Hotel Crush: Affittacamere La Lanterna on the Italian Coast

We could get used to this view. All photos by Craig Nelson.

We love staying in charming medieval hill towns and bustling European cities, but we also need a sunny waterfront break every once in awhile. And the Italian coast has several amazing places to throw down your towel and catch some rays.

But how can you make this dream happen without staying at a fancy beach resort or expensive apartment rental?

For starters, you can book an affordable hotel like we did on a recent trip to Portovenere. Located just south of the famous Cinque Terre region, this tiny seaside village provides the scenery and sun-soaked flavor without all of the tourists and high prices.

Before you check any place else, take a look at Affittacamere La Lanterna. With a 9.5 rating on Booking.com and Cheapo-friendly rates, this small hotel is exactly the kind of place we love checking in to.

Ring the bell and look up for a friendly Italian woman ready to welcome you.

Arriving in Portovenere

Accessible right on the main drag of Portovenere, Via Capellini, Affittacamere La Lanterna puts you right in the heart of the town. When we arrived to the tiny door at #109 on the street, we rang a buzzer and a friendly woman smiled down from a few floors up and came down to let us in.

Looking into the room from the oceanfront balcony.

The rooms

After she showed us to room #535, we threw open the window shutters to reveal an amazing view of the water. Our room was small but with a balcony that opens right onto a stunning water view, we didn’t need another inch of space. The air-conditioned room was super clean and the bathrooms were spacious and modern. If you do need to stare at a screen instead of looking at the harbor, the hotel has complimentary Wi-Fi.

The private balconies at Affittacamere La Lanterna.

Sea view balconies

Sure the bed was comfy, but the best perk was the oceanfront porch you get with your room. On the cozy balcony, we watched people swim and sunbathe later in the afternoon. The view was so wonderful, we could have spent half the day just hanging out here.

Enjoy breakfast and coffee in the communal dining room.

Happy Hour, al fresco style

We don’t know about you, but our favorite part of the day is just before the sun goes down and it’s time to crack open a bottle of wine. We popped into a little shop on the main drag to find a tasty and very affordable bottle of Ligurian rose. Sitting on your balcony at Affittacamere La Lanterna, you can sip your wine before heading out for dinner at one of the local restaurants.

Happy hour on the patio with a bottle of Ligurian Rose.

Breakfast at the hotel

Breakfast is available. You can enjoy it in the communal breakfast room or take it on your patio. There is also a coffee machine if you need a quick pick-me-up.

How to find an affordable rate

The price for this wonderful experience? Only €81 per night! We stayed on a Sunday night, so we were able to save on a weekend rate and the village was a little less busy than usual for a sunny spring weekend. Search for available dates at Affittacamere La Lanterna.

A ferry floats past Affittacamere La Lanterna headed to the Cinque Terre.

More hotels in Italy

Wherever you’re headed in Italy, EuroCheapo has a low-cost room for your trip. Check out cheap hotel options in the most popular cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice. Or search for budget hotels across Italy. There are more than 200,000 to choose from.

Föhr: Germany’s hidden gem in the North Sea

The initial plan was not to visit Föhr.

We were keen on visiting the Greek islands. It would be perfect in July. Warmth. Great food. Deep blue waters and whitewashed houses. Fresh fish. Friendly locals. That’s a pretty decent equation for a good holiday. The problem though is that Greece has 6000 islands of which 227 are inhabited. All of these islands, sound impossibly dreamy and beautiful. I go down a rabbit hole that we call the internet for days and emerge confused. I older I grow, the more I enjoy the pathetic excuse of wasting time online researching for holidays. After much deliberation  and 20000 google searches later, we have our heart set on a few islands but after trying almost 101 permutations and combinations on Skyscanner, the shortest possible route involves changing flights twice and 17 hours of travel. We could be half way around the world by then.

I started looking closer to home ( Berlin) and suddenly while looking at the map of Germany, my eye gravitates to a tiny group of islands dotted on the border between Germany and Denmark.

Typical Frisian thatched house, Nieblum

The North Frisian Islands.

Floating in the bristling, turbulent North Sea, these tiny group of islands have a rich and varied history having been ruled at various points of time by the Danes, the Dutch and the Prussians.

While I love the sound of the history of the island, I’m not sold on the idea of holidaying in the North Sea. I’m still scarred from my time living on the east coast of Scotland when huge clouds of dreich grey mist called the haar would drift in suddenly from the North Sea drowning out the daylight like some alien spaceship from outer space. 

Maybe the weather would be more favourable on the western fringes of the North Sea. Especially in the summer.

We settled on visiting the quiet, unassuming and more budget friendly Föhr which looked like a far better fit than its brash and more upmarket sister, Sylt.

So that’s how on a late, very fine evening in early July we find ourselves hopping on the hourly ferry service from Dagebull Mole to Föhr.

We reach Dagebull after an eventful 5 hour train journey from Hamburg which involved a break in-between in Amrum because of a train driver not being able available. Still, we are grateful. It is a big change from the days when Hans Christian Anderson used to holiday in Föhr (1844) -it took about four days to reach the island by road from Hamburg.

While passenger cars bore into the belly of the ferry, we climb upstairs to soak in the sun and enjoy the panoramic view of the ferry terminal. Its nothing home to write about. We grab a bench towards the rear of the ferry to soak into the broad expanse of blue sea in front of us. The sea is calm and there’s a gentle breeze blowing in from the sea on which the seagulls slide back and forth into the broad white hull of the ferry. After long mournful bellow, the ferry slowly tugs away from shore into the shimmering golden evening sea. The adventure has begun. I feel a magical and almost therapeutic feeling of leaving land behind and sailing away to the island. All my worries and thoughts are temporarily stored in some invisible black box on land. In an island, surrounded by blue sea on all sides, no fears could harm me, no unhappy thoughts could fester.

Strandkorb aka roofed wicker baskets scattered across the beach of Wyk auf Fohr

After a pretty serene crossing, the beautiful promenade of Föhr’s main town and transport hub, Wyk Auf Föhr comes into the sight. With over 4500 inhabitants, half of the island’s population resides here and provides a convenient base with plenty of hotels and apartments to choose from.

We stayed for 4 nights in the Jugendherberge Wyk Auf Föhr . Despite being located on the fringe of Wyk Auf Föhr, the proximity of the hostel to the beach is a huge plus. Plus the availability of full board was also a major plus given how expensive we found eating out in Wyk Auf Föhr.

With little or no clue about how far the hostel is from the harbour, we hop on the local bus link that does the loop around all the town before hopping to the other key villages on the island. The driver is friendly and tells us that he will let us know when our stop comes. Few stops later, in front of a huge corn field, the driver drops us off with a cheerful wave. I already have a good feeling about this place. The hostel is huge and in summers mainly caters to huge school groups and families. There’s lot of pimply faced moody teenagers running around. Luckily, we’re housed in the more tranquil west wing of the hostel away from the groups. There’s no wifi in the rooms, only in the reception which initially feels like a bit of a downer. However, the certainty of not getting any wifi in the rooms means I slip into a happy routine of reading a book before bed and sinking into a very blissful, deep sleep.

Back to our first evening in the hostel. After helping ourselves to the generous buffet dinner in the hostel we go for a wee wonder to the nearby beach.

Sunset, Wyk Auf Fohr

The first few hours in Föhr was the best weather we had for the whole trip. Clear skies as far as your eye stretched. The result : probably one of the most hauntingly beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen. The sky was slowly turning reddish pink with lots of pale blue hues scattered across its fringes. With the tide receding you have the most unusual sight of these bare mudflats stretching out to sea , in this case all the way to the neighbouring island of Amrum. Little pools of water, still like glass, gaze back into the reddish pink sky creating a dreamy ambience. Seagulls and terns swoop and scavenge for worms and all kinds of juicy morsels left behind by the receding tidal waters. Swallows weaving mysterious patterns across the sky added to the almost ethereal setting. Wow. What a welcome to Föhr.

The road to the North..

 

A long stretch of gravel road and an empty blue horizon lies ahead of us as we set out the following day to cycle the 11 odd kms to the northern fringe of the island of Föhr. We’re surrounded mostly by green lush corn fields and the occasional field of golden wheat for most of the ride. Odd tractor, passing by, breaks the silence. As we carve into the stiff wind blowing in from the North Sea we feast our eyes on the dramatic cloud formations blowing in from the North Sea.

Nieblum

Our first stop was the impossibly beautiful village of Nieblum lined with large leaved linden trees and wild rose trees. If there was a prize for the most beautiful village in Germany, am sure Nieblum would be up there on the final shortlist. One of first things that strikes you about the linden lined lanes of Nieblum are its traditional Frisian houses with straw thatched roofs. I think we must have stopped our bikes an odd dozen times taking pictures of these impossibly beautiful houses. The rich legacy of houses in Nieblum is a reminder of the island’s golden era when in the 17th and 18th centuries, whaling brought islanders work and a lot of wealth. The people of Friesland and Fohr developed a reputation as excellent whaling men. Their captains, boosted by their fruits of their endeavours, built a number of impressive houses in Nieblum which have been perfectly preserved since.

things to do in Fohr

Föhrer Kerzenscheune

There’s a whole bunch of activities to keep visitors engaged in Nieblum. Besides a pretty decent mini golf course ( 9 holes, €4.50) there is the Föhrer Kerzenscheune where kids can learnt to make their own candles. It is also worth visiting one of the oldest churches in the island here : St John’s.

Johanniskirche, Nieblum

The graveyard here is filled with a number of very ornate, beautifully decorated tombstones that tell the stories of sailors from Nieblum and surrounding places.

 

Gelato, Cafe Cappuccino, Nieblum

In terms of food and drink, there’s bunch of really good restaurants and bakeries to choose from. We gorged on our packed lunch from the hostel but if you’re on a budget, I highly recommend popping into the local Backer Hansen. Also if you have a sweet tooth, I recommend popping into Cafe Cappuccino for their fantastic gelato and amazing range of toppings. They speak no english so be prepared.

Museum Art of the West Coast aka Kunst der Westkuste

From Nieblum it was a 10 minute bike ride through some beautiful countryside scenery to our next stop, the village of Alkersum where we wanted to visit the Museum Art of the West Coast aka Kunst der Westkuste. Visiting this museum was definitely one of the highlights of our visit to Fohr . We didn’t expect a tiny island like Föhr to have such a well curated and beautifully designed exhibition space. The museum has an excellent collection of works by notable Danish, German, Dutch and Norwegian painters like Anna Ancher, Michael Ancher, Max Beckmann, Peder Severin Krøyer, Max Liebermann, Emil Nolde and Edvard Munch . During our visit there was fantastic exhibition about artists who have painted about Norwegian coastline and this featured works of Emil Nolde and Edvard Munch. There’s a lovely shop, helpful staff plus a really nice onsite cafe and restaurant.

Oldsum

Back on the bike we cruise through the middle belly of the island. More green maize fields and big huge open blue skies stoop below to greet us. After a 20 minute ride, the idyllic village of Oldsum greets us with a curious landmark -a Dutch windmill in Föhr? This ancient thatched windmill apparently dates back to the year 1700 but was burnt down 200 years later, then subsequently rebuilt and was in operation until 1954. The reason we had come to Oldsum was to checkout the small artists commune here.  After a couple of wrong turns and asking a few locals for directions we discovered the commune, huddled together in a row of beautiful thatched houses. A few handful of artists welcome us in and we browse a mix of pretty impressive mix of abstract and watercolour paintings that draw on the wild, untamed scenery of the island.

Cake with Rote Grütze, Cafe im Apfelgarten

After a wee browse, we drift further through the village and discover the family run Cafe im Apfelgarten. Crowned by a sea of wild pink roses, we discover rustic wooden benches, large tables where locals and tourists gorge on home cooked food and a fantastic range of delicious local cakes that have been prepared using local ingredients from the island. Unsure of what to order, we ask the owners of the cafe for a recommendation. I’m not quite sure what type of cake we were served-it was kind of like a fluffy angel type of cake but I did recognise the lovely red sauce that came with it – Rote Grütze . Quite a brutal name for such a beautiful dessert, the dish originates from the state of Schleswig Holstein and is also popular across the border in Denmark. Made with fresh berries and cherries this dessert is the nostalgic taste of summer in Germany. 

Stuffed and sweetened, we reluctantly hop on the bikes and cycle back home to the hostel.

On the last day of Föhr, the clouds drift in and with it comes the moody, unpredictable weather that you traditionally associate with the North Sea.

After the joyless task of repacking and a fond farewell to the staff in the hostel, we checkout and wonder through a drizzle of rain and navigate our way to the harbour of Wyk Auf Föhr. On our way to the harbour one of the few remaining windmills on the island comes into sight. It looks a little unloved but still carries that faded nostalgic beauty that draws you in and makes you wonder what it must have looked like in its pomp. Just like the windmill we had stumbled across in Oldsum, this windmill probably dated back to the late 1800’s when the Dutch used to recruit locals to work on their whaling vessels. The Dutch also left their mark on the island in other ways:  the local ‘Fering’ language which is apparently spoken by over 3000 locals on the island is hugely influenced by the Dutch language. Words like ‘kofe’ ( Koffie-Dutch, Coffee-English ) ‘Bak’ ( Bak -Dutch, Wooden Bowl-English ) are examples. Strangely enough ‘Fering’ also features some American English words thanks to the many people that emigrated from Föhr to the United States but kept contact with their relatives on the island. Examples include: ‘Gaabitsch’ – Garbage Can and ‘Sink’

Dr Carl Haberlin Friesen Museum

To learn more about the island’s unique connections around the world and its rich tradition of whaling we popped into the fantastic Dr Carl-Haberlin Friesen Museum in town. It is a beautifully designed museum. We spend a fair bit of time learning about the rich maritime tradition of the island, the history of whaling, the great migration to the States during the economic downturn in the mid 19th century and also details of the geology plus rich flora, fauna that inhabit the island.

After, we head back to the harbour where it all began 72 hours ago. In an hour, we’re back on the boat back to Dagebull. Its a bittersweet moment. We grab ourselves a seat on one of the empty Strandkorbs, the iconic roofed wicker beach chairs that are a characteristic feature of the island and across most of the region of Schleswig Holstein. On a day like today when you need to shield yourself from the elements, its perfect. The sea is moody and unpredictable, waves clashing against each other in joyless synchronisation. Then suddenly the clouds part and within minutes the sun rays spear through the dark bundles of clouds. The sea is glistening and the waves roll against each other  playfully. The ferry blows its horn, a mournful dirge amidst the cackling of excited seagulls. It time to say goodbye to Föhr and head back to land. Refreshed and rejuvenated, time also to reclaim my invisible black box and set all my worries and thoughts free. 

 

How to reach Föhr

You can reach Wyk Auf Föhr from Hamburg by train ( Journey time around 4-5 hours, Fares start from €27 one way, via GoEuro ) or from Berlin ( Journey time around 6 hours 50 minutes, Fares starts from €40 mark booked via Go Euro )

Where to stay in Fohr

We stayed at the Jugendherberge in Wyk Auf Fohr which was incredible in terms of value, especially when compared to the cost of accommodation across the island. Despite their limited command of English, the whole team there were very friendly and helpful. Even though located on the fringe of Wye Auf Fohr, the location of the hostel near to the beach was a big plus. The availability of full board was also a major plus given how expensive we found eating out in Wyk Auf Fohr. Prices on a full board basis starts from €31.60.



Booking.com

Getting around the island

We rented bikes from Föhrrad ( Gmelinstraße 22a, 25938 Wyk auf Föhr )

Bike rental service is just a 10 minute walk from the hostel. Great selection of bikes for people of all ages plus offers e-bikes for rent. Prices start from €7 a day for a normal bike or €18 a day for an e-bike.

Discover These 10 NYC Museums

The Met and the Guggenheim are world-famous—worthy of a pilgrimage, some would say—but New York’s museums extend far beyond the 28-block stretch of Fifth Avenue that’s official recognized as Museum Mile. Smaller institutions throughout the city’s five boroughs bring various aspects of local history, industry, and culture to life. From Midtown Manhattan to Staten Island to the Bronx, here are 10 gems that shine. 

SHINING A LIGHT ON MARITIME HISTORY: NATIONAL LIGHTHOUSE MUSEUM

Everyone knows that New York City has historically been a center of finance, art, and theater. It’s nautical history, however, remains a bit under the radar. That heritage comes to life at the National Lighthouse Museum (lighthousemuseum.org) on Staten Island, just a quick walk from the ferry terminal. Located in a 1912 foundry building on the former site of the once bustling US Lighthouse Service’s General Depot (one of the six remaining buildings from the original 18), the largely self-guided museum explains everything you never thought there was to know about lighthouse upkeep, the life of lightkeepers, and the physics of light projection. You’ll never look at nautical navigation the same way again.

PICTURE PERFECT: MUSEUM OF THE MOVING IMAGE

It’s no stretch to think of the Museum of the Moving Image (movingimage.us) like a mini-Smithsonian Institute, what with its all-encompassing collection that represent American culture. The museum, which opened in Astoria, Queens, in 1981 in the former home of the once illustrious Astoria Studios, features about 130,000 objects relating to film, television, sports and news broadcasting, and even video games. Plus, there was a recent exciting development: A Jim Henson exhibit, once a temporary display of all things Muppets and Sesame Street, became a permanent part of the museum’s collection in 2017. Add that to everything from costumes from Gone With the Wind to vintage cartoon and comic book memorabilia to old-fashioned film and recording equipment and vintage movie theater furnishings, and an afternoon here presents a vivid portrait of America’s love affair with entertainment.

IT ALL ADDS UP: THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF MATHEMATICS

Screen-Shot-2018-08-14-at-11.20.18-AM.png?mtime=20180814102107#asset:102870(Courtesy Museum of Mathematics)

Algebra and geometry might not be part of your most riveting high school memories, but the family-friendly Museum of Mathematics (momath.org), a two-story tech-forward playground that opened near Madison Square Park in Manhattan in 2012, wants to change your opinions of algorithms, physics, and optics. Committed to showing how so many of the glorious things we take for granted are a direct consequence of an intricate natural numbers game, it offers interactive exhibits are designed to illuminate how shapes, angles, curves, and motion work. That’s no small undertaking, but with exhibits like a pixilated floor that reacts to movement and a rectangle-wheeled tricycle that moves smoothly along a corrugated track, odds are you’ll walk out excited to talk about paraboloids, catenaries, and tessellation. Logically. 

NEXT STOP: NEW YORK TRANSIT MUSEUM

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Between delays and overcrowding, the New York subway system gets a bad rap. But when you stop and think about the fact that the 150-plus-year old system with 472 stations—the most of any mass transit operation in the world—runs 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year, delays are a small price to pay to ride on this remarkable network. The New York Transit Museum (nytransitmuseum.org), located in a 1936 subway station in downtown Brooklyn, features vintage cars dating back to 1907 and permanent exhibits that pay tribute to engineering, construction, employees, and many other aspects that ensure the system keeps people moving. Historical artifacts, old signage, video footage, photography, and structures like vintage turnstiles collectively tell the dynamic story of this system that has helped define New York City. Temporary exhibits cover topics like the subway’s role in comic books. And yes, the museum is walking distance from four subway stations and six different lines, so be sure to take the train here.

COMING TO AMERICA: THE TENEMENT MUSEUM 

Few images of late 19th- and early 20th-century American history are more iconic than those of immigrants arriving at Ellis Island. The Tenement Museum (tenement.org) offers a snapshot of their lives once they settled in New York City. Located on the fast-gentrifying Lower East Side in two tenement buildings, a National Historic Site that housed an estimated 15,000 working class people between 1863 and 2014, the museum presents interactive exhibits and displays that tell vivid stories about families  adopting new identities and making new lives for themselves. Throughout fives floors of exhibits, you’ll learn about garment factory workers, kosher butchers, and shop owners, transmitting a vivid sense of what it was like to be a stranger in a strange land. There’s also a variety of neighborhood walking tours, including one that samples the area’s ethnic foods and one that points out historic sites that played into the daily immigrant experience. 

BE A PART OF IT: MUSEUM OF THE CITY OF NEW YORK

Filip-Wolak_MCNY-Exterior.jpg?mtime=20180814094857#asset:102868(Courtesy Filip Wolak)

For a deep dive into the history of this ever-changing metropolis and work by some of its most renowned residents, the Museum of the City of New York (mcny.org) is hard to beat. Housed in a 1932 Georgian Colonial-Revival building in East Harlem, the institution is a tribute to the city’s status as a hub of urban creativity. With an impressive collection of some 750,000 objects spanning photography and sculpture to costumes and theatrical memorabilia, there’s too much to display at one time, but with rotating exhibits drawing from such a varied collection, there’s bound to be something for everyone here. Broadway nerds will thrill to Eugene O’Neill’s handwritten drafts and Gershwin brothers’ memorabilia, while those fascinated by the details will appreciate maps and ephemera from the 17th century on. You can even see hand-painted casts of famous New York boxers’ hands in the sculpture collection.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: MUSEUM OF BRONX HISTORY

Aside from pilgrimages to Yankee Stadium and the other Little Italy, Arthur Avenue, the Bronx doesn’t get much non-local love. And that’s a shame, because the Museum of Bronx History (bronxhistoricalsociety.org/museum-of-bronx-history) is well worth the trek north. Located in a 1758 house—the borough’s second-oldest—with original details like oak and pine floorboards and hand-forged nails, the building that holds the museum survived a two-day, one-block move in the 1960s and is now as much an attraction as its contents. Opened in 1968, the museum’s main level features two galleries with rotating exhibits and a permanent display in the front parlor that digs into the Bronx backstory, from the arrival of the Dutch to the booting of the British.

GET ON BOARD: INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM

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It’s not often that you get the chance to live out your Top Gun fantasies and learn about America’s history of science and service at the same time, but at Manhattan’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum (intrepidmuseum.org), you can do just that. A legendary aircraft carrier that faced kamikaze attacks and torpedo strikes during World War II, tracked Soviet submarines during the Cold War, picked up NASA astronauts on their return from space in the ‘60s, and served three tours of duty in Vietnam, the Intrepid is now docked on the Hudson River, where it hosts more than a million visitors a year. Explore the ship from top to bottom—or, to be specific, from the flight deck to the third deck—to get a feel for life as a recruit. And be sure to allow time for the rest of the museum’s collection, too. Featuring an array of carefully preserved and restored aircraft, there are plenty of superlatives to see, including the world’s first space shuttle, the first aircraft to break the sound barrier on its maiden voyage, and the plane flown by the first President Bush during World War II.

A FAMILY AFFAIR: MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN GANGSTER

From Al Capone to The Godfather, little holds a place in the American imagination like the Mafia, and at the Museum of the American Gangster (museumoftheamericangangster.org) in the East Village, you can descend into the criminal underworld—for an afternoon, at least. A former speakeasy turned shrine to organized crime, the two-room museum investigates the role of illegal enterprise in the development of cities like New York and Chicago, from politics and culture to myths and urban legends. Plus, it boasts a collection of artifacts that would make even the most hardened mobster jealous, from the shell casings from the shootout that ended Bonnie and Clyde’s bank-robbing spree to the death masks of John Dillinger. No vows of loyalty required for entry. 

FUN AND GAMES: CONEY ISLAND MUSEUM

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Home to a world-famous hot-dog eating contest, a legendary boardwalk, a long-running, near-legendary sideshow, and a 91-year-old wooden roller coaster that’s earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, Brooklyn’s Coney Island has served as a respite from city life since its inaugural hotel went up in the 1920s. You can learn about its storied history at the Coney Island Museum (coneyisland.com/programs/coney-island-museum). Founded in 1981 and located just across the street from a subway terminus, this small second-story establishment is like wandering into an eccentric uncle’s attic. Past the funhouse mirrors, you’ll find a treasure trove of vintage ephemera and antique collectibles—photos, ticket stubs, postcards, game signage, and actual cars from decommissioned coasters—as well as exhibitions detailing the amusement parks that came before, and the neighborhood’s evolution from upscale retreat to freak-friendly phenomenon to G-rated vacation destination. It’s the perfect place to embrace your weird side.

Our favorite affordable beach escapes in Spain

Escape to the charming village of Calella de Palafrugell along the Costa Brava. Photo: horrabin

Hoping to escape the heat, hustle, and bustle of Madrid, Barcelona and other big cities in Spain this summer? Spain is literally lined with seaside options, and as temperatures rise these sandy retreats fill up.

However, not all of these summer destinations are recommended for travelers trying to keep their costs under control. Many are absolutely crammed with tourists, while others have become blighted with commercial development and sub-par restaurants. Meanwhile, many of those peaceful spots that retain their charm come with a high price tag.

But fear not: We’ve got several affordable Spanish seaside options for you, along with some tips on keeping it cheap at the beach. Who’s ready for a swim?

Dublin Budget Dining: 5 local favorites

Dining in Dublin has never been better with more choices than ever. If you thought the city was only Guinness and shepherd’s pie, you’re in for a big treat.

But what to eat for lunch or dinner without going over budget, however, is not so obvious. No worries — with these tips by Dublin locals, you’ll be sure to avoid the touristy and pricey restaurants in favor of the neighborhood gems that should be on every visitor’s list.

Where to stay in Dublin: Our favorite cheap hotels in the city


Dining on a Budget: 5 Dublin favorites

Hop aboard for a tasty pizza. Photo: Maria Krupskaya

Big Blue Bus

11-12 South Richmond St.

The Bernard Shaw is a great hipster pub, but what makes it even better is the Big Blue Bus hidden in the backyard. It’s a doubledecker where you can enjoy freshly made pizza (~€10). You rarely have to wait more than 10 minutes for your order, and every week there’s a different male and female name whose happy bearers get pizza for free! Feeling lucky?

Upgrade your cafe experience at Luncheonette. Photo: Kevin Gleeson

Luncheonette

100 Thomas St.

This vaulted basement cafe is hidden below the centrally located National College of Art & Design of Ireland. Luncheonette’s affordable, healthy food is primarily geared towards students, but there’s nothing stopping anyone from dropping by for some delicious artistic specialties that are also surprisingly affordable. One of local Kevin’s favorites is the Kerala curry and cashew pilaf and their beetroot burger with avocado. Expect to pay around €3.50 per small dish.

Have you had a Chinese burger? Photo: Sam Tranum

Temple Express Newsagents

4 Westmoreland St.

This small newsagent on Westmoreland Street, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Dublin, has a delicious little surprise: a small Chinese kitchen that serves street food, including soups, noodles and local Juan’s favorite Chinese burgers (€3.50) — “so tasty, so much better than a normal burger in a fast food restaurant, there’s no comparison!” Most of the customers that come to Temple Express Newsagents are Chinese, so be careful — when they say “hot” here, they really mean it!

Comfort food with a twist is the specialty at Cowtown. Photo: Cowtown Cafe FB

Cowtown Cafe

73 Manor St.

Cowtown Cafe has brought the charm of the traditional greasy spoon to Stoneybatter. Their menu consists of refreshing alternatives to the tired options of stew or fish and chips as flagships of Irish cuisine. Yet, it never strays from a menu of “comfort food an Irish mammy would make”, complete with the freshest bread and the best quality cuts of meat. Local Lucie’s favorite item on the menu is the fish-finger sandwich, incidentally also some of her hangover food of preference — an inevitable essential for any visit to Ireland. Main courses from €9.

Freshly made sandwiches are the draw at Doughboys. Photo: jobbio

Doughboys

5 Charlotte Way

Dublin is overrun with boring high street sandwich shops, but Doughboys is a brilliant exception. Opened in 2014 and run by very friendly staff, you can even depend on them for cheap and tasty sandwiches (€5). You can order items without the bread and they have vegan/gluten-free options. However, it’s the carnivores that are really in for a treat: on Thursdays and Fridays, they serve porchetta — herb-infused roast pork with salsa verde and garlic. Just make sure you check in for lunch early, as they run out fast!

The post Dublin Budget Dining: 5 local favorites appeared first on EuroCheapo’s Budget Travel Blog.

5 Things to Know Before Visiting Cornwall

Bedruthen Steps in Cornwall
Bedruthen Steps in Cornwall (photo: Ed Webster)

Cornwall has been a popular holiday destination for people across the UK for generations. From families looking for a seaside holiday with the kids, to couples after a romantic retreat, Cornwall has plenty to offer for every type of trip.

The fantastic beaches on both the north and south coasts, picturesque towns and villages, and stunning inland scenery have made Cornwall a firm favorite when it comes to summer holiday destinations.

While Cornwall has a vast range of things to do and places to see, there are also a few things that most people don’t know. We’ve teamed up with Stay in Cornwall, a leading provider of holiday cottages throughout Cornwall, to bring you some of the top things you should know before visiting Cornwall.

Summer Traffic

Summer, particularly the school holidays, is Cornwall’s busiest time regarding visitor numbers, so it’s not a surprise that traffic is bound to increase.

Like Devon, this county has many small, narrow lanes, not built to deal with the influx of people and cars.

When visiting smaller towns and villages in the county, make sure to leave extra time to accommodate for the potential traffic levels.

Explore Lesser-Known Beaches

One of the main reasons people come to Cornwall are the amazing beaches that line the north and south coasts.

Cornwall benefits from some of the best beaches in the southwest, but during the summer months, they can become tourist traps.

If you don’t mind the extra people, then, of course, these beaches are perfectly fine, but for those looking for a quieter break, there are plenty of beaches throughout the county, lesser-known but just as beautiful.

St Michaels Mount
St Michaels Mount

Visiting St Michael’s Mount? Check the Tide Times!

While you can visit the famous St Michael’s Mount via a boat departing from Marazion, the best and most authentic way is via the causeway.

Only accessible at low tide, the ancient cobbled causeway stretches from Marazion beach to the island and allows you to get the best views of St Michael’s Mount from sea level.

Bring Your Wet Weather Gear

As we know, the UK is not renowned for having long, hot summers, and while the recent weather has been very warm, at some point, there is a strong chance we will have a downpour of rain. If there is anywhere in the country where this is most likely to happen, it’s Cornwall.

Being right on the Atlantic, Cornwall gets the brunt of incoming weather systems, meaning that it can very suddenly change. So, wherever you’re going in Cornwall, at whatever time, make sure you’re prepared for any sudden weather changes.

Pasty
Pasty

Pasties are Delicious

If you’ve never tried a pasty before then you are seriously missing out. The pasty is a savory pastry food that originates from Cornwall and is one of the things the county has become famous for.

In the same way that pasta tastes better in Italy, pasties taste better in Cornwall, and whether you’ve tried one before or not, no trip to this county is complete without having a pasty.

Cornwall is a magical destination and well worth a visit. Whether on a family holiday or a romantic trip with your partner, Cornwall has so much to see and do. It is a beautiful county full of wonderful beaches and stunning scenery, all waiting to be explored.

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This story was brought to you in partnership with Stay in Cornwall.

The UK’s Best National Parks for Hiking

Snowdonia (photo: Robert J Heath)
Snowdonia (photo: Robert J Heath)

The UK is one of the best countries in Europe for hiking. Thousands of walking routes can be found across the country in many beautiful spots.

National Parks such as the Peak District, Exmoor and Snowdonia offer incredible hiking routes and give lovers of the outdoors some of the best places to enjoy a walk in the countryside.

If you’re looking at enjoying the best natural beauty the UK has so offer, exploring some of these areas is a must.

So, where are the best places for hiking in the UK? Well, we’ve teamed up with Peak Cottages, a travel company providing stunning cottages throughout the Peak District, one of the regions we’ve picked, so look at some of the best destinations in the UK for hiking.

Snowdonia National Park

One of, if not the most well-known region in Wales, Snowdonia National Park has been a firm favorite for walkers and adventurers for generations.

Overlooked by the impressive Mount Snowdon, this National Park has plenty of things to do, especially for walkers. The many routes throughout this area are simply stunning, taking in breath-taking views from every angle.

Glacial landforms and rugged landscapes dominate this landscape, providing plenty of scenery to explore. If you’re looking for some of the best hiking routes in the country, Snowdonia is a fantastic place to start.

Views of the Dark Peak area from Bamford Edge (photo: Simon Harrod)
Views of the Dark Peak area from Bamford Edge (photo: Simon Harrod)

Peak District National Park

A picture-perfect destination in the heart of the North of England, the Peak District is a mix of mystical forests and moorland plateaus, providing some of the best walking routes in the country.

Hiking is one of the most common pastimes in this area, and it’s easy to see why. With so much stunning scenery to explore, spending a lot of time here is easily done.

The difference between the steep limestone valleys that make up the southern White Peak and the dramatic gritstone ridges in the northern Dark Peak are what make the walking routes in this region so spectacular.

Woody Bay
Woody Bay (photo: Hassan)

Exmoor National Park

Making up a large part of North Devon, as well as stretching into Somerset, Exmoor National Park is home not only the native Exmoor Pony but also some of the best hiking routes in the southwest.

Dominated by hilly open moorland, it has a range of trails throughout the park.

From routes on top of hills in the region to coastal paths taking in some of the most picturesque towns and villages in the county, Exmoor has plenty of choices when it comes to walking.

Northumberland National Park

Offering a stark contrast in landscape between the Tyne and Scottish border, Northumberland National Park is a diverse area perfect for keen adventurers and hikers.

Amazing valleys are the ideal place to start your walk from, and while some have restricted access, the ones that don’t are staggeringly beautiful.

It’s the largest county in northeast England and benefits from a great range of hiking routes, whether inland or along the coast. This is a National Park best explored on foot.

While these are some our best picks, truth be told this list could have been a lot longer. The UK has a fantastic range of scenic places to hike, and it’s worth spending some time exploring these areas.

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This story was brought to you in partnership with Peak Cottages.

5 Underrated Destinations in the UK

Whitstable Oyster Co Boat
Whitstable Oyster Co Boat (photo: PughPugh)

As the warm weather of summer continues, there’s a good chance your thoughts are on your next trip.

Just before the start of school break in the UK, now can be an excellent time to get some last-minute deals on cheap flights and hotels.

While there is a long list of great destinations to visit across the UK if you’re in the mood for a quieter holiday, why not head to one of the lesser visited destinations in the country?

We’ve teamed up with Cottages in Northumberland, a holiday cottage letting agency specializing in providing high-quality cottages in Northumberland, to look at some of the underrated destinations across the UK to consider for your next trip.

Whitstable

Located on the Kent coast, Whitstable is often forgotten about as a summer holiday destination but has plenty to offer those who do choose to visit.

A charming town less than two hours from London, Whitstable boasts a glorious coastline, narrow streets lined with traditional buildings and delicious fish and chips, not to mention the famous Whitstable oysters.

A shingle beach is great for evening walks, and a selection of restaurants serve delicious, locally sourced food.

Winnats Pass
Winnats Pass (photo: Stephen Bowler)

Sheffield

Generally not considered as a holiday destination, Sheffield could be another good option for your next trip.

Perhaps one of the biggest draws this city has is its location. It is situated right on the edge of one of the most beautiful places in the UK, the Peak District National Park.

Known for its stunning scenery and dramatic landscapes, the Peak District is a must visit for lovers of the outdoors, with walking and cycling routes throughout the region. Sheffield is the perfect base for exploring this fantastic place.

Lincolnshire Wolds

A lot of people may never have heard of the Lincolnshire Wolds, but this Area of Natural Beauty is the highest area of land in eastern England and one of the most beautiful.

Playing host to the unspoiled countryside, hidden valleys and gentle streams winding their way through the landscape, this region has some outstanding scenery all waiting to be explored.

Villages and towns throughout the region offer a vast range of places to stay in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds.

Cannock Chase, Staffordshire

A haven for mountain bikers, adventurers, and backpackers, Cannock Chase is a gem hidden away in the UK.

Forests make up a large part of this area, making it perfect for exploring, with trails winding their way throughout the woodland.

The region is also home to around 800 fallow deer, not to mention a fantastic array of rare and endangered birds. Within easy reach from Birmingham, it is the perfect place to let your adventurous spirit run wild.

Quantock Hills
Quantock Hills (photo: Sarah)

Quantock Hills

Often just driven past on the way to Exmoor or Dartmoor in Devon, the Quantock Hills is a stunning Area of Natural Beauty in Somerset oozing with stunning scenery. If asked to find the Quantocks on a map, a lot of people would struggle to find it.

As such, it’s an unspoiled area ideal for experiencing the great British countryside. The likes of Klive Beach and the Somerset Levels define this region with incredible natural beauty.

So, while popular destinations in the UK are popular for a reason, if you’re open to an alternative holiday to somewhere a bit different, these destinations are perfect. Quieter, but just as beautiful, why not visit one of these five underrated places on your next holiday?

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This story was published in partnership with Cottages in Northumberland.

Top 7 Things to Do in Vancouver

Dragonboats and Science World
Dragonboats and Science World (photo: Ruth Hartnup)

Are you planning on traveling to Vancouver this summer? If so, you are in for a treat, because the coastal seaport city has a lot to offer visitors of all ages.

One of the first things you should do to make sure you are fully ready for your upcoming trip is to create an itinerary.

Your itinerary will help you throughout your trip, by providing you with pertinent information that you have collected along the way. Below, are a few ideas to get you started.

Bike Through the City

There’s no more exciting way to experience Vancouver than by cycling the streets. There are several bike rental services located throughout the city.

These services include:

  • Bazooka Bikes
  • ezeeRIDERS
  • Stanley Park Cycle
  • Bayshore Bike Rentals
  • JV Bike
  • Tikki Tikki Pedicabs

If you believe your health will not endure a strenuous bike ride, you can always rent an electric assist bicycle from JV Bike.

Renting a bike is a great way to see the city. Also, it is cheaper than traveling by taxi or public bus. There’s a bike for everyone, so get out there and pedal your heart out.

Stanley Park, Vancouver, BC
Stanley Park (photo: Sébastien Launay)

Visit Stanley Park

A favorite activity for the locals is to visit the park. Now, this is not just any park, but the Stanley Park, which just happens to be Vancouver’s most popular attraction.

While you are in the park, you can have a picnic, toss a Frisbee, bird watch, and take a stroll. Make sure your Canada ETA is up-to-date so that you can enjoy Stanley Park and the other wonderful Vancouver attractions listed here.

Take a Photo in Front of a Steam Clock

Another popular attraction is the steam clock in Gastown. The clock is located on the corner of Water Street and Cambie Street.

What makes the clock so unique is it is vintage, and it still blows out a puff of steam every 15 minutes. This is a great place to capture a few memories with your phone or camera.

Tour the Vancouver Aquarium

The Vancouver Aquarium is an excellent place for visitors of all ages. The aquarium features thousands of aquatic life and ocean species.

Since the aquarium opened in 1956, 40 million visitors have walked through its doors, with some of these people being returning visitors.

Downtown Vancouver
Downtown Vancouver (photo: Randy Landicho)

Shop on an Island

If you have never had the opportunity to shop on an island, you should take the opportunity to do it during your visit to Vancouver. The Granville Island, in South Granville, has a variety of shops and markets that are filled with interesting souvenirs.

Watch Standup Comedy

Standup comedy is extremely popular in Vancouver. Laugh has three clubs that host regular events with some of Canada’s most popular comics. You can even catch some of the best up and coming newbies in the comedy world.

Jog along the Seawall

Another top-rated attraction is the Seawall, beginning at Canada Place, wrapping around the Stanley Park and following along False Creek on the north shore. If you don’t feel like walking along the Seawall, you can walk, Rollerblade or bike instead.

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This story was brought to you in partnership with ETA Canada.

The Best Quick Dry Towel for Travel

The Best Quick Dry Towel for Travel

We’ve all had them, those awful travel towels that claim to dry fast and not smell, when in fact they do nothing but the complete opposite.

And quite frankly there’s nothing worse than a damp, stinky towel in your bag when you’re on the move.

Because I’ve been there and experienced that too!

But now I’m delighted to say I’ve found a travel towel that is not only smell-free, but also anti-bacterial, soft and huge, so here are the full details of the best quick dry towel for travel.


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Big World Small Pockets has partnered with Latrek to bring you this review, but as always, all views are my own.


Why Do You Need a Quick Dry Towel for Travel?

 

Let’s keep it plain and simple here, a quick dry towel for travel is one of the absolute essentials as far as I’m concerned if you’re heading off on any sort of trip.

With baggage restrictions basically the norm now (and if you’re a backpacker having to carry your home on your back) keeping the weight down in your luggage has never been more important.

And thick, heavy conventional towels are one of the bulkiest items around – making them a prime target to leave at home.

Enter the travel towel.

This fantastic product is designed specifically for those on the move as it’s both lightweight, compact and, most importantly, quick drying.

This means if you want to shower in the morning or enjoy a beach swim, before you head off onto the bus, train or plane, you need a towel that is going to be dry when you pack it, not heavy, wet and ultimately, stinky!

 

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But Aren’t All Quick Dry Towel for Travel Made Equal?

Well no, the answer here is negative.

Not all quick dry towels for travel are made equal, and I’ve had some absolute shockers in my time to prove it!

Yes while they market themselves as quick dry, these poor travel towels, feel horrible on your skin and end up stinking out your bag, if not your room, after just a couple of times of use.

Made from cheap fabrics, they simply don’t do what they are meant to and aren’t worth a penny of your money.

 

Finding the Best Quick Dry Towel for Travel

 

But how do you know if you’re buying a travel towel that is going to do the job or not?

Because it’s almost impossible to tell without using it right?

Well, fear not folks because I’ve done all the market research, as well as tried and tested a number of products, and are delighted to be bringing you, my recommendation for the best quick dry towel for travel right here, right now.

And that product is the Latrek Microfibre Travel & Sports Towel, which is an exciting new travel towel on the market that harnesses the latest technology to bring you the best in quick-drying brilliance!

 

So Why is the Latrek Microfibre Travel & Sports Towel So Good?

 

Well, it’s a good question and the honest answer is that this product ticked all the major boxes for me… and then some!

First up,  the Latrek Microfibre Travel & Sports Towel is incredibly absorbent and extremely quick to dry – 2 travel towel must-have features!

This is due to its lightweight, thin structure, which works amazingly well and makes this towel so compact it’s literally a traveller’s dream.

In fact, the whole towel packs up snuggly into a mesh carry bag, that has its own strong hanging loop, which means you can even tie it to the outside of your backpack if needs be.

The Latrek towel for travel is also antibacterial and the feel on your skin is very soft.

Some of the other quick dry travel towels out there that I’ve tried have been quick to dry, but nowhere near as soft or lightweight, which is why the Latrek product clinches the top spot for me.

I’ve also named Latrek’s product as the best quick dry towel for travel because of their excellent prices (perfect for us small pocket people) and because you simply cannot argue with their satisfaction guarantee, which means if you’re not happy you can contact them and they promise to help you out.

Having had dealings with the company myself directly, I can certainly attest to their excellent customer service and quick communication.

 

And the Choices Go On…

 

And it’s not just the product or the company that have led me to calling this product the best quick dry towel for travel, but also its versatility too.

Perfect not only for your trip abroad, but also for hiking, camping, sports or yoga, the Latrek Microfibre Travel & Sports Towel comes in 3 great colours (personally I love my charcoal grey one) and 3 great sizes, meaning you can select the product right for you.

I ordered an XL travel towel, because the previous product I had (which was also an XL) barely covered the bits I needed it to (!), so I was delighted when my Latrek Travel Towel came down and I found that it was HUGE!

Like massive!

But this is, of course, when it’s spread out, because when it packs down into that mesh bag it wouldn’t even take up half a corner of my small backpack!

Ideal or what?!

In fact the XL Latrek Microfibre Travel & Sports Towel is a whopping 80 x 160 cm but if, like me, you have no concept of what this means in real life, then just trust me when I say it’s massive!

It also weighs only 262g aka nothing!!

GET YOUR HANDS ON YOUR LATREK MICROFIBRE TRAVEL & SPORTS TOWEL HERE!

 

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The Best Quick Dry Towel for Travel {Big World Small Pockets}
The Best Travel Towel for Backpackers {Big World Small Pockets}

So if you’re looking for the best quick dry towel for travel, then look no further!

The Latrek Microfibre Travel & Sports Towel is the only product you’ll ever need!

The post The Best Quick Dry Towel for Travel appeared first on Big World Small Pockets.

Travel News: Experience NYC’s New Pod Hotels, California’s Highway 1 Is Back in Action, and Save 30% or More With HotelTonight

From California’s ultimate epic drive to New York City’s beating heart, plus a new way to score incredible hotel savings, this week’s travel news is all about planning those fall getaways that are just around the corner.

EXPERIENCE NYC’S NEW POD HOTELS

Budget Travelers know that sometimes the secret to saving money on a trip is being open to new ideas. Maybe that’s why we’re psyched that The Pod Hotels have opened properties in NYC’s Times Square and Brooklyn. The concept is simple: Elegantly minimalist lodging at reasonable prices right in the heart of where you want to be. Pod Times Square launched in January and recently opened The Polynesian tiki-themed restaurant, all just a stone’s throw from Broadway theaters and hopping nightlife. And last month, Pod Brooklyn unveiled RFTP, a rooftop bar with stunningly Instagrammable skyline views and distinctive signature cocktails and food.

CALIFORNIA’S HIGHWAY 1 IS BACK IN ACTION

The Golden State’s most iconic road, Highway 1, is now completely reopened following 18 months of roadwork on portions that were closed due to flooding and mudslides. Last week, a “dream drive” caravan of more than 80 cars – from vintage to contemporary – made the (gorgeous!) drive down the Central Coast from Monterey to Morro Bay. “Driving Highway 1 is a bucket-list experience many travelers dream about, and its closure made headlines around the world,” said Caroline Beteta, Visit California President & CEO. “Many communities along this stretch have suffered while the road has been closed. We’re proud to announce to the world that Highway 1 is open and better than ever, and the Central Coast is ready to welcome travelers looking for the ultimate California road trip.”

SAVE 30% OR MORE WITH HOTELTONIGHT

You already know that the HotelTonight app can be one of the easiest ways to nab last-minute hotel deals, right? A new feature called ”Daily Drop” will deliver at least 30% off online travel agency (OTA) rates. The only catch? You’ve got to pounce. You receive a daily deal on a hotel that’s matched to you, and you have 15 minutes to unlock and book the deal.

Why Southwest is Still America’s Most Family-Friendly Airline

A few weeks ago, I flew Southwest to one of their newer destinations — Providenciales in Turks and Caicos. While the Southwest boarding process is annoying and there’s nothing remarkable about their planes, I was still excited about the flight.

The main reason I like flying Southwest is because the people are so friendly. The flight attendants usually crack a few funny jokes, and they are always smiling and making you feel comfortable.

This particular flight to Turks and Caicos was also special since they made the entire plane sing happy birthday to a guy named Brian. The flight attendants even made Brian a birthday cake out of toilet paper and pretzels, which was pretty funny. They also gave him a bottle of champagne when he landed, which was a nice touch!

5 Reasons Southwest is Still America’s Most Family-Friendly Airline

But, there are plenty of other reasons to love Southwest, including some that ensure it is consistently called America’s most family-friendly airline. If you have never flown Southwest before and you travel with your family, here are a few reasons to give the airline a second look:

You get two free checked bags.

One reason Southwest is so friendly for families is the fact that everyone gets two free checked bags whether they pay in cash or miles. Since it usually costs as least $25 per checked bag, this leads to an average savings of $200 round-trip per family of four.

Families with kids six and under get to board early.

While the first-come-first-serve boarding process Southwest uses can be messy and stressful, families with children ages six and under get a special perk. They get to board between the first (A) group and the second group, the B group. This almost ensures they’ll get to sit together where they want.

It’s easy to earn free flights.

Southwest offers several rewards cards that make earning free flights easy, including a brand new offering with a 65,000 mile signup bonus. The fact that Southwest is a Chase partner is also great since you can transfer points 1:1 from Chase Ultimate Rewards to the airline.

There are no blackout dates or capacity controls.

Another benefit of flying with Southwest miles is that, generally speaking, there are no blackout dates. If you can find a seat on a plane, you can book it with miles provided you are willing to fork over the number of miles they ask for.

Southwest has frequent sales.

Last but not least, the fact that Southwest has frequent sales is a boon whether you pay in cash or airline miles. It’s not uncommon to find Southwest flights for less than $60 one-way, and I’ve personally booked award flights for 3,400 miles one-way in the past. That’s a steal, but it’s even better since Southwest doesn’t charge any hidden fees like some other airlines.

 

The Bottom Line

If you haven’t flown Southwest lately, I urge you to try it again. It’s not a luxury experience by any means, but it will likely leave you feeling positive. The fact that you can earn miles to fly for free is just icing on the cake.

Do you ever fly Southwest Airlines? Why or why not?

A First-Timer’s Guide to Using Airbnb

If you’ve been on the internet at all in the past five years, or have friends who travel frequently, chances are you’ve heard of Airbnb. But if you haven’t tried it for yourself, it can seem a bit … weird.

After all, you’re staying in real people’s homes, and what if your hosts turn out to be ax…

11 Things You Should NEVER Travel to the Middle East Without

11 Things You Should Never Travel to The Middle East Without

Packing for the Middle East can be something of a nightmare, especially if you’ve never ventured there before.

I mean really, what on earth do you pack for a part of the globe that includes deeply religious and conservative countries, along with red sea beach resorts and hipster trendy cities?

It’s a complete mind boggle, especially if you’re trying to cram it all into a small backpack!

But don’t fear, help is at hand!

After travelling this region as a solo female backpacker for several months with only a 40l rucksack to my name, I definitely learnt what were and what weren’t the essentials when it came to adventuring in this part of the world.

And so here they are, the 11 things you should never travel to the Middle East without…


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#1 Scarfs / Sarongs

Jordan, Petra, Camel

To be honest, I’m the sort of traveller that never journeys anywhere without at least 3 scarfs/sarongs in my possessions, but never has this been more important than when travelling the Middle East.

Yes my friends, this is the land of the fabric offcut, and men and women alike should absolutely not, I repeat absolutely not, consider travelling here without at least a few in their possession!

From covering shoulders against the glaring sun, to using as towels on the beach, not to mention covering heads when entering mosques, rolling up into pillows on bus rides when you want to snooze and wrapping around as a chic hipster necktie, the humble scarf and / or sarong is worth its weight in gold when travelling to this part of the world.

 

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#2 Long, Thin Trousers

Israel, Tel Aviv, City

Depending, of course, on where exactly you’re travelling in the Middle East, you may be surprised to find that acceptable dress codes, especially for tourists, might be more relaxed than you thought.

And certainly from the liberal streets of Beirut in Lebanon, to the sandy shores of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, there are definitely places you can get away with wearing less.

That said, there are many places you can’t.

Or even if you can, you won’t feel comfortable doing so.

Or at least I didn’t and for this reason, I highly suggest long, thin trousers are one of the things you can’t travel to the Middle East without.

I totally recommend a cotton orlinen pair as natural fibres will keep you cooler in the heat here and look more stylish too.

And when it comes to grabbing some great flight deals in the Middle East, you can save more by booking via Wego.

 

#3 Good Camera

Turkey, Pamukkale, Sunset 3

From the ruins of Petra to the magical streets of Istanbul, having a good camera to take to the Middle East is a must.

I absolutely love my mirrorless Sony A6000, which served me super well throughout my time in this part of the world.

Light, compact and sturdy, it’s perfect for travel and from snapping sunsets in Selcuk to hiking the hills of Lebanon, I can’t recommend getting your hands on this camera enough before you head off to the Middle East!

 

 

#4 Swimwear

It might come as a surprise, but you’ll absolutely want to make sure you pack some swimwear when heading to the Middle East.

Yep, from lounging on the beaches of Tel Aviv to floating in the Jordanian waters of the Dead Sea to scuba diving in Dahab, believe it or not, there’s tons of places you’re going to want your swimwear for.

And ladies, I love my Rip Curl Bikini!

 

#5 Headlamp

Israel, Jerusalem, Cafe Windows

Arriving from Africa, the Middle East felt like Europe to me with its level of organisation and efficiency.

That said however, the odd power cut certainly wasn’t unheard of and yet again, my trust Black Diamond Storm Headlamp saved the day.

This amazing product features a range of light settings (including a red UV which is perfect for deflecting the bugs).

But my favourite feature has to be the lock, which stops the headlamp from accidentally being switched on in your bag and wasting all the battery!

 

#6 Lonely Planet

Jordan, Wadi Rum, Desertscape

Loads of people bag them out, but I still love my good old Lonely Planet and honestly do think they are one of the most comprehensive guidebooks around.

I travelled with the Lonely Planet Middle East eBook throughout my time in this part of the world and found it the perfect companion to my time on the road here.

From great accommodation recommendations to easily readable maps and loads of top tips about things to see and do, for the price, I really don’t think you can get better!

 

#7 Simple Phrasebook

Lebanon, Bcharre, VW Camper

And accompanying the guidebook is of course a phrasebook, which is definitely one of the things you should never travel to the Middle East without.

Even though many people here speak excellent English, learning a little bit of local lingo is always going to help you bag the best prices and the most friends.

This Middle Eastern Phrasebook from Lonely Planet is cheap and perfect for the occasion!

 

#8 Day Pack

Jordan, Petra, Flowers

With all that walking around Roman ruins in Jordan and religious sights in Jerusalem, there’s no question that a good daypack is absolutely one of the things you should never travel to the Middle East without.

Personally I can’t recommend the Bobby Anti Theft Backpack enough, which has all the weight balancing properties of a great backpack, combined with some superb anti-slash and shock-proof properties that make it as comfortable as it is risk-free.

Within hidden zippers, inbuilt charging capabilities and designated pockets for the secure storage of your devices, this is a no-brainer!

Read my full review of the Bobby Anti Theft Backpack and why I love it so much HERE.

 

#9 Travel Insurance

Israel, Jerusalem, Chess

Yup, that old chestnut travel insurance is as important in the Middle East as it is anywhere in the world… if not more so!

From medical coverage to emergency security assistance, travel insurance is a must in this part of the globe as far as I’m concerned and the service offered by World Nomads is second to none.

Honestly I’ve used this company the world over and simply can’t find fault with their easy claims-process and excellent customer care.

 

#10 Walking Shoes

Lebanon, Qadisha Valley, Views

These shoes were made for walking and they’re going to walk all over you… isn’t that how the song goes?!

Well in the Middle East you’ll definitely need some good walking shoes to walk all over this amazing section of the world.

From walking through the enormity of Jordan’s Jerash ruins, to hiking the Cedars in Lebanon, to scaling the crazy landscape in Turkey’s Cappadocia, there’s so much walking and exploring to be undertaken here, it would be rude not to.

Just bring the appropriate footwear is all I say!

Personally, I don’t think you can go far wrong with a great pair of New Balance runners, which are also stylish enough to wear casually on those cooler evenings.

 

#11 A Good Appetite

Lebanon, Grand Meshmosh Hotel, Terrace

If you’ve ever tried to say no to an extra portion in a restaurant or an extra serve at a family dinner in the Middle East, you’ll know what I mean when I say bring a good appetite with you!

A friend of mine once told me that he’s seen people put on 3kg in a week in Lebanon… and I can believe it!

From the hummous to the falafels, the tabbouleh to the fattoush, this is the land of plenty, so bring your appetites people and bring them big!

 

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11 Things You Must Pack for Your Travels in the Middle East {Big World Small Pockets}
The 11 Things You Should Never Travel to the Middle East Without {Big World Small Pockets}

And that is – my list of the 11 things you should never travel to the Middle East without.

Have you been to this amazing part of the world?

What was top of your packing list?

The post 11 Things You Should NEVER Travel to the Middle East Without appeared first on Big World Small Pockets.

10 Unbelievable Things to Do in Egypt on a Budget

10 Things to Do in Egypt

If you haven’t already heard, I’m currently championing Egypt as one of the best budget travel destinations around.

Honestly, it’s astounding just how cheap this country is to travel, especially given just how amazing the things to see there are!

Sadly for Egypt, the low prices travellers can expect here are due to their very important tourist industry having declined significantly after the political upheaval some years ago.

But for us budget travellers, it’s a lucky break and given how safe I felt in this country and how good it feels to support the industry as it slowly gets back on its feet, I cannot recommend visiting Egypt enough.

So to get your wanderlust all fired up peeps, here are 10 unbelievable things to do in Egypt on a budget.


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All prices given are correct at the time of publication. Egyptian Pounds= LE.


#1 Snap the Sphinx

Egypt, Cairo, Sphinx

Cairo’s most famous attraction, and rightly so, the pyramids of Giza are one of life’s bucket list greats and truly have to be seen to be believed.

However, I have to admit that their friendly neighbour, the Sphinx impressed me more.

There is something just so iconic about this incredible monument that it really is mind-blowing to see it in real life and the excellent (as well as comedy) photos you can get of it make the experience even more enjoyable.

READ MORE: Top 10 Things to Do in Cairo

 

#2 Dive Dahab

Egypt, Dahab, Sunset

Away from mainland Egypt, the Sinai Peninsula is almost like a different country.

Famed for its great diving opportunities, there’s no question that getting underwater here at the Red Sea is one of the best things to do in Egypt.

And while the resort of Sharm-El-Sheikh is probably the most famous destination, the small town of Dahab just up the road is infinitely better!

Certainly the top destination for independent travellers at the Red Sea, this small town is awash with dive shops, cafes and hostels that offer some amazing prices!

I honestly could have spent weeks in this gorgeous little place, but had to make do with just 4 days, which I filled nicely with near-continuous hummus eating, yoga, diving, swimming and sunning myself on some of the best roof terraces I’ve ever found!

 

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#3 Be Astounded by Abu Simbel

Egypt, Abu Simbel, Statues

Built by Ramses II, the awe-inspiring construction of Abu Simbel is a 3 hour drive from the city of Aswan in the south of Egypt, but let me tell you it is, without question, one of the best things to do in Egypt.

Transport to this incredible temple complex is cheap and readily available from Aswan (around 250 LE for a return journey) and once you pay the entrance fee for the temple (175 LE) a guide is included, meaning you can glean some amazing historical info on this place too.

Abu Simbel is an incredible site featuring 2 of Egypt’s most famous temples which overlook Lake Nasser and are HUGE!

Most famous are the 4 statues that greet you outside the main temple – they actually had me gasping with disbelief when I first saw them – and then inside, more treasures await you!

The sense of wonder Abu Simbel imparts is only increased when you learn that each stone was painstakingly moved and reconstructed in the current position, on higher ground, after the flooding of Lake Nasser.

Whatever you do, make sure you get there and take your camera!

LEARN MORE: 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Aswan

 

#4 Cruise the Nile

Egypt, Nile Cruise, Ship Sunset

Taking a cruise up the Nile is one of the quintessential things to do in Egypt but, if you’re anything you like me, you probably have reservations about how expensive this notoriously tourist experience might be.

But fear not my friends, this amazing adventure is totally accessible to those on a budget if you have a bit of flexibility in your schedule and don’t mind leaving things until the last minute!

I actually managed to score an amazing deal on a 3 night cruise from Aswan to Luxor when I was in Egypt and thoroughly enjoyed lazing by the pool on the top deck of the ship as the world’s most famous river floated by.

Find out exactly how I bagged such an amazing deal for just $30 USD a night (including all food and temple visits), by reading this blog post about the experience and get this one on your Egypt bucket list asap!

 

THE BEST BUDGET PLACES TO STAY IN EGYPT

Here’s my list of the top backpackers I stayed at in Egypt…

AswanEka Dolli Guest House

LuxorBob Marley Peace Hostel

CairoDahab Hostel

DahabAlaska Camp

 

#5 Visit the Valley of the Kings

Egypt, Luxor, Inscriptions

Without a shadow of a doubt, the Valley of the Kings is one of the most important historical sights in this country, making it a no-brainer on my list of the top 10 things to do in Egypt.

It’s also easy to see on a budget, with most hostels in city of Luxor (where the Valley of the Kings is) offering incredible priced tours (like under $10 USD) that include all transport, a professional guide and lots of other Luxor sights as well.

Entrance to the Valley of the Kings costs 160 LE and includes access to 3 tombs – another great reason to take a guide because they can tell you which tombs are the best to visit.

And prepare to be amazed as you step inside crypts thousands of years old, with such intricate carvings and bright paintwork you’d think they were created yesterday.

The famous tomb of Tutankhamen is also situated in the Valley of the Kings, although you’ll need to pay extra to visit it and I really wouldn’t bother as, despite its reputation, it’s not worth it!

*sorry to burst your bubble*

 

5 ESSENTIAL PACKING ITEMS FOR EGYPT

#1 Egypt Lonely Planet – A great travel aide to this country with tons of historical info, the Egypt Lonely Planet will help you get the best from your time here.

#2 Arabic Phrasebook – Most people in Egypt who are connected with tourism industry speak good English, but learning some Arabic never goes a miss, especially if you want to ensure you’re paying the best prices! The Egyptian Arabic Lonely Planet phrasebook is a super affordable piece of kit.

#3 Good Camera – Egypt is one of those ultimate bucket list destinations and travelling here with a good camera will help you preserve the memories. I highly recommend the mirrorless Sony A6000. Light, compact and robust, it’s been perfect for my Africa travel adventures.

#4 Sun Hat – Egypt is hot and dry, really like hot and really dry. When you’re walking around temples and other sights you’ll be exposed to the sun for long periods of time, so making sure you pack a sunhat for adequate protection is key. I love this one from Hello Sunshine.

#5 Amazon Audible – Travel in Egypt can often involve long train or bus journeys, so having something to listen to while you enjoy the scenery is a must! I love Amazon Audible, which is the best audiobook service around!

 

#6 Enjoy the Tea and Sheesha Combo

Egypt, Cairo, Table and Chairs

The land of the teahouse, Cairo in particular is jampacked with amazing places to enjoy a good Middle Eastern tea and people watch!

Combining this in the evening with smoking a traditional Egyptian sheesha and perhaps watching a football game is the perfect way to get into the spirit of this county, which is why I’ve voted it one of the best things to do in Egypt.

There’s lots of choices in the capital especially, but the Odeon Palace in downtown had to be my favourite.

LEARN MORE: Want to Backpack Egypt? 27 Things You Need to Know

 

#7 Tick the Pyramids Off Your List

Egypt, Cairo, Pyramid Tops

Now it’s really time to hit the WOW pedal and tick the mighty Pyramids of Giza off your Egypt list.

An absolute bucket list belter, the pyramids are situated over with the Sphinx in Giza – which is located the other side of the Nile from Cairo.

Early morning is the best time to head here so you can avoid the crowds and catching the Metro is the cheapest way to do it.

Spend a good few hours, wandering, snapping and heading inside the Pyramids, before also checking out the Cheops Boat Museum.

DISCOVER MORE: The 5 Best Hostels in Cairo

 

#8 Lose a Few Hours on Elephantine Island

Egypt, Aswan, Nilometer

Costing you just 2 LE (Egyptian Pounds) each way from the city centre of Aswan, Elephantine Island is an absolutely delightful place to stroll around.

Taking in the quiet, dusty streets and traditional Nubian villages of this part of Egypt, it’s easy to lose at least a few hours of your day simply ambling around as kids play in the streets, men gather on the pavements smoking sheesha, women chat together in the doorways and families of sheep jostle their way past you.

Elephantine Island is also home to the Aswan Museum, where an entrance ticket will set you back 70 LE.

Here there is a small garden, an excavation site currently being worked on by a Swiss / German team and an exhibition hall.

Check out the ruins and exhibition first before making your way to the Satet Nilometer.

An incredible measuring system the ancient civilisations of Egypt used to assess the height of the river, the Nilometer is situated within the museum grounds.

With steps that lead down to the river and clever markings that help judge its height, this is a fascinating glimpse into the highly sophisticated skills of a civilisation that existed here over 3,000 years ago.

At the bottom is a nice archway, framed perfectly for your Instagram shots, and you can even sit on the bottom step and cool off by dipping your toes in the world’s most famous waterway!

DISCOVER MORE: The 5 Best Hostels in Aswan

 

#9 Take Your Temple Time in Luxor

Egypt, Luxor, Karnak Temple Forest of Pillars

There’s no way you can come to Egypt and not check out some temples, so here’s the two I definitely advise you get on your list of things to do in Egypt.

Both Karnak and Luxor Temple are situated in the city of Luxor (unsurprising!) and it’s easy to visit them both in the space of an afternoon.

First head to Karnak Temple.

One of the largest in Egypt, this is a huge place you’ll need at least a few hours to explore.

The “Forest of Pillars” as it’s known here is simply breathtaking and the sanctuary and purification lake are also must-sees.

Late in the afternoon, it’s then time to visit Luxor Temple (100 LE entrance fee).

Situated in the heart of the city, I found this temple fascinating, not least because of the crossover of the Islamic and Christian artwork with the ancient Egyptian stuff – even Alexandra the Great left his mark here!

The Avenue of Sphinxes, some of which still remain and which used to stretch all the way to Karnak Temple, also give an amazing insight into just how grand and audacious this city was in its heyday.

It’s also great to know that Luxor Temple is open until 9pm and being here around sunset to catch the golden fading light of the days as it reflects off the pillars really is magnificent and a must-do.

LEARN MORE: The Best Luxor Itinerary for Backpackers

 

#10 Marvel at the Treasures in the Egyptian Museum

Egypt, Cairo, Egyptian Museum 1

Currently located in Central Downtown Cairo – although soon to be moved to a brand new, purpose built site in Giza – the Egyptian Museum is the country’s flagship exhibition space and is chock-full of ancient treasures.

Put quite simply, it’s absolutely mind-blowing.

Just about anything that was salvaged from a tomb, temple or pyramid was brought to Cairo and is now housed in room upon room of treasures here.

From Tutankhamun’s gold burial mask to the mummified bodies of several pharaohs, this is definitely one the of the best things to do in Egypt and you’ll want to allow at least 2 hours here.

Entrance tickets to the Egyptian Museum costs 120 LE for foreign visitors, although do be aware that the Mummy Room costs an extra 150 LE to enter and access to a camera anywhere in the museum will cost you a further 50 LE.

And if you’re into museums, then the Luxor Museum is another top one to check out when you’re in Egypt too.

 

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10 Best Things to Do in Egypt on a Budget {Big World Small Pockets}
10 Unbelievable Things To Do in Egypt on a Budget {Big World Small Pockets}

And that’s it, my list of 10 unbelievable things to do in Egypt on a budget.

Have you visited this incredible country?

Were you blown away too?

Do let me know all about your Egypt experiences in the comments bow below…

The post 10 Unbelievable Things to Do in Egypt on a Budget appeared first on Big World Small Pockets.

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 : My Kinda Backpack!

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42

If you’re anything like me, travelling light and packing small is both a struggle and a necessity when travelling.

I’m pretty strict on imposing baggage restrictions when packing, because I just know that when I have to lug around every kilo of that stuffed bag for months I’m going to regret it.

Plus I’m the kinda girl who likes to hike, camp and generally be outdoors getting amongst it, which is even more reason to shed that extra luggage weight.

But sometimes it can be hard to find a bag that suits me, that sits inbetween the day pack and the long-term backpack category.

After all, I don’t want some 65+l monstrosity to lug around, but I also need something a bit bigger than a 30l day pack to fit my life into.

So I’m delighted to say I’ve found the perfect solution – enter the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 – which I can tell is already going to be my saving grace in Europe this summer.


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European Summer

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 Front

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Because that’s right, I’m off for a summer of fun in Eastern Europe and, as such, knew I had to find the perfect bag for these few months that was both lightweight, small and compact, but also looked and felt good.

And of course, that was somewhere in between that 65+l and 30l backpack size.

I needed something that was streamlined, great in colour (aka that would not show up every speck of dirt) and spacious, but was also reliable, comfortable and practical.

Because after all, when you’re travelling in European cities you want to look good, but you also want to feel comfortable walking the sometimes long distances between the bus station and your hostel over all those cobblestones!

 

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What’s in a Colour

And actually, what first drew me to the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 was the colour.

I’m a huge fan of green, especially, “woodland green” as this one is described, and honestly, you just don’t see so many bags in this colour.

Most are either a boring black or a full-on red, and it was great to find a bag that added a bit of lightness in terms of its hues, but wasn’t garish or too bold either.

The sort of classic colour that you can wear with anything, that will hide the inevitable stains, but that you’ll easily be able to recognise at the same time.

And after the colour it was the shape of the bag that attracted me, because it’s tall, slim and streamlined.

And as far as backpacks go, it kinda looks elegant!

 

The Perfect Package

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 Support

©addnature

 

So those were the reasons I first started looking at this backpack and the more I looked, the more perfect I realised it was going to be for my European jaunt!

I’ve had cheaper brand backpacks in the past and the simple fact is, they don’t last.

The zips blow out, the seams come loose and the quick ‘wear and tear’ factor actually makes them incredibly poor value for money.

So a good brand backpack is something I never skimp on, especially when I’m travelling overseas for a few months.

I mean can you imagine anything worse than a bag failing you while you’re on your travels?!

COMPLETE NIGHTMARE!

And Jack Wolfskin really is at the top of its game when it comes to backpacker quality.

Since 1981, they’ve been “inspiring people to seek adventure, to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors and to explore the natural world” and nothing gets me going quite like this sort of mission statement!

 

Top Features

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 Inside

©addnature

 

So yes, as well as being high quality and reliable, this backpack also has some pretty great features.

First up, the number of pockets is astounding; making it incredibly easy for you to store your stuff in various compartments, so your gear is quick and simple to locate.

I’m always a fan of a separate bottom section in a backpack and the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 not only has this, but also has some side mesh pockets, 2 top lid pockets, a full-length inner hidden secure pocket and a good sized front pocket.

Access is easy via both the top of the bag, the bottom and the front, making packing and unpacking a dream.

In addition there’s also side pockets on the waist belt that make quickly grabbing some money, glasses, a pen, your passport, some mints and other essentials, incredibly easy.

But perhaps what I like best about this bag is what those waist band pockets connect to.

Yes, the support system of this bag is incredible!

I mean I’ve literally never felt so comfortable walking with a heavy backpack on in my life!

Initially I was a bit worried by this bag because it’s described as unisex (and often that means it sits way too high up on my back because it’s designed for taller men) but that was simply not the case with this bag.

The suspension system fitted me perfectly, offering excellent ventilation and soft cushioning that perfectly moulded to the contours and ergonomics of my body.

The weight distribution feels great and the many adjustment options means you can brilliantly tailor this backpack to suit your body type too.

Compression straps help keep the load compact and centralised, while the tall, thin design of the bag means it rests well against your back – not bulging out to the sides and setting you off balance.

Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 Back

©addnature

 

So there you have it, the reason, or reasons (!) why the Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 is quite clearly the dream choice for my forthcoming trip to Eastern Europe this summer.

Have you checked out this bag before?

Did you love it just as me?!

I’m sure you will do soon!

The post Jack Wolfskin Highland Trail 42 : My Kinda Backpack! appeared first on Big World Small Pockets.

A self guided free walking tour of Berlin Mitte

There are lot of fantastic neighbourhoods to choose from when you visit Berlin but few rival Mitte. For me ‘Mitte’, the ‘middle’ and heart of Berlin is one of the best places to feel the pulse of this incredibly vibrant, hedonistic and cultural city. There’s a lot of history packed into the huge 39.47 km² area that Mitte covers. You have the best of Berlin in one area-from the Reichstag, to the Museum Island, the iconic TV Tower, the sprawling magnificent Tiergarten park and the ugly but pretty Potsdamer Platz. Plus there’s a ton of cool bars and places to eat here.

Wombats Berlin entrance

The view from the terrace of Wombats Berlin

Wombar, Wombats Berlin

Where to stay in Berlin Mitte

I’ve had the good fortune of living in this part of town for awhile now but if you are looking for a tip of a place to stay in Berlin Mitte then I’d shamelessly like to plug one of my favourite hostels here, Wombats Berlin. The hostel has a great location just beside Rosa Luxemberg Platz U-Bahn station-you’re right in the heart of Mitte. The spacious dorms and private rooms have been recently refurbished and offer a high level of comfort and ensuite facilities. Other star features include their funky self service laundromats plus their onsite Tinman Coffee Shop where you can enjoy great coffee and snacks throughout the day. They offer a great value breakfast buffet and the Wombar bar offers some of the cheapest beers in town. Plus you have that amazing rooftop terrace which offers one of the best views of the city. 

 

Back to our self guided walking tour of Berlin Mitte…

Over the course of my last year I’ve learnt a few secret spots and cool places to eat and drink in Mitte. Following the success and popularity of my earlier self guided free walking tour guide of Edinburgh,  I’d thought I’d share this information with you in the form of a self guided free walking tour. You can customise the guide to suit your interests but all the locations referenced here are within close walking distance of Wombats Hostel. Hope you find the guide useful and thanks for reading.

World Time Clock, Alexanderplatz

1. Alexanderplatz

A short walk from Wombats Berlin Hostel is Alexanderplatz, lovingly referred to by locals as ‘Alex.’ Once upon a time the heart of Berlin’s nightlife in the roaring 20’s, Alexanderplatz is nowadays a bustling transport hub and also home to some hulking ugly concrete buildings , a hangover from the GDR era. Still, if you want to get a feel of what socialist Berlin might have been like pre reunification, come here.  Another cool feature to checkout here is the World Time Clock, a continually rotating installation that shows the time throughout the globe.

 

2. Berlin TV Tower

One of the icons of the GDR era and also with the unique distinction of being the second largest building in the European Union is the beloved Fernsehturm (TV Tower) which is a symbol of the city (and as a fantastic point of reference for lost tourists), visible for miles around. I warn you in advance that its pricey but from the top of the tower you get an incredible 360 degree panorama of the city. Come early here if you want to avoid the long queues or alternatively you can prebook your entry time online but it does cost few euros more. If you want to linger longer there is a restaurant Sphere to dine from.

Top tip: An alternative view that costs far less ( but opens at a later hour ) and also offers great views of the tower is the Panorama Terrace of the Park Inn Radisson Hotel. It costs just €4 (Hours: Summertime: 12 noon – 10 pm, Wintertime: 12 noon – 6 pm )

Haus des Lehrers

3. Haus des Lehrers ( Alexanderplatz 9 )

There’s a few other landmarks to checkout when you are in the area. One of my favourite murals in the city can be found slapped against a dreary modernist skyscraper built in 1964 -known as Haus des Lehrers aka House of Teachers this 125m long mural is one of the largest murals in Europe. Created by Walter Womacka, ‘Unser Leben’ (Our Life) gives you an idea of what life was like in the GDR era.

 

4. Kino International ( Karl Marx Allee )

Another place to checkout if you are looking for a feeling of Berlin pre-unification is the fabulous Kino International. During the GDR era this was the cinema theatre where all the film premieres take place and the last one was rumoured to take place on the day the Wall fell (Heiner Carow’s ‘Coming Out’ ) The architecture of the building is fantastic and love the nostalgic ambience of the place- you feel you could be in some 1960’s styled Wes Anderson movie. The cinema has a regular programme of films plus also the ‘Representation Room’ where state and party leaders celebrated before and after film premieres is now host to Kino International’s gay and lesbian club.

Hackescher Markt

5.Hackescher Markt

Short stroll from Alexanderplatz is another cool hub of shops, bars and restaurants known as Hackescher Markt. One of the most interesting parts of visiting this area is the sprawling complex of elegant courtyards with impressive Art Nouveau facades known as Hackesche Höfe. The area was home to one of the biggest Jewish communities in Berlin. Neue Synagoge on Oranienburger Strasse, just a few hundred yards from Hackesche Höfe is worth checking out.

 

Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt

Other interesting but not so well known landmarks here include the Museum Blindenwerkstatt Otto Weidt, formerly the site of a 1940’s workshop owned by Otto Weidt that employed blind and deaf Jewish people to manufacture brooms and brushes. During the Holocaust, Otto fought to protect his Jewish workers against deportation and the museum tells the extraordinary story of how Otto defied the Nazis. It is a really moving haunting museum- on the walls you can observe framed photographs of people who have hidden in the Weidt workshop and also witness the small, windowless hideout room in the furthest corner of the building-this has been kept in its original condition.

 

Also worth checking out at Friedhof Große Hamburger Straße is the nearby Jewish cemetery-the second oldest Jewish cemetery in Berlin. Dating back to the 1600’s this was destroyed by Nazi’s in WWII. Behind the locked gate you can see a replica of the headstone from Moses Mendelssohn who was an important part of the Berlin Jewish community. On Koppenplatz to the northern entrance of the cemetery you can find Karl Biedermann’s bronze sculpture ‘The Deserted Room’ that commemorates the Holocaust.

Friedhof Große Hamburger Straße

Also definitely worth spending time in The Dead Chicken Alley where you will find bars ( Escschloraque with its crazy interior decor and cool music is a belter) , exhibitions, workshops and a ton of great artworks and graffiti.

Dead Chicken Alley

Also if you are in the mood to catch a movie later, highly recommend checking out the programme at Hackesche Höfe Kino, one of the best cinemas in town showing a good selection of independent, art house and mainstream movies showing in English.

curry 61 currywurst berlin

Currywurst at Curry 61!

Also, if you are coming to Berlin, you can’t leave without having the city’s iconic dish, the Currywurst. Its basically a diced up classic german wurst with a lot of ketchup on top and dollops of curry powder on top-might sound too appetising but its tasty. One of the decent places to try this is Curry 61  in Hackescher Markt. They also have a vegan version plus their fries are not too shabby.

Alte Nationalgalerie Berlin

Cupola of the Alte Nationalgalerie, Berlin

Museum Island

6. Museum Island

Berlin has an astonishing 175 museums but arguably the best collection of museums can be found in the stunning Museum Island. The northern half of an island in the Spree river, the Museum Island is a collection of 5 world-renowned museums.

I would definitely make time for the Pergammon Museum to see the beautiful Ishtar Gate which was apparently the gate to the kingdom of Babylon and later check in to the Neues Museum to see the famous bust of the Ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. If you love art then a visit to the Alte Nationalgalerie is a must with is an impressive collection of art that includes works by the amazing Caspar David Friedrich, Monet, Van Gogh, Constable and Courbet.

You can get admission to all the 5 museums with a combined ticket which costs €18 (€9 reduced) It is pricey but really worth the investment if you are a culture vulture.

After visiting the museum, don’t forget to take a picture of the Spree river, the TV tower in the distance from the enchanting Friedrichsbrucke bridge in the heart of the Museum Island.

 

 

Reichstag ( Image borrowed under Creative Commons License. Link: https://bit.ly/2vpbRxx )

7. Unter Den Linden

Now turn right from the Museum Island and walk up the grand boulevard of Unter den Linden with it’s layers of rich history and beautiful buildings.

On your right you will see the Neue Wache ( free entry) which has the iconic Mother and Son sculpture by Kathe Kollwitz, one of my favourite monuments in the city. I love the light and sombre mood of the Neue Wache. Originally a guardhouse for Prussian King Frederik William II, in 1969 the remains of an unknown soldier and concentration camp prisoner were laid to rest here, serving as a memorial to the victims of war and tyranny.

Neue Wache

After exiting Neue Wache and strolling further up Unter den Linden you’ll find yourself back in Lustgarten with the majestic Berliner Dom on the right in the background. This is the perfect place for relaxing with a book and watching the world go by. This green oasis has been through many reincarnations. From a site for political demonstrations during the Weimar republic to a venue for Hitler’s mass rallies (when it was paved over) to it’s happy current form.

On your left opposite the Lustgarten you will see Bebelplatz where the Nazis burnt the books of those they persecuted and ostracized. There’s an installation there , ‘a library with empty shelves’ by Micha Ullman.

Walking further up then brings you to the majestic Brandenburg Gate -one of 20 original gates whereby you could enter the city back in the day. Once a symbol of a divided city, the Brandenburg Gate is now the iconic symbol of Berlin and of the reunified Germany. It’s worth hanging around the elegant Pariser Platz in front of the Brandenburg Gate to just observing the flow of tourists and also colourful characters that seem to congregate here.

After passing through the Brandenburg Gate on the right you will see the Reichstag, the German Parliament with it’s beautiful glass dome.

It is free to enter but you have to apply in advance for tickets. Views are fantastic here plus you can choose to dine in their rooftop restaurant here.

Goldelse aka Golden Lizzy to your left captured during this year’s CSD parade

Top Tip: Best viewpoint in Berlin

If you have time, one of my favourite viewpoints of Berlin ( other than the view from the bar of the Wombats Hostel Berlin ) is from the iconic ‘Goldelse’ (nicknamed by locals as ‘Golden Lizzy’)

Barack Obama addressed 200,000 locals from this spot during his visit to Berlin in July 2008. The column is also an icon in popular culture. Film buffs will recognize the golden lady as the spot where the angels of the Wim Wenders classic, ‘Wings of Desire’ would congregate and talk. Climb the 270 steps (Entrance fee €3.50, reduced: €2.50 ) and from the top you can admire Golden Lizzy upclose and get panoramic views of the green, lush Tiergarten, the Soviet War Memorial plus the Brandenburg Gate in the distance.

Holocaust Memorial ( Image borrowed under Creative Commons License. Link: https://bit.ly/2LTrS9e )

8. Holocaust Memorial

After Reichstag continue to your left and you’ll find yourself in front of the Holocaust Memorial, another moving and symbolic architectural gem of Berlin.

The memorial’s 2,711 concrete slabs or “stelae” of the memorial are arranged in a grid pattern and varying in height from 0.2 to 4.8 m help create a confusing, disorientating and claustrophobic ambience which was the creator, Peter Eisenman’s intention. The memorial is one of those places that you have to experience yourself to fully realize it’s meaning.

While visiting, you can visit the subterranean underground museum (Entrance: € Free, but donations are welcomed) which reveals the painful and disturbing history of the Jewish Holocaust victims. The museum has a database of all the victims. Visitors can go online and query names of the victims., or record them

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz

After that, you walk straight to the iconic Potsdamer Platz. End the walk in style by nipping into the Ritz Carlton for cocktails at the fabulous Curtain Club- pricey but probably one of the most best craft cocktails I have ever tasted.

Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

Top tip: Get the full picture of the Berlin Wall at the Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer

For those of you who are keen to learn more about what life was like behind the wall, I highly recommend a visit to the very moving and haunting Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer (Berlin Wall Memorial) : A memorial to the victims of the Berlin Wall, this stretches for 1.4km along Bernauer Strasse, along the actual course of the Wall. This is probably the best place to learn how all the elements of the hated barrier and the death strip fit together, how the border fortifications were enlarged and perfected over time, and what impact they had on the daily lives of people on both sides.

where to party berlin mitte

Clarchens Ballhaus

Cool places to eat and drink in Berlin Mitte

Once you’ve finished your walk, have a drink or bite at some of my recommended places below.

Tadshiksche Teestube

This Tajikistani themed tea room with a very cool Oriental ambience is a nice place to come and drink some tea and chill. Recommend requesting the ‘Russian Tea Ceremony’ here. Bring cash plus there is a weekly story telling event very Mondays at 19:30.

Clarchens Ballhaus

Vintage retro mirrored dance hall where you can find people dancing tango and eating simple hearty German cuisine-this is a real local institution and atmospheric place.

Where to drink beer in Mitte?

Really important question. For beers, I am not a huge craft beer fan but I love going to Brewdog outpost in Berlin Mitte ( Ackerstrasse 29) As a huge fan of Liverpool FC and football in general, I do spend a lot of my time and money at the excellent FC Magnet Bar just off Veteranstrasse (26) Czech beers on tap and they show most of the Premier league and Bundesliga games. Plus obviously don’t forget happy hour at the Wombar in Wombats Berlin when you can get beers for as little as €2.50!

Zeit fur Brot

Vegan friendly and amazing cinnamon rolls right near the Wombats hostel

Monsieur Vuong

Their menu changes daily so there’s always new dishes to try but I usually plump for the tried and tested Bún bò Huế or bún bò, a popular Vietnamese soup containing rice vermicelli and beef. It is delicious, easy on the wallet and usually wash this down with some Tiger beer.

Banh Mi Deli

I’m also a huge fan of the Vietnamese sandwich -“bánh mì” : A product of French colonialism in Indochina, this sandwich mixes ingredients from the French like their crispy fresh baguettes, pâté, jalapeño and mixes them with native Vietnamese ingredients such as coriander, cucumber, and pickled carrots and daikon (đồ chua). For me, for taste and flavour this is the best sandwich in the world. Whenever I am in Berlin, I try to visit the wonderful unassuming Banh Mi Deli just off Rozenthaler Platz (Rosenthaler Str. 2)

Cuore Di Vetro

Best ice-cream in town. Try their pistachio gelato. Lots of vegan options too.

 

Top tip: Visit a Späti

If the weather is nice, especially in the summer, locals love to grab a beer and go to the park. The beer’s here are also nice and cheap and range from €1-3. You’ll find beers at a Späti. Also known as spätkaufs, these late-night stores are an icon of the Berlin streetscene. Some of the spätis during the summer will have often have tables outside for you to drink beer. Some they even have their own bathrooms. Sometimes they even have their own impromptu raves. They pretty much replace any bar if you’re super strapped for cash. My favourite Späti in Mitte is the one on the beginning of Weinbergsweg -cheap beers with lots of outdoor benches plus its perfectly located to watch the crowds and chaos of Rosenthaler Platz.

 

Shopping in Mitte?

Not my speciality but ……if you are a lover of a good graphic design and coffee, pay a visit to the Type Hype Store & Milchbar- this design concept store and coffee shop is located under the hotel Lux11 on Rosa Luxembourg strasse. The design of the store is very Art Deco with lots of minimal structure – it’s a type house. Lots of letters, shapes and structure. Also if you love books , pay a visit to the lovely ocelot , bookstore ( Brunnenstrasse 181) -probably my favourite local bookstore in the city. Great selection of travel books plus they do good coffee.

 

Disclaimer

This post was brought to you as a result of the #wombatsTraveller blog trip, created and managed by iambassador  in partnership with Wombat’s CITY HOSTELS. BudgetTraveller maintains full editorial control of the content published on this site

18 cool things to do in Occitanie: the real South of France

things to do in Occitanie

Time for a roadtrip?

I’ll openly admit that I had little clue about Occitanie until visiting the region earlier this year in Spring. Lying in the south west corner of France, bordered by the Mediterranean on the east and the Pyrenees mountains on the south, Occitanie was formed as recently as 2016 when the regions of  Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénées were merged together. What can you expect? The region has all the fairytale charm that France is famous for : colourful food, fabulous wines, medieval castles, tons of culture plus some of the country’s prettiest villages and market towns. One key notable differences was the lack of crowds which was refershing. I set out on a 5 day roadtrip earlier in April with Bjorn aka the Social Traveler to see what we could discover and I’ve come up with a list of cool experiences we discovered. While this is not by no means comprehensive list and guide to the region, this post will give you some idea of the range of cool things to do in Occitanie plus I’ve shared a guide below to some budget friendly cool places you can stay in while travelling through the region.

place du Capitole

1.Have a Coffee and Watch the People Go by in Place du Capitole, Toulouse

 

This is Toulouse’s central square, overlooked by a grand neoclassical palace replete with elaborate frescoes. The Capitole houses the city hall, the Theatre du Capitole de Toulouse opera company, and the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse. The brick and marble facade looks equally pretty by day, or lighted up at night.

Le Florida Toulouse

Le Florida, Toulouse

Top tip: Soak up the views with a coffee at the terrace of the historic Le Florida cafe and restaurant. Decorated in the Belle Epoque style, the interiors of this cafe are fantastic and another good excuse to stop by here for a drink.

 

2.Visit the Famous Palm Tree of Toulouse in ‘Convent des Jacobins’

Famous Palm Tree of Toulouse

Famous Palm Tree of Toulouse, Convent des Jacobins

You can discover the beauty of the famous ‘palm tree of Toulouse’ in the beautiful Dominican Church- Convent des Jacobins. A number of slender columns support the vaulted Gothic roof of the lofty church. One of the columns supports the 22 ribs of the vaulted roof of the choir- giving rise to an ornate structure resembling a Palm Tree.

Pastel Blue Toulouse

Toulouse: The Pink and Pastel Blue city

3. Admire the Pastel Blue Shutters and Doors of Toulouse

 

Despite being known as the pink city, the pastel blue shutters and doors of Toulouse’s homesteads will assail you on your city wanders. Dating all the way back to the Renaissance, native traders of Toulouse developed a trade in ‘cocagne’ – little balls of pastel blue derived from a yellow-flowered plant that yielded a blue dye. These were highly coverted by the aristocracy of Toulouse, Albi and Carcassonne, bringing unprecedented wealth into the area.

best wine bar in the world

No 5- the best wine bar in the world?

 

4. Have a Glass of Wine in the best wine bar in the world

Elected the Best Wine Bar in the World in June 2017 by The World of Fine Wine the ambience of the No 5 Wine Bar is to die for, as are its formidable range of fine wines. Either choose from a range of pre-selected wines by the glass or by the bottle accompanied by aptly paired finger foods.

Cite de l'Espace

Cite de l’Espace.Mir Replica.
Disclaimer: Used under the Creative Commons License Link: https://bit.ly/2uJSYoy

5. Be an Astronaut for a Day at Cité de l’espace

Cité de l’espace or City of Space is a wonderful theme park situated on the eastern outskirts of Toulouse. It is the perfect place to spend a day having fun with the family. A number of outdoor and indoor exhibits and installations dot the park. These range from full-scale models of the Ariane 5 rocket, Mir space station and Soyuz models. The installations are both informative and interactive, which doesn’t make learning feel like a chore. Highlights include a 280 seater planetarium and a 300-seat IMAX cinema.

Top tip: Entry fee of €24 is a bit steep so keep aside a few hours to make the most of your investment.

PS: If you’re keen to read more about Toulouse, checkout my earlier post about how to spend a few hours in Toulouse.

AUCH

The historical capital of Gascony, Auch is 70 kms west of our previous stop, Toulouse.

Never heard of this city? Neither had I but wandering the narrow streets of this beautifully preserved medieval town was a real treat.Perched at dizzying heights on a hilltop, the small town overlooks the Gers River. ‘Haute-Ville’ is so high up that in olden times, villagers had steep stairways built down to the river banks. For a small town, it packs a lot of history and has some very interesting connections-  from Napolean III to D’Artagnan and the Modern Circus movement thanks to Circa- here’s a low down of the best things to do in Auch.

Things to do in Auch

6. Cathedrale Sainte-Marie

When in Auch don’t neglect to visit the Cathedrale Sainte-Marie, best known for its sonorous organ and rose stained-glass windows along with the 1500 intricately carved wooden stalls. The organ was commissioned by Napoleon III. Do take a look at the Renaissance masterpieces on show there.

Jaume Plensa Auch

Bjorn standing in front of Jaume Plensa’s vast iron plate in Auch

7. Checkout the Steel Sculptures of Jaume Plensa

I was privileged to have seen Jaume Plensa’s work ‘Alma del Ebro’ (Soul of the River Ebro) earlier last year during my 24 Hours in Zaragoza so I was pleasantly surprised to discover his presence in Auch. In Auch, Jaume put down on the ground a vast cast iron plate engraved with the Latin text from the Old Testament quoting the Deluge episode in memory of the tragic floods that hit the city in 1977. You will see the sculpture while descending the monumental staircase of Auch.

Monumental Staircase of Auch 

Monumental Staircase of Auch

D’Artagnan Auch

D’Artagnan lives!

8. Climb the Monumental Staircase of Auch and Have a Chance to Meet the Real D’Artagnan!

Also to be discovered in Auch is the Monumental Staircase. This is a grand neo-Renaissance style staircase bridging the lower and more lofty parts of the town in a grand fashion. 374 steps will have you bypassing several gardens, fountains and terraces and a handsome statue of D’Artagnan, the character in Alexandre Dumas’ well-loved books and based on a real-life person, Charles de Batz who was born in the Chateau de Castelmore.

CIRCa birthplace of the Modern Circus

CIRCa- Birthplace of the Modern Circus

9. Visit the Birthplace of the Modern Circus

Another the cool fact about Auch is that is home to the modern circus movement and to CIRCa: the Circus Innovation and Research Centre which is dedicated to supporting the innovation process behind contemporary circus.

CIRCa is a national hub that supports efforts in the contemporary circus movement. Every year, thirty teams of would-be circus artists create future shows, work on techniques, write and hone their skills in Auch. At CIRCa they can install their apparatus (trapeze, ropes…), their scenography, or put up their big top for a while to create or rehearse shows which helps them break new grounds in circus arts or devise new circus techniques. Circa or the Circus Innovation and Research Centre is an ideal place for supporting the innovation process behind contemporary circus.

If you are curious to find out more and visit the centre drop them a line here and also do consider checking out the festival of contemorary circus held here every year: the dates this year are from the 19th to 28th October

Moissac

Moissac

Tarn & Garonne region: MOISSAC & AUVILLAR

On pilgrims route to Santiago Compostela lies Moissac which is home to the historic UNESCO world heritage Saint Peter’s Abbey. Here’s a list of things to do in Moissac including a trip to the picturesque Auvillar.

Things to do in Moissac

10. Cycle the Canal de Garonne

The Canal de Garonne is a mid-19th century canal connecting Toulouse with the Castets-en-Dorthe. The route is a tranquil passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic, enabling many small boats to cover the stretch safely. There are a number of spots to discover along the 193 km stretch of canal way. Cycling along the canal way is a pleasurable way to take in the sights of the region. The canal historically had about 53 locks in its entirety, along with several bridges and aqueducts. A total of seven aqueducts permits the canal to cross the Garonne and its tributaries at different points. The 23 arched Agen aqueduct and the 13 arched Cacor aqueduct at Moissac are notable.

 

11. Abbey of St Peter

Checkout the Abbey of St. Peter: this church is a former Benedictine priory dating back to the twelfth century. Featuring beautiful Romanesque apses, a choir and a carved wooden altarpiece along with many treasures of religious art in the chapel, the Abbey of St Peter should be on your itinerary.

Sampling the Grand Dore Chocolate at Pâtisserie Cédric Moretto in Moissac

12. Sample the Grand Dore at Pâtisserie Cédric Moretto

Pop into Pâtisserie Cédric Moretto to sample their signature chocolate – ‘the Grand Dore’- a mix of dark chocolate, local chasselas grape and armagnac. Rich and perfectly melt in the mouth- these were such a decadent treat!

Auvillar

Office du Tourisme, Auvillar

 

Church of St Pete, Auvillar

13. Visit one of France’s most beautiful villages: Auvillar

You will pass through some very scenic and beautiful stretches of Occitanie countryside enroute to Auvillar. There are several scenic photo opportunities overlooking the Garonne on this ancient pilgrims route. I loved Auvillar. Guarded by a beautiful 17th century clock tower , this is definitely one of France’s most beautiful villages with picture postcard half timbered houses & monuments like its historic circular hall where corn and other grains used to be exchanged , the clock tower and the Church of St. Pete. Right at the end of the village tucked away is a panoramic viewpoint which offers beautiful views of the Garonne and its valley.

Petit Palais, Auvillar

Dessert at the fantastic Petit Palais, Auvillar

I highly recommend lunch at Petit Palais in Auvillar: their fixed seasonal menu for 20 euros, including wine is super value.

Albi. Saint Cecile Cathedral

ALBI

Despite the despondent mizzle of rain, the episcopal city of Albi was a revelation- from hidden Romanesque cloisters, half-timbered houses in narrow streets, to its brick red beautiful cathedral and the fantastic Toulouse Lautrec Museum- there was so much to discover in this place. Everywhere we turned to in this city, we found beauty. The city became extremely wealthy because of the pastel trade and that still shows today. The medieval city with one of the oldest bridges in the world is perfect for a weekend getaway. You’ll find yourself wandering narrow alleys, dreaming away at Berbie palace and admiring the grandeur of the cathedral in the heart of the city. Here’s a few cool things to do in Albi

 

14. Taste the local Pastry ‘Petit Jeanot’

What better way to start the day than sampling the local pastry? I nibbled the ‘petit jeanot’ at the local market hall. This is an anis based sweet that is typical of the region. I found it to be an acquired taste but I did gorge on a splendid selection of the local cheese. I could easily have spend the entire day, grazing through the fabulous local market.

 

Church of St Salvy

Cloisters, Church of St Salvy

15. Visit the Church of St Salvy

There is a beautiful Romanesque cloister hidden behind the Church of St Salvy . While the church itself is a feat of Gothic-Romanesque architecture, it is the quiet cloister to the rear of the church that provides a serene space. The cloister has fine history-laden capitals built by Vidal de Malvesi. One of the oldest parts of Albi, this is the perfect place for reading a book and quiet contemplation.

 

Musee Toulouse Lautrec

Musee Toulouse Lautrec

Palais de la Berbie Albi

Palais de la Berbie, overlooking the River Tarn.

16. Enjoy the artworks at Musee Toulouse Lautrec

The Musee Toulouse Lautrec has the largest collection of the great artist’s works in the world. I enjoyed my brief time exploring the museum and viewing highlights like the paintings ‘La Belle Helene’ and ‘Au Salon de la Rue des Moulins’. Equally beautiful was the location of the museum- in the 13th century Palais de la Berbie, overlooking the River Tarn.

The church with the 13th century cathedral of Albi-this city was a revelation

17. Admire the Grandeur of Saint-Cecile Cathedral

Another jewel in Albi’s crown is the 13th century Saint-Cecile Cathedral, also known as Albi Cathedral. I couldn’t help but admire the grandeur of the cathedral in the heart of the city. Built in the southern Gothic style and built almost entirely of brick, the beautiful bell tower forms a prominent feature. The ornate, elaborate stands at marked contrast with the stark, brick exterior. Make sure to notice the beautiful cathedral organ, Renaissance frescoes in the huge vaulted ceiling and detailed filigree stone work in the choir.

Carcassonne France

Carcassonne

CARCASSONNE

Carcassonne is a fortified, medieval city, perched on a hilltop. It is most famous for its medieval citadel- La Cité, whose early walls date back to Gallo-Roman times. You may notice the controversial concentric neon, yellow stripes on the walls of the fortress- the brainchild of the contemporary Swiss artist Felice Varini. The artwork will be on display till September 2018. The perfectly preserved medieval citadel houses 50 residents including a very illustrious knight-local instructor and expert historian, Jean-François Vassal.

things to do in carcassonne

Bjorn preparing for battle…

Bjorn and Jean Francois-the medieval knights of Carcassonne!

18. Learn the noble code of chivalry at ILC Carcassonne

My trip to Carcassonne was quite brief but in that time I learnt how to be a knight thanks to Jean-François who runs ILC Carcassonne. We even donned some armoury and marched across the citadel. Fab fun! Jean-Francois’s talk covered everything from the 13th century clothing that knights ( learning stuff like the metallic coat that knights would wear in battle would be a heavy mesh, weighing up to 15 kgs! providing excellent protection but must have been drag to wear ) and their ladies would don plus the types of weapons used and their noble code chivalry. If you are interested in learning to become a knight, Jean runs a number of workshops and classes-checkout his Facebook page for more details


Budget places to stay in Occitanie

 

1. Hotel Ibis Toulouse Centre

Address: 2 Rue Claire Pauilhac, Toulouse

This hotel, part of the Ibis Chain, is conveniently located in Toulouse city centre, close to Jeanne d’Arc Metro Station. Despite the impersonal exterior, the hotel interior is very modern, with a welcoming 24 hour reception. A plentiful buffet breakfast is on offer each morning with a range of sweet and savoury dishes. The in-hotel Wi-Fi is excellent and the bar is open 24/7.

Prices start from €70-€80 mark via Booking.com

L’hôtel de France Auch

Greetings from L’hôtel de France, Auch

2. L’hôtel de France, Auch

Address: Place de la Liberation, 32000, Auch.

This is a historical hotel located in the heart of the old city of Auch, in the heart of Gascogne. The period details have been retained wherever possible in the hotel, particularly in Le Restaurant, offering fine dining and Brasserie Le 9eme, serving up regional dishes. The staff are multilingual and the hotel offers high speed internet.

Prices start from €80 mark via Booking.com

Le Moulin de Moissac, Moissac

Room with a view! Le Moulin de Moissac, Moissac

3. Le Moulin de Moissac, Moissac

Address: 1 Promenade Sancerre, Moissac.

In operation since 1474, this historic hotel is a great choice with comfortable rooms and views of the barge-filled Canal du Midi. The majestic hotel has  wonderful ambience due to its enviable views, decorated interiors, piano bar and spa services. All rooms have views of the River Tarn and hotel guests have the option of indulging in riverside leisure activities like canoeing and boating. The city centre of Moissac is very close by and provides opportunities for visiting the Abbey of St Pierre.

Prices start from €100 mark via booking.com

A more budget friendly alternative is a bed and breakfast called Elika situated also in Moissac’s town centre. Prices start from €65 via booking.com

Maison du Julia Albi

Maison du Julia, Albi

4. Maison de Julia, Albi

Address: 28 Rue du Capitaine Julia, Albi

This boutique design hotel was probably my favourite place to stay in the whole trip. The hotel is situated in Albi city centre, just 800 m away from the renowned Toulouse-Lautrec Museum. Rooms are aesthetically pleasing, minimalist and modern with air-conditioning and a terrace. There is a seasonal outdoor pool and a fabulous continental breakfast is served each morning. The hotel staff are welcoming, making this hotel stay seem like a home away from home. Highly recommend.

Rates start at €90 mark via Booking.com

If budgets do not permit, alternatively you can book the lovely Hotel Les Pasteliers situated in the heart of Albi. Rates start at €55 via Booking.com

Thanks for the memories Occitanie!

Bjorn and Rose admiring the beautiful countryside views of Occitanie

Big thank you to Birgitte and everyone at Tourisme Occitanie for bringing me to Toulouse. Also a huge hug and thanks to Bjorn for inviting me on this amazing trip. More stories and moments from this trip-please checkout the hashtag #TourismeOccitanie #DestinationChallenges

Toulouse: A few hours in the pink & blue city of France

Toulouse

Toulouse

‘Tourists don’t come here to see the Eiffel Tower or some grand historic monument. They come here to experience our fantastic gastronomy, our wonderful wines, the beautiful landscapes and of course our culture. There’s not one great thing but many small, beautiful things that make our city and region special.’

The patron of the No 5 wine bar summed up nicely the charms of the region on a slightly cool evening in April. I had prepared for the cooler April evenings by wrapping myself in my puffy blue winter jacket. However, what I was not prepared for were the copious amounts of fine wine that would follow that night. I had spent the week before in purgatory, stuck in a windowless hotel room, catching up on a backlog of blogging work and living off a diet of soup and digestive biscuits. The wine, like sweet nectar was disappearing quickly.  The more we savored,  the more our host insisted we try more varieties. Needless to say, that night I stumbled upstairs to my bed feeling pretty merry. Bjorn, my friend who was accompanying me and whose liver is used to super strong Belgian beers, was needless to say far more lucid than me when we said goodnight to each other. As I whatsapped the girl, she asked me how the trip was going.

I summed it up in more than a few words.

‘I’m a bit drunk but very happy. Lovely people here.’ I spoke to her in half garbled tones. I then whispered into the phone, suddenly conscious if I might be speaking to loud 

‘…I love it here. Such an unexpectedly beautiful place. I had no clue what to expect of Toulouse with just a few hours to see the city but I’ve loved everything I’ve seen so far.’

Carousel Toulouse

Unexpected

In the depths of the Occitanie region, on the banks of the River Garonne lies the fourth largest city of France-Toulouse aka ‘La Ville Rose.’ I was excited about the trip. I hadn’t touched a guidebook or researched about the region online. Which was nice. Travel should be more serendipitous. We need to ditch Google Maps. Depend on the kindness and wisdom of strangers. In that context, I was in excellent company. My very talented and beer loving Belgian friend of Social Traveler fame, Bjorn Troch has carved out an exciting career of telling stories of places with the help of his followers. No guidebook. No Google Maps. Plus there was the added incentive of road tripping in Bjorn’s beautiful yellow VW Campervan, Rose. 

48 hours in Toulouse

 Walking-the-streets-Toulouse

Lets talk about Toulouse. It is hard to describe Toulouse in a few words.

I think Bjorn summed up the place nicely

‘If Paris and Barcelona had a love child, it would be Toulouse’.

Toulouse has all the charm and joie de vivre of France’s better known cities but noticeably lacks tourists which is great. Just like the region, the pink city too lacks one standout landmark to rival the  Eiffel Tower for example but instead has a series of beautiful landmarks that makes wondering the streets of this city, a real pleasure.  There’s plenty to keep you occupied here for a few days but I had only a few hours to see the city so I’ll share with you where I visited. 

 

a few hours in Toulouse

While Bjorn visited the Toulouse Space Centre and was learning how to become an astronaut, I was enjoying a very different perspective of life at the grand central square of the city, the Place du Capitole which is overlooked by a grand neoclassical palace replete with elaborate frescoes. The Capitole houses the city hall, the Theatre du Capitole de Toulouse opera company, and the Orchestre national du Capitole de Toulouse. This is the beating heart of the city. Anytime, night or day, there’s always something going on here to keep you entertained. Then you have the fantastic brick and marble facade which takes your breath away.

Gateau de Fenetra

Gateau de Fenetra

After a quick coffee at one of the elegant cafes in the square I pop into the pastry shop Regals just off the square to sample Toulouse’s local pastry ‘La Fenetra’. I enjoy having my taste buds assaulted by the flavours of almonds, lemon and apricot jam.

Then on the advise of some locals, I head to the beautiful Dominican Church- Convent des Jacobins to discover the beauty of its famous ‘palm tree of Toulouse.’ A palm tree in a church? A number of slender columns support the vaulted Gothic roof of the lofty church. One of the columns supporting the 22 ribs of the vaulted roof of the choir gives rise to an ornate structure resembling a Palm Tree! 

 pont-saint-pierre-toulouse

As with every city with a river ( or by the sea) , after awhile I naturally gravitate towards the water. As I approach the banks of the river Garonne I am greeted by the magnificent image of the Pont Saint Pierre de Toulouse. I take a few moments to soak in the view and then walk further up the river. It is a Sunday and there is a flea market in full flow.

flea market Toulouse

The market is brimming with wonderful old outlandish objects and the eccentric personalities that you always tend to associate with these type of markets. There’s a comfort in browsing a market of any sort and also being amongst locals in a foreign land. It grounds me, leaving me inexplicably happy. The Sunday flea market on the banks of the Garonne is a belter. 

Pastel Blue Toulouse

I spend the afternoon like you would do in any foreign land-wondering aimlessly. One of the things that struck my eye wherever I walked in Toulouse was the beautiful contrast of pastel blue and pink everywhere. From window shutters to the doors of Toulouse’s homesteads, everything was pastel blue. Dating all the way back to the Renaissance, the native traders of Toulouse developed a trade in ‘cocagne’ – little balls of pastel blue derived from a yellow-flowered plant that yielded a blue dye. These were highly coverted by the aristocracy of Toulouse, Albi and Carcassone, bringing unprecedented wealth into the area. Pink and blue-I can’t think of two more beautiful colours as the palette for a city.

It was pretty warm so to cool down, I popped by the excellent Sorbet D’Amour gelateria which serves a great range of flavour from Plum Armagnac to Caramel with Sea Salt and even Tarte Tatin. 

No 5 Wine Bar Toulouse

The day flies by and Bjorn joins me after his stratospheric day out at the Space centre. We finish the day with a few glasses of wine at Toulouse’s best wine bar, No 5 Wine Bar , once voted the best wine bar in the world. The relaxed unpretentious venue contains one of the most extensive wine lists in Europe but the good news is that the selection here caters to people of all budgets. You are given a prepaid cashcard to load money onto. The idea is that you can then scan the card and pour yourself  wine from any of the 30 odd wine taps. You vary the amount you can drink so even if it you want to taste an expensive bottle of wine, you don’t pay too much. So for about €20-€30 you can try a great variety of wines and good wines too. I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

Toulouse

I leave Toulouse with Bjorn the following day for Auch with a heavy heart and a terrible hangover too. I definitely see myself coming back to admire Paris and Barcelona’s love child. This time, hopefully it will be for more than just a few hours and hopefully my liver will be prepared to enjoy all that wonderful wine.

Big thank you to Birgitte and everyone at Tourisme Occitanie for bringing me to Toulouse. Also a huge hug and thanks to Bjorn for inviting me on this amazing trip. More stories and moments from this trip-please checkout the hashtag #TourismeOccitanie #Destination Challenges