Tagged hostel

From a crazy city to the blue city

The three day Sahara tour dropped us off at our hostel in Fez. We stayed in Hostel Funky Fes close to the medina.

The Fez medina is the biggest one in the world. And it was crazy.

It seemed like and endless maze. Donkeys were walking beside you, chicken and geese were being sold alive, cats were eating rotten food in the corner, there were loud sounds and intense smells. And you couldn’t ask for directions because everyone was saying a different thing.

“This way, my friend!”

“Where are you going, my brother?”

“I can help you!”

It felt like being in a fantasy movie with witches trying to lure innocent children into their boiling cauldron.

I was ready to lose it. Then suddenly, after walking for what seemed like hours, we turned a corner and saw the restaurant that the hostel staff had recommended to us.

After dinner, we made sure to ask the restaurant staff for directions back to the hostel. “Just walk straight.” But in the medina, there is no such thing. After getting lost again, just minutes after leaving the restaurant, we decided to walk back to the restaurant and grab a taxi to the hostel. For 20 dirham, I say we should have done it straight away.

From Fez we continued north with local bus company CTM.

After a three hour journey, the bus dropped us off at Chefchaouen, a town situated in the Rif mountains. Often called Chaouen by locals, the town used to attract many hippies with its easy-going lifestyle, and still does to some degree. Stepping out of the bus, a strong scent of marijuana immediately floated into my nostrils. Besides weed, Chefchaouen is famous for its blue buildings.

Climbing up towards our hostel we spotted many people wearing straw hats traditional to this area.
Climbing up towards our hostel, Riad Baraka, we spotted many people wearing straw hats and clothing traditional to the area.
Riad Baraka is situated right at the Rif Mountains. Its terrace is a great place for 360 degree views over the town.
Riad Baraka is situated right at the Rif Mountains. Its terrace is a great place for 360 degree views over the town.

So how can a town with nothing but blue buildings be so fascinating?

Well, first of all, every single door is different.

Just like in the rest of Morocco, there are cats everywhere.

In contrast to the blue buildings, locals wear colourful outfits.

 

And walk their goats.

The streets of Chefchaouen feature cute details that make a photographer enthusiastic.

Unfortunately the hygiene standards in Morocco are nonexistent, so on the final day of our trip, I got a gut-wrenching stomach bug that lasted for weeks after the trip. No matter how careful you are, avoiding a stomach bug in Morocco is not easy, but luckily the bug didn’t hit until my final day in Morocco, which allowed me to enjoy every single day of my trip.

Shukran Morocco!

A day in magical Marrakech

When I found a one-way flight from Madrid to Marrakech for 40 €, I was super excited. As I was so close to Africa, I realized the opportunity to visit Morocco had come.

But then I got scared. I had never been to Africa, let alone a Muslim country.

Even though the name of this blog is Ammi’s Adventures, I’m not nearly as brave as I’d like to be. I’ve written before how it’s important to face your fears, but at times I find it hard to follow my own advice. Reading travel forums about solo females being hassled in Morocco scared me. And even though many people wrote about the wonderful experiences they had in Morocco, the negative messages stick to your head so much easier.

But usually, honesty pays off. I was scared about the prospect of traveling to Morocco alone, but I wasn’t scared to let people know this. After openly sharing my fears, a male friend traveling in Spain at the same time as me, agreed to join me on my trip.

The Moroccan coastline as seen from the plane — Janne and I are about to land on African soil for the first time in our life!
The Moroccan coastline as seen from the plane — Janne and I are about to land on African soil for the first time in our life!
We stayed at Hostel Rouge in the medina (old town) where we were welcomed with mint tea from the hostel's friendly staff.
We stayed at Hostel Rouge in the medina (old town) where we were welcomed with mint tea from the hostel’s friendly staff.

After dropping our bags at the hostel, we had a look around Marrakech. We were surprised how quiet a Saturday afternoon at the main square, Jamaa el Fna, was. There were almost no people around and the few locals we saw were minding their own business. We were expecting a culture shock but found Marrakech to be relatively calm.

The first sight when arriving to Marrakech were some lonesome horse carriages. The lack of crowds took us by surprise.
The first sight when arriving to Marrakech were some lonesome horse carriages. The lack of crowds took us by surprise.

From the square we continued to the souks — an endless maze of stalls selling herbs, clothes and handicrafts. The shop owners were knitting hats and carving wood in their stalls, from where they sold their items. The colours and smells of the souk really awaken your senses. Women are draped from top to toe, but still look very fashionable, wearing clothes and scarves in all imaginable colours and patterns.

In Morocco, there’s basically two options for lunch: couscous or tajine. Couscous, granules made out of durum wheat, is probably more known in the Western world than tajine. Tajine is a North African dish cooked in a cone-shaped ceramic pot. Both couscous and tajine are usually served with meat. In the vegetarian option the meat is usually just left out, but sometimes the meat is replaced with eggs, olives or chick peas, leaving you with a dish that’s not as bland as just steamed vegetables. Being a vegetarian in Morocco is not easy, being a vegan is almost impossible unless you cook your own food.

Olives and lentils as an entrée, before being served tajine in Marrakech.
Olives and lentils as an entrée, before being served tajine in Marrakech.
The restaurant was on the second floor and it was interesting to look at the souk from above. From up here, you could never imagine all the life going on underneath the shades.
The restaurant was on the second floor and it was interesting to look at the souk from above. From up here, you could never imagine all the life going on underneath the shades.
A random goat was hanging out on one of the roofs.
A random goat was hanging out on one of the roofs.

Sunset came and so did the people! Finally Jamaa el Fna was alive: smoke from the stalls selling food, children running, people laughing, music and performances. It was a stark contrast to the calmness of the square at daytime.

Climb up to a second floor restaurant terrace for a view of the entire Jamaa el Fna!
For 3 dirhams (around 30 cents) you can enjoy a hot bowl of soup at Jamaa el Fna.
You will also enjoyed sitting at a communal table with the locals.

As soon as you leave Jamaa el Fna, the loud sounds of the market square die out and there are not many people around.
Retreating back to our hostel after an exciting day in Marrakech.

So were my fears of solo female travel in Morocco valid? It’s hard to say, since I didn’t experience it. But in Marrakech, I never felt threatened. The locals approached us with curiosity and eagerness, never with aggression. At Jamaa el Fna, the stall owners are trying to get you to eat at their place, but if you decline, they will leave you alone or maybe say a snarky comment. Nobody will touch you or yell at you. Just remember, this is coming from someone who travelled with a male by her side.

I am so grateful that I found a travel companion as my fears might have stopped me from experiencing this intriguing Moroccan city. Once again, travel efficiently removed any prejudice I had about a place I hadn’t visited before.

Stay tuned for a blog post about our trip to the Sahara desert!

Rainy days in Lithuania

After a travel hiatus of 18 weeks, my wanderlust had grown into unbearable measures. I was back in the working life so another long trip would have to wait. Luckily Easter was on its way which meant a long weekend. Last year, I spent an amazing Easter in Latvia. It seemed like the Baltics were a good place to go during Easter, so this year I headed to Latvia’s neighboring country, Lithuania. I took two extra days off from work, so I had six whole days to explore Vilnius and its surroundings.

After landing in Vilnius, I took the train from the airport to the city centre. The trip takes seven minutes and costs 0,72 €. The trains only run once an hour but there are also several buses from the airport to the city.

 I started my first day in Vilnius with a delicious lunch at Namai, a vegetarian restaurant that uses a lot of local and organic produce.
I started my first day in Vilnius with a delicious lunch at Namai, a vegetarian restaurant that uses a lot of local and organic produce.

After lunch, I checked in to my hostel. I stayed at Home Made House, which truly lived up to its name. This small hostel, with room for only twelve people, is super cozy.

A bed in a four bed dorm costs 13 € per night. The price includes breakfast.
A bed in a four bed dorm costs 13 € per night. The price includes breakfast.
Due to its small size, it's easy to get to know other travelers in the hostel's communal kitchen.
Due to its small size, it’s easy to get to know other travelers in the hostel’s communal kitchen.
Some people say Lithuania gets its name from the Lithuanian word lietus, which means rain. Most of my time in Lithuania it was raining - when it wasn't snowing! I recommend visiting Vilnius in summer.
Some say Lithuania gets its name from the Lithuanian word lietus, which means rain. Most of my time in Lithuania it was raining – when it wasn’t snowing! I recommend visiting in summer.
After walking around in the rain for hours, a warming meal at hare krishna restaurant Radharane is more than welcome. Their lentil dahl is to die for.
After walking around in the rain for hours, a warming meal at hare krishna restaurant Radharane is more than welcome. Their lentil dahl is to die for.
I always end up ordering too much food when the prices are so low! I just assume the portions must be very small. At Radharane the total of a lentil dahl, a chana masala and a carrot juice was 5,10 €.
I always end up ordering too much food when the prices are so low! I just assume the portions must be very small. At Radharane the total of a lentil dahl, a chana masala and a carrot juice was 5,10 €.
On my second day in Lithuania, I visited Trakai, a town about 30 km west of Vilnius. Trakai’s most famous sight is Trakai Island Castle.
On my second day in Lithuania, I visited Trakai, a town about 30 km west of Vilnius. Trakai’s most famous sight is Trakai Island Castle.
Entrance to the castle grounds is 6 €.
Entrance to the castle grounds is 6 €.
The chapel with its impressive vaults is the biggest room in the castle.
The chapel with its impressive vaults is the biggest room in the castle.
While in Trakai, I made sure to eat kibinai at Senoji Kibininė. Apparently Trakai is the best place to get this traditional pastry, and even Lithuanians travel to Trakai just to buy them.
The Vilnius Free Walking Tour starts everyday at 12 pm from the Town Hall and takes participants around the Old Town.
The Vilnius Free Walking Tour starts everyday at 12 pm from the Town Hall and takes participants around the Old Town.
The tour also ventures into Užupis, an artist district that has declared independence from Lithuania!
The tour also ventures into Užupis, an artist district that has declared independence from Lithuania!
My favourite street in the Old Town is Literatų Gatvė with its picturesque houses.
My favourite street in the Old Town is Literatų Gatvė with its picturesque houses.
I especially like Senamiesčio krautuvė, an adorable store selling various local produce.
I especially like Senamiesčio krautuvė, an adorable store selling various local produce.
I recommend stepping away from the main streets and stumbling upon small inner courtyards strewn across the city.
I recommend stepping away from the main streets and stumbling upon small inner courtyards strewn across the city.
 There is also a large number of churches all around Vilnius.
There is also a large number of churches all around Vilnius.
I walked up to Gediminas Hill to visit the ruins of the Vilnius Castle Complex.
I walked up to Gediminas Hill to visit the ruins of the Upper Castle of the Vilnius Castle Complex.
From the top of the Gediminas Tower you have a 360 degree view of the entire city.
From the top of the Gediminas Tower you have a 360 degree view of the entire city.
On Easter Sunday the hostel owner Lina had cooked a massive Easter breakfast, which included some beautifully coloured eggs.
On Easter Sunday, the hostel owner Lina had cooked a massive Easter breakfast, which included some beautifully coloured eggs.
Upon entering Vegafé, you take off your shoes and sit down on the floor. Unfortunately, the food didn’t match the unique atmosphere of the restaurant.
I had lunch at Vegafé. Upon entering the restaurant, you take off your shoes and sit down on the floor. Unfortunately, the quality of the food didn’t match the unique atmosphere of the restaurant.

A museum in Vilnius worth visiting is The Museum for Genocide victims. Entry to this powerful museum is only 2 €. In the basement there is an old KGB prison. Grim, grim place.

The duty officer processed the papers of new prisoners in this room. With the equipment he could communicate with guard posts and interrogators, as well as receive calls from prisoners.
The duty officer processed the papers of new prisoners in this room. With the equipment he could communicate with guard posts and interrogators, as well as receive calls from prisoners.
Here, prisoners were stripped away from their clothes, as well as their humanity.
Here, prisoners were stripped away from their clothes, as well as their humanity.
Lunch at Raw Raw, a lovely raw vegan restaurant
Lunch at Raw Raw, a lovely raw vegan restaurant.
Halės market
At the massive Halės market you can buy almost everything from sauerkraut to underwear!
Balti Drambliai
On my final night, I ate dinner at the lovely Balti Drambliai, located in an ancient basement in the old town.

On my last day in Vilnius I treated myself to the most relaxing massage at Tailando Masazai. A 60-minute massage cost 25,50 €.

Before heading to the airport I had time to have lunch at Ajurvedinė virtuvė.
Before heading to the airport I had time to have lunch at Ajurvedinė virtuvė.

Yeah, in true Easter spirit I mostly just ate. A good holiday, then!

The long way from New York to Dortmund

It’s kind of fun trying to find the most affordable way to travel. While travelling on a budget, you often see more places, meet more people and experience more things. I knew I needed to be in Dortmund on Saturday but decided to do a little tour north of the German city first. Mostly this was due to Dortmund not being a huge city, so flying there directly from New York wouldn’t have been possible anyway. The cheapest flight from New York to anywhere nearby Dortmund was to Copenhagen. I crossed the atlantic with Norwegian Air, landed in the capital of Denmark and took a train from the airport to the city centre. Having a few hours before my train to Hamburg would depart, I had time to eat lunch before continuing my journey.

Having flown all night and being jet lagged, I fell asleep quickly after getting on the train to Hamburg. I woke up some time later to the repeating announcement of how it’s not allowed to stay on the train. Half asleep and having no idea what was happening, I followed the other passengers up some stairs. We were in some kind of lobby with shops and restaurants. Suddenly we started moving. The train had boarded a ferry!

After the ferry ride and a while longer on the train, I arrived in Hamburg where I had booked a hotel room for one night. It was such a strange feeling: within 24 hours, I had gone from an apartment in Brooklyn to a hotel room in Hamburg. I had been in three countries on two continents using three means of transport.

I stayed in A&O Hostel and Hotel near Hamburg central station. While the hostel has dorms, I opted for my own hotel room after a whole night and day of travelling. A private room set me back 36 €.

I had the following day in Hamburg all to myself, because I wasn’t continuing my journey towards Dortmund until the evening. Hamburg is an easy city to walk around in, but public transport is also good there. I bought a day pass for 5,90 € that allowed me to travel as much as I wanted on the S-bahn and the U-bahn.

St. Michael's church is a symbol of the city. But on a day like this - not so much.
St. Michael’s church is a symbol of the city. But on a day like this – not so much.
The Rathaus, or city hall, is 111 meters wide with 647 rooms.
The Rathaus, or city hall, is 111 meters wide with 647 rooms.
Next to Rathaus, in the basement of Buckerus Kunst Forum, you can fill a plate of vegetarian food for 10 € at Restaurant Season.
Next to Rathaus, in the basement of Bucerius Kunst Forum, you can fill a plate with vegetarian food for 10 € at Restaurant Season.
The Old Elbe tunnel was built in the beginning of the 20th century as a means to link the port and the shipyards together.
The Old Elbe tunnel was built in the beginning of the 20th century as a means to link the port and the shipyards together.
Before moving on to my next destination, I sat down at Café Koppel for a bowl of vegetable soup.
Before moving on to my next destination, I sat down at Café Koppel for a bowl of vegetable soup.

In the evening, I took the final train to the last leg of my three month trip, Dortmund.

Washington D.C. overnight

Even though Washington D.C. is the capital of USA, many people (especially Americans) advised me not to go there. Washington D.C. apparently does not have the best reputation (it was called the murder capital in the 90’s due to a high rate of crime and violence). But since I was only a five hour bus ride away, I decided to make a short visit to the country’s capital. Because you never know when I’ll be back on the continent!

I used the same bus company that I traveled to Boston with, Megabus. Megabus offers cheap tickets to several cities in USA and Canada. I bought the tickets last minute, so the round trip from New York set me back $42.

Washington is mostly known for its vast array of monuments, museums, embassies and government buildings. The most important sights are located around this park called National Mall.
Washington D.C. is mostly known for its vast array of monuments, museums, embassies and government buildings. The most important sights are located around this park called the National Mall.
The Capitol, the seat of United States Congress, is situated at the eastern end of the National Mall.
The Capitol, the seat of United States Congress, is situated at the eastern end of the National Mall.
There are dozens of museums in Washington D.C. and most of them are free. My first stop was the National Gallery of Art. The museum was really big (a bit too big for my liking) with famous paintings from artist such as Monet and Rembrandt.
There are dozens of museums in Washington D.C. and most of them are free. My first stop was the National Gallery of Art. The museum was really big (a bit too big for my liking) with famous paintings from artist such as Monet and Rembrandt.

After walking around the National Gallery of Art for a couple of hours and barely seeing half of it, I checked in to my hostel, International House of Washington. One night in six bed dorm cost $22.

My hostel from outside. Many buildings further away from the National Mall area were quite run down.
My hostel from outside. Many buildings outside the National Mall area are quite run down.

In the evening I returned to the National Mall. The Smithsonian Museums close already at 5.30 pm, so I took the opportunity to look at famous buildings and monuments instead.

The WWII Memorial and Washinton Monument are reflected in the 600 m long Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
The WWII Memorial and Washinton Monument are reflected in the 600 m long Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool.
At the other end of the pool, a massive monument has been erected to honour Abraham Lincoln. A big statue of America's 16th presidents sit inside the monument.
At the other end of the pool, a massive monument has been erected to honour Abraham Lincoln. A big statue of America’s 16th president sits inside the monument.
On my second day, I visited the Hirshorn Sculpture Garden, prior to heading to the Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian Museums don't open until 10 am so I had a chance to take in the fresh autumn air.
On my second day, I visited the Hirshorn Sculpture Garden, prior to heading to the Air and Space Museum. The Smithsonian Museums don’t open until 10 am so I had a chance to take in the fresh autumn air.
The Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in the USA. I'm not surprised! The exhibits are interactive and very captivating.
The Air and Space Museum is the most visited museum in the USA. I’m not surprised! The exhibits are interactive and very captivating.
You can even touch a piece of the moon!
You can even touch a piece of the moon!
Besides interesting items on display - such as space food - there is a very nice planetarium that you can visit for a fee. Entry to the museum itself is free.
In addition to interesting items on display – such as space food – there is a very nice planetarium that you can visit for a fee. Entry to the museum itself is free.
Besides exhibitions about space, many rooms explain the mechanics and inventions of flying.
Besides exhibitions about space, there are many rooms dedicated to explaining the mechanics and inventions of flying.

I was going to visit some other museum as well, but the Air and Space museum was so interesting that I spent four hours there! So unfortunately I didn’t have time for any more sightseeing in Washington D.C. before my bus back to New York was leaving.

Washington D.C. is a good city for anyone who likes museums! In addition to the 19 free Smithsonian Museums, there are several other museums dedicated to topics such as news or espionage. The museums are really big, so I would recommend focusing on one or two per day.

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.

All around the Tatras

The Tatras are a mountain range situated right on the border of Slovakia and Poland. My first stop in the Tatras was Ždiar, a small village in northern Slovakia. Ždiar is quite isolated and it took me several hours to get there from Košice. To get to Ždiar, you need to take a train from Košice to Poprad and then a bus from Poprad to Ždiar.

Views from the Ginger Monkey Hostel veranda in Ždiar. A night in a dorm costs 13 € and includes breakfast.
About an hour's drive from Ždiar, you can find Spiš Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Emil, who was staying at the same hostel, offered to drive a group of us to take a look at the ruins of the castle built in the 12th century.
About an hour’s drive from Ždiar, you can find Spiš Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Emil, who was staying at the same hostel, offered to drive a group of us to take a look at the ruins of the castle built in the 12th century.
Entry to the massive castle grounds is usually 5 €, but the first Sunday of each month is free!
Entry to the massive castle grounds is usually 5 €, but the first Sunday of each month is free!
The castle kitchen rules in short: Avoid arguing or whispering. Always keep a tablecloth clean. Don't wipe your nose into it and never spit. Take a pinch of salt with a knife only and never sleep. Sing little or avoid doing it. Be careful and don't ever have a greasy knife licked. Don't scratch your body too much and don't pick your teeth. And if you still eat something you better not drink.
The castle kitchen rules: “Avoid arguing or whispering. Always keep a tablecloth clean. Don’t wipe your nose into it and never spit. Take a pinch of salt with a knife only and never sleep. Sing little or avoid doing it. Be careful and don’t ever have a greasy knife licked. Don’t scratch your body too much and don’t pick your teeth. And if you still eat something you better not drink.”

There are many hikes starting from Ždiar. One of the most popular ones is the hike to Široké sedlo, 1825,5 metres above sea level.

The vegetation at the bottom of the mountains is very green.
The vegetation at the bottom of the mountains is very green.
The entire hike is approximately 16 km long.
The entire hike is approximately 16 km long.
September is a great month to visit the Tatras, since the colours are just starting to change from green to red.
September is a great month to visit the Tatras, since the colours are just starting to change from green to red.
Views from Široké sedlo, 1825,5 metres above sea level.
Views from Široké sedlo, 1825,5 metres above sea level.
The hike to the top is steep and exhausting at times. But with a view like this, it's definitely worth it in the end.
The hike to the top is steep and exhausting at times. But with a view like this, it’s definitely worth it in the end.
Gorgeous views of the mountains before it started puoring down rain and hail...
Gorgeous views of the mountains before it started pouring down rain and hail…
A beautiful lake with some of the clearest water I've seen.
A beautiful lake with some of the clearest water I’ve seen.
At 1550 metres, there is a cosy restaurant, with views onto this lake. A nice broccoli soup will set you back 3 €.
At 1550 metres, there is a cosy restaurant, with views onto this lake. A warming broccoli soup will set you back 3 €.

After a couple of days in Ždiar, I crossed the border to Poland. My first stop was Zakopane at the foot of the Tatra Mountains.

I stayed in Hostel Stara Polana. Not only is the hostel building extremely cute, but the staff wash your clothes for free! One night in an eight bed dorm costs 32,80 zloty (approximately 8 €).
I stayed in Hostel Stara Polana. Not only is the hostel building extremely cute, but the staff wash your clothes for free! One night in an eight bed dorm costs 32,80 złoty (approximately 8 €).
I ate a delicious dinner at Dobra Kasza Nasza on the main street, Krupówki. This restaurant is probably the best (or only) choice for vegetarians.
I ate a delicious dinner at Dobra Kasza Nasza on the main street, Krupówki. This restaurant is probably the best (or only) choice for vegetarians.
Zakopane is a highly touristy city, but it's a good starting point for exploring the Tatras.
Zakopane is a highly touristy city, but it’s a good starting point for exploring the Tatras.

One of the most popular day trips from Zakopane, is to visit Morskie Oko, a huge lake in the Tatra mountains. I went to Morskie Oko with three other people from my hostel. To get to Morskie Oko, you need to catch a bus (10 złoty) from Zakopane to the national park where the lake is located. Regular entry to the national park is 5 złoty and reduced entry 2,50 złoty.

The views on the way to the lake are nice, but the path is a boring concrete road.
The views on the way to the lake are nice, but the path is a boring concrete road.
After a couple hours of walking, the track goes into the forest.
After a couple hours of walking, the track goes into the forest.
The air is fresh here and the path is more interesting after walking on concrete for such a long time.
The air is fresh here and the path is more interesting after walking on concrete for such a long time.
Unfortunately it was extremely foggy, so we missed out on what is called the most beautiful lake in Europe.
Unfortunately it was extremely foggy, so we missed out on what has been called one of the most beautiful lakes in Europe.
At least this couple got some magical wedding photos.
At least this couple got some magical wedding photos.
From Morskie Oko, you can hike even higher to another, smaller lake, Czarny Staw pod Rysami. We took the steep hike to see more fog...
From Morskie Oko, you can hike even higher to another, smaller lake, Czarny Staw pod Rysami. We took the steep hike to see more fog…
Back at Morskie Oko, the fog had cleared a bit and we got to witness the lake's deep turquoise colour.
Back at Morskie Oko, the fog had cleared a bit and we got to witness the lake’s deep turquoise colour.
Not only did Hostel Stara Polana have an amazing atmosphere, I also met some really fun people there!
Not only did Hostel Stara Polana have an amazing atmosphere, I also met some really fun people there!

Easter in Latvia

Do you know the feeling of going somewhere new and having no expectations? And the place turns out to be way better than you could ever imagine? That’s what happened when I travelled to Riga over Easter.

The one great thing about the world being vast is that there are so many places to go. Knowing I would have four days off during Easter, I went onto the website Halvat Lennot and looked where in the world I could travel quite cheaply. With my destination set as anywhere I found roundtrip flights to Riga for 159 € with AirBaltic. Now, this is not a very cheap flight, but it was Easter so I think it was a fair deal, knowing how much the prices go up during the holidays.

Like I said, I had no expectations, just that wonderful feeling of going somewhere new again. I arrived in Riga on Easter Friday around noon. It is easy to travel to Riga from Helsinki since the flight takes less than an hour. From Riga airport you can take bus #22 to the city – the ticket costs 0,60 € if you buy it at the airport and 1,20 € if you buy it from the bus driver. I got off the bus at Stockmann and started walking towards my accommodation, Barons Hostel. The hostel is outside the old town and is not too easy to find since there’s only a small plaque with the hostel’s name next to the door.

After wandering around for a bit I got so hungry that I went into Rama, an amazing restaurant where hare krishnas filled my belly with delicious food.
Rama is one of the best vegetarian restaurants I’ve ever visited; the food was varied and so cheap (3-4 € for a massive meal).
At Rama, they also have the tastiest desserts. My favourite were these sugar free treats made only out of dates, hazelnuts and carob. 60 cents each!
At Rama, they also have the tastiest desserts. My favourites were these sugar free treats made only out of dates, hazelnuts and carob – 60 cents each!

After eating, my head was a bit clearer and I found the hostel just 100 metres from Rama! I rang the doorbell and was let into the building. The hostel is situated on the top floor of an old apartment building.

Walking up the stairs I wondered where I’ve ended up because the staircase was not very compelling…
Walking up the stairs I wondered where I’ve ended up because the staircase was not very compelling…
But once inside I fell in love with the place! The hostel was clean, quiet and cheap. A night in a seven bed dorm cost a whopping 9 euros…
But once inside I fell in love with the place! The hostel was clean, quiet and cheap. A night in a seven bed dorm cost a whopping 9 euros…

It was so nice to just hang out in the hostel common room, drink tea and talk with other guests and with the hostel’s Australian manager, Eve. It felt like being in someone’s home.

The first day in Riga I just walked around the city enjoying the sunshine!
The first day in Riga I just walked around the city enjoying the sunshine!
This beautiful fountain is located near the hostel.
My friend Nina calls this my signature pose. I’m starting to see what she means…
Rainbow over the fountain.
House of the Blackheads, one of Riga’s most famous symbols, and St. Peter’s Church in the background.
The old town is full of colourful houses.
The buildings have plenty of interesting details.
At the Dome Square.
Daugava River flows through Riga.
Lielais Kristaps – legend tells this man used to carry people across Daugava River. Once he carried a small child who became heavier which each step Kristaps took. With his last efforts he managed to get on shore at it turned out the child was Christ.
Vanšu tilts is one of the five bridges crossing the Daugava in Riga.
Yes, I do!
I had dinner at Miit, where you can eat a tasty pearl barley soup and drink a freshly pressed juice for around five euros.

Another hostel guest had told me about a day trip to Sigulda National Park that was organized through Couchsurfing. It’s great going abroad without any big plans what to see and do, because then you can join others for these kinds of trips. On Saturday, seven people parted Riga and took the train for about one hour to beautiful Sigulda.

After the train arrived in Sigulda, we walked through the small village of Sigulda towards Sigulda National Park.

The park was magnificent and the company was the best! People who participate in Couchsurfing are usually the kindest and most open minded people you can possibly meet.

We started our walk through these tall trees.
Sigulda National Park had such beautiful scenery.
Fran’s camera had a flippable screen – best camera for selfies!
Mine’s not too bad either :)
Our walk continued past this small lake.
Sigulda is so gorgeous, you’d never guess who lives here…
It’s the Devil, and this is his cave. Legend tells the walls of the cave have become black from his breath.
Crossing the bridge to the other side.
Locals enjoying these cottages named after the seasons.
We stopped at this cosy café for some potato pancakes.
Taking an interesting shortcut to make the train.
At Sigulda train station after a long walk with fantastic people.

In the evening, some of us went out for dinner, and afterwards the others headed to Ala Folk Bar but I was so tired after walking all day that I headed back to the hostel (okay, truth be told, I was the oldest one in the group but not let in due to my young looks – not the first time that’s happened…).

The next day I participated in a free walking tour. There are two different companies that operate free tours: Tours in Riga, which organizes a 1 ½ h tour in the old town and Yellow Free Tours, which organizes a 2 ½ hour tour outside of the old town. I participated in the first mentioned.

The tour starts at 11 am in front of St. Peter’s Church.
The tour continues along colourful houses and cobbly stones towards the old town.
Statue inspired by the folktale “Musicians of Bremen” by Brothers Grimm.
Old towns are so cute.
Most restaurants are open even during Easter.
The sculptor of this cat originally had it facing the other way around, with the cat’s bottom towards the guild he was not admitted to.
The Freedom Monument honours soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence.
The Freedom Monument honours soldiers killed during the Latvian War of Independence.
From the Freedom Monument we headed back towards the old town.
From the Freedom Monument we headed back towards the old town.
I loved walking in these small alleyways of Riga.
The tour ended at a restaurant near this square, where those who wanted could taste Riga Black Balsam, a traditional Latvian herbal liqueur.
After the tour, I went up to the top floor of Radisson Blu – probably the best place to see the entire city.
I crossed the Daugava River to have a look at the other side of town.
The area is called Pardaugava – literally translated “over Daugava”.
In the area, there were some apartment buildings with beautiful trees on the front yard…
…as well as more rugged places.

On my last night I joined another hostel guest, Dave, for a walk around town.

The House of the Blackheads looked amazing at night time too.
The House of the Blackheads looked amazing at night time too.
Beautiful reflections on the Daugava River.
Beautiful reflections on the Daugava River.
We had drinks at Ala, where I was let in this time :) They had a swing inside!
We had drinks at Ala, where I was let in this time. There was a swing inside!

My return flight left on Easter Monday but I still had time to visit Riga Central Market in the morning.

At the markets, they have a huge variety of things for sale. I made sure to buy some famous Latvian honey!
At the markets, they have a huge variety of things for sale. I made sure to buy some famous Latvian honey!

Riga is a cozy little city and I loved spending my Easter there. But I know that the best places are made up of great people, and my journey wouldn’t have been half as good if it weren’t for all the wonderful travellers I met during these four days, so thanks to each and every one of you ♥