Prague

I'm on my second Busabout tour now and we've just left Prague. What a stunning city! It truly is one of those gems that lives up to the hype; it's a beautiful city with lots of character and amazing buildings, and plenty of great food and a bustling nightlife.

We arrived into Prague on Friday morning on our overnight bus from Zurich via Munich. We spent a few hours at the bus station having breakfast before checking into our hostel. Though I managed to get a decent sleep on the bus, I was still quite tired, so while Theo went out to do laundry, I took a nap.

Around 2pm, we set out for a walk around town. We had lunch at a pancake place that Jordan had recommended, and conveniently it was in Old Town, so on the way to many of the sights we wanted to see. We saw the amazing Astronomical Clock of Prague, as well as the accompanying most disappointing hourly clock animation in Europe. We went up the tower of St Nicholas's Church for some stunning views of the city - orange roofs and green copper domes and spires covered the city. We continued to the Prague Palace and then came back down to Lennon Wall, and had dinner near Charles Bridge. As we were walking home, we randomly stumbled upon an amazing outdoor concert, which had a band and choir singing classical Christmas songs in Czech.

We relocated hostels the next day as part of the Busabout itinerary. We had a bit of time to kill before our walking tour, so we decided to do something we hadn't done in a long time - go to the gym.

Boy it hurt. I've lost so much strength and muscle, and it was so disappointing to be pushing weights far below what I used to be pushing six months ago. Theo looked like he was having the time of his life though. Good on him. It felt good to be using all those muscles again, but as you can imagine, the DOMS are well and truly present today.

I also had the food of my people while waiting for my load of laundry to finish. After sorting my life out, we met up with the rest of our Busabout group and walked to many of the places we visited the day before, but at least this time we got a sweet explanation of everything. We got some absinthe from the Absinthery and we had dinner (I got goulash!) at a place called Lokal, and got some trdelnik by Charles Bridge. The food here is very much winter food; rich and delicious and plenty of carbs. It was a good day to meet new people and have a few drinks, and I'm looking forward to the next week together!


Zurich

I guess it's not surprising that Zurich is very much like Geneva. The beautiful blue lake, the crystal clear water of the river, snow capped mountains, even at this time of year, in the background, a very safe, relaxed vibe and a delight to walk around and explore. Of course, instead of everything being French, Zurich has everything in German.

No matter the language difference though, this is still Switzerland and everything is still extremely expensive. 8 pieces of sushi? CHF28. Asian takeaways? CHF25. Burger? CHF20. It definitely makes it harder for tourists, and I couldn't help but think I would have enjoyed myself if I had an infinite amount of money to spend here.

The weather has been very hot, usually hitting 30C each day. In the afternoons, it would be too difficult to walk around, so we'd chill in the park under some shade for a bit. The river and lake looked very inviting for a swim, but I was never equipped. It was great to see so many people out and about taking advantage of the summer weather.

I think we spent the right amount of time here too; there's not actually too much to see here. We covered the national museum, the lake front, the Chinese Gardens, the confluence of the Sihl and Limmat Rivers; we went up the hill to Lindenhof for views of the Grossmunster and Helmhaus; we saw the stained glass windows of the Fraumunster Church. There was chocolate and cheese and various baked goods to save money.

Overall, not bad. It feels like we did Zurich justice. I would have liked to have possibly visited the Lindt chocolate store but as it was 40 minutes and CHF26 away, it didn't feel worth it. It wouldn't be on my list of places to return, unless someone else paid for me.


On the move again

I'm at Luton Airport with Theo, ready for a big five week tour of Eastern Europe. It's stinking hot in London today, and made worse by the lack of any airflow whatsoever on the bus from London Victoria to Luton. So many people were completely miserable, myself included, just frustrated at how badly this country handles weather like this.

The past few days have been uneventful, save for a barbeque out in Teddington on Saturday. As I said, the weather has been extremely hot, which is very good for barbeques and certain outdoor activities, but horrible for sleeping and sitting in buses. I spent most of my time finalising my plans for this next holiday, and also indulging in a bit of Starcraft II when I got bored. I've also introduced a new feature to my blog called Scribbles, which is kind of like an antisocial version of Twitter where I can dump all my random thoughts and observations as I'm on the road, as opposed to sitting down and writing a more formalised blog.

It was good to catch up with Aaron and Louise out at their place in Teddington. Aaron had purchased a massive gas cooker and paella dish, and was busy getting that to work when I arrived. A massive paella hot plate filled with stock, herbs, spices, chicken, and chorizo bubbled away; he later added rice, squid and peas for some colour. The result was a delicious but perhaps slightly inauthentic paella that was enjoyed by all there. There was also a charcoal barbeque working, and lots of salads and drinks to go around.

I'm excited to cover this last leg, but also somewhat nervous about my next moves. Nervous in the sense I'm going to be in unknown territory again, a kind of excited nervous as opposed to anxious nervous. It's not 100% official but very close to it, and I'll write more about this once I get some certainty around dates and timing.


Wales

After coming back from Amsterdam, I spent the weekend in London vegetating and catching up on sleep. It was good to just do nothing, and it helped that the weather had been every permutation of cold, windy and rainy for a few days. I managed to do some work on my blog as well, hammering out all the writing I did for the food in France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, as well as working on a new feature which should be ready soon.

My mate Theodore has finally arrived too, so we met up for dinner for a few nights. Theo will be accompanying me on my final leg around Europe - we hope to cover the east and northern side this time: Germany, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Hungary, Denmark, Sweden and Norway. It's scary to think how little time I have left here...!

On Tuesday, Theo and Beth, another of my friends from New Zealand, met me on a bus to Cardiff for a three day excursion around western Wales. We had one objective: see puffins on Skomer Island. We rented a car and drove out of Cardiff towards Pembrokeshire, stopping by a cute little castle called Carew along the way. We based ourselves at the YHA in Broad Haven and explored the peninsula around Saint David, then retired for the night.

We got to Marloes around 9am to try and get tickets for the ferry to Skomer Island. Being a weekday, we didn't think it would be that busy; we were shocked to find that tickets to land on the island had sold out an hour ago. We went through a small period of grief before decided that the only viable option was to take a boat trip around the island without landing. They said we'd still be able to see the puffins, and that's all we really wanted.

The boat trip turned out to be surprisingly good. We did see our puffins; we saw hundreds bobbing about on the water. As we approached, they would flap their wings awkwardly and hop along the surface of the sea before taking flight, it was such an awesome sight. There were tons of other waterfowl as well, including gulls, gannets and even a peregrine falcon!

We had a quick picnic lunch at Dale before heading back to Carew Castle. We visited the mill there, as we ran out of time the day before. We also took a detour north to visit the National Woollen Museum. It would have been around 6pm that we got to YHA Cardiff; we had dinner in town and wandered around Bute Park and the central city before heading back to the hostel.

We took it slow today. We had a good sleep in and then got some coffee at a small hipster cafe in one of the city's shopping lanes, then wandered around Cardiff Castle for an hour. It's quite a remarkable structure; they used the walls as air raid shelters during World War II, and the keep in the middle of the castle green has a fantastic view of the city in all directions. After lunch, we returned the rental car and said our goodbyes to Beth, and now Theo and I are en route back to London.

I think despite being unable to land on the island, we still had a really good time. We got to see a particular aspect of the birds that you wouldn't have been able to get from land, and more importantly, we achieved our one objective. We stumbled upon lots of cool interesting sites along the way as we aimlessly drove through the Welsh countryside. We even managed to pick up a bit of Welsh - they say, anyone can cuddle but only the Welsh can cwtch. Good times.


Amsterdam

Hoo boy.

I was so enthralled with Amsterdam when I first arrived. The canals and bridges are very Venetian and extremely picturesque; of course, Venice's bridges outnumber Amsterdam's 2 to 1, but that whole aesthetic made me so happy. I arrived in the evening on Sunday and naturally, went to the red light district for a quick look. I knew it was a public holiday the next day, so it was going to be super busy and sure enough, there were hundreds of people walking around, having a peek at the windows of various shops. Yep. Exactly what I imagined Amsterdam to be like.

On my first full day, I got to see some classic Dutch windmills, and I visited a clog factory and a cheese factory too. In the afternoon, I wandered around Amsterdam Centraal and the adjoining area - I even found a piano at the train station, and got some applause for playing Let it Go (it made me feel like a boss!) I spent the rest of the afternoon lazing about in the sun on the rooftop terrace of NEMO, the science museum. What a beautiful sunny day it was.

The next day, the rain and cold came. I went to the Van Gogh Museum and wandered around for a good three hours before meeting Lizzie very briefly at the I Amsterdam sign. I was super tired, so went back to my hostel for a nap. I decided to go for dinner since I didn't hear back from Lizzie; after dinner, I began to feel unwell, and sure enough, food poisoning had struck again.

So yeah, my time in Amsterdam has been half great and half awful. I'm very well acquainted with the bathroom at my hostel, and even at my average 5'11 height, my knees were touching the door of the toilet. I barely left my room and slept most of the day, but I did feel better in the afternoon, and went out to get some coconut water and some fruit. I finished all the food poisoning medication I brought along, and the side effect of that is a black tongue.

I felt like I could eat proper food this morning, so after checking out of my hostel, I went to the Pancake Bakery and ordered a massive Dutch pancake, strewn with stroopwaffels and covered in cream and cinnamon ice cream. It was a terrible choice but I didn't care. I actually made it through 3/4 of it before giving up - the waitress congratulated me on my effort, but deep down inside I was really sad I couldn't finish it. Afterwards, I settled into this little cafe for some mint tea to help soothe the stomach. I still had loads of time to kill before I had to be at the airport, so I wandered slowly around the city. I stopped by the piano at Amsterdam Centraal again and had a little play; I got some fries and truffle mayonnaise, which I couldn't finish; I sat in the square outside the Royal Palace and people watched.

I guess I'll have to come back. I didn't even get to try space cake. Or weed brownies. Or magic mushrooms. I mean, not that I was going to anyway. Nevermind.

It would be nice to come back during tulip season though.