I began writing this entry in a bus leaving Budapest in the direction of Vienna. Now, I must say that, although I am a ‘storyteller’ for my exchange program at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, I feel compelled to begin my story from when I left Australia –indeed, it is all part of the exchange experience after all!
I left Sydney on 22 December 2015 and, after a quick stop in Malaysia for lunch, travelled onwards to visit family in Goa, India. I won’t go into excessive detail about my time in India, but I will just say that it was a fantastic experience to be immersed in such a unique and rich culture and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested.
After celebrating Christmas and New Years in India’s sunshine state, I was ready for Europe. The flight (Goa-Mumbai-Abu Dhabi-Istanbul-Belgrade), while long, did not detract from my excitement for the experiences that awaited me. Arriving late at night in Belgrade, I found my accommodation and settled in comfortably. I spent the next five days touring Belgrade, sitting in coffee shops and dusting the snow off my shoes. I visited the Serbian Parliament, ate traditional burek with yoghurt, walked along the Danube river and absorbed the atmosphere of a peaceful yet vivacious city.
Saying goodbye to new friends, a change in my travel plans saw me deciding to spontaneously book a trip to Sarajevo, Bosnia. What a city that was! For starters, the view through the Serbian and Bosnian mountains was picturesque, clearly aided by the presence of snow. Additionally, the historical significance of this city was apparent both in museums and the people. With friends I made at the hostel and during my travels, I went to Bosnian tea houses, restaurants and cafes to sample some traditional recipes. Oh and of course the cevapi (a simplified description is meat and onions in bread, although this does not do it justice), which you cannot leave the country without trying!
Before I knew it I was on a train bound for the most beautiful Christmas city in Europe: Zagreb, Croatia. Once in Zagreb I visited most of the major tourist attractions but also ventured to the Museum of Illusions and the Museum of Broken Relationships (which is based on an exceptionally clever concept –I suggest you look it up when you get the chance). It was interesting contrasting Croatia to my subsequent destination, Budapest. In Budapest I went on a walking tour of the city, crossed the Chain Bridge at least 10 times, visited the impressive Hungarian Parliament, strolled the corridors of the Buda Castle and eventually found myself in one of the capital’s traditional thermal baths. All in all, a tremendous experience in a city that I intend to return to very soon.
Austria was next. I spent about 5 days in Austria in total and managed to fit in a day trip to Slovakia as well –so as you can imagine, it was a lot of late nights and early morning starts (all worth it of course!). Within a day of arriving in Vienna, I managed to catch up with a friend from the ANU who was nearing the end of her exchange program at the University of Vienna. She invited me to a soirée with some of her university friends that evening. This became my first taste of the exchange experience. After the socialising, the cheese and the wine, I was excited for my own exchange to begin. Nevertheless, I was still going to profit from my pre-exchange travels. And that I did.
After Austria, I headed further North to the Czech Republic, with two nights in Prague in mind. Walking along Charles Bridge, spending time in Old Town Square and immersing myself in the nightly activities run by my hostel, an extension of my booking was inevitable.
Sad to leave Prague, I continued onwards to Krakow, Poland. Here I met up with some good friends I made in Vienna and the three of us went on a day tour to Auschwitz. This was undoubtedly the most moving, and the most difficult, experience to date. It single-handedly grounded me to the harsh realities of human history and enabled me to recognise and remember the victims of World War II. In Krakow, my friends and I also travelled to the salt mines and I visited the Schindler Museum and various tourist attractions. Overall, a fantastic stay before venturing to Poland’s capital, Warsaw, for a few days and then travelling through Berlin to Amsterdam (gradually getting both temporally and geographically closer to my exchange).
Of course I could have stretched this entry out for chapters –a testament to the richness of travel. Nevertheless, if this was just the appetiser to my exchange experience, I cannot wait to get back to you on how the next 5 months unfold!
Feel free to follow me on Instagram (leonrebello) for a visual portrait of my exchange.