waking up and examining the contents of my pockets, I wasn't sure if I was seeing double or whether there really was six wine corks in my pocket. Closer examination revealed the latter and it certainly didn't bode well for our scenic boat tour in a few hours time. Seedy. Very, very seedy. We were glad to board Angelo's Boat Tour and see several others who possessed similar characteristics of being a bit 'under the weather'. We soon worked out that three people on the boat had shared birthdays the previous day and we set off on a leisurely cruise along the magnificent coast line of the Cinque Terre. The picture I painted earlier with the amalgamation of exquisite features was amplified from the water. It defies logic, it blows your mind. If we hadn't have done the cruise, we may never have known but you never truly see a place like this until you see it from the water. Wow. A seafood banquet, some champagne, limoncello and a relaxing swim in the warm deep waters capped off a brilliant day, despite several mouth-vomits and mild seasickness.

Our final day was spent hiking from Monterosso to Vernazza. I chose this hike because we were both feeling the effects of a hectic few weeks, remnants of glandular fever and other self-induced misery. I chose this hike because it was the 'lovers hike' a scenic, relaxing hike with relatively no hills. I assure you now, that was my intention. Five trillion steps, and three mountains later we arrived in Vernazza. Reading topographical hiking maps obviously isn't my strong suit, however; the pictures we took may be the best of the entire trip. It rang true in my ears that nothing worth seeing in life is easy, but no one could ever argue that it wasn't worth it.

Posted by Hodgeontour 13:14 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

The Fun Sports Stuff

Munich, Germany

all seasons in one day 21 °C
View 2014 European Busabout Adventure on Hodgeontour's travel map.

Today was the German holiday which they call the Guten Tag of the Hodge, which will be roughly translated by future historians as "Good Day of the Hodge". This historic day shall recognised and celebrated in Deutschland as the day that Hodge was allowed to pick the itinerary. Furthermore, rumour has it that the Deutschmark will return under the guise Hodgemark.

Anyway, in other news... As the previously elaborate (yet greatly inferior) blogpost indicated, we woke up considerably refreshed after 15hours sleep. We awoke early and were among the first the the buffet breakfast. As a backpacker trying to implement a budget, this is a goldmine. After bacon, eggs,bread, fruit, sausages, prosciutto, croissants and copious amounts of coffee and orange juice, I felt content, with a burning desire to ascend to even greater food-devouring heights tomorrow. In a clear demonstration of how different we are, Georgia was more inclined to declare that she may never eat again. Rookie.

As Georgia set off planning tomorrow's day of "Dachau this, concentration camp that", I realised that it was my moment to shine and plan what would be the greatest part of the trip to date (yes I know our trip has only consisted of one non-transit day...).

First stop, Marienplatz, the old Munich city. We ventured here yesterday, however; we had both decided that our sweaty, overheated, weary selves were not even remotely photogenic. We took some pictures of the old, yet eccentric architectures we walked from our hotel to Marienplatz (approx. 4 train stations away). They'll be uploaded ASAP!

Next was the awesome part. With every intention of going on a fully guided tour of Allianz stadium, we arrived early to buy tickets for the only English speaking tour of the day. Apparently due to high demand they had put on extra tours but we would be able to join an English one for 4 hours or a German one for 3. Shattered. Instead, we were able to go to the Bayern Munich Museum which was awesome! The location of the stadium was fascinating in itself. Several kilometres out of the main cities and a train station-stadium walk about 20times as long as Jolimont-MCG. Somehow they manage to sellout every single home game of the season before it even begins. Epic.

Next up was the Olympia Arena made especially for the 1972 Munich Olympics. The design in itself is a bit of an eyesore, but the epic proportions and close proximity of pool, tennis courts, football stadium and multipurpose arena was amazing.

Anyway, seeing as I've contributed so much today, I'll leave the tedious task of uploading photos to my travel companion. Ciao.

Posted by Hodgeontour 08:47 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

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