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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.

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!

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!


Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.

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!


Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.

Day Tripping To St Naum Monastery: Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Day Tripping To St Naum Monastery: Lake Ohrid, Macedonia

Lake Ohrid straddles the Macedonia and Albania border surrounded by snow capped mountain peaks reaching above 2000 meters. The lake’s sparkling blue waters stretch to a depth of 300 metres, and are so clear that you almost swear you can see the bottom! We based ourselves in Ohrid, a laid-back cobble stoned town sprawled along the lake shore. One of the best day trips from Ohrid is to St Naum Monastery, 29 kilometres from Ohrid. The Monastery is situated on a beautiful bluff near the Albanian border, and is one of the highlights of Lake Ohrid. Here is what to see and how to get there.

Lake Ohrid St Naum Monastery

Visiting St Naum Monastery

There are a number of churches scattered across the monastic complex. The main event is the Church of Sveti Naum, which was rebuilt in the 16th and 17th century after being destroyed by the Ottomans. The beautiful frescoes inside the church are dated back to the 19th century. It is quite an experience, especially if you are lucky enough to have the church to yourself, to stand inside the church listening to the haunting choir music that is played.

Lake Ohrid Church of St Naum
Church of St Naum

Beautifully manicured gardens surround the church, and are home to a few cranky peacocks. There are also two sandy beaches that are great for swimming in the warmer months. There are a number of restaurants and bars scattered around the complex, and row boats available for a paddle.

Lake Ohrid St Naum Peacocks
Beware: Peacocks!

After visiting the Church of Sveti Naum, you can walk along a short trail around the springs. The trail will take you to three smaller but equally beautiful churches: St Paraskeva Church, Holy Mother Church and St Athanasius Church. There are plenty of signs showing you the way.

Lake Ohrid St Paraskeva Church
St Paraskeva Church
Lake Ohrid St Athanasius Church
St Athanasius Church

Perhaps our favourite part of visiting St Naum Monastery was sitting on the benches by the lake just admiring the water and the snow capped mountains. It’s just so peaceful!

Getting to St Naum Monastery

From Ohrid, catch the bus from this bus station in the centre of town. The final stop is St Naum Monastery, and the bus returns to Ohrid from the same place you disembark. Tickets cost 110 denar each way, and you purchase them on the bus. The bus timetable is below:

  • Buses from Ohrid to St Naum: 6.15, 8.30, 10.00*, 11.30, 13.30, 15.30, 18.30 (*only in summer)
  • Buses from St Naum to Ohrid: 7.00, 9.10, 10.50, 12.10, 14.10, 16.10, 19.10

You may be approached at the bus station by taxi drivers offering you a seat in a shared taxi. The driver offered us rides for 110 denar each – this sounded too good to be true so we caught the bus. But the same taxi driver was waiting for us at the Monastery with the same deal for the return trip, so we thought we would give it a go. Turns out he was legit! The ride was quicker and cost the same as the bus.

St Naum Monastery spring Lake Ohrid Macedonia
The St Naum spring bubbling into Lake Ohrid

From May to September, you can also catch a ferry from the Ohrid harbour to St Naum Monastery. The journey takes 2.5 hours to the Monastery, and 1.5 hours back. Ferries leave Ohrid harbour at 10am, and return at 4pm. Tickets cost 10 euros return.

Have you visited Lake Ohrid? What did you think?

Guide to Backpacking in Georgia

Guide to Backpacking in Georgia

In this guide we will tell you all about backpacking in Georgia on a budget, including what to see, where to stay and how to get there.

Why Visit?

We’ll cut to the chase here: Georgia is a stunning country! The ancient monasteries scattered around the incredibly scenic countryside, the mountain peaks and the quality wine will surely make it one of your favourite destinations. Georgia’s capital Tbilisi has a trendy mainland Europe feel without the price tag or the hoards of tourists. The locals are incredibly friendly and welcoming, and there is always waaaay too much food!

Must-See Places

Tbilisi

The cool, laid-back, youthful vibe of Tbilisi makes it a favourite stop for most people visiting Georgia. Tbilisi packs in enough sights to keep you busy for two full days. The best part is that most of it can be seen by foot. Spend one day checking out the Rezo Gabriadze Marionette Theatre and the Tsminda Sameba Cathedral before taking the cable car up to Narikala Fortress. On day two take in the Georgian National Museum followed by the National Gallery of Armenia. Then head up the Funicular for some amazing views across the city.

TRAVELATOR TIP: Take a break from meat-heavy Georgian cuisine with some incredible vegetarian food at Cafe Leila. The pumpkin soup and apple pie are amazing!

Tsminda Sameba Cathedral Tbilisi
The Tsminda Sameba Cathedral in Tbilisi.

Kutaisi

Georgia’s second largest city is less touristy and slightly more gritty than the capital, but has a great student feel and has plenty to see. There are quite a few attractions within a short drive from Kutaisi making it well worth a few nights. Head just outside of town to visit the Prometheus Cave and then to Gelati Monastery. In Kutaisi, walk up to the stunning Bagrati Cathedral and check out the surrounding cobble stone streets. If you have time, a visit to Okatse Canyon is also worth a trip.

TRAVELATOR TIP: Wizz Air has just started flying to Kutaisi, and flights are dirt cheap! It’s often cheaper to fly to Kutaisi than Tbilisi.

Bagrati Cathedral
Bagrati Cathedral (and some cows).

Gori

The birthplace of Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, better known as Joseph Stalin,  is the small town of Gori. Located in central Georgia, this is an intriguing stop for history buffs. The biggest attraction is the Stalin Museum. The guided tour (included in the entrance fee) is definitely worth the wait and provides some amazing insight into the life and family of one of the 20th century’s most controversial figures. Within walking distance is the Gori Fortress, the small but interesting Ethnographic Museum and the War Museum. Before you leave be sure to jump in a cab and head out to the Uplistsikhe Cave Town to check out the fascinating cave city.

TRAVELATOR TIP: For a cheap and tasty dinner, head to Sport Cafe in central Gori. The owner was apparently once a champion boxer!

Statue of Stalin
A statue of Stalin inside the Stalin Museum.

Kakheti

No trip to Georgia is complete without spending a few days in the Kakheti region, home to most of Georgia’s wineries. Our favourite stops were Telavi and Sighnaghi. In Sighnaghi, check out the old City Walls and spend some time wandering around the cobble stone streets – it almost reminded us of a little village in Italy! Around 2km out of town is the Bodbe Monastery, which is the final resting place of St Nino, the Saint responsible for bringing Christianity to Georgia.  In Telavi, the main attraction is the wine. We recommend Schuchmann EstateShumi Winery, and Chavchavadze Estate.

TRAVELATOR TIP: Obviously you don’t want to be designated driver during a wine tasting trip, so speak to your guesthouse about arranging a wine tour or simply speak to a taxi driver on the street. The wineries listed above are all within a short distance of Telavi (less than 10 km) so a taxi is very affordable.

Chavchavadze Estate
Chavchavadze Estate, just outside of Telavi.

Vardzia

Not the easiest place to get to but the stunning cave complex make it worth the journey. Located in the south of Georgia, the Vardzia Cave Complex at one time housed up to 2000 monks! Much of the complex is still in good condition and we recommend allowing at least 1 hour to explore the whole site. Khertvisi Fortress is on the road to the cave complex.

Vardzia Cave Complex
A small section of the Vardzia Cave Complex

Aklhaltsikhe

Aklhaltsikhe is a handy stopover between Vardzia and Kutaisi. There are hardly any tourists so you will largely have the sights to yourself! The Rabati Castle is the main attraction. It has been restored nicely (although is a little convention centre-y) and the grounds are lovely to walk through.

TRAVELATOR TIP: Between Vardzia and Aklhaltsikhe make sure you stop by the remote hilltop Sapara Monastery. It has a truly medieval feel!

Where To Stay

Georgia has an interesting mix of hostels, guesthouses and cheap hotels. In Tbilisi we recommend a hostel but throughout the countryside it is the warm and inviting guesthouses that will make your stay more memorable.

  • Tbilisi  Tbili Hostel – don’t let the exterior put you off, this brand new hostel has everything you’re after! Comfy beds, clean bathrooms, shared kitchen, great location and a fantastic host make this the perfect place to stay.
  • Kutaisi – Hostel Lviv – cheap, clean, comfortable and in a great location. Hostel Lviv has both shared and private rooms, spotless bathrooms and a share kitchen.
  • Gori – Guesthouse Levani – the hosts at Levani are the most welcoming you are likely to meet. They speak fantastic English (and French) and will happily give you a run down of how to spend your time in an around Gori. Excellent rooms and a huge breakfast at a great price.
  • Sighnaghi – Maya Guesthouse – if Sighnaghi is your pick in Kakheti this is the place to stay. In a great spot but away from all the noise. The incredibly friendly host Maya will make your stay a memorable one!

Must Eats

Khachapuri

It is virtually impossible to travel through Georgia and not try Khachapuri. They are basically like a flat and delicious cheese pie. Khachapuri comes in any number of varieties but most will usually just be bread and cheese with the occasional extra filling.

Khinkali

Being wedged between Europe and Asia of course Georgia has it’s own form of dumpling! The khinkali is up there with some of the better types of dumpling we have tried. They come filled with anything from potato to fish. Usually the price on the menu is per dumpling and there will be a minimum you can purchase.

Ojakhuri

Ojakhuri is simple and while it doesn’t look amazing, it’s absolutely delicious. Usually chicken or pork with potato, onions and herbs mixed together and served on a piping hot clay dish. Ojakhuri will come out still sizzling so give it some time to cool off before you dive in.

Chacha

It doesn’t matter which bar, restaurant cafe or guesthouse you are in, there will be a bottle of chacha kicking around somewhere. This clear spirit is usually made from grapes, can be anywhere between 40 and 60 percent alcohol and differs greatly in quality depending on who made it. Large Georgian vineyards make it and so do people’s grandmothers, but regardless of where it came from you need to give it a go.

Getting Around

In Tbilisi: we spent 2 days in Tbilisi and managed to see everything on foot! It’s a beautiful city to walk around and all of the sights are quite close together. If walking is not your cup of tea there is a metro that runs pretty much everywhere, which is cheap and easy to use. Taxis are also readily available but be sure to agree on a price before getting in. If possible have your accommodation call a registered taxi for you with a meter.

Between cities: from Tbilisi, minibuses and trains will get to to pretty much anywhere you need to go. Once you are outside of Tblisi, minibuses are the most common form of transport but frequency and reliability can vary from place to place. We hired a car, which was great fun!

Getting In and Out

By Air

Tbilisi is well connected by air with both mainland Europe and Central Asia. From the Middle East both FlyDubai and Qatar offer services out of Dubai and Doha respectively. If you are looking for cheap options, Kutaisi has some incredibly cheap flights through budget carrier Wizz Air. Aegean Airways also have a really cheap fare through to Europe flying via Athens.

By Land

Georgia shares land borders with Armenia, Russia, Turkey and Azerbaijan. All borders are usually open to tourists. The only dicey area is Ossetia, a region in northern Georgia that has been annexed by Russia. It is illegal to enter Georgia via Ossetia.

  • Armenia: taking a bus/marshrutka from Yerevan is the easiest way to get to Tbilisi. The journey takes around 6 hours and most will depart between 8am and 11am in the morning. Make your way to the Kilikya Avtokayan station and find the van heading to Tbilisi.
  • Russia: it’s a long slog but you can actually catch a bus from Moscow to Tbilisi! There are 2 daily departures and the journey will take around 32 hours. Closer to the Georgian border, Vladikavkaz is the best destination to get the much shorter 4 hour bus to Tbilisi.
  • Turkey: it is possible to catch a bus from Istanbul, but you’re looking at a journey of at least 26 hours. There are regular departures however. The buses depart from the Istanbul Otogari station and tickets can be purchased through Metro Turizm.
  • Azerbaijan: from Baku the best route to Tbilisi is on the overnight train. Leaving around 8pm each day the train takes around 15 hours. Tickets can be purchased at the Baku Railway station or online.

By Sea

Georgia is also accessible from Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine and Russia via the Black Sea. Departues and prices vary depending on the time of year so head to the super helpful UKR Ferry site for more information.

Budget

Our budget for Georgia was higher than usual as we chose to hire a car. We spent approximately US$90 per day (for two people), which included our car hire costs, petrol, parking, entrance fees, private rooms in guesthouses, and most meals in restaurants. Exchange the car for public transport you would spend around US$70 per day (for two people).

Best Time to Visit

The high season in Georgia are in the summer months (June to September), when you can expect hot and dry days. Spring are autumn are great times to visit although Autumn can be a bit cold and rainy. While there is great snow skiing in winter, during our visit in October it was freezing and even snowed! So be prepared for variable weather.

Are you interested in visiting Georgia? Tell us what you think about visiting here!


Yay for transparency! This page contains some affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through a link on this page, we get paid a small commission. Don’t worry – you don’t pay anything extra! And we promise that we only recommend places that we have truly enjoyed staying at.

Guide to Backpacking in Armenia

Guide to Backpacking in Armenia

In this guide we will tell you all about backpacking in Armenia on a budget, including what to see, where to stay and how to get there.

Why Visit?

Armenia has the perfect combination of ex-Soviet charm mixed with a rich history of art, religion and architecture, plus some amazing nightlife! It is one of our favourite places in Eastern Europe. Who would think that such a small country could pack in so many things to see? The cosmopolitan capital of Yerevan, the remote hilltop monasteries and quaint villages will undoubtedly make it one of your favourite destinations too.

Must-See Places

Yerevan

Armenia’s stunning capital Yerevan has an intriguing mix of nouveau riche and old world charm. With modern wine bars and fast cars to ancient manuscript museums and grand Soviet architecture, it has something for everyone. We honestly talked about moving to Yerevan we loved it so much! The culture and the history come together to make it a really infectious city.

We recommend spending a couple of days exploring the city. Don’t miss the sobering Armenian Genocide Museum and the History Museum of Armenia to gain a better understanding of Armenia’s tragic history and relations with its neighbours. Spend some time wandering through Republic Square and the rather touristy Vernissage Market, before settling in for an afternoon glass of wine and tapas at Wine Republic (our favourite restaurant!). A great way to see the city is by joining the Yerevan Free Walking TourThis awesome three hour tour with Varko, a local artist, takes you to heaps of sights including the Blue Mosque, Yerevan Cascade, the Opera, and St. Sarkis Cathedral.

The beautiful Yerevan Cascade sculpture park at night.
The beautiful Yerevan Cascade sculpture park at night.

TRAVELATOR TIP: Yerevan has an awesome bar scene. This is where Yerevan locals hang out, smoke (a lot!) of cigarettes, drink beer and listen to music. The ‘dive’ pubs are our favourite – they have a great laid back vibe with cheap beer and good music. Our pick is Calumet Ethnic Lounge Bar (56A Pushkin St).

Geghard Monastery

The spectacular rock-cut Monastery complex at Geghard is a great example of Armenian medieval architecture. The enormous surrounding cliffs make it one of the most visually stunning monasteries in Armenia – and it’s only an hour’s drive outside of Yerevan! The main complex was completed in 13th century, but the oldest sections of the Monastery date back to 1177 AD. The complex once housed numerous religious buildings, plus a school, scriptorium, library and houses for clergymen. It also once held important relics, including the spear that wounded Christ on the Cross.

10 kilometres away is Garni Temple, which was a pagan temple built in 77 AD. To be honest, it is nowhere near as impressive as Geghard, but if you’re in the area you may as well have a look.

Geghard Monastery Armenia

TRAVELATOR TIP: We do not recommend self driving to Geghard. When we drove there, we copped a speeding fine (no speed limit signs but plenty of cameras!), hit a few potholes and had to take two detours driving from outside Yerevan. It makes more sense to visit as a day trip from Yerevan by taxi, tour or public transport. Most hostels, like Envoy Hostel, can organise cheap tours and taxis. Otherwise you can  catch a minibus from the Gai bus station (near the Mercedes Benz shop) to Garni, then catch a taxi or walk to Geghard. The first bus leaves Yerevan at 11am and costs 300 dram.

Noravank Monastery

Noravank Monastery is set among stunning red cliffs in a remote spot off the Yerevan-Goris highway. The monastery was founded in 1205, and served as a residence for bishops and princes. The Monastery was raided by Mongols in 1238 but thanks to a truce was able to be largely rebuilt, meaning much of its medieval charm remains. The isolated hilltop location can make for a really peaceful visit if you are early enough to miss the tourists.

Noravank Monastery is best visited on a tour or with your own car. This way you can easily combine a trip to Noravank Monastery with a visit to Khor Virap and a winery in Areni. However, marshrutky from Yerevan or Yeghednadzor can drop you off at the turn off just outside Areni (at Edem Restaurant). From there you can walk or hitchhike the 6km to the Monastery.

Noravank Monastery Armenia

Tatev Monastery

The Tatev Monastery is set on a stunning clifftop location overlooking a huge valley. It is quite remote, but this makes it all the more special. The Monastery dates back to the 9th century and still has much of its original charm. It is still a working Monastery, and when we visited we were able to watch a religious ceremony which was really haunting and beautiful. The views across the valley are wonderful.

It is difficult to reach the Monastery by public transport, but there are a couple of mashrutkas to Tatev village that leave from the market on Syuniki St in Goris. Most people hire a taxi from Goris to the ‘Wings of Tatev’ cable car in Halidzor village. Otherwise, we met a couple of travellers who had successfully hitchhiked. Minibuses from Yerevan to Goris depart from the Kilikia bus station.

Tatev Monastery Armenia

TRAVELATOR TIP: If you are driving up to Tatev Monastery by taxi or your own wheels (rather than catching the cable car), check out Satan’s Bridge and the nearby lookout on the way. Satan’s Bridge is only around 6km from Tatev Monastery.

Lake Sevan

Lake Sevan has a dramatic backdrop of snowcapped mountains and is surrounded by quaint fishing villages. While it has a slightly strange ‘Soviet resort’ feel, we think it is still worth a night or two -watching the sun set over the lake is quite relaxing with a beer. It is the largest lake in Armenia and the Caucasus, and also has great snow skiing nearby in Tsaghkadzor if you are visiting in winter. We stayed in the small lakeside village of Chkalovka near Sevan. You will find most accommodation options are on the western side of the lake.

Many hostels will arrange day tours to Lake Sevan and surrounds from Yerevan. You can also catch the train from Yerevan between 15 June and 1 October. Otherwise, marshrutky from the Hyusisayan bus station in Yerevan can drop you at the lake en route to Dilijan or Ijevan.

TRAVELATOR TIP: The hilltop monastery of Sevanavank is situated on a peninsula just north of Sevan, and offers fantastic views of the lake and mountains.

Lake Sevan Armenia

Debed Canyon

We’re not going to lie – the road to Debed Canyon is shithouse. Our poor Nissan Micra hire car really struggled. The ‘main road’ is closed thanks to works on a tunnel (expected to be finished in 2018), which requires a rough and long detour. But… we promise the crap roads are worth it! The Sanahin Monastery and Haghpat Monastery were real highlights of our trip (I know there have been a lot of monasteries, but these ones were great). We stayed in the small village of Alaverdi, which was in a great central location close to the highway and the monasteries.

Marshrutky depart for Alaverdi from Kilikia bus station in Yerevan  daily. If you can’t find a direct connection, you can also catch a marshrutka to Vanadzor then catch another to Alaverdi. You can flag down a bus onwards to Tblisi on the highway – speak to your guesthouse about the best pick up location.

Sanahin Monastery Armenia
Exploring the eerie Sanahin Monastery near Alaverdi.

TRAVELATOR TIP: For a small tip, you can get an official guided tour of Sanahin Monastaery which is really worthwhile. You get a look inside the Monastery library and hear all about the queen who commission both monasteries.

Where To Stay

There are heaps of hostels in Yerevan, but outside the capital you will probably be staying in guesthouses and homestays. Here are a few we recommend:

  • Yerevan JR’s House – Great value rooms with a huge communal kitchen and dining room. Located just outside the city centre but easily accessed by metro and marshrutka.
  • Goris Aregak B&B – Your host Marieta is what makes this place really special. It’s like staying with your aunt, who happens to be an awesome cook.
  • Yeghednadzor – Guesthouse Nataly – Spotlessly clean house with a comfy communal living room, spacious bathroom, fast wi-fi and excellent heating. Worth the extra dram.
  • Lake Sevan Lavash Hotel – Good value lakeside bungalows with excellent hot water. One of the few decent budget options around Lake Sevan.
  • Alaverdi Iris B&B – Welcoming husband and wife team who cook up a mean breakfast and love to chat. Rooms are comfortable and well heated.

Must Eats

Khorovats

Basically this is just barbecued meat. But it’s delicious! Pork BBQ has been our favourite. It goes perfectly with a nice cold Armenian beer. It is usually paired with bread or rice and a tasty salad.

Patlijan

This yummy dish is eggplant cooked up with tomatoes, onion, basil and parsley. Great with bread on its own, or as a side to your kebab or khorovats.

Kyufta

These meatballs mixed with egg and onion are ridiculously more-ish. Usually the meatballs are served in a delicious tomato-based sauce which is great with rice or bread, and some traditional Armenian salad.

Getting Around

In Yerevan: Yerevan has a very simple one line metro system. Buy tokens (100 dram) at the ticket booths at the station entrance. The metro is really poorly signed, so take a metro map with you. There are also plenty of marshrutky (100 dram). Pay the driver when you get off the minibus. Taxis are also pretty cheap, but be prepared to bargain.

Between cities: Hiring a car is a great option if you are brave enough to face Armenia’s shite roads! Hire fees cost between 10,000 to 25,000 dram per day, depending on the car and length of hire. Marshrutky are a cheap option, although some towns may only have one connection per day with Yerevan (for example, the border town of Meghri). Taxis can also be hired for long distance journeys, but can be expensive. Many hostels and tour operators offer good value day tours from Yerevan, which can work out cheaper than a taxi. We also met a few people hitchhiking quite successfully across Armenia.

Getting In and Out

Armenia seems to mainly be accessed by land, as cheap flights seem hard to come by.

By Air

Yerevan is your best bet if arriving by air. You can find direct flights from Turkey, Russia, Georgia, Greece and the UAE for $100-$200. However, many people opt to fly in and out of Tblisi (Georgia), and visit Armenia by land as a cheaper option.

By Land

Armenia shares land borders with Iran, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkey. However, border crossing between Armenia and Azerbaijan are closed as a result of ongoing hostilities. Border crossings with Turkey are also closed, despite ongoing negotiations. Information on crossing from Iran and Georgia below:

  • Iran: Didar Seir Gity run an overnight bus from Tehran to Yerevan via Tabriz. You can buy tickets at the Tabriz bus station, over the phone or at Didar Seir Gity offices in Tehran or Tabriz. We understand that the bus costs between US$45-50 per person. You can also catch a taxi from Tabriz to the border for US$24, then catch a minibus to Yerevan.
  • Georgia: Marshrutky from Tblisi to Yerevan depart from Ortachala, Avlabari and Sadguris Moedani bus stations in Tblisi (30-35 GEL). If you want to stop in the Debed Canyon on the way, catch the buses from Ortachala or Sadguris Moedani stations.

Budget

Our budget for Armenia was higher than usual as we chose to hire a car. We spent approximately US$90 per day (for two people), which included our car hire costs, petrol, parking, entrance fees, private rooms in guesthouses, and most meals in restaurants. We estimate you would spend around US$70 per day (for two people) if travelling by public transport.

Best Time to Visit

The high season in Armenia is in the summer months (June to September), when you can expect hot and dry days. While there is great snow skiing, winter is usually best avoided. Autumn is quite pleasant, with cool and crisp days. however, during our visit in October it was freezing and even snowed! So be prepared for variable weather.

Are you planning to visit Armenia? Tell us your plans below!


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7 Days in Poland: Warsaw and Krakow

7 Days in Poland: Warsaw and Krakow

We only had 7 days to explore the beautiful country of Poland. We decided to stick to Poland’s two main cities during our visit – Warsaw and Krakow. Here are our suggestions for a 7-day itinerary covering these two awesome cities.

Day 1-3: Warsaw

Your first stop should be hopping on a free walking tour in Warsaw. There are a number of tours on offer, including tours of the Old Town, Jewish Warsaw and World War 2 in Warsaw. These tours really are the best way to see the main sights of the city, and to learn more about Poland’s history. Some of the tours also include free food and a shot of vodka – Tom did shot of vodka followed by some pig’s lard and pickle on bread at 10am… yummy!

Here are few must-see places for your visit:

  • Pawiak Prison
  • The Warsaw Uprising Museum
  • Old Town
  • POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews
  • Monument to the Warsaw Uprising Fighters
  • Jewish Ghetto Memorial

Warsaw has plenty of great restuarants and bars, so make sure you try a few Polish staples such as pierogi (dumplings), golabki (cabbage roll), and bigos (meat stew). Warsaw also has a surprisingly good Vietnamese food scene! So if you are pining for a taste of something different, head to a local Vietnamese restaurant for a pho. 

Day 4-7: Krakow

We caught the bus from Warsaw to Krakow using Polski Buswhich is affordable and comfortable. Krakow is definitely more “touristy” than Warsaw, and you will notice more hostels and foreigners around.

Again, the free walking tours in Krakow are a great way to see the city. There are a number of tours on offer, including tours of the Old Town, Jewish Krakow, Communist Krakow and street art. We particularly enjoyed the Jewish Krakow tour, which included visits to the Jewish Quarter and Schindler’s Factory.

Other must-see attractions include:

  • The Main Market Square
  • Church of the Virgin Mary
  • Wawel Royal Castle
  • Ghetto Heroes Square
  • St Florian’s Gate
  • Church of St Peter and St Paul
  • A visit to a traditional Soviet milk bar for a cheap and tasty lunch

The Weiliczka Salt Mine is only 10 kms from Krakow, and definitely worth a day trip. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been mined since the 13th century and is the oldest of its type in Europe.  The mine has hundreds of kilometers of tunnels chiselled out of rock salt, featuring sculptures, arts, and stunning underground chapels. Entry tickets cost 84PLN, which includes a guided tour of almost 3 kilometres of salt corridors. You can get there by train, bus or minivan.

We visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp on our final day in Krakow. We found our visit very overwhelming, and find it hard to describe how heavy our hearts were afterwards. Over 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered at this camp, and it is hard to fathom the sheer scale of what happened here. Without trying to sound cliched, I really would describe a visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau as life changing. It will change your perspective on life, love and family, and make your everyday worries seem trivial. A quote from a plaque at the camp summed it up best – “For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity…” 

What happened here can never be forgotten, and we would recommend giving yourself time during the evening after your visit to reflect as it will be a very emotional day. Group tours from Krakow are very affordable, and include a guided visit with an educator. Speak to your hostel or the tourist information office to organise your seat.