My top 5 tiny European adventures

Andorra 2021

This week’s post is a very special one for me. It’s my first post written and published while I’m actually travelling! Where did I head to this week? You’ll find that out soon. If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll already know and be sick of the photo already (sorry). This week’s trip inspired me to write about the smaller European countries I’ve visited and loved. In my experience, the smaller the country, the more charm!

  1. Montenegro

Montenegro isn’t exactly a microstate but it is one of the smallest European countries (normally around 10th on the list depending on which you consult!). I visited Montenegro in the summer of 2019 and absolutely fell in love with the town of Kotor. Surrounded by the most southernly fjords in Europe, it just amazed me everytime I looked out the window. It also helped that my friend and I stayed opposite the town- the view from our swimming pool was incredible (see below!). The people were really friendly and everything was reasonably priced. I would love to go back to explore more of this hidden gem.

Kotor, Montenegro, 2019

2. Andorra

Andorra la Vella 2021

Andorra not only takes second on my list but it also gets a special mention for being my first new country in almost two years and where I’m writing this post from! Desperate for new adventures, I came to this small country between Spain and France for a week and it hasn’t disappointed me at all. The people are so helpful and welcoming, you instantly fall in love. Let’s not forget that Andorra is a moutaineous country so there are endless lookout points with views for days of the Pyrenees! Next week, I’ll delve deeper into the delights of Andorra!

3. San Marino

San Marino 2019

In my book, a trip to Italy is not complete without diverting to the microstate of San Marino. The capital city is situated on the mountain and looks as regal as it seems- San Marino is the world’s oldest country that still exists today. You don’t need too much time here but it’s definitely worth spending a weekend to take in the views and wander around the streets.

4. Luxembourg

I decided to take a trip to Luxembourg in November 2019 to get in the Christmasy mood. Living in the south of Spain, sometimes it doesn’t quite feel like Christmas when we get to that time as the weather is warm (I know I’m not complaining I promise). Visiting Luxembourg city gave me that winter feeling as it was certainly colder than Southern Spain! I only spent the weekend there and I felt that that was enough for the city – enough to visit the Christmas markets a few times and stroll through the city. If I had the opportunity to go back, I would definitely venture out of the city and explore the castles Luxembourg has to offer!

Luxembourg 2019

5. Vatican City

Vatican City certainly has to go on a list of tiny European adventures as the world’s smallest country! The first time I visited (while in Rome of course), I visited the Vatican museum which was really interesting whether you are an art lover or not. In high season, the queues can get ridiculous so booking a tour with queue jump is well worth the money. The second time I headed back to Rome, I didn’t visit the museum but I did head to St Peter’s square which is always worth a visit. You also get a great view of the Vatican from Castel Sant’Angelo- one of my favourite spots in Rome.

Vatican City 2018

My experiences of the smaller countries in Europe have been some of the best! Next on my list would be Liechtenstein and Malta- fingers crossed I (and you all) will get to visit them soon!

Montenegro 2019

30.05.21: Canada: My top 5 memories

Montreal 2019

I almost feel like a fraud writing a blog post on Canada. Such a big country and I have actually only seen a small part of it. However, any plans to return have to be put on hold for now, perhaps Canada will see my post and make an exception and let me in to explore the rest? Quite unlikely. With travel to the Great White North not possible at the moment, I decided to look back on a great trip I took in 2019.

I often travel alone- sometimes because I prefer it and sometimes because it’s the only option – it’s hard to find people who want to do the same things as you, go to the same places and have the time or financial means to travel. I had travelled on my own many times before Canada but the feeling of heading off to North America alone was empowering and a reminder that if you want to do it- just go and do it!

Top 5 Canadian memories:

  1. The people

I was really lucky to meet an amazing group of Canadians whilst I was working in Switzerland one summer (another story for another post!). One of my favourite parts about working in TEFL is the amazing people from all over the world you get to meet and…the great travel connections! I had already booked and planned my trip to Canada when one of those connections offered to host me in Toronto- of course I jumped at the chance. Whilst on that trip, I got to reconnect with my favourite camp roommate and even see a friend from home who was working out there- just two Welsh girls eating fish and chips in a Canadian pub- completely normal right? This post is dedicated to my wonderful host Mariam who spent her time driving me around to bus stops and train stations, taking me to eat amazing food (more below) and welcoming me into her family home.

2. The food

The famous Canadian Poutine

“If you want pretty lakes and mountains, you go to the West. If you come to the East, you gotta eat!”

These were some of the first words my wonderful friend and host spoke to me upon my arrival in Toronto and boy, was she right. The days I spent in Montreal consisted of three things: poutine, poutine and more poutine!!! For those unfamilar- fries, cheese curds and gravy make up this famous Canadian dish- every one’s late night takeaway dream right? My Torontonian host was dedicated to taking me to great food spots and her dedication even led to me eating ice cream in the pouring rain before I was heading back to Montreal- man that was good ice cream. Let’s no forget the legendary Tim Hortons coffee chain which no trip to Canada is complete without!

3. CN Tower, Toronto

So let’s actually get to some sights of Canada on my list! The famous tower in Canada was once the tallest in the world and is not for those afraid of heights! The price of the ticket at around $40 might put you off visiting but I promise it’s worth it. The views are, of course, incredible. Determined to get my money’s worth, I took a book, got myself a drink at the bar and spent a few hours there taking in the view.

The view from the CN tower, 2019

4. Niagara Falls, Niagara

Niagara Falls 2019

What is a trip to the East of Canada without visiting the famous waterfalls? They were every bit as impressive as you imagine. I spent a while just walking back and forth along taking in the falls. I went up the tower for a panoramic view and also took the “Behind the Falls” tour. I would have preferred the boat but unfortunately it was out of season when I visited. However, I did get close up to the falls and see the parts that were still frozen over from winter (Canada in April!) I will warn you that there’s not much else to do in the actual town of Niagara (unless you like steak houses and casinos) so I did end up aimlessly walking around until it was time to get the bus back.

5. Mount Royal , Montreal

Mount Royal, Montreal 2019

I was really impressed by Montreal itself with its multicultural vibe. One of my favourite parts was the walk up to Mount Royal. I was a little jet lagged but didn’t let that stop me, you’re only in Canada once right? (or several times if they let you!). The views were great, the air was fresh and there was still snow on the mountain which, arriving from sunny Malaga, I was really excited to see. You can spend a while walking around the top and the parks as well as grabbing a drink. I really enjoyed my stay in Montreal from the mountain to the barbie museum (it was raining but still not to be mocked!).

Montreal, 2019

So there you have my favourite 5 things about my trip to Canada. As I said, there is still so much left to see- I never made it to Quebec and I would love to explore the West to get to those lakes and moutains! Will you take a trip to Canada when you can?

My street in Montreal! 2019

16.05.21: Why I started a travel blog in a pandemic: Travel Depression- a real thing or time to get over yourself?

Perhaps this should have been my first post. Normally a good intro is explaining your motivations for writing but I decided to leave it a bit and settle into the routine of writing.

The Article Circle 2019

It might seem like an odd time to start writing about travelling when currently, so few people are actually doing it- including myself. However, I feel that I got to the point where if I don’t talk more about travelling or reflect back on the travels I’m lucky to have had so far, I might just burst into tears. Why? I’m travel depressed. There. I said it. So in this post I want to look at “travel depression” and why we should talk about it and, more importantly perhaps, why we shouldn’t?

The definition of “first world problem”

I choose this title to talk about why we shouldn’t talk about feeling down in the dumps about travelling because quite frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised or annoyed if that was the response to someone talking about needing to travel. We are living through an incredibly difficult time where people are losing their jobs, loved ones and their own lives. Millions of people have died and more are separated from their families, yet I’m complaining about not being able to have a holiday? That thought has plagued my mind since my first cancelled flight and is still equally as important to remember right now.

Tromso 2019

Let’s also not forget that travel itself is a gift. Even under normal circumstances, not everyone can travel as freely as I have been able to. Whether this is due to financial reasons or political, we should remember that although it may take a while to get back into travelling, there are those that will never experience its joy. What’s waiting a year or two compared to a lifetime of being denied the privilege of travelling all over the world? I still feel it’s important to have some perspective before you go plastering how much you miss travelling across social media.

A Real Thing

Although I absolutely and whole heartedly agree that sometimes we do need to get over ourselves when we complain about not travelling, sometimes you just can’t. For me, travelling isn’t simply a holiday a year on a nice beach, it’s heading off whenever and wherever I can. I try to travel around 8-10 times a year and this varies from quick weekend trips to longer summer stays. For me, travel is a lifestyle and something I think about 24/7. It’s reading the latest lonely planet article, playing around on Google Flights “just to see” or looking at the world map and wondering “Where next”? For some of us, travelling is something we live, breathe and throw all our energy towards. It’s why I work so hard- my reward. Take that away and what is left- an aimlessness that just can’t be fixed.

Dubrovnik 2019

Perhaps one of the most important reasons for missing travel is something that can only be experienced by expats and loved ones of expats: family. When you are separated from your family living abroad, the comfort is there that you can return when and if you need to. Living in Spain, I know that my family are only a three hour flight away and I can be home in the same day if I need to. It’s this element that hurts people all over the world. There are families separated by oceans and thousands of miles who have not been able to see their loved ones, let alone hug them. Now we are faced with more complicated travel procedures- tests and quarantine where whether I am able to see my parents this year seems to lie in the hands of the British Government (a scary thought really).

So there you have it. Both sides of the coin. I suppose to answer the question I had initially proposed, I started writing about travel because I cannot travel. I need something to hang onto and something to remember. I also need to remind myself how lucky I am to have my health, my job and that my friends and family are all well. But sometimes, your mind slips and you’d give anything to board that plane to, well, anywhere!

09.05.21 Country of the week: Romania

Peles Castle and the surrounding mountains 2016

Anybody that knows me well will know that Romania is a very special place for me. It was the first place I went to teach English after completing my CELTA and also the first place I felt like I was going out of my comfort zone travelwise. Many of my friends and family, when I told them of my plans to go and teach in Romania for summer, asked me “Why Romania?”. My answer and general travel philosophy was and still is “Why not?!”. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life, one which I repeated the following summer. The welcome I received in Romania was incredible and is something that will stick with me for a long time.

My travels in Romania were mostly concentrated in one part of the country due to my work, so rather than the usual top 5 cities, I present to you my 5 favourite things I did/ saw in Romania!

  1. Peles Castle
Peles Castle 2015

I have been to this castle a few times and it’s always a place I recommend people visit if they visit Romania. The summer palace of the former monarchs is an absolutely incredible visit. It has amazing gardens where I’ve seen a few proposals take place too! You’ll find Peles near the city of Sinaia- it’s a very famous attraction in Romania so you will find plenty of tours to take you there. There is even a room modelled after the Alhambra in Spain so it was a nice surprise to see a little bit of Spain in Romania!

2. Brașov City

I got to know this city quite well as it was the closest city to the camp where I was working. My favourite part is the funicular which takes you up to the Brașov sign (who needs Hollywood?). The views from up there are great and it’s a nice walk around. I also found the Black Church really interesting which was scorched black from a fire years ago.

Brașov 2016

3. Bran / Dracula’s Castle

Bran Castle 2015

How can you spend nearly two summers in Transylvania without adding Dracula’s castle to the list? If you’re expecting a terrifying experience in the castle dedicated to one of the most famous horror stories in history…. well you might want to keep searching. Dracula’s Castle otherwise known as Bran Castle won’t creep you out. However, it is a great visit to include on your Romania itinerary. It’s a really beautiful castle that somehow ended up being associated with Vlad the Impaler, a theme heavily promoted by the town. In case you haven’t noticed so far, Romania is a great places for castles!

4. Bucharest – parliament tour

I was lucky enough to spend a few days in the capital with my colleagues at the end of summer. I still remember the excitment of getting on the bus knowing that our work was done and we were heading to Bucharest! One of my favourite experiences was the tour of the Parliament building that we did. It’s absolutely huge (one of the largest and heaviest government buildings in the world) and doing an hour tour will only allow you to see 3% of it!

The only photo I got of the Parliament! 2015

5. King Michael I Park / Herăstrău Park

Bucharest has two experiences on the list with the park being my number 5 visit. The park in the middle of the city was a great place to relax in the summer sun with my friends. We went to one of the restaurants that jutted out over the water and had lunch with a view. The park is a nice place to walk around and find some nature (and summer shade!) in the capital- you can even go on the hunt for the Michael Jackson monument.

Lunch with a view in the park 2015

My time in Romania working and exploring was incredible. It was the place where I started my TEFL adventure and I got to know a place I might not have considered otherwise. The people I met were wonderful and they looked after us so well. I would love to head back to Romania one day and check out some other cities – is Romania on your list?

02.05.21 Country of the week: Portugal

Porto 2020

My history with Portugal goes right back to when I was a child. My parents often took me to the south of Portugal for our family holiday and although I might not have realised it growing up, I was getting to know an incredible country from a young age. I still have fond memories of the people and the incredible beauty of the country. Years later, I lived on the border between Spain and Portugal and spent many weekends there and later I travelled the length of the country. Here you have my Portugal Top 5!

  1. Porto

I have decided to choose Porto as my number one as it really does have a special something. The first time I went, I liked it a lot. The second time, I completely fell in love with the city. It was the only trip I could take in 2020 and I didn’t want it to end (so much that I did extend my stay- the beauty of remote working!). I love the cobbled streets and the architecture of the whole city. You can find an abandoned building but examining it further can surprise you! Of course we can’t mention Porto without mentioning the famous bridges- the views are incredible of course from the Ponte Luis IX and taking a walk along the top or bottom of the river is a great way to admire Porto and all its beauty. In particular, I enjoyed the Jardins do Palacio de Cristal where you can take a long walk and get a great view of many different points of the city.

Porto 2020

2. Lisbon

Lisbon naturally takes my second place- in fact I almost want to award it tied first. It’s a city I love going back to again and again. Get ready for leg day every day with its famous seven hills but at least from those hills, you get some amazing views (the castle is a great place for a panoramic shot!). I love the different neighbourhoods and how they can all have a different feel. My favourite is Belém where you will find the Torre de Belém (it’s small but not to be missed!) and the monument Padrão dos descobrimientos where you will find a tribute to Portugal’s famous explorers- remember that Portuguese is spoken in most continents so it has quite a history! Lisbon has a great transport network which is pretty cheap too making it a very easy capital city to explore.

My first trip to Lisboa 2013

3. Évora

Évora is a charming city in the middle of Portugal where I made a stop on my South to North trip. It’s a city surrounded by medieval walls that have preserved the historical sights inside. One highlight in particular is the Chapel of Bones (no explanation needed) and the temple (I love a good temple!). Portugal is very well connected by bus and trains that are fairly cheap too. Évora is definitely worth a stop on the tour and it’s very easy to do so.

Evora 2015

4. Lagos

I couldn’t write a blog on Portugal without mentioning the famous Algarve region. There are many towns I could have happily chosen for the list each with its own charm and amazing beaches. I decided to choose Lagos for my Algarve entry on the list. It’s a small town with beautiful beaches and caves. I spent a few days here relaxing and having a drink at the marina watching the world go by.

Lagos 2013

5. Coimbra

Coimbra is a city famous for its university- the oldest in the Portguese speaking world. For this reason, it has a very chilled, international vibe as it attracts a lot of students but it isn’t too overrun with tourists so it can be a nice change of pace on your Portugal trip. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in Coimbra but I really enjoyed walking around and checking out all the old buildings on the University campus and in the Old Town.

Coimbra 2015

Although I feel I have spent a lot of time in Portugal, I still have places to explore- Braga and Sintra are still pending and I could take a trip to the Algarve anytime! What I love about Portugal is the people- they are always so welcoming. I speak Portuguese and they always want to know how I came to learn the language so learning a few words will always go down well with the locals. It’s relatively easy to travel round by bus or train and the cities aren’t more than a few hours apart.

Let me know your Portugal recommendations! There is always something new to discover!

One last one of Porto (it is number one after all)

25.04.21 Country of the Week: Italy!

I have been pretty lucky to have travelled and worked in some amazing countries in my career as an English teacher. There are so many good memories to choose from but why not start with the country whose beauty could capture anyone´´’s heart (not to mention the food…): la bella Italia!

My history with Italy goes back ten years from when I first travelled to Rome at the age of 18. Since then, I have been to a lot of different places in Italy and even spent a few weeks working there. I feel grateful to have so many places to choose from to make a top 5!

  1. Roma

Who could make a list of their favourite places in Italy without mentioning the famous capital- la città eterna as it’s known. Rome truly is a breathtaking place as beautiful as all the photos you see in the guidebooks. Full of monuments wherever you turn, it’s impossible not to fall in love with the history of the city. They say all roads lead to Rome and I would follow any road to get there! Of course Rome is not without its faults- expensive gelato, streets that you wouldn’t necessarily want your grandmother to walk down alone and vespas heading at you from every direction. But all of this is soon forgotten when you first see the colesseum in all its might!

My second visit to the capital 2018

2. Milano

Duomo di Milano 2018

Perhaps a controversial choice for the list. Milan is not the typical Italian city full of obvious monuments and historical architecture that you might expect to see. Milan is a bustling, business centre of Italy and with it, comes an incredible modern and young vibe. Milan still has its Italian charms of course, climbing the tower of the famous Duomo is a must do and hanging out in the Piazza del Duomo will make you feel a part of the city in no time. Not to mention its proximity to Lake Como- a worthwhile detour!

3. Next on my list we’re not travelling too far away from the city of Milan, it’s Bergamo! This small city may sometimes have a lot of competition from its metropolitan neighbour but it puts up a great fight. Divided into the old and the new part of the city, Bergamo has something for everyone. Taking a bus (or if you’re feeling brave, a walk!) up to la Città alta should be number one on the list. There you will find breathtaking views of the city and the mountains nearby, as well as lots of winding alleyways that invite you to get lost – don’t worry if you get hungry you will find lots of bakeries willing to come to your rescue!

Clearly it was important to show off Bergamo’s beauty for the gram!

***Tip- Flights out of Milan and Milan Bergamo tend to be very cheap so it’s a great place to stop if you are travelling to another European country and looking for a detour!

4. Fourth on the list is getting away from the big cities and heading to the smaller city of Bassano del Grappa. I explored this city one day while I was working in the Veneto region and instantly felt like I was part of a water colour painting. The city may be small but the views will have you captivated for hours. Be sure to take a walk over the Ponte Vecchio (see below!) and of course it would be a shame not to visit the Grappa museum to truly appreciate one of Italy’s famous spirits. Bassano del Grappa is a great place to sit at a café and watch the world go by.

Bassano del Grappa 2018

A quick selfie with one of San Marino’s majestic towers 2018

5. San Marino

So not actually Italy I know but as you will need to take a trip to Italy in order to access one of the smallest countries in the world, I decided to include it on the list. San Marino may be small, but the impression it left on me was much bigger. An incredibly stunning country with views across the whole country, and more, from the towers. The people were so welcoming and there is so much history to be discovered. This country is not to be missed and is definitely worth including on the itinerary- my favourite kind of trips are when you can tick off more countries, so go for it!

So, there we go- my top 5 Italy not to miss. Of course there are many more cities that are worthy and some that would also make my list if I had been to them (I have yet to explore Cinque Terre, Sicily and further down south). What’s for sure is Italy will capture your heart. I loved it so much I even learned Italian- a great excuse to go back and practise!

Let me know your favourite places in Italy!