Oh, Porto

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A quick pitstop by Barcelona (again) and then I was on my way Portugal. Probably the most consistent place I visited this trip. And by consistent I mean: food, transport, sights, sites, hostels, people – all brilliant.

I didn’t really know what to expect of Porto when I arrived, only that I really wanted a Portuguese tart ASAP. (On that note you should check out Confeitaria do Bolhao - it’s like 30c a pop so don’t blame me if you end up eating 20.) But what I did eat was Francesinha, Portugal’s national dish. Or as I like to call it: ‘a heart attack in a bite’. What it is, essentially, (I’m going to quote from Wikipedia): “a sandwich made with bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça, fresh sausage like chipolata, steak or roast meat and covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce served with french fries.” Told you.

If you love Harry Potter (which you should otherwise why do you exist?), you need to visit Livraria Lello & Irmão, often noted as one of the world’s best bookstores and an inspiration for JK Rowling. It’s so beautiful that you’re not allowed to take photos inside the store because it’s that special. True story.

The city itself is pretty quiet – there aren’t crowds of tourists that you would otherwise find in Rome or Paris. We stayed at The Garden Hostel, which is right by Bolhao train station and close to a lot of the main attractions, including Cais da Ribeira and Dom Luís BridgeIt reminds me of Downton Abbey because of its winding staircase (I actually hum the theme song every time I climb them, much to the embarrassment of my friends). It’s really clean, gets a lot of light and serves breakfast.

 

Budapest and her nightlife

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If you’re a bit of a night owl and detest waking up before 12pm then Budapest is going to be your best friend. Its nightlife is beyond and there are so many quirky ruin bars to hop to and fro.

The city itself is massive – there’s no way that you can explore the whole thing on foot. And so I highly recommend you opt for a Hop-On Hop-Off bus to check out Budapest’s historical and cultural sites. If you’re staying near the city center, St. Stephen’s Basilica is pretty easy to walk to. But otherwise, yeah, bus it. It’ll take you about a day to check out both Buda and Pest (the two sides of Budapest that are separated by the Danube River).

Budapest isn’t exactly a pretty city. Sure the above photographs may say otherwise, but when you compare it to Prague or Zurich, it doesn’t even come close. But what it lacks in beauty it makes up for in an abundance of personality. So much sass.

Naturally I stayed at a party hostel because where else would an Australian bunk in Budapest? The joint is run by Australians and, if you’re anything like me (values hygiene, privacy, comfort), don’t stay at one. I stayed in a private apartment that was branched slightly away from the main area, but it still wasn’t far away enough. And apparently Carpe Vitae Noctem is the least wild of the lot. (Retox is the worst.) But, you know, it could be your cup of tea.

My personal highlights of Budapest consisted of two places: the Széchenyi thermal baths and Szimpla Kert

Széchenyi- oh my god. Exactly what I needed. It’s one of the largest baths in Budapest (and all of Europe, in fact). There are pools of varying temperature (including a wave pool!) from about 26C to 38C. There are also steam rooms that can reach up to 100C (ridiculously hot, I felt like my fat was melting off) and also scented and colourfully lit ones (these are super fun – for what reason, I don’t know). Being me I did multiple ‘bath crawls’ until I resembled a giant prune. Absolutely worth it. Definitely make time to go here. If you’re a bit of a party animal, they do have spa parties every Saturday – but beware. I’ve heard they can get nasty. And by nasty I mean totally gross.

Upon entering Szimpla you wouldn’t know how to react – there’s so much crap everywhere. It’s awesome (and has been voted as the third best bar in the world – the whole world!). There’s a shisha corner, multiple cocktail bars and a car you can sit in instead of a booth. More than three levels high, there’s a surprise to be had around every corner. Definitely try to head a bit early as it can get very packed.

Food-wise I pretty much ate like a peasant. Gyros all day, every day. 

Zagreb: An unexpected surprise

IMG_5898IMG_5882IMG_5880IMG_5901What was meant to be a pitstop before Budapest turned into massive regret in that ‘damn, I wish I was here longer’. Zagreb is undoubtedly charming and the unofficial destination for Instagram users who love to post pictures of flowers.

We stayed at Swanky Mint which, like Fresh* Sheets earlier in Dubrovnik, was totally kickass. It used to be a dry cleaning and textile-dry factory so a lot of its quirks are owed to that: the ironing boards which serve as tables and the random metal furniture scattered throughout the bar and courtyard. Again it was also super clean and the staff were awesome. Amy and I actually spent our first night at the bar at Swanky Mint, hanging out with their bartender and proving to him that in comparison to Australian coffee, Croatia’s sucked. I sampled about four different variations of a ‘cappuccino’. I’m coffee intolerant. But I like to be proven correct.

Of course when I head to a city I always find out what place serves up the best gelato. So if you’re ever in Zagreb, check out Vincek Slastičarnica. Awesome.

Zagreb is split into Upper Town (more historical) and Lower Town (more cultural), both of which can easily be done in a day or two. Tkalciceva has a great variety of restaurants, cafes and bars and is great for people watching. Zagreb Eye viewpoint provides a great view of the city (duh). St Mark’s Church (or Crkva sv. Marka) is definitely worth seeing.

But my absolute favourite thing in Zagreb was the Museum of Broken Relationships, which is dedicated to failed relationships. Throughout the exhibition there are ornaments from past relationships, whether it’s a tear-stained diary or a shoelace from a date or a magazine once shared, and they’re all accompanied with a little blurb detailing the relationship and where and how it ended. It’s the recognition of a relationship and the ability to express one’s self that has made this museum so popular. Love it.

 

Welcome to King’s Landing aka Dubrovnik

IMG_5865IMG_5806IMG_5779IMG_5821IMG_5841IMG_5854Easily one of my favourite cities this trip. The absolutely freaking best. From the friendly people to the deliciously cheap food to the crisp, clear blue waters, Dubrovnik had me enamoured. (Not to mention that it serves as the location for one of my all-time favourite shows!)

I stayed at Fresh* Sheets Hostel and would highly, highly recommend it if you ever go to Dubrovnik. The staff there were so friendly and the hostel itself didn’t even feel like a hostel! It was so comfortable, welcoming and I lounged downstairs like it were my own place. Everybody is super chilled and the place is super clean. Fresh* Sheets is one of the only hostels within the city walls and so is so conveniently located near everything – it’s just down the road from the Cold Drinks bar/Cafe Bard, which allows you to sunbake, chillax and dive into the crisp Croatian waters.

P.S. Tyrion Lannister also passed out downstairs at Fresh* Sheets. If you’re ever there definitely ask them to tell you the story.

Dubrovnik is a pretty small city and I’d say you can do a thorough job of it if you have four days there. Five days if you really want to do all the activities. If you want to do the city wall, which offers a circumferential view of the beautiful Old Town, I recommend heading up there first thing in the morning. Way less crowds (it gets disgustingly packed with tourists from 9am) and it’s less hot and sweaty. If you have a student card bring that with you because you save a ton of money.

Head to Lokrum for a day trip if you fancy a nice walk/swim/encounter with a bazillion peacocks. I swear the water is like sapphire. The ferry leaves about every 30 minutes from the port so if you really wanted to, you’ll be able to find passage there pretty easily. I think they operate until about 6/7pm.

I travelled around Dubrovnik with my good friend Amy. We’re both gigantic foodies. Before she moved to London (damn her) we used to brunch our way around Sydney. So naturally when we travelled together we really researched what were the good local eats. Being the good-hearted person I am, let me share some of them with you:

Lady Pipi. Definitely head here for lunch when you’re in Dubrovnik. It’s a little bit of a climb from the main street but the view you get is incredible. You won’t miss it because it usually has quite a (worthwhile) wait and a giant statue of a Lady Pipi out front. I kid you not – it’s ridiculous. Some old lady told me it was nice to have a feminine statue of a woman giving birth. Bless her. The food itself is incredible. They grill everything themselves on a hot flame so you can see. The menu was so good and cheap that I ordered two mains. The waitress told me “You order too much! You won’t finish!”. Well I proved her wrong. Well I did have a two-hour food coma afterwards but it was totally worth it.

Taj Mahal. Despite its Indian sounding name, this restaurant actually serves Bosnian food. I didn’t even know why they were serving Bosnian food in Dubrovnik until a stranger kindly pointed out this thing called geography. It’s hidden within one of the back streets in Old Town and you should definitely reserve a table if you can – it gets very busy. It’s great for dinner by candlelight. People may recommend to you their ‘signature’ meat dish, but I’m telling you, save your room for dessert. Oh my, their desserts were incredible. If you like baklava you should definitely order their baklava. It’s sweet but citrus-y and nutty. If you’ve never had baklava or aren’t really a fan of it – order it anyway. Because you’re wrong.

Veritas. Head here for a good Croatian meal. The menu isn’t very extensive but it sure is cheap. They do however offer a range of meats and there’s this one called ‘Kiss of Dubrovnik’ which is pretty much a schnitty smothered in extra cheese.

Oliva. I don’t know why you’d want to eat at an Italian restaurant when you’re in Croatia, but hey, if you’re craving some carbs, this is the place to go. The ‘Oliva’ special is highly recommended.

SladoledarnaThere are tons of gelato stores in Old Town. TONS! (You can imagine my utter excitement.) So naturally I sampled all of them to discover which one was the best and worth returning to. And this was it. It’s the first store on the right when you first enter the gates of Old Town and I’m telling you their prices and flavour combos are worth coming back for. If not for the server who imitates the accents of all his guests (he does a cracker Aussie accent). Scoops are about 10 kuna which converts to roughly one euro. Bargain. Oh, and speaking of the server, if he likes you you don’t have to pay. I didn’t pay for a scoop in my three days there. It was awesome.

Wine Divino Bar. If you love wine and cheese then this is your paradise. It’s one of the few attractions that’s not located at the top of a flight of stairs. Whether you like whites or reds or roses, this place has got you covered. You can order sort of a tasting plate of wines – in red or white. It is comprised of three different options from three different regions around Croatia. All for only 50 kuna. That’s less than $10 AUD. Ridiculous. Or if you really want to get on the bender you can check out some of their larger glasses. It’s recommended you take more than 20 minutes to finish it or you’ll be stumbling outta there. I loved this place so much that I went back two nights in a row and ran into the same elderly British couple we had become friendly with the night before. Everybody loves vino.