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

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

What is Workaway?

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

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

Choosing Your Host

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

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

Important things to look for in the description –

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

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

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

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

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

Not a bad way to spend the summer!

My Experience with Workaway

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

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

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

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

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

The star of Tenerife – Mount Teide

Pros and Cons

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

PROS

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

CONS

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

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

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

Some of the other great Workawayers I met

Bonus Bratislava Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buzzing about passing a Scottish pub, even closed!

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

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

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

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

Vienna

Welcome back to the final instalment of this travel series! It’s taken a while to get here because I’ve been caught up doing some exciting things but you’ll just have to wait to read about those! (Or you can follow the blog on Instagram @_sarasomewhere_ 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, @_sarasomewhere_, 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 @_sarasomewhere_. 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!

Huangshan

In comparison to my last blog this one will be much shorter, I promise! From Shanghai , I headed to Huangshan (黄山), the Yellow Mountain. It is thought to have been named by Huangdi (黄帝), the Yellow Emperor. According to legend, Huangdi ascended to Heaven from this mountain. Huangshan is one of China’s many sacred mountains and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

From Shanghai it takes about three hours on the high speed train to get to the city of Huangshan. I wasn’t staying there but in a little town closer to the entrance of the mountain park called Tangkou (汤口). The whole place, including my hostel, was pretty quiet seeing as it’s winter and therefore the off season.

The hostel I was staying in was nice, especially the Chinese girl who checked me in. Over my time there we ended up chatting a bit for me to practise my Chinese and her to practise her English. There was only one other foreigner in the hostel, an Irish girl called Ruth, who was in the same dorm room as me. We were both planning on climbing the mountain the next day so we decided to go together.

Unfortunately there’s a reason the off season is the off season. The weather wasn’t exactly ideal for climbing a mountain. It was very overcast and damp when we set off and it didn’t get better during the day.

Just getting to the mountain involved a lift to the bus station and then an hour long bus journey to the cable car that takes you up the first part of the path. You can walk up but it more the doubles the time it takes to get to the peak and as I said, we didn’t exactly have optimum weather conditions. The cable car at least provided us with the best (and only) views of the day before we entered the clouds.

Just above the cable car is one of the most famous things to see in the mountain – the guest welcoming pine (迎客松) and is thought to be more the 1500 years old.

We continued up to the top at Bright Summit Peak (光明顶), getting slowly more sodden as we went. A couple of people wanted to take pictures with us which meant I got talking to them in Chinese but all in all it was just too wet and cold to hang around.

Once we got to the top we started going down the other side. There was another cable car going down but because we’d gotten started early it wasn’t even midday so we decided to walk down. By this point my hastily purchased rain poncho was futile and even my jacket was soaked through so what difference would another couple of hours going down make? A lot apparently. My knees were not happy by the end of it and my calf muscles are still protesting.

Huangshan is definitely somewhere I need to go back to when I might actually get to see some of it. What I did manage to glance was spectacular so I can only imagine what it’s like in the sunshine!

From Huangshan I braved a 12 hour overnight train to head to my next destination – Zhangjiajie (张家界), home of the ‘Avatar Mountains’!

Shanghai (& Hangzhou & Suzhou)

It’s taken me a little while but finally a blog on the next part of my travels, a fabulous five days spent in and around Shanghai (上海). After my wee trip up to Harbin I had one full day back in Dalian to fully pack up my stuff and then I was off to the airport, destination – China’s largest city.

Two of my Edinburgh friends live together there so I was lucky enough to be able to crash with them – thanks again to Jack and Conlan for putting up with me. The day I arrived Conlan was actually still travelling himself but got back the day after. Jack and I hung around for a few hours, catching up on what has been an eventful few months for both of us and then we headed out into the Shanghai night.

Our first stop was a bookshop that is what dreams are made of. Tucked away in a corner of Fudan university (复旦大学), it was crammed to bursting point with second hand books. Obviously the majority were in Chinese which is still a bit more aspirational than practical for me but we did find a little corner of foreign language. I succumbed to temptation and bought a bilingual English-Chinese book called ‘About Women’ (关于女人) about Bing Xin, a Chinese writer from last century who covered topics like social injustice, family conflicts and feminism.

We went just across the road for dinner to a sushi restaurant. It was something different and delicious, but let me tell you the wasabi is made of a completely different stuff to at home, it almost blew my top off!

We ended our evening in Tianzifang (田子坊) on a little bar hop. Tianzifang is a network of traditional alleyways housing charming bars, cafes and boutique shops. We started at a bar in the street where we had some very tense games of Connect-4 and mini Jenga. Next up was a Tibetan bar and finally a bar that gave me the largest mojito I’ve ever seen. I ordered a large and it was no joke as big as my head! Safe to say that was not what I was expecting, not that I wasn’t happy about it.

For day 2, I actually headed out of Shanghai to visit Hangzhou (杭州) for the day. I met up with a friend from Dalian who was visiting his sister who lives there. We spent most of the day wandering around the West Lake, Hangzhou’s main attraction. It was first created by the governor of the city in the 8th century and has been developed and cultivated over the years. The beauty of the lake has been inspiring Chinese poets for generations. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t amazing so I think I missed out on some of the beauty of the place.

When I got back in to Shanghai that evening I went out for some drinks with Jack and Conlan to a bar with one of the best views possible across to the the Pudong area of Shanghai, including the famous Oriental Pearl Tower, on the left of the photo.

On day 3 I met up with another friend from Edinburgh who happens to be working in Shanghai this year. Kim and I were both part of the water polo club but she graduated in the summer and has been teaching French here. We met up in Tianzifang and had lunch and then wondered around some more of the French concession area.

To finish the day, I met up worth Conlan and we went to Yuyuan Gardens (豫园). Originally built in the Ming dynasty, the gardens have been restored after sustaining damage in several 20th century conflicts. It was absolutely packed to bursting point and was the first time that I’d seen the Spring Festival crowds I’d been warned about. The year of the rat is fast approaching so there were a lot of lantern around featuring next years zodiac animals. The whole place was lit up beautifully and worth braving the crowds to see.

The following day was another day trip, this time out to Suzhou (苏州). Suzhou is is known as the ‘Venice of the East because of its many canals and is also famous for its harmonious gardens. Definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve been so far in China, Suzhou somehow managed to be serene and tranquil even while filled with tourists. We spent the whole day visiting gardens and just walking around the old town.

My last day in Shanghai was just about filling in some gaps of things I wanted to see. I met up with Kim again at the Bund. Dominated by art deco and neoclassical buildings, the Bund housed the cities banks during the concession era. From there we walked down Nanjing Road (南京路) to People’s Park (人民公园). Finally we went for coffee in a cafe housed in a very inconspicuous office building which (if it weren’t for the fog/pollution haze) gives incredible views across Shanghai.

For my last meal Jack, Conlan and I went for hot pot which is a sensational Chinese speciality. There is no photo because I hadn’t eaten all day so fell on the food as soon as it came. For hot pot you get a big bowl of broth, usually spicy, in the middle of the table on a heater to keep it warm and then you order all the sides of meat, veggies, tofu, noodles as you want to cook in the broth. It’s both a meal and an activity and great fun.

My overall thoughts on Shanghai are overwhelmingly positive. It’s one of those cities that I wasn’t sure if I was going to like, much like New York, but then ended up loving! I had so much fun exploring and it was nice to be in a city that has a very different feel to it than Dalian, which is obviously much smaller, but also from Beijing. Where Beijing has all of its history behind it, Shanghai very much leans on its modernity. A big part of why I loved Shanghai so much was getting to meet up with and hang out with some great friends that I haven’t seen in a while. I loved my visit but it has also been great in once again reaffirming my choice of Dalian for this year – I would struggle to see myself living in Shanghai, at least while trying to study Chinese. Overall a great city, a great visit, a great time.