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!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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 , or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, is a website that links volunteers with organic farms.
Similar to WWOOF, Workaway connects volunteers with farms but also with hostels, families or even schools.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
After getting our fair share of Gaudí we took the metro 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.
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.
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.
Before calling it a night, we checked out Casa Vicens, one of Gaudí’s first important buildings, located near Parc Güell.
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).
After eating lunch, we visited La Boqueria, a massive market in the centre of the city.
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.
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.
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!
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.