This article is an entirely fictional, imagined, account of a potential reading week trip.
Desperate to find the most exciting way to spend Reading Week, I undertook an ambitious task: seven days and seven destinations – all for less than one hundred pounds. After scouring maps and guides looking for the most incredible and unusual places on the continent, I mapped out a journey. I would start at the Perth and Kinross village of Dull before crossing the North Sea to Gouda, Netherlands, trekking to the mountains of Stoos, Switzerland, moving onward to Camogli, Italy and Monaco, going west to El Rocío, Spain and then north to Aran Islands, Ireland, and then finally returning to St Andrews.
Day One: Arriving in Dull, I felt my pulse start to race upon seeing its welcome sign: “Welcome to Dull, Paired with Boring, Oregon, Please drive safely”. The village boasts a handful of churches, bed and breakfasts and beautiful views across the rolling glens. Though just a few streets, there is plenty to keep a visitor busy in Dull. The paintball centre was a tempting option but I opted to visit Highland Safaris instead. Priced at a steep £50 per person, I was able to join an American family’s tour free of charge after some small talk.Driving around the Highlands in the back of a Land Rover Defender and keeping an eye out for eagles, deer and other wildlife I couldn’t help but think to myself “this is anything but dull”. However, despite the fun I knew I had to keep to the itinerary and made my way to the nearest port to hop on an overnight cargo ship to Rotterdam.
Day Two: Arriving in Rotterdam on Sunday morning with no time to spare, I borrowed a spare bike and set off for the cuisine capital of the Netherlands: Gouda. Not just home to the world-famous cheese, Gouda is also the birthplace of stroopwafel and boasts countless fry stands. It is not the greatest destination for those looking for a health conscious weekend away.
“Sweet or savoury first?”, I wondered to myself as I cycled along picturesque canals and winding mediaeval streets. This was quickly answered for me as my eyes were taken by the sight of a building painted in a delicious looking shade of yellow. I reluctantly parted ways with €16 and headed into the Gouda Cheese Experience. In fact, it was money well spent. I learned the secrets of Gouda from a certified Cheese Master, took part in virtual milking and, of course, ate as much cheese as I could.
Feeling satisfied but looking for dessert I headed to the Syrup Waffle Factory. I paid the €9.95 entrance fee which came with a tour and one complimentary waffle, too few in my opinion. I bought an extra package of waffles and a wheel of cheese which I craftily used to replace a flat tire on my bike and set off towards my next destination.
Day Three: After cycling through the night, I arrived at the foot of the Swiss Alps to the sounds of yodelling and the swishing of skis on the fresh powder. It was time to say goodbye to my bike and hello to the Stoosbahn, the steepest funicular in the world. The slightly bizarre looking round circular cars rotate to keep the floor steady as the funicular climbs 2,441 feet and approximately one mile from Schwyz to Stoos.
Arriving in Stoos, I strolled into the quaint, car-free village wondering what was in store for the day ahead. First, I decided to go for a hike to take advantage of the sweeping views of Lake Lucerne and the surrounding mountains. Blessed with a stunning location, Stoos sits virtually on a cliff edge and the lack of automobiles makes the village like something straight out of a fairytale with the snow-covered ground interrupted only by winding walking paths and wooden chalets.
Though a ski ticket was out of my strict budget requirements, I was able to find two old timey wooden skis and sneak onto the chair lift. I enjoyed an afternoon bombing down trails and dodging Bernese Mountain Dogs. Feeling peckish after all that activity, I picked up the largest Toblerone I could find and headed up the chair lift one more time. Waiting for me at the top was a hang-glider – my next mode of transport, and an ingenious way of making out down out of the mountains to my next stop.
Day Four: Soaring over the Alps I felt a million miles from the world below me and knew I was saving so much time and money by avoiding impractical plane and train travel. On my hang-glider I was unstoppable. Unfortunately, I was perhaps a little too unstoppable and as I approached my destination, Portofino, a sudden gust of wind took me away from the iconic Italian town and dumped me instead in Camogli, the next town along the peninsula.
Though initially frustrated by the unexpected change of plans, I was soon won over by the charms of Camogli, from its beautiful beach to the charming, pastel coloured old town to the far cheaper food and drink prices than I would have encountered in Portofino.
Camogli is a classic seaside town boasting a beautiful harbour, a maritime museum, and a fish festival every May. Though it was too early to see the fish festival firsthand, I was able to do the next best thing – visit the Giant Frying Pan of Camogli. The frying pan, weighing 28 tons and six metres in diameter, is used to cook enormous quantities of fish during the festival (though technically the one on display is no longer used for cooking). Overwhelmed by such an incredible feat of engineering and culinary innovation I left the pan behind and headed to the waterfront in search of a yacht that could take me to my next destination.
Day Five: Heading into the back half of the trip I was determined to make the most of my remaining time. What better way to start than a free ride on a super yacht from Camogli to Monaco? Though initially hiding in the crews’ quarters, I was able to catch a glimpse of one of the passengers. It was Chelsea owner Todd Boehly celebrating a job well done during a busy transfer window.
“Hello Mr. Boehly, blue is the colour!”, I said, approaching Todd and his entourage at the back of the boat.
“Any Chelsea fan is a friend of mine,” Boehly replied as I took a seat and a glass of Champagne.
We were quickly approaching Monaco and I couldn’t help but wonder what was in store for me and my new friends in this playground of the rich and famous.
Getting off the boat and walking into the city I felt a strange energy – compared to the charms of other European cities, Monaco felt rather soulless and sterile and the ubiquitousness of the expensive cars, shops and restaurants made me feel like my £100 budget was in jeopardy.
Fortunately, Todd and his crew were happy to cover my expenses. Together we enjoyed a day driving around the course of the iconic Grand Prix and exploring the Musée Oceanographique before hitting the Monte Carlo Casino for an evening of gambling and opulence.
“I have one more thing for you”, said Todd, leading me out behind the casino to a balcony overlooking the Mediterranean. “Borrow my helicopter – as a businessman I know the importance of staying within your budget. I want to help you stick to yours.”
With a firm handshake and a nod, we parted ways. I was soon flying over the French Riviera, heading towards the penultimate stop of the trip.
Day Six: As the sun rose on Thursday morning the helicopter touched down in southwestern Spain in the beautiful village of El Rocío in Andalucía. Though just an hour’s drive from Seville, El Rocío feels a million miles away, with its dirt roads filled with as many horses and donkeys as cars. Like a town pulled straight out of a Sergio Leone film, El Rocío’s whitewashed buildings and sleepy squares lend themselves to a slower, calmer pace of life and a unique opportunity to see an incredibly well preserved, traditional Andalusian village.
Adding to the adventures is the nearby Parque Nacional de Doñana. Known for its unique biodiversity, the park is one of the few places in Europe where flamingos live and breed in the wild along with the exceptionally rare Iberian Lynx. Wandering back from the national park towards El Rocío a lone 4x4 trundled past me followed, a few minutes later, by a man and his donkey.
“Not enough isolation”, I thought to myself and knew exactly where I needed to go for my last stop to get away from the hustle and bustle of El Rocío and its 700 residents. It was at this moment that I happened to notice two flamingos taking off in unison, at which point I grabbed a leg each and essentially did a reverse Ratatouille, using the legs to steer the flamingoes through the air and over the Atlantic Ocean.
Day Seven: Just as my arms were starting to tire, I spotted what I was looking for – a straight line of islands jutting out off of the Irish west coast. I released my flamingoes and pointed them in the direction of a nearby Puffin colony where I hoped they could start a new life for themselves.
I had arrived at the Aran Islands, specifically Inishmaan, the most sparsely populated of the three with a mere 183 residents. About as isolated as one can get in Western Europe, the island is a patchwork of green hills and rocky outcrops and boasts a local population still using Irish as the main language.
With there being not much in the way of activities on Inishmaan I decided to spend €3 on a pint of Guinness at a pub and wandered over to a nearby cliff to have a seat and reflect on my week. It may have taken some luck, and required essentially not eating any meals, but I managed to spend even less than my £100 goal – all while exploring some of the most interesting corners of Europe and avoiding ever using a car, plane or train. Though some may prefer a more relaxing week off, anyone looking for adventure and variety need look no further than this itinerary for a reading week to remember.
Illustration: Sarah Knight