Tagged national park

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.

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 ♥