My 12 Favourite Hostels in Europe

EUROPE

PREIKESTOLEN FJELLSTUE: NORWAY

I’m writing about the Pulpit Rock hike in Norway again?! Seriously Bethany, shut up about it already.

Anyway, in my post all about the hike I talked a little bit about where I stayed, but it’s just amazing. Sitting in the lounge, watching the sun set (which didn’t happen until around 10:30PM) and journalling about my delightful hike was worth the absurdly overpriced food.

You could use the word run-down to describe the youth hostel portion of the facility, but I prefer to use the words rustic and charming.

YOHO INTERNATIONAL YOUTH HOSTEL: SALZBURG, AUSTRIA

They play the Sound of Music every night. In Salzburg.

Enough said.

Read a little more about Salzburg here

HOSTEL ANDROMEDA: GHENT, BELGIUM

I stayed at this hostel on what is objectively the worst trip of my life – I got norovirus, I had the worst sore throat of all time, I hit my head, I broke my phone and I hurt my back. However, the trip still has so many great memories, and one of the coolest places I stayed was in Ghent, Belgium – my favourite city in Belgium!

When I saw that sleeping on a houseboat was an option on Hostelworld, I couldn’t pass it up. It was so cool to actually stay on one of the canals, and Hostel Andromeda has so many ecological initiatives that make it even better. I’ll admit the place was kind of creepy when I stayed there because it was the middle of off-season, but at least I got a whole dorm to myself! 10/10 for experience.

Read more about Ghent here

MOSAIC HOUSE: PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Another highlight from the trip of mishaps. Honestly, I spent most of my time in this hostel’s bathroom (thanks norovirus) but let me tell you, it was the nicest hostel bathroom I’ve ever seen. Mosaic House is a dirt cheap hostel, but with the design savvy of a boutique hotel and a really nice bar that I didn’t get to experience. The staff here were so great – my mom emailed them to ask if they could see whether I was alive, and one of them very kindly did so – and I’d love to go back here and actually enjoy the facilities.

The entirety of the Charles Bridge at your feet

Read more about Prague here and here

PERUGIA FARMHOUSE: PERUGIA, ITALY

I’m currently writing an entire post about Perugia, which involves such dramas as being robbed. Most of it centres around the hostel I stayed at, which had the most amazing community feel and farm animals. The word paradise has never been so applicable, and every time I’m talking to someone who is travelling to Italy, I urge them to go to Perugia with the sole purpose of staying at this hostel.

Read more about Perugia here

VILLA FRANCESCATTI: VERONA, ITALY

Verona was a completely unexpected  highlight of my summer in Italy. I went to see an outdoor opera (it was amazing) but was blown away by everything else that I discovered. I even fell in love with all of the Romeo and Juliet-themed attractions. One of the best parts, though, is the fact that I got to stay in a sixteenth century villa.

The gardens are beautiful and authentic and the villa itself feels magical, so I spent most of my time in the hostel exploring and muttering to myself in Italian about how pretty it was, and probably seeming crazy to my fellow guests.

HOSTELSUN B&B: BRUNICO, ITALY

I went to this place because I saw a lake, Lago di Braies on Instagram, and knew I had to go. An au pair friend went before me and recommended this hostel for the friendly and outgoing owner, who had dogs. Obviously I booked it immediately.

I had been sweltering hot for my entire time in Italy, and getting into the mountains was the greatest relief I’ve ever felt. It was so perfect and quiet here and I sat on my private balcony drinking Hugo, my favourite Italian alcohol and looking out at the view. So peaceful, and that wasn’t even the best part – that was Lago di Braies! Highly recommend making your way up to the very unexplored Italian Dolomites.

LAKE COMO HOSTEL: MENAGGIO, ITALY

I booked this hostel because it was basically my only option. It was way above and  beyond what I expected! In my post about Lake Como I described what an incredible and luxurious time I had in this place. The view was more than I could ask for and everything about my weekend here was just impeccable. If you want to feel rich but still stay in a cheap hostel, look no further.

Read more about Lake Como here

CHEERS HOSTEL: ISTANBUL, TURKEY

Me and my sister fell in love with this place immediately and talk about it constantly. Obviously, the highlight is the fact that the sweetest golden retriever ever lives there – his name is Zaman and he has his own Instagram account (@cheerszaman). But the terrace with a view of the Blue Mosque, the wonderfully kind staff whose names I still remember (a rarity considering how many hostels I’ve stayed in), and the unbelievably central location are what really took this place over the top. We could have stayed for weeks!

Read more about Istanbul and this hostel here

GOODMORNING HOSTEL: LISBON, PORTUGAL

When my friend Erika and I got to Lisbon, we were tired. So to be honest, not much sightseeing happened here. We did a hop-on hop-off bus tour (#tourists), went out to the beach at Cascais, and walked around a little bit, but otherwise…a lot of lounging occurred. We were overjoyed to learn that the hostel had an extraordinarily comfortable movie room with tons of DVDs to choose from – we watched Juno one night and it was lovely to take a break.

The breakfast is what stands out most in my mind – I ate Nutella waffles every morning and we had spirited discussions about politics and life and travel with the staff and fellow guests.

KISMET DAO HOSTEL: BRASOV, ROMANIA

As another illustration that yes, I do have a problem, this hostel is on here because I liked the dog that lived here. Her name was Zara and we spent a lovely morning hiking up Mount Tampa. By spent a lovely morning I mean I was dragged up the mountain by a dog who didn’t speak my language or care to listen to me. But anyway, it made me feel very local to walk my dog up a mountain, enjoying the first sunshine in days.

Also, at this hostel you get a free beer every night – more if you walk the dog. The greatest hostel feature I’ve ever encountered.

Read more about Brasov here

PURA VIDA SKY BAR & HOSTEL: BUCHAREST, ROMANIA

I feel like a lot of these hostels are on here because of one thing, while the rest of the facilities were just adequate. Note to self: if I ever open a hostel, it needs some  sort of fancy thing that people will remember and talk about. At Pura Vida, it was the Sky Bar – a rooftop bar with one of the most incredible views I’ve ever seen. I don’t have any pictures, because I’m an idiot, but here is one from the hostel website.

They had killer mojitos and the Australian girl from my dorm room who I forced to be my friend was great company. A rooftop terrace always seems to make a place stick in my mind.

Read more about Bucharest here

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Confession: I didn’t like Barcelona, Oslo, or Venice

On this blog, I’ve probably used the phrases “prettiest place ever”, “the most beautiful place I’ve ever been” and “my new favourite city” a kajillion times. Evidently, this cannot be true of every place I describe. I fall in love with so many cities and destinations that I can’t help but to use a ridiculous amount of hyperbole. However, there are some places that just fall flat. It’s always disappointing when you arrive somewhere using some of your valuable trip time, hoping to fall in love, and you just feel so meh. Especially when it’s a place that literally everybody has promised you’ll adore, it’s really frustrating to walk around a city you’ve paid money to visit and wonder why you’re actually there.

Three cities stand out in my mind as places that really disappointed me, but for no real reason. In every case there’s something I could have done differently to make the trip better (or just different), and here’s the breakdown on places I just didn’t like:

OSLO

Now, Norway overall? I LOVED. It rocketed its way to my ‘list of favourite countries’ immediately after I hiked to Pulpit Rock. Oslo, though…the only word that comes to mind is “livable”. Which, yes, is a great word, but not really what you’re looking for in a two day visit to a city. I stayed in a lovely Airbnb in a cool and kind of gritty part of town – as gritty as Oslo can be – with a family that had the cutest daughters ever. I would have loved to live in that apartment. I visited Frogner Park, a place that I would have loved to visit for a post-work evening stroll. I ate at local Indian joints (because they were the only thing I could afford) that I could see becoming my go-to dinner when I’m too lazy to cook.
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Which is all great. But I just never felt that spark I feel in cities like Prague, Istanbul, Vienna….the whole time, all I could think was meh. The opera house was cool, and I really did enjoy the Fram and Kon-tiki Museums on the Bygdøy Peninsula. But I went on a walking tour that was the worst I’ve ever taken, I didn’t totally fall in love with the architecture, and Norwegian food is not this vegetarian’s cup of tea.
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So overall, I think back to a few great moments in my time here, but also a lot of moments where I was just trying to motivate myself to enjoy the city, but couldn’t figure out how. I think I’d like living here (so much weekend trip potential and so many beautiful people to meet), but if you’re planning a trip to Norway, I wouldn’t allot much (or any) time to Oslo.
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VENICE

(2023 note – I visited Venice again with more money and more freedom and LOVED it!!)

One of my most prevalent memories of Venice is waking up in my tent about 30 minutes outside of town, literally covered in sweat and thinking I might die of suffocation. Another is the great morning me and my university friend, Brooke, spent basking in the beautiful pool at our accommodation. You will note that neither of these have anything to do with Venice specifically.
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The combination of the insane heat, the commute from the only accommodation we could afford, and the unbelievable amount of tourists wandering the canals meant we spent more time in the pool than we probably should have – literally the only place we could forget about the heat for a moment. When I tell other people how I felt about Venice, what I say is that ‘it felt built for tourists’. I know it’s not, obviously, and the history of the Venetian City-State is absolutely fascinating, but it’s really hard to understand that when you’re getting whacked in the head with umbrella and selfie sticks everywhere you turn.
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Now, I have loved places that are packed with tourists, even in Italy – Rome and Florence come to mind. But for some reason, Venice I just couldn’t handle.
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I have decided I must go back to Venice and right the wrong of my first trip. It will 100% be in the winter, when tourist numbers are WAY lower. Despite the rainy, overcast weather, I think Venice might be kind of magical in the gloom. And I’d stay in the city, even if I had to go over budget. Any recommendations?

BARCELONA

This may be the one that is met with the most shock: when I tell people I didn’t like Barcelona, they are appalled. SO AM I. This one, I just can’t figure out. Why didn’t I like this city? I mean look at these pictures. It’s beautiful!

Casa Batillo - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Casa Batillo – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Maybe I didn’t spend enough time here. It was only two days, and that was broken up by a conference up the coast, but I’ve fallen in love with plenty of places in less time than that.

Maybe it was the number of other tourists? But none of my memories jump out at me as being way too crowded…

Maybe I didn’t do the right things! I did really enjoy Parc Guell, but we literally walked to the Sagrada Familia just because we felt like we should look at it, with no actual interest in the church. (Sacrilegious in so many ways, I know). I probably should have experienced the famous nightlife, but I was too hungover….thanks to that aforementioned conference up the coast.

La Sagrada Familia - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

La Sagrada Familia – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

If anyone can help me understand why I didn’t like Barcelona, and what I should do next time…please leave a comment! I loved other parts of Spain and I definitely want to go back and give Barcelona another chance.

The view from Parc Guell - photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

The view from Parc Guell – photo courtesy of Gallivanting Bean

Has there been anywhere you’ve visited that just hasn’t clicked? I would love to hear!

The Ten Places I Most Want to Live

Sometimes I visit a city and absolutely adore it, but would never want to live there. Examples that come to mind are Goreme in Cappadocia (too small and remote), Dar es Salaam (too bustling, although I’d probably give it a shot), and Florence (too touristy for its size). On the other hand, there are the places that I visit, completely fall in love with, and immediately develop a burning desire to settle down and stay a while. There are so many places I haven’t been, and I bet there are hundreds of other cities that would give me this feeling, but so far here are the places topping my list for a sojourn. Realistic or not, these places are constantly in my dreams and wishes! Without further ado, here is an excessively long article detailing the ten places I most want to live.

BUDAPEST

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When I wrote about Budapest previously, I described my total lack of expectations and how quickly me and my sister realized that this was a special place. We still talk about Budapest an annoying amount, sometimes just texting each other ‘ugh I miss Budapest’ and spending a few minutes reminiscing. A girl who went to my high school also interned there for a summer, and I stalked her Instagram excessively to see her incredible photos of Budapest living. The cost of living is unbelievably cheap, the history and sights are amazing, and compared to some other places on this list its hardly touristy at all. If I ever settle in Europe, it just might be here!

VIENNA

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The instant I walked outside in Vienna I decided it was the most livable place I’d ever been. I still don’t really know what made me think this – maybe it’s just the combination of everything that makes Vienna great. It’s a little more modern than places like Budapest or Prague, but almost just as cheap. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve ever seen, with my favourite architectural cities sprinkled everywhere. There’s also amazing access to the outdoors (by that I mean vineyards) when you’re basically still in the city. There are so many cultural events and a famous orchestra to indulge in, it’s got amazing transport connections, and I speak a little bit of German. It’d be much easier to learn and communicate in German than it would in something like Hungarian or Czech!!

PARIS

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So typical. Every time I think about living in Paris, I imagine myself sipping a cappuccino in a cafe while writing a book, speaking French to handsome waiters and taking evening strolls along  the Seine. I know that Parisian life is less romantic than we all make it out to be, but it’s undeniably more romantic than a lot of places. I wouldn’t want to be in Paris long-term because it has its issues too, but I think for anything under a year I would love pretending to be a Parisian. And maybe I could finally become 100% fluent in French! Honestly I don’t even feel the need to tell you the other reasons I want to live in Paris because who doesn’t have the same dream?

SHANGHAI

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Ah, Shanghai. My solo trip to China was full of firsts so I look back on the whole thing as an amazing memory and experience in my life. Shanghai is my fondest memory, though – despite the rain and my total exhaustion while I was there. Beijing was too smoggy, Datong too….everything, Xian too touristy, but Shanghai was just perfect. I obviously love big cities, and this is one of the biggest, but it’s so easy to get that small town feel in areas like the French Concession. There’s access to every amenity you could want, but you also get the feeling of being somewhere so exotic and cool. It’s VERY high up my list to learn Mandarin, and what better place? The airport can get you anywhere, the public transit system is practically flawless, the food is one of my favorite cuisines, and I really just want to walk along the Bund and see that skyline again.

BRISBANE

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This one is kind of cheating because I have already lived there. To be fair, I was 3. I have always felt a connection to Brisbane despite my foggy memories of the city; my desire to go back and revisit my childhood stomping grounds has only gotten stronger as I’ve understood more about travel. A working holiday visa for Australia is definitely on the cards for me; it’s a place full of places for me to see again and places for me to visit anew: Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania, Adelaide, Perth…the list goes on. Now it would be great if flights to Australia would stop costing like $6000. (Just kidding, you can find way better deals than that. Promise!)

BUCHAREST

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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 (with a very cute guide, which is always nice) 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.

NEW YORK CITY

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And yet another very typical response. I’ve been to New York four times now, and each time I remember why I love it so much. The hustle and bustle of this city makes you feel like anything is possible and it’s got the same reasoning behind it as Paris – it’s just so easy to imagine myself living that stereotypical 20-something life here, albeit with much less money than anyone I’ve wanted to emulate on Gossip Girl or Sex and the City. Even if it’s just for a month, I’d love to see what New York living is really like – I don’t think I could afford any longer than a month!!

TRIESTE

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This is also cheating. However, I only lived in Trieste for about a month and a half, and I’d like to experience actually living in my own apartment rather than feeling constantly uncomfortable in my au pair house and dreading the next day of work. Side note, I can’t believe I still haven’t written about au pairing! I’ve just added it to my to do list. My friend Pam, who blogs in Italian and English, lives in a gorgeous apartment in downtown Trieste and her life is basically what I would want to do next time. But about Trieste itself – what a shock this city was to me. When my au pair family said they were moving there I googled the location, thought, “Oh! Near Slovenia and Croatia! Ok cool!”, said yes, and then proceeded to move there. Trieste deftly combines Italian, Slovenian and Croatian influences into one melting pot of incredible coffee, a gorgeous main square, and the nicest people in Italy. This is where I learned Italian and the base I used to explore Venice, Verona, Ljubljana and more. Best of all – there’s only ever a fraction of the tourists that crowd the rest of Italy!

PRAGUE

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I have just noticed an interesting trend…four of these destinations (Prague, Vienna, Budapest and Bucharest are in Eastern Europe, or maybe Central depending on where you draw the line. I’d also consider Trieste pretty Eastern European. I had no idea I had even been to that many places in Central/Eastern Europe, much less that I wanted to live there!! Anyway, so Prague. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember the numerous disasters that befell me on my January 2015 trip to Prague. It still shocks me that I’m able to look back on Prague so fondly, considering that I felt like I was going to die, but I guess that really says something about the city. Honestly, my main reason for wanting to live in Prague is pretty stupid. There’s the cheap cost of living, great transit, same good connections as Vienna, beautiful architecture….but what I’m really interested in is the fact that it’s a winter wonderland. I may complain about winter every single day that I’m cold, but as a Canadian I’ll take shivering in my parka over sweating in my shorts any day. It sadly didn’t snow when I was in Prague, but it was still magical, and I’d love to spend the winter revelling in the magical feeling of Prague in winter. (Told you it was dumb).

ZANZIBAR

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Ah, Zanzibar. I spent 2 days in Stone Town and 3 days in Kendwa at the end of my recent trip to Tanzania. When I was little, I thought that Zanzibar was a made-up place because the name was so exotic and it sounded so cool (maybe also because I was stupid). However, Zanzibar is absolutely real and absolutely perfect. Kendwa was legitimately paradise. There are not enough positive words in the English language to describe how perfect the water is. I swam, lay on the beach, went to a full moon party, tried scuba diving, watched sunsets, and basically died over how great life was. I am too high-strung to live on an island paradise for long, but I can’t imagine anything better than settling down on Zanzibar (maybe even in Kendwa?) for a few months. I would get so tan and so happy. To quote my Instagram caption from the following photo, “Messy hair, messy heart, messy life, but it’s okay cause I’m in paradise.” I can’t think of anything that better sums up how I felt on this incredible island with so much culture to offer alongside its beauty.

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The Time I Got Robbed in Italy

Perugia. The name of the town in Italy’s Umbria region conjures up two things for me.

The memory of what was possibly the happiest and most idyllic time of my life; days by the pool and evenings by the fields, drinking wine and eating homemade Italian food.

And the very different memory of reaching into my bag in a bar to realize my wallet and phone were both gone; the horror of realizing I stupidly had no other way to access my money and all the tears as I tried to come to terms with how dumb I was.

I arrived in Perugia exhausted and kind of burnt out. I had booked four nights in a gorgeous farmhouse hostel, hoping to use it as a base for daytrips around Umbria. When I got there, I immediately abandoned the idea of daytrips. This farmhouse is the most perfect place I have ever seen and I had zero desire to leave.

The Pool

Oh my god this pool. I have never loved a place more. First of all, it was a kajillion degrees in Italy in August, so a pool was practically a necessity if I didn’t just want to be constantly crying about how hot it was. So I would have settled for practically anything…a 4 foot square plunge pool. ANYTHING.

Photo taken from the Perugia Farmhouse website

So to get this flawless pool was above and beyond. My favourite thing was the view – floating in this pool, gazing across the deck to the rolling hills of Umbria – it’s like every Tuscan stereotype you’ve ever imagined. Except that, you know, you’re in Umbria. And there are way fewer tourists.

Photo taken from the Perugia Farmhouse website

I spent an inordinate amount of time lounging by the pool, reading every single book in the hostel’s book exchange, getting the best tan I’ve ever had, and practicing my relaxation skills.

The Animals

As you may know, I will absolutely book a hostel solely because reviews mention that a dog lives there. (Case in point: Romania and Istanbul.) The farm has dogs, horses, goats, wild boars, and a bunch of other stuff. How could I say no?!

Walking up the road to the hostel for the first time, one of the hostel’s horses was galloping across a field and whinnying. I almost thought it couldn’t be real because it was such a perfect scene. At that instant, I knew this was a special place.

I have no photos of most of Perugia, because of the whole “my phone was stolen” thing.

The dogs are amazingly sweet even though they’re tied up most of the time, and staying on a farm was basically the coolest thing ever. Reading reviews, it sounds like you can take the dogs for walks and interact with the animals in other ways, but as you may have guessed I was too lazy and hot to do that.

The People

When I read reviews of the farmhouse before staying, almost every single one mentioned how awesome their fellow guests were and how much everyone bonded. I was hoping for the same experience, but with hostels you never know who’ll end up in your room.

Luckily, I hit the jackpot. The first lovely person I met in Perugia helped me figure out what bus stop to get off at, and even walked me all the way to the hostel’s door and then called the owners to make sure I got in safely. I love Italians. The owners were delightful, allowing me to extend my stay and then letting me wait until I got back to Canada to pay for my week-long stay.

The hostel also has a thriving volunteer program, where you can stay for free (minimum 1 month) and help out around the farm. They definitely worked hard, but  they also got to hang out with us guests, and they were so lovely. 

Me and Lauren, about twenty minutes before the robbery incident

And of course, the guests – I meet a lot of people travelling, but usually as far as the friendship goes is following eachother on social media and messaging every now and then. The people I met at this hostel are an exception; I’ve stayed with two of the people I met here: Lauren, who lives in London, and Andrew, who lives in Tokyo. It’s so great to stay in touch with (and actually hang out with!!) people who you meet on the road.

Lauren especially was such a lifesaver; when I got robbed she calmed me down, let me call my parents on her phone about 12 times, and lent me money. We had so much fun together and I’ll never forget how kind she was!!

What a great quality photo.

But my favourite part of the story:

In October (three months after my stuff was stolen) I checked that inbox on Facebook where all the random messages from spammers are. I was shocked to see a message from an Italian man, who had found my wallet (emptied of cash) in Perugia’s main square and turned it into the police station. The policeman messaged me on Facebook too (thank god for social media) and I immediately contacted him, and ended up getting it mailed to me, free of charge!! Nothing in it was of real value, but the wallet itself was a souvenir I had just bought in Morocco – and I couldn’t believe how kind all those people had been.

An experience that could have left a very bitter taste in my mouth turned into one of my favourite travel stories. Evidently I wish this hadn’t happened, but if I had to get robbed – I’m so glad it happened when I was with my favourite people and in my favourite place.

 

Two Very Different Trips to Rome

I visited Rome twice last summer. The first time, I flew in the early morning from Munich, running on 15 minutes of sleep and very hungover, to meet my parents in their gorgeous loft apartment in Trastavere. The second time, I flew from Dubrovnik to meet my friend Brooke (who also featured in my Venice post), and checked into a weird and confusing hostel/hostel that was the last one available (that I could afford, anyway). These two very different beginnings were just the start of what would be two completely different trips, but both of them would be so fantastic in their own ways.

I love travelling with my parents for many reasons, several of which are selfish. The kind of accommodation they pick is always amazing and exactly what I would go for if my budget was about 10 times higher. We often rent a car, which is awesome and a nice change considering my lack of a license. They like to splurge on wonderful meals, while left to my own devices I’ll feel guilty every time I do that.

But most importantly, they’re just great to travel with! My dad is basically a tour guide and gives me history lessons everywhere we go, my mom is the queen of logistics, and even if I want to kill them for 50% of the trip the other 50% is so great and fun that it’s all I remember.

I also love travelling with Brooke. No matter where we are or what we’re doing, we have the best time. I’m actually visiting her in London in January, and we are very excited to have adventures in another country. Our priorities tend to drift away from sightseeing and  toward….fun. I.e. pub crawls.

Anyway, these two trips combined made me feel like I really saw both sides of Rome. The eternal city has so much to offer and although I definitely want to go back, you can certainly see Rome in a few days.

The Cultured Trip to Rome

Without a doubt, my favourite part of Rome was Trastavere. The apartment my parents booked was literally a dream Italian apartment. It was tiny, especially for three people, but just dripping with charm. The loft, the furnishings, the terrace draped in plants and flowers – it was all perfect. If Rome’s attractions didn’t have such a draw, it would have been impossible for us to tear ourselves away.

But tear away we did! A lot of it was spent wandering our neighborhood, especially for meals. One of my favourite memories of Rome is the mornings – me and my mom would wander out before the city was awake, trying to find cappuccini to bring home as we got ready for the day. It was magical, like cities always are that early in the morning, and spending that time with my mom made it even more special.

One of the most gorgeous spots we found on our wanderings was Gianicolo Hill. We went up there for sunset and the views were unbelievable.

Anyway, Trastavere isn’t why most people go to Rome (although I think it should be). The rich Roman history that is still omnipresent in the city is why most people go. I’ve recently become super into history, but during this trip I still felt kind of meh. I’ve also been way more interested in Greek history than Roman history for my whole life, so I wasn’t particularly drawn to Roman sites.

However, I obviously wasn’t going to go to Rome and skip seeing the Colosseum. Due to the insane heat and insane lines, my family signed up for a semi-private tour via Italy With Us – the Colosseum & Ancient Rome tour. Our guide was fairly so-so, but it was awesome to skip lines and we got to wear some super-cute headset thingies (sarcasm).

I think now, even though it’s only been a year and a half, I would get a lot more out of this tour – at the time, I was just looking at the pretty sights rather than listening to the history. We walked through the Roman Forum with its incredible ruins, the Colosseum with its gory past, and then up the Palatine Hill with its breathtaking views of the city.

Randomly, one of my favourite sites was the Pantheon. As usual, I knew absolutely nothing about it but my father tried his best to educate me. Despite the crowds it was a gorgeous site!

One day, my parents went out to see Ostia Antica (more ruins, just outside the city) and I wasn’t super interested so I spent the day aimlessly wandering. The main thing I wanted was to get a view over the city, so I went to the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, a giant white monstrosity. Apparently it’s a very controversial site because it doesn’t match the aesthetic of the city, but it’s got a gorgeous view!

The Party Trip to Rome

Embarrassingly, I didn’t do a single ounce of sightseeing my second time in Rome. Brooke was there for her first time, so before I arrived she packed in all the stuff I had already seen with my parents. When I got there, we decided to sign up for a pub crawl – Rome’s Ultimate Party, to be specific. $25 gets you a shirt (which we forgot to pick up), an hour of unlimited pre-drinks, and admission to a huge open-air club.

It was so nice to indulge in a classic night of going out with a friend from home; it felt so normal and was exactly what I needed. We had so much to catch up on and even before the crawl started we had such a blast getting ready and dancing around our hostel room.

Also, look at my tan. Yessss.

The pub crawl itself was obviously wild. The people were mainly from the UK, North America, Australia, New Zealand…etc. To be honest it’s a little foggy but they ordered us pizza (yum) and the open air club was as amazing as promised. However, immediately upon arrival I tripped up a flight of stairs and cracked my knee SO hard. It was sore for like a week, which was the second time I had hurt that knee on this trip.

My main problem with the pub crawl was the end. Very late (maybe 3AM?) we decided to head back to our hostels and wandered out to the street. We had been escorted to the club and so hadn’t been paying attention to how we got there. Luckily one of the hostel workers was leaving at the same time, because apparently we had to take two separate buses home.

If she hadn’t been leaving with us we would have been totally screwed; nobody explained how to get back downtown from this club in the middle of nowhere. Our phones were dead and we didn’t have internet anyway. Even with directions, we felt extremely uncomfortable; the only people on the streets of Rome at 3AM on a Monday night are drunk backpackers and very sketchy people. We made it home, but it was a trek and I was genuinely afraid for my safety multiple times.

The next morning, we spent several hours looking around for brunch because all I wanted was eggs benedict. We failed.

Looking back on these trips, it’s like they happened in totally different cities. Rome may not have been my favorite city in Italy (Verona, Trieste and Cortona all take that honor) but how could you skip Rome? It’s hypnotizing and dreamy.

Living the High Life in Lake Como and Switzerland

Before I went to Lake Como, the one thing I knew I wanted to see was…George Clooney’s house. Sometimes I amaze myself with my shallowness. To be fair, I didn’t know a ton about Lake Como – and it’s not really a place for visiting attractions. Most people go to Como to relax and indulge, so that’s exactly what I did.

On a weekend trip from my au pairing gig in Pavia (just outside Milan), I headed for Como. The journey took two trains and a long ferry ride, but I can sleep on literally any train in the world and the ferry ride was one of the most beautiful ever. So I was pretty okay with it. Direct quote from my travel journal: “I just successfully put liquid eyeliner on on a moving train and I don’t know if I can top that as the greatest thing I’ve ever done.” I stand by that.

Also, having a respite from a screaming mother and crying children was pretty great. I can’t waito write a post about my …well, let’s say interesting au pair experience. Back to the ferry ride. I bought a ticket for the slow option, which would take me to Menaggio and my chosen hostel.

Several hours and only 10 Euros later, I hopped off the ferry feeling like I had already experienced an entire getaway. Sitting on the boat, eavesdropping on the adorable British family in front of me and trying to catch a glimpse of George Clooney was so relaxing. It’s not often that getting to your destination is one of the best parts of a trip, but in this case it sure was!

20150627_175019 20150627_165738 20150627_094508After passing a ton of amazing towns and wishing I was staying there, Menaggio needed to be pretty awesome for me to be blown away. It somehow succeeded! I may not have had much choice in where to stay, since there aren’t a lot of hostels, but I still made the right choice.

There are three main towns clustered around the centre of the lake: Menaggio, Bellagio and Varenna. Bellagio is packed with extremely rich people and designer shops. I do remember liking Varenna, but the sleepy vibe of Menaggio and the incredible sunsets (see next picture) took it leaps and bounds above the others. I met up with some fellow au pairs at La Primula Hostel and we revelled in the million dollar views that we were getting for around 20 Euros a night.

img_20150627_211818Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures of the hostel view – some of my pictures were among the bunch I lost when my phone was stolen in Perugia. Trust me when I say it is everything you want in a hostel view. It also has awesome food, gelato, and hookups for tons of activities. My au pair friends rented a boat one day and took it out, while I went to explore the other towns for an afternoon.

img_20150627_10142120150627_092724 20150627_082719That’s the main attraction here – it’s so easy to get between the different towns! I’d love to spend more time and see the villages further afield, and also maybe I just miss La Primula hostel.

My only other real activity in Como was a casual morning spent in Switzerland. So cool, right?! We literally decided that morning that we’d hop a bus to Lugano and explore, so we teamed up with some Americans staying in the hostel and made the trip. Again, all my pictures are gone except one, but it was pretty beautiful and exactly what I expected of Switzerland – 8 dollar cappuccino and all. It was certainly very Italian, however, and all it really made me want to do was see more of Switzerland.

20150628_113141One of my most pleasant memories of Como was a night spent drinking wine and enjoying amazing pasta, alone in the main piazza of Menaggio. I used to be so uncomfortable with going to restaurants alone, but so much solo travel has taught me how to really enjoy the experience. This was a particularly special evening, alone with my thoughts, and I really love reading back through my journal (which I always write in while I’m eating alone). My descriptions of the beauty around me and my reflections on myself and my travels get progressively more funny as I drink more wine.

I always find it hard to leave places I love, but in this case it was a particular challenge. I felt so relaxed in Como, had met so many lovely people, and was really dreading going back to my au pair family. On the plus side, in a few days we’d be packing up and moving to Trieste – a city I would quickly come to love.

Arrivederci Canada!

After months of planning and counting down, today is the day that I take off on my greatest adventure yet. If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll probably know (at least vaguely) my plans since I won’t shut up about them, and if I know you in real life then I’m certain you’ve been subjected to my raving excitement. I wrote my last exam of my third year of university this morning, hopped in the car and drove home to Dartmouth for last minute packing and panicking – and in a few hours we’ll be off to the airport. To recap, I’ll be travelling for around 2 weeks with my sister (London, Paris, Istanbul, Budapest, Barcelona, Costa Brava) then another week with my friend Erika (Lisbon and Porto). Once she leaves, I’m a solo traveller once again in Lagos and Seville, and then I’m spending a totally open-ended month in Morocco.

Possibly the greatest feat of my life so far (I hope I’m exaggerating) has been fitting almost five months worth of stuff into a carry-on size backpack: it remains to be seen how effective a job I did, but I feel quite pleased with the amount of stuff I was able to cram in.  Seriously, you would not believe what packing cubes can do for you – look out for tomorrow’s post all about what I’m taking and how I made it all work. I’m prepared for beach days in Portugal, staying modest in Morocco, frolicking the Italian countryside, and much more. In honor of my departure, today I thought I’d share the ten things I’m most excited for this summer…and believe me, this list was almost impossible to pare down.

1. Climbing the Erg Chebbi dunes in Morocco

2. Gliding down the Danube on a river cruise in Budapest

3. Seeing the Lion King in the West End of London

4. City Wonders Evening Eiffel Tower and VIP Champagne Seine Cruise in Paris

5. Getting to know the Italian family I’m au pairing for

6. Trekking the Atlas Mountains in Morocco

7. Hiking Cinque Terre with my parents

8. Experiencing the medieval beauty of Seville

9. Pretending I’m a princess in Sintra, Portugal

10. Admiring intricate mosques in Istanbul, Turkey

I’ll obviously be blogging on the road, hopefully without much delay as I travel. I’ve also been given a SIM card from MTX Connect that I can use with data all across Europe so rest assured I will be blowing up your Instagram – I know you were worried. I can’t wait to share (and experience) some crazy adventures and I hope you follow along and see what ridiculous situations I get myself into on this trip! Let’s cross our fingers for no norovirus, less of a language barrier (although I’d love to pick up some more Spanish and some Arabic) and lots and lots of fun.

I’ll also be working on the road with my new Virtual Assistant business: my very first experience in making money while I travel! I’ve been loving working with clients so far and I’m excited to see how the business grows.

Arrivederci Canada!

 

The Next Adventure: A Summer in Italy

It’s almost exam season here at Acadia and I’m so excited to get this semester over with and head off to Antigua for Christmas. I’ve been so busy with final projects and I can’t wait to get back to blogging more often.

You should have already noticed my first piece of exciting news – I redesigned my site! I bought a brand new theme from Amanda at The Suitcase Designs (she also blogs at Living in Another Language) and I couldn’t be happier with the result. I think it looks much cleaner and I’d love to know if you agree!

Next, I have some even more exciting news – I’m moving to Italy for the summer!! Ever since I found Ashley’s blog and read about her experiences as an au pair in France I’ve wanted to au pair in Europe…and I’m making that dream come true! If you don’t know what an au pair is, it’s basically a live-in nanny. I’ll be living with an Italian family and helping take care of their children! Italy has been at the top of my bucket list literally since I can remember and I don’t know how I’m going to get through the winter semester considering how excited I already am. My plans have provided some handy procrastinating tools – I can map out some weekend trips, and figure out what I’m going to do for the month of May!

MAY

My contract doesn’t start until the beginning of June, and I have no intention of lazing about at home for the month prior to my trip. However, I also can’t go in the Schengen Zone (for visa purposes) which encompasses almost every country in Europe. Therefore, my very rough potential itinerary includes the randomest of places:

  • Ireland
  • Scotland
  • London
  • Morocco
  • Turkey
  • Bulgaria
  • Romania

I’m trying to convince my sister to come with me, but whether she goes with me or I’m travelling solo, I’m so excited for this part of the adventure. We’ll see how drastically my plans change, but for now it looks like I’ll be knocking off a few bucket list destinations!

JUNE

The family is based in Pavia, which is about 20 minutes outside of Milan. During this month the kids will be in school, so I’ll be watching them before and after. This leaves me most of the day free, as well as every weekend!  Pavia is a gorgeous university town, and Milan is utterly breathtaking. The thought of living 20 minutes from MILAN is astonishing – I can’t wait.

JULY/AUGUST

In the summer, the family I’m working for packs up and goes to Trieste, where the father works. I had never heard of Trieste, but the first time I googled it I was shocked at its location. It’s a beautiful port town that’s basically in Slovenia, which will give me some great opportunities to explore both Slovenia and Croatia.

Look out for a summer full of posts on European weekend trips, the daily life of an au pair, and much, much more! While this trip won’t be the easiest on my budget, how could I pass up a summer of free room and board in Italy? This will be an incredible opportunity to explore Italy and Europe itself…now to get through the brutal Canadian winter.