Wanderer

My European Top Spots.

It’s nearly April… I’ve been wondering where to spend my summer. While I’m looking at spreading my wings as far as Thailand or America (I know, completely different ideas there!) this year, I think I’ve definitely scattered my heart across different cities of Europe, including good old England. Then again… I tend to say that about pretty much every city and country I visit, so no doubt as I wander further afield, that list will just grow longer and longer.

I love the diversity of Europe; the array of cultures and languages and delicacies, the contrast of stark differences and intermingled traditions from border to border. There are some cities that I just find myself going back to again and again, and it never gets old – there are always new cafes serving coffee even more delicious than the last, more landmarks that I haven’t found the time to visit yet and beautiful little streets that are deserted but for myself and the occasional knowing local.

This wasn’t easy at all, but I managed to order my unruly top 10:

1. Paris. For years Rome held this top spot, but France’s capital has rather snuck up on me over the years – every time I go I love it more and more, even if I’m literally just passing through on a train, and somehow, it overtook Rome. Yes, the people can at times be a little snooty, but most of the time the snooty-ness that I have witnessed against tourists is purely because they are not meeting Paris’ standards – arriving in Paris in dirty clothes and Birkenstock with a tatty rucksack on your back is not going to make you the darling of the city. It’s quite like trying to wear jeans and a t-shirt to a ball. Everyone makes an effort in Paris, even if it is in that je ne sais quoi, ‘I just fell out of bed’ Parisian sense. They’re experts at putting in a lot of effort in looking effortless. Try to blend in, and that snooty-ness will disappear. Or so I find. 

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2. Rome. See, my ex-top spot has not slipped far. I love history. I love art, architecture, literature and the renaissance, all of which can be found on every corner of Rome. I feel comfortable walking around the city without getting lost – I can act as tour guide to fellow travellers. There’s no better feeling than realising that you know a foreign city. It’s not just a place that I have visited a few times anymore. I’ve always been and will continue to be lured to Rome for its history, its art, its food and its coffee. Yes, yes, yes and a very big yes from me on those fronts!

My one pet peeve when in Rome? Arrogant, metrosexual Roman guys who still live with their mothers well into their thirties. They linger around Trevi Fountain in droves. Huge, huge pet peeve of mine.

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3. Prague. When I first visited Prague, I didn’t really know what to expect. It’s just not a place that I have looked into too much before I arrived at  Hlavni Nadrazi station. Until then my Pinterest (what came before Pinterest? Good old fashioned cut-and-paste scrapbooks?) had been full of photographs of Paris, Rome, Athens, The Great Pyramids, Macchu Picchu and Buddhist Temples. I’d always planned to visit Prague, but somehow looking at what it was like never occurred to me. The beauty of the place blew me away. It’s a perfect blend of East and West European; some streets could easily pass for France or Italy – or even England, when suddenly you’re surrounded by Eastern European architecture, Czech music ringing through your ears and people drinking brands I can’t even pronounce.

Also, Prague is one of the most beautiful cities at night.

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4. Venice. Yes, it’s quite a pricey city, but then I’ve found that I can still keep my budget low – Venice is not a city teaming with museums and must-see sites with expensive ticket fares like other touristic cities. I’m also not big on souvenirs, which could prove to be super pricey if I were. Venice is the city I head to if I want to see Italy, without the hustle and bustle of Rome or Milan or – to some extent – Florence. I tend to avoid the few busy spots of the city – St Mark’s Square and Ponte di Rialto. Two or three streets from these Venetian hot-spots, and you’ll find deserted streets, a woman beating sheets over her balcony perhaps, the occasional cat, but otherwise you’re entirely alone. No cars, no noise. It’s wonderful.

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5. Florence. Yes, Paris may be my number one city, but Italy is clearly my number one country. Florence is a nice balance of everything I love about Italy. It’s not as mad as Rome, or as busy and metropolitan as Milan, and while it has that same peace as Venice, it’s gifted in sprinkles rather than spades. It is quintessential Italy in the country’s best region: Tuscany – I love taking day trips from Florence to explore the beautiful surrounding countryside.

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6. Lisbon. I tend to yo-yo between Porto and Lisbon when choosing my favourite Portuguese city, but right now, I’d choose Lisbon. It’s true what they say – ‘Porto works and Lisbon plays’. Things are much more relaxed in the south, and people seem to mysteriously work less and yet are richer. I do have one issue with Lisbon – its treacherously slippering paving stones.

Praça Duque Terceira Cais Sodré Lisboa Portugal Calçada à Portuguesa Roc2c Portuguese Pavement stone white black pedra

Seriously, I had to buy a new pair of shoes just because wearing my sandals or ballet flats was about as effective as wearing Cinderella’s glass slippers. Otherwise you pretty much have to choose between risking your life by walking in the road, or risking your life because every step could end in a broken neck.

Still, Lisbon is beautiful, not majorly touristic and yet not entirely isolated to the lone traveller who doesn’t speak a word of Portuguese – like me. Actually, that’s a lie. I can say thank you. I think thank you is the most important phrase to learn in every language. Even more so than hello.

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7. Budapest. Another city that I had little knowledge of – like Prague. I knew it to be cheap, but that’s about it. Yes, it is cheap, though as tourism grows, so do those prices. The architecture is sophisticated, the people are sophisticated – but for a few old men who linger on park benches whistling at passing women. So many people have apologized for ‘the habits of the older generation’ – honestly, it’s fine. Clearly they have never passed a building site in the UK. The famous thermal baths are wonderful. I recommend visiting the bath houses during winter – it’s instantly even better when you’re lounging in the steaming water watching the snow fall outside.

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8. Barcelona. I’m not a fan of gaudy Gaudi, but of course, his architecture makes Barcelona what it is. I find it amazing how we all flock to see a building that is not due to be finished until 2026. I mean, of course, La Sagrada Familia. However, one place where I feel Gaudi’s unique style does work within the city is Park Güell – also the spot of my favourite (yet discovered) view in Barcelona. In Park Güell you will find pianists, violinists and musicians of instruments so exotic that I don’t even know what they are. They claim a spot and play beautiful classical pieces to entertain tourists and locals alike. It’s quirky and amazing.

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9. Vienna. A haven for museum-geeks like me, my favourite being the Sisi museum; a museum dedicated to the life of Empress Elizabeth of Austria. It’s cleaner than Paris and Rome. It’s more efficiently run than England, but it’s not as frustratingly perfect as a few cities I have been to; so perfect that they no longer feel real. Also, the people who live there are unbelievably lovely.

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10. Off the beaten track. Finally, while I could go on and on about this city and that city, for me, one of the best parts of Europe is the little villages whose names I never learnt before I moved on to the next. I love the lakes, beaches, rivers and hills. I’m a country girl as well as a city girl, and I love rambling around woodland and climbing hills to see the view at sunset. So if you’re going to Europe, don’t just stick to the ‘must see cities’.

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Wanderer

I’ve never been a fan of Spain, but Seville, oh!

Ok, nothing against Spain, but I’ve just never liked it. I starve every time I go there because I hate the food, I almost keeled over with shock when I found out that Zara – one of my favourite fashion stores – is Spanish, and the men are just… urgh. It’s not for me. Give me France or Italy any day!

However… when I arrived in Seville. Or rather, not specifically Seville, that was just another Spanish city; beautiful architecture, but then you eat the food and talk to the people and.. it all falls apart. But more specifically, Plaza de Espana. Yes, I know I just said, the architecture is beautiful and then you eat the food and get hit on my slimy men who think they’re god’s gift to woman and it all falls apart, and here I am talking about more architecture.. but hear me out.

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I love travelling, but after a while, it becomes a bit repetitive. And I know that I’ve only been travelling this time for a few weeks, and I shouldn’t have hit this point yet, but it’s like, I’ve never refreshed from my last travels, travelling as become such a big part of my life for so long that it’s just become like ‘ok, here we go, life is great’ rather than ‘holy shit everything is so wonderful and magical and wow’ to the point that you’re pretty much high from purchasing a flight ticket or realising that your coach has crossed a border. This time, I’ve been walking around, and yes, it’s all beautiful and exciting, but.. and then I walked into Plaza de Espana, and I suddenly had that wow feeling for the first time in a while.

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I could have either ran around photographing every single little detail to give you an idea as to how intricate and beautiful this place is. But that would be insane, so just trust me when I say, visit Seville. I spent about 3 hours there on 3 different days, just sitting, doodling or scribbling down one of my shoot ideas or some other creative fibble-fabble. And, what I loved most about Seville is that yes, it’s touristy, but not too touristy. Plaza de Espana was never crowded with people; not even close. And that’s a nice change from places like, the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum. It’s very peaceful.

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And the best part? I met some lovely, lovely people in my hostel, and one of them is going to come and visit me next week.

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Quirky Corners of the World: Setenil de las Bodegas

The narrow streets of Setenil de las Bodegas are set into a narrow gorge in the Province of Cadiz, Andalucia, Spain

Built along the narrow river gorge and into the gorge walls itself, Setenil de las Bodegas is an quirky little town in Spain, about 70 miles south-east of Seville. With a population of about 3000, people have been living in the narrow little ‘houses’ for years, though really they are nothing more than facades, the inner walls being those of the gorge rocks.

Ready made homes! Many of the houses are built into and under the walls of the gorge itself

This place is definitely on my ‘to see’ list. I think I’ll pop by on my way from Portugal to Morocco, apparently the restaurants are among the best in the region, famous for its olive oil, honey and jam.

Definitely on my ‘to visit’ list.

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Joie de Vivre… Part Six!

Finally, my last post!
Madrid
 
Maybe it’s because right now I don’t exactly feel 100%, but I feel like I have run out of things to say.. about everything. I can’t say I am really a fan of Madrid, I found everyone rude and unwelcoming, but then I’ve heard so many good things about Madrid – and Spain as a whole, most of my friends adore it there, I can’t help but feel like I must have just been unlucky… maybe I’ll go back one day and see if I feel differently about it.
However, I did find myself some beautiful parks, and the Palace is incredible! I swear I spent about three hours (actually judging my what my travel journal says I think it was five minutes but I remember it being more like three hours) just sitting on the steps outside the palace listening to someone playing the guitar (it seems a lot of my clearest/fondest memories seem to involve music, usually someone just there, casually busking away), staring at the palace.
 
Porto
 
Porto, another place that now has my heart ♥
When I arrived in Porto, I was completely exhausted – I think I was finally feeling the toll of the past five weeks, moving around so much, walking pretty much none stop (I don’t know what is wrong with me, even when my feet are bleeding I find it really difficult to sit still for more than a few minutes) from generally around 8am-midnight on very little sleep – though I loved every moment of it, by the way!
I love Porto mostly because it is so rugged and rough around the edges, and I don’t mean ‘rough’ as in it’s a rough area, though I’m sure there are parts of Porto that are, just like there are in every city, but it had the ‘crumbling but still beautiful’ feel to it, like Venice. While I was there, one of my hosts mentioned to me that 70% of the houses in Porto are derelict, and after that I couldn’t help but notice them everywhere, it’s really sad.
 
Maybe one day I will start renovating properties in Porto 😉
Another reason to love Porto: Five euro music festivals! I have absolutely no idea what they were singing about most of the time, but still, it was an amazing two nights. And I was able to go home to a nice warm bed at the end of the night, rather than camp out in a muddy field like my friends back home were at Leeds at the time.
Mostly I loved Porto because the people I stayed with were just so incredibly lovely. Phelgo especially is a sweetheart and they all made me feel so welcome… I have to go back and visit ASAP… I’ll add it to the list!
 Maybe if thinking wasn’t such a challenge right now this post would be better. Maybe I’ll re-write it when I feel myself again and find the time, but as my lovely friends keep asking to see ‘the last batch’, so voila 😉

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Joie de Vivre… Part Five!

Barcelona
 
Barcelona is a funny sort of place. It’s just everything all at once: it’s beautiful and yet ugly, everyone is friendly and yet… not so friendly, the food looks great but then it doesn’t actually taste particularly great, and, what I found strangest of all, it has a way of being full of life and equally just… dead. It simultaneously puts me in one of my happy, ‘desperate to absorb every ounce of energy, emotiona and passion that this city has to offer me’ traveller moods and yet make me eager to pack up and move onto the next city.. bore me even. I couldn’t quite get my head around Barcelona.
Still… there were a few little spots that completely captured my heart. I loved sitting in the little park behind Sagrada Familia just as the sun was setting:
I loved it because despite being right in the heart of the city, it was just so quiet and still.
I also love Park Guell. It’s so incredibly beautiful! I loved that there was music everywhere; you walk around one corner and stumble across someone playing the violin, you walk further down that path and just as the sound of the violin has faded, you find someone playing the piano, walk further still and there’s someone playing an instrument that I don’t even recognize!
I love how every inch of the park has been carefully thought out and designed and yet it manages to look wild as well. The whole park is just art. I could live there, I could build myself on of my floaty, drapey fabric tents and live right there among the flowers – I could decorate my tent with flowers and blend right in!
Bordeaux
 
Every single photograph that I took while in Bordeaux was, in my opinion, perfect; the lighting, the colours, just everything. It was just perfect, and I have added it to my ‘to live in’ list, which is getting so long that I think I’ll have to start working my way through it the moment I finish university! After all, it’s only going to keep on growing longer the more I travel! It already looks something like this from this trip alone!
  1. Rome
  2. Venice
  3. Florence
  4. Cinque Terre (I think either Riomaggiore, or, because it’s amazing for cliff diving, Manarola)
  5. Prague
  6. Zurich
  7. Paris
  8. Bordeaux
  9. Montpellier
  10. Porto
It was quite tricky getting to Bordeaux from Barcelona, what with cancelled trains etc. The original plan was to go from Paris to Bordeaux, to Montpellier, then to Barcelona.. but as I’d had to spend an extra day in Paris, I decided to skip Bordeaux… only to then decide while in Barcelona that no, I really want to see Bordeaux now, and so I turned around!
Still, with two connecting trains, I was also able to spend a few hours in Toulouse and Narbonne, both of which I would have missed out on otherwise:
When I finally arrived in Bordeaux, it was past midnight. Until about 10 or 11pm I’d had no idea where I would be staying that night, and people kept looking at my strangely as I sat in Toulouse and laughed because I again imagined how much my friends back in Derby would be panicking if in that situation, and yet I felt completely relaxed.
Luckily, a photographer friend of mine, Jonathan, and his girlfriend Pauline were kind enough to let me sleep at Jonathan’s home for the night, and Pauline was even lovely enough to show me around the city the next day. Thank you again!
 
We ate the most amazing meal of my life and a quaint little restaurant, with local wine of course, we laughed at the broken machinery of France and just at everything really, and I think this was actually one of the best days of my whole trip. I’m completely in love with Bordeaux.
Also, I wouldn’t have visited Bordeaux at all had one of my friends not recommended it to me when I first mentioned this little adventure of mine months and months ago, so thank you for that 😉
I especially love this photograph (if i say so myself!):
I definitely need to hurry up and get back to Bordeaux ASAP! Firstly because I wasn’t lucky enough to see the lovely Oce while I was there, so I need to go back and see her, secondly because I’d like to see Jonathan and Pauline again, thirdly because I need to taste more of the amazing food and wine, and finally, simply because I am in love.
I also need to visit Toulouse properly, for more than a few hours. At least I already have someone to host me there (or at least I will once he himself flies home from Derby), and no doubt I’ll be flying over to visit soon enough.
I’m itching to use my passport again already.

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