Whoa, it’s so cool. Whoa, it’s so amazing. Whoa, it’s so magnificent. Incredible. Breathtaking. Unbelievable.
I ran out of adjectives trying to describe the sights of Iceland. Sometimes when you travel, you become numb to the sights. Meh, another waterfall. I’ve seen plenty of those. But in Iceland, I was blown away every single day.
But whoa, it’s also so expensive.
I had this vision of me hitchhiking and camping around Iceland, living extremely cheaply. But then I came to the conclusion that I’m actually not that kind of person. I need human interaction and a certain level of comfort.
But what about going on a road trip with four strangers from around the world? Hell yeah, I’m that kind of person!
I got in contact with my travel companions through Couchsurfing. They had arrived in Reykjavik before me and were already waiting for me with the rental car when I arrived from the airport to the city centre. All I had to do was to rent a sleeping bag from Iceland Camping Equipment Rental and we were off!
There is only one highway in Iceland, Route 1. It’s also called the Ring Road as it travels around Iceland. Our route was counter clockwise along the Ring Road, occasionally taking smaller roads to see some sights.
I have to admit I was a bit worried how five strangers would get along in a cramped car and two tents. But these people were so easygoing, I felt I had made four new friends the moment I met them. Couldn’t have asked for better road trip companions!
We spent the night camping near Seljalandsfoss, one of the best known waterfalls of Iceland. The following morning we explored the waterfall and its surroundings.
Iceland easily became one of my favorite countries in Europe. Everything truly is like from a fairytale: the nature is diverse, the history is interesting and the culture is rich. Even their language sounds like something fairies might speak!
Iceland is a cold country, even in summer. It was between 10 and 15 degrees when I visited in June. Summer might be the best time to visit since the nature is more diverse (in winter you’ll only see snow) — unless you want to try your luck hunting the Northern Lights!
And yes, Iceland is expensive, but as with everything, budget travel is always possible.
A one way flight from Helsinki to Reykjavik with SAS cost me 116 €. And since we were five people traveling together, we could divide the cost of car rental, gas and food. Ultimately, the total cost of our road trip was approximately 40 € / day per person.
And I did end up hitchhiking. I had heard that Iceland is one of the best places to do it and if I can base my opinion on the sole experience I had, I agree. After Couchsurfing in Akureyri a couple of nights, I just walked from my accommodation to the edge of a large road. After four minutes I was picked up by another traveler who drove me all the way back to Reykjavik.
Of course you’ll use a lot of money in Iceland, compared to many other countries in the world, but it’s worth every penny. Travel always is.
How could yoga possibly change someone’s life? I know the whole yoga-practicing, green-juice-drinking, positive-attitude yoga hippie is such a stereotype, but somehow this practice, that usually starts as a new hobby, can slowly start affecting your diet, relationships and outlook on life. This is the story of how yoga allowed me to go from just existing to actually living.
A few years back, I was in a relationship where I saw my significant other about once a month. I was living in a city where I didn’t feel welcome. Every morning, on my way to a soul crushing job, I wondered if I should board the train or jump under it. Then I found yoga.
I had previously attended trial classes and weekend courses for beginners, but yoga had never become a part of my life. I decided to try yoga again and was so lucky that the first class I attended was Geoff’s. At a time when nothing in my life made sense, his classes had me going back to the yoga studio every single Wednesday.
The workplace bullying, loneliness and unhappiness had started to deteriorate both my body and my mind. But for that one hour a week, I felt like I was good enough. After a while, I started going to other classes as well and nothing filled me with more excitement than rolling out a mat on the studio floor. Without even realizing it, a shift was slowly happening inside of me.
Instead of feeling like a victim of circumstances, I became the hero of my own life. I was sick of feeling sorry for myself. I realized, I don’t have to live here or work there. I can do whatever the hell I want. While yoga doesn’t remove problems, it helps me deal with any challenges life brings.
But yoga also ruined many things for me.
Yoga ruined my diet, because I’d much rather eat a bowl of lentil soup than a juicy steak.
Yoga ruined my career, because I’d rather practice handstands than learn how to use Excel.
Yoga ruined dinner parties, because sitting in a chair for extended amounts of time feels completely unnatural.
Yoga ruined my social life, because on a Friday night, I’d much rather attend a yoga class than go out to a club.
Yoga ruined my romantic life, because I’d rather do sun salutations than go on a date.
Yoga ruined my fashion sense, because I’d much rather wear yoga tights than skinny jeans.
Yoga ruined awkward moments, because long hugs and direct eye contact has become the norm.
Yoga ruined small talk, because I’d rather talk about feelings than the weather.
Yoga ruined excessive gossiping, because judging people is no fun anymore.
Yoga ruined limited beliefs, because I’ve witnessed that anything is possible.
Yoga ruined staying inside my comfort zone, because the more I step outside of it, the better life gets.
Yoga ruined worrying about the future, because I’ve learnt to focus on the present moment.
Yoga ruined my life. And I’m so happy it did. Because without it, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have one.
The Fez medina is the biggest one in the world. And it was crazy.
It seemed like and endless maze. Donkeys were walking beside you, chicken and geese were being sold alive, cats were eating rotten food in the corner, there were loud sounds and intense smells. And you couldn’t ask for directions because everyone was saying a different thing.
“This way, my friend!”
“Where are you going, my brother?”
“I can help you!”
It felt like being in a fantasy movie with witches trying to lure innocent children into their boiling cauldron.
I was ready to lose it. Then suddenly, after walking for what seemed like hours, we turned a corner and saw the restaurant that the hostel staff had recommended to us.
After dinner, we made sure to ask the restaurant staff for directions back to the hostel. “Just walk straight.” But in the medina, there is no such thing. After getting lost again, just minutes after leaving the restaurant, we decided to walk back to the restaurant and grab a taxi to the hostel. For 20 dirham, I say we should have done it straight away.
From Fez we continued north with local bus company CTM.
After a three hour journey, the bus dropped us off at Chefchaouen, a town situated in the Rif mountains. Often called Chaouen by locals, the town used to attract many hippies with its easy-going lifestyle, and still does to some degree. Stepping out of the bus, a strong scent of marijuana immediately floated into my nostrils. Besides weed, Chefchaouen is famous for its blue buildings.
So how can a town with nothing but blue buildings be so fascinating?
Well, first of all, every single door is different.
Just like in the rest of Morocco, there are cats everywhere.
In contrast to the blue buildings, locals wear colourful outfits.
And walk their goats.
The streets of Chefchaouen feature cute details that make a photographer enthusiastic.
Unfortunately the hygiene standards in Morocco are nonexistent, so on the final day of our trip, I got a gut-wrenching stomach bug that lasted for weeks after the trip. No matter how careful you are, avoiding a stomach bug in Morocco is not easy, but luckily the bug didn’t hit until my final day in Morocco, which allowed me to enjoy every single day of my trip.
A Berber man named Sair asking me this made me feel like the luckiest person on Earth.
All this man had ever seen was sand, sand and more sand. How could he possibly understand what the rest of the world looks like?
It was humbling getting asked this question. It reminded me how blessed I am to be born in a Northern European country. How blessed I am to have time, money and courage to explore different corners of the world.
We had slept for the night in our hostel after an interesting day in Marrakech. The following morning at 5.30 am, the call to prayer sounded around the city and woke us up.
After breakfast, Sair picked us up from our hostel for a tour to the Sahara! We had booked a tour with Morocco Excursions, who offer various day trips as well as longer tours. A three night Sahara tour starting in Marrakech and ending in Fez costs 290 € per person. The price includes a car with a private driver, all activities, accommodation, breakfasts and dinners. Only lunches and drinks are payed separately.
The tour includes thousands of kilometres of driving, but luckily there are many interesting stops along the way.
We slept the night in Ouarzazate, continuing our journey the next morning, stopping in a few of the local towns only to snap photos and to buy water.
Our next stop was the Todgha Gorge in the Atlas Mountains. The tall cliff walls beautifully frame the stream running through the gorge. The path next to the stream is well paved, so it’s easy to walk around the area and admire the majestic gorge.
After stretching our legs around the gorge for a while, we sat back into the car to continue our journey towards a shop where a Berber family sold mats made out of camel hair.
Once we reached Ouarzazate, we only had time to drop our bags at the hotel before getting on our camels! A Berber man waded through the fine sand in his sandals while leading our camels through the desert.
My backside was hurting from the coarse blanket placed on the camel, and sand was prickling my skin. But the tears in my eyes did not stem from this. It was the peaceful feeling, the swaying walk of the camel and only sand as far as the eye can see. After walking for a while, we stopped to watch the sun set over the Sahara. It was one of the most surreal, beautiful and overwhelming experiences of my life.
We continued a bit further in the darkness until we reached a Berber camp.
The camel ride in the sunset and spending the night in the Sahara desert was definitely the highlight of the tour. The following morning we got up at 6 am and boarded our camels in the darkness.
After riding in the sunrise back to the hotel, the day ahead consisted of a tour around the region with a four wheel drive.
I have to say, I’m usually not a big fan of organized tours. You run around everywhere, seeing lots of stuff, not really experiencing anything. But the pace with Morocco Excursions was just right! The itinerary was well thought out, with enough pit stops but also time to wind down. We didn’t rush from one sight to the next, but instead spent time with different people. This was great, as people really are the main reason we travel.
When I found a one-way flight from Madrid to Marrakech for 40 €, I was super excited. As I was so close to Africa, I realized the opportunity to visit Morocco had come.
But then I got scared. I had never been to Africa, let alone a Muslim country.
Even though the name of this blog is Ammi’s Adventures, I’m not nearly as brave as I’d like to be. I’ve written before how it’s important to face your fears, but at times I find it hard to follow my own advice. Reading travel forums about solo females being hassled in Morocco scared me. And even though many people wrote about the wonderful experiences they had in Morocco, the negative messages stick to your head so much easier.
But usually, honesty pays off. I was scared about the prospect of traveling to Morocco alone, but I wasn’t scared to let people know this. After openly sharing my fears, a male friend traveling in Spain at the same time as me, agreed to join me on my trip.
After dropping our bags at the hostel, we had a look around Marrakech. We were surprised how quiet a Saturday afternoon at the main square, Jamaa el Fna, was. There were almost no people around and the few locals we saw were minding their own business. We were expecting a culture shock but found Marrakech to be relatively calm.
From the square we continued to the souks — an endless maze of stalls selling herbs, clothes and handicrafts. The shop owners were knitting hats and carving wood in their stalls, from where they sold their items. The colours and smells of the souk really awaken your senses. Women are draped from top to toe, but still look very fashionable, wearing clothes and scarves in all imaginable colours and patterns.
In Morocco, there’s basically two options for lunch: couscous or tajine. Couscous, granules made out of durum wheat, is probably more known in the Western world than tajine. Tajine is a North African dish cooked in a cone-shaped ceramic pot. Both couscous and tajine are usually served with meat. In the vegetarian option the meat is usually just left out, but sometimes the meat is replaced with eggs, olives or chick peas, leaving you with a dish that’s not as bland as just steamed vegetables. Being a vegetarian in Morocco is not easy, being a vegan is almost impossible unless you cook your own food.
Sunset came and so did the people! Finally Jamaa el Fna was alive: smoke from the stalls selling food, children running, people laughing, music and performances. It was a stark contrast to the calmness of the square at daytime.
So were my fears of solo female travel in Morocco valid? It’s hard to say, since I didn’t experience it. But in Marrakech, I never felt threatened. The locals approached us with curiosity and eagerness, never with aggression. At Jamaa el Fna, the stall owners are trying to get you to eat at their place, but if you decline, they will leave you alone or maybe say a snarky comment. Nobody will touch you or yell at you. Just remember, this is coming from someone who travelled with a male by her side.
I am so grateful that I found a travel companion as my fears might have stopped me from experiencing this intriguing Moroccan city. Once again, travel efficiently removed any prejudice I had about a place I hadn’t visited before.
Stay tuned for a blog post about our trip to the Sahara desert!
At the beginning of September I headed to the Spanish capital. I only spent one day in Madrid, but somehow, it was enough. Because I lucked out big time with my Couchsurfing host. An avid learner and sharer of knowledge, Nico showed me around Madrid, all in one day. Couchsurfing saves you so much time and energy. You don’t have to read through Tripadvisor or lug Lonely Planet books in your backpack, as you can so easily get the best pieces of advice from a local!
After lunch, we walked around the city before visiting two famous museums in Madrid.
As we managed to cram all the main sights of Madrid into one day, I headed to Toledo the next morning. The old Spanish capital is situated approximately 70 km from Madrid. A round trip with the bus costs around 10 €. Trains also run to Toledo but are more expensive. Toledo makes for a good day trip from Madrid.
It was nice to combine a visit to the busy capital of Madrid with a visit to the smaller city of Toledo. Most importantly, my trip to Spain allowed me to practice my Spanish.
Due to bad weather, I decided to cut my time in Slovenia short and switch the rain for some sunshine by carpooling to Italy.
Ah, Italy. What an incredible feeling it was getting out of the car in Bologna to a warm summer’s evening and hearing the honking vespas, seeing the big hand gestures and smelling the pizza!
I had no idea where I would stay for that night, but I didn’t care. I was just taking in the atmosphere. After wandering around for a while, I sat down for a margarita pizza, connected to WiFi and booked a room through Airbnb. It’s an interesting feeling arriving in a city in the evening — not until you rest for the night and exit your accommodation the next morning, do you see what the place actually looks like. And on an early summer’s morning, Bologna looks something like this:
Being so close to Florence, I decided to move on from Bologna to the Tuscan capital. There are intercity trains that take you from Bologna to Florence in half an hour for 25–40 €. If you take two local trains instead, the trip will take an hour, but the price is only 9 €! Being a frugal traveller, I obviously opted for the local trains. Please remember to validate your ticket! I forgot, and had to pay an extra 5 € on the train (luckily not 65 €, which is the fee for someone who is not a stupid tourist an innocent traveller).
Again, I had no idea where to stay for the night, so I visited a travel agency, where I could use their computers to book accommodation. (Sometimes it’s just so nice to look at a screen bigger than your mobile phone.)
I had no plans on going to Florence, but I happened to arrive there on the day of San Juan, which meant a 30 minute firework show at 10 pm. As I sat on the bank of Arno river, watching the massive fireworks, surrounded by happy Italian families, I couldn’t help but feel as though my steps had directed me to just where I was meant to be. Another way I knew I was in the right place: I absolutely loved Florence! I think it actually ended up being my favourite place during my visit to Italy.
From Piazzale Michelangelo I walked back down to have a look around the city. Florence is quite touristy, but you can still get an authentic feel of the city if you know where to look.
The main reason tourists flock to Florence, is The Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. Entry is 12 €, or 16 € with a pre-booked time slot for entry. I got to the gallery half an hour before it opened and didn’t have to stand in line or pay extra for a specific entry time.
Utilizing carpooling again, my next destination was Verona. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is mostly known as the setting for Shakespeare’s tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet”. I booked a room through Airbnb and stayed with a woman who only spoke Italian. Despite the language barrier, we got along great. Elena made me breakfast in the morning and even showed me around the city on my first night in Verona.
Juliet’s House is an underwhelming tourist attraction and I recommend walking around other parts of this historical town, to experience ancient buildings and the Italian ambiance.
From Verona I moved on to my final destination, Venice. BlaBlaCar is very popular in Italy, so it was easy to find a ride one last time. Venice is a very expensive city and even a bed in a hostel dorm costs more than 50 €. But as with everything, there are always options. You just have to be willing to do a bit of research.
I ended up booking a two night stay at Residenza Gesuiti, a university residence, where my own room with private bathroom cost 35 € a night.
When I checked in, the staff asked me: “Are you here for the biennale?”. Once again, a special event was happening that I knew nothing about! I didn’t really even know what the biennale is… In a way, I was in Venice for the biennale, I just didn’t know it yet.
The Venice Biennale is organized every year – with an art exhibition every second year and an architecture exhibition every second year. In the year 2015, it was the art exhibition’s turn.
The Biennale runs until 22nd November, so if you’re in Venice before then, I really recommend visiting it! Entry tickets are 25 euros but totally worth it. The ticket allows you to visit the exhibitions in Giardini and Arsenale. You can visit the two venues on different days, and I really recommend doing so. The exhibitions are open from 11 am to 6 pm and I ran out of time trying to see everything in one day! In addition to the art exhibitions displaying things like a self-playing piano and a colourful room full of rubble, different countries have created pavilions representing local art, nature, culture and life.
Venice is such an interesting city. If you get lost, it‘s not like you can just take a turn at a random street corner — because it’s full of water! Venice is best explored by foot (when you finally find a bridge that lets you cross over to the other side). I also bought a 24 hour water taxi pass for 20 €, that gives unlimited travel around Venice as well as the surrounding islands.
Of the many islands surrounding Venice, I only had time to visit Murano. In the words of a Murano local, there are three things to see on the island: glass, glass and more glass. This is definitely true — there are glass blowing factories and galleries all around the island.
After experiencing incredible hospitality in Croatia, I moved on to its northern neighbor, Slovenia, where I was met with just as much warmness from total strangers. I couchsurfed in Ljubljana with an amazing couple, who provided me with accommodation, food, interesting conversations and good laughs. They even invited me to a party, which was a lot of fun!
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital but it’s really small with only 280 000 inhabitants. A day or two is enough to explore the city.
Metelkova brings colour to Ljubljana with its several clubs, art galleries and a hostel. The autonomous area was born in 1993 when activists occupied former army barracks to prevent their demolition. During the following decades, organizations maintaining Metelkova faced a lot of struggles with authorities, but the area is now thriving as a space for cultural activity.
It happened to be the Museum Summer Night on my first day in Ljubljana. The annual event grants visitors free entry to museums all around Slovenia between 6 pm and midnight. I visited three museums near Metelkova:
The Slovene Ethnographic Museum is a museum about cultural heritage, identities and civilization. Until December 2015 they are running an exhibition about doors. Doors! The exhibition was very well done. Who thought doors could be so interesting?
The Museum of Modern Art lives up to its name, displaying things so modern, that you don’t know whether to laugh or to question if it’s art. The museum displays mostly installations — for example a machine that at the push of a button sings you a song and showers you with polystyrene beads.
The National Museum of Slovenia is a good place to start learning about the history of the country through old paintings and ancient items.
From Ljubljana I continued northwest. I met a local man who drove me all the way to Bled and even took small roads instead of the highway so I could see some other towns as well. Anyone ever tell you not to get in a stranger’s car? I say do. It might be hard to believe for someone living a conservative life, but trusting people opens up a whole new world of opportunities.
Bled is quite touristy so I took a bus to Bohinj where I stayed for one night. There is a lot of accommodation in the area, so after stepping out of the bus, I went to the tourist office where they booked me a room in a nearby villa. A private room cost 20 €.
Rain was pouring down the following day so unfortunately a hike up the mountain was out of question. I had gotten a Couchsurfing invite from someone who lives in the nearby town of Tolmin so I decided to go there. I was supposed to take a bus to the local station to catch my train, but the driver forgot to stop there, so I decided to skip the rainy countryside and ride the bus all the way back to Ljubljana instead.
Sitting down for lunch at Loving Hut also gave me a chance to connect to Wi-Fi. I logged on to BlaBlaCar and searched for all rides leaving Ljubljana that afternoon. One couple were on their way to Bologna a few hours later, so that’s where I went!
Yoga retreats are a convenient way to combine my two main interests: yoga and travel. They’re also a great way to meet like-minded people. And the food! It’s usually so tasty that you don’t only stretch your muscles but also your belly.
Even though my travel style is quite budget orientated, I don’t mind paying more for yoga retreats. The money is deposited to the best bank possible — my wellbeing.
I have been to a budget yoga retreat before. For 30 € a night I got one class of yoga and a big breakfast. The rest of the meals I cooked myself and accommodation was in tents. While the experience was absolutely amazing and I would gladly go again, I like trying new things. And sometimes it’s nice to pamper yourself instead of worrying about money.
In May I experienced an intense three day retreat in Finland — this time I opted for something a bit more relaxing. The seven day retreat was held on the Istrian peninsula, in a tiny village called Orihi. A typical day consisted of a two hour vinyasa flow class in the morning, followed by brunch. In the late afternoon we were pampered with a one hour restorative class and a three course dinner!
For 700 €, I got an entire week of yoga, food, excursions and a bed in a three person room. I think it’s funny how the cheaper option (not getting a private room) is almost always more fun! There wouldn’t have been as much laughter if it wasn’t for my roommates.
There were also different treatments on offer and I went for the one hour abdominal massage. Like I said, I like trying new things, and even though an abdominal massage sounded pretty intense, it ended up being a really relaxing experience and something I definitely want to do again.
Even though this retreat had more laughter than the previous one, a lot of tears were shed on the last night. It feels like we didn’t do that much, but time went so quickly, and true friendships were formed. I will definitely miss everyone I met in Orihi.
Check out Supersoul Yoga for retreats in Croatia and around the world.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the best way to travel. You can learn so much in such a short time just by spending time with a local. I love how I can go to a town I know nothing about and have someone tell me the best sights to see, the best places to eat and of course teach me a couple of words in the local language! Usually the experience gives me so much more than I expected.
I started my summer holidays Couchsurfing in Split for two nights. Shortly after settling down at my host’s apartment, he had to go to work and I headed to the city centre.
From Marjan hill, I walked back down to the city centre to experience the old alleyways and marketplaces of Split. And also all the tourists and souvenir shops!
As Split is located on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, fish is popular here. I visited Split Fish Market, a lively market square and hall with all the sea food you can imagine. One interesting observation I made: almost every single vendor had a cigarette either in their mouth or in their hand while preparing and selling the fish!
For people not eating animals, there’s really only one vegetarian restaurant in Split. But with Makrovega, one is enough! A big delicious lunch, consisting of a soup and main course, costs less than 10 €.
My Couchsurfing host Mladen had made a joke about the Croatian lifestyle: say one thing, do another and think a third! On my second day in Split I got to experience this on my own. A tour to visit Krka National Park was advertised to leave at 9 am but when I arrived at the travel bureau, the tour had already left at eight! After wandering around Split for a while, I decided to visit the nearby island of Hvar.
From Hvar town I took a bus to Stari Grad (literally “Old Town”). There is a car ferry back to Split from Stari Grad so you don’t have to return to Hvar town unless you want to take the catamaran back to the mainland. The two hour journey from Stari Grad to Split on the car ferry costs 40 kuna.
I preferred Stari Grad over the touristy Hvar. There were almost no people on its picturesque streets, just lots of animals: dogs, cats and even a rooster!
That’s until the following day, when I visited Croatia’s top attraction, Plitvice Lakes, a four hour bus ride from Split. The water was so clear that I almost stepped into the water until I saw the fish swimming in there! Walking a whole day in a national park gives you lots of time to think about things. But with views like the ones below, my main thought was thank you.
Even though I really enjoyed the parks, waterfalls, alleyways, museums and restaurants of Croatia, my fondest memories are of the incredible hospitality and friendliness of the Croatian people.