My 500 word entry for the Guardian travel writers 2012 competition:-
Two prostitutes and a nun. I’m either still dreaming, or have woken amidst some crude literal joke of which I’m now quite fearful of the punch line. As I rub my eyes and take in my surroundings I realise it’s 4am and I’m in the main waiting room at Salzburg train station. Waking my girlfriend from her slumber while avoiding the glares of our holy and not so holy roommates, we head off into another unknown town as the sun rises over our shoulders.
We’d begun a week earlier in Northern Croatia, where we’d bathed in the warm waters of Zadar and Pag before heading for the pre historic Plitvice Lakes. An astonishing array of rugged valleys containing waterfalls and lakes of a startling blue lay before us; it was like a living version of the Land Before Time, complete with the endless queues of dinosaurs pouring off the tour buses.
From here, we moved over our first border and into Slovenia and Ljubljana. Arriving late at night to a deluge of rain and a seemingly nonexistent hostel, the first impressions were not great. However, as dawn broke and we ventured into the historic centre which lay in the shadow of the Julian Alps, any initial doubts vanished. These were then completely forgotten upon a visit to lakes Bohinj and Bled, where the jaw droppingly beautiful scenery had us smitten in seconds.
Next was the rude awakening in Salzburg, where we took in the majestic baroque architecture and walked in the von Trapp’s footsteps, before heading off on a whim to Munich. We’d managed to time this appallingly, with Oktoberfest imminent there was barely a room in town. Three hostel changes and endless rain wasn’t to deter us though; we sunk steins in the beer hall where the SS was formed, watched a Glockenspiel marriage and took in the mournful Dachau concentration camp.
The ever efficient German trains whisked us back into Austria and Vienna. Glorious sunshine and a sense of grandeur met us; typified by Schloss Schönbrunn, the parliament buildings and cheap tickets at the Opera House; where we proceeded to be completely baffled by the baritone plot.
Moving North into the Czech Republic we departed our train in chaos at Budějovice before clunking our way down to the chokingly beautiful Český Krumlov. If Bruges is a fairytale town, we’d just arrived in Atlantis. Rafting from pub to pub on the Vltava River was followed by hearty Bohemian meals, getting lost in endlessly twisting alleyways and glorious views from the imposing castle.
Our final stop was Prague. We were soon in awe of Jewish Golems and an astronomical clock, before we finished off in style with a climb to the castle and then flares, drums and a fierce atmosphere at the Prague football derby. Our whistle stop tour had come to an end, but our brief taste of this extraordinary continent on our doorstep had been fascinating from start to finish. Prostitutes, nuns and all.