It’s been a challenge to get out and shoot anything new over the past month, so I finally decided to start scanning some old photos. I thought it would be fun to share some photos from my Europe backpacking trip in the spring of 1999. This was before I was into photography and I actually had to borrow my brothers point and shoot camera. I brought along 10 rolls of generic store brand colour film. I had just finished high school and convinced my parents that I’d like to take a year off to work and travel before going onto university. To help pay for it, I worked 2 full time jobs clocking in about 85 hours a week… it was brutal… but it fully funded a 2 month trip, so in hindsight, it was totally worth it.
This trip was around the same time they introduced the Euro, but for some reason I chose to use local currency, so I had to keep switching every time I went to a new country. English Pounds, Belgian Francs, Dutch Guilder, German Deutschmarks, Austrian Shillings, Swiss Francs and French Francs. Some of the conversions were really challenging. I remember 1 Canadian dollar equaled something like 22 Belgian Francs or something like that.
I flew into London Gatwick Airport on March 18th from an overnight flight arriving around noon local time. I met up with the family of my good friend Paul in Croyden who put me up for the night and helped me get oriented. The next day I travelled into London and started exploring. I totally missed going to Buckingham Palace, but did end up at a variety of street markets and even got an eyebrow piercing in Camden Market. I recall going to the National Gallery only because it was free admission. One of the shocking things I quickly found out about Europe (especially as a 19 year old), was that everything is expensive. I was too cool to go to restaurants for food so I mainly stuck with fast food and street food. I spent 4 days in London before moving on. I would take a big loop around Europe and arrive back in London to fly home on May 8th.
I had planned this trip down to a tee in the year leading up to it. I knew train times, bus numbers, subway routes, taxi fares, accommodations and some of the top sights. This all went out the window when I left London for Brussels. I thought it would be more interesting to take a bus from London to Brussels, and after arriving, I found out there was some major conference in town and that every single hotel (that I could afford) was booked solid for the next week. I was supposed to spend 4 days in Brussels. I overheard 2 other backpackers struggling to find a hotel and asked if they’d be interested in splitting a fancy hotel three-ways. Looking back on it, it seems kind of weird to split a hotel room with random strangers but at the time, it made the most sense. It was kind of awesome how backpackers kind of stuck together – something I’d experience throughout my trip.
The next morning, after a brief stroll around the hotel, I decided to just leave and go to Bruges, a canal-based city in northern Belgium sometimes referred to a the Venice of the north. Bruges was one of the highlights of my trip. The entire city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site with picturesque scenes around every corner. This was my first experience staying in dorm style hostels holding up to 25 people in bunked rooms. A great place to meet fellow travellers, we would spend evenings out on the town bar hopping. I recall going on a mountain bike tour where we biked to the nearby village of Damme and grabbed some lunch before returning to Bruges. This city was made for wandering which is how I spent most of my time. I also learned how to play chess in Bruges, something that’s stuck with me and has at times become a bit of an obsession.
After 4 days in Bruges, I headed to Amsterdam, and after getting lost for an hour or so, finally found my hostel near Vondelpark. Amsterdam is unlike any other place I’ve visited. Bikes, trams and boats rule the land. Bikes not only had dedicated roads next to tram tracks and roads, they had their own traffic signals. I spent time simply wandering around town, went to the Ann Frank museum, Heineken Brewery, and the Rijksmuseum to see some Van Gogh – something I was really into. I really wanted to get back on my trip schedule that I had worked so hard to plan and had to find 4 days, so I figured I’d head back to Bruges to spend Easter before moving on.
After my second stint in Bruges, I started making the long trip towards Munich. An 11 hour trip with layovers in Brussels and Cologne. I think I got there late at night and after cabbing it to the hostel which was a bit outside town I met up with a guy I had met in Amsterdam a couple days before. I love Munich and have returned there with friends on a trip in 2008. I wasn’t really sure what to do in Munich so I basically just wandered around town and snapped pictures. I went to the Olympic Park and the BMW museum, and spent a couple evenings in the Hofbrauhaus drinking beers and eating pretzels and various meats.
There’s something magical about Salzburg. I can’t put my finger on it, but I absolutely love that town and also returned back in 2008. It’s got everything from a palace, hilltop fortress, epic churches, Mozart stuff all crammed into a and old part of the city sandwiched between the Salzach River and the Monchberg. This was the first time I could start seeing some mountains in the distance – something I was REALLY looking forward to. I did all the touristy stuff like walking up to the Hohensalzburg fortress, walked around Mirabellgarten and went to see the birthplace of Mozart. I also watched The Sound of Music for the first time and loved it and ended up exploring some locations from the movie. In our 2008 trip, we actually went on a small guided Sound of Music tour, which was rad.
Innsbruck was interesting to say the least. Upon my first day of exploring, I was arrested by transit police for not paying bus fare. Someone at the hostel I was staying at told me that they don’t check for tickets, so being on a budget, thought I’d give it a go. Two plain clothes officers approached me and asked for proof of purchase. I tried to play the dumb tourist card, be they weren’t having any of it. I was escorted off the bus and into the police station where I was forced to pay a fine… which was significantly more than I would have thought… I think it was around $100 CAD. It kind of put a damper on the city, but I tried to not let it get me down. I went to a couple local attractions and museums, the Alpine Zoo and the site of the 1964 and 1976 winter olympic ski jumping site. The weather in Innsbruck shifted dramatically. One day it was sunny and warm and the next was a snow storm.
I met some spring break travellers at the hostel who were going skiing the next day, and I thought this might be my only chance to going skiing in the Alps… I had to do it. For about $75 CAD, I got a bus ride to the hill, (the name escapes me), lift pass and rentals. I didn’t have ski goggles, so I bought a pair of sunglasses from the pro shop. The runs were crazy long taking about 25 minutes to get from the top to the bottom. After lunch the weather rolled in pretty hard causing whiteout conditions. The hill was shut down and we had to rescued off the hill in the back of a snow grooming machine. I did manage to get a couple runs in before having to leave though.
On my way into Switzerland, I decided to spend a night in Liechtenstein, one of Europes smallest countries. My plan was to explore the town and do a tour of Vaduz Castle, but I was feeling very home sick at this point and honestly just wanted to rest. I remember walking into town to get some canned beefaroni for dinner from a gas station. I ate it cold directly from the can and spent the night in my hotel room reading. The next morning I hope on the train and went straight to Zurich.
I got to Zurich during their annual spring festival but luckily had booked my hotel well in advance. I’ve been to Zurich a couple times now (I also went back in 2006) and find it kind of boring. Neat architecture and interesting to walk around and look at stuff, but I don’t recall doing a whole lot. It also helps when you meet other travellers which I actually found more difficult to do in larger cities and while not staying in hostels. After a long 4 days in Zurich it was time to move into the Swiss Alps.
I had been looking forward to Interlaken for a long while. Situated in the heart of the Alps on a piece of land in between 2 lakes I stayed at the legendary Balmers Youth Hostel and it did not disappoint. I met a tons of other travellers from all over the world there and it was the home base for some adventure sports I did such as paragliding and bungee jumping. The paragliding was surreal – basically run down the side of a mountain with an open parachute dragging behind you until the wind catches and lift you up. I snapped a ton of photos before touching down. The next day on my way to Gimmelwald (a short train ride away, I went bungee jumping out of a cable car which was 100m up. In our group of 10 or so, I was one of the last people to jump which made it easier watching others go first. While the rest of our group travelled back to Interlaken, I went in another direction… up… to Gimmelwald.
I don’t know how I found out about Gimmelwald. This was before Rick Steves had written about the mountain village making it touristy. I think I looked up small mountain villages or something like that in Netscape or WebCrawler at the time. Gimmelwald and Murren are car free villages only accessible via a cable car up the side of the Schilthorn Mountain. Gimmelwald has nothing… literally nothing. There is a hostel, a hotel and restaurant (in the hotel). The hostel worked via the honour system. Guest could go find their own bunk and make themselves at home. Someone from the village would arrive around dinner to check people in and take money. I walked 40 minutes up the mountain to the neighbouring village of Murren which had a bit more things to do. I think it might have been Sunday evening when I was there because it felt like a ghost town. I don’t recall seeing anybody else walking around… It was kind of creepy. I spent the evening in the hostel planning more of my trip and having a couple drinks with a self-made pasta dinner. The next day I went on a small hike around Gimmelwald before deciding that I miss the company of people and headed back to Interlaken for a couple more days before moving on.
I don’t remember a whole lot about Lucerne. I do, however, remember sharing a room with a very ill man who passed along his sickness. It went downhill from there. I only recall walking around town and visiting a Picasso museum with a fellow backpacker. I spent a lot of time walking along the waterfront and sitting on park benches. I was beginning to feel like the trip was dragging along longer than it should. I was burnt out and just plain tired of living out of a backpack, eating hostel food, pasta and Nutella for almost 2 months. I still had another week and a half before flying home. After 4 days in Lucerne, I hoped on a long train south through Milan and Genoa to Monaco.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Monaco was never on my original plan. While in Gimmelwald, I came up with the idea of heading south to the Mediterranean to get a completely different feel from spending so much time in the Alps. It did not disappoint. The last thing I expected to see on my trip was palm trees, but Monte Carlo is full of them. I was running out of money. When some other travellers at the hostel tried to persuade me to go to the casino, I declined and opted to walk around town at night. Plus, I would have needed a jacket to get in and I looked borderline homeless by this point. The next day I spent walking around town admiring the setup for the Monaco Grand Prix taking place a few weeks later. I also hung out at the beach for a couple of hours and had a nice long nap. I was still feeling very sick and decided on McDonalds, which costed about $30 CAD. That night I started to make my way up to Paris via a 13 hour overnight train. On this trip I didn’t really understand how to book/reserve seats on a train and had pretty good luck with just finding a spot. Not this time. I spent 13 hours sitting on the floor of the baggage area between cars. I even faked sleeping to get out of stamping my rail pass. That ride was the absolute worst.
I rolled into Paris around 6 or 7 in the morning not having slept at all on the overnight train. I couldn’t check into the hostel until mid-afternoon, so I went straight to the Eiffel Tower. Next to the Tower was a large park where I managed to kill some time by taking a 3 hour nap next to some bushes. I eventually made it into the hostel where I remember taking yet another nap until around dinner. I spent the next couple days wandering around Paris. checking out the Arc de Triumph, Notre Dame, and some old cemeteries. It’s a beautiful city and I regret not doing more, but being sick and travelling for so long got the better of me. As one final treat, I paid up and took the 3 hour EuroStar train through the Channel Tunnel and back to London.
Once back in London, I called up some friends I had met in Switzerland and altered my accommodation plans to stay with them in Camden. It was a pretty low key next couple days before my flight home. The end.