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Photo Journey: The Pamir Highway

Photo Journey: The Pamir Highway

In September 2016, we hopped in a cramped 4WD to begin our journey along the Pamir Highway. We begun in Osh, Kyrgyzstan and finished our journey two weeks later in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. This incredible highway was built during Soviet times to transport military gear, and reaches heights of more than 4,000 metres above sea level. It has to be one of the most iconic (and sometimes dangerous) road journeys on earth.

Here are our favourite photos from our trip of a lifetime along the Pamir HIghway, the ‘roof of the world’.

Wakhan Valley Tajikistan
Three generations living in the same home in the Wakhan Valley, Tajikistan
Afghanistan Tajikistan border
Overlooking the river border between Tajikistan (left) and Afghanistan (right)
Bulunkul Tajikistan
An abandoned car in the tiny settlement of Bulunkul, Tajikistan
Yurt Tajikistan
Homemade cheese drying outside a family’s yurt camp in Tajikistan
Tajikistan girls
Two Tajik sisters with bright blue eyes in Bulunkul
Hiking Pshart Valley Tajikistan
Stunning views while hiking along the Pshart Valley in Tajikistan
Yurt Tajikistan
A small girl peers from inside her family’s yurt in the Pshart Valley, Tajikistan
The remote border fence between China and Tajikistan
Turparkul Kyrgyzstan
Watching the sunset over the small lakes surrounding Turparkul in Kyrgyzstan
Tajik grandmother
A Tajik grandmother who asked us for pain medication for her knees.
abandoned tomb Pamir HIghway
A bird settles on the side of an abandoned tomb near the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan

 

Keys to the City: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Keys to the City: Ljubljana, Slovenia

Our city guide gives you a run down on Ljubljana in Slovenia. We will let you know the best things to do, the best places to eat and a few tricks we picked up during our time there. Enjoy!

Why Visit?

It may be impossible to spell, but Ljubljana is one of our favourite cities in Europe. It has the best parts of western Europe without the crowds or the price tag. There’s some great pubs along the river to try, and lots of great restaurants. The nightlife is (in)famous and the street art will leave a lasting impression.

Ljubljana Slovenia

What To Do?

Here were our favourite things to do during our stay in Ljubljana. There’s plenty more but if you only have a couple of days, you can’t miss these great things to do.

Visit the Triple Bridge

The Triple Bridge (map here) is really the centre of Ljubljana, and connects the old town with the newer part of the city. There was originally only one bridge, but there was so much traffic that an extra bridge was built on each side. The original bridge was wooden, but after burning down (more than once) it was finally replaced by the current stone bridge.

Ljubljana Slovenia

Wander Preseren Square

Preseren Square (map here) is the main square of Ljubljana, and is a popular meeting spot. The square is named after the famous Slovenian poet, Dr. France Preseren. A statue of his love interest, Juljia, is located just down the street in the house where she once lived. Preseren’s statue is now looking toward Juljia as a symbol of their love. Juljia came from a wealthy Slovenian family, so they never actually got together!

Get artsy at Metelkova and Rog

These bohemian art and culture hubs are two of the highlights of Ljubljana. Metelkova describes itself as an ‘autonomous social centre’ and has a few established businesses like a hostel and bars. There is some incredible graffiti and street art on the walls, and you could spend hours checking out all the nooks and crannies. Rog is a bit more free range than Metelkova, and is a true artists’ hub.

Ljubljana Slovenia

Hike up to Ljubljana Castle

This stunning castle (map here) was built in the 15th century, and has even served as a jail, military hospital, and arsenal. Entrance to the castle courtyard is free. There is a funicular up to the castle, but the walk is probably quicker due to the line ups for the funicular. The view is great too!

Ljubljana Castle Slovenia

Throwback to Soviet times at the Museum of Contemporary History

This is not the most famous museum in Ljubljana, but we think it is the coolest! The Museum of Contemporary History covers the history of Ljubljana from 1914 to today. There are some great exhibitions that discuss life in communist Yugoslavia to Slovenian independence to now. We also loved the temporary exhibition during our visit, which was a photography exhibition of rock concerts in communist Yugoslavia. Fantastic!

Ljubljana Slovenia

Where To Eat?

There is a ridiculous number of bars, restaurants and cafes jammed into Ljubljana and it’s surrounds. Here’s a few of our favourites that we had to visit more than once!

Pop’s Place

Pop’s Place (Cankarjevo Nabrežje 3) is a delicious American-style gourmet burgers with a great outdoor area right by the river.

DA BU DA

Ah-mazing Asian fusion restaurant DA BU DA (1000, Šubičeva ulica 1a) serves up one of the best curries we have ever eaten!

Robba Cafe

Pining for smashed avocado and a poached egg? Brunch lovers will be huge fans of Robba Cafe (Mestni trg 4), which has great breakfast dishes, coffee and juices.

Robba Cafe Ljubljana Slovenia

Druga Violina

For a decent priced traditional feed in the old town, you can’t beat Druga Violina (Stari trg 21). The service isn’t fantastic but the food is tasty.

Where To Stay?

We stayed at Vrba Hostel, which was a great value option just outside of the Old Town. It is pretty quiet though, so if you want to party you are better off finding a spot near Metelkova.

Ljubljana Slovenia

How To Get There?

By air – Good news: there are some great budget flights to Ljubljana! Budget airlines Wizz Air and Easyjet both fly to Ljubljana, so you can get bargain flights from places like Brussels and London from as little as $15.

By train – There are direct trains from Austria (Vienna), Germany (Munich), Switzerland (Zurich), Croatia (Zagreb), Hungary (Budapest) and Serbia (Belgrade). You can get the ever-popular Eurail pass, or book your ticket at the station. For international timetables and online bookings, check out www.bahn.de.

By bus – There are plenty of buses for domestic routes and you can see the timetables here http://www.ap-ljubljana.si/en/. For international routes, there are plenty of options. A few to try include Bus Croatia, Flixbus and Eurolines.

Ljubljana Slovenia

Have you visited Ljubljana? What did you do during your stay? Tell us in the comments below!

The Travelator Diaries: Roadtrippin’ Germany, Czech Republic and Austria

The Travelator Diaries: Roadtrippin’ Germany, Czech Republic and Austria

We are sharing our personal travel diaries! We started keeping these so our family and friends could keep up with our travels, and get some laughs at our expense. Here is our entry for our European road trip with my brother and his girlfriend, who we travelled with in December 2016.

After waiting 11 long months, the time had finally come. Ross and Chelsea arrived in Germany – woo hoo! KG’s brother and his girlfriend flew all the way from Australia to spend Christmas with us in Europe.

Europe Road Trip
Group selfie!

We met in Munich, Germany. We had arrived at the hostel late, due to an uncharacteristic delay on a German train from Italy. Surprise surprise – Ross and Chels were napping. Katherine and her family come from a long line of nappers, and this holiday was to be no exception.

We spent three days in Munich learning about beer, pork knuckles and a bit of history. The weather was poo (as predicted) but we battled on. After a couple of days, we picked up our fancy new hire car. With a devilishly handsome smile from Tom, we even managed a free upgrade to a fancy Audi A6. This beast ensured that we were able to make the most of Germany’s (in)famous autobahns, where there is absolutely no speed limit! That’s right folks – 200 km/hr is perfectly legal.

Munich Germay
A rare blue sky behind Marienplatz in Munich

We headed off to Prague via Regensberg. We actually had no idea whether there was anything worth seeing in Regensberg, but it turns out there was a huge cathedral that was very impressive. We also found some metre long sausages at the Christmas market, so it was a big tick of approval from us.

In Prague we attempted to book on a segway tour, only to discover that segways had been banned in the city centre. We resolved to try again later in the trip, as we all fancied ourselves as pretty awesome segway drivers. Instead, we huffed and puffed our way up to Prague Castle on foot like peasants. The changing of the guard was fun, then we wandered back down to the old town to check out the great Christmas markets.

Prague Castle
The view of Prague Castle
Prague Czech Republic
Anyone interested in watching the changing of the guard at Prague Castle? Anyone?
Prague Czech Republic
Discussing the finer points of changing guard at castles

We also went out to dinner at an Italian restaurant where Chels attempted to order her first Bailey’s and milk. Now, this is a tried and true old lady drink in Australia. However, the phenomenon has clearly yet to hit Europe. When she asked for milk, the restaurant owner looked at her in horror and exclaimed, ‘MILK?! In 45 years I have NEVER heard of Bailey’s with MILK!’. He served her the drink with some disgust but also plenty of good humour.

Next we were off to Berlin via the Bone Church. There are over 45,000 bodies buried in the Bone Church, where the bones are laid out as decorations around the church. There were some pretty fascinating skulls which showed injuries some poor sods had suffered during the Hussite Wars.

Kutna Hora
Church decorated with bones in the Czech Republic

Once in Berlin, we attempted to learn more about the Cold War and the Berlin War on a walking tour. However, we soon realised that the assumed knowledge level for this excursion was well above ours. We basically walked around in the cold feeling rather confused for three hours, but did see where Michael Jackson hung his baby out of the hotel window. We also visited plenty of Christmas markets (including a ride on the ferris wheel) and tried our hand (or is it feet?) at ice skating.

Berlin Germany
Ross having second thoughts about agreeing to a ride on the ferris wheel
Berlin Brandenberg Gates
Group shot in front of Brandenberg Gates
Berlin Bagels
Tom lining up for a mobile bagel
Berlin Ice Skating
Ross and Chels showing off their ice skating skillz

Next we were off to Dresden. Dresden was absolutely flattened in the dying days of World War II so it was fascinating to see how well they had rebuilt the old city. We stayed in a great AirBnB apartment with a cat who was intent on giving Ross hayfever, and a rather obese pet rabbit.

Dresden Germany
This was built for some bloke’s orange trees. No joke!
Dresden Christmas Market
Enjoying a gluhwein at the Dresden Christmas Market… with an elf (?)

Our next stop was Fussen, where we finally saw snow and visited the ‘Disney Castle’. The Disney Castle is actually called Neuschwanstein Castle, but honestly, who can pronounce that?! It was very picturesque and we got some great photos from the bridge beside the castle, although I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been maintained since the 1800s. KG and Ross stayed close to land in case the whole thing snapped in half.

Fussen Germany
SNOW!!
Fussen neuschwanstein castle
A great view of Neuschwanstein Castle. Have a go at saying Neuschwanstein too… there’s no chance you’ll get it right!

Then we were off to Wattensberg (near Innsbruck) in Austria for Christmas. We had booked an amazing apartment in the Alps, but as luck would have it, it was unseasonably warm and there was no snow. Never fear, we headed off to a nearby mountain to find a patch of snow we could ski on. Chels and I were absolute beginners, so we got an ex-pro skiier to teach us how to snow plow. We also drank plenty of rum, ate too much turkey, gave up on a puzzle and got p*ssed off at Ross for winning cards all the time.

Christmas Puzzle Austria
The Impossible Christmas Puzzle
Christmas Austria
It wouldn’t be Christmas without matching jumpers would it?
Christmas Austria
“Take the damn photo so I can drink my wine”
Christmas Austria
KG playing cards with all of her friends…

On the way back to Munich, we indulged all of our Sound of Music fangirl dreams by visiting Salzburg. OK, perhaps it was just KG and Chels that were SOM fangirls. We stopped by a few big name sights from the movie, then continued on our way.

Salzburg Sound of Music
The Sound of Music rotunda where they sang ‘I am 16 going on 17…’ It was great so stop laughing now!

The next day, it was sadly time to say goodbye to Ross and Chels as they headed back to Australia and we flew to Paris. Stay tuned for our post on the final week of our trip in Paris!

For our full 17-day itinerary through Germany, Czech Republic and Austria, check out our European road trip article here.

European Road Trip: Germany, Czech Republic & Austria

European Road Trip: Germany, Czech Republic & Austria

In December 2016 we went on an incredible 17 day road trip through Germany, Czech Republic and Austria. Here is a run down on our itinerary, how to organise your car and what to expect while driving through each country.

This road trip covers some of the highlights from each area. Starting off in one of our favourite cities, Munich, this 17 day trip will take you through some of Germany’s most iconic cities, alongside the Austrian Alps and to the bohemian capital of Prague.

This tour will give you a great taste of each country without being in a massive rush. Enjoy!

Recommended Itinerary

Day One: Munich to Prague via Regensburg

Driving Time: 6 hours inc. stops

After a few days exploring Munich and its famous beer halls, it’s time to hit the road!

Pick your car up first thing in the morning. Make sure to allow some time to pick the car up and get used to your vehicle. Use the GPS in the car (or on your phone) to direct you to the centre of Regensburg. Make your way out of Munich and on to your first autobahn!

Regensburg is almost exactly half way between Munich and Prague. When we found our way to Regensburg’s old town and came across the incredible Regensburg Cathedral we were completely blown way – it’s massive! Grab yourself a park in the centre of town. There are plenty of paid car parks and they are quite cheap. Spend a hour or two exploring the cathedral and the old town before grabbing lunch.

Once you’ve finished exploring, jump back in your car and make your way to Prague.

TRAVELATOR TIP: We have explained the vignette system below. Be sure to grab your vignette sticker before entering the Czech Republic. There are a number of service stations selling them just before the border.

Day Five: Prague to Berlin via Kutna Hora (Bone Cathderal)

Driving Time: 6 hours inc. stops

Prague is one of our favourite cities in Europe and leaving is never easy. Alas, it’s time to jump in your car and make your way to Berlin, another of Europe’s showpiece cities. First up, take a detour to Kutna Hora and it’s infamous Bone Cathedral. This fascinating side trip will add around 90 minutes to your drive from Prague to Berlin.

The drive today is fairly stress free. You will have noticed by now that there are A LOT of roadside rest stops where you can pull in for lunch. These stops offer everything from McDonald’s to freshly made sandwiches.

Sedlec Ossuary a.k.a The Bone Church in Kutna Hora

Day Nine: Berlin to Dresden

Driving Time: 2 hours

This is the easiest drive of the trip! The short drive from Berlin to Dresden will only take 2 hours, giving you some time to see more of Berlin before heading off to the beautiful city of Dresden. Dresden was famously flattened by Allied bombing in WWII, but it’s historic centre has been reconstructed beautifully.

The Dresden Cathedral

Day Eleven: Dresden to Fussen

Driving Time: 6 hours inc. stops

This will be the longest day in the car with no detours planned. The long drive from Dresden to Fussen will see you almost cover the length of Germany. We would recommend getting up and hitting the road early and grabbing lunch on the way.

Day Twelve: Fussen to Innsbruck via Neuschweinstein Castle

Driving Time: 4 hours inc. stops

Get up nice and early to visit the iconic Neuschweinstein Castle, or the Disney Castle as it is commonly referred to. We spent close to three hours at the castle, but you can save some time by pre-booking your tickets online. You can buy tickets on the day at the ticket office, but in peak times it may sell out – you have been warned!

Once you’ve finished at the castle, make your way to Innsbruck. The drive takes you through the Alps with some stunning scenery along the way!

TRAVELATOR TIP: Grab your Austrian vignette sticker from Fussen as there are no places to buy the sticker between Fussen and the border.

The view from Mairenbrucke of Neuschwanstein Castle

Day Fifteen: Innsbruck to Salzburg

Driving Time: 2.5 hours

After seeing the sights in and around Innsbruck it’s time to head to Salburg, the home of The Sound Of Music and Mozart. This drive will take you back through Germany on your way to Austria but don’t worry – your vignette sticker for Austria will still be valid from your earlier border crossing.

Hohensalzburg Castle sitting above Salzburg

Day Seventeen: Salzburg to Munich

Driving Time: 2 hours

The final day of your trip will take you on the short drive from Salzburg to Munich. The traffic in Munich can be awful at peak hours so plan your arrival to avoid it.

Hiring Your Car

We did a stupid amount of research for this car. We looked for the best value, most reliable and the easiest company to use. We finally settled on booking through Sixt. The main factors for us was their range and price. In the end it was their service which was the stand out.  They were incredibly helpful and prompt before and after our booking.

There are a few must do’s when hiring a car – to see them all check out our Backpackers’ Guide to Car Hire.

What car did we use?

We were lucky enough to be joined by some family members for this road trip. This meant two things: we would need a bigger car and we had a bit more money to play with.

For this trip we splurged a little and got an Audi A6 wagon. It had more than enough room for the 4 of us along with our luggage. We could also fully enjoy the autobahns!

Did we use GPS?

Our fancy Audi came with in-built satellite navigation which we used for pretty much everything.

In saying that, the roads are incredibly well signed and English is used throughout. If your car doesn’t have a GPS, your phone GPS should suffice.

What To Expect

Road conditions

The roads throughout this entire trip are in excellent condition. While the speed limits may vary from country to country everything is very well signed and leaves no confusion. Driving overseas doesn’t get much easier than this.

Road rules

Driving in Europe is a dream, the drivers are careful, aware and considerate. Mind you, if you are holding people up or taking too long to do something they will let you know about it!

Overtaking – you’ll get the hang of this very quickly. The general rule is if you’re overtaking, do it in the left lane. If not, sit in the right lane and let people pass.

Speed limits – unlike our adventure through Armenia & Georgia, throughout Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic speed limits are clearly signed and easy to follow. You will not go far before seeing a sign indicating the speed and and changes are well signed.

Parking – this is the number one concern for a lot of people thinking of driving around Europe. Throughout our entire time with the car we did not have a single problem with parking. Throughout the cities, paid parking lots are well priced and easy to use. On-street parking signs are everywhere and easy to read which is a huge help. Try to book accommodation that includes a car park.

Tolls – we encountered no toll gates or similar systems during our drive. However, you will need to purchase vignette stickers (see below).

Crossing borders – Vignettes

Never heard this word before? Neither had we.

Vignettes are a small sticker that you place on the inside of your front window when crossing borders. Think of them as paying a border crossing toll. For example, if you hire a car in Germany, you will need to buy a vignette sticker in Germany before crossing into Austria. Each country will have their own vignette sticker and they can be purchased from service stations within 20km of the border. Of course, you need to buy the sticker before you cross the border! Stickers are usually valid for 10 days, and cost around 12 euro.

What do you think about road tripping through the Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic? Tell us in the comments below!

The Travelator Diaries: The Balkans

The Travelator Diaries: The Balkans

We are sharing our personal travel diaries! We started keeping these so our family and friends could keep up with our travels, and get some laughs at our expense. Here is our entry for the Balkans, where we travelled in November 2016.

After spending almost a month cruising through Armenia & Georgia it was time for us to make our way to mainland Europe. We hopped aboard the cheapest (and therefore best) flight we could find and made our way to Bucharest in Romania.

Romania

Our time in mainland Europe started in eastern European country of Romania, more specifically its ‘shabby-chic’ capital of Bucharest. We spent a few days wandering around the streets of Bucharest checking out the beautiful but neglected Soviet-era architecture and admiring how cheap everything was. Just in case anyone ever asks you, the world’s second largest government building is the Palace of Parliament in Bucharest… it’s a real quiz night classic.

Bucharest - The Palace of Parlaiment
The absurdly huge Palace of Parliament in Bucharest

Bulgaria

A few days later we hopped aboard a train and made our way to Sofia, the rather uneventful capital of Bulgaria. The distance between these two cities is a modest 360km, but for some unknown reason it took our train TEN HOURS to cover this distance – with some quick maths you can see our train was travelling at the blistering pace of 36km/h. There wasn’t a whole heap happening in Sofia, so we decided to spend our time doing things such as eating Indian food and checking some culture via the latest Marvel movie, Dr Strange.

Sofia - Alexander Nevsky Cathedral
The Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Sofia

Once we were finished in Sofia we headed east to the much more interesting city of Plovdiv. We had 3 nights here which afforded us plenty of time to check out the beautiful old town of Plovdiv and really explore the menu at a craft beer restaurant we tracked down. After a few lazy days we also thought it was time to hire a car again and hit the open road. We ventured just outside of Plovdiv to Perperikon, an ancient fortress where Alexander the Great had a few vinos and a prophecy which told him he would conquer the world. Haven’t we all done that before. It was also in Plovdiv that we found out that the USA had for some reason elected Donald Trump to be their next President… good Lord.

Plovdiv - All We Need Is Plovediv
All we need is Plovediv – Plovdiv, Bulgaira

Macedonia

Next up was Skopje, the capital of Macedonia. We were really settling in to the being back on mainland Europe. This pretty much entailed a lot of eating, and a fair bit of drinking. We jumped on a free walking tour and checked out the eclectic capital where found out that Alexander the Great was actually Macedonian and NOT Greek… apparently (quite controversial).

It was also in Skopje that we decided to go clubbing with a group of early 20s Swedes. At the time this sounded like a marvellous idea, a bit of drinking and some dancing never hurt anyone. However, in Europe, clubs don’t open until after midnight, which is at least 4 hours past our bed time. The night can be summarised by two incidents. 12:51am – a slightly intoxicated KG asks Tom, “Why don’t we go clubbing more often?” We get home at 4am and KG announces, “I think I am dying, we are never going clubbing again!”

Skopje - KG in the rain
KG in some cracking weather conditions in Skopje
Skopje - KG inside
KG escaping the Skopje weather

After 2 days of recovering from our clubbing adventure we bussed down to the tiny lakeside of Ohrid. It is no overstatement to say that we did absolutely nothing in Ohrid. It is a beautiful little lakeside town with great restaurants and cafes, where we managed to find ourselves in an amazing little hostel. We did manage to see a few sights around Ohrid but the majority of our time was spent either eating or strolling lazily around the lake. It’s a tough gig at times.

Lake Ohrid - Church of St John at Kaneo
The Church of St John at Kaneo at Lake Ohrid
Lake Ohrid - St Naum Peacocks
Watch out for those peacocks… they’ll get ya!

Kosovo

There was a lot of deliberation as to where we would go next but we finally settled on Prizren in the tiny and brand new country of Kosovo. Now, some people (including the Australian Government and us) think Kosovo is a legitimate country, others don’t. We won’t go into details. All we will tell you is that it is home to some of the nicest people we have ever met. It is also one of the cheapest countries we have ever visited. We spent 3 nights in Prizren, strolling around the cobble stone lanes, drinking 70c espresso macchiatos and enjoying beers for $1.50 a piece. We also managed to head out on a day trip to check out the local country side and the incredibly serene Patriachate of Pec Monastery.

Kosovo - Prizren by night
Prizren by night
Kosovo - The Patriarchate of Pec
The Patriarchate of Pec in Peja, Kosovo
Kosovo - Drini i Bardhe Spring
Us by the waterfall at Drini i Bardhe Spring

Albania

We then headed across the border to Tirana, the capital of Albania. It also happened to be Tom’s 30th birthday while we were there. We threw caution (and our money) into the wind and booked a 4-star hotel for a staggering $80 per night. We also booked into one of Tirana’s nicest restaurants and after 3 courses each, a bottle of wine and a few drinks the bill came to a whopping $60. You get the idea -Tirana was dirt cheap and a great place for Tom to contemplate his upcoming retirement.

The small Albanian town of Shkoder was our next stop. We pulled in for a couple nights, climbed up a massive hill to a huge old fortress, ate some amazing BBQ and played with the two dogs at the hostel.

Albania - Mosque in Shkoder
The Mosque in Shkoder
Albania - Shkoder Fort
This photo took 4 attempts – us atop the Shkoder Fortress

We decided had been working way too hard lately (*cough*) and needed a rest from this hectic stint of our trip. We managed to get ourselves stuck in the amazing little seaside town of Kotor in Montenegro. We lazed around for a few days, exploring the winding cobble stone streets of the old town, went hiking up to the fort a couple times and generally did very little. It also helped that the hostel had a ‘stay 5 nights pay for 3’ deal that was just too good to turn down. We even paid for an extra night and stayed 6.

Slovenia

As we headed further west everything was getting slightly more ‘European’. Our next stop, Slovenia, felt as though we had arrived in Germany, only without the price tag. We spent 3 nights in the capital Ljubljana and it will go down as one of our favourite stops of the trip. We hit the streets on a walking tour, ate some decent Asian food, hiked up to the fort, checked out some street art and even squeezed in a bit of shopping. We then headed out to Bled, home of the aptly named Lake Bled. We decided to go hiking around the nearby Lake Bohinj. Unfortunately KGs new boots gave her some pretty serious blisters and that was that for hiking.

Slovenia - Ljubljana by night
Ljubljana main square by night
Slovenia - Ljubljana Fort
Not sure what happened here – a selfie from the Ljubljana Fortress
Slovenia - Minigolf in Ljubljana
KG playing minigolf in Ljublhana – we’ll let you use your imagination as to whether this went in or not…
Slovenia - Lake Bohinj
Lake Bohinj near Bled
Slovenia - Bridge at Lake Bohinj
A nice warm day at Lake Bohinj

Italy

After just over a month in the Balkans, we bussed out of Bled. We arrived in Trieste in Italy, home to our good friend Alessandro who we met in Kyrgyzstan. Alessandro took on the role of tour guide, hotel owner and driver over the next few days to show us around the sites of Trieste and his home town of Zugliano. We explore the beautiful seaside town of Trieste, checking out the amazing Miramare Castle, the “little cheese” cathedral and the Trieste fortress.

Trieste - Town Hall
Trieste Town Hall
Trieste - Tom and Alessandro
Tom & Alessandro in the main square of Trieste
Trieste - The Little Cheese
The “little cheese” – also known as the Mariano Temple of Monte Grisa
Trieste - KG and Alessandro
KG & Alessandro hiking up to theTrieste Cathedral

The 3 of us then headed out to Zugliano and stayed at Alessandro’s parent’s house for 2 nights. It was amazing. We ate a stupid amount of food, did an awful job of making gnocchi, drank too much wine and saw the surrounding area. Alessandro took us to Marostica to climb up to the fortress and then to Vincenza to visit the world’s first permanent indoor theatre. On our final day we managed to squeeze in to a quick trip to Verona and had a glance at the balcony where Juliet spoke to Romeo in the amazing story from Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 classic Romeo & Juliet. Supposedly the story wasn’t written by Baz himself, which we found hard to believe.

Zugliano - Making gnocchi
Tom & KG doing an awful job of helping Giselle (Alessandro’s Mum) make gnocchi
Zugliano - Tom and Alessando after a big lunch
Tom & Alessandro after another massive Italian lunch
Verona - Juliet's Balcony
O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?

Up next…

We said our goodbyes to Alessandro and jumped aboard a train to Germany. Awaiting for us in Munich were Katherine’s brother Ross and his girlfriend Chelsea. For the next two weeks we would be cruising around Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic together – stay tuned!

Have you visited the Balkans? What did you think? Tell us more in the comments below!

15 Free Things To Do In Paris

15 Free Things To Do In Paris

There’s no doubt about it – Paris can be an expensive city. But don’t let that dissuade you from visiting this beautiful place! We have put together a list of 15 great free things to do in Paris. Your wallet will thank us!

1. Champs Elysees

The iconic Champs Elysees is one of the best known streets in Paris. You’ve probably seen it in a dozen movies, TV shows, and on final stretch of the Tour de France. Go for a stroll down the tree-lined avenue, which leads you right to the beautiful Arc de Triomphe. Some of the flagship luxury stores have actually moved away from the Champs Elysees due the outrageous rent, but you can still find a few big names like Louis Vuitton. There are also a few luxury restaurants, but we wouldn’t recommend stopping off for lunch – it will probably drain your whole week’s budget!

Location: Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 8e Arrondissement

Metro stop: Franklin D. Roosevelt

National Museum of Modern Art Paris France

2. National Museum of Modern Art

You can see the permanent collections of the National Museum of Modern Art for free – and there’s hardly any crowds! Big tick of approval from us on both fronts. The museum specialises in modern and contemporary art from the 20th and 21st centuries, and is a great introduction to modern art in Paris. There are also temporary exhibitions here, but you need to buy an entry ticket for these.

Location: Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris11 avenue du Président Wilson

Metro stop: Iena

Deportation Memorial Paris France

3. The Deportation Memorial

This deeply moving memorial is located near Notre Dame Cathedral on Ill de la Cite island. The Mémorial des Martyrs de la Déportation remembers the 200,000 people deported from France during World War II to Nazi concentration camps. The memorial’s design evokes particular characteristics of the Nazi camps, such as imprisonment, oppression and the inability to escape. You can easily lose an hour or so in the memorial wandering the crypts, which provide confronting details of the horrors faced by deportees in these camps.

Location: Mémorial des Martyrs de la DéportationSquare de l’Ile de France 

Metro stop: Pont Marie

L'Orangerie Paris France

4. Museums on the first Sunday of the month

A few big name museums in Paris offer free entry on the first Sunday of the month (all year round), including:

  • Centre Pompidou – a huge modern art museum with permanent collections and temporary exhibits (Musee national d’art moderne, Place Georges Pompidou)
  • Musée de l’Orangerie – home to Monet’s ‘Water Lillies’ (Jardin Tuileries)
  • Musee d’Orsay – one of the largest Impressionist art collections in the world (1 rue de la Légion d’Honneur)
  • Musee national Picasso – a large collection of Picasso’s works (Hôtel Salé – 5 rue de Thorigny)

You can find a full list here.

Travelators Tip: Don’t expect to see all the free big name museums on a single Sunday. Not only are the museums themselves huge, but the lineups are out of control. Get there early!

Galerie Montmarte Paris

5. Galerie Montmarte

We stumbled across this little art gallery while wandering around Montmarte. It is situated on the square at Place du Tertre, where portrait painters and other artists gather en mass to paint and sell their wares. The gallery has a great collection of modern and street art, holding exhibitions of some impressive modern artists including Picasso, Dali, Matisse and Miro.

Location: 11 Place du Tertre, Montmarte

Metro stop: Abbessess

Notre Dame Paris France

6. Notre Dame Cathedral

There is something really enchanting about Notre Dame Cathedral. We have visited plenty of cathedrals, but this is still probably our favourite. The first stone of Notre Dame was laid in 1163, but the stunning cathedral wasn’t finished for over 200 years. Notre Dame has predominately been used as a place of worship, but at one point it was  a marketplace and was even scheduled for demolition. Thankfully, Parisians rallied to save it!

Location: 6 Parvis Notre-Dame – Pl. Jean-Paul II

Metro stop: Saint Michel Notre Dame

Sacre Coeur Montmarte Paris

7. Sacre Coeur Basilica

The imposing Scare Coeur Basilica is impressively mounted upon a hill overlooking Montmarte and the rest of Paris. Sacre Coeur is much younger than Notre Dame, with the first stone laid in 1875, but is arguably just as beautiful. You can’t beat the view over Paris from the steps either. There are lawns in front of the Basilica which are also a great spot for a picnic.

Location: 35 Rue du Chevalier de la Barre

Metro stop: Anvers

8. Le Marais

Le Marais is the funky Jewish district in Paris, with winding cobble stoned alleyways full of cool boutique shops and cafes. Even if you aren’t in the mood for shopping, it is well worth wandering around to see a different side of Paris. If you’re hungry drop in to the traditional deli at Schwartz’s (lunch is not free though – obviously).

Location: Le Marais district is near Centre Pompidou, stretching across the 3rd and 4th Arrondissement.

Metro stop: Saint Paul

Garden near Louvre Tuileries

9. The Tuileries Garden

This beautiful garden is located right beside the Louvre, and is a relaxing spot to unwind after a crowded trip inside! There are sculptures and fountains dotted around the park. Plus, there are free garden chairs sitting around the park. Try to nab one and settle in for a picnic!

Location: 113 Rue de Rivoli

Metro stop: Concorde

Obelisk of Luxor Paris France

10. Obelisk of Luxor

The Obelisk of Luxor is located in the middle of Place de la Concorde. While it seems like any ordinary square now, this was one of the bloodiest sites of the French Revolution. The square was overtaken by revolutionaries who executed more than 1300 people by guillotine, including Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. The guillotine was eventually replaced by the Obelisk of Luxor, an impressive 22 metre high edifice from Egypt. The Obelisk is over 3,300 years old and the heiroglyphics inscribed tell the story of Ramses II and Ramses III.

Location: Place de la Concorde

Metro stop: Concorde

Travelator Tip: If you love Egyptian history, you can’t miss the Egyptian Antiquities collection at the Louvre. Not free of course, but definitely worth a visit.

Pont Alexandre III Paris

11. Pont Alexandre III

This stunning arch bridge is probably the best decorated and most iconic bridge in Paris. It was also featured in Adele’s ‘Someone Like You’ music video so is apparently now also known as ‘Adele Bridge’. We’re not sure how we feel about that…

Location: Pont Alexandre III, near Le Petit Palais

Metro stop: Invalides

12. Pere Lachaise Cemetery

It may sound a bit grim suggesting to visit a cemetery, but we promise it’s not that bad. The cemetery is Paris’ most prestigious address to be buried, and is actually quite beautiful. There are thousands of old tombs and gravestones, many of which date back hundreds of years. There are also quite a few famous residents at Peirre Lachaise, including Jim Morrison, Chopin and Oscar Wilde.

Location: 16 Rue du Repos

Metro stop: Pere Lachaise

Eiffel Tower Paris France

13. The best lookout to see the Eiffel Tower

We think the view from Trocadero is probably the best (free) view you will get of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. To get there, catch the metro to the La Tour-Maubourg stop (lines 6 and 9).

Location: Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre

Metro stop: Trocadero

14. WeGo Walking Tour

After a couple of months in Europe taking free walking tours, we had become a bit disheartened. We had remembered them from our first visit (back in 2007) as being a fun way to learn more about the places we were visiting, ask questions and meet locals. But alas, most have turned into ‘McDonald’s Tours’ – you (and 40 others) hear a script from a non-local guide who tends to spend more time touting the company’s paid tours than actually answering your questions.

But WeGo Walking Tours was different. WeGo is what free walking tours should be. The company is run by Paul and his wife, who both call Paris their home. The tour size is limited, which makes the tour much more personal and informative. You can tell Paul is really passionate about Paris and the experience of his visitors. The tour is ‘free’, but at the end you pay what you think the tour was worth (it works on a tip system). We cannot recommend WeGo Walking Tours highly enough. (Note: WeGo didn’t pay us for this plug – we were just like any other tourist on the tour!).

Location: Meet near the entrance to the Notre Dame Cathedral. Check WeGo Walking Tour’s website for details.

Metro stop: Saint Michel Notre Dame

Travelator Tip: WeGo Walking Tours are very popular, so book ahead! You can book on their website.

Booksellers Seine Paris France

15. The Booksellers of the Seine

These legendary second-hand book sellers line around 3 kilometres of the banks of the Seine selling antique and used books. Their green book stalls are now iconic, and were even declared UNESCO World Heritage site. The tradition of selling second-hand books began in the 16th century, and has continued ever since. On a sunny day, you will still find them selling their wares along the Seine to locals and tourists alike.

Location: Les bouquinistes de Paris, Bords de Seine – du Pont Marie au quai Voltaire

Metro stop: Saint Michel Notre Dame

Have you found any other great free things to do in Paris? Let us know in the comments below!

The Travelator Diaries: Armenia & Georgia

The Travelator Diaries: Armenia & Georgia

We are sharing our personal travel diaries! We started keeping these so our family and friends could keep up with our travels, and get some laughs at our expense. Here is our entry for Georgia & Armenia, covering our rather eventful road trip in October 2016.

We had just finished up 2 weeks in Iran, and while we absolutely loved it, Tom was hanging for a beer and KG was ready to rip off her hijab. We crossed the border in northern Iran, and one shifty taxi ride later, we were in Meghri, Armenia. We checked into a gorgeous little family guesthouse, and had a quick homemade vodka with the owner, then headed to a local restaurant for a beer, BBQ pork and unrestricted wifi. Luxury!

Meghri Armenia
The view over Meghri, Armenia

We caught a minibus from Meghri to Armenia’s capital, Yerevan. We were promised that we would be dropped at our hostel, but (predictably) we were dropped at a random metro stop and told to make our own way. This would normally be fine, but the Armenian language looks like spaghetti thrown at a wall so we had no friggin’ idea where we were. As it turns out, the metro is a single line and we were at the last stop, so we didn’t have too many options to choose from and found our hostel eventually.

Armenian language
The Armenian language – good luck reading this!
Noy Yerevan Brandy Factory
KG enjoying her brandy tasting at Noy Yerevan Brandy Factory… or not.

The road trip begins…

After three days in Yerevan overeating and drinking wine, we hopped in our hire car – Marcel the Nissan Micra. Marcel was everything you look for in a man – good looking, reliable and a great money saver. Unfortunately, the roads in Armenia are better suited to Toyota Landcruisers than Nissan Micra’s, and poor Marcel was regularly put through his paces.

Marcel the Micra
Marcel the Micra
Nissan Micra
Also handy for storing extra bred for feeding stray animals.

Some highlights include: running into a sheep (to be fair, we had stopped and the sheep ran into us), five closed roads, two speeding tickets (in one day) and a day of snow driving. But in addition to the shitty driving conditions were some of the most picturesque and stunning monasteries in the world, so we forgave Armenia for its terrible roads.

Noravank Monastery
Noravank Monastery
Sevanavank Monastery
Sevanavank Monastery

Entering Georgia

After about a week, we crossed the northern border of Armenia into Georgia. The roads were better, but the signage was not unfortunately. We loved our time in Georgia – we visited the huge cave city of Vardzia, hilltop monasteries and even Stalin’s hometown. Stalin was born to a poor cobbler in the small town of Gori in central Georgia. Now you can visit his childhood home, fancy train carriage and a museum about his life. The museum kind of glosses over the less appealing parts of his rule (i.e. the millions who died from famines, purges, political persecutions etc) but if you can look past this, it was quite fascinating to learn more about his personal life and family.

Cave complex of Vardzia
Cave complex of Vardzia

Next it was time for WINE! Yay! We spent four days in Georgia’s wine region of Kakheti, tasting wine and lazing around. It was also KG’s 28th birthday, so we booked ourselves into a fancy wine chateau and spa for a bit of a treat. There was also a super cute kitten (see below).

Schuchmann Chateau
Schuchmann Chateau – our digs for KG’s birthday
Georgia cats
Tom with the very cute resident kitten at Shumi Winery

We finished up our time in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. We said a sad farewell to Marcel, and by some miracle got our security deposit back. Next stop: the Balkans!

Selfie overlooking Tbilisi
Selfie overlooking Tbilisi

Have you visited the Caucasus? What did you think? Tell us more in the comments below!

Keys to the City: Kotor, Montenegro

Keys to the City: Kotor, Montenegro

Our city guide gives you a run down on Kotor in Montenegro. We will let you know the best things to do, the best places to eat and a few tricks we picked up during our time there. Enjoy!

Why Visit?

We’ll cut to the chase here: Kotor is a stunning little town!

Located at the end of the bay from which it takes it’s name, Kotor is most famous for its beautiful Old Town and the fortress perched just above it. Kotor is the perfect place for both the active traveller and someone just looking for a place to relax for a few days. Whether you spend your time trekking up the cliffs or sitting in the main square sipping on a coffee, Kotor needs to be on your list of places to visit.

What To Do?

You can see pretty much everything in Kotor in 2 or 3 days but we ended up staying a week! It is one of those charming little towns where sometimes the best thing to do is grab a coffee in the main square and then go for a lazy stroll along the waterfront. But if you’re tight on time, the following things were our favourites.

Hike up to the Castle of San Giovanni

As soon as your arrive in Kotor you will see the Castle and its walls perched high above the Kotor Old Town. It is a must-do during your time there.

Kotor Fort
The Castle perched high above the Old Town

You have 2 routes to the Castle to choose from:

  • From the Old Town (30 to 40 minutes one way):

There are 2 points in which you can start your journey from the Old Town. The first is in the southern end of the Old Town in Placa Od Salate. There is a group of seats on the stepped section of the square and just behind those is a small alley way to lead you to the top.

The second route departs from the northern part of the Old Town right near the North Gate. Head to the small square with the Church of St. Mary Collegiate, where you will find a small alley with signposts signalling the way.

Travelator Tip: In summer, you have to pay 3 euro per person to climb the stairs near the North Gate. But in winter it’s free!

  • The Ladder of Cattaro (60 minutes one way):

This option can not only take you to the Castle but also up to the top of the cliffs just behind Kotor for some incredible views of the bay.

Walk out of the Old Town through the North Gate, cross 2 small bridges then turn right just after the second bridge. Walk to the end of this road towards some shabby looking buildings. It looks like you can’t go any further but just to the right of a chain linked fence is the beginning of the trail.

The Ladder of Cattaro is a series of switchbacks snaking up the valley. To access the Castle, you can turn right off of the path at either of the two houses you encounter on the trail. You will find a small church, and a small hole in the Castle wall nearby where you can enter. Aside from marking your way, these houses also sell beer, juices, local cheese and fresh fruit, so if you have a few minutes pull up a chair and enjoy the view.

Travelator Tip: If you enter the Castle via the Ladder of Cattaro trail, you don’t have to pay the 3 euro fee like when you climb the stairs from the Old Town. Entrance to the Castle is free!

If you choose not to peel off the path, it will take you all the way to the top of the cliff above Kotor and give you a panoramic view over the bay and the Castle. It is absolutely worth the effort but we would recommend allowing at around 3 hours to get up and back.

Bay of Kotor
Looking down from the Castle above Kotor.

Catch the bus to Perast

Perast is a beautiful little fishing village located about a 30 minute drive around the bay from Kotor. The tiny village is well worth the visit to catch a water taxi out to the small islands of St George and Our Lady Of the Rocks, which house a small monastery and a Roman Catholic church respectively.

To get to Perast, head to the bus station on the main road just outside of the southern end of Kotor Old Town (see map below). Wait for the Bluelines bus that arrives at 10 minutes past the hour. The fare is 1.10 euro, and you buy your ticket on the bus. To get home, simply wait in the same place that the bus drops you off.

Bus stop to Perast
The bus stop for the bus to Perast.

Once you arrive in Perast you won’t be able to miss the small marina where the water taxis are located. A water taxi ride to both islands should cost 5 euro per person but during peak season this can increase. Shop around!

Parast
An amazing view of Perast

Get lost in the Old Town

Think Dubrovnik, but smaller, less tourists and MUCH cheaper. The Kotor Old Town is a winding maze of alleyways full of boutique restaurants, shops and cafes. Aside from the restaurants and cafes, there are some beautiful cathedrals scattered around, great bars and even a museum dedicated to the many friendly stray cats that live within the old city walls.

Stray cats Kotor Montengro
KG with two of the many friendly stray cats in Kotor.

Stroll around the Bay of Kotor

Walk out the front of Old Town and pick a direction. Left or right, it doesn’t matter as the walk will be a beautiful one. Neither direction has dedicated walking paths but strolling along the side of the road is perfectly safe. There are numerous villages along the way that will have restaurants and cafes to keep you going. They may even be able to arrange you a taxi if you’re feeling too lazy to make the walk home.

Kotor Marina
The view across the marina of Kotor Old Town

Where To Eat?

There is a ridiculous number of bars, restaurants and cafes jammed into Kotor Old Town and it’s surrounds. Here’s a few of our favourites that we had to visit more than once!

Pronto Pizza

The sign inside the restaurant stating that they have the best pizza in town is no lie. I think in the week we spent in Kotor we ate here at least five times (we love pizza). There is nothing too fancy at Pronto, just delicious pizzas at great prices.

Bokun Wine Bar

In a town full of up-market eateries, Bokun stands out for the quality of their food and the size of the servings. Bokun specialises in sharing plates, which include everything from fresh fish to cured meats and local cheeses. The wine list is fantastic, the atmosphere is cosy and the service was great.

Kotor Montengro
Working off all that pizza on our climb up the Cattaro Ladder.

Tanjga

Balkan cuisine revolves around grilled meat. Even if you are sick of meat already, you need to give Tanjga a try. It is by far one of the best grill places we tried throughout all of the Balkans. The food is delicious, the servings are huge and it is dirt cheap! Tanjga whip up all of the Balkan staples but the real highlight for us was the plate of roast pork – plus the surly banter from the waitstaff! Tanjga is located just outside the southern gate of the Old Town.

The Old Winery

As you could probably guess, The Old Winery prides itself on its wine list but the food is fantastic as well. It’s definitely not the cheapest restaurant in town but the quality makes up for it. Dishing up some tasty share platters, local seafood and a surprisingly authentic array of pastas, The Old Winery is a great spot for a casual drink or a proper meal.

Fishing Kotor Montengro
Time for some fresh fish?

Where To Stay?

We stayed at the excellent Hostel Old Town Kotor. Set in a superbly restored building in the heart of Old Town, Hostel Old Town offers dorm rooms as well as private rooms for excellent prices given it’s location. The staff are fantastic. They will help you organise anything from a spot to grab coffee to helping you out with any day tours throughout Montenegro. There is also a nightly pub crawl which is a good time to meet other travellers.

Bay of Kotor
Views of the Bay of Kotor during a stroll.

How To Get There?

Buses are your best option for transport throughout the Balkans. Getting to and from Kotor is no exception. The best place to find out information about departure times and prices is at the local bus station. If you are trying to plan ahead however Bulkan Viator can be very useful. Here is some info on the most common routes:

Getting from Podgorica to Kotor

Make your way to the main bus station in Podgorica. Buses will depart to Kotor around every half hour from 5:30am until 10pm. The journey takes 1.5 to 2 hours.

Getting from Dubrovnik (Croatia) to Kotor

Buses depart from the Dubrovnik main bus station for Kotor. Buses usually depart at 7am, 11am and 3pm, but check BusCroatia for up-to-date schedules and prices. Expect the trip to last around 2 hours.

Getting from Shkoder (Albania) to Kotor

This bus will take you from Shkoder to Podgorica and then to Kotor. The bus departs from the main road next to Xhamia e Madhe mosque (map here). It is a tourist bus with Kotor on a sign in the window. It departs around 10:30am. The journey should take about 4 hours.

Have you visited Kotor? What did you do during your stay? Tell us in the comments below!

Discovering Europe’s Newest Country: Kosovo

Discovering Europe’s Newest Country: Kosovo

Kosovo is perhaps one of the last ‘off the beaten path’ destinations in Europe. Due to its tumultuous recent history, the country has often been overlooked by travellers in the Balkans. But thankfully Kosovo is experiencing a revival of sorts, and is now firmly back on the itinerary.

This once war-ravaged country is buzzing, with beautifully restored old towns, trendy cafes and great beer. It is also ridiculously cheap. Like, SE Asia cheap. We spent 3 days in Kosovo based in the country’s second largest city, Prizren. Here is a short history and some great places to see during a visit to Kosovo.

Visit Prizren Kosovo

A short history of Kosovo

Kosovo is Europe’s newest country, having been declared independent in 2008. It was once the centre of a Serbian kingdom, but later ruled by the Ottomans from the mid-15th century to early-20th century. The population is predominantly ethnically Albanian, but many other Kosovars identify themselves as ethnically Turkish or Serbian. The predominant religion is Islam, along with significant numbers of Catholic and Orthodox followers.

This melting pot of cultures, religions and histories led to rising tensions in the 1990s, which culminated in an ethnic Albanian-led rebellion for independence in 1998. This led to an international crisis ending with the bombing of Serbia and Montenegro by NATO in 1999. Once peace was restored, Kosovo was administered by the UN until its independence in 2008. Serbia (and some other countries including Russia) continues to reject Kosovo’s independence, and still considers it part of Serbian territory.

Visit Prizren Kosovo

Is it safe to visit Kosovo?

Absolutely. The overall security situation in Kosovo has calmed since the 1990s, and is now very safe. The local people are also incredibly friendly and helpful. We walked around at night without any concerns. As always, use common sense and steer clear of any anti-government protests etc. Hiking and camping is generally very safe, but ask a local about landmines before you set out especially if you will be near border regions. We seriously think you would have more chance of finding diamonds, but it never hurts to check.

Visit Fortress Prizren Kosovo

Places to see in Kosovo

We only had three days in Kosovo, so we aren’t proclaiming to have seen the whole country. Having said that, it’s not a very big place so you can see quite a lot in a few days. We decided to skip the capital, Pristina, because most people we met said it was a bit ‘meh’. We based ourselves in Prizren instead, and highly recommend it. Here are a few things to see in and around this gorgeous city.

Prizren

Prizren has a charming cobble stoned old town that is sliced in half by a small river. The stone bridges crossing the river are perfect for photos and people watching. Kosovo also has an impressive coffee culture. You can arguably find the best macchiato in Europe here – and it will cost less than 0.70 euros! In the afternoons, the old town in Prizren is filled to the brim with Kosovars relaxing in the sunlight with a coffee in hand. There is an enchanting atmosphere to the place, and we loved sitting back at a sidewalk cafe with a coffee watching the world go by.

Stone Bridges Prizren Kosovo

We highly recommend climbing up to the Kalaja Fortress, which cuts an imposing shadow over Prizren. The climb takes around 30 minutes from the old town. There is a great walking trail at the back of the fortress, which leads down to the river and back to the old town (4km).

Kalaja Fortress Walking Trail Prizren Kosovo

There are also some beautiful mosques dotted around Prizren. The most prominent is Sinan Pasha Mosque in the heart of the old town. The mosque is very welcoming to tourists. Just remember to take your shoes off at the entrance, and wear modest clothing.

Gjakova

The bustling Ottoman city of Gjakova is a great stopover between Prizren and Peja. Gjakova was an Ottoman trade centre with a huge central marketplace built in the 16th century. Gjakova suffered badly in the Balkan Wars of the early 20th century, and the Kosovo War in the 1990s. However, there is little evidence of this war-torn past in this bustling regional hub now.

Visit Gjakova Kosovo

The cobble stoned Old Bazaar (Çarshia e Madhe) is packed with outdoor cafes and shops. The Hadumi Mosque Complex is also located in the Old Bazaar. Most of the complex was burned to the ground in 1999 during the Kosovo War, but the mosque and minaret survived.

Hadumi Mosque Gjakova Kosovo

Patriarchate of Pec

The serene Monastery of the Patriarchate of Pec is the main attraction in Peja, a small city located around 1.5 hours from Prizren. The monastery is located at the entrance of a beautiful gorge on the outskirts of town. The monastery was first built in the 12th century, but there have been many additions since then. It is still one of the most important Serbian Orthodox centres in the Balkans region. As a result, there are quite a few nuns still living and working at the monastery.

Patriarchate of Pec Kosovo

There is an audio guide included with the small entrance fee, but it’s pretty hard to follow to be honest. We tried rakia made by the nuns during our visit – it was potent stuff! The nun we spoke with said that she would live at the monastery until ‘the end of her days’. A truly amazing place.

Peja Patriatchate of Pec Kosovo

Spring of Drini i Bardhe

This legendary mountain spring is located around 10 kms outside Peja, and is well worth the visit. There is now a rather ugly resort/hotel built near the entrance, but don’t let that deter you. Follow the boardwalk behind the hotel along the gushing icy river, then climb up the stairs to see the stunning spring waterfall. You can even walk above the waterfall to the spring source, and see water bubbling out from the rocks.

Spring Peja Kosovo

Where To Stay

We highly recommend M99 Hostel in Prizren. Edis and his brother are possibly the most welcoming and generous hosts we have ever encountered. Edis will even take you on a free orientation walk around the city centre. He also knows some great places to eat – we recommend Te Syla and EGO Restaurant.

Spring Peja Kosovo

Getting Around

We caught a direct bus to Prizren from Skopje (Macedonia). There are also daily connections with Tirana (Albania) and Belgrade (Serbia). There are also regular buses from Peja and Pristina to Prizren.

We hired an English speaking driver/guide through M99 Hostel for a one day tour of Gjakovar, Patriarchate of Pec and Drini i Bardhe. It cost 60 euro, and it was worth every cent. Our guide, Nedi, was really open and honest. He could not only tell us about the places we were visiting, but also about life in Kosovo.

There are also regular local buses travelling between Prizren-Gjakovar-Peja. To visit the Drini i Bardhe spring you will need to hire a taxi in Peja. We estimate a return trip should cost less than 10 euros.

Have you visited Kosovo? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!


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Exploring Europe’s Oldest Inhabited City: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Exploring Europe’s Oldest Inhabited City: Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Plovdiv has been continuously inhabited for over 6,000 years, making it Europe’s oldest inhabited city. There have been bloody battles waged in Bulgaria, including Plovdiv, for thousands of years due to its strategic location en-route to Asia and the Middle East. As a result, it’s been conquered by everyone from the Thracians to the Ottomans. Now, it is an emerging favourite amongst budget travellers who love its rich history, attractive old town and ridiculously cheap beers. Here’s 6 things to do if you decide to visit this fabulous little city.

Check out Plovdiv street art

There are clearly some very talented Bulgarian street artists wandering around Plovdiv, because the city has some surprisingly excellent street art. Colourful spray paintings are hiding in all sorts of nooks and crannies if you keep your eyes peeled. The Trap area has some of the most creative work with garage doors to power boxes covered in colourful artworks.

Visit Plovdiv Bulgaria

Relax in ‘The Trap’

Apart from its awesome street art, The Trap (Kapana in Bulgarian) is also jam packed with trendy shops, cafes and bars. It is allegedly called The Trap because the winding streets make it easy to get lost – but we promise it’s not really that hard to get around. It’s a great place to relax with some coffee and cake, or pick up a cute souvenir. We were told that The Trap has been used as a marketplace for decades, but during Communist times the shops and cafes were nationalised. It fell into disrepair after Communism while the city tried to return businesses to their pre-Communist owners, but thankfully it is now a thriving commercial hub once again.

The Trap Plovdiv Bulgaria

Enjoy Bulgarian craft beer and wine

Bulgaria has a great range of local craft beer and wine. The prices are so cheap it would be a travesty to miss out on tasting a few! We recommend BeerStop Pub (ul. Otets Paisiy 16) for craft beer. If wine is more your thing, check out Vino Culture (ul. Otets Paisiy 5).

Stroll through the Old Town

The cobble stone streets of the Old Town are a great place to stroll around for a couple of hours. Make sure you stop by the statue of Miljo, a local hero of sorts. Although Miljo was poor, he was apparently ‘gifted’ in other ways. You will also see Miljo has a rather shiny knee. Legend has it that if you rub Miljo’s knee you will be lucky in love.

Miljo Plovdiv Bulgaria

We also recommend visiting the Roman Theatre of Plovdiv, which is one of the best preserved Roman theatres in the world. The theatre was built in the late 1st century – early 2nd century AD for theatrical performances and gladiator fights. The theatre had capacity for 6,000 spectators who revelled in watching these performances and grisly hunting games.

Roman Theatre Plovdiv Bulgaria

Climb one of Plovidv’s seven hills

Plovdiv is known as the city of seven hills because – you guessed it – the city is built on seven hills. It’s actually just six hills now, since one was destroyed to mine rock for pave stones. We climbed up to the fortress walls at Nebet Tepe, which offers fantastic views across the city. If you’re more energetic than us (which isn’t difficult), tackle Liberators Hill located west of the city centre.

Seven Hills Plovdiv Bulgaria

Go day trippin’

There are also plenty of great day trips from Plovdiv, with most hostels offering pretty reasonable tours. We had picked up a travel buddy, so we hired a car for one day through Old Plovdiv Hostel. Hiring a car worked out much cheaper than a tour between the three of us. The price for 24 hours’ hire was around 30 euro, plus petrol (around 1 euro per litre). We needed our Australian drivers’ licence and International Driving Permit, and provided a 200 euro security deposit.

Our first stop was the ancient hilltop Thracian city of Perperikon. This is believed to be the place where Alexander the Great heard the oracles’ prophecy that he would rule the world.

Perperikon Bulgaria

Our next stop was the medieval Bachkovo Monastery. The frescoes inside the main church were absolutely stunning. Perhaps the most memorable part though was a small plaque dedicated to Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan. These two men played a decisive role in preventing the deportation of Bulgarian Jews to Nazi extermination camps in 1943. The plaque at the Monastery reads: ‘Were the world blessed with more individuals of such valour and nobility as that shown by Patriarch Kiril and Exarch Stefan surely more Jews would have been spared their tragic end.’ You can read more about this incredible story here.

Bachkovo Monastery Bulgaria

Our final stop was Asen’s Fortress. A winding switchback road led to the remnants of a once mighty fortress. All that remains is a small church, but the views offered from the hilltop are incredible.

Asen's Fortress Bulgaria

Have you visited Bulgaria? What did you think? Tell us in the comments below!


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