Our travels are long completed, and I’ve now had enough time to fully digest all the incredible experiences and memories from this enormous journey. At the time, it was so easy to become caught up in the daily grind, working out what to do and see for the day, what to do and see tomorrow, what to eat for lunch, what is the weather, where is the next place to drain the dirty water, etc, that it sometimes stopped me from fully enjoying the present. It wasn’t until afterwards, when I’d had the time to look back and reflect that I realised just how amazing it all was.
It was a long and tiring journey, too. With such an ambitious timeline, fear of missing out meant that we rarely had (or made) time to rest. But, that was the sacrifice we made in order to see everything we wanted. We both preferred to be able to split this journey up across two years and two trips, but the logistics made it too difficult.
I have been asked many times what was my favourite, and I can never come up with a conclusive answer. I hate this. The memories are all incredibly subjective, and the response varies on my mood when asked. That said, there were some places that were better than others, and it’s easier for me to break down the highlights into different categories, rather than just one outright ‘favourite’. OK, I said this was easier to break it down into categories, but even so, picking a single favourite in a category is tough – so I’m going to pick three of each.
I’m going to create a second post that breaks down the costs and the other exciting statistics from the journey.
While not really being a beach person, I like to think I have experienced some pretty amazing beaches in my life. I’m starting to change opinions on beaches, having grown up with giant sandy beaches on the east coast of Australia, and always burning to a crisp regardless of how much SPF50+ sunscreen I use.
Spiaggia del Principe, Sardinia – Up in the Costa Smeralda, this beach changed my opinion on how clear water could be. Diving into the water felt like diving into a pool. It was only a small beach, accessed via a dirt trail, but it was undeniably captivating and enchanting. Excuse the pasty-white-like-Aspirin skin. I’m a pale white guy – it’s my heritage.
Spiaggia di Piscinni, Sardinia – Another in Sardinia! I don’t to play favourites, but we truly loved Sardinia. There were many amazing beaches on this amazing island, and this one also stood out. The beach had a lot of seaweed, but once we found a small cove to the side, it was wonderfully clear, and just beautiful to float around in.
Porto Katsiki, Lefkada, Greece – We’d wanted to visit some of the Greek islands, but it was a little difficult with a motorhome. However, Lefkada is connected via a bridge (and a tunnel), so we were able to drive out to enjoy. It’s in a remote location, along some isolated and mountainous roads, but the first glimpse of the soaring white cliffs and the amazing turquoise waters was an experience I’ll never forget. It might not have been the best beach, nor the best water, but the location was just stunning.
I love mountains and the alpine. Maybe it’s because I came from a more-or-less flat tropical region, and this is about as foreign from South-East Queensland as I could imagine. I can’t think of a more dramatic scenery than mountains, and these were the ones that stole my heart.
Troll Wall, Norway – It’s true, I have a thing for Norway, but I can’t imagine anyone that loves the outdoors not falling in love with this country. Anyway, Troll Wall is a neck stretchingly tall cliff. It looks unfathomable from below, and truly terrifying from the top! Not only were the cliffs themselves stunning, but the entire area was like a scene from a fantasy movie.
Pulpit Rock, Norway – Another stupendous cliff in Norway. Its fame on social media has made it more popular. It’s probably also helped that the trail is also much, much more accessible than the hike to Troll Wall. A sea of Spanish tourists from cruise ships aside, inching out over the edge of this sheer drop is something I hope to never forget.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo, Italy – Not Norway! The Italian Alps were every bit as stunning as Norway – though, in a very different way. We stopped at a few places, but these three peaks (tre cime) were unlike anything else we’d seen. The surrounding area was also suitably stunning, with a strong desire to follow the hiking trails out into the distant mountains.
Budapest – I can’t really say why I loved this city so much, but I did. It felt like the right mix of cosmopolitan, hipster, historic. The buildings were beautiful, the food and coffee was great (and affordable), and there was an abundance of energy and culture. Shame the language is indecipherable!
Berlin – I’ve always had this weird soft spot for Berlin. I can’t really rationalise the feeling, as it’s just that – a feeling. Still, it’s a super cool city and from what I hear, actually affordable to live in (compared to London). The weather might have been average, but it didn’t put a dampener on my experience.
Lisbon – We’ve visited Lisbon twice now, and both times truly loved it. It’s an energetic city, with great food and drink, and nice people. Plus, the weather has always been nice, which certainly helps things!
I can’t really compare Budapest with Bruges – so, these are the smaller towns that were filled with memorable charm.
Cesky Krumlov – I thought I’d visited back in 2003, but was clearly mistaken, as the second I caught my first glimpse of this town, after walking through the monumental multi-tiered archway under the castle, I was mesmerised. The town was pretty, but the location inside the giant bend in the river was what won me over, and got this town onto the list.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber – OK, it might look and feel a little like a medieval theme park, but I stopped caring after a few minutes. Often we visit a pretty town, and there are a few nice houses or streets. Not here, the whole town looked amazing. And then there are the ramparts enclosing the whole beautiful town, throwing a final trump card onto the pile.
Bruges – Don’t listen to Colin Farrell – Bruges is not a shithole. I had this negative opinion of the town thanks to the movie, but visiting was a revelation. “It’s a fairytale town, isn’t it? How’s a fairytale town not somebody’s fucking thing? How can all those canals and bridges and cobbled streets and those churches, all that beautiful fucking fairytale stuff, how can that not be somebody’s fucking thing, eh?”
I was hesitant to list favourite countries, because many of them we spent so little time that it wasn’t possible to accurately form a judgement. So, with that caveat in mind…
Italy – Hands down my favourite country of this trip. It has absolutely everything – mountains, beaches, old towns, new towns, and – excuse me for a second while I wipe the drool – the food. We did spend a grand total of 41 nearly consecutive days there. I’m not saying I’d want to live in Italy, but as a tourist, it was unbeatable.
Bulgaria – I can’t say if it was just due to our amazing experience with the people we met, or if it was the slightly more off-the-beaten-path feel of the country, but I really loved the little time that we spent there, and would love to go back to see more one day.
Norway – I’ve already confessed my love for Norway, but I’m happy to do it again. The country is blessed with some truly epic scenery. It might not have the best national cuisine, nor an abundance of historic and cultural sights. However, the natural beauty was enough for me to love the country. Plus, I feel at home here, with tall, thin, white men with ginger in their beards.
I immediately regretted choosing this option, as we visited a whole lot of churches, and there are a lot that also deserve a mention, like Seville and Cordoba. Finally, La Sagrada Familia, isn’t included because we skipped Barcelona this time.
St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican – It should come as no surprise that the main church of the Roman Catholic church is one of the most amazing churches that I have ever visited. I can’t think of a more visually stunning sight than the interior of this basilica. The overwhelming scale, combined with the marble, gold and painted frescos, were for lack of a better word, overwhelming.
Rila Monastery, Bulgaria – A whole world away from the wealth and riches of the Vatican, but there was something so truly stunning about this monastery and church. It wasn’t possible to photograph inside, but the painted frescos, the dim lighting and the incredible chandeliers made for a deeply powerful experience. (Photography was forbidden inside, so the interior is from a photo of a postcard)
Duomo di Sienna, Italy – I absolutely adored Sienna, and this cathedral, which sat proud on a hill, was the absolute main attraction of the town. The exterior was stunning, but the interior… I have no words for the beauty inside.
You may say castle or château, I say Palace.
Peles Castle, Romania – I still cannot think of a palace that was more beautiful inside. Admittedly, it was the most modern of all the palaces we visited (they have internal vacuum cleaner system), but the rooms were stunning.
Château de Chambord, France – I don’t know if it was because we visited this so late in the trip, or because it was truly amazing, but I can’t forget the approach to this ‘hunting lodge’. The building was mesmerising – at least from the outside, the inside was pretty barren.
La Alhambra, Spain – It was either this or Versailles, and I thought that this was probably more memorable – even if we did miss out on those elusive tickets to visit the inner palace. It’s probably more fortress than palace, but still, I’m not changing my vote to Versailles.
I’m generally of mixed feelings towards museums. Too often they feel stuffy, with just a static collection of treasures and pretty things. These were so much more – and yes, the term Museum is being loosely applied to these three.
Carrieres de Lumieres, France – This is exactly how I wish all art museums were. I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed looking at art so much in my life. The interior of an old stone quarry has been converted into a visual masterpiece, with the projected art coming to life and backed by an incredible soundtrack.
HR Giger Museum, Switzerland – HR Giger Museum (and Café). Enough said. I’ve always wanted to visit, and even with that colossal weight, it didn’t disappoint. It was incredible seeing his creations with my own eyes, and the neighbouring café was the closest I’ll ever get to entering an Alien spacecraft. (Sadly, photography was forbidden inside the Museum)
Miniatur Wunderland, Germany – The shortest five-hours of my life. I came expecting to see some model trains, I left with my mind blown at the biggest game of Where’s Wally I’ve ever experienced. Budget the whole day, take a break and rest your eyes, you’ll need it to see it all and defeat fatigue.
This was a little easier to compile, since we didn’t go to too many more events than this – unless you count my friend’s Slovakian wedding!
Christians and Moors, Spain – We raced through the first few weeks to make sure we were here on time. It was fantastic fun, and the costumes and spectacle were outstanding. Plus, we were here with local friends, allowing us to really get into the mood of the weekend.
Oktoberfest, Germany – We’d planned to visit for several years, especially since we had friends living nearby. Timing worked out in our favour this year, and we finally got a chance. I’m not a massive drinker, but this was exceptional fun. The beer was some of the best I’ve ever had, and the food… my Lord, the food was worth visiting alone. The costumes, the singing, the drinking, the eating, the general happiness made it something not to be missed – just bring a big group!
Gentse Feesten, Belgium – Continuing with the theme of joining local friends in their hometown festival is this 10-day street party in Ghent. We joined our friend for this boozy night of Belgian beer, and free live music in the heart of the old town. I understood why my friend returned home from London for the festival, as it was one of the best nights of the road trip.
We did a lot of driving. A whole lot of it – 35,000km of it in fact. While most of that was mundane, some of it was spectacular. There were several panoramic roads that we had to skip (Grossglockner and Transfargarasan), but still plenty more that we accidentally happened upon.
Vikos National Park, Greece – There was something amazing about driving through the mountains in the northwest of Greece. Firstly, it came as a surprise to see such big mountains in Greece, and secondly, it was hours and hours of empty twisting roads through forests and small villages. An old motorhome might not have been the ideal vehicle for maximum enjoyment, but I still enjoyed every kilometre of the drive. The national park is a big area, and we only drove a small section in the south, between the Kokkori Bridge, then east towards the E92 via the lake near Metsovo.
Norway – I can’t pick a single road here. There were so many occasions that I was ready to stop the car to just drink in the views. And this was during less than ideal weather. OK, so not every road in Norway was like something out of Instagram or Lord of the Rings, but the roads that twisted through the fjords and into the highlands of the western region were my kind of roads.
D84, Corsica – Corsica was a motorists paradise, and I think that this road was the highlight of our time there. Cliffs, gorges, mountain villages, alpine views, lakes, forests (with boar). It was so amazing, that I would consider visiting again with a bike (or a motorbike).
Again, not sure if this should be included in a list, because really, just about everyone was nice to us. People have complained about the French, but I found that once they knew I was Australian, rather than British, their attitude was reversed.
Albania – This was our first experience of truly welcome hospitality from strangers – as in, come eat with us, drink with us, stay at our house and join us for dinner. People were curious, staring as we walked around, but would always return a hearty smile when shown one first. I think this is due to the history of it being an extremely closed country, and one that still doesn’t receive many tourists.
Bulgaria – Our second experience of open-arms-hospitality from strangers. This time we were less guarded, and went along with it fully. And, just like with Albania, this really shaped our experience of Bulgaria, too.
Portugal – It wasn’t quite the welcome we received in Bulgaria/Albania, but we found the Portuguese were truly welcoming and friendly people in general.
Italy – I mean, does anyone not love Italian food? From seafood, to pasta, to pizza, to cured meats and cheeses, to gelato to focaccia stuffed with all of the antipasti. It wasn’t as cheap as Portugal, or the Warsaw-pact/former-Yugoslav countries, but it was still reasonably affordable. I mean, €3.50 for the best pizza of my life in Naples! If only it wasn’t so expensive to fly back…
France – I’ll reiterate what I said above – doesn’t anyone not love French food? The cheese, the bread, the cakes, the butter and garlic in everything. Oh, and France has the best supermarkets in Europe.
I’ll continue up with a breakdown of the costs and statistics in another post.