With my job I am extremely blessed I get to travel around Europe. Sure it’s not all glamour with the waiting around, long days at the office and the usual downsides of travelling but I made an effort to ensure I took advantage as much as physically possible. When you are presented with a gift it’s rude not to take and enjoy oneself! This year has been extremely intense with visiting over eight new countries and below are some of the highlights and an excuse to share some photos!
Although I visited Bucharest the back end of last year I only caught a glimpse of this wonderfully contradicting dynamic city. This year I managed to see a lot more and each time I go I find myself constantly surprised. Dubbed little Paris, with its mini Arc de Triumphe and cute cafe filled streets emulating France’s capital, I find myself continually enamoured with Romania’s capital. With the stark contrasts of styles everywhere you look; Orthodox churches, old run down communist buildings, modern sleek architecture, trendy cafes and restaurants all within a few feet from each other. To some it may look like a mess, to me it’s utterly fascinating and full of character. You cannot mention Bucharest without talking about their obsession with speciality coffee. The coffee scene has exploded in the city and there is even a brochure mapping out all the key speciality coffee shops to visit. Check out my city guide here and my favourite coffee shop here.
Łódź and Warsaw, Poland
Łódź is the third largest city in Poland, centrally located and originally known as the manufacturing hub of the country. Now though it’s more apt to describe the place as the city of one street, Piotrkowska Street. The longest in Poland at over 4km long, cuts right through the city and is where all the good stuff is. I only managed to walk half the street but what a lovely walk it was. Filled with old historic buildings and combination of trendy cool and modern bars, restaurants and coffee shops you’re never at odds to find something you don’t like. One other feature of this city are the wall murals. If you have a love of street art then this place is your dream. With a government backed initiative to make old ugly buildings more appealing, called out to artists locally and globally to add a bit a vibrance to the city. And boy did they deliver. However what fascinated me about Łódź was that it was not ashamed of what the city is about, it’s quite proud in stating it is what it is, if you don’t like it, not my problem. As for sure it is not a pretty city by any means. Truth to be told, I adored the sentiment.
Warsaw on the other hand, is as you’d expect from an old communist era capital. The usual tourist attractions of the old town and gorgeous buildings are lovely to stroll around, venturing a little out of the main city you will find the local areas beaming with trendy, hipster or artsy vibes. Again another city in love with its coffee, no shortage of great coffee places to check out. Check the coffee sessions on the blog for both Warsaw and Łódź and this from my intriguing train journey between the two cities.
Zagreb is cool. It’s a city that’s like that rough looking but charming friend you have. The main city is not pretty but when you have mountains in the skyline that’s the charm of the place. Often used as a pass through to the more gorgeous places to go to in Croatia; Split, Dubrovnik et al, you could do a lot worse than spend a day or so in the capital. Restaurants and bars are cool and the people are friendly when you are friendly with them. I did a pretty big coffee shop crawl, so big that it was a two parter blog entry! However the main highlight for me was I was there during their historic World Cup semi final victory and it was just crazy, you can read about it here. That’s just one reason it holds a special place in my heart.
Kranj, Lake Bled, Koper and Ljubljana, Slovenia
Slovenia is just pretty. Such a small country but oh so pretty. Was lucky enough to experience four places; Kranj the fourth largest city which you can fully finish exploring in literally 10 minutes, Lake Bled which was just candy for your eyes, Koper where having an ice cream at the docks was just too relaxing and finally the smallest capital in Europe, Ljubljana was a beautiful fairytale city. The country is on my list for a road trip vacation for sure. Read my city Ljubljana city guide here.
Heading away from Eastern Europe and to the Nordics, Copenhagen reminded me of a relaxed cosmopolitan modern city. Easy going and what you’d expect from a western city. Highlights for me; Nyhavn a lovely romantic area canal side full of restaurants and bars, Meatpacking District for hipster vibes and Shawarma Grill House for being the oldest shawarma place in the city with absolutely delicious meat.
Another small cute Eastern European city perfect for a weekend city break. Brimming with beautiful churches, remnants of the old city, mountains in the back drop, delicious food and funky coffee shops. My city guide breaks down how to spend an evening in Sofia’s capital. One thing I have to mention is the amazing hospitality of the people there. They will go out of their way to make sure you are happy and comfortable. Heck even passport control were the friendliest I have ever encountered!
Ahh now this place knocked me over. At first glance when you arrive and drive towards the city you are presented with grey, dreary landscape full of high rise buildings most of which are still being built. However once you get settled in and walk around you realise what a hidden gem of a city Kyiv is. Eastern Europe has and will always fascinate and preferable to me. Not only because of the passion of the people, but because their countries present a characteristic similar to my own. Kyiv is no different, from its utterly impressive gigantic buildings to show power, to tall apartment blocks covered with wall murals, to all the wonderful bars and restaurants in the basements of all buildings. I will be doing an in-depth city guide soon so check back here soon! For now though few areas of note; Andriyivskyy Descent, lovely walk down from Saint Andrews Church surrounded by old 19th century buildings, many of which are wooden on this ancient street. Situated in the Podil district arguably the centre of Kyiv, but away from the tourist area and you want to party with a capital P, then you need to check out Closer. A true underground hidden gem of a place. Sticking with art culture, the University area is a mix of business and art, and the red colour of the University reminds you of the revolution these guys went through. Heading back there a few times next year and cannot wait.
Being one of the worlds fashion capitals, was a nice way to cap off the year walking around this cool city. Lucky enough to stay in Porta Romana area in the city, close enough to walk to all the major tourist areas; Cathedral, Galleries, Castle etc, yet Porta Romana itself was a cool neighbourhood to hang out in with a plethora of restaurants and bars. Also managed to check out Brera art district away from the hustle of the tourist heavy centre. Seeing Starbucks in Milan was hilarious, with how extravagant they went with a full blown huge roastery similar to Seattle. Still Starbucks at the end of the day! Looking forward to explore Milan again next year.
2019 will be another year of intensive travel some will be the same locations as above, and some new. So looking forward to writing more city guides! Please get in touch if you’ve visited any of the above, love to hear your thoughts. Peace & Love.