Santi to Serbia – Greek Islands to Belgrade, Serbia

The moment we were dreading had arrived. . leaving the beautiful Greek Islands and moving back into intense backpacking, but this time separately. The ferry ride into Athens was at night. Completely exhausted, we pretty much walked to the harbour half asleep, where we dangled our legs by the water and waited for the ferry.

The boat had arrived and everyone rushed towards it. I always find that so intriguing, when people rush towards something. I’ve experienced it for flights, subways, trains and ferries. I never see the point because things like flights and ferries, they won’t leave until everyone is there, and there is usually enough time for everyone to get on. I’ve been knocked over, caught in the middle of luggage and trapped between people all because they turn into wild animals when their form of transport arrives. So just a tip for anyone who is this kind of person: calm down!

As we all eventually got onto the ferry, an employee pointed us towards a room. Since we didn’t have any assigned seats, we thought that this was a room with lounges or something where we could try and get some sleep.
We walked closer to the room and could hear very loud noises. Peaking around the corner, we noticed that it was a gaming room. They had shoved all the backpackers into a gaming room to sleep. I quickly ran to the back of the room where I claimed my corner. I don’t think I noticed anything odd at the time, as I was so sleep deprived. But, when I woke up at 3 in the morning to see 40 backpackers all lined up in rows, sleeping on their backpacks and curled up with their jackets over their cold bodies, I couldn’t believe it! I kind of felt like an illegal immigrant, like that instance in San Fran where the cab driver chucked us in the back of his van. I put my coat back over my head and drifted back to sleep as the gaming machines played sounds of excitement.

***

We arrived into Athens later that morning and put our stuff in a locker at the main station. We sat on the ground and freshened up, as the toilets cost money and we were poor. We still hadn’t slept, but had a full day in Athens until we separated the next day. With a fresh face and clothes, we headed out to explore the Acropolis. Feeling completely exhausted, we knew we needed a nap to get through the rest of the day. Finding a park bench, we both took a side and had a fairly decent hour nap. We woke up even more tired, sore and cramped up.

Beautiful view of Greece!

Beautiful view of Greece!


Long story short, that night we caught a train into Thessaloniki, and then another one into Bulgaria. From there, Jay and I were going to catch one more train together, where I would get off into Serbia and start exploring, and from Serbia, Jay would catch a train back towards the west of Europe.
We arrived into Serbia early morning, but as there was a delay, we though Jay had missed her train. We ended up spending the day together in Belgrade, which was really nice. We went to these cool underground tunnels and caves where we learnt about the Serbian history, explored wine cellars and just roamed around the city. After a while, we realised that Jay hadn’t actually missed the train. There was a time difference and our phones hadn’t changed, so she was actually early for the train! We laughed at our stupidity, said our goodbyes and ventured off on our own adventures.

You know a bakery is good when there's a line going out the door! Belgrade Serbia.

You know a bakery is good when there’s a line going out the door! Belgrade Serbia.

The End of an Adventure.

So that’s it. My amazing 9 month adventure is slowly coming to an end. I remember when I started planning it, and now with a blink of an eye, it’s all over. It hasn’t been easy, but that’s been the beauty of it. I reached my personal goal of seeing 30 countries by the age of 21 and could not be happier. Thank you to everyone involved in this journey, from Asia to England to Europe. The things I have experienced on this trip have truly shaped me into the person I am today and I have never been prouder of myself.

Doing this alone, I’ve come to appreciate life with such a compelling gratitude that I can’t describe. The time I have spent solo, found me to be lost in my own thoughts, where I’ve discovered things I didn’t even know about myself, leading me to be so comfortable & content with who I am and what I’m doing in life.

As I head home in a few days, I would like to thank everyone who has been so supportive of my writing and even though I am delayed with it all, I will continue to post. There are still many stories for me to get through, but I promise they will all be on here soon enough. It means so much that you all read this blog, and your lovely messages have inspired me more than you could imagine.

If I could leave you all with a bit of advice, it would be to travel right now while you’re young and free. Don’t worry about that 9-5 job, those responsibilities, what people think of you or the way society tells you your life should be.Take that leap of faith and get lost in a new country because I can guarantee that you won’t be the same person after all of it. The people you meet and things you experience will become your reason to live. So in saying that, start breaking the social rules, get out of your comfort zone and embark on a ridiculous adventure. Life is too short to live without a passion so deep that leaves you craving more & more.
Life Is Beautiful guys, so go out there and enjoy that motherfucker!

Also, any backpacker keen to join me for my next adventure, contact me at ashntraveladventures@gmail.com.
Stay tuned for all the stories, as they’re coming your way very shortly!

xo Ash N

Santorini Sunsets – The Greek Islands

We arrived into Santorini just as the sun was about to set. As we got on the coach, we drove around and through the windy roads and watched the beautiful sun turn into a golden red as it disappeared into the distance. Jay and I smiled at each other, appreciating the fact that this was our last destination as a duo.

Our hostel was located right by the beach. Just as we were ready to share a room with 12 other travellers, the receptionist told us that he had upgraded us to a private room, since it was available. I can’t speak anymore highly of Anny Studios. Not only did they give us a great room, but they sent out our postcards and helped us with absolutely everything we needed. The upgrade was so delightful. Again, everything private, with a great big bed and a television! To top it off, we would step outside and the beach was at our feet.

The next day, we got up early and hired a quad. I have to say; this was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made while travelling. I started off driving and realised that I was a little uncoordinated, so let Jay drive for the majority of the day. I mean, she would actually drive on the correct side of the road.

Our ride for the day :)

Our ride for the day :)

We drove all the way around the island, and then headed to the north area which is called Oia. Apparently the most beautiful sunset in the world is seen from this place. Oia was fairly packed so we took in the beautiful views, got lost a little and then headed back to our quad where we drove off as the sun set. It was a magical moment to say the least. In regards to the most beautiful sunset, well they weren’t lying! We got back to our hostel completely exhausted, smoked some watermelon shisha while playing ‘Guess Who’ and then sunk into our marshmallow bed and called it a night.

Everyone waiting for that beautiful sunset.

Everyone waiting for that beautiful sunset.


With having such an amazing day, we realised that we had to extend our stay because there was so much more to discover. Adding an extra few nights, we headed out the following day to do a day tour around the island. It started with a hike up the volcano, which was fairly painful when you decide to wear your havianas that day. It was all worth it when we reached the main area and looked out to the beautiful water. Don’t tell the Greek Government, but I stole a rock from the volcano.. ha!

After exploring other surrounding islands and the hot springs, the day had come to an end. We picked a random Greek restaurant on the strip of our hostel and indulged in a lot of seafood. All of a sudden, the lights had dimmed and traditional Greek dancers had come out, dancing all around the restaurant. They danced and danced, and started pulling people up from the tables. Of course, Jay was pulled up and started doing some belly dancing kinda moves on the table with the 2 girls. The restaurant owner was insisting that I get up there, but I was scared the music would take over and I would break out into my usual hip hop freestyle and scare everyone. I kindly declined.

Smashing plates!

Smashing plates!

After more dancing, the restaurant workers lit the floor on fire and everyone was given plates to smash. We smashed multiple plates until the night was over, and shimmied our shoulders as we got back to eating our amazing seafood dinner.

While we were in Santorini, Jay and I realised that we hadn’t spent any time the beach, except for walking by it. Our final day was dedicated to the beach, where we relaxed and drank cocktails that we’re delivered to us by one of our favourite restaurant owners. After having a final shot with him, we said our goodbyes, and watched the sun set for the final time. We then caught our ferry out of the Greek Islands at midnight for what had been one of the best times of our entire life.

The IOS Upgrade – IOS, Greek Islands

Ten of us arrived at the hostel from the ferry onto the island of IOS. Exhausted by the scorching heat, we sat down with cups of water and waited for our rooms to be ready. The lady at reception gave everyone his or her rooms and left us till the end. As we walked with her to our room, she told us that out of all the backpackers, we looked the most deserving of an upgrade to a private deluxe room. It made me think, were we that ugly and tired looking? Whatever it was, I was not complaining.

We walked in to a private room with 2 double beds, a private shower (with free soap!), a television, more than 4 power plugs and a beautiful view of IOS right from our balcony. It was a basic room, but when you’ve been sharing toilets and rooms with more than 10 people at a time, any kind of privacy is luxury. And free soap is just a bonus. We made sure to only open one of them, so we could save the other for a special occasion.

After taking some time to appreciate our room, we headed out to find some food. We explored the city, which was fairly quiet during the afternoon, and stumbled across a little family owned restaurant. Getting two three course meals, we devoured the amazing Greek cuisine, appreciating and examining every bite. It’s always fun having a meal with Jay, because we always end up having these intellectual conversations about the ingredients and the tastes that we experience. I guess that’s the benefit of having an amazing cook as a best friend!

Coming back to our beautiful room, we had a little nap and then went out at night. It was a very different vibe to Mykonos. Even though it wasn’t as crazy, there were a lot of young travellers around who were hopping from bar to bar. The smaller street bars created a really cool vibe to IOS which made it different to Mykonos. Mykonos has a raw party feel to it, where people are partying from when they wake up, until sunrise the next day. IOS is a little bit more chilled out, where it felt like people were doing siesta in the afternoon, and then get ready to go out drinking from one place to another. Either way, both islands were amazing and we thought life couldn’t get any better. .boy, were we wrong!

IOS.jpg

Living in The Moment – Mykonos, The Greek Islands

We got into Mykonos in the daytime. Very excited, we got off the ferry and stopped to take in the beautiful view of the little houses, the sea and the sunshine. After we took a ‘we-arrived-in-Mykonos-selfie’, we walked towards the people who were holding the hostel and hotel signs. We looked around for our hostel rep but couldn’t see him/her anywhere. Finally we asked a man and he said,’ no! Wrong island! Go back, quick!’ We looked back and noticed our ferry was getting ready to depart. We bolted towards the ferry, waving our hands to the man standing on the port. We arrived just in time, but realised that our tickets had been collected at the beginning of the journey. We begged and explained how we got off on the wrong island, and he kindly let us back on. As soon as we stepped on, the ferry left whatever island we were on.

So getting off the right island this time, we found our hostel rep and made our way to our accommodation in Mykonos. Our hostel wasn’t your typical hostel because it was located on the beach. We had a little hut type room that was built on the sand. It was literally just two beds and a mirror, one power plug on a concrete slab floor. It kind of felt like a luxury prison. The showers were outside in a separate hut, but the water in Mykonos was so salty that it almost felt as if I were exfoliating!

Don't mistake Mykonos for just another party island! The sights are simply gorgeous!

Don’t mistake Mykonos for just another party island! The sights are simply gorgeous!

After exploring the beach and having a few cocktails, we met a couple travellers from Perth who had hired quads for the day. I told one of them that I had never been on a quad before so he grabbed the keys and we headed out to go for a cruise. As we drove through the windy roads of Mykonos, fireworks coloured the sky into a beautiful display of light and music blasted from the beach that we had left behind. The wind gently kissed my ear as the cocktails started kicking in, and I tucked my hands into Perthy’s pockets, realising that everything was perfect.

Once I had come back from the quad cruise, Jay and I took a nap and woke up at about 1am to get ready to go out. The club we were going to was located on this hill in Mykonos and it was only about 10 minutes from our hut.

As we strolled past the water, a much older man stopped us and asked for a lighter. After a bit of conversation, we realised he was the owner of one of the big bars in Mykonos, and he was heading to the one that we were going to.

As we walked up to the club, we passed the line and got let straight in, which was awesome and kind of annoying because we paid so much for a ticket. It felt like a movie where all the girls get let in before everyone, except in our case, we were with a man who was old enough to be our pimp daddy.

We got in and our new friend knew every person in the place. We walked through as he shook hands with men, kissed the women and acknowledged all the employees who shared a warm welcoming smile. Cutting the line at the bar, we had rounds of tequila shots and partied to the sounds of dance music.

While I was in my own world, dancing the night away, I noticed Jay wasn’t there. I looked over and saw she was chatting to our new mate. It looked interesting so I headed over. She was asking him about his life, and what his story was. He responded with, ‘just live in the moment, that’s all’.

I don’t know if it was the drinks, the club, the fact that we had less than two more weeks together and we were finally in the Greek Islands, or that we were miraculously recovered from our sickness/injuries, but that little sentence was the perfect way to start our Greek island adventure.

Mykonos

The Uni Screw Up: Sofia, Bulgaria – Thessaloniki, Greece – Athens, Greece

After another overnight train, we got into Sofia at about 9:30am or so. Before we did anything, we had to book our coach to Thessaloniki. . ah, that city’s name just gives me the creeps for some reason.

We walked outside the train station to find many little shops all specialising in tickets from Sofia to Thesso, but one lady ended up persuading us into her store and was one of the sweetest Europeans that I’d come across on the trip. She welcomed us into her shop, sat us down, put our backpacks on the ground and gave us a glass of water. After she finished organising our journey towards Greece, she even walked us to the tram stop that we needed to take. I really think the sling and the bandage contributed to everyone’s feelings towards us.

As we waited and waited for the tram, we realised that it wasn’t going to arrive. It had nearly been an hour that we had been waiting. A Bulgarian lady told us that there were no trams on this line so being completely over everything, we agreed that we should just catch a taxi to the hostel, which we arrived to just after midday.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the second largest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula.

St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral is the second largest cathedral located on the Balkan Peninsula.

***

After our day or so in Sofia, it was time for the journey into Greece. I don’t really have any complaints about the bus ride from Sofia into Thessaloniki. We had wi-fi, got some free food and bevvies and had a little TV. It actually seemed pretty five star to a couple backpackers who’d been sleeping on the train for the past few days.

We got to Thessaloniki, and waited hours for another overnight train into Athens, finally arriving there at 5:30am the next morning. We put our bags down and the receptionist let us crash on the common room couch until we were ready to freshen up and head out to see the city.

After about 20 minutes of lying down, I checked my phone and saw it had been bombarded with messages from my sister. Long story short, my university back home had contacted her because I had forgotten to submit a main form, which meant that I wouldn’t be allowed to study abroad at Keele. This would mean that my whole trip that I worked for would have been completely screwed up.

I had to find somebody in the university to sign these forms and get them to the office within the next 24 hours. This of course was going to be difficult because I was on the other side of the world, and the relationships I had with my tutors/lecturers weren’t on a first name basis (word of advice kids: go to class). I was just an eight-digit number to most of them, so how was I meant to find someone who knew me well enough, get the forms signed and get them to the uni if I wasn’t even in the country!?

I ended up turning to my course advisor, and my sister kindly helped out and ran around to get these forms organised, but I still had to play the waiting game for the next day or so. This had to be one of the most stressful experiences and I have to admit, it brought me to tears. I was already on the other side of the world, prepared to study abroad and there was a 90% I wouldn’t be able to do it because of one form.

What was I going to do? Is this going to screw up everything? Will this push my plans back another year? How would this affect my degree? What about my masters? Am I going to have to dish out more money? When will I graduate? Will I ever graduate? All these questions kept circulating in my head for the next 24 hours.

I was so grateful that Jay was there so she could hold me while I sobbed after no sleep and constant hours of emailing back and forth to various people who were dealing with my situation. I think it would’ve been even tougher if I were alone during that time, so Jay being there to say comforting, silly and funny things was very helpful.
Ash-1 : Jay-5

As we boarded our ferry to start our Greek Island adventure, I received the message that made me the happiest student in the world. .

“Enrolment has been approved!”

The timing could not have been any better.

Athens

The Zombie Apocalypse – Bucharest, Romania

We got off the train and into Bucharest all dirty and exhausted. I think it was about 7am or so, we had the whole day to explore the city before our night train to Bulgaria.

Since the toilets cost money and we’re poor, we sat on the side of Bucharest’s train station and pretty much got naked as we freshened up in front of many Romanians and other by passers. This was a fairly difficult task because Jess was still in a sling and I could barely stand up and move because of the pain in my thighs. We used our jackets to shield each other as the perverted tourist eyes wandered to our awkward situation.

With the use of Maccas wifi, we sorted out the plan for the day and headed out to explore Bucharest.

Bucharestt
***

It was 6pm and we went to the park where our Bucharest tour was meant to start from. We waited and waited, and half an hour later, we realised that no one was going to show up. We had five hours to spare so decided to do our own tour.

After exploring some churches and beautiful buildings; with the help of Google Maps, we found a lively street full of bars and cafes located in the Old Town. We decided to spoil ourselves and have a cocktail night, which is something we would do nearly every week back in Sydney.
After walking up and down the strip, we finally found a Spanish cocktail bar where we sat outside on these red velvet couches. We got the menu and started our cocktail night with a couple of Pina Coladas.

Old town Bucharest street full of awesome bars and cafes.

Old town Bucharest street full of awesome bars and cafes.

After a lot of cocktails and a lot of walking, we grabbed some food and decided we should start making our way towards the station, because the worst feeling is that thinking that you may miss your form of transport, especially if its an overnight.

As we made our way to the metro station, we hopped on very calm and collected knowing that we had time to get to the station, pick up our luggage and get on our train/accommodation for the night.

Suddenly, the train had come to a stop and everybody had started running like it was the zombie apocalypse. As we were the only ones left on the train, Jay and I looked at each other, thinking ‘what the hell”. Finally the guard came in and told us the trains had stopped running so we had to get off. As there were only a couple of minutes till the final train, we would have to run to make it.

Without knowing where we were going, Jay and I bolted superfast in a hurry to find this last train, and eventually we got to it. As we were running towards it, the doors had just closed. The way we tried to open them felt like we were the zombies of the apocalypse. We pushed and banged, but it didn’t budge. Luckily, the guard saw us and kindly had the doors open.

By this time, we were fairly tight on time. With about 15 minutes left, we still had to get to the station, pick up our luggage from storage, find the platform and get on the train.

I have never run so fast in my life. Even though we didn’t have our big backpacks, we had random bags, which still made it hard. I think we were down to about 6 minutes or so, and that’s when I started feeling something horrible going on with my hand, but soldiered on because the most important thing was catching that damn train. The physical pain could wait.

After a lot of struggle, we finally made it to the luggage area only to find that they were closed. We banged on the doors, again feeling like we were super hungry zombies, and luckily enough someone was in there. She handed us our backpacks and we bolted to check the departure screen to see what platform our train was on.

Weirdly enough, the platform number wasn’t displayed, and there were only a few minutes till the train. Confused, tired and out of breath, we gave it another minute or so. We knew something was up, so I went over to the information desk, a little nervous, as we didn’t have much luck earlier with the Romanians.

In my most simplest, slowest way, I asked her about the train to Bulgaria. All she said was, ‘one hour delay’. I shook my head and laughed as I walked back over to Jay, who was now sitting on the ground with all the bags, holding her poor arm. I told her about the delay and we both cracked up laughing, because after that entire struggle, there was nothing else we could do.

As we sat down and let everything sink in, I realised that I really hurt the top of my hand. I had burst a blood vessel due to the pressure from the bags we were carrying. The pain throbbed dreadfully, so Jess bandaged it up for me. At that point, it had looked like we had gotten into a fight with each other, which is what we started telling people, just for shits and giggles.
The train finally arrived and we found our seats for what was another uncomfortable overnight journey to Sofia, Bulgaria.

The end result of the 'fight'.

The end result of the ‘fight’.

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