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35 Photos to Inspire You to Visit Kotor, Montenegro

21st June 2017

My first time in Kotor was super short and very last minute. We were on a Balkan backpack trip and arrived in Podgorica after a 13 hour train trip from Belgrade. One of the girls we met on the train told us there was nothing going on in Podgorica and recommended Kotor.

After 3 hours in Podgorica we had seen it all, so we took a bus to Kotor and arrived in the late afternoon, and knew this was the best decision we had taken: ten steps in we learned that Kotor was picturesque, historic, and just plain beautiful. The one hostel I had written down was full (this was way before the Hostelworld app!) but the staff managed to find us a room that an old lady rented (this was also pre Air BnB). Sadly, by the time we dumped our luggage and wanted to hike up the fortress we learned it was closed and the bus we HAD to take was leaving at 7 AM the next morning. I knew one day I had to come back.

And I did, five years later I woke up at 6 AM to walk up to the fortress and to see what the fuss was about, it was well worth the wait. I grabbed a watermelon on the square where my friend had lost her earring and 10 people helped us search for it. I made friends with new cats, probably related to the ones I saw years ago. I noticed the restaurants hadn’t changed at all and they still offered pasta, pizza and schnitzel. I challenged myself to walk up the Ladder of Kotor, stopped for homemade grapefruit juice and cheese at this tiny farm house halfway in the mountains and stayed for too long and listened to stories from the couple that live up there.

And I still think I would go back, but more importantly: I want you and everyone I know to add it to their wanderlist. But if you’re like me and have a wanderlust for pretty much everywhere, it won’t be too long, but just in case here are some photos to inspire you to visit Kotor.

I’ve heard a lot people say that the city reminds them of entering another world and I hope this comes across in the pictures.

6 Things To Do In London When It’s Too Hot

18th June 2017

This summer is set to break the record of hottest summer ever (what global warming?) in the UK and this weekend the thermometer exploded past the 30 degrees mark in London. Oxford Street might be too hot and crowded to walk around, a train to the nearest beach might be too expensive or you just might want to escape your boiling hot room. So what do you do when you’re melting in the capital?

Get Wet at the Lido
Go dust off that swimsuit, grab a towel and lather up the sunscreen, and you’re good to splash your way through the day. Some of my favourite and easily accessible outdoor swimming pools include the Serpentine Lido, Hampstead Heath Ponds and Brockwell Lido.

Indulge in Frozen Treats
It’s cold, it’s sweet and it will make things better. There’s Chin Chin Labs, which serves liquid nitrogen ice cream in flavours like tonka bean, strawberry hay and burnt butter caramel. Snow Flake gelato have a guilt-free sorbetto range or perk up your ears to listen out for the ice cream van tunes and bag yourself a classic 99 Flake.

That other Ice
When everything is melting outside, the best thing to do is jump into a fridge, so if you are not into the above-mentioned kind of ice why not go to the Alexandra Palace or Queens ice rink to cool off and show off your moves?

Chill Out at the Movies
I don’t know about you but sometimes on a sunny day all I need is a blockbuster in a cool dark theatre, air-con to the max and a big ‘ole bucket of popcorn and a cold drink of your choice. For art house movies, head to Curzon in Soho or Picturehouse Central and for the blockbusters shimmy on down to the nearest Odeon/Vue multiplex.

Check out Museums and Exhibits
Hot days are perfect for exploring a museum and London’s museums have some amazing collections, exhibits and most of them are free, but most importantly they all have air-conditioning systems -for keeping paintings safe that is, they don’t really care about you. The British Museum and the National Gallery are two of the big ones where you can easily spend hours and hours of discovery.

Enjoy a Cooling Drink on a Rooftop Bar
I have to start with saying that water is of course the essential part of staying cool – either drinking it, swimming in it or pouring directly over your head. But at end of the day why not take in the city skyline with a refreshing cocktail or a cold beer or six in hand. Mondrian London, Frank’s and Netil 360 are some of the best spots to do this.

What is your ultimate heatwave tip for the city?

Yes, No, Maybe: What (Not) To Do In Florence

10th June 2017

Having soaked up the coastal vibes in Cinque Terre, I headed inland to Florence to spend a few days in the birth place of not only the Renaissance but also ICE CREAM (gelato). There’s also a Michelangelo’s David if you’ve heard of that.

So today I’m sharing some yes, no, maybes for your first time Florence experience.

Walk up the Piazzale Michelangelo for the best free photo opp. It’s apparently the place to sit on the stairs, with wine and cheese and watch the sun go down. But the sunset didn’t blow me away, so it must have been the sitting and wine that makes it really shine. I was more interested in a group of guys drinking in some courage and trying make contact with a group of girls only to end up taking photos of another group (fail!). 

My favourite attraction was the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge in town that was once it was home to butchers, fishmongers and tanners. But that smelled too much for the Renaissance guys so it was turned into jewellery and goldsmith shops. Now it’s mainly full of stinking tourists, so you may still need to hold your nose…

The Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore or Il Duomo is Florence’s most iconic landmark and dominates the city scape from every corner. You also climb to the top and see the inside artwork for €10. But keep in mind there’s a ton of queues and you’ll likely spend more time waiting than walking around inside.

In the historic city centre you won’t see any street art or murals, but instead the street artists have focused their creativity on the traffic stop signs. So keep an eye for those – but also keep an eye out for traffic!

But what about the most important thing Tea…? What about the FOOD?

 

I can recommend two places: Trattoria Za Za, where pretty much every tourist stuffs their face – I loved the Boccalona-style spaghetti, but their menu was thicker than pasta at over 10 pages so there must be something for everyone. Then there is Boccadama, which has a  way smaller menu, but the thing you should go for is the lasagna, it’s so scrumptious that once you finish you want to gar-lick the plate clean. And as for the gelato, I only had it twice on my trip, but fellow travellers recomended Gelataria dei Neri, Fiesole and Carabe to get your ice cold sweetness fix.

The Basilica of Santa Maria Novella is overshadowed by Il Duomo, but is as gorgeous. The first great basilica has some great the history that the tour guide explained, but that I can’t remember because I was too distracted by the gorgeous blue doors and imagining how much of a photo opp they would be like some instagram zombie. Turns out my friends were thinking the same same, so when we saw the opportunity we went for it but in our excitement we forgot to snap the rest of the building.


Don’t buy your bus ticket on the bus, it’s cheaper to get them at Tabacchi (newsagents) shop (look out for a T sign with a black or blue background). There are also multi trip and multi day tickets so plan ahead on where your accommodation is and what you want to do so you don’t waste too much money on travel

Talking about buses … no need to take the overcrowded bus up to the Piazzale Michelangelo, unless you are ok to go second base with at least four people (romantic eh!?). Instead wander through Oltrarno, a quiet neighbourhood compared to the rest of Florence and walk up via the Japanese gardens and then have an extra gelato to make up for it.

Or more of a definitely … but if you want to leave Florence cultured, inspired and smart AF you should visit one of the two big galleries. There is the Accademia which is home to David and there is the Uffizi, where Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael and the Birth of Venus all hang out and gossip about the tourists. Fast track tickets to see David  were sold out by the time I knew I would be visiting and I didn’t feel like paying 24 euro for fast track tickets to see Birth of Venus. Don’t have time or budget to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see David? Hit up Palazzo Vecchio and check out the pigeon-shit-covered replica in its full glory for free! All the crap is more authentic right?

Get out of the city and take a day trip to Pisa. A day is more than enough wander around and do some hilarious poses at the Leaning Tower (though it might be more fun to watch other’s attempts), walk along the river and check out the multi-coloured Keith Haring mural.

Want to feel even more cultured? If you are in Florence between now (June) and 27th of July 2017 and you want to see an opera check the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino Festival, one of the oldest traditional cultural events in Florence, so you these guys do know how to put on a show. This seasons operas include: Rossini’s La Cenerentola and Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Verdi’s La Traviata, Donizzetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore. One of the other big events in the calendar is the Carnival in February – essentially a big bunch of colourful Renaissance-dressed people in a big procession along with musicians and dancers, starting at Piazza Ognissanti and wrapping up at Piazza della Signoria.

Who is your favourite Ninja Turtle? Have you been to Florence?

Servus From Innsbruck, Austria: Walk On

4th June 2017

Want to know what I was up to on the rest of my stay in Innsbruck?

Next day a city bus was my chariot to reach Igls to hike around the Patscherkofel area. As one hiking trail wasn’t enough for the mighty Tea, I went for two, with the idea being to hike up half-way and then take the lift to the top and walk down. I loved it as there was a varied landscape of beautiful forest paths with amazing views and trees as high as you can see, AND for my inner child there were ‘the hills are alive with the sound of music’ meadows I could dance around in. Then halfway up the mountain and 3 hours into the trek, it became clear that the summer season hadn’t started and that the chairlift was actually closed that day (it opens in June). Online 2 – Digiless 0.

Back in Innsbruck it was time to chow down on Käse Spätzle, the German version of Mac and Cheese but really nothing like Mac and Cheese. And to make up for not reaching the top of the mountain I had Tyrolean Bread Dumplings and the onion one was probably the best thing I ate all holiday. This was all at Stiftkeller, a place I normally would skip as it’s right in the city centre, looks tacky and really touristy. As I was going digiless I had to trust recommendations from others and ended up here after my Air BnB host recommended  Stiftkeller is one of the best places to explore those Austrian specialities and I was more than pleasantly surprised – plus it’s right by the old town so a good spot to start venturing from.

The baroque Old Town with its little alleys and cute houses is an attraction itself and no matter what you are there will always be a group of people around the Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof), the roof itself was built for Emperor Maximilian where he and his wife had front row views for festivals, tournaments, and other exciting events. It is pretty much the most bling thing in Austria. The building is now a museum, where you can learn more about the life of the Emperor and see the city as he saw it. The other thing that caught my eye was a bizarre games shop which had Lenin playing cards on offer in its window.

On the last full day it was time to say Tschüß to the Air BnB and hallo to the Nala Hotel, a boutique spot to spend the last night. The room at Nala was amazing and probably one of my favourite boutique hotel rooms I’ve stayed at but it turned out to be the worst in matter of getting to sleep. I picked a ‘climb up room’ on the top floor with an elevated bed, and as it was boiling hot that day you can imagine the heat rose up, the mini-fan that was provided didn’t help and I had to open the balcony and room doors to breathe some air. So that was a bummer … and the breakfast buffet was a bit expensive compared to similar places. But if you strip it down to the essentials: shower (great pressure, though not everyone might like the idea the shower in this room is divided from the sleeping area by only a glass wall) and wi-fi (worked perfect for me) it gets two thumbs up from me.

After dropping my luggage again I took the mighty city bus to the high up village of Aldrans with a plan on taking a long scenic walk back down to Innsbruck. This route went through a little village and you can see farm animals and crops growing and reminded me of home in Bosnia. But my favourite thing was running into this former station house near an old railway that looked like it wasn’t used anymore. As I walked towards the place I imaged someone creative was living there, which was confirmed by some arty looking stone statues in the garden. I was hoping a little steam train would arrive and take me on an adventure (a la Polar Express), but sadly none arrived. Oh and a shout out to the random exercise and climbing frames that I randomly came across on the trail.

I could not leave the city without seeing the taking an IG worthy photo at the famous coloured houses along the river Inn, so on the way back to the hotel I fufilled that urge!

All in all a great destination for a long weekend when you want to combine city trip with a bit of nature.

Have you been or would you be interested in going to Innsbruck? Or do you have any other good hiking destinations?

Servus From Innsbruck, Austria

31st May 2017

Inns…where? Is what I got a lot when I told people about my next destination. I was on the hunt for somewhere that would tickle my Kotor itch: compact with beautiful nature where I could log out, go digiless (more on that later) and just enjoy some walks. Spoiler alert: my step counter nearly died of surprise at how many steps it tallied up!

After I picked up my Innsbruck Card* I headed to the top of the Nordkette to witness an amazing view from the top looking down along the massive valley. Innsbruck is lucky as it’s busy all year-round, great for skiers and snowboarders from December to April, and then mountaineers/hikers the rest of the year. First you take the funicular to the Hungersberg, then hike up to the Seegrubbe and take the lift to Hafelekarspitze to top it all off! The wind was so strong at the top it actually turned people away, and for a split second I did wonder if I jumped would I get blown away – would have been a quick way to reach the city again.

Hofburg is the royal palace in the city centre with has lots of rooms and paintings, but the highlights are a Barbie pink room where Empress Elisabeth (aka Sisi, anyone remembers this?) played real life dollhouse with Stacey and Krissie circa 1860. There are also Maria Theresa’s Rooms in its original style of the 18th century, I’m sure Austrians know her story, but for the rest of Europe I got the feeling Maria Theresa got a bit overshadowed by Sisi and one of her 11 daughters – Marie Antoinette, yes that Marie Antoinette. My highlight was the Giant’s Hall, one hell of a ballroom which could put Disney to shame. It’s wall to wall decorated with huge portraits of Maria Theresa’s children and grandchildren along with colourful frescoes and there’s even table mirrors so you don’t hurt your neck so much staring at the gorgeous murals on the ceiling – so thoughtful!

A 20-minute tram drive and a 10 minute walk up a hill gets you to Schloss Ambrass, a Renaissance palace filled with shiny armour and more paintings than you can shake a stick at. Most of the canvases portray important looking Austrian people including an Eddie Redmayne- and Uma Thurman look-a-like – the best ones are the very rare ones who actually smile and the bizarre gothic monstrosities! Although from outside it looks like the more impressive of the two, compared to Hofburg it was a bit bland. The park around the castle did make up for it and you can enjoy the peaceful surroundings until late afternoon when I was literally kicked out by an old man and his cute security dog – complete with its own uniform.

*I was gifted a 24H Innsbruck Card* City passes can be a great investment for a city break or total waste of money and the Innsbruck Card is definitely a saver. To give you an idea: a 24-hour card costs you €39 and even if you take the bus once, go up the mountain, visit one museum and climb the church tower you’re going to make your money back. Not only does it only give unlimited travel on public transport, free one-time admission to all museums and visitor attractions but also 1 return trip on each (!) lift and cable car in the Innsbruck region and many many more. With the 3 attractions I visited and public transport, I saved €25,80.

I keep forgetting that you should book a table pretty much anywhere outside London, so when I hopefully walked into burger hotspot Ludwig I got laughed at when I asked for a table. Here I got reminded that how rude and unfriendly Austrian hospitality people can be – something I learned the hard way when I worked in Austria during a ski season. But they did take-away and the burger and fries were delicious, but don’t bother with the Mac and Cheese. Also, a little note that a lot of burgers in Austria contain added spices or flavours in the patty itself, just a heads up. However, the food and service were superb at the Breakfast Club (no relation to the fancy London chain) – I definitely recommend it for satisfying those early/mid-morning cravings.

Have you been or would you be interested in going to Innsbruck?