Bosnia and Herzegovina: My Fiftieth Country

Our bus ride from Montenegro to Mostar started out really rough. First of all it was around two hours late, so that was a fun hangout in the bus station. Once we got on, I couldn’t find my bus ticket and the very old, very non-English speaking man who was taking tickets was NOT happy with this. I knew it had to be somewhere, so I was searching madly through my bag but to no avail. He kept yelling at me in either Montenegrin or Bosnian – I think there’s a difference – and we were totally unable to communicate. Eventually he stopped asking me and I breathed a sigh of relief. Of course, right after that I found the ticket under my bus seat, where I swear I had looked several times, and I gleefully ran up to the front of the bus to show him that I was not in fact a grifter.

I’m not sure if the rest of the bus ride was so pleasant because we weren’t hungover for once, or because we were just happy it had finally arrived, but we were just in the best moods and the views were pretty incredible for a random bus ride. We still talk about this as one of our highlights from the Balkans.

The amazing sunset

Needless to say, we were in a great mood upon arrival in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We did the 15 minute walk to the hostel, which we were really excited about. Hostel Nina is one of the most popular hostels in Mostar, and for good reason. It’s run by a Bosnian family who definitely are the lifeblood of the accommodation. The rooms are fine, and some things like the breakfast, while delicious, have an institutional feel to them. BUT the family is always around with a smile, and Zika (Nina’s husband) is actually a veteran of the war in the 1990’s. We didn’t want to visit Bosnia, and especially Mostar, without exploring both the stunning countryside and learning a little bit about the very recent and very horrible wars.

So on our one full day in the town, we packed it in with a full day trip around the region and then an evening walking tour and bar crawl.

HERZEGOVINA TOUR

I’ve wanted to come to Mostar since seeing a post of World of Wanderlust of a stunning cliffside monastery in Blajag, a town nearby. I came to Mostar specifically for this reason, and was excited when I saw that the hostel offered a day tour including this spot!

It is hysterical thinking back how much we hesitated about doing this tour. For 30 Euros you get driven around some truly gorgeous spots, and yet Haley and I, on our super tight and quickly dwindling backpacker budgets, debated this for so LONG. We couldn’t decide whether it was worth it, we thought there’d be other things to do, blah blah blah.

I would have absolutely kicked myself if we missed this. I travelled to Mostar to see this place, and it is SO funny to look back now and think about what an investment 30 Euros was. Now I’ll spend that $45 on a couple books. Ah, perspective! The details on the tour are here, but you visit the aforementioned clifftop monastery, Pocitelj (an ancient fortress), a mountain with a view across the whole area, and the Kravice Falls for a long lunch and swim stop.

The view of Mostar was an amazing place to start. You’re also at the site of the Millennium Cross, which is a bit controversial as a symbol of a specific religion overlooking a city that fought over religion and ethnicity so recently.

To be honest, the only thing I remember from Pocitelj is that there was delightful pomegranate juice on offer, but here is a photo.

The Kravice waterfalls were an unexpected delight. The water was freezing, but Bosnia in July was sweltering and we were happy for the respite. We had a wonderful lunch with new friends, walked around admiring the views, and stepped over the hundreds of other tourists enjoying the falls. These are a lovely alternative to the popular Plitvice and Krka parks, flooded with waterfalls, in more touristy nearby Croatia.

THE WALKING TOUR

Zika has put together a walking tour of Mostar with an amazing amount of historical and cultural information to take in. He doesn’t personally run the tours anymore, but they train a volunteer very well to do so. It’s really quite a confronting tour. This war was going on just a few years before I was born, and it was so brutal. We saw skeletons of buildings and learned about what had happened there. We learned the roots of the war, and why the tensions in the region had built up to such a horrible crescendo.

A wall of bulletholes in Central Mostar

Buildings like this are all over town

The volunteer took us to spots with sweeping views across the Old Town of Mostar, which I think is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen. There’s so much to see and learn here. I love doing walking tours anywhere I go, but here, if you want to understand anything about the place you are in, it’s a must-do. And I firmly believe this walking tour is the best, due to the personal detail that makes everything feel genuinely real to you.

There’s a graveyard where half of Zika’s high school is buried. Zika used to be one of the infamous bridge divers from the iconic bridge of Mostar. There’s a sniper tower, which you can wander through, where just twenty five years ago Serbs and Croats shot at the Bosniak ‘side of town’. It’s visceral and challenging to take in, but this is stuff that has to be known.

You finish the tour at a bar owned by the hostel. It’s a bit of a contrast, because when you get there you are shown videos of the bridge jumps, and a truly devastating video of the bridge falling in 1993. Five minutes later, you get a free shot and drinking begins. We made some good friends from the hostel and spent the night checking out various bars, including Ali Baba which is a super surreal cave bar much more reminiscent of Santorini than Mostar.

All around, this was one of the most action-packed days of my whole trip. A day out in nature, an evening walking around town and a night of drinking all added up to make my short time in Bosnia a definite highlight of the Balkans.

Romania is Very Underrated

My very first day in Romania (back in 2016) was quite jarring. This was the most ‘Eastern European’ place I’d been yet, despite having visited Prague, Budapest, Vienna and the like. It’s much different from those cities, which I would classify as more ‘Central European’. I arrived at a fairly chaotic airport, and tried to order an iced coffee to deal with the sweltering heat. I received, alongside many confused looks from the barista, a hot coffee with two iced cubes in it.

Honestly, I use iced coffee as a measure of how easy a place is going to be to get around as a tourist: if I can get the kind of iced coffee I want, it’s going to be pretty easy. If I get something like the above, it’s gonna be tough.

And tough it was! The bus ticket to the train station was hard to procure, the bus ride was confusing and sweaty, and at the train station I was immediately accosted by children trying to sell me flowers, which is always sad.However, it was also worth it. To be honest I didn’t reaaally do a lot – you’ll see from the photos, but I really just relaxed after a busy week in Cappadocia and before some epic adventures in Tanzania. From what I saw, though, Romania is absolutely stunning. The language barrier is high, but the locals are super friendly. The scenery is worth the sweaty train rides, and the cities are not at all what you would expect from the home of Dracula.

I stopped for one night in Bucharest, thinking I wouldn’t like the city much, and then had three nights planned at a hostel in more rural Brasov, mainly because a dog lived there. Here’s what happened!

Amazed by Bucharest

Oh my god, Bucharest was amazing. I genuinely had no idea that this city was everything I had ever dreamed about in a city. Years ago I wrote a post about 10 places I could see myself living, and Bucharest was on the list – here’s why, and I don’t think I can say it any better.

I literally stayed in Bucharest for a night solely because I had a flight out of the city the next day. I did absolutely zero research, had seen absolutely no pictures, and basically had no idea what I was getting myself into. I arrived at my randomly chosen hostel, befriended an Australian girl, went up to the rooftop bar and basically had a heart attack because it was so beautiful. On some streets, I could have sworn I was in Paris. Bucharest hosts a very unusual combination of rundown, post-Communism buildings and absolutely architecturally stunning buildings. Walking around was a treat, and the nightlife was some of the best I’ve ever seen. The area I stayed in was buzzing and I could have stayed a week. I also knew absolutely nothing about Romanian history, and my free walking tour was very illuminating and really taught me a lot about the hardships this country has gone through. Our guide was probably in his 20’s, and he still had stories to share about not having electricity and free access to media – absolutely unbelievable. It’s cheap, it’s got a language I could learn (Romanian is very similar to Italian!), it’s historical and it’s beautiful. It’s got it all.

What did I do in Brasov?

Answer: not much. I’ve written about this briefly, but it was extremely rainy the whole time I was there and I just couldn’t be bothered to explore. The area I was staying in was slightly outside the tourist centre. It would have been completely doable to walk into the historic area, but instead I frequented the same restaurant (Simone’s), hung out in the common room and cuddled the hostel dog.

This is the one picture I took in Brasov, from a hike with the dog!

The one thing I regret a bit is that some locals at the hostel invited me out for a bike ride one evening, and I said no because I was feeling shy and scared. Tanzania, directly after this trip, really broke open my shell but I was just not in the mindset to go on random adventures. I wish I had gone, but hindsight is 20/20!

I see online that the hostel I stayed at, Kismet Dao, has moved to a different location within Brasov, that is apparently even more convenient – so I would definitely still recommend it.

A Day Trip to Sighisoara

One day in Brasov, sick of laying around watching Youtube videos and waiting for my laundry to dry, I decided to embark on a day trip to Sighisoara. It’s quite easy to get the train there, and it was roughly $15 Canadian each way when I want. You do want to make sure you check departures and recent information first though – I always use the Man in Seat 61 for train information.

Yet again, it was rainy. I walked around for a while, but it was grim and cloudy, and not very enjoyable. The town is famous for being very colourful, and it certainly was, but the clouds diminished the effect quite a bit.

Regardless, it is a very pretty town and I would recommend visiting on a sunny day. However, it is quite small and it’s frustrating to take a two hour train ride to visit a town for about an hour. This blog post from the Blonde Gypsy has some better photos but pretty much agrees with me: it’s lovely, but it’s not very lively.


Peles Castle

On the way back from Brasov to Bucharest to catch a flight out, I knew I needed to stop in one place: Sinaia. On a future trip there is tons of hiking in this area I’d love to do, but this time I just stopped for a few hours and visited a bucket list destination: Peles Castle.

The most popular castle to visit in Romania is the rumoured ‘Dracula castle’, or Bran Castle. To be honest, it just doesn’t look that pretty to me, so I opted for Peles Castle instead. I first saw this place on World of Wanderlust, which was the first travel blog that ever showed me women could travel the world alone. She inspired a lot of my first travels, and even some places in the last year – Dubai, Mostar, and Hong Kong are all places I added to the list because of her.

Anyway, this castle also featured in the god-awful Netflix Christmas Movie entitled A Christmas Prince, which I absolutely love. So regardless of your motivation, it’s worth a stop. The castle is walkable from the train station, so I asked a nearby hotel if I could leave my bag for a few hours and then came back to grab it before catching a train back to Bucharest. Easy peasy, and really broke up the journey!

I was so close to Romania in summer 2019 during a stay in Bulgaria, and if only I had time I definitely would have returned. Add it to your list, it’s a good one!

An Ode to Hostels: Featuring Montenegro

There’s a reason that a lot of backpackers (including myself) start to dream about opening a hostel of their own. The magic of a good hostel transcends the destination, creating family and community. It can be a particularly beautiful setting, or a serendipitous group of people coming together. It can be the staff, or it can be a dog.

The hostel garden

Actually, that last one might just be me. But in any case, I love hostels that stick in my memory for years after, their atmosphere giving you your own little piece of paradise to look back on. And the Grove Hostel in Stari Bar, Montenegro, will always have a special place in my heart.

When we left Albania, we knew we wanted to spend just a couple days in one spot in Montenegro. We had moved around a lot, so we just wanted to stay put and didn’t really want to be in the top tourist spots during the heat of July. Some random backpacker in Saranda told us about an amazing hostel with double beds in Montenegro, so we embarked on one last exhausting Albanian bus journey to make our way there. Our first impression of Montenegrins was a bit odd: our cab driver from the bus station to the hostel kept badgering us about how old we were, what we were doing, etc – fairly normal, except then he referred to us as ‘beautiful little babies’, which was creepy and weird.Regardless, once he got us to the hostel we knew we had found something special. We were welcomed with a free beer, which is always an excellent start. We claimed our very own double beds, started chatting to everyone around us, and felt right at home. Highlights included the stunning garden, with a little plunge pool, a meandering creek, and mountain views.

One of the best things this hostel does is the family dinners. For 5 Euros, you get to eat the amazing food that the hostel volunteers whip up nightly. When I was there they did a pizza night with the traditional wood-fired pizza oven out back, they did a curry night, and…something else that I can’t remember, but I know distinctly was delectable. They accommodate dietary needs easily and happily, but it’s not just the awesome food that makes these dinners memorable. They make it so easy to bond with everyone that you don’t even need to try. The first night I was a bit nervous, as always, about sitting down and chatting to so many new people, but by the end of the night we felt like we had a new family and were participating in a rousing game of Uno!

The roomy kitchen

They don’t pack people in – they could fit tons more beds, but they specifically limit the number of guests that can stay there. By sacrificing increased revenue, they allow more of a community feel, because it’s just the right number of people so that you can get to know them all by name.

The other main draw of the hostel was the fact that every day, a volunteer runs a free day trip for guests. We were there on a Sunday, when there isn’t one, but the next day we partook in a lovely beach trip. They have a old minibus they use to shuttle you around, so we piled in and went to spend a few hours on the coast. It wasn’t the most amazing beach I’ve ever been to in my life, but it was a nice respite from the heat and hey – it was free.

This is a drone shot from the hostel – the beach was NOT this empty when we went, nor am I 100% certain it was the same beach!! It looks similar.

And….that is pretty much all I can say about Montenegro. We walked up into charming Stari Bar, the town nearby, a few times for groceries and iced coffee. I can’t say I learned a single thing about Montenegrin history or culture, so I will certainly be back to do so.

The real message of this rambling is to communicate my love for a good hostel. Sometimes it’s the people that make a place, and it’s easiest to meet those people when you’re staying at a hostel specifically designed to do that. I have two other posts on some of my favourite hostels in the world – one in Europe and one outside of Europe but here are some others that I’ve stayed at since those posts were published three years ago!

Florentine Backpackers Hostel – Tel Aviv, Israel

Honestly, I loved this one for the same reasons as above. They do family dinners, everyone hangs out on the rooftop terrace, and it’s easy to walk in and find a family.

The view from the rooftop terrace

Joey’s Hostel – Agra, India

I was in Agra for one reason – to see the Taj Mahal. I was sick of crowds and sick of heat, so I booked a stay at a hostel 400m from the World Wonder, specifically so I could get there at sunrise. The hostel was lovely – air conditioning in the rooms (very important in 47 degree heat), super helpful staff, and of course, the location. If I had been there any other time of year, I would have spent all my time on the rooftop terrace, overlooking the Taj Mahal, but with the heat I could genuinely only stay up there for five minutes at a time. Regardless, this is the view:

Tagalong Backpackers – Gangtok, India

India’s hostel scene is really just starting up, and particularly in more remote regions it is almost non-existing. In the north-east area of Sikkim, up by Bhutan and China, there is basically one hostel. Luckily, it is absolutely fantastic. It had its quirks, certainly. The food menu in the ground floor cafe is extensive and diverse, but almost everything I ordered was unavailable and it usually took about an hour to get my food. But that’s just part of Sikkim’s charm. The beds are quite comfortable, and I slept well despite having the loudest snorer of all time bunking below me.

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It’s just nice to see a place that cultivates the backpacker atmosphere in such an out of the way town, with a book exchange, espresso machines, and comfortable sofas.

North Shore Backpackers – Hawaii

I wrote a whole post about my time on the North Shore of Oahu, but this was one of those beach hostels you could very easily stay at forever. I got into bed every night with sandy feet, salty hair and couldn’t wait to get to one of the nearby beaches every morning. I had a very hard time emotionally here, but in hindsight it’s a magical place and I must go back immediately.

This beach was right across the street!

Now I want to open a hostel. Probably not the best economic climate to do so in, but Haley and I talk about everything we’d want in a hostel and who knows – maybe one day we will.

Turning 23 in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Malmo

Being isolated away from my family and friends has made me reminisce a lot on all the times I took for granted with the people I love. Stopping by my parents’ every day after work to steal their food, visiting my grandparents, and most of all, hopping on planes to see my friends who live around the world.

Some of my fondest memories are from celebrating my birthdays abroad. To be fair, I am that girl that LOVES her own birthday and will start talking about it at least a month beforehand. Last year was possibly my favourite birthday, with a wonderful party at my house where I made jello shots and got to wear a pink sparkly dress, but I also had some pretty great ones in the years before. I turned 19 in New York City, 21 in Hong Kong, and then 23 in Amsterdam and Copenhagen! Seems like this needs to be a biennial tradition….let’s hope travel is back on the books by this November for my 25th.

My 19th birthday in NYC!

My 23rd was absolutely amazing. I flew to Amsterdam with two friends from my university, to meet another friend from university who lived there with her Dutch boyfriend. The best part was that the four of us had never really been friends as a group: we were all friends with eachother, but to varying degrees and for varying lengths of time. A love for travel and a cheap flight deal brought us together, and we crashed on the floor of Theresa’s living room for a weekend of binge drinking, late nights, and birthday celebrations.

Amsterdam has always been a place I’ve loved in a different way than most European cities. I visited once on my post-graduation solo trip and made a friend at my hostel to bike around with. I enjoyed myself and saw some great sights, but didn’t really feel a strong connection to anything I had done – except maybe the Anne Frank House. Visiting a second time around, with a local and other friends, was different. We only went to one museum, and replaced tourist attractions with various bars and clubs. I realized then that I don’t feel the excitement of visiting a brand new exotic place when I’m in Amsterdam. I just feel at home, especially when I’m with those I love.

Ironically, two years later I saw this original painting in Bethlehem, Palestine. Super cool!

Can you tell we are sober?

We wandered around the trendy districts of town, ate at my request of Vegan Junk Food Bar (amazing), did a lot of Jagerbombs and dragged ourselves out of bed one day to visit the MOCO museum for a Banksy exhibit. It was also my friend Alyssa’s birthday, so the celebrations lasted all weekend. Alyssa and I sat idly by while Tori and Theresa shopped in overwhelmingly fashionable boutiques.

This is clearly not a post to really recommend anything, but MOCO Museum was really cool, and on my previous visit to Amsterdam I enjoyed a bike ride out to Zaanse Schans to see some windmills and local scenery. That is the extent of my recommendations other than drinking, so here are the only scenery pictures I took all weekend.

When I booked my flights, in classic Bethany fashion I couldn’t go to Europe for four days and only see one country! So I went to Europe for five days, and saw three countries. I booked an overnight Flixbus to Copenhagen, and realized I could also pop over to Sweden for a few hours. I am aware that a lot of “real travelers” think country-counting is silly, but it makes me happy to see the number of places I’ve visited grow, even if some of those were just a surface look at a place. I was exhausted, but really loved my short stay in Copenhagen even though it was rainy and cold. My friend Erin from England met me for the night, and I absolutely loved that she was willing to fly over for literally 24 hours.

I’d love to return to Copenhagen in summer and visit Tivoli and all the parks, and enjoy outdoor time a little more, but it is a charming winter city as well.

The main touristy thing we did was visit Nyhavn, this stunning canal lined with rainbow buildings and just brimming with charm. It was almost empty of tourists and I felt as though I had stepped back in time to the Viking era, even though that makes absolutely no sense.

We also did an Urban Adventure tour through Vesterbro, which was a great experience. Our guide was around our age, and it was super cool to hear about the minutiae of living in Copenhagen from someone I could totally see myself being friends with. We stopped in at bars I would have never visited on my own, and I tried beers that would normally repulse me – finding I kind of actually enjoyed them. Scandinavia has a fascinating culture that we all seem to be obsessed with, and it was cool to see places that were a little rougher around the edges than I might have pictured.

For the final country of my birthday weekend, we were off to Sweden! There is a train that takes roughly 30 minutes from downtown Copenhagen to downtown Malmo. It’s not the most exciting city in Sweden, that’s for sure, but it was really cool to get lunch in a different country and then hop back over to Denmark. There is much more exploration to be done in Sweden, but for now this was a great taste to walk around the historic centre and see what the differences were between countries.

5 days and very little sleep later, I flew back to Canada one year older with three more countries checked off the list. I love getting deep into a destination and really exploring, but sometimes weekends like this are just the break you need from work and life. Sweden and Denmark – I’ll be back!

Astounding Albania

It made sense to go to Albania between Greece and the rest of our Balkan trip. It was on the way, and the ferry from Corfu to the Albanian Riviera only took 30 minutes. We meant to work our way through the country fairly quickly, hitting the highlights and spending maybe a week. We ended up spending two weeks, falling completely in love with this beautiful and relatively unknown country. There are castles, beaches, mountains and a very cool capital city here, and I had literally no idea any of it was there until we went.

If you’re tired of the Europe tourist trail and you don’t want to see hundreds of other backpackers everywhere you go, GO TO ALBANIA. If you only want to spend 30 Euros a day on absolutely everything, without even trying, GO TO ALBANIA. If you crave a little bit of adventure trying to figure out a country, GO TO ALBANIA, where there are no bus schedules, English is not widely spoken, and almost nothing makes sense.

I think another reason that we fell so in love with Albania was the fact that we travelled it fully overland. There’s something about traversing the entire length of a country without flying that makes you feel like you’ve gotten to know its heart and soul. Obviously I am not an expert, since we were only there for two weeks, but I felt so at home after 2 weeks and I attribute that to the amount of land we got to see on our long bus rides, and all the ground we covered. We arrived by boat, which is a thrilling way to enter a new country (see Morocco) and we were off!

SARANDA

If I went back to Albania, I would absolutely stay on the beaches for longer. We had just been on a yacht for a week, however, and didn’t really need any more beach time. We stayed in Saranda for two nights, which is the most touristy and most built-up town on Albania’s coast. Speaking of Albania’s coast….wow. It makes so much sense that the beaches here are unreal, because they’re SO close to Greece, but I had never heard of them before – just like I had never heard of the mountains. If you have more time to explore, this blog post is great and I will use it as my guide next time.

In Saranda, we stayed at the Hairy Lemon Hostel for one night, and no I do not know why it’s called that. It was alright. We met cool people, and the views from the balconies are super cool, but they cram three packed dorms into what is literally a 2 bedroom apartment, up in a highrise. The next night we switched to a lovely Airbnb, which I can’t find, but there is always tons of selection since so many people have holiday homes here.

The best thing we did in Saranda was rent a car with some friends we met – including a super cool Australian woman in her 60’s who was backpacking with her kid – and drive around to the local beaches. The beach that’s actually in Saranda is alright, but it’s nothing exceptional. We drove to Mirror (Pasqyra) Beach, Monastery Beach, and White Chicken (Pule Bardha) Beach. This magical day took place on a traditionally magical holiday, Canada Day! The non-Canadians we were travelling with asked us how we usually celebrated, and we said we’d usually go to the beach and drink beer. So, we drank a few beers (per beach, that is) and constantly forced everyone to cheers to our beautiful home country.

When we were ready to leave after recovering from the annual Canada day hangover, we trekked to the random street corner a 25 minute walk away from our Airbnb where we had been told buses stopped. We walked around asking every person we saw how to get to Gjirokaster (definitely pronouncing it wrong in the process) and eventually someone threw our bags in a random minibus for us and we just trusted that when we came back in 3 hours for the very delayed departure, they would still be there. Yay, they were, and we were off!

GJIROKASTER

Our next stop was a tiny little town inland, with the seemingly unpronouncable name of Gjirokaster. There’s not a lot to do here, but there IS an absolutely perfect hostel that is absolutely worth a night’s stop. Stone City Hostel is owned by a lovely Dutch man named Walter, and it is beautiful. The kitchen is like my dream home’s kitchen, unlike a lot of hostels which have a garbage dump with two plates as their ‘communal cooking area’. Also, there was a puppy named Tiger that they saved off the street, who was a tiny little ball of bliss. I walked by him in our first few hours there and thought he was a hamster, he was so tiny.

Gjirokaster itself has a stunning castle and just like all of Albania, very rich history. We wandered through, taking our time in the cool corridors and actually reading the interpretive signs for once. We also had a really lovely dinner at Taverna Kuka, which has an amazing patio overlooking the town.  I definitely think one night here was long enough but it is certainly worth the stop.

Views from the castle

Next up was Berat. We were planning to hitchhike, as it’s a weird bus route, but we ended up eavesdropping on a British couple at the breakfast table in Stone City and overhearing that they were planning to drive up in their rental car. Like super normal people, we immediately asked if they would drive us. In the real world, this would be super creepy. In travel world, they were thrilled to take us and we had a lovely time!

BERAT

Berat is one of the only places I had actually heard of in Albania. I read one blog post about it years ago, and the striking image of houses cascading down a mountain, all covered in windows, apparently stuck with me. This is another town that doesn’t necessarily have a ton of attractions or activities, but it is even more worth visiting than Gjirokaster. Our hostel here, Berat Backpackers, was also amazing, particularly because of the staff. It also had a dog again (YAY!).

Everyone was so friendly from the moment we arrived, inviting us to activities, asking about our travels, and including us in groups. It’s in a gorgeous old building, rambling down staircases and across courtyards. We booked onto a winery tour with the hostel, and it was absolutely worth the hangover the next day. We drove in a minibus to a winery that I do not know the name of, got a tour and then sat at a gorgeous pavilion overlooking the hillsides to imbibe in far too much wine and far too much raki. Again with the raki – we would never learn. The pictures of this winery and vineyard speak for themselves: we couldn’t believe how beautiful it was and the happiness on our faces really shines through here. Everything was perfect.

 Once we had recovered the next day, we dragged ourselves out of bed for some more unreal views. We hiked up to another ancient castle, watching the sunset and talking about how we couldn’t wait to see the rest of the Balkan region.

TIRANA

I don’t really have a lot to say about Tirana, because we didn’t technically do a lot. We stayed at Trip’n Hostel, which was walking distance away from everything we wanted to see. The best thing we did in the city was take a free walking tour, where we learned a ton about Albanian history. There’s so much recent turmoil here, and the fall of communism was only a few years before I was born, in 1990. That explains so much about the way the country is now, and I definitely recommend taking this tour. We also just hung out a lot at our super cool hostel, meeting locals and other travelers and relaxing in the courtyard.

We also went to a mall on the outskirts of the city to get some clothes to refresh our backpacks. This was WAY harder than it should have been: we knew which city park we had to catch a bus at, but we couldn’t figure out which side of the park, which bus or how to pay. We did eventually, but it took probably an hour. It was strange to be in such a modern mall, but such are the contrasts of Albania.

A coffee shop near our hostel became our favourite morning stop, and the lovely girl who always seemed to be working memorized our iced coffee order. Eastern Europe is not the most iced-coffee friendly place, and so anywhere we found that would serve us something that wasn’t basically just ice cream became heaven. We had also heard that Tirana was home to a knockoff McDonalds, and Haley and I have somewhat of a tradition of eating at McDonalds everywhere we go (don’t judge us). We spent forever trying to find the place, only to find it closed – so we ate pizza yet again.

Finally, we also went for a fancy drink on what was purported to be a fancy rooftop bar. In any other country this would have been very expensive and super ritzy, but we could barely find the entrance within the ‘skyscraper’ it was in, and once we got up there the whole view was surrounded by chain link fencing. It was still nice though, and as it was probably the first time we had worn makeup in several weeks we felt very fancy and indulgent.

All in all, we were struck by what a cool city Tirana was. It reminded me of a grittier Rome, with many fewer tourists. The restaurants have terraces that spill out onto sprawling sidewalks, with dozens of hip young people and precious families enjoying the night air. People stay out late and enjoy their lives in public, part of what I love so much about Europe. It’s just a liiittle bit harder to navigate and communicate than most major European cities, and that’s maybe why I liked it a little more.

Gorgeous and historic buildings everywhere

THE MOUNTAINS

I wrote an entire post about our experience in the Albanian Alps, because it was without a doubt a highlight of the trip. Here is a photo preview:

Two weeks later, we were catching our next bus into Montenegro for a long day of confusing bus connections and weird taxi drivers. I left Albania in love with travel again. India was a challenge and Greece was pure indulgence, so this perfect amalgamation of hiking, new friends, culture, history and beauty was exactly what I needed to get back in my groove for the last couple months of my trip.

All the Details for Hiking the Albanian Alps

In Greece, for a few minutes between hangovers, we started to flip through our Lonely Planet Eastern Europe book (worst Lonely Planet ever, by the way) to get ideas of where we wanted to go. I saw a little snippet about a hike from Theth to Valbone, and thought, “Huh, Theth is a funny name. Sounds cool, let’s do that hike!”

That turned out to be one of the best whims ever. We were a bit stressed about how to organize it all, because these towns are quite remote and there’s not a lot of information online. However,the Wanderers Hostel in Shkoder was an absolute godsend and made it SO easy. I wanted to write this post to make it a little clearer what actually goes into the trip, because I was anxious about everything working out.

Another benefit of staying at Wanderers Hostel for a night before you begin the actual hike is that Shkoder is a surprisingly cool town. We loved our two nights here. The day before we left for the hike, we went to the local castle just like we had in Gjirokaster and Berat. This one was much less developed and totally in the middle of nowhere. We originally tried to climb up through some brambles because we were lost, but once we made it we were greeted by these views of the surrounding countryside. The night that we got back from the hike was Karaoke night at the hostel, so we participated under duress after being given many free shots of raki (barf) and made some great friends. I’d definitely go back here to explore the surroundings for a few more days.

Back to the hike – here’s a breakdown of everything that goes into this 2-night trip.

Early morning minibus to Lake Koman

Terrible photo of a not terrible bus ride

A bus departs directly from outside the hostel around 6AM, and you get breakfast super early before it leaves. A lot of people from the hostel tend to be travelling to the hike together if you are there in peak season, so on our departure day there were actually two minibuses. The views on the drive are an incredible start to the trip, and as usual Haley and I popped on our big headphones and travel playlists and proceeded to completely ignore eachother. We could NOT ignore, however, the group of obnoxious American girls on our bus who just would NOT stop talking and flirting with the boys at the back of the bus. Irrelevant to this blog post, but I just remembered it as I was writing and I physically groaned at the memory.

Three hour ferry across the lake

Now, the ferry. OH MY GOD THE VIEWS. It’s a really uncomfortable boat to sit on for three hours, but it is worth it, and you should definitely sit on the top even if it is raining. There is also a little shop on board where you can get coffee and snacks. If you wanted to book this by yourself, I remember the company is called Berisha Ferry. I have nothing else to say about the ferry except that you will be blown away. I felt like I was in Norway or Newfoundland, gaping up at the fjords

Short minibus ride to homestay in Valbone

Once you get off the ferry, there is a bit of a confusing mess in the parking lot but eventually we found the minibus associated with our hostel that would take us to Valbone. It didn’t have enough seats, so someone literally had to sit on a stool in the aisle, and I think one person on the floor for a while, but we had seats! I think this ride was around two hours. One of the most disorienting parts of this trip was that we got onto every bus or boat without any idea of how long it was going to take. We had a vague idea where we were going on the map, so we’d try to look occasionally, but we didn’t have data and really just had no idea what was happening. It was kind of refreshing to be so unsure of how long we’d be sitting there.

They also stopped at a grocery store just before we got to Valbone, so we could stock up on snacks, water, and of course, beer.

Stay one night (or more!) in Valbone

The most beautiful setting

I had no idea what the name of our guesthouse was until I just looked at pictures of every single guesthouse on Tripadvisor, and I found it! We stayed at Guesthouse Arben Selimaj. There is no wifi, which we loved – being disconnected on my travels is one of my favorite things.  We taught new friends cribbage, and they showed us videos of hikes they had done in the area. It had been raining heavily, so they had some crazy stories, but I think if I went back I’d definitely spend more time here to do some day hikes. I also embarrassed myself in front of everyone here during the evening, by trying to run to the dining room (from outside) to avoid the pouring rain as best as possible, and completely wiping out on the floor. Good times.

All your meals are included here – the lunch they give you to pack is pretty subpar but it was definitely adequate and nutritious. Dinner was amazing, and the communal feel was really welcoming for conversation. We also watched some great Albanian Phineas and Ferb, which was confusing.

Full day hike Valbone-Theth

What a hard day, and what a life-altering day. We were constantly too cold and constantly too hot, my legs were burning within an hour, and I wondered if we were going to make it on this hike for which we did NOT have a map. We also didn’t know how long it was. We prepare so well!

Hiker chic

Anyway, at the beginning of the hike we were a bit frustrated by (again) the loud Americans. We immediately distanced ourselves from them and thank God, we never saw them again. We got turned around by misleading arrows a few times, but they always led to a cafe so we would have been okay anyway. Climbing across this mountain pass, between towns we never even knew existed, was absolutely exhilarating. Even when I was exhausted, I couldn’t help but marvel at the 360 views, and they just kept getting better.

The indubitable highlight was the actual ‘summit.’ You can’t miss it, you just have to climb a little further at a point that veers right off the trail, and you can see clearly where it leads. It was so windy we worried about our stuff blowing away, and we were absolutely freezing, but we stood up there for as long as we could stand the cold. This was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen in my life.

The summit of the mountain pass

Stay a night in Theth

We walked into Theth and decided we needed to stay at the very first guesthouse we came across to rest our legs. I would have been willing to pay a lot of money to crash, but luckily we picked a good spot – Bujtina Harusha. (I saved this one in Google Maps – smart me)

As seems to be a trend in the mountains of Albania, this guesthouse was family-owned and absolutely delightful. We had a seven course dinner that was unquestionably the best food I’ve ever eaten, a couple celebratory beers, and then went to bed at 8pm. In the morning, one of the owners’ sons (who I think took a liking to Haley) took us next door for a coffee, showed us several puppies (see one below, we squealed pathetically) and told us what it was like living in this remote town as a young Albanian while we waited for our bus back to Shkoder.

Minibus back to Shkoder

I would never have thought that this final, very long bus ride would be a highlight of the whole trip, but it absolutely was. I credit that mostly to how chilled out we were after soaking up all the nature and disconnecting from the outside world. The bus randomly stopped several times, which normally would have annoyed us, but on this day we wandered around, finding more puppies (!!!) and just living in the moment.

The TINIEST PUPPY.

The bus driver was also a delight. He only spoke about five words of English but he tried to include us in all the Albanian conversations, and took this cute photo for us at a random stopping point.

We still talk about this bus ride, which is funny because it was bumpy, nauseating, and took FOREVER. Everything just felt right, and we felt happy, and that’s all I ever really look for in a trip.

And I certainly got it on our little excursion to the Albanian mountains.

A Love Letter to Travel

Watching my entire industry be torn to pieces by the COVID-19 outbreak has been absolutely devastating. This pandemic is wreaking havoc throughout the world, of course, but all I can speak to is my own experience. I’ve been trying to figure out how to express all of my emotions, but it’s all tangled up. I work in travel, travel is my greatest passion, all my hobbies revolve around travel. It’s completely wrapped up with my identity, and the grounding of flights, closing of borders, worldwide travel warnings – that identity has been pretty much torn away. I am SO lucky that I still have a job, I still have my income, my health, my family, my friends, my boyfriend. While my heart breaks for the people who aren’t as lucky, I’m still upset about how it has affected my life and I just needed to get my feelings out on ‘paper’ so to speak.

A few times, before I left on a trip, family or friends asked, “What’s the rush? The world will still be there in a few years.”

I never felt like I agreed with that – you never know what is going to happen. If you don’t go to that country you really want to see, who knows what could happen – a war could start, a pandemic could spread, a border could close. And look who was right!!!

In all seriousness, though, I am so lucky to have been able to travel to 57 countries, and see some of the most beautiful places in the world. That makes it a bit easier to put this all on pause, so I know that I made the right choice to follow my dreams right away. Because you really just never know.

My hope for the next few months are that we beat this quickly – that the world gets back to normal, people get well, borders open, industries come back to life. It’s bigger than me, but selfishly I can’t WAIT to get on that next plane. I’ve been thinking a lot about who I would be if I hadn’t found my passion of travelling. Certain countries have taught me specific lessons, certain journeys have shown me different ways to look at the world, and the essence of it all is that travel is one of the best things to ever happen to me.

China taught me that the whole wide world could be mine, if I was brave enough.

I grew up travelling with my family, but at 18 I still hadn’t really connected the dots that if I wanted to keep travelling, I just could. I kind of waited for trips to fall into my lap courtesy of my parents. Then, I spent a summer working at an accounting firm, which I thought was going to be my job for the rest of my life. I was mind-numbingly bored, and had LOTS of time to browse the internet. I discovered a world of girls not too much older than me, travelling the world alone and making it happen for themselves.

With that I booked a ticket to China, and I flew to the other side of the world. It’s so normal to me to get on a plane myself now, but then, it was scary and exhilarating. The whole trip showed me that if I wanted to see somewhere, there may be obstacles and it may be hard (see this article), but I can do it all by myself.

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Little baby Bethany in China

Morocco taught me that I could be whoever I wanted to be, and it was all up to me. 

After China, I didn’t stop. Several short trips later and I was off for 4 months on the road. The first few weeks were pretty comfortable, either with my sister, or a friend. Then, I got on a ferry all by myself to Africa. I had no idea what I was doing, nothing booked, and when I got off the ferry to my first experience of touts hassling me and realized I didn’t have any directions, I almost broke down and left. Then I realized – it was all up to me. Nobody knew me, or anything about me. I could spend this month being exactly who I wanted to be. I didn’t have to be scared to be alone, or shy around strangers. I could be the girl who lit up a room, who picked up new languages, who lived spontaneously.

So I was. It wasn’t perfect, and I still cried a lot (wouldn’t be Bethany without some tears), and sometimes I still felt frustrated by my own limitations. But I was only 19, and I realized something that would serve me so well for the rest of my life: you are in charge of your own self. If I want to live my dreams, the only person who is going to make that happen is me. If I want to be kinder, be more fun, be happier, I know exactly what I need to do to get there – it’s just a matter of doing it.

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As I wandered across Morocco with my new friends, I stopped looking at mirrors to pick apart my appearance. I stopped toning myself down to make friends, just being exactly who I was. And I never let that go, even at home.

Zanzibar taught me that I can conquer the things that scare me most, even if I’m alone across the world.

A year later, I took off again for a post-graduation trip. I was thrilled to be getting back on the road but nervous about what awaited me in ‘real life’. I had a lot of fears about the future, so I decided why not get over some of my lifelong fears to prove that I could.

I used to be afraid of everything, and some of those things still terrify me – birds and snakes, mostly. And yes, I sometimes still sprint to my bedroom from the bathroom in the middle of the night because I’m scared of the dark, but I’ve basically gotten past that one.

But even when I was afraid of everything, water was the worst. I never really learned to properly swim because deep water freaked me out so much, and the panic I felt every time I snorkelled was second to none. I still went on snorkelling trips, and swam at the lake in the summer with my friends, but the whole time I had to choke back this all-encompassing fear of the unknown at the bottom of the water.

On Zanzibar, a blissful week of sleeping steps from the Indian Ocean finally taught me how to fall in love with the water. Even swimming alone in the daytime was scary for me at first, because what if something grabbed me and my dad wasn’t there to pull me back?

But I built up my confidence, and one day gave myself the ultimate test by scuba diving. I learned that the only frightening thing about the bottom of the ocean was how beautiful it was, and that freed me from my panic. The rest of the trip, I barely left the water, from pre-breakfast morning swims to sprinting into the ocean with new friends,  This was one of the best weeks of my life, and my memories of it will always be entwined with the feeling of salt on my skin, tangles in my hair, and a smile on my face.

I went home feeling ready to conquer whatever the world threw at me – and this gave me the confidence to quit that shitty corporate job 10 months later, for a life of travel and living my dreams.

Turkey taught me that home is people and attitude, not about where you are.

Many trips and many tumultous life changes later, I headed on another odyssey, this time for a literal round the world trip. I headed back to Turkey for the third time, this time with my best friend Haley. Walking back into Cheers Hostel, somewhere I had visited with my sister at age 19, genuinely felt like coming home. The golden retriever was as cute as ever, the surroundings were familiar down to the intonation of the call to prayer, and the owners recognized me and made me feel so welcome.We headed up to the bar for one drink after an overnight train ride, and ended up meeting a group of friends who we spent the next few days with. We found a local restaurant where we felt like regulars, we basically made the top floor bar our home, and everything just fell into place. I have never wanted to leave a place less – I was heading to some huge bucket list destinations in the Middle East but all I wanted was to stay in this little bubble of home, friendship, and ‘family’.

The way you look at a place really influences how your time there is. I went into Istanbul excited to return somewhere I knew and loved, and this turned the entire experience into pure joy. And of course, we really lucked out with some cool roommates.

It’s fitting that this was the last country I decided to write about, because this lesson was the most important thing I brought home with me. I had several trips coming up that will likely be cancelled, and about 50% of the time I feel absolutely panicked about the fact that I am ‘stuck’ here at home for the foreseeable future. But the other 50% of the time, I remind myself of what I learned in Istanbul. My attitude is what matters, and I am using this time to write blog posts, learn languages, read books, do puzzles, learn to cook, and spend time with my boyfriend. And as for people, I am so grateful that if I’m gonna be inside for weeks on end, I am stuck inside with my amazing boyfriend who is the OTHER greatest thing that has ever happened to me.

Learning to be at home is hard, but being at home with someone I love is making that easier. Watching my industry collapse is hard, but working for a company who values us and is doing everything they can to help us is making that easier. Living with uncertainty is hard, but getting all my feelings out in this mammoth blog post is making that easier.

Why I’ll Keep Going Back to Greece

Greece is everything you have ever imagined, and more. When Haley and I visited Greece two years ago, we fell in love, and knew we had to go back. So when I started travel planning for 2019, I originally intended to JUST go to Greece for two weeks. I thought maybe I would pop up to Albania for a few days.

Next thing I knew, I had booked a series of round the world flights and I quit my job for 4.5 months. This is how I always end up going on such long trips, BUT no regrets cause it worked out pretty well.

Greece has endless islands to explore, a stunning mainland beyond anything I could picture, and possibly my favorite food in the world. We sailed the Saronic Islands in 2017, and the Ionian Islands in 2019, and I literally think you could do a different 2 week sailing trip every summer and still see different islands every time.

Our trip this time around started on an amazing note, at one of my new favourite hostels, Sunrock Corfu. This place is family run, and all the children are there helping out and working, and love to chat with guests. The drinks are wonderful, the nearby beaches perfect and not too far away, AND for 25 Euros, you get breakfast AND dinner included. The family dinners were so nice, with everyone gathering at night to indulge in some home-cooked Greek food and swap travel stories. I would die for that salad, and although some meals were better than others, I left happy every night.

The view from the terrace

Hostel dogs!!!!

As for getting there, I probably wouldn’t recommend what we did. We thought we’d save some time/money with an overnight bus from Athens – usually we sleep pretty well, so we didn’t think it would be a problem. However, you are only on the bus for like a 4 hour stretch and then you have to get off, walk on to a ferry, then do the reverse. I am honestly unsure how long the ferry takes because I passed out on the ferry chairs, sleeping so deeply that when I woke up I had no idea where I was and once I figured it out, thought that I had just been left on the ferry by everyone else.

Just go during the day, it will be much more pleasant. However, when you get to Corfu port it is quite easy to get to the hostel. Ideally, you would rent a car, but we didn’t want to drive so we scheduled the hostel to come pick us up. They charge 10 Eur – not for the car, per person, which is pretty reasonable. When we came back we opted for the bus, and the instructions on the website are really clear. However, the walk to/from the bus stop to the hostel is VERY steep and uncomfortable with big bags, so one time we hitch-hiked it, and that went fine!

Finally, for the boat! We spent another 6 nights of bliss, excessive binge drinking, and swimming in an unbelievably clear sea with Medsailors. Just like last time, it’s hard to write about this – I didn’t really take note of the names of each island, because it didn’t really matter.

We discussed which route in Greece we preferred (this was the Ionian, we did the Saronic two years ago) and it’s a hard tossup. There were many more people on the Saronic route, probably eight boats, versus the three boats we were travelling with this time. The islands/towns that we visited themselves, however, I much preferred this time. The towns were more scenic, with stunning views around every corner, and every swimming spot we stopped at was surrounded by sea caves and towering white cliffs. The water was clearer almost everywhere we went, and we saw fewer tourists. However, do I think you can have a BAD time on either of these routes? Nope!

Our skipper’s name was Charlie, and he was absolutely hilarious, as all the skippers seem to be. We bonded with almost everyone on all three of the boats, including the lead skipper – who just so happened to be the same lead skipper we had on the Saronic route! Highlights of the route were as follows:

This one town with really cool views

We went to this lovely little martini bar overlooking the ocean and watched the sunset. This was probably the most touristy island we visited, but it was gorgeous. Iggy Beach

Hey I remember the name of this one!! Medsailors has a private beach where they organize a bonfire, watersports (for an extra charge) and it was so much fun! We even made them give us the aux cord, which I’m sure they regretted. We had a blast and it was so cool to have it all to ourselves.

Spending time with Haley

Haley is one of my favourite travel buddies ever and we have so much fun together, even though we often hate eachother’s guts and make no secret of it!! I love spending so much time with her on these boat trips, specifically in our floating donuts that we purchased to avoid having to tread water. Solo travel is great, but I was thrilled to be reunited with my lil buddy.

Best of 2019

Every year, I write these massive recap posts with my favorite highlights of the year, even when I have been terrible about blogging for the rest of the year. I’ve done 2016, 2017, and 2018, and now it is time to recap the best of 2019 – one of the craziest years of my life. I am never quite sure if these are interesting to anyone else, but I look back at them SO much myself, so here you go!!

In 2018, I moved home to Nova Scotia. At the very end of the year, I met a boy – and I can’t make that a highlight because it technically happened in 2018 but it was definitely one of the most important parts of my year. However, I also went on a 4.5 month trip so I have a LOT of travel highlights. I could make this a list of 50 things, but for everyone’s sake I will try to condense slightly. These are in chronological order, and a strange number of them are specifically about hostels. Also, I  made this cool map of my round the world trip so for reference – here is my route!

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Continuing to explore Nova Scotia

100% the best part of having a boyfriend has been having someone to drag on weekend trips with me – especially someone who can drive. A side perk is that we also have a blast together on these weekend trips! In February we stayed at the most charming little farm Airbnb in rural Nova Scotia and despite the freezing temperatures it was so cozy in the cabin with a woodstove. This is where we decided we were officially dating, so it will always have such cute little memories for me 🙂

We also went to my cottage for his birthday weekend right before I left on my trip, which holds a few more mixed emotions..but I LOVE my family cottage and I loved showing it to him.

When I got back, I dragged him on another weekend trip to make sure he still liked me! We drove up to Cape Breton and stayed in a YURT which I have been wanting to do ever since I learned what a yurt was. We hiked, got hit by a car at a gas station (super fun), and I even had a few driving lessons. It was lovely and a great way to end summer.

Biking around the North Shore of Oahu

The beginning of my trip was REALLY fricking hard, and I wrote about it here, but one evening was where I remembered how much I loved travel and almost cried because I was so happy. When my friends and I biked back from an evening of drinking on Sunset Beach, it was pitch black and we kept going down the wrong path and one of our bikes didn’t work, and it was absolutely pouring down. I couldn’t stop laughing, and I knew that everything was going to be okay.

Snorkelling in the Gilis, Indonesia

During my 3 nights on Gili Trawangan, I didn’t do much except eat and drink. One day, however, I went out on a full-day snorkelling tour for the crazy good price of $10!! It certainly wasn’t the best snorkelling tour I’ve ever been on – the boat was old, lunch wasn’t included, and every single boat went to the same spots at the same time, but….$10. I jumped off the top of the boat, got stung by jellyfish, made amazing new friends and started to fall completely in love with this corner of the world and its amazingly affordable adventures.

Hearing the Dalai Lama Speak

I already wrote about this in my Best of India post. It wasn’t a perfect day, and it ended with some severe illness, BUT I saw the real life Dalai Lama in person and heard him speak and I will never forget it!

Wandering off the Beaten Path in Sikkim, India

Sikkim left the best impression of India, and made me yearn to explore the areas nearby – Bhutan, Tibet, Nepal.

I felt like a really intrepid explorer, wandering through a place that had very little written about it on the internet, and entering a province where you needed a permit. This was a bit of a hindrance, because as a solo traveler you need other foreigners to travel the most beautiful areas with, but it was still worth every long Jeep ride and I met a few really amazing people.

Exploring Athens with my parents

Athens is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I LOVE when I get to meet up with my parents on my travels. I flew to Athens, so thrilled to be leaving India, and so excited to be reunited with my parents in the beautiful Airbnb they booked. We had a great time exploring in the heat, eating yummy food and I’m sure they were glad to see me alive!!

My precious backpacker parents!!!!!

Exploring the Greek Islands by Yacht (again)

Honestly, the best thing in the world is living on a yacht. My hair is always full of salt, the beers are never cold, and trying to sleep in a tiny unventilated cabin is a challenge, but man, it is blissful. Add that to the fact that I was reunited with my best little travel buddy Haley, and I get a bit teary when I think about this week.

The islands and sea caves that we moored at were breathtaking and I really couldn’t process that I was there – but that might have been the hangover. Time seemed to slow down and speed up simultaneously, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Hiking in Albania from Theth to Valbona

In the remote northern mountains of Albania, we took one of the most scenic ferry rides in the world and then stayed at a warm and cozy homestay where meals were served lovingly by the matriarch, teaching our new friends cribbage and falling asleep to the sound of pounding rain on the peaks. The next day, we hiked for almost 12 hours through a mountain pass, the views getting more beautiful every second. We passed locals who waved gleefully, including one particular character who was dressed in a full suit and seemingly just doing this hike with no effort while we panted up every incline. The summit was freezing cold and the patches of sun were burning hot, and we snapped at eachother as we got more and more tired, but even our crankiness couldn’t mar our awe. At the end of the hike, we sat at the first restaurant we saw and ordered beers and french fries, and both of them were the most amazing things we had ever tasted. We managed to lug ourselves to a guesthouse, checked into the first room they showed us, and slept for hours and hours after a delectable 7 course dinner. In the morning, a worker introduced us to FOUR PUPPIES and bought us coffee before we headed off back to the nearest city, blissful and relaxed despite our aching muscles.

Really, just all of Albania

The above anecdote pretty accurately sums up our time in Albania. It was one of the most amazing places I have ever been. Every single local we met went out of their way to befriend us and help us and give us countless free beers and shots of raki. The hostels were never more than 10 Euros a night and they were some of the most beautiful boutique hostels I have ever seen. The food is incredible, the beer is less than a Euro, the scenery changes as you travel the country from top to bottom but it is unfailingly beautiful. I can’t wait to share more about my new favourite country, but go now, before everyone else discovers it – as long as you are comfortable with a little bit of chaos any time you try to get anywhere!

I was this happy the whole time I was in Albania

Paradise at the Grove Hostel in Montenegro

There are some hostels that just feel like home. When we arrived at the Grove, we knew this was going to be one of them. We had just endured a very long journey from northern Albania on a very intense hangover, and it was a million degrees. We arrived to a family dinner and a free beer, before we were each given our OWN DOUBLE BED in a dorm. For 10 Euros, you get this bed, you get access to family dinners (5 Eur a night for absolutely incredible food), 1 Eur beers, and get this – the hostel staff rounds up a group to drive off for an activity every day. We went to a beautiful local beach, and I wish we had stayed longer to experience more of the surroundings. As it was, we didn’t need to leave except to walk up to nearby Stari Bar for an iced coffee or groceries. If I ever open a hostel, I want it to be just like this one.

I have three photos from Montenegro. Here is one.

Celebrating my Best Friend’s Birthday in Serbia

Haley and I had been travelling together for about a month before we got to Belgrade, arriving just in time for her 25th birthday. Basically I can sum up our time in Belgrade with the following:

  1. We got tattoos from a guy who….didn’t speak very good English
  2. We bought the cheapest bottle of vodka in the store, which we literally had to open with a knife because it didn’t have a CAP
  3. There was no cap, so we drank all of the vodka (sharing some, of course, with our new friends) and had a truly ridiculous night out.

….this is the only photo I have from Belgrade. And possibly the worst photo of myself ever. So I am putting it on the internet.

10/10, Serbia rocks.

Returning to Cheers Hostel

I stayed at Cheers Hostel in Istanbul four years ago and I literally have not shut up about it since. I dragged Haley here and she was immediately sold when she heard about the golden retriever. The hostel owner remembered me and my sister, asked how she was doing, and was thrilled to hear she was getting married in the fall. The view from the bar upstairs was even more stunning than I remembered, and the rooms just as cozy. And of course, Zaman the dog is still a sweet pure angel from heaven.

I did have a very different time here – we went out a LOT. It was our last 3 nights together and again, we immediately made some amazing friends.

Pretending I Lived in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv was my first intro to the real Middle East, after a few days in Istanbul. I stayed at Hostel Florentine, and I had a few nights before my friends arrived to join me for our Middle Eastern leg. I was exhausted from our last night in Istanbul, where I literally went from a nightclub to the airport (that’s another story) and I really thought I was going to get a good night’s sleep in Tel Aviv. However, I forced myself to socialize so I headed up to the communal rooftop. I inserted myself into a group of chatting travelers, we started playing drinking games, and the next thing I knew we had a little family. This hostel was another place where you immediately feel at home, and if Israel wasn’t so expensive I would have loved indulging in all of the nearby restaurants and bars – I mean I still loved it, but I also had a pang every time I handed over my shekels.

Tel Aviv’s beach is amazing, and I love how open Israelis are – random groups of friends would come over us to chat, and not in a weird hitting-on-us way, they literally just wanted to chat. I knew I would like Tel Aviv, and what do you know – I was right.

A New Best Friend in Egypt

On my G Adventures tour in Egypt, I got paired with a roommate who I immediately disliked. I have no idea why, because 5 minutes into the next day we were giggling in the souks and buying eachother friendship necklaces. We had an absolute blast ditching our tour to do activities on our own to save money, finding the nearest pool and grabbing a beer, gossiping on the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor (I love overnight trains SO MUCH), jumping off the top of our traditional felucca boat into the Nile, and having Instagram photoshoots at every temple we visited. Andrea was so there for me during a week that I was very emotionally overwrought, and I am so thankful that we were roomed together!

One Last Hurrah in Dublin

I arrived in Dublin sick, tired from several long layovers and redeye flights, and to be honest, I was excited to get home. I had one last night at a hostel before I went back to my family, my dog, my home and the boy I was pretty sure I was in love with. I could have just slept for 16 hours, but I decided I needed to have one last big night: and thus I did. As had become so natural to me after 4.5 months, I met a friend in the common area and Hannah and I teamed up for the hostel pub crawl and headed over as it started to rain. We drank many Guinnesses (I don’t even like Guinnesses), did many free shots, and stumbled home around 5AM – I had to be up at 8AM for a VERY important flight. I made it, passed out for the duration, and disembarked in Halifax to power-walk through the airport and cry in my parents’ arms.

The one photo I took in Dublin. LOL.

My Sister’s Wedding

My older sister Anna got married in October!!!! She lives in Winnipeg, but the wedding was at a beautiful oceanside resort near Halifax. It was literally the perfect day, and I cried a LOT, especially at my parents’ speeches. It was amazing to meet my new brother-in-law’s entire family and we had a lovely few days of celebrations.

My wonderful family!!!

Coming Home

I never would have thought that moving back to Nova Scotia would feel like this much of a highlight, but I am so happy to be back. I returned to a promotion, so I now run my very own travel agency. I also returned to the previously discussed boy, and at the beginning of December I moved into his house. We have a Christmas tree, a chore schedule, and I have never felt so domestic, or so happy.

🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

I felt ALL the feelings this year, saw some of the most iconic places in the world and literally circumnavigated the globe. But the biggest lesson that I learned is how to be happy in one place. However, that doesn’t mean I’ll stop travelling…very much the opposite! In the next 6 months I have a work trip to Southeast Asia, and I’m introducing my boyfriend to the backpacker life with 2 weeks in Peru. I can’t wait to see what 2020 holds.

Budapest is Still My Favourite City in Europe

The first time me and my sister visited Budapest, we had been aiming for Vienna instead, but the pricing worked out better to stop in Budapest between Turkey and Spain. I’ve written a ton of blog posts about the city already (see here) and everytime someone asks for Europe advice, I try to get them to go to Budapest.

Needless to say, we were really happy that we ended up in Budapest despite knowing almost nothing about the city. I’ve been saying I wanted to return since the day we left, and I made it happen in fewer than two years!

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Look, here’s me last time! I look exactly the same.

I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations, but I left Budapest loving it even more than I remembered. I basically repeated all the stuff I had loved on my first visit and then did the stuff I had missed. Also, I napped a lot, because I was overtired from two overnight bus rides. Sorry for making you miss the sunset, Alex.

First, a note on our hostel….it was amazing! We stayed at Gaia Hostel and when we left all I could think about was how I wanted to live there. Our room was impeccably decorated, the kitchen was well stocked with things like free pasta (the key to my heart), and the owner Judit was the sweetest hostel owner I’ve ever met. She let us check in at around 7AM, right into the room, and stay until around 7PM. So we DEFINITELY got our money’s worth. She also let us borrow free towels for the Szechenyi Baths (more on that later), and she didn’t charge us extra for anything! So awesome. Also, this was the view from our room!

Excuse the obnoxious Snapchat sticker.

Fisherman’s Bastion & Batthyany Ter

I will always remember me and my sister’s glorious first view over Budapest from Fisherman’s Bastion, which we basically discovered by accident. I knew we had to come back here, but this time we took a bus as far up as we could, because I’m lazy.

The view was just as beautiful as I remembered, although this time the bar was closed and we couldn’t enjoy a drink while overlooking the most beautiful part of the view. If you don’t pay to go up to the top there is a pole blocking some of the panorama – it’s still beautiful, but we couldn’t get that perfect shot of the entire Parliament building. After a while here we headed down to somewhere we would be able to – Batthyany Ter!

This was new for me, but it was so beautiful. It’s just a town square/subway station, but the sidewalk alongside the river has an incredible panorama of the river, and especially the Parliament building. We had a little mini photo shoot here and it was lovely.

Szechenyi Baths

The one thing we really missed out on the first time I was in Budapest were the thermal baths. The city is famous for its variety of ornate hot springs facilities, and Szechenyi Baths captured my attention with its bright yellow paint and gorgeous outdoor pools. Getting in was a very confusing system, but we shared one cabin and each got a bracelet that allowed us admission for as long as we wanted.

Honestly I really do enjoy hot springs like this, but I always wander around for a bit and then get kind of bored and listless. I’m not good at relaxing! Anyway, we checked out all the pools as well as one of the saunas, but I’m a baby and couldn’t stay in the heat for very long. The outdoor pool was obviously the highlight. However, it was SO unbelievably cold getting from the main building to the outdoor pool; it was maybe 20  steps away, but in February with a bitter wind it felt a lot longer.

Next time I’d love to check out the Gellert Baths as well, and maybe the notorious Saturday night party at the Szechenyi Baths, but for now this was a great introduction.

VeganLove

I will always limit the extent of my restaurant recommendations to a few random shoutouts in random posts, but when I write about a restaurant, know that I really loved it! I dragged Alex to this vegan burger joint that had amazing reviews on Yelp. It’s also near Gellert Hill, so we wandered on up there after we were done. This burger was the best veggie burger I have ever had in my entire life, and I eat quite a lot of veggie burgers. Eastern Europe has never been my first thought for good veggie options, but with the places I’ve tried now, especially in Prague and Budapest, it just may be working its way up the list!

And that’s that for my random list of highlights and revisits in Budapest: the moral of the story is that Budapest is awesome and you should go.