So far this month, I’ve described my experiences living with a French family and travelling with a Contiki tour group. Over the next two weeks, I’ll be sharing some of my memories as a backpacker in Europe.
The summer before I went to grad school, I spent ten weeks in Europe. You might ask how I could afford to do that. One answer is that I saved money with a passion while I worked, but the other answer is that I spent very little money as I travelled. Contiki tours are inexpensive, but the part of the trip where I really pinched pennies was as a backpacker.
While I was staying in London, I switched youth hostels partway through to save £3 a night. I took the bus to the airport in London rather than the train – even though it was less convenient – to save £1.6. Breakfasts came free with a night at a hostel, and I became an expert on where to buy cheap food in every city I visited.
Sometimes I relied on the knowledge of my fellow travellers to come up with money-saving hints. If I hadn’t met Kevin from Montreal, I never would have known about the free beer given out at the end of the Heineken factory tour. Nor would I have known the exact place in the room to stand to ensure we were in the first group to be escorted to the pub, thereby maximizing our drinking time. I had just met two lovely Australian girls, Tracey and Robyn, and between us we had 5 or 6 free beers. Kevin from Montreal had nine. Unsurprisingly, he lost steam shortly thereafter and didn’t reappear until the following day.
|Laurenskerk, Rotterdam. Photo used courtesy of Localities|
The number of free concerts I attended was staggering. These concerts ran the gamut from an organ recital in Rotterdam’s spectacular Grote of Saint Laurenskerk, to a string quartet in the garden of an art museum, to a truly exceptional concert I attended in the main square in Brussels. The group was called Urban Sax, and it began with a few saxophonists playing in the balconies of the town hall and museum. A cloud of green smoke rose at the back of the square, then another group of performers wearing air masks and spaceman suits, also playing their saxes, ran through the crowd from the back to the stage. Stephanie (from Chicago) and I somehow ended up in the second row and watched the spacemen climb to the top of the stage, still playing their saxes, amid a great deal of coloured gas, chanting and light effects.
|Urban Sax: a truly mediocre photo of a truly amazing concert.|
And it’s unbelievable to read about the things I did, that a tourist wouldn’t need to do today. My journal is full of details like using a pay phone to call home, standing in line to exchange Travellers’ Cheques, and buying USA Today to follow my beloved Toronto Blue Jays. And does anyone still use Poste Restante? This general post office address allowed friends and family to send mail to travellers who had no fixed address. I was stunned at the number of cards and letters I got while I was travelling. And even more impressed by the number of postcards I sent while I was on the road. Between my journals and my postcards, I feel as if I was a blogger-in-training that year.