You can learn a lot in 35 days travelling across Europe. Like the fact that there are basically no road rules at the Arc de Triomphe roundabout, the Golden Gate Bridge has a twin sister in Lisbon, and you can’t eat the oranges from the trees lining Seville’s streets. From confined Spanish laneways to the open green pastures of Scotland, Mackay-based town planner Monique Fenn went all out for her first big trip abroad last month, booked at Flight Centre Sydney Street Markets.
Monique managed to tick off a few classics (Stonehenge, Buckingham Palace, the Moulin Rouge) as well as some unexpected pursuits (an underground birthday lunch in London’s oldest wine bar, eating Nutella spaghetti in Vienna and a surprisingly comfortable journey on a sleeper bus through Great Britain). We chatted to Monique about her first overseas holiday – what were the highlights, the surprises and has she caught the notorious travel bug?
Give us a brief run-down of your (pretty impressive) itinerary
I bunny-hopped around a lot. I flew into London, then went on to Spain, Portugal, London again, Elgin (Scotland), back to London, Vienna, Budapest, and finally London and Paris on a short Contiki trip to finish up.
I have friends in London who were planning a trip, so I basically just tagged along. We generally only spent two or three nights in one place, but I spent nine nights in London and Paris on my Contiki.
Where did you visit that you just couldn’t keep the camera away?
Scotland was easily the prettiest place. We stayed in a tiny town in the north highlands called Elgin, which looks exactly as you'd expect. It was filled with cute little B&Bs and perfectly green rolling hills with flocks of sheep ambling about. The weather was gorgeous with clear blue skies – the whole thing was just picture perfect.
Scotland also wins hands down for niceness. The locals were always ridiculously polite and will bend over backwards to help you. They’re the type of people who stop on the highway to let you walk across. At one cafe, the owners came out and sat with us, seemingly so interested in our lives and our trip!
How did you get around, country to country?
We flew from London to Spain and then bussed to Portugal. From London we bussed to Scotland and back, before flying on to Vienna. From there we caught a train to Budapest and flew back to our base at London. My Contiki trip took care of the bus from London to Paris. Within each city I used their respective metro systems too. Needless to say I became very well accustomed to the various methods of transit across Europe, and it was all surprisingly seamless.
Let’s get serious for a moment. What were your foodie highlights?
Vienna’s cafe culture was awesome to experience firsthand, and London has every food you could ever imagine – I highly recommend the Borough Market. Paris’ infamous pastries and cakes really do live up to the hype. My personal highlight was wandering the streets of Paris with a pastry in hand, stopping for espresso whenever I felt like it. Pure heaven!
In Scotland my travel buddies and I did tours of five whisky distilleries and a cooperage. They were short tours, about an hour long, but the tastings were definitely worth it!
Travelling in winter, the weather must have been a little dreary. Did it put a dampener on your holiday?
It didn't bother me, but it did bring the others down. If you wear the appropriate clothing, it’s not much of an issue. I had waterproof boots and my big duck down jacket that kept most of me dry all the time. If you keep dwelling on the weather it ruins your trip. Just plan accordingly and pack smart!
Did you have any problems with the language barrier whilst country-hopping?
The only place where people didn’t speak much English was Spain, but I’ve been learning Spanish so I could generally get by. People shouldn’t be scared about language barriers. Being polite, attempting the basics and pointing can pretty much get you anywhere. I even managed to buy arch support sneakers without a scrap of English, which was fairly amusing!
Was there anything you were worried about before that now seems silly?
I was worried about safety, which now seems ridiculous. Young ladies travelling solo just have to be smart about it. Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do at home, like walking around alone at night. There’s such a stigma about the safety of female travellers, but I felt perfectly at ease.
If anything, I should have been worried about making sure I really took advantage of my time in Europe. My advice if you’re travelling with friends or in a group is to make sure you get to do what you want to do – don’t always follow the crowd.
So, have you officially caught the travel bug? Where to next?
I have an urge to do things my own way, now that I’m more comfortable with travelling overseas. I really want to go back to Paris and London. When you're there for the first time you do 'the sights' which are great, but you don’t really get to know the city. I want to go back and spend more time checking out the neighbourhoods. I want to do southern France and Lyon too, and a massive food binge across the United States!