Europe - July 2004

OK so originally the plan was for me to finish up here in Scotland and move on down south and go travelling with Dan and Cat for July. However, as always things didn't go to plan, and I was stuck with holidays taken off work, and nowhere to go! So I booked myself a months pass on Busabout Europe. Backpacking Europe! Work also kindy offered to extend my contract for August and September, which is perfect, so I can experience the Edinburgh Festival and Glasgow Piping Festival.

Below is my July Travel log - enjoy! - wish you had all been with me - I really do!

More pics to come shortly

berlin reichstag remains of berlin wall praha museum by night praha astronomical clock cesky krumlov

3 July Edinburgh - Amsterdam I get up early at 0500, only 5 hours sleep and its Day 1. I am off to catch the morning Easyjet flight to Amsterdam. I hoist my big pack up and take a slow deep breath, trying to wake up, looking round the room to make sure I haven’t left anything behind. OK - here we go.

Outside it’s a pleasant Edinburgh morning, cool, soberly quiet and it is light already. I walk the 30 minutes up the hill to the Bus at Waverley, full of confidence and now brimming with energy. After all, I am on holiday!

There are two others sitting on their packs at the bus stop, seasoned looking travellers, with that air of indifference, as if they have been waiting all night. Aussies by the looks of their bags and tops. There is also a lost looking Chinese guy there, who was obviously desperate not to miss the bus. On seeing the approaching Airport Bus, he started running after the bus, obviously unaware that the 20 other people with backpacks and suitcases he had joined at the stop were on there way to the airport, and that the bus has to do a u turn before it picks us all up. . “I think he’ll be back somehow” said a fellow backpacker. Backpacker, here I was again!

A months travelling, a European Summer, something I’d dreamt about for many years!

It’s a quick hop over the water with Easyjet to Amsterdam, and its still breakfast time.

I meet Maria at the train station, we go shopping and generally browse. Highlight of course lunch, which is the Frites Met – chips with dutch mayonnaise, which we get in town. Later we have dinner at Maria’s mums place which is excellent, great to see everyone again. We enjoy a huge Chinese food feast. The exciting news of the night is that Shirley and Leonard announce they are engaged.

We get home and its truly bucketing down with rain, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I was home in Sydney! We have to wait 5 mins or so in the car before the all clear is given and we sprint to the door!

Its awesome to see Maria again, she’s a great friend, and I’ll be back in a month!

4 July Amsterdam - Berlin I take a taxi to the Hans Brinker Hostel by 7.30am. The driver is half Chinese half Dutch and speaks good English, so we chat away about life in Amsterdam and he points out the sights to me. Its a beautiful European city, and will always be the first place I think of when I think of Europe.

On arrival at the hostel all is quiet and I sit and read Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons in the dining hall/bar. Soon enough the foyer packs with 40 backpacks and we are off!

Out with the passports and onto the Bus, Berlin here we come!

Busabout – I had booked a month pass on Busabout, it’s a company affiliated with Contiki and aims at the backpacker who wants flexibility of independent travel without the hassle of the Trains, Planes, Local Buses and Hostels. Its also a Hop On – Hop Off service, you stay in a stop as long as you want and catch the next bus. Its also different from Contiki in that you choose your accommodation, stay as along as you want in places, on any budget. You pay for all meals also. Its also nice to get dropped off outside the Hostels that also are the pickup points. You can book all your bus sectors and accommodation online, so it saves the headache of the last minute scramble to find accommodation and ringing round hostels. At £300 it’s a fairly good deal.

The crowd are all about my age, that’s to say 20s and are mainly Aussies and Kiwis, say 95%, with a few Canadians and Americans thrown in for good measure. The guides and drivers are similarly mainly Aussies and the music is heavily influenced by this!

We arrive on time in Berlin, at about 6.30pm and I am eager to get a look around the city before it gets too dark. So together with a couple of Americans, both history buffs. We start off with a stroll through Tiergarten Park, then all the way down to the Brandenburg gate and the Reichstag. Topics of discussion revolve around German empires and kingdoms of the past, and of course Nazi Germany.

We continue on over to the old border area, amazed by the new and opulent shop fronts we find in the former East German areas, land must have been snapped up cheaply! The Russian embassy still looks as imposing and Soviet as it ever was. We decide on a quick dinner at a kiosk 100m from Checkpoint Charlie. No time for museums, as the Euro 2004 Football (Soccer) final is on.

We find a place to watch the game, it’s the huge Sony complex, and crowds are spilling onto the road, it’s a jubilant atmosphere.

5 July Berlin – Dresden - Prague We cross the Czech border without incident, after getting the ‘be good, shut up and don’t laugh or smile’ talk from the guide. Laughing or smiling could be taken by the border police as us foreigners making fun of them.

Soon after, we are told about the little roadside shacks which house prostitutes. And sure enough around the next corner there are about 3 ladies and so on for the next 30 mins or so we see little shacks with windows open – and some closed…in the windows or on the roadside gorgeous women (mainly from Romania we are told) dressed in gaudy high heels and skimpy lingerie wave at the bus!

I book myself onto a night walking tour of Praha, along with nearly everyone on the bus. Keen not to get lost, I try to make mental notes of the bus station, but everything looks identical on both sides of the street…The Praha metro is nice and modern, and we are into town in no time.

Its always nice to be shown a town by a local, you get a really good feel for the history and the current times. We walk over the Charles Bridge, make a wish, and try to recall the exact spot the bad guy in Mission Impossible throws himself into the river. Many sights and funny stories later and we are near the museum, in a small restaurant enjoying a traditional Czech meal. I have the duck and potato dumplings, which is huge, filling, and CHEAP! I pay 4 pounds stirling for what would have cost me easily $40 back home. And the soft drink is more expensive than the beer!

Of interest, the Czech word for yes is “no” and no is “nyet”.

wien wien wien salzburg munich

6 July Vienna Vienna, classy, neat and tidy. I love it even before I take 10 steps in the place. It just feels right. I grab a street map and go exploring. The rich musical and cultural history is entwinned in the architecture and the spaces in the city. The gardens are majestic and bright.

I play cards on the open air courtyard/bar with some other backpackers at the Hostel, the two games are hearts and spoons. We soon give up on hearts as there are Aussie rules, Kiwi rules, Canadian rules and its all too hard to accommodate everyone’s nutty rules. So we play spoons - is a fun game, the cards equivalent of musical chairs. Everyone receives 4 cards, and there are spoons arrayed on the table, numbering 1 less that the number of players. You pass a card to your left in a steady cadence till someone collects 4 of a kind. At that time they grab a spoon, once this happens its a free for all to grab a remaining spoon. This can include people jumping across the table and knocking over chairs, swearing, screaming, the whole bit. The girls are the worst for it, especially with the nails! The one person who misses out scores a letter. S, once someone reaches S P O O N S, they are out, until two are left to duel it out.

7 July Vienna – Salzburg – Munich My accommodation is a huge dorm room, the biggest so far, housing about 30 people. I dump my bags, grab my map and go for a walk round Munich. At the doorway I bump into another two Busabouters who are also out for a walk. Kirsten is German uni student and travelling all over Europe with Stacey who is Canadian uni student. We do well by getting lost straight away, but get onto the right track somehow.

In town we find free sausage tastings, catch the Glockenspeil clock ring at 5pm, and walk into the famous Haubrahoffen Beerhaus, land of huge 1L beers and big pretzels. On the way home its ice cream Stacey time and cheap internet at easy internet. Dinner is a roadside Kebab (very German…)

I am in bed by about 11pm, sleeping in the top bunk, and the flouro lights are right about my head. I start off with my towel draped over my face, which works ok. But at about 1am, the lights go on, and somehow my protective screen is missing. It’s like I have been shocked by some electrode. I am suddenly wide awake – and not happy! I find my towel and try to get some sleep. Same thing happens at 2.30am, and this time the light stays on for about 20 mins, and the punk down there is rummaging around his pack and shuffling around, the sound of a billy can/cup is scraping and hitting against all the walls and bunk bed poles. Soon a helpful Aussie on the other side of the dorm says tersely “You wanna turn off the light mate?”, this is followed by a sheepish “sorry”. How rude can you be…

munich venicia venicia venicia venicia

8 July Munich – St Johann – Venice St Johann – It’s a lovely Alpine village in Austria’s Tirol region. I go into a shop and grab an apple bake and cheese stick. The village has quite a touristy feel, which is due to its popularity during the winter as a ski resort. I only have an hour here, but wish I had more. It would be great to explore the mountains which surround it.

Venice - After arriving at the campsite and after having a nice snooze, I order a pizza and cola from the uninterested looking too-cool-for-school Italians at the on-site take away and look for somewhere quiet to eat. Down at the back of the campsite I spy what I think are sailing masts. Sure enough, I walk up the slope and see boats moored in a tiny lagoon and the airport hard standing stretching out before me. I find a spot on the grass and sit and enjoy the sunset accompanied by the take off of commercial airplanes. A gentle breeze blows in cooler air, it’s a nice time to be alone and reflect. The pizza is excellent. 1.85 euro for a can of coke, what’s that all about?

9 July – Venice I share a cabin with David, a Pom who is travelling independently. He shows me his collection of full European beer bottles, and his outrageously sunburned legs! I tag along for a days sightseeing. On the bus we meet up with Kirst and Stace, how nice! Arriving at Venice bus stop, we follow a crowd, who turn out to be a tour group. Our objective is San Marcos square. Venice is a maze and we are soon well lost amongst the windy streets and canals. Happily lost, (well I was), not sure about the others. We try to follow “SM ->” signs painted in yellow on the walls, and question the validity of these signs as tourist guides or tourist traps. But soon enough somehow we stumble into the square. Mission Accomplished.

I like the quiet streets of Venice, especially on a hot day like today, its about 30C and I am struggling, my body is still in Scotland mode. I haven’t been in this kind of heat since October last year. The shaded alleyways are nice and cool, with a peaceful relaxed feel. Every twist and turn takes you deeper into a beige labyrinth.

stace the bus F1 dreaming bern swiss

10 July Lauterbrunnen Lautuerbrunnen is a truly beautiful place, a tiny alpine village nestled in a deep valley near Interlaken, Switzerland. A place filled with imposing snow capped mountains, wooden chalets, moo cows, and rich green pastures. I felt at home straight away.

Lauterbrunnen translates literally into place of the waterfalls, there are about 10 huge ones which you can see, one just above the campsite. They fill from the glaciers and snow above, and pour fast flowing cloudy green water through the valley.

The air is crisp, fresh and invigorating here, and the temperature is the cool. It’s a adrenaline junkies lure, with all sorts of adventure activities available. Every so often you hear the crack of a parachute opening as someone base jumps off the cliffs above.

5 Swiss francs for 20minutes of internet is steep, but its always nice to read email! I get one from Dan, they are to meet me somewhere in Paris, not sure where or when yet, such is there blasé holiday mood. Frustratingly I spend 10 of the 20mins trying unsuccessfully to reply to this email. You see some internet machines don’t allow you to reply to web-based email. Probably a good thing in this instance.

The street creperie we have been told about with the “cheapest” crepes in town, it turns out to be damned expensive, 8 Swiss Francs a pop, that’s 9 aussie dollars. I pass and go back to the shop to buy bread, cheese and ham, chocolate and a drink. Guess what, its 10 swiss francs for this, so much for saving.

11 July Lauterbrunnen – Bern – Paris

Today’s bus leg is one of the longest on the Busabout circuit, it starts at 8am and finishes at about 7pm.

Dan the man calls at about 4.30pm to inform me of the address to meet him. Jentilly. I ask the driver if he knows where it is Off the bus, it’s a good feeling to be meeting up with mates across town. I flag down a taxi and splutter some poor French. Literally shoving the address at the driver. Lucky for me he is Cambodian, and speaks good English, which he tells me he has been learning for only 3 years…amazing. We agree a price of 20 euros and I jump in.

Tour de France. – On entering St Piat, we see the tour flags and chalk marks on the ground, I ask excitedly about when the tour is coming through. We have missed it by two days! Damn it!

Walking the dogs – physical challenge time, the boys need a W, and it’s a brilliant afternoon, so we all troop outside and get ready. It feels like a military operation. Geri hands me Max’s leash and gives us all a quick pep talk. Dan and Jean-Romain have Billy and Louis on their leases. Geri soon makes the dog walk sound very serious, like we are preparing to storm the beaches on D-Day.…

I am feeling a bit apprehensive now, the dogs are strong and they have been sitting around for a few days. This is gonna be interesting! The dogs know what’s happening and once the door is ajar, all hell breaks loose as they go nuts and storm through the doorway. We are pulled through, stumbling out after them, I am nearly dragged to the ground! It’s a case of being yanked at breakneck speed by the dogs rather than walking the dogs. Max is already at the limit of the leash and we run to keep up with them, no manner of calling to them seems to slow them down. I appreciate some of the power they have.

Its good fun though, really good fun, and a great way to be introduced to the surrounding countryside. We pass firstly through forest and then into wheat fields. I spy within the wheat thousands of red poppies. We pass a field called Roman Camp. A sight where archaeologists have determined was used once by a roman army. As we work our way around we also see a trench in the forest, where once the Germans had hidden their tanks.

After our filling BBQ, Geri takes us to La Cabousier’s – Modern House. Dan is ultra excited as it’s a chance to see in person a building he has known for years. Dogville

14 July Bastille Day – Chartes Today’s daytrip is to Chartes, the provincial town nearest to St Piat. Main attraction for us, apart from the shopping, the lolly shop and recently discovered Roman ruins is the Notre Dame Chartes. It is similar in age and architecture of Notre Dame in Paris, with much less tourist crowds. French Flags abound in the town centre and it dawns on me that it is Bastille Day.

We have a nice Chinese meal,

15 July - Paris We visit the SNCF train station at St Piat and buy tickets for Paris. Soon after we are on our way to town. First stop is the Eiffel Tower, long snaking lines are formed at the base of the tower, and we decide to forgo the queues.

We meet Matt and Cara at the Centre Pompideau (Modern Art). This structure is famous for its colour coded exterior piping, which is predominantly blue. It is easily recognisable and seen from the steps of the Sacre Coeur. Its great to catch up with these two, as the last time I saw them was near the start of their journeys when they came to visit me in Edinburgh. The gift shop is

Hungry now, and we have eaten my provisions of peanut and cola snacks, and it takes us an amazing 2 hours to find food and its Pizza…again…We stumble upon the Arab institute, and Dan is extra excited. Of interest are the window blinds, which have a unique system of opening and closing, instead of being horizontal or vertical like most blinds systems, this one is made up of multiple steel circular iris, like lenses of a camera. The effect mimics Islamic mosque window designs, but with a modern twist.

We stroll down the Seine and end up at the Louvre, to the surprise of us all, but again I miss out on visiting this place, as we are short of time. Instead, we sit by Les Pyramides and count the panes of glass and I enjoy an ice tea. According to Dan Brown there are 666 panes, we count 674 or so…damn!

Continuing along the parks that leads onto the Louvre, we reach the Place de la Concorde and then down onto the Avenue de Champs Elysee. There is an obligatory stop at the Renault and Peugeot shops, and Dan buys some model cars. Cat surprisingly says no to the Dior shop, even after our persistence that we go!

Climbing the 280 odd stairs to the top of the Arc de Triumph takes a bit of effort, but as always the view is worthwhile. From here you get a fabulous 360 degree view of Paris. You can see all the tourist traps from here and you can entertain yourself by watching the traffic incidents below on the most famous roundabout in the world. The only bad thing about this spot is that its hard to take a good photo, as the 2m high iron bars tend to disrupt the composition.

We have a dinner meeting to make at 6 with Matt and Cara, so we hurry to La Defence. This striking building contrasts spectacularly with the old architecture which we have become accustomed to. Its imposing and huge, and has to be admired from a distance.

Back to the Sacre Coeur, and Dan is psyched up to run the gauntlet of Africans again. We succeed in escaping their nooses this time, and arrive on time to meet Matt and Cara on the steps. Crepes are on the menu, and we find a touristy place for them round the back streets, and go back to the steps to enjoy our meal. We reflect on our meeting, old school friends from Sydney all meeting in the French capital, what a small world we live it!

My time with my mates ends soon enough and I go back to my Hotel room I am sharing with an American lady and Kiwis. We all sleep early, but its a mixed night of sleep, combine a slumpy bed and loud snorer (who woke up at 6am to shuffle plastic bags), and you get the idea.

16 July Paris – Bern – Lauterbrunnen I am happy to be back on the Bus, as we are heading back to Lauterbrunnen, where I have 2 days to enjoy the Swiss Alps. At Bern I go to the bear pit again, and this time both the tourists and the bears are out. There are tour guides tossing small tomatoes to the bears, optimistically I thought. But sure enough, the bears casually amble out from their lairs and surprisingly sit down, they look just like babies in baby seats. They open their mouths, and expertly catch the food! I hate when I don’t have my camera!

17-19 July Lauterbrunnen I meet Scott, an Aussie in my dorm hut, who tells me he is keen to go for a walk in the hills. Perfect. It’s a glorious day, and I pack the usual walking kit, this time complete with bagette, brie, and swiss chocolate. We get maps from reception, and head into town to board a funicular up to 1600m.

swiss swiss monaco bern barcelona

22 July Nice –Avignon - Barcelona The Cote d’azur, southern coast of France, is where all the French flock to during summer, and who would blame them, its warm sunny and perfect for lounging around. Nice is located on the south eastern tip of France, at the top of the Meditteranean. It’s a place that has a permanent holiday feel. This is the first beach I see since my travels have begun and people are all sunning themselves on thatch mats, or frolicking in the sea. Its hot, about 29C, and sunny.

I share a room with 4 American college students from UCLA. We go out for dinner at about 7. Not far away, down a small street we are enticed by the smell of rotisserie chicken. 7 euros for a huge meal, ½ chicken, roast potatoes, soft drink, side salad, and a coffee. Sold. It’s a nice meal outside, enjoying the cool of the shade. I am too busy chatting away that I tip over my coffee onto my thigh – ouch!

The next day we head off to Monaco to rub shoulders with the rice and famous.

23 July Barcelona - Madrid Did I say it was hot! It was 36C when I arrived at 6pm. I thought I was hallucinating, but I swore there was the sound of bagpipes. But not highland pipes – Galician pipes. Sure enough round the corner was a busker driving the Spanish bagpipes, cool! Some of the tunes were recognisable, but for the scale and also different key.

I have spent most of the day surviving on a banana and BBQ Fritos (corn chips). I plan to track down some proper paella in town tonight. Marvin, an American law student and I walk the streets trolling for paella. Its only 8pm, so nothing is actually open restaurant wise, we have to wait til 9pm. We find a place that has tables outside, perfect for people watching, and order a huge Seafood Paella. It’s good!

It’s a shame that I don’t have the time to further explore the city, the gardens and the museums beckon, oh well…next time.

bilbo bilbo san sabastian san sabastian ab

24 July Madrid – Bilbao Arrival at Bilbo is marred with warnings regarding the Basque separatist movement ETA. We are warned about the bombings in the past and to avoid any riot police and protestors or major gatherings we see…

Only two of us get off the Bus and we settle in to the best accommodation yet. The YHA here is a huge new building, and the facilities are excellent! Its also the cheapest accom I have paid for yet – only 13 Euros a night!

A quick shower and snooze and its off to town to check things out. I meet up with the other Busabouter and we aim for the main medieval square in town. Its lovely to be in a quiet town and its really not touristy either.

Tapas is on the menu and we move from wine bar to wine bar picking up a tapas at each place as we go. The bars range in styles, but are mainly classic classy looking affairs, reflecting the location I guess. The tapas here is really tasty, and different to what most people tend to know or I expected from tapas. Its basque style. Mainly French bread stick slices, tiny bagettes, or puff pastry filled with seafood concoctions. Cured hams and Anchovy are popular, as are the soft Brie cheeses from the region. Superb!

A note of warning, when in Spain, English doesn't get you too far...rehearse some phrases!

24 July - Bilbao

Another warm and sunny day – I could get used to this! Today it’s the main event, the Guggenheim, amazingly for me, the only gallery on my tour! They spent $120M US to build it and it’s fantastic, both inside and out. Its hard to take a ‘proper’ photo of it, the angles and shapes are just so unconventional, it’s a building that makes you keep looking and admiring.

Made of titanium and glass, the building is one of my favourites, inside there is such a sense of space and brightness. It uses many modern building techniques and tricks, for example some of the marble is computer cut to fit exactly. Apart from detracting or distracting from the art the building actually provides really well designed spaces to display it all.

The huge flower dog outside is a real landmark too, and very cute!

25 July – San Sabastian

Its festival time in sunny San Sabastian, and there are people everywhere. I only have a night here, so it’s a quick spin around the town and hit the Tapas bars for eats!

I decide to have a wander up the hill overlooking San Sab, and see the big Jesus monument. Its actually a park, a great place to relax out of the sun, though its eerily deserted. I guess the beach is where its at. Its also surprisingly green and has a jungle feel, which is good cos its hot in the sun! I get to the top after about 20mins and enjoy the view. From here you can see both beaches – people are everywhere its really swarming down there. I’ve never seen a beach so busy. I can also hear the beats of Salsa drumming and trumpets are blaring somewhere below. Its a real party town at the moment

I soon head back to the hostel after a stroll through the busying streets, and chill out with my fellow tourists in the small common area they have out on the patio. Its shaded and cool here, though you still can here the sounds of the street. Its a good place to unwind and just chat.

st johann st emillion st emillion st emillion paris

6 July San Sabastian – Bordeaux 1200 I arrive in sunny and pleasantly warm Bordeaux. (To Be Cont...)

27 July St Emillion Another perfect morning in Bordeaux! A slightly sunburnt Ab has decided to take me to a small touristy village of St Emillion today. This morning though, I also get to meet Balla, her boyfriend from Senegal, which will be great, after hearing so much about him. Balla is a man mountain, about 6foot something he has that deep African voice, and dark as night skin. He has the casual grace and ease that all the Africans here seem to exude, pronounced mostly in their rhythmic gait. He wears a beanie today, which is strange to me cos it is damn hot, but whatever.

We head out together to the riverside and walk around the streets of Bordeaux before heading back into town and going to the large bookstore to look up Philosophy books. I have been chatting animatedly to Balla about philosophy, which he studies at university, and he talks me through his favourite books on the subject. He also takes us to the Muslim part and recites some Koran in Arabic.

We part soon afterwards, as he has to go work, and Ab and I continue on to the train station to get to St Emillion. It’s a 30 min train ride, and we arrive to a deserted platform-less station. Before us is true wineyard country, very rural, and very pretty. Its hot now, and the heat is rising up off the tarmac, we walk up through a closed road. Its lined with stone walls and flanked by fields upon field of vines. Everything looks old, the ancient stone houses and buildings all add to the charm. 30mins later we stumble onto the town. Tourists are everywhere, as we head into the chapel to cool down. At the tourist office, 1 euro poorer, we have a key for the bell tower. The key lets us in and also locks us in, 280 odd dark steps up to the top, and the views from there are excellent. We look down upon the village, taken by the colour, the quaint houses and cobblestone streets.

Back down to street level, I go in search of a Canalle, which is a local sweet delicacy, basically an apple flavoured spongy thing with a sweet glazed coating. Ab and I stroll about the streets, before heading back to Bordeaux.

Its time for a decent meal, and I find a place close to my Hotel which specialises in Cheese and Wines. It’s a cosy little place, and we are the only patrons. I order Racqlette which is a baked potato and cheese dish. You spoon out the melted cheese and some potato and add a small chunk of cold ham. Ab has the eggplant dish. Delicious. Dessert is chocolate soufflé.

paris paris brugge bordeaux amsterdamage

28 July Bordeaux – Tours – Paris

It’s another glorious morning and I wake up in the huge double bed with a blue sky view from my open room window and the temperature is just perfect. Ab meets me out front and we head off in search of a cheap Tin Tin hardback comic at the supermarche, and a quiche Lorraine from the "Paul" shop. They do make THE best pastries!

Strolling the streets is wonderful this time of day. Bordeaux is a lovely place to visit in summer! I leave Ab here and hopefully will meet up again soon for some walking in the Alps. Thanks for everything Ab, you are a really good mate, au revoir!

The bus winds its way through the central west of France, and it is beautiful. We continue on through the Loire Valley, until the huge traffic jams to Paris, which take about 2 hours to shuffle through and its back into Montmartre. We arrive about 10pm, even for me that was a long day on the bus. We check in and with Janelle, another Kiwi, I head off to the back of the Sacre Coeur for a decent meal. The sunset over Paris is spectacular and we get some really nice pics of the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur itself.

29 July Paris – Brugge – Amsterdam I am excited about the prospect of seeing Brugge, everyone I have met tells me how lovely it is and they all exclaim about the famous chocolate. We arrive about midday, another perfect warm cloudless day, and I head off to seek the prized chocies. Brugge itself is a beautiful place, the town centre has kept its charm, and is much more pleasant than Brussels. Not a gypsie in sight, and the streets have a gentle relaxed feel about them, its a pleasure to walk in the old town.

Even if you don't normally enjoy chocolate, (like me), you cannot but fall for these little masterpeices. They are just soooo good! The airconditioned shops are inviting, that wafting smell of chocolate and the jam-packed windows of truffles and tiny box chocs lure you in. The chocolates themselves are THE BEST, just melt in the mouth - just devine. I even bought two boxes. Yummo!! Lets just hope they don't melt in the bus!A quick stop in the Tin Tin shop for a few goodies, (I couldn't resist), though the comics were twice the price of the supermarche in Bordeaux... onward to Amsterdamage! This is the last leg of my Busabout adventure.

amsterdam amsdterdam beach amsterdam beach

31 July Amsterdam – Edinburgh That most Aussie of Icons, the beach. Amsterdam has a beach, bet you didn’t know that. Granted, its not much of a beach, but when its warm and the sun is out – a beach is a beach. It’s a quick 15min bus ride out and we soon arrive at… a construction site. They are building apartments out this way.

Farewell Maria, farewell Amsterdam, till next we meet again.

I make my way alone to Schipol Airport, a tram and then the train. After check in, I sit quietly in the departure lounge. I evesdrop and listen to the strong Scottish accents I have forgotten, it feels so long since I was there. I read the paper, and its dawning on me, the trip is really over.

Takeoff - Touchdown.

It’s a good feeling to be back in Edinburgh. There is a chill in the air, it’s the first thing that hits me when I step onto the tarmac, and I smile, it’s the coldest I have been all month. I am glad to be back at my home away from home.