Tag Archives: europe

Germany

We were running out of time on our Schengen visa once again and after a bit of a scare at the Greek border we weren’t going to take any chances. So we only had 12 days to do Germany the best we could. We’d decided on Berlin for four days, Munich for three and a night in Hamburg before flying to Spain but we hadn’t chosen our last location.

Leaving Ryan and Audrey was hard. We had already got used to being with friends, not having to cart our backpacks from one hostel to another and the thought of going back to that made us both uncomfortable. But hey, that’s what traveling is all about, being pushed out of your comfort zone.

So it was off to Berlin. Berlin was one of those cities that I had always wanted to visit and had relatively high expectations of. It definitely lived up to its name.

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The hostel we had chosen was right where we wanted to be, walking distance from all of the action.

We booked ourselves onto a Sandemans free walking tour straight away and had the best morning learning all about the history of Berlin.

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Absolutely crazy to imagine everything that went on in one city and not that long ago.

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While we were in Berlin we made sure to check out all of the typical tourist haunts, taking the obligatory photos and indulging in some currywurst and good German beer.

I had a sobering visit to Sachsenhausen without poor Adam who was sick on the day.

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The World Cup was also on, and Germany was going strong. So we made our way to Alexanderplatz Square where we watched the game with 60,000 people in the pouring rain.

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Our second stop in Germany was Munich. It wasn’t as cultural as Berlin but we joined a pub-crawl (Sandemans again) on our second day and had so much fun checking out the beer gardens with our German guide.

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He was very knowledgable and the group of people who were also on the tour made it a really fun experience.

Our third stop in Germany was a big surprise. Dresden was a last minute decision for us and we ended up staying there for three days and having a wonderful time. The city had so much history, culture and was very well set-up for tourism. We also found a cute little cafe serving ‘flat white’ coffees which made every day there all the more enjoyable.

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The Balkans – Part One

Bulgaria, Macedonia and Kosovo

Adam and I knew very little about the Balkans before we started travelling through them. We had been told by numerous travellers that they were interesting, inexpensive and less touristy than the rest of Europe which made them quite appealing to us. We worked out that we had roughly 26 days before we were allowed back into the Schengen areas of Europe so we decided to squeeze in as much of the Balkans as we could before we made it up to Italy for the start of June.

As we left Istanbul we began to feel nervously excited about exploring new places and travelling more quickly than we were used to.

First up was Bulgaria. This was a great introduction to the Balkans. The capital city of Sofia had an excellent hostel and we fell in love with the city and its people straight away. We also weren’t complaining about the dramatic drop in prices.

We spent our first day enjoying Sofia, seeing the famous cathedral and hanging out with the locals in little cafes we stumbled across. The atmosphere in the city was relaxed and jovial. There seemed to be a lot of young people out and about, students and workers alike. We later found out that it was a long weekend and most people were on vacation.

The Rila Mountains were high on our list to do in Bulgaria and we were not disappointed. The forest and mountains were beautiful if not freezing. We hiked to a little church that used to be an old hermits house. There was a cave there which supposedly cleansed people of their sins if they squeezed through the narrow opening out to the other side. Naturally we had to give it a go.

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The Monastery up there was a highlight. Amazing to think that monks were practising out there in such a remote place for hundreds of years. It was a little more touristy than we would have liked but it was completely worth the trip.

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After only three nights in Bulgaria, we moved onto Macedonia’s capital city, Skopje.

Skopje is obsessed with statues. There are hundreds and hundreds in the main square and surrounding area. Apparently it is a sore point for locals as they constantly battle the government over desperately needed funds spent on beautifying the city instead of other projects. But it was pretty impressive. I stopped count at 30.

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Again, Adam and I were surprised by the young and social locals. Everyone seemed to be eating out or drinking, catching up with friends and strutting the latest fashion in the main square.

I had the most amazing gnocchi I have ever eaten in Skopje of all places after the waiter assured me it was made that afternoon, turns out Macedonian wine isn’t half bad either!

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Lake Ohrid was where we spent the rest of our time in Macedonia. We stayed in a quiet and inexpensive little apartment on the hill overlooking the old town.

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The place was beautiful. There were numerous restaurants and cafes lining the massive lake and cruise boats that would take you out to the Sav Naum monastery that sat on the border of Albania on the other side of the lake. We had to do it and had a ball exploring the monastery and surroundings.

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The lake well and truly lived up to the hype and we even managed to get sunburnt despite the chilly temperatures.

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We weren’t originally planning to visit Kosovo but decided to do a night in the capital, Pristina, on our way to Montenegro. This ended up being a great decision. There wasn’t much to do in the town sightseeing-wise but the cafe scene was awesome – Adam will tell you he got the best coffee he’s ever had in Pristina, Kosovo.

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The hostel we stayed in was having its 1st anniversary since opening party and we had an amazing/drunken/late night talking to locals, expats and other travellers. We felt sorry that we hadn’t allowed more time to explore Kosovo or the rest of the Balkans for that matter but we were having a fantastic time in the places we managed to get to.

Our next stop: Montenegro!

Seville

Seville is a beautiful city. It took us 3.5 hours to drive there from Monachil and we had to leave early in the morning as daylight is fleeting here in Europe.

We arrived and the first thing we thought was how spacious the main streets were. Our agenda for the day was to visit the Cathedral and the Alcazar before enjoying some tapas and then driving home. It sounds almost not worth it considering how long we had to drive to get there but it definitely was.

We found an underground car park close to the Cathedral thanks to my sister Meg’s boyfriend Matt who had brought his TomTom which has proved to be invaluable whilst trying to navigate the streets of Spain. And we walked up towards the Cathedral which was very hard to miss. The architects of this amazing building said in 1402, ‘we are going to construct a church so large, future generations will think we were mad.’ And they weren’t exaggerating. The cathedral, which took a century to finish, reminded me of those sand castles you would build at the beach dripping wet sand to form steeples. When you entered the main part of the church, the sheer height of the ceiling and the size of the pillars quite literally take your breath away. We climbed up to the highest bell tower which resulted in most of us breaking a sweat and looked out over the city of Seville. It was quite hard to imagine what it would have looked like 500 years ago before the cathedral was built.

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Next we visited Seville’s Alcazar which was built in the early 1300’s. We spent a couple of hours exploring the beautifully decorated rooms and gardens and Adam got lost at one point which was hilarious. It was similar to Alhambra in it’s design and Islamic influence but unique in its own way as well.

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At this stage our stomachs were rumbling and we made our way through the narrow streets into central Seville to find a restaurant famous for its tapas.

And we weren’t disappointed. The place we decided on was called Vineira San Telmo and it was amazing. It invented the rascocielo, which is a tower of roasted tomatoes, eggplant, goats cheese and smoked salmon which was a highlight and came out in very generous portions. We decided to order two tapa each and some of us shared whilst some of us didn’t. Some of the selections included foie gras with caramelised peanuts, squid ink pasta with scallops, slow cooked duck breast, seared Japanese-style tuna and the list goes on. We walked out very full and extremely satisfied. Price-wise it wasn’t the cheapest we’d experienced in Spain but at 15 Euro each (including drinks) we couldn’t complain.

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