My First Working Holiday - Travels Through Croatia & Eastern Europe
Some of you may have followed along on instagram throughout my month-long journey abroad this past August, where I shared a photo a day (alllllmost, I missed one day here and there from travel or jetlag) #katesaugustadventure ;) Those posts were a brief snapshot of some of the views I was seeing and places I was experiencing but I'm here to provide a more in-depth look for anyone interested in planning a similar trip or just wanting some wanderlust inspiration.
Right off the bat I will say this, travelling for 1 month seems daunting (how am I going to be able to afford taking the time off work? how much should I budget? will I get lonely while travelling solo?) but it was so liberating and worth it! I highly recommend an extended trip to anyone at anytime. I know so many people who travelled right after graduating before settling in and finding a full-time job which is amazing but it's doable at a later stage in your career too! Before making this a goal for 2016, I gave my boss very advanced notice that this was something I wanted to do and made sure to remind the company that I was going away, updating them of the process along the way (confirmed flight bookings, prepared training documents for the coworkers who would be assisting in my absence and so on). The process ended up being quite seamless and although a lot of companies may not openly suggest all of their employees do this, if it is something you're interested in and they value you as an employee, I believe most companies will do what they can do work around your goals so that everyone is happy in their working environment. The moral of the story is, you never know until to ask.
Now for the good bit...
I bookended my trip with time in London, as I was able to find the most affordable flights from Vancouver>London round trip. Once in London, it was much easier and more affordable for me to book flights/ trains/ buses (yes I took them all) to the countries I was planning to visit. With the help of my brother, Jordan Bishop, the founder of flight hacking travel tip website yoreoyster, I booked my flight to London using British Airways points I had saved and my return flight with West Jet, for a total under $650!
This visit to London was my third time being in lovely city and I have to say, I love it more every time I visit! Luckily I have friends in the city that I was able to stay with which really helps cut down costs because people aren't lying when they say London in expensive. One of my favourite things about London that isn't expensive is that all the museums are free! I went to 3 while I was visiting, the first being the Newport Street Gallery to see a small but impactful exhibit Jeff Koons: Now.
The next day I ventured to the Victoria & Albert Museum before meeting a friend for dinner and a show, which I had never done before in London and I don't know why! We attended The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, perfect for anyone whether or not you have read the book. I was honestly so impressed by this show, the actors and the use of the stage and lighting effects was so powerful! I loved it.
I mention taking time off from work above because on top of my freelance business I do have a job where I work 30 hours/week. The great thing about doing freelance is that I was able to bring my laptop and discover local coffee shops in a few cities when I needed to finish projects for clients. I spent a few hours a day working when needed and the rest of the time was devoted to exploring!
From London I took a flight to Dubrovnik, Croatia. This is where I spent the longest leg of my adventure (8 days) and I designated this week as 100% vacation and left my laptop in it's bag. Side note: having a laptop on this trip was actually very handy because I booked all of my accommodations pretty last minute depending on which cities I really wanted to stay in, I wanted to be flexible if I fell in love with one place to be able to stay longer.
I spent my first night in the Lapad District of Dubrovnik, a slightly less touristy section of the city (outside of the famous walled Old Town) that consisted of a beautiful boardwalk, beaches, cave bars and my first night in a shared hostel room alone! I was slightly nervous but had a great experience meeting some nice fellow travellers and getting along with the owner of the small boarding room type hostel "mama".
The following day I went to stay in a shared Airbnb closer to the Old Town with my good friend and travelling partner in crime, who flew into the city that day.
Dubrovnik was so unique, I've never been anywhere like it. The city is surrounded by protective walls (which you may recognize from Games of Thrones as this city is the setting of Kings Landing) but the walls protrude out of the rock that was naturally there before they existed creating an organic yet structured barrier that is beautiful. Inside the walls there are churches, restaurants, shops, museums and outside the walls are a few cliff bars like this one where you can grab a drink and take a dip into the sea at the same time.
You can walk along the walls encircling the entire Old Town, which is one of the only really "touristy" things we paid to do and it's sooo worth it. The views are amazing and every angle is so different. Go in the morning so that it's not extremely hot or too busy. Warning: Dubrovnik is full of stairs. Just walking in the heat you feel like you're getting a serious workout carrying your backpack to your hotel let alone walking these walls. Rolling luggage not recommended.
From Dubrovnik we took the bus to a local vacation beach town, Makarska. A beautiful warm beach that was so welcome after a hot morning spent on the bus, one day was enough in this relaxing location as my friend and I are more of the travelling type and less of the relaxing vacation type.
Another bus ride brought us to Split the following day, another city along the Dalmatian Coast with a small fortresslike inner city, Diocletian's Palace, that was built by the Roman's hundreds of years ago. Now partially in ruins, this inner city is complete with cathedral, bars and restaurants that are all quite small and unique and the outer city is full of culture, yummy food, parks and offers easy access to the islands by yacht.
Leaving the coast and travelling to the center of Croatia we were able to visit Plitvice Lakes National Park. It's a tough place to get to (well the buses go right there) but accommodations are another story. There are a few expensive hotels in the park that heads up, you should really book in advance. There are cheaper hotels and Airbnbs located about 25-40km outside of the park but that makes getting into the park more difficult having to take cabs there and back. We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast type place that was about a 20 minute cab ride from where the bus dropped us off but luckily it was within close walking distance to the parks third entrance which is secluded and much less busy than entrance 1 and 2. The slightly splurge on accommodation ended up working on our benefit as we avoided long lines to get into the park at the busier entrances.
This beautiful park is comprised of many upper lakes, large and small, that drain into a series of lower lakes in the most magical way. The turquoise water softly cascades from lake to lake in many small waterfall clusters that are breathtaking. It's like nothing I've seen before. These pictures don't do it justice but I tried.
You can walk, hike and take trolleys and boats to make sure you get to see all the lakes, but by foot is definitely the most enjoyable. The colours were really this bright and beautiful.
Our final stop in Croatia was the Northern inland city of Zagreb. Knowing next to nothing about this city (other than we could catch flights and trains out of here to our next destinations) Zagreb really surprised me. It was quiet with many locals being on vacation but there was so much to do in the city. We stumbled upon an outdoor dance festival, markets, busy bar-filled streets, exercise and art themed parks and one of my favourite museums, the Museum of Broken Relationships.
This museum was so interesting! Full of artifacts and objects that people has sent in remembering lost relationships whether romantic, family-based, friendships and so on. The objects were all accompanied by a story about the meaning of it in the relationship and they ranged from a toaster to letters like the one above (a boy listing reasons his short-term love should stay in the UK...she didn't), pictures, art and so much more. Zagreb is where I said goodbye to my friend and continued onto the Eastern European leg of my trip solo!
Budapest was an enjoyable 6 hour train ride from Zagreb and upon arrival I took the metro to meet my brother who was staying in the inner city for a few weeks.
A sunset walk along the river on my first night in the city was the perfect way to get acquainted with some landmarks that would help me get my bearings for the rest of my time there.
My brother was in Budapest for the sziget festival which I decided to attend with him and his friends. It was perfect timing for me to go to the final day of the festival where I got to see some artists I love that I had never seen before including Aurora and The Lumineers. We took a public transit boat to get to the festival (sziget means island in Hungarian) and it was a pretty unique experience. One thing I really appreciated was the festival drinks and food were actually affordable! None of the overpriced $8 for a beer and $12 for a burger, I had really good food and quite a few drinks because it was actually affordable. So much more enjoyable than what I was used to at North American festivals I've been to.
Post-festival day involved a lot of sleeping and relaxing in the thermal baths that are so popular in Budapest.
My remaining two days in Budapest were spent touristing around and taking in everything I could! I really loved this city and I think the main reason was there was a real mix of architecture, history and modern culture and even though I didn't speak a lick of Hungarian (it is NOT easy to pick up at all) I felt really comfortable here. I would love to go back someday for an even longer stay.
The other reason I loved it here - there were so many cute coffee shops to work in it was freelancer heaven! (See above delicious coconut iced coffee that I still dream about). Budapest was full of delicious and cheap food which is hard to beat.
The next stop on my trip was Vienna. About a 4 hour train ride from Budapest I decided to spend a weekend here before heading on to Prague. Statues of Men on Horses is what I nicknamed this trip. I probably have about 5 pictures from each city of different (yet very similar) statues and monuments like this.
Vienna was quite different from the other cities I had been to on this trip. It was very clean and beautiful, full of baroque and renaissance architecture and a lot of great museums. The museumsquartier is a cultural centre of the city, this lovely courtyard is surrounded by museums, exhibitions and art installations.
Vienna had so many cathedrals and basilicas from different time periods which made every walk around the city really interesting! Vienna was the only stop where I was travelling completely solo. I stayed in a Airbnb private room which did make it more difficult to meet people. Staying in a hostel makes meeting fellow travellers pretty easy but it's not always the most comfortable of situations, sleeping in a room with 3-5 other people. I decided to go with Airbnb to be able to have a weekend to myself.
Following Vienna I ventured to Prague where another friend of mine was meeting me for a few days there! I had mixed expectations about Prague being told by some that it was overcrowded with summer tourists and others that it was a must-see European city. My verdict: Prague was lovely!
The city was easy to get around both walking and with public transit, the views were beautiful and it was easy to avoid the overly touristy locations. Walking across the bridges and taking in views of the city from the Letna beer garden was such a nice way to spend my first day in the city.
Most of my time in Prague involved visits to cute coffee shops, breweries and delicious restaurants. Eska was our "splurge" meal, which thanks to affordable prices in Prague was barely a splurge, with drinks and 2 courses costing under 30 euro. All their food was fermented to encourage healthy digestion and this amazing food on top of the beautiful atmosphere of the restaurant was a perfect way to end our time there.
During our time in Prague we hopped on a bus for a day trip to UNESCO World Heritage site Cesky Krumlov. Cesky Krumlov is a tiny fairtytale town crowned with a gothic castle that overlooks the picturesque homes along the Vltava river.
My next and final stop before returning to London for the last few days of my trip was to Berlin. I had been t Germany before, visiting friends in Dusseldorf and Colonge but didn't get a chance to make it to Berlin so this time it was a must. Lucky for me I was with friends who had been here before and new all of the best shops and cafes to stop at. Berlin involved a lot of eating.
Berlin was also completely different than any other city I had been to on this trip. It's much more urban and affected more by it's recent history than anything from over 200 years ago like the other locations I had visited. Taking time to go to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was really powerful and overwhelming.
I also went to the Jewish Museum which was amazing on the outside and the inside. The sharp architectural design was so impactful. From the outside it looks like shards of metal haphazardly placed together with small window slits which creates a beautiful and modern exterior. This was also effective on the interior architecture. All the hallways within the museum were of varying sizes and odd directions, the floor rising and falling to give you a feeling of uneasiness.
This art installation was one of the most impactful of all. I learned about this installation in one of my university art classes and it was really amazing to see it in person. These metal disks are piled in a dark, quadrilateral space within the museum and as you walk over the faces, a screeching loud clatter echoes through the space that reaches into your soul. It's powerful and insightful and important and I recommend everyone should spend some time here if you get the chance to visit Berlin.
After a weekend in Berlin it was already time to head back to London for the final days of my trip! After experiencing so many new things over the course of 4 weeks I was feeling ready to stop living out of a suitcase and moving from place to place. But then I got off my plane in London and went out to grab a coffee and visit my favourite museum, the Tate Modern and I realized I was not ready to leave. Travelling can be overwhelming and exhausting but the wonder that comes from seeing new things, meeting new people and even becoming accustomed to a city you've only been in for a few days makes it all worth it.
The month went by faster than I would have liked but the most important thing I learned was that I want to be able to make these kinds of trips happen. Frequently if possible. This experience solidified my assumptions that I would enjoy travelling and working abroad, so if I can continue to make that happen I'm going to try my best to do it.
Sorry for the long post! I was excited to share :)