I feel like Krakow has something to suit everyone. In our case, it was the history. Compared to Wroclaw, Krakow was bustling and more touristy. We caught the train from Wroclaw to Krakow (1 missed train and a 3hr delay later)- we arrived in the evening and luckily we had booked a place to stay within walking distance to the train station. The hotel was outside of the walled old town but only about 10 mins walk away.
The Main Square is the biggest Medieval plaza in Europe and boy is it big. Decked out with restaurants/cafes on all sides and at the time we went, an outdoor market as well as the usual indoor market. It’s so big that the New Years Eve celebrations were done from here. You can easily spend half the day just in this Square. The St Mary’s Basilica which towers over the Main Square houses a fabulous gold covered alter. You can enter for free however you won’t get very close to the alter. Every hour, a trumpet call plays from one of the towers of the Basilica and abruptly finishes. Legends has it that this is said to be in memory of the trumpeter who use to play to warn the town of that Krakow was about to be attacked. The abrupt ending signifies the moment an arrow is said to have killed the trumpeter. If you’re spending as much time in the Square as we did, you will surely hear it.
As always, a free walking tour was the first planned activity to catch the bearings of the city. This tour took us around the Old Town and Kazimierz. We saw much street art along the way and alot more outdoor eateries and cafes/restaurants.
Right in the middle of the square, is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which was once upon a time a market. Today, it is still a market selling knick knacks. Above this market is a lesser known museum but filled with Polish Art. It’s a small museum but houses some of the greatest works from Polish artists.
On the far end of the Old Town is the Wawel Royal Castle overlooking the Vistula river. Here, one of the main attractions is the Wawel Cathedral which is the burial place of Polish monarchs. It’s such a lovely site to just walk around as you can see the sunset, there is the path along the river below and you are just being surrounded by such grand buildings.
One of the darkest but well known site in Krakow is Auschwitz Birkenau. Again, being quite a popular site- book in advance and go early. We booked with the hotel in advance to being in Poland and got picked up from the hotel. The trip from Krakow takes about 1.5 hrs. I was surprised- this site is located in what seems the middle of suburbs whereas I thought it wouldn’t be surrounded by anything.
The first thing that I noticed upon arriving at the Birkenau site is how big it is. I had never imagined the site to be so vast. It is huge and I’m left with a horrid taste in my mouth and a feeling of disgust that such horrible crimes were even imaginable let alone be carried out to millions. With our guide, we were shown around with tales of the atrocities that have occurred here. The mood of the site was a solemn one and eerie. I did see some tourists taking selfies (why?!) which I thought was disrepectful and I know somewhat of a problem at the site. Alot of the buildings at the site are showing signs of age so many of the interiors cannot be viewed. I don’t even think this is necessary to imagine some of the things that had occurred here.
The next half of the day was at Auschwitz where there are permanent exhibitions of all the collected items from prisoners are on display. Compared to Birkenau, Auschwitz is more of a museum and memorial site. There is a lot of information inside and we were actually quite rushed being on the tour. It would’ve been nice to spend more time in the exhibit and read all the information available.
I would suggest to bring lunch and snacks for the whole day as there were not many places to get food nearby to these sites and there is alot of walking due to the size of both places.
On a seperate day, we took a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This salt mine is no longer active in supplying salt. We had again booked with a company that our hotel and well in advance. We got hotel pick up so didn’t have to navigate our way via bus to get there. The lines at the salt mine were insane! I think the staff were so use to the increasing numbers- the mine was actually really well run and the guides fantastic. You will need to pay for a special pass if you want to take any pictures and we didn’t so sadly, there are no pictures to share of this. The chambers inside were huge!
This salt mine was first started in the 13th century I was so impressed with all the sculptures, chapels and rooms. You can even get married in there! The church is even open for mass although I’m not sure when as there seems to be a constant flow of visitors everyday. Inside, our guided group tour was wedged between other groups and I think this is what it’s like all day- just group after group.
For the art fans, Krakow is one of the 6 places in world that houses a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The Lady with an Ermine can be found within the walls of the Old Town. The Czartoryski Museum is THE oldest museum in Poland dating back to 1801 and originated as a private collection from Princess Izabela Czartoryski. This museum is another site where you will need to book in advance as every other visitor also has this on their list.
Krakow has been one of my favourite cities that I have visited and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface. There are many more WWII tours and places of interest that you can go to although time was not on our side. Alternatively, it is the perfect place to people watch in the Old Town or relax by the river watching the sunset.
Let me know what you like about Krakow and what other things/places that you would recommend here.
Hidden among the clouds, Machu Picchu, is on many people’s lists. Nestled in the peak of the Andes, it’s a wonder how the Incan’s managed to build such extensive structures so high up in the 15th century and the true purpose of the site still remains a mystery to this day. Machu Picchu was abandoned during the time of the Spanish conquest and laid forgotten to the outside world (apart from the locals) until 1911.
The trek was never on my bucket list so I was one of the bus-ers up the mountain to this site. I was on a group tour with Intrepid travel for my time in Peru. A few days prior to coming here, I was down and out sick with a bug mixed with altitude sickness. By this time, I was eating little but managing and just really wanted to take in this special day! It would have been a shame if I was still unwell.
On this particular trip, we arrived in Ollantaytambo by bus from Cusco and then took the train to Aguas Calientes (not all in 1 go).
Aguas Calientes is mainly a tourist town with restaurants and hotels dotted up the mountainside. I’m sure the prices are all quite competitive as this town lives off tourism. I was still on my soup diet so had a delicious chicken soup. There is a very expansive market from the train station up the mountain into town for all those souvenirs and alpaca goods although I was saving myself as we had packed a duffel bag and left all our luggage back in Cusco. On the afternoon that we arrived in Aguas, some of us went to the hot springs at the far end of town to try them out. They don’t call this town Aguas Calientes for no reason! There are plenty of places along the main tourist hill heading up to the hot springs where you can rent a towel. Just remember to bring bags to bring your wet swimmers/clothes in.
The buses onwards and upwards to Machu Picchu start from 5:30am and let me tell you- I have not seen a town so awake before 6am. Tickets were time marked so simply turn up just before departure time to get your tickets stamped. These shuttle buses run all day until the site closes.
On this trip, our group had 6am tickets so there was no rest for the wicked. We all got onto the bus and weaved up the mountain- the ride took about 30mins although we couldn’t see much. I’ve been told that you should be praying to the weather gods before you even land in Peru that you will have good weather on the day that you visit. We were alittle anxious, having wind up the mountain and all we could see was the morning fog. Apparently, sometimes this fog lifts and sometimes it doesn’t!
When we arrived, you will need to line up again to get your tickets stamped.
BEWARE: There are only toilets outside of the Machu Picchu site so make sure you go before you enter (you will need to pay to access these toilets)
We arrived super early and had 3 hours to spare in the site before our guided tour started. Our group decided to head towards the Sun Gate which would be a return walk of 3 hours. As you might already imagine, the walk isn’t flat the whole way- add some incline and altitude- make sure you take it easy if you haven’t acclimitised.
Speaking of altitude, Machu Picchu is around 2430m above sea level. If you’ve spent some days in Cusco prior, which is 3300m above sea level- you should be sweet. Ollaytaytambo and Aguas Calientes are at lower altitudes compared to Cusco. I will write about altitude sickness is another post.
On our way to the Sun Gate, we passed all those trekkers who you had the Inca Trail coming into the site. After stopping for a million pictures along the way, we ended up at the Sun Gate although, there was still fog when we reached it so couldn’t really see much of the surrounds.
On our way back, the fog started to lift causing us to take even MORE pictures. Watching the fog lift and reveal just exactly how high up you are was breathtaking. The pictures here just don’t do it any justice.
– wear and bring sunscreen. You’re high up – protection is required
– wear a hat and sunglasses
– good pair of walking shoes
– bring water. There are no stalls inside the site- you will need to bring everything you need.
– no eating allowed in Machu Picchu- fill up at breakfast and bring some snacks for the ride back to Aguas Calientes.
– don’t forget your camera!
Is Machu Picchu on your list? Do you have anymore tips to share?
I wasn’t sure what to expect in my first town in Poland. We took the bus from Berlin and arrived by evening (5hr bus ride). You know when you’ve seen so many images of a place you know what is awaiting. This was not like that. First off, the name of the city is not pronounced at all like it’s written (vrots-wahf). Second of all, how are the universities in Europe so ornate and beautiful!?
We just stayed in walking distance to the Market Square and the main train station and it was easy to keep walking around. We couldn’t wait to sample the local cuisine and eagerly tried the delicious polish donut- pączki, zurek soup served in a big bread roll, stuffed cabbage and more pierogis during our few days in Wrocław. It was soon decided that we love polish cuisine and couldn’t wait to continue our travels to the other Polish towns on our itinerary.
The market square rivals some of the best that I have seen. Architecturally pleasing and vibrant colours. It was here that we discovered our first pierogi’s and spiced winter tea.
We also went to visit the the oldest part of the town- Ostrów Tumski- which is a short walk from the Market Square and via an island.
With a ticket, you are able to visit parts of the university such as the Mathematical Tower and Aula Leopoldinum which is a baroque hall. And of course, admire their doors! We did a free old town walking tour and a WWII walking tour during our time in Wrocław which was great to get to see the main sites accompanied with explanations.
We also spent part of an afternoon at the Muzeum Pana Tadeusza which is located in the Market Square. It is a great museum on the Pan Tadeusza Poem written by Adam Mickiewicz, which is one of the key literary cultural masterpieces in Poland. There is also part of the museum which focuses on the key events around WWII and post-war period.
If you have time, you might want to bookmark this map to find all the gnomes around the city. They are everywhere! These are not a gardener’s tongue in cheek but a tribute to an underground movement ‘Orange Alternative’ that use to protest (by painting gnomes) in response to the country’s communist rule.
It’s not on the usual list of towns to visit in Poland (such as Krakow or Warsaw) but it’s such a quaint town (or at least the central part anyway) filled with so much charm.
Have you been to Wroclaw and what did you think?
December 2016. How magical it was! I landed in Frankfurt, Germany and spent a few days there recovering from my AUS –> Europe flight. Caught the train for 1hr north and voila, arrived in Cologne (or Koln as the locals know it). Once you step outside the main train station, there is the Cologne Cathedral- ominous yet magnificent, casting a shadow in front of you. It is what you expect of a gothic church- amazing, grand (in every sense) and dark (you know, that we haven’t water gun cleaned it (can you even do this to UNESCO listed sites?)).
The 1 thing I was most looking forward to was the Christmas markets. Boy oh boy were they amazing. Amazing atmosphere and location!
For the chocolate lovers, be sure to stop by the harbour side Imhoff-Schokoladenmuseum (they give out free waffle stick dipped in chocolate!). You can see how cacao seeds get to chocolate form that we all know and love and see machines in action. Great for the kids or a rainy day.
During my visit, I also went to the EL-DE Haus which was the former headquarters of the Gestapo turned museum. This normal looking building on the outside houses original basement chambers which were used to keep prisoners and a courtyard used for executions. The walls are still covered in pencil markings and etching. It was so eery in the basement even with many visitors in there. It is well preserved and am so glad that it is. There is great information and I think that there is a good balance between allowing visitors to see the bare walls and also information panels. Definitely one for the history buffs or those who want to explore Germany’s past.
Cologne has so many more museums in what is a great tourist friendly and interesting town. Be sure to add this to your list if visiting Germany!
What are also great museums or places to see in Cologne?
I thought I would put together a helpful and quick guide to all the things you need to know prior and during your stay in Barcelona- a favourite city of mine.
Airport to Barcelona city centre
This has got to be one of the most stressful parts of a journey. Upon exiting the airport, follow the crowd and signs to bus stop to the city. I used Aerobus. It’s located downstairs from the arrivals hall. When I was there, the ticket line for the vending machines were huge! You can pre-book tickets and also line up for the bus and pay at the front of the bus (but this is really slow). There are 4 stops towards the city-centre, so check the location of where you need to get off against these stops. For travellers, this is generally the last stop: Plaza Catalunya.
- 35 minutes trip, buses running every 5 minutes and bus runs everyday all year round.
- Tip: buy a return ticket when you first purchase as it’s cheaper than buying 2 single tickets.
Public transport around Barcelona
Barcelona has a brilliant metro system and if you’re just visiting the major sites, is the perfect way to get around. The city centre is also quite easy to navigate on-foot so be sure to check the location of your accommodation and what you wish to see during your time there. For visitors, there are 2 tickets that are always recommended again and again. The 10 pass ticket (€9.95) that allows travel for 10 trips on buses (excluding airport buses) or metro or day passes which offer unlimited travel for the duration of its validity (3, 4 or 5 days validity). Another option is the tourist travel pass which offers unlimited public transport use and also tickets to major sites.
Tickets to major sites
By major sites, I mean anything Gaudi related. You will need to pre-book these tickets in advance as the lines are not worth your precious holiday time! Each venue will have its own website so make sure you’re onto this ASAP as Barcelona is a very busy city and sessions can often be booked out.
To see what I got up to when I went to visit Barcelona click here.
Do you have any more quick tips for visitors to Barcelona? Leave them in the comments below!
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I found out about Blablacar through locals that I had met in Europe. This service is alittle like Airbnb- essentially, drivers list their trip on blablacar and you can pay for a seat and be a passenger. The website has a review process where you can rate the driver and their driving skills and they can also rate passengers. Once you’ve locked in a trip, you pay (with card) and then get a code to give your driver after your journey. All of this is done via the site but the only thing you do need to sort out with the driver is a meeting place.
- It is cheap! I found that the trips were about half the price (if not more) than a bus or train tickets. If you’re regularly moving around a country, these travel costs can add up quickly and also leave little room to be flexible if train costs increase closer to travel dates. I thought that blablacar helped to cut travel costs during my holiday.
- You get to meet locals. I love meeting new people on trips and what better place than being in the same car with each other. We have chatted about life in our respective countries, our dreams and life in general. One of my drivers is actually in Australia at the moment and hopefully we will get to catch up!
- You can see part of the country. What better way to see the views than the front passenger seat of a car! I found that my drivers would point out different things along the way and we also got to talk about road tolls!
- You can pick who you want to take the trip with. This is dependent on what towns you’re travelling between as some towns tend to have alot of trips happening and some with not so much. If you have choice, you can pick which age group/gender you want to travel with which I think is a good thing.
- Language barrier. On one of my trips, there was a huge language barrier (I can’t speak spanish) and the driver couldn’t speak english. BUT WE MANAGED. It can be awkward if there is a language barrier but it’s generally ok.
- Meeting place. Once a driver agrees to take you, you both have to settle on a meeting place. Usually, the driver has the final say and it can be hard to try and find a place you can easily get to with your luggage without having transport costs blow out. I had very good luck and found someone where I could walk to most of the places but you might not always have this luxury.
I have previously blogged about why I was Helsinki here. Finland is not classified as part of Scandinavia and that’s ok. It has so many things to offer in itself although not in a flashy way. Everything feels more muted and are just waiting for you to find. Despite “living” there for 3 weeks, I still wish I had more time to see more of this beautiful city and country.
This was the first ever winter destination I have been so it holds a special place in my heart. Crisp blue skies and even more crisp snow under my feet, plenty good photos were to be taken. Every direction was just as picturesque as the next and the architecture is such a collection that I think, makes this city so stereotypically different from many others. A mix of the European classical coloured buildings and modern architecture plus a number of churches with little sky scrappers makes Helsinki feel special.
I had heard little of Finland before I knew I was going to go there. But walking around, it’s like the innovative and creative design hubs of Finland are just hidden and waiting to explode into the world (think Nokia) just modestly from these ordinary buildings.
I discovered some delicious pastries! Piirakka was one of my favourites- a rye base with fillings of rice, potatoes or carrots, and I would buy some whenever I could. Korvapuusti- a cinnamon roll, was also a nice tea-time snack with coffee (although to be fair, I’m abit of a coffee snob and no-one does coffee like us Australians). I tried reindeer which is often served with lingonberry jam. Cloudberry jam and seabuckthorn jam were brought home as heavy gifts (available from Stockmanns). A friend from the lab gave me some good old liquorice lollies each with a varying taste of saltiness. I had never seen so many liquorice lollies in a supermarket aisle in my life. I also tried the famous liquorice shot Salmiakki (easy to drink but you will pay for it later ;)).
Sites that I visited:
- Kauppatori: It was the end of Winter when I visited so the market was quite small with no fish for sale when I went but food and handicraft stalls instead. And a very frozen lake (or is it sea?).
- Suomenlinna: Great day trip out to be surrounded by nature. Pictures to come in another post.
- Kiasma: Contemporary art museum. I spent a good few hours there and loved the architecture of the museum.
- Kansallismuseo: National Museum, it was ok. I went after Uni one day- can’t say it was overly impressive (think shelves and shelves of archaeological artifacts).
- Temppeliaukio Kirkko: The church in a rock, hidden in residential streets, it’s not a very far walk from the main strip and is definitely something different to see.
- Ice skating at the outdoor rink outside the Main Railway Station
- Had a drink at Ateljee Bar which gives you a panoramic view of the city.
- Had a peep in the Design Forum. If only I had more money and more luggage room.
What I wished I spent more time on:
- Walking and browsing the design district
- Entering Uspenski and Tuomiokirkko churches
- Eaten out more
If you have visited Helsinki, what did you think? Are there any other things I should add to my list for next time? Are you thinking about travelling to Helsinki? Let me know in the comments.
Paris. One of the most charming cities in the world. It would be even more charming if tourist scammers weren’t out and about at every major site trying to get you to hand over money. The Eiffel Tour, Montmarte and even Gare du Nord are swarming with these scammers on unsuspecting visitors so without further ado, let us go throw the ones I have encountered or been told about.
1. Gypsies asking you if you speak english and whether you can sign a petition.
This is a petition you sign to say that you will hand them money and once it seems like you won’t be paying up, more gypsies appear around you so there is no escape.
2. The bracelet test.
These scammers will appear lovingly to you and will try to tie a bracelet around your wrist. They will tie it so tie, oops will you look at that, it’s stuck on your wrist so you’ve technically bought it, so please, pay up now. They don’t tell you any of that by the way.
3. Let me show you how you can win money by guessing where my ball is.
You will see a group of men standing around a towel on the floor and metal cups trying to guess which cup the ball is under. If you think this is what the elderly play in France, i am afraid you are wrong. These men are working together and once you hand over your minimum bet, it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to win. Magicians or not, the game is most likely rigged and not in your favour.
4. Crowds around an entertainer
I think this is standard in major cities. Just watch out for your pockets and bags because who knows what group of thieves are working together.
Like any major city, if you do your research and know what to avoid, you can avoid it. A simple no, thank you or non merci and walking away will usually do the trick. Paris is an amazing city so don’t let the scammers put you off! I hope this has been useful information!
A Paris lover,
For those of you out there planning this years travel, considering a trip or considering using Airbnb but aren’t too sure, this post is for you!
Airbnb is such a great accommodation tool now and has gained more popularity. For those you haven’t tried it yet or want to find out more information, here is my list. I’ve stayed at approximately 10 different Airbnb properties in 10 different towns so here is what I’ve learnt from those experiences.
- Bargain prices to be found: Let’s face it, travelling can be expensive especially if you’re travelling as a family. You will need to compare against hotel/hostel prices in places where you’re travelling to but from my experience, I have found that Airbnb is either cheaper or a better deal. By this I mean, if i paid a few more dollars- I could have an entire apartment with a kitchen which would then save on food costs. So it’s worth checking out even if you’ve never used it before.
- Living with a local: If you’re travelling somewhere where you’ve been before and want an “insider” tip to the city, booking a private room in a house or an apartment could be a good option. Not only are your hosts there to offer you a place, there is a local expert in the house! You can ask them for their favourite restaurants, shops or events to truly get a local feel of a place.
- Use of shared equipment: One of the biggest pro’s I find is the ability to use their kitchen and washing machine. Food and washing are just added expenses to your trip so if you can find a way around it, then I would be all for it. Of course, some places might charge you to do laundry but this should be stated on the accommodation listing so keep an eye out for it. Or else, you have the option of asking before booking.
- Reviews: I love love love that you get the chance to review your host and the place as well as being reviewed. I have found through experience that it is a good idea to read every single review incase there is something hidden or just to get the jist of the place and host. I have also been annoyed at other guests not leaving helpful reviews so I urge you to write one after your stay to help out fellow travellers.
- Cancelling comes with a price: There may be times when plans fall through or you’ve changed your mind. It’s super easy to cancel a booking and you do get your money back (depending on how many days you’ve cancelled in advance, check this!) but you won’t be getting back the Airbnb admin fee. Things happen but this sucks. This is in comparison to hotel and hostel cancelling fees (especially when booked through bookings.com) where for some, cancelling is free.
- Untruthful hosts: This is why it is so important to read and leave good reviews! We like to believe the best in people but sadly, the best of people isn’t always there. Always always read the whole listing description and feel free to ask questions. Even then, as I have learnt, you might still be surprised by things not seeming as they should be.
- No fence-sitter: If you were staying at a hostel or hotel and had a problem, you could easily see reception to get your problem fixed. However, when you’re staying in someone else’s place, well….they have their own best interests and you have yours. There is no immediate mediator (apart from Airbnb) and raising an issue could make the rest of your stay awkward. This is obviously different from person to person (maybe you would raise the issue) but I would feel awkward if something didn’t turn out as listed and I brought it up but still lived in their place.
So all in all, I guess you can’t really know until you go! I have mostly had brilliant hosts and places were mostly as listed (and if not, I have written reviews saying so). Also remember that someone else is offering up their home to a complete stranger so the uncomfortable non-trusting feelings run on both sides.
If you have used Airbnb, what do you think of my list? Would you add anything else? If you haven’t used Airbnb, what are the things that are stopping you from using it? I’d love to discuss in the comments so leave one there!