Tagged couchsurfing

Hola Madrid y Toledo

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!

We started our day walking through Parque Retiro.
We started our day walking through Parque Retiro, one of the largest parks in Madrid.
A statue of the fallen angel, Satan, stands tall in the middle of the park.
A statue of the fallen angel, Satan, stands tall in the middle of the park.
The Monument to King Alfonso XII looks over people rowing in the artificial pond.
The Monument to King Alfonso XII looks over people rowing in the artificial pond.
This guy dropped a feather in front of me.
This guy dropped a feather in front of me.
I put it in my hat.
I put it in my hat.
All this jumping made me hungry so it was time for lunch.
All this jumping made me hungry so it was time for lunch.
At vegetarian restaurant Artemisa, the daily menu costs 11,90 €. It consists of soup or salad for a starter, a main course and your choice of dessert.
At vegetarian restaurant Artemisa, the daily menu costs 11,90 €. It consists of soup or salad for a starter, a main course and your choice of dessert.

After lunch, we walked around the city before visiting two famous museums in Madrid.

I enjoyed looking at colourful houses...
I enjoyed looking at colourful houses…
...and colourful people!
…and colourful people!
Many roads are named after famous people and the street signs feature an image of the person in question.
Many roads are named after famous people and the street signs feature an image of the person in question.
Museo del Prado, with a collection of famous paintings from both Spain and abroad, is one of the most important sights in Madrid. Entry is free the final two hours of the day!
Museo del Prado, with a collection of famous paintings from both Spain and abroad, is one of the most important sights in Madrid. Entry is free the final two hours of the day!
In contrast to the classical paintings on display at Museo del Prado, Museo del Reina is dedicated to modern art. Museo del Reina also allows museum guests to enter for free during the last two hours it's open.
In contrast to the classical paintings on display at Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofía is dedicated to modern art. Museo Reina Sofía also allows museum guests to enter for free during the last two hours it’s open.
Our final stop of the day was the Royal Palace, which is lit up at night time.
Our final stop of the day was the Royal Palace, which is lit up at night time.
After walking around for twelve hours, dinner at macrobiotic restaurant La Biotika was very welcome. A three course menu will set you back 14,90 €.
After walking around for twelve hours, dinner at macrobiotic restaurant La Biotika was very welcome. A three course menu will set you back 14,90 €.

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.

Besides exploring the small streets of Toledo, I visited the Toledo Cathedral, one of the main sights of the city.
Besides exploring the small streets of Toledo, I visited Toledo Cathedral, one of the main sights of the city.
Madre Tierra is the only one vegetarian restaurant in Toledo. Dishes at this cosy place cost 10-15 €.
Madre Tierra is the only one vegetarian restaurant in Toledo. Dishes at this cosy place cost 10-15 €.
One of Toledo's most famous inhabitants was the painter El Greco. He lived in Toledo over a period of 37 years, and the city frequently appears in his work. In the early 20th century, Marquis de la Vega Inclán purchased a run-down 14th century house in Toledo’s old Jewish Quarter, in the mistaken assumption that he was buying the remains of the painter’s own home.
One of Toledo’s most famous inhabitants was the painter El Greco. He lived in Toledo over a period of 37 years, and the city frequently appears in his work. In the early 20th century, Marquis de la Vega Inclán purchased a run-down 14th century house in Toledo’s old Jewish Quarter, in the mistaken assumption that he was buying the remains of the painter’s own home.
Marquis de la Vega Inclán managed to perfectly re-create some of the rooms, making El Greco’s house a popular sight in Toledo. Entry to the house museum costs 3 €.
Marquis de la Vega Inclán managed to perfectly re-create some of the rooms, making El Greco’s house a popular sight in Toledo. Entry to the house museum costs 3 €.

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.

¡Hasta la proxima!

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.

A short visit to Boston

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.

I walked around the serene Park with my host Sarah and one of the other couchsurfers with her.
I walked around the serene Boston Public Garden with my host Sarah and one of the other couchsurfers staying with her.
The River runs between downtown Boston and Cambridge.
The Charles River runs between Cambridge and downtown Boston.
It's easy to spot all the major sights of Boston - just follow the Freedom Trail, marked with a red line on the ground.
It’s easy to spot all the major sights of Boston, such as the Old State House – just follow the Freedom Trail,  a 4 km path marked with a red line on the ground.
Faneuil Hall is one of the most important sights on the trail.
Faneuil Hall is one of the most important buildings on the trail. It is also one of the most visited buildings in USA.
The courtyard and entrance to Old City Hall, also located along the Freedom Trail.
The courtyard and entrance to Old City Hall, also located along the Freedom Trail.
The Freedom Trail continues to Copp's Hill, where several notable Bostonians are buried.
The Freedom Trail continues to Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, where several notable Bostonians are buried.
The Freedom Trail ends at the Bunker Hill Monument.
The Freedom Trail ends at the Bunker Hill Monument.
There are some modern sights in Boston, too.
Besides historical buildings along the Freedom Trail, there are some modern sights in Boston, too.

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.

The statue of John Harvard, who was the biggest benefactor of the university. Rubbing his shoe alledgedly gets you, or someone you know, accepted to Harvard.
The statue of John Harvard, who was the biggest benefactor of the university. Rubbing his shoe allegedly gets you, or someone you know, accepted into Harvard.
Most buildings are out of bounds for non-students, but we did get a chance to visit this beautiful hall.
Most buildings are out of bounds for non-students, but we did get a chance to visit this beautiful hall.
 One time, I took the wrong turn while getting out from the subway station and stumbled upon this restaurant. I'm glad I did! Life Alive is probably the best restaurant I've eaten at during this trip. After discovering this place, I didn't need to eat anywhere else.
One time, I took the wrong turn while getting out from the subway station and stumbled upon this restaurant. I’m glad I did! Life Alive is probably the best restaurant I’ve eaten at during this entire trip. After discovering this place, I didn’t need to eat anywhere else.

As Boston is such an old city, I think it’s the best starting point for a better understanding of American history.

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.

Passing through Košice

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.

Hlavná is the lively main street in Košice. Many of the most important sights are on Hlavná, for example the State Theatre and Singing Fountain.
Hlavná is the lively main street in Košice. Many of the most important sights are on Hlavná, for example the State Theatre and Singing Fountain.
A market is organized on the Dominican Square. Here you can buy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
A market is organized on the Dominican Square. Here you can buy a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Two Slovak women returning from the market.
Two Slovak women returning from the market.
Košice's top sight, St. Elizabeth Cathedral, is Slovakia's biggest church.
Košice’s top sight, St. Elizabeth Cathedral, is Slovakia’s biggest church.
The best time to visit St. Elizabeth Cathedral is midday - the sun shines beautifully through the big glass windows.
The best time to visit St. Elizabeth Cathedral is midday – the sun shines beautifully through the big glass windows.
My amazing Couchsurfing host Zuzana. She is an artist and has her own gallery on Hlavná, where she sells her gorgeous glass art.
My amazing Couchsurfing host Zuzana. She is an artist and has her own gallery on Hlavná, where she sells her gorgeous glass art.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Govinda in quite a small city like Košice. These Hare Krishna restaurants can be found around the world and I love eating in them. The food is tasty, healthy, always vegetarian and often quite cheap. This massive meal cost 4,50 €. Govinda is situated at the end of Hlavná.
I was pleasantly surprised to find Govinda in quite a small city like Košice. These Hare Krishna restaurants can be found around the world and I love eating in them. The food is tasty, healthy, always vegetarian and often quite cheap. This massive meal cost 4,50 €. Govinda is situated at the end of Hlavná.
Entrance to Mestský park, a nice outdoor area.
Entrance to Mestský park, a nice outdoor area.
Kunsthalle, at the edge of Mestský Park, held an exhibition about the Slovak National Uprising. The art gallery is built in an old indoor swimming pool.
Kunsthalle, at the edge of Mestský Park, held an exhibition about the Slovak National Uprising. The art gallery is built in an old indoor swimming pool.
In Kulturpark there was a free exhibition by Slovak artist Pavol Megyesi. The style was a bit too modern for my taste...
In Kulturpark there was a free exhibition by Slovak artist Pavol Megyesi. The style was a bit too modern for my taste…

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.

Couchsurfing in Tarragona

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.

On Saturday morning, a swapping market was organized on the square in front of Tarragona Cathedral.
I walked over this square…
…and back to the small streets.
This side street is lined with pillars, each one painted in a different way. Every year a festival is organized, where the pillars are re-painted!
These stairs lead down to the massive amphitheatre built in the second century.
I stopped by Tarragona Beach where I joined some locals for a picnic.
From the beach I continued my way back to the city centre and its colourful streets.
Rambla Nova, main street of Tarragona.
At the end of Rambla Nova you can find Balco del Mediterrani, a terrace on top of a cliff with great views of the Mediterranean.

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.

With Luca and Elly, my room mates for the weekend!
The narrow aquaduct is 250 metres long.

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.