Tagged carpooling

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.

Three cities in a week

After an amazing time in Warsaw, I continued my trip to Poznań. Since I had such a good experience with BlaBlaCar, I used it again to get from Warsaw to Poznań. The trip cost me 25 złoty.

Poznań is a big student city and I actually couchsurfed in a student dormitory! My host didn’t have too many classes so we had a chance to spend some time together.

Colourful merchants' houses and the Ratusz (Town Hall) are some of the main sights on the Old Market Square.
Colourful merchants’ houses and the Ratusz (Town Hall) are some of the main sights in the Old Market Square.
The Town Hall is even more beautiful at night.
The Town Hall is even more beautiful at night.
Lunch at Bioway - definitely the best food I ate in Poland! Bioway is a buffet style restaurant inside a shopping centre built in an old brewery. All food is vegetarian and paid for by weight (3,29 złoty / 100 grams).
Lunch at Bioway – definitely the best food I ate in Poland! Bioway is a buffet style restaurant inside Stary Browar, a shopping centre built in an old brewery. All food is vegetarian and paid for by weight (3,29 złoty / 100 grams).
The oldest cathedral in Poland sits on an island in the Warta river.
The oldest cathedral in Poland sits on an island in the Warta river.
Rowers going up and down Lake Malta, just east of the Old Town. The calm surroundings of this artificial lake are the top spot to wind down after a day in the city.
Rowers going up and down Lake Malta, just east of the Old Town. The calm surroundings of this artificial lake are the top spot to wind down after a day in the city.

From Poznań I took the train to Wrocław (33,90 złoty). In Wrocław I couchsurfed with a fun couple and their beautiful husky. As I was in Wrocław during the weekend, I could spend a lot of time with my hosts.

Couldn't have asked for a better room mate!
I couldn’t have asked for a better room mate!
There are more than 300 of these small dwarfs around the city. You can spot a dwarf with a map outside the tourist information or a dwarf with pills outside the pharmacy. Here's a dwarf withdrawing money!
There are more than 300 of these small gnomes around the city. You can spot a gnome carrying a map outside the tourist information or a gnome taking pills outside the pharmacy. Here’s a gnome withdrawing money!
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is the oldest part of the city.
Ostrów Tumski (Cathedral Island) is the oldest part of the city.
The Japanese Garden (Ogród Japonski) is situated in Park Szczytnicki, just east of the Old Town. Entry to the Japanese Garden costs 4 złoty.
The peaceful Japanese Garden (Ogród Japonski) is situated in Szczytnicki Park, just east of the Old Town. Entry to the Japanese Garden costs 4 złoty.

After nearly two weeks in Poland, it was time to move on to Czech Republic. Even though Wrocław is located close to Czech border, I found out that it’s not easy to find a good connection to Czech Republic from Wrocław – unless you want to go to Prague. If you want to visit another city first, the best bet would be to go by car. I couldn’t find a suitable ride so here’s what I did:

Step 1: Take the tram from couchsurfing hosts to Wrocław bus station.

Step 2: Take a bus from Wrocław to Katowice. I used Polskibus, who only sell tickets through their website. The trip from Wrocław to Katowice cost 25 złoty.

Step 3: Take the train from Katowice to Ostrava in Czech Republic . Since it’s an international train, the price is much higher than regular trains (70 złoty).

Step 4: Take a trolley bus from Ostrava train station to a pre-arranged meeting point.

Step 5: Carpool through BlaBlaCar from Ostrava to Brno (12 złoty).

Step 6: Get dropped off at IKEA, take bus to city centre of Brno.

After I got to the city centre I walked into Hostel Eleven and luckily they had some space. A bed in a four bed dorm cost 390 Kč (approximately 15 €). Hostel Eleven is a clean and modern hostel right in the city centre. When I checked in, the receptionist gave me some ear plugs as a welcoming gift. Unfortunately I needed them. As the hostel is so centrally located, there is a lot of noise from traffic, people and construction sites just outside your window. The loudest noise though, was a snoring room mate… On my second night I had the entire dorm to myself, which felt like such incredible luxury.

I was only in Brno for one full day. It was quite a cold and rainy day so I mostly spent time inside, sitting in cafés and visiting churches. I was in Brno on a Monday so unfortunately all the museums and art galleries were closed.

Brno is the second largest city in Czech Republic.
Brno is the second largest city in Czech Republic.
I ate lunch at the macrobiotic restaurant Zdravý Život. The food was quite bland but the atmosphere was pretty neat.
I ate lunch at the macrobiotic restaurant Zdravý Život. The food was quite bland but the interior was pretty neat.
I continued to Kiwi Raw Food for dessert. This is the first raw food restaurant in Czech Republic.
I continued to Kiwi Raw Food for dessert. This is the first raw food restaurant in Czech Republic.
From Špilberk Park you have good views of Brno. The 17 hectare park is the most significant park in Brno, with the massive Špilberk Castle located in the middle of the park.
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on Petrov Hill rings its bells everyday at 11 am to commemorate Brno's success in being the only city to repel the Swedes during the Thirty Years' War.
Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul on Petrov Hill rings its bells everyday at 11 am to commemorate Brno’s success in being the only city to repel the Swedes during the Thirty Years’ War.

I found a small yoga studio, Yoga Lokah, close to my hostel. I had attended a few yoga classes in Poland, but they were all in Polish. Nada, who is the owner of Yoga Lokah, runs weekly yoga classes is English for medical and veterinary students. She was kind enough to let me participate in the class.

A 60 minute class at Yoga Lokah cost 100 Kč.
A 60 minute class at Yoga Lokah costs 100 Kč.
At the yoga studio, Nada also sells this delicious chocolate, handmade in Brno.
At the yoga studio, Nada also sells this delicious chocolate, handmade in Brno.
The organic restaurant chain Rebio has four locations around Brno. I ate in two of them. The food is quite basic but you can pick and choose from the buffet and then pay by weight. I recommend going here at lunch time, when the food is still warm and fresh.
The organic restaurant chain Rebio has four locations around Brno. I ate in two of them. The food is quite basic but you can pick and choose from the vegetarian buffet and then pay by weight. I recommend going here at lunch time, when the food is still warm and fresh.
My last stop in Brno was the Capuchin Crypt (entry 60 Kč). All the bodies here have been naturally mummified. This place is creepy, yet interesting.
My last stop in Brno was the Capuchin Crypt (entry 60 Kč). All the bodies here have been naturally mummified. This place is creepy, yet interesting.

Getting into a stranger’s car

Everyone has probably been told as a kid not to get into a stranger’s car. I admit that I’ve only hitchhiked twice before, and it was just for short distances. I don’t think that getting into a stranger’s car is the biggest problem with hitchhiking, but time. It can take an entire day to travel a few hundred kilometers. But what if there was a way to find out about your driver in advance, and know the exact time when your ride is leaving? There is – I’ve just tried BlaBlaCar for the first time.

I was originally going to stay in Kraków for a week but my plans changed and I headed to Warsaw on Sunday. Trains cost more than 100 złoty so I opted for BlaBlaCar.

BlaBlaCar currently operates in 10 countries. Through their website you can search for any route and see what time a driver is leaving and how much the price will be. Similar to Couchsurfing, people have profiles with references, which adds to the security of the website.

I sent a couple of enquiries but many cars were already full. Finally I found a ride that left Kraków in the afternoon. Pick-up was organized close to my host’s apartment too!

In addition to the driver, there were two other passengers in the car besides me. Everyone else was Polish so the ride was pretty quiet due to the language barrier. The four hour ride from Kraków to Warsaw cost me 35 zloty.

Best part was, another passenger took the tram with me from where the driver dropped us off. He rode the tram all the way to the city centre with me and directed me to the right bus stop. He even carried my backpack! Even though acts of kindness happen on a daily basis while on the road, I’m still always amazed how generous and helpful people are to travelers.

BlaBlaCar is such an innovative concept! So many cars travel between cities with several empty seats inside. BlaBlaCar is great for both the passenger and the driver: the passenger gets a cheap ride to another city and the driver makes some extra cash. But most of all, BlaBlaCar reduces pollution, when there are four people in a car instead of one! My first experience with carpooling through BlaBlaCar was very positive and I will definitely be using the service again in the future.

Made it to Warsaw!
Made it to Warsaw!