Slovenia – Ljubljana, Lake Bled, Postojna and Piran

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Slovenia might be a very small country but there are so many amazing things to see and do that you could spend quite a long time here exploring  the beautiful architecture in the capital Ljublijana, to the forest covered mountains near Lake Bled, to the impressive caves in Postojna and the peacefulness of the seaside town of Piran.

Bec and I travelled from Budapest to Ljubljana by train and checked into Celica Hostel, a renovated former prison that boasts some cleverly designed dorm rooms in the cells, and some great bars and dining areas downstairs. The hot chocolate was amazing and the perfect accompaniment to their toasted cheese and ham sandwiches as an afternoon snack. The hostel usually puts on dinner and some form of entertainment each night which meant there was always a great atmosphere. Another highlight were the very helpful, friendly staff who made it a very pleasant stay – I highly recommend it.

On our first day Bec and I explored Ljubljana, wandering the gorgeous cobblestone lanes flanked by quaint cafes and boutique shops. The Ljubljanica River runs through the town and is crossed by several delightful bridges including the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge which connect the main part of town to the Old Town and Castle Hill. Bec and I made the ascent to the top of Castle Hill by foot but there is also a funicular that will save you the trek. The Castle wasn’t as impressive as I’d have hoped as it has had so many renovations over the years it hasn’t quite retained it’s old-world charm. However, the history of the Castle is very interesting as it was originally a fortification before taking on other purposes such as a military hospital, a prison, a settlement for poor villagers and now houses a museum. The museum itself isn’t overly interesting though, and the virtual tour will likely put you straight to sleep. The best part about the castle was the great views of the town, although it was a little foggy the day we were there.

Cobblestone streets of Ljubljana

Ljubljanica River

Dragon Bridge

Triple Bridge and the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation

Town Centre and the restored Robba Fountain 

The castle courtyard

The castle’s outer wall

The view from the top of the castle

The next day Bec and I embarked on a day trip to Lake Bled which we had heard was absolutely idyllic, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. The emerald lake is surrounded by beautiful snow-capped mountains and in the middle there is a small island with a church which looks like something straight off a postcard. We wandered around the lake and took a gondola over to the island, expertly guided by a lovely old man who waited while we explored the island and then took us back. The church on the island was delightful and houses a the ‘lucky’ bell which you can ring three times and make a wish. Bec and I both managed to stuff up the ringing of the bell with her ringing it too few times and me going overboard and ringing it far too many times. Don’t be confused by the simplicity of ringing a bell, this wasn’t as easy as it looks. At any rate we didn’t like our chances of our wishes coming true! After visiting the island and making our way around the lake we also ventured up the hill to Bled Castle which sits atop a rocky cliff and provides breathtaking views of the lake, the valley and the surrounding mountains.

Church of the Assumption

Ringing the ‘lucky bell’ a little over-zealously 

Bled Castle 

The view from Bled Castle

Warming up with a hot choc and some cheesecake on the banks of Lake Bled

After the bus ride back to Ljubljana and another night at Celica we jumped on another bus and headed to the town of Postojna where the Postojna Cave is located. Postojna Cave is a 5.7km long cavern where you take an electric train deep into the cave before beginning a walking tour so you can marvel at the towering stalagmites and stalactites. Being the longest publicly accessible cave system in the world the enormity of the caverns was very impressive and it was interesting to see the different appearance of the rock formations as we progressed through the caves.

Trying out one of the old-style cave trains

Inside the cave

Next it was another bus to the sleepy coastal town of Piran which is located just north of the Croatian border. After having quite a difficult time finding a hostel, due to the fact it was off-peak and most were shut, we came across one that would take us in for the night. After a delicious Italian-inspired meal we crashed before heading out to explore the town the next day. Unfortunately a lot of our time was taken up by trying to figure out how to get out of Piran as there were very infrequent buses and trains at that time of year. But when we did venture out we found Piran to be a gorgeous little town with winding narrow alleyways and lovely ocean views with the climb up the town wall well worth it to see the spectacular views overlooking the town.

Sampling the local cusine

Town Square

The winding alleyways of Piran

The view from atop the Town Wall

Just a note to anyone thinking of travelling around Slovenia in off-peak season: it’s fantastic if you can get good weather, which we did, because you are likely to be one of only a few people at any of the tourist spots, whereas I can guarantee during summer they will be absolutely packed. However, transport can be a bit of an issue between places so make sure you look up routes before you travel somewhere because you could become stuck there for a few days waiting for the next bus or train to wherever you want to go next.

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Budapest: The Delight of The Danube

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After my magical day in Bruges, it was back to London for the night before I was off to the airport to fly to Budapest in Hungary to meet up with Bec for my first European backpacking trip. After an uneventful flight with Wizz Air and a train ride into the city I met Bec and headed to our hostel, the fantastic Tiger Tim’s Place.

The next day Bec and I headed out for a wander around the city to take in the sights. First off we stopped at the beautiful St Stephen’s Basilica where you can visit the mummified hand of Saint Stephen, the first King of Hungary who died in 1038. Bit weird, but whatever. The spires of the church are of equal height to those on the Parliament building to show that the church and the state are of equal importance. No building is allowed to exceed the height of these buildings in Budapest.

The box containing Saint Stephen’s hand

The Parliament Building is located down on the banks of the beautiful Danube River which flows through the majority of the capital cities in Eastern Europe. The building is very similar to the Houses of Parliament in London and is in the Gothic Revival style that makes it an absolute delight to behold.

Nearby is a Jewish memorial which honors the Jews who were killed in that place during World War II. They were ordered to take their shoes off on the edge of the river and were then shot so that their bodies would fall into the river and would be carried away The memorial features iron shoes scattered along the promenade of the river.

Next we crossed over the river to the Buda side of the city (originally Budapest was three cities, Buda, Pest and Obuda) which is dominated by Castle Hill where most of Budapest’s medieval buildings are located. Here we saw Buda Castle, the former palace of the Hungarian royal family, the nearby Sandor Palace, the residence of the President of Hungary, the Matthias Church, and a statue of King Saint Stephen. From the top of the hill there are spectacular views of the city. I also revisited this area at night to see the city lights which was incredibly beautiful.

Buda Castle

Buda Castle

Matthias Church

Parliament Building

King Saint Stephen Statue

One of the highlights of our stay in Budapest was the trip to the Szechenyi thermal baths where we lazed about in several different pools at different temperatures and relaxed in the sauna. I even had a special Hungarian massage which was quite strange but enjoyable nonetheless. It was an afternoon of absolute bliss!

Budapest also has a bustling nightlife which we of course took the opportunity to experience. First though we’d get the party started at the hostel playing Beer Jenga with a great bunch of people also staying there. The owner, Tim, is a very friendly Irish guy who makes it part of his job description to ensure everyone has a fantastic night out and took us to some great places in town. We went to the very cool Szimpla where we tried some hookah, and also headed out to a nightclub called Pink which was quite interesting, the main attraction being a pole in the middle of the dance floor with a pink ball on top that kept us entertained for hours. We also went to a fantastic karaoke pub called Morrison’s Music Pub where they played fantastic music or you could try your hand at karaoke. Note: Learn from the mistakes of Rebecca Bruce – Tina Arena’s ‘Chains’ does not exactly whip the crowd into a frenzy when singing karaoke in a Hungarian bar. If only they’d had Daryl Braithwaite hey Bec!

The art of beer Jenga

The punishment for tower destruction

Hooked on hookah

Bec and the Pink pole

Making the most of happy hour at Morrison’s Music Pub

I absolutely loved Budapest with its gorgeous buildings and interesting history. The cafes and restaurants, the nightlife and the great people made it a fantastic experience. No trip to Eastern Europe is complete without a stay in this beautiful city, especially if you can get some amazing weather like we did.

In Bruges

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So the only thing I knew about Bruges was that it was the setting for a movie that starred Colin Farrel as a grumpy assassin. Oh and that it’s in Belgium.

But I was soon going to learn that it is a gorgeous, quaint little town that makes you feel like you’ve taken a step back in time. But before we get to that, let’s start at the beginning…

As I said previously my friend Matika had invited me to go on a trip to France for the day with her and her friend Jo. Jo had found an amazing deal that included a trip on the ferry from Dover to Calais and a 6-pack of wine for the ridiculous price of £20. What a bargain! So of course I decided to tag along.

Jo picked us up and we headed off and it wasn’t long before she let us know that in fact we were going to spend the day in Bruges. Okey doke, sounds good to me!

After a quick trip down to Dover, a smooth ferry ride to Calais and a short drive to Bruges (Jo driving expertly on the wrong side of the road) I was ready to experience my first European town.

White Cliffs of Dover

Castle on top of the cliffs of Dover

On board the ferry to Calais 

Bruges was absolutely gorgeous, with delightful cobblestone lanes and charming buildings. The town had that feel of European sophistication but also of a quaint village appeal that made you feel like you could most definitely live there. It wasn’t a large town and I think you could certainly see the majority of the sights in a day, especially if you jump on board one of the cute horse drawn carts that frequent the streets or a boat ride on the canals. There are some grand buildings to take in but I think the most spectacular part of the town was watching the boats and ducks making their way along the canals and reflections of the enchanting buildings and bridges on the water.

Another of the amazing things about Bruges was being able to sample Belgium’s famously delicious fares – waffles, chocolates, mussels and of course, beer! Everywhere we walked around the town there were brightly lit chocolate stores tempting us with their mouth-watering delicacies. Lunch consisted of the most incredible waffles, smothered in chocolate sauce, icecream and strawberries and accompanied by a glass of Belgian beer. Towards the end of the day we stocked up with bags and bags of all the different flavoured choccies and then headed to a cozy restaurant to enjoy an enormous pot of steaming mussels. We were in culinary heaven!

After dinner it was back in the car for the trip to Calais and ferry ride back to grey old England. What a day! I was absolutely delighted by the beauty of Bruges and extremely satisfied with the delicious cuisine on offer. Thanks Mitika and Jo!

London Calling

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Okay, okay, I know I’ve been very slack and have let the blog fall way behind. Sorry! I’m going to try really hard to get it back up to date and keep it that way. Alrighty, here we go…

So after the three most exciting, crazy, adventurous, amazing months of my life, I boarded a plane from Rio de Janeiro to London in order to start the next instalment of my overseas experience.

The plan: get a job, find somewhere to live and enjoy all that England has to offer.

First off though I checked into a hostel in Piccadilly Circus so I could get to know the city that I’ll be calling home for the foreseeable future. After three months of staying in pretty damn good hostels all around South America I had such high hopes for Piccadilly Backpackers. Surely London hostels would be of the highest quality considering it is the home of some of the grandest buildings in the world.

Boy, was I bitterly disappointed! Piccadilly Backpackers was the worst hostel I had ever stayed in!

Horrible dorms, horrible beds, horrible staff and the most hideously horrible bathrooms I’ve encountered. They gave the hole in the ground toilets on the Inca Trail a run for their money in terms of disgustingness! I’m not even sure if disgustingness is a word, but it should be!

Anyway, let’s just say I didn’t stick around for too long, after a couple of days I decided to try another hostel out near Notting Hill called Hyde Park Hostel. Sounds nice doesn’t it? Wrong again! It was even worse! The rickety old stairs I had to cart my backpack up for three floors felt like my foot would go through them at any step.

Anyway, enough of the bitching and moaning. Apart from the below standard hostels, London is absolutely amazing!

And you won’t believe it but it was actually sunny when I arrived. I jumped on the tube which is so easy to navigate (although I’ve been told I will learn to hate the tube and everyone on it once I start the peak hour commute to work!) and when I jumped out a Piccadilly Circus it was such a relief to finally be able to ask someone for directions in English!

After checking in to the previously mentioned hell-hole, I got out and explored this amazing city. I did a walking tour that visited some of the most famous sites including Hyde Park, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey. It wasn’t long before I experienced the dreaded London drizzle but it certainly wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for seeing some of these amazing buildings and sites that I have heard so much about and have always wanted to see with my own eyes. It’s just incredible hearing the history of the different places and the beauty of the architecture is just stunning. I just can’t believe how old some of the places are here, it’s so different to back home in Australia.

Wellington Arch – Hyde Park Corner

Serpentine Lake – Hyde Park

Buckingham Palace Gates

Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guard – Buckingham Palace

Changing of the Guard – Buckingham Palace

Guard outside St James’s Palace

National Gallery – Trafalgar Square

Nelson’s Column – Trafalgar Square

Big Ben – Houses of Parliament

Big Ben

Houses of Parliament 

London Eye across The Thames

Westminster Abbey

St Paul’s Cathedral

I also wandered around Kensington Gardens and saw Kensington Palace, explored the Museum of Natural History (really cool), visited Notting Hill and checked out the city nightlife.

Kensington Gardens on a gorgeous autumn day

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Palace Gardens

Royal Albert Hall

Central Hall at the Natural History Museum

Portobello Road – Notting Hill

After about a week of being in London I realised I had been procrastinating on my original plan of finding a job and a house so I decided perhaps I hadn’t quite finished with travelling. It was about that time that I got two amazing offers from some friends. First, my friend Matika who I met in Argentina said that her and a friend were going to France for the day because they had signed up for some amazing deal to get the ferry from Dover over to Calais. “Would you like to come, we’re going on Thursday?” Mitika says to me on Tuesday, “Um, yeah I would!” (We actually ended up going to Bruges in Belgium in the end, but more on that later).

The next day I meet up with my friend Rebecca who I’ve known since uni, “I’m flying back to Budapest on Friday and travelling south through Eastern Europe, would you like to come?” says Rebecca, “Um, yeah I would!

So that was that, a week and a half after arriving in London I was off again, but I’d be back again soon, well eventually…

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