Over the past few years, as I’ve got older (and perhaps even a little more wise), I’ve become far more interested in making memories rather than having things. I’d prefer a trip over a present. An afternoon tea over a handbag. Tickets to an exhibition instead of a physical gift. Unless that physical gift is gin. Anyway, I digress. Making memories is now the most important thing to me and injecting a little adventure into the everyday is a motto I’m trying to live by.
I’ve been reflecting a lot on all my travel escapades in recent years, wanting to document some of the most memorable (and not necessarily the most fun!) so that I never ever forget. So I thought I’d share them with you – please share your most memorable travel experiences in the comments below!
Taking the sleeper train between Kraków and Prague
I wouldn’t say that my husband and I are naturally adventurous. We don’t ski, bungee jump or scuba dive. We prefer to plan things over being spontaneous and to be honest we’ve tended to travel to mainly well known destinations. In fact, until recently we were all about the package holiday, meaning we didn’t have to think about transport, hotels – it was all done for us.
But in planning our trip to Central Europe, we decided to do things a little differently. We had a whole week off work, and wanted to make the most of our time and budget. We selected Kraków and Prague and as I explored flights between the two, I figured out that there was a sleeper train that stopped at both those places. Saving money on a hotel and ensuring we don’t waste sightseeing time on travel time? Sold.
But this was all new to us. We haven’t ever done that Europe in Summer which is so popular with students in the UK, and I hadn’t event travelled on the sleeper train to Scotland. I didn’t know what to expect at all, and as the day approached I got a little nervous.
Our train wasn’t until 11pm, so we had done dinner and headed to an amazing little vodka bar which quelled my nerves a little. As the clock marched forward, we grabbed our bags and headed to the station, picking up some snacks on the way. I checked my ticket about five times to make sure I’d booked the right thing, as I started to get a bit overtired and grumpy in the rapidly emptying station. Then, our platform was called.
I wasn’t nervous at this point. I just really wanted to get to bed.
As we were led to our little cabin, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. We bundled ourselves into the tiny space, trying to squeeze ourselves and our luggage. In the end, Andrew climbed up to the top bunk just so we had a little more floor space. We hastily got out our jim jams, got changed and had a little wash in the sink in our cabin, before trying to get to sleep before the train left the station, ensure we’d get a full seven hours before arriving in Prague.
We turned all the lights off. It was strange. I’d taken the bottom bunk and as I tried to get to sleep I could feel the train moving slowly, pulling out of the platform and onwards to our destination. I suddenly realised my error in not taking the top bunk. I felt and heard every creak and strain over the tracks, every brake pull, every accelerator. I was in for a truly long night.
Eventually I fell asleep, waking a few times as the jolts and stutters hit the bottom bunk. I had set my alarm so as to make sure were were awake in good time and could get dressed before being woken by the guard. I needn’t have worried, as I was fully awake from about 4am having fully given up on sleep at this point. Andrew, typically, got a great nights sleep. We slurped at our coffee, a welcome gift from the train guard and got ready to disembark – me, bleary eyed and Andrew, pretty chipper.
It was 6am, and in a daze we hot out of the station, into a taxi, to the hotel and then just 30 minutes later we were on the Charles Bridge just as the sun came up. Suddenly the poor sleep and the crazy train ride had all been worth it for these moments alone in one of Europe’s most romantic locations.
Will I take the sleeper train again? Unlikely. But this journey has really been one of my most memorable travel experiences, even if for the wrong reasons!Travel gives many things that can stay with you - what are your most memorable travel experiences?Click To Tweet
Swimming in El Nicho Falls, Cuba
My visit to Cuba was generally juts a constant surprise at every turn, but the biggest surprise was my visit to a rainforest in the middle of Cuba itself. A rainforest was not necessarily something I was associated with Cuba, and as I began my tour of Cienfuegos, Trinidad and Santa Clara, I found out we’d also be making a stop at El Nicho National Park for a rainforest walk.
So far, so intrigued.
We swapped into mini vans at Cienfuegos, ready to make the steep descent up to El Nicho. My heart sank a little. I hated bumpy car rides and I hadn’t prepared adequately because I didn’t realise this was on the cards. I’ve been sick in a jeep up the Triodos Mountains in Cyprus and in a van up to the Montverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica so I knew that it was a real possibility that I’d feel ill again. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and hoped for a speedy journey.
After about 90 minutes of deep breathing and desperately trying to hold it together, we pulled up at the entrance to El Nicho, and were ushered inside towards the restrooms and told to change into our swimming gear. That rising sense of panic appeared again. Swimming gear? I don’t swim. I also can’t really swim. Swimming is not something that I do unless it’s bobbing about in a pool with an all inclusive cocktail. Luckily, we had actually packed swimming gear because I’m a former girl guide and I’m always prepared but I had no idea why we were being told to put it on under our clothes.
We began our hike (whilst my bikini chafed in the hot weather) and soon my fears dissipated – El Nicho was completely stunning, an absolutely wonderful place to walk and our guide was excellent at pointing out local wildlife. I was already loving my afternoon, when all of a sudden the beautiful falls came into view (see above), and I was just completely enthralled. I feel like this was the first time I’d been so close to a waterfall before, and I was very excited.
But that wasn’t all. We continued onwards, where we came across a gorgeously turquoise still pool of water, with a small fall tumbling into it. At this point, everything became clear as we rested and the group started to strip down to their cossies. Oh so we swim now? I refused, and sat on a rock whilst I watched my husband and everyone else splash about in the cool water. My heart sank – I was so very sad at not being able to join in, and I felt stupid for being so afraid. I locked eyes with my husband and he beckoned to me. encouraging me to just come and try as he edged to the shore to help me in.
Screw it, I thought. I’ll never get another chance to do this. I wriggled out of my cropped trousers and tshirt, and gingerly stepped forward to the water. I closed my eyes and dipped a toe in. Then another, as Andrew held my waist and pulled me towards him. It was blissfully cold. It was wonderful. The feeling of that water over my body will stay with me forever.
Climbing Mount Vesuvius and looking out over the Bay of Naples
Have you ever felt like you are standing on top of the world, with no worries and concerns, a light wind whipping through your hair, the sun burning your eyes slightly and everything stretched out below you? Looking directly at the space where the blue sea meets the blue sky, and thinking “how lucky am I to be here, right now in this moment?”.
I have, just once. And it was when I was standing at the top of Mount Vesuvius.
This is a volcano you can climb, and that climb is beautiful, but relentless. It wasn’t steep, but it was a winding and long gravel park to the top, even though you really only climb the last 200m.I was very unfit. It was so warm even though it was only March and as I huffed and puffed my way to the top I wondered if I’d ever actually make it. I needed to take a few rests, and I got increasing hot and angry, especially as my husband beat a hasty path up ahead with the bottle of water.
As we reached the summit I was in a very bad mood indeed.
Part way through the climb, we arrived at a small hut and waited for a scheduled tour by a volcanology guide. I think we only waited because I was gasping hard for air at this point and needed something, anything to take my mind off how tired I was feeling. However, whilst it only lasted 10 minutes, I learnt a fair bit about what we looking at and the history of Mount Vesuvius, whilst catching my breath.
We continued onwards then, up some wooden steps to walk part way round the crater (and peer in, which was slightly disconcerting) and beyond to get to the highest peak for an excellent view.
And despite being hot, clammy and a little tired I’d do it again and again for that view. We were extremely lucky to visit on a clear day so the top was not shrouded with clouds or mist, and the views across the Bay of Naples are spectacular. Honestly, I just stood up there and stared across sea for what felt like a very long time.
Eating up at the bar at Boqueria Market in Barcelona
It’s fair to say that my solo trip to Barcelona was a bit of a revelation to me in many ways. With it being my first solo trip I was a complete bundle of nerves as I got off the plane and headed to my hotel. The main thing, rather bizarrely, that I was worried about was eating alone. I’ve come to rely on a companion when travelling – to be able to shy out of situations when others are with me has made me really rubbish at travelling independently.
But Barcelona’s famous Boqueria Market was not going to get the best of me. It’s probably the most exciting and raw that I’ve been to, and definitely a little bit more gritty than some of the other food hall style markets I’d been to. As I stepped inside I felt a wave of chaos drift over me, with locals streaming in to purchase a huge range of fresh produce and artisan goods such as wine and olive oil.
Dotted around the place I could see various eateries. Small bar like places with high stools and a squeeze yourself in policy that basically terrified me. With my terrible Spanish combined with my terrible eyesight I couldn’t quite make out what was being served at each placed and I started to roam aimlessly and despondent around the market.
I just didn’t know what to do, and I was really hungry.
As I stood in the middle of the market, I gave myself a good talking to. You might be alone, I told myself, but you came here to do this. I took in another circuit, searching for a space until I came across the final one, with a couple of stools waiting for me to perch. I hovered nearby, hesitantly, trying to work out what I might be served here when I wonderful waitress took my hand and encourage me to sit down, whilst explaining the menu. It was clear she could see I was struggling.
In the end enjoyed a delicious freshly grilled salmon, roasted vegetables and chips washed down with a beer. From my bar stool vantage point, I could watch the market and I could watch the food being cooked right in front of me, and it was a perfect way to spend a lunchtime. I leaned in to my space and time alone with my book and my beer and suddenly I felt like a real traveller. A solo traveller. I was so completely content at that moment.
I’d love to hear more about your favourite travel memories and stories – don’t forget to share them in the comments below!
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