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Archive for July 2017

5 Days in Split 

Other than Dubrovnik, Split is probably the best-known and most popular city in Croatia. It’s a lively, vibrant city with a thriving backpacker scene, and it definitely warrants a visit of at least a few days.

Split, Marjan Hill

I felt like this post needed more selfies, so here I am on Marjan Hill overlooking Split

 

So what is there to do in Split? I would say the only attraction within the town of Split itself that you absolutely must see if you visit is Diocletian’s Palace. It was built for the Roman emperor Diocletian 17 centuries ago and is still in remarkably good condition. Today the palace is full of market stalls, shops, and apartments. You can spend a considerable amount of time wandering around its ancient walls.

Split, Diocletian's Palace

Of course you want to know about the beaches in Split. The most popular beach in the city is Bačvice beach, which is also the closest one to the town centre. It’s not the nicest beach ever (i.e. only a small part of it is sandy), but it’s still quite picturesque and will fulfill all your beachgoing needs just fine.

Split, Bačvice Beach

There are also lots of other beaches in Split if you care to go for a wander. I visited two other beaches a little further from the centre: Zvončac and Ježinac. Neither of them has sand, but I thought they were both pretty nice beaches.

At Zvončac you have to lay your towel out on rocks like this:

Split, Zvončac Beach

Ježinac is a lot closer to being a sandy beach. It has tiny pebbles instead of sand, but at least you can lay your towel out flat on the ground.

Split, Ježinac Beach

As far as nightlife goes, Split is great. There are a few different companies that run a pub crawl every night. The one I went on, which I highly recommend, is called the Tower Pub Crawl. It was by far the biggest pub crawl I’ve ever been on. I was expecting maybe 20 or 30 people to show up, but there were actually about 200 pub crawlers. One of the leaders of the crawl told me that on some nights they have as many as 400 people! The pub crawl costs 150 HRK or 20€ and it includes all-you-can-drink alcohol for the first two hours. (It also includes free pizza. Bonus!) I wish I could tell you about all the bars and clubs that you can expect to visit on the crawl, but as it turned out I got so hammered at the first place we went that I had to be wheeled home in a shopping cart. (True story.) I was having an absolute blast before I started violently puking my guts out though!

If you stay in Split for more than a couple days, you definitely have to take a day trip to at least one of the islands close by. I went to two of them: Brač and Hvar.

Brač’s claim to fame is a beautiful beach called Zlatni Rat. Apparently it’s the most photographed beach in Croatia. That statistic sounds like it would be impossible to determine for certain, but I for one couldn’t stop snapping pictures of this place.

Split, Zlatni Rat

The ferry from Split takes 50 minutes to reach Brač and drops you off in a town called Supetar, which is on the opposite side of the island from Zlatni Rat. To reach the beach, you have to take a bus from Supetar to a town called Bol (a 50- to 60-minute ride). From the bus stop in Bol, walking to Zlatni Rat is super easy. You just follow a one-mile paved road along the coast. No map required!

As lovely as Brač is, Hvar is even better. If you only have time to visit one of the two, make it Hvar. In order to get to this gorgeous island, you will either take a catamaran to Hvar Town (65 minutes) or a ferry to the town of Stari Grad (2 hours). Hvar Town is what everybody comes to see, but it’s easy to get there by bus if your ferry docks at Stari Grad. Buses meet the ferries, and the ride takes about half an hour. Hint: On the way to Hvar Town, try to get a seat on the left side of the bus (the side the driver sits on). That’s the scenic side!

Split, Hvar

The best photo I was able to take while speeding along in a bus

The first thing you should do when you arrive in Hvar Town is to climb the steps up to the fortress that overlooks the town. The steps begin right at the main square, near the place where you get off the bus from Stari Grad, so they’re super easy to find. You can’t miss them. Plus, the walk up to the fortress is not the least bit strenuous, like I thought it would be. Once you get to the fortress, you’ll have a breathtaking view of the island and the glittering sea, dotted with boats.

Split, Hvar

Once you get back to the town, enjoy wandering at leisure through all the narrow cobblestone streets full of art galleries, jewelry stores, and souvenir shops. I wanted to take a picture of pretty much every street and alleyway I saw. They’re all so cute!

Split, Hvar

And of course, you have to walk along the lovely waterfront and take pictures of all the boats moored in the harbour. What’s more picturesque than dozens of little boats bobbing on a turquoise sea?

Split, Hvar

One of my favourite parts of Hvar Town is the City Cemetery. I actually stumbled upon this gorgeous graveyard completely by accident while I was wandering aimlessly through the streets of the town. I walked among the gravestones for several minutes and took a million pictures. I was the only living soul in the cemetery the whole time. It was so peaceful.

Split, Hvar

In short, I greatly enjoyed the time I spent in Split. The city is fun, vibrant, and perfectly situated for day tripping to beautiful islands.

Next stop: Dubrovnik!

3 Days in Zagreb 

I wasn’t expecting Zagreb to be a particularly exciting city. I had heard that there wasn’t a whole lot going on there, and that’s why I only booked three nights in the city. (I rarely book fewer than three nights anywhere.) To be honest, I’m sure there are a lot of things to do in Zagreb that could have kept me occupied for a couple more days, but the weather prevented me from doing much. It was unrelentingly hot the whole time I was there, and I was soaked with sweat all day, every day. You just don’t feel like doing anything when you’re practically baking alive, you know? So unfortunately, I didn’t make the best use of my time in Zagreb. It’s not as boring a city as you would think, but I couldn’t have the time of my life with that hot Croatian sun bearing down on me constantly.

I did manage to walk around the city a little bit at least, and there are definitely some sights worth seeing.

There’s a narrow alleyway just off the main square that leads to some steps you can climb. The view from the top of the steps isn’t the most amazing I’ve seen, but it still makes for some nice photos.

Zagreb

Zagreb

Zagreb

It’s also quite pleasant to stroll through the Upper Town and admire all the old architecture. How cute is St. Mark’s Church? (I love churches with colourful tiled roofs.)

Zagreb

My main reason for going to Zagreb was to take a day trip to the stunning Plitvice Lakes National Park. I had seen so many pictures of this place that made it look like pretty much the most beautiful place on Earth. I had really high hopes for Plitvice Lakes.

As it turns out, the park is just as beautiful as it looks in pictures. It’s also very, very, very crowded on any given afternoon in the middle of July. There were so many people in the park that it was almost impossible to stop and take a picture without holding up traffic. It felt like we were all being herded along like cattle. As you can imagine, this seriously lessened my enjoyment of the park. It was extremely disappointing because I had been looking forward to seeing Plitvice Lakes for so long. Don’t get me wrong — I still enjoyed my time in the park very much. I saw some truly incredible scenery and got some great photos out of my visit. It’s just that I would have enjoyed it more if I had actually had space to walk around freely.

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

Zagreb, Plitvice Lakes

As you can see, the park is gorgeous. Just don’t expect to have it all to yourself!

To sum up, Zagreb and Plitvice Lakes are both totally worth a visit. Just be prepared for extreme heat and massive crowds (at Plitvice Lakes) if you go in the middle of summer!

A Week in Budapest 

You’re probably aware that Budapest has a reputation for being a party town. The city is filled to the brim with party hostels where the staff take guests to a different party every night, and nobody is sober after 8pm. 

I stayed at Grandio Party Hostel, one of the best-known party hostels in Budapest. It was my first time ever staying at a true party hostel, and it did not disappoint. On my first night, two of my roommates decided to have sex right in the middle of the floor in our dorm room. Seriously. Right in the middle of the floor. Other people came into the room while they were going at it, and they just kept going as if they didn’t even notice. It was nuts. We all had a good laugh about it the next morning after the pair had checked out. 

If you visit Budapest, you definitely have to go to the Budapest Boat Party that happens on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I went twice during my week in the city, and I had an absolute blast both times. If you stay at a party hostel like Grandio, you’ll pre-drink in your room or at the hostel bar with fellow hostel guests. Then when it’s nearing party time, hostel staff will escort everyone to the boat. The boat sets sail at 10:30pm and cruises along the Danube until about 1:00am, at which point everyone heads to an after-party at one of the clubs in town. You’ll see some of the city’s most important buildings all lit up and sparkling as you sail down the river, chatting and dancing with other partygoers under the stars. It’s truly a magical experience. On Wednesdays it only costs 5,000 HUF (about $24 CAD) to attend the party. On Mondays and Fridays it costs 9,000 HUF, but you get unlimited free alcohol on the boat. 

Here’s a selection of the best photos I was able to clumsily snap while staring in drunken enchantment at the scene drifting by me:

Budapest, boat party

But of course, there’s so much more to Budapest than crazy nightlife. I had a fantastic time exploring the city during the day. It’s truly an incredible place. 

If I had to pick only one building that you absolutely cannot miss when you visit Budapest, it would be the Hungarian Parliament building. What an incredible feat of architecture this thing is. It’s actually the third-largest parliament building in the world.

Budapest, parliament building

Another amazing building in Budapest is St. Stephen’s Basilica, the largest and most important church in the city. Take a minute to gaze upon this Neo-Classical beauty:

Budapest, St. Stephen's Basilica

For a great panoramic view of the city, climb the basilica’s 300+ steps to the top of its dome, then gaze in awe at this fantastic view:

Budapest

And if views are your thing (and how could they not be?), there are plenty of places in Budapest where you can get your fill. Firstly, you can climb up Gellért Hill, where the Liberty Statue stands, and see this:

Budapest, Gellért Hill

Even better is the view from Fisherman’s Bastion, a neo-Gothic/neo-Romanesque terrace on the Buda side of the city. The terrace itself, with its beautiful towers and archways, is a must-see attraction in its own right. But combine it with that view of the parliament building and the Danube way down below, and you’ve got yourself some stellar photo opportunities. 

Budapest, Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman’s Bastion is situated right next to Matthias Church, which just might be the most beautiful church in Budapest. Seriously, how pretty is the roof on this thing? 

Budapest, Matthias Church

Make sure you also pay a visit to Heroes Square, one of the most important public squares in Budapest. I was amazed at how spacious this square is. There was tons of room for me to whip out my selfie stick. 😉 

Budapest, Heroes Square

Right behind Heroes Square lies the lovely City Park, where you will come across the adorable Vajdahunyad Castle. If this thing doesn’t look like it came straight out of a fairytale, I don’t know what does. 

Budapest, Vajdahunyad Castle

Budapest is an absolute gem. Thanks to Grandio Party Hostel, I had more fun in this city than I’ve had in any other place I’ve visited on this trip so far. It’s going to be especially hard to hand in my key and say goodbye to this place tomorrow morning.

Ah well. On to Zagreb, Croatia! 

A Week in Vienna 

I was super happy to be in Vienna after spending nine days in Salzburg. Don’t get me wrong — Salzburg is a lovely city, but you can hardly even call it a city; the population is about 150,000 and nightlife is all but nonexistent. Vienna, with its 1.8 million residents and its constant activity, was like a breath of fresh air.

I stayed at Hostel Ruthensteiner, which gets two big thumbs up from me. It’s a really nice, clean, social hostel, perfect for solo travellers and located less than a 5-minute walk from Westbahnhof train station. It has a bar and lots of common space, including an outdoor garden area, so it’s a good spot for chilling and meeting new people. 

Vienna Hostel Ruthensteiner

The garden at Hostel Ruthensteiner. (It will be full of people in the evening, I swear.)

I would say the number one thing that sets Vienna apart from other cities is the magnificence of its buildings, especially its several palaces. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a city with as many palaces as Vienna. It seems like there’s one on just about every street corner, and they’re all fabulously grand. 

The first thing I did after checking into my hostel was to go and see the city’s most famous palace, Schönbrunn. I was amazed by the grandeur of this building, its huge courtyard, and its lovely park and grounds. It’s definitely one of the most impressive palaces I’ve seen. 

Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace

Make sure you walk through the garden and all the way up the hill opposite the palace, where the gloriette stands. (A gloriette is basically just a building erected on a hill for the purpose of affording a view of the surroundings.) I was too cheap to pay for a ticket to go up to the top of the gloriette, but the view was pretty great even from the base. I can only imagine how impressive it must have been from the top. 

Vienna, Schönbrunn Palace

Perhaps equally as impressive as Schönbrunn Palace is Belvedere Palace, which was originally built as a summer residence for Prince Eugene of Savoy and now houses the Belvedere Museum. 

And if you still haven’t had your fill of palaces, why not check out the opulent Hofburg Palace too?

But of course, there’s more to Vienna than just palaces. One of the most recognizable landmarks of the city is the magnificent St. Stephen’s Cathedral, located in the very heart of the city at the Stephansplatz metro stop. This church is so big, I couldn’t fit the whole thing in one picture. 

If you read my post about Salzburg, you might remember that I met a girl there from California. Well, by some fortunate coincidence, not only did we spend every day together in Salzburg, but we also left Salzburg for Vienna on the very same day! So of course we ended up hanging out quite a bit in Vienna as well. And it just so happened that the company she works for had given her a $250 gift certificate to spend on cool experiences while she was travelling. And guess what? She used part of that gift certificate to take me to a Mozart concert at the Vienna State Opera! (The tickets were €50 each, BTW. Yeah, I owe her big time.) Attending a concert at one of the world’s leading opera houses was an incredible experience. In fact, just being inside this magnificent building was pretty awesome.

In short, Vienna is a fantastic city. It’s classy and sophisticated without being stuck-up. It’s extremely clean and ultra-safe without being boring. My week here went by way too fast, and I’m a little bummed to be leaving today. But on the other hand, I’m totally stoked to be spending a week in Budapest after this. I’ve heard it’s a magical city. Of course, I’ll let you know how it goes!

9 Days in Salzburg 

When planning my trip, I chose to spend the most time in Salzburg out of any city on my itinerary. (I ended up staying longer in Berlin, but that was only because my passport got stolen just when I was about to leave.) The reason that I chose to spend a whole nine nights there was the wealth of incredible day trips that could be taken from the city. I can’t think of any city that has better day trip options than Salzburg. Plus, I’m a diehard Sound of Music fan, so Salzburg has always had a certain attraction for me. 

Salzburg itself is a lovely city, but it’s also pretty small. You probably won’t need more than two or three days to explore Salzburg proper. Of course, you have to visit Mirabell Palace and its lovely gardens, where the Von Trapp children pranced around to “Do Re Mi.” 

Salzburg, Mirabell Gardens

Salzburg, Mirabell Gardens

Salzburg, Mirabell Gardens

Salzburg, Mirabell Gardens

Salzburg, Mirabell Gardens

Salzburg

Another thing you definitely can’t miss is a hike up to Hohensalzburg Castle, which looms over the city from its perch on Festungsberg hill. The admission fee is outrageously expensive (€9.20 for an adult), but the views from the castle walls are insane. 

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

Salzburg, Hohensalzburg castle

I couldn’t stop staring at that incredible view. 

You’re probably wondering about one of Salzburg’s best-known attractions: the Sound of Music tour. Originally I had no plans to take the tour because even though the movie is one of my absolute faves, I don’t like tours in general, and this one sounded especially cheesy. But I ended up meeting a really cool girl from California whose boss had told her that the Sound of Music tour was pretty much the most fun thing she’s ever done. She was super stoked to take the tour herself, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so I bought myself a ticket. 

To be honest, the tour was a bit of a let-down. I mean, it was cool to see all the different sites connected to the movie, but a lot of them you can get to on your own either by walking or taking a city bus. I had a good time on the tour, but I don’t think it was worth the €42 price tag. (I got my ticket for €37 because I stayed at the Yoho International Youth Hostel and booked the tour at their reception.) If you’re only staying in Salzburg for a couple of days, then taking the tour might be a good idea for you because otherwise you won’t have time to see all the places the tour takes you. But if you have a significant amount of time to spend in the city, you should probably skip the tour and explore at your own leisure. 

As far as nightlife is concerned, Salzburg doesn’t have much, unfortunately. I wandered around pretty much every night with the Californian girl I met, searching for some signs of life among Salzburg’s eerily quiet streets. We were almost always disappointed. There are definitely bars where people drink and socialize, but these tend to close pretty early and the streets seem to be always empty at night. So if you’re looking to have a wild night out, Salzburg probably isn’t for you. 

As I said before, the reason I chose to stay so long in Salzburg is the wealth of awesome day trips you can make from the city. If I had to pick one as the best, I would definitely say Berchtesgaden, Germany. There are two things here you have to see: Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and Lake Königssee.  

You’re probably asking, “WTF is Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest?” Well, let me tell you, because it’s pretty amazing. It’s a chalet way up on the top of Kehlstein Mountain that was built for Hitler’s 50th birthday in 1939, and intended to be used as a tea house for diplomats. The views from the top of the mountain are killer. You can see as far away as Salzburg! Check out these photos:

Salzburg, Eagle's Nest

Salzburg, Eagle's Nest

Salzburg, Eagle's Nest

Salzburg, Eagle's Nest

Salzburg, Eagle's Nest

Salzburg, Eagle's Nest

Amazing or what? 

Not only are the views incredible, but the Eagle’s Nest is also super easy to get to. All you have to do is walk to the train station in Salzburg and take Bus 840 all the way to the last stop, which is the bus station in Berchtesgaden. (It’s only a 45-minute ride.) Buy an all-day pass from the bus driver for €10 so that you can ride the other buses in Berchtesgaden for free (except the special shuttle bus to the Eagle’s Nest). From the Berchtesgaden bus station, take bus 838 to the Documentation Centre at Obersalzberg, then cross the street to take a shuttle bus to the mountaintop (€16.10 roundtrip). From the shuttle bus parking lot, you can either take an elevator to the very top of the mountain or walk up the footpath. The whole trip is super quick — I took the 9:15 bus from Salzburg train station and was at the top of the mountain by 11:30. 

A trip to the Eagle’s Nest is also very easy to combine with a trip to Lake Königssee, also in Berchtesgaden. From the Berchtesgaden bus station, the lake is only a 10-minute ride on Bus 841 or 842. (Use your day pass to ride this bus for free.) Trust me, you want to visit Lake Königssee. It has the clearest, most brilliant emerald-green water I have ever seen. Look at this beauty:

Salzburg, Lake Königssee

Salzburg, Lake Königssee

Salzburg, Lake Königssee

Salzburg, Lake Königssee

Salzburg, Lake Königssee

Salzburg, Lake Königssee

 Have you ever seen lake water like that? I haven’t. 

The other must-do day trip from Salzburg is Hallstatt, a gorgeous little village in Austria’s Salzkammergut region that looks like it belongs in a fairy tale. Seriously, it seems just like the sort of town Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs might have lived in. It takes a little bit longer to get to than Berchtesgaden, but it’s still an easy day trip. Just walk to the Salzburg train station, take bus 150 to the train station in Bad Ischl (90 minutes), then take a train from Bad Ischl to Hallstatt (30 minutes). Once you get to the Hallstatt train station, you take a very short ferry ride across the lake to the village. This is what you’ll see when you get there:

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

Salzburg, Hallstatt

 “Pretty” doesn’t even begin to describe Hallstatt. 

Oh, and by the way, the bus ride from Salzburg to Bad Ischl (where you get on the train to Hallstatt) is one of the most scenic ones I’ve ever taken. You’ll drive past the majestic Lake Wolfgangsee, which comes in the most striking shade of turquoise I have ever seen. My eyes were glued to the window as we drove along, and I couldn’t snap photos fast enough. 

Salzburg, Lake Wolfgangsee

Salzburg, Lake Wolfgangsee

Salzburg, Lake Wolfgangsee

Salzburg, Lake Wolfgangsee

Salzburg, Lake Wolfgangsee

Salzburg, Lake Wolfgangsee

It was hard to take decent photos because the bus was zooming along so fast, but you get the idea. That water is BLUE. 

In summary, Salzburg is a fantastic place to go if you want to get away from it all. What it lacks in nightlife it makes up for with the great day trip possibilities it offers. I really enjoyed the nine days I’ve spent here, but I’m looking forward to being in Vienna tomorrow. I’m ready to be back in a big city after being in sleepy Salzburg for so long. As always, I’ll let you know how it goes. 😉