Jess and Sam On Tour - Europe 2016

On July 30th 2016, with excitement in our eyes and wanderlust in our souls, my super cool travel buddy and best friend Sam and I boarded a plane to Abu Dhabi, that would eventually get us to Amsterdam. We had been planning and saving for Europe for months. Each week we booked something new - an Airbnb in Venice, a flight from Athens to Mykonos, a hostel in Amsterdam, the list goes on. Being travel agents back in Australia, Sam and I wanted to make sure we had our trip in order and knew where we would be sleeping each night. The whole backpacker attitude of “winging it” always sounds like a good idea until it’s 8pm and all the hostels are fully booked! We had under 5 weeks to travel through Amsterdam, Croatia, Greece, and Italy - there wasn’t much room for a missed train or flight in our itinerary! ----- Amsterdam When we landed in Amsterdam the next day and somehow managed to find our way to the hostel in at the other side of the city by asking for directions from about five different locals. It’s fascinating how much we rely on our phones and instant maps to get us from point A to point B, and when you don’t have them, how impossible getting around can seem. Dragging 20kg suitcases over cobblestone streets and dodging cyclists, who are EVERYWHERE in Amsterdam, was quite the feat but eventually we made it to Ecomama Hotel and were so pleased to find a quaint hostel decorated minimally and all eco-friendly. We checked in and flopped onto our bunks for a good hour before we ventured out - jetlag was seriously setting in. Sam has a lovely friend who is from Amsterdam and we met her for dinner on our first night. What did we eat you might ask? Pizza! What else when you’re in Europe! I can’t count the number of times we ate pizza on this trip and somehow, we still aren’t sick of it!

Amsterdam is the most interesting and fascinating place I have ever been. The streets are filled with “coffeeshops” which aren’t what you’d imagine they’d be. Amsterdam does have good coffee, but they’re famous for their marijuana and it is everywhere! Most of these coffeeshops are always open and have a chilled out environment where people can do their thing out in the open and not worry about any laws there to punish them! In turn, this actually makes the whole culture a lot safer, as the source of the product can be better regulated. There is also a surprisingly low crime rate and almost no homelessness - a huge change from what we’re used to in Melbourne and something we noticed right away. Moving on towards the Red Light District, which was even more absurd than I could have imagined. Streets of red lit windows, with almost naked girls inside, waiting for the moment a “customer” chooses them to drop a whole lot of euros on. I’d seen it in the movies, but never in my wildest dreams could have pictured the real life situation. Being completely legal, the Red Light District has become a massive tourist attraction, drawing huge crowds every single night to watch and learn about the prostitution industry. Definitely a strange experience, but a classic one in Amsterdam!

The following few days were spent exploring side streets, visiting the Anne Frank House with our good friend Scott who was in town for a dance performance, more wandering through the Red Light District as it just fascinated us so much, and a few visits to one of the oldest bars in Amsterdam called Hoppe - a local hotspot for after work drinks and nibbles. It was so nice having someone who lives the Amsterdam way of life to show us around. After five days Sam and I felt like we knew the city pretty well, and aside from getting used to the speeding bicyclists, felt accustomed to it's environment. All good things must come to an end, and after dropping way too many euros on clothes, Sam and I were ready to set out on our flight to Split, Croatia to begin our 8 day sail with Busabout from Split to Dubrovnik! We had seen the videos and heard from friends, but little did we know what we were in for when we boarded that sailboat.

Croatia Croatian summers are beautiful. They rarely see rain, the skies are blue, and the water is always crystal clear. We, of course, landed on a day in Split where this was not the case and the weather forecast for the next few days was not in our favour - especially to be on a sailboat out at sea. But, we had been dreaming of this trip for months and we weren’t about to let some rain and rough water get in our way!

Sam and I hopped on the boat and were welcomed with a huge smile as the “Canadians” by our Kiwi guide Milly - who was about to become the best part of our sail trip and top our list of best tour guides EVER. If there’s someone to aspire to be like, it’s Milly! The epitome of a caring, free spirited, and all around awesome individual. On a boat of 23 passengers, we were just about the only two who weren’t Australian - although we did live there so I guess that counts! We soon realized we were in for quite the week being on a boat full of crazy Aussie’s ready to party their way through Croatia’s best bars and nightclubs.

On our boat, which was called Sretan (the Croatian word for happy), we spent the days sailing, swimming in the bluest water I ever did see, listening to music, and jumping off the very top of the boat into the ocean below. It was nothing short of perfection - especially once we got past the first two stormy days - which by the way, didn’t dull our sparkle one bit! Milly made everything an adventure, even when we had to skip a few stops due to the storm and our little boat not being able to withstand the waves. We sailed from Split to Makarska, Stari Grad, Korcula, Hvar, and ended off in Dubrovnik. Each stop was different from the last and there was always something to do and see, even in the smallest of towns. Croatia is full of life with their markets, music, beautiful and friendly locals, and crazy nightlife! The most unique bar I have ever been to was in Makarska and was called “Deep”. It was literally a huge underground bar carved into a cave right on the ocean! Huge a highlight of the trip. Our favourite stop however was Hvar. Hvar is considered a place of high class in Croatia, with super yachts lining the docks and very expensive cocktail bars on the water. We had sunset drinks at Hula Hula bar and ended up in Kiva bar doing “tequila boom booms” which are tequila shots taken while wearing an army helmet and having the bartender hit you over the head with a glass! Pretty much sums up our night in Hvar. Headaches all around the next morning that’s for sure. Nothing a quick dip in the ocean couldn’t fix though!

Our last day in Croatia was spent wandering the streets of Dubrovnik and dodging the thousands of tourists there to see the Game of Thrones locations. It was the hottest day yet and we had planned to Walk the Walls but decided to pass when we realized we could spend our time by the water drinking cocktails and planning for Greece instead. Mykonos was our next stop after a terribly long flight with two stopovers. Note to self: always choose the shorter flight - the $50-$100 saved is worth spending for your sanity and sleep schedule.

Leaving Croatia and our Busabout family was bittersweet. It’s amazing the bond you can form with people in a week when you’re traveling. There were a few tears saying goodbye and leaving our little Sretan home but we knew we were on to a place just as beautiful and we had even more smiling faces waiting for us in Mykonos for the lovely Georgia’s bachelorette bash! Her final days as a Boutsalis!

Greece On our way to Mykonos we had an 8 hour stopover in Serbia - some might spend that time sleeping in the airport but not us! We got out our maps, converted 10 euros to Serbian Dinars which was enough to get us to and from the airport, dinner, ice cream, and a snack for the flight - Serbia is highly inexpensive!! We met two girls from America in the airport and the four of us ventured around the main city square until it was time to head back to the airport and catch our flight to Athens and finally to Mykonos! Talk about jetsetting.

Sam and I both fly fairly often and are lucky to get tons of time off work to do so. We spend way more time in airplanes than any other mode of transportation, and eventually the novelty of flying does start to wear off. Until our flight from Athens to Mykonos we had both been pretty lucky and never really, truly experienced turbulence or a rough flight. Halfway through the 45 minute flight we were jolted awake by the worst turbulence I have ever felt. Girls in the front seats were screaming, Sam and I grasped hands and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, items were sliding from the back of the plane to the front, and the overhead compartments were opening. It was like a scene out of Final Destination. The plane would drop, shake, and then float - I couldn’t tell if we were floating or falling, and it was terrifying. I closed my eyes and waited for it to be over and luckily, it soon was. It’s times like these I want to hug the pilot when we land safely on the ground for his exceptional flying skills. We landed in Mykonos early AM and hopped into a taxi towards town. Georgia graciously greeted us with traditional breakfast - a spinach and feta pastry - and we got settled in the most gorgeous Airbnb home right in the centre of Mykonos‘ blue and white streets. Poor Sammie had caught a bad cold/bronchitis and wasn’t feeling 100% - luckily all she needed was a bit of fresh salty air, gyros, and some beach club cocktails. Greece makes everything better!

I’ve been told over and over again that Greece is very special. I’ve grown up loving Greek food, watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding a million times, and waiting for the day I get to experience it for myself. Needless to say, Greece stole my heart in under 24 hours. It just might be my favourite place in the world. Mykonos was filled with late nights, dinners at 2am because that’s when everyone eats dinner, music, gyros, gyros, and more gyos. I fell in love with Greece on day one and we still had nearly two weeks to see more. We island hopped over to Ios and then to Santorini where we stayed in Oia, right on the famous “sunset sea”. Santorini is filled with couples, and it’s safe to say i’ve never felt more single in my entire life. It really is a honeymooners dream with its gorgeous jewelry stores, restaurants, sunset cruises, and donkey rides - just like the movies. Beauty definitely comes at a price in Santorini - but for the few days we were there we felt like princesses. Our sunset cruise led us to the black sand beach, red sand beach, volcanic hot springs, and then a spot on the ocean to watch the sun disappear for another day in shades of red and orange. Hands down the best sunset i’ve seen in my 24 years of life.

Once we‘d seen Santorini it was time to head back towards Athens and then onto a little village in the South called Monemvasia where we were about to witness Georgia and Mark tie the knot in just a few days time. We spent the days prior to the wedding exploring the village, sunbathing at the hotel pool, and eating lots and lots of Greek food. I could eat Greek food everyday and be completely content!

The wedding day arrived and the new bride and groom looked ravishing at their dream fairy tale wedding. We laughed, cried, and danced the night away to new, old, and traditional Greek music. My dream of being at a real “big fat Greek wedding” had come true and it was even better than the movie! Witnessing so much love and joy in such a beautiful place is remarkable and an experience I will never forget - so thank you Georgia and Mark for having me as a part of your unforgettable wedding day.

All too soon the celebrations were over and we were on our way back to Athens once again - but this time to stay for a day and explore the capital! We checked into our hotel in the middle of the city and set out to explore the Acropolis. I’ve never been much of a history buff, but there is something about the physical act of walking through structures that have been in that very space since fifth century BC. There have been many restoration projects in place to preserve the grounds and keep them looking “authentic” even with the thousands of people who visit them each day. The Parthenon, being one of the main standing structures on top of a small hill was my favourite part. I couldn’t help but think back to a time where important gatherings would be held there about any pressing matters, and the historical figures who would have been a part of it’s importance in our world. I can definitely say we felt a tiny bit smarter and more cultured after spending a few hours at the Acropolis and it was well worth the wait to get in! A must do when in Greece.

Italy was next on our list and although we couldn’t wait to stuff our faces with all the pizza, pasta, and gelato we could find, we also knew it meant our last week in Europe was upon us. How had it already been almost 4 weeks!? I sincerely believe there is no truer statement than time flies when you’re having fun. Our first stop in Italy was Venice - the land of canals and gondoliers!

Italy Venice in August is HOT. And very crowded. The streets were bustling with tourists from all over the world who come to check out the city built on canals and take very expensive gondola rides. I had pictured Venice a little bit differently, and was a little shocked to find the locals not as friendly as we had hoped! Nevertheless Sam and I walked our way through the maze-like streets, ate pasta to-go, pizzas, gelato, and stayed in the most adorable Airbnb that was the size of a hobbit hole in Lord of the Rings!

From Venice we were on to Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera coastline. Cinque Terre is a collection of 5 seaside villages and brightly coloured homes and it is picture perfect. We stayed in Manarola which is the second smallest of the 5 villages and has some wonderful restaurants serving incredible pesto pasta, seafood, and pizzas. The culture of Cinque Terre surrounds hiking and outdoor adventure. Mix that with pizza and pasta, and you’ve basically created mine and Sam’s dream location! We had planned to hike between all 5 villages but got a little lazy and chose to take the boat instead and only hike between two of them. An 8 hour day hike turned into a 1 hour hike with a cold glass of lemonade from a little old Italian man’s stand at the end of the hike. The perfect end to another perfect day in Italy. Our next, and final stop of the Eurotrip was Rome. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but we planned to see it all in 24 hours! Was it possible? We weren’t sure. But tomorrow was our final day in Italy and we had planned a full on adventure through Roma.

Our Airbnb was too good to be true! It was about a 5 minute walk to the Colosseum and the flat itself was gorgeous. Our amazing host Federico somehow carried both our suitcases up 5 flights of stairs, got us checked in and explained each different area of Rome that we needed to see and how best to get there - he couldn’t believe we planned to do it all in one day - but we were determined. We put on our trusty Birkenstock sandals and set out to see the sights. We managed to get to the Trevi Fountain, Pantheon, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, and even got some shopping in - big surprise! Zara should pay us for how much shopping we did in their stores while in Europe! Our final meal was, of course, pizza and we got an early nights sleep in preparation for the long flight ahead back to Melbourne the following day. We woke up, had a very expensive breakfast that included a $9 coffee (insane) and left Rome in the rain. I said the European skies were sad to see us leave :(

Boarding the plane back to Melbourne was hard. We were tired, and a tiny part of each of us was ready to get back into a routine, but most of us was still in the streets of Europe - waking up knowing each day was about to bring something different from the last. Neither of us could believe how quickly the month had flown and how we had managed to make it through without missing a single bus, train, ferry, or flight! High five to that! We settled into our seats ready for another 29 hour journey back to our second home and knew that even though this Eurotrip had ended, it was only the beginning of our travels in Europe. The adventures of Sam and Jess will continue - who knows where we’ll go next!!

#europe #travel

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