Category Archives: Europe

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Budapest: Europe’s Hidden Gem

Budapest, Hungary, is a fascinating place, with its imposing, gothic architecture and cute streets, that are lined with tired apartments and fresh roses. When you enter Europe’s hidden gem, you get the feeling that this is the best kept secret going around. The city feels forgotten, and the homely isolation of the quiet streets, with its small shop fronts, bars, and supermarkets, makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into familiar territory. A parallel universe of your home perhaps, only in a chic European city that somehow takes a backseat to the likes of Paris and Milan, even though it offers so much more value, and authentic culture, to its guests.

Budapest Parliament House

I’ve visited family a few times over the years in a small village, called Zalaegerszeg, and the polarity between the two has been striking. Budapest is the grand locale of a city on the come up – when you see those films with romantic European street corners, and a life of hard knocks, what you’re really seeing is Budapest: More beautiful than Paris, more character than Venice, more edgy that Prague, and better value than anywhere else in the world. Simply put, Budapest reigns King for those visitors who hopefully, have woken up to the painstaking reality that Europe doesn’t only comprise of France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. Europe wouldn’t be the same experience for me, even remotely, without places like Hungary, Greece, and Malta. The vibe from France, particularly, is missing what Hungary has. Put that down to its westernised culture, or its godspeed thrust towards cosmopolitanism… I don’t know. It’s not an observation you describe, but rather one that you feel.

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Zala, on the other hand, is a remote village that places you at the end of the world. This is the best place to reside if you want to get away from it all. Farm land, kind people, great wineries: This is Hungary’s version of the remote countryside, and it sure doesn’t disappoint. Only a little while away is Siofok, in Lake Balaton, one of Eastern Europe’s premier party destinations. The world’s biggest DJ’s and singers come here to keep the party rocking, beside a bright blue lake surrounded by wineries, cafes, restaurants, clubs, and bars.

Budapest Statues

Next time you’re considering Budapest, consider these two other places too. If you have a trip coming up, or know somebody who does, make sure to mention this post or tell them to investigate Hungary further. It costs little, and the rewards are immense. Having travelled throughout Europe on five occasions, all for extended periods of time,  I feel confident in saying that Budapest should be in your top three destinations in Europe, ahead of Paris and Venice.

There’s only so long that a best kept secret keeps, well, a secret. Go there while you still can!

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Barcelona: Everybody’s Favourite City

A bold title, I agree, but everybody I have met to date has claimed that Barcelona is their favourite European city. It’s very, very hard to not like the city, because after all, what’s not to like?

Can you honestly say that the festive atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter doesn’t get you going? That Camp Nou doesn’t captivate you, even if you’re not a football fan? What about the magnificent street art that colours the cityscape, transporting you into a happy world of delicious Spanish paella, garlic prawns, white wine, red wine, gin, pumping nightclubs with flare, pulsating alleyway bars with class, and a perfect beach adorned with famous clubs such as Opium, and relaxing restaurants serving up patrons in the sun?

Barcelona is my favourite city, as it no doubt is yours. If you disagree, I’d love to hear what makes your favourite city, well, your favourite city! But for now, let’s concentrate on the reasons why every backpacker should visit Barcelona. I’ll try to give a brief outline that doesn’t ruin the magic for those who haven’t been – otherwise it would be like explaining to you why the Notebook  is so sad, because everybody dies in the end (that spoiler alert was purposely after the fact): If I delve too much into the detail of Barcelona’s story, then your experience will be less of a surprise, and more of an expected showcase. And honestly, as a backpacker, I don’t want to ruin new experiences for anyone.

Las Ramblas: Hectic, pulsating, and definitely not the best place in Barca (but still good)!
Las Ramblas: Hectic, pulsating, and definitely not the best place in Barca (but still good)!

Las Ramblas is the street that most people tend to talk about most. It has everything you can think of when it comes to nightlife, and is a central area for tourists. Restaurants and bars line both sides of the street, as well as a middle island that separates both road lanes. Las Ramblas is, if nothing else, exhilarating for the amount of people it packs in, who are either trying to lure you into their ridiculously overpriced restaurants and bars, or are trying to sell you coke on the street. I wouldn’t say Las Ramblas is shady, although the common thought of drug dealers would scare most people away (they aren’t scary, they’re trying to make a living off tourists in a collapsed economy – not that that’s an excuse for drug dealing, but it’s a reality of the world we live in, so it must be accepted).

How should you prepare for Las Ramblas though? Especially when you hear about how touristy it is? Instead of giving away the flavour of the strip, I’ll just say this: Las Ramblas should be approached with the same expectations and realities that come with Times Square (NYC), Piccadilly Circus (London), and Rome (Italy): It’s interesting, overpriced, and a bit of a tourist trap when it comes to the genuine culture of the place. There is by no means anything wrong with the aforementioned areas, but if you really want to experience Barca, this is what you should do:

Gothic Quarter:

A maze of ancient streets, each with tiny shops, bars, and tapas restaurants. Hole-in-the-wall kind of places to hang out in. Beautiful, fashionable people. Want to hit the clubs while staying in the Gothic Quarter? Well, why do that when the alleys are filled with hipsters, boom boxes, and people dancing in the streets? That’s right, the Gothic Quarter of Barca is filled with enough vibrant night activity to really keep you going. After all, you can go to a nightclub at home, but can you party in the festive streets with an endless stream of friendly Spaniards? I think not.

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Hit the beach:

Going to Barca and not hitting the beach on the daily, is like going to Italy and not seeing Venice: It might be packed, but you’ll still regret it.

Barcelona Beach
Barcelona Beach

The beach is a bright topaz blue, and it is immensely popular in the summertime. There is plenty of space on the beach and on the sidewalk (where my dad fell asleep as people walked on by), and just off the boardwalk, you’ll find plenty of places to indulge in Spanish cuisine and local wines. People watching is a real spectacle here, and even the typical tourist shops selling cheap merchandise can be fun to check out.

Not too far back, there is a range of clubs, bars, and restaurants for people to enjoy
Not too far back, there is a range of clubs, bars, and restaurants for people to enjoy

Barca has one of the best beaches I have been to in Europe, outside of the Greek islands, and it’s highly recommended you go here at least twice during your Spanish adventure.

Park Güel

If you don’t know what this in, then here’s a hint: You know how you’ve been following my travel blog, or other travel blogs, and reading up on Barcelona, looking at all the colourful photos and vibrant streets? You know how you’ve been Google Imaging Barcelona for the past few hours, and thinking to yourself “This looks so beautiful,”? Well, all those images you’ve been looking at are of Park Güel, a real life “Alice In Wonderland” by architect Antoni Gaudí, who started construction on this renowned park in the early 1900s.

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It’s difficult to describe the feeling once you arrive here. You feel like you’ve recaptured your childhood as you explore eye-catching building designs, benches, and towers, all within the confines of a lush, green garden. Spanish mosaics make an appearance or two, and at the end of your massive walk around the hills, you begin to wonder to yourself: Why doesn’t the rest of the world look this good?

Camp Nou

If you’re not a football fan, it doesn’t matter. It’s sacrilegious to not visit the beating heart of this illustrious city. Camp Nou is home to football powerhouse Barcelona FC, the team of one of the greatest footballers in history – Lionel Messi. Camp Nou is impressive: While the stadium itself is huge, and the pitch well maintained and exceptionally green, the real treat of going to Camp Nou resides in its museum.

Yes, Camp Nou has a museum.

Featuring countless trophies from the club’s history, as well as projectors playing important moments from past games, the glory of this superior team can be felt emphatically. Emotional, uplifting, cinematic music plays all around you, while you observe pop art by Australian artists on the walls, tributes to legendary players, take a walk in the change rooms, and eventually, find yourself in the club’s official store, which is complete with the coolest sneakers, jerseys, and merchandise that money can buy.

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I know people who have zero interest in football and still  loved it here. So next time you’re in Barca, make sure to check it out. After all, the club is the talking point of the city!

What are your experiences of Barcelona? Share below so our readers can learn even more about this iconic city!

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Granada: Is This The Greatest Place Of All Time? Read Why!

Spain: You blew my mind.

For close to 10 years, I was convinced that no country or destination in the world could come anywhere near Greece, in terms of its culture, the aura which glides effortlessly over you as you sip on a Frappe, and the iconic world of ancient history, beautiful islands, and mean Athenian streets that shift from beauty to trash in one block. But I loved it, and I still do. This is why it’s so hard for me to say this:

Spain might just be better, and Granada? Jesus Christ. I will never forget Granada.

Alhambra at night
Alhambra at night

Granada, Spain, is a culturally rich town with ancient architecture, free tapas for every drink you purchase (and by tapas, I mean meals, so effectively you never have to buy a meal when travelling through here), and rows of shisha bars with a distinct Moroccan influence.

A typical teahouse in Granada: no alcohol, just sweets, coffee, and shisha!
A typical teahouse in Granada: no alcohol, just sweets, coffee, and shisha!

Home to the famous Alhambra palace, Granada is a real gem that every traveller to Spain should put at the top of their list! Isolated streets quickly become dark, and suddenly at midnight you find yourself in the thralls of action-packed nightclubs, lively bars, and a diverse mix of travellers who are out on the town for the same reason as you – to explore!

Tapas in Granada...They go overboard and give you a hearty meal! Nothing wrong with that....
Tapas in Granada…They go overboard and give you a hearty meal! Nothing wrong with that….

Granada is that kind of place that, when reflecting on how much of a great time you had in the Spanish heat, discovering little shops in twisting alleyways with art, hand-carved chessboards, and world class bars, makes you sad. Travel should make us happy, but when you long for a place that really got you buzzing, it’s hard not to feel deflated when you’re away from it. Post Travel Depression is a very real construct.

Granada streets make you move to a Spanish beat!
Granada streets make you move to a Spanish beat!

Do you have a place that leaves you longing for it? Spain and Greece have done this to me the most, although in truth, I miss everywhere I have been.

Still, there’s a magic in Spain and Greece that for me, cannot be surpassed. It’s captivating, and the thought of these ancient destinations never truly leaves you.

Malta

Malta: A Place You Have To Visit!

Backpacking Europe was one of the greatest times of my life. I had just graduated from university, and was ready to really start living. I viewed my time in high school and university as a mandatory prerequisite of life, and in truth, an obstacle to overcome before I could start my real education: Seeing the world.

Without doubt, formal education is nothing compared to real life experience. Formal education is largely a rote learning process involving facts and figures, the memorisation of principles which can be applied to real life scenarios, and an ability to basically master lateral thinking. It doesn’t, however, prepare you in any way whatsoever for the real world.

Enter Malta.

Lazy Days in Malta: There is no other place like it on earth.
Lazy Days in Malta: There is no other place like it on earth.

This Mediterranean island is an eclectic mix of Italian, Greek, and Phoenician influence, with a wonderful coating of Islamic rule to measure. The island’s architecture is ancient, weathered, and sunburnt. Italian cuisine is the main food choice, and the servings are very generous. Crepe stalls line the streets, serving chicken, onion, mushroom, and mango chutney crepes that are to die for! Football is more present here than anywhere else I have visited: Huge sports bars line the esplanade, complete with print-out rosters of that week’s games for all major codes (English Premier League, La Liga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, and of course, the Maltese Premier League).

The view from above the city. Need I say more?
The view from above the city. Need I say more?

The waters of Malta are some of the best you will find in the Mediterranean. Gozo, Sliema, St. Julians, and the Blue Grotto are particularly memorable, due to their crystal clear waters and rustic surroundings. Imagine large imposing cliffs, that have been worn by the weather, showing dry desert cracks and dusty grounds, blowing over a steep cliff and breezing across blue diamond waters. Imagine that stepping back from these cliffs, you find a city with a Middle Eastern architectural influence, Italian cuisine, and a plethora of alleys leading to the types of dark, interesting, and inviting corners usually reserved for Hollywood movies.

This is that place. It exists. And it is called Malta.

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Gozo, Malta: Rockpools to swim in while watching the majestic ocean sway!
Gozo, Malta: Rockpools to swim in while watching the majestic ocean sway!

I often find that travellers overlook Malta due to its difficult positioning in the Mediterranean. I find this to be a huge mistake, as there is so much on offer that isn’t talked about enough in backpacking circles. Sure, we had to take a dodgy work ship with the worst food imaginable to get there, but once we arrived, boy was it worth it!

The streets had a rustic, weathered feel that transported me back one hundred years. A lot of cities in Europe are ancient, but Malta’s cities actually feel ancient. In terms of nicknacks to buy, Valletta’s streets have very cool items to purchase that will remind me of the quaint, dated aura the island emits, which penetrates your soul with good vibes and fun times.

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If you want to head out for a fun night of partying, then look no further than Paceville: I promise you, this gives Mykonos and Ibiza a genuine run for their money. In fact, imagine removing all of the drugs from Ibiza (is that even possible?), switching the scenery in Mykonos to sepia-tone, and squeezing in some dashing Italian influence, and you have Paceville! The nightclubs boom thunderously with the latest hits, while staff practically throw free drinks in your face just so you enter. It’s clear that the clubs are competing fiercely against each other, so ultimately it’s you, the customer, who ends up winning.

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I’m actually surprised at how much the world raves on about party islands, such as Mykonos, Ios, and Ibiza. These places are fun, that’s for sure, although in recent years I believe Ibiza has gone downhill due to the massive drug influence. But how come Paceville isn’t mentioned in the same breath, when it deserves similar treatment? It’s a mystery to me, but alas, travel is about finding hidden wonders, and if you want a place to really rock out in, that feels special because it isn’t as commercialised as other places, then look no further: Paceville, Malta, is your next destination!

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BREAKING NEWS: PARADISE HAS BEEN DISCOVERED!

Have you ever wondered about the concept of paradise, and if such a place really exists? Is paradise real, or is it a subjective interpretation of perfection, according to one’s ideals and values?

Today I’m going to challenge the latter (against all logic), and tell you that paradise is a real place! While of course, all us travellers have a preferred destination that simply does it for us, I believe there is another place on earth which everybody can appreciate, and that once travelled, explored and experienced, leaves the person in question yearning for more. Paradise is real, believe me, I have been there four times! So where is it, you ask?

It is here:

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Santorini, Greece!

For me, after being around the world and seeing so many beautiful, idyllic places, I can’t see how this isn’t paradise! While I’m a new travel blogger on the scene, I’m by no means new to travel: Starting in 2005, I have travelled overseas every year in search of something mesmerising, flawless, and touching. I discovered it in Santorini, Greece, and I implore each and every one of you to go out there and do the same.

Sometimes I’ll share a great deal of knowledge about the places I’ve visited, and other times I’ll refrain from spoiling it for all the first-timers out there. This is a time when I don’t want to ruin Santorini’s many surprises for anyone, but if you’d love to know more about the hidden alleyways, the delicious cuisine, the remote taverns, and the beautiful hiding spots on this wonderful Greek island, get in contact with me and I’ll help you to organise an itinerary you won’t forget!

Is there a place you’ve discovered that holds true in your heart? A place that screams at you to come back, and never leave? Or have you been to Santorini, and love it as much as I do? Comment and let me know, I’d love to learn more about my fellow travellers! 

Check out the Santorini image gallery for more photos on the home page now! I’ve rounded up a few different shots of what I think conveys Santorini’s beauty, paradisiacal qualities, and liberating charm :)