Out of all the wonders we’ve witnessed in our travels through Europe, our workaway experiences have been the most memorable. In Finland we lived with an alternative community, constructed a yurt and worked on a straw bale home. In Hungary we helped renovate a 200 year old adobe brick house. We walked dogs through the Balkan mountains, babysat 3 kids in Vienna, helped bring back a lost garden in Scotland, and made caramelized sugar schnapps in Poland. We built relationships with people across the continent through the opportunities provided by work exchange organizations. Workaway forced us to get off the beaten, tourist trail and experience what we would otherwise have ignored. Our 18th and final workaway experience, within our 22 month European journey, began on the island of Crete. It was in the seaside town of Stalida one evening where we met the hyperadobe earth building visionnaire, Michael.
What are we eating in… The Balkans!
I want to start by saying that we LOVED the food throughout the Balkan region. Think rich soups, stews, grilled meats, and pies flavoured with paprika, garlic, and fresh vegetables. This feels like cheating a little bit because the “Balkans” encompass a large, diverse region of eastern Europe. The Balkan Peninsula is surrounded by the Adriatic, Mediterranean, Marmara, and the Black Seas and more or less encompasses all of southeastern Europe. For simplicity, I’ll be talking more about some of the foods we enjoyed in the core region of the Balkans, namely Albania, Bulgaria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia.
Bologna is known by many names because it’s a city with a high reputation. It is called “La Grassa” (the fat one) for its famous rich and fatty cuisine. A view from one of its many towers will show you why “La Rossa” (the red one) perfectly describes the earthy hues of Bologna. The nickname “La Dotta” (the learned one) tips a cap to the University of Bologna, the oldest operating university in the world. With all of this acclaim and more, Bologna has a lot to be proud of.
It’s hard to know where to start with all that Munich has to offer. Bavaria’s capital and largest city holds the bar high as an economic powerhouse, popular tourist attraction, and a major centre of arts and culture. Despite being bombed into oblivion during World War II, Munich has rebuilt itself stronger and better than ever. In 2015, Munich was rated fourth city in the world with the highest quality of living. It’s a home to global corporations like BMW, Allianz and Siemens and has the lowest unemployment rate in Germany. Its historic architecture, rowdy beer halls and elegant parks make Munich a desirable place to live, play, and visit. Oktoberfest, the largest folk festival in the world, alone attracts 5 to 7 million tourists to Munich a year. All things considered, Munich seemed to be the perfect place to end our Bavarian adventure!
Bamberg has stumbled out of a medieval fantasy, trailing the seductive, smoky scent of Rauchbier behind it. If enchantment is the game, Bamberg is top of its class luring you in with hearty food and Bamberg’s distinctive smoky beer. The entire Aldstadt (“Old town”), with its medieval flair and distinctive photo ops, has been designated a UNESCO heritage site. Each of Bamberg’s seven rolling hills are topped with its own church and often a bevy of other historic landmarks. Our couchsurfing host from Nuremberg dropped us off one sunny day, and I couldn’t have been more excited to get started exploring.
Nuremberg is a beautiful German city with a checkered past. The second-largest city in Bavaria, Nuremberg’s exquisite, timber-frame buildings and dark beer bring tourists thronging all year-round. The old town in particular is well-preserved and beautifully captures the image of traditional Bavaria. That’s not even mentioning that Nuremberg has been a thriving hub culturally, artistically, and economically for centuries. It was the centre of the German Renaissance and birthplace of the great artist Albrecht Dürer and composer Johann Pachelbel (Pachelbel’s Canon, anyone?). Yet what made Nuremberg such a successful urban entity is also what attracted the interest of the Nazi party.
It’s hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind of exciting sights, scents, and flavours when you’re exploring somewhere new. Croatia is no exception, with its mouth-watering blend of Mediterranean and Balkan flavours we were all in heaven as we sampled ćevapčići alongside pršut, fresh seafood, and vinegar-seasoned salads. One surprise flavour that we didn’t expect to find in Croatia was truffles. While France, Italy and Spain come to mind more quickly when you hear “truffles” and “truffle-hunting”, the forests of Istria actually boast several species of truffles, including some of the most valuable. In fact, Istria is the only area outside of Italy where the winter white truffle occurs (one of the two species that have stock prices for export worldwide), and is most common in the forests of the river valley surrounding Motovun. Finding ourselves already heading to Motovun, it seemed only natural for us to take advantage of the upcoming truffle season and do some hunting for the golden fungus!
What are we eating in… the Czech Republic!
It’s been awhile since I’ve written one of these so I thought it would be fun to post another delicious article to make everyone hungry! Food in the Czech Republic is hearty, meaty, and rich, and you WILL inevitably gain weight on your visit. Blending their own flavours with that of the neighbouring Balkan countries, Hungary, Germany, and others, popular Czech dishes and sweets can be found throughout Europe. Their beer alone could be an article in itself. But for now, enjoy this little glimpse into some food and drinks you need to try when you find yourself in Czech.
Top Five of Bosnia and Herzegovina
Bosnia and Herzegovina was in the back of my mind for a long time before we finally decided to visit. Initially when we were planning our trip we had put it on the back burner, unsure about the state of things, and wanting to focus on other places. I’m so glad that we put it back on the table, because I would definitely put it on my list of favourite countries we have visited. The people were lovely, the food delicious, the natural beauty was more incredible than I’d ever imagined, and just overall it was a fantastic experience. Here are just a few of the highlights of our tour of Bosnia and Herzegovina!
Our first stop in Bosnia was, of course, Sarajevo. Sarajevo is the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and we had been fortunate enough to find a workaway host with the best view in the city. Perched atop one of hills surrounding Sarajevo, Olywood is a B and B/hostel, high enough to overlook the city lights below and to get a peek at the snow-capped mountains filling the horizon. Despite the natural beauty and charm of Bosnia and Hercegovina, it’s difficult not to be reminded of the Bosnian War which once ravaged the country. Sarajevo itself was under siege for 1425 days, the longest siege in the history of modern warfare. With the break-up of Yugoslavia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country that prided itself on cultural acceptance, suddenly became the centre of a conflict drawn along ethnic lines.
We had finally arrived in fascinating land of Transylvania, Romania. We had been eager to visit for quite some time, even more so after speaking with Gabor, a big fan of the Transylvania region, back in Budapest. In my head I was imagining haunting castles perched on mountaintops, farmers still using traditional tools, and horse drawn carts rattling through towns; a mysterious, romantic country tucked away on the edge of Europe.
My Top Five of Ukraine
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!
What are we eating in… the United Kingdom!
So this is quite a long time coming, but I’ve finally gotten around to making a sequel to a fun post I made on Scandinavian food. Not many people back home were very interested in what the food was like while we were in the United Kingdom, because in North America it all seems so familiar. But Nathanael and I really enjoyed the food the UK had to offer! So without further ado, check out a bit of what we were eating in… the United Kingdom!
We decided to take a bit of a vacation from volunteering to venture through Serbia and get a last taste of summer in Montenegro. First stop: Niš!
Isn’t that the best ice-cream sundae you’ve ever seen? We found this treasure at an adorable cafe decked out in old Tram décor. They had a few other really good ones on the menu. For us it was a toss up between the one above, titled “Adam and Eve,” and one called the “Viking Cup,” which looked like a deluxe sundae with two bananas speared on either side of the glass to look like Viking horns. A little expensive, but the picture alone was worth it.
We grabbed an evening bus from Prague to Kraków, Poland, thinking we could sleep on the way and be fresh to explore. Well, between the drunk singing in the back of the bus and an overly friendly/socially imperceptive guy thinking our closed eyes meant we were really interested in what he had to say, I wouldn’t say we felt “fresh” hopping off the bus. After a transfer to a quiet but strange little mini-bus (basically a mini-van where they give you a free bottle of water), we arrived into Kraków early in the morning. Off we went to check-in to our hostel in the Old Town. Lucky for us we could check-in right then and there and get some of the sleep our bus friend stole from us before adventuring out into the city.
What could be more enchanting than a skyline of medieval buildings, cathedrals, stone walls, and spiralling towers? Tallinn is an amazing blend of medieval history and young, party vibe. Nathanael and I can’t wait to grab a few friends and come back in the summer!
Our first night in Tallinn couldn’t have been better. We arrived in Tallinn on the ferry from Helsinki around supper time and set off for our hostel in the heart of the Old Town. The harbour was only a 15 minute walk from the hostel, but we took a bit longer. The streets wound and intersected haphazardly, coupled with the fact that everything around us looked so achingly beautiful in the falling snow.
A few people have been asking me about what kinds of Scandinavian food we’ve been having so far, so I wanted to take a second to tell you all a bit about what we’ve been eating!
First up, Norwegian fish cakes or fiskeboller. Mostly made from spices, flour, and fish puréed in a blender, they look like pancakes but with a dense consistency, and are very tasty! Siv (Nathanael’s cousin) made them for us one night and they were delicious. We had them with Norwegian potato dumplings served with a sweet sauce.