Saturday, October 20, 2012

50 charming things about backpacking Europe...

  1. If on a bus and passing through a border, the patrolmen will take and check your passports - ask them to stamp it for you! Be proud of your collection. :) 
  2. Also, if you do not receive your passport immediately after driving away from border patrol, no need to freak out – the bus driver has them and will return them shortly. (Love you Shona!) 
  3. The bus from Dubrovnik, Croatia to Kotor, Montenegro stops at Herceg Novi. Do not let this run down station influence your perception of this beautiful country - just get back on the bus and wait until you arrive in Kotor. 
  4. Stay at the yellow house to the right of the Old Town in Kotor, Montenegro. The owner is so kind and accommodating -plus she has an adorable and playful dog.
  5. Eat the purple grapes at said house.  They are life changing.
  6. Hike up the mountain to St. John’s Fortress in Kotor – make sure you go all the way to the top!
  7. Take a detour through the ruins to the back side of the mountain to explore an old church and find a surplus of mountain goats.
  8. The goats will follow you around, but watch out for the one with the bell - we believe he is the troublemaker of the group.
  9. Be wary of the ghost gypsy girl in the old town of Kotor. She'll come out of nowhere and haunt you with her big, sad eyes.
  10. Best travel food: granola (in the green and white bag), biscuits, fruit, Kinder chocolate, mixed nuts, more fruit, Milka bars, yogurt smoothies, and infinite amounts of water.
  11. Visit Budva at night to party rather than the day. The energy of the city changes drastically.
  12. There is a restaurant in the center of Budva old town fortress that sells the BEST juices and smoothies. Buy the strawberry-banana-pineapple one.
  13. There is also an “Old English Pub” in the old town of Budva located in a back alley that leads to the sea. The beer is good, grapes hang overhead, and they have wireless if needed.
  14. Visit Sveti Stefan which is an Island 6km from Budva, Montenegro. It has a great view of the Adriatic coastline with pink sandy beaches. On my list for next time!
  15. Do not sleep at the restaurant on the river outside of the old town of Mostar, Bosnia – the owner does not prefer back-packers to camp out there overnight. 
  16. Go running in the afternoon/evening in Mostar, rather than the morning. Once you leave the old town and city center the streets are quite barren around sunrise. The only people out are a bit sketchy and will stare you down because apparently it is not common to go running in Europe. 
  17. Miran’s tour in Mostar may or may not be a rip off, but you will learn and see a lot.
  18. However; on the tour you will eat the most deliciously flaky and flavorful Burek – which alone is worth the price of the tour.
  19. To their credit, Miran and his friend are extremely knowledgeable of their country and honor their culture and tradition with admirable pride. 
  20. Drink the water from the river at Blagaj; it is said to bring good fortune.
  21. The water at the Vodopad Kravice waterfalls is freezing but climbing the falls and playing underneath them makes you forget how cold you are.
  22. Then, spend the rest of the day laying in the sun beside the waterfalls to warm you up.
  23. Visit the Cave Bar located right outside of the Old Town in Mostar. Find a little alcove and snuggle up with a gemišt and hookah.  Contrary to popular opinion, I still think pineapple-mint is the best flavor.
  24. The train from Mostar to Sarajevo is quick and fancy – with bar service and all!
  25. Stay awake to take in the views of mountains and Bosnia's rugged terrain.
  26. It is easy to miss, or even unknowingly walk over, but visit the bridge where Gavrilo Princip assassinated Arch Duke Ferdinand and read the plaques on the surrounding buildings.
  27. When back-packing, bring only what you can carry. And that being said, only what you can carry and not complain about.
  28. A travel pillow will be the reason you will sleep on overnight trains/buses. Invest in one.
  29. While in Beograd, Serbia visit Three Carrots Irish Pub. The bar tender is extremely nice and pours strong.
  30. Also, if you are a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, they hang the terrible towel there with pride!
  31. The Tuckwood Cineplex in Belgrade is filled with life-size figurines of classic superheroes and old school memorabilia.  You will feel transported back in time to the 1950’s.
  32. Be hesitant of the overnight train from Serbia to Budapest. It may be likely that a few soccer teams will come aboard and enjoy joking with the travelers. Do not expect to get any sleep.
  33. The bus and rail system in Budapest will become your best friend.  It is very easy to use once you get the hang of it. 
  34. Remember: Buda is bumpy and Pest is flat. The two cities are divided by the river.
  35. Margit Island is amazing; the Central Park of Budapest. It consists of gardens, fields, fountains, a small zoo, and beer gardens.
  36. The fuzzy chickens at the Margit Island zoo are the ugliest/fluffiest creatures you will ever see.
  37. Run the exterior of Margit Island, totals to 6k and offers great views of Buda and Pest.
  38. Szimpla Kert is an awesome bar. All of the furniture has been collected/found/donated over the years. Extremely eclectic style with great Pálinka and Hookah. Don’t forget to sign your name on the wall!
  39. Pálinka, a.k.a. Hungary’s grappa, is strong but delicious. Try the fig and plum. I hear raspberry is amazing and that is on my list to do for my next visit.
  40. If you didn’t figure it out quick enough by just looking at it, Hungarian is the third hardest language to learn. Thus, I am eternally thankful for my Hungarian tour guides.
  41. Szentendre is a quaint little village that is about an hour outside of Budapest into the countryside. It looks like a scene out of Beauty and the Beast. Wander the streets and enjoy an authentic lángos.
  42. The Castle district is quite impressive. Interestingly enough, the Parliament building looks more like a castle than the actual Castle does.
  43. Go to the Castle District as sunset and watch Budapest ‘turn-on’.  All of the bridges, city streets, and buildings will light up all at once – it’s absolutely magical.
  44. Visit the Central Market Hall located by the Liberty Bridge for some food or souvenir shopping. Three floors of beautifully arranged Hungarian delicacies can leave your wandering for an hour or two.
  45. Nagyi Palacsintazoja  (Granny's Pancake Restaurant)  located by Batthyány Square has the most deliciously mouthwatering crepes; with a selection of sweet and savory (including ham and cheese or Mexican!)
  46. If you need a shopping fix, or a bit of normal comforts, visit the Mammut shopping center; it is extremely large with a wide variety of stores, restaurants, and even an arcade.
  47. Visit the pub across the street from the Central Market where the walls are covered with customer memorabilia (business cards, love letters, signed currency notes, etc.) and peanut shells cover the floor.
  48. If, as an American, you need a dose of home culture, attend a local American Football game. It is a small league but great way to spend an afternoon.
  49. Home to Home Hostel in Budapest has a great location – close to the Astoria metro stop – and is very quiet and charming. The owner is accommodating but a little persistent of the noise level due to uptight neighbors. 
  50. Ryan Air has extremely cheap flights out of Budapest. I bought a ticket to Milan, Italy for $2. Yes, that’s right. $2. 

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