Travels in Europe

Travels around Europe from my year living in London in 2012

Soaking up the sun in Croatia

I’ve added another country to the list of amazing places I’ve visited – Croatia! Before moving to London I spent a week traveling the Croatian coast with my friend Lisa. I’m not really sure how we ended up deciding to go to Croatia, it’s not really the most visited tourist destination, but we’d both heard it was really nice and a quick google search confirmed that it was indeed very beautiful.

In case you don’t know anything about Croatia, let me bring you up to speed! It’s a small country in Eastern Europe that borders the beautiful Adriatic Sea, along with Slovakia, Serbia, and Bosnia. It was a former part of Yugoslavia and was at war in the early 90’s when it left Yugoslavia and became an independent country. This fact bothered my mother a little bit at first, but it is now a perfectly safe and lovely place to visit!

Plitvicka National Park

I met Lisa in Plitvicka National Park at the start of September. Unfortunately, it rained on us while we we’re in the park, but it could hardly take away from the natural beauty of the place. The park is a series of lakes flowing down from the mountains. The ground is all limestone and so over many years the water has slowly been forming caves, tunnels, and springs in the topography, resulting in beautiful rivers and waterfalls! We spent the day hiking through the park and enjoying nature. Fortunately, it didn’t really start pouring on us until the second half of the hike, so we managed to get some nice pictures. After that there was really no hope for us and by the time we arrived back at the hostel we were completely soaked through!

After leaving the park, we went to the town of Split. It’s located along the coastline and from there we went from island to island, enjoying the crystal waters of the Adriatic Sea! The first island we visited was Hvar. The town of Hvar is situated right at the foot of the mountains, as they rise up out of the sea. The town itself is completely made of stone; staircases and alleys seem to go on forever up the mountain. We watched quite an impressive lightning show one night from the waterfront. The storm hadn’t yet reached us, so we had a great view of the streaks of lightning as they lit up the sky all around us!

Hvar

The beaches in Croatia are not your typical sandy beaches – in fact, Croatia has very few sandy beaches at all! The shoreline is made up of large rocks that fall into the sea and small pebble beaches. I always used to think of sandy beaches as ideal, but the pebble beaches in Croatia were also amazing! The water is incredibly clean and clear no matter where you go, so you can just jump into the water from the rocks whenever you feel like swimming! Lisa and I took full advantage of this and spent much of our time lounging on the beaches whenever we felt like it!

The second island we visited was Korcula. By this point, we had developed a pretty solid schedule for our days. We hadn’t planned much for activities and wanted to spend our time relaxing, so we would generally head out exploring in the mornings to see what we could find. It was very hot and humid, so we would walk until we got tired and then we would find a nice place to go swimming and relax! Our lounging in the sun was usually split up with a search to find food and then we would go back to tanning and reading on the beach!

Korcula

Our last stop was Dubrovnik, the main tourist destination in Croatia. It’s located right at the very southern end of the country, so we had to travel down the rest of the mountainous coastline to get there. Arriving in Dubrovnik was one of the rainiest mornings I have ever experienced. The entire city is built on the side of a mountain and rain was running down the roads like rivers! We got a taxi to our hostel because it was so wet and the rainwater was up past the tires of the car! We arrived safe and sound though and it didn’t take long after for the rain to clear up.

We decided to try and actually learn a little bit about Croatia when we were in Dubrovnik. We went on two walking tours, one about the war in the 90’s and the second about the history of Dubrovnik. The center of the city is called the “Old Town” and it is completely surrounded by castle walls. The city has been around for centuries and for years it was a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unfortunately, the city was besieged and attacked in the mid 90’s and due to all of the damage it lost its UNESCO title. Most of the city has been restored, but it’s a bit surreal to walk through the city and still see scars of war. It was a little hard to grasp that the war in Croatia had taken place during my lifetime and that I knew so little about it.

Overall, it was an incredible trip! Croatians are very friendly people; everyone we met went out of their way to help us out and make us feel at home. Part of the appeal of the country is that it’s not a huge tourist destination and so you can actually experience a little bit more of what Croatia is really like (except in Dubrovnik; the cruise ships stop there so it is tourist central). It’s also pretty cheap compared to the rest of Europe. Altogether, it was another fun and successful trip!

Old Town Dubrovnik

Categories: A Year in London, Travels in Europe | 2 Comments

The Best of London

I’m currently reading the book “Londoners: The days and nights of London now – as told by those who love it, hate it, live it, left it, and long for it” by Craig Taylor. As you can probably guess from the title, it’s a collection of short stories about the many different experiences people have had in London.

The book starts with a quote from Samuel Johnson, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” It’s interesting to read about the different perceptions people have of London and to learn what people love and hate about it. Even though I’ve only lived in London for 4 months, I’ve decided to share my favourite parts of London. For those or you that haven’t spent much time in London, I hope you enjoy this post. For those of you that have lived and loved London, please share what you love about it!

My top 5 places to visit in London:

St. James Park

5. St. James Park
Even though St. James is one of London’s smallest parks, it’s also one of the most beautiful. St. James is located right in the center of Westminster and all of London’s major attractions. If you walk north you’ll find Trafalgar Square, go west and you’ll come across Buckingham Palace, and go east and you’ll eventually end up at Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. No matter what time of year you go to St. James, you’ll find green grass, beautiful flowers, and dozens of different birds; in the summer you may even come across the resident pelicans!

The South Bank

4. The South Bank
One of my favourite walks in London is to start from St. Paul’s, cross the Millennium Bridge, and then continue along the South Bank. I’ve already raved about how much I love Borough Market, but there’s a lot more going on then just the market. Once you leave the market you end up walking along the river, past the reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe and the Tate Modern until you reach the London Eye, and finally, Westminster. There’s lot’s to explore along the Bank.

Spitalfields

3. Spitalfields / Brick Lane
Spitalfields Market and Sunday Upmarket are easily my favourite markets. They have everything you could possibly want – from trendy clothing stalls, to vintage jewelery, to food stalls from all around the world! Once you leave the market you’ll find yourself on Brick Lane, which is where London’s Asian community thrives. There’s dozens of international restaurants and sweet shops where you’ll find delicious food and great deals!

Tower of London

2. Tower of London
While the inside of the Tower of London is definitely worth a visit – the area surrounding the Tower is the part I really love. The Tower is located right next to the River Thames and Tower Bridge. I love just sitting by the river and watching London move all around me. From here you can see all of London’s quintessential landmarks while enjoying a plate of fish and chips; if you’re lucky, you might even get to see Tower Bridge rise!

1. St. Paul’s Cathedral
St. Paul’s is my number one, favourite place in London. There is so much history in London; it has survived countless fires, the great depression, and two world wars, and yet it has still evolved and developed as time has passed. St. Paul’s is the very embodiment of the survival of London as it stands proudly in the city center. Both the interior and the exterior are incredibly beautiful and host one of the most gorgeous views of the city. No matter how much London changes, St. Paul’s will always be there, a true testament of time.

St. Pauls

What’s your favourite part of London?

Categories: A Year in London, Travels in Europe | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

From the Algarve to Madeira: Why you should visit Portugal

After I finished work in London in April, Seth came to visit me for a few days and then we took off to Portugal for a week. I’m not really sure where I got the idea that I should spend my vacation in Portugal – I’d heard lots of good things about Spain and so I thought if I was to visit Spain, maybe I would visit Portugal as well. However, after a quick google search of Portuguese attractions, my interest in visiting Portugal greatly increased. Our 10-day trip from Spain to Portugal turned into a trip to just Portugal. I don’t think we could have done either country justice in 10 days and I’m glad we decided to spend the whole time in Portugal!

The Algarve

We flew into the Southern coast of Portugal to visit the Algarve. The Algarve is a long string of beaches and sandstone cliffs extending across the southern coast of the country. We stayed in a small town called Lagos for 2 days and had an amazing time exploring the area. We felt like we were in Paradise! Since we travelled in April, it was still sunny and warm, but not yet crowded with tourists. We spent our time eating in sidewalk cafes, strolling down white sandy beaches and enjoying as many flavours of gelato as we could find! It’s not quite warm enough in April for swimming, but if you’re used to Newfie summers I think you’ll be able to handle it!

After a few days in the Algarve, we took off for Lisbon. I can’t say a whole lot about Lisbon because we spent most of our time doing attractions outside of the city, but the city has a great feel to it and the cobblestone roads make you feel like you’ve gone back in time a few years. We spent a day hiking along the Arrabida Coast line – it reminded me a lot of home and we enjoyed the opportunity to experience a lesser-seen part of Portugal.

Funchal, Madeira

For the second half of our trip, we flew to the Portuguese Island of Madeira. Portugal has two sets of islands located near the coast of Morocco: the Azores and Madeira. Madeira was definitely my favourite part of Portugal and I’d recommended it to anyone as a fantastic place to go on vacation. Madeira is much further south that the rest of Portugal and so it’s a lot warmer; even warm enough to go swimming all year long. We stayed in Madeira’s capital, Funchal. Unfortunately most of the beaches in Madeira are small pebble beaches, but if you’re willing to take a short boat ride to the nearby island of Porto Santo, there’s a white sandy beach that stretches for 9km!

Madeira is an entirely volcanic island, formed of high cliffs and mountains rising right out of the ocean. It’s hard to go anywhere on the island where there’s not a breathtaking view! There are also a lot of tropical and exotic plants on the island. Usually I don’t pay that much attention to the flora, but it’s impossible to ignore it in Madeira. One day we took a cable car up the mountain and visited the most beautiful garden at the top! I can’t tell you much about the actual plants, except that you’ll completely lose yourself in all the bright colours and beautiful scents!

Delicious meal

Finally, Madeira also has incredible sea life and seafood. Every night Seth and I would try something different. Madeira’s special is black scabbard fish, which they serve with fried banana – it is delicious! On our last day, we went out on a catamaran looking for sea life. We were lucky enough to find about a dozen dolphins that entertained us for the better part of an hour. Unfortunately I lost my hat overboard, but the crew was nice enough to fish it out for me!

Anyways, Portugal has now become one of my favourite European countries that I’ve visited and I think you should make this a must-visit country on your next trip to Europe!

Obrigado,
Maria

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