Racers, Start Your Engines...

Racers, Start Your Engines...

Here's where we'll share our daily updates from the Trans-European Race - all the beautiful places, tasty food, and funny stories we come across.


Larissa, Katy, Richard and Aileen have joined together to form team LARK (because of the initials, get it?). But LARK isn’t just an abbreviation of their names, it’s also a state of mind. They're literally larking around on trains and buses around Europe this week. See? Works on multiple levels.

Our team also benefits from having a fearless leader in Katy, our strategy Queen and the person that made JFC’s involvement in Race Across Europe possible. So we should be kept on track and make it to Istanbul for Saturday (famous last words?).

Loose Units

So called because they move to the beat of their own drum, the Loose Units, aka Allan (Agent 17), Fran (Agent 79) and Lauren (Agent 131), are our international young team. They've got the stamina to stay up late drinking craft beers in quirky local bars and still catch the 6am train to their next destination.

DAT team

In it for the sweet views and the tasty food as opposed to the glory, Danni, Andreia and Tristan make up DAT team (again, initials). It's Danni's first time back packing, Andreia's first time doing it around Europe (but South America? Nailed it!) and Tristan is always delighted to bag a new country. At least with Danni's social media skills, you know the content's gonna be 🔥

Saturday, August 5th, 2023

LARK: Having given up on one of our team’s goals early on (try as we might, we couldn’t justify the less-than-ideal connections to make the hop to Liechtenstein worth it), we now had one mission: visit as many Balkan countries as possible on the way to Istanbul. 

Shared Eurostar dramas for all JFC teams aside (gotta count on the French to protest), we arrived in Paris with a train to Strasbourg already booked for that evening. We would have had a good 2.5-hour window without the delay, but it was probably closer to 2 hours once we stepped foot on the platform. But first, we had to find Bob. 

We raced down to the metro (buying a pack of 10 metro tickets on the Eurostar was our saving grace and let us bypass the others), only to find out the line wasn’t working. A quick switch to the RER took us into Jardin des Tuileries with 10 minutes to spare. Luckily we spotted him under the perfectly-manicured trees and he gave us our rather long and cryptic password that we’ll need later in the trip. Our hustling paid off, and we even had time for a selfie break before hopping back on the metro. 

Once we reached Gare De L’est for our connection, there were two things in particular that I found surprising: 

  • The number of Paul’s bakeries in very close proximity (2) 
  • Surprisingly good Asian meals from the supermarket. Katy really rates the Bibimbap! 

The train to Strasbourg felt like a dream after a reeeeally long day getting used to our backpacks. We rolled into the station around 10:30pm and walked through the rain to the hostel. Safe in our beds with only the sound of random strangers yelling very loudly outside the window, we all slept the minimum amount of hours to be functional. And that was Day 1, onto Germany tomorrow! 

Loose Units: Agent 17 Reporting Today

And we’re off! Today, we were briefed by race director James near Trafalgar Square and had brunch with the whole team near King’s Cross Station. After getting through passport control, we sat in wait in the Eurostar lounge for our 2:30 [m train to Paris. Fran scavenged for free beers from the Eurostar and brought each team a beer that best represented their team.

We all boarded the Eurostar, arriving in Paris 40 minutes late after a delay on the tracks. We bought metro tickets at the station after queuing for quite a while. As we arrived at Gare du Nord to take the Paris Metro to the first checkpoint location, the 4 line shut down for mechanical repair so we had to take the B down to the area of the Louvre.

We made our way to the café, arriving right at 7:00 pm as Bob was about to depart. After Bob gave us the password (shh!), we invited him to have a crêpe with us at the Louvre’s café. He then proceeded to give us a brief, free-of-charge, tour of the Louvre building, the Seine, and tried his best to line us up for a view of the Eiffel Tower easier said than done!

After a lovely hour-long stroll with Bob, we bid him adieu, making our way back to Gare du Nord for an 8:55 pm train to Brussels. We could not make our seat reservations with the app so resident francophone Fran saved the day by talking to the conductor in French and getting us on that train. Who knows what would have happened if we didn’t make the train…

But we did! We made it to Brussels at half past 10:00 pm, where Fran and her partner Felix graciously hosted us in their flat in Saint-Gilles. We dropped off our stuff and went to a local Belgian brewery, where we formulated our plan of attack for the next day. See you tomorrow.

DAT team: Danni wakes up in Brighton, most trains are cancelled–she barely makes it on time to Lupine’s event. It’s the first time she’s backpacking and you can tell. The bag she carries has a hanging pillow, and it’s legitimately more than half her size. Not that she’s tall, to be fair. Still, carrying half her weight on her back isn’t going to keep Danni from getting that JFC merch–bucket hat on her head, tote bag on her shoulders, we gather around the rest of the team to chat a bit before the race starts.

Wait, where’s Tristan? He’s the last one to arrive, though he does arrive on time, so we’ll cut him some slack.

Thirteen members of Jack’s Flight Club try to dodge the rain, hiding under a canopy just out Trafalgar Square. James, the race organizer, takes the mic and starts giving instructions I couldn’t  hear. Someone from the team whispers back to me what he’s saying–the checkpoints we’ll have to hit (not for the prize, that we cannot win, but for bragging rights) are revealed: the first stop after London is Paris. We did know about that one.

The first stop was revealed to us a couple of months in advance. Not that that helped us planning much better. We had managed to book our Eurostar train from St. Pancreas a few weeks ahead, along with the rest of the team, enough time in between the start of the race at 10:00 and the departure at 13:31 to grab breakfast at Caravan. Before we head there, a reporter from the Independent approaches Katy for a quick interview, which she obviously nails with a quick JFC recap and plenty of smirky jokes in between. Our main goal is, afterall, getting Fran to try out and rate all the gelato and ice creams she can find along the way.

A long table of ten (cause not everyone we met up with was actually going on the race), and fresh pressed juice, tea, and all the brunch goodies you can imagine, spreads out between us. We’re all a bit nervous, a bit hungry, and some (Fran, again) realise they’ve forgotten both their keys and their bag at home.

We all had different dishes, and I went with my comfort fries. It wasn’t cheap (is anything cheap in London?), but it was worth it. Around us, just outside, a group of teenagers practices a K-Pop choreography, while a restless baby hangs out in its stroller just next to the door. Are the parents going for the Norwegian trick that prepares kids for the extreme cold? Wait until we get to 5-degrees-Bernina-ride and we’ll all be wishing our parents had thrown us out in the street for some ice resistance. Back to rainy London for now, though.

We all help each other get our backpacks back on our backs. It’s time to head to the station, we still have to go through security before we hop on the train, and St. Pancreas is a bit of a mess at this point. Some of us go get snacks, while the rest discuss the perks of an AmEx card when travelling in the Eurostar–the lounge access will reward you with free drinks, and we’re talking the good 13%-alchool-beer stuff.

Everyone randomly moves around, trying to find out which terminal they need to reach. We lose Fran somewhere in the middle of the station. 30 minutes later, we’ve all shown our passports to security–there are a few seats we can lounge in before having to board.

Arriving in Paris, we all split up into our teams--LARK, DAT & the Loose Units (still unnamed by then) each made their way out the train.

LARK and the Loose Units just went for a run, trying to hit their goal to get to the second checkpoint before Bob left at 7pm.

We, the DAT team, took our time. Crowds of people lining up for the train, we walked past two-story trams, and trying to assure a spot in the escalators to get out of Gare du Nord.

My first visit to Paris, I was expecting what we got--the movie-like buildings and the corner pasteries reminded me of Amélie, her Parisian quirkiness in locals' faces.

Not sure on how to get there, we loaded our digital map to let us know the way to Louvre, where we were expected. Miles of underground tunnels and tram options eventually got us there. I'd seen thousands of pictures of the glassy triangle, people pretending to hold it with the tip of their fingers. I'd never noticed the ferris wheel just behind it, the entire set of windows surrounding the landmark. What impressed me most was the detail, the feeling that I wasn't just walking on the floor, but actually just above the ceiling of a museum that held hundreds of pieces that would describe what humanity is all about better than I ever could. A violinist stood in the shadow, La Valse d'Amélie taking me back even further to those nights I'd spend planning a Paris trip with just movie sets as a visiting point.

I thought about The Dreamers, and what it must feel like to run next to paintings, almost unaware of their value.

We took pictures and silly videos of ourselves, a cloudy sky hoovering above us, while other people did the same.

Disappointed we were too late to book a visit to the Catacombs, we didn't have the time to visit The Louvre, or head to the Eiffel Tower either. Tired and carrying a lot of weight on our shoulders, we headed back to the metro line with Bastille as a destination, the thought of a bed to crash in boiling. Getting the metro should've been uneventful, if it weren't for the fact that as soon the door closed in front of us, a JFC sticker popped up on the door. Someone from the team had hopped on the same ride, on the same door as we did. It felt like seeing an old school friend--the odds working with us spruced up our mood.

By the time we checked in in the hotel (a French receptionist trying her best not to roll her eyes when we asked for instructions in English), it was way after 9. Food was the only thing in our mind, and when in Paris... have Japanese? I know, I know. All the croissants in the world wouldn't convince us to skip a hot Ramen, dumplings, and a Saké to warm us up.

Heading back to the hotel after dinner granted us views of orange and yellow lamps hanging over cafés outside, the chilly air in our faces.

It didn't take long after that to fall asleep–we were tired and a 6am train the next morning gave us enough reasons to just jump into bed and fall asleep wondering what the next few days would be like.

Sunday, August 6th, 2023

LARK: Katy reporting for duty! It was a bit of a rough night in Strasbourg. Despite the overcast skies and on-and-off-again rain, our hotel room was HOT, so we had to sleep with the window fully open. That made it pretty hard to ignore the screaming and banging noises out on the street.

Regardless, Richard was up at 6:30 and off out for a run along the river. The rest of us took our time and got ready to head out and meet up with morning arrivals, DAT team for brekkie.

After winding through the gorgeous streets and squares of central Strasbourg a little, we found the gang and headed towards the cathedral. Tummies were rumbling, so into the cute crêperie we went.

Afterwards, we all headed straight back to the station – us towards Munich and DAT towards Basel. A couple of connections later and we found ourselves in the land of Bavarian beer and checkpoint no. 3 - Marienplatz.

That one was pretty simple – take a selfie (in the pouring rain) in the square, and get a receipt from n ATM or local business. That was enough of a sign for us to head to the famous Hofbräuhaus and fill up the local produce before an early night. Prost!

Loose Units: Agent 17 Once Again

Our goal Sunday was very simple. Get as far as possible. We woke up in Brussels at 7:30 am to catch an 8:25 train to Frankfurt Airport Station. After sleeping on the train and fighting for 3 seats close to each other, we arrived and grabbed a quick lunch at the station. 

Our next train to Munich was 25 minutes late, which would make our onward connection very very tight. We were hoping to arrive in Munich by 4:30, run to Marienplatz to hit the checkpoint, buy a souvenir magnet, and run back to Munich station to catch a 5:30 train to Budapest.

With that delay, we ended up at Munich-Passig station at 4:53, with only 37 minutes to get into Munich center and back to Munich Hbf. We sprinted through Passing (unnecessarily as the train was not due for 6 minutes), went straight to Marienplatz, took a selfie, and Allan ran. 

He dropped his stuff in the plaza with Fran and Lauren and sprinted to Hofbrauhaus instead of going the other direction where there were plenty of souvenir shops right nearby. Nevertheless, he ran and ran, reaching Hofbrauhaus and buying the magnet, and running back just in time. 

We pulled into Marienplatz at 5:12. Allan bought the magnet at 5:17. We were back at the Marienplatz station, boarding an S-Bahn at 5:22, arriving at Munich Hbf at 5:25, and making the train to Budapest at 5:27, with just a few minutes to spare.

Mission complete. 

As soon as we stepped into the train, the strong smell hit our nostrils and the overflowing cabins put fear into our hearts. We realized we weren’t on the Deutsche Bahn anymore. But we pushed on..

… all the way to First Class, where we sat and pled ignorance as “we’re just trying to eat and in no way do we want to take these seats. We did eat but then we also sat there for another 4 hours, just chit-chatting with each other, other passengers seated nearby, and several members of the train crew. 

We booked our hotel, planned our next day, and enjoyed our lives in luxury. Until a new conductor boarded in Vienna and sent us back to second class. By this point, however, the train had emptied and there were plenty of seats left

So we sat for the next few chatting about ghosts, aliens, and other sleep-deprived tangents until arriving in Budapest at 12:30 am, falling asleep immediately. 16 hours on trains, 30 minutes of action. But we made it from Brussels to Budapest with a checkpoint in between in just one day

Until tomorrow.


The sound of peaceful birdsong from my phone speaker woke us up at the ungodly hour of 6am. 


A bargain had been made - stay the night in Paris for a stress-free soft landing into interrailing and get an early start the next day. We discover that in practice, a small but comfortable hotel room in the Bastille area of Paris does not make up for 2 or 3 hours of sleep lost from murmurs of excitement. 


We didn’t mess around, getting ourselves together and ubering over to Gare Est for a 6:55 train to Strasbourg. A short and uneventful journey in carriages full of napping French and Germans gave us time to mull over that twenty two hours later we would still be on the go.

Team LARK are just leaving their hostel as we arrive and we meet up for some crepes for breakfast. We are still in France, after all. We head through the old town to meet them, wandering past houses that look like the inspiration for children’s book cover illustrations.

Nobody in either team will forget the sight of Strasbourg’s cathedral - the kind of building that makes you appreciate how ants see the world.

After a fun catch-up over crepes and learning how not to kill the R in team LARK with food we rush off for a train to Basel.

We looked at what we could do in Basel in the 50 minutes we had and spotted “Marktplatz”, a food market only 5 minutes away from the station. Tristan’s eyes light up when he sees you can get Ethiopian food there - he’d already mentioned how he wanted to try it the day before. The team split a delicious plate of lentils on injera bread. A good start on our mission to expand Andreia’s palate.

Fueled up, we rush back to get the train to Chur. Swiss trains are amazing, by the way. As clean and timely as you hear they are. Not long after leaving Basel behind we start getting glued to our window like most people are glued to their phones. Incredible views of the alps and the Walansee lake.

That was nothing compared to what was to come. Chur is the start point for the “Bernina Express” a UNESCO certified train route that’s as scenic as it gets. A windy route through the alps over hundreds of bridges, through tunnels and past a glacier.

Before we jump on that train though, we have about an hour and a half to kill. The team is overjoyed to find some lockers to stash our bags in the train station. 90 minutes turns out to be just about the perfect amount of time to get to the far side of Chur’s old town and back while taking lots of pics. It’s the kind of place that looks right at home on a postcard and surprisingly quiet considering we’re there in early August.

Words barely do the experience of riding on the Bernina Express justice. There’s a cabin with retractable windows that’s incredible for taking photos and videos without glare. The other cabins all have huge windows that give you a great view of the valleys, peaks, gorges, lakes and glaciers. The journey took around four hours and helped us forget the weight of the day we started to feel.

We arrived in Tirano, an Italian town that’s so close to the border that it took our phones an hour to switch to an Italian phone network. Our hotel is even more beautiful than the pictures made it seem. Modern rooms and decorations concealed by the stone walls of a former farmhouse. It’s now 9:30pm and we’re exhausted, but more importantly, hungry. It’s pizza time!

Monday, August 7th, 2023 

LARK: Hello again! It’s Larissa back with our day 3 recap.

For the rest of the world, it was Monday. For us, it was AUSTRIA DAY. Given I’m the resident Australian in the group, I thought it was my duty to educate the rest of the team on Austria’s unofficial slogan. Our countries are tight like that. Despite that, we would actually see some kangaroos before the day was out (just in the snack form). 

We rattled out of an extremely cold Munich into the beautiful Austrian alps. And of course, the hills were very much alive. Three of us in the group were also trying our hand at this whole ‘working on the go’ thing, which is difficult to do with a less than reliable internet connection, but also when you’ve got views distracting you out the train window.

We arrived in Innsbruck into the first sun we’d seen on the trip, and the stopwatch started. Before our train out (in around 5 hours), we wanted to get up the mountain and back. None of us had been to Innsbruck before, so even though we were very underdressed for the snow (some of us more than others, looking at Aileen’s snow sandals), we forged on. Luckily, Innsbruck had us covered – we were whisked up the cable car in less than an hour. And we were in for a treat. 

Being the only team to touch snow in the race so far has earned us bragging rights, I think! 

After a frolic on top of Innsbruck and a lunch from a café with very stressed staff, we did a little JFC merch shoot in the freezing cold. Ah, the things we do for content. 

In case you were wondering, we made it out of Innsbruck on time. Haven’t missed a train yet (let's hope I didn't jusy jinx us…). From there, we shot across to the southern border of Austria and stayed the night in a small town called Villach. Beautiful town, last-minute accommodation for 4 people, not so much. The joys of Interrailling keep on giving! Would 100% recommend the Greek restaurant in town, though. Their Akropolis platter was demolished by the group. 

The night was capped off by a delirious laughing session which was started when a 10 note was left on the shoe rack. Some things are better left unexplained.

Onto Slovenia next!

Loose Units: Agent 17 has a duty, and it is this.

We ended up in bed so at 2 am in Budapest so we woke up around 10 am. We hustled our stuff together and walked to a nearby cafe where we worked from 11 am to 3:30 pm Budapest time. We have day jobs after all!

The cafe was lovely – hipster and chic but also their wifi went out every hour and you had to go back up and ask for a code. Not lovely. We dropped our stuff off back at the hostel/hotel (with a private room so who knows) and went to explore Budapest. Finally, we were tourists after two long days of doing virtually nothing but sitting on trains.

We walked around aimlessly, shivering in the cold & rainy August weather of Budapest, popping into a pizza place for a small lunch and finding the large basilica in the center of the city where we took a group photo. Fran took us for gelato, as a resident Italian, and we crossed the Chain Bridge over to the Buda side of the city where we continued to explore and get some cute pictures.

We found our way to a rooftop bar/restaurant where everything was too expensive so we ordered just a drink each and sat outside to watch the most beautiful sunset so far this trip. After taking plenty of photos, we went to dinner at a friend-recommended restaurant where Allan had goulash for the first time (pretty good!) and had one of our first real meals of the trip – train free-loading excluded.

We almost missed out bus back to the area of our hotel because we were at the wrong stop. But we made it! We then tried to go to the most famous ruin bar in Budapest only to see the longest line for a Monday night you could ever imagine so we went and chilled in another bar a few meters away where the drinks were lovely even if the crowds were too lively.

After a day full of working and exploring, we went back to the hotel, ready for bed, and eager to get back on the road tomorrow.

Over and out

Tuesday, August 8th, 2023

LARK: Today is the day I, Richard, became a fruit influencer. The day started like most others on this trip, with the smell of a strong black coffee purchased from a train station bakery. Being Austria, we also had to sample some of the baked goods. Today's treat was a delicious cinnamon roll that looked just like a Yorkshire pudding, but was filled with a sweet cinnamon-y syrup.

Starting our train ride, our plan was to get to lake Bled and get the first swim of our trip. We wound our way through the plains towards the hills and through a long tunnel to Slovenia. We stopped briefly at Jesenice to change trains to Bled. After settling in on our swanky double decker train we spotted the train next to us with the sign "Bled". We had jumped on the wrong train! "Shall we switch?", "Where does this train even go?!", we were comfy and the train headed to Ljubljana, so we stayed put.

Arriving in Ljubljana, we dropped our bags at the lockers, and I rediscovered an old apple hidden away at the bottom of one of the pockets. "That's not the apple from Paris is it?!" I heard from someone in our group. "I should interview you about your plans for the apple" said Katy. "OK, but it's just an apple", I said. I was wrong.

We walked from the station until we reached the river, and a beautiful triple bridge with a dragon. The perfect backdrop for an interview. During my first moments of stardom, I attempted to piece together to story of how the apple had ended up with us. It was purchased on our first day, in Paris, as a futile attempt to counterbalance an assortment of unhealthy snacks. It had since disappeared into the depths of my rucksack. Forgotten, until today.

We determined that the apple was actually my travelling companion and vowed that he (yes "he", he has a name - it's Terry) would be taking the full journey to Istanbul with me. This interview was promptly posted on Instagram by Katy, after which I naively assumed that was the end of that. I was wrong again! 30mins later and I had become something of a fruit sensation and we're getting messages asking for regular updates on the apple situation.

Our tour around Ljubljana was the perfect place to kick-start this fruit saga. We stopped for ice-cream next to the beautiful triple bridge and then hiked to the castle on top of the hill to get a better view of the city. On the way, stopping at the market square to explore the delights of a self-service milk vending machine. At the top of the castle's tower, overlooking the city below, I recorded another apple video. This time, a beautiful view, panning to the apple. This established the format for my fruit influencing content: unexpected apple.

We wandered through the beautiful streets and sampled the local alcohol, a fantastic blueberry "Borovnic" liquer. Of course, I had to purchase a small bottle for our train to Zagreb later that evening.

We ended our tour in a rooftop bar overlooking the castle, the cocktails providing the perfect backdrop for another surprise apple photo.

We had a 6:37pm train to Zagreb and were looking for some dinner, so we thought we'd risk train station food. I approached a small Asian restaurant called Tasty Corner which looked shut. I was greeted by their lovely staff who set up a table on the platform. What followed can only be described as one of the best Asian meals of my life! Maybe I've overlooked train station culinary experiences. Between us we had: fresh gyoza, spring rolls, chicken udon noodles, pad Thai, and tofu fried rice.

On the train to Zagreb we checked the plans for the remainder of our trip, our night train to split and the beach. "How are we going to get from Split to Belgrade?", "well..." said Katy. Nothing good ever started with "well...". The plan was to cross into Bosnia on the night bus, followed by buses all day. We promptly changed plans to a night bus directly from Zagreb to Belgrade and settled in for a night of broken sleep.

Loose Units: We woke up with a clear plan in our minds: working until lunch, and then heading out for a lunch in (finally!) sunny Budapest.

After working for a few hours in the coworking part of the hostel, we headed to an outdoor food market that we noticed the previous night next to the ruins bar.

We had one mission: to see the baths, maybe take a quick dip, and head for our bus to Belgrade.

Lunch was lovely, Fran and Lauren had a prawn(less) pad thai, and Allan had a typical hungarian langos with spicy sour cream and salami on top.

With our bellies filled, we made our way to the underground station. Before we knew it, the train arrived, but we couldn’t find the ticket machine and just optimistically hopped on the train - it’s just a few stops, anyway.

All was good until we reached the penultimate stop. The doors suddently opened, and some tall, angry hungarian faces stepped on the train screaming ‘tickets!’.

Our heart stopped, we knew we were in trouble. Fran pleaded ignorance, trying all of her best tricks. But for the first time in the trip, it didn’t work - he was immune.

We got off at the following station, and the police man demanded we paid a hefty fine, on the spot. He quickly confiscated our IDs and pressured us to run to the closest ATM to pay in cash - were we being scammed? Are these even real police men?

The intimidation worked and we made our way up the stairs, until the police man screamed ‘ONLY ONE PERSON. TWO STAY’. Allan ran up the stairs and Lauren and Fran were forced to stay, with their back(pack)s against the wall.

As Allan made it up the stairs, he veered to the left, and the man screamed ‘I said, go straight!’. He had a clear ATM in mind.

We waited around five minutes for Allan to come back and scream "#%*^ you! Great business model you have here" at the man, still hurt by the awful conversion rate he was forced to accept. He thrust the exact amount of money into the man’s hand and retreived our IDs. "Let’s go, we have nothing more to do here," he whispered to us.

With a heavier heart and a lighter wallet, we arrived in front of the baths just to realise they were not visible to the public, and the entry fee was the same as the fine we just paid. Mission failed.

We arrived at the bus station and felt happy to leave Budapest, onto new horizons in Serbia.

The bus only took 5 hours instead of 6, thanks to a very efficient border control lady. Passports were stamped, and we were on route to Belgrade.

We finished the night with a couple of white russians and ‘sex with the bartender’ (a cocktail!) under our hostel, and fell asleep thinking about the cute hedgehog we saw on the way.

DAT Team:

After a long day of travel and hopping on and off multiple trains across Italy, waking up at 9:30 to go from Treviso to Vienna on a 7h-long trip felt surprisingly appealing. The plan to spend the night in Austria had been drawn the day before, along with timetable checks and alternative routes that would get us into Serbia and then Bulgaria before the final stretch of the race—reaching Istanbul.

We had talked about leaving the hotel a bit early, grab some breakfast and snacks for the trip. Being DAT team, though, meant that we snoozed for a few more minutes after the alarm rang, and we then had to rush to the train station when the checkout took longer than expected.

Had we known the mosquito bites in Danni’s face and Tristan’s legs were actually from bedbugs, we’d probably be the ones giving the reception a long talk. I was lucky to pick out the sofa bed, which seemed to be insect-free, though I would get my chance to experience an unexpected injury just a few hours later.

Fully boarded on the train, we made our way into the Quiet Cabin where we settled in a 4-seat table, whispering back and forward in between us, surrounded by sleepy and sleeping passengers.

We departed, the train leaving Venice’s little sister town to take us through miles and miles of Italian valleys, little villages sprinkling the picture-perfect mountains along the way.

Before reaching Austria, we go through tunnels and bad reception areas every few minutes, which make the otherwise reliable on board Wi-Fi fail. As soon as we reconnect, we jump into booking all the buses we had researched about, relieved that we won’t have to spend another couple of hours before bed making plans for the day after.

Our trip is fully shaped, with enough time to reach Istanbul by Friday, and enough in-case-of-emergency time to still reach Turkey before the deadline, at 7pm Saturday.

By then, it was lunchtime, and we were starving—train food was the only option. There was room for some Austrian wine in between schnitzels, the first time we had it out of paper cups.

We slithered through the countryside, occasionally disrupting the quiet when members of the LARK team would update us on their whereabouts, milk & eggs vending machines cracking us up. Wine bottles rolling up and down the table every time the train tilted.

We arrive by Vienna’s sunset, the warm air welcoming us to the city Jess and Celine had thoroughly explored in Before Sunrise. It was the first proper evening that we made plans for—hot dogs, mac ‘n cheese, a walk by the river and a jazz club for some drinks to end the night.

Walking through the streets around Stephansplatz square, we were impressed by the amounts of people around us, each of them reacting to the brightly tiled roof of St. Stephen's Cathedral as soon as they spotted it.

The line to Bitzinger Sausage Stand was long, the food truck parked just outside the Albertina Museum, but we were convinced it was worth the wait, and we were right. Two men split the work between them, one checking the meat while the other prepared the bread. We ended up sharing a Würstel hot dog, the cheese filling blending perfectly with the ketchup on top. 

We spotted some electric scooters a few meters further—the Danube a long walk away from where we were, a short ride seemed like a good idea to have some fun along the way. Little did we know that while rushing and speeding through Viennese roads, I’d be flying off my scooter and land in my face. The shock stunned me, while Tristan, Danni, and a stranger who witnessed the accident came running for help. Blood dripping from my chin, we ended up getting an Uber to the nearest hospital, where everyone took great care of me, and a doctor patched me up real nicely.

Returning to the hotel a couple hours later, Tristan grabbed a kebab that filled up the room with a comfort-food kind of taste. When we went to bed shortly after, Danni and I kept the lights on for a while longer while discussing books and favourite authors–long enough that I knew my head was getting slightly better, better enough to continue the journey the next morning.

Wednesday, August 9th, 2023

LARK: Hello, it's Larissa! Not sure Richard mentioned in our previous day’s recap, but getting into Belgrade was a little more stressful than he let on. After we arrived at 4am, we decided none of us would be worth having around if we didn’t at least try to get some sleep in. 

Katy hatched a plan that sounded brilliant at the time - we had already found a hotel within a short walk from the station that had rooms available for that night. We would sleep and shower, and, after check out, leave our bags for us to retrieve them after a morning in Belgrade. 

Of course, until that hotel turned us away. Yep, apparently it was the hotel’s policy to not check in anyone after 10pm, even if they had rooms free and very sleepy paying customers. We were so numb with fatigue by this point that we just stared blindly at the man behind the counter. Katy did pipe up after a few seconds to ask him where he recommended we go. He very unhelpfully answered that we should try hostels nearby who may not have this rule. 

So, back out into the night we went. We had mapped the route to a few hostels within a 10-minute radius but found them all closed. Richard at one point started joking (but becoming more serious by the second) that the loungers in the park could double as a bed for a few hours. 

And then, we saw it. Like a vision. A dream: City Hotel Belgrade. Something drew us to the hotel’s door, and Katy went in to try her luck. The rest of us stayed at the door, fully expecting to be rejected like the last hotel. Katy stuck her head out the door after a few minutes and said: “Two twin rooms, €50 each. Get in here.” 

We were whisked into our rooms, extremely happy. Thank you, nameless saviour at the reception desk. You saved our trip. 

Once we rose at check-out time (only Richard made it down for complimentary breakfast at 10am), we cleared the Belgrade checkpoint by taking a rubbing of Nikola Tesla’s head (to varying degrees of success). Not before indulging in one of the most delicious bagels I’ve ever had in my life. And an iced Nutella latte that soothed my soul. So, if you’re in Belgrade, definitely drop in for a treat (and free wifi).

Now, onto Sofia! The 2:30pm bus from Belgrade (one of very few for the day) was full of Racers - I think we counted 24 in total. The bus station was a little weird - you had to pay for a token to enter the ‘platform’ where the buses were. And you had to pay in cash. Not ideal to get money out of the ATM  when you’re about to leave the country. About 10 minutes before departure, The Loose Units rocked up and completed our little Lupine/JFC troupe. 

A border crossing in the dark later, we arrived back in the EU and Bulgaria. 

There’s something you need to know for context at this point. The easiest way to get to Istanbul from Plovdiv (where we were heading next) was to catch the night train. But the tickets for that train are only sold in person at the train station. So, as soon as we rolled into Sofia after 10pm, Katy and Allan made the mad dash to the ticket office for their respective teams. Unfortunately for us, the attendant wouldn’t help - we had to come back at 6:30am to try our luck.

Thanks, Richard! 

Oh, before I sign off - we stayed in a really cool capsule hostel. As Katy said “it’s like sleeping in an alien’s womb.” Couldn’t have said it better myself.

Loose Units: Agent 79 and 131 reporting

After a restful night on a rock hard bed, and a refreshing shower (with cigarette smell curtesy of our neighbour), we left the hostel for a Serbian 20th century history walking tour.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and we could finally wear shorts. The mood was high!

We met a yellow umbrella wielding tour guide in the Republic Square. As the tour started, we quickly got a vibe that was not for us, we couldn’t hold three hours of dry Serbian history talk. After a few ‘tea-toe’ (Tito) facts, and a few JFC stickers handouts, we said goodbye to our guy - Novi.

We made our way to the Tesla Museum (not the car, the Nikola) to tick off the 4th check point. After some awfully scribbled rubbings, we headed to lunch at Mortar, a local restaurant reccommended by our hostel.

A schnitzel, risotto and awkward tip moment later, we picked up our backpacks and made a bee-line towards the bus station.

After a smooth 6 hour bus ride - where we bumped into team LARK - we finally made it to Sofia’s main station.

We braved the spooky metro station, and went straight under our duvets and called it a night.

Until tomorrow.

DAT Team:

Morning started a bit later than usual for us -- we all needed a rest after the previous night's scare. The plans for the day were to catch a train to Budapest, hang out for a couple of hours, and then get a transfer train to Novi Sad, in Serbia.

We took our time to leave the hotel, meeting a fellow traveller that had both gotten lost and lost his belongings the night before. After helping him text a friend, we hopped in an Uber to the station, planning on catching the 11am train.

When we got to the platform, we quickly realised we should've arrived early. People were queueing outside the train, and the ones that had gotten in were all just standing in between the carriages, trying to find a seat. It took us a few minutes to decide on skipping that train and getting the one after -- our timeframe to then get the bus in Budapest shortened, but still within reason.

With an hour to kill, we went to a café for breakfast, just a few minutes' walk from the station. We had decided to come back early to assure a spot on the train line. When we arrived at the station, though, panic overtook us as we noticed that the 12am train had been suppressed. We started doing the maths, which made us realise we'd have 12 minutes to move in between the train and bus station once we got to Budapest.

We waited patiently, went to print the bus tickets for the remaining trips we had planned, while hoping no more cancellations or delays would affect our plans.

The train arrived on time - the oldest model we'd travelled in, with 3x3 seat carriages that reminded me of Harry Potter.

Arriving in Budapest, we quickly called a cab and used Google Translate to let the driver know we had 8 minutes to make it to the bus station. He said he'd try his best to get us there, and he delivered. As soon as we saw the bus, I went running towards it and asked the driver to wait a couple minutes while my friends rushed with the bags behind. We stored our backpacks in the luggage compartment, not realising we'd need our passports (comfortably sitting in the bags) for the immigration checks at the border.

After a couple hours on the bus, it quietly came to a stop when we reached the Serbian border. It took more than 1h30 for us to finally be let out of the bus to go to the office so that our passports could get checked and stamped. In total, it must have been at least a couple of hours until we were back on the road.

After a quick stop in a gas station for munchies, we arrived in Novi Sad late at night.

Casinos and gambling houses sprinkled the street as we zoomed through to our hotel in a cab, which we paid for in Euros and got the change for in Serbian (they don't exchange metal!).

The area we were staying in was warm and youthful - cafés blasting music (on a Wednesday night!), popcorn stands sweetening the air, people just hanging out outside.

We dropped our bags off in our room (which had a super nice hot-tub that we didn't have time to try), before we headed back to the street for some late dinner. We walked about for a while, amazed with the little picturesque city we'd just stumbled with, happy that we decided to stop here for the night.

Most places were not serving food anymore, which worked perfectly for us, otherwise we wouldn't have had the chance to meet the most lovely and fun lady we'd seen in a few days. We saw people standing in line for an Index sandwich stand. Index sandwiches are a big thing in Serbia, or so we learned, and the fact that this woman was running a crowded place all by herself triggered us to stop.

When our turn came, she joyfully used her best English to communicate, mixing it up with Serbian words we had no idea what meant. Some girls waiting next to us offered to help with the translation, and we ended up ordering some classics that, honestly, were simply amazing.

People around us stroke up conversations, letting us know Novi Sad is a very popular destination with youths living in nearby areas.

We sat in front of the Name of Mary Catholic church eating our sandwiches. The fresh, warm bread hugged the ingredients and felt like the best comfort food one could've asked for.

There was still time for a quick drink before heading back to bed - we stopped in a bar on our way to the hotel, the stress from the previous' hours rush in between stations all gone.

Thursday, August 10th, 2023

LARK: Larissa again! It really feels like we’re on the home stretch now. Only 1 more city to hit before we head to our final destination. 

First off, I’ll put you out of our misery—the night train to Istanbul was fully-booked. Thanks again for getting up at 6am to try, Richard. 

So instead we booked spots on a bus leaving the following afternoon. That meant a whole day to get to Plovdiv, which is only about 3 hours’ by train down the road. Felt like luxury to have a bit of time. 

We walked to one of the only breakfast spots in Sofia, and about 20 minutes after we sat down, who walked in but the Loose Units! Spoiler alert: our two teams are pretty much now travelling buddies until Istanbul. 

After a spot of sightseeing, including frolicking about in some ancient ruins and going into the Cathedral (with a very strict man who seemed to be telling people off if they even looked at the art the wrong way), we headed to the train station. 

When we got there, there was something weird about the departures board. Our train was not only scheduled early, but was sharing the platform with two other trains. This made for a very high-stakes game of eeny, meeny, miny, mo. Luckily, we had the Loose Units to help us, as they’d arrived earlier. After telling us it was the red train (didn’t help), Allan came out onto the platform to help rescue us. We then found a free cabin to settle in for the ride to Plovdiv. 

The Bulgarian train experience was uneventful, mostly. Except for getting kicked out of the ‘first class cabin’. The only difference being red seats instead of blue. Oh, and the mirror wasn’t cracked. 

We de-trained at Plovdiv train station and trekked it to our hotel. Thanks to Katy’s Genius status on Booking.com, we bagged a couple of super cheap twin rooms right in the heart of the city. Unfortunately for us, the heart of the city is pretty far from the train station. So, off we went with our bags, trundling down the road.

The Loose Units had very kindly made a dinner reservation for all of us, so we settled in at Hemingway restaurant. Over an Aperol Spritz or two, we thought karaoke sounded like a great idea. Fast forward a couple of hours to our two teams singing our hearts out in front of a room of Bulgarian strangers. The footage will never be shared, don’t ask. 

All in all, it was a really fun night, made even better by our teams meeting up and sharing our trials and tribulations. 

Loose Units: Agent 17 Reporting today

Good morning from Sofia! After waking up in our hotel room and realizing check out wasn’t until noon, we decided to work from bed, in our PJs for a few hours. 

Bad news hit when we realized all the seats on our dream overnight train from Plovdiv to Istanbul were sadly already booked. That would mean another unfortunate 7 hour bus ride was on the horizon…

Nevertheless, we worked from 9:30 right until check out time, when we went out to explore Sofia. Our first stop, brunch at a cute restaurant called Boho, was when we first ran into team LARK again, already halfway through their meals. We ordered our food, exchanged competitive glances with the other team, and refreshed after a hectic few days of travel.

We left the restaurant and explored Sofia for a bit, popping into the beautiful cathedral, trapezing around ruins Fran found disappointing, and once again running into LARK.

We bought some souvenirs, then returned to the hotel to catch our 4:20 train to Plovdiv. Moderate madness ensued when everything was written in Cyrillic (including the platform number) and the train was leaving 5 minutes earlier than expected, but we made the train.

3 cabins, all compartments, in an old Soviet train car. It was pretty sweet, with some stunning views of the Bulgarian countryside included. Fran and Allan napped while Lauren (bless her heart) got some work in LARK’s compartment.

After 3 hours, we arrived in Plovdiv and unwinded for 30 minutes before going to dinner with LARK. A lovely team dinner at Hemingway led to loads of gossip, new food trying, and good vibes all around. It also resulted in talks of gelato, karaoke, and a casino…

We found the only gelato place open at 10:30 in Plovdiv, where Richard and I got ice cream while Fran (sadly) refused. Plovdiv’s pedestrian centre was really nice and, importantly, really lively on this Thursday night.

We went to our next stop: karaoke! This bar (whose name is in Cyrillic otherwise I would shout it out) luckily had a karaoke night on Thursday nights, so we were all set up. We downloaded an app, submitted our songs and waited our turns.

After some locals put up on an impassioned performance of Stan by Eminem and Dido, we each belted our hearts out to our picks. Beautiful Girls, Murder on the Dance Floor, Love Machine, some Lizzo, some Italian classics…

Eventually, we ended up upstairs on the dance floor. It was a bustling Bulgarian night, with plenty of dancing and free flowing refreshments, so the memory is only half there. But a fantastic almost end to a fantastic trip. On to Istanbul soon!

Until tomorrow. 

DAT Team:

Alarms went off a little after 7. We had an early bus to Belgrade, where we were due to visit the Tesla Museum for the race checkpoint, as well as meeting Stefan, an old teammate of ours. We walked the streets slower than we should have, and stopped for a TikTok filming before realising we didn’t have a whole lot of time to reach the bus station.

Once again, we were stressing out and using Google Translate to ask the taxi driver to rush us to the destination. Our tickets were printed beforehand, and when we got to the station, we still had a few minutes to spare.

We didn’t feel like risking it, so we headed straight to the electronic gates to scan our tickets and get into the bus–this is where it all started to go down for us. The QR code didn’t seem to work. We tried again and again, until an old man told us that we had to get into the station to get our tickets manually checked by someone from the bus company. I think, by then, we knew we were going to miss the trip, but we still tried our best to rush through the process. We had to wait for someone at the counter who could speak English, and by then the bus was gone. Kindly, the lady that saw us managed to get us another ticket to Belgrade, on a bus that would leave about 25 minutes after. That worked for us, as we still had a couple hours to spare between the connection that would take us to Nis from Belgrade.

The bus ride was quiet and sunny. We drove past sunflower fields, little villages with cyrillic signs, and finally made it to Belgrade, where our dear friend Stefan welcomed us to his hometown, waiting outside the bus. Stefan had worked for JFC a couple of years back, and we messaged him as soon as we knew Serbia was one of the checkpoints for the race.

Unfortunately, due to lack of availability of public transport, we only had around an hour to spend with him, which was spared driving around the city to get to the museum. His blue car zooming through the streets, we drove past the Belgrade Fortress, up and down busy streets, all of us impressed by the amount of green we were seeing, rays of sunshine gleaming through the trees.

We reached the Nikola Tesla museum some 15 minutes later–grabbed our sheet of paper and orange pencil to draw the emblem over, and still had time to meet a fellow racer, who spotted us as he himself was reaching the museum. With little time left, we rushed back to the bus station, feeling that we were taking advantage of Stefan’s generosity to drive us around, no time for drinks or a bite or anything in between. We were lucky he was there, though. Once we got to the station and went into the reception area to get our tickets checked (we weren’t risking it, this time!), we realised no one spoke English. His best Serbian put to action, Stefan’s words were undecipherable, though his hand gestures and facial expressions were enough to let us know something was up. And so it was.

Our bus had been cancelled, and there was no replacement.

Our tickets booked out all the way to Istanbul, it seemed to us it was impossible to make the connections if we didn’t reach Sofia by the end of the day.

Stefan was tireless. We sit in the garden outside, while he ran around the station, trying to get in touch with different bus’ companies to see if they had, somehow, a trip that could work for us.

Little piece of advice here: if you can, check the timetables in advance, and try to stay online if you don’t. We didn’t have internet data, and the plan that Tristan and Danni had purchased didn’t seem to include Serbia. Only when we connected to Stefan’s hotspot did we get the notification that the bus that was cancelled had had a replacement, leaving earlier than the original departure time. We didn’t make it, and we felt terrible. We’d spent money booking the buses all the way to Turkey, we’d spent time planning each connection thoroughly, and we couldn’t find a way out of Serbia that would get us to Istanbul by Saturday evening.

While we searched and researched every possible solution, Stefan ran around the parking lot asking cab drivers if they would drive us to Nis. Unsurprisingly, most of them weren’t up for it–it’s a 3-hour drive, after all, and they’d have to make it back home after dropping us off. One of them did accept the task, but Stefan advised us not to take the offer, as it seemed to him the driver might have asked us for a much larger fare after we got to the destination.

We knew that we were going to have to break the race rules if we wanted to make it to the finish line on time. Desperate, sad, and mostly disappointed, we recognised we’d failed one of our goals–so we booked a flight to Istanbul.

You can probably guess who drove us to the airport. Even though Belgrade departures’ waiting area wasn’t the most appealing place, at least we still had an extra couple of hours to hangout. And by sunset, we were whisking off on a Pegasus’ flight to Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.

Defeated, we snoozed through the flight, and I think all three of us felt sorry we wouldn’t have Bulgaria in our list of stops. But, like everything in life, our spirits were eventually lifted–and it didn’t even take that long. Landing in Turkey greeted us with warm and humid air. The walk from the city centre (where a bus transfer from the airport had dropped us off) to the hotel was enough to mesmerise me–an Istanbul first-timer. The chaotic rush of people from all sides, traffic screaming through the busy streets, and the lights from Taksim Mosque bathing the square told me everything I needed to know. In the end, I was happy and grateful to get an extra couple of days to explore this insane city of Constantinople.

Friday, August 11th, 2023

Loose Units: Agent 79 and 131 Reporting

Our eyes struggled to open as we realised we survived(ish) last night’s shenanigans.

One Loose Unit down, Allan and Fran headed to the 4th check-point of the race, in Plovdiv Old Town. 

After being graced by the hostel manager, who argued that we were CLEARLY too late to complete the check-point, we ripped our three pages from Murder on the Orient Express and went for a juicy burger.

We retrieved Lauren from the hotel room and we made our way to the bus station, where we would catch the last bus of the trip: Istanbul, we’re coming for you!

Already feeling comfy and set up for the 6-hour bus ride, the conductor came on and promptly decided to re-arrange everyone with a surprise seating chart. The bus was half empty, but apparently she felt it was necessary we mingled with strangers. At least we were gifted unexpected tiny cakes and water pots!

Some border-checks and passport-stamps later, we pulled in at Istanbul Esenler Otogarı. It was time for a treat, so we hopped on a 40-minute Uber ride to our hotel in Sultanahmet, rather than figure out how to navigate the metro. 

At this point, our stomachs had been complaining for a few hours and, luckily, Istanbul's food scene didn’t disappoint: we managed to have our first Turkish kebab at 11pm.

Before heading back to the hotel, Fran had a mission: to navigate the team around Fatih’s dark alleys to reach the prettiest terrace of the city: Mimar Sinan. A few cups of tea and taxi-negotiations later, our heads finally touched the pillow.

Over and out.

DAT Team:

When JFC decided to join the Race Across Europe, planning became a monthly part of our chats. Though there was little information about what places we were going to have to stop at, we all tried to come up with a list of destinations we’d like to visit. Some of us had booked their tickets home for Sunday, the 13th, and I committed to book accommodation until Tuesday, along with Katy, Fran & Tristan. Not much of a planner myself, I decided to stay in Turkey for an extra few days after the race would finish, deeply convinced that I wouldn’t want to go back any time soon–yea, I like cats, but Istanbul was never a bucket list place for me.

I had heard that Turkish food was amazing, but as a picky-eater (more on that soon), my expectations were low, as usual. We went to dinner at a place near the hotel we had booked for two nights while still in Belgrade. I trusted my mates to order for me, a strategy that had been working for the previous days, and it failed to disappoint–we were treated to some delicious Turkish classics, and I knew the next few days would be just as tasty to eat through.

That night, we went to bed early. It didn’t feel like just a few hours before we had been so distressed and panicky. With Tristan biting through watermelon pieces he picked up from a street vendor, we found ourselves strikingly comforted by everything this trip was yet to be.

We didn’t have plans for Friday–it was the last day DAT our team was by itself before we’d meet up with the rest of JFC on Saturday. We wanted to do some work after a quick stop at the hospital–we still had to get my stitches checked, and Danni’s bedbug bites weren’t getting any better. After socialising with some furry hospital visitors, we headed back to the hotel lounge and typed away our tasks before dinnertime.

We walked to the restaurant and back, the vibrant Friday night warming up, and went to a shisha bar to finish the evening off. Like silly teenagers, we smoke-ringed the night away, and in the hotel, stayed up talking until 5. The end of a journey, we chatted about how lucky we were to get along so well, and reassured ourselves we’d accomplished everything as we had intended to. That night, I dreamt of llamas, and for the weeks after, every night, I’d have dreams of being on the road again.

Saturday, August 12th, 2023

Agent 79 on duty for the last time...

Sleeping in meant no breakfast allowed this morning!

The team had to run to the Hotel Spectra before 12 not to miss James—the Race Director—for the last checkpoint.

We made it in time and chatted a bit with him, before heading to Sultanahmet Square for some well-deserved sightseeing. This was Allan and Lauren’s first time (and only full day!) in Istanbul, so visiting Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque was non-negotiable.

After queuing for 1 hour under the burning 1pm sun, we made it to the entry gate—just in time for the police to announce prayer time was starting. We would have to wait 1 extra hour before being allowed to enter as tourists.

We sighed but accepted our fate. Unfortunately, others weren't so patient. We started noticing people getting closer to the beginning of the queue, trying to sneak in— Allan was NOT happy with that. He started arguing with some of them, trying to redirect them back to the beginning of the queue.

It didn’t quite work. The police men didn’t care and when the gate suddenly opened, everyone rushed in. Lauren and Allan did love the mosques, though.

By the time we made it out of Sultanahmet Square it was already 4pm. We had planned to spend the night in an Airbnb shared with the other JFC teams, so—after a brief visit to the Grand Bazaar—we made our way to the new accommodation off Istiklal Avenue - Istanbul's busiest shopping street.

After settling in and taking a quick shower, we realised how starving we were and decided to rush to a Georgian restaurant (that team LARK had enjoyed for lunch and recommended to us!) for some khinkali and khachapuri. It had to be quick, since Lupine (the company who had organised the whole race) had planned to celebrate the end of the race on a Bosphorus sunset cruise, leaving at 7pm sharp from Eminönü’s docks.

A stressful taxi ride later, and it turned out we weren't actually late: the two other teams were! So, we sat on some comfy cushions and started a celebratory photoshoot. The two other teams made it to the cruise just in time for us to set off into the sunset. 

The night ended with a second visit to our favourite terrace—we just couldn't deny that view to the others!—are some drinks at an Irish Pub: Allan really wanted a Guinness.

Fast-forward to Sunday morning? Just two words: Turkish breakfast <3

DAT Team:

On Saturday morning, we checked out of the hotel and went for some typical Turkish breakfast before heading to the Airbnb we’d be sharing with the rest of the team. Meeting LARK after seven days was like having the trip come full-circle–we’d all been through so many ups and downs along the way, reaching the finish line together was the cherry on top.

We all hopped on a bus to take us to the boat Lupine had rented for the end-of-race event. With little time to make it, we almost stayed on shore, but made a run for it and boarded just as the boat was about to leave, while Loose Units waved us in.

Sun setting as we cruised down Golden Horn, we cheered with drinks, shared our most memorable stories, and greeted other racers as they were awarded their trophies.

Sunday, August 13th, 2023

DAT Team:

With most of our team leaving home on Sunday, we planned to gather on Breakfast Street for an all-you-can-eat goodbye meal. Tristan, Fran and I then headed towards the place we were staying in for the next two nights. We stopped at a little café that turned out to have an amazing, quiet back terrace where we enjoyed a cold drink while watching a cat-mother take care of her kittens. We had no plans for Sunday afternoon, and when Fran’s friend, Sahar, joined the group and invited us for a stroll around Istanbul, little did we expect that the day would turn into such a journey.

We took the boat over to the Asian side of Turkey–a much quieter area, though still pretty packed with tourists and families enjoying the weekend. Sahar took us to a little pastry place, full of delicacies and sweets that made it difficult to decide on what to have. We then left to a drizzly sunset, walked abouts for a while, and then went for an early evening tea by the water, before we headed back to the European side for dinner.

The thing about having a local with you is you get to places you wouldn’t otherwise find by yourself. Our personal guide introduced us to a quirky little family restaurant. After walking as much as we’d had, it was heartwarming and comforting to be served the tastiest falafel, and even tried a bit of food from the family’s own plate as they were having dinner.

Monday, August 14th, 2023

DAT Team:

On our last day in Istanbul, Tristan and I planned to visit some touristy spots in the morning so we could do some work in the afternoon. We set the alarm to 8:30, and headed to the Blue Mosque shortly after, hoping we could avoid much larger crowds. We still had to stand in line for a little over 30 minutes, but with the sun still shying away behind a cloudy morning, it was bearable.

Walking inside the mosque felt like entering a different atmosphere–literally, the air so dense and heavy was almost humid. Some men were praying in a restricted area, under a meticulously detailed and perfectly-maintained ceiling. As I placed my hands on one of the marble columns, I thought about the people who’d been there before me, who carried the construction of a place where so many would find comfort and peace. I would feel the same way a few moments later, while visiting the Basilica Cistern–hundreds of years of history coming together through age and humanity. I felt incredibly privileged, mourned all the hidden and faded things that didn’t have the chance to last for this long.

As I flew home to Porto the next day, crossing the entire length of Europe in just a matter of hours, a wave of saudade took me over–I was missing everything I’m yet to experience, but mostly all the moments I was lucky enough to be a part of.