With so many countries and cultures packed into the one region, Europe is a fantastic place to venture! For the discerning backpacker, the standard of travelling is much higher especially when compared to the Asian or South American alternative. Some hostels are likened to hotels – the term ‘flashpacker’ recently came into popularity. With the strong Australian dollar, things like food, transport, accommodation, activities etc. are still cheaper than back home (with the exception of Scandinavian countries).
Australian’s are fairly lucky in terms of Visas – for those not fortunate enough to have a dual passport, you’ll easily receive a working visa from the UK, which allows you to live, work and travel for up to two years. Otherwise, the Schengen visa allows you to travel in the EU for three months – this is what I used and it was just enough.
You can also travel between countries with relative ease. For those who plan to visit a number of cities within a short period of time, your Aussie travel agent can organise a rail pass – a popular and affordable option. Otherwise, you can also organise a far cheaper bus pass, which will take you a little longer to take you to your destination. While the pre-purchased ticket means that you don’t have to fork out any Euro when you’re there, you still need to book ahead in order to secure a seat. Flying high is also cheap– Ryanair is the EU version of Tiger, but with the cheap ticket comes a frustrating and almost non-existing service.
Alternatively, if you want to relinquish the organisation of your trip, there are companies like Contiki and Topdeck that offer pre-organised holidays. You’ll meet a heap of people, see a number of places in a short time frame and you don’t have to worry about … anything! Busabout have set routes and shuttle you from hostel to hostel – so for those feeling *slightly* more adventurous but can’t be bothered organising transport, Busabout is an ideal option.
I’d recommend going during the summer period (our winter) but unlike Asia, you need to be prepared as European events and festivals are popular tourist destination. Don’t be disappointed and make sure you organise accommodation and tickets well in advance! Here are a few of the events I was lucky enough to visit.
Music Festivals – Global Gathering, Field Day Festival and Bonusz Festival
Most of the European festivals are cheaper and far more outrageous than the Australian counterparts simply because many amazing artists are born and bred in Europe. This means festival organisers can keep travel costs down and pass some of these savings on to music revellers. However, because the line-ups are out of the (Australian) world, tickets can be difficult to come by. Often, you have to win a ballot months in advance, wake up in the wee hours of the morning and then hope that you score a ticket (when they say ‘don’t refresh’ – don’t refresh! It means you’ll lose your spot in the online line and be severely disappointed. This happened when I was when trying to get Tomorrowland tickets). Dressing up is essential and due to the large size of certain festivals, a la Glastonbury, a bike helps with getting from stage to stage!
La Tomatina or simply ‘the tomato throwing festival’, near Valencia, Spain, was an interesting experience to say the least. I wasn’t prepared for the packed streets – I had envisioned an entire town drowned by tomatoes. The reality actually saw 40,000 excitable people crammed into a narrow and hot laneway for three hours before the food fight commenced. They have since implemented a ticketing system so ‘only’ 20,000 people can now go. This was coupled with the vast majority feeling the ill effects of sangria from the night before. Interestingly, girls were warned to wear a sports bra under their white attire as some festivalgoers were inclined to rip tops. But with the exception of the hangover, the long wait and the high risk of de-robing, it was a pretty amazing experience.
A long-standing tradition sees men (and some women) climb an oily, wooden street pole to reach a leg of ham at the top. Watching people pile on top of one another was hilarious and definitely made the wait a bit more bearable. At around 11am, a number of trucks drove through the laneway (a difficult feat as the lanes are already one giant moshpit) spilling tomatoes from the back tray as they drove along. For the hour, I was unable to actually throw a tomato but I was amidst a tomato soup moshpit.
It was fairly surreal after it ended – everyone was stained red and battered blue, the smell of gazpacho was paramount and a number of people were complaining about their lost items (perhaps they shouldn’t have brought their passport to a food fight…).
To organise your trip, a number of tour companies like The Fanatics can organise your accommodation, host the pre and post parties and access to the festival. As the dates are set well in advance, this would be one of the first things I’d organise while planning your trip.
If you like beer, you’ll LOVE Oktoberfest. If you don’t like beer, you’ll LOVE Oktoberfest. While the festival itself if centred on the enjoyment of beer, the offering is far more faceted. The arena is an amusement park for adults, where Germans and internationals alike wear traditional Bavarian outfits and stumble between beer halls and the occasional rollercoaster. Most people spend around EU$120 for an authentic dirndl (females) or even more for a lederhosen (males) which, by the end of the festival, smells like a pub at 3am on a Saturday. The food is delicious – the pork knuckle, roast chicken, potato dumpling and schnitzel are quite literally the best things you’ll eat in Europe (my mouth is watering at the mere thought).
In Australia, I personally stay clear of beer, but at Oktoberfest this obviously isn’t an option. The beer is light yet strong and without preservatives, so you can drink it (responsibly) like water. This leads to people dancing on table tops, belting out German songs and Robbie Williams anthems with your newfound friends from your table.
This is a must on any European adventure and organising accommodation well in advance is recommended. If you’re on a budget, the campsite is fun and affordable (but keep in mind it’ll be nearing winter so expect some rain in your tent). Hostels are a great option but fill quickly. Companies mentioned above do tours so again, a great option if you don’t want to organise your trip.
And don’t forget, drink responsibly!