In 1997, about halfway through my PhD days at ANU, I was fortunate to have the chance to travel around (Western) Europe. As part of attending the European Control Conference in Brussels in July of 1997, I also arranged a number of visits to various universities in Belgium, Netherlands and France. When all the ‘business’ side of things were completed, I stayed in Europe for a further 3 or so weeks.
The links in the side menu list the countries I visited on this trip in a roughly chronological order. There was a slight overlap between Belgium and the Netherlands. I was based in Brussels – or campus of Louvain-la-Neuve to be more precise – initially, but took a few days to go up to Delft and Amsterdam during that period. As a side note, Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese government on the day that I headed back to Belgium from Amsterdam.
After Belgium, I took a train down to Paris. This was just a few days before Bastille Day, the French National Day, and security was quite tight ahead of the National Day parade. From Paris, I took an overnight train to Switzerland, and spent one night there. I finally reached Italy on another overnight train, and saw many wonderful sights there: from the relics of Roman civilisation, to the birth of Renaissance. From Rome, I returned to Australia, via Hong Kong.
This was the first extended overseas trip that I undertook on my own, lasting for close to 8 weeks in all. In fact, as it turned out, this was to be the first of a couple of solo trips in the next few years. I had a wonderful time and was truly grateful that nothing unpleasant happened to me, as can often happen on an extended trip like this. Moreover, everywhere I went, invariably I would experience kindness from total strangers, either from fellow backpackers I met in youth hostels, or strangers on streets offering directions when I seemed lost.
Being quite inexperienced at the whole backpacking business, I was not exactly ‘backpacking’ in the sense of actually using a backpack. This was quite a mistake, in hindsight. You see, I was lugging along a decent-sized suitcase while travelling, which was fine most of the time, like walking from airport to the train station, or from train station to some youth hostel, but man, it was hard work when I had to climb stairs! I can remember lugging a suitcase through the train stations in Paris. Of course, all the planning (accommodation, transportations) was done by me. In fact, provided you have done your homework, backpacking is really not scary at all and can instead bring many surprises along the way.
These minor nuisances aside, I was fortunate that there were not any ‘misfortunes’ like thefts or illnesses that happened to travellers occasionally. Lastly, there was so much history and art in each place I went to, which I already enjoyed reading but it was definitely a thrill for me to be able to see and walk in those places!
This trip also holds another significance for me. At the time of the trip, there was a someone very dear to my heart. Before I commenced the trip, I promised her that I would share with her all of my experiences in any way I could. I kept that promise by sending postcards to her, almost daily. Although it did not work out in the end, I am still glad that this indirectly enriched my experiences of the trip.
As a side note, another ‘first’ was that since I had just received as a birthday present a Nikon F50 SLR (out of production now, I believe) camera, this provided the perfect opportunity for me to test drive and see if I have any artistic streak in me!? Here are some of the photos I took using the new camera, and I hope you can enjoy!