The Croatian Coast – Pula, Split, Hvar, Dubrovnik

4 Comments

Our first stop in Croatia was a small town called Pula in the Istria County in northern Croatia. Despite the fact that it is a short distance from Piran in Slovenia, it was an epic journey trying to get from one place to the next due to a lack of transport options in the low season. So after a bus ride, two train trips and another bus ride we finally arrived in Pula. A 100km journey that should take 1.5 hours by car ended up taking us an entire day!

We stayed in a great hostel called Riva Hostel, the guy who ran it (sorry I can’t remember your name) was absolutely lovely and gave us lots of advice on the things to do and see around the town. The town has some amazing Roman buildings that are in excellent condition. The most impressive is the Amphitheatre which is incredibly well preserved and looks like a smaller, but more complete, version of the Colusseum in Rome (not that I’ve been there, but I’ve seen pictures). Other remarkable structures include the the Arch of the Sergii and Temple of Rome and Augustus built on the main forum in the town.

Pula Amphitheatre

Bec and I fighting like gladiators (it looks like I’m winning!)

Arch of the Sergii

Temple of Rome and Augustus

We also did a walk from the north of the town all the way along the coastline to the south which was extremely pretty. Just make sure you take a map if you decide to do something similar while there. At one stage we found ourselves wandering through random farmlands as it was impossible to follow the coastline at that particular point.

Next up was the gorgeous town of Split on the Dalmatian Coast. Bec and I had been considering trying out Couch Surfing and we contacted a guy called Mladen who kindly let us stay at his house for two evenings and gave us some local advice to help us enjoy Split.

The Old City of Split is within the walls of what was once Diocletian’s Palace which was built in 305 AD. We spent a lot of our time there wandering around the shops inside the palace walls and enjoying the sunshine at the lovely cafes on the promenade overlooking the port. There is also an abundance of great bars and restaurants that give the city a great atmosphere during the evenings. We moved into a hostel in town so we could take advantage of the nightlife and went out with a group of people for one of the guys birthdays. The evening festivities included drinking the traditional Croatian liqueur Rakija in multiple flavours and not so traditional swing dancing at a local club. It was an interesting evening!

Inside the palace walls

The view from the promenade

Out on the town in Split. Good times!

After a couple of days in Split we decided to take a day trip on a ferry out to the island of Hvar. If I was there during peak season I would’ve loved to spend a few days on Hvar, however during winter most of the attractions are closed and the hostels are shut down. However, it was still absolutely gorgeous. We did a walk along the coastline and the climbed up to the fortress on the hill that has spectacular views overlooking the town of Hvar and the port. Luckily a few of the restaurants were still open in the town so we enjoyed a delicious meal to feed our appetite after all the walking.

Testing the water (it was bloody cold!) 

The narrow streets leading to the top of the town

The view from the top

Enjoying some delicious Hvar cuisine

The next town we visited as part of our Croatian odyssey was Dubrovnik. This very popular tourist destination is an incredible walled city with a beautiful coastline. We stayed in a part of town away from the main city and just caught a bus in to visit the Old Town. On the first evening we explored the area where we were staying, once again strolling along the coast and enjoying a vino as the sunset.

We spent a day wandering around the Old Town, including walking the wall which encloses the city. The cobblestone streets of the city appear as though they still belong to ancient times and we spent ages getting lost amongst the winding streets and stumbling across open squares with shops and bars. I think usually these streets would be crowded with people but at this time of year we almost had the place to ourselves. The weather was stunning and we even managed to work up a bit of a sweat while wandering around the walls of the city and had to have an ice-cream to cool down.

The main entrance to the city

Stradun, the main street of Dubrovnik

The Roland Statue

Winding back streets

Views from the city wall

Strangest basketball court I’ve ever seen!

Adriatic sunset

Whilst the city was absolutely stunning, the history of Dubrovnik is what amazed me most. After declaring independence in 1991 from Yugoslavia the city was attacked by the Serbian-Montenegrin army and the siege lasted seven months. In that time, over 50% of the town was damaged (luckily it has now been restored in its original style). We visited a photography exhibition that showed the before and after photos of the siege and it was just devastating to see. What amazes me is how recently it happened, some of the buildings are still being repaired and a huge percentage of the population remember clearly what it was like to be living in the city during those times.

Croatia is an absolutely spectacular country with one of the most gorgeous coastlines I’ve seen. I’d love to go back during summer and take advantage of the lovely beaches but I can’t complain about the fantastic weather we had in November. My recommendation would be to get there quick before more travellers realise what a gem this country is and it becomes overrun like the Greek islands.

So, who else has been to Croatia? Is there anything I missed out on? Is the capital Zagreb worth visiting?

Advertisements

Budapest: The Delight of The Danube

Leave a comment

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.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

1 Comment

I have been to some incredible cities while on this trip but I think Rio would have to be the most incredible city I’ve seen. The way that the city is designed is just amazing, huge skyscrapers built amongst mountains right next to spectacular beaches. From above the views of the city are just jaw-dropping.

I stayed in a hostel called Che Lagarto which is one block back from Ipanema beach, one beach over from Copacobana. It was a fantastic hostel and the people who work there were absolutely lovely. They also do open bar on Thursday nights which is always great fun as I found out with my new Aussie friends Harry and Giles, my French friend Greg and Norwegian friend Hanne.

Just having a drink or three at open bar night at Che Lagarto

Ipanema beach is gorgeous and Copacabana was really cool, although when I was there it was overcast so it didn’t look as spectacular as I’m sure it would on a sunny day.

Ipanema Beach

Copacabana Beach

On my second day in Rio I did a city tour which took us to Christ the Redeemer, Santa Teresa, the Cathedral, Lapa Steps, and Sugarloaf Mountain.

The views from Christ the Redeemer and Sugarloaf Mountain were absolutely amazing, giving a grand view of the entire city including Copacabana, Ipanema and Centro.

At the Lapa Steps we were able to meet Selaron, the artist who created the masterpiece, and I got him to sign a postcard for me. He was a bit crazy but apparently we caught him on a good day because a lot of the time he doesn’t even come out of his house which is right next to the steps.

On another day a group of us went to Barra de Tijuca where there is a beautiful beach. Alejandro, Andrea, Greg and I had an absolutely fabulous day lazing about and enjoying the sun (and a sneaky caipirinha).

Rio is also an amazing place to go out. Twice I went out salsa dancing in Copacabana, then went to an incredible street party in Lapa with people everywhere, cheap drinks and plenty of samba, and on my last night (Halloween) had a great night out drinking in Lapa and then dancing like idiots in Ipanema.

The food in Brazil is also incredible. I tried some sushi (thanks to encouragement from Greg) and it was delicious but the Brazilians really love there meat which means I was very happy. On my last night, Greg, Hanne and I all went out for churasco, which is pretty much all you can eat meat (chicken, beef, pork, sausage) with a side of rice and chips. Accompanied by a nice glass of red wine, of course. It was AMAZING!!

The vibe in Rio is absolutely awesome! It really has a buzz that makes it the exciting place that it is. The people are all gorgeous and aren’t afraid to let you know it. The guys all get around in tiny swimmers (or budgie smugglers as we’d call them in Australia) and the women wear g-string bikinis, most of the time on the beach I didn’t know where to look!

I’m so glad I went to Rio, because it wasn’t originally on my list of places to visit. And despite many people telling me that it can be dangerous, I felt safe all the time I was there. Rio is definitely a city I’d recommend visiting, but be aware that it’s expensive compared to the rest of South America, with prices for most things on par with Sydney or London.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Leave a comment

After an epic 20-hour bus ride from Bariloche I arrived in beautiful Buenos Aires. However, I wasn’t aware that it was actually a long weekend for Columbus Day which meant that all the hostels were booked out. After trying to get a bed in several hostels my taxi driver suggested a cheap hotel nearby where I could stay. It was awful! But I wasn’t going to sit in my room by myself on a Saturday night, my first in Buenos Aires, so I headed back to my first hostel of choice (Milhouse Avenue) so I could book in for the next night and hopefully meet some people. There, I ran into a friend I had met in La Paz and her travel companions so we ended up having a great night of drinking and dancing and the next day I moved into Milhouse where the party continued for the next five nights.

While in Buenos Aires I visited some of the wonderful neighbourhoods close to the city including Recoleta, San Telmo, La Boca, and Palermo. Here is a little about what each area has to offer:

Recoleta – here I did a tour of the famous cemetery where Evita is buried. The people who are buried here are placed in beautiful tombs that are elaborately decorated and look like miniature churches. We also wondered around the markets here which have stalls with jewellery, art, clothes and food.

Evita’s grave.

San Telmo – here we visited the Sunday Antiques Fair where there are so many beautiful stalls of antiques and people dancing tango in the streets. We also has lunch in a restaurant where we were able to experience a live tango show. Tango is such an amazing dance and a very important part of the Buenos Aires culture.

La Boca – this part of town is very unique as it is where a lot of the immigrants first arrived in Buenos Aires and built their houses. Paint left over from painting the boats on the nearby docks was used to paint the houses so they are extemely bright colours and give the area a vibrancy I’ve never seen before. People from Boca are also very passionate about their football team, Boca Juniors, so it was great to be able to visit the stadium there and see where the infamous Maradona once played.

Palermo – this is a gorgeous part of town where there are lots of beautiful little boutique shops and large park areas. I spent plenty of time wondering the streets but wasn’t able to explore the parks as it started raining the day I was there. My lovely friend Rachel from back home took me shopping nearby one day and we spent hours looking at a the beautiful leather products on offer. Rachel spotted some great shoes and I ended up buying a beautiful red handbag made of Argentinian leather. A very successful day capped off with a delicious cocktail, thanks Rach!

A couple of other things I enjoyed while in Buenos Aires:

La Cabrera restaurant – I was told this was the best steak restaurant in Buenos Aires and it defiantly lives up to it’s reputation. If you arrive there at 7pm and eat before 8:30 your meal is half price,which makes it extremely good value. A fantastic restaurant with great service, delicious food and beautiful wine.

Tango Show – seeing a tango show in Buenos Aires is a must do in my opinion. We went to one at Complejo Tango where you get to do a tango lesson then watch a show while enjoying a three course dinner and unlimited wine. It was such a great night, the lesson was fun, the food was amazing and the show was spectacular!

Showing off our certificates after successfully completing our tango class.

One thing to keep in mind when visiting BA is that things don’t kick off until really late. Portenos (BA locals) don’t have dinner until 10pm and generally you don’t head to clubs until about 2am. An afternoon siesta is almost a must so you can keep up.

Overall, I had a brilliant time in Buenos Aires and think that it is an amazing city! Beautiful neighborhoods, delicious food and wine and a great night life.

Bariloche

1 Comment

The only thing I didn’t like about Bariloche was that I was only able to stay one night there.

Bariloche is just over the Andes in Argentina and sits very close by to a volcano which has been erupting on and off for quite some time. You Australians may remember the ash that swept across Australia canceling virtually all the flights in the southern states earlier in the year, well this is the same volcano that caused that. Which means that a lot of the surrounding areas are covered in ash and many of the trees and other plants have died. Bariloche residents were still in the process of cleaning up te last lot if ash when we arrived. It was a beautiful town and the hostel I stayed in (Penthouse 1004) had the most amazing views over the lake.

The view from my dorm room. Not bad eh?

Bariloche is the perfect place to do lots of different outdoor activities such as kayaking and paragliding, but because I was there for such a short amount of time I didn’t really get the chance.

Bariloche is also famous for it’s chocolate and has a number of huge stores around the town where you can buy any kind of chocolate you like by the kilo. So instead of getting into the outdoor activities I got into the chocolate, and boy was it good!

I met a great group of people in the hostel from all around the world and we had a huge cook up before going out partying. It was an absolutely fabulous night, mostly spent dancing, and also provided us with great views from the hostel when we got home at sunrise. Gorgeous!

Mendoza, Argentina

2 Comments

The trip from Santiago to Mendoza was an 8-hour bus ride over the Andes with the border crossing high up in the mountains. We’d been told that it was spectacular and worth doing during daylight hours, which is what we did and I’m very glad. The views were just amazing! Driving up through the mountains with snow covered peaks on either side of the road was unreal.

After the border crossing we descended to the other side and into the flat valleys of Mendoza where 70 % of the country’s wine is produced.

The next day we spent wandering around the town of Mendoza, hanging out in the Parque General San Martin and browsing Mercado Central to pick up some goodies for lunch among the vineyards the next day.

In the morning, Alan, our new friend Dan and I caught a local bus to Maipu where all the vineyards are located. We rented bikes from Mr Hugo’s and we were off. Throughout the day we visited around 4-5 bodegas (wineries) and a liqueria (where Alan decided to try a tobacco flavoured liquor – surprise, surprise, it was disgusting).

The wines we tried were mainly Cabinet Sauvignon and Malbec (which I’ve decided is my new favourite wine). The vineyards were all lovely and after paying a small entry price were happy to let us try a generous amount of wine (which we of course spat out like proper wine connoisseurs – NOT!!)

We had a delicious picnic lunch at one of the vineyards which consisted of cheese, prosciutto, crackers, strawberries and chocolate, and was well accompanied by a bottle of the winery’s Cabinet Sauvignon.

At the end of the day we bought a bottle of wine and went and sat among the vines to enjoy the last of the days sun before heading back to the bike hire place (a little wobbly on our bikes) where they supplied us with more wine until well into the night.

Now, I must warn anyone who thinks this sounds like a sophisticated day among the vineyards that it definitely was no stroll in the park. I think we probably ended up riding over 20 kilometers during the day, most of the roads are badly sign posted and a couple of the vineyards weren’t open when we got there. However, it was one of those truly unique experience that only South America can provide and I can honestly say that it has been one of the highlights of the trip so far.

Thanks to Alan (or Al-baby as he is to be known forthwith) and Dan for a great day and for not leaving the slow girl behind too much.

Looking a little worse for wear at the end of the day.

La Paz – Wild Rover

2 Comments

I previously mentioned that I stayed at the Wild Rover hostel while in La Paz which was absolutely fantastic! I’d recommend it to anyone but make sure you take with you a spare liver, because you’ll need it!

The guys that work there are all Irish and therefore know how to throw a good party – and party I did, almost every night. It was like being back at uni, with dress up nights (school disco being one of the memorable ones) hour of power (a shot of beer a minute for 60 minutes, although I had vodka instead – what a night!) and killer pool competitions (miss a shot, do a shot!)

Generally after the bar we’d head to one of the nearby clubs as a group (Blue House and Mongos were two of the notable ones) where the rest of the evening was made up of dancing like maniacs until very early in the morning.

I met so many great people and had some very fun times. My health and my ability to learn spanish the day after a big night definitely suffered but it was totally worth it!

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: