Reflections on Summer 2022

I’ve been back in Mulhouse for a couple of weeks now and it feels like life is back to normal. I’m back in the same apartment as last year, I’ve started teaching again and I’m back into a routine. There are some changes this year and some exciting things coming which I will fill you in on in due course but now I want to take some time to look back on the last few months. I had such an incredible time over the summer, with my travels, my time in Tenerife and being at home. I want to take a moment to reflect on that, the things I’ve learned and the things I’ve gained from it.

First of all I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to spend my summer in the way that I did. Not everybody has the chance to potter about Europe in the way that I have, whether it is because of time, money or a whole host of other reasons. The perks of working at a university means that I benefit from the long holidays at Christmas and over summer. The benefit of being a lowly lectrice means that I don’t have to spend those holidays doing research or planning entire courses so I am free to use them exactly how I want to.

In terms of the cost of my travels here, there and everywhere, I have shared some spending breakdowns on various blogs (here for two weeks in Germany and Austria and here for seven weeks doing Workaway in Tenerife). I try to keep things pretty cheap, saving money wherever I can and having a bit of a budget. I didn’t always stick to the budget but things like staying in hostels, choosing free activities and cooking for myself instead of eating out all the time are some of the ways that I kept my costs down. All this was how I managed to afford this summer while I was on the go but how did I afford it in the first place? I’m not going to lie and pretend that I earn a ton of money as a lectrice. Don’t get me wrong, it’s enough to live comfortably on and is fair for the number of hours that I work but doesn’t leave a lot left over at the end of the month. With that in mind, I would say that I am a saver rather than a spender and always have been. I try to put aside a chunk of each of my paychecks and don’t spend a lot of money on myself. I would much rather save it and put it towards a future trip. Over time, this builds up!

Goofy outtakes with my sisters and cousins

I had a great time across the whole summer, chilling at home as well as spending a couple of weeks travelling in Germany and Austria but my favourite part was by far my time in Tenerife. I’ve spoken at length about how incredible it was working in La Tortuga through Workaway and after being on the road for almost three weeks before I got there, it was nice to slow down once I arrived. Overall I found it much more fulfilling being somewhere for longer and getting to know it better. It also felt like a more sustainable way to travel for me. Moving around places and cities every few days can be exciting but also exhausting!

Tenerife also added to my collection of friends around the world. I feel incredibly lucky to have made the connections that I have over the years with the people I meet along the way. Whether it’s my second family in Honduras, the friends I made while studying in China that I’m visiting in Morocco next month or my fellow volunteers and the guests from La Tortuga, I have met some very special people. The more people I meet, the more places I want to go so I can visit them!

Tortugeñ@s

Spending almost two months on a Spanish island was great not just because of the amazing things I got to do or the people that I met, but because I got to speak my favourite language. I’m really pleased with how much my French has improved since moving to France and Chinese is special to me because of how much effort I have put into it but I’ve always had a soft spot for Spanish as it was when I started learning it that my passion for languages really took off. It was also the first language I learnt fluently and is attached to so many memories that I hold close to my heart. It was great to be able to stretch those muscles again after five years without using them for more than a random conversation here and a long weekend away there. I also got to add to my very eclectic collection of vocabulary and phrasing that has its roots in Honduras and has influences now from mainland Spain, Chile, Argentina and a mish mash of other places. I love that my Spanish doesn’t conform to one regional accent or dictionary but instead is a patchwork of the people and places that have taught me.

I also feel more intrigued by Spain than I ever have before. Most of my interest in Spanish has been related to my time in Honduras and Central America and other than a week here and there I haven’t spent a lot of time in Spain. I will say here that although Tenerife is a Spanish island, the local culture is much more Canarian than Spanish. Saying that, it’s still the first time that I have felt drawn to Spain in this way. I will always feel pulled back to Tenerife now but I am also more intrigued by mainland Spain now. Who knows when it might happen but maybe I’ll end up living in Spain for longer than a couple of months at some point?

Ten weeks after leaving my home in Mulhouse, I finally made it back home-home. That is to say that I made it back to Scotland and back to Dunblane. I have previously written about my complicated feelings about coming home to Dunblane in general and specifically after a period of travels or living elsewhere. The concept of home and the feelings attached to it are often complex, and not just for me. I’m always happy to be back and able to see the people that I’ve missed more than anything but without those people in Dunblane I wouldn’t be going back to visit. There are other places in Scotland that I feel much more attached to, in particular Edinburgh.

For the first time, however, I had a real desire to be at home in Dunblane. Not just to visit my family and friends but to actually be at home, in that environment that I know so well, that feels familiar, that I grew up in. I hadn’t felt this before, even after a whole year in Honduras, even after being the furthest I’ve been from home while in China, even when I was last at home in February after missing Christmas because I got covid. It was an intense feeling and a new one for me. I still don’t know exactly what caused me to feel like that. I’ve always come away from an extended period living somewhere else wanting to stay longer but something felt a little different. As much as I loved my time in Tenerife, I was ready to come home at the end of it. As much as I enjoyed my first year in France, I was longing to go back to Scotland.

At this point I knew that I was coming back to France for a second year as a lectrice. I’m still not entirely sure why but lecteurs and lectrices can only stay in their position for a maximum of two years. I had decided not long after arriving in France and getting started that I wanted to stay a second year. I enjoyed the work, I like Mulhouse and I’d set up a nice life for myself there. I also wasn’t sure what it would look like if I didn’t stay for a second year. I graduated university with this idea that I wanted to move to France and get my French to the level that I wanted it. There was also an element of taking back what the pandemic had denied me because I didn’t get to spend any time in France during my year abroad. When I arrived, I had a vague idea that I might want to go to China after I finished my time in France for similar reasons. While I would still like to go back to China one day, I don’t think now is the time. There are still a lot of covid restrictions in place that make it hard to get a visa and that restrict life and travel once you are there. I also don’t want to continue being an English teacher (which I’ll expand on later) but I think that would be the easiest way to get back to China in the near future.

The combination of this desire to be back home in Scotland and the uncertainty of where I’m going after my second year in France is done had and still has me considering whether I want to move back to Scotland. I have always felt like a restless soul and have never seen settling down in one place as something I would do until much further in the future. Saying that, I’ve always had the feeling that if and when I do choose somewhere more permanently, it would most likely be in Scotland because that is my home. I’m not saying I’m ready to take that plunge and be in Scotland for the rest of my life. Even just in this blog post I’ve talked about potentially wanting to live in Spain at some point. But maybe the way I was feeling was a sign that moving home, even temporarily, should be in my future?

What made this more complicated was that when I first arrived back in Scotland just after the start of July, I wasn’t exactly looking forward to going back to France. Like I’ve already said, I don’t know where I’ll be after this second year in Mulhouse but it most likely won’t be France. I like the life that I’ve built here but it was never supposed to be long term in the first place. It’s not that I didn’t want to go back at all, I knew what I had signed up to when I agreed to stay on for a second year. I knew that all I needed was some time at home. I just needed to fill myself up again from being around my friends and family and also having some time to do nothing. Sure enough, after a couple of weeks I was already starting to look upon my return to France with more excitement.

HebCelt 2022

Another thing playing on my mind was my choice of job. I don’t and have never wanted to be an English teacher. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy what I do and I actually think I’m quite good at it but it’s not my passion. I have been involved in teaching for years, ever since I became a swimming instructor at the age of 16, through my year teaching English in a primary school in Honduras, back into the pool through university and now finally in Mulhouse. At the same time, an unavoidable question when you choose to study languages as a degree is ‘So are you going to be a translator or a teacher?’. I have known since I first embarked on that path that I didn’t want to do either. I’m still not exactly sure what it is that I do want to do but I know it’s not English teaching. Knowing all this, and with all these other questions swirling around my head about what the future might hold, had me questioning what I was even doing going back for another year. I felt like it would be a waste of time.

I’ve since knocked myself out of that spiral. I think a lot of these thoughts came at a point where I was just feeling a little bit lost. I still don’t know where I’m headed but I’m secure in the knowledge of where I am. Yes, I don’t want to be an English teacher for the rest of my life but I am grateful for what this job has given me, allowed me to do and taught me. I enjoy teaching, I enjoy interacting with my students and I share their passion for languages, just for different languages. It’s not a waste of time at all because there are things to be learnt from any experience and it is what you make of it. For now, I’m focusing on giving my all while I’m still here and making the most of it. I’m sure there will be more updates down the line as I (hopefully) get closer to figuring out what I’m doing with my life!

Hiking in Tenerife

As a Brit, hiking is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Tenerife. It’s definitely known more for resort holidays and Brits abroad. While this type of holiday or tourist dominates the south of the island, it is still possible to found pockets of hiking. Elsewhere on the island you are much more likely to find people that have come to Tenerife for outdoor adventures. For example 3 million people visit the volcano each year. The north of the island is also a hotspot for hiking because of the Anaga rural park. This part of the island is particularly popular among Germans to the point that you will find a lot of the signs in Anaga in Spanish, English and German. While hiking isn’t the top of my list of activities, I did a fair bit while I was in Tenerife and enjoyed it a lot! I’m here to share some of my wisdom, both from personal experience and from what I picked up while working in the hostel. For example, I didn’t climb Mount Teide in my time on the island but I gathered lots of information from the people that did.

Mount Teide

The view of Teide from the foot of Montaña Guajara

Mount Teide is the dormant volcano at the centre of the island of Tenerife. It is the highest point in Spain and also the highest point in the islands of the Atlantic. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2007. It is the most visited natural attraction in all of Spain as well as the most visited national park in Spain and Europe and the eighth most visited in the world! It’s a popular place! Because of that there are certain restrictions around climbing to the peak that I’ll get into. There are also some controversial plans to restrict entry to the national park as a whole. The aim is to improve conservation by restricting cars and instead implementing guided tours by bus, similar to the situation in Timanfaya national park in Lanzarote. However, there is some resistance which I think is very valid, especially when it comes to restricting access for Canarians instead of just tourists.

The main Mount Teide hike via Montaña Blanca is just under 9km long and takes most people 5-6 hours. It has some very steep stretches but the main difficulty comes from the altitude change, starting from 1,367m and finishing at 3,718m. There are a couple of different options when it comes to climbing Mount Teide.

Teide with the Boca Tauce lava field in the foreground

By day: 

  • Mount Teide is in a national park and for conservation reasons the number of people allowed to summit per day is limited to 200. Because of this you need a permit to reach the very top between the hours of 9am and 5pm. It is free to reserve but needs to be applied for 2-3 months in advance as slots fill up fast.
  • You can still climb Teide without a permit but will have to stop 200m from the peak. There are a lot of hiking trails around here so if you want to hike the volcano but don’t have the permit it can still be worthwhile, as long as you don’t mind missing out on the last little bit!
  • Climbing by day in the summer can be very hot and the sun is very intense without many areas of shade during the ascent. 

By night: 

  • Because of the permit needed to summit during the day, many people choose to climb Teide by night. Starting around 2am will get you to the summit for around 7am in time to watch the sunrise over the clouds, an incredible experience. 
  • Compared to hiking during the day, it gets very cold on the volcano at night. You will need lots of layers and a head torch to light your way. 
  • You must have left the summit by around 8am to start your descent. This is when you will get to actually enjoy the views now that there’s daylight to see them!
  • Some people will stay at Hotel Parador near the start of the trail so that they are nearby for starting to climb in the middle of the night. There is also the option of staying the night at the Refugio Altavista at an altitude of 3260m. You climb to this point the day before (the refuge opens at 5pm) and then set out for the summit in the morning. It takes less than two hours to reach the top from the refuge. Note that there is a kitchen but you must bring your own food and there are toilets but no showers.

Teide also has a cable car that will take you up to less than 200m below the peak. It starts from La Caldera de las Cañadas (the crater surrounding Teide) at 2356m. There is always the option of climbing up and taking the cable car down or vice versa, or taking it both ways if you want to maximise your time on the island. It takes 15 minutes and costs €38 for a return ticket. A few things to note when it comes to the cable car. If the wind is too strong, they will close the cable car. I have also heard of some people having more difficulty with the altitude when taking the cable car. Issues with altitude are something to be cautious about in general as it can make the climb more challenging than it would be otherwise but there is less time to acclimatise when taking the cable car.

A few notable attractions on Teide are its shadow and the observatory. The shadow that Teide casts on the sea is the largest of its kind in the world. It is projected more than 40km from the summit, reaching all the way to the islands of La Gomera in the morning and Gran Canaria in the evening. Because of Teide’s height and position above the clouds most days, it is also the perfect place to have an observatory. Teide is a great place in general for stargazing.

Montaña Guajara

Next up is an alternative to hiking Teide itself. Montaña Guajara is a much smaller mountain on the other side of La Caldera de las Cañadas that looks over to the volcano. It has some of the best panoramic views in all of the Teide national park, in my humble opinion. If Teide seems a bit intimidating, as it did to me, if you don’t have the time or if you have any other hesitation about hiking Teide, Montaña Guajara is a great option. Some of the other volunteers and I were looking for a hike to do near Teide and this was recommended to us by our all knowing receptionist Karen.

The full Montaña Guajara trail is a roughly 10km loop and takes 5-6 hours to complete. The hike is rated as medium difficulty but has some very steep sections and is generally covered in scree so can be a bit slippy. I wouldn’t say you need any fancy shoes though, even specific hiking shoes. I just had trainers and one of my friends did this hike in a pair of chunky Filas (not your average hiking shoes for anyone that doesn’t know). Montaña Guajara is a peak of 2,718m but the ascent starts from 2,100m at the Cañada Blanca visitor centre. There is very little chance for shade on your way up so take a hat, sunglasses and lots of suncream. Don’t forget to reapply! Also take more water than you think you’ll need, generally a good strategy for hiking in hot weather. There is a small cafe at the visitor centre but we brought our own picnic lunch of sandwiches and salad to keep us going.

Hiking buddies!

On the practical side of things, the easiest way to access this hike is if you have your own car. Drive up to the Cañada Blanca visitor centre and there is a car park there. This is also the place to head if you want to go to the Roques de Garcia, another popular area to hike around but not one I’ve been to. But fear not! If you have no car this is still very doable as I was in this situation. Coming from the south of the island, bus 342 leaves from Costa Adeje bus station at 9.15am and will take you up to the Teide national park. There is only one of these buses a day so be there a little early to make sure you get a seat. It will take about 1h40 to get to El Parador where you should get off, right by the Cañada Blanca visitor centre. There is also only one return bus that will reach El Parador around 15.40, giving you about three and a half hours to enjoy the hike. Unfortunately this isn’t long enough to complete the whole loop but we worked our way up, taking lots of breaks and stopping to eat and enjoy the view. We still made it to the ridge below the peak itself before we had to head back down and the views are unparalleled. It’s hard to imagine that they could get much better from further up.

I would recommend heading into the visitor centre before getting started. They are able to tell you exactly which trails you need to follow to get to Montaña Guajara. There are lots of routes that start from this same area so better to ask and be sure that you don’t start off on the wrong one. From what I remember (but take this with a pinch of salt), to go anti-clockwise round the loop you start on trail #4 (Siete Cañadas), join #31 briefly and then #5 will take you to the top. If you do want to carry on down the other side, follow #15. During the climb you will be able to see over to Teide in all her glory. Those with eagle eyes can spot the cable car, as well as the Roques de García below and the lava field at Boca Tauce off to the side. Depending on the weather you might also see the ‘sea of clouds’, when the cloud line sits at 1600m which is well below the altitude of Montaña Guajara. 

Masca

Looking down on the starting point of the Masca Gorge hike and the gorge itself

Possibly the most famous hike on the island other than Teide, the Barranco de Masca hike is another one that I have not personally done but gathered plenty of information on during my time on Tenerife. Masca is a hamlet with a current population of 90 nestled in the Teno hills on the north west coast of Tenerife. The town is a popular attraction in its own right and somewhere I visited more than once for its incredible scenery. It is known as the ‘lost’ or ‘forgotten’ village by some which you will understand when you see how well it has assimilates into the hillside. It is accessible by car down the treacherously steep and winding road down from Santiago del Teide or from Garachico in the north via Los Silos. Favoured by bus tours, it is best to visit the town earlier in the morning or late in the afternoon. 

Masca’s main attraction is the Barranco de Masca (Masca Gorge). The gorge is 5km long and descends to the ocean and then returns back to the town, a hike of 10km in total. In total it should take no more than 7 hours although it is possible in less. Previously you could hike down the trail to Masca beach and take a ferry to Los Gigantes, past the cliffs of the same name. I think this would be so cool and you would get the best of both worlds, the downhill part of the Masca hike and then the chance to see the incredible Los Gigantes cliffs from a new angle. Unfortunately this is no longer possible as the Masca jetty is currently closed to the public. It has been this way since the start of the pandemic but there is hope that it will be open in the near future!

If you want to hike the gorge, you will need to book a slot. Currently the barranco is only open on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays, from 8.30am to 11am March-Oct and 8.30am to 10.30am Oct-March. The trail closes at 6pm all year so you must have returned to the start point by this time. Because of the limited opening times, spaces book up well in advance. The trail can also be closed due to adverse weather in which case you can change the date of your reservation or get a refund. You will need to arrive 30 minutes before your reserved slot and have a piece of ID with you.

The hike has a fairly high difficulty with rocky ground and slippery sections along the narrow path which means there are certain restrictions for hikers before you are allowed to enter. You must wear closed toe hiking boots with ankle support and deep lugs, indentations that improve grip. If you arrive wearing normal trainers or open toed shoes you will be denied access to the trail. You will also be given a helmet by trail staff. Currently it is free to hike the Masca trail but soon tickets will be €8 for residents of Tenerife and €16 for visitors. The money will go to conservation and safety of the gorge. 

Barranco del Infierno

Last but not least, we have Barranco del Infierno. Just as Montaña Guajara is a good alternative to hiking Teide, this is a great and much less popular alternative to Masca. Barranco del Infierno means Hell’s Gorge and is located in the town of Adeje in the south of Tenerife. Adeje is an interesting town to visit because other than the barranco, there are no other tourist attractions so it’s filled with locals. If you want a slice of every day Tenerife, Adeje can give you some insight.

The total route there and back is about 6.5km with minimal ascent or descent. It takes about 2.5 hours to complete at a very leisurely pace or as little as 1 hour if you really pace it. Like Masca, you must reserve a slot in advance. However, because it is a less popular trail it is possible to do this the day before or even the day of. You can enter the trail between 8.30am and 11.30am and it closes at 2.30pm at which time you must have exited the trail. Barranco del Infierno is also a protected area so tickets cost €11 for visitors and €4.50 for residents. 

Made it to the waterfall!

Because the level of difficulty is low for this hike, you don’t need to have proper walking boots. Trainers are fine but they cannot be open-toed. You will also be given a helmet to wear. The hike ends at a waterfall but don’t hold your breath. It isn’t anything too impressive, especially in summer when it is rather dry. The real views are as you make your way down the gorge. A top insider tip, end your hike like I did at the Restaurante Otelo right next to the starting point. Try the chicken or the rabbit for some typical Canarian food! 

Bonus – Anaga Rural Park

This photo doesn’t do justice to the spectacular scenery in the park!

Anaga Rural Park makes up the most north eastern part of the island, what could be described as the panhandle if looking at Tenerife on a map. It is also the oldest part of the island, having been created 8 million years ago from a volcanic eruption. It is full of craggy peaks and deep valleys covered in lush green vegetation. This will really show you the stark differences between the north and the south. In the north you need jumpers and a rain jacket while the south is shorts and flip flops!

Because Anaga is the furthest point on the island from where I was staying down in Costa Adeje (still only an hour by car but closer to three by bus) I only got to visit once. It was combined with a visit to a nearby beach so I didn’t have a lot of time to spend there. Because of this I sought out a pretty short hike just to get a feel for Anaga. I was recommended to head to Cruz del Carmen which is a viewpoint with some trails around it. On a clear day you can see all the way to Teide as well as the towns of La Vega Lagunera and La Laguna. This is a good place to visit in general, not just for the views but also because there is a visitor centre where you can get a lot of information on the park.

The view from Cruz del Carmen

There is a trail loop that leaves from Cruz del Carmen called El Sendero de los Sentidos (the Trail of the Senses). There are a few options of different lengths and difficulties but I decided to do the longest one because it was still only supposed to take an hour. I say supposed to because, even with a group of six people, we could not figure out the right route to take. We ended up doing the same section two or three times thinking we were missing a turn to get on to the rest of the trail but that turned out to be all there was and it was just shorter than we expected! If you don’t have a lot of time to do one of the longer hikes in the park, this is a good option so that you can still get a taste for it.

El Sendero de los Sentidos

While I was in Anaga I also visited the viewpoint of Pico del Inglés that has a view across the capital of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the mountains of Anaga and of Mount Teide. Unfortunately, the clouds and rain had closed in the day I was there so you could not see very much at all! We also ventured down from the mountains to the northern coast with the aim of reaching Playa Benijo, supposedly one of the most beautiful beaches on the island. However, I was the one driving and being on the right hand side was difficult enough but then the road got a little too narrow and challenging for my liking! Instead we stopped by Playa Almaciga and ate in Casa Pepe where I had the best octopus I’ve ever had in my life. I still think about it to this day…

Anaga Rural Park covers 140km² so there is plenty more to discover. The town of Taganana, on the road down to Benijo, has preserved its traditional Canarian culture better than many towns on the island and is also home to Las Vueltas de Taganana, a hiking loop of moderate difficulty that takes just under 4 hours to complete. There is also a hiking loop that will take you from the hamlet of Taborno to Roque de Taborno, known as ‘Tenerife’s Matterhorn’, which takes about 2 hours. There is El Pijaral, Tenerife’s Enchanted Forest (Bosque Encantado), a laurisilva or laurel forest in the south of Anaga. It is a protected area so you will need a permit to enter and while it is free, only 45 people are allowed to enter each day so spaces fill up fast.

Hopefully this has shown you a new side to Tenerife and given you itchy feet to get out there and go hiking! As I’ve said, some of these hikes I have already done but the rest are still on my to do list!

Natural Pools in Tenerife

Welcome back to another Tenerife blog! There’s so much to share from here so there will be a few more coming up soon and then probably some littered throughout the rest of the year and maybe even beyond, who knows? Today we’ve got a guide to some of the natural pools around the island which were some of my favourite things to visit while I was there. I’m starting in reverse order and finishing with my favourite but that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the others too!

Garachico

The Garachico natural pools are probably the most famous in Tenerife. The town of Garachico is a lovely town in typical Canarian fashion with picturesque streets and a lovely central plaza. It used to have one of the most important ports on the island, exporting Malmsey wine and other produce. This was until Teide, the volcano at the centre of Tenerife, erupted for several weeks in 1706. Lava flowed down into Garachico, partially destroying the town and decimating the port. However, it was this lava flow that created not just one but a series of natural pools which are now the most popular attraction and draw a lot of tourists to the town.

Garachico is in the north west of Tenerife, about an hour driving from Costa Adeje in the south (where my hostel was) and the same from Santa Cruz, the capital, in the east. The pools are in an area of the town called El Caletón and are well sign posted but if in doubt, just head towards the sea!

The pools

The pools are actually ‘natural’ (you’ll see what I mean when I talk about the next pool), being formed out of the lava that flowed down from Teide through the town. They have the look of rock pools but bigger and a bit more sheltered at times. It obviously depends on the tide and the weather as to the condition of the pools. It was overcast when I went and I would say the tide was at a medium level which is supposedly the best time to see the pool. Even if the sea was a little choppy, the arrangement of the rocks meant that the pools were much calmer, there being no tide in them. Because they are the most well known pools on the island they can be quite busy, especially the area closest to the parking and restaurant. If you take the time to head a bit further in, you can find some smaller but much quieter pools all to yourself!

Facilities

The pools are near enough to the town itself to be within a few minutes walk from plenty of restaurants, cafes and shops. There is also a restaurant and bar on the lava itself, right next to the pools. While the pools themselves are natural, paths have been created that wind through them so it’s easy to walk around. You don’t have to risk life and limb scrambling over slippy or spiky rocks just to find a good spot. A set of metal steps have been added to the sides of the bigger pools so that you can enter and exit gracefully, should you so wish.

Advice

A little bit of advice now, based on my experiences here. I didn’t see any changing facilities, not to say that they don’t exist, but it might be a good idea to come ready for a dip or with a good towel for a quick poolside change. Like I said before, if it seems busy, carry on a little to find a quieter spot. Also beware of the weather. There are some lifeguards near the larger pools and if the water is too rough, which it can be in autumn or winter, the pools might be closed. One more thing, and maybe the most important! After swimming in one of the smaller, quieter pools for a while, a local guy went in and pulled a sea urchin from right where we’d been swimming! There were several more around so be careful!

Other info

A really nice idea would be to combine a visit to the natural pools at Garachico with some of the other towns in the area. If you are coming from Santa Cruz, you could stop at San Cristobal de La Laguna, considered the cultural capital of the Canaries, and La Orotava, a stylish town known for f. If you are coming from Costa Adeje or the south in general, combine a trip to Garachico with a slight detour to see the cliffs at Los Gigantes and drop by Masca, a picturesque place nestled in the mountains.

Los Gigantes

Los Gigantes is the name of both the huge cliffs that tower along a portion of the west coast of Tenerife and the town that sits below them. Los Gigantes, or ‘the Giants’, reach a height of 500-800m but are not the only attraction around the town. Los Gigantes also has its very own natural pool, officially called Charco de Isla Cangrejo (Crab Island Pool) but more colloquially referred to just as Los Gigantes, where you can enjoy a spectacular view of the cliff. Los Gigantes is about a 40 minute drive north of Costa Adeje and could  be easily combined with a trip to Garachico if you wanted to make a day, or even just an afternoon, of it! 

The pool

I really like this pool despite it being the least ‘natural’ of the three on this list. What I mean by that is that even though the formation of the pool itself is natural, as is the area surrounding it, there is a concrete wall that has been put up to shelter it from the waves. To be fair, this is what makes it accessible in the first place so I can’t complain too much! There is a small car park near the entrance but also plenty of street parking around as well. It’s a short descent down some steps to get to the pool but from the top you get the most magnificent view of the cliffs of Los Gigantes as well as your first peek at the pool down below. The pool is super fun because at times and in places it is super calm so you can just chill but if you go closer to the wall that I mentioned, you can wait for the waves to come crashing in! While in general I’m pretty satisfied with everything I got to do while I was in Tenerife, if there was one thing I wish I had done, it’s go to this pool to watch the sunset. The sun comes down right by the cliffs so it can be a really beautiful spot to spend the evening.

Imagine having this view while swimming!

Facilities

Something to bear in mind is that there are no facilities at this pool. There are steps to get you down to the level of the pool but after that there are no special paths or anything. There is also nowhere to buy food or drinks so bring snacks and water (and maybe beer?) with you. Shade is also limited depending on the time of day and flat spots are few and far between. Think about bringing an umbrella but at least a cap and lots of suncream as well as a thick towel to sit on and flip flops or water shoes for walking about.

Advice

If I have some advice for this pool, it’s be careful! There are a few more risks here in terms of safety. For one, the entrance into the pool is very slippery and rocky so like I said above, water shoes are a good idea unless you can just tough it out. On a more serious note, the waves crashing over the wall into the pool can be fun but also dangerous. If the tide is high and particularly powerful, it’s advisable to avoid that side of the pool. There have been several accidents and tragically even a few deaths so this is something to take seriously. If the weather isn’t great, by all means go and enjoy the view which will still be spectacular but maybe give the swim a miss. 

Los Abrigos

Last but not least – Las Piscinas Naturales de los Abrigos! This is the least well known of these three pools. There’s not even a sign on the main road, just a lay-by for those in the know. This means that it’s much quieter as well and there’s nowhere near as many people as Garachico and even Los Gigantes. To find the pool get yourself to the town of Los Abrigos, towards the southern tip of Tenerife. From there take the road out of the town towards El Médano until you see a layby just before a banana plantation. It will take just a couple of minutes in a car or less than 15 minutes by foot. From this layby you head towards the ocean and you’ll find the pool!

The pool

The pool is actually pretty rectanglular shaped but it’s completely natural, nothing man-made about it! It’s very deep, although the exact depth depends on how high the tide is. When it’s low tide, the pool is full and some waves will make it over the barrier of rocks and slip inside. However when the tide is high, the water swells to the point that it crashes in and significantly raises the level of the water every few seconds. It was super relaxing just watching the water flow in and out, like watching the ocean breathing. This is my favourite pool that I visited. There’s just something about the way that the water moved that kept me entranced. Whether I was actually in the water or just watching from the side, I found it captivating.

Facilities

To keep it short – there are none. Other than a set of metal steps to help you in and out of the pool, there is nothing there. Bring towels, water, snacks, whatever you might want for your afternoon at the pool. Saying that, you aren’t far from Los Abrigos and if you are walking from the town centre you will pass a supermarket where you can pick things up. There’s also a great arepa restaurant in Los Abrigos called Arepera Maracay!

Advice

Some advice for this pool now. I have been both when the tide is really high and the water level raises and lowers massively with every wave and also when the tide is lower and the water level is much more stable. Personally I prefer it when the tide is high because I think the sensation of the water lifting and lowering you is really fun and unlike anything else I’ve experienced. However, with that you have to be more careful. If you aren’t a strong swimmer or aren’t that comfortable in the water then it might be better to go at low tide. I would also suggest taking some goggles so that you can dive down into the depths of the pool. There is a fun little tunnel into a smaller pool to the side that you can try to swim through if you dare (although better in low tide or you will get thrown into the roof of the tunnel as the water rises at high tide). There are also plenty of fish to see in the pool because it is filled with water that has crashed in from the ocean just a few metres away and there are crabs scuttling up and down the rock walls of the pool!

Other info

As you descend from the roadside to the pool itself, you will pass a series of caves in the rocky hillside as you make your way down to sea level. There are more caves if you take a walk along the coastline and the more eagle eyed among you might spot signs of life in them. Towels hanging outside, handmade signs and even one of the people that live there! I don’t know a lot about this community but it seems to be made up of some people that live there more permanently and some who come to experience it for a short time. It also seems to be a choice for most people living in the caves, rather than some kind of economic necessity. From the outside looking in, it has a very bohemian, hippy energy. The caves near Los Abrigos are not the only inhabited caves on the island, there are also people living in caves near the town of La Caleta, further north along the western coast from Los Abrigos.

While you are in the area, you could combine a visit to las piscinas naturales de Los Abrigos with spending a few hours in the town of El Médano, just a ten minute drive from Los Abrigos. On Tenerife, El Médano is synonymous with windsurfing. You will feel why the second you arrive in the town. It is noticeably windier than anywhere else I’ve been on the island (except from one random stretch of highway on the way to Santa Cruz. I have no explanation for this but I always hated driving on that stretch of road). El Médano is a popular spot for tourists but a different breed of tourists than you will find saturating the resorts and British pubs of Costa Adeje or Las Americas. It is a laid back place that welcomes people who would consider themselves travellers rather than tourists. There are plenty of hostels, unique bars, cute cafes and independent shops. Try windsurfing, visit La Tejita beach or make your way up the Montaña Roja, a hill on the edge of town at the end of Tenerife’s longest beach.

Other pools

There are of course other natural pools in Tenerife. I didn’t even scratch the surface of them. A quick Google search will reveal them to you but some of the names I’ve come across most frequently are Charco de los Chocos in Los Silos and Charco de la Laja in San Juan de la Rambla (charco being a Spanish word for pool). Wherever you go, it’s sure to be incredible!

Rijeka, Croatia

I’m taking a brief break from Tenerife related content to fill you in on my recent trip to Croatia! Now that we’ve covered the basics of how I found my Workaway and what it was like, I’ll be back soon with more specific posts on the island itself. Think beaches, think hiking, best activities and road trip itineraries. But for now we’re taking a brief holiday to Croatia, much like I did!

This trip really was miraculous. Not because where we went was breathtaking or because I had a great time amongst friends, even if both are true, but because it even managed to get out of the group chat phase in the first place. I took this trip with my university flatmates. We all met in halls in first year and then lived together for our remaining three years in a flat in Edinburgh. We have thrown out many ideas for trips or adventures over the years but very few have actually come to fruition. I don’t really know what was different this time but the idea for this group trip was thrown out and really gathered momentum.

We started by finding some dates that worked for everyone in our very mixed group. We have two people with ‘big boy jobs’ as I call them, proper 9-5s down in London, two students finishing their final year or masters and myself, the English teacher who would be floating around Europe all summer. We settled on the weekend straddling the end of July and the start of August that coincided with a bank holiday. Next we threw out places that we would be interested in. Croatia was in there from the beginning as was Budapest. Once we started looking at flights, we were actually quite fixed on Milan because we found flights for something ridiculous like €20! In the end we swerved away from that because Milan in the height of summer would be packed for one and boiling for another. We found slightly more expensive but still very cheap flights to Zagreb in Croatia and that was it! Zagreb is a city in the centre of Croatia and we wanted something on the coast so we decided on Rijeka as a final destination, just a couple of hours on the bus away from Zagreb.

The view over Rijeka

Because some of the group are working full time while others are students or on holidays, we made our way to Rijeka in dribs and drabs. I travelled from London with Lizzie, one of the students. Luckily we were both there already, Lizzie spending some time with her family while also doing research for her master’s thesis and me doing the rounds of my friends that are down there. Our flight was at silly o’clock in the morning but we were hoping that this would help us avoid the worst of the airport chaos that has been plaguing the British travel industry this summer.

Our journey was pretty plain sailing (or should it be flying) until we landed in Zagreb, if very crowded along the way. We made it out of the airport just in time for the 1pm shuttle bus from the airport to the bus station. It took about half an hour and cost 45 kuna. It had to be paid in cash but you could also use Euros which would come out at €7. The issue here was that we were booked on a bus to Rijeka at 1.30pm. We pulled into the bus station at exactly 1.30pm and then couldn’t find the right platform so no luck in trying to jump on our bus at the last minute. Luckily there was another one with the same company at 2.15pm that we were able to use our tickets on so just a short wait. It cost an extra 10 kuna to put our wee suitcases in the luggage area below the bus. After our early start I slept away most of the two hours to Rijeka but the glimpses that I caught of the Croatian countryside were beautiful.

At this point we all know that I’m a big fan of staying in hostels but we had booked an AirBnB for our stay so that we could make the most of our time all together again. The AirBnB was literally 30 seconds away from the bus station which was great because the last thing you want to do after a day of travelling is trek to your accommodation. The apartment was really nice, plenty of space for the five of us with a nice living room and most importantly – air con!

Because it was just the two of us for our first night, we had a pretty chill one. We grabbed some groceries and made pasta for dinner and then took a little siesta before heading out for a wander. We made our way down the main street of Korzo and found a cute square through the arch under the city clock tower. Fun fact, the clock face on the tower has remained unchanged since the 1600s! After an early start and a long day we decided to call it quits early.

The clock tower on Korzo

We were joined the next morning by Georgia who had already been travelling in the Balkans for a few weeks and arrived in Croatia on an overnight bus. After taking Georgia to the apartment and catching up a little we decided we wanted to spend the day at the beach until the last two arrived in the afternoon. We grabbed a taxi from the bus station to take us to Sablićevo beach, just outside the centre of Rijeka. We hadn’t done much research into good beaches in the area other than a quick Google search but it did the job. It was small and very crowded as well as pebbled which was a bit annoying but there was a cute little beach cafe and space to swim and lie in the sun. The water was so beautiful, bright blue, warm on top and then freezing down below. We chilled on the beach a little and then moved into the cafe for a beer and an ice cream. Classic holiday behaviour.

Dina and Pippa were arriving at the bus station at around 4pm so we walked back from the beach with plenty of time to spare, grabbing some groceries on the way. Finally all together, we celebrated by making pesto pasta and taking a collective nap. Just kidding, we did do that but we also sat around a lot, catching up and enjoying each other’s company. Speaking for myself, I’ve seen each of them since we finished university but this was the first time that we had the five of us all in the same place since we moved out of our apartment in Edinburgh in May 2021.

We headed out for a few more drinks that evening, back to one of the bars that Lizzie and I had found the night before and then onto a place Georgia discovered. Here I have to admit that the nightlife in Rijeka is not exactly the most lively. However we did stumble upon a cool spot by accident, Klub Mladih. It was a youth bar and we pretty much stuck there for the rest of the weekend. It boasted something like 60 cocktails so we had a great time sampling as many of them as we dared!

The next day we all gradually surfaced from the night before, starting the day at our own paces. Dina and I were up a little before some of the others and decided to go out in search of coffee. Me and Lizzie had found a cafe just around the corner the day before that was literally called a book cafe. Is there any better place? We sat there for a bit and then headed back to make a nice brunch of scrambled eggs and avocado on toast. The plan for this day was to explore a bit more of the actual city of Rijeka. We started wandering back down the main street of Korzo in the daylight this time and found ourselves by St Vitus Cathedral. This is one of the well known symbols of Rijeka and actually appears on the 100 kuna banknote! Just beyond the cathedral we stumbled upon a tunnel that was built by the Italian military in WW2 as an air raid shelter. It’s 330m long and snakes beneath the old town, coming out by a primary school back in the direction of our apartment. It was free entry so we decided to go on a little adventure, even just to enjoy the much cooler temperatures underground!

St Vitus Cathedral

Continuing on, we passed by the Maritime and History Museum of the Croatian Coast and then carried on down towards the river. Our eventual aim was to walk up to Trsat Castle that sits above Rijeka but we stopped for a drink and a rest at a cute cafe called Bar Striga right by the river before embarking on the 128m climb. Now here I have a tip for you. If you follow Google Maps or even just the signs in Rijeka for the castle, you will be taken up a brutally steep set of stairs and you’ll be so dead by the time you get to the top that you won’t be able to enjoy it. Instead I suggest searching Križanićeva in maps and taking this windy road up the hill to the castle. Not only is it a much gentler incline but you will also be taken down this passageway filled with incredible street art. I mean, just look at that!

Bar Striga

About halfway up the more languorous route, you can actually cut onto the steps heading up which is what we did. Stairs in 30º+ heat are as bad as they sound but the views back down across Rijeka and out to the Adriatic sea are (maybe) worth it. Thankfully, you are welcomed to the top of the trek by a water fountain so you can replenish all the moisture you’ve just aggressively sweated out of your body. A couple of hundred metres more (along flat ground) will take you to the castle itself. Again entry is free which I think is good because it’s quite small and there’s not really much to see. The real benefit are the views, again back down over Rijeka and out to sea but also out the other side and over the hills that back the city. We had the obligatory photo shoot and then explored the parts of the ramparts that you can climb up before our stomachs demanded we find some food.

There are a selection of bars and restaurants at the entrance to the castle, and even one inside the main building, but none of them were serving food. We walked on a little more and tucked away next to sleeker, more modern establishments, we found Konoba Papalina. It was the rustic charm that drew us in and the warm welcome of the server that made us sit down. There were only a few specialty dishes on offer, no menu, and all fish or seafood. A couple of people went for the seafood risotto and a couple for the fresh mussels but I asked what our waiter would recommend. He refused to tell me but promised that it would be good so I sat back to wait for my surprise dish! It turned out to be the grilled sea bass served with blitza, a traditional Croatian side of chard and potatoes. The sea bass was delicious but I had to share with everyone because a whole fish proved to be a little too much for just me!

We headed back home, all ready for a shower and a nap, not necessarily in that order. We returned to our old faithful Klub Mladih where highlights of the night included a strawberry mojito and a dog! When you can pet a dog in the bar, a night out immediately gets better.

The plan for our last full day in Croatia was to head back to the beach! The initial plan was to head further afield to a new beach but after a later start than anticipated, we ended up back at Sablićevo. It was a great place to waste away the day. It was even more packed than Thursday, if that was even possible, but we marked out a spot and settled there. Rotating between lying on the beach and reading, a little swim and chilling in the shallows and chatting was exactly what we all needed. After a while, I had had my fill of sun and moved to the cafe again. I managed to get one of the deckchairs that faced out onto the water and sat there with a coke and a Nutella crepe – perfection. I even had a little kitten dancing around to keep me company. After we’d had enough of sun, sea and sand we got the bus back into town. We didn’t have it in us for another night on the town so we ended our time in Rijeka with a MacDonalds and a showing of Freaky Friday.

Monday morning meant that it was time to leave Rijeka. We weren’t actually leaving Croatia until the next day but our flight was from Zagreb and super early so we had decided to spend the night there. We got the bus again from Rijeka to Zagreb but all together this time. We had another AirBnB about 20 minutes from the bus station in Zagreb. We ended up chilling there for a while before heading into the centre of the city to explore a little and get dinner. The centre of Zagreb was cute, with some beautiful colourful buildings and churches. Dinner was ramen followed by ice cream for dessert, one last holiday treat. It was an early night because we had a taxi booked for 4am the next morning.

Main square in Zagreb

And now some final thoughts on Croatia. It’s a beautiful country that I definitely want to see more of. It seems like everyone I know was in Croatia this summer but in the more popular spots like Dubrovnik, Split or some of the islands. While I would definitely like to make it to those places one day, I’m glad that I avoided both the crowds and the heat for now. I think Croatia in the off-peak season is the way to go. Getting to know somewhere a little less popular like Rijeka was a nice taster. Even in that area, there’s now more places I want to go like the island of Krk or Pula, a town just around the coast known for ancient Roman buildings including the Pula Arena, one of the best preserved Roman amphitheaters.

Something I was so impressed with was the level of English everywhere. Even in a less touristy place like Rijeka, everyone we spoke to had a great level of English. We had attempted to learn a few words in Croatian, like hello and thank you, but there were limits on how much we could communicate. I really hate not being able to talk to people in their own language but I still felt really welcomed by everyone we spoke to, taxi drivers, waiters, people we met in a bar. It really made me think about how bad the British system is. It is impossible to learn a foreign language to fluency just through the British school system without some kind of outside help or experience yet it seems that in Croatia, the language skills do primarily come from school. It’s not just in Croatia that this is the case either.

Finally, just being amongst such good friends was so refreshing. I had been in London for a few days before we left and was really tired from that. I love visiting London because I have so many friends there that I love to catch up with but I find the city really draining. I was a little worried about going on a trip immediately after that as my social battery was already feeling depleted from a few days running across the city. I would describe myself as an extroverted introvert, in that I love being social and seeing friends and meeting new people but I then need to recharge with some alone time. Despite having lived together for four years, this was actually the first trip that the five of us had taken together and you never quite know how that many personalities are going to mesh together in a different situation like travelling. Despite all this, I came away from a busy five days feeling refreshed. My university flatmates are friends that feel like family and after being surrounded by them for a few days, they actually did fill my energy up again. Thank you ladies for a lovely few days!

Workaway: Expectation vs. Reality

This feels like a good point to compare what I experienced in La Tortuga with what might have been expected from the Workaway profile. I’ve explained to you what both parts involved, how I found the hostel on Workaway and what it was actually like working in La Tortuga. I will preface this by saying that I wasn’t disappointed in any part of the experience and this isn’t because anything was different from how it was advertised. I just think it would be useful to compare the two. It might help anyone thinking about using Workaway in the future to set their expectations when reading hosts’ profiles so they can find the right one for them.

Hostel

‘If you’re looking for fun, comfort and relaxation, then we are the place for you!’ This is the opening line of La Tortuga’s profile on Workaway and I think that’s a perfect encapsulation of what it is all about. The hostel is depicted as a harmonious place of gathering for all people from all places and that checks out. It also says that this ‘is not a party hostel, instead, wants to offer our helpers and travellers a comfortable, homely place to relax in where they can meet other like-minded people and as a base to explore the rest of the island.’ It’s definitely not a party hostel in the sense that people are not getting drunk, blasting music and partying every night. There are definitely a lot of fun times, especially on Wednesdays for the weekly trip to the flamenco bar, and in the evening the terrace is often filled with people chatting over a few beers. You are more likely to find someone strumming away on guitar than techno being blasted from a speaker. However there is a strict rule of no noise after 11pm, whether that comes from people or music.

Hammocks > all other seating

Duties

When it comes to the duties and responsibilities for volunteers there was a little bit of conflicting information on the profile. At one point it says volunteers are expected to work five hours a day, five days a week and elsewhere it says 25 hours over the week with three days off including one at the weekend. While neither of these is exactly accurate the second description is closer to what I ended up doing. During the time I was at La Tortuga volunteers worked four days a week which usually amounted to around 25 hours in total, give or take a few. However we weren’t guaranteed a day off at the weekend. I would say that this doesn’t really matter much though. When everyone else around you is on holiday, weekdays and weekends have less meaning. If there is a specific day you want off, all you have to do is ask! For example, my sister came to visit Tenerife for a few days and I was able to request not to work on those days, I just had to do it before the end of the week before.

The duties themselves were described as ‘cleaning (to a good standard), help with guests/reception and help with internet/computers.’ As I’ve said, not everyone will get trained on reception and I didn’t really have to do anything with the internet or computers other than trying (and failing) to get a livestream of a football match onto the TV. I wasn’t sure what cleaning ‘to a good standard’ meant and in my interview with the manager, Ale asked me if I cleaned to a British standard or not. I had no idea what that meant so I replied that I would clean to whatever standard he wanted me too! Turns out this was a good answer because the British are apparently not known for their high cleaning standards, unlike the Germans for example. Also unmentioned on the profile were some of the alternatives to the normal shift, where you might be tasked with the gardening for the week or asked to lead a group trip to the flamenco bar or to watch sunset on the beach.

Not too bad when going to a flamenco bar is part of the job!

Living Conditions

All that is mentioned on the profile about accommodation is that it will be in a 4-bed shared staff dormitory. This is accurate. The volunteer quarters in La Tortuga are in the main house and take up the lower level floor, basically the basement. There are two rooms here, one with an en suite bathroom as well as the storage room for cleaning products and kitchen supplies. Both rooms have two sets of bunk beds each so four people to a room, eight volunteers in total. Even though only one of the rooms has a bathroom, all the volunteers share it. It might sound like a lot, eight people sharing one bathroom, but it was nice to have one that was only for volunteers. One thing about La Tortuga is bathrooms were not plentiful so not having to share with guests was a blessing. I was in the room that wasn’t attached to the en suite so I had to go in and out of the other room to use it. At times this was annoying because if it was late at night after some people were already asleep or in the morning before a shift, I worried about waking people up. In those situations and when I didn’t need a shower, I would take my stuff to the toilet by reception and get ready there. Other people were less bothered and would just quietly go into the other room to use our bathroom. Even if I had to navigate that situation, I still preferred being in the other room because being in the basement, the rooms were warm enough as it was, I didn’t need the heat coming off the shower as well. We did have a fan in each room but after a certain point it’s just moving the hot air around.

Bathroom inconvenience aside, the rooms are clean because they are part of the morning cleaning routine. Whether they are tidy is more up to you and your roommates. There is plenty of space to unpack your clothes and there are also small lockers if you want a secure place for your valuables. In general, I didn’t actually spend a lot of time in my room other than sleeping. Obviously all the socialising happened upstairs in the common areas and even when I was just chilling, I would use the common areas when they were quiet in middle of the day when all the guests were out. Saying that, it was nice to hide downstairs for those times when things got a little too much or you just needed an hour without someone asking you a question.

Food

Often Workaway volunteers are compensated with accommodation and maybe some food. When it comes to food, La Tortuga’s Workaway profile is a little vague. ‘Breakfast and BBQ night included.’ That’s all it says. In reality it’s so much more. Breakfast refers to what we put out for guests at the start of a shift – we can also help ourselves to the tea, coffee and cake. Volunteers also have their own fridge in the storage room that is filled with vegetables provided by the hostel as well as a stockpile of rice, pasta, bread and sliced cheese and ham. The kitchens are already stocked with things like oil and spices for cooking. Volunteers are also able to have free beers from the little bar behind reception, definitely a big money saver for us!

If you wanted to, you could survive entirely on the food that was provided for us and not spend any money on food at all. However it does get a bit repetitive. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life it would be a cheese toastie but even I got a little sick of them after almost two months (shoutout to our daily sandwichito, as we would call them). Because of this, most people would supplement with their own groceries. I would buy things like yoghurt and granola bars for breakfast, fresh bread, crisps, hummus and nuts for snacking and then some things to pad out our meals like sweetcorn, chickpeas or tins of tuna. We had a volunteer-only fridge in the area off the kitchen that also held the washing machines and we could keep our personal food here. When people were cooking and wanted something extra, it wasn’t uncommon for them to raid the baskets of the other volunteers. Ask for forgiveness, not permission I guess? But in all seriousness, it just worked like that. Everyone was always happy to offer up whatever they had and it was all contributing to a shared meal for everyone.

As for the BBQ night, this was unfortunately a casualty of covid. It used to be that every Wednesday the weekly trip to the flamenco bar was prefaced with a big barbecue in the garden. It was stopped due to the pandemic and was still on hold while I was there. However, for anyone looking to stay at the hostel in the future, it has since started up again! Just because the organised barbecue was on hold, doesn’t mean that the grill didn’t get dusted off by guests and volunteers alike in a more informal way. We had a great fish and squid barbecue one night and even without involving the barbecue there were some great group meals involving the whole hostel. The photo below is actually from my very first evening when everyone ate together (yes, that is a watermelon filled with sangria) and one time a guest cooked tacos for everyone!

You as a Volunteer

Finally, La Tortuga is obviously looking for a certain type of person to come and volunteer with them. According to their Workaway profile ‘helpers should be friendly and enjoy meeting and dealing with people. To be part of our team, you definitely need a positive attitude to life!’ I would say that this is more important than any skills in cleaning or relevant experience. Those kinds of things can be taught but if you aren’t an outgoing person who is happy to talk to anyone and everyone and willing to go the extra mile to help and make people feel welcome, you might not be the right fit. They also specify that they want ‘helpers who can stay for at least for 1 month, ideally someone with a high level of English and medium level of Spanish.’ This comes from a more practical point of view. If someone only wants to stay for a week or two, it’s barely worth training them. By the time you feel comfortable with your duties and know what you’re doing, it would be time for you to leave.

As for the languages, despite the hostel being on a Spanish island, English is definitely more important. My main goal in working there was to improve my Spanish but I did that mostly through speaking with the other volunteers. There were a couple of weeks in the middle of my stay when the whole group spoke Spanish and English so we would default into Spanish when working or eating meals together. I loved it because the Spanish that we were speaking was not homogenous at all. Obviously there were a lot of people for whom Spanish was a second language but even among the native speakers it varied wildly from Castilian Spanish to Argentinian Spanish to Chilean Spanish. If you want to learn or practise your Spanish the volunteers are your best bet, although it does just depend on the people that are there at the same time as you. There are some Spanish or Latin American guests but you are actually much more likely to speak English than Spanish with the majority of people staying in the hostel. I did also get the chance to speak quite a lot of French and even Chinese a few times! Other languages are not a necessity though. Speaking Spanish to some level is obviously an advantage but there were volunteers who spoke their own language and English, no Spanish at all, who still were great members of the team!

Costs

Now I want to break down my spending while I was there, just as I did for my travels in Germany and Austria earlier in the summer. If you are thinking about doing something like Workaway, this can give you an idea of the funds you need to be able to do it. Workaway is a great way to save money on long term travel but that’s not to say that you don’t need some to keep you going. Obviously it might differ depending on what is on offer from your particular hosts but this could be a starting place when trying to figure it out.

  • Transport – €271.85 (mostly €1-6 taxis but also car hire for four days, €150 total. This also doesn’t include flights on and off the island.)
  • Eating out – €227.95
  • Drinking – €127 (going out once a week, mostly €2 beer and €6 mojitos)
  • Groceries – €214.67
  • Activities – €375 (6 scuba dives, paragliding and entrance to a hike)
  • Miscellaneous – €71 (small souvenirs and petrol for car hire)

Total – €1282.47

To give you an idea of the amount of money I saved doing this through Workaway, the price for the accommodation I stayed in would have been €1173! That’s 51 nights in a €23/night dormitory with a shared bathroom at La Tortuga. And that’s without speaking about the money saved on food. You can see that I still spent a good bit of money on groceries and while I wasn’t eating out a lot, a couple of meals a week, I wasn’t being super stingy with it either so it would be possible to spend less on these two categories. Exchanging work for accommodation and food worked out exactly as I’d hoped. I saved so much money on accommodation and food that I was able to spend more on activities and eating out. There’s no way I would be able to spend almost two months in Tenerife any other way!

A beautiful watercolour painting of the garden done by one of the volunteers, Laura!

Working in La Tortuga Hostel

In my last blog I covered how I used Workaway to find a hostel in Tenerife where I spent just under two months volunteering. In this blog I’m going to take you through what that was like, what a normal day looked involved and just generally the reality of working in a hostel. Overall I had a great experience so a lot of what is to come will be positive. However I will be honest about some of the challenges and the more difficult aspects of it as well.

La Tortuga Hostel

First let me introduce you to my lovely hostel, La Tortuga, located in the south of Tenerife in an area called Costa Adeje. In this area saturated by classic Brits abroad and all inclusive resorts, La Tortuga is a bohemian haven. La Tortuga has a laid back vibe, not a party hostel by any means but a very sociable place to stay. The overwhelming majority of guests are solo travellers which results in a lovely atmosphere where everyone is open to talking to each other and becoming friends. In the evening you often find people making plans for the next day with people they didn’t know twenty minutes before. This includes volunteers who are very much a part of this ever evolving community in the hostel. That’s what it feels like to stay in La Tortuga and is very much an aim of the managers and all the staff, for all guests to feel like they are being welcomed into a new family.

With four dormitories and ten private rooms, the total occupancy of the hostel is about 35 guests with 8 volunteers. There are also two full time receptionists and the two managers of the hostel who are all instrumental in keeping things running smoothly. The hostel is actually spread over three houses: the main house (known as Tortuga 1 or T1) with the reception, the principal socialising areas, a kitchen, most of the dorms, a shared bathroom and shared toilet and the housing for volunteers; the secondary house (T2), a mirror image of the main house but quieter and more tranquil with mostly private rooms; and the third house (T3) that has three private rooms and it’s own kitchen and terrace. T3 is the top floor of the building on the main street whereas T1 and T2 are tucked behind so it has a feeling of privacy and seclusion. The hostel’s location is in a more residential part of Costa Adeje, removed from the many large hotels and all inclusive resorts that are common in the town, but only a short walk from supermarkets, restaurants and most importantly the beach. If you want to go further afield there are also bus stops in the immediate vicinity.

Something unique about the hostel was that it had a Whatsapp group that all guests could join and that volunteers were part of as well. I think this was a really nice touch that allowed the hostel to have a real sense of community. It was a great way for people to find others to go to dinner with or open up their plans to more people. That is how a lot of the volunteers would fill their free days. If we weren’t working we were free to do whatever we wanted so lots of people, myself included, would go out and explore with guests. I had a very useful habit of making friends with people who had hired cars, allowing me to tag along on adventures across the island! Even on the days we were working, we would still have most of the afternoon and the evening to ourselves so we might arrange an afternoon trip to the beach (although there were also a lot of days when all I did in the afternoon was take a nap and chill around the hostel!).

It was also possible to arrange a wide range of activities through the hostel. Volunteers got a slight discount on these so I took full advantage! I learnt to scuba dive in Honduras but haven’t done it in the five years since. The price of diving in Tenerife, or at least through La Tortuga, was so ridiculously cheap that I did several over my time there. It was great to get back under the water and it all came rushing back to me. I got to see some incredible things, highlights being two rare angel sharks, one dive with so many turtles that wouldn’t leave us alone and came right up to us and even a few dolphins while on the dive boat! There were also things like paragliding (done!), kayaking, turtle and dolphin trips, tours of the island including to Mount Teide and stargazing. Particularly popular are the surf lessons. La Tortuga actually works closely with a surf school in nearby Las Americas called SurfLife. If someone booking onto a surf camp with SurfLife was looking for somewhere to stay, they would recommend La Tortuga. Sometimes it felt like the hostel was filled with people doing surf camps! From what I’ve heard (as someone who has taken two surf lessons in her life and stood up maybe three times) the surfing in Tenerife can be a bit of a mixed bag. It’s not a bad place to learn to surf but at least during the summer the waves are a bit small for more advanced surfers. Apparently the waves are a bit bigger and better in the winter.

A Day in the Life

Now to share with you what a typical working day would look like. As you’ll see that might involve cleaning or working on reception or even leading groups to a flamenco bar or sunset at the beach. I’m not going to go into too much detail about what I got up to in my time off as we would be here for hours! There will be plenty more blogs all about the places I explored, the things I did and what I would recommend so for now I’m focusing on the volunteering side of things.

Cleaning

In La Tortuga volunteers work 4 days a week, between four and six hours per shift depending on the amount of work. There would be three volunteers working each day. A cleaning shift starts at 8.45am so I would usually get up between 8am and 8.30am. At the beginning I would get up more last minute and just start working but towards the end I actually enjoyed getting up even earlier to enjoy the peace and quiet around the hostel. It obviously depended on how tired I was but the coolness of the air and the tranquillity of the common areas before everyone else woke up were rare so I tried to enjoy them. There was no uniform for volunteers so I would usually wear a pair of shorts with a sports t-shirt (it might have been cool when we started but changing beds is sweaty work!) and either trainers or Birkenstock sandals.

Papped while halfway through a very busy shift

From 8.45am to 9am the priority is getting breakfast out. I say breakfast but it’s really more of a tea and coffee spread. The hostel used to provide a more complete breakfast including things like pancakes but stopped due to covid. I believe it might be making a comeback in the next few months though! For now, we just had to make a couple of types of coffee and set that out with milk and sugar, tea, mugs and a few little cakes that we provided. This was free for all guests as well as volunteers and the leftovers would be available for free in the kitchen later in the day. Anyone could make their own free coffee and tea at any time of the day as well.

After breakfast was out we would start on the common areas. Check out was at 11am so we couldn’t start going into any bedrooms until then. In the meantime we would clean the shared bathrooms, living and dining spaces and the terrace outside. There were 3 volunteers working together so one person would go to T2 and knock that out while the other two stayed in T1. T1 was generally busier in the morning so it took a little longer to clean around everyone hence why two people stayed there. They would also keep an eye on breakfast and refill anything that needed it. This usually took until around 10.30am at which point we would have a wee break for some breakfast. I might have had something quick like a granola bar or a yoghurt before we started and a coffee and a piece of cake while putting breakfast out but this was the chance for something a bit more substantial. Often I would make a cheese and ham toastie from the food provided for volunteers (shoutout to my beloved sandwichito as we would call them!) or sometimes some eggs.

After check out at 11am our lovely, all-knowing receptionists would give us a list of the rooms that needed cleaned, whether that be because someone was checking out, someone had been there for three or four days already (at which point we refreshed the sheets) or it was a dorm room that just needed a once over. The work would be split up between the three people working and then we would just get on with it. We were allowed to wear headphones while working so I would usually put in a podcast and get my head down. Whoever was working primarily in T1 was also in charge of keeping the washing machines going because as I’m sure you can imagine there was always a mountain of dirty sheets needing to be washed. Depending on the day there might also be some extras like cleaning out the communal fridges, doing the windows or a little bit of gardening. If I or someone else finished before the others then we would all muck in to get the work done.

An example of a dorm room

Depending on how much work there was on any given day, we could finish between 1pm and 3pm although it was usually somewhere around 2pm or 2.30pm. The end of the shift was quickly followed by lunch. I’ll talk more about how food and meals worked in the hostel another blog post but basically someone who wasn’t working would make lunch. If everyone not working had gone out to the beach or elsewhere, we would just throw something together ourselves. Once we finished the work of the day we were free to do whatever we wanted!

Reception

While Workaway volunteers at La Tortuga primarily handled the cleaning of the hostel, some are also trained up to work on reception and cover a handful of evening shifts throughout the week. Anyone that spoke Spanish and English well (other languages a bonus) was a candidate for reception training. It was more optional though as there were volunteers at the same time as me who had the language skills but didn’t particularly want to work on reception and that was fine. For me, it’s something that I was keen to get trained up on. I like the people facing jobs, I like talking to people (preferably in a different language), I like solving problems for people and being helpful. On reception you are often the first person new guests meet at the hostel and being the face of that first impression is no small responsibility.

Volunteers are only ever charged with the evening shift, from 5.30pm to 11.30pm when reception closes, as it is much quieter than the morning shift. There is a list of things to go through, such as finishing any laundry from the cleaning shift in the morning, checking the details of the bookings made in the past few days and the arrivals in the next few days, turning lights on as it gets dark, giving the kitchen a quick clean, taking the bins out, feeding the cats and more. You might also have check ins which includes giving them a tour of the hostel. Keeping an eye on the emails is very important so that you catch when new bookings come in. Crucially, do not overbook the hostel! When a booking comes in on one platform like Hostelworld, it doesn’t just need to be logged in the hostel’s own system but blocked off on the other platforms like Booking.com. On my first solo shift, that was the one thing I needed to do, or not do as that case may be, and guess what I did? Overbooked the hostel. But with some help from Pasqui, the manager, the crisis was averted and you can be sure l never did it again!

By the end of my time at La Tortuga I was averaging two cleaning shifts and two reception shifts a week which I liked as a combo. The cleaning shifts were more physically demanding, a lot of running back and forth, up and down the stairs, and if you’ve ever put a fitted sheet on a top bunk, you know you break a sweat! In comparison, the reception shift always left my brain feeling a little frazzled. There was a lot more that you had to be on top of at all times but weirdly combined with stretches of boredom when things were quiet. Finishing at 11.30pm added to the tiredness at the end of it. Having the mixture kept things interesting for me and also means that some days I got afternoons off and some days mornings.

Extras

In addition to cleaning and reception for some, volunteers had some additional responsibilities. The hostel has several organised activities, like an in house yoga class, a group outing to a bar for live flamenco music or a trip to a beach to watch a sunset. Each week one volunteer would be tasked with leading the trip to the flamenco bar and the beach for sunset in the place of a regular shift. In the same vein, someone would be put in charge of watering the grass and general gardening for the week, also in place of a normal shift.

Sunset at Fañabé beach

On top of those more formal duties, there are certain unofficial things that volunteers are expected to do as well. These are just things like nurturing the friendly, welcoming environment around the place and chatting to new and old guests alike. If there was ever a face we didn’t know, that was a sign to strike up a conversation. It was so easy to get to know people really quickly in La Tortuga, it was a bit of a magnet for really sound people, and in a matter of days you might feel like you’ve known that person for much longer. However, as a new person coming into a situation like that, it can be a bit intimidating unless those already included reach out a hand to pull you in as well. Everyone was welcome in this family of tortugeños (the affectionate term for anyone at La Tortuga), no matter their age or where they came from or anything else, and a large part of that responsibility fell to volunteers. This was actually potentially one of the more difficult aspects to the job. Despite being someone who enjoys talking to new people, especially in places like La Tortuga, when this is essentially part of your job it gets a little tiring at times. Everybody has days when they don’t want to speak to anyone, whether it’s because you’re tired, hungover, on your period or just not in the mood.

The Other Volunteers

I was lucky to be surrounded by an incredible group of people for the seven weeks that La Tortuga was my home. In fact, I don’t think it actually was luck. I think they are very good at picking who they want to volunteer and in doing this carefully, they curate a group of people who are not only hard working and willing go the extra mile but also who are almost predisposed to get on with each other. We often joked that time doesn’t exist in La Tortuga, there is no concept of days passing, which means sometimes it all blends into one a little but also means that the forming of relationships are massively accelerated. People come and go throughout your time there, guests and volunteers alike, and there were a few volunteers who left within the first week after I arrived. In just a short amount of time I felt like I got to know these people really well.

As I settled in more, there was a core group of volunteers that were more or less the same for about three weeks. When I think of my time in La Tortuga, those are the people that I think of. There were people from different sides of the world, four people from Latin America and four from Europe, bringing a mix of languages, cultures and experiences together. We shared dishes from our own countries for each other (like moussaka from Greece or great barbequed meat from Brazil), we shared music with each other (500 Miles by The Proclaimers was put on anytime the Spotify queue got passed around and my new favourite band is Oques Grasses who are Catalan), and we shared ourselves with each other. In this way it reminded me a lot of the relationships that formed very quickly between myself and the other Project Trust volunteers I went to Honduras with. Sharing a unique experience brings people much closer much faster than normal. I know that some of the people I volunteered beside will be friends for life. In fact, I’ve already met up with one of them who happened to come to Edinburgh right after leaving Tenerife, just a few weeks after I got home!

What a team!

Working in a Hostel

Overall, what was working in a hostel like? Pretty much what I imagined. That’s to say a relaxed environment filled with friendly people and good vibes. When I was working it was hard work but nothing too difficult or complicated and I even got to learn a lot of new skills. Even when you’re not working, you are still an integral part of the hostel staff. Here I want to give a proper shoutout to the full time staff members of La Tortuga, Karen and Mia on reception and Ale and Pasqui, the managers. Without Karen and Mia, the volunteers wouldn’t have a clue what is going on. They kept us right with what our work was, they were a steady presence when you arrived at this new place and they were a never ending source of knowledge and advice. If there was ever a question that I couldn’t answer or someone wanted more information that I didn’t have, I directed them to our wonderful receptionists. They both started as volunteers so know the highs and lows well. As for the managers, I only crossed paths with Ale for my first few days as he was away for a well deserved holiday for most of the time I was there. However I can tell that he is the life of the party when he is around and that the hostel is incredibly important to him. During my first day of training all the volunteers and any guests hanging around were summoned outside to cheer and drum, smoke flares in hand, while he climbed on the roof to film a video celebrating the win of his football team! Pasqui was around while I was there and he was a steady hand in a storm, helping me when I accidentally overbooked the hostel, working behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly and popping up randomly at flamenco night, live music evenings and even carnival!

I liked the sociable aspect of working in a hostel a lot as well. I’ve already spoken about the other volunteers but it was great getting to know the guests as well. There are all kinds of people coming through and of course you aren’t going to get on with everyone but I found some real gems who I’m still in touch with now. I did have a little dip in enthusiasm about three weeks in because I found it frustrating that people that I had met and formed a friendship with would leave after a few days, a week max. This might sound obvious but once you’re in that situation, it starts to feel like there’s no point making an effort with anyone because they’re going to leave soon. However, I got over it and learnt to just enjoy the time I had with the people I was meeting.

La tortuga de La Tortuga, Pita

La Tortuga is exactly the kind of hostel that I love to stay in myself so any praise you hear from me is genuine. Knowing how much I would love it even if I was just there for a few days as a guest, being able to peek behind the curtain was even more special. Seeing the inner workings of a hostel has given me more appreciation for all the work it takes and the amount of thought that goes into giving a guest the best experience possible. At La Tortuga it’s all about being as friendly and welcoming a place as possible, not profit. I’ve stayed in plenty of hostels over the years and my favourites, the ones I still think about and would go back to in a heartbeat are the ones like La Tortuga. The smaller ones, the ones with a family feel, where you’re not just another wallet walking through. In my opinion it’s what a hostel should be like.

Next up we have a bit of a combination of this post and the last one, looking at how the Workaway profile of La Tortuga compared with what I experienced in real life. It includes more details on the living situation for volunteers, the food provided, what is expected of you and also what I spent while I was there! If there’s anything specific you want to hear about, let me know!

How to Spend 7 Weeks in Tenerife (or Anywhere!)

Here we go, I hope we are all ready to embark on the next series of blog posts. I am now moving away from the travel blog posts and onto the next portion of my summer plans. My plan for this part of the summer was to spend just under two months volunteering in a hostel in Tenerife through Workaway. I had an absolutely incredible experience and there is plenty to tell you about my time in the hostel and on the island. For now I’m going to start with how I was able to do it in the first place. Let me introduce you to a little site called Workaway.

What is Workaway?

When thinking about the best way to go about organising this, I turned to Workaway. Workaway is a website that provides opportunities for work exchanges. This can take many forms whether it be working in a hostel as I did, as an au pair, helping renovate a house, working on a farm or a whole host of other options. The idea is that you as a volunteer or ‘Workawayer’ contribute an agreed upon amount of time into whatever the task is and receive accommodation and some amount of food in return. As a potential Workawayer it is free to browse through the website and look at hosts but if you want to contact someone you need to register an account which costs £42 for a year long subscription. This might sound a little expensive but if you think that this is pretty much the only thing you will have to pay for (other than transport) during your experience and that it’s a one time fee that allows you to arrange as many Workaway stays as you like, I think it is worth the money. You are also paying for their experience and the security of using a trusted platform. Workaway currently boasts more than 50,000 opportunities in 170 countries so the world is your oyster! There are also other features that allow you to find a travel buddy or to find opportunities as a pair with a partner or a friend, although I have no experience using these.

Of course, there are other options out there as well. I can’t vouch for them because I’ve only used Workaway and I will say that Workaway is the biggest platform offering this kind of thing. But in case you want to check out some of the other options, here they are –

Choosing Your Host

When it comes to finding a host on Workaway I think the more flexibility you have the better. You might be looking for a host in a particular country or location, there might be a certain type of work that you fancy doing or specific dates that you are available for. Having one, or at a push two, of these criteria pretty set in stone is fine but the less flexible you are, the more difficult you will find your search for a host. Saying all of this, I did not follow my own advice! (Hindsight is 20/20 right?) I knew roughly where I wanted to go, had a type of work in mind and had a window of time in which to do it. I was searching for hostels mostly in mainland Spain of which there were a decent amount but I have to admit that I did not have a lot of luck. I think a lot of Workaway experiences are organised more at the last minute but being the kind of person that I am, I wanted to have something arranged in advance. Because of this I started looking in February for an arrival date towards the start of May. At that time many places were looking for a more immediate start.

So what should you look for on a host’s profile? Once you have used the filter tools to wade through the thousands of hosts on the site to find the ones relevant to you, the first thing to do is check the availability of this Workaway. Helpfully this is one of the first things on a host’s profile. It will tell you if they are completely full or not looking, if there is a possibility or if they are actively seeking Workawayers. Next, check the description to see if it seems like a good fit for you. You can usually get your first feel of the energy of the project through the description. Depending on where you are looking for a host, their first language might not be English so bear that in mind when reading their profile.

Important things to look for in the description –

  • Working hours – will you be happy working that much?
  • Compensation – what do you receive in return for your work? Does it seem like a fair exchange to you?
  • Duties – what is expected of you? Do you have the skills to carry out these tasks or at least to learn how to do them?
  • Languages – do you need to be able to speak a certain language? (Sometimes specified but many Workaway opportunities double as language exchanges so don’t stress if you don’t speak any other languages)
  • Specific requirements – Will you need a visa in order to enter the country? Do you need a drivers licence?
  • Covid restrictions – do they require you to be vaccinated? (Some hosts have also not been active on Workaway since the pandemic, even if their profile is still live.)
  • Personal preferences – do they fit with any personal preferences you have? Do you need your own bathroom? Would you prefer to be in a non-smoking location? Are you allergic to pets? Is wifi an absolute must for you?

The last thing to do when looking at a host’s profile is to look at the reviews. Absolutely don’t skip this step and don’t just scan the number of stars they have been given. There are often valuable tidbits left in the text of reviews. Hopefully the host will have good ratings and reading these can help form your overall impression but even more important than the good reviews are the bad ones. Whenever I’m booking a hostel, I will read a couple of good reviews and then read ALL the bad reviews. I want to see what people were taking issue with, whether it is something that is important to me, whether I think it is a warranted review or whether this person just had a bad experience, whether it was in their control or not. It’s the same when deciding on a Workaway host. Sometimes people take things too personally or are too harsh so you can disregard those bad reviews but sometimes there are real red flags in them that alert you to a potential issue before you commit to anything.

When it comes to contacting hosts, it is important to make a good impression. All of my messages were sent in both English and Spanish, considering I speak Spanish already and was looking at hostels in Spain. I introduced myself and my skills, why I wanted to work at the hostel and as with any good cover letter, I mentioned something specific from their profile. You might not get a response for a while so don’t be afraid to send a follow up message. Having seen it from the other side while working at the hostel in Tenerife, I can vouch that hosts can get a lot of messages and it can be a bit overwhelming. They might not be active on Workaway until they actually need someone and by then your message will have dropped down so a follow up will go a long way to keeping you in the mix.

Between contacting hosts on Workaway and emailing hostels directly with my CV and a cover letter, I must have contacted at least 30 places. I didn’t get anywhere near that number of responses and the ones I did were all negative. Most of it was that they were either already full for the time period I was looking for or they weren’t looking for volunteers in general. It was disheartening and I did start to wonder if I was going to be able to find anything at all. In the end it took persistence, hope and also relaxing my expectations a little. Once I widened my search a little, that was when I finally got some positive responses and eventually a spot in the hostel that I ended up spending seven wonderful weeks in.

As with anything you have to approach a Workaway experience with a bit of caution. Hosts are all verified but if it’s anything like being verified as a Workawayer, that just involved connecting my Facebook profile to my account. If anything strikes you as suspicious, better to follow your gut. In the same vein, once you arrive you are free to leave any time. There’s no contract so if you don’t like it or worse, feel uncomfortable with anything, you can just leave. For me, I felt comforted by the good reviews on the profile of the hostel I was going to, not a single one under five stars with glowing words of praise from and for the host. I was also comforted by the video call I had with the manager of the hostel. Speaking to someone in person (or through a screen) is so different to messages or emails and it’s much easier to gauge the feeling that way. I could tell from speaking to Ale that this hostel was going to be a good fit for me.

Not a bad way to spend the summer!

My Experience with Workaway

To start with I want to explain what led me to embark on this specific experience. I finished my teaching at the university in Mulhouse in April and had a long four month summer holiday stretching ahead of me. I had a deadline of the second week in July to be back in Scotland for a family holiday but I knew I wanted to pack in some travelling and something a little bit different into the months running up to that. As you can imagine one of my aims in moving to France was to improve my French and it has improved, massively. It’s been a little while though, five years to be exact, since I gave my Spanish any TLC. I thought remedying that would be a good start in figuring out what to do with my summer.

I’ve also always quite fancied working in a hostel for a little while. I always enjoy staying in them. I love the atmosphere and the mix of people plus I feel like my skills are really suited to that kind of environment. I speak a few languages which helps in what is usually quite an international environment. I have experience working in a residential centre for a charity cleaning bathrooms and changing beds and I like to think that I’m a friendly, welcoming person who can create a nice atmosphere for guests. It seemed like now might be a good time to do this and combine it with my desire to work on my Spanish.

I have forayed into the world of Workaway once before but hadn’t gotten very far with it. In March 2020 I was trying to figure out how to spend several months in France on my university study abroad year after being forced to leave China early due to Covid and Workaway was something that I looked at. Of course I never got the chance to see that through because Covid arrived in Europe shortly after I did. This time I returned with a little more hope that I would actually get to see this idea through to completion.

Like I mentioned, I had some pretty inflexible criteria when it came to finding a host. I had a seven week gap between a family event in Dublin and a family holiday back in Scotland. I wanted to work in a hostel and I wanted that hostel to be in Spain. Initially I had been focusing on mainland Spain because given that I was already in Europe it seemed to make more sense and I felt like it would be a cheaper option in terms of transport there and back. However, not having much luck with this (lots of rejections and one unsuccessful interview) I started looking at several hostels in the Canary Islands that were looking for people on Workaway and that actually seemed like they would be a good fit for me.

I was drawn to one hostel in particular on the island of Tenerife that combined their business with supporting a number of social projects, one a paediatric hospital in Port au Prince, Haiti, and the other a free dentist consultation service in Brazil. That caught my attention but you could also feel the good energy through the description of the hostel in the profile. I sent my usual message, an introductory paragraph in both Spanish and English and actually got a positive response! I then arranged a video interview with Ale, one of the managers of the hostel, and by the end of it he was offering me a spot! The only thing that had to be worked out was the timing but in the end I was able to go for exactly the dates I wanted, starting mid-May and leaving just after the start of July. I was thrilled! I have to admit here that I knew very little about Tenerife other than it is a prime choice for British tourists who want an all inclusive, relaxing by the pool kind of holiday, but I was still excited to get to know a new place. I won’t go into everything I learned about Tenerife right now but know that there are plenty of blogs to come on that subject as I share my love for the island.

The star of Tenerife – Mount Teide

Pros and Cons

This will not be an exhaustive list of pros and cons of using Workaway but I want to share a few. Once again, this is focusing on the Workaway website and the general experience and not the one that I had with my specific host.

PROS

  • Workaway is by far the largest platform of this kind – That brings a whole host of advantages including security and variety. It gives you the most opportunities and a bit more trust than the smaller platforms.
  • Meeting like-minded people – By choosing to do something like Workaway, you are guaranteed to meet other people who share the same curiosity and sense of adventure as you. Obviously there are always people you don’t click with but I would say that Workaway is one of those experiences where you are much more likely to get on with the other people doing it. You are at least going to have Workaway in common!
  • It makes long term travel more accessible – There’s no way I could have done the length of time I did if I was just travelling as normal. Something like Workaway where there is an exchange in services allows you to stay somewhere for longer without breaking the bank.
  • You can really get to know a place – Or as Workaway says ‘travel like a local’. It’s another advantage to being able to stay somewhere longer as well as work with people who do actually live there. You get to see a side of a place that you wouldn’t get to just as a tourist. There is always a lot more to see than you can fit in to a one week visit or aspects of life that aren’t visible to outsiders.

CONS

  • The more specific the more difficult Like you saw with me, if you are looking for something to fit a very specific set of criteria there might not be as many options.
  • It’s volunteering, not work – At the end of the day, even if you are getting something in return for your work, you aren’t getting paid. That means you will still need to have some of your own funds going in. At the very least you will need money for transport to and from your Workaway. You might also need a little money for some food if not everything is covered as well as any activities you want to do during your stay. It’s also good to have some money set aside in case things don’t go to plan and you need to leave early.
  • Workaway can be an intense and sometimes overwhelming experience – Just because of the nature of it, living with a host family or other volunteers, being very involved in life with your host, immersing yourself in local life, that can all get a little much sometimes. There are ways to get around this like taking some time to do something by yourself but embracing it for the limited period of time that you are there can turn this from a con into a pro!

In general I think Workaway is a great way to make long term travel more accessible. It’s a great way to save money by working for just a few hours and there’s a lot you can get out of that work. For example, the whole reason I wanted to do something like this was to improve my Spanish and that’s not an uncommon motivation. It’s a great way to learn new skills – for example I got trained on reception at the hostel where I learnt a lot of new things. There is no way that I would have been able to spend seven weeks in Tenerife on my own dime but with Workaway I was able to use the money that I was saving on accommodation and food to explore as much of the island as I could and have some amazing experiences. While the amount of hours you do depend on the specific host and type of work, it generally leaves you with lots of time off. Saying that, it’s still work and you have to be prepared to put the effort in. It’s not fair on your host if you turn up and then don’t fulfil your end of the bargain. In general and as with anything, you get out of Workaway what you put in.

Next up I’m going to tell you a bit more about the specific hostel I was working at and what that work involved. If you have any questions about using Workaway or anything you want me to cover in the next post about the hostel, leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Some of the other great Workawayers I met

Bonus Bratislava Blog

Welcome back to another travel blog, a little Brucey bonus for you! This wasn’t a blog I expected to be writing when I embarked on my travels but sometimes you never know where the journey is going to take you. When I first arrived in Vienna I was organising doing a walking tour with my friend Nic and he was telling me the day he spent in Bratislava, the nearby capital of Slovakia. I hadn’t realised quite how close they are but there’s only 80km between them. I thought it would be a great way to spend a day, adding another country into the mix. I convinced my roommate Hannah to join me on her last day, making it three countries in one day for her as she was moving on to Budapest in Hungary that evening.

Our plan was to get the 9.15 train from the central station so we left with plenty of time as Hannah had her big bag with her ready for her train to Budapest that evening. I went to buy the tickets while Hannah found the lockers and I discovered that there is a specific Bratislava ticket. It costs €16 for a day return and also covers public transport while you are there! A pretty good deal if you ask me.

It took just over an hour to arrive in Bratislava where we pointed our noses towards the castle. On our way down we must have been walking through Slovakia’s embassy district and we made a game out of guessing which country they were. It was another glorious day, probably the hottest of my stay, so the walk got a bit sweaty! When we arrived at the castle the views weren’t the best I’ve ever seen although you could see across the Danube and back into Austria. There were a lot of cranes in the way and I think we were looking out onto a bit of an industrial area. The castle itself however was very nice! It had lovely gardens to walk through and the views from those, looking into the old town, were much nicer.

We walked down from the castle to the city walls and came out by St Martin’s cathedral. From there we were on the edge of the old town and just wandering through the streets in the bright sunshine was lovely. Now that we weren’t climbing uphill like earlier it wasn’t that bad! We found the main square with the city hall and several of the statues that are littered throughout the city. One is a man tipping his hat to passersby, there is a Napoleonic soldier leaning on a bench in the main square and the most famous, the Man at Work (or Čumil, the watcher), a worker peeking out of the sewer while taking a rest. There is a legend that says if you touch him on his head and make a wish it will come true, as long as you keep it a secret forever!

We carried on and out the other side of the old town in search of one of Bratislava’s most popular sights, St Elizabeth’s church. It is a vibrant blue building that is an icon of Slovakia. It was really stunning but completely tucked away behind a school that it was originally built to serve. By this point we were both ready for some food so headed back to one of the streets we had walked down with lots of restaurants. We settled on a traditional Slovakian restaurant where I had a stroganoff with beef, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms in a creamy sauce (€15 with a beer) and Hannah had goulash with bread dumplings. We had a drink to cool down after lunch (€2 for a beer) and picked up an ice cream (€2) as we were walking back to the train station.

Because Hannah was heading to Budapest in the evening we had given ourselves plenty of time to get to the station in time for our train, which in turn was supposed to get us back to Vienna in plenty of time for her next train. Emphasis on supposed to… When we got to the train station in Bratislava there was a delay which continued to get longer as we waited. Throw in getting on the wrong train when it pulled into our platform and a last minute platform change and the return journey wasn’t quite as easy as the outward journey. Saying all that, we did get back in time for Hannah to dash through the station, grab her bag and make her train!

Back in Vienna, I hopped on the subway back to the hostel because I was exhausted and sweaty and grabbed a few things in Hoefer (€6) before chilling in the hostel for the evening.

Buzzing about passing a Scottish pub, even closed!

I was really pleased to have the opportunity to visit a new and unexpected country for me. Bratislava was beautiful, a really cheery, charismatic place. Of course there is more to do than we were able to fit into 6 hours but at the same time, I think you can fit the essence of the city into a day trip. I’ve heard that the nightlife is very lively so if that’s your thing it would be nice to stay overnight but I would say that one night would be all you really need.

Throughout these travel posts I have been chronicling my spending and it’s time for the big roundup. Here is what I spent on two weeks travelling in Germany and Austria (and a little bit of Slovakia) –

Transport (Mulhouse to Munich to Innsbruck to Vienna) – €91.40 (£77.74)
Accommodation (15 nights in hostels) – €423.93 (£360.57)
Eating out – €220.65 (£187.67)
Groceries – €66.77 (£56.79)
Activities – €40.50 (£34.45)
Miscellaneous (trams, small souvenirs etc.)- €43.30 (£36.83)

And with that, it really is the end of the travelling series! Next stop: Tenerife!

Vienna

Welcome back to the final instalment of this travel series! It’s taken a while to get here because I’ve been caught up doing some exciting things but you’ll just have to wait to read about those! (Or you can follow the blog on Instagram @sara_somewhere_ for more current updates!) My final stop was Vienna, the capital of Austria. Even though I was already in Austria, Innsbruck and Vienna are almost on opposite sides of the country from each other. Saying that, it only takes about four hours to get from one to the other by train. This was my last stop on my trip before flying to Dublin for a family party and quickly moving on to Tenerife to volunteer in a hostel through Workaway. Once again I will take you through what I got up to, day by day, including my costs for each day as well.

The Vienna Opera House

Monday 9 May

I started my journey to Vienna by leaving Innsbruck mid-morning. Now, here I have to admit to a rookie travel mistake. When I was booking all my trains for this trip, I acccidentally booked a train from Munich to Vienna instead of Innsbruck to Vienna. It was a non-refundable ticket so I looked at how much it would cost to book a new ticket from the right city but I also looked at the stops that the Munich to Vienna train would be making. One of these stops was Salzburg, a city just an hour and a half north-east of Innsbruck. I figured out that it would be cheaper to keep the wrong ticket, book one from Innsbruck to Salzburg and then hop on the original service there. Overall the two tickets cost me €53.65.

When I got to the train I saw that it was actually going to Vienna anyway, even though I only had a ticket to Salzburg. I asked the conductor if I could stay on to save me having to wait an hour in between trains and got an expected no but it’s always worth asking. I had one hour to waste in the station in Salzburg where I bought some food (€6) and then it was on to Vienna. The journey was easy, if a little longer than necessary, and I was welcomed to Vienna with some glorious weather. I set out towards my hostel, originally planning on getting the tram but by the time I figured out that I had missed the stop I was already halfway there.

A building along the Naschmarkt

I was staying in the same chain of hostels as I did in Munich, Wombat’s City Hostel. It was right by the Naschmarkt, a 1.5 km stretch of food stalls and restaurants that has been around for 500 years. It was originally a milk market until 1793 when authorities declared that any produce arriving in Vienna using a route other than the Danube river had to be traded here. The hostel was even nicer than the one in Munich, with a small coffee counter as you walk in, a bar tucked further into the back and a large dining space upstairs next to the kitchen. The location was great as well, like I said it was right next to the Naschmarkt that is lined with some really beautiful buildings and it was only a 15 minute walk into the city centre. For five nights in a six bed mixed dorm I paid €141.28.

As I was settling into my dorm room I got talking to some of my roommates. There was an American girl called Hannah who had actually been in the same hostel as me in Munich at the same time although we hadn’t crossed paths and a Honduran guy called Andres! What are the chances! Safe to say we had a good old chat about Honduras. The three of us went for dinner together to one of the restaurants in the Naschmarkt (€14.50) and then had some drinks in the hostel bar (€11.40). It was really fun getting to chat to a bunch of people, although sadly most of them were leaving the next day.

The delicious hummus and falafel I had in the Naschmarkt

My first day in Vienna, not including the transport and accommodation costs, came out at €31.90. You’ll see that my daily spending in Vienna goes up and down a bit more than it did in either Munich or Innsbruck, sometimes managing to stay below my initial budget of €20 a day and sometimes being over even the adjusted €30 a day budget.

Tuesday 10 May 

After only making it on to a walking tour on my last day in Munich, despite being of the opinion that these are great first day activities, I had come to Vienna more prepared and pre-booked a free walking tour for my first full day. I went with Nic, a guy I had met in my hostel in Munich who was in Vienna at the same time as me, as well as (a different) Hannah, a girl from Edinburgh that I had met in the hostel bar the night before. I picked up a quick breakfast from the Aldi next door (called Hoefer in Austria) before we left (€2 for a croissant and a banana plus a €2.20 espresso from the hostel coffee bar).

After a little bit of confusion over the meeting point for the tour we eventually found the guide, a German guy who has been living in Vienna for 10 years and is clearly a bit of a history buff. This tour was with Prime Tours who have a range of options across cities in Eastern Europe and even multiple versions of the tour in Vienna, including the classic one (which I did), one focusing on Hitler and Vienna around 1900 and a craft beer tour. Like with the one I did in Munich, reserving a place on the tour is free but at the end you are encouraged to leave a tip for the guide. You can leave as much as you want, depending on how much you enjoyed it, but I think it’s important to bear in mind that these tours often last a couple of hours and the guide puts a lot of work into them. Specifically in Austria, becoming a tour guide involves taking an intensive 8 month course or the more spread out two year option followed by THREE exams. It can be tempting to take the ‘free’ part of ‘free walking tour’ a bit too literally or just to chuck in a few euros at the end but that isn’t fair on the people that make it possible for us to get to know these amazing cities. Even without the official course and exams of Austria, tour guides everywhere spend years accumulating their knowledge and then present it to you in an understandable, engaging, two-hour package and they deserve to be fairly compensated for that.

The meeting point for this tour was next to the Albertina Museum (apparently one of the best museums in Vienna, if a little expensive), in a small square with a monument against fascism and war. Even though the tour was two hours long, we didn’t actually cover that much ground. We spent a long time working our way through the Hofburg, the imperial palace of the Hapsburg dynasty. You can see several different styles in the different wings that were added over the years and it was interesting to see the influence of the individual rulers who added to the complex. Just behind the Hofburg is Heldenplatz (Hero’s Square) where you can currently find some temporary offices for Austria’s parliamentarians while the actual parliament building is under renovation. You can also find two statues that give the square its name, one of Archduke Charles of Austria and the other of Prince Eugene of Savoy, both on horseback. Despite the fact both statues are meant to commemorate the men as heroes, both suffered crushing defeats either just before or just after the statues were unveiled!

We carried on past the residences of both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor, through some very grand side streets, past Michaelerplatz with the Hofburg on one side and Roman excavations at its centre, finally arriving at Stephansplatz with the iconic St. Stephen’s cathedral. This is one of Vienna’s and even Austria’s most important symbols. This was the end of the tour and after giving the guide his tip (€10) I spent a bit of time recovering from all the walking by chilling in the sun in Burggarten, a cute little garden at the back of the Albertina museum.

Michaelerplatz

After a busy morning out in the glorious weather I had a chill afternoon back at the hostel before going out into the Naschmarkt for dinner with Nic. It was very handy having it right on the doorstep of the hostel because as well as having lots of stalls and shops for buying ingredients there are plenty of restaurants too. We opted for pizza at a place that didn’t look too expensive (because there are some more bougie options around) and we were right because my pizza only cost €12. To top off the evening we went to the bar in the hostel and played some pool with Hannah from my dorm room and some new people we met.

St Michael’s Cathedral

With the €6.60 I spent on drinks in the bar and €3.78 on a few groceries, my total for today was €36.58. I was pushing it a little, even on the new extended budget but I tried not to get stressed about it. The budget was really more of a guideline so I didn’t blow through all my money too fast (or am I only saying that because I did blow through all my money today? You decide…).

Wednesday 11 May 

Waking up to my third day in Vienna, I didn’t really have any solid plans. After the walking tour yesterday, I felt like I had seen a lot of the centre of the city but I wanted to go back and see it again under my own steam. I retraced our footsteps from the day before but a little sped up. I was able to explore the areas I wanted to see a bit more, like Maria-Theresien-Platz where you can find the natural history museum and the fine arts museum. The very central area of Vienna is encased in a ring road that once marked the outer limits of the city. I followed this around to Volksgarten, another beautiful park, and sat there reading for a while. I also passed by the parliament building that is currently being renovated and the Rathaus (city hall).

Natural History Museum

I had the vague idea that I wanted to walk down to the river, for no particular reason, and while I didn’t actually make it there it did mean that I got to walk through some much quieter, less touristy neighbourhoods. On my way I passed by Central Cafe, another icon of Vienna for its beautiful interior and importance to Viennese intellectuals. I contemplated going in to sample a piece of Sachertorte, an Austrian staple, but all the luxury (and the prices!) seemed a bit beyond me! Sachertorte is a chocolate cake with apricot jam that was invented in the city. (Interestingly there is a dispute as to whether the original comes from Hotel Sacher or the Demel cafe. Eduard Sacher first made the cake while an apprentice in Demel and then set up his own establishment, Hotel Sacher.) Instead, I stumbled upon a great little place called Pickwick’s. It markets itself as an English speaking bar and restaurant but is also a bookshop and video store. It was covered in movie posters and had floor to ceiling bookshelves – my kind of place! I got a drink there (€4.30), taking the chance to shelter from the heat and sun for a while, plus it only felt right to get my book out again.

Pickwick’s

My wander through the city had taken me across the city centre and out the other side so when I was ready to go back to the hostel I was quite far away. I figured I had already gotten my steps in for the day so I gave my aching feet a rest and got the U-bahn (subway) back. I spent the evening chatting with Hannah from my dorm and arranging a day trip for the next day. It’s going to get its own bonus travel blog but if you’ve been to Vienna or know the geography of that area, you can probably guess. Hint: it’s the capital of a neighbouring country.

After a few days of upper or over budget spending, today came to a respectable €13.98. On top of my drink at Pickwick’s, I spent €4.08 on some groceries, €3.20 on a coffee and €2.40 on a U-bahn ticket. Not eating out today definitely contributed to lower spending. My normal habits were usually one meal out a day, often lunch while I was out and about, but while in Vienna I also made sandwiches to bring with me a couple of times to save a little more here and there.

Friday 13 May

After my day trip out of Vienna on Thursday (more on that here), for my final full day I had a nice surprise! One of my friends that I had visited in Innsbruck had decided to come through to Vienna for a night! Ciara had been thinking about it for a while and in the end booked a last minute train and hostel. She arrived around lunchtime and had a great suggestion of what we could do. You might remember that in Munich I spent one afternoon at the Müller’sches Volksbad, an art nouveau swimming pool. Ciara suggested that we visit Amalienbad, an art deco style swimming pool built around 1926 in the Vienna worker’s district. It is named after Amalie Pölzer, a social democratic councillor, at a time when most of the squares in the area were named after the royal family. Naming the pool after a worker represented the fact that the pool was built to bring the traditionally more bourgeois activity of bathing to the proletariat. The inside of the pool was stunning but very different to what I had seen in Müller’sches Volksbad. The interior would not look out of place in a Wes Anderson film with the brown and golden tones of the tiles and changing room doors contrasting beautifully with the bright blue of the pool. There were diving boards at one end and sun loungers lining the pool. It was a lovely, chilled way to spend an hour.

Amalienbad

After we finished swimming, we got the tram over to Belvedere Palace. Because I was running about the city a bit more today, the pool being a bit further out, I bought a 24 hour tram ticket for €8. This was a pretty good price considering I could use it the next morning to get out to the airport as well. Belvedere, technically made up of two palaces, was the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. It was one of the final places that I wanted to see in Vienna so I spent a bit of time wandering around the gardens while Ciara went to visit an exhibition of Black Austrian artists in Belvedere 21, a contemporary art museum in the gardens of the Belvedere. I didn’t have time to go and see the exhibition because I had to get back to the hostel and pack my suitcase but it turned out that it was only opening the day after anyway!

Belvedere Palace

I went back out in the evening to have dinner with Ciara. We met at Stephansplatz, by the cathedral, and wandered around a bit first, enjoying the nice evening light on all the beautiful buildings. We had nowhere in particular in mind for dinner so settled on a nice Italian place that we passed by where I had a pizza, some chips to share and a Hugo for €18.80. It was lovely to spend a little more time with Ciara and have a buddy for the day, even if it was short and sweet. I was leaving quite early the next morning but getting to the airport was super easy. I already had my 24 hour tram pass and I just needed to add on a city limits ticket for €1.80 that would allow me to take the S7 train out to the airport. There is the dedicated CAT train that leaves from Wien Mitte station and takes you directly to the airport in 16 minutes but the S-bahn is much cheaper and really not much longer or more hassle.

For my final day in Vienna I spent a grand total of €31.10. On top of my 24 hour tram pass and my dinner, I also spent €0.69 on a banana and a croissant for breakfast and €3.60 on a latte.

Karlskirche

I was really happy with everything I got to do in Vienna but there’s always things left over. One of the big sights that I didn’t get to was Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of the Hapsburg family. It’s a little further out of the city centre and doesn’t really have anything else that I wanted to see around it so I couldn’t make it fit into my plans. From what I’ve seen, it reminds me a little of Schloss Nymphenburg in Munich. The palace(s) are one thing but then there’s also a massive garden where you could waste away a day. Another place still on my list is the Schmetterlinghaus (the Butterfly House). Multiple people recommended this to me when I was asking for things to do in Vienna. In the end I just didn’t have time but I loved Vienna so much that I already know I’ll be back. Finally, something Ciara was really keen to see but that I had never heard of was the Hundertwasserhaus. It was built by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and is a stunning mosaic of colours and shapes. Because I found out about it last minute and Ciara and I had already packed a lot into our day together, it’s just another thing I’ll have to see next time.

Vienna saw the end of my two weeks of travelling. When I left I headed to Dublin for a couple of days for my uncle’s delayed 50th (thanks covid!) and got to catch up with his family who I hadn’t seen in three years. I also got to see my mum and one of my sisters which was nice. In general I loved my two weeks on the road. Seeing new places and meeting new people energises me in a special way and collecting new experiences is always special. It’s tiring as well though! It was nice being amongst family for a few days because there’s an ease to the interactions there but at this point I was also looking forward to getting to Tenerife and staying there for a bit longer. I was pleased with my choices of where I visited and a lot of people I met were doing similar routes, sometimes in the opposite direction and often for longer. For many of them the next stop after Vienna was Budapest as it’s only a couple of hours on the train. Budapest is somewhere that’s always been on my radar and I do wish that I had thought about adding it when I was planning. I had five days in each place which was good because I had plenty of time to get to know each place but if I had shortened my stay by one day in each city, I definitely could have added in Budapest.

Naschmarkt

For now, there is one more bonus travel blog to come and then we are on to Tenerife, baby!

A final breakdown of my spending –
Transport (incorrect Munich to Vienna ticket and Innsbruck to Salzburg ticket) – €53.65
Accommodation (5 nights in a 6 bed mixed dorm room) – €141.28
Average daily spending – €31.91

Check out the bonus travel blog up next for a look at my overall spending for two weeks travelling in Central Europe!

Innsbruck

Next stop on my trip was Innsbruck, Austria. Less than two hours away from Munich, Innsbruck is in the mountainous Tyrol region of Austria, nestled between the Alps. It is a well known destination for winter sports (you can read a little more about one in particular later on). This trip was actually planned around coming to Innsbruck which might surprise some people. The reason I wanted to visit was because I had some friends, Emily and Ciara, that were doing part of their Erasmus year there. I met them while they were in Mulhouse last semester to study French and this semester they have been in Innsbruck to study German. I knew I wanted to go to Innsbruck from the beginning and Munich was a nice stopover after leaving Mulhouse plus I figured that while I was in Austria I might as well visit the capital, Vienna!

I’m going to take you day by day through what I did in Innsbruck, like I did in Munich, although this is less of an itinerary. Innsbruck is obviously a perfect place to do some hiking or outdoor activities but after a little accident (I won’t keep you in suspense for too long, the story is coming next), I wasn’t able to do much of these. My main priority while in Innsbruck was also more to catch up with my friends than to see the city. However, I will still include my costs so you can continue to see my spending over the trip. If you are too impatient, you can also check out the blog on Instagram, @sara_somewhere_, where I’ve already posted a reel summarising my spending over the two week trip!

Thursday 5 May

As I said in the Munich blog, I got into Innsbruck at around half 5. What I didn’t mention is that the first thing I did after arriving was throw myself down the stairs in the train station. I somehow missed a step, lost my footing and just went down like a ton of bricks. My ankle got twisted pretty badly under me and so we had to take a few minutes before I could move. Everyone passing, people travelling or working in the station, were very nice and tried to help but all I really needed was a minute to gather myself. Thankfully, once I was back on my feet, I could still put weight on my ankle and therefore walk. Moving it or rotating it, however, was something different.

Our first stop was my hostel which was a little far from the centre of Innsbruck, about 20 minutes on the tram. It was a Hostelling International hostel so it was a bit more business-like and clean cut than the Wombat’s hostel that I had just come from. Saying that, the room was very nice. I was in a four bed dorm, much more compact than my room in Wombat’s but with enough space. It also was never full during my five nights stay and I even had one night by myself, an absolute luxury! We didn’t stay long, just long enough for me to make my bed and freshen up, and then we headed back into town. Even though the hostel was quite far from the centre of the city, any guests staying more than two nights are given a free public transport card so you can hop on and off the tram and buses as you please! Also included in this Welcome Card are various discounts for mountain cable cars and lots of activities with more becoming available the longer you stay. I didn’t use any of them as a lot of the activities required two working ankles but it would be a great thing if you were looking to get some adventures in during your stay!

Back in town we headed to what is probably the central plaza of Innsbruck, Maria-Theresien Strasse, where we were immediately tempted by an ice cream shop. Ice cream for dinner is not just acceptable but encouraged while on holiday. Shoutout to that ice cream shop which saw me three times in the five days I was there. Fully recommend the passion fruit flavour, fig and walnut and the mango sorbet. Our main destination was a cool bar called Tribe Haus where we wanted to get some food. Unfortunately it was packed so we just had a drink. Since arriving in France I have discovered and become obsessed with a Hugo (not a French boy but a popular apéro drink with the same vibe as an aperol spritz). There’s something about the combo of prosecco, elderflower syrup, lime and mint that is one of the most refreshing things you can drink. It was nice to catch up with Ciara and Emily and find out what they’ve been up to in Innsbruck and how much they miss us in Mulhouse!

It was a nice welcome evening (sprained ankle aside). My foot was feeling alright but a little tender and had definitely swollen a lot by the time I went to bed. This being a travel day, I included the costs at the end of the Munich blog so you can find them there if you haven’t read it already.

Friday 6 May

First priority today was to follow my doctor dad’s recommendation and find a brace to support my ankle. Thankfully I had my German translator with me (dankeschön Ciara) because ich spreche kein Deutsch (I’ll let you guess what that means). After trying a couple of places we finally found one and it gave me immediate relief. I said that my ankle wasn’t necessarily sore unless I rotated it but there was this uncomfortable pressure. I couldn’t actually fit my foot in my trainer in the morning so I was wearing this ankle brace with my Birkenstock sandals. Is that better or worse than socks and sandals? As this was an extraordinary expense I didn’t include it in my budget but we celebrated our success with a coffee and an ice cream (€7 in total plus another €2 for a cheeky supermarket sandwich).

Maria-Theresien Strasse

Emily joined us at this point and we headed out to our main attraction of the day, Bergisel. This is a ski jump overlooking the city that was used for the Winter Olympics in 1964 and 1976. We got the bus over, free thanks to my transport card from the hostel, and then had a short but steep walk up to a viewpoint where you can get a panoramic view over the city. Here you can also find the Tirol Panorama, a museum on the history of the Tyrol region, and the Kaiserjäger Museum, a museum on the Tyrolean Imperial Infantry. Another short but steep walk takes you to the bottom of the ski jump where a student ticket cost me €8 (€9.50 for an adult ticket).

You enter the grounds next to the stands that can hold 26,000 people and get an impressive and rather intimidating view up to the top of the jump. It is 455 steps up to the top of the jump but thankfully there is also a lift in case you are also down one ankle. The lift takes you to the top of the hill but you still aren’t at the top. Another lift takes you up to the top of the building where you get the most incredible view of the valley that Innsbruck sits in. One floor down is a restaurant and also the starting point for the skiers. You can go and stand at the top of the ramp, look down and question whether or not you would have it in you to jump. The ramp is 98 metres long and the landing slope is 37º steep in some places. The official record set here was a jump of 138m from Michael Hayböck.

After taking in the viewing and deciding that none of us had the guts to make that kind of jump, we decided to have a wee drink in the restaurant. I was again tempted by a Hugo that cost me €6. I headed back to my hostel to have some chill time before heading out again in the evening to have some drinks and meet some of Emily and Ciara’s other Erasmus friends. We went to an Irish bar because it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there’s always an Irish bar called Limerick Bill’s and it always has good vibes. A couple of pints here cost me €15. One of the people I met was from Harrogate in the north of England and actually knew or knew of two of my university flatmates who are also from there! Small world eh?

I really enjoyed today because visiting the ski jump felt like a really random thing to do but was actually really cool and interesting. Because it sits atop such a high hill you can see it from many points in the city, including the tram back to my hostel, and it lights up at night so it’s very visible. In total I spent €38 today, the drinks and the paid activity really destroying my budget for the day. This might be the point where I saw my costs start to go up a bit more so I started aiming more for €30 a day if €20 didn’t feel possible.

Saturday 7 May

I wasn’t feeling great when I woke up this morning but thankfully not because of my ankle which was actually feeling better. I also realised this morning that my hostel came with a free continental breakfast! Emily and Ciara both had some work to do and because I wasn’t feeling great, I was quite happy to accompany them to a cafe and just do some work. It was a very chill day that I spent blogging, once I started to feel a bit better. Overall, not much to report from this day. I spent €6 on a sandwich and then €4.50 on a milkshake later in the afternoon, plus €12.90 on some groceries for my dinner and the next day for a total of €23.50, just slightly over budget.

Sunday 8 May

I was woken up nice and early this morning, in true hostel style, by the group in the other rooms on my floor who I suspect were some kind of teenage sports team with no concept of sharing the space with others. I was meeting Ciara for brunch later in the morning but I was awake so early that I still took advantage of the free breakfast.

We met around midday at a spot that Ciara had been wanting to try called the Breakfast Club. It must be some kind of law that every country must have somewhere with this name. I had an omelette with onion, cheese and bacon (€12.80) and Ciara had toast with this delicious looking almond and spinach spread. Both came with a wee glass of elderflower juice which is very common in this area. The weather was glorious after a few more cloudy days so after breakfast we decided to take a stroll. We walked by Triumphforte, a gate built to honour the marriage of Archduke Leopold to the Spanish princess Maria Luisa. Unfortunately, while the arch was being constructed Leopold’s father died unexpectedly so the south side commemorates the wedding and the north side is dedicated to the memory of his father. We also passed by what is considered the symbol of Innsbruck, the Golden Roof (Goldenes Dachl). It was built by Emperor Maximilian I to celebrate his wedding to Blanca Maria Sforza in 1500.

Triumphforte
The Golden Roof

It was such a nice day that it would have been rude not to get an ice cream (€3.40) before we visited one of the museums in the city. The Taxi Palais Kunsthalle Tirol is a contemporary art museum that shows up to four exhibitions per year. The exhibition when I was there was called GODDESSES and it included various works by four different artists that were installed gradually with performances by Ursula Beiler in between. The first section had paintings by Elizabeth von Samsonow, very abstract and using bright, almost neon, colours which I liked a lot. The second section by Tejal Shah had three or four short films or videos playing on a loop. My favourite part of this section was a poem that was spelled out letter by letter in Morse code. There was a film room showing a film by Karrabing Film Collective, an indigenous Australian grassroots collective, called Mermaids, or Aiden in Wonderland. Karrabing ‘refers to a form of collectivity outside of government-imposed structures of clanship or land ownership’. We came in halfway through so it was a bit confusing to start with but made more sense once we had watched it in its entirety. I say it made more sense but I still didn’t fully understand it, not that that was a bad thing because it meant that I was still thinking about it for a few days after seeing it. The final section of the exhibition was a room downstairs with large square pillows made from beautifully patterned material arranged within a circle of speakers playing choral music in Igbo. The installation, by Emeka Ogboh, was called Ámà (meaning village square in Igbo, the language of the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria) and is supposed to evoke that sense of gathering and community that a village square represents. It was a very tranquil and relaxing experience, lying down on the pillows and listening to the music. It was only €4 for a student ticket and because of the nature of the exhibit, that it was installed over time (though it was complete when we saw it), you could use the same ticket four times which is great value for money.

Austria is the same as France and Germany in that most things are closed on a Sunday, things like shops and supermarkets at least, so after leaving the museum we sought out the only supermarket that was still open. I spent €8 on a salad for dinner as well as a highly coveted can of Heinz tomato soup! It’s one of the things I sometimes missed in Mulhouse but couldn’t find anywhere so when I saw it in M. Preiss I knew I had to get it. After a lovely day, I headed back to my hostel for the last time to relax a bit before leaving the next morning. My total for the day was €28.20 so just under my new, adjusted budget of €30 a day.

There were definitely plenty of other things that I wanted to do in Innsbruck that I didn’t get the chance to. It would have been nice to get out into the mountains a bit, either using one of the many cable cars in the area or as a hike. Unfortunately my ankle stopped me from even considering that. It’s also a great place for winter sports, as evidenced by the Bergisel ski jump, so skiing here would be really cool. However, my intention was always to spend these few days catching up with my friends and I feel satisfied with the time I spent with them and the things we did together.

As for my final thoughts on Innsbruck, this was a great opportunity to visit a city that it’s unlikely I would have visited otherwise. For me, my highlight was the stunning scenery. Whether it was the sweeping vistas from the top of the Bergisel or the many vivid colours of the buildings, especially along the river, I had my breath taken away multiple times. It was also nice to see Emily and Ciara in their new environment, after seeing them on Erasmus in Mulhouse.

Last but not least, a breakdown of my costs –
Transport (train from Munich to Innsbruck) – €19.50
Accommodation (5 nights in a 4 bed female dorm) – €140
Average daily spending – €29.90