Week 14: The luckiest girl in the world

There was a time, not so long ago when doing this would have been impossible. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was stuck waiting for life to happen, waiting to see if I would get better, get my life back. Then, I would only plan a few weeks ahead, any more than that would have been pointless. There was no certainty, at times, there was hardly any hope.

To me then, traveling was a dream, something so good that it could never actually happen. But then I started getting better, and I started hoping that it would happen, that I would get to travel, and see the world and now I am.

There have been times when I have been tired when the comforts of home have seemed inviting, then the routine and ease of it all feels like it’s calling. But then I sleep and rest and met someone new and see something amazing and I don’t want to stop.

I have hiked in national parks, met people from all over the world. Heard stories that have reminded me how privileged I am to have been born in the UK to parents who always had enough of everything. I’ve seen the poverty in parts of eastern Europe. I’ve seen the wealth in other parts of the continent. I’ve traveled on trains fresh out of the ’70s with no aircon that run super slow and taken high-speed modern trains that don’t give you enough time to see the scenery you are rushing past.

Last week I sat on a rickety old chairlift in the Bulgarian mountains, laughing and talking about ‘the challenges’ of life on the road. Our problems are small ones, lack of good towels, the constant sense of running out of time, having to wait to use the toilet, things so insignificant they only come up when everything else is so good you have nothing to complain about.

Life on the road is simple, you have nothing but what you carry, you wear the same clothes on repeat without always getting a chance to wash them, you sleep in a different bed every few nights, have the same conversation with new people every day.

I enjoy the lack of routine, for me, at home, I need a strong routine to keep my head clear, on the road every day brings something new and I have relaxed into not always knowing what will come my way. I have learned to change my plans at short notice, to adapt and change to suit my environment. To me, there is less pressure living like this. I feel free to be myself and live how I want to. There are few expectations, even fewer rules and I have less rules for myself too.

And every time, I stop and think, I can’t help but feel that, at the moment, I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

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I hope this has been an enjoyable episode,

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 12: A familiar face and a faraway place

Warning: this is a long one!

After 2 and a half months Sarah comes to visit. We started planning this so long ago, April to be exact. At that point, Budapest seemed a lifetime away. I had so much to do and so much to see and then suddenly I’m sitting in a cafe in Budapest seeing one of my oldest friends walking towards me.

Me and Sarah met when we are about 11 in a climbing competition, since we have done many stupid things together. It is her fault I dreamed up this trip, we are in a competition to see who can visit all the European countries first). When she said she wanted to come out it was when I thought I would be easily hopping from capital to capital. We settled on Budapest and Bratislava, I let her do the planning for this bit.

And now we are in Budapest and she is melting in the heat of mid-summer in central Europe and I find that I’m pretty used to 30 degrees now and we are joking and laughing about how I’m so excited about finding cheddar in a supermarket and everything feels so good.

We get to the apartment and she almost has a meltdown when she can’t get the key to work as it is hot and she is tired and I laugh and take it from her. We get the aircon working and she half climbs into the fridge to cool down. We laugh and I love the feeling of not having to do the introductions with someone new. I have loved everything I’ve done, I’ve met amazing people but 5 days with an old friend feels like a treat.

We get confused over Hungarian currency then cause a queue at the ticket machine for the tram as we can’t work out what tickets to buy. I force her to walk through the city to the supermarket in the heat to buy food and then we go back to the apartment and I cook us dinner and she does the washing up and everything flows.

The next day we do a free walking tour, the guide is obsessed with art nouveau which gets a bit much after a while. We eat lunch in a traditional Hungarian restaurant and find a water misster that sprays you to help you cool down. We sit by a fountain and then head to a bathhouse where we do walking races across the pools which Sarah wins and endurance competitions in the cold pool that I win.

That evening I manage to fuse the lights and the aircon in our room. We laugh and improvise. The next morning Sarah learns I will sleep through everything but my name being said. After breakfast, we head out into the city again and find our way to the musical fountain on Margaret Island and we sit getting splashed watching the water show.

The next day we take a very hot train to Bratislava. It’s 34 degrees outside and there is no aircon only an open window to keep us cool. She does her colouring in and I write my journal and knit. We reach the city and our accommodation and Sarah gets stressed out with a key again. We dump our stuff and then head into the old town for a walking tour. This one is better the guide is really good and we both enjoy it.¬†We find dinner then head back to the apartment for a quiet evening.

The next day we do a city game (a bit like an escape room but running around the city). We enjoy it but there are a few bits that seem to have a got a little lost in translation and we way over complicate it at the start. By the time we finish we are both crazy hungry and so get pancakes followed by icecream and by the time we finish our ‘lunch’ its 5pm. We sit for a while in a square and then head home via the well air-conditioned supermarket where we spend ages hunting unsuccessfully for peanut butter.

We say we will get an early night but instead, I keep us up looking at trains and planning another part of my trip and getting overwhelmed by train timetables and then it’s almost midnight and we need to go to bed. I’m on a train to the High Tatra mountains and Sarah is going home and I can’t believe our time together is over already.

The journey is pretty easy, I each Poprad and take a risk by going to the supermarket before getting the bus but manage to time it perfectly and only have to wait 5 minutes before a bus to Zdiar comes. The driver doesn’t speak English and it’s a little hard to communicate but I manage. I overshoot the stop I want and have to walk 1.5km back to the village. I get an incredibly warm welcome when I reach the hostel and even though I don’t eat Pizza I go out with everyone that evening having cooked and eaten first.

After dinner, everyone sits out on the porch chatting. I plan with Megan and Rachel to go to the Polish lakes the next day. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I can’t remember how it comes up but I end up telling Rachel that I’m autistic. A few of us chat about it for a while. Rachel is a psychologist and is researching into autistic girls. There are some teachers there as well and it’s really interesting to talk to them about their experiences and share my own. It’s funny how things work out.

The next day I’m up early to get a bus that ends up not existing. Megan, Rachel and I stand at the bus stop for 45 minutes in the end but we do get to the Slovakian border and from there we walk to the national park on the polish side. It’s busy, it’s a Saturday and this is one of the most famous lakes in the area. The first bit is just on a road, my blood sugars try to go low a few times but I manage to avoid a proper Hypo.

The first lake we reach is so crowded. It’s nice but there are so many people. I find it harder to appreciate nature when it’s that busy. We sit a while and eat a little but then head off for the next part of the walk, this takes us away from the crowds and is much more interesting. It’s a long day but we all enjoy it. On the way back, we meet a Polish lady and her daughter, they have been coming to the area for years but haven’t met any English speakers before. We chat as we walk. We are all tired by this time and so it’s nice to have another conversation.

We say goodbye when we hit the main path back. The three of us try to figure out the best way to get back to the hostel, we have missed the bus we wanted and the next won’t be for a few hours. We walk the 2km back towards the border and try to hitchhike but to no luck. Then a car pulls up in front of us and a familiar face pokes out, it’s our Polish friends and they dive us all the way back to the hostel.

We all shower then head out again. There is a beer festival in the village and everyone else from the hostel is there. It’s not something I would normally go to but the hostel is such a nice place and the people so welcoming that I feel comfortable enough to go with them. I eat and drink tap water while everyone else tastes lots of beer. It’s a little noisy but I enjoy myself. As things start to wind down a band is playing outside and everyone is out there. I go outside too but the noise and vibrations from the music is too much and I return to the shelter of the building.

I see Rachel looking around for me but I can’t go outside to tell her why I disappeared. I feel embarrassed that I can’t be outside. I want to be with the others but I can’t be in that noise. Even though they know I’m autistic it’s still not fun to have to say I can’t join in because of something everyone else enjoys. I think about going home, but I don’t want to go. It’s a situation I have been in a hundred times before, the longing to join in fighting against the overwhelming stimulus that makes me so uncomfortable I have to flee from it.

But people come inside and when I explain Rachel and Megan stay inside with me until it finished and we all go home. I don’t like making people choose between being with me and being in the environment I can’t tolerate but they didn’t seem to mind and they choose me.

The next day I take it easy, sleeping in and eating nice food. I chat with Rachel about her research and manage to do some writing. It’s nice to just sit and relax. There is a thunderstorm in the evening and I sit out on the porch in the pouring rain watching in.

On my last full day in the Tatra’s, I join two Aussie sisters and we do the saddle hike, it’s the one everyone who goes to the (https://www.gingermonkey.eu) does. The scenery is amazing and I’m pretty pleased with myself once I’ve done it. After 4 years of not hiking my fitness isn’t as good as it once was but after my time in Lofoten it’s getting better and I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself.

That evening after dinner it’s movie night and so I settle down to watch slumdog millionaire in the living room. It’s been an amazing 4 days in a part of the world I hadn’t even heard about until it popped up on a Lonely Planet post on Facebook.

I’m sad to leave the next morning but I can’t help but look forward to what the final 2 months of the trip will bring.

And as a reward for getting thought all these words, have some lovely pictures!

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I hope you have enjoyed this episode!

With Love

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 10: Tents, Trains and Towers

I wake up at 7am after a fun night that seriously lacked in sleep. I pack my bags as quietly as I can and leave the hostel. The streets of Berlin are already full of people heading out for the day and I debate with myself on whether or not I should go to the bakery for a coffee on the way to the train. Despite my new resolution to be more relaxed the time conscious part of me wins and I head straight for the train station.

There is a sign on the platform which I can’t read so I simply board the first train that comes to the right platform and wait. It sits there for 5 minutes which I find odd but since my German is only up ordering a coffee level I have no idea what is going on so sit and wait. When the train finally does start moving it’s in the wrong direction, a good indicator of how my whole day will go. Luckily I get chatting to a woman who understands German and also got on the wrong train together and she navigates the disruption for the both of us making it much easier for me to manage it all.

By the time I’m heading to Berlin Ostbhanhof I’m convinced I’ll miss my intended train and very glad that I’m on an interrail ticket and so I can just find another one. When I reach Ostbhanhof its less than two minutes before the train I want will leave but seeing it sitting one platform across from me I hurry down the stairs through the tunnel and back up to the platform and somehow manage to reach the train less than 30 seconds before the doors shut.

I spend most fo the short journey to Hannover dozing. It’s supposed to be a 9 and a half hour journey to Zurich but only 2 trains and after the 18-hour epic I took from Bodo to Oslo it’s not too bad. At Hannover I get a much-needed coffee while I wait for my next train direct to Zurich. When the train, 20 minutes late finally arrives it turns out it’s not direct to Zurich anymore. The train they sent instead is smaller than it should be and all the reservations are void. People are standing along the corridors looking fed up and cramped.

I find a small space on the floor between two seats in the bike area. All things considered, having a patch of floor to sit on is pretty good going. Often situations like this bring out the best in people and despite the cramped conditions and the rapidly increasing delay on the train, I enjoy the journey. I make friends with a Swedish man with his two kids who are also interrailing across Europe and a French lady heading home. Me and the two adults chat for a while shearing travel stories and desperately trying to understand the announcements the train crew are giving.

After an hour or so the Swedish family start playing cards and soon me and the French woman join in. We sit on the floor getting in the way every time anyone wants to get down the carriage, the only people to be enjoying the journey. We play games till the French woman leaves for her connection and the train empties out. When they leave, after 5 hours together the young Swedish girl gives me a massive hug and looks sad to be leaving. It feels nice, it could have been hell but we made the hours pass and enjoyed each other company.

It takes 2 more trains to reach Zurich and I’m glad for the couple of nights rest I get there. I stay with one of my Mum’s friends and marvel at more sharing a room with other people and being able to wash all my clothes. It’s a perfect oasis of calm after 3 weeks on the go.

My train to Munich is a calm affair, I sit knitting for most of it. I reach the city and make my way to the hostel-come-campsite that I’m staying at. I meet people on the bus to the hostel and get chatting with Gillie an English girl interrailing for a month. I check-in, pitch my tent then buy dinner. The whole place has a very friendly and relaxed vibe to it and I chat with Gillie for a while before joining in a card game and not getting to my tent till almost midnight.

My tent was an emergency amazon buy and not the best one I’ve made, it has some serious flaws, such as breathing at all causes condensation to run down the inside and soaking you as you sit up or more importantly your down sleeping bag. While I’m comfortable on the floor with my mat and bag the tent is making me nervous and with the heavy rain promised for the next few nights I move into indoor accommodation, a giant tent with 200 beds in it.

After sorting waterproof accommodation I head into the city and mett Gillie for lunch before going on a walking tour. The guide pisses me off when he tells us how much to tip him at the end. Most of the time there is an understanding that young people traveling around tend to be able to afford less than older people on holiday. His attitude puts my back up and I enjoy the tour less because of it.

In the evening a large group of us play cards, I lose badly at cheat and by the time the rest head into town am ready to go to bed. I don’t sleep much though, a room with 200 people in is hardly quiet and the next morning I get up unrested. I go into the city but am too tired to enjoy myself so head back to the hostel for a nap. I know I have pushed too hard and need to rest.

The next day I leave Munich for Prague. I find a carriage on the train and am joined by other young travelers. We chat happily talking about our respective trips and then laps into silence reading, writing, scrolling through phones. it’s a nice mix of social and relaxing until two very loud women join the carriage, they are a part of a big group and sit watching videos with very loud audio and drinking what looks like champagne. There is a collective sigh of relief when they leave.

Prague has been really built up as a totally amazing place and I feel a little underwhelmed by it all. It might be because I’m tired and it’s the 6th city I’ve visited but I don’t fall in love with the place. Yes, the buildings are nice, and the castle is very impressive. The astronomical clock is cool but it just feels like another city in a long list of them.

I’m also exhausted and need a break from sightseeing. I can feel my body crying out for rest and know I need to stop if I’m going to carry on enjoying the trip. I’m 2.5 months in now. I can afford a little me time.

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I hope you enjoyed the week’s story,

With Love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 9: Flying high

After a week of spending most of my time on my own, I was really needed some human company. Traveling to me is about seeing new things, meeting new people and coming out of my comfort zone. I was managing two of them easily but a week almost solo somewhere I didn’t know had left me wondering if the best part was now over,

Gdansk is a lovely little city, steeped in history and an easy place to spend time, but the best part was at my hostel there were people who wanted to talk. It wasn’t the best hostel I have ever stayed in, but it was friendly. I spent my time in the city on walking tours and visiting the war museum. I made a friend and on my last night, we walked around the local supermarkets, giggling like crazy, on the hard task of spending my last zloty coins, a full 3.69 of them, about 78p in UK money (I managed to buy food to make lunch for my train).

My trip to Berlin was an easy one, I had to get up at 6am, but I had hardly slept due to the noise of the traffic and people having sex in my dorm room (WHY???). I had an old fashioned train compartment to myself most of the way and was able to sit with my music and knitting, enjoying watching the forests pass by.

Berlin is somewhere I had always wanted to visit. As a kid, the second world war was one of my main interests and I studied the cold war in history at school. I have always been a bit of a history nerd and so I couldn’t travel through Europe without going to Berlin. I wasn’t sure what to expect with the city. I have been told lots of different things, (it seems to depend on who you talk to whether you hear about the amazing history or have ideas hinted at you about the subcultures).

I was maybe expecting somewhere a bit like London just with ex-soviet architecture in one part and modern glass buildings in the other (I have no idea where that idea came from, an autistics mind view on capitalism versus communism). But as I am notoriously bad at picturing new experiences in my head it wasn’t a surprise that the picture I had was drastically wrong. Yes, there is a lot of communist housing blocks, especially in the area I was staying in but within the time I had walked from the train station to my hostel I was starting to get a feel for the place.

I enjoyed the history of the city, I enjoyed walking about the place. I saw the Memorial to the murdered Jews and the Berlin wall. I went on a couple of free walking tours and museums but the best thing about the week was the people I met.

There was always someone to talk to and people were always inviting me to do things with them. Often I like to go out during the day on my own, not having to worry about what anyone else wants to do is a freedom in itself but I enjoy human company too and so having people to interact with when I’m back in the hostel is important too. In Berlin, I had the perfect mix.

On my first day, I went out with Lillie and Gabriele, two girls who were volunteering in the hostel, they taught me the rules of the public transport system as well as being good company. Most of the people in the hostel were partying at night, not my thing, but as most of them didn’t go out till 10sih I never felt like I was missing out.

On my third night, I went out with Lillie and Gabriele and some other guys staying at the hostel. The falafel place we went to was in one of the cheaper districts that I never would have gone to on my own. We sit outside chatting and eat a huge amount of food for hardly any money. Afterwards, we go to a bar. I don’t go out much. It took 8 months for me to start going out some Saturdays after work and I have never gone out in a city I didn’t know well.

It’s an amazing feeling. This confidence that I find when I leave the bubble of home, when I’m in places I’m not afraid to be myself. We talk about as we walk, for me, it’s much easier to be confident when I’m traveling as all the relationship with other people are short term. It doesn’t matter what people think of you, if you get on great, you might even stay in touch and see each other again but if you don’t who cares, you will go your separate ways.

That night I’m up till 1am, chatting with people and feeling free. I’m full of joy and last weeks loneliness if left forgotten.

For my last night in Berlin, Lillie and I have a sleepover in the hostel lounge, one of the guys in the room snoring really loudly and I was up for several hours the night before due to the noise. We both have to be up early to catch trains and need to sleep so obviously stay up chatting for ages and giggling together, it’s like something out of an American teenage girl’s movie and we both love it.

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I hope you have enjoyed this last episode!

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 8: Goodbye Scandinavia (Norway)

It’s hard to believe June has ended already. Time and distance have stopped meaning anything to me. Every day is something new and it’s getting hard to keep track of things. After the peace and quiet of the farm, city-hopping is another world.

My last full day in Norway was spent walking on a glacier. The whole experience was surreal and amazing but the main thing I took away from it all was how FAST climate change is affecting the planet. The Glacier I was on shrunk by 80m last year alone. It’s a terrifying thought to think that one day there might not be any left at all.

The next day I headed to Oslo, after the price of the bus to get to my hostel I decided not to bother and to try to hitchhike all the way. Now people who know me will know that I like plans and order. I’m habitually early for everything and hate not knowing what’s going on. Hitchhike small distances is one thing, this was the biggest leap into the unknown I’d taken.

Leaving the hostel I get a lift with a French couple to the local town, Sogndal. It’s raining and the wind is a little cold. Not the best weather to hang about by the side of the road. The thing about Norway is that even in the rain it is an easy place to wait for things, the constant changing of the scenery and the beauty that surrounds me is enough to make waiting for an hour by the side of the road is almost pleasant. An old Norweigan man picks me up and takes me over the ferry to about 20 minutes from the main road. I wait for over an hour by the ferry until I’m picked up again and dropped off on the main road between Bergan and Oslo.

I’m not there long when a van stops and the man driving offers me a lift… All the way to Oslo. It’s a 5-hour ride over the highest mountains in Norway. Kjell, my lift is one of those people who genuinely cares about people and we talk easily as we drive. At every turning point and stop, he tells me what the plan is so I always feel safe and enjoy the ride.

I basically skip Oslo and the next day take a train to Stockholm. I arrive at the hostel past midnight and sneak into the room.

I enjoy Stockholm as a city but find it hard to get to know anyone in the hostel. I meet a Ukrainian girl on a walking tour who I get along with and we spend an evening and a day together. The medieval and historical town is interesting. I enjoy walking around and seeing it in the sun. But I feel a bit isolated. After my time in Norway, it’s like the happy bubble I have lived in burst. Norway I felt totally free. Everything was easy and fun. Stockholm feels more limiting. It’s not so much because it’s a city but I don’t have the easy confidence I’m used to when traveling.

I miss Norway and the mountains, I find it easier to be alone when in nature. I wonder if I did the best bit first and the rest if my trip won’t be able to hold up to the experiences I’ve already had. I tell myself to remain positive, Sunday I board a ferry and head to Poland. I’m glad to be leaving and moving on. I’ll miss Norway but I’ve had enough of Stockholm. I just hope Gdansk will help me feel free again.

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Hope you enjoyed,

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx