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.

Beautiful Bratislava

31st July

Arriving:
We got the train from Budapest – it is quite near – only taking 2hrs 40mins.

Staying:
We only had a day trip to Bratislava on our way to Vienna.

Day 1:
We arrived to find the station is quite far from the old town. We walked through an area full of concrete buildings and eventually reached the old town. We had lunch at a small place near Michael’s Gate called Sibyla. It was cheap, but served very nice food.

After lunch we wandered into the quiet old town. Bratislava isn’t very touristy so it is lovely and chilled. We found the town hall, which looks like a church and the blue church, which is, as the name suggests, blue. It looked like it had been iced, but in a good way.

We walked along some more through the lovely empty streets and found ourselves by the river Danube. There is a bridge called the UFO bridge which has a flying saucer shaped restaurant/ viewing platform on it. There is also a lovely cathedral – St Martin’s cathedral.

We could see the castle from where we were standing and wanted to take a closer look. Becky found what looked like a path on the map, so we headed for that. We found that it was quite overgrown, but pressed on, eager to reach the castle as it was very hot. But it became apparent that this path had not been used in a very long time and was so overgrown that we had to fight through the foliage until we found the way was blocked. We reluctantly headed down and walked around the side of the hill until we found another way up.

The climb was long and hot and we missed the small entrance in the side of the castle wall so walked round pretty much the entire castle and back before we realised our mistake. We finally got in and it had been worth all the effort. The stunning white castle towered above us against the blue sky. The views were breath taking.

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The view from the castle
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Bratislava Castle

There is a restaurant up by the castle which looks out over the city. We sat there for a while with big pitchers of incredible lemonade (one was orange, lemon and lime and the other was grapefruit and mint), chatting and admiring the view. We also decided to order dessert – I had strudel, Becky had pancakes and Hayley & Emily had chocolate fondants – they were very tasty!

The clouds began to roll in and we wanted to get our train, so we headed down the hill and back to the old town. As we got to the bottom of the hill it began to rain heavily, so our journey back to the station was rather uncomfortable, especially as Becky was the only one who had her waterproof as we had left our bags in the luggage storage at the station. We skirted the buildings and jogged along, stopping under a restaurant umbrella when it got really heavy.

We made it back to the station and headed on to Vienna, wishing we’d had a little more time in the calm and picturesque city of Bratislava.

Tips for Bratislava:
– Go for at least two full days.
– If you want to see Vienna too, stay in Bratislava and travel into Vienna – Bratislava is lovely and cheap as it is eastern, despite being only an hour’s train from Vienna!
– If we had had more time, I would’ve liked to go into everything, especially the castle and the town hall.
– Go to the restaurant by the castle and get a pitcher of one of their lemonades – they are seriously refreshing on a hot day!

Bus-ing it in Budapest

29th – 31st July

Arriving:
We took the overnight train from Krakow which was actually quite comfortable. There was a compartment with four beds (two of them very high up which caused Becky and I to nervously giggle as we got into them), which could be locked and had a decent amount of luggage space.

Staying:
We stayed at another Wombats hostel which was right in the city centre and near transport links. It was only £14.36 per person per night for a eight bed mixed dorm.

It was a large room split into two sections with four bunk beds, two on one side, two on the other and an ensuite. Again it had lockers that were operated by the room keys.There was air con which was useful as it was hot while we were there. The view looked down onto a busy shopping street – our room was on the corner. There was also a loungish area, a bar and a large, well equipped kitchen.

Day 1:
We arrived in the morning at the beautiful Budapest-Keleti station and made our way to the hostel to drop off our bags. Then we headed straight back out to go to the Szechenyi Spa – one of the largest spas in Europe.

The spa building was utterly stunning and the pools and saunas were absolute perfection. I had booked a massage, which was incredible after carrying my rucksack for nearly two weeks. Then I met up with the others in one of the outdoor pools. There are three: one for lane swimming, one general outdoor pool with a river rapidsy bit and one hot pool which is 38° C!

 

We also went to some of the indoor pools, especially enjoying the 34° C, 36° C and 38° C ones. There were also some lovely saunas and steam rooms. I especially enjoyed the 50° C saunas and plunging into the 18° C plunge pools afterwards! We spent most of the afternoon at the spa and had some lunch there, which was a little expensive, but nice.

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Map of the Spa

In the late afternoon we returned to the hostel and settled in to our room and sat and chatted before heading down with out room mates, Lucy and Hannah, to the bar to get a drink before we went on our pub crawl (with Europe’s famous pub crawls) – it was happy hour so cocktails were only 900 forints! We grabbed a pizza slice from the pizza me next door to the hostel – this became a firm favourite while we were there!

The pub crawl consisted of four places – the first was called Retox a ruin pub. We were there for an hour, we were allowed as much free beer or wine as we could drink plus three free shots. I had a beer and the others had wine. The shots were made from flavoured fruit syrup and aerated vodka. The first one was maybe passion-fruit and it was disgusting, Becky was almost sick and Hayley decided that was enough for her. Emily and I had our allotted three, the second being apple which was lovely and the third being cherry which was okay. After this I was quite drunk.

The next bar was very cool, also a ruin bar called Anker’t is was very open air and industrial. There was also a really cool wall by the toilets with many many lipstick kisses on it – I added mine. The third bar was Fogaskert which was massive and had trees and a screen with strange cartoons playing on it. Hayley was tired and decided to leave at this point – she was pretty much sober and the hostel wasn’t far so we let her go. The final place was called Bar Instant which had a really cool decor with a sculpture of rabbits on the ceiling, in here we met the girls we had shared a room with in Munich. We didn’t stay long cos my legs were killing me, so we got pizza and went to bed.

Day 2:
We woke up pretty late after getting in at maybe 4am. As my legs still hurt from the night before we decided to do a bus tour. We had pizza again for lunch and headed out to the bus stop. The bus tour was with Big Bus Tours and it was very reasonably priced (after a lot of bargaining by the others with different tour operators) – the ticket included all day hop on hop off bus and an evening river cruise ride. We decided to take the bus the whole way round to see the sights once before doing the hop on hop off.

We got off at Heroes Square, which depicts the tribal leaders of the people who founded Budapest and walked over to Vajdahunyad Castle which, like Prague Castle, is made up of many different architectural styles.We sat on the grass there for a while and had ice creams. We then took the bus back to the Citadel on top of the hill on the Buda side of the city – there were incredible views. There is also Budapest’s statue of liberty.

Afterwards we took the bus back down to the Freedom Bridge – near to where the river cruise departed. The Freedom Bridge has wide metal sides that make it easy to walk up – so of course, I did. We then got onto the river cruise and slowly meandered along the river, with the sun going down and saw Buda Castle, the parliament building and the chain bridge all bathed in the setting sun.

After the cruise we headed back to the hostel to make dinner in the surprisingly hot kitchen, pack and go to bed.

Tips for Budapest:
– Go for at least four full days.
– Definitely visit Szechenyi Spa – it is 100% worth the money.
– The bus tour worked for us as there was so much to see in a short time, but for longer trips visit the citadel, Vajdahunyad Castle and Buda Castle on separate days or at least only one place per half day.
– The ruin pubs are amazing – for maximum enjoyment, don’t do a pub crawl, visit different ones on different nights so you aren’t too drunk to take in the atmosphere.

Kraking On

26th – 28th July

Arriving:
We took the train from Prague to Ostrava (on the border with Poland), then another train on to Katowice in Poland, then a third ancient, rickety and empty train to Krakow itself.

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On the last train to Krakow

Staying:
We stayed in Deco Hostel which was fairly far from the city centre, but near transport links. It was only £10.06 per person per night for a four bed room.

It was a large, richly decorated room with four single beds. There were no lockers but obviously the room was ours. The toilets and showers were next door. There was no air con, but it wasn’t that hot for most of our time in Krakow. The view was down onto the garden that guests could use, but we didn’t get round to visiting. There was also a lounge area and a kitchen which was fully functional (although we couldn’t work out how to use the oven).

Day 1:
We arrived late on our slow, empty train, only to be mobbed by hoards of teenagers struggling to get onto the train. The whole station was full, the streets were full, they all wore the same backpacks.

We fought our way through the crowds and made out way to the hostel. We checked in and found our lovely room. A quick internet search told us that it was the World Youth Day and the pope was visiting Krakow.

Day 2:
We had breakfast at the hostel, which was cheap and tasty, then headed out to catch the bus to Wieliczka Salt Mine. It is a fairly long bus ride and the bus was very full of Catholic teenagers – however the upside of world youth day was that public transport was free. We arrived at the salt mine and got into the world’s hottest queue.

At the front, we bought tickets, grabbed some drinks and waited for our tours to start – Hayley and Emily had the 2pm tour, Becky and I had the 2:30 tour. Hayley and EMily soon headed off and Becky and I chatted until it was time to go in.

Once inside, we were given a radio device with headphones so our guide could speak to us. We were led through a huge wooden door and down steps that went on forever (sixty-four metres down). We were led through at a brisk pace by our dead-pan guide – there were models of the mine workings and statues made from salt as well as a stunning room with salt crystal chandeliers and intricate carvings on the walls.

Afterwards we went on the museum tour which also in the mine – this part of the tour was very cold as it was so deep down. We marched around it quickly, stopping to look at salt crystals, mining equipment and artifacts. Finally we came to the lift to the surface. It was a two story metal box with manually opening doors and no lights which we crammed nine of us into on one level with a German tour group above us. Good job i am no longer afraid of lifts!

After the ascent, we were released and went to find Emily and Hayley to take the bus back to Krakow. We got food and cooked it in the hostel kitchen – we thought the oven wasn’t working, but it turned out that we hadn’t turned it on properly and had just spent half an hour shining a light onto the pizzas.

Day 3:
On the third day, we visited Schindler’s Factory in the south of the city. We got a little bit lost finding it, but I’m so glad we got there. This has to be one of the best designed museums I have ever been to. You could spend a full day there. There were things to read, videos to watch, things to touch and collect and listen to. The museum tells the whole story of the Jews in Krakow in WW2 – so much worth the visit – just go there!

We then continued our WW2 theme and headed to the site of Plazow (another concentration camp). A large memorial statue stands on the hill commemorating the victims of all nationalities. It was raining while we were there, which added to the sombre atmosphere. Knowing so many people had suffered and died on the ground where we stood was chilling. It is always good to learn about the atrocities of the past, so they won’t be repeated.

We headed back into Krakow to have dinner and found a place in the market square called Virtuoso which served delicious Italian food and a nice local beer. After we had eaten we wandered around the busy square and took a few photos of some of the landmarks, like the Cloth Hall and St Mary’s Basilica, before heading back to the hostel to get our bags and go to the station to catch our train to Budapest. With World Youth Day, we felt we hadn’t seen Krakow properly – one to return to when it is not overrun with teenagers!

Tips for Krakow:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Don’t go when there are millions of Catholic teenagers there.
– Wieliczka Salt Mine is well worth a visit, but don’t bother with the museum tour.
– Go to Schindler’s Factory and do a full day – MUST SEE.

Czeching In

23rd-26th July

Arriving:
We took a train from Munich to Nuremberg, then a bus to Prague from there. The bus was actually very nice and had wifi and a coffee machine on board.

Staying:
We stayed at Old Prague Hostel which was walking distance from most of the sights of Prague. It was £19.06 per person per night in a seven bed mixed dorm.

It was a large room with three sets of bunk beds and a single bed. There were massive lockers which had locks and their own keys. The toilets and showers were down the corridor. There was no air con, but large windows that could be opened. The view was just down onto the street, but below us was a very load bar where the Prague pub crawl began which kept us awake (especially Emily – I was okay because I had brought earplugs with me). There was also a lounge area and a small and ill-equipped kitchen (no oven and the hobs turned out not to work, so it was microwave and kettle!). The wifi here was terrible.

Day 1:
We arrived, paid and made dinner – cooking pasta in a microwave isn’t easy, but it is possible. We had also bought some ciders from the nearby shop – they were around £1 each! After the expense of Munich, Prague seemed incredibly cheap – we all overestimated how much money we would need. We went to bed quite early as we had gotten up early to catch our train.

Day 2:
The hostel provided breakfast “sandwiches” for free. They were terrible, basically all margarine, not recommended. We then headed out for another free walking tour (with Discover Prague) which met round the corner from our hostel by the Old Town Square. We were with Bianca, a very enthusiastic lady, who led us around the old town. We saw the astronomical clock, the buildings in the old town square – such as the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, the opera house, the Jewish quarter and some of the new town. The best thing about free walking tours is that you hear a lot of the stories behind the places you see, things you wouldn’t otherwise know.

We then found lunch at a place called Bagueterie Boulevard, which consisted of some lovely iced tea, a baguette and some wedges with tartare sauce. We ate this is the old town square. Afterwards we had a look round some of the churches in the square, such as St Nicholas Church, before heading to the Jewish quarter to see the Spanish Synagogue which has a gorgeous interior.

We then walked back to the Old Town Square to join the Prague Castle Tour. This was also with Discover Prague and our guide, Givi, was brilliant. He was knowledgeable and funny which made it a really worthwhile tour. The views from the castle district are also spectacular.The tour takes you through the castle district, you see Strahov monastery (which houses a massive library and was burnt down four times), the castle buildings which are all in different architectural styles, St Vitus Cathedral and a wonderful statue of a naked youth whose penis brings you luck if you touch it (isn’t that a good line)!

Our legs were tired at this point – perhaps two walking tours in one day is too much! We walked down the hill to find dinner and settled for a small pizza place called U Bodovce that also served traditional food. Becky and I shared a pork knuckle and a goulash – they were both very tasty. The same restaurant had a live jazz band playing.

We then went home to change and go out to look at the Charles Bridge – it is very popular and busy in the day but quieter at night. Prague was stunning at night, especially the castle which is all lit up (thanks to the Rolling Stones who visited and were surprised the building was unlit so paid for the lighting).

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Charles Bridge by night

Day 3:
We got up and headed to the station to take the train to Kutna Hora (about an hour’s journey) to see a church called the Sedlec Ossuary there which is decorated with the bones of 40,000 people. The train was old and the brakes squealed in the heat every time we slowed down or stopped. When we arrived, we walked through the dusty heat to the church. It was weird, but fascinating. There were piles of skulls in each corner of the quite small church, garlands of bones, a shield of bones and a giant goblet of bones.

We found lunch at a supermarket and went back to Prague to see some more of the Jewish Museum. First we visited the Pinkas Synagogue where thousands of names and dates of Jews from Prague were written on the walls in memorial. There was also had an exhibition of children’s drawings from the concentration camp Terezin – some of happy dreams, some of their terrible situation. It was really quite haunting, especially as there were dates by the drawings indicating that most of them had died between the ages of ten to fourteen.

Afterwards we visited the Jewish Cemetery, which was too small for the needs of the Jewish town, so graves were layered on top of one another, sometimes up to ten deep. There were many headstones, all tilted at odd angles – Prague is full of these kinds of fascinating places.

We then took a tram to the castle side of the river to take the funicular railway up Petrin Hill to the rose garden at the top. Our legs were so tired that we just sat around in the afternoon sun for a while before returning to our hostel for tea.

The previous evening we had walked through Old Town Square and it had been full of young people sitting on the floor, drinking and chatting. We decided to do the same and headed out with some beers and ciders to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the square at night. It was such a beautiful, tranquil place to sit – until a road sweeper came along and forced everyone to stand up and move over as it went by! Must keep that square clean eh?

Day 4:
We checked out, but remained in the hostel to read and use the wifi until we had to leave for our train. On the way we walked past the stunningly ornate Jerusalem synagogue – my parting shot of Prague!

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Jerusalem Synagogue

Tips for Prague:
– Go for at least 4 full days – there is so much to see in Prague
– The Jewish history here is eye-opening, it is definitely worth seeing the museums and possibly doing a day trip to Terezin.
– Do a walking tour, the castle tour was especially good.
– Definitely go for a drink in the Old Town Square at night, the atmosphere is incredible – there are many bars or if you’re poor like us, grab some beers from the shop and take a seat on the floor.
– If you like meat, the traditional food is amazing – vegetarians and vegans, prepare to do some restaurant research!
– Beer is cheaper than water (not technically a tip – but good to know!)

Memories of Munich

20th – 23rd July

Arriving:
The train from Berlin Hauptbahnhoff to Munich Hauptbahnhoff is direct and takes 6hrs 15mins.

Staying:
We stayed at a Wombats Hostel, which is a chain with hostels in various European cities. We stayed at three Wombats hostels in total and were very impressed with them. It cost us £27.03 per person per night in an 6 bed mixed dorm (which we thought was all female until Emily woke up to see a naked guy standing on the other side of the room). The hostel was near to the centre, just across the road from the main station.

It was a large room with three sets of bunk beds, a bench with seats and an ensuite bathroom. There were lockers which could be locked and unlocked with your key-card. There was no air con, but there were fans in the room. The view was just down onto the street, nothing special. Downstairs there was a large lounge area, a bar which served some basic food for dinner and a cheap breakfast.

Day 1:
When we arrived and ate some very basic pizza at the hostel – I wouldn’t recommend it for evening eating – there are plenty of lovely places to eat in Munich centre. We then went out for a walk into the centre, which wasn’t far down the road. Munich is a very nice city, with some lovely buildings such as the Cathedral and the Town Hall.

As it was Becky’s birthday we decided to head to a Biergarten and have a drink. I had a beer, Emily had a coke, Becky had shandy and Hayley had a Spezi (which is like fanta and pepsi mixed together – it’s really quite nice). The place we went to was called Augustiner Klosterwirt which served a tasty light beer. It was also right next to the cathedral and a lovely fountain – the Mushroom Fountain. We paddled in the fountain, soaking up the summer evening atmosphere and took lots of photos before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.

Day 2:
We got up suitably late after a good sleep and went down for breakfast. Hayley used to live near Munich for two years and so had planned the next couple of days for us. We caught the train out to Starnberg, where Hayley used to live, where there is a lovely big lake that you can swim in. We planned to have a lazy time swimming in the lake and lounging on the grass next to it.

Tips for Munich:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Try to get out of the city – the surrounding countryside is amazing – especially Starnberg.
– Skinny dip! If you feel inclined it is one of the best places to do it, either at Starnberg or in the Englischer Garten.
– Try the beer! Even if you’re not a massive beer fan, at least have a shandy to get you in the Bavarian spirit.
– Wander round the city centre at night. It is so serene and lovely, especially by the mushroom fountain and in Marienplatz.

Briefly Berlin

18th-20th July

Arriving:
The train from Amsterdam Centraal to Berlin Hauptbahnhoff is direct and takes 6hrs 20mins.

Staying:
We stayed at a place called Generator Hostel (we stayed at Prenzlauer Berg instead of Mitte as it was much cheaper). It cost us £12.22 per person per night in an 8 bed mixed dorm. The hostel was well out of the centre, but as the rail system is so good in Berlin, it wasn’t a problem – especially as it is right next to Landsberger Allee station.

It was a basic room with simple bed frames. Under the bed were storage cages which you could lock your stuff into. The toilets and showers were along the corridor from the room and were also very basic. There wasn’t much of a view and at the time we stayed there, there was building work happening next door which was quite noisy. Downstairs there was a bar area with a large outdoor space, but no kitchen. There was a cafeteria area, but it closed quite early. Round the corner were a few fast food places, like Burger King.

Day 1:
When we arrived it was late and the hostel had stopped serving food, so we got Burger King, then went to the bar and had a few drinks, before it closed, again quite early.

Day 2:
We decided to do a free walking tour on the second day – which is a great way to see a city on a low budget! We met at the Brandenburg Gate. Our tour was with Sandeman’s new Europe Tours and our guide was a Mancunian called Rob Shaw, who kept making jokes about the UK. He was really knowledgeable and  enthusiastic and did an amazing job of getting us excited about Berlin.

He showed us the statue of Goethe in Tierpark, the Holocaust memorial, where Hitler’s bunker was, parts of the Berlin wall, checkpoint Charlie as well as some of the older history of Berlin – the musical, artistic, cultural and educational aspects, such as the opera house and Humboldt University (where Einstein taught). By Humboldt was a memorial to the books burnt by the Nazis called the Empty Library. We finished the tour by Berlin Cathedral, which looks very old, but was actually built in the nineteenth century.

After the wonderful tour, we found lunch by the cathedral – currywurst! It is a Berlin fast food favourite – Bratwurst with curry ketchup and chips – yum!

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We walked back through Alexander Platz where the TV tower stands, now a panorama point and restaurant. We then headed east to visit the east-side gallery – a wonderful collection of art on a very long section of still-standing Berlin wall. This was excellent, the highlight of the day, definitely worth the train ride to get there.

We went back to our hostel to change, then headed to the Reichstag building where we had booked in to climb the dome. We received an audio guide, but found it a little long-winded. The views from up there are spectacular – especially as we went when the sun was going down. This is definitely worth doing.

We then went out on a pub crawl, also organised by Sandemans. You got a wristband for entry into four bars plus the club Matrix with a free drink in each of the bars. It was fun, but a LOT of walking – wear sensible shoes if you attempt this! Personally I would recommend just going to Matrix, but don’t arrive too early – Berliner’s don’t like to go out until around midnight!

Day 3:
We got up very early and staggered to the train station to go to the Hauptbahnhoff. Some work was being done, so the trains were not running as normal and it was not obvious what was happening, this meant we missed the train we intended to get to Munich. We had to sit around, tired and hungover, waiting for the next train – so much for German transport efficiency!

Tips for Berlin:
– Go for at least three full days.
– See the East Side Gallery.
– Climb the dome of the Reichstag at sunset, the views are stunning.
– If you go clubbing anywhere in Europe, do it here – Matrix is a really good club.
– The history of Berlin is part of what makes the city what it is – acquaint yourself with Berlin’s past, walking tours are a great place to start!

Amster-damn!

This summer I went InterRailing. It was a post-uni adventure for me and my three friends who also graduated from the same degree.

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Becky, Emily, me and Hayley graduating three days before we headed to Europe.

I meant to write a blog for each place as I traveled around but I had some technical issues with uploading images.

I have decided to write retrospective blogs for each place we visited just summing up what we did and my tips for visiting each place.

 

AMSTERDAM: 16th-18th July

Arriving:
Amsterdam seemed like a good place to start as it is easy to get to from the UK by a Eurostar to Brussels then a train onwards to Amsterdam Centraal.

Staying:
We stayed at a place called Meininger Hotel which cost us £28.43 per person per night for a four person room. The hostel was out of the centre which was okay for us, especially as it was the cheapest place we could find and we could get a number 22 bus into Amsterdam in just 15mins.

It was a lovely room, with comfortable, clean beds and a nice shower and toilet as well as air con (the windows don’t open). There were also big lockers in the room. The view was of another unoccupied building. Downstairs there was a bar area and a small kitchen which was relatively well equipped. There is a small food shop nearby which also sells alcohol.

Day 1:
On the first day, we went out and has some lunch at a place called Bagels and Beans, which was very nice and not particularly expensive. We then had a walk through the picturesque canal streets.


The inner part of Amsterdam is very pretty with canals, little bridges and tall houses. We walked for quite a while and went down a very narrow street, where we discovered some red-lit windows. As it was daytime the windows were mostly empty, but we had stumbled upon one of Amsterdam’s seedier offerings. We found ourselves near the main station, so headed home to have dinner at the hostel.

Day 2:
We got up early to go to the Anne Frank museum. We had booked in advance online, which is recommended, else there are very long queues. You are not allowed to take photos in the museum, but it is a very chilling place. To walk through the rooms where the family actually lived and read Anne’s eloquent descriptions of her life in the annex, was very sad. but a worthwhile experience. There were also videos to watch around the museum – including an especially emotional one  of Anne’s father discussing reading her diary after her death.

To lighten the mood after the Anne Frank museum, we visited the cheese museum along the road. It had information about how cheese is made as well as cheese samples. After this we headed to the Red Light Secrets museum, which was an eye-opener into the world of prostitution in Amsterdam. On the way we found a giant clog in Dam Square.

The prostitution museum was very interesting, especially an installation of a “window” you could sit in front of, which showed video of people walking by, leering, talking photos and laughing.

We then went for lunch in a cute yellow hut which sold incredible burgers – called Het Stadspaleis. It was lovely. After this we headed to a pub which had a neon/ UV mini-golf course in the basement. The installation/ statues were stunning.

We had a pint in the pub then walked to a panorama point on top of the NEMO science museum which has fountains on it. There were views over the whole city!

Day 3:
We only had the morning before we had to leave for our train, so we briefly went down to the museum quarter and took a photo with the “i amsterdam” sign. If we had had more time I would have liked to have visited the Van Gogh museum, Vondelpark and perhaps the Rijksmuseum – turns out that only one full day in Amsterdam is not enough.

Tips for Amsterdam:
– Go for at least three full days.
– Book early as accommodation is quite expensive.
– There are loads of amazing museums to see – the Red Light Secrets and Anne Frank museums are especially worth a visit.
– There is a strong smell of marijuana,  just to warn you. Also the red light district is very overt and sex shops display products very obviously in their windows.
– Go to Het Stadspaleis for lunch if you like perfectly cooked burgers.