One Brits rather unusual reaction to the Brexit vote
It was 5 am on Thursday, June 24th, 2016. I had been awake for several hours already. I sat blankly staring at the TV, speechless. Surely this couldn’t be real? I must still be sleeping. I pinched my leg. I was awake, this was real. Britain had voted to leave the EU.
As the news and social media started to buzz with the impact the Brexit would have to trade, the economy, house prices, jobs and the like, my thoughts were on another topic. Would this mean in the future my ability to travel freely and cheaply across the Europe I love so dearly would change? Would I be able to up sticks and relocate to Barcelona or Rome if it took my fancy? Right now I didn’t know.
The Great Britain I had grown up in didn’t feel quite so ‘Great’ anymore. I had two hours before I needed to leave for work. Something which with the ongoing train strikes and chaos had become more and more arduous. At times the journey from Brighton (where I live) to London often took three hours instead of the one it should. To add insult to injury my weekly return ticket cost a staggering £151!
Whilst I pondered this demise I realized I had subconsciously opened the website I tend to go to when I am feeling blue, Skyscanner.com. At my fingertips was a world of opportunity and adventure. New places, people, tastes, sights, and sounds were just a click away.
There was lots of Europe I hadn’t seen yet, and places I love that always draw me back. “Let’s just have a quick look at what cheap flights I can find”, I heard myself say. I typed; ‘London Gatwick – Anywhere – the whole month of September’. A list appeared. At the top the cheapest; Berlin, £30. I realised I had only searched one way. Was this a sign, not an error? Why stop there? Why not see where I could travel to over a week.
An hour later I was reaching for my credit card. Before me was an itinerary – 7 countries in 7 days. The total cost of flights? Just £7 more than my weekly train ticket. Discussing my impulsive plan with a couple of friends over a beer that night, I was delighted and not in the least bit shocked when a laptop appeared and they booked to join me.
Day 1 – Berlin – Norweigan Air – Gatwick to Schonefeld £29.90 Accommodation: Cube Lodges £21pp
Where better to start a whirlwind tour of Europe than a city that shaped the face of Europe forever. Starting at Checkpoint Charlie, we headed to the Brandenburg Gate, then on to the East Side Gallery – a section of the Berlin Wall adorned with artwork. After a successful search for the lesser known ‘ Stand by me’ tree in the vast expanse of Tiergarten Park, it was time for Currywurst and a few steins of beer.
Day 2 – Vilnius – Ryanair – Schonefeld to Vilnius £16.90 Accommodation: Hostel Vozduh £9
This stunning city was a real surprise, full of unexpected charm and hidden secrets. A climb to the top of Gediminas Tower afforded views of the autumn colours in this wooded city. The Stebuklas Miracle tile marks the end of the Baltic Way. A human chain formed by over 2 million people that stretched from Vilnius, through Latvia to Tallin in Estonia as a peaceful protest that led to each nation gaining independence from the USSR. The evening was spent playing the piano and singing with some of the most friendly locals encountered anywhere.
Day 3 – Stockholm – Ryanair – Vilnius to Skavsta £10 – Accommodation: 2kronor Hostel £27pp
An evening arrival gave limited time to explore, so we headed to a Viking themed restaurant and indulged on a banquet of meat and mead.
Day 4 – Warsaw – Ryanair – Skavsta to Modlin £12.80 – Accommodation: Warsaw Centre Hostel £9pp
I liked Warsaw more than I expected to. A vast city that has been rebuilt after widespread destruction in the war offers grand wide streets and a mix of old and new architecture. The Palace of Culture building looks like it’s straight out of Ghostbusters and lit up at night has a haunting feel, but offers superb views of the whole city. Wandering Castle Square we found a host of street entertainment and some incredible traditional Polish dishes, don’t leave without trying some dumplings. Keep an eye out for the many Mermaids statutes that adorn the city – it’s emblem.
Day 5 – Paris – Ryanair – Modlin to Beauvais £15.65 – Accommodation: Jacobs Inn Hostel £20pp
A city that never fails to deliver. As one of my friends had never been we did the main sites of the Arc de Triomphe and the mighty Eiffel Tower. Lit up at night it is truly spectacular and we were more than happy to buy cheap bottles of beer and wine from the guys that wander the base selling them out of buckets. Dinner was the traditional Parisian fare of l’escargot and beef bourguignon in one of Paris’ oldest Bistros.
Day 6 – Madrid – Ryanair – Beauvais to Madrid £30.60 Accommodation: JQC Rooms £11pp
Even in early October, the weather was a delightful 27C. Out came the shorts and a day exploring the rambling streets of the Spanish capital. The Royal Palace and Almudena Cathedral are stunning feats of architecture and engineering. As the sun reached its hottest point we cooled off in the shade of the vast Plaza Mayor before retreating for some tapas on a quiet backstreet.
Day 7 – Dublin – Ryanair – Madrid to Dublin £26 Accommodation: Oliver St. John Gogarty’s £25pp
You can’t help but smile in Dublin. The warmth of the locals, if not the weather, is infectious and after a stroll along the Liffey and around Trinity College, we enjoyed the local ‘Craic’ with pints of Guinness and live music in Templebar.
Heading home to Gatwick on a final Ryanair flight for £17, I reflected on this action packed week. I live my life by one motto, ‘memories not possessions’ and whilst only scratching the surface of a destination is not how I typically choose to travel, this trip reminded me just what an amazing continent Europe is.
The total cost for the flights and accommodation was £280.95, a lot less than my train fare and weeks rent and look at everything I had experienced and the memories I had made. Whilst Britain isn’t physically leaving Europe, I hope this won’t be the last time I get to explore it so cheaply and easily. Time will tell.