Monthly Archives: June 2018

First trip to Europe

Europe offers more architecture, wine, music, fashion, theatre and gastronomy per square kilometre than any other continent. It boasts more than 700 million people, in excess of 450 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and more renowned paintings than you can point your camera at. This means heading off the main routes will still land you waist-deep in cultural treasures.

Whether you’re dreaming of climbing a Swiss Alp, soaking your toes in the Adriatic or renting a surfboard in Portugal, here are 30 ideas to inspire your trip…

 

1. Explore Sarajevo, Bosnia–Herzegovina

With its spiky minarets, grilled kebabs and the all-pervasive aroma of ground coffee, many travellers see this city as a Slavic mini-Istanbul.

 

2. Take a bath in Turkey

Nothing scrapes off the travel grime quite like a trip to a hammam. These enormous marble steam rooms, often fitted with hot baths, showers and cooling-down chambers, can be found all over the country.

 

3. Climb the cliff-top monasteries of Metéora, Greece

James Bond climbed the walls to one of these monasteries using only his shoelaces in For Your Eyes Only, but it was a favourite spot among travellers long before that.

Get your hippie on in San Francisco

Born in California, the Summer of Love movement aimed at nothing less than transforming American society. And for a window of time, San Francisco was the centre of that hedonistic universe. Fifty years on, here’s where to go and what to do to relive the kaleidoscopic dreams and big ideas of the flower power generation.

 

1. Walk in the footsteps of Hendrix in Haight-Ashbury

The epicentre of the Summer of Love, this 12-block neighbourhood bounded by Golden Gate Park to the northwest still blithely clings to its past. Girls wear love beads and bracelets, while men sport woodsman beards, their faces framed by hairstyles that would have sported by Jefferson Airplane roadies 50 years ago.

The Haight-Ashbury Flower Power Walking Tour delves into all that rock’n roll history (710 Ashbury is where Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead used to live, for instance), but also introduces the era’s art and fashion, and the area’s charming, pastel-shaded Victorian architecture.

 

2. Stay at a Summer of Love-themed hotel

Located in the gentrified heart of Nob Hill, Hotel Zeppelin has been designed for those who come to find the decade they left behind. Others, meanwhile, are intrigued by a weird nostalgia for a life they never lived. The hotel’s decor has a throwback, 1960s vibe with lava lamps, vintage prints, and plenty of counterculture attitude, including a gigantic “Ban the Bomb” sign in the lobby.

Besides that, there’s the name, obviously, and if it couldn’t get any more Page and Plant, deluxe rooms come with record players, while the bathrooms are decked-out, top-to-bell-bottom-bottom in psychedelic wallpaper listing an A to Z of San Francisco’s most revered bands. In short, turn on, tune-in and sleep late, man.

 

3. Turn the hippie vibes up to 11 at the Outside Lands Festival

Golden Gate Park also hosts the annual Outlands Music and Arts Festival (August 11-13 in 2017) – and this year the festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary.

The closest millennial hippies can get to the utopian zeitgeist of the era’s defining concerts and Timothy Leary rallies, the three-day party doesn’t entirely chase the musical legacy of the 1960s (headliners have included Radiohead, LCD Soundsystem, and Lionel Richie). Instead, it embraces the decade’s anti-capitalist idealism by supporting local charities and eco programmes.

Travel around Poland by train

Polish cities are undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Thanks to a combination of urban renovation, bold contemporary architecture and blossoming nightlife, there’s never been a better time to travel around Poland. And never a better time to travel by train. Here’s why:

 

1. You can cover more ground

Poland’s cities all have very different personalities, and you can’t really get to grips with the country’s culture until you’ve visited a handful of them.

For many people it’s Kraków that tops the list. It’s got all the classic Central European charms of Vienna or Prague, but on a more manageable, human scale.

However, it would be a shame to miss out on the Gothic canal-side warehouses of Gdańsk; the Baroque magic of Lublin; the grand architecture and ebullient nightlife of Wrocław; or the magnificent red-brick factory buildings of post-industrial Łódź.

The joker in the pack is the gruff coal-and-steel town of Katowice, home to a fabulous semi-underground museum and hedonistic weekend nights. And it’s all an easy train ride away.

 

2. Poland’s stations are a sight in themselves

Gdańsk boasts a delightful nineteenth-century Neo-Renaissance pile, while Warsaw Central is an archetypal slab of grey 1970s brutalism (recently spruced up, it’s now an asset rather than an eyesore).

Many stations have been totally rebuilt in recent years – the semi-submerged glass-and-concrete palace that is Łódź Fabryczna is one of those temples to modern travel that make you wish you could take the train more often.

Big-city stations such as Katowice, Kraków and the alien spaceship that is Poznań Głowny have been redeveloped in conjunction with large shopping malls, which – whatever your views on consumer culture – have returned the railway station to the heart of urban life.

Best Scanery When You Decide to Visit in Iceland

Iceland is famous for majestic glaciers and snow-covered houses, for the Northern Lights and blue-lit ice caves. But visit in summer and it can feel like a totally different country.

While there are still plenty of icy natural wonders, you can also party with the locals at summer festivals, hike across flower-strewn moorland or soak in hot springs under the midnight sun. Here’s our pick of the best places to go in Iceland this summer:

To get off the tourist trail: the West Fjords

Summer is the perfect time to hike through the stunning Icelandic scenery, and if you can camp, so much the better (and cheaper). Dynjandi is a particularly good spot to pitch up – the waterfall may not be as famous as Gullfoss, but it still attracts plenty of visitors. Stay the night and you may well get the thunderous falls, glittering in the early-morning sun, all to yourself.

For a more remote West Fjords experience, head to Hornstrandir, right on the edge of the Arctic Circle and barely accessible out of summer. This peninsula in Iceland’s far northwest is entirely wild, its inhospitable but beautiful terrain preserved as a nature reserve.

It’s the perfect place to escape the crowds of the southern coast – though even in the middle of summer the weather is unpredictable, so hikers should take precautions to stay safe.

Croatia Island Guide

With its mountainous coastal backdrop, scattering of tawny islands and giddyingly translucent waters, the Croatian Adriatic offers one of the most compelling seascapes in Europe.

Indeed it’s something of an island-hopper’s paradise, with a veritable shoal of ferries providing the opportunity to stride up the gangplank, sprawl on the sun deck and soak up the maritime scenery.

Considering a trip? Here’s what you need to know:

 

Where should I start?

Where you start largely depends on which airport you fly into. The mid-Dalmatian city of Split receives the largest number of incoming flights and is also the Adriatic Sea’s largest ferry port, serving the ever-popular islands of Šolta, Hvar, Brač, Korčula and Vis.

Dubrovnik is also a useful gateway thanks to its catamaran services to Mljet, Lastovo, Korčula and Hvar.

The two other entry points are the northern city of Rijeka, providing access to a varied group of islands in the Kvarner Gulf; and the north Dalmatian port of Zadar, with its own group of laid-back island getaways.

 

What’s the best way to get around?

Car ferries run by state company Jadrolinija serve the main islands, providing public transport for the locals as well as sustaining island tourism.

Faster and slightly more expensive than the ferries, passenger-only catamarans run by both Jadrolinija and Krilo Jet whizz across the water to a selection of destinations.

How to Avoid Travel Mistakes

Whether it’s your first trip abroad or you travel several times a year, we all make mistakes that can cause headaches or possibly even ruin your trip. The good news is that with a little planning, it’s easy enough to avoid some of the most common travel mistakes so you can spend your time enjoying your vacation.

1. Overpacking

It’s tempting to bring outfits for every possible occasion, but it makes it difficult to haul your luggage around, and you may get stuck with high baggage fees for accidentally exceeding the weight limit. Instead, pack your bag as usual, then take out half the clothes you originally planned. You won’t wear all of them, you don’t have to sacrifice style, and you can always do some laundry on the road.

2. Not Checking Your Cell Phone Plan

It’s important to know what your plan covers to avoid data roaming fees. Not covered? Turn off your data before you get on the plane and leave your phone in airplane mode (you’ll still be able to connect to wi-fi). If data is important to you, look into buying an international plan or buying a local SIM card once you arrive.

Alternatively, for Americans, consider T-Mobile as your carrier. We now get free data in 200 countries and it has literally changed the way we travel. (Note: We have no affiliation with T-Mobile and we pay for our own monthly plans.)

3. Not Booking Enough Time in Between Flights

Flight conditions can be unpredictable. If one gets delayed, you might be forced to rush through an unfamiliar airport to make your connecting flight, and you might not make it in time. It’s best to book them with a safe buffer in between. If you are traveling through Heathrow in London, plan for at least a two-hour layover here since you have to go through security just to get from one flight to another.

4. Not Grabbing Some Local Currency at the Airport

As soon as you leave the airport, you’ll need local currency to take public transportation or cab rides in many countries. Taking out money from the airport’s ATMs gives you better exchange rates, so get what you need there, and maybe a little extra for emergencies.

We use our credit card whenever possible, but we always keep cash on hand. Visiting local markets is a must when we travel — and many of these places don’t accept credit cards.

Visit Lithuania this summer

Stuck for summer holiday inspiration? Lithuania has loads to offer, from wild, dune-backed eraches to even wilder festivals. And, with the country gearing up to celebrate 100 years since the restoration of the state (in 2018), there’s never been a better time to visit.

The Centenary Song Festival (in the capital Vilnius, June 2018), an extravaganza of folk music, dance, art and costume, will form a major part of the commemorations – but there’s plenty more to keep you entertained this summer.

From café culture in Vilnius to street art in Kaunas, and from peace and quiet on the coast to adventures deep in the forest, here are seven reasons why Lithuania should be your next trip.

 

1. For midsummer madness

Lithuania kicks off festival season with nationwide celebrations for St John’s Day (June 24), also known as Day of Dew, which has been celebrated on midsummer’s eve for centuries.

Locals stay up until dawn, taking over town and village squares, or heading to the countryside where bonfires are lit, herbs gathered and dew collected – magical powers can be harnessed, it is believed. Of course, all this is experienced against a backdrop of feasting, drinking, music and barefoot dancing.

 

2. For a glimpse of history

Kernavė, 40km northwest of capital Vilnius, is a quiet spot for most of the year. But this rich archaeological site comes to life when thousands descend for the summer solstice.

The area includes hill forts and burial grounds and has UNESCO World Heritage status. Finds dating back to Paleolithic times were first uncovered in the seventies and are strikingly well preserved thanks to the layers of silt that submerged them when the River Neris flooded. Many are on show at the site museum, from padlocks and arrowheads to fine jewellery and what look like extremely well-worn shoes.

At its peak in the thirteenth century, Kernavė was considered the country’s capital and the crafts that helped earn it that status are celebrated in the popular Kernavė Festival of Experimental Archeology. Held every July, the festival sees lively demonstrations of traditional skills (from mead production to yarn dyeing) and contemporary local arts and crafts to browse alongside.

Whats The Great Staying in a Japanese

It’s a cliché to say that Japan is a land of contrasts – but, in terms of accommodation, it really is. There are some weird and many wonderful places to stay, from personal capsules and love hotels to lodgings in five-star luxury.

But there’s one type of accommodation that has preserved its tradition for centuries: the ryokan. Staying at one of these Japanese-style guesthouses is the ultimate Japanese experience. But there are a few things you should know before you go – here’s our guide for the first-time visitor.

 

So, what exactly is a ryokan?

Even if you’ve never heard of a ryokan, they might look familiar. Think traditional Japan: low, wooden buildings with translucent paper screens, sliding doors, straw tatami mats, bamboo, geisha serving tea and immaculately designed gardens – perhaps with a small pond stocked with carp and a wooden bridge.

When you walk inside, you step back a few centuries and everything slows down. It’s a moment of respite from the hectic world outside.

Many ryokan are located next to hot springs that occur naturally close to Japan’s many volcanoes. For this reason, a communal bath in the hot springs (onsen) has become a traditional activity at a ryokan.

 

What’s the history?

Ryokans were established as coaching inns back in the Edo period (1603–1868), when feudal lords from all provinces in Japan were obliged to travel to Edo (Tokyo) every other year to visit the shogun. These were places that the lords and their samurai warriors could rest after a long day on the road.

The guests of honour would spend their evenings bathing, enjoying a tea ceremony and an elaborate meal that lasted all evening, with many rounds of sake. The ryokan was a place of sanctuary, where the warriors could feel safe from attack by enemies. They were often built with simple defences, such as steep, narrow stairs and low doorways and ceilings that made swinging a sword difficult.

 

And what’s the ryokan experience like now?

Today, this accommodation comes in many forms, from historic and luxury styles, to family-run minshuku and more modern hotels with ryokan features.

Everything revolves around making the guest feel comfortable, from the choice of artworks on the wall to the absence of clutter. Don’t plan an evening out – you’ll want to enjoy the ryokan experience to the full.

On arrival, wait to be invited in. You must remove your shoes and put on a pair of slippers before stepping inside. Leave your shoes in the genkan (foyer).

Iceland Road Trip Itinerary

Most people want to drive the entire Ring Road during a trip to Iceland, but what are your options if you only have 5-6 days on the island? While you could technically drive the Ring Road in 6 days, you’d be spending most of your time behind the wheel instead of exploring the outdoors!

We spent a lot of time hiking and taking photos, so we spread this itinerary out over 6 full days. If you’re short on time, it can easily be done in 5 days. I would, however, recommend giving yourself at least 6 days if you are visiting Iceland during the winter because the days are shorter and road conditions can be unpredictable.

I cannot stress this enough. Check the weather report once you arrive in Iceland to determine which direction to head first! If there’s a particular spot you absolutely want to see, plan your route based on the weather.

The roads were closed in the south of the island during a large portion of our trip and we were forced to cut that part of our itinerary short in order to avoid getting stuck driving all the way around the island with very limited time. You either have to wait out the storm (in our case it was 3 days) or you have to drive all the way around the island to get back to Reykjavík.

The road in the south of Iceland — from about Selfoss to Jökulsárlón — has very little protection from the elements, so a windstorm can wreak havoc on this area. They do close this road in extremely high winds for the safety of drivers.

The day we arrived, we picked up our Happy Campers campervan and spent the night in an AirBnb in Reykjavík to shower and get a full night’s rest. This isn’t completely necessary if you already have a campervan, but it’s well worth your sanity before you embark on your road trip.

A slightly cheaper option would be to stay at a campground in Reykjavík that has showers available. We found an AirBnb for about $100 USD so we felt our comfort was worth a little extra money.

Besides showering and getting some sleep, you’ll want to grab some groceries for the week. Reykjavík has the largest selection of grocery stores in Iceland. You’ll have more food options and the ability to get a few things cheaper than if you were to pick up items at gas stations or restaurants along the way.

If you book with Happy Campers, they have an awesome “Free Zone” where other travelers have left the food items they didn’t use. We picked up some items here before heading to the store!