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!

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!

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

Munich

Welcome to the first of three travelling posts! After leaving Mulhouse at the end of April I had a family event in Dublin in the middle of May so I was looking for something to do in between. I had friends that were studying in Mulhouse last semester during their Erasmus year and who had moved to Innsbruck in the second semester and I thought that this would be as good an opportunity as any to visit them. I was looking for somewhere to go on the way there and Munich, while not on the way, was in the right area. I’ve wanted to go to Munich for a long time so I figured it was a perfect addition to my itinerary. While I was in Austria to go to Innsbruck, I also fancied going to its capital, Vienna. Innsbruck and Vienna are on almost opposite sides of the country but only four hours or so by train. And that was how I decided on my two week itinerary.

I’m going to take you day by day through my itinerary for each city because while some of the things I did were very specific to my own interests (you’ll see what I mean), I think in general I found a good balance of seeing some of the main sights and discovering some nice hidden spots. There’s also always more places that you wish you had time to go to or to see, no matter how long you spend anywhere so I’ll let you know what those are for each place as well.

Something else I’m going to include is a breakdown of what the trip cost me. I think there’s this impression, or at least I had the impression, that this kind of backpacking in Europe is really expensive and more unattainable than somewhere like Central or South America or Southeast Asia. Some things are expensive, like hostels and transport, but on the day to day it’s possible to keep costs down. I started out wanting to keep to a €20 a day budget and by the end of the two weeks I had increased it to €30 a day (not including accommodation or transport). €20 was fine for days when I wasn’t doing any activities that I had to pay for or when I was cooking my own food for all my meals but it didn’t have a lot of wiggle room. Sometimes I wanted to eat lunch or dinner out, especially if I was away from the hostel for the whole day, and if I wanted to do something that I had to pay for, it was impossible. I wasn’t rigorous with the budget, there were days when I went over even €30 but it was a good limit to aim for.

So without further ado, let go!

Saturday 30 April

This was my first travel day. I wasn’t leaving until 1pm so the morning was spent packing up the remnants of my stuff in my flat. Thankfully I’m able to come back in September so I can keep my things there but I’m changing rooms so I still needed to put everything into boxes.

I got to the train station in Mulhouse with plenty of time to spare and loaded up on train snacks (€7.10 for a baguette sandwich, some crisps and a bottle of fizzy juice). My travel involved taking a train to Basel where I changed onto a service heading to Berlin (a whopping 8 hours long!) although I was getting off at Karlsruhe, only 1 hour 45 minutes later. I was only supposed to have 7 minutes in Karlsruhe to change to the train that would take me to Munich but 7 minutes would have been too easy. Instead the train was a little late so it was only 3 minutes to transfer. The conductor was very encouraging when he told us over the speaker that we should have enough time to make it if we hurried! You could tell who was trying to make the same connection because we were all pressed up against the door, raring to go and raced out as soon as the train pulled to a stop. Thankfully we just had to go down some stairs and across a few platforms and I think everyone made it. They might have even delayed the Munich train for a few minutes to make sure everyone could get on. Overall this little adventure from Mulhouse to Munich cost me €28.25 (all my train tickets were bought using my carte avantage jeune, a young person’s discount card).

It turned out that my hostel, Wombat’s City Hostel Munich Hauptbahnhof, was right by the train station (the name should have given it away, bahnhof is German for train station). I stopped in at a supermarket on the way as the following day was Sunday and like in France, not much in Germany is open. I spent €5.10 on some bananas, pasta and pesto, the traveller’s staples!

I immediately liked the hostel when I walked in. It has this great common area with a big high ceiling made out of windows that makes you feel like you’re in a building in a botanic garden. Food was high on my agenda and the first person I met while I was cooking in the shared kitchen was a Chinese girl who studied in Dalian of all places! We were there at different times and studying at different universities but what a coincidence!

After all the travel and commotion of the day, I was very tired so I didn’t actually go out anywhere on the first evening. I chilled in the common area for a while and then went to bed. My spending for the day came in way under budget at €12.20.

Sunday 1 May

For my first full day in Munich I didn’t have anything in particular planned. I have to admit that I was a little underprepared for this trip. Other than asking people for recommendations for the cities I was visiting and putting all the answers onto a Google Map, I hadn’t done much research. In a way this was nice though because I was able to look around the city, read the information boards in the hostel and talk to people who had already been there for a few days to get inspiration. I definitely got some good recommendations that way, both for what to do and what not to do! The weather was also a little limiting while I was in Munich because while it didn’t rain that much other than two evenings, the weather forecast kept threatening that it was going to.

I figured a good starting point would be the main square in Munich, Marienplatz. This is where you will find the Neues Rathaus, the new town hall. The building includes the famous glockenspiel, a clock that reenacts two very important events in the history of Munich. The first is the wedding of Duke Wilhelm V and Renata of Lorraine, commemorated by a jousting competition, and the second is the Schäffler dancers who danced in the streets once the plague was gone from the city. It can be seen every day at 11am and 12pm and also 5pm between March and October. However, today the main attraction was very different. Seeing as it was 1st May, Germany was celebrating May Day or Labour Day. There was a big stage set up with performers and the square was packed with people waving banners and handing out flyers for unions and other organisations. Someone even tried to recruit me until I sputtered out my go to line in German – ‘Ich spreche kein Deutsch!’ (I don’t speak German!).

Marienplatz on May Day

From Marienplatz I headed deeper into the old town, with the vague destination of the English Garden in mind. It’s basically just a massive park but seeing as this was potentially going to be my only day of dry weather I wanted to go and wander around while I could. On the way I passed by the Munich residence which was the official residence of the Bavarian royal family for more than 400 years until 1918 and is the biggest city palace in Germany. I didn’t go in but I walked through the garden and later learned that the building now houses multiple museums so if that’s your thing it’s a good spot!

Just beyond the residence was the bottom of the English Garden. Here is where you will find one of my favourite spots in Munich and a bit of a legendary sight. The Schwabinger river runs into the garden and at the most southern point in the park you can find the Eisbach wave. The rock formations at this point in the river create a wave that is perfect for surfing! It’s only for pretty advanced surfers but even if you can’t partake, it’s fascinating to stand on the bridge overlooking the wave or the banks of the river to watch those that can. It’s such a curiosity and I loved whiling away some time watching the surfers there.

The Eisbach Wave

After being entranced by the surfers, I walked into the actual garden and wandered around for a while, coming across the Monopteros, a small Greek style temple. I was starting to get hungry so I found a biergarten, appropriately enough the Chinesischer Turm Biergarten (Chinese Tower Beergarden) which has a pagoda in the middle. I spent €9 on some currywurst (sausage with a sweet tomato and curry sauce poured over it) and kartoffelsalat (potato salad, pretty much the only reason I got this instead of chips was because when the guy asked me what I wanted, I recognised the words and was very chuffed with putting my Duolingo level German to use!). I was tempted by a beer but the only option was a 1L stein that would have cost the same as my food!

After a busy morning full of walking I was a little tired so headed towards one of the recommendations I’d been given, a coffee shop in the university district to the west of the garden. It was called Lost Weekend and was exactly my vibe! It was filled with young people with their laptops and books out, was part bookshop and has events like open mic nights and poetry readings in the evenings! I got a coffee and read my book there for a while, happy to take a break from being a tourist and blend in for an hour or two.

I dandered back towards the hostel past some of the museums that I was considering visiting later in the week and then stumbled across a square with a Greek style gate called the Propyläen and also the Sculpture Gallery and the State Collection of Antiques which were both in interesting buildings. Back at the hostel I was wiped out so I just made some more pesto pasta, got a beer from the hostel bar (€2.80 for a pint!) and got chatting to an Australian woman about her extensive travels.

My first full day in Munich came out to €14.30 after walking everywhere, just taking in the sights of the city plus eating breakfast and dinner in the hostel. Off to a good start!

Monday 2 May 

My plan for day 2 stemmed from the conversation I had with Lisa, the Australian woman, the night before. She recommended going to see Schloss Nymphenburg. It’s a palace a little further out from the centre of the city but is easily accessible by tram. It was €3.50 for a one way ticket, a little expensive in my opinion, and I was very confused about where to buy it until I realised that the ticket machines are actually on the trams. From where I was staying near the main train station it was about 15 minutes to the tram stop named Schloss Nymphenburg and then the palace is right there. I decided to skip the pais entry to the building, at a certain point once you’ve seen one fancy building you’ve seen them all, and instead spent a few hours wandering around the extensive gardens. There were some nice buildings and statues hidden away amongst the trees and I paused by a lake to read my book as well.

I went back to the hostel for lunch and went back out in the evening to explore Frühlingsfest. One of the things Munich is most famous for is obviously Oktoberfest, a beer festival held every year from mid-September until the first Sunday in October. Frühlingsfest is the much smaller version held in April and May (Frühling means spring in German). In comparison to Oktoberfest’s 14 large beer tents, Frühlingsfest has just 2. Due to the pandemic, Oktoberfest hasn’t happened for the last two years so this Frühlingsfest is the first similar event to take place since Oktoberfest 2019. I haven’t been to Oktoberfest but to me Frühlingsfest felt a little more like a funfair with a few extra beer tents than the mass drinking event that is Oktoberfest. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, it’s a more low key and still very enjoyable atmosphere. I wandered through the rides and the various food stalls until I was tempted by one of them. A Bratwurst sausage in a bread roll and a waffle covered in icing sugar cost me €7.

Inside one of the beer tents at Frühlingsfest

Along with my two tram tickets and food at Frühlingsfest, I also picked up some more groceries, things like cashew nuts, Pringles and some granola bars so my overall spending was slightly over my allotted goal at €23.16.

Tuesday 3 May

I had a slow start to my third full day in Munich because I was waiting around for a phone call that amounted to a job interview for some extra teaching once I get back to Mulhouse in September. I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know it went well! I made it out just in time to get to Marienplatz to catch the 12pm showing of the glockenspiel which I had missed the first day I was there. I went to the neighbouring Viktualienmarkt, a food market, to get some lunch. I had been recommended a stall called Schelmmemeyers and been told to get the rostbratwurst, another form of sausage in a bread bun. I had a proud language moment when the guy asked me if I wanted mustard (senf) and I understood and was able to say yes! I also got a potato rosti purely because it was called an Elsässer rosti and Elsässer is how you say Alsace in German! It was €6 for the two.

My main activity of the day was very specific to my interests. I had been reading the information board in my hostel and came across an ‘off the beaten path’ recommendation from one of the staff members. There is a public swimming pool in a beautiful old baroque building that I thought would be fun to visit called Müller’sches Volksbad. It was a little out of the centre again in a direction I hadn’t explored but not too far by foot so I walked over and got to see a new neighbourhood on my way. It was only early afternoon when I arrived in the area so I found a cafe nearby and got an iced latte for €4.30. Café Blá itself was a great find!

Café Blá

The pool was actually just down the road so I found it easily enough but it took me a couple of tries to find the door because despite the building being very grand and impressive, it’s actually rather inconspicuous. I wasn’t totally convinced from the outside that it was currently in use. It must be a ploy to keep it a well kept secret because inside was stunning. It cost €3.50 for a student ticket which was 100% worth it because when I got through to the actual pool there were barely five other people in there! I don’t know enough about architecture to do a description of the inside any justice but I’ll just say that I’ve never enjoyed backstroke so much! There was so much to look at on the ceiling, even in the changing rooms. There are two pools that used to be separated for men and women but now the only difference is in temperature, with the former women’s pool being a few degrees warmer. Overall, this was actually one of my favourite things I did in Munich!

My evening was spent back at the hostel again with some sandwiches for dinner so adding in a few extra pieces I picked up at the supermarket my total for the day was a respectable €21.76.

Wednesday 4 May 

Several days of well over 10,000 steps a day were catching up to me a bit at this point so I had a more chilled day planned. I wanted to go to a museum or gallery today and one that had caught my eye, again on the hostel information board, was the Museum of Urban and Contemporary Art. I got talking to a guy while I was eating breakfast and he was looking for something to do that day as well so asked if he could come with me. The more the merrier!

The museum itself was really cool. You couldn’t take pictures which was at the same time a shame because there were a lot of pieces that I really liked but also a really nice idea because it lets you just enjoy the art that is in front of you. There were a lot of pieces from Banksy, including one from his Dismaland installation and one entitled ‘Are You Using That Chair?’, based on Edward Hopper’s famous late night bar scene ‘Nighthawks’. My favourites were by an artist called Vhils, sheets of iron that had designs burned on to them with acid. The skills it must take to get the level of detail that there was is incredible. There was also a whole room devoted to Richard Hambleton’s shadowan, an eery silhouette that haunted the streets of Manhattan in the 80s. To top it all off, entrance was only €5!

As we were leaving, the rain that had been promised all week finally arrived. It had rained a bit the previous evening but I was already tucked up in the hostel by that time but I was fully caught in it this time. Luckily I had the foresight to bring an umbrella with me to help me scurry back to the hostel. I ventured out again in the late afternoon once it had stopped raining. The sky still looked pretty menacing though and I did in fact get caught in an even bigger shower, nay thunderstorm. I was in the process of deciding what I wanted to eat for dinner and in the end I was forced into Five Guys as much for shelter as for sustenance.

When I eventually made it back, slightly damp, to Wombat’s I ran into one of my dormmates. When I first arrived I had been sharing my mixed six bed dorm with a group of five Irish guys who were there together and liked to snore and come in loudly at 5am. Safe to say nothing was particularly pushing me to make friends with them but after they left there was a much nicer group of individual travellers that came in. I spent what was my final evening having a drink with some of my dormmates, Mohammed from Afghanistan, Gael from Israel and Nic from the French speaking part of Canada, and playing a board game. It was really nice to hang out with them because while I had gotten chatting to a few people over the course of my stay it was mostly on a one to one basis. I struggled a bit during the first few days with feeling like I was out of practice with the social aspect of travelling. I think everyone’s social skills have suffered a bit since the start of the pandemic as we just haven’t had the opportunities to be amongst people we don’t know and to make new friends and I felt this at first. It was good to shake that feeling off and it turned out that Nic was even going to be in Vienna at the same time as me!

For my last full day in Munich I spent €21.45 on my admission to MUCA and my Five Guys dinner so still more or less on track!

Thursday 5 May 

I was leaving to head to Innsbruck but not until mid-afternoon so I still got the morning in Munich. In a slightly backwards turn of events I was spending my last morning doing a free walking tour. Ideally I would have done it on the first day but the company that I wanted to go with, Sandeman’s New Europe, only had tours later on in the week. It would have been a perfect way to get to know the city centre a little but even though I had already seen a lot of the places we went to, I got to learn more about these places. The main spot that I hadn’t seen until then was the Hofbrauhaus, one of the most famous breweries in Munich. While the walking tour was technically free, donations are suggested at the end. You can pay what you want, depending on how much you enjoyed it and I thought it was great so I gave €10.

Before getting my train I went back to Viktualienmarkt to get some lunch. I wanted to try schnitzel while I was in Germany, which is pounded, breaded and then fried cutlet, usually of pork. It’s very popular and very common but I was a little disappointed. It was like a dry chicken nugget because it’s so much thinner. A portion of schnitzel with chips cost €7. It was a pretty heavy meal but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as it would keep me going during my journey to Innsbruck!

I arrived into Innsbruck at around half 5 and was met by my friends. We got the tram out to my hostel (€1.70) and then went out for some drinks (€8). All things together, I spent €28.10 so starting to creep a little higher. For more details on my arrival to Innsbruck and Austria, you’ll just have to wait for the next post!

Theatine Church

I said I would let you know what I didn’t do that I wish I had and that was Schloss Neuschwanstein. This is an iconic castle in the Bavarian hills, if you don’t know the castle I’m talking about have a quick Google search and you’ll recognise it. I really wanted to go but like I mentioned the weather forecast kept threatening rain in the afternoons which either didn’t happen or only in the evening. The castle is about 2 hours away from Munich which is fine if you know it’s going to be worth it. What I didn’t want to happen was that I went all that way and spent the day in the rain without getting any good views of or from the castle. I kind of wish I had just gone but I did my best with the information I have and I guess it just means that I have to go back!

Some final thoughts on Munich – I liked the city a lot although maybe my impression of it was slightly dampened by the weather (boom boom). My favourite thing I did was actually going to the old swimming pool which is maybe a lesson in choosing wisely – sometimes the most popular things aren’t for you but you can surely find something that is. Overall I think I could have done with one day less or even just to have left earlier in the last day. I felt like I had more than had my fill of Munich by the end. Saying that, I would still like to go back, maybe to experience Oktoberfest or even just to finally make it to Schloss Neuschwanstein.

A final break down of my spending –
Transport (train from Mulhouse to Munich) – €28.25
Accommodation (5 nights in a 6 bed mixed dorm room) – €142.65
Average daily spending – €20.16

Up next – Innsbruck, Austria!

Skiing in Switzerland

Before we get into the all important blog content, you may or may not have seen that Sara Somewhere now has it’s own Instagram account! If you have Instagram and would like to follow along there, you can find it at @sara_somewhere_. See you there!

To follow on from my dad and sister’s visit to Mulhouse, we had decided to make our way to Switzerland for a few days skiing. Now, Switzerland in general is known for being expensive, as is skiing as an activity or a holiday so surely skiing in Switzerland was going to be really expensive? I won’t lie, there are definitely cheaper places but the reason that we decided on Switzerland and not somewhere in France or even Germany is because of the accessibility by train. We only had Wednesday to Sunday and didn’t have access to a car so the place we settled on, Grindelwald, was perfect.

As I mentioned at the end of the last blog, my dad and Kirsty left earlier in the day than me to head to Switzerland as I was working until 1pm. I took my wee suitcase with me to work and left directly from there to go to the train station. The first leg of my journey was just to get to Basel, only 20 minutes and a route I know well at this point. I had a solid 20 minutes to change trains, plenty of time to navigate the station – I should have enjoyed it while it lasted… From Basel, I was on the train for an hour and a half to Spiez, a town on the shore of Lake Thun. In Spiez, I only had three minutes to make my connection. THREE MINUTES!!! I panicked when I first noticed that on my ticket, to the point that I googled what platform I was getting into and what platform I was leaving from. Thankfully I got into 2 and left from 3 so all that was needed was a quick hop across the platform. I went another 20 minutes further along Lake Thun to Interlaken, nestled between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz, where there was no need for more panicking because I had 10 minutes to change trains. I was finally on my last train of the day, the one that would wind its way up through the mountains until it reached Grindelwald.

My favourite view from the train ride, looking at Lake Thun

It sounds silly to say this but the landscape in Switzerland is just so… Swiss. It’s exactly what you would think it is, going from the rolling green hills to suddenly great sheets of mountain slicing their way up from the earth to the wooden houses littering the fields. The journey from Basel to Spiez was nice, with my first glimpse of mountains as we pulled into and out again from Bern. From there until Spiez was incredible though. All of a sudden these mountains popped up on one side, sliced through with deep ridges and dusted with snow, and on the other side was Lake Thun. It had this deep turquoise water, darker than the bright turquoise that you might find in the Caribbean. I actually found the area around Spiez much nicer than approaching or around Interlaken. Once we left Interlaken and started heading into the mountains towards Grindelwald, the view out of the train window started to remind me of walking through the edge of Moosch, a small village outside Mulhouse where I’ve gone hiking before. The houses started to get more and more scattered and the mountains more prevalent. We were travelling down a valley, green on either side but heading towards a wall of white. 

I was met at the station by my dad and Kirsty, both waving frantically to make sure that I got off at the right station, Grindelwald Terminal rather than Grindelwald. I didn’t know there was another option! Our apartment was just over the road out of the station, couldn’t have gotten closer if we tried, but we went down to the ski rental shop before going over. The station is part of a big complex that has some shops, ski lockers and very usefully, also the two main lifts to get up to the ski slopes.

The view from outside our apartment, looking towards the Eiger

Along with Lauterbrunnen, Grindelwald is part of the Jungfrau region, sitting in the Bernese Oberland mountains 1034 m above sea level. It is surrounded by mountains, most notably Mönch, Jungfrau and Eiger. The Eiger is the smallest but most well known of the three mountains because of its intimidating north face. The north face is 1,800m high, making it the biggest north face in the Alps and one of the most challenging, and therefore tempting, ascents for climbers. It was first climbed in 1938 but since 1935 at least 64 climbers have died during their attempts. This has earned it the nickname mordwand meaning murder wall in German, a clever play on it’s actual German name, nordwand (north wall). The Jungfraubahn is the railway that climbs from Kleine Scheidegg, one of the main passes and ski stations in the valley, up to the Jungfraujoch, the saddle between Mönch and Jungfrau. It includes a tunnel that goes through the Eiger. It is the highest railway in Switzerland and Europe with the station at the top being the highest in the continent as well.

Grindelwald has three main areas for skiing, Kleine Scheidegg, Lauberhorn and Männlichen. As a ski resort, Grindelwald is great for beginners because it has blue slopes relatively high up, meaning the good snow isn’t kept just for those capable of doing black runs. After an 8 year break, it’s safe to say that that isn’t me anymore! It’s not just skiing though, there are also a number of tobogganing routes and winter hiking paths. Nothing sounds worse to me than winter hiking but we saw lots of people out enjoying them.

Männlichen was where we started on my first day of skiing since I was 16. It hadn’t been quite as long for my dad and Kirsty but still a good three or four years. Because we’d all had an extended break and because we only had a short amount of time to get back into it, we had decided to get things going with a private ski lesson. We took the bubble lift (Männlichenbahn) up from Grindelwald Terminal to Männlichen and I could barely contain my excitement on the way. We met our teacher, Mela, at the top. She was lovely and throughout the lesson was really encouraging. It was good to start things off with someone who could lead us down some runs and fix our technique. We went down a blue run that turns into a red following the Männlichenbahn down to the Holenstein mid station, the halfway point. It being the start of April we were approaching the end of the season so the snow in general was a little icy but not too bad to ski on. Earlier in the season, with better snow, it is possible to ski all the way down past Holenstein and right back to Grindelwald Grund.

Going up!

We basically just went up and down the same run three times over the course of the two and a half hour lesson. Mela gave us some exercises to practise certain things, like short turn, bending our knees and leaning forward for body position, holding our poles in front of our body and keeping something between them, practising hockey stops (basically emergency stops), 360˚ turns and skiing backwards. I was so surprised by just how quickly it all came back. On the first run, I was a little slow and cautious but by the end of the lesson, it was like I never left! I was always a fan of a bit of speed and I felt that coming back a bit too. What also came back however, on a slightly less fun note, were the muscle pains. Skiing takes a lot of physical effort and after just a few minutes my thighs were screaming and I had some cramp in my feet. For me, it wasn’t too bad and was just part of the normal process of adjusting to your ski boots. Anyone that has ever gone skiing knows that the best part about wearing ski boots is taking them off! Kirsty on the other hand was suffering too much from her boots so stopped in at the equipment shop that is at the top of the Männlichenbahn to get them changed.

At the end of our lesson we stopped in at a cafe at the top of the bubble to have a coffee and some chips. In a bid not to bankrupt ourselves with Swiss prices we had brought some homemade sandwiches with us for lunch but it was nice to get a little hot food and drink as well. We actually decided to head home after our snack because we were all knackered after skiing again for the first time in years. We spent the rest of the afternoon in various stages of passing out, with just a brief trip out to the closest supermarket for provisions.

After a great, if short, day 1, I was ready to get back out there and have a jam packed day 2. The weather had other ideas though. The wind was supposed to be a little heavier today plus there was a chance of rain and was just generally warmer than yesterday. We headed into the station at Terminal to get our stuff from our ski locker and then had a look at the lift map. Because of the wind, the Männlichenbahn was shut and was going to be all day. But never fear, there was another option. The Eiger Express is a gondola that takes you up to the highest point you can ski, the Eigergletscher station.

The wind really picked up as we were going up in the gondola, to the point that we could hear it whistling through our bubble and could feel it swinging about. It really wasn’t pleasant so Kirsty and I distracted ourselves by singing In the Heights until our dad pointed out how inappropriate the song choice was! It was the longest 15 minutes of my life to get to the top but get there we did, only to find out that the Eiger Express was now closed due to high winds. We must have been one of the last groups to get on and got to feel the exact reason that it had been shut.

When we got to the top of the Eiger, there were a few options. You can change to a train heading for Jungfraujoch, via the actual Eiger (which we weren’t going to do because it takes 45 minutes to get up there and costs an extra 60 CHF per person). The next option is to just start skiing, either on a blue, red or black run or there is the train that goes down to another station, Kleine Scheidegg. We decided to take a minute to figure out what to do because none of us had been happy in the gondola and didn’t want to ski in wind like that. In the end we decided to get the train down to Kleine Scheidegg because the high winds meant that there was only one chairlift open. It’s all well and good to find a run to ski down but it’s no help if you can’t get back to the top again! 

A (half) view of the Eiger

Kleine Scheidegg is actually the same height as Männlichen and it is possible to use the runs and lifts to work your way over from one to the other, not that that was something we did or really wanted to do. We took the blue run down from there to the chairlift that was open but the blue was actually quite difficult! For anyone not familiar with difficulty levels for ski slopes, green is a learner slope, usually wide and flat. They aren’t very common in Austria and Switzerland, Grindelwald doesn’t have any. Blue is a beginner slope and red is intermediate. The reds can sometimes be challenging the whole way down or be relatively easy for most of it but have one more difficult section. Black slopes are expert slopes – much steeper and much more challenging! This particular blue run wasn’t steep at all but it was really narrow which none of us liked. There was a red run starting from the same place and ending at Arven as well so we gave that a go and it was much better despite a fairly steep section in the middle that was a bit mogully.

In general, the snow today was much wetter and heavier than the slightly icy snow we’d had the day before and this wasn’t helped by the fact that everyone else that wanted to ski today had also flocked to the area around Kleine Scheidegg and the only chairlift that was consistently running. The slope got worse with each run we did and Kirsty was really struggling with cramp in her feet and shin splints, made worse by the bad snow. We stopped for a little break at the restaurant in Kleine Scheidegg and got some little pizzas to share while we figured out where we stood. It was frustrating because we all wanted to ski more but the weather was really working against us. We got the train down from Kleine Scheidegg to Grindelwald Grund, another small station a short walk away from Terminal (15 minutes with ski boots on, 5 minutes without). It was really cool to wind our way down the mountain, at much closer proximity than in either the Männlichenbahn or the Eiger Express.

After a frustrating but ultimately out of our control day 2, day 3 was exactly what we were all hoping for! It had snowed during the night and still was when we left the house. Most of the lifts were open too which was encouraging to see after yesterday. We started by heading up the bubble to Männlichen but were met with a new issue – visibility was really low because the snow was still coming down. None of the runs had been pisted either so there was a thick layer of powder. We hung around until it cleared a little, although it was still not great. We took the run that we knew well from our lesson on day 1 but it was still really difficult to get down and very tiring. Powder is great when you know how to ski on it, which we all used to but not anymore. We didn’t even make it down to the midstation and we were already exhausted and not having fun. We got a chairlift back up to Männlichenbahn (side note, it had a cover that you could pull down to protect yourself from wind and snow. Great for staying warm, less good if you’re claustrophobic!) and went into the cafe again to regroup.

The same view as above at the end of day 3 with a fresh coating of snow!

The final decision was to get the bubble back down and brave the Eiger Express again. Thankfully the wind was a lot lighter than yesterday so we were able to get to the top without fearing for our lives. We got down to Kleine Scheidegg and went down the same red run as yesterday and it finally felt like things were clicking into place. The snow was still quite thick but manageable plus it was a slope we were familiar with. I even began to enjoy the steep section with moguls! The other two tried a path that skirts around that bit and were happy with that. We were bombing up and down there several times, happy as Larry with just a few pauses to go to the bathroom and for falls. It was absolutely the best part of the whole week for all of us. It was a shame that this only came on the last day but at least we got a good day in at the end after a rockier first two days.

The next day we headed home, back to Mulhouse for me and home to Dunblane for my dad and Kirsty. It was so so so so lovely having them here (can you tell I had a good time?). I enjoyed being back on the slopes and it’s made me want to try and go more regularly next year. You can ski in the Vosges, the mountain range in Alsace, so it’s right on my doorstep and ever since I went to Andorra in October, I’ve been tempted to go back for some skiing! My favourite bit of their visit though was just having them in Mulhouse and showing them my life there. Sharing my favourite spots, giving them a tour of my apartment, introducing them to the local cuisine, it made me feel even more at home there because of how comfortable I felt doing it. It’s a good thing I like it so much because there were more visits coming up straight away!

Andorra – A Hidden Gem

Andorra might seem like a rogue choice for the second half of my trip but it’s actually somewhere I’ve wanted to go for years. There something about it’s tiny size, it’s position entirely enveloped by France and Spain and the fact that it’s relatively unknown by many people. I myself didn’t know much about it at all but just the fact that it’s a bit off the beaten track drew me in. I knew I was leaving Lucy in Valencia on the Wednesday, the same day her parents were arriving, so I thought I might as well make use of my remaining time by going somewhere else – and why not Andorra? This was my chance to finally satisfy my curiosity about the little country. In doing some research before booking my trip, I read varying opinions from different travel blogs about whether Andorra was worth a visit but regardless, I knew it was something I had to do for myself.

A little background for those of you who, like myself, don’t have a lot of existing knowledge about Andorra. Andorra, or technically the Principality of Andorra, is a landlocked microstate located in the Pyrenees between France and Spain. It is the sixth smallest state in Europe with an area of just 468 square kilometres, making it about a third of the size of London, with a population of around 77,500. Catalan is the official language but French and Spanish are also widely spoken. Tourism accounts for the majority of Andorra’s GDP due to it’s tax-free shopping, ski resorts and hiking paths. Fun fact, in 2013 Andorra had the world’s highest life expectancy at 81 – must be all that mountain air!

Pont de Paris

From Valencia I took a bus to Andorra, via Barcelona, which took about 8 hours in total. It’s nothing I’m not used to but the buses were definitely more comfortable than the chicken buses in Honduras. There is no airport in Andorra nor any railways so the only way to enter is by road. The scenery along the journey was stunning, with the arid mountains on one side and the sea on the other on the way to Barcelona and then climbing higher and higher as we approached Andorra in the second leg of the journey. I arrived in to Andorra around 6pm. Andorra is in the Pyrenees so the last hour or so was coming through these amazing mountains that climbed up to the sky with the road sitting in the depths of the valley.

I arrived into the capital of Andorra La Vella, the highest capital in Europe. As most of Andorra is made up of mountains, the city is nestled in one of the country’s three valleys. I walked from the bus station up to my hostel which was technically in Escaldes-Engordany, another town that is basically attached to Andorra la Vella. It was about half an hour walk, slightly uphill all the way through the main shopping district. After a long day of travelling all I was really interested in that evening was going straight back out to find some food!

I had two full days and three nights in Andorra. I figured that between the two days I should have one in the city and one in the mountains. After looking at the weather, the next day, Thursday, looked like the better option for heading into the mountains. Considering that I didn’t have any proper hiking gear and that I would be going by myself, some of the more difficult or isolated hiking routes weren’t appropriate. I asked Rebecca who works at the hostel if she could recommend somewhere. She looked at the fact I was in jeans and sneakers and suggested taking the bus to a town called La Massana and walking from there to another town called Ordino.

It took me a while to find the right bus stop but eventually I was heading out of the city. La Massana isn’t very far from Andorra La Vella but feels quite different. I could really see the presence of the ski industry even though there was no snow yet. There were ski hire shops everywhere, ski schools, and even a chair lift heading into the mountains. It also feels more in the mountains than Andorra La Vella which sits in a valley surrounded by mountains by comparison. The timing of my trip, at the end of October meant that I had gorgeous views of the autumn leaves accompanied by soft sun and crisp air.

Leaving La Massana

I headed out of La Massana towards Ordino as instructed. The walk took about 40 minutes in total, heading uphill along a valley. The sun was shining and it really wasn’t cold at all, though Andorra was definitely cooler for me having come from Spain, mostly because of it’s altitude. By the time I reached Ordino I had taken my jacket and jumper off and was just walking around in a tshirt so still not that cold! All the way up I had views of gorgeous mountains with the most amazing autumn colours blazing across the forests. On my way I passed by a vineyard and also the Ruta del Ferro which charts iron production in the area.

Ordino was cute and even smaller than La Massana. I wanted to find somewhere to sit and have a drink and I came across a place that had such an amazing view that I had to stop. I sat for a drink and some lunch – a delicious crispy-based pizza topped with rocket, tomato, parmesan, beef carpaccio and a balsamic glaze. A big shoutout to what might have been my best meal of the holiday! The view itself was so gorgeous I almost felt a bit emotional! I really took my time there, enjoying the crisp air and the warm sunshine while eating my pizza and appreciating the view.

I got the bus back from Ordino and had a pit stop at my hostel for a wee rest before heading out for a walk around town. Safe to say my step count was off the charts this week! I set out towards the old part of Andorra la Vella that has most of the main things to see. The sun was starting to go down so it was a really nice light. First up, and probably most surprisingly, I walked past a sculpture by none other than Salvador Dali. The Nobility of Time (or ‘La Noblesse du Temps’) has been there since 2010. I remember studying Salvador Dali at school so it was pretty cool to see an authentic piece out in the wild.

Thank you to the couple that provided the only picture of me while in Andorra!

Public art installations are actually an important feature around Andorra, including another of Andorra’s must sees – the 7 Poets. The seven figures sit around 10m off the ground and represent the seven parishes of Andorra. It can be found below Andorra’s government building and lights up at night in a range of colours. Nearby is Casa de la Vall, an old manor house that was the parliamentary building until as recently as 2011. The square in front of Casa de la Vall gives an amazing view over Andorra la Vella, over to Escaldes and the surrounding mountains.

The 7 Poets
Casa de la Vall

After going for a walk in the mountains yesterday and also walking around the old town, I decided to take it pretty easy today. There wasn’t really much else I wanted to do and after almost a week of travelling and some pretty busy, activity-heavy days I was feeling a bit of the old travelling fatigue. I had toyed with the idea of going to Caldea, the famous spa, as it’s not actually super expensive but in the end I decided against it. I had a slow morning and then went out just to have a wee walk around and a coffee, mostly for something to do. I headed down to the central park and then looped back up to the main shopping street.

I spent most of the afternoon just chilling in the common room at my hostel, reading my book and chatting to people. One of the things I like most about staying in hostels is making friends with other travellers. It can be an intimidating thought when you’re by yourself and it definitely pushes me outside my comfort zone but sometimes that’s where the best experiences and connections happen. My hostel was full of Argentinians (and one Venezuelan) who had all recently arrived in Andorra for seasonal work. I got chatting to them on my first evening and got to know them more during the rest of my stay. It was nice chatting to them in Spanish, though the Argentinian accent is one I find difficult to understand. It was fine while I was directly involved in the conversation but it got a bit overwhelming once they all started talking to each other. After just a day though, I was able to follow their conversations a bit more as I got used to the accent. I ended up speaking way more Spanish while in Andorra than I actually did in Spain!

Now might be a good point to talk about some interesting things I noticed around Andorra. First of all, while I’ve already mentioned the fact that French and Spanish are both widely spoken, I only ever used Spanish. In my hostel, this was obviously because of all the Argentinians that were staying there but even when I was out in the streets, I heard much more Spanish than French. Whenever I was in a cafe or shop or spoke to a local I would naturally start in Spanish. I think Spanish’s proximity to Catalan, the actual official language of Andorra, might have something to do with it being more widespread, or at least seeming that way. Interestingly, the school system is also split into Andorran schools, Spanish schools and French schools, with the teachers in the latter two systems being funded by Spain and France respectively. The student population is pretty evenly split between the three, with slightly more in the Andorran system and slightly less in the Spanish system. Andorra also doesn’t have it’s own postal system. It relys on either the French La Poste or the Spanish El Correo.

I could definitely see the effect of the ski industry, even though there was no snow yet. Particularly in the smaller towns like La Massana I was reminded of the places in France I’ve skiied just without the snow, which I think is coming soon! The temperature was already getting cooler though I was lucky to still have good weather, at least for my first day. It was cool and clear and with blue skies and sunshine there was nowhere nicer to be. Saying that, on my second day I saw just how easy it is for the sky to fall in. It also took a long time for the sun to appear in the mornings and the opposite in the evening, the sun disappeared long before it actually got dark. I blame this on the steepness of the sides of the valley that Andorra La Vella and Escaldes-Engordany sit in.

Looking down the valley towards the Spanish side of Andorra

When it comes to the people of Andorra I have nothing but good things to say. Rebecca, who worked in my hostel, was lovely and very helpful whenever I, or anyone else, had questions. She made the hostel a warm and friendly place from the moment I arrived. Everyone I encountered, from servers in restaurants and cafes, the woman in the tourism office and the old lady at the bus stop who helped me find the bus I was looking for, to the woman I got chatting to before my bus out of the country, all were very open and willing to help or chat. I’ve already spoken about the other people in my hostel that I met and got to know, they had such an impact on my trip as well and are a big reason I’ll look back on Andorra with such fondness. It actually wasn’t just my hostel that was brimming with Argentinians but the whole city of Andorra la Vella. Just walking down the street I would see multiple people sipping on mate, a traditional tea-like drink from Argentina served in a gourd cup and drunk through a metal straw.

My journey back to Mulhouse started with a bus back to Barcelona on Saturday. I had the afternoon and evening there before flying out early on Sunday morning. I arrived about 2pm and walked to my hostel, stopping for some food on the way. It turned out the hostel I had booked was on the Passeig de Gracia, which I didn’t know by name but recognised when I got there. It’s one of the main roads that comes off the opposite side of Placa de Catalunya from Las Ramblas. It’s also just one block away from Casa Batlló, my favourite Gaudí house in all of Barcelona. My hostel was huge, quite a different atmosphere from the cosy, friendly vibe in Andorra. It had a fantastic roof terrace though, with views across Barcelona.

The view from the roof of my hostel
Casa Batlló

It was pretty late in the afternoon by the time I was ready to do anything, plus I was tired and Barcelona was uncomfortably humid so I decided to just go for a short walk. First up I headed to Palau de la Musica Catalana, quite possibly my mum’s favourite building in the entire world. I obviously had to phone her to rub it i- ahem, I mean let her enjoy it too… I looped round to the Barcelona cathedral (different from the Sagrada Familia) and headed back to the hostel to prepare for my 4am start.

After one of the worst night’s sleep of my life, I was on a plane and back in Mulhouse by 11am. It was a very easy journey home, if a little slow. As it was a Sunday, I had to wait longer than usual for the bus then the train then the tram back to my apartment. Even after an incredible week away, it’s safe to say I was happy to get home and into my own bed!

I really didn’t know what to expect when it came to Andorra but I was blown out of the water. I mostly came to satisfy an interest that I’ve had for years. I was prepared for it to be a bit underwhelming but at least then I would know. But that is absolutely not what happened at all. I loved my few days here. One thing I would say is that if you come any time other than the ski season, you probably don’t need very long. If you wanted to do a bit more hiking by all means come for a few extra days but my two days were perfect. I’m very tempted to come back in the future to experience Andorra in full swing during winter but I’m glad that I came when I did for my first time. The blazing autumn colours of the leaves were a sight to behold and were such a gorgeous contrast with the bright blue sky and dusty, far off mountains. I loved Andorra and think it’s perfect for a more unique long weekend away. A hidden hem indeed!

¡Vamos a Valencia!

Carrying on from my whistlestop trip to Paris, there’s no rest for the wicked as I left the next day for Spain! I had a week off from classes so had decided to go and visit my friend Lucy who is studying in Valencia for a semester at the moment. The plan was to stay for a few days and then head north to Andorra. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to visit and this seemed like as good a chance as any! You can hear more about that part of my trip in the next blog.

Thankfully my flight wasn’t until late afternoon so I was able to sleep in after my busy day in Paris. The travelling was all pretty easy, the flight is about two hours from Basel to Valencia and I only had a backpack with me. I breezed through everything on either side, so much so that I actually beat Lucy to the airport. It was so good to see her when she finally got there as we’ve been able to support each other going through some of the same things in the past few months with moving to a new European country around the same time.

We took the metro straight to somewhere in the old town to get some food. My first night in Spain called, of course, for some tapas. Lucy had heard good things about the place we headed to but in the end it was a bit disappointing. It didn’t have a lot of choices so we just had some olives, manchego cheese, olive oil crisps and a beer. We caught up on how France has been and how Valencia has been and then walked around a little bit to find somewhere else. We found a new place near the Mercado Central and got some patatras bravas and a wee cod fritter each. I also tried a version of Valencia’s signature drink, Agua de Valencia. Typically it is made with cava or champagne, orange juice, vodka and gin. The one I tried was a little different, I think it had a little bit of cranberry juice or something in it but either way it was very nice!

Lucy actually still had classes that week including an 8am the next day so we headed home after we finished eating. We walked through Plaza del Ayuntamiento which is the city’s main square with the council buildings, post office and art museum. The buildings are all beautiful and very Spanish looking. Our taxi got us just opposite the main train station and the bull ring which looks like a mini coliseum. Apparently they still run the bulls in Valencia even though a man died during a bull running festival in the Valencia area only days after I was there.

The next morning I headed off on my own, following some of Lucy’s recommendations while she was in class. Lucy had suggested that I head down to the City of Arts and Sciences (La Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciènces) which is a really cool area to wander around. It was about a 25 minute walk from her apartment in lovely warm, sunny weather. The main buildings there house a science museum, an IMAX theatre and a performance centre in some incredible architecture. There is also the Umbracle which is a strip of enclosed garden space that was full of cats! From there I went and sat in La Turia which is a park that fills the old river basin. After a flood in the 1950s the river was diverted out of the city and the space converted into a 12km park that runs from the City of Arts and Sciences in the east around the north of the city centre.

After lunch – a local favourite of tortilla española in a baguette – we headed towards the beach. This was one of the only things that I requested we do because I love the beach and the sea but am very solidly landlocked where I am in Alsace. We walked via the port but it still didn’t take long to get there. It’s a really long, wide beach and it had some decent waves, not quite big enough to surf in but fun for swimming. After we’d been for a swim and jumped around in the waves a while we headed to a bar just off the beach that Lucy wanted to try called La Fábrica de Hielo. It was a really cool space that apparently does live music sometimes. After that it was time for some dinner and I couldn’t leave Spain without eating some paella and drinking some sangria!

We started my second full day by going to the Mercado Central where I got some maracuya juice (passion fruit, a favourite from my time in Honduras) and a caramelised onion and goats cheese empanada. From there we walked around the old town and saw La Estrecha Valencia, the narrowest building in Europe which is just 107cm wide! We headed towards Torres de Serranos, one of the gates in the old city walls that gives you a good view over La Turia and the city. The afternoon included a stop at 100 Montaditos, a little chain that serves cheap beer and tiny little sandwiches, and Cafe Ubik, both in the Russafa neighbourhood, an area popular with young people. Cafe Ubik is really more of a bar and a bookshop than a cafe but was really cool. At this point we were really just killing time until going to a Honduran restaurant for dinner, the second of my specific requests for my time in Valencia.

Valencia has quite a few Latin American restaurants and even a few specifically Honduran ones. Lucy was in Honduras with me so we were both super excited for Honduran food but a little apprehensive in case it didn’t live up to our fond memories. The restaurant was called El Saborcito Hondureño and was decked out with a neon sign with the name of the restaurant and also the outline of Honduras itself. We obviously had to start with a Salva Vida, one of Honduras’ national beers, and then decided to split a couple of things. We ordered a portion of baleadas con huevo (a flour tortilla folded in half with refried beans, dry cheese called queso seco, mantequilla which is a bit like sour cream and scrambled eggs in the middle), catrachas (a deep fried tortilla topped with refried beans and cheese) and pupasas de queso y frijoles (tortillas stuffed with refried beans and cheese). It was… perfect. It tasted exactly like in Honduras and immediately took both of us back. When we were paying we got talking a little to the staff and I’m pretty sure they’re all a Honduran family which explains the authentic taste.

We ended the night with a drink at another bar by the beach, Mercabañal. It was like a food hall with different food and drink vendors. It was Lucy’s 23rd birthday the next day so we had a pre-birthday drink before heading back to her flat to celebrate at midnight. It was a nice way to finish my time in Valencia and visiting Lucy. My bus left at 10am the next morning so that pretty much wraps up my time in Spain. Even though I’ve been on wee staycations in the UK, this felt like my first proper holiday since Covid started and it was amazing. I really liked Valencia as a city, it’s a bit bigger than Mulhouse but not an unmanageable size. There’s lots to do, lots of neighbourhoods to explore and of course the beach is a big plus! Thank you to Lucy for being my host, tour guide and translator for the length of my stay – your 5 star Tripadvisor review is coming soon!