By Kayla Maratty
… in Europe
As my first year of University drew to a close, the prospect of spending my summer taking on extra shifts at my part time job grew less and less appealing.
I spent two months last year in stunning Thailand and Malaysia, and my feet were itching to get travelling again. I was lucky enough to find a likeminded friend (and fellow “happy” employee) who was also dying to escape a summer of full-time work.
So, on Sunday, July 11, with the Lonely Planet’s “Europe on a shoestring” guidebook in hand, Sophie and I arrived at Paris Gare du Nord, to start our seven- to eight-week journey backpacking around as much of Europe as we could cram in. The Eurostar took us to Paris, so it seemed the obvious place to start.
I have to admit, I wasn’t bowled over by the French capital; it was busy and at times overwhelming. One thing we weren’t prepared for was the incredibly long queues! The Louvre, Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame all had at least an hour queue to get inside, so since we really are on a shoestring budget we didn’t go in. Even so we didn’t miss much; the buildings were spectacular, and the Eiffel Tower was much bigger and more imposing than I expected.
Paris’ metro system over the two days became our best ally — once we’d mastered it and got ourselves 10 tickets for twelve Euros – allowing us to hop on and off as we pleased. We managed to make several stops across Paris in just one day and get a taste of what the city is like, though to really experience it could take weeks.
Part of being on such a tight budget meant we had the mammoth task of finding cheap accommodation in the city. We pre-booked before we arrived at the cheapest hostel available which was the Blue Planet, located very conveniently right next to the Gare du Lyon.
This — and the quite reasonable twenty-two Euros per night — was the only good thing about the hostel. The room for three people was extremely cramped, the shower was barely a trickle and I quickly discovered that using the toilet in the dark isn’t easy! This I could live with, but the incredibly rude staff really let the place down; it was as if the backpackers who are keeping their business afloat are an inconvenience to them.
We moved on to Dijon. Just a two-hour train journey away this small, medieval city was well worth the trip. Its narrow cobbled streets leading to towering cathedrals and lined with little cafes made it the perfect place for just wandering around at a leisurely pace.
Unfortunately we timed our trip badly and our day exploring Dijon was on July 14, Bastille Day, a French holiday celebrating the fall of the Bastille during the 1789 French Revolution. This meant that most shops and attractions were closed, but it was still a city worth seeing.
We end our first week in the south of France, in Nice. We chose this as the Cote d’Azur’s cheapest option: celebrity hot-spots Monaco and Cannes would well and truly break our budget! We stayed in Altea Hostel, located a 20- to 30-minute walk from the sea front, but that walk saved us quite a bit of money. Closer to the front accommodation gets extremely expensive as do the shops and restaurants.
We also chose Nice as it may be our only beach stop throughout our journey, so we booked four days to make the most of it. After just day one on the beach we began resembling tomatoes so chose to spend some time exploring the expanse of side streets with unique local shops, jumping from one shadow to another to avoid the intense heat.
Nice is a very tourist friendly city which means it’s extremely busy. The pebbled beaches are narrow so getting there early is a must, to try and get a spot close to the edge of the water. Even the short trip to and from the sea down a pebble hill is a humiliating experience, with zero chance of looking graceful, especially in a bikini! But the cool Mediterranean sea is a welcome relief from the blistering heat and is well worth every stumble.
For the next leg of our journey we’ve booked a train to Italy’s Florence, the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance and frequently described as one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Our first mission will be to find the best pizza in Tuscany!