954 days, 34 000 km and 23 countries in 46 photos: my amazing travel around Europe, without flying
- Category: Travel stories and visits
- Written by Davide Vadalà
If you are in a hurry, skip the text and go directly to the travel photos] Before that moment, it was August 2010 when I took my last flight: I was in India and planning to go back to Europe by land, passing through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey; an amazing travel that I wasn't able to accomplish. Unfortunately the Italian Embassy in India, refused to give me the authorization letter I needed to enter in Pakistan, pretending that the situation was too dangerous. So I had to change my plan and take my last flight from India, that left me in Turkey, Istanbul. From that moment I started my travel around Europe, exclusively by land, an intense experience without plane that lasted for almost 3 years: a slow travel, exploring at a different pace, living in a different way, with a total budget of less than 200€ per month.This is the story of my 954 days amazing travel around Europe without flying. A long trip that ended in April 2013 when I had to take a plane from Romania to Italy because of my unstable health condition. [
I covered over 34 000 km hitchhiking, not counting the occasional use of train, bicycle, bus and boat. But to travel for 3 years doesn't mean to move every day: it's a state of mind, a lifestyle, sometimes made also of breaks to recover your energy. Yes, I was taking vacation from travelling, isn't it crazy? My holidays meant to stay at home visiting my family! That's why these 954 days are made of a lot of smaller experiences and at least 6 separate trips.
I have to thank three people in particular for this trip: my first inspiration is Dia, the incarnation of a gypsy traveller, an amazing Greek guy travelling for ages on a budget and spreading happiness around the world; the second one is Tiziano Terzani, an Italian journalist and my favourite writer, that travelled for one year while he was a foreign correspondent, without using the plane; the third one is Ümit, a Turkish guy that introduced me to the art of hitchhiking and with whom I shared the beginning of this trip.
Many things happened in this time frame: I started travelling around Europe alone, joining occasionally other gypsy travellers on the way, until I met Oti in June 2011 for the first time, and in August our travelling lives became just one. I visited amazing places, I met inspiring people, and I took a looooot of pictures! Being a travel photographer is one of my ambitions, and would give me the possibility to travel with no worries.
Below a selection of 46 photos, 2 per each country I visited in these 954 days without plane: I was able to visit some of the countries extensively, while others very quickly stopping shortly just in one place. That's why in example I had hundreds of amazing travel pictures from Romania or Turkey and it was difficult to choose just two, while I was struggling to find two acceptable photos from Slovenia, Macedonia or Portugal where I passed in a hurry. But to adhere to the title of the project and to be more balanced, I decided to choose 2 pictures per country, sorted in alphabetical order, rather than the 46 best photos.
I think I talked enough, let's leave space to the images now.
My personal favourites are from Switzerland, Romania, Norway, Turkey and Italy: the countries that I visited the most and where I had the strongest experiences. You can click directly to them if you are short in time, and come back later for the rest. I hope you'll enjoy!
Bosnia and Herzegovina
My itchy feet brought me to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina for the first time last year on our way back from Romania to Italy. It wasn't the shortest way, so we had to extend our trip to be able to visit it. Mostar bridge, portrayed in the picture, is the symbol of the civil war in Ex-Jugoslavia, and of the reconstruction after the war. Completely destroyed during the attacks, together with all the historical center, it's back today in its place as a perfect copy of the original.
The city of Sarajevo was able to overcome the difficult period of the never ending siege, lasted almost four years, but people are still not satisfied with the actual situation: it's still possible to feel the difficulty of integration of the different ethnic groups. Going around, the city is looking quite well maintained and it doesn't give the feeling of a bombed city, except for some rare memories of the attacks.
Being neighbor with Romania, I passed many times in Bulgaria, but the most memorable visit was during the amazing travel hitchhiking from Budapest to Ruse, to help a Bulgarian friend stuck without money in Hungary. In Bulgaria it's still possible to see rural scenes with local people riding horses and pulling carts right next to fancy cars passing on the road. Its landscape, similarly to neighboring Romania, is dominated by never ending sunflower fields.
The touristic town of Nesebar on the Black Sea, is a renowned place for its historical ruins, and in summer is getting crowded with tourists. In the evening people are looking for entertainment and it's the perfect moment to take advantage of the situation and shoot amazing pictures.
On our way to Italy in 2012, we stopped also in Plitvice Lakes National Park, a must see natural reservation composed of a series of lakes and waterfalls, eternally changing with seasons and erosion.A perfect occasion for a travel photographer to take some unforgettable shots, like this cascade in the photo.
Split is a city with a Mediterranean feeling, maybe because of the sea, maybe because of the well conserved Roman ruins of the Diocletian' s Palace. These Cormorants on a rock are staying there as the Emperor on the throne, as to remember that the sea belongs to them.
In my second visit to Prague, after long time from the first visit, I had a completely different perception and feelings. The Old Town Square in fact is changing it's usual look with the Christmas Market: the snow, the people, the Christmas tree, everything contribute to this unique feeling and atmosphere. The clock tower is the best place to admire the show.
The Sedlec Ossuary is an impressive Bone Church in Kutna Hora, not far from Prague, built with the bones of thousands of people killed by the black plague. The chandelier found in the crypt, is one of the finest example of macabre art, and an amazing subject for photography.
Denmark, as the other Scandinavian countries, was on the way of my itchy feet on both trips to the north to see the Aurora Borealis. In 2011 I had the "luck" to be there when the community of Freetown Christiania, was closed by it's own residents for the first time in its 40 years history, to draw attention on the ultimatum of the Government, trying to sell the land where Christiania was built. A solution was eventually found to allow the inhabitants to collectively buy all the properties for sale. In the picture the demonstration for the re-opening of the community.
Also Copenhagen is not different than the other European cities, and it's changing its skin for Christmas time. It's the perfect moment for a travel photographer to enjoy the lights and decorations at the entrance of Tivoli Park.
North of Finland is the land of snow, Puffin birds and Santa Claus. I guess you'll have an hard time trying to spot Father Christmas, but passing through Lapland you'll see plenty of his helpers just on the side of the road. There are no more wild reindeer there, they are guarded by the indigenous ethnic group of Sami people, often using an helicopter to direct them in huge lands covered by snow.
No, we didn't cook the reindeer of the previous photo, the reindeer skull on the car was just found along the road while we were driving in Lapland. I was picked up hitchhiking by Michael, a German guy with an old Mercedes car, and we eventually got along well and shared 3 days of amazing travel up to North Cape.
In last summer trip around Europe, we were able to experience an alternative aspect of France, privileging nature over cities. Hidden just a few kilometers away from Marseille, there is an incredible series of inlets, cliffs and blue crystalline water called Les Calanques. It's possible to go there with an easy hike after a bus ride from the city.
The area of Camargue, where the Rhone with its Delta is ending, is world known for its peculiar environment, home to many bird species. One of the most enchanting is the pink flamingo, easily found in the swamps and lakes looking for food to eat: an incredible travel discovering the treasure of our planet.
Even if we are not fan of the commercial aspect of Christmas Markets, on our way back from Norway to Romania in November-December, we were able to experience several of them in different European cities. They definitely add charm and atmosphere to Christmas time. In the photo the Christmas Market in front of Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.
The glass dome of the Reichstag, the German Parliament in Berlin, is a perfect subject for a travel photographer, with its transparency showing the steel frame and people staying on it like birds in the trees.
Hungary has a special place in the memories of my travels around Europe: it's the place where Me and Oti met for the first time thanks to the Youth in Action Program. After the training finished we visited Budapest, and experienced a once in a lifetime moment: a double rainbow in front of the Hungarian Parliament! The second rainbow isn't too much visible in this photo (in the top left corner), but it was very clear in the reality.
Fisherman's Bastion in Budapest after a storm: the clear white stone enlightened by a sun ray through the clouds, it's contrasting with the grey atmosphere of the surroundings.
Despite being native Italian, I never had the occasion, or the will, to visit Cinque Terre during my previous travel around Europe. But after hearing the stories of other gypsy travellers met on the way, we decided to include it in our itinerary. Riomaggiore is one of the five "lands" of Cinque Terre in the coastal region of Liguria. It's the starting point of the world famous Via dell' Amore (Street of Love), 2 km of plain road stretching over the water with amazing sunsets. And Cinque Terre eventually became one of the places we most remember from our trip around Europe, with its amazing cliffs, vineyard and peaceful atmosphere.
One of the most "Mysterious" places in Rome, the Pantheon with its big hole on top. The sun penetrating this aperture makes it a perfect place for an appealing photo, and an enigma for tourists wondering if rain is entering inside or not. Just come in Rome and you'll solve the mystery :)
The trip to Macedonia represented for me (us) a difficult test in my recent past: it was in fact the only moment in which me and Oti weren't together in the last 2 years. I promised to go and help at Shanti Community, and I wanted to respect my engagement. That's how I ended up sleeping in a barn in this ecological community in Macedonia, founded by Maja, an happy woman met in Sadhana Forest in 2010. Living sustainably means to go back to nature, live frugal and reduce our standards of comfort; and still enjoying it!
More than cities is nature once more to remain in my memories. Matka canyon is only a public bus ride from Skopje, but it feels like it's thousands miles away. Opposed to the Macedonian Capital, disseminated with new eclectic buildings of dubious style, Matka canyon was like a breath of fresh air in my lungs. Water, nature, orthodox monasteries, caves: an amazing day trip and a perfect escape from the city.
The Principality of Monaco is one of the richest country in the word, and it's not difficult to understand it when you are there. Walking in front of the Casino it's like visiting a luxury motor-show, not to talk about the heliport along the sea. The details of the urban furniture, like this convex mirror reflecting the Casino, and the spotless public gardens, can't be found anywhere else in the world.
Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, and with its 36 000 inhabitants is rather a small city than a country. That's why it's very easy to be visited by foot. Climbing to the higher part of the city, where there is also the castle, nice views are opening toward the town and the harbour.
In these 3 years of nomad travel around Europe, I've been two times in Norway to see Northern Lights, but that's not the only reason. Tromsø itself can be an incentive to decide to go up north over the Arctic Circle. Surrounded by outstanding mountains and fjords easily reachable from the city, it's a perfect mix of city life and nature, and a great place to be for a travel photographer.
This picture is showing one of the most intense moment of our last amazing travel to the North: the stunning Northern Lights we were able to see in Norway (Olderdalen) last autumn. Six hours of uninterrupted magic, explosions of colors and shivering: once in a lifetime experience. These are the moments that are paying off all of your efforts and sacrifices.
When we started our last nomad travel around Europe with Oti, one of our goals was to visit and enjoy Portugal. We were able to reach it, and we even visited Portagem, a small village after the border with Spain. But we stayed there in total just for a few hours, visiting from the place where we were doing a work exchange. Right after, we found a job in Switzerland, so we had to give up on Portugal and our itchy feet brought us hitchhiking East!
The fortified city of Marvao is a popular touristic destination at the border with Spain. Unfortunately we saw it only from far away, we didn't stay long enough to go and visit!
Being in a nomad travel doesn't mean that you are travelling every single day: it's a lifestyle. So out of these 954 that I was travelling, or better I was having a Nomad lifestyle, I passed almost one year in Romania. That's how I found out that Romania is not only Transilvania and Dracula. This picture taken in a local village not too far from Bucharest, Batrani, shows perfectly the rural aspect that is still possible to experience in Romania. This guy with a horse drinking water, could be taken from a book written 300 years ago. Except for the tires :)
Winter 2012 has been one of the coldest winter all over Europe, and Romania wasn't an exception. The coastal city of Constanta has usually a warmer climate than continental Romania, but despite this, temperature was so low that the Black sea got frozen. Having heard it from some friends, we soon left Oti' s place to reach Constanta and check this amazing show. Incredible ice sculptures created by the sea with the help of the wind, and the Casino Constanta on the background, a surreal scene that we won't forget easily.
Serbia gave me controversial feelings during my two visits in the last few years: a poor country struggling to overcome the civil-war and still stuck with its nationalistic identity, showing on the roads only his fancy part with girls on high heels like being on the catwalk. Both time I went in Belgrade I didn't miss a visit to this graffiti not far from the Danube river, that is summarizing perfectly our society and the way we are treating our planet.
In the nice and clean city of Novi Sad, a street seller is resting on a bench as to remind the real conditions of the population, opposed to the fancy surface.
We went in Bratislava to meet Maria and Gery, two friends that share with us the beginning of our love stories, and we had the opportunity to visit also the city. The castle of Bratislava at night over the Danube, is one of the most appealing view of the city.
Visiting with locals, you learn much more about the place. That's how we found out that in Slovakia there is a huge minority of Hungarians, that accounts for almost 10% of the population. In the photo a memory from an entertaining night at the Hungarian institute, listening to a music concert.
I visited Slovenia on my way back from Turkey to Italy, on my first real nomad travel hitchhiking in 2010. My visit was only for a very limited time, and restricted to Ljubiana, but I still was impressed to see a city looking more like a Swiss mountain village than an Ex-Jugoslavian destination. My main memory is from the sleeping place I found for the night: under the bridge of the main square.
The fortress dominating the centre of Ljubiana is one of the main touristic spot of the city. It's free to enter and to enjoy the landscape over the city!
I've been countless times to Spain during these years of travel around Europe, and every time it's a pleasure to go back. Warm and happy people, a beautiful country and an easy language for an Italian mother tongue :)
Barcelona is still one of my favourite places between the big European cities: it's easy to go around with its metro system and it houses some of the most amazing Art Nouveau masterpieces ("Modernismo" in Catalan language). Casa Batlló, designed by Antoni Gaudi, is one of that: even more impressive knowing that it's a restoration and not a new construction.
Last time my itchy feet brought me to Spain with Oti, we participated in two Help Exchanges to reduce our expenses and slow down our travel. The first of the two was in Novelda, not far from Alicante, were we found to welcome us a sweet young couple in a old house. Joan, the owner of the place, was trying to create an artistic tea house called "Casa L'Art": we are sure he will have all the success he deserves.
I passed through Sweden in both of my trips to see Northern Lights, but it's in the first trip in 2011 that I had the chance to visit Sweden from South to North. Being the landscapes and the environment over the Arctic Circle so dramatic and different than what I'm used to, that's what mostly remained in my memories. Probably also because of the strong experiences you have when you are travelling in harsh conditions. In the photo, this poor sledge dog is confined in a small cage, ready to be tied to a sledge for the "happiness" of the tourists. He is actually lucky to be alone in the cage, because in the others boxes there are two dogs in each one. When the animals are taken out of the cages, the sledge driver is pulling them from the collar, dragging them to tie them up to the slepde and almost strangling these poor beings.
The Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi, is an amazing piece of art, created by different artists every year. It is made of the ice taken from the nearby river, and saved for the next year. It's very expensive to visit (over 40€) but apparently if you are confident enough and you pretend to be a guest, nobody is stopping you from entering for free...
This is the amazing view that me and Oti had from the top of "La Berneuse", not far from the turning restaurant Kuklos. We reached the place after a few hours hiking from Leysin: an amazing prize after 6 weeks of hard work in summer camps with kids.
On our way hitchhiking from Spain to Switzerland we had the time to stop for 1 day in Montreux, Geneva Lake, to do some essential shopping before starting our summer job. Switzerland is not the best place for shopping, and the fancy town of Montreaux less than ever! But at least it's a very relaxed and cool place to visit.
Europe or Asia? Maybe I should have better called this article "my nomad travel around Europe AND Turkey", but for a gypsy heart, borders don't count too much, and it doesn't make much difference if we call it Europe or Asia. Either way, Turkey is one of the Countries that remained in my heart, and that I wouldn't get bored to visit every year: I'm sure every time it would turn out to be an amazing travel. And Istanbul is the perfect expression of the fusion between East and West. How not to fall in love with this skyline and coulors?
This is one of the unique places on Earth, that you don't mind visiting even if it's stuffed with tourists. Pamukkale is famous for its natural stone pools made of Calcium Carbonate used since ancient time as a Spa. The Roman city of Hierapolis, whose ruins is still possible to visit, is just on the back. It's forbidden to bath in the natural pools to preserve it from deterioration, but there are artificial pools where it's possible to relax and enjoy the great scenery.
Since I passed most of my life in Rome, it's difficult to talk about Vatican City as a separate country: it's so small that we don't feel the difference. But actually that's what it is, the smallest country of the World. Vatican Museum is a must see place not only for the masterpieces but also for the famous spiral staircase, common subject in the photos of tourists and travel photographers. Last Sunday of each month it is free entrance, but be prepared to stay in line for at least 3 hours.
This is a view of St Peter's Cathedral (Vatican City) taken from the top of Castel Sant' Angelo (Italy). The two are connected trough a small passage over an aqueduct like structure, called "Passetto", that the Pope used in the past to escape in case of danger and to be protected in the fortress of Castel Sant' Angelo.
You reached the end of my 954 days of travel around Europe: I hope it will be of inspiration for you, as I took inspiration from people that I met on my way. Remember that if you want to travel, you can find the way! While my friends were sitting in an office during these three years, I explored more than they will probably ever do in their entire life. Isn't this a good enough incentive to seriously think about it?