As I contemplated how to blog about our last few weeks, I was quickly overwhelmed. We travelled through eight countries, and experienced countless new places. We spent far to little time in anyone place, but packed as much as possible into our 10 days. We met Austin, Jared’s brother, along with two of his friends, in Nice, France, and the five us piled into our upgraded car for the greatest road trip ever.
One of our favourite parts of travelling is the people we interact with. Neither Jared or I is the person to reach out to connect with strangers, but somehow when travelling, we meet the most beautiful people. So rather than recount every city we stopped in and every castle/chateau/palace… we visited, I want to start tell the story of our trip through the people who made our trip incredible.
On our third day, we got up early[ish], grabbed some pastries for the road, and set off for Switzerland. We stopped along the way to see some sights, and after a stop in the cutest town of Gruyères, we began the drive to our hostel. When booking our stay in Switzerland, I was overwhelmed by the price of a two night stay, so when I found a decently priced hostel listed in Bern, I booked it without much hesitation. It wasn’t til we put the address into our GPS that we saw that it was infact located about an hours drive from Bern, in the Alps. We arrived late in the evening, tired and starving, but amazed by the beauty which surrounded us. I breathed a sigh of relief that my mistake was a good mistake. The only downside was the utterly deserted surroundings. We were beginning to worry there would be a mutiny over food, despite our supply of nutella and bread. We headed town the pitch black main road in hopes of finding rations. We drove through a couple small towns before happening upon a small beer hall. It was mutually agreed upon that everyone could handle skipping dinner if there was the option of drinking a beer in a Swiss beer hall in the Alps. We stuck out as the only non-local people immediately, but we were welcomed with open arms. The boys wanted to join the older gentlemen playing cards in the corner, but the guarded stares kept them away. A large boisterous Swiss woman came to take our order, and we communicated “5 beers” with little difficulty. When the barman brought us our drinks, we began a discussion through broken English and even more broken German, and discovered that we were the first Americans they had ever had in their bar. They enthusiastically brought over their guest book for us to sign, and before we knew it, they came out with a plate loaded with the most beautiful cheese I have ever seen, a basket stuffed with bread, and a plate of pickled vegetables. She explained that this was their gift to us, as their first American customers. The cheese came from milk from a cow who lived up on the hill above the bar, and the farmer makes the cheese, which then was aged for three years before it could be shaved into the pieces we had that night. I have never tasted anything like it. A few minutes later she brought us more bread, saying “Our kitchen is closed, but I cannot let you go to sleep hungry.” I could have moved in with that woman and lived there forever. Thanks to that woman, we went to sleep with full bellies and happy hearts!
A few days later, we hit the road early for our longest drive from Austria to Croatia. Our drive ended up taking double the time it should have, and involved sitting at a standstill in Slovenia for about 6 hours. By the time we were trying to find our Airbnb flat, we were all at our wits end. We drove around a small Croatian neighbourhood for what seemed like forever, and finally arrived where we thought we were supposed to be, we called our hosts, and a little older man came bounding out towards us. He guided Jared into the gated parking, and his wife welcomed us into their home. They had all sorts of questions for us, and once again, we were the first Americans to stay in their place. They quickly knew all five of our names, and promised to stop by the next night to see how we were doing. They came by again the next night with some special Croatian ice cream for us, and invited us back to stay whenever we wish. Their attention to detail about our stay, and their genuine kindness made us feel that we could be friends for life with these people!
After meeting our hosts that first night in Croatia, we headed out for another late night dinner, and stumbled upon an Istrian Grill. We were in the Istrian region which is known for having a unique kind of food. Our waiter was friendly from the start, and helped us to understand exactly what we should be ordering. I ordered shrimp, and when he asked how I wanted it cooked, “Grilled…?” He responed with, “In our special sauce, yes?” Sure! When Austin ordered grilled fish with french fries, he cringed and recommended roasted potatoes and vegetables. Austin stuck to his guns, and didn’t regret it, but I think our waiter may have had some difficulty serving it. The shrimp was some of the best I’ve ever had, and I’ve continued to search for the sauce since returning, without success. Our meal ended with a complementary drink of a local Istrian liquor, which our waiter took alongside us!
Our last night all together was spent in Milan. In comparison to other Italian cities, we found Milan to be less picturesque, but more cultured and lively. Jared is the master of finding awesome places to eat and drink in every city we go, and in Milan he found the Lambiczoon bar. As soon as we walked up, we were greeted by the friendly hostess, who helped us with a tap list and the locals made room for us at the bar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Scotsman make room at the bar for a group of foreign 20-somethings. Rather than be frustrated by our lack of Italian, they worked with us in broken English with smiles on their faces. They brought us free tapas (clearly free food wins my heart, as all these stories include food), with local ricotta and sun dried tomatoes. Between the delicious Italian craft beer, the free tapas, and the friendly staff, we could have sat their all night!
There are countless ways people made our trip. From the bakers who fed us countless pastries, to the barman in France who refused to speak English with us “Spanish, French, Italian, no English” (all said with a mysterious grin), to the store clerk who offered me a free taste of a French biscuit which lead to me purchasing 15 euro worth of biscuits, to the waiters in the Austrian beer halls who put the biggest grin on Jared’s face, to the waiter in Venice who offered a warning with our tap water “It will probably upset your stomachs, maybe drink more wine to be sure you’re ok”, to the Italian pizzeria owner who communicated with me in Spanish to reserve us a table, to the server who recommended the best gelato I have ever tasted (salted pistachio and chocolate, I made Jared get his own cup), to the extremely tanned French people who contrasted against our glowing white skin when we swam in the Mediterranean. Travelling involves great food, amazing sites, new experiences, and so much more, but time and time agin, we have found that the people we meet push our love for travelling over the top.