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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
At the beginning of September I headed to the Spanish capital. I only spent one day in Madrid, but somehow, it was enough. Because I lucked out big time with my Couchsurfing host. An avid learner and sharer of knowledge, Nico showed me around Madrid, all in one day. Couchsurfing saves you so much time and energy. You don’t have to read through Tripadvisor or lug Lonely Planet books in your backpack, as you can so easily get the best pieces of advice from a local!
After lunch, we walked around the city before visiting two famous museums in Madrid.
As we managed to cram all the main sights of Madrid into one day, I headed to Toledo the next morning. The old Spanish capital is situated approximately 70 km from Madrid. A round trip with the bus costs around 10 €. Trains also run to Toledo but are more expensive. Toledo makes for a good day trip from Madrid.
It was nice to combine a visit to the busy capital of Madrid with a visit to the smaller city of Toledo. Most importantly, my trip to Spain allowed me to practice my Spanish.
Due to bad weather, I decided to cut my time in Slovenia short and switch the rain for some sunshine by carpooling to Italy.
Ah, Italy. What an incredible feeling it was getting out of the car in Bologna to a warm summer’s evening and hearing the honking vespas, seeing the big hand gestures and smelling the pizza!
I had no idea where I would stay for that night, but I didn’t care. I was just taking in the atmosphere. After wandering around for a while, I sat down for a margarita pizza, connected to WiFi and booked a room through Airbnb. It’s an interesting feeling arriving in a city in the evening — not until you rest for the night and exit your accommodation the next morning, do you see what the place actually looks like. And on an early summer’s morning, Bologna looks something like this:
Being so close to Florence, I decided to move on from Bologna to the Tuscan capital. There are intercity trains that take you from Bologna to Florence in half an hour for 25–40 €. If you take two local trains instead, the trip will take an hour, but the price is only 9 €! Being a frugal traveller, I obviously opted for the local trains. Please remember to validate your ticket! I forgot, and had to pay an extra 5 € on the train (luckily not 65 €, which is the fee for someone who is not a stupid tourist an innocent traveller).
Again, I had no idea where to stay for the night, so I visited a travel agency, where I could use their computers to book accommodation. (Sometimes it’s just so nice to look at a screen bigger than your mobile phone.)
I had no plans on going to Florence, but I happened to arrive there on the day of San Juan, which meant a 30 minute firework show at 10 pm. As I sat on the bank of Arno river, watching the massive fireworks, surrounded by happy Italian families, I couldn’t help but feel as though my steps had directed me to just where I was meant to be. Another way I knew I was in the right place: I absolutely loved Florence! I think it actually ended up being my favourite place during my visit to Italy.
From Piazzale Michelangelo I walked back down to have a look around the city. Florence is quite touristy, but you can still get an authentic feel of the city if you know where to look.
The main reason tourists flock to Florence, is The Uffizi Gallery, one of the oldest and most famous art museums in the world. Entry is 12 €, or 16 € with a pre-booked time slot for entry. I got to the gallery half an hour before it opened and didn’t have to stand in line or pay extra for a specific entry time.
Utilizing carpooling again, my next destination was Verona. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is mostly known as the setting for Shakespeare’s tragic love story “Romeo and Juliet”. I booked a room through Airbnb and stayed with a woman who only spoke Italian. Despite the language barrier, we got along great. Elena made me breakfast in the morning and even showed me around the city on my first night in Verona.
Juliet’s House is an underwhelming tourist attraction and I recommend walking around other parts of this historical town, to experience ancient buildings and the Italian ambiance.
From Verona I moved on to my final destination, Venice. BlaBlaCar is very popular in Italy, so it was easy to find a ride one last time. Venice is a very expensive city and even a bed in a hostel dorm costs more than 50 €. But as with everything, there are always options. You just have to be willing to do a bit of research.
I ended up booking a two night stay at Residenza Gesuiti, a university residence, where my own room with private bathroom cost 35 € a night.
When I checked in, the staff asked me: “Are you here for the biennale?”. Once again, a special event was happening that I knew nothing about! I didn’t really even know what the biennale is… In a way, I was in Venice for the biennale, I just didn’t know it yet.
The Venice Biennale is organized every year – with an art exhibition every second year and an architecture exhibition every second year. In the year 2015, it was the art exhibition’s turn.
The Biennale runs until 22nd November, so if you’re in Venice before then, I really recommend visiting it! Entry tickets are 25 euros but totally worth it. The ticket allows you to visit the exhibitions in Giardini and Arsenale. You can visit the two venues on different days, and I really recommend doing so. The exhibitions are open from 11 am to 6 pm and I ran out of time trying to see everything in one day! In addition to the art exhibitions displaying things like a self-playing piano and a colourful room full of rubble, different countries have created pavilions representing local art, nature, culture and life.
Venice is such an interesting city. If you get lost, it‘s not like you can just take a turn at a random street corner — because it’s full of water! Venice is best explored by foot (when you finally find a bridge that lets you cross over to the other side). I also bought a 24 hour water taxi pass for 20 €, that gives unlimited travel around Venice as well as the surrounding islands.
Of the many islands surrounding Venice, I only had time to visit Murano. In the words of a Murano local, there are three things to see on the island: glass, glass and more glass. This is definitely true — there are glass blowing factories and galleries all around the island.
After experiencing incredible hospitality in Croatia, I moved on to its northern neighbor, Slovenia, where I was met with just as much warmness from total strangers. I couchsurfed in Ljubljana with an amazing couple, who provided me with accommodation, food, interesting conversations and good laughs. They even invited me to a party, which was a lot of fun!
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital but it’s really small with only 280 000 inhabitants. A day or two is enough to explore the city.
Metelkova brings colour to Ljubljana with its several clubs, art galleries and a hostel. The autonomous area was born in 1993 when activists occupied former army barracks to prevent their demolition. During the following decades, organizations maintaining Metelkova faced a lot of struggles with authorities, but the area is now thriving as a space for cultural activity.
It happened to be the Museum Summer Night on my first day in Ljubljana. The annual event grants visitors free entry to museums all around Slovenia between 6 pm and midnight. I visited three museums near Metelkova:
The Slovene Ethnographic Museum is a museum about cultural heritage, identities and civilization. Until December 2015 they are running an exhibition about doors. Doors! The exhibition was very well done. Who thought doors could be so interesting?
The Museum of Modern Art lives up to its name, displaying things so modern, that you don’t know whether to laugh or to question if it’s art. The museum displays mostly installations — for example a machine that at the push of a button sings you a song and showers you with polystyrene beads.
The National Museum of Slovenia is a good place to start learning about the history of the country through old paintings and ancient items.
From Ljubljana I continued northwest. I met a local man who drove me all the way to Bled and even took small roads instead of the highway so I could see some other towns as well. Anyone ever tell you not to get in a stranger’s car? I say do. It might be hard to believe for someone living a conservative life, but trusting people opens up a whole new world of opportunities.
Bled is quite touristy so I took a bus to Bohinj where I stayed for one night. There is a lot of accommodation in the area, so after stepping out of the bus, I went to the tourist office where they booked me a room in a nearby villa. A private room cost 20 €.
Rain was pouring down the following day so unfortunately a hike up the mountain was out of question. I had gotten a Couchsurfing invite from someone who lives in the nearby town of Tolmin so I decided to go there. I was supposed to take a bus to the local station to catch my train, but the driver forgot to stop there, so I decided to skip the rainy countryside and ride the bus all the way back to Ljubljana instead.
Sitting down for lunch at Loving Hut also gave me a chance to connect to Wi-Fi. I logged on to BlaBlaCar and searched for all rides leaving Ljubljana that afternoon. One couple were on their way to Bologna a few hours later, so that’s where I went!
Yoga retreats are a convenient way to combine my two main interests: yoga and travel. They’re also a great way to meet like-minded people. And the food! It’s usually so tasty that you don’t only stretch your muscles but also your belly.
Even though my travel style is quite budget orientated, I don’t mind paying more for yoga retreats. The money is deposited to the best bank possible — my wellbeing.
I have been to a budget yoga retreat before. For 30 € a night I got one class of yoga and a big breakfast. The rest of the meals I cooked myself and accommodation was in tents. While the experience was absolutely amazing and I would gladly go again, I like trying new things. And sometimes it’s nice to pamper yourself instead of worrying about money.
In May I experienced an intense three day retreat in Finland — this time I opted for something a bit more relaxing. The seven day retreat was held on the Istrian peninsula, in a tiny village called Orihi. A typical day consisted of a two hour vinyasa flow class in the morning, followed by brunch. In the late afternoon we were pampered with a one hour restorative class and a three course dinner!
For 700 €, I got an entire week of yoga, food, excursions and a bed in a three person room. I think it’s funny how the cheaper option (not getting a private room) is almost always more fun! There wouldn’t have been as much laughter if it wasn’t for my roommates.
There were also different treatments on offer and I went for the one hour abdominal massage. Like I said, I like trying new things, and even though an abdominal massage sounded pretty intense, it ended up being a really relaxing experience and something I definitely want to do again.
Even though this retreat had more laughter than the previous one, a lot of tears were shed on the last night. It feels like we didn’t do that much, but time went so quickly, and true friendships were formed. I will definitely miss everyone I met in Orihi.
Check out Supersoul Yoga for retreats in Croatia and around the world.
I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s the best way to travel. You can learn so much in such a short time just by spending time with a local. I love how I can go to a town I know nothing about and have someone tell me the best sights to see, the best places to eat and of course teach me a couple of words in the local language! Usually the experience gives me so much more than I expected.
I started my summer holidays Couchsurfing in Split for two nights. Shortly after settling down at my host’s apartment, he had to go to work and I headed to the city centre.
From Marjan hill, I walked back down to the city centre to experience the old alleyways and marketplaces of Split. And also all the tourists and souvenir shops!
As Split is located on the shore of the Adriatic Sea, fish is popular here. I visited Split Fish Market, a lively market square and hall with all the sea food you can imagine. One interesting observation I made: almost every single vendor had a cigarette either in their mouth or in their hand while preparing and selling the fish!
For people not eating animals, there’s really only one vegetarian restaurant in Split. But with Makrovega, one is enough! A big delicious lunch, consisting of a soup and main course, costs less than 10 €.
My Couchsurfing host Mladen had made a joke about the Croatian lifestyle: say one thing, do another and think a third! On my second day in Split I got to experience this on my own. A tour to visit Krka National Park was advertised to leave at 9 am but when I arrived at the travel bureau, the tour had already left at eight! After wandering around Split for a while, I decided to visit the nearby island of Hvar.
From Hvar town I took a bus to Stari Grad (literally “Old Town”). There is a car ferry back to Split from Stari Grad so you don’t have to return to Hvar town unless you want to take the catamaran back to the mainland. The two hour journey from Stari Grad to Split on the car ferry costs 40 kuna.
I preferred Stari Grad over the touristy Hvar. There were almost no people on its picturesque streets, just lots of animals: dogs, cats and even a rooster!
That’s until the following day, when I visited Croatia’s top attraction, Plitvice Lakes, a four hour bus ride from Split. The water was so clear that I almost stepped into the water until I saw the fish swimming in there! Walking a whole day in a national park gives you lots of time to think about things. But with views like the ones below, my main thought was thank you.
Even though I really enjoyed the parks, waterfalls, alleyways, museums and restaurants of Croatia, my fondest memories are of the incredible hospitality and friendliness of the Croatian people.
It’s easy to think that travelling has to be into far away countries. But actually, this entire life is a journey. Just like on any other journey, you never know what life will bring you: surprises, disappointments, ups, downs, hellos and goodbyes. Travel is not a cure for anything (not even wanderlust – it just makes it worse!). I guess travel is my way to learn, to grow and to experience new things. That’s why, at the moment, being based in Helsinki, I try to fill the gaps between trips abroad with travel. How do I do it? I go to events such as World Village Festival, take a different route to work, try new restaurants, host Couchsurfers at my apartment and say yes to new experiences. It’s my way of bringing the world to me. It doesn’t make sense to dream about walking in a national park in a faraway country when I have nature at my door step. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop travelling further away as well! It just means I’m right where I should be and happy about it.
When I found out that two of my favourite yoga teachers (and dear friends), Jack and Hanna, were organizing a yoga retreat an hour away from Helsinki, I knew I had to be part of it. The beginning of the year had been quite tough for me so I felt that this short holiday came at exactly the right time. Held at a Buddhist Retreat Centre on the shore of a serene lake, the retreat would include three days of yoga, meditation, healthy food and self-inquiry.
The last-mentioned scared me. Since the year had not been the best, it felt scary to plug out of the rest of the world and look within. For a long time I’d felt lost – to the point of googling the meaning of life (believe it or not, even Google doesn’t have the answer to everything). What if more questions would reemerge at the retreat and I’d feel even more lost? Since it scared me, I knew it would be good for me.
The retreat started on Thursday night with welcome dinner and yoga class. As the retreat centre is located on the shore of a lake, those who wanted could wind down with a swim and sauna. The next day we continued with meditation, yoga, good food, discussion and writing exercises.
On Friday night, after yin yoga class, we had to team up with a partner and share things that haven’t gone right in our life. After that a silence was announced. The loneliness of being left completely alone with dark thoughts felt overwhelming. I think some of us just felt ready to leave the whole retreat.
On Saturday I felt so annoyed, confused and just lonely. Yoga didn’t inspire me at all and the exercises we did writing or discussing felt totally pointless. The weird thing was, no-one was judging me. I was actually acknowledged for having the integrity to not participate in something that didn’t feel right and for having the vulnerability to cry in front of strangers. It felt refreshing to show your real feelings and still be loved for who you are. I have noticed that the truest of friends stay by your side even when you’re going through tough times. But how could every single one of these eighteen people, most of whom I had known for less than 48 hours, completely accept me for who I am?
I am especially grateful to Jack, who instead of defining me as someone who doesn’t participate, kept pushing until I did. Sometimes you need the help of other people to do something. And even though it was so hard to declare out loud what was hard in life, when I was finally able to do it (between uncontrollable sobs), I felt cleansed.
Every day, someone read a chapter from “Journey to the Heart” by Melody Beattie. It was almost scary how poignant a text that was chosen randomly could be. There were even word-for-word sentences about something that had been discussed prior. After physical and mental exercises that completely drained us, the book gave us hope and encouragement.
Like I said, you don’t have to travel to far away countries to experience a journey. But I never expected so much to happen in such a short time. I felt more emotions in three days than I usually do in three months. On Sunday night, before passing out after the most intense weekend of my life, my favourite quote sprung to mind: “The longest journey you will ever take are the 18 inches from your head to your heart”.
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.
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 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.
On my last day in Vilnius I treated myself to the most relaxing massage at Tailando Masazai. A 60-minute massage cost 25,50 €.
Yeah, in true Easter spirit I mostly just ate. A good holiday, then!
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.
In the evening, I took the final train to the last leg of my three month trip, Dortmund.
Besides an overnight trip to Washington D.C. and a couple of nights in Boston, all of my four weeks in USA were spent in New York. New York is such a large city, I still feel like I only saw a portion of it during my time there. My favourite thing about the city is definitely the variety of different people you can meet on the streets, and the different shops and restaurants in every single corner. Also, navigating in New York is really easy. On Manhattan, the streets are named by numbers that increase the further north you go. Numbered avenues run from east to west. The subway is easy too, just head north with the uptown train or south with the downtown one. It’s really easy to adapt to New York. It’s strange, I had never been there, but as soon as I landed at JFK Airport, it felt like coming home.
Below are some highlights of my time in one of my favorite cities in the world.