When I first went to Europe, I was beyond excited.  I had wanted to do this my whole life and it had taken me 25 years to get there. My friends from the continent always wondered why I loved their homeland so much, especially when the weather was nearly always grey, cold and raining. When I look back on the photos, they are grey, it was cold and it was often raining (though I always had a smile on my face).  But there are a few things you must remember, when you think about an Australian visiting Europe by themselves for the first time in their life.

This was my first solo trip.  I was doing it alone and I had that glorious feeling of freedom and independence.  I could visit all the things I loved and nobody would stop me.  I was living my dream.  I saw musicals at the West End in London, I saw a show at the Moulin Rouge in Paris, I did watercolour drawing classes at the Derwent Pencil Factory in England and  I did cooking classes in Paris, where I learnt how to make croissants and French desserts.  I visited endless castles and royal palaces,  ate snails and frogs legs in France and drank copious amounts of cheap, but really good, local wine.

English red bus
First trip on a red double-decker bus in London

Moulin Rouge
Going to see a show at the Moulin Rouge, Paris

snails
My first French feast of snails, wine and the complementary basket of bread
At the time, people said to me that it would be expensive to travel Europe. But in the end, it worked out a lot cheaper than I thought.  Granted, the exchange rate was good at the time.  But also, I took advantage of every discount and planned my trip well.  As I was 25 and under (only just), I was able to get an International Youth Hostel card, which gave me discounts on accommodation.  Hostels in Europe were far cheaper than Australia too, which was a bonus.  I stayed with friends along the way and travelled largely on my Eurail pass.  Also, things in Europe were generally cheaper, particularly the food and alcohol.  You could buy a decent bottle of French wine from the supermarket for 2 Euros – it was like heaven!

But, perhaps the largest reason this trip to Europe was such a dream was due to my Australian heritage.  When you have grown up in the countryside, on a large, isolated island continent in the Southern Hemisphere, where modern buildings and wide open landscapes are the norm and where there is only one national language, it’s hard to imagine real castles, elegant architecture and a different language on every border crossing.

Edinburgh castle
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland

Roma
The Colosseum, Rome
European history is extraordinary.  There is simply no way of comparing villages and cities that have been there for hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of years, to those in my home country, because the earliest cities in Australia were built by convicts in the late 1700s.  So, to walk down cobbled laneways, drink beers in pubs from the 1400s (with ceilings so low that you touch your head on them) and to explore the history of the European continent, was both bewildering and fascinating.  I could not soak up enough old buildings and churches.  Everything is created with beauty in mind – mosaic floors and ceilings, painted murals, gold leaf decor, elegant furniture.  It is all the stuff of storybooks.

Prague
View from the clocktower, Prague

versailles-1128989_1920
Palace of Versailles, France.  Photography: pixabay.com
When we were little, listening to fairy tales of witches and wizards trapped in castles and Kings and Queens in royal palaces, it was a complete world away.  We were more likely to relate to gum nut babies in the forest, or stories about children running around on outback cattle stations.  To think of a castle, warriors in shining armour, funny animals like badgers, deer and otters – these were just well-nurtured parts of our imagination, fed with literature from our British heritage. When you travel overseas for the first time and see that this stuff actually exists, it is incredibly beautiful, because it is like your imagination has suddenly spilled over into real life and now you can explore every part of it, for real.

Sienna
View from the clocktower, Siena

versailles-493918_1280
Lavish gardens at the Palace of Versailles, France.  Photography: pixabay.com
Europe is brilliant because you can travel an hour in one direction and step over a border into a completely different country, full of unique customs and traditions and usually a new language.  To  have so much to explore on your very doorstep is wonderful. Australians have to cross oceans to get to these places.  Europeans can just take a drive and they will be there in the matter of a few hours.   Not just this, they can find work across the EU without having to get a working visa.  If only they knew how lucky they were!  But then, we are all lucky in our own ways.

When I returned to Australia,  I realised the beauty of my own country. I had missed the clear air with a faint scent of Eucalyptus wafting on the breeze.  I had missed the long, sandy beaches, the sunshine, the sound of our unique birds and wildlife, the wide open paddocks of grazing cattle and sheep.  I had missed the peace and quiet of the nights, the starry skies and the friendly nature of the people.  I even missed our accents and coinage!  I knew now what home felt like and I spent the next few years living and travelling in various places all over Australia.  But that does not mean my desire to leave the country again was extinguished.  In fact, it was the complete opposite.  My thirst for travel had been awakened and I was ready to explore as much of the world as possible!

What were your first experiences of travelling overseas?  Feel free to share below!

30 thoughts

      1. Oh yes! Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten walking with the mammoths, exploring castles and being invited in by a French family for a treat, only to realise they were going to show us how to pluck chickens! I have very fond memories of that trip, though they get a bit blurry with age πŸ™‚ x

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  1. What a wonderful post Jenny, full of passion for travel. A passion I share with you. I first went to Europe when I was 14 with my parents. It was the start of a life long love affair. β™₯β™‘

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      1. Oh yes, most definitely, I’ve been back a number of times. By myself, with a friend and most recently with my husband. I’d go tomorrow with my kids as well if I could afford it! πŸ™‚

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      2. Lucky you! I remember my parents took us around Europe when we were very young – they said it was a completely different experience to travelling as a couple, but a great one! Hope you get the chance to go back again πŸ™‚

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  2. I wholeheartedly agree with you. There is no other place like Europe. I love living here. I can imagine why people from other newer continents, especially North America and Australia, like Europe so much. It is truly a marvelous place to travel/live due to such massive variety in landscapes, culture and language in a compact area.
    My first European trip was to Finland for higher studies, but I was blown away by the historical, cultural and architectural beauty of Europe when I first visited Tallinn in Estonia and Porto in Portugal, largely due to their old towns. Of course, Finland has its own charms.There are old town districts in Finland too, but they’re different, and everything in Finland is relatively new when you compare it with mainland Europe.

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    1. Thank you πŸ™‚ The Moulin Rouge was amazing – definitely worth buying a ticket if you’re in Paris again! I would love to go back and continue to explore the city. I’ll look forward to checking out your city guide πŸ™‚

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