48 hours in Ljubljana, Slovenia

A weekend in Ljubljana was the perfect rest stop between the craziness of Italy, and the fast paced road trip I was about to embark on with G.

A tiny capital city, there is very little to do but wander around, soak in the beauty, and speak to the amazingly friendly locals. Also ask again and again how to pronounce it–apparently it’s Loo-blah-nah. But the Spanish call it Libby-anna, the Germans have something else entirely, and it seemed like every person I asked had their own take–even the natives! So I guess the best advice is to just go with your gut and hope not to get it too wrong.

There weren’t many tourists while I was there–and this was over Easter holidays. I love avoiding tourists and instead trying to get a feel of what actually living in a place might be like.. And after the loneliness I felt in Venice, Ljubljana was the perfect place to do some solo travel.

The bus I took from Italy was delayed at the border due to what could only be described as some pretty serious racism. It was horrible to have to powerlessly witness it, and be unable to do anything to help.

Because of the delay we didn’t get into the city until past midnight, and I entered in a bit of a panic–my phone wasn’t working (the new rule that keeps EU phones working across borders is THE BEST, but hadn’t yet gone into effect), my hostel had a 21:00 pm check in cut off, and I had no idea how safe it would be to walk the streets alone at night.

Luckily, I was in Ljubljana which is probably the most charming, friendly, and sweet European city I’ve visited. They had free wifi everywhere, so I could easily log on, find my hostel, and alert them to my arrival. Walking the streets felt a lot safer than it does in London or even LA. There wasn’t a single moment I felt nervous walking alone.

I stayed at Zeppelin Hostel and I really loved it. However—I woke up on my second morning to discover that both me and the girl below me were covered in itchy red marks! BED BUGS. I don’t know if it’s me in particular, of if everyone is equally horrified by the idea of bugs crawling all over them whilst they sleep, but it was a really horrendous discovery. The hostel was fantastic, moving me to a new room, washing all my things (pretty great after a week on the road), and made my entire stay free. They were great people and from talking to others around Ljubljana, it sounds like it’s a huge problem at all the hostels—the bed bugs come up from Northern Italy—even the trains and buses that do the route are infested. So if you’re staying in a hostel, check the mattress carefully before climbing into bed!

BUT, even bed bugs could not get me down, as Ljubljana was fantastic. There’s not much to do, to be sure. You really only need a day or two in the city–it really is the perfect respite. I hiked up to the castle that sits atop the city, swung on the swing, and read a bit. 

Honestly though, wandering around the city, popping into shops, and eating the delicious food was so refreshing. To anyone who needs a respite after a bit of hectic travel, I highly, highly recommend taking a break in Ljubljana. There’s no need to sightsee, because the city is the sight. That, and Lake Bled, obviously, which is one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.

After 48 hours hanging around in Ljubljana, I was ready for the next adventure. I went into the bus station, and there were so many bus companies that weren’t listed online, with routes to Belgrade, Sarajevo, Trieste, and more, all for under 10 euros. My advice would be to check here before booking anything online, where the options were much more expensive.

I had a week before I had to meet G, and could go anywhere. The freedom was such a fantastic feeling, only hampered by the realization I couldn’t do it all. After checking out the weather, connections, and timings, I decided on Zagreb, as it was where G and I were meeting, but we wouldn’t actually spending any time in outside the airport. And seriously, it was the right choice!

Pisa and (finally!) getting my ID card!

A few months ago I had my first interview at my current job, and left it so (unusually) confident, that I arranged a spur of the moment flight to Italy for the next day, as I knew if I was hired I’d need my proof of right to work in the EU. I had originally planned to get it a few weeks out, and fly into Milan, rent a car, and drive out to the tiny mountain town my ancestors were from. However, with one day’s notice, Pisa ended up being much cheaper, and was about the same distance as Milan. It was also quite close to Cinque Terre, and this unplanned, last minute trip became one of my all time best travel experiences.

I flew into Pisa and stayed at Hostel Pisa. It was walking distance from the airport, and can I just say any city where you can walk to the airport is OK in my book. I was only spending one night in Pisa, and didn’t arrive until 4:00, so my expectations weren’t high. However, I had the best night. I don’t have major Pisa recommendations, other than the tower, obviously, and the most fantastic dinner/drinks place.

I headed straight for the tower because the light was fantastic and I wanted to see it in all its glory. While there I asked two girls to take my photo, and they recognized me from checking into the hostel. They were returning home to Germany a year volunteering at in International Hospital in Jerusalem, and we also met up with a guy who had just arrived in Europe for a year abroad in Florence.

On the walk to the tower I had stopped to take passport style photos for my ID card. (They did not come out well—Gareth kindly pointed out the shading makes it look like I have a 5:00 shadow, which is an accurate analysis of the photo). Nearby, I saw a dock on the river that looked like it may be a restaurant. I mentioned it to the crew I had met, and we decided to head there for dinner. It ended up being such a lovely night. Two of us were heading home after a long journey, both to graduate school. One was arriving for the first time in a country he was about to make into a home, and I was there to get proof of my newly recognized European citizenship. Arno Vivo was half on a dock and half on a floating raft, where we grabbed a table. There was live music, mood lighting, and the buffet style food was free with a drink. We shared a bottle of wine and swapped travel/life stories, and it was one of those moments that reminds you how absolutely wonderful travel can be.

The next morning I walked back to the airport to pick up a rental car, and headed out for Vernasca. I was so nervous the whole drive, that they would be closed (our communication was all in Google-translated Italian, and I wasn’t sure they’d be open until I arrived), or that I didn’t have the proper documentation. It seemed too easy, honestly, after the process leading up to it had been so drawn out and difficult.

The drive was beautiful, through the mountains and farmland, and the little village was so cute. I headed straight for the municipal building, and there was one woman working behind the counter. She was expecting me, and we chatted away—her in Italian, me half in Spanish and half in hand gestures. She filled out my ID card right there (so easy, it’s just made of paper!), and handed it to me with a big huge and a congratulations. It was such a surreal moment, being in my ancestors old village, even being in Italy, and I’m honestly so grateful that’s how I received my ID, rather than at a consulate in LA or London. Afterwards I wandered around the town a bit—there’s a big church up a hill right behind the municipal building that offered incredible views, before getting some lunch and starting the drive back.

downtown in the village

I was eager to drop the car off because that night started the second part of my trip—Cinque Terre!

24 hours in Venice

Going to Italy during Semana Santa helped me realize something about myself–I hate tourists. Not just other people, but I don’t like being one myself. It’s probably why whenever I go anywhere I even moderately connect to, I’m convinced I’ll move there one day and experience the place like only a true local can. That said, I don’t want to move to Venice. Venice is like Prague to me–too magical to be real. I couldn’t ruin Venice by actually moving there and having to worry about running late for work or changing the kitty litter or any other real life burdens. I want to preserve it’s otherworldly charm, but I do still want to go back. Because of Semana Santa the cheapest hostel I could find was over $45 and I could only afford a night there.

Venice was my second stop of 17 day trip over Semana Santa, and to be honest about the fact that travel is not all wonderful all the time, my night in Venice was not the best. Usually I love traveling alone, but after Rachel left Italy to go back to London, I was facing another week alone before Gareth and I met in Zagreb, and I suddenly felt really lonely. Add in that I didn’t arrive until the sun was beginning to set, and that Venice is not exactly the ideal place to be a single– I spent the most of the night sticking close to my hostel and on the phone with Gareth. Lame, I know.

Luckily after a good night’s sleep I remembered how much I actually love solo travel, and got my mojo back. I spent the day wandering through the maze like passages, stopping in awe every few minutes that a place like that actually exists.

    

I don’t have a ton of suggestions for how to best “do” Venice, because I don’t think I did it properly. I have a few suggestions based off of lessons I learned, however.

Book early – and by this I mean everything. Accommodation, certainly. But there are places online you can arrange a gondola share, because they are privately hired and seriously expensive. That said, the looks on people’s faces as they rode convinced me they are worth it.

Get off the beaten track – the restaurants that have their menus in a dozen different languages aren’t going to be the ones with food you never forget. One of my biggest regrets was the place I chose for dinner. I was staying in the Jewish area, an immediate left after crossing the Guglie bridge. I had wandered deeper into the city, and it was getting dark. I knew it was a bad idea, but I settled for a place on Rio Terà San Leonardo that was filled with tourists and served legitimately bad food. On the five minute walk back to my hostel, along Fondamenta Cannaregio, I passed about three places lit by candle lit and filled with Italians. Learn from my mistakes. And probably go to dinner on that street cause it looked amazing.

Buy a water bus day pass. The pass is 20 euros and a single journey is 7.50. The ride is such a good tour of the city, and to have been able to go to San Marco, Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore, and back to Guglie all on a water taxi would have been great.

Set aside time to get lost – this, I did, and it was one of my favorite parts of the day. As I wandered back from San Marco to Guglie, I passed through quiet, residential areas that were nearly empty, and offered just as much charm as the packed city center. I also stumbled upon La Bottiglia, which is an amazing deli. They asked me to trust them and built me the most incredible sandwich. If you like sandwiches, this is your place.

Saint Mark’s Square – They charge an outlandish price to sit and have a drink, but you should do it anyway. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s everything you imagine when you think of Venice. Have the Prosecco, obviously. Sit and listen to music and watch people try get a photo with the pigeons. Drink in the magic of the city, and if you’re like me have to remind yourself over and over again that you haven’t fallen into a movie set, but that Venice is a real place that exists in the world.

 

Cinque Terre Guide – Tips and Recommendations

Back at the end of August, I unexpectedly flew to Italy and was able to spend three and a half days in coastal Italy. It was one of my favorite trips ever, and below you can find my Cinque Terre guide to the tips and tricks I wish I had known before going!

Cinque Terre is incredibly easy to get to from Pisa. You just take the train to La Spezia, where you can change to the train line that connects the 5 towns. In La Spezia buy train passes for the days you’ll be in Cinque Terre, which makes exploring all the towns super simple. The passes are 13 euros for one day, or 23 for two, and include unlimited access to the trains, hiking trails, and (spotty) wifi. The trains run from Levanto to La Spezia and stop at each of the five towns along the way.

Because I booked so late, my options for staying in/around Cinque Terre were quite limited. Nearly all the hostels were completely booked, even in the surrounding towns. I booked the only place available, Affittacamere Patrizia. It had some reviews that made me hesitate, but lacking other options I didn’t have much of a choice. Though it ended up being expensive, it worked out because had I booked earlier I would have tried to save money by staying in La Spezia or Levanto, and the quiet early mornings and late evenings, before the crush of tourists arrived, ended up being the most magical hours of the trip. The place was strange—I booked two nights and I stayed in separate buildings each night—a bit annoying because I had to respect check in/out times, and arrange to pick up/drop off my bag around their front desk opening hours. The first night I was literally sleeping in the front room—there were three bedrooms and a bathroom off where I was staying, and the front door opened to my bed and one other. The second night I was in a new house, staying on the top floor in the kitchen, but it had a great balcony and it was the only bed in the room, so it was nearly like having my own apartment. If I had more notice I’m not sure I’d stay there again, but I wouldn’t hesitate to return in a pinch. However you can learn from me and book early, and plan on staying in one of the towns to get the full experience. I’d recommend Riomaggiore, Coniglia, or Vernazza.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre


Riomaggiore was the quietest of the towns, and it was quite small. The food was delicious and the place was stunning, probably the most beautiful of them all—this is where I stayed and I’d definitely be happy staying there again. There’s less to do than the other towns, but as a base it’s pretty perfect. It’s built on a giant hill, so be prepared for a steep incline to get anywhere! It had a good amount of rocks to use as a mini beach, and a few places to jump in as well. (Mom, that’s for you!)

Manarola, Cinque Terre
Manarola felt quite young and hip. It was lively and had a fun vibe. The harbour had a place where it was possible to jump off, so people who were braver than I dove off the rocks. I think a lot of people list this as their favourite town, and while it was up there for me, it wasn’t the top of my list.

Corniglia, Cinque Terre
All the guides I read suggested skipping Corniglia if you were short on time, and I considered it. I’m so happy I didn’t! It was quite unlike the other towns—it’s high above sea level and there’s no beach access. However that gives it really nice views, and the town felt a bit more chilled and artistic. There were some cute shops, unique looking bars and coffee shops, and it had more shade than the other towns. If it wasn’t such a hike to the train and/or nearby towns, I’d consider staying here. I hiked in from Manarola and out to Vernazza, and both hikes were incredible but very hard—and the walk up to the town from the train was stairs on stairs on stairs. Be prepared for a work out, no matter how you arrive.

Vernazza, Cinque Terre
I loved Vernazza. It had two beaches, one hidden through a rock tunnel that was created after a huge rock slide, and another spot along the harbor next to the cliff that leads to Monterosso. The food was good, the gelato better, and I spent more time here than anyway other town.

Monterosso, Cinque Terre
Honestly, Monterosso wasn’t my favorite. I didn’t go until my last day, and by then was already so in love with the other four towns, I’m not sure I gave it a fair shot. I spent the least time here, and it felt much more city-like than the others. It’s the only one that has a sand beach (I HATE sand, but maybe this is a selling point for someone else), and it was set up more like a resort, which is also not my vibe. It looked big and like there would be some great shopping, so maybe spend a bit more time there than I did.


You only need to go to one place, and that’s Gelarteria Vernazza. I tried the others, and none came close.


I did some real searching, but didn’t find anything other than pastries and yogurt as breakfast options. Eggs were not a thing as far as I could tell—if someone finds them please let me know in case I ever go back!


I had dinner both nights in Riomaggiore, which was great. All the food I had there was delicious, and recommend Trattoria la Grotta and Pizzeria Da Mam’angel if you’re looking for good food that isn’t going to break the bank.


I know gelato technically is dessert (though I utilized it as a lunch), but Monterosso is also well known for Torta Monterossina Ricetta, which I tried at Pasticceria Laura and it was SO good. It was the best part of the town for me.


Bring books! I only brought one (The Story of the Lost Child, by Elena Ferrante, which I highly recommend), and there was so much time for reading I blew through it, and struggle to find other English books available in the towns.


I hiked Coniglia to Vernazza and Monterosso to Vernazza. They were fantastic, and if you’re in any kind of shape I highly recommend them and any other hikes that are open. They had stunning views and were a great work out—honestly both were much harder than I anticipated, and I planned poorly and did the first one right at noon, when the sun was directly overhead. Plan to go earlier in the morning, or later in the afternoon, bring a lot of water, maybe a snack, and definitely be prepared to sweat. Luckily there are beaches at either end with some seriously inviting water, and there is a cafe high in the cliffs at the midpoint of the Coniglia/Vernazza hike.


One of my favorite things to do when I visit a place is collect some kind of art, so I can bring a piece home with me. There was a really cute art store in Vernazza owned by Antonio Greco where he shows his work. I got two prints there, which make me insanely happy whenever I see them. One was by Antonio, and the other was the Imago Cinque Terre poster. I get compliments on them all the time. They were affordable as well!

A Weekend in Prague during Christmas

It’s getting downright frosty here in London, and the sun has set by around 4:00 every day. Instead of finding this a depressing shock to the system, I’ve decided to get into the Christmas spirit early. The one good thing about living abroad where American Thanksgiving is strangely ignored, is that post-Halloween (another largely ignored holiday), it’s basically Christmastime. And there is nothing like a weekend in Prague during Christmas.

I’ve booked a few trips for December, and planning them has me thinking about what an incredible trip I took over the puente last year in Spain. As I said before, it was a whirlwind trip from Berlin to Amsterdam to Prague to Poland. I only got around to writing about Berlin last year, but it’s time (or about 10 months past time) to talk about the others. Because they were fantastic.

I’m starting with Prague because Prague in December is quite literally the most magical place on earth. As much as I like to explore new places, had I found affordable tickets I’d be spending a weekend in Prague this December, without a doubt. While Berlin was a bit crowded and overwhelming, Prague was much less packed. It honestly looked and felt like we’d time traveled back a few dozen (hundred) years. The Christmas market was filled with wooden stalls where people were making their crafts–metal workers, jewelry makers, booksellers, wine vendors–it was a nice departure from the more modern and pricey markets I’d been to elsewhere. There were also animals around, and a little place where you could feed donkeys. While it got a bit crowded at night, it was never to the point where you couldn’t mill around comfortably, and take in the views of the beautiful tree or the church or the astronomical clock.

Old Town Square, Prague at Christmas

Old Town Square, Prague at Christmas

48 Hours in Prague

Stay close to the action. We stayed at Prague Square Hostel which I highly recommend. It wasn’t that expensive (about 10 euros a night for an 8 bed room), but only a two minute walk from Old Town Square, and an easy walk to all the other main things you’d want to see in Prague. If you stay around here, Cafe–Cafe had a few good breakfast options (including eggs!) and some really delicious cakes and coffees.

We did a loop, which ended up being a great walk around all the sites of the city.

We missed it, but I’d recommend starting with a trip to the Old Jewish Cemetery. Then walk across Manesuv Most bridge up to Prague Castle. This is up a hill and offers some great views of the city. Walking around this area is a look into what the less touristy side of Prague looks like, compared to Old Town Square. If I came back anytime other than December, I’d try to stay around here.

Prague Street

The Castle is incredible, and parts are free to walk around. We didn’t actually go inside, though if you have the time and money I’m sure it would be worth it. Instead we walked around the grounds–there’s an area called Golden Lane where Kafka used to have a house, that I’d recommend checking out, and a little old toy store built into the castle where I really regret not buying something for a future kid, because everything in it was wooden and gorgeous. When we were there were quite a few stalls selling food and mulled wine, and it was a really nice place to spend some time.

Prague Castle at ChristmasPrague cafe at Christmas Prague Prague Castle Prague Castle
From there we headed down to Kampa island, which is a teeny island off of the western side of the river that divides the city. It has a nice park, and some great views of the other side of the river.

Vltava River, PragueCharles Bridge, Prague

On our way to the bridge we found Lennon’s Wall, and joined the dozens of French tourists taking pictures in front of it. Then we made our way up to the bridge (this was actually fairly confusing and eventually a guard just walked us there). I was honestly not expecting much–how big of a deal can crossing an old bridge be, really? But it was so beautiful, the sun was close to setting, and there was live music playing that just heightened it all. It was definitely a, “how is this real life??” kind of moment, one of the ones that make traveling so special.

Lennon Wall, PragueCharles Bridge, Prague at Sunset

After the bridge we went back into Old Town Square, where we had a really great dinner right on the square, overlooking the market. I’d recommend being a bit picky about the restaurant you choose–so many were incredibly touristy, with the menu is dozens of languages and a bit void of heart. Instead we tried to pick one where it was mainly Czech people eating, which ended up being the right call. We ended up at Restaurant White Horse, which I highly recommend. We sat outside, because the Christmas market was a lovely view, but the inside looked incredible as well. I had Goulash and it was so, so yummy. Definitely give that a try, and the pork knuckle is meant to be delicious as well. We didn’t get to go to Svata Klara for dinner, but it’s on my list of places for if I ever return. If you go, please have dinner there and report back–it looks so cool!

We saved the actual market for the next day, and after a lie in and a detour to buy warmer jackets (it is literally freezing in Prague at that time of year, bring the heaviest winter coat you can find), we spent hours exploring the stalls, trying the food and drink (find a stall with honey wine, you won’t be disappointed!). We also used this time to go to the top of the Astronomical Clock, which is something you can’t miss. The views, especially when overlooking the market, were so pretty, and a great overview of everything you’re experiencing down below.

Old Town Square, PragueAstrological Clock, PragueAstrological Clock, Prague

Prague was everything I ever dreamed a Christmas market could be, and though I see the value in visiting during other parts of the year, I’m already trying to figure out how to make annual December trips part of my life plan for the next few decades!