Three months in Europe comes with a lot of memories (and mishaps).
When beginning a journey of such magnitude, you know that along the way you will create stories both good and bad, and come back with a few “pinch me” moments.
Since returning home, many people want to know the “most memorable moments”. When they ask, I always have a hard time answering. It usually starts with an “uh”, then a pause, then a stutter, then a story. It’s not because I cannot think of one, but instead that within these few months, so much has happened.
In light of this, I have decided to write a post of small memories that we experienced along the journey. Ones that may never have an entire article dedicated to them, but are the moments that helped complete our crazy adventure.
1. Devil ants take Mont Blanc
Around our third week, Josh and I visited Chamonix, France. For those of you who haven’t visited, this town is in the heart of the French Alps and at the base of one of the tallest mountains in Europe: Mont Blanc.
Our first night we arrived with heavy backpacks and began the La Jonction trail. A moderate, but somewhat steep hike up to the top of Les Bossens Glacier. The plan: start the hike and camp somewhere along the trail where we can ditch our bags and finish the hike in the morning.
Well, suprisingly, it’s difficult to find a place to camp when you’re on the side of a mountain. Who would have thought?
After climbing for a couple hours, our bags weighing us down each step, and the rumbles of hangry stomachs growing louder, we finally gave up. We found a tree patch off the trail and set up the hammock.
We now had a place to call home, but no water.
Poor Josh hiked another twenty minutes up the trail to a closed refuge that didn’t have any water. After a few circles around the building he discovered a large grey bucket with clear water.
We drank it through a Life Straw to rid any toxins, but came to an unproven conclusion that he in fact found the beverage dump bucket from the refuge’s restaurant. Nothing like surviving off of a tasty mixture of wine, tea, beer, and whatever else floated in. Sweet.
Back at camp we soon discovered all the evil red ants. The suckers that wait for you to lay one innocent hand on a tree so they can latch on and try to suck your soul out.
Climbing up the steep slope I tumbled and fell a handful of times (shocker) and each time I touched any tree in the process, I was greeted with bites. Not to mention the stick that somehow became entangled in my hair. #junglechild
So we attempt to sleep two people in one hammock surrounded by devil ants on a steep, cliff-like slope, eating cold ravioli out of a can somewhere next to a giant glacier. I guess it wasn’t so bad with a view like this:
Needless to say we managed about two hours of sleep and began our hike around five the next morning (and it was awesome).
2. Traditional Swedish Crayfish Party
While adventuring around Sweden, we had heard a few references of a thing called a “Swedish Crayfish Party”. We didn’t know much about it except it was purely Swedish and contains 10% crayfish and 90% schnapps.
Do you see where this is headed?
Fast forward to the last night in Ostersund, Sweden where we couchsurfed with an awesome couple who invited us along to one of these famous parties. We arrive at a friends apartment, greeted with delicious smelling garlic bread and crayfish themed plates, napkins, bibs, and hats.
The meal finished cooking and we sat around a large table to begin stuffing our faces. Myself, a crayfish amateur, had no idea where to start eating the little thing staring into my soul. I soon learned that the technique including a whole lot of cracking, sucking, and biting.
Schnapps were brought out and we learned that the other tradition included singing Swedish songs as a cheers before each shot. Being American and completely clueless, Josh and I had a blast not knowing what was going on. Sometimes being clueless can be fun.
Before the night came to a close, we all ended up in the courtyard of the apartment complex playing a game unbeknownst to us before this night called Kubb. It’s now one of my favorite drinking games. Look it up.
3. Drainage Tunnel Lullaby
Having no plan and no place to sleep can have interesting consequences.
Our first night in Italy we were searching for woods to camp in on Google Maps satellite. Surprisingly, northern-central Italy has a lot of fields and very little forests. This proved to make the task even more difficult.
Around eleven at night we hopped off a train in a small town that was our last and only hope for the night. Before walking just over a mile to a small patch of woods we hoped would suffice, we ended up at a small bar watching the finish of the Italy vs. Germany Eurocup game.
By the time the game ended in a prolonged shoot-out and Germany claiming victory it was about midnight. We approached the woods only to realize two things:
- It was a giant hill
- There were thorns….EVERYWHERE
As much as we tried, we could not prevail. Frustrated and peeved, we were about to give up and head back to the train station until the first train left around five in the morning.
Josh and I spot a small ditch, and Josh hops down to investigate. When he returns he tells me “we can do this, but you’re nothing going to like it.”
Right then and there I knew where we were sleeping. A drainage tunnel.
So I hop down the ditch and the first thing noticed is a dead bird laying about two feet outside the entrance to the tunnel. AWESOME.
Second thing I notice is the spiders inside the tunnel the size of Connecticut (I might be exaggerating a little).
After deciding that I am only doing this because I am tired and grumpy, we set up the tent and slide in into the tunnel. I make Josh clear the spiders on the side of the entrance and crawl in. Sleeping on the concrete floor wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought, but I’m really glad we didn’t have to do that again.
4. Bosnia bus hell
I really did enjoy Bosnia, but when we visited Eastern Europe it was hot and their public transportation doesn’t have air conditioning. We decided to visited Banja Luka, Bosnia, where we rented a beautiful newly-built apartment overlooking the town for a mere $28.
The day we were set to leave, we went to a waterpark to escape the blistering heat. An all-day pass for the both of us came to a whopping $4. Not mention the pools were refreshing and the waterslide had no rules.
Right before we were about to leave, I stepped on a bee. It was the absolute worst sting I have ever received. I am not sure what kind of bee it was, but damn. The train station was about two miles away and we had to make the train as there was only one train back to Zagreb each day.
Rushing and limping in the 95 degree weather, we made it to the platform with five minutes to spare only to wait an extra hour with no word where the train was. A large group was waiting, but it took us a while to find anyone who could understand and speak English. He informed us that there was a collision on the tracks ahead and that we would have to be re-routed by bus.
In the meantime, Josh and I bought an entire carton of ice cream with the last of our Bosnian currency and downed the whole thing in the middle of the crowded platform. No regrets.
Upon finally boarding the bus, I realized I had just entered hell. Mainly because it was completely packed, no windows could be open, and the air condition didn’t work. This pushed temperature within the bus well into the hundreds. Those around us were shouting (as far as we could tell) for air conditioning and relief from the heat. People fanned themselves with anything they could find, and dripping more sweat than I have seen in my entire life.
The bus took some time, and when we finally arrived and stepped out into the near-hundred degree heat we all felt as if we had just jumped into a cold river. I’ll never forget that feeling of absolute relief.