Our time in Ukraine was an eye-opening experience. We met some wonderful people who invited us to see Ukraine from their point of view and I felt that was priceless. It wasn’t without its frustrations; my Mom can vouch for how often I called and regaled her with our latest train/bus/general miscommunications as we tried to pick up some of the Ukrainian language. But all things considered, we had a great time in Ukraine! So without further ado, here were my top five favourite parts about our travels in Ukraine!
Ahhh Slovakia! Imagine the dramatic peaks of the Tatra Mountains, hearty food, and medieval castles– does it get much better? Modern, thriving Slovakia is a popular destination for skiers, hikers, and those in search of a little peace and quiet, but if a good party is more your style go no further than Bratislava. Bordering five other European countries (Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Ukraine, and Poland) makes it a great platform to explore from, so don’t miss out!
Next up in my Top Five series… Austria! We spent about a month in Austria this past December, and though we visited only two cities, we still felt like there was something new to see every day. Nat and I both loved the tantalizing collection of chocolate and pastries available in every cafe and bakery, Austria’s transportation is amazing (although expensive), and their wiener schnitzel is delicious! So I hope you guys enjoy a quick list of five of my favourite places in Austria.
We spent a few weeks in Hungary, travelling mostly in the area around Budapest, and I loved it! It was a country I didn’t know much about, but I had been curious to know more for a long time. Especially with everyone raving to us about how incredible Budapest is, I was sold and I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. I will hopefully visit again, but for now, here are my top five things we saw this time around!
The Puszta Great Plains
The Puszta Great Plains is a large, incredibly beautiful region encompassing most of southeastern Hungary. We were lucky enough to be volunteering along the northern edge of the plains, quite close to Hortobágy National Park, and flocks of cranes flying overhead brightened up our mornings. The region is characterized for its grassy, treeless plains stretching out into the horizon, but famous for its bird-life, Hungarian Grey Cattle, and the Hortobágy Stud, one of just two breeding centres for Hungarian Nonius horses. While we didn’t manage to see one of the amazing talents of the csikós (mounted horse-herdsman, a.k.a. cowboys for horses) check out the (slightly cheesy) video above for a glimpse into this amazing tradition!
We dashed through Serbia in two quick, but busy bursts before continuing on our journey. The former Yugoslavian countries have a complicated relationship with each other, and it was really interesting (and sometimes a bit worrying) to see how influences of recent history are playing out. Local tensions aside, we had a fun time in Serbia and here’s a glimpse at some of the interesting things we would recommend seeing!
A Polish girl we met in Niš raved about Belgrade being her favourite city in Europe, she just loved it. She was a partier, and Belgrade, the city that never seems to sleep, was definitely the city for her! For Nat and I, we found the fortress more our speed (we’re so predictable, eh?). What I really liked about Belgrade Fortress is they have turned it into a diverse, community space with something for everyone. Restaurants, markets, parks, tank exhibitions, and even a dinosaur exhibit! So much fun, and what a great way to incorporate modern life into a piece of the past!
As I’m sure every visitor has said before, Montenegro is SO beautiful. I would go back again in a heartbeat. There’s something about the fact that there are hikes everywhere but no map to any of them that feels like uncharted territory. While the coastlines are dotted with some pretty ugly hotels, the incredibly blue waters make up for it. Our time in Montenegro was short, but oh so sweet, and here were some of the best parts!
Stari Bar is a romantic, ruin of a town perched above the modern sprawl of today’s Bar. The fortified town has had a tumultuous history, including sieges, explosions, and earthquakes! Today, people can wander through the ruins and learn about the city’s history in the little museum at the entrance. Nathanael and I found modern Bar a bit boring, but Stari Bar was well worth the trip by itself. We loved climbing over the old walls, trying to grab pomegranates sprouting in an overgrown kitchen, and exploring the ivy-strewn alleys. The views of the valley below are beautiful too, in a stomach-clenching, feet-tingling, please-don’t-let-me-fall kind of way. If you’re heading to the coast, check out the enchanting old town of Bar!
Want to go somewhere different? With some incredible scenery, friendly people, and wooden monasteries perched on mountains? Look no further than Bulgaria! I loved our time in Bulgaria, and I would say that it has some of the most beautiful natural landscapes that we have seen in Europe so far. Top that off with cheap beer and great vegetable markets, how could you go wrong?
Hiking in the Mountains
The Balkan mountain range is incredibly beautiful. Seriously, it took my breath away (in more ways than one, ugh, so steep). When the sun is shining you can see peak after peak stretching off into the distance, each fading to a lighter shade of blue the further they go on. Hiking along the roughly marked (or more often, unmarked) trails we came across goat herders, meandering herds of horses, and gravity-defying farm fields. We came across this hay field on our way back from a big hike and we couldn’t believe that someone could actually farm the slope. It may not look it in this picture, but I swear the incline was something like 45°! And check out that haystack, it’s so tall!
Our time in Turkey was filled with wonderful people, delicious food, and incredible experiences. We went out and saw as much as we possibly could, and here’s a small taste of some of my favourites from our adventure in Turkey!
Troy was an incredible experience for Nathanael and I; the setting of one of the most famous legends in the world. The English name wavered between Troy, Troya, and Truva, and locals seemed a bit bemused as to why we wanted to visit, but if you’re an ancient history buff it’s a must-see. They have pretty good signage all over detailing what kind of structure you’re looking at and from what time period it’s from (because the city has been rebuilt at least NINE times!). One cliff had signs slowly going down its height detailing at which “Troy” occurred in the sediment layers. Çanakkale is the nearest city to the site and is worth a visit too, you can pose with the Trojan Horse movie prop!
Thinking of heading to the Baltics? This is a little different from my other Top Fives because I’m combining Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia into a Baltics adventure addition. Please don’t hate me! We spent such a short time in the Baltics, but they’re so interesting that I wanted to write something. Each Baltic country was great, and I wish we had more time to do them each justice. So without further ado, my favourite spots we visited in the Baltics!
Who doesn’t love a beach side vacation? Jūrmala is famous for miles of beautiful, white-sand beaches and we loved taking walks between our community, Sloka, and the touristy district of Majori (whose beach has “Blue Flag” designation). We came kind of at the wrong time of year to do much swimming (as you can see by how covered-up I am above), but we did have a nice day where we managed to go in and the water was great! No seaweed in sight! The neighbourhoods of Jūrmala have different things to offer, my favourites were Kemeri, for the hot springs and parks, and Majori, for the wooden houses and restaurants (read more here). An affordable place to have a wonderful vacation while in Latvia, you should definitely check it out!
Poland is a country rich in culture and full of surprises. Nathanael and I spent about three weeks in Poland, but easily could have spent more if the Baltics hadn’t been beckoning. For people interested in history, Poland is a great country to visit; not only is it so rich in historical sites, but they’re easily accessible even for those on a budget. Just staying in Krakow for a few days we felt like we saw and learned much about Poland’s history and the people of today. Let’s not forget, the food is fantastic, don’t forget to check out the Milk Bars for hearty food on a budget! Anyway, without further ado, here were my favourite spots in Poland!
The Czech Republic! What an awesome country; beautiful, rich in history and culture, and we can’t forget the great beer! It was tough to narrow down my Top Five favourite things/places in Czech because we had so much fun. I didn’t even want to start delving into how much I loved the food and beer, because that would never end. But I did my best, so without further ado, my Top Five of Czech!
I knew that we would be spending more time in England with my brother so I decided to postpone judging my favourite spots in England, and I’m glad I did. The three of us saw some spectacular places on our whirlwind tour of southern England, so I hope you all enjoy!
Bath is such a pretty city, full of beautiful Georgian-style buildings and wide promenades. The Romans built the original bath house and temple complex around the natural hot springs, though they were likely enjoyed in its natural state long before they came. The Roman Baths have been modified several times over the centuries, but you can still find some remnants of the Roman structure within the foundations. If the admission fee to the Roman Baths is a bit steep for you, The Mayor of Bath Honorary Guides offers a great free walking tour which (at least on our tour) takes you to see the Sacred Spring from above. It’s also worthwhile just wandering around and admiring all the beautiful buildings, including the Royal Crescent and The Circus.
So I might be stretching the list a little bit here, but since we only spent a few days in Wales we didn’t get the chance to see too much (though not from lack of effort!). The Welsh are so lucky; Wales is GORGEOUS! We would love to go back and spend more time travelling around, ogling everything in sight. Without further ado, here are my top picks for Wales! Also, check out Scotland and Ireland while you’re at it!
Ahhh, the Emerald Isles! Ireland is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen, and I felt like we had barely enough time to scratch the surface. Still, enjoy checking out some of my favourite things we saw/did in our short stay!
Glendalough Valley is a glacial valley nestled in the Wicklow mountains south of Dublin. Filled with spectacular hikes and scenery, it’s also home to the Monastic City. The Monastic City is the remains of an early Christian settlement established in the valley n the 6th century. In addition to it being free to enter the Monastic City (always a plus), you can also use the ruin as a starting point for a walk along the lake or into the nearby mountains to get an even better view of the Round Tower. To top it all off, the nearby fields were filled with adorable new lambs when we went! So cute!
It has been a little while since my last top picks entry (Finland), so here is an overdue entry of my top five picks of Scotland! Honestly, we spent so much time in Scotland and saw so many amazing things that it was really difficult to narrow it down. So these here are just scraping the surface of all the cool things you can do/see/visit in Scotland!
We had an amazing adventure on the shores of Loch Ness. I mean, who hasn’t heard of the legendary monster of the deep? The cute little village of Drumnadrochit was a short bus ride from Inverness and is home to both Nessieland and the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition. We didn’t go into either of them, but we got some great pictures with the Nessie statues outside Nessieland. A short, scenic walk later, you can glimpse the ruins of Urquhart castle sitting on the edge of the lake. The lake is always a bit misty, no matter the weather or time of day, giving Loch Ness a mysterious air.
Nathanael and I spent about a month in southern Finland and absolutely loved it! Find below a few of the highlights (check out the rest of Scandinavia too with Norway, Sweden, and Denmark):
Suomenlinna, or Sveaborg, is the sea fortress on a series of islands near Helsinki. Work on the fortress began in the 18th century, and today is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. People actually still live there! The district of Suomenlinna has a population of 800 permanent residents. Nathanael and I had a blast trying to find all of Suomenlinna’s secrets. A fair number of the doors and tunnels have been left open, so the public can wander freely through the rooms and passages. There are also a couple of cute cafes and museums on the island to round out the whole experience. This is one of Helsinki’s most popular tourist sites, and it’s definitely worth a visit!
Frederiksborg Slot was built by King Christian IV in the early part of the 17th century. It was a bit of a train ride north of Copenhagen, but situated in a lovely little city of Hillerød it was well worth the trip! We loved the lived-in (and spooky) feeling of the rooms. It was easy to imagine the royal family gazing out the windows at the lake or beautiful gardens. There were walking paths out behind the castle leading to the well-manicured palace gardens (we had a lovely lunch) as well as rougher trails leading into the spooky forest (with a witch’s house! Or at least, we imagined it was 🙂 check it out). We could have spent all day wandering the palace and the grounds, well-worth the admission!
I wanted to do a quick entry about five of my favourite things we saw/did that I would recommend to anyone visiting Norway! Check out the rest of Scandinavia too at Sweden, Finland, and Denmark!
Hiking in Frognerseteren, Oslo
The paths were a little rough in some areas, but the hike was beautiful. Cute little signs were posted at every intersection to let you know where the various cross-country skiing and hiking paths led. I could see these trails being fantastic on skis in the wintertime. Partway through our hike we were bombarded with golfball-sized snowflakes, making it seem even more like a mysterious winter wonderland!