Final Post: Sofia Went Places And Did Things

Even though it was inevitable, it just seems impossible to me that my trip has come to an end. After all the saving, planning and actually living it through, it’s crazy that the big trip is over. This year, I’ve done so many amazing things I never really thought I’d do.

This is me zigzagging across Europe. If you zoom in really close you can see me typing away in Doha airport, on my way home.
You can’t really tell from this far out but I spent ages mapping this really accurately.

 

Over
______241 days

I traversed
______74762 km (approx.)
______27 countries
______3 continents
______106 destinations (towns / cities / villages)

I used
______12 currencies

And attempted
______21 languages

I took
______32 flights, with
______14 airlines, in and out of
______38 airports

I caught
______26 buses (long distance)
______18 trains (long distance)
______11 ferries or boats
______2 rental cars
______3 scooters
______1 quad bike
______4 push bicycles
______11 taxis
______2 camels
______1 horse
______2 paragliding kites
______1 hot air balloon

I’ve slept in
______4 airports
______41 hostels
______10 hotels
______6 homes of friends and family
______2 airbnbs
______2 couchsurfing couches
______1 Sahara tent

I joined
______4 multi day tours
______7 day tours
______25 free walking tours
______1 bike tours

I worked
______3 jobs

I attended
______2 cinemas
______2 broadway productions
______1 concert
______3 theme parks
______1 wedding
______5 birthday celebrations

I visited
______37 castles or palaces
______24 museums or exhibitions
______32 churches or cathedrals
______12 mosques
______12 ancient ruins
______14 markets
______3 bazaars
______2 beer halls
______2 distilleries or breweries

I visited
______17 lochs
______11 fjords
______22 waterfalls
______27 beaches
______3 geothermal hot springs
______2 glaciers
______1 geysir
______1 desert

I went to
______2 doctors

I had
______1 bed bug infestation
______1 matching full body allergic reaction
______1 injection
______1000 individual insect bites (approx.)

I posted
______13 postcards
______3 packages home
______101 instagram photos
______25 blog posts, consisting of
______18895 words

I snapped
______15364 photos, with
______4 SD memory cards
______2 cameras

I ate
______Haggis in Scotland
______Pizza in Italy
______Tapas in Spain
______Snails in France
______Gelato in Italy
______Crepes in France
______Waffles in Belgium
______Souvlaki in Greece
______Dehydrated fish jerky in Iceland
______Turkish delight in Turkey
______Tajines dishes in Morocco

I drank
______Guinness in Dublin
______Sangria in Spain
______Port in Portugal
______Beer in Begium
______Beer from liter steins in Germany
______Wine in France

I heard
______Fairytales in Ireland
______Belle + Sebastian in Vienna

I drove on the wrong side of the road on road trips through
______Iceland
______Germany

I flew
______(Well, I paraglided) over Iceland’s impossible scenery
______In a hot air balloon soaring over the eerily beautiful Cappodocia sunset

I hiked
______A frosty Norwegian glacier
______Colourful Cinque Terre
______Sofia’s Vitosha mountain
______Turkey’s Ihlara Valley

I rode
______A camel through the Sahara Desert
______A horse across Morocco’s Essaouira beach
______A quad bike through the Greek Islands

I swam
______Between continental plates in Iceland’s Silfra fissure
______Under a Croatian waterfall
______In the Adriatic Sea
______In the Aegean Sea
______In a black sand beach
______In a red sand beach
______In a white sand beach
______In many pebble beaches

I stargazed and watched the Aurora Borealis
______At the top of the world (well, Norway)

And I managed to do it all with
______2 passports
______1 iPad
______1 toothbrush (I should replace that, right?)
______1 backpack, with a very limited wardrobe.

Ultimately, my experiences can’t really be quantified with numbers and lists, but it was fun to try. I saw a lot, but there are still so many places I wish I’d had time to go to. Even so, it’s been the best year of my life, and I’ve made so many friends from across the world (although I didn’t generally meet them in their home countries).

Here are some photos of me doing incredible things (and more often than not throwing my arms into the air).

What’s next? Who knows, but I’m considering
______South Africa?
______Thailand?
______Vietnam?
______Brazil?

 

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Amsterdam + Belgium

Day 240, Countries 26 + 27.

Amsterdam – Bruges – Brussels

I wasn’t sure if I would like Amsterdam – it has such a big party reputation and I’d heard mixed reviews. It was what I expected – sex shops, condom emporiums and drug peddling coffeeshops, but it was also so much more than the cliche. I ended up really enjoying it – Amsterdam’s beauty surprised me, with tall buildings drooping onto one other, many museums, and pretty canals with bikes scattered along the walkways. Amsterdam is also a very friendly city to be in (perhaps because everyone is stoned all the time? I make this assumption is based on the smell).

After Amsterdam I made my way to neighbouring country Belgium, where I consumed Belguim waffles, Belgium chocolate and Belgium beers enjoyed the rich culture. I spent most of my time in Bruges because I’d heard it was beautiful – and it didn’t disappoint. Bruges is an old medieval city full of gorgeous old buildings that look like they belong on a Christmas card. It also has it’s share of canals too! (This week I’m all about how canals). Bruges is quiet and relaxed, with chocolate shops and restaurants lining the cobble stones streets, complete with families wobbling precariously along on tandem bikes.

I also visited Brussels, but didn’t do much sightseeing. I did a bit of last-day-in-Europe* shopping but it was raining the whole half day so I didn’t even go see the famous pissing boy statue that no one seems to like but everyone says you should see anyway. Next time!

* Currently writing this from the departures lounge in Brussels International Airport. Did I not mention I’m coming home tomorrow?

Amsterdam canals during the day.
Amster-damn this shoe looks good.
A small fraction of the bikes on any given street.
Oh Amsterdam, I hope you’re not just toying with my emotions.
Can you tell what my favourite buildings are in Amsterdam? Evening shot!
I am sterdam!
Wait… am I sterdam? Am I?
Despite whether I am sterdam or not, it’s a great place to people watch. (Obviously) people climb all over this thing. Plus it’s right near the Van Gogh museum, which was brilliant.
I get what people mean now. Amsterdam is a blast!
In Bruges.
Beautiful and quaint Belgium.
As if it wasn’t already perfect enough… just add waffles.
The main square in Bruges.
Belgium beer or science experiment? Warning – Belgium beers are very strong, roughly 10% alcohol.
One of Bruges’ many fancy chocolatiers.
The section of the canals where all the swans frolic.
The most photographed dog in Belgium. This guy sit here everyday looking mournfully on at his paparazzi and fans.
Bruges seems like the sort of place a tortured artist might go to to write a novel.
It’s just so lovely. What else can I say?

So Far
Best accent: Irish Glaswegian
Favourite City: London Dublin Edinburgh Stockholm
Best Named City: Sofia
Favourite Country: Ireland Iceland
Favourite Country after Iceland, because that just can’t be beaten: Turkey Germany
Favourite Small Village: Megali Vrisi Arahova Rothenburg ob der Tauber

On the next episode of Sofia Goes Places And Does Things…
Melbourne!

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Scandinavia Pt II: Stockholm + Tromsø

Day 231, Country 25.

I arrived in Stockholm quite late – straight from Africa on a flight full of tall blonde Swedes – so I didn’t head to the city center straight away. Instead, I stayed in the airport overnight (and not the cheapo sleep-on-the-floor way I normally do). Stockholm airport has this airplane – a Boeing 747 – that’s been converted into a hostel, and it’s literally a few minutes walk from the terminals. It was once of the more unique hostels I’ve stayed in, and definitely the best sleep I’ve ever had in a plane!

Once I actually went to Stockholm city the next day, I immediately immersed myself in Swedish culture – and by that I mean I headed straight to the ABBA Museum. With ABBA songs still stuck in my head I proceeded to explore the city, which is an absolute stunner.

Next, I made my way up to the Arctic Circle to Tromsø, the most northerly city in Norway. It’s a small charming city, and I headed there to seek out the elusive northern lights. The northern lights in the Tromsø area are generally visible between September and March, but there’s never a guarantee that you’ll see them. Visiting in October was a bit risky but I am happy to say that I was successful in my quest!

I ended up joining a tour that drives out of Tromsø seeking the clearest skies and chasing the lights wherever they are. To see the lights you need a dark night, a clear, cloudless sky, and should avoid any light pollution (ie. city lights). I did the tour for three nights and witnessed the lights each night (victory!).

The Aurora Borealis is such a surreal thing to witness – I can only describe it as a mix between nature’s slow fireworks and a night rainbow that sways and waves. I only saw green lights, and apparently these are the most common or “least impressive” (scoff) but it was still mind blowing.

The tour I did was fantastic – it was only a handful of us and we sought out the lights wearing these ridiculous looking winter spacesuits designed for ice fishing and other similarly cold endeavours. Once we found a good viewing spot we’d lie down on the grass, warm and toasty in our outfits. We’d drink hot chocolate, attempt to take photographs, and point out constellations (I can now identify Ursa Major and the North Star – impressed much?). We’d drift between relaxed conversation and silence, discussing anything from the science behind the phenomenon to Norway’s (excellent) welfare system, while gazing at the stars, the milky way and the northern lights, until the clouds slowly drifted in and eclipsed the skies.

I had thought that my quest to see the lights would be a once in a lifetime experience that I’d always remember… But now I don’t think that once in a lifetime is enough – I want to go back, do it again in a real arctic winter (even though it was freezing and did actually snow briefly, I was there in what Norway would consider a “mild Autumn”).

Boeing 747 hostel.
Just catching another flight… destination sleepy town!
Being cultural at a museum.
This is actually really cool, this piano is self playing and it’s linked up to one of the band members’ pianos. So when Benny plays at home, you can listen at the same time. (It did not play for the fifteen seconds I spend staring at it intently.)
How this thrills me.
Stockholm syndrome – you can’t help but fall in love with this city.
I’m really fascinated by Swedish culture, as it’s both traditional and very modern. The best way to explain this juxtaposition is to look at the Swedish royal family – it’s still intact but princes and princesses attend public school and Princess Victoria just married her personal trainer (a commoner!).
Little known fact – it’s actually compulsory to wear a hat like this in the arctic circle. I’m such a Scandi-knave.
Meet Obelix, the most dashing feline in all of Norway! Tromsø only has very expensive hotels, and no hostel, so I found an AirBnb place staying with a Tromsø University student and a cat.
Let me introduce you to my friend, the phenomenal Aurora Borealis.
Mars is bright tonight.
This what I’d imagine sunset on Jupiter would look like.
One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.
“Tromsø” is just so much cooler than “Tromso”. Maybe I should start calling myself “Søfia”?
And the stars look very different toda-a-ay…
The same photo, basically, but you can see the crazy awesome suits we got to wear. And how happy I am!
My camera is amazing but just not powerful enough to capture the lights – the photos here were taken with a real fancy camera owned by the Arctic Explorers tour company. I’m so happy to get photos of my experience – I even took some of the (less good) photos myself with the guide’s camera, but this is the best I got with my camera.
We also visited some reindeer in the middle of the night – they’re cared for by the Saami (indigenous) people. You can see Saami tents and Tromsø city behind it. You know how deer look so elegant and powerful and majestic? Their hilarious reindeer cousins just look confused all the time.

So Far
Best accent: Irish Glaswegian
Favourite City: London Dublin Edinburgh Stockholm
Best Named City: Sofia
Favourite Country: Ireland Iceland
Favourite Country after Iceland, because that just can’t be beaten: Turkey Germany
Favourite Small Village: Megali Vrisi Arahova Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Favourite Scandinavian City: Stockholm
Favourite Scandinavian Country after Iceland, because that just can’t be beaten: Norway

On the next episode of Sofia Goes Places And Does Things…
Amsterdam + Belgium

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Mo-Rockin’ Morocco

Day 222, Country 24.

Marrakech – Casablanca – Rabat – Meknes – Chefchaouen – Fes – Midelt – Sahara Desert – Todra Gorge – Aït Benhaddou – Atlas Mountains – Essaouira – Marrakech

Morocco is the first place in my travels this year where I experienced culture shock. I knew that it was an Islamic country, but so was Turkey, so I sort of assumed Morocco would be the same. (It is not. It turns out that they are different countries.)

For the first two days in Morocco I felt intimidated and downright scared. I took a simple mid-day walk to the supermarket, and even thought I followed the rules and covered my arms and legs I had men harassing me, following me, shouting things at me and trying to get me to follow them places. (The creepiest part was when guys would look you up and down, groan deeply and make a slow “tut tut tut” sound.)

And it wasn’t just one or two oddballs, it was coming from almost everyone. I get that I look like a tourist, but so what? Apparently the King of Morocco wants tourism to boom… how about dialling back on the sexual harassment?

I’m not saying women shouldn’t travel Morocco alone, but I am glad that I decided to do a tour. I think I might have ended up hating Morocco if I had tried to do it alone, which would be pretty sad considering what a beautiful country it is. The creepy behaviour was less frequent, less intimidating and even occasionally funny when we walked around in groups (“Berber love? Looking for a Berber husband?”), but overall I found it pretty appalling. I will admit that it was worst in Marrakech than anywhere else.

I swear, I had a really great time in Morocco, so forgive me for leading with the bad stuff. Although Morocco left a somewhat negative first impression the longer I spent in the country the more I loved it. As you might have guessed, Marrakech was my least favourite part of Morocco. The markets were better in Fes, the culture better in Essaouria and Chefchauen, the Atlas Mountains more impressive, and Rabat more beautiful.

Luckily, with my tour I got a pretty extensive guide of Morocco, and saw a lot more than just Marrakech. We ate authentic Moroccan food, drank a lot of mint tea, learnt about the culture, history, the Berber people (nomadic indigenous Moroccans) and met some locals. We toured the imperial cities, and saw the impressive sights but my favourite places were the charming towns or small cities of Chefchaouen and Essaouira, which were beautiful and friendly.

The best place we went, however, was the Sahara Desert. After a surreal camel trek through the Sahara I spent one of the most memorable nights of my life in a traditional Berber camp, where we survived a sandstorm, sand boarded over the dunes, drank wine and played Berber music around a campfire.

I didn’t just ride a camel though – in the colourful seaside town Essaouira we rode horses through along the beach. My horse, named Mogador, was a champ, and even though I’ve only ever ridden a horse that one time on year 7 camp, I was feeling confident. I was channelling my inner Khalessi when my trusty steed decided to start bolting… I survived, but I’d prefer a camel over a horse any day! You’ll notice that I omitted horse riding photos to allow for more impressive camel photos.

Some of the tour outside the massive Hassan II mosque in Casablanca.
I’m in love with Moroccan architecture.
Spot the feline, a fun game you can always play in Morocco.
Oudaia Kasbah in Rabat.
The very blue streets of Chefchaouen.
Doing some light stalking.
I loved Chefchaouen – it was very friendly, very photogenic, and simply overwhelmingly blue.
There was a religious holiday in Morocco when we here, celebrating the story of Abraham who was willing to sacrifice his son, until God was like “nah, just kidding, a sheep’ll do”. We were determined to have a few drinks in Chefchaouen, but it was pretty difficult because the purchase of alcohol was restricted for the holiday – we ran up and down a lot of blue streets before we were finally successful!
A surprising array of paint pigment, considering the dominant colour in this town.
I’m blue da-ba-dee da-ba-dah…
Bags of cous cous lining the streets? Classic Morocco!
Playing in some Roman Ruins… Seriously, those Romans sure got around.
Friendly faces in the crazy Fes marketplace.
Spotted in Fes!
Man with a fez in Fes.
Monkey family near Midelt. I wanted to adopt!
This monkey is eyeing me with the utmost disdain…
You just can’t escape from the tajines in Morocco!
I snapped this donkey picture when we visited a Berber community in Midelt. We were invited into a Berber family’s house for tea, and it was a really special experience.
This kind Berber woman allowed me to photograph her. The tattoos on her face indicate which tribe she belongs to.
A doorway to the Sahara?
Camel ride to our lodgings in the Sahara Desert – such an incredible experience.
You know that phrase “drier than the Sahara Desert”? We managed to disprove it twice, by bringing our own alcohol and getting rained on.
Our Berber friends, camel whisperers and tour guide, playing us traditional music around the campfire, during a perfect Arabian night in the Sahara.
Jafar my camel friend.
Having African good time!
Riding our camels out of the desert the next morning. You’ll be impressed that I managed both journeys without falling off my camel!
“I come from a land from a far away place where the caravan camel roam…”
I loved the way the sand dunes warped the shadows.
The oddly beautiful town of Aït Benhaddou. This is where basically everything filmed in Morocco is filmed.
And this is me! Still in Aït Benhaddou.
High up in the Atlas Mountains.
Essaouira. Pronounced Ess-a-wira.
The marketplace in Essaouira – which is incidentally home to some of the fattest cats in Morocco.
Marrakech. OK, I did a lot of venting about Marrakech, but they’re no denying that it has some aesthetic appeal.
The Marrakech marketplace.
One of the many Moroccan cats I photographed. I took a lot of photos so made a whole new post dedicated to them, Cats of Morocco.

So Far
Best accent: Irish Glaswegian
Favourite City: London Dublin Edinburgh
Best Named City: Sofia
Favourite Country: Ireland Iceland
Favourite Country after Iceland, because that just can’t be beaten: Turkey Germany
Favourite Small Village: Megali Vrisi Arahova Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Favourite Desert: Sahara
Favourite Dessert: Ice Cream
Favourite Moroccan City: Chefchaouen

On the next episode of Sofia Goes Places And Does Things…
Scandinavia Pt II: Sweden and Tromsø

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Cats of Morocco

Cats are everywhere in Morocco. I took so many cat photos that they deserved their own post.

Here they are – majestic, mangy and everything in between.

Morocco’s just really not the place to go if you’re allergic to cats.

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Portugal

Day 208, Country 23.

Lisbon – Sintra

I really wanted to visit Portugal, and even though it didn’t have much time I managed to squeeze in a few days there. Portugal is an amazing country and I’m so thrilled I got a taste of it, but it wasn’t enough – I definitely have to go back.

I stayed in Lisbon, which is an amazing city. It’s beautiful and chaotic and colourful and exciting. I enjoyed my time there eating fresh seafood, sampling port and Portuguese desserts (what can I say, the Portuguese just get me!). I also had the chance to go to Sintra, a beautiful town outside of Lisbon and I’m still kicking myself that I couldn’t see everything there.

I had the choice of seeing the wonderful Palace of Pena, which is the attraction that put Sintra on the map for me, or the whimsical and intricate mansion Quinta da Regaleira. I ended up visiting Pena, but I know I have to go back and see Quinta da Regaleria – it was built by an an aspiring Freemason and the mansion is full of secret passageways and is just stunning architecturally. (Damn, I make it sound so good… Why didn’t I go again?!)

As you can can see, I really wanted more time in Portugal in this instance my schedule was not flexible – I had to get to Morocco for a tour. I ended up booking the silliest (but cheapest) way to Morocco, which involved me dashing from Sintra to the Lisbon bus station for an overnight transit to Madrid and desperately racing to the airport in a mad scramble to make my flight to Marrakech (somehow I didn’t think Ryanair would bother waiting for me).

Lisbon enabling my love affair with lamps.
What can I say, good lamp posts just add some magic to a city.
Lisbon is like Europe’s San Francisco – streets slide up and down constantly.
Charming little alley streets are everywhere.
As well as the Moroccan influences in architecture – this is part of a drinking fountain in Sintra.
The Palace of Pena.
This palace was unreal – the vivid colours and cartoonish design made me feel like it might have been built out of styrofoam (it isn’t).
The view from the Palace of Pena.
The palace was built around 1850 by the architect Wilhelm Ludwig von Eschwege, and was actually lived in by Prince Ferdinand II (such great names). It’s old, but not that old – a major earthquake wiped out practically everything in the Lisbon area in 1755, so not much architecture predates that.
It just felt like something I might come across in Disneyland, not a real historical building.
I’m a cartoon princess! (But actually).
And here is me on the edge of Europe – Cabo da Roca, the exact location of the most Westerly point of continental Europe!

So Far
Best accent: Irish Glaswegian
Favourite City: London Dublin Edinburgh
Best Named City: Sofia
Favourite Country: Ireland Iceland
Favourite Country after Iceland, because that just can’t be beaten: Turkey Germany
Favourite Small Village: Megali Vrisi Arahova Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Best Portuguese dessert: Pastéis de Nata

On the next episode of Sofia Goes Places And Does Things…
Morocco!

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Germany Pt II

Day 204, Country 12 (again)

I’d already visited Germany in this trip, but I loved it so much I had to return! (After all, it’s called Ger-many not Ger-once!) (Sorry… I couldn’t resist). I did cover a whole new area this time though – Berlin and Stuttgart, where I hunted history and castles, respectively.

Everyone raves about Berlin, and I was already in love with German from my last visit, so I had pretty high expectations. After coming from a warm little hostel in Sofia, I found myself feeling slightly homesick in a very unwelcoming hostel in a massive city. Luckily, I soon caught up with friend Bruno from Croatia, and began to enjoy the marvellous city. Unsurprisingly, I encountered a great deal of World War II history, but I found the communist history and the fall of the Berlin Wall more fascinating as I knew a lot less about it.

A few days of beer, schnitzel and walking tours later, I hopped on an all day bus to Stuttgart and embarked on my castle hunting mission! I had already visited the very famous Disney-esque Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, but I was excited to visit Lichtenstein Castle and Hohenzollern Castle – just as beautiful but significantly less touristy.

After a train and a bus from Stuttgart I found myself at Lichtenstein Castle… Or more specifically, I found myself at the bottom of a very badly signposted hiking trail, with a steep forest trek between myself at the castle at the top of the hill. I had my very own German Hansel-and-Gretel-lost-in-the-woods experience (which was especially authentic considering I was not too far from the actual Black Forest), but I eventually found my way to Lichtenstein Castle virtually unscathed and enjoyed the magical fairytale scenery.

I also visited Hohenzollern Castle, which felt less like a storybook and more like a real life castle – think canons and dungeons. It was amazing! I mean, who doesn’t love a good castle?

Ich bin ein Berliner!
The Berlin Wall.
The wall was full of amazing street art and peace messages.
Fly… You fools!
The cheery little green men of East Berlin.
On the 1000ml steins once again…
Berlin’s Humboldt University. Albert Einstein taught here! Unfortunately, it’s know as the location of book burnings during the Third Reich. There’s a fascinating memorial there, an underground room full of empty bookshelves, which you can see through a window in the ground.
I decided not to do the whole Oktoberfest thing, as I’d already seen Munich, but I coincidently ended up in Stuttgart during their similar holiday – Cannstatter Volksfest.
Let me introduce you to lovely Lichtenstein Castle – Rapunzel would love it!
It was a small castle, but very interesting. I did a German tour I couldn’t understand to see the inside, which was intricately and lavishly decorated, but no photos were allowed.
The view from the castle of the town below.
Can’t you just see Snow White singing with her birds out of these window?
The inevitable selfie.
Hohenzollern Castle. I luckily managed to snap this one as the bus was driving away!
This was the castle of the Prussian King Frederik William IV. I spent all day exploring it, as it’s so detailed and beautiful.
It’s at the top of a hill, so there were great views of the countryside below.
Once upon a time…
… there was a door.
Secret garden in the dungeon-y area.
I’m pretty sure I had to lie on my back in the middle of a courtyard to get this photo. Appreciate it!

So Far
Best accent: Irish Glaswegian
Favourite City: London Dublin Edinburgh
Best Named City: Sofia
Favourite Country: Ireland Iceland
Favourite Country after Iceland, because that just can’t be beaten: Turkey Germany
Favourite Small Village: Megali Vrisi Arahova Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Favourite Castle: Lichtenstein Castle

On the next episode of Sofia Goes Places And Does Things…
Portugal!

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