Across Continents

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Antipodean friends

It had taken a while, but I’d finally met some antipodean travellers. Andy and Kylie were New Zealanders, but now lived in Western Australia. We met in a budget hostel in downtown Bratislava, joined a little while later by a small group of Australians. These weren’t young people just drifting around Europe. They’d all saved hard. They had plans.

Hostel

Quite astutely, both groups had bought transit vans when they’d arrived in England at the start of their respective trips. From whom you wondered. No doubt the MOT certificate would be in the post. Cheaper accommodation than even a budget hostel, but even the most hardy of travellers needs the occasional hot shower and a proper bed.

We shared our experiences late into the evening. Places to go. Places not to go. Serbia and Kosovo were described as intense, which sounded interesting. The landscape was changing. France, Germany and Austria had a certain comforting sameness about them. Slovakia, now an up and coming EU nation, felt like a bridge into the old Eastern Bloc. Proper adventure.

Marley and Lenin

Budget hostels tend to cater for twenty-somethings, offering greater freedoms than you find in more conventional places. Often quite quirky – posters of Bob Marley sitting alongside a bust of Lenin – they’re where you’ll invariably find some colourful characters. And the serious travellers. Couple of thousand miles under my belt and I was beginning to feel like one. Being privately run establishments, standards can vary a bit. Whereas back in France you knew a good campsite when the Germans where there in force, in the world of budget hostels, it’s the Aussies and the Kiwis you need to look out for.

It sounds a bit trivial, but you’ll usually find a washing machine – shared with the bed linen, well, these are budget establishments – and a self-catering kitchen. Welcome sights when living on the road. Clean clothes and cheap, proper meals. In Bratislava there was even a supermarket just around the corner. German, so you knew it’d be good. I’d have nipped out to the Tesco hypermarket, but that was too far out of town.

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