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Jack's Overseas Travels

Having completed my studies at the conclusion of semester one this year, I decided to reward myself with an overseas adventure. Although I’ve travelled interstate on several occasions, I had never before considered going further to destinations in which I may feel trapped or uncomfortable. For regular readers of the newsletter, I have written numerous articles about my personal experience with obsessive compulsive disorder and depression. While I currently feel on top of both issues, I was concerned they would flare up and even worsen if I found myself in uncomfortable situations or in unique positions that increased my anxiety.

In preparation for the trip, my co-traveller Matt and I researched several destinations for the first month of our voyage. Matt needed to return to Australia within four weeks, whereas I was able to remain in Europe for a prolonged period. As a result, we decided that four destinations would be adequate for the time we spent together. After much deliberation, we settled on London (England), Barcelona (Spain), Lisbon (Portugal) and Berlin (Germany). In addition, I mapped out a possible route for the remainder of my trip, which included: Prague (Czech Republic), Krakow (Poland), Budapest (Hungary), Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna (Austria), Edinburgh (Scotland),    and Dublin (Ireland). Although my route was long and extensive, I refused to book a return flight from Dublin as I remained concerned that I would become uncomfortable to the point that I would need to return immediately and therefore book a flight home on short notice.  

The day before my trip, I was feeling somewhat apprehensive about my possible response to new situations and experiences.  As a long term sufferer of OCD, I was unsure how I would handle unique experiences in foreign lands, particularly in hostels shared with countless other people. To provide some background, I have long been fearful of contamination. In previous times, I felt compelled to wash my hands in excess of 100 times per day to prevent contagion, sickness and disease. Despite this, I was confident in my present ability to blunt the thoughts that used to force my hand. Having researched extensively, I was confident the places we booked were as clean as communal facilities could be. With medication packed and organised, I was ready to commence the trip with reasonably few apprehensions. 

Upon our arrival in London, Matt and I went about experiencing the famed town in all of its glory. With maps and backpacks in hand, we observed many of the main sites and attractions, including Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London and St Paul’s Cathedral. As Matt and I enjoy the occasional beverage, we were equally pleased to spend much of our time bar-hopping with new friends from the hostel and locals alike. Before departing for Barcelona, Matt’s favourite band announced a surprise show and he consequently remained in London for an additional two evenings. 

Having arrived in Barcelona by myself, I became almost instantly anxious when the hostel failed to live up to its expectations. I was greeted by an unmade bed with used linen and bathroom facilities that made me immediately uncomfortable. Showering became an enormous task and sleeping was extremely difficult albeit possible with the presence of my sleeping bag. Despite this, I was welcomed by other travellers who distracted me from the concern. In the coming days and upon Matt’s return, we again saw as much as possible, with La Sagrada Familia a particular highlight. For the most part, however, I was surprisingly underwhelmed by the city. 

With beautiful weather and affable people, Lisbon proved to be my favourite location. After leaving Barcelona,   we were relieved to arrive at perhaps the nicest hostel of the trip. As the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament was being held at the time, the hostel’s atmosphere was second to none. On the opening night of our stay, Brazil was pummelled by Germany to the dismay of the merry Brazilian travellers. The coming days were then spent at the Optimus Alive music festival, in which Matt and I camped with friends from the hostel. Having camped previously at music festivals in Australia, I was comfortable to be spending time with limited access to both showers and clean toilets. With some of my favourite bands in action, the festival was an unforgettable experience.

The first night in Berlin was also memorable as the German national team claimed the World Cup for the fourth time to jubilant scenes. Though Matt and I were tired from our final days in Lisbon, we couldn’t help but be drawn to the outrageous celebrations that continued throughout the coming days. Meantime, we were blown away by the number of historically significant sites throughout the city, specifically the Berlin Wall, Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. 

As Matt’s trip was coming to an end, we endeavoured to see as much as possible while ensuring we partied to the end. On our final night, we participated in a pub crawl that capped off an incredible four weeks. 

On the morning of Matt’s departure, I became rather distressed about the remainder of my trip. As a reasonably shy individual, I began to doubt the substance of being alone when most other travellers are accompanied by   other friends or family members. Happily, I was able to meet new contacts without any problems and also crossed paths with several friends from back home. The first stop on my solo adventure was Prague. Easily the best looking city I came across, Prague boasts beautiful architecture and spectacular scenery. Having spent much of my time with Matt lounging around, it was nice to put the runners on for some proper exercise. 

Up next was Krakow, where I stayed with friends of my Polish sister-in-law. Living with five students, I was introduced to some of the nicest and most outgoing people I’ve ever come across. Despite its unfortunate history,   Krakow was the most welcoming stop of my entire trip. On the final day, however, I visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps in what proved to be the most sobering experience of my life.  As the tour finished later than expected, I found myself in a race against time to make the bus to Budapest.  Without any Polish zloty (dollars) on hand, I began sprinting to the terminal when I realised I wouldn’t make the planned departure. As  local taxi drivers were understandably unwilling to take me for free, I was forced to desperately take a lift from a middle-aged Polish man and arrived as the bus was ready to go. 

When I eventually arrived in Budapest the next morning, I was greeted with beautiful weather and equally    attractive people. While I only stayed in the city for a few nights, I was still able to enjoy the famed Szechenyi Baths, Andrássy út and Buda Castle. The hostel was also top-notch, with great staff and an entertaining  atmosphere. Like many eastern European cities, Budapest is located on the Danube River. For the sake of trying something new, I decided to follow the river to Bratislava. Although the Slovakian capital seemed small in comparison to the others, it turned out to be the place in which I had the most fun. Less preoccupied with sightseeing and more intent on relaxing and enjoying my time away, I spent several days in the presence of approachable locals and responsive tourists. The size of the city also ensured a more personalised and intimate experience.  

Since Vienna came with lofty expectations, I was rather disappointed by its underwhelming surrounds. Although the city is beautiful from a structural sense, it seemed to lack the same feel as some of my previous stops.   Combined with a hostel that was far from hospitable, I was happy to proceed to Edinburgh. Despite the rain and freezing summer temperatures, the city was a hub of activity during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. With thousands of local and international music and comedy events, I was happy to spend my birthday in the Scottish jewel. I also travelled to Glasgow to meet some family friends in town for the Commonwealth Games. Although the weather seemed far from ideal at the time, the constant greyness seemed to compliment the city as time went by. As the visit came to an end, I could appreciate the appeal of its quaint little pubs and charming lanes. 

Despite sharing comparable weather conditions, Dublin was the perfect place to conclude my stay. With incredibly friendly locals and spectacular scenery, it was one of the acmes of my entire experience. Given the chance to visit the Cliffs of Moher was an unforgettable moment, while tours of the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson  Distillery satisfied my cravings for a uniquely Irish experience. On my final day, I travelled to the place in which   my ancestors first came together – the tiny town of Shanagolden. With a population of just 320 people, the town was unsurprisingly deserted apart from the local pub. Still, having overcome many of my fears, I returned to    Melbourne the next day with some great memories and a newfound respect for the world. 

 

By Jack—ADAVIC Volunteer

 

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