Santorini was more impressive than expected

Europe trip – a photo story

It’s been a dream of Susan’s to go to Europe for ages and it’s also been a dream of mine to walk the Camino de Santiago across Spain, so in late July we caught a Saudia Arabia Airlines flight to Paris to start a 4 and a half month journey that would include a 780km walk, a camel ride, several cable car rides and hundreds of kilometres of hitchhiking. It was an incredible journey.

On this trip I used my dSLR even less frequently than ever before and my iPhone became my everyday camera. I think learning how to edit photos a bit better on the phone has really tipped the scales for me as the process with a dSLR is so clunky. For me, the benefits of using a big old beast of a camera are diminishing by the day.

So here is 4 and a half months of travel in photos.

The Louvre

The Louvre

There’s a lot to love about Paris – hundreds of galleries, monuments and museums plus incredible cakes! I love cakes!

Sunset in Cologne

Sunset in Cologne

We went to Cologne because we found a car share heading that way from Amsterdam where we had become trapped due to the gay pride festival. Luckily for us we caught a fantastic sunset across the river.

Fancy dessert in Budapest

Fancy dessert in Budapest

Budapest was great for many reasons, but this dessert was one of them funnily enough.

Budapest was a highlight of Europe

Budapest was a highlight of Europe

With cheap lodgings, good cheap food, plenty of things to see and do and a more gritty feel than much of Europe, Budapest became a favourite stop on the trip.

Venice - total tourist trap, but you have to go

Venice – total tourist trap, but you have to go

Venice was both disappointing and exciting. Strange really. It’s a wonderful old city filled with maze-like alleys, historical buildings and those famous canals. The problem with Venice is that it is a full on tourist town. You pay a lot of money for absolutely rubbish food, after about 10am you have to fight your way through the alleys with all the other tourists and you end up feeling like a walking cash machine. I’m glad I went, but never again unless I win the lotto.

Cinque Terre - beautiful towns on a rocky coast

Cinque Terre – beautiful towns on a rocky coast

Cinque Terre is another one of those famous Italian towns which can be chockablock full in summer and empty in winter. Unfortunately for us we went there in Summer and it was full — totally. It was great, however, to walk up the mountains and look back down on the coast. Most tourists prefer to swim at the beach rather walk which made life away from the ocean quite nice.

The Camino de Santiago - someone got lost early on

The Camino de Santiago – someone got lost early on

After a whirwind month through Europe, it was time to walk from the French side of the Pyrnees all the way across to Santiago in Spain, 780km away. This was definitely a trip of a lifetime and a totally different travel experience. Something I’d like to do again.

There wasn't much to do on the Camino except walk

There wasn’t much to do on the Camino except walk

One of the great things about the Camino is that there is nothing else to do. You just walk. It was nice not to have any pressures (such as the transport pressures we’d had in Europe during the first month).

A 500 year old bridge on the Camino

A 500 year old bridge on the Camino

Much of the infrastructure on the camino such as roads and bridges has been around for centuries as this route has been popular for over a millennium.

Free food

Free food

You get a sense of entitlement on the Camino so I stole a few bunches of wine grapes while in the famous Rioja wine-growing area – they were surprisingly delish!

Sunflowers as far as the eye can see

Sunflowers as far as the eye can see

Sunflowers were everywhere and people liked to make funny faces and signs in the faces of the sunflowers — something to keep things interesting as you walk. (and walk)

Towards the end of the Camino it's all about walking through rainy sodden forests

Towards the end of the Camino it’s all about walking through rainy sodden forests

The last 5 days of the Camino has a reputation for being extremely busy and usually rainy. We got both and it was a battle to keep positive as we trudged through this forest.

Porto was a relief

Porto was a relief

Getting to Porto in Portugal was a relief as it changed up the routine a bit. Luckily for us Porto is a fabulous city.

The wild seas off Porto

The wild seas off Porto

There’s something about the ocean when it gets angry — I love it.

Chefchaouen was an impressive start to Morocco

Chefchaouen was an impressive start to Morocco

Chefchaouen is a wonderful town in Morocco and it was a great start to our time in the country. Sadly, it all went down hill from there because we were harassed by so many hostile men. For that reason alone, I recommend people just go somewhere else where the people are friendlier. Why bother with hassle when there are over 200 countries to visit?

The oasis around Todra Gorge

The oasis around Todra Gorge

Todra Gorge was a bright spot in Morocco. We hardly encountered another person in our time there and that made for a less stressful experience.

Obligatory Bedouin selfie

Obligatory Bedouin selfie

We didn’t know it at the time, but it seems that most people go on tours from the big cities to the desert towns fringing the Sahara. We got to the end of the line as far as roads go under our own steam and it was a truly rewarding experience. In the end we got our guesthouse owner to take us out into the desert for a night on some camels. Definitely worth the hassle of riding buses at awkward times over long distances — stunning scenery, great food and the real Morocco.

Sand dunes as far as the eye can see

Sand dunes as far as the eye can see

We chose not to visit the places that had the biggest sand dunes for fear of running into loads of other people. In the end we got medium sized dunes to ourselves – incredible!

Santorini was more impressive than expected

Santorini was more impressive than expected

After Morocco it was time to head back to Spain and then onto Greece. I feared Santorini would be yet another tourist trap as most of Europe had been, but we got lucky. The high season had ended by the time we got to Santorini, it was cool, accommodation was cheap and tourist numbers were down. It was genuinely enjoyable to stroll the streets of the island.

One of the best sunsets ever

One of the best sunsets ever

Santorini sunsets are famous and the one we saw was up there with the best I’ve seen. It really was that red.

Setting sail enroute to Selcuk

Setting sail enroute to Selcuk

We headed to Turkey after Greece and it was a complete surprise. These birds followed our ferry as it carried our bus across a large body of water enroute to Selcuk.

Ephesus was impressive, but this guy didn't seem to think so

Ephesus was impressive, but this guy didn’t seem to think so

Ephesus is one of those cities named in the Bible and it is remarkably in tact for such an old place. A Turkish highlight for sure.

Pamukkale - pretty cool place, heavily touristed

Pamukkale – pretty cool place, heavily touristed

I was a little disappointed with Pamukkale — it was certainly something different, but we stayed a guesthouse with a shitty owner and the pools weren’t as natural as I had expected. On top of that the number of independent travellers vs tour bus travellers was about 100 to 1. It was overwhelming and unpleasant. Still, it was worth a visit.

Cappadocia was truly marvellous

Cappadocia was truly marvellous

I was a bit suspicious of Cappadocia. Places that people rave about so much don’t usually suit me (can you see the theme here?). But Cappadocia was a truly special place despite being a typical tourist destiantion. Plenty of places to get decent food at reasonable prices, decent acccommodation, nice people and… Stunning scenery. And it’s all about the scenery really. People lived here a while back in the caves that dot the landscape and they’re all open for you to explore.

Mount Nemrut - world heritage and totally empty

Mount Nemrut – world heritage and totally empty

Mount Nemrut was another Turkish delight. (good joke). It’s World Heritage listed, but there was no one else there. Not even a ticket person. A guy did turn up later to take money, but he seemed like one of those dodgy guys that hangs around tourist sites collecting money “on behalf of the Government”. Nemrut is definitely worth a visit. It didn’t even snow despite being over 2000m above sea level and at the end of November.

Ani - so stunning

Ani – so stunning

Ani. Incredible.

How can a place so incredible be so empty?

How can a place so incredible be so empty?

Another empty place. Why? Where are all the backpackers? Too busy on the Thai islands I suppose.

A great introduction to Georgia at Vardzia

A great introduction to Georgia at Vardzia

Georgia impressed from the very first encounter with a Georgian person – a border guard. Vardzia was one of our first sites in the country.

Davit Gareji - just go

Davit Gareji – just go

Davit Gareji is not too far from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. It was an easy day trip and definitely worth visiting — it was absolutely sensational.

Kazbegi is an incredible place - it gets cold, so rug up

Kazbegi is an incredible place – it gets cold, so rug up

There were 3 other foreigners on the bus to Kazbegi on the day we went meaning we practically had the entire town to ourselves as far as tourists go. It’s up in the mountains near the restive border with Russia — it gets bitterly cold in winter. This small town was one of the highlights of the entire trip due to incredibly warm hospitality from our homestay owner and…

Possibly the best setting for a church ever

Possibly the best setting for a church ever

…the stunning scenery all around the area. You can even walk past this church towards Mount Kazbek and see a glacier (apparently — you need to be fitter than me).

Armenia is full of old school cars (with gas tanks on their roofs)

Armenia is full of old school cars (with gas tanks on their roofs)

After Georgia it was time to visit Armenia, another one of those countries that you know nothing about. That’s what made going there so fun, I think. You just went with no expectations. What we got was fantastic hospitality.

I got my ruski on in Armenia

I got my ruski on in Armenia

So hospitable were the people that every time we stood on the side of the road wondering how to flag down a bus, someone would stop and pick us up — and that’s how I got this military hat.

These buses were so fun to ride on

These buses were so fun to ride on

Still, when hitchhiking a bus would sometimes come past and we’d jump on that. These bus are so old school, but so fun.

Armenia is bleak, but beautiful

Armenia is bleak, but beautiful

I took this photo after being dropped off by a guy after hitchhiking. We had to walk the next 2km into town and it was so bleak. But I felt alive!

Massive apartment blocks plonked in the middle of fields

Massive apartment blocks plonked in the middle of fields

The strangest thing… I thought Hungary and Czech Republic would feel like ex-soviet states, but they didn’t. Not a bit. Armenia did. Totally. 100%. Ex-soviet. Mad! Love it!

Istanbul is as good as everyone says

Istanbul is as good as everyone says

After zipping through the Caucasus, it was time to head back to Turkey and linger in Istanbul for a few days. It is wonderful.

Walk across Galata bridge at sunset and just absorb the atmosphere

Walk across Galata bridge at sunset and just absorb the atmosphere

The best thing about Istanbul was getting your bearings and then just walking around the place. You don’t have a lot of choice anyway as the public transport system isn’t integrated and can be confusing.

Petra - a massive disappointment

Petra – a massive disappointment

To cap off the 4 and a half month journey, we hit up Jordan. After seeing all the glowing blog posts from people who went there for free as part of the #VisitJordan campaign, I wanted to see it for myself. I really enjoyed the low-key nature of Amman, but Petra was tourist hell. Expensive hotels, expensive eateries and… an $80 entrance fee to the site. It’s the most I’ve ever paid for a place like that and it certainly tarnished my experience there. If I had gotten it for free, I’d be raving about Petra. Just like everyone else. For a budget traveller, Petra is just not worth it. Go somewhere cheaper instead.

So that’s 4 and a half months of ups and downs, praise and criticism. I’m really starting to understand what I like and what I don’t like and I think it’s time to start travelling accordingly. Slow travel. No tourists. Short stints in cities unless they’re marvellous. Genuinely nice people. I’m just not interested in the rest.

3 thoughts on “Europe trip – a photo story

  1. This post was such a delight to read and I loved following along on your journey through all the lovely pictures (very impressed most of these were taken on your phone!). I was most interested to read about Turkey and Georgia as we may be heading to both of these places in a few months… we know it’s getting time to leave Asia (we’ve been here for nearly 2 years now), but I’m not quite ready for Western Europe (and those prices…). So Turkey and the Caucuses sounds like the perfect compromise! And they really look beautiful—had never heard of Mount Nemrut, but it looks awesome!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted..Feeling Blah about the Batu Caves

    1. Steph – All I can say about our time in Turkey and the Caucuses is that it was far less stressful, much cheaper and far more enjoyable. I found them to be much like a European version of Asia whereas Western Europe for me was a little bland. It was also stressful because I found Western Europe to be incredibly expensive and not conducive to unplanned travel. Picking up a last minute train ticket is EXPENSIVE and often buses are all full. Turkey, Georgia and Armenia were not like that for us and consequently were soooooo awesome.

      Mount Nemrut was a good one. Not one other person there when we arrived. After descending the mountain, a makeshift ticket collector (read: local guy looking for cash) asked for entrance money turned up – but that was it. Not another person around and it was fantastic.

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