Adventures in Europe 2014 (Part 1, Jan-Jun) – Snowboarding, Couchsurfing and Teaching English

Photo Credit: Mo Al-Khafaji

Well here we are, almost at the end of January, 2015.
It’s probably about time for an update and figured writing a post summarising my adventures in Europe month by month for 2014 would be a good start. It’ll be pretty long so I’ve split it over 2 posts; this one covers January to June. Stay tuned for the second half in the next week or so but for now…

Here we go!

The start of this year found me continuing to work at a local backpacker hostel in Belfast. Something that I initially thought was going to be just for a couple of weeks back in November turned out to be exactly what I needed; the chance to stop and chill out for a bit. Unfortunately my job hunting proved to be fruitless however I did manage to score some volunteer work for a few hours a week at a local not-for-profit coffee shop down the road from the hostel.

I did also manage to have a weekend in Cork in the south east of Ireland. It was a city I had been wanting to check out for a while as from what I understand my distant ancestors were there prior to heading to Australia … unfortunately too far back for me to apply for an Irish (read: European) passport.

A "trad" session in a local Cork pub, Ireland

A “trad” session in a local Cork pub, Ireland

This month was mostly volunteering between the hostel and coffee shop while also trying to survive Belfast’s killer winter! A few of us from the hostel attended the Rudimental concert when they were here which was great but we were BY FAR the oldest people there … seriously everyone at that gig looked about 13!

My first international adventure for the year also happened this month in the form of a snowboarding trip to Croatia & Slovenia. The day before my flight was a pretty big concern for me, I had a really intense 24 hour stomach bug that found me sweating and constantly vomiting. Thankfully Max, the hostels resident kiwi got me some sort of gastrostop that helped immensely & by the next day I was in much better nick.

I was fortunate to have met a rad Slovenian named Marusha when I was travelling Morocco last year who hosted me at her parents place in Maribor, Slovenia for a week. It was great living with a local family for a few days, trying some local food and getting to snowboard the mountains of Rogla, Slovenia.

In March I took advantage of a winter bargain, staying in a hostel in Derry for only a pound a night! Derry (or Londonderry depending on who you ask) is the second largest city in Northern Ireland and is where the tragic events of Bloody Sunday occurred. It’s a nice quiet city with some very cozy pubs. Saint Patrick’s day was also celebrated when I was in Belfast; a few of us staff checked out the celebrations in the city and met some rad students who invited us to their house party.

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A couple of staff from the hostel and I went on a day trip hiking Cave Hill, a really beautiful park in the North of Belfast with a really amazing view of the city. In addition, I was able to check out a bunch of ice hockey games too. Belfast has an AMAZING ice hockey team, The Giants – who would have thought one of the most popular sports in the city would be ice hockey!? I’m officially addicted to hockey again and drive everyone insane talking about it all the time haha!

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In the first two weeks of April one of my good mates from Adelaide; Mo and I went on an adventure to Berlin, Krakow and Prague. We used the website to meet and be hosted in each city by a local. For those of you who have not tried couchsurfing before I’d highly recommend it; you really do meet some beautiful souls. A massive thanks goes out to Tonio, Barbara and family, Lucia and Petra for being such kind and generous hosts. When in Berlin I was also stoked to catch up with an old German friend who was living in Adelaide for a while, but haven’t seen for years.

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Later in the month, when back in Belfast, a few of us staff from the hostel went on a road trip around Northern Ireland to see the stunning locations where the tv show “Game of Thrones” was filmed.

About a week or two into May I resigned from both of my volunteer positions at the backpacker hostel and coffee shop. It was great to be able to ground myself for 6 months and chill out; but it was definitely time to move on. Through the couchsurfing website a recruiter from the “Angloville” English program in Poland contacted me and offered an opportunity to participate in their week-long English teaching camp. I figured “why not!?” and booked my flights to Warsaw upon being accepted.

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Prior to departing Ireland, I ventured down south-west to Killarney, home of the famous Ring of Kerry. I also managed to find that doing a layover for a day or two in Brussels, Belgium would prove to be cheaper than travelling direct to Poland. I was hosted again through the couchsurfing website by a really awesome guy called Brieuc in Brussels who travels around the world as a live sound engineer. He managed to find the time to host me for a couple of nights and take me to see some great bands.

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My experience of the Angloville program just outside of Wroclaw in the west of Poland was amazing. The week consisted of volunteers from USA, Australia, Canada, England and Scotland having conversations and participating in activities in English with Polish participants who were generally quite successful business people. Despite them having quite powerful positions at their workplace, I found all of the Polish participants to be incredibly friendly and positive people. I still keep in regular contact with many of them.

On the last day of the Angloville camp, a couple of the other volunteers and I were lucky to get a ride with some of the Polish participants to their hometown Gdansk in the North of Poland. We spent a few days exploring this historically significant city (where world war II commenced) before saying goodbye and two of us deciding to explore the Baltic countries of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for the next week and a half.

I returned back to Poland by the middle of the month to participate in another Angloville program. It was slightly different to the first in that it was often 2 native speakers and 2 polish participants during conversational activities. Again I had another great mentee who I assisted with working on a presentation to be delivered in English to the group by the end of the week. Following the English camp myself and some other volunteers were invited by one of the programs coordinators to spend a few days at her family home in Kielce to experience life (and food) in rural Poland – AMAZING!

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By the end of the month I was on my way to Austria to stay with another host I had organised through couchsurfing. My host, Kalina, originally from Bulgaria really went out of her way to show me the best of Austria in the few that I was there. I was taken on a tour of Vienna and also we went on a road trip to see the STUNNING mountainous town of Hallstatt – again being housed by a really generous host through couchsurfing.

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Much Love,

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