Athens, one of the oldest cities in the world, has been a thriving metropolis for thousands of years. More than a third of Greece’s population sprawls across the Attica plain amidst ruins of ancient grandeur. Athens is known as the founding place of western civilization: its arts, politics and philosophy. It has always been a highly revered city, even to foreign conquerors who would choose not to attack it out of respect. The Athens of today is still the political, business, and artistic centre of Greece and much beloved by the rest of the world.
You could say that the Roman Empire lives on though the Vatican. It was Emperor Constantine the Great who built the original church on Vatican hill, over the grave of Saint Peter himself. After the Western Roman Empire fell, the Catholic Church acted as the principal force of unity in the Western World. In the Middle Ages, the Pope was considered greater than all the kings and rulers of Europe. Even today, the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church with more than 1.2 billion followers. Vatican City has become one of the most popular attractions in the world, drawing over 5 million tourists a year to its priceless works of art and opulent architecture. Despite one’s religious beliefs, one cannot deny the cultural and historical importance of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican.
Throughout our European travels we have found evidence of the greatness of the Roman Empire; from Hadrian’s Wall in the misty isles of Britain as far as Ephesus on the Aegean shores of Turkey. Every church, every castle, and every European city we visited was built upon the foundations of Roman temples, forts, and towns. Roman language, culture, and technologies spread all across the western world and are still used today. Needless to say, I was ecstatic when at last we had arrived at the centre of it all, the birthplace of western civilisation, to which all roads once led: Rome.
Looking at a map, you can see the province of Tyrol, the leg of Austria (kicking Switzerland in the face) with the capital town of Innsbruck stuck to its shin. Nestled there in the Karwendel Alps, Innsbruck has become an internationally renowned mountaineering/skiing destination, the two-time host of the Winter Olympics, the Paralympics, and the first Winter Youth Olympic Games. It’s ideal location as a stop-over point for travellers crossing the Alps allowed Innsbruck to flourish into an important cultural and administrative centre of Austria. Although people often overlook the town and head for the ski hills, Innsbruck has its own elegant allure that shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re transversing the Alps between Germany and Italy, stop by and take a peak into Innsbruck before moving on to your next destination.
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!
Ahhh Venice… a labyrinth of stunning architecture and alluring attractions, riddled with canals and trampled by 20 million tourists each year. Everybody wants to come to Venice and realize that romantic image of Italy we have in our heads: wandering the secret campis or grand piazzas, sipping espresso at canal-side cafés, and, of course, riding the gondolas as the drivers sing, “Thiiis is the night, what a beauuutiful night…” Although the dream of Venice has long been propagated through popular media, the reality comes pretty close to meeting expectations. Like Paris or Rome, Venice is a historical masterpiece, a wealth of architectural wonders that will continue to draw the masses for years to come.
The city of Split is filled with time-worn wonders, but where most monuments have been left uninhabited, this 2400 year-old colony is still fully-functional and bursting with energy. The stronghold of Emperor Diocletian has been adapted into apartments and cafe-bars, while storekeepers have set up shop its cellars. Halfway up the coast of Croatia, this thriving, harbour town attracts visitors from all around with its well-preserved Roman relics, lush parks, and a sunny-side harbour front.
Top Five of Austria
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.
What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Vienna?
For me, hmmm… the Grandeur. Stately, Baroque palaces and government buildings lit by crystal chandeliers, grand ballrooms attached to richly furnished lounges. Considering the area has been inhabited since 500 BC, it’s not surprising that they’ve had some time on their hands to build such a beautiful city. Esteemed artists would come to Vienna from all around to live and work, surrounded by inspiration. Mozart, Beethoven, and Strauss (I and II) are just a few superstars I could name that have filled Vienna’s cobbled streets with their music.
My Top Five of Hungary
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!
It was midnight on January 20th when we landed in London Gatwick airport. We were tired from our lengthy, cramped flight, sandwiched between airplane seats, and wanted more than anything to get through customs and be fast asleep in our London hostel.
Having filled out our landing cards we waited nervously in line toward the customs gate, preparing ourselves to face the intimidating officers. We were a bit anxious, not that we had anything to hide, but the mere presence of a customs agent tends to make one feel as if one does. We were both called up to one of the kiosks and were greeted by a wary face with eyes that peered deep into ours in an attempt to read our very souls. The Agent found us, a young Canadian couple, to be extremely suspicious and possibly a risk to the security of the country. He threatened to tear our bags apart in search of CV’s or other papers that would give evidence that we were seeking to work in the UK and trying to immigrate illegally. For at least 15 minutes we tried to soothe his suspicions and convince him that Canada is just fine for us and we have no desire to move to the UK. I brought up the fact that I have relatives in England (though I’m still not sure just how distant they are) and that I was interested in seeking them out, which for some reason seemed to calm the wrath of the customs agent. Perhaps he couldn’t think of any reason why someone would simply want to tour England.
“I’m going out on a limb trusting you blokes here….” said he, and after stamping our passports, we were at last allowed entry into his realm. What a relief!
We arrived in Stockholm bright and early, eager to get the most out of our stay. We had planned on a two-night-extravaganza-adventure in Stockholm before taking a ferry to Helsinki. We lucked out and found a great deal on a hostel right in Gamla Stan, the historic old town!
We couldn’t believe how affordable it was considering how ideal the location was. Everywhere we could possibly want to go was within walking distance or a short train ride. Added bonus? We had booked two beds in a four bed mixed dorm, rather than a private room, to save a bit of money, and no one ended up booking the other beds so we had a room to ourselves anyway! Perfect!