Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 10: Athens, Greece

The last leg of my journey in the summer of 2016 was to Athens, Greece. Just shy of midnight, on Friday the 19th of August, I boarded a night-train from Sofia, Bulgaria to Thessaloniki. I had a compartment to myself. This seemed great at first but then I found myself a bit more concerned by something happening than if I’d been sharing with people. Though nothing happened other than one passport check at 3am.

Arrived in Thessaloniki on time at 6:30am, despite leaving Sofia, Bulgaria late. I was travelling his whole time with an interrail ticket.

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So I hopped on the next train to Athens which turned out to be at 7:04am. It was very sunny and warm so I slept most of the way.

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However, I discovered reservations, after tickets, are mandatory on trains in Greece. I should’ve checked this out before but the ticket-checker was obviously used to this. They said they’d come back around after a while to get €20 off me – which turned out to be the reservation fee and not a fine!

I found out later upon waking up again that I was in fact sat in someone else’s seat; no need for reservation signs if EVERYONE reserves.

Arrived in Athens shortly after 1:30pm and hard time figuring out the Metro. Eventually got the Metro to Omonia and walked a bit through a rough looking area to a nice looking hotel.

I’d managed to save some money while travelling and had decided to stay in a hotel for my last stop. But in actuality this hotel was not much nicer than any hostel I’d stayed in. I also ended up being a bit bored and lonely. All the activities advertised in the hotel were for people who travelled with a lot more money than me. A good lesson though!

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That said, balcony views are always nice.

The next day I took the tram to the coast – which was definitely where I should’ve stayed instead! I found a beach bar. I’d forgotten my swim wear but it was nice to sit and watch the water in the shade, eat pasta for breakfast and see cats.

I then visited the Sea-Turtle Centre.

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It’s nice to see sea-turtles! But also sad as they’re all injured and sick, and mostly on purpose by people. My tour guide did tell me that most of them make a full recovery and get released back into the wild.

My tour guide, upon finding out I was ravelling alone, invited me to come swimming with a group on them that evening. I ended up taking the wrong tram and being totally delayed, but I did luckily get to find them the next day!

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Monday, I visited the flea market and bought some gifts to bring home, before meeting up with the sea-turtle tour guide.

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They took me for a drive around Athens, up the mountains and to a coffee shop. We then picked up another volunteer from the Sea-Turtle Centre and drove out to Poseidon’s Temple. It was crazy hot, between 35-40 degrees Celsius all day. The road out was also very windy, but it was worth it!

On the way back we stopped in a different beach bar. It was a bit postcard-like.

The evening I packed and prepared all my stuff to fly back to Ireland the next day.

The bus to the airport from Syntagma was a nice journey. It was nice to see the landscape and mountains again.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 9: Sofia, Bulgaria

Wednesday, August 17th: On the overnight train to Bulgaria myself and the British couple I was sharing a compartment with got woken at 3am by border control. We were meant to arrive in Sofia, Bulgaria at 8:45am but actually arrived at 9:20am.

The British couple and I said goodbye, and then I immediately found myself walking towards Makedonia street with some Belgian and Swiss travellers. We departed after a while and some people along the way gave me directions until I bumped into an Italian traveller looking for the same hostel!

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Here I found myself before travelling to Greece.

Hostel Mostel – whichs turns out to be the nicest hostel I’ve ever stayed in.

Dropped off my bags and decided to join the Free Sofia Walking Tour at 11am as I was too early to go into my room. I’d never been on a walking tour before and expected it to be really lame and touristic – but it was actually great! Our guide was a very funny historian who was super enthusiastic and made it amazing. They also had lots of other tours to suggest to see more of Bulgaria.

On the way back I walked through a market selling communist era memorabilia and Cathedral of Saint Alexandar Nevski.

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Took a walk to the train station and around town for a while before chilling in the common room with the Italian traveller I’d met.

Thursday the Italian traveller and I decided to go on a hiking tour to the Boyana Waterfall. The hike up took about two hours, with a ten minute break, and was super beautiful.

Boyana Waterfall –

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and then Boyana Church.

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It was a small group and everyone was very friendly.

The tour guide was also very enthusiastic and chatted with us about lots of stuff.

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We made friends with some other travellers on the tour, and after, four of us got a recommendation for lunch from our tour guide; the national archive.

A somewhat imposing building, that you can’t enter without giving passport details, turns out to have a café on the top floor with a 360° view of Sofia.

So you can see the weather coming a mile away!

We decided to go to dinner together, too, to a traditional Bulgarian restaurant; Manastirska Magernitza.

 

One of the other hikers turned out out to be staying in Hostel Mostel so we returned to shower and nap before heading out again.

We all wandered around town after, taking pictures and discussing travelling – and then had to bid goodbye to one of our party. This was surprisingly sad as we’d all known each other less than a day!

We walked back after and went to bed.

Friday I headed to Rila Monastery, a tour which was arranged through the hostel.

They had drivers who drove the two hours out to Rila, which is a lovely drive through some small villages. Going with me were two German and one French traveller.

We stopped into a short hiking route – a short pilgrimage in fact to visit the cave of a monk.

And it turned out you couldn’t come back out from the cave – you had to climb out a small hole in the roof of the cave.

This was actually spectacularly terrifying, even to small woman experienced in circus. But the five of us, including the driver-come-tour-guide survived. We then visited a small chapel dedicated to the mink.

We then carried on to Rila.

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We had two hours to walk around.

There was also a lot carefully preserved frescoes.

Also some traditional clothing and information on farming inside some parts of the building.

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We left a bit early, as everyone was quite tired, and it turned out it was the driver’s last day before holidays so we figured they wouldn’t mind finishing early.

The next day I would realise I left my travelling partner of five years, Günther, in that car.

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The last picture I have of him, looking at Rila.

I went to the train station and reserved my space on the overnight train to Thessaloniki, Greece. I spent some time before the train in the hostel talking to a Welsh family who’d moved to Bulgaria. When I returned to the train station I bumped into three of the French travellers who’d been on the hiking tour. We chatted until the train arrived – at 11:55pm, 25 minutes late.

I had a compartment to myself this time, which at first seemed great – but then was actually a bit unnerving. But did eventually get to sleep.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 8: Beograd, Serbia

I shared a compartment on an overnight train with a German family of four from Zagreb, Croatia, to Beograd, Serbia, Friday night the 12th of August.

We were woken up twice by border control between 3am and 4am which was a bit terrifying. I did however get my first ever stamp on my passport. I had also almost made the mistake of bringing only my passport card with me on my travels, forgetting that Serbia is not in the EU.

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We arrived at 6am, and I went straight to my hostel, Downtown Hostel, which turned out to be right across the road from the train station. I was five hours early for check-in but figured I’d be able to leave my bag there and wander ’round.

Upon reaching the building, which could be spotted by the banner up on the sixth floor balcony, I became afraid I had made a bad booking choice. I rang the buzzer and was let into a foyer that looked like it had long ago been abandoned. The elevator didn’t work so I climbed six flights of stairs with about 15kg of bags on me.

However, after checking-in my fears were allayed. The staff were incredibly nice and apologised numerous times that they couldn’t let me into my room – despite the fact that it was me that was five hours early. They locked my bag in a storage room, gave me a map, gave me some history about Serbia, suggested some places to go, gave me lots of coffee, plums and the local spirit, Rakia.

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The view of the station from the balcony.

During my first morning, someone came up to me and repeated “Kalemegdan” while pointing down the road to what turned out to be a large park surrounding Beograd fortress.

I took a relaxed stroll around it and then went and got food from Tribeca.

I made my way back in the direction of the hostel, booked my next train for Sofia, Bulgaria, chatted to some of the other people in the hostel, and finally retired to my room for a while – all before midday. I then napped til 3pm.

The rest of the day was relaxed. Visited a super market, sat near the station watching people, walked along the waterfront.

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I’d been told by the staff in the hostel that Beograd was very safe – at night and for women. I found this to be true.

I returned to the hostel again, chatted to some more of the residents, had more rakia, and then went to bed.

I woke up the next day, Sunday, around 10:30am and headed to the Nikola Tesla museum around midday. The next English tour was 2pm so I walked back towards the Orthodox Church of Saint Sava. It was of course unfinished at this time, because all the coolest places have unfinished churches.

I was also accidentally present for a baptism.

Walked back to the museum for the Nikola Tesla tour which turned out to be a bit lame. The tour guide really went for it but it’s really just one room rather than a museum. In their defence I hear all the good stuff is in the states.

Found the Bohemian Quarter.

Also the National Theatre off Republika Square. It was closed, which was a theme with national theatres on my travels.

I was on my way back to the hostel, quite tired, to read a book and go to bed. I decided this was a bit lame and decided I would at least read my book in a bar or café for a while before simply returning to the hostel. This turned out to be a good choice.

I stopped into a very quiet bar/café near the hostel which was empty at the time. I got talking to the barman for a bit, who was local, and he recommended up stairs for reading.

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As I was about to go upstairs another tourist, from France, entered the bar demanding orange juice and company outside. So myself and the barman went outside.

We got into great conversation and then started coaxing unsuspecting people who wandered in to come join us. We were a god while doing this when two other tourists joined us! Another from France and the other from Finland. They had met in their hostel and had been looking for a different bar but we convinced them to stay with us.

It turned out it was the barman’s last night working this bar, as he’d gotten a new job on a cruise ship. After much deliberation and negotiation the four tourists convinced him to join us in going to a night club to celebrate!

It turned out Beograd is known for it’s night-life, and has a great many all-night nightclubs on the river.

The first French tourist departed early, as they were getting up early to leave the next day, but the rest of us stayed out ’til about 4am, and then exchanged contact details to meet up the following day.

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The view under the bridge as we left the night-club.

Monday, myself and the French and Finnish tourists who’d met in their hostel, had a beach day – if you’re allowed call an artificial lake, contained in a river, a beach.

 

Ada Ciganlija seemed like a place you could spend a few days with its many restaurants, play-parks, bars, a zip line and many other activities.

As it started to get dark – and buggy! – we walked back out to get the bus back to the city centre. We met up with another tourist, from Denmark, for a few drinks, before the Finnish tourist and I departed as we were both leaving the next day.

Tuesday was history of Serbia day for me. I packed my stuff up, paid my bill and met the manager of the hostel on my way out and had a surprisingly tearful goodbye. I dropped my bag off at the lockers in the train station and proceeded to get – not exactly lost – but unsure of my way as I walked towards the Museum of Yugoslavia History.

This museum actually turned out to be three museums; 25 May Museum, House of Flowers and the Old Museum/Old Storeroom.

All three museums relate to the history of Serbia and Yugoslavia and Josip Broz Tito. I’d highly recommend it.

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I found a bus going back to the city centre, went to the train station and spent the last of my Serbian dinar on postcards and snacks and sat reading a while. The French tourist found me and we chatted for a bit. I boarded my train around 9:40pm somewhat sadly.

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Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 7: Travelling to Zagreb, Croatia

To get to Zagreb from Dresden involved many train trips. I boarded a train to Wien, Austria about 9pm, Tuesday August 9th, and arrived there about 7am the next day.

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I’d had my interrail ticket taken upon boarding and had it returned to me, along with a chocolate croissant and a coffee (I’d been asked upon boarding did I like orange juice or coffee).

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My temporary travelling companions, two Danish people I’d shared the compartment with, parted ways. I checked I was on the right platform, made the most of the station Wi-Fi, and then boarded a train to Celje, Slovenia.

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My new temporary travelling companions were a couple from Belfast, who were travelling to Slovenia. Went between chatting with them, napping, playing a card game and wandering around the car. Later two older Austrian people joined us and gave out about our luggage arrangements.

Arrived in Celje a bit late.

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But made the next train; on to Đurmanec! Got checked by border control twice on this tiny two-carriage train, one of whom seemed somewhat suspicious of a lone Irish person travelling on small local trains to Zagreb.

Arrived in Đurmanec – and hit the language barrier hard. There was a lot of miming and pointing involved in telling me my next train would be here soon for Zabok.

Another small local train. I was the only one on it for the first few stops, travelling through the Croatian countryside. Then arrived in Zabok and straight onto the last train of the day for Zagreb. I was joined by a German person for this journey who happily entertained me and my poor German.

Arrived in Zagreb around 5pm! Here I was staying with a penpal I had met five years previously. We’d been in and out of contact through letters, Facebook and LinkedIn. They were in work when I arrived so I took some time to catch up via Wi-Fi. I also tried to use the bathroom in the station but sadly got shouted at for not knowing the currency correctly.

Got through to my pen-pal and got to their house after a few stops on the tram. We were both pretty tired so went to bed early after catching up.

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The next day, Thursday 11th of August, started with getting slightly lost and ending up at Jordanovac. Eventually found the number 9 tram and went a few stops and found my way again.

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Found the Dolac market and Zagreb cathedral.

Then casually followed a tour group from the cathedral to the Naive Art Gallery.

Then found the Botanical gardens which was the highlight of Zagreb for me.

Sat in front of the gallery in the green space and looked up a vegetarian place to eat.

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The internet recommended Zrno, which did good falafel and great pudding.

Friday was my last day in Zagreb. My penpal was also packed that morning to go on holidays in Budapest. I wasn’t feeling very adventurous that day so I stayed in my penpal’s apartment and tried to eat some of the food I’d been told to bring (as it would only go off while they were away), read Sandman and packed.

At 6pm I got the tram back to the train station and sat out in the green ’til it got buggy. I went inside the train station and soon had some stranger talking to me, trying to convince me to go on holidays with them and trying to buy me a drink.

I bought some books from the book stall in the station and sat down for a while to read, and got talking to someone from Poland. They were amused to hear that the biggest juggling convention in the world would be in Poland the following year.

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We boarded the train to Beograd, Serbia, late at night. My temporary companions in sleep were a German family of four.

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Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 2: The EJC

After a week of setting up the site, Saturday rolled around and it was time to open the gates to juggler paradise.

My own Saturday was spent doing shopping runs for the core and registration teams, traffic control (waving and juggling at cars and vans that looked juggler-esque on the side of the highway) and also the lights in the bar tent that evening!

It was my first time using an analogue desk, or a desk that was partially in Dutch. Before that was the first of the Special stages – ‘Liaison Carbone’ by Les Objets Volantes, which was a great start to the week. Most nights of the EJC there’s the Open stage, where people have arrived on site and volunteered an act (though they’re often the height of their discipline), and the Special Stages which are usually large scale shows and national collaborations. Last event of the day, most days, was the Renegade – an open mic event for jugglers to get up and do anything they like – ANY thing.

During the course of the week over 4,500 people entered the EJC site in Almere Poort. To give you an idea of that, some picture from the Gandinis’ show ‘SmashedXL’ which was on Sunday in Almere Centraal (“XL” beacuse it had 20 people in it instead of the original eight – and much porcelain did get smashed).

That night was Irish night in the Renegade. It was an honour as we were the only country not currently hosting, or set to host, an EJC that got a renegade night. And we killed it. Our host told the story about how a German juggler said to them:
“The best and worst thing to ever come from Ireland was a renegade” and they weren’t sure whether to thank them or not.

During the week we saw many shows. We also got to saw and met many famous jugglers – a bonus of having an interest in a niche activity; you can just talk to some of the people who are the best in the world at it.

Aside from the shows, games, competitions, juggling halls, swimming, parade, sight-seeing, there was also some serious business to attend to – the European Juggling Association’s (EJA) Annual General Meeting (AGM).

At the EJA’s AGM covers some different things including nomination and election of new country representatives/contacts (two-year terms) and most excitingly, the vote on the location of an EJC.

Some details: The vote used to be cast two years in advance of an EJC. For example, in Ireland in 2014, the vote for 2016 was cast. But in Italy in 2015, there was a clash where two teams, Azores of Portugal and Lublin of Poland, both wanted 2017. Team Lublin won, and Team Azores was given a preliminary decision of 2018, but a five-month period for any clashes to occur was allowed (in case any team had been planning on coming forward in 2016 for 2018). And this is why the EJC vote is currently cast three years in advance. The EJA is also seperate from EJC in that the convention isn’t organised by the association. The EJA provides the approved teams (voted for by jugglers during the AGM) with an interest-free loan and all the past experience and knowledge of EJCs, in the hope that the EJCs will continue growing and getting better.

The week continued like this and the days and shows all blurred into one. Eventually Sunday the 7th of August rolled ’round and it was time for us to sadly pack up our tents and leave.

Travelling Summer 2016 – Part 1: The journey to, and set up of, the EJC

My travels to the European Juggling Convention (EJC)began Friday the 22nd of July. I packed checked all my packed bags and travelled from Galway to Dublin with my companion to sleep for a few hours before getting up at 3.45am to go get the bus to the airport.

I got the 4.35am AirCoach from Cabinteely to Dublin Airport, T1. Coincidentally, my radio co-host and oldest friend was flying out the same day, and almost same time, from T1 – but to Japan.

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We only realised the timing about a week before so it was very amusing to navigate the airport together before our 7-ish a.m. flights.

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I arrived in Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, Netherlands, around 10.30am local time (GMT+1). At this time the  direct train was still available to Almere Poort, where the European Juggling Convention (EJC) site was, though I was a week early. I’d applied to assist site set-up but thought I was three days to early even for that.

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But I hopped off the train, and almost immediately had someone new come up to me, smiling, asking “You’re here for the EJC? Come on in!”. I later found out it was Tom, one of the five members of the EJC 2016 core team.

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I was introduced to the ten or so people currently on-site, given some water and coffee and asked if I’d like to start working now or later. So I started laying power cables immediately. One of my co-volunteers joked about how this was how he spent his vacation time; manual labour. And it was a great time!

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The weather was warm and the site was dusty from the lack of rain. None of the big tops were yet up. Everyone currently on-site, the core-team and five or six volunteers, ate together for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That evening set the tone for most for most of that week’s evenings; We sat around, people discussed their juggling clubs and circuses, people juggled and played instruments.

Everyday for the pre-EJC week more people would arrive until there was about eighty of us. The first few days were my favourite, when you knew everyone and worked the hardest, all day every day. Some days we took breaks if it got too hot during the day to work, and visited the lake nearby.

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During the week there was every kind of job to do, building fences, planning tent sites, painting signs, repairing the workshop sheet, building trusses, signage, laminating, registration packages….

And also hanging lamps!

And raising trusses and looking at new boards.

Then Saturday the 30th came to open up!

Travelling: 28th of July-24th of August – Part 6; EJC continued

Day 6) Thursday: The heat became pretty unbearable today, so there was little us Irish folk could do other than melt and nap fitfully. My new companion and deigned to wander into the forest where it might be cooler, where we found a gazebo that was perfectly fit to nap in. Then dropped by The Games! The Games are another integral part of a juggling convention. Usually taking place on the last day of a usual three day convention, they took place on Friday for the benefit of people travelling home over the weekend.

Common games are three-ball Simon Says (juggling three balls while either performing basic tasks like standing on one leg, or by completing tricks), combat (trying to break people’s juggling patterns while juggling three clubs), club balance (balancing a club on your face – forehead, nose or chin) and endurance (and game that involves doing something the longest eg balancing a contact ball on your head, holding a handstand, juggling and number of balls or clubs, often up to seven balls or five clubs).

That evening there was Irish dinner! Where camp New-New-Ireland all got dinner together, rather than people eating loads of potatoes.

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The official Fire-show took place that evening, but it was very hard to get a spot, so I ended up buying delicious ice-cream and chatting with one of the Irish-Berlin jugglers who had also failed to procure a spot. I didn’t attend much of the renegade though a technician asked me would the Irish be taking over again, and they seemed disappointed I said no, before briefly heading to the bar and then bed.

Day 7) Friday: Many of the Irish jugglers retreated to the gazebo my companion and I had found, to escape the heat. We came well-prepared with food, booze, books and cards.

That evening we took over the Renegade Tent again. It was all going very well, we’d been granted an extra hour as well as it was going so well – until a sudden rain storm hit and flooded the tent at 1:40am. As I stood up I realised at a most inopportune moment I was too inebriated for my own good, stumbled towards a gym to hide from the rain for a while before returning to my tent.

Day 8) Saturday: We all got up about midday and returned to the gazebo with boardgames and cards. We made friends with some people from France who played Star Realms (a great deck-building game).  After which we went to a Chinese restaurant; the menu was in German and the chopsticks had French instructions on them.

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That evening was the Gala show – the biggest show of every juggling convention, so you can imagine what the biggest show of the biggest convention is like. It was pretty spectacular with multi-prop juggling, swinging trapeze, a uncicyle duo, a ladder act, foot juggling, four-diabolo juggling…

After which my companion and I took a wander around the town. I had to check the train times for my departure the next day. My companion was staying another night before returning to Munich, Germany, to fly out. We then found a “Beach Party” which appeared to be some sort of outdoor-beach-themed-rave-nightclub. Not what we expected to find in the town of Bruneck, but we fanangled our way in with some minimal German, where my companion threw some juggler shapes.

It wasn’t terribly enthralling so we returned and slept before..

Day 9) Sunday, he last day. The saddest day of every convention when every has to pack up and leave. Some people were a lot worse for wear than others.

Plenty of people weren’t flying home that day but still had to get off site for take-down. I was told I’d be missed by Dublin jugglers “You’ll be all the way in Galway” and one of them gifted me a knife with a handle in the shape of a banana. After packing up all my gear, getting some pizza for breakfast, helping my companion pack their tent I commenced some “Bye for now”s, and headed for the train back to Innsbruck, Austria.