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.

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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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Venice

Just a little something from my previous travels. I think this is my favourite photo ever (if I say so myself), it just sums up so much.

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Wanderer

Venice

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This weekend I decided to disappear to Venice, just because. It was my way of celebrating my 21st; I met up with all of my lovely Italian friends who were kind enough to drive/fly/hitch/train it from all over Italy to Venice for one night just for me, and quite frankly, I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun!

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I went ice skating in Campo San Polo (every time I go to Venice there is something going on in San Polo, last time it was the incredible outdoor cinema), I tried my hand at steering a gondola… me and a friend later happened to find one that had been left unattended, so that brief lesson soon came in handy, and I met so many amazing people from around the world!

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I love Venice, I love the way it smells (and no it does not smell bad, not even when it was 40 degrees back in August, it just smells like seafood and summer and.. Italy), I love getting lost among the tiny streets and back alleys, I love the people and the markets and the boats and pining over designer handbags that are calling out to my credit card in the 101 designer shops scattered around the city. I especially love how healthy it is; walking everywhere, not having to inhale car exhaust fumes whenever I venture outside… and at night I can actually see stars in Venice! I just love everything about it! No doubt I’ll soon enough I’ll be zipping back there… perhaps in the Spring. I’ve seen Venice in the summer and winter.. I’d like to see it in Spring too.

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Of course, my camera had to accompany me ♥

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Christmas in Venice 1#

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Joie de Vivre… Part Two

Budapest
 
I admit to took me a night to warm to Budapest. When I arrived it was already dark, the train station was full of the types of people who only seem to emerge at night, the sort of people who you don’t want to bump into at night! Everywhere I turned people were trying to convince me to ditch my host Vanda and come and stay at their hostel instead, or they were trying to offer me lifts and bundle me into their car. I managed to catch the right bus to Vanda’s home but in the wrong direction, gave up, headed back to my starting point – the train station – and caught a taxi. On learning I was English, the taxi driver’s reaction was ‘ah! England! Manchester City! Liverpool! Arsenal!’ He didn’t seem to care that I have no knowledge or interest in football, I just let him ramble on about Wayne Rooney and David Beckham, and I think he felt pretty proud of his knowledge of English football clubs and players.
Vanda was a darling. She greeted me with pizza, which by this point I so needed. She pointed out places to go – and places to avoid – on a map, and just generally she was really lovely.
Budapest is a completely different city day to night. That first night when I arrived I really wasn’t sure if I could like Budapest, but when I woke up the next morning, I swear I didn’t even recognise it. I walked with Vanda into the centre of the city, and everything was misty and already it was far too hot for my then still pale-as-milk English complexion, and I ended up rather sun-burnt – the only day of the whole trip that I burnt.
Once she had finished work, Vanda showed me around the city, firstly showing me this amazing bar:
And then taking me up to Budapest Castle.
And finally to the city’s Statue of Liberty, my photograph of which can be seen on my ‘part one’ post.
Because I’d decided to spend an extra day in Prague and I had my flight to Venice booked, I could only stay in Budapest for one and a half days, but despite the rough start, I have definitely decided that I will be returning to Budapest to see the rest of it ASAP.
Especially as I spent my final morning before my flight at one of Budapest’s famous baths, but I only had time to spend about an hour and a half there – definitely need to come back and explore those little gems further!
Venice
As much as I loved pretty much everywhere I visited, I think Venice just about scrapes it’s way to the top of my ‘Favourite Cities’ list… if only it wasn’t so damn expensive!
When I arrived I had no map, no idea which part of Venice I was in, no idea where I could find internet access and no idea where I was sleeping that night – and only about two hours left of sunlight. I ended up in a fit of giggles that made everyone stare at me because I could just picture all of my friends in a complete panic and I felt like I should be a bit more anxious about things rather than casually strolling around, refusing to use a map (I mean it’s Venice  – the whole point of Venice is to get utterly and hopelessly lost) and just trusting that I would internet access eventually so that I could find a place to stay.
And I did, of course. Eventually I stumbled across a tiny internet cafe – or rather it was a normal newsagents-style shop with a few computers in the back room. I started chatting to an English teacher who was trying to arrange for his girlfriend to meet him in Paris, and she didn’t seem to be very organised.
My hotel was on the island of Giudecca – which I think is why it was so cheap – no one wants to have to cross the water on a ‘waterbus’ twice a day. These people chose wrong. By being on Giudecca rather than ‘main Venice’ (Dorsoduro, San Marco, S. Polo etc), it meant that I had an incredible view to wake up to of the ‘main islands’ – especially as my hotel was right on the waterfront, so in the evening we would all sit directly outside the hotel’s front door and watch this sunset:
which quite literally stopped me in my path when I first arrived at the hotel, dumped my things and coincidentally decided to go for a walk, not realising the time of day.
The view that greeted me first thing in the morning was damn beautiful too:
I sat around in the shade for hours, listening to this guy place the same piece of music over and over all day long – but it never got boring. I don’t know what the piece was, but it was beautiful ♥
I admit I didn’t go on a gondola – they’ve become too touristy and I tend to avoid anything horrible touristy. I did however enjoy listening to snippets of the gondolier’s stories about Venice’s history and their songs while sitting on the various bridges of Venice – especially the ones that lead to blank walls because then you can’t possible be in anyone’s way by sitting there!
I did, however, spend a lot of time in – for my first day – water buses and taxis, and after that, my friend’s boat. He even let me pilot it, but that nearly ended in disaster when I came far too close to crashing into a 500 year old building that already looked to be on the brink of collapse. After that I just sat back with my camera and enjoyed the view.
When I took this photo below, I was laughing because just on the opposite side of the canal was a very expensive restaurant, the sort where you have a musician – in this case an accordion player – serenading you while you eat. I laughed because they had paid an awful lot of money for, yes, good food, yes, enterainment, yes, shade from the sweltering heat, but I was sitting cross legged on the other side of the water, shaded from the sun by the buildings of Murano, I’d spent 7 euros on a delicious lunch of bread, cheese, ham, wine and – my favourite – raspberries, and I could hear the accordian player’s music just as clearly as them, but I didn’t have to feel obliged to pause my eating to clap, tip him, or just generally be polite and show him that I am listening to him.
I’m sorry but even if I had all the money in the world, I’d still choose to picnic in the shade alongside the canal, eavesdropping on the accordian player, any day.
My last photograph in Venice, which I took while waiting for my train. I found Venice almost impossible to leave. Definitely need to go back there ASAP. And no, to everyone who has asked me, Venice does not smell bad at all – it smells like the sea.

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