My InterRail Rankings: Hostels and Trains

Hostels:

I’m not sure whether I can be arsed to rank all of the hostels we visited so I’ll do a top five! They will be ranked on Value for Money, Security, Location, Staff, Atmosphere, Cleanliness and Facilities, each one out of five (this is similar to the system used by hostel world).

5. Hostel of the Sun, Naples (29)

Value for Money: 4
Security: 4
Location: 3
Staff: 5
Atmosphere: 4
Cleanliness: 5
Facilities: 4

This hostel had a free breakfast and very helpful staff. The room was nice, spacious and clean. The atmosphere was nice and it felt quite secure. Sadly the location wasn’t perfect, although it was near the sea, it was in a rather scruffy side street.

4. Meininger Hostel, Amsterdam (29)

Value for Money: 3
Security: 5
Location: 3
Staff: 4
Atmosphere: 4
Cleanliness: 5
Facilities: 5

This hostel was very nice, very clean and had great facilities. They also organised tours and things from the hostel too. It was a little bit far from the centre though.

3. Annecy Hostel, Annecy (30)

Value for Money: 5
Security: 5
Location: 4
Staff: 4
Atmosphere: 4
Cleanliness: 5
Facilities: 4

This was a lovely hostel, fairly well placed, a nice atmosphere and very good value. It had a really nice garden with a bar, which had a great evening atmosphere.

2. Deco Hostel, Krakow (31)

Value for Money: 5
Security: 5
Location: 3
Staff: 4
Atmosphere: 4
Cleanliness: 5
Facilities: 5

Deco Hostel was great value for money as it was super cheap. The location was quite far from the centre of Krakow, but not so far it wasn’t walkable. It was a beautiful hostel and had good facilities like a breakfast, a functional kitchen and a bar.

1. Wombats Hostel, Munich, Budapest and Vienna (34, 33, 32)

The first three hostels came out as the three Wombats Hostels, so I’ve just lumped them together into one!

Value for Money: 5
Security: 5
Location: 5
Staff: 3, 4, 5 (the Viennese staff were the best, very welcoming).
Atmosphere: 4, 5, 3 (I found the atmosphere in Budapest the best, but this may be because we went on the pub crawl there).
Cleanliness: 5
Facilities: 5

All the Wombats hostels were very well set up, with great facilities, bars, breakfast provided for a small cost, great locations, very clean and organised. They also organised tours and social events which were great to meet people and get to know the place. They do a reward system, whereby if you visit more than a one of their hostels you can gain rewards like a free breakfast.

Trains:

I don’t remember every train we took in Europe, so I’ll just talk about the best and worst trains.

The best train: Czech Train from Prague to Ostrava

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This train had very wide seats, so there were two seats, then the aisle and one seat. There was good air con, big luggage racks and plugs. We were also given free water and offered free papers.

The worst train: German train from Berlin to Munich

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This train was incredibly hot and the air con kept turning itself off. That was basically all that made it bad, as it was fast and reasonably spacious. But six hours on a ridiculously hot train became rather unpleasant.

BONUS: The quirkiest train: Polish train from Katowice to Krakow

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This train was a cute, slow old train with red bench seats and wooden walls and metal windows. It took us across the Polish countryside stopping at lots of tiny stations. It even had toilets with a pedal flush!

My InterRail Rankings: Destinations

After visiting so many places, I feel it is obligatory to rank everywhere I went, the hostels I stayed in and the trains I took around.

The first thing I am going to rank is the places I visited; based on five criteria: Value for Money (can you get a lot for your money), Attractions (how many there are and quality of attractions), Atmosphere (I like a chilled yet alive kind of vibe, not hectic, not dead), Tourist Level (this is linked to atmosphere – better marks for fewer tourists) and Aesthetic (how pretty it is).

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The Town Hall in Munich

15. Munich: 40/50
Value for Money: 7
Attractions: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 9
Aesthetic: 8

Although I really loved Munich it has come out at the bottom of this list. I think the reason for this was that it was quite an expensive place and there weren’t so many things to do in the city itself (though the surrounding area is great).

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The Rhein in Basel

14. Basel: 41/50
Value for Money: 6
Attractions: 9
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 9
Aesthetic: 9

Although Basel is tied with Rome and Vienna I have put it 14th as it was very expensive and Rome had more attractions. I loved the low level of tourists in Basel and how surprisingly beautiful the city was.

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The Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna

13. Vienna: 41/50
Value for Money: 8
Attractions: 9
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 8
Aesthetic: 8

Vienna is in 13th place due to having fewer attractions than Rome, however Vienna is a lovely place, with very beautiful architecture and lots to do – the Hundertwasserhaus is especially interesting.

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St Peter’s Square in Rome

12. Rome: 41/50
Value for Money: 8
Attractions: 10
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 7
Aesthetic: 8

Rome has lots of attractions, but it is extremely touristy, for obvious reasons. This is quite a problem as there are lots of restaurants that sell terrible food to tourists because they can – so when in Rome, make sure you get restaurant recommendations from Romans.

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View of Church of Our Lady from the Belfry in Bruges

11. Bruges: 42/50
Value for Money: 8
Attractions: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 8
Aesthetic: 10

Bruges was a lovely place to visit, there is quite a lot to see and it’s very picturesque as it is a very well preserved medieval town. It’s not too touristy and the vibe of the place is nice. Bruges is behind Krakow and Amsterdam purely due to its higher cost and fewer attractions.

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The Cloth Hall in Krakow

10. Krakow: 42/50
Value for Money: 10
Attractions: 8
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 8
Aesthetic: 8

Krakow was a hard one to rank as there were millions of catholic teenagers there when we were there which should have made the tourist level very low as it was heaving! I left it at 8 in an attempt to estimate what it would have been like without the catholic invasion. I want to go back to Krakow when it’s quieter!

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Buildings in Amsterdam

9. Amsterdam: 42/50
Value for Money: 8
Attractions: 10
Atmosphere: 8
Tourist Level: 8
Aesthetic: 8

Amsterdam has a nice atmosphere, but it has been marked down a little due to the constant weed smell. There is a lot to do and the attractions are high quality, I especially enjoyed the Red Light Secrets Museum. Amsterdam is ahead of Krakow due to me actually seeing more of it!

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Thunersee near Interlaken

8. Interlaken: 43/50
Value for Money: 6
Attractions: 8
Atmosphere: 10
Tourist Level: 9
Aesthetic: 10

Interlaken is very expensive but a beautiful place overall. The landscape is absolutely stunning with the lakes and the mountains and it had a lovely chilled vibe while being full of life.

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Berlin Cathedral

7. Berlin: 44/50

Value for Money: 8
Attractions: 10
Atmosphere: 10
Tourist Level: 8
Aesthetic: 8

Berlin has so much to do and it is a wonderful place, especially for young people. There is a very social atmosphere and I also loved the constant reminders of the history of the city – I love the attitude of looking into the past to learn from our mistakes.

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In the amphitheatre in Pompeii

6. Naples (Amalfi Coast): 44/50
Value for Money: 8
Attractions: 10
Atmosphere: 9
Tourist Level: 8
Aesthetic: 9

The Amalfi coast is stunning, however Naples (where we stayed) isn’t the prettiest city. Sorento was gorgeous and Pompeii and Vesuvius were fascinating. I suppose the area is rather touristy, but one can understand why. This area narrowly beats Berlin in the list due to its beauty.

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Beautiful Annecy

5. Annecy: 47/50
Value for Money: 9
Attractions: 8
Atmosphere: 10
Tourist Level: 10
Aesthetic: 10

Annecy is such a stunning place, with the massive lake, French alps and quaint little streets, it has earned 5th place in this list. There is not massive amounts to do, unless you count swimming in the lake and relaxing on the beach!

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The sunset in Zadar

4. Zadar: 47/50
Value for Money: 10
Attractions: 7
Atmosphere: 10
Tourist Level: 10
Aesthetic: 10

As Zadar is quite a small place, there aren’t many things to see, which is the only reason it isn’t top of this list. This was definitely one of my favourite places to visit in Europe (although I may be biased as Croatia is my favourite place in the world so far). Such a beautiful, good value, chilled, unspoiled place!

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Bratislava Castle

3. Bratislava: 48/50
Value for Money: 10
Attractions: 9
Atmosphere: 9
Tourist Level: 10
Aesthetic: 10

I was so surprised by how good Bratislava is and it seems to be Europe’s best kept secret as there were basically zero tourists! It has lots of things to see and do, the castle is stunning and the old town is just fantastic.

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View of Budapest from the Citadel

2. Budapest: 48/50
Value for Money: 10
Attractions: 9
Atmosphere: 10
Tourist Level: 9
Aesthetic: 10

I loved Budapest so much! It has such a wonderful atmosphere – there’s lots going on, the ruin bars are one of the best things Europe has to offer in terms of nightlife (and very hipster, but in a good way). There is SO MUCH there too – just go now, drop whatever you’re doing and book your flight today!

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Prague Castle

1. Prague: 49/50
Value for Money: 10
Attractions: 10
Atmosphere: 10
Tourist Level: 9
Aesthetic: 10

And lastly, here is Prague with a near perfect score! Prague has a similar vibe to Budapest, which was great, but had that wonderful added extra of a massive amount of Jewish history to experience. Easily wins first place for me – another one to book today!

In Bruges

24th -27th August

Arriving:
I traveled from Basel to Bruges. It took three trains: one from Basel to Paris which took around 3hrs, then one from Paris to Brussels which took around 1hr 30mins and finally a train to Bruges which took about 1hr.

Staying:
I stayed at St Christopher’s Inn – Bauhaus Hostel in Bruges, which cost around £19.50 per night for a six bed room with three sets of bunk beds and a table and chairs. There were also large lockers and a sink in the room. There was a shower room next door to the room and toilet along the corridor. Downstairs was a bar area where breakfast was also served.

Day 1:
Once I arrived, I found my hostel, checked in and watched the film “In Bruges” and planned my stay. I walked into the city centre and got dinner at a fast food place called Quick. I had a burger, it was alright. I had a little wander round as the light began to wane and also bought a very large waffle from a shop called Australian Home Made Ice Cream – it was very tasty but too large for me to finish. I then wandered back to the hostel to get some sleep.

Day 2:
The next day I awoke to a view of the Belfry out of my bedroom window. I began to wander around the streets of Bruges with my camera, taking photos of a lot of the buildings – including some from the film – Jerusalem Church, St Anne’s Church, Jan van Eyckplein, the Group Fountain, Saint Saviour’s Cathedral and Astrid Park (which has lots of alcoves).

I then joined a tour, led by Legends of Bruges, in the main square. I love these free walking tours, they are so informative and a great way to orientate oneself with a city. This tour was no exception – we were told a lot of stories relating to the buildings we saw and were also told about why there are so many swans in Bruges! We saw St John’s Hospital, Beguinage, the Church of Our Lady, the Fish Market and Burg Square (on which lies the Basilica of the Holy Blood which houses a vial that is said to contain the blood of Jesus).

After the tour I was incredibly thirsty, so went to find a drink, which took a surprising amount of time. I wanted to climb the Belfry tower but it was closed by this time. I went home and changed then headed out to have dinner for one at Strijdershuis – I had a beer and Flemish Stew – delicious!

Day 3:
Today I got up and went to climb the Belfry – there are a lot of narrow winding stairs, but the view at the top is lovely. It was slightly misty when I climbed it, so the buildings were rising from the mist in a nice atmospheric way.

After a while, I climbed down and hired a bike to cycle to Damme, a small medieval town about 4miles north east of Bruges. The cycle was along a large canal, with lovely Belgian countryside either side of it. I reached Damme and found it to be incredibly small. After a brief walk around, including seeing the Town Hall and Our Lady’s Church.

I cycled back and round the edge of Bruges, viewing some of the windmills and gates as I went. I ended up in Minnewater Park and sat there for a while before returning my bike, getting some dinner from a supermarket and returning to the hostel to pack.

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Minnewater Park

Tips for Bruges:
– Go for at least two full days.
– Eat the Flemish stew at Strijderhuis – it is delicious!
– Climb the Belfry – the views are stunning.
– Do a free walking tour with Legends of Bruges, a great way to get to know the place.
– Watch in Bruges before you go, at least to get some sightseeing ideas!

Swiss Summer: Interlaken and Basel

21st – 24th August

Arriving:
The journey from  Trubschachen to Interlaken was a 40min train to Bern, then a 45min train from there to Interlaken. Swiss trains are comfortable and the scenery is lovely. We were staying in Wilderswil, so we had to catch the bus to get there from Interlaken.

Leaving Interlaken to get to Basel was just one around 2hr train. Also comfortable and scenic. We had great views of the alps on this train.

Staying:
We stayed in an Airbnb in Wilderswil, which was a small “backpacker room” which was described as “with shower”. We didn’t realise this meant the shower was IN the room. We had no cooking facilities, but we did have a (thankfully) separate toilet. It was £56.50 per night for both of us.

In Basel I stayed in YMCA Hostel Basel, it was around £25.80 for one night. I was in a bed room, with five sets of bunks. The toilets were down the corridor from the room. I was given a free travel card for Basel and there was a kitchen and seating area downstairs. The location was good, not far from the station.

Day 1:
We left Balmeggberg around midday and visited the Kambly factory again before getting our train to Interlaken. Once in Wilderswil, it didn’t take too long to find the Airbnb and we moved our stuff in before heading out for dinner at a local Pizzeria called Luna Piccante, it was very tasty but not too cheap, but this is to be expected in Switzerland!

Day 2:
We got up early to put on some washing, then I headed out to buy some breakfast from a bakery called Kindler, which I ordered in German! I headed back and we ate breakfast before I had to go out to Wilderswil station to be picked up to go Paragliding!

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Wilderswil Station

I was picked up by a friendly englishman and we drove to Interlaken, where we picked up some more people. We then went to the Paragliding Interlaken office to change shoes and check in. After that, we picked up the pilots and drove up the mountain above Interlaken, the views getting more and more exciting as we saw the Jungfrau rise up behind Interlaken and the lakes Thunersee and Brienzersee either side of it.

At the top, we were introduced to our pilots who strapped us into our harnesses and got us ready to launch. I flew with a guy called Dominik, who lent me an extra jacket – paragliding is not the warmest of experiences. Once we were ready to go, we ran down the hill and the wing lifted us into the air. We spiraled upwards and I looked down over the trees – the view was truly awesome!

The airtime was supposed to be 20mins but it felt a lot longer as we soared and swirled above the landscape. Near the end of the flight I was allowed to steer, which was incredible. It was such an amazing experience and one I intend to repeat at the earliest possible opportunity. The views were stunning, the feeling of flying was such an intense thrill, without any feeling of falling at any point. It was like floating on the sky!

Once we landed, I received a cute windsock with a USB attached to it containing my photos of the experience – taken using a selfie stick – best use for them! I then retrieved my own shoes and hopped on the bus back to Wilderswil, where I rejoined Q. We walked to Unspunnen Castle, near our Airbnb and looked around. It was quite small, but had information about all the times it had been extended over the years.

Afterwards we headed out to Unterseen by Thunersee to go kayaking. We took the bus to Interlaken, and rather than waiting 20mins for the next bus, we began to walk to Unterseen, only to walk for 30mins before we caught the bus the last two stops!

We hired a double kayak and headed out across the lake. The weather was beautiful and the scenery was breathtaking so we sculled around, taking photos and catching the wakes of bigger boats. We had a few hours, so we stayed out admiring the landscape, then returned and dried out before catching the bus back to Interlaken to find dinner.

We ate at a place called Cafe de Paris where we sat outside and had drinks – I had a beer, Q had a cocktail. We had some rostis, which are grated potato dishes with various toppings. They were very tasty. We paid the bill and dashed back to the bus stop, making a brief detour so I could rapidly buy some postcards.

Day 3:
We got up early and packed. I quickly ran to the post office to send my postcards and then we headed into Interlaken once more. We had a look for some souvenirs and I bought a lovely little wooden cow – very Swiss! We then took our train to Basel.

Once in Basel, I checked into the hostel, then we had a look around. Basel is surprisingly nice! I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it has a lot of nice architecture and cute side streets. We saw the Town Hall, a weird but kinda cool fountain, called Tinguely Fountain and some very cool graffiti. The river Rhein flows through Basel and people were swimming down it, with their stuff in large, fish-shaped dry-bags – if I ever come back I want to try it!

We were meant to be meeting up with Q’s friend Leon, so we headed to a park to meet him. He was with a group of spinners practicing staff and poi. We were offered some tasty soup and watermelon and sat and chatted to them until it got dark, then they did a little fire show.

Tips for Interlaken and Basel:
– Switzerland is very expensive, so only go if you’re prepared to pay!
– Interlaken and Wilderswil were so Swiss – beautiful and alpine!
– Go Paragliding! It is amazing!
– Go kayaking too, the lakes are so beautiful it would be a missed opportunity not to.
– Basel has some lovely sqaures and buildings, spend some time wondering through them.
– If you have time, swim down the Rhien in Basel.

A Week of Poi in Beautiful Balmeggberg

14th – 21st August

This post is going to be a bit different as it was a very specific event in a very specific place! Balmeggberg is a permaculture centre in Trub, Switzerland and is basically in the middle of nowhere on a Swiss mountain.

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Balmeggberg from above (Photo by Harold Dahl)

The week was a Poi and Yoga retreat. The Poi teaching was lead by the wonderful Nick Woolsey and there was also some teaching from the fantastic Jon “Alien Jon” Everett. They are both such lovely guys, with very different teaching styles and I learnt such a lot from both of them. Jon was also selling his amazing FiberFlies Pixel Whips, which are these really cool, colourful, fibre optic, whippy things that you can play with – endless fun! The yoga was run by a softly spoken guy called Adrian, who not only taught us how to do yoga, but explained the spiritual aspects of it.

Balmeggberg is such an amazing place. Everything is done in the least environmentally impactful way possible. They eat the food they grow and everything is grown there apart from the butter and cheese which they get from the neighbouring dairy farm. There are compost toilets, which smell a little rough, but are very good for the environment. There is a drinking water fountain fed by a spring up in the mountains.

There are a few families who live on Balmeggberg, they live in the large farmhouse, which has been extended to include a large studio space for holding courses in. We did some of our poi in that room. There are also many yurts on the site. There is a massive yurt which we used for our yoga sessions (and some poi sessions – including our Poicademy, where we learnt some poi theory!). There are several sleeping yurts – I was in one for six people, there were also two four person yurts. The final yurt is my favourite – the sauna yurt! This is a tiny yurt with a stove in the centre of it, which heats the yurt to a high temperature. We used it on the evening when there was a storm -it such an amazing place to sit in, the the rain pounding down outside, before running out to the outdoor baths which look out over the valley to have a cold plunge!

They keep sheep on Balmeggberg, who control the amount of grass and will eventually be used for meat. There are ducks to eat pests such as slugs and snails as well as chickens and a few cats. The cows on the neighbouring land are hard to miss – their cowbells can be heard all through the day, gently clanging as they walk along.

The food at Balmeggberg was mostly vegetarian or vegan and was incredibly tasty! Edible flowers were used to decorate it. I ate way too much on Balmeggberg – especially on the day they fired up their wood burning pizza oven!

In nearby Trubschachen, we visited the Kambly factory, which makes hundreds of different kinds of cookies. Even better, the shop has free samples of pretty much every kind of cookie they make – so you can try them all without even buying any! On the same day we visited the factory, we also attempted to swim in the river in Trubschachen which was freezing cold! We warmed back up afterwards with a poi lesson in the sunny field by the station.

I had a wonderful time on Balmeggberg and met some lovely people. It was great getting to know everyone, learning some more poi and some yoga and just spending time in such a lovely environment. One of my highlights was the fire performance evening where a few of the girls had their first ever fire spin – it’s so amazing to watch people spin fire for the first time! It was also pretty amazing watching Jon and Nick perform! Hopefully I’ll return another year to enjoy the heavenly place that is Balmeggberg again.

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Valerie, Anna and I spinning some fire!

Thanks to Harold, Abby, Chantal, Till, Valerie, Fede, Samuel, Florian, Adrian, Alex, Sunshine, Lea, Anna, Artur, Kristina, Q, Nick, Jon, Adrian and the whole Balmeggberg squad for a lovely week! And special thanks to Harold for allowing me to use his incredible photos on my blog and for taking them in the first place!

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The visitor book (Photo by Harold Dahl)

 

 

Gorgeous Geneva and Awesome Annecy

11th – 14th August

Arriving:
The train to Geneva from Rome was long. It left early, so I slept most of the way to Milan – I got very good at sleeping on trains! We changed at Milan and the next train to us to Geneva. The first train took 3hrs 20mins and the second took 3hrs 58mins.

To get to Annecy from Geneva was a train to Aix Les Bains then another to Annecy. This didn’t take very long – we had also been waiting for a double-decker train all InterRail and our last train as a group was finally a double-decker!

Staying:
In Geneva we stayed one night at the inventively named Geneva Hostel which cost £26.82 per person per night – Geneva is expensive! We were in a six bed female dorm. There was a bathroom along the corridor from the room and there was a lounge and breakfast facilities downstairs. We got a free travel card (not that useful for us) and free breakfast (much appreciated).

In Annecy we stayed in the lovely Annecy Hostel, which cost £20.27 per person per night for our own room with two single beds and one bunk bed. This hostel was small and alpine looking, but very lovely. The room was fresh and large, there was a bathroom next door to the room and a kitchen and lounge downstairs. In the garden was a large bar area with really cool seating.

Day 1:
When we arrived, we walked to our hostel and checked in. We settled in, then went out for a walk. After some bickering, we decided which direction to go in. We found the lake and saw the Jet d’Eau. We walked along a little, then went and found dinner at a burger place called Edward’s Sandwiches. You could design your own burgers! They were very tasty and reasonably priced for Geneva. We went back to the hostel for an early night, walking past all the stalls that were there for some kind of lake festival.

Day 2:
The next day, we got up early again and went for breakfast before walking to the bus stop. Turns out that the bus wasn’t running, so after maybe 30mins of waiting, we headed back to the hostel for Wi-Fi and advice. Apparently the best thing to do was to get a train from Geneva station to Aix Les Bains and change there for Annecy. We walked to the station and waited for the train – it was a short journey and soon we were changing onto our double-decker train!

We soon arrived in Annecy and walked through the picturesque French streets to the hostel which was quite simple to find, but it was hot again. After checking in, we headed out to find the beach, walking through the old town on the way. We saw two young ducks trying to swim against the river current – so cute! There’s town was exactly as I remembered from my last visit five years ago – so so beautiful!

We got to the beach and Becky and I bought ice creams. I finally had a coconut and pineapple combo! We then went into the lake! It was a bit chilly, but lovely to swim in, with the gorgeous backdrop of mountains. You could see the paragliders whirling in the distance. After a while, we got out and sat down. I wrote my diary. I them jumped back into the lake for an obligatory selfie.

We walked home via the supermarket – Hayley and I were making chilli, Emily and Becky crepes. We got home and cooked, which took quite a while before retiring to our room to play “Game of life” before bed.

Day 3:
We got up reasonably late and headed out to visit the Gorge de Fier, which required us to take two buses and walk. The first bus (the 1) took us to Poisy, where we changed to a tiny minibus (the 12) to Loverchy. Loverchy is a tiny place high up on the hills. From there we walked down into the valley where the gorge lies. We stopped the way down to talk to some cows, some of which had bells!

We arrived at the gorge and ate our picnic lunch, then we ventured in. The gorge was quite deep, with undulating sides. The path was actually a wooden walkway, supported from below by metal girders set into the walls of the gorge. The walkway sat about two thirds of the way up. The walk through was narrow and shady as the gorge is so slim that you can touch both sides of it in places. It is also breathtaking. We made our way along and found a sign which marked all the highest points that the water had reached. The highest was in 1960, at 22.7m. Under the sign was a small cave which we crawled into briefly. It didn’t go very far back.

We walked along to the end of the gorge and then steps took us up and outside of it. We walked along above it. There were plaques explaining how you can see faces in the rock in places and a story about the gorge. Basically: girl married rich guy, rich guy turns out to be an alcoholic, she goes on walks with her bestie, her bestie falls in love with her, but she falls for handsome stranger, her bestie finds out and tells husband, husband tries to kill sexy stranger, he escapes but kills her bestie, girl locked in tower until she dies. Such a happy tale.

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Emily, Becky and me in the mini cave

We walked back along the gorge, now taking in the faces in the rock. At the end, there was a room with footage and photos of the floods over the years. We left the gorge and began to walk back up the hill. We stopped at the a castle called Chateau de Montrottier on the way up, but it was too expensive to go in, so we just looked around. We climbed in the heat back to Loverchy.

We then found it was an hour’s wait for the bus. We sat and read in the shade by the church next to the bus stop until the little minibus arrived. We arrived back in Poisy in time to catch the bus back to Annecy. We then went back to the hostel to get ready to go out to dinner. I also did some washing.

We decided to go out as it was our last night and found dinner in a cute little creperie called Le Potron Minet in the old town. It was delicious. I had a cheese and potato crepe then a chocolate and cream one along with some cidre. We then walked home and packed ready for bed.

Thanks to Emily, Hayley and Becky for such an incredible holiday! Love you guys 🙂

Tips for Geneva and Annecy:
– Geneva is lovely, but expensive – recommended only to people with money!
– Annecy is a beautiful place, and not one most people would think of – go for at least 3 full days!
– Swim in the lake (probably only in the summer though) – it is lovely.
– Visit Gorges du Fier and Chateau de Montrottier if you have time – they are both brilliant!
– Spend some time wandering around the picturesque streets and have a leisurely French dinner somewhere – no better place!

When in Rome

9th – 11th August

Arriving:
We got a short train from Naples, only taking 1hr 10mins.

Staying:
We stayed at Nika Hostel which cost £21.96 per person per night for four beds (it is a small hostel so Emily, Hayley and Becky shared a three bed room and I went in a two bed room with another girl). It is about a 25min walk from the main station or 15mins away if you take a train to Manzoni and walk the last 5mins.

There were no lockers, so we left any valuables in the room that was ours. There was air con again, which was a godsend given how hot Rome is in August. The view looked out over a busy square, with nice buildings. There was a small kitchen and the bathrooms were along the corridor (there were problems with the hot water while we were there, but they appeared to be working very late to fix them).

Day 1:
We arrived in Rome in the blistering heat and then walked to our hostel. We had to wait a while to get in because the hostel clerk guy (what is the right name for those people?) had gone out to help some other guests. We called him and he came back quickly to let us in. We couldn’t check in as it was too early so we dropped off our bags and after a quick chat about what we should see, we left and headed for the sights of Rome.On the way we stopped at a restaurant called Luzzi, which served simple Italian staples. It was a bit too hot to eat, but the food was tasty.

We then carried on to the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum. All three sights can be visited on the same ticket which cost us 7.50 euros. We went in through the Palatine Hill entrance, which has the shortest queues, but also has a path to the forum. We decided to do the forum first as we didn’t feel like climbing the hill in the heat.

The forum was a valley of extreme heat, but has some very interesting things in it – more than I remembered from my last visit. We strolled around, looking at everything, until the heat became too much and we hid in the shade – during this time I went on a mission to find water – thank God Rome has lots of drinking fountains!

After the forum, we headed to the Colosseum. We were able to skip most of the very long queue as we already had tickets. The Colosseum is a very impressive space and it isn’t all that hard to imagine the things that would have gone on there. Last time I visited, it rained when we were in the Colosseum and I got some photos free of tourists – no such luck this time!

We then headed to Palatine Hill, which I had not fully explored previously. It had a strange modern art exhibition in it. Some of it was really odd. There was a stolen piece of fence with cans covering the spikes. My favourite was a chicken house in the shape of a rocket, complete with live chickens living there – no idea what it was supposed to mean!

By this time our feet were very dusty and we were hot and tired, so we headed back to the hostel via the supermarket where we picked up some food for dinner and went back to the hostel for a lazy night in watching a film.

Day 2:
We decided to try to see as many of the famous sights of Rome as possible today, so we headed to Flamino Station to see the panorama above Piazza Del Popolo. There is a park above the square which is lovely and has a small lake you can row a boat on (which I did three years ago). There is a terrace that looks out onto the square and across Rome, which is well worth a look. After looking down onto the square, we climbed down to walk through it and on to the Spanish steps – last time I was in Rome they were covered in scaffolding – this time there was no scaffolding, but the steps were fenced off for restoration, which meant they were completely empty.

After this we continued on to the Trevi Fountain, which was empty last time I came, now restored to its beautiful self – clean and clear and heaving with tourists! I threw in an obligatory one cent. We then had lunch sat in an interesting building around the corner from the Trevi fountain – Galleria Sciarra.

We then headed on to my favourite building in Rome – the Pantheon! The construction of this building is fascinating and I also love the hole in the roof, showing the vibrant blue sky. Around the corner from the Pantheon is Piazza Navona, where I had ice cream on my last visit. We continued on and found the river, crossing at St Angelo Bridge – across the river from Castello Sant’Angelo.

We had reached the Vatican and decided to get in the queue for St Peter’s. The queue wasn’t too bad considering it was the high season, but it is free so tickets don’t need to be purchased, so the queue moves quickly. We had to go through some security to get in. Becky and I wanted to climb the dome and Hayley wanted to have a very quick look round then head to the Vatican Museum as we wouldn’t have time for both and she really wanted to see the Sistine Chapel. Emily then decided to join Becky and I in climbing the dome. We decided to just climb the steps as it is only around 200 more than getting the lift (which isn’t too big a percentage given how many steps there are!).

We climbed up and came out on the roof, where a few more steps led to the inside of the dome, where you could see some of the mosaics up close and look down into the Basilica. Emily was proud of herself at this point as she was coping well, despite being afraid of heights. We then pressed on up some more stairs, which I thought brought you out on another large piece of roof. Turns out no. We climbed on and on up many many more stairs – it soon became apparent that we were climbing the dome itself – but we had to go forwards to go back. The corridor became very narrow and the steps twisted and turned their way up, finally ending with a tiny tight staircase which let you out onto the top of the dome! The views were incredible. Emily was not pleased – she hid behind a pillar until we left. We didn’t stay long before heading back down to the roof.

After some time on the roof, where there is a cafe, so we got some drinks, we headed down into the Basilica itself and looked around. We also visited the Popes’ tomb (which involved going out of the Basilica and sneaking back in, as our knees were suddenly a problem!). We then went to meet back up with Hayley and headed back to the hostel for dinner and completely cold showers (the boiler was having issues)! Brisk!

After a while, we decided to go out and get ice cream – this was at maybe 10-11 at night. It took us a while to find as we had been given slightly wrong directions by the hostel guy. It was worth it though – the ice cream was very tasty – the place was called RivaReno.

Tips for Rome:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Get recommendations for food – a lot of places sell crap to tourists, so just walking into somewhere (especially near the Colosseum etc) is very risky.
– Unless you LOVE museums, don’t bother with the Vatican museum, it is massive and overwhelming.
– Unless you are incredibly afraid of heights or small spaces, climb the dome at St Peter’s – the views are amazing.
– Row a boat in the park by Piazza Del Popolo – it is so much fun!
– Get ice cream at RivaReno (by the way, the Romans call the proper stuff Gelato and the shop bought stuff ice cream – to me they are all ice cream, just some is far superior!)
– When seeing the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill, go in the Palatine Hill entrance to avoid long queues.

Ancona and our Amalfi Antics

6th – 9th August

Arriving:
We got a bus from Zadar to Split, where we took an overnight ferry to Ancona on the East coast of Italy. This wasn’t included in the InterRail pass, so we booked it through Blue Line Ferries. We decided to book a cabin as it would be more comfortable. We had to queue for a bit to board the ferry. We got our keys and dropped our stuff in the room. We got food in the canteen which was expensive and disappointing – bring your own food or eat before you get onto the ferry.

We had a lot of fun exploring the ship and admiring the lights along the Croatian coast as well as the storms we could see happening in the mountains. There was some very impressive lightning forking down into the mountains.

To get to Naples from Ancona, we took a train to Rome, which takes 3hrs 30mins and passes through the central Apennines. I mostly slept on this train, but in the moments I was awake, the scenery was beautiful. We had a short change in Rome to go to Naples. The Rome to Naples train only took 1hr 10mins.

Staying:
We didn’t stay in Ancona as we were only passing through. In Naples, we stayed in a place called Hostel of the Sun, which cost £18.58 per person per night for a four bed room (two singles and a double). We had to get a train to Universita and walk for maybe 10-15mins to get to the hostel from the main station.

This room didn’t have lockers, but again it was our room, so it didn’t matter. There was air con which was useful in the heat. The view looked down onto a fairly ugly side street, but the sea was just at the end of the road with much better views. There was also a small common room area and kitchen/ canteen where we had our free breakfast.

Day 1:
We arrived in Ancona early in the morning and spent a very long time disembarking. When we finally got off, we went through passport control and I got a passport stamp!

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My Passport Stamp!

We had breakfast at a cafe called Cafe Giuliani where I had a very strong espresso. We walked around Ancona a bit but it was still too early for much to be going on. We tried to go to the Citadel but it took us a while before we found a way in and it must have been the wrong entrance because it was just an old creepy-looking stable. The clouds were closing in so we decided to give up and head for the station. As we walked down, the clouds closed in more and more and it started to rain very heavily. We sheltered for a while before running to the station, after waiting for a while and having some lunch, we boarded the train to Rome. In Rome, we grabbed some food for tea and got on train to Naples.

In Naples, we found our hostel, checked in and put some washing on. We went to grab some more food as we didn’t feel like we’d eaten enough. Emily and Becky went to a pizza place called Il Pomodorino and Hayley and I got burgers from a placed called Perfectoo. The pizza was good, the burgers weren’t so much.

Day 2:
We got up fairly early and ate the free breakfast (they have GIANT tubs of nutella)! We then took the metro to the main station and then the circumvesuviano round to Pompeii. We found that Pompeii is free on the first Sunday of the month (which this happened to be) so the queue went down rapidly. We started to walk around, using the map as a guide and found that Pompeii is pretty massive. There is so much to see!

There are many many empty ruined houses, but also frescoes, amphorae and architectural features like ovens – one of which Becky and I sat in to keep dry when it started to rain.  These artifacts really brought the place to life, you could really imagine what it would have been like to live there. There were also casts of bodies scattered about making the grisly past feel real.

When the rain slowed, we walked down to the Villa of Mysteries which has the best preserved frescoes. We then headed for the amphitheatre and on the way Hayley stubbed her toe really badly and ripped off a piece of nail. After the amphitheatre we saw a garden with around eight cast bodies in it. Then we left for Herculaneum to go up Vesuvius.

Just outside Pompeii we found a tourist office that said they could take us up Vesuvius so we decided to go with them. This turned out to be a mistake. The bus had no seat belts, when we got to Vesuvius and the road was closed due to an accident, but the worst part was how they handled the road being closed. After waiting a while, the driver started to take us back down to the town, saying we could come for free the next day. This was fine. However, his boss called him and told him to take us back and wait until the road opened. We were made to wait for over an hour in the heat, so long that we wouldn’t have time at the top before it closed for the day. Eventually we were returned to the tourist office where we demanded a refund. After a lot of arguing, we got what we wanted and head back to the station to go back to Naples.

We got back, changed, showered and headed out to a recommended restaurant for dinner. It turns out it was much further than we thought and we were getting fed up, so we headed back and had dinner at Il Pomodorino as it was round the corner from the hostel. We ordered two bottles of wine between us and I had a mushroom pasta which was very tasty.

Day 3:
On this day we decided to go to Herculanium to get up Vesuvius. We went with Vesuvio Express who were very professional and inspired confidence. They took us up, dropped us off and told us that we had to be back by a certain time. We even got given these tiny green stickers so they knew who was meant to be coming back on the bus.

From the car park there is still a walk up the cone to the top of the volcano. We climbed this slowly in the heat – the path is steep and gravelly so good shoes are recommended. When we got to the top we admired the views – they were spectacular. You can see all along the coast in both directions to Sorento and back to Naples. You can buy things at the top – I got some Vesuvius certified postcards, which have a special stamp on them to say that they were on Vesuvius. We also picked up some Vesuvius rocks as souvenirs. We then headed back down and caught our bus.

From Herculaneum, we took the train to Sorento. It is a beautiful place. We arrived and wandered through the town centre, past all the cute Italian shops. Emily, Becky and I bought some limoncello. We carried on until we got to the sea where we paddled as we hadn’t got our swimming stuff. The water was clear and there were lots of little shells on the bottom – which we discovered contained tiny crabs when Emily tried to pick one up to take home!

After paddling, we headed back to the town. We had come down a huge set of stairs but there was a lift back up, but Becky and I still walked as it cost 1 euro and there was a massive queue. We arrived at the top 10mins before the others! We had dinner at a restaurant called Ristorante Sorrento – it was delicious! I had Ravioli with prawns.On our walk back to the station, I found an epic ice cream parlour called Gelateria Primavera Sorrento and had a snickers ice cream! What a perfect end to the day.

Tips for the Amalfi Coast:
– Go for at least 3 full days
– Naples is cheaper to stay in, but Sorento is nicer.
– Go on a tour up Vesuvius (but for God’s sake use Vesuvio Express!)
– Buy limoncello in Sorento – they make it there and it is lovely
– Pompeii is definitely worth a visit (remember it is free on the first Sunday of the month!)
– Be very careful walking in Pompeii – especially if it rains! Sturdy shoes are strongly advised.

 

 

Welcome to Paradise

2nd – 5th August

Arriving:
We traveled from  Vienna to Ljubljana on two trains, one over the alps (beautiful scenery) to Maribor and one from Maribor to Ljubljana through the dark Slovenian countryside.

To get to Zadar from Ljubljana, we took a train to Zagreb and a bus from there to Zadar (Croatia doesn’t have all that many train lines, but the bus system is good).

Staying:
In Ljubljana, we stayed for just one night in Hostel Tivoli which cost £19.65 per person for a eight bed dorm which consisted of two (incredibly cool) triple bunk beds and one normal bunk bed. There was a small common room and kitchen and the bathrooms were down the corridor from the room. We were barely in this hostel however as we arrived late and left early. It was a 15-20min walk from the station and a 25min walk to central Ljubljana.

In Zadar we stayed at Hostel Home Zadar which was perfectly located in the old town on the sea front (although a fairly long walk from the bus station), had lovely views and cost £14.84 per person per night for a six bed dorm. There were three set of bunk beds in the room and large key-operated lockers. There was air con too which was great as it was hot. The bathrooms are down the corridor and there’s a lovely kitchen. The only downside was that it’s on the 5th floor and there is no lift! We were very sweaty when we reached the top, but worth it for such a great place to stay at such a low price!

Day 1:
We arrived in Ljubljana late and walked to our hostel. Hayley was tired so said she’d shower and go to bed, while Emily, Becky and I went for a walk into the city centre. I’d been to Ljubljana before, so I knew the centre was very pretty. We walked and and saw Ljubljana Castle on the hill, lit up green. We walked along the streets where there was a lovely chilled atmosphere and saw the Dragon Bridge. Then we sat and had a drink at Fany and Mary’s, a bar by the river. The drink was called a Blue Mary and was made of blue curacao, vodka, sugar syrup and lemonade – it tasted lovely! Afterwards, we walked back to the hostel and slept.

Day 2:
We got up early and left for Zagreb, the train was very full, but we managed to get seats by un-british-ly waking a sleeping couple who had a whole six-seat compartment.I dozed for most of the journey. We arrived in Zagreb and walked to the bus station, inducing Croatia nostalgia (I had previously been with my boyfriend in 2013). We got on our bus to Zadar and admired the countryside as we went. Eventually we saw the sea and Emily got very excited (she loves the sea). We arrived in Zadar to a baking heat and walked to our hostel (the stairs were especially unwelcome in the heat, but so it goes).

We checked in then showered and headed to the beach! There was a lovely bit with a bar and a diving platform that I was dared to jump off. We swam in the sea, which was pretty warm. It was great to be in such a tranquil place after the hectic cities. We had a drink at the bar and a ice cream (which was only 7 kunas – less than £1!).

After sitting for a while, we went home to change before going out for dinner. We found a restaurant on the sea front just along from our hostel. I had sea bass and we even got some wine! We ate and watched the sun go down – Croatia is an incredible country, probably my favourite I have visited so far. After dinner, we walked along the sea front to the Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun (a light installation). The eerie sounds of the sea organ in time with the waves was great background sound. We walked further round the seafront and back through the town, buying another ice cream on the way before going back to the hostel to sleep.

Day 3:
We had a long-awaited lie-in today! We got up, bought some lunch and went straight to the beach. We ate our lunch then headed for the sea. We floated around in the sea for about an hour before returning to the shore. Next it was time for me to jump off the diving board (apparently I can’t resist a dare). There were three levels 3m, 5m and 10m. I decided to start with the 3m and work up. I jumped off after some hesitation and a vast amount of salt water went up my nose 😦 I was told I had to at least do the 5m one too. Again, it took me a while, but I did it. I landed it wrong and literally bruised my arse! Well done me.

After this I got a big beer from the bar – well deserved for completing the silly dare. We played cards for a while then returned to the hostel to change. We explored the old town some more and found St Donatus Church, St Anastasia’s Cathedral, a Franciscan Monastery and a piece of town wall.

We got food from Konsum (my favourite shop) for dinner and I found a giant melon which made me incredibly happy.

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Me ecstatically standing in Konsum with a massive melon

We then headed out to drink by the sea for a while. The atmosphere out there was sublime. I can’t express how much I love Croatia. Afterwards we found a bar, a really cool place called The Garden Lounge that was outdoor and had massive cushions to sit on. We ordered some cocktails and I had an absolutely LETHAL long island iced tea. We stumbled back to the hostel via the greeting to the sun, where I lay down on the floor (obviously).

Day 4:
The next day, we left the hostel feeling a little under the weather and went and sat in Vladimir Nazor Park and read and chatted until it was time to go to our bus to Split to catch our ferry to Italy!

Tips for Zadar:
– Go for at least three full days
– Swim in the sea! But don’t jump off the diving platform unless you can land it well!
– Wait until it is late at night, midnight or later, and walk to the sea organ and greeting to the sun and just sit and soak up the peaceful vibes – one of the best places to be.
– The Garden Lounge is a lovely bar, but drinks are strong – order a glass, not a pitcher!
– Visit Zadar as part of a Croatian tour, Croatia is such an incredible country for so many reasons – it’s beautiful, the people are incredibly friendly and it’s really cheap to name a few!

 

Hello Vienna!

31st July – 2nd August

Arriving:
We took the train from Bratislava taking about an hour.

Staying:
We stayed at yet another wombats – The Lounge. As we had stayed in another Wombats we got a free breakfast – turns out you get rewards for visiting multiple hostels in the chain. Although reasonably far from the centre of Vienna, it was right next to Westbahnhof. It cost £19.23 per person per night for a six bed mixed dorm.

It was a medium sized room with three bunk beds, a table and chairs and an ensuite. The lockers were once again operated by the room keys. The windows were high so there wasn’t really a view. Downstairs there was a loungish area, a bar and a cafeteria where breakfast was served.

Day 1:
We arrived late to a huge downpour. After grabbing some McDonalds (they are everywhere – great if you just need some quick food), we ran to the hostel and checked in.

Day 2:
We woke up fairly late, had our free breakfast and headed out to see the sights of Vienna. It was colder that day, with sunny intervals. We got a train to the centre of Vienna and wandered through the Stadtpark which is very pretty and has a golden statue of Johann Strauss.

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Johann Strauss

From there we walked on past the Konzerthaus, the Hochstrahlbrunnen and went on to Karlskirche, a magnificent Baroque cathedral where we sat for a while to get our bearings before heading on to the famous Naschmarkt. Naschmarkt is the largest urban market in Vienna and sells many different kinds of food as well as souvenirs. We bought some fruit and drinks at the market before heading on to the museum quarter to find somewhere to sit.

We ended up in Maria Theresien Platz, which is between the Natural History museum and the Art History museum. We ate our lunch and enjoyed our surroundings. Sadly, Becky then got stung by a bee! We recovered from the incident and walked on to the Volksgarten, which boasts a fantastic rose garden with each plant dedicated to a different person. We also saw the City Hall which is just opposite the garden.

 

We walked into the centre of Vienna to see St Stephen’s Cathedral before taking the train out to Schloss Schonbrunn – a beautiful yellow palace that reminded Emily of Versailles. After sleepily walking around the gardens for a while, we headed out to the front to meet Hayley’s friend Robin, who currently lives in Vienna (though she has lived all over the place). After some meandering about, we found her and were driven to Robin’s house, where we spent the evening having dinner, chatting and petting her dog, Sam, who is such a cutie.

Day 3:
We got up and checked out then left our bags in the luggage room and headed out to see the Hundertwasserhaus, which was designed to be in harmony with nature, meaning that it has a green roof and organic structure. I would have loved to have gone in, but we didn’t have time, but directly over the road is the Hundertwasser village which is made up of shops and cafes and has very decorative toilets!

The last part of our adventures in Vienna was going to the Prater amusement park (which is expensive, but would be fun to visit properly) and going on the Giant Ferris Wheel, which gives you unparalleled views of the city. We then has some lunch in the restaurant next door, Cafe Riesenrad, where I had a tuna salad and a beer. We also had Sachertorte there which is traditional and tasty. After that, we collected our bags from the hostel and got on the train to Ljubljana.

Tips for Vienna:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Go to the Naschmarkt for lunch, there are so many different foods to choose from.
– Visit the Hundertwasserhaus, it is remarkable and unusual – must see!
– If you like museums, Vienna has many which are highly regarded.
– Schonbrunn is lovely if you have the time, we just wandered around the gardens, but it would have been interesting to go inside.
– Eat Sachertorte – it is a traditional Viennese chocolate cake.