Tagged alternative accommodation

Carpooling around Italy

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.)

In Florence, I stayed at Emerald Palace for two nights, where a bed in a dorm cost 30 € per night. The clean and comfortable hostel is situated opposite Basilica di San Lorenzo.
In Florence, I stayed at Emerald Palace for two nights, where a bed in a dorm cost 30 € per night. The clean and comfortable hostel is situated opposite Basilica di San Lorenzo.

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.

The firework show is organized every year on the day of San Juan. The fireworks are shot from Piazzale Michelangelo.
The firework show in Florence is organized every year on the day of San Juan. The fireworks are shot from Piazzale Michelangelo.
The following morning I walked up to the square named after the famous statue.
The following morning I walked up to the square named after the famous statue.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a great vantage point for views over the entire city.
Piazzale Michelangelo is a great vantage point for views over the entire city.

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.

Quinoa is a 100% gluten free restaurant in Florence. Unfortunately I can't agree with their tagline.
Quinoa is a 100% gluten free restaurant in Florence. Unfortunately I can’t agree with their tagline.
A better restaurant in Florence is Konnubio. It has the most uncomfortable benches I've ever sat on but the food is pretty good, with plenty of vegetarian options.
A better restaurant in Florence is Konnubio. It has the most uncomfortable benches I’ve ever sat on but the food is pretty good, with plenty of vegetarian options.
With two locations in Florence, Shake Café is a good option for a light lunch after indulging in the Italian cuisine for days on end.
With two locations in Florence, Shake Café is a good option for a light lunch after indulging in the Italian cuisine for days on end.

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.

Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus" is one of the famous paintings on display at the Uffizi gallery. I would devote at least a few hours to explore all the different rooms in this massive museum.
Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” is one of the famous paintings on display at the Uffizi gallery. I would devote at least a few hours to explore all the different rooms in this massive museum.

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.

A balcony was added to this old building in the 1930's in order to attract tourists. The inner courtyard is packed with people photographing "Juliet's Balcony".
A balcony was added to this old building in the 1930’s in order to attract tourists. The inner courtyard is packed with people photographing “Juliet’s Balcony”.
Poor Juliet's right breast is completely faded from people touching her inappropriately in order to take "funny" photos.
Poor Juliet’s right breast is completely faded from people touching her inappropriately in order to take “funny” photos.

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.

Ghiotto is a vegetarian pizzeria serving pizza al taglio (by weight). I love pizza al taglio as it gives you the chance to sit on a park bench and sample different kinds of pizza. The owners of Ghiotto are super friendly, and the pizza — best one I’ve tasted in Italy. I had to walk back to the pizzeria just to tell them how good it was.
Ghiotto is a vegetarian pizzeria in Verona serving pizza al taglio (by weight). I love pizza al taglio as it gives you the chance to sit on a park bench and sample different kinds of pizza. The owners of Ghiotto are super friendly, and the pizza — best one I’ve tasted in Italy. I had to walk back to the pizzeria just to tell them how good it was.
Gelato for dessert. I’m nice and plump now.
Gelato for dessert. I’m nice and plump now.

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.

Seaside view from my 35 € room in Venice.
Seaside view from my 35 € room in Venice.

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.

Final night in Venice. Nice and plump.
I returned to Venice for a final stroll around the city.
Grazie e buona notte Italia.
Grazie e buona notte Italia.

Couchsurfing and road-tripping in Slovenia

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.

On my second day in Ljubljana I participated in the free walking tour that starts in front of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation every day at 11 am and 3 pm.
On my second day in Ljubljana I participated in the free walking tour that starts in front of the Franciscan Church of the Annunciation every day at 11 am and 3 pm.
The dragon is a symbol of Ljubljana, and can be seen on the city's coat of arms. Four dragons also adorn Ljubljana's most famous landmark, the Dragon Bridge. Legend has it, if a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons will wag their tails.
The dragon is a symbol of Ljubljana, and can be seen on the city’s coat of arms. Four dragons also adorn Ljubljana’s most famous landmark, the Dragon Bridge. Legend has it, if a virgin crosses the bridge, the dragons will wag their tails.
The free walking tour ended at Križanke Outdoor Theatre, set up in an old monastery.
The free walking tour ended at Križanke Outdoor Theatre, set up in an old monastery.
In contrast to the colourful Metelkova, the rest of Ljubljana looks like a clean and traditional European city.
In contrast to the colourful Metelkova, the rest of Ljubljana looks like a clean and traditional European city.
For some nature, you can head to Castle Hill just south of the city centre.
For some nature, you can head to Castle Hill just south of the city centre.
From Ljubljana Castle complex you have views over the entire city.
From Ljubljana Castle complex, at the top of Castle Hill, you have views over the entire city.
At the tiny all-vegan restaurant Bobenček you can fill your stomach with salads, soups and sandwiches. For a couple of euros I was able to enjoy a large bowl of delicious lentil soup.
At the tiny all-vegan restaurant Bobenček you can fill your stomach with salads, soups and sandwiches. For a couple of euros I was able to enjoy a large bowl of delicious lentil soup.
Around Ljubljana there are vending machines that sell unskimmed raw cow milk. The vending machines are filled daily with fresh milk from nearby farms. The taste? Just like milk.
Around Ljubljana there are vending machines that sell unskimmed raw cow milk. The vending machines are filled daily with fresh milk from nearby farms. The taste? Just like milk.

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.

Somewhere in Slovenia with a private driver. Awesome!
Somewhere in Slovenia with a private driver. Awesome!
Škofja Loka, an old town in Western Slovenia.
Škofja Loka, a medieval town in northwestern Slovenia.
Bled is known for Lake Bled, and the small church perched on an island in the middle of the lake.
Bled is known for Lake Bled, and the small church perched on an island in the middle of the lake.

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 €.

Bohinj, with clear waters, fresh air and big mountains, is popular among hikers.
Bohinj, with clear waters, fresh air and large mountains, is popular among hikers.
Structures in Bohinj for drying grains. And for looking at the world upside down, obviously.
Structures in Bohinj for drying grains. And for looking at the world upside down, obviously.

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.

I didn't feel sad about escaping the rain to Ljubljana, because it gave me the chance to visit Loving Hut, which had been under renovation the previous two days.
I didn’t feel sad about escaping the rain to Ljubljana, because it gave me the chance to visit vegan restaurant Loving Hut, which had been under renovation the previous two days.

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!

I love not having set plans while traveling. Things don't usually turn out as planned in life, so the less plans you have, the less disappointed you'll feel. One of my favorite quotes is Relax, nothing is under control.
I love not having set plans while traveling. Things don’t usually turn out as planned in life, so the less plans you have, the less disappointed you’ll feel. One of my favorite quotes is Relax, nothing is under control.

The clear waters and friendly people of Croatia

I love Couchsurfing.

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.

The sun was shining in Split, the second largest city in Croatia.
The sun was shining in Split, the second largest city in Croatia.
I walked up to Marjan hill where I had great views over Split.
I walked up to Marjan hill where I had great views over Split.

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.

The catamaran from Split to Hvar Town takes one hour and costs 60 kuna (approximately 8 €).
The catamaran from Split to Hvar town takes one hour and costs 60 kuna (approximately 8 €).
There's a beautiful panoramic view over Hvar and the Pakleni islands from Hvar fortress.
There’s a beautiful panoramic view over Hvar and the Pakleni islands from the Hvar fortress located on top of a hill.
Tourists taking a rest in Hvar.
Tourists taking a rest in 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!

This spot called for a swim. Mild evening sun, no people around and the clearest water I had ever seen.
This spot called for a swim. Mild evening sun, no people around and the clearest water I had ever seen.

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.

As Plitvice Lakes is Croatia's main tourist attraction, there's an abundance of accommodation in the area. I stayed in Villa Lykos in the nearby town of Jezerce, where a private room set me back 38 €.
As Plitvice Lakes is Croatia’s main tourist attraction, there’s an abundance of accommodation in the area. I stayed in Villa Lykos in the nearby town of Jezerce, where a private room set me back 38 €.
After walking next to refreshing waterfalls in Plitvice, I moved on to Croatia's sweltering hot capital, Zagreb.
After walking next to refreshing waterfalls in Plitvice, I moved on to Croatia’s sweltering hot capital, Zagreb.
I had booked a room through Airbnb with a man called Dragan. He not only provided me with comfortable accommodation and interesting conversations, but even prepared me lunch and breakfast! All for the price of 11 €.
I had booked a room through Airbnb with a 65-year-old man called Dragan. Not only did he provide me with comfortable accommodation and interesting conversations, but even prepared me lunch and breakfast! All for the price of 11 €.
A ride on the world's shortest funicular, 66 m in length, costs 4 kuna.
A ride on the world’s shortest funicular, 66 m in length, costs 4 kuna.
As it was such a hot day, I escaped the heat to The Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum consists of artifacts that real people have donated to the museum along with a story related to the item. Displaying everything from an axe used to destroy the ex's furniture to a mother's suicide note, the museum was selected as the European Museum of the Year in 2011 and quite rightfully so. The museum is funny, sad and thought provoking.
As it was such a hot day, I escaped the heat to The Museum of Broken Relationships. The museum consists of artefacts that real people have donated to the museum along with a story related to the item. Displaying everything from an axe used to destroy the ex’s furniture to a mother’s suicide note, the museum was selected as the European Museum of the Year in 2011 and quite rightfully so. The museum is funny, sad and thought provoking.
“I had this big, truly big love, a long-distance relationship, Sarajevo – Zagreb. It lasted for 20 months. Of course, we dreamt of a life together and with that in mind I bought this huge caterpillar. Every time we would see each other we would tear off one leg. When we ran out of legs to tear, that would be the time to start a life together. But, naturally, as is often the case with great loves, the relationship broke and so the caterpillar did not become a complete invalid after all.”
“I had this big, truly big love, a long-distance relationship, Sarajevo – Zagreb. It lasted for 20 months. Of course, we dreamt of a life together and with that in mind I bought this huge caterpillar. Every time we would see each other we would tear off one leg. When we ran out of legs to tear, that would be the time to start a life together. But, naturally, as is often the case with great loves, the relationship broke and so the caterpillar did not become a complete invalid after all.”
The Dance Week Festival is held yearly in Zagreb, with performances around the city. Already in its 32nd year, I had the privilege to witness the captivating performance of Spanish dancer Concha Vidal.
The Dance Week Festival is held yearly in Zagreb, with performances around the city. Already in its 32nd year, I had the privilege to witness the captivating performance of Spanish dancer Concha Vidal.
I had dinner at Zrno Bio Bistro, a vegan restaurant that sources its produce from local organic farmers. Del-ic-ious!
I had dinner at Zrno Bio Bistro, a vegan restaurant that sources its produce from local organic farmers. Del-ic-ious!

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.

New York with friends

When my friend Ina and I were in our early twenties, we made a pact: we would visit New York together before we turn thirty. This year, after many years of dreaming about it, we finally followed through with our pact. Ina’s boyfriend Daniel and my sister Pia joined us for an exciting week in the Big Apple. We booked our accommodation through AirBNB. Eight nights in a two-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn cost 1500 €.

This blog post is hard to write because New York makes me speechless. I can’t count the times I’ve been moved, delighted and amazed by this place. New York is hands down the most incredible city I have ever visited. I wish I’d come sooner.

I loved living in Brooklyn. We lived on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Not only did this area have a cozy neighborhood feel to it, the views to Manhattan were incredible.
I loved living in Brooklyn – we stayed in an apartment on the border of Williamsburg and Greenpoint. Not only did this area have a cozy neighborhood feel to it, the views to Manhattan were incredible.
Both day and night.
Both day and night.
I met John on my first day in New York and he instantly became part of our group. It was amazing to have a local show us the best parks to have a picnic and the best restaurants to eat pizza.
I met John in Brooklyn on my first day in New York and he instantly became part of our group. It was amazing to have a local show us the best parks to spend sunny afternoons and the best restaurants to eat pizza.

John also introduced me to Whole Foods. Oh. My. Goodness. I could write an entire blog post about this supermarket chain. Best store I have ever visited. Whole Foods has an unbelievably large variety of fresh food, the only problem is knowing when to stop filling your basket…

Whole Foods picnic at Washington Square Park.
Whole Foods picnic at Washington Square Park. At Whole Foods, you can fill boxes with whatever you want from the pay-by-weight deli and even grind your own peanut butter!
Besides Washington Square Park, we obviously visited Central Park, an important New York landmark.
Besides Washington Square Park, we obviously visited Central Park, an important New York landmark.
At Central Park, you can rent row boats for $15 / hour.
At Central Park, you can rent row boats for $15 / hour.
Central Park is also the optimal place to practice some acro yoga!
Central Park is also the optimal place to practice some acro yoga!
You can see squirrels running around in all New York parks. This fellow was hanging out at Union Square.
You can see squirrels running around in all New York parks. This fellow was hanging out at Union Square.
Every Saturday, a large Farmers Market is organized on Union Square.
Every Saturday, a large Farmers Market is organized at Union Square.
The colourful vegetables are a delight for the senses.
The colourful vegetables are a delight for the senses.
At Union Square, we were lucky enough to spot street performer / crazy person Matthew Silver! I'm so excited we saw him. This guy is legendary.
At Union Square, we were lucky enough to spot street performer Matthew Silver! I’m so excited we saw him. The man is a living legend.
Matthew Silver wants to be my child!
Matthew Silver calling me his mummy!
This guy could be seen walking around both Union Square and Washington Square Park. My inner hippie was extremely disappointed when he burst out: "The hug is free but the photo is by donation".
This guy could be seen walking around both Union Square and Washington Square Park. My inner hippie was extremely disappointed when he burst out: “The hug is free but the photo is by donation”.

New York is a massive city, and especially popular among tourists, so it’s easy to find a free walking tour. As the city is so big, the tours are usually built around a theme or a certain part of town. We participated in the SoHo, Little Italy and Chinatown tour organized by Free Tours by Foot.

The tour started in Soho.
The tour started in SoHo.
On Manhattan, you can find a piece of Southern Europe in Little Italy.
You can find a piece of Southern Europe in Little Italy.
Then, just walk one block further, and you're in Chinatown!
Then, just walk a block further, and you’re in Chinatown!

Our tour guide recommended that we enter the Broadway Lottery. Many theatres organize raffles, where approximately 30 tickets are sold at a fraction of their normal cost. At the recommendation of our tour guide, we entered the raffle for the Wednesday matinée show of Kinky Boots. Usually, there are less people than tickets so basically everybody wins!  Tickets usually cost closer to $200, but by winning the raffle, you can purchase tickets for $37. Kinky Boots was one of the highlights of our week in New York – it was such a funny, spectacular and over-the-top show!

The designer in me really appreciates the beautiful signage in the New York subway stations.
The subway system in New York is huge with trains running 24/7. The best way to get around town is to buy an unlimited 7-day pass for $30.
Musician
At most of the subway stops you can see talented musicians entertaining commuters. Here’s a one man orchestra playing at the Union Square subway station.
Grand Central Station
Besides seeing many subway stations, we visited Grand Central Station, just to take in the atmosphere and marvel at the beautiful architecture.
Another gorgeous building that's free to visit is the New York Public Library.
Another gorgeous building that’s free to visit is the New York Public Library.
Everyday there is a free tour that goes around to many of the beautiful rooms.
Everyday there is a free tour that goes around the library to many of its beautiful rooms.
This man stood on the steps of the Public Library all day long.
This man stood on the steps of the Public Library all day long.
I love people watching in New York. Every single person looks different. I just feel like going up to everybody and asking them to tell me their life story.
I love people watching in New York. Every single person looks different. I just feel like going up to everybody and asking them to tell me their life story.
People watching is especially fun in Williamsburg, the hub of hipsters and Mac computers.
People watching is especially fun in Williamsburg, the hub of hipsters with Mac computers.
Every Sunday, the Brooklyn Smorgasburg is organized at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5. This event brings together hundreds of different vendors, and you can buy all kinds of food from the stalls.
Every Sunday, the Brooklyn Smorgasburg is organized at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Pier 5. This event brings together hundreds of different vendors, and you can buy all kinds of food from the stalls.
At Pier 5, you have good views to Manhattan while eating your snack.
At Pier 5, you have good views to Manhattan while eating your snack.
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the bridges connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. The walk over the bridge takes about 25 minutes.
The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the bridges connecting Manhattan to Brooklyn. The walk over the bridge takes about 25 minutes.
WTC
One World Trade Center is the tallest building in USA. It stands on the site of the original World Trade Center destroyed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Memorial
A memorial has been created where the Twin Towers used to stand. Visiting the memorial was so much tougher than I thought. Seeing these names and realising that they were someone’s husband, mother, brother, child, had me in tears.
There are tons of museums in New York and most of them are donation based, so it's up to you to decide how much you want to support the arts. We only had time to visit the American Museum of Natural History. It was the greatest museum I have ever visited. Besides interesting exhibitions, it was fun to spot characters from the movie Night at the Museum!
There are tons of museums in New York and most of them are donation based, so it’s up to you to decide how much you want to support the arts. We only had time to visit the American Museum of Natural History. It was the best museum I have ever visited and it’s so big, I feel like you could spend days there. Besides interesting exhibitions, it was fun to spot characters from the movie Night at the Museum!
Halloween was just around the corner and you could see pumpkins and decorations around the city.
Halloween was just around the corner and you could see pumpkins and decorations around the city.
Times Square is a busy (and very touristy) area with spectacular lights that will blind you - especially at night.
Times Square is a busy (and very touristy) area with spectacular lights that will blind you – especially at night.
For a bit calmer evening, walk The High Line - a 2 km long park built on an old railway elevated above the city.
For a much calmer evening, walk The High Line – a 2 km long park built on an old railway elevated above the city.
From the very South end of Manhattan, you can catch a free ferry to Staten Island.
From the very South end of Manhattan, you can catch a free ferry to Staten Island.
There isn't much to see on the island, but the ferry ride provides great views to the Statue of Liberty.
There isn’t much to see on the island, but the ferry ride provides great views to the Statue of Liberty.
New York is everything I ever imagined and a hundred times more. I had planned to travel around during the four weeks I'm spending in USA, but I think magical New York deserves the majority of my time here.
New York is everything I ever imagined and a hundred times more. I had planned to travel around during the four weeks I’m spending in USA, but I think magical New York deserves the majority of my time here.
Thanks a lot everyone!
Thanks for a fun week everyone!

Taking a rest in Prague

Hippocrates has been quoted to say: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. The past week has shown me just how food can be either a medicine or a poison. I’ve never understood how one should ruin their body and then try to fix it afterwards with all kinds of drugs. How about trying to prevent sickness instead? I hate being sick, so I try to avoid processed food and eat lots of vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries instead. Yes, I indulge occasionally, but usually I prefer the feeling of food giving you energy, not making you lethargic. On the road however, it’s not as easy to maintain a healthy diet. Especially in the countries I’ve visited in the past few weeks (Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and Czech Republic), food is often laden with fat, dairy, wheat and sugar. I like to try the local cuisine, and usually it’s not a healthy option (and I feel it would be rude to constantly decline).

Yes, I can find vegetarian restaurants in most cities, but spending the last week in a house, where food is prepared for you, my body really took the toll. I am very rarely sick, but after six days in Oslavice, I feel awful. Even though the family was amazing, the food was so different to what I usually eat, I got very ill. I actually had to leave the volunteering position early.

I decided to rent an apartment in Prague to give myself some time to heal (Trying to sleep in a hostel dorm while sick? No thanks!). The good thing about travelling long term, is that I don’t have to feel bad about just sitting inside watching TV, knowing that I will have an entire week to explore Prague. Right now my priority is to get better.

I rented an apartment through Only-apartments. This studio cost 75 € for two nights. It was a really nice place and I got exactly the peace and quiet I needed.
I rented an apartment through Only Apartments. This studio cost 75 € for two nights. It was a really nice place and I got exactly the peace and quiet I needed.

There are so many vegetarian restaurants in Prague, I could just pick and choose one within walking distance and then retreat back to my Gilmore Girls marathon… I don’t care what anyone says, watching a cheesy teenage drama series is a sure-fire way to get better!

Mmm, real food... Thank goodness for Country Life.
Mmm, real food… Thank goodness for Country Life.
The only sightseeing I did was walking back from a restaurant to the apartment. These amazing musicians played with the National Museum as a backdrop.
The only sightseeing I did, was walking back from a restaurant to the apartment. These amazing musicians played with the National Museum as a backdrop.
I opted for an apartment over a hotel room also because I can cook my own food when I'm too tired to walk to a restaurant. It's also a great way to know exactly what I'm putting into my body.
I opted for an apartment over a hotel room also because I can cook my own food when I’m too tired to walk to a restaurant. Cooking your own food is also the best way to know exactly what you’re putting into your body.

I am flying back to Helsinki tonight in order to attend a wedding this weekend. While I’m not looking forward to the flight (flying while sick is generally not the best idea), I am looking forward to my mother’s healthy cooking :) Mum’s food is always the best. Especially while sick.

Helping out in Oslavice

There is no such thing as travelling for free (or if there is, please do tell). Even if you only slept in tents and train stations, walked or hitch-hiked everywhere and rummaged for food in dumpsters, you would still need a budget – at least to buy a backpack and the clothes you wear.

There are ways to travel though that don’t require you to spend money. How about paying for food and accommodation with your time instead? There are several hostels, B&B’s and farms that provide travellers with food and accommodation in exchange for volunteer work. To find such opportunities, you can contact a place directly or use one of three major websites that connect volunteers with hosts:

WWOOF
WWOOF , or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a website that links volunteers with organic farms.

Workaway
Similar to WWOOF, Workaway connects volunteers with farms but also with hostels, families or even schools.

HelpX
This website has a wide array of hosts, from yoga retreats to hostels and from homestays to farms. To contact hosts, you need to pay a 20 € fee, which gives you a two year membership.

By contacting a few places through HelpX, I got the chance to spend six days with a family in Oslavice, a small village in southern Czech Republic. I got my own room with private bathroom, plus food as much as I could eat. It felt like I was treated more as a family member than a volunteer.

Oslavice is a small village with a population of approximately 600 people.
Oslavice is a small village with a population of approximately 600 people.
I spent one week for free in a 500 year old house in a small village in southern Czech Republic.
I spent one week for free in a 500 year old house in the small village in southern Czech Republic.
In exchange of helping around the house, I had my own room with a comfortable bed.
In exchange of helping around the house, I had my own room with a comfortable bed.
My work mainly consisted of playing with two adorable girls.
My work mainly consisted of playing with two adorable girls. I immediately connected with the children despite the language barrier.

I also helped with various tasks in the family’s large garden, did some ironing and made magic wands out of glass beads! The parents of the family run an e-shop and the magic wands are sent as presents to the customers.

The house I stayed in felt like it had been cast a spell upon with one of these wands! It was full of laughter and love.
The house I stayed in felt like it had been cast a spell upon with one of these wands! It was full of laughter and love.
Unfortunately the rainy summer had ruined all the plums and I helped to clean up the garden.
Unfortunately the rainy summer had ruined all the plums and I helped to clean up the garden.
The garden was full of butterflies.
The garden was full of butterflies.

On my day off, the family was heading to the nearby city of Jihlava and they dropped me off in the city centre so I could do some sightseeing.

Jihlava is a nice city, and one of the oldest towns in Czech Republic.
Jihlava is a nice city, and one of the oldest towns in Czech Republic.
Composer Gustav Mahler grew up in Jihlava, and there is a park named after him in the city.
Composer Gustav Mahler grew up in Jihlava, and there is a park named after him in the city.
The town hall is a symbol of Jihlava.
The town hall is a symbol of Jihlava.
The Gate of Holy Mother is the only medieval portal in Jihlava that is still standing.
The Gate of Holy Mother is the only medieval portal in Jihlava that is still standing.

Volunteering is a great way to get a very in-depth look into the lives of locals. With so many different options, only the sky is the limit!

Spring in beautiful Barcelona

My list of places to visit is incredibly long, but Barcelona has always been quite high on that list. My mother Eila has also had it on her (much shorter) list so I invited her to come along when I headed to Barcelona in early May.

The biggest department store in Finland, Stockmann, has a huge sale twice a year. While I don’t enjoy the mass hysteria regarding the things they sell, I appreciate the cheap flights on offer. They’re direct flights with Finnair, and for European flights the prices are usually 100-200 euros cheaper than regular prices. This spring, a round trip flight from Helsinki to Barcelona cost 199 €.

I don’t like staying in hotels because they are usually impersonal and not good value for money. There are many websites where people offer their own apartments as holiday rentals, such as Airbnb, Wimdu, Homeaway, Housetrip and Roomorama. For our stay in Barcelona, we booked an apartment through Housetrip. A huge apartment with three bedrooms and two bathrooms cost 480 € for six nights.

The apartment was amazing and the location the best. The apartment was situated in Sant Andreu, a 20 minute metro ride from the city centre. I really enjoyed this neighbourhood, it had a true Catalan feel to it. I love staying in suburbs because there are no tourists around and you get a more authentic feel of the city. I can warmly recommend this neighbourhood – it’s full of orange trees, colourful houses, vivid people, small shops and cafés. Literally no-one speaks English, which is refreshing in a touristy city like Barcelona.

The view from our living room.
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A beautiful park in Sant Andreu.
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Many Catalans wish Catalonia to be independent – the Catalan flag can be seen hanging outside most balconies in Sant Andreu.
The houses are so colourful!
Orange trees grow on the streets.
Beautiful wall just around the corner from our apartment.
We spent many nights just walking around Sant Andreu taking in the ambiance of the neighbourhood.
We spent many nights just walking around Sant Andreu taking in the ambiance of the neighbourhood.

Day 1 – A day full of Gaudí

Barcelona is renowned for the buildings designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. On our first full day in Barcelona we headed to Casa Batlló, one of Gaudís most famous buildings.

The facade of Casa Batlló is full of small balconies resembling skulls or masks.
The facade of Casa Batlló is full of small balconies resembling skulls or masks.
Entry to the building costs 21,50 € and it includes an audioguide.
Entry to the building costs 21,50 € and it includes an audioguide.
We started our tour of Casa Batlló on the Noble Floor.
Terrace on the second floor.
The whole house is so decorative, you could spend years there discovering every detail.
Best part is, all the little gimmicks have a purpose. For example, the tiles in this staircase become darker towards the top, but the sun’s rays make all the tiles appear the same colour.
There are four massive chimneys on the roof.
Even the gift shop had some interesting details.
There’s not a single straight line in the house!
Casa Batlló is situated on Passeig de Gràcia. Even the tiles of this avenue are designed by Gaudí.
Casa Batlló is situated on Passeig de Gràcia. Even the tiles of this avenue are designed by Gaudí!

After getting our fair share of Gaudí we took the metro to Ciutadella Park.

It was a sunny day and the park was full of people.
It was a sunny day and the park was full of people.
Maybe I should change the name of the blog to Ammi's Jumps...
Maybe I should change the name of my blog to Ammi’s Jumps…
We continued our walk along small alleyways.
Door decorated with flowers.
Doors decorated with graffiti.
Vespas are very popular in Barcelona. I heard there are more vespas in Barcelona than in Rome!
We watched the locals live their life. And they watched us.
Or final stop was Arc de Triomf, situated right next to Ciutadella Park.

Day 2 – Beaches and parks

Barcelona lies right on the Spanish coast, so on our second day we went to Barceloneta Beach to marvel at the Mediterranean Sea.

Barceloneta Beach with W Hotel in the background.
Barceloneta Beach with W Hotel in the background.
We continued our journey to Montjuïc, a hill overlooking the city. We visited the Botanic gardens, where some kind of micro climate exists - it felt very hot all of a sudden! I also heard this is the only place where cacti and palm trees grow in unison.
We continued our journey to Montjuïc, a hill overlooking the city. We visited the Botanic gardens, where some kind of micro climate exists – it felt very hot all of a sudden! I also heard this is the only place where cacti and palm trees grow in unison.
We walked all the way up to the top of the hill.
We walked all the way up to the top of the hill.
The views at the top were great, you can see almost the entire city from here.
The views at the top were great, you can see almost the entire city from here.

Day 3 – Barcelona by bike and Parc Güell

There are more than 200 kilometres of bikeways in Barcelona, and as you would imagine, a ton of bicycle rental shops around the city. While Eila visited MNAC, I headed to Barcelona Rent A Bike. I rented a bike for 2 hours and it cost 6 €. Besides the bikeways, you’re allowed to bicycle on roads and sidewalks. Only the Ramblas are out of bounds for cyclists.

On my way from the metro to the bike rental I walked past the beautiful Palau Música.
On my way from the metro station to the bike rental, I walked past the beautiful Palau Música.
Local café with local art.
I also spotted this café with some interesting local art above it.
I started my bicycling tour along Passeig de Colom, a beautiful beach avenue lined with palm trees.
I started my bicycling tour along Passeig de Colom, a beautiful beach avenue lined with palm trees.
I continued along another street towards the Gothic Quarter.
I continued along another street towards the Gothic Quarter.
This little guy was enjoying the summer weather too.
This little guy was enjoying the summer weather too.
Dogs and bicycles are common sights on the streets of Barcelona.
Dogs and bicycles are common sights on the streets of Barcelona.
The best part about cycling around the city was getting lost in small alleyways...
The best part about cycling around the city was getting lost in small alleyways…
There were fruit shops in the corners.
There were fruit shops in the corners.
And art on the walls.
And art on the walls.
The dogs really are everywhere!
The dogs really are everywhere!
Right in the city centre of Barcelona you can find, Plaça de Catalunya, a huge square filled with people. And pigeons!
Right in the city centre of Barcelona you can find Plaça de Catalunya, a huge square filled with people – and pigeons!
This huge cathedral is the main sight in the Gothic Quarter.
The cathedral on the left is the main sight in the Gothic Quarter.
You can spot Gaudí's work all around the city.  Palau Güell is another one of his masterpieces.
You can spot Gaudí’s work all around the city. Palau Güell is another one of his masterpieces.
Plaça Reial. You can probably guess by now who designed the lanterns in this square...
Plaça Reial. You can probably guess by now who designed the lanterns in this square…
On my way back to the bike rental shop I just had to stop outside a building and go inside this symphatetic courtyard.
On my way back to the bike rental shop I just had to stop outside this building and go inside its sympathetic courtyard.

In the evening I caught up with Eila and we headed to Parc Güell, another one of Barcelona’s symbols as well as Gaudí’s masterpieces. The entry to Parc Güell is free, but to enter the monumental area you need to buy a ticket (7 €). The ticket allows you to enter the monumental area during a half an hour time slot. Once inside, you can spend as long as you want in the area. As we got to the park around 7 pm, there were no lines and we only needed to wait for half an hour to enter the monumental area. Before that we had time to visit the surrounding park.

The park outside the monumental area was well worth a visit with its colourful flowers and paths underneath shady trees.
The park outside the monumental area is well worth a visit with its fresh flowers and old viaducts.
First views of the monumental area. Nice and spacious in the evening!
First views of the monumental area. Nice and spacious in the evening!
The bench surrounding Plaça de la Natura is covered with colourful mosaic.
The bench surrounding Plaça de la Natura is covered with colourful mosaic.
Ammi's Jumps goes Dragon Stairway...
Ammi’s Jumps goes Dragon Stairway…
Halfway up the stairs the Catalan Coat of Arms shines red and yellow.
Halfway up the stairs, the Catalan Coat of Arms shines red and yellow.
This dragon is the most famous sight in the park. Not sure why...
This dragon is the most famous sight in the park. Not sure why…
At the top of the stairs you can find a colourful bench.
At the top of the stairs you can find a colourful bench.
Portico of Parc Güell.
The whole park is filled with colourful mosaics made out of tile shards.
The whole park is filled with colourful mosaics made out of tile shards.
The monumental area is quite small and can be easily explored in a short time.
One of the pavilions is painted a deep blue colour inside.

Before calling it a night, we checked out Casa Vicens, one of Gaudí’s first important buildings, located near Parc Güell.

Casa Vicens is for sale! Just in case someone has an extra 27 million euros lying around...
Casa Vicens is for sale! Just in case someone has an extra 27 million euros lying around…

Day 4 – Daytrip to Montserrat

After a couple of days in bustling Barcelona, we ventured out of the city towards Montserrat, a monastery up in the Catalan mountains.

The train from Barcelona to Montserrat takes about one hour. After the train arrives in Montserrat, you can decide if you want to head up to the monastery with cable car or scenic train. A round trip from Barcelona to Montserrat costs 19 € (including cable car or scenic train).

You can almost see the monastery from the train station.
You can almost see the monastery from the train station.
We opted for the scenic train which takes about 20 minutes from the train station to the monastery.
We opted for the scenic train which takes about 20 minutes from the train station to the monastery.
Looking back at the town of Montserrat from the scenic train.
Looking back at the town of Montserrat from the scenic train.
The monastery was founded over 1000 years ago.
The monastery was founded over 1000 years ago.
The women in the white shirts are choir memebers; a short concert is organized inside the chapel each day at 1 pm.
The women in the white shirts are choir members; a short concert is organized inside the chapel each day at 1 pm.
Inside the chapel the adult choir performed, shortly followed by a boys choir.
Inside the chapel the adult choir performed, shortly followed by a boys choir.
Views from the inner courtyard.
Views from the inner courtyard.
In front of the monastery there is a massive terrace where you can sit and enjoy the views.
Hundreds of years ago, pilgrims used to walk all the way up to the monastery! Luckily, nowadays there are several shorter hiking paths to explore the area.
The views from Montserrat monastery down to the valley are magnificient.
The cable car travels between the monastery and the town.
Taking in the fresh mountain air.
Windy at the top!
The monastery is pretty big, with only a portion open to the public.
There are no proper restaurants at the monastery (just over-priced junk food and candy) so we headed back to Barcelona for lunch.

After eating lunch, we visited La Boqueria, a massive market in the centre of the city.

The busy La Boqueria is situated on La Rambla, Barcelona's main boulevard. Here you can find various food items for sale, from fresh fish to exotic fruit.
The busy La Boqueria is situated on La Rambla, Barcelona’s main boulevard. Here you can find various food items for sale, from fresh fish to exotic fruit.
Ah, the colours! La Boqueria can definitely be enjoyed with all senses.
Ah, the colours! La Boqueria can definitely be enjoyed with all senses.

Day 5 – Hospital de Sant Pau and Sagrada Familia

On our last day in Barcelona we went to Hospital de Sant Pau. A functioning hospital until 2009, it is now a major tourist attraction with its decorative details.

The hospital is a classic example of Catalan architecture.
The hospital is a classic example of Catalan architecture.
Inner courtyard of Hospital de Sant Pau.
Inner courtyard of Hospital de Sant Pau.
Looking at the detailed decorations of Hospital de Sant Pau, you can really start noticing where Gaudí drew his inspiration from.
Looking at the detailed decorations of Hospital de Sant Pau, you can really start noticing where Gaudí drew his inspiration from.

From the hospital we headed towards Sagrada Familia, probably Barcelona’s main attraction and a symbol of the city. We had walked past Sagrada Familia previously but the lines were so long that we had not went inside. Now, around 4 pm on a Thursday afternoon, the line was really short. There are severeal different tickets, with audioguides, entry to the highest tower etc. Regular entry costs 14,80 €. Similar to Parc Güell, you are given a time of entry to the Sagrada Familia.

Sagrada Familia.
Sagrada Familia’s towers reach high up into the sky.
Sagrada Familia is known for being a never-ending work in progress. It does however have an estimated completion date of late 2020's!
Sagrada Familia is known for being a never-ending work in progress. It does however have an estimated completion date of late 2020’s!
The exterior of Sagrada Familia is extremely detailed.
The exterior of Sagrada Familia is extremely detailed.
The exterior of Sagrada Familia looks quite strange in my opinion, but inside it's one of the most amazing buildings I've entered. You can really tell that this was Gaudí's pride and joy.
The exterior of Sagrada Familia looks quite strange in my opinion, but inside it’s one of the most impressive buildings I’ve entered. You can really tell that this was Gaudí’s pride and joy.
Every pillar is a different colour.
Every pillar is a different colour.
The altar of Sagrada Familia bathes in natural light from the massive stained glass windows.
The altar of Sagrada Familia bathes in natural light from the massive windows.
The glass stained windows create magical reflections all over the basilica.
The stained glass windows create magical reflections all over the basilica.
Detail of the roof.
Detail of the roof.
me
The interior of Sagrada Familia was definitely my top sight in Barcelona!
Detail of the great doors. In the square there are numbers - when combined in certain ways, they create the number 33, the alleged age of Jesus's death.
Detail of the great doors. In the small square there are numbers – when combined in certain ways, they create the number 33, the alleged age of Jesus’s death.
Another detail of the exterior decorations.
Another detail of the exterior decorations.
Inner courtyard of Sagrada Familia.
Inner courtyard of Sagrada Familia.
The basilica is huge – you can continue downstairs and wonder at this crypt, which also contains the tomb of Antoni Gaudí.

Our last night was topped off with a stop at Gràcia Latina, a small bar in the Gràcia neighbourhood where they organize free flamenco shows every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The dancer had so much energy, you could sense the passion in her every movement and facial expression. This combined with live music and song made it an amazing experience!

Flamenco in Bar Gracia Latina.
Flamenco in Bar Gràcia Latina.

I truly enjoyed Barcelona, it’s a big and varied city so every day was filled with new experiences. There are many tourists in La Rambla and around, so I recommend venturing a bit outside of the city centre for a more authentic experience.

I had so much fun travelling with Eila who - in addition to being an amazing mother - is definitely one of my best friends. Love her to bits! ♥
I had so much fun travelling with Eila who – in addition to being an amazing mother – is definitely one of my best friends. Love her to bits! ♥