I left for European borders 3 months ago and only yesterday arrived in my exchange city of Copenhagen. But I’ve been bless to have had the most incredible 3 months of travel, backpacking solo across Estonia, Latvia, Germany, France, England, Scotland and Ireland before landing in the big C.
Latvia was an absolute highlight for me! I left behind Berlin and a very competent, organised and close mate for Riga- the furthest East I’ve ever ventured. I was travelling to Riga for Liigo, the mid-summer solstice festival. Here the Latvians summon their true pagan spirits, singing, dancing, drinking and eating their way through the longest day of the year. Locals all make their way to the countryside, where they dress in traditional getups, craft flower crowns and build giant bonfires for the celebrations ahead. Needless to say I was excited; but arriving in Riga came with an initial culture shock. This was the first time I felt out of my comfort zone. I arrived at my hostel bubbly but overwhelmed. I just reassured myself that I had Liigo to look forward to, the rest of the city yet to explore and if worse came to worse I could leave. But I stayed. Thank the good Lord.
After exploring the old town, I chatted to some people from my hostel and had a great night out with some fellow travellers. Next day I meet one of the receptionists, local girl Dana, who has to be my Latvian clone. After 12 minutes of rapid chatter (mainly discussing the TV show FRIENDS and McLeod’s Daughters), she was finishing my sentences. Dana being wonderful Dana set me up to go celebrate Liigo in her home town of Talsi. This was such a spectacular experience as I was the only ‘tourist’ attending. Liigo went off with a bang, I danced and song my little heart out all night long. I was even fortunate enough to hitch back to Riga with a brilliant couple I’d actually met in Riga who were working the bar. From that point on I was in love with Latvia! Dana persuaded me to stay longer in Latvia for more festivals, so I ended up staying another 2 weeks in her apartment in Riga. She showed me around Latvia and all through Riga, taking me foraging and camping along the northwestern peninsula. I had little expectations of Latvia, except what I’d hear about Liigo, but ended up being so kindly looked out by the lovely locals. These relationships are life long and I can’t wait till Dana comes out to Aus next year!!
Scotland was another highlight. I wanted to explore the highlands so booked a bus to the outer Hebrides of Skye, Harris and Lewis. I arrived in traditional Scottish cloud/mist/rain but for the next week there was nothing but sunshine! I befriended a wonderful collection of people in my small hostel in Portree and again, had an absolute adventure! The amazing staff there sent me off on unique hikes all around the island. Of the 7 hikes I made, on 3 occasions I never saw another soul, except for a lot of sheep in extraordinary geological and historical locations. The highlands were also an exciting place as it was very easy and very safe to hitch which was another great way to meet some locals and other tourists travelling through the highlands. Their company was so greatly appreciated, as well as their generosity!
I really enjoy my own solitude and got that in Rhenigidale, where I stayed in a self-serving hostel, a 3-hour hike from Tarbert on the Isle of Harris. I arrived that night and found that I had the entire cottage to myself. So I popped the radio on, cook me a simple dinner and sat by the peat fire I’d made. This was one of the most magical nights; I just stayed up late reading my book, warm by the fire. The next day I made the hike back to Tarbert and got to photograph some extraordinary views of the Isle and the ruins of old villages still standing along the coast of Harris.
I’ve just arrived in Copenhagen, very much looking forward to having my own bed! My new roommate Chelina is a fantastic Danish girl who has shown me the ins and outs of our local neighbourhood. Finding a place in Copenhagen was an absolute pain but I finally found a place with Chelina last week and I’m so glad to be here and can’t wait to start uni at the end of the month.
My advice to anyone going on exchange is to try and get in contact with anyone else going to/in your exchange city! I put a post on a facebook group my university has for its exchange students, to see if anyone else was traveling/ in Europe and straightaway I got messages. I ended up going to Lake of Constance in Germany to stay with a girl I’ll be on exchange with in Copenhagen, which is great because I already know I’ll have a buddy in my classes and the prospect of starting uni/making friends/ect isn’t really daunting.
So far I can’t believe my luck! Heres to the rest of exchange being as exciting as the last 3 months!
Ella Ballhausen, 11686161, FASS