Europe 2012 or “why did I do it?”

There is a great deal to be done now that I’ve returned but I think that a trip involving sixteen countries, eight of which I’ve never visited before, and more than five thousand miles of rail travel deserves some sort of summing up:

Sweden (Stockholm, Uppsala, Kiruna)

Finland (Hailouto, Turku, Helsinki)

Estonia (Tallin)

Poland (Lublin, Krakow)

Czech Republic (Prague)

Austria (Vienna)

Hungary (Budapest, Nyregyhaza)

Serbia (Belgrade)

Bulgaria (Sofia)

Turkey (Istanbul, Gebze)

Greece (Athens, Patras)

Italy (Naples, Pompeii)

Switzerland (Basel)

France (Perpignan)

Spain (Barcelona, Santiago)

Portugal (Lisbon)

The journey was really built around a set of invitations from the families of the various young people who have lodged with me in Wimbledon over the past three or four years. I knew that I could not delay much longer but had to decide whether to turn this engaging fantasy into a reality. This has probably been the greatest travel challenge I have faced to date but once I had made up my mind to do it, the organisation was like putting together a complicated puzzle and turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable. I put in a few safety precautions such as ensuring that I always had contact numbers and ready access to “get home” money but not every detail could be ensured in advance and some improvisation was required. Understatement: the travel writer’s best friend.

But this may answer some of the “how” and a little of the “why now?” but it does not explain the essential “why on earth would you put yourself through all that hardship and miss your grandchildren so badly?”. I think that the answer probably lies somewhere in my head. It’s the only one I’ve got and, as I’ve got older, I’ve come to accept that what I put in it is entirely my own responsibility. I don’t actually own anything else. This may be getting a little meta-whatever but if I want to stuff my mind to bursting with the interwoven threads of the history and culture of the lands that gave birth to my ancestors then I had better do so while I still have my own hip joints an most of my own teeth.

Of course, I could not have done it without the hospitality that I received along the way and am extremely grateful for the opportunities that this gave me to see some of the things that mere tourists rarely get a chance to experience. I may not have had room in my luggage for many souvenirs but I’ve certainly brought home plenty to think about. And, just maybe, I’ve turned myself into a little more of the grandparent that every child deserves.

Categories: Europe


  • Chris says:

    Lovely set of pictures although you should make it plain that not all of them were available to be seen on your trip. Nice to see the John Martin in there.

  • Sandy says:

    Kees wants to know why Holland was so badly neglected on your trip?

  • Kees says:


    Amazing trip, 16 countries in a short period of time. Very impressive ….WOW.

    Do I now know why ? …..No. Was someone chasing you ? Were you chasing someone else ? Do you want to fill up your passport with stamps ? If you go around fast enough you may be like the tiger in Sambo and turn into butter.

    An obvious oversight of your trip was Holland or maybe it wasn’t. Do the Dutch stand too far away from the deodorant stick like the French ? Just kidding, I have (had) many French friends. Ahhhh, I know, Holland is your next trip and it will be very carefully planned to entice certain people to come join you. Sandy would love it.

    I’m glad you are back safe and sound Travel Gal. What an experience. I have been telling many friends abiut “Nicola the world traveller” and how you met Sandy through her jewelry website. Not everyone developes a lasting friendship this way.


  • nicola ainsworth says:

    I deliberately left out Germany, Denmark and the BeNeLux countries because I’ve visited each of them several times before. This trip was all about getting to know Northern and Eastern Europe with a quick hop, skip and a jump across my Mediterranean roots to finish up in Portugal.

    Why I do it? I don’t really know but I know that I MUST.

    There is a special Dutch treat coming up in just two weeks time (and it DOES involve trains) so watch this space.

    Thanks again for following my travels so loyally

  • Katja S. says:

    Hi Nicola! What an amazing journey. I’m impressed. You’ve seen so much. Nice blogs 🙂 My mom is here in Tampere now (celebrating mother’s day) and sends warm greetings. All the best to London!

  • ET says:

    Hi Nicola, Resting between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, I finally had a hotel again with reliable internet which allowed me to look into your blog. 16 countries! It would take me 4 or more years to do that much! You are quite the whirlwind. Amazinging. Thanks for sharing insights and images. Keep them coming. ET

  • nicola ainsworth says:

    Thanks Elisabeth, I know it was a lot of ground to cover and my mind has been buzzing ever since. But Europe is MY HOME so this trip marked neither the beginning nor the end of its exploration for me. A lifetime will not be enough.

    Thankfully I am able to have a little break with the family while I follow your adventures across the Roof of the World for a few weeks.

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