If I had to sum up my 5 weeks traipsing around Europe in a single phrase, it would be above. As bad as it sounds, being Australian has affected my experience greatly. I will be spending this semester at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Only a 30-minute train South of Amsterdam, there are 300,000 people and thousands more bicycles.
But first, the travelling. My “backpacking” (a 20kg/100L suitcase with attachable straps is not a backpack) took me to Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany and Poland. 12 cities, 9 countries in 5 weeks.
I’ll admit, at first, I was homesick. Strange, having lived away from home for 3 years. I felt isolated, utterly alone and vulnerable. Don’t feel sad – it got better. Talking with friends and family back home helped, but ultimately, being able to stand independently and make new friends in a new country pushed me back to normality. How did I do that? I embraced the fact that I was in a different place, that I am Australian and that not even the Brits can hold a Marmite-flavoured candle to our country. I let those things spark a conversation on a walking tour (“Crap, I thought that pigeon was a swooping magpie!”) or in the kitchen (“Got any Vegemite?”).
Despite many issues identifying my accent, once I was discovered to be Australian, conversation flowed easily. Except in Krakow, where the tour guide complained that “there’s always one”. Every hostel roommate said the same; “you guys are everywhere!”.
I’ve learnt a lot. Walking tours are my favourite – I’ve done 12. My survival skills were switched into gear experiencing crazy driving (on the wrong side of the road). My primary school maths was used; if 3 Polish Zloty is equivalent to 1 Australian Dollar, “how many baked goods can I get?”. As multiple phone sims died, navigating the foreign streets of each country with a real map (yes, they still exist!) tested my IB skills (minus the blindfolds). Having been catered for my whole life, my cooking ability was also tested. Amazingly though, my chicken and rice was consistently 10/10.
Getting back to being an Australian while travelling though, that’s what’s been interesting. Everyone around the world can bore you with currency/traffic/hostel cooking stories. But coming from the land down under was a surprisingly distinctive feature of my trip. Personally, I loved it, because everyone is interested in our country. I loved scaring people with dingo-stealing babies, redbacks on toilet seats and snakes in boots. I made Mexican/German/Dutch friends from such stories (and my incredible cooking skills, to be fair). I liked being in a hostel, hearing an accent and knowing it was from Melbourne. I shrug when people say, “I would love to go there, but it’s too far/hard/expensive.” Their loss.
With the ups and the downs, I wouldn’t change those 5 weeks. I’m exhausted now, my phone memory is full, so I’m ready to settle and study. More on that next time!