Late last year I flew into Paris with a backpack, a rail pass and only a vague inclination of where I’d be heading. Two months, 3,300 miles, several dozen train rides and 23 cities later, I chugged into a dimly lit Belgrade station aboard a train from Montenegro with just one day to spare before my visa expired. I took more than 4,000 photographs over the course of the trip — here are 10 of my favorite.
1. Paris, France
The Parisian summer was brutal. I’d been warned of a lingering heat wave before my arrival, but nothing could prepare me for those 100-degree evenings — not even a lifetime of South African summers. After an ill-advised afternoon walk through Montmartre, the cool interior of the Sacré-Cœur provided the only respite from the simmering sidewalks outside.
2. Rhone Alps, France
The beautiful canalized town of Annecy, set on the shores of a glistening lake and beneath soaring mountains, did not disappoint me. This photo captures a quiet moment, somewhere high up in the Rhone Alps when I witnessed a father valiantly attempting to fly a kite for his young daughter. That scene will always stand out to me when I think back on this trip.
3. Zermatt, Switzerland
I’d been in Zermatt for three days and had yet to have a clear view of the Matterhorn. The hotel receptionist assured me the famous mountain was hiding somewhere behind the clouds. On my final morning, just minutes before a cross-country train ride, I found a few minutes to sit on the balcony in the cool morning air to wait for this precise moment — when the Alpine sun turned the iconic peak several shades of orange, before eventually illuminating the sleepy resort town at its base.
4. Lucerne, Switzerland
Golden hour in Switzerland is unlike golden hour anywhere else in the world. These swans, sailing quietly beneath the famous covered bridge, seemed to appreciate it just as much as the greedy photographers lapping up Lucerne’s last light.
5. Bohinj, Slovenia
The footpath surrounding Lake Bohinj was eerily quiet. Save for the occasional whoops from paragliders above, the only other constant sound audible from beneath the trees was the quiet whooshing of canoe paddles cutting through the shimmering surface.
6. Ljubljana, Slovenia
Unless you’re aware that the heart of Ljubljana is totally car free, it’s quite possible you’ll stand in this location, atop one of the famous three bridges, wondering just how the middle of a European capital city could be so peaceful.
7. Rovinj, Croatia
I’d been tipped off about the best sunset spot in Rovinj earlier that day. When I made my way down to the water’s edge the sky was already starting to shift shades, but it was as the sun slipped beneath the last of the clouds that an explosion of color had me conflicted between reaching for my camera, and putting it away to absorb the spectacle that was unfolding before me.
8. Split, Croatia
I followed the sound of harmonizing male voices from a bustling Split courtyard beside the Cathedral of Saint Domnius. I soon found the source of the singing in the acoustically perfect Vestibule and stood there enraptured. It was only by good fortune that I decided to look up, which was when I noticed the bell tower of the cathedral peering back down at me.
9. Fort Vrmac, Montenegro
I reached Fort Vrmac after a steep two-hour hike and peered through the iron bars of the abandoned Austro-Hungarian military base. A persistent drip echoed deep in the darkness, and my heart beat a bit faster. No good story comes from almost doing something, so I found an open window, powered up the torch on my cell phone, and stepped gingerly into the abandoned building. I found this room somewhere on the second floor.
10. Somewhere between Bar, Montenegro and Belgrade, Serbia
The rickety old train had been chugging inland for several hours up to a terrifying height on the side of a sheer Montenegrin cliff when the landscape burst to life. I stepped over the outstretched legs of my fellow travelers and made my way to the window. I pushed it down and stood there with my face in the cool autumn wind alternating between soaking up the experience and trying, usually in vain, to capture in photographs what was without a doubt the most dramatic railroad experience of my life.