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Moments of Europe

I couldn’t quite decide how to capture the last 8weeks so I have tried to do things a bit differently.

all seasons in one day 26 °C

So a journey was begun, one that promised enlightenment, entertainment, emotions and excitement and delivered on all accounts, we are here to honour that journey and to recognise and relive some of the moments that defined the 8 week adventure. To quote Pulp Fiction “it's the little differences. I mean, they got the same shit over there that we got here, but it's just – it's just there it's a little different” it this that makes Europe so surreal. The moments presented here are testament to these differences and the calibre of all is undeniable. So without further ado…

Top 5 Old Things – this award is contested by those sights, and there are many, in Europe that have an age, a past and a history that New Zealand simply can not rival.
5. Colloseum – as far as iconic buildings go this one ranks right up there and the history of the events, games and bloodshed that took place serve to make it a worthy entrant here to start the list.
4. Dubrovnik – this fortified town is breathtakingly beautiful perched at the joining of mountains and seas. Postcard views from the gondola above the town while those at street level are no less stunning. Plus this place pumps at night!!
3. Koln Cathedral – as far as Gothic architecture goes there is nothing to compare with this monster of a cathedral. The city is stupidly proud of it and souvenirs of it are everywhere. It does seem to be perpetually covered in scaffolding, testament, I guess, to the mammoth task of cleaning it.
2. Roman Forum – the very centre and the birthplace of western civilisation. The beginning of democracy the historical ruins cover the entire Palatine Hill overlooking the Circus Maximus and all of modern Rome which in itself isn’t even that modern.
1. Pompei – hands down the most impressive of the Old Things and the winner of this inaugural award. One can spend hours wandering the maze of streets constantly being surprised around the next corner. The bodies of those that died with the expressions of pain frozen timeless and still visible more than 2000 years on are a sight both amazing and chilling.

To the next category as we move from those things that time seems to have forgone to something of a much more immediate moment, the Best Food in Europe. For the majority of the trip I ate only kebabs because it is cheap and easy but there is so much good food in Europe and now I have no fitness left.
5. Kebabs formed the cornerstone of my diet around Europe. Equally healthy and greasy, eaten sober, drunk or hungover; they are a staple. Yet despite sampling kebabs in more or less every city of Europe one rises head and shoulders above the rest. A giant of a kebab in Koln and I struggled to get thru it and was forced to throw away the chips I got with it too full to eat them.
4. Seafood in Croatia. All along the main coastline and then again throughout the countless islands of the Adriatic the seafood is pretty special. Scampi, mussels, blue fish. On pizza, in risotto or with a salad for someone who wouldn’t normally eat a lot of it I… well… I ate a lot of it.
3. Naples. Home of pizza. It is a little mind boggling how something with the simplicity of the margherita pizza at Pompeii can possibly taste so good but it did and so is deserving of its place here.
2. Gelato is everywhere in Italy but almost everywhere accepts they can only ever be second best. San Crispino in Rome (right near the amazingly impressive Trevi Fountain) is without question the best gelato you will find anywhere. Ginger & cinnamon, meringue with choc chips, rich dark chocolate. Mmmmmmmmm. They succeeded in making the banana sorbet taste more like bananas than the fruit itself!
1. Pork Knuckle. Holy Shit. Between massive steins of beer there is little else one could desire more than pork knuckle. The layers of crackling, the tender meat underneath, the gravy, the dumplings… wow.

From the delicious to the disasterous, it is time to recap the Top Fuckups in the trip. This list has received a couple of extra nominees because mostly I just find it funny telling the stories of the shit I got wickedly wrong.
7. My choice to enjoy a sleep in on the last day in Cinque Terre cost me my trip to Lyon. I missed the last connection onwards and so got stuck in Nice. Terrible I know. Slept on the floor in a very crowded hostel but Nice is amazing and I got to see Eze Village and Monaco as well so the degree of fuck up could be debated but it has been included.
6. Finding the hostel in Florence. Relying on a photograph of a google maps internet page is not a smart way to go. I succeeded in walking in pretty much the opposite direction before I remembered I had another map and an hour later arrived at the hostel. Got to say the cobbled streets aren’t ideal with a bag on wheels but Florence is pretty beautiful so again a debateable inclusion.
5. Paris to Florence - with the night train fully booked and no room for the night I pulled an all-nighter in the common room of the hostel hijacking there internet sending delirious emails and talking to others foolish enough to be awake before getting on the train at 6.24am. By the time I got to sleep that evening in Florence it had been something like 40 hours awake, what a battle!
4. I was supposed to pick up the rental car at 6pm in Pula and was supposed to drop it off at 10.30am four days later in Split. I was supposed to do these things but what actually happened was quite different. Becky and I decided to walk to the airport and ended crashing along the side of the highway thru waist high lavender before arriving about 3hours late to an empty airport and having to pay €20 in after hours fees. As for Split, well I was hungover and woke up at 10.25am and then had to do a 50 point turn to get out of the crowded carpark before driving in circles around the city in the rain looking for signs to the airport. Dropped it off about 2hours late, still it was a good car and made for a good trip down the Croatian coast with Becky, Ed and Billy.
3. I made the mistake of thinking that a day of my life was worth a £20 Argos tent and the €100 saving on an airplane ticket and so I bussed from Munich to London. Don’t do this. I was in a good mood though so I just turned it into a challenge and made it to Maidenhead a full day after leaving Munich.
2. Aside from dumb purchases where I have paid too much for something I didn’t really want I haven’t really been ripped off or robbed (touch wood). That is except for Rome where a guy who had stopped to ask for directions proceeded to give me a “genuine” leather jacket. Doesn’t really sound like being ripped off but then in asking for gas he grabbed €40 out of my wallet and bolted. So I was stuck with a lighter wallet and leather jacket I didn’t want. I was furious with myself so went back to the hostel, put the jacket at the bottom of the bag, got out more money and started the day again. Its not all bad now I have a nice warm ‘leather’ jacket for the winter in London.
1. Monchengladbach and the undeniable award winner. There to watch the hockey and constant drinking over 3 days culminated in me losing track of all the Kiwi team at about 2am Monday morning. I then walked the streets for a bit before kipping down in a carpark on a pile of plastic bags for 3hours. Wandered the streets in the morning before finally meeting up with the others and then returning to Dusseldorf and then onto Koln feeling far from 100%. Self inflicted stupidity. :)

From the very ugliest parts of the trip to the most beautiful parts now its time for the Top 5 Beauties of Europe.
5. This list opens with a beauty that differs a little from the rest. With the summer sun glowing strong and the temperatures consistently 25+ I offer thanks to the Gods of both weather and fashion as the women of Europe, locals and tourists alike, were out and dressed minimally. People go to Europe for the art well I did too and saw it all without stepping foot in an art gallery.
4. The little towns that dot the plains under the Tuscan sun are stunning. Siena, San Gimignano, Florence all these places are beautiful in there own right and the countless photos I took are proof of that. It’s a bit of a competition to try and take better photos than those on postcards and actually I think I achieved it in some places.
3. These a lot of things Neuchwanstein Castle is not: old, finished, small, and subtle. This so called Disney Castle is beautiful simply for the fact it is so proud and ridiculous. It’s a tough thing to describe but it is definitely something that catches your eye.
2. Cinque Terre even the torrential rain couldn’t ruin this place. The ferocity of the rain, lightning and thunder seemed in challenge of the dramatic coastline as the waves crashed against the cliffs between each of the five towns. While a landslide meant I never completed the hike it remains a place I hope to return to.
1. The coastline in the south of Italy is as equally impressive as that located in Cinque Terre to the north. Sorrento and Positano sit perched among steep mountains while the Mediterranean laps at there toes. The Amalfi Coast is stunning and sitting in the port at Sorrento with a few beers as the sun set is one of those very lasting memories.

Now, as Monty Python said, for something completely different. This next category is one that has been included because its represents some of the most fun I have had as part of this trip. The Top 5 Big Nights.
5. Again this list starts on a slightly different tact but it is certainly worthy of a mention. I decided, in retrospect, to call in the first Northern Hemisphere Bavhurst. One competitor. Me. I bought a few beers and threw them in my bag and spent the night walking around Paris. Had a few different check points: had to eat a kebab at two different points, chocolate puddings at the Eiffel Tower, had to bargain with a street vendor, Arc de Triumphe, Champs Elysses, Place de la Concord, Louvre and Notre Dame. Needless to say I won.
4. On the second night of the trip in Dusseldorf 6 of us from the hostel (mostly Irish) headed into the Altstadt, the old town, for an unexpectedly big night. 5am back to the hostel and back on Contiki time with only 3hours sleep before meeting Raj etc for the hockey weekend the end of which has already been described above.
3. In a place that ought to be as remote and isolated as Cinque Terre or more exactly Riomaggiore its hard to understand how 10 people could be placed in a hostel and then get along so well. It wasn’t even my room and in truth I never met anyone in my room on the other side of the town but I saw no need when already we had a great mix going on. Two massive nights that included a lot of drinking and me cutting my leg pretty bad trying to pull a boat ashore in the darkness. Great times and already I have caught up with several of the people I met in Riomaggiore.
2. Croatia – Bibinje in the apartment until being yelled at. But really nothing can compare to the 7 nights of Sail Croatia. Pretty much Contiki all over again except on a boat! Hvar – played around on the super yachts in the harbour and talked shit till 6am then I went for a swim and got back to the boat at 7.15 as the crew were just starting breakfast. Korcula – started ominously with Grapa being poured down our throats and ended with the sun rise and a group of us drinking vodka and orange for breakfast at 8.30am. More boat missions including a quick swim in the spa on the boat moored 3 over from ours. The other nights of that week were hardly quiet either: cave bars, cocktails, karaoke, pole dancing, memory blanks…
1. Oktoberfest!!!!!!!! This festival is electric so many people, so much beer and everyone is your best friend. The wenches carrying 10+ of the giant 1L steins and heaps of German oompah music, ferris wheels and roller coasters (not great after numerous beers). It was an awesome 5days and I had a great time and met some even better people.

Before we move to the finale of these awards here is a list of some of those other things that deserve an honourable mention. Despite not making one of the lists each of these contributed to make for an overwhelming, amazing and hopefully repeatable trip around Europe.
- The experiences I had couchsurfing and although I didn’t get to do as much as first hoped because it does take a lot of time and effort to organise I had a great time when I had the pleasure of being hosted. So cheers Dani and Vincent.
- The people I have met and often in the most unusual of situations. Americans, Canadians, Kiwis, Australians, English and Irish - hopefully we get the chance to catch up again.
- Arcachon and the biggest sand dune in Europe. Spent half a day running up and down its slope, reading in the sun, swimming in the Atlantic Ocean and marvelling at the insanity of this towering desert.
- Montmartre, Paris – like four and half years ago I got my caricature drawn even though I think it doesn’t look like me. Also the Dali exhibition was pretty incredible and refreshingly different from the numerous other art galleries and museums I have begun to avoid.
- Chocolate museum (Koln, Germany), Trevi Fountain (Rome, Italy), Pigale (Paris, France), lake cruise (Zurich, Switzerland).
- Venice Historical regatta. By chance I happened on Venice on the annual Regatta Storica and watched from the crowded banks of the Grand Canal as first decorated gondalas and then racing boats made there way along its length.

So we have reached the climax of these awards and now it is with my great pleasure that I present the Most Memorable Moments! These have all combined to produce what has been a truly memorable trip around Europe.

3. Although I am far from religious I have now sat in some of the truly great and iconic churches and religious buildings of the world. Notre Dame, Koln Cathedral, Florence Duomo, St Marks Basilica in Venice all of which are stunning and caused me to think a little too deep at times of all manner of things. Sitting staring up at some stained glass window or statue of JC philosophising on life and whatever else came to my head. The service I sat in one Sunday at Sacre Coeur although all in French was an experience but the Vatican was something else. I went to Mass at St Peters Basilica with Rach and Maca from my hostel who said they weren't religious but while I sat hopelessly out of my depth they stood, kneeled, sat, waved, chanted, sang, danced and turned on the spot in perfect time with the rest of those there. Certainly something I will remember, the building itself deserves a little mention simply for its grandness.

2. It was by chance that I found out about the fireworks display at the Palace of Versailles and I decided to go out to have a look. I confess I nearly piked at the €21 price tag to enter the gardens (normally free) especially when it was dark and so the summer colours of the extensive gardens were lost. They had the fountains dancing in time with the classical music and lights and lasers giving an eerie almost alien appearance to the numerous statues in the place. Then the fireworks started. Classical Sparks, Sparks in the Park you have a lot to learn. It must have been a good 50minutes of explosions and fire all set to music. Insert superlative.

1. I have my number one but I am going to keep it to myself and let each of you in your own time or when you get the chance to discover the most memorable moment for yourself. Sorry for those who have read this far hoping for some gem only to disappoint you with this apparently mysterious comment. Europe is amazing and no one can tell you how it should be done. Take the chance, if you’ve already taken it, take it again and make your own memories of Europe. I guess with that I have reached the end of this mammoth blog and yet so much has not been told.

A return to London and something like a normal life. Love to all. Ash

Posted by ashneale 06:57 Archived in Germany

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