At the beginning of September I headed to the Spanish capital. I only spent one day in Madrid, but somehow, it was enough. Because I lucked out big time with my Couchsurfing host. An avid learner and sharer of knowledge, Nico showed me around Madrid, all in one day. Couchsurfing saves you so much time and energy. You don’t have to read through Tripadvisor or lug Lonely Planet books in your backpack, as you can so easily get the best pieces of advice from a local!
After lunch, we walked around the city before visiting two famous museums in Madrid.
As we managed to cram all the main sights of Madrid into one day, I headed to Toledo the next morning. The old Spanish capital is situated approximately 70 km from Madrid. A round trip with the bus costs around 10 €. Trains also run to Toledo but are more expensive. Toledo makes for a good day trip from Madrid.
It was nice to combine a visit to the busy capital of Madrid with a visit to the smaller city of Toledo. Most importantly, my trip to Spain allowed me to practice my Spanish.
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.
I love not having set plans while traveling. This way I can pick up tips on where to go and what to do from locals as well as other travelers. While travelling through East-Central Europe I met so many people who recommended Boston to me so I decided to spend a few days there. Boston is one of the oldest cities in USA and the site of many important events in American history.
The bus company Megabus operates between dozens of large cities in USA. If you’re lucky and buy your ticket far in advance, you can pay as little as $1 for a one way bus ticket. I bought my tickets a couple of weeks ahead of time and found tickets from New York to Boston for $5 one way. Buying bus tickets in advance does limit your travels, in case you want to stay somewhere longer. But an unused $5 bus ticket anyone can live with. I ended up leaving Boston earlier than planned and only payed $12 for my new bus ticket anyway. The trip from New York to Boston takes five hours (unless there is an accident on the road and your bus stands still on the highway for three hours…).
I couchsurfed in Somerville, an area North West of the city centre. Once again, I had a great couchsurfing experience. Not only did I meet my host, her friend, her roommate and three cool cats (two of them named after Finns), but there were two other couchsurfers staying at the apartment, so there was always someone to talk to.
On my first day in Boston, I visited the annual Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, where I basically got a free lunch from all the samples they were giving out. Afterwards my host took me around Boston and in the evening she cooked a tasty seafood stew.
Boston is a big university city, with dozens of universities around town. I visited Harvard and participated in the free tour led by a Harvard student.
As Boston is such an old city, I think it’s the best starting point for a better understanding of American history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With 250 000 inhabitants, Košice in Eastern Slovakia is the second largest city in the country, after the capital Bratislava. The easiest way to get to Košice from Budapest, is to catch a train from Keleti railway station. The train ride takes 3 ½ hours and costs 6300 forints (around 20 euros).
Košice was probably not that famous until last year, when it became the European Capital of Culture for 2013. I had one full day in Košice, which was the perfect amount of time to have a look around the city.
I happened to be in Košice when Košice Night Run was organized. More than 1000 people participate in the 10 km run through the city. I had a great final evening in Košice with Zuzana, her family and friends, cheering on the contestants, eating pizza and experiencing the lively atmosphere in the city.
On my way from Barcelona to L’ampolla, I wanted to stop along the way for a couple of nights. What I basically did, was just to look at a map and choose the biggest city in between the two, which turned out to be the old Roman town of Tarragona. The train from Barcelona to Tarragona takes about an hour and costs 5,60 € one way.
Since I had three nights in Tarragona, I decided to couchsurf. From my experience minimum three nights is ideal for both surfing and hosting. Anything shorter and you don’t have enough time to get to know each other very well! I was also staying from Friday to Monday, so I knew I’d have more time to spend with my potential host since people are usually busy working during weekdays.
I created an open couch request on Couchsurfing and received a handful of invitations, so it was super easy to find a host in Tarragona! I stayed in an apartment right in the city centre with my friendly host Elly and his lovely room mates Luca and Sara.
After settling down in my home for the weekend, Elly, his friends and I went walking around the city, sat in cafés and ate some tapas. The next day I walked around exploring the city.
In the evening I caught up with Elly and we spent the evening watching Eurovision at his apartment. I love that with Couchsurfing you can just live an everyday life somewhere else in the world!
On Sunday, Elly, his friends and I walked all the way to Pont del Diable, a massive aqueduct about 4 km from the city.
Tarragona is a good city for anyone interested in history. But since I had recently visited Rome, I might not have been so amazed by Tarragona. Still, it was a great place to visit for one weekend.