Valencia – top 5 picks

A few weeks ago, I spent a couple of days in Valencia, visiting my Uruguayan host sister. Besides seeing her again after 5 years, here’s what I thought were the five main highlights and must-do’s.

            1. Enjoy the green

I had no idea, but it turns out Valencia has a lot of green spots throughout the city, which is something that I really appreciate in a city. With the mellow lifestyle and warm weather, these parks are the perfect place to enjoy an ice cream, read a book in the shade or just catch up with friends.

Jardín del Turia is now a park, but used to be the river bed of the Turia river. You can imagine it’s a huge park, twisting and turning its way through the city.

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Another good one are the Jardins del Reial, which has lots of exotic plants and trees (this goes for Valencia in general, which is quite different and enjoyable if you are from the cold cold north, namely Belgium).

             2. Take a stroll through the historic city centre 

There is just so much amazing architecture to look at. From older buildings to new ones, all of the streets look glorious. Don’t forget to climb the Miguelete tower to enjoy the view from the top too! The 209 steps are worth it. Tip: don’t wear a dress, it can get quite windy up there. Unless you want the whole of Valencia to see your bum, then by all means do like I did.

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3. Buy some fresh produce at one of the many markets

Valencia is the place for foodies with its bustling markets spread across the city. From fresh fruit and veggies to refreshing juices, spices and different types of meats, cheese and fish, it’s all there for you to enjoy. Mercado de Colòn is a renovated old market, but it’s worth a peek. For more of a real market feel, check out Mercado Central: both the inside and outside are beautiful and you can pretty much find anything here. Since Valencia is known for its oranges, try a freshly squeezed orange juice, or buy the original spices to make your own paella.

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             4. Enjoy the climate and take things slow

Because Valencia can get quite hot in the summer, people live on a completely different daily time schedule. Wake up late, take a siesta in the afternoon, go out for dinner late and stay up till the sun sets over the beautiful city. Take things slow and easy.

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           5. Don’t skip the main attraction

Although it’s the one thing that I knew Valencia for, and it does sound like quite a tourist trap, the Océanographic and the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències, are both definitely worth a visit, if not for the architecture alone. The pictures don’t lie, it’s a pretty photogenic space… Don’t just skip it!

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Hasta la próxima!

Besos

Silke

Lisbon

A few weeks ago, my boyfriend and I took a little trip down south to experience the colourful city that is Lisbon. We thoroughly enjoyed our time there and while it’s going to be hard top pick the best parts, here’s some of our favourite parts… :)

On our first day, we went to the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, an old monastery in typical Portuguese style belonging to the UNESCO world heritage. It’s located in a part of Lisbon called Belém. I honestly believe that if you’d give me a book and a nice drink, I could spend all day there; reading, watching people, enjoying the scenery.

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In Belém, we skipped the long queue at Pasteis de Belém because we figured it was a tourist trap. Instead, we spent our time roaming around the severely underrated botanical gardens, Jardim Botanico Tropical.  Really, it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves, with only a few street cats lazing around and a peacock or two (three, four,…) crossing our path. If you’re an exotic plant lover like me and you love to discover hidden nooks and crannies in parks, this is your place. We felt like we were in a different continent.

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On our second day, we went to Castelo de Sào Jorge, the main fortress built on one of the seven hills that form Lisbon. It overlooks the city and the Tagus and the views do not disappoint. It’s hard to move away from the edge and stop taking pictures of the abundance of colourful houses.

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To many of the disadvantages of visiting the city built on that many hills, there is one major plus side: there is a multitude of viewpoints spread across all neighbourhoods in the city. One of my favourites included the Miradouro Portas do Sol. Sipping cocktails while overlooking the tiny streets of Alfama makes for the ultimate summer holiday vibe.

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Our third day in Lisbon took us a little bit outside the city. We’d booked a small group tour to Sintra, Cascais and Cabo da Roca. If we’d known how little time we got in Sintra, we’d have probably preferred to spend a whole day there and just skipped Cascais. Cabo da Roca was worth a visit though. Plus we were thinking the view on Pena Palace would be a best from the Moorish Castle just across. Maybe next time?

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Cabo da Roca is the most Eastern point of Europe and that means it provides anyone daring enough to look over the edge with magnificent coastal cliff views. Again, wish we could have spent more time here instead of Cascais, which was a disappointment.

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Another cool place with a little bit of an edgy vibe is LX Factory. This market is located in an industrial area between the centre of Lisbon and Belém. All shops are located in old factories. Hipster central, pretty much. My favourite included a book store (no surprise there, right?) that was set up in an old press room. Also, do not, I repeat, do not skip the Landeau chocolate cake. I still have dreams about it sometimes. From there, it’s only a short walk along the Tagus river to the cozy harbour, Doca de Recreio de Santo Amaro.

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Other than that, we spent most of our time roaming around the city, enjoying a multitude of things that are easy to find in Lisbon: eating pasteis de nata, sipping cocktails, photographing and admiring the azulejos and not minding getting lost in the small, colourful streets of the city.

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Also, one golden advice: download the Uber app and use it in this city! It’s the cheapest, easiest way to get around. We tried the public tram system, which was more expensive and waaaay too crowded. Your burning thighs will be grateful. The hills are no joke, take walking shoes (with a non-slippery sole preferably).

Are there any other places in Portugal that we need to put on our bucket list?

Love,

Silke

Vienna

A week ago, I left on a last-minute solo trip to Vienna. I decided to spend my few last free days doing something that I love, namely travelling. So, I booked a ticket and a hostel and a week later I was on my way. Here’s a play by play of what my trip was like.

First off, I arrived late in the evening at my hostel, the Wombats City Hostel. I believe it is one of the very, very few hostels in the city, which means you are bound to make friends there if you travel solo. There were lots of solo travellers there, which was nice. Overall, great hostel, would definitely recommend.

One other tip is to buy a 24 or 72 hour pass for the metro (the U-Bahn), an easy way to get around in Vienna. Or you can walk if you like that, which is very doable too.

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The first place I went to is pictured above: Karlsplatz with its famous Karlskirche. Entrance for students was only 4 euros, and that includes an elevator ride up to the dome and a view over the city (behind bars, unfotunately). Nonetheless, the outside is more spectacular than the inside, unless you are into baroque dome paintings and lots and lots of gold.

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Next up was Schönbrunn, one of the most famous palaces in Vienna. And you could tell by the number of people there, so touristy. I originally only intended to visit the gardens, but due to unfortunate stormy weather, they were closed. So I took the shorter tour of the inside rooms (there is a long one with 44 rooms, and a short one with around 20 rooms). And let’s be honest, if you’ve seen one of those castles, you’ve seen them all. I was truly impressed by the length of Princess Sissi’s hair though. I’m sure she could’ve donated her hair for about 20 wigs to ThinkPink.

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That same night, I went back to the castle because I’d let some weirdly dressed guy that kept calling me “milady”convince me to go to a classical concert there at the Orangerie. When you’re travelling solo and you don’t really have much to do in the evenings, your brain is bound to think YOLO and say yes to things you usually wouldn’t say yes to. So I went, and it was great! The concert consisted of two 40 minute parts, one with music from Mozart and one with music from Strauss, both accompanied by dance and opera singing. It’s strange how much classical music you recognise without even realising you know it! I thoroughly enjoyed watching some of the guests come to the concert in proper ball gowns and taking place front row while I was sitting there in my jeans at the back row, with the plebs. So, if you get the chance to see ANY concert in Vienna, it’s a must do.

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The next morning, I was meeting some friends that I’d met over the summer in Canada. They were kind enough to meet me in Café Central, one of the most famous coffee houses in Vienna, and if I may believe so, the most beautiful. It dates back to the fin-de-siècle coffee culture that was prominent in Vienna at that time. It was known to be the place for Austrian writers like Peter Altenberg and other famous visitors like Freud and Trotski. It’s a great place to go in the morning as there is still room to sit (not so much in the afternoons, I was told by my personal guides), the breakfast is great and it’s a perfect departure point to go visit other main attractions the rest of the day.

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One of my next visits was to the Hundertwasserhaus, a series of apartments that remind me a little bit of Gaudi, but are a work by the architect, you guessed it, Hundertwasser. They’re a bit out of the way, but I found them interesting enough to put in the effort. Also, it was a nice break from the rather busy and “touristy” areas of Vienna. One of my favourites parts of the trip.

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Next up, I went to Stephansplatz, a central part of the town, with lots of (souvenir) shops and people. The main attraction of the square is the Stephansdom, which you can enter for free. Although the interior, again, didn’t really speak to me, I find the roof kind of interesting and pretty. It reminds me of the Matthias church in Budapest. Being neighbours, I guess it’s logical that they would have some influence on one another. With the Christmas lights still up, Stephansplatz was a nice area to wander around though. Two places I recommend going are, firstly, the Haas&Haas Tea shop, only for the smell if not to buy something. The second place is a good one for dinner and another recommendation by my friends, who called it “very Austrian”. It’s a place called Jonathan&Sieglinde and all of their dishes are made with apples or potatoes. Sometimes both. The food I had there was divine.

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The next day was already my last day, and because it was so cold (-11°C, but with windchill about -20°C), I decided to spend it visiting a few museums. The first place I went to was not a museum, though, but a secret, hidden gem called the Ferstel Passage, right behind Café Central. It’s a gorgeous gallery that goes past a tiny square with a fountain (you’d think it’s outside, but there is a huge glass dome). It looked like something out of a movie.

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Onwards, I walked past the Hofburg and went to the National Library, a definite must-see for any book lover. I was suffering a serious case of library envy (yes, that is a thing and if it’s not, it should be). I tried to take some pictures but they don’t do the place justice.

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My next stop was the Museum Quartier, where I went to the Leopold Museum. If you like paintings by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, this is the museum for you. Also, the building has some cool windows which offer good views of the city. (I seem to have developed a love for museum buildings rather than the artefacts themselves, is that strange?) Also the MQ shop has some really cute stuff, worth a visit.

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My last stop was the Secession, a very small museum, but with one of the most fun exhibitions by Francis Alÿs. His art pieces are tiny, tiny works of art on pieces of wood of about 10 by 15 cm. You get a magnifying glass to look at the art pieces. At first glance, each art piece represents a very mundane habit, but if you look closely, each piece is absurd. In between each piece there is text. The text doesn’t necessarily say anything about the picture, but nonetheless, the pieces and text are interactive. Loved it!

Back to Naschmarkt I went, to pack my bags to go home. If you’re in that neighbourhood, there is a good burrito bar called El Burro. Cheap, cozy and delicious.

Now, that’s that. Auf Wiedersehen!

10 Things To Do in Vancouver

1. Lynn Canyon 

Basically the Capilano Suspension Bridge’s little sister. A tad smaller, but without the big groups of tourists. Plus the area feels less like a tourist attraction, but more like a national park.

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2. Bike around Stanley Park

Stanley Park is Vancouver’s best known and biggest park. It’s kind of located on a peninsula, which makes that it is surrounded by water. Although it’s doable, the park is best explored by bike. The tour around the island is only 8km, it’s very easy and a bike can get you from one sight to the other all under the time limit of one day. Make sure to get off your bike and explore the park: it is GORGEOUS.

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3. Vancouver Aquarium

Located in Stanley Park, it’s an easy stopover on the way and it makes for a nice break from cycling. It’s a very nice and informative place to learn more about aquatic life, however, it is crowded.

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4. Walk along the city’s Waterfront

All the way from Yaletown to False Creek, there is a boardwalk that gives you a view of the city from the waterfront. It’s peaceful, has lots of things to see on the way and especially good to pay a visit around sunset.

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5. Capilano Suspension Bridge 

Although I did mention Lynn Valley (and Canyon) as well, I still really enjoyed Capilano. I wouldn’t just trade one for the other. They’re both pretty cool. Capilano is easily accessible from the city with the free shuttle bus service provided by the park.

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6. Eat poutine

We had our poutine at Fritz, and I have to say it was the best one on my whole Canada trip (I had two more in the 3 weeks that followed, sorry not sorry). It’s probably the greasiest, unhealthiest and most disgusting national dish I’ve ever seen and I can pretty much feel my arteries clog up by simply looking at the picture below, but this just goes to show that you should not judge a book by its cover. It’s pretty good.

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7. Take the cable cart (or hike up) to Grouse Mountain

Unfortunately we had booked our tickets for a very, very foggy day. I was, we couldn’t see the view of Vancouver and the sky lift that we had booked was pretty much useless because we couldn’t see anything. Bad luck, but I’m guessing the mountain is a pretty spectacular place on a sunny day (so maybe, pro tip: wait to book your tickets!). Nonetheless, we still had a great day with the Lumberjack show, trying to spot the bears (but seeing a wild deer instead) and watching all the hikers reach the top of the mountain hot and sweaty after doing what is called The Grind (a hiking trail of 2.9 km consisting almost solely out of stairs having thus an elevation gain of 853 metres).

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8. Enjoy the hustle and bustle of city life

Despite being one of Canada’s biggest cities, Vancouver is one of the most enjoyable cities I’ve been to. It’s green,it breaths open-mindedness and is colourful in every way possible. (Window-)shop, enjoy the varieties of food,…

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9. Visit the Vancouver Art Gallery

It’s not very big, but if you’re lucky there will be some nice exhibitions on. What I would definitely recommend is visiting the museum’s café, though. It’s like a secret garden, away from everything right in the centre of the city AND their food is pretty great.

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10. Walk around on Granville Island

Granville Island has everything you need if you are looking for a relaxing afternoon or a good lunch spot. It’s got the waterfront, cute shops, a nice atmosphere and a great food market. If you weren’t hungry before going in, you definitely will be by the time you come out.

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What are you waiting for?

10 Things To See & Do in Copenhagen

Although I’m sure that some of these are tourist traps, and I have long from seen everything there is to see in Copenhagen, I thought I’d put in my two cents and tell you about the top 10 things I enjoyed most in the Danish capital. I hope it inspires you to go and visit. 

  1. Nyhavn

    Nyhavn, or translated into English “The New Harbour”, is probably the most well-known highlight of Copenhagen and even though it can get busy, it does not disappoint. On sunny days, the colours of the houses are exquisite, in gloomy weather they can brighten up your day. It’s so nice to sit by the water and have a glass of wine or ice cream or maybe even a Danish hot dog.

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  2. Visit the Carlsberg brewery

    Carlsberg is a famous beer brand in Scandinavia and the old brewery, which is located in the city, is now partly a museum. You can find out more about the beer brewing process, the history of the brand, and on top of that you can enjoy a couple of beers and Danish food in their beer garden. Especially lovely on a sunny day.

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  3. The Church Of Our Saviour

    This church has a splendid view over the city and its colourful and warm houses. It’s one of the cheaper views too. There is a spiral staircase that goes all the way to the very top of the church. Just make sure that the weather conditions allow entrance (when it’s snowing or really rainy, they won’t open)

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  4. Enjoy the Danish pastries

    No words needed, I’ll let the picture do the talking.

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  5. Feel royal at Rosenberg Castle

    It doesn’t cost you anything to roam the park and see the castle from the outside, which I think is the best view anyways.

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  6. Enjoy the green at Botanisk Have

    This botanical garden is part of the University of Copenhagen. It has some beautiful greenhouses and it is HUGE. Even in winter it’s worth a visit.

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  7. Release your inner child at Tivoli
    I’m not much one for theme parks, but I feel Tivoli is entirely unique in its category. For every occasion, they dress up the park and it feels like an entirely different world. It’s like a light festival, a cute market, fun rides, great food and old-fashioned stalls combined and although that sounds kind of crazy, it somehow works.

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  8. Enjoy the space at Amalienborg palace

    Amalienborg palace is the official palace of the Danish king and queen and it is here that the changing of the guards takes place. I loved roaming the spacious square (which is actually a circle), plus it offers a great view on Frederiks Kirke.

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  9. Invest in some Scandinavian design

    If there’s one thing Copenhagen has enough of, it’s furniture and design shops. Personally, I’m a fan, so I could totally see my future house decorated in, well, basically everything that was sold there.

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  10. Walk (or bike!) around and enjoy the beautiful streets

    And if you’re lucky you might come across a Christmas Market. Or two. Or three. Well, Copenhagen is beautiful in every lights. Sunny or gloomy. Winter or summer. Day or night.

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