2015 TRAVELLING: The year in review

rome33

Another year, another fourteen trips!

  • In January we were pleasantly surprised by sunny days in Lisbon – perfect for sipping green wine.
  • In February we spent Valentine’s Day in beautiful Paris.
  • In March I took the most amazing photos in Rome – I can’t believe it took me over 10 years to go back!
  • In April we spent a few days in a lovely flat at the heart of Vienna – and had a quick stop in Bratislava.
  • I also visited my friend in Edinburgh and discovered a few new great places for a pint.
  • In May I battled the crowds to visit the amazing ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum.
  • Later in the month we went back to Venice for another amazing Biennale – and stayed in the best Airbnb ever!

brasov19.jpg

  • In June we discovered Lithuania is great for craft beers.
  • In July my friend got married in Toronto – and off we went for our Transatlantic adventure of the year!
  • Also in July we visited Warsaw and Krakow – Poland is so nice and so cool!
  • In August I went back to Berlin to get my annual fix of their amazing brunches.
  • In September we crossed Transylvania by train – from Romania to Hungary with many stops along the way!
  • In November we were greeted like kings in Turkey – from Pamukkale to Ephesus and Istanbul.
  • In December we had cheap tapas and wine with friends in Madrid.

What a wonderful year – I can’t wait to see what 2016 has to offer!

berlin02.jpg

Advertisements

RED WINE AND CHEAP TAPAS: A weekend in Madrid

madrid 01

We went to Madrid to meet up with a couple of friends who were travelling around Spain. We arrived on a Friday right after lunch and, after taking the metro to the city centre, we set off exploring.

Our first stop was 100 Montaditos, a tapas chain where each of the 100 varieties of little sandwiches costs just 1€.

madrid 10

We then made our way to Retiro, a beautiful park where crowds gather to watch the sunset over the lake. It is a massive place where you can spend a few hours wandering around and taking nice photos.

madrid 03

madrid 08

For dinner we went to trendy vegan place Vega, where the food was just amazing. You really need to book in advance though, because the place is small and gets quite busy. Dinner for two including drinks and tip cost 50€.

We ended our night at San Gines, a popular churros place where all you order is some hot chocolate and a massive plate of churros to dunk (6€). It was really nice, but portions are huge so it’s best to share.

madrid 05

We started our second day in the city by walking to Museo del Prado. They have an amazing collection, including Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights which was great. Tickets cost 14€.

After exploring the museum for a couple of hours we stopped for lunch at Piccolino della Farfalla which served nice homemade Italian food.

madrid 12

We then headed to the Royal Palace, wandering around the streets of the city centre along the way. Everywhere you go there are lots of nice cafes, bars and restaurants serving cheap tapas and good wine, and in the evenings they all get really lively and busy.

Near the Royal Palace is the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple which was rescued from flooding and rebuilt in Madrid. Admission is free.

madrid 14

After resting at the hotel for a bit, we had dinner at Taberna de Lucio, which is famous for its fried eggs with chips. It was nice, if not particularly veggie-friendly.

We finally stopped at Naturbier brewery for a nightcap before heading back to the hotel.

madrid 16

We started our last day in Madrid visiting Picasso’s Guernica at Reina Sofia museum. It’s a great place for seeing masterpieces by Dali, Miro and Picasso. Tickets cost 8€, but we got in free as there were national elections on.

Before heading to the airport we stopped at San Miguel market for lunch. This is a great and popular place for trying lots of local dishes. We had veggie paella (7€), a generous portion of mixed olives (3.5€) and wine (3€ for a glass) and then it was time to head back.

madrid 11

Madrid is the perfect place for a chilled city break!

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We flew with Norwegian as they had the cheapest options, but there are plenty of other alternatives. Flights from London take about 2h.
  • Stay: We stayed at Room Mate Alicia because my friends were staying there. It was good and centrally located. A room cost £76 per night for two.
  • Transportation: Madrid has a good metro network. Tickets start from 1.5€, but you can also buy different types of passes. There is a 3€ surcharge to go to the airport (the journey there takes about 40 minutes from the city centre). Around the centre most places can be reached on foot.

madrid 13

madrid 15

madrid 04

madrid 06

madrid 02

madrid 07

madrid 09

GRAND MOSQUES AND ANCIENT PALACES: One day in Istanbul

istanbul 06

We knew one day wouldn’t be enough to see Istanbul properly, so we got up early to cover as much ground as possible.

Our first stop was Topikapi Palace (tickets cost 30TL per person). This is an impressive palace where you get a good understanding of the life of sultans. The Harem is amazing (tickets cost an extra 15TL), with room after room decorated with intricate patterns from floor to ceiling. You need a few hours to go through everything.

istanbul 24

This is also a great place to get views over the Bosphorus.

We then walked to Hagia Sophia, a monumental display of both Christian and Muslim faith. Tickets cost 30TL. Right across is the famous Blue Mosque. There are set times for tourists to visit, so we only managed to see it from the outside.

istanbul 09

In the afternoon we visited the Grand Bazaar. This is a great place to buy presents: there are lots of options for ceramic tiles, lamps, jewellery and much more.

istanbul 07

Prices were really cheap, and you can get discounts by bargaining a bit. This was a much more manageable experience than the souks in Marrakesh – most things had prices on them and shopkeepers were friendly but not pushy.

This was all we had time for in one day – I will definitely come back for more!

istanbul 01

Food:

Turkish food is great for vegetarians. There are lots of meze options (stuffed vine leaves, hummus, salads, etc) and many places offered some kind of vegetable stew as a main dish. The local pizza (pide) was really yummy.

In Istanbul there are lots of little cafes where you can choose a selection of small dishes from a buffet. These are a good and cheap alternative for lunch. Baklavas, ice cream and Turkish delights shops are everywhere, with impressive displays of delicious sweets.

istanbul 03

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: Turkish Airlines have the cheapest flights from London. The flight takes a little under 4h. There are two airports in Istanbul – we used Sabiha Gokcen which was on the Asian side of the city and a bit tricky to get to, so Ataturk airport would be a better alternative.
  • Stay: We stayed at Basileus Hotel in Sultanahmet. This was a good hotel but there are plenty of options around. Sultanahmet is definitely the best area to stay, as you are within walking distance from many local highlights. It’s also near tram and metro stops.

istanbul 08

istanbul 02

istanbul 04

istanbul 05

 

THERMAL POOLS MADE OF COTTON: A magic day in Pamukkale

pamukkale 02

I’ve been obsessed with Pamukkale ever since I discovered some amazing photos online. These natural hot springs that flow through calcareous rock pools just seemed too incredible to be real!

We had a whole day to explore, so we started off going up the terraces in the morning. The water is warm at the top terraces, but as you move down it can be quite cold (I imagine in the summer that wouldn’t be a problem).

pamukkale 08

pamukkale 01

pamukkale 07

After reaching the top of the terraces, we spent a couple of hours exploring the ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis.

The place is really beautiful and you get great views of the mountains and valley below. The highlight is the impressive theatre, which looks really amazing, especially as we got there just before sunset.

pamukkale 15

pamukkale 18

pamukkale 21

pamukkale 20

Another great thing to do is swimming in the Ancient Pool (also known as Cleopatra’s pool), where you can spend a couple of hours lounging about in the warm water among ancient columns.

At the end of the day we walked back down the travertine terraces, stopping to warm up our feet in the thermal pools along the way.

pamukkale 28

pamukkale 27

pamukkale 26

What makes Pamukkale really memorable is that you have ancient ruins, natural pools and an ancient bath all in the same place, with a great view in the background – it just adds up to a very unique experience. When we were walking back to our hostel, I knew this had been a day to remember!

pamukkale 12

Outside the natural reserve, Pamukkale is little more than one road with a few restaurants and shops. When we visited it was dead empty, but at our hotel they said this has been a very quiet year.

We had dinner at Kayas on our first night and went back again the next day. The food was nice and cheap – dinner for two including drinks and tip for about £20.

pamukkale 22

pamukkale 25

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We took the bus from Izmir to Denizli, which took about 3h and cost 24TL per person. On the bus we had free snacks and a TV in every seat. From Denizli a shuttle bus takes you to Pamukkale for 3.5TL. Denizli also has a local airport with flights to Istanbul (takes about 1h). The shuttle from Pamukkale to the airport costs 30TL per person. All of the transportation we sorted out on the day, asking at the hotel and at stations.
  • Stay: We stayed at Sinter Terasse, a nice place about 10 minutes from the entrance of the reserve. The hostess was really friendly and helpful. A room for two including breakfast costs about £25 per night.
  • The natural reserve: Tickets cost 25TL per person. The Ancient Pool costs an extra 35TL per person, but it’s definitely worth it. We visited in November, when it gets quite cold in the evenings, but during the day it was a perfect 20 degrees.  It was also a good time to visit as we had most of it to ourselves.

pamukkale 04

pamukkale 16

pamukkale 13

pamukkale 11

pamukkale 14

pamukkale 23

pamukkale 29

pamukkale 09

pamukkale 03

pamukkale 10

pamukkale 17

pamukkale 19

pamukkale 05

pamukkale 06

 

MARBLE ROADS IN SUNNY NOVEMBER: Ephesus and Izmir

 

ephesus22

We flew from London to Istanbul and got straight into another plane to Izmir. Izmir is the third largest city in Turkey, but our main objective was visit nearby Ephesus.

Ephesus:

ephesus12

Getting there was a bit tricky, but Ephesus was really amazing. This ancient Roman city is a Unesco Heritage site, and it’s right up there with Petra and Pompeii.

It was a lovely day in November, and mild temperatures made it perfect for exploring. There are many impressive buildings around, but the massive theatre with capacity for 25,000 people, and Celsius Library were the most impressive.

ephesus11

Among marble roads and Corinthian columns, you can easily spend hours walking around. When we visited there was hardly anyone there, which was just perfect!

After seeing all the sights we had a light meal at a cafe by the entrance and left just in time to get the last bus pack to the station.

ephesus28

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: It was quite tricky getting the bus from Izmir to Ephesus. You can but a ticket (10TL each way) from a travel agent in the city centre (we used Pamukkale which was good). You are then directed to a free shuttle service which takes you to the bus station (these are also available on the way back to the city centre, from the platform with local buses). The bus station was massive, but there were no clear signs anywhere and people didn’t speak more than a few words in English. We asked around a few times and were pointed to all different places, but eventually managed to find the right bus to take us to Selçuk (the city next to Ephesus). This ended up taking longer than expected, but once we found the right bus it was okay. Although Izmir is only one hour from Selçuk, you need the whole day to allow plenty of time for travelling.
  • Selçuk to Ephesus: Ephesus is about 3kn from the city centre. You can take a taxi, walk or take a local bus (2.5TL) from the centre. We walked there and took the bus back, both of which were fine.
  • Tickets: We bought the ticket which included entrance to both the main site and the terraced houses (40TL). The terraced houses are a great highlight so it’s definitely worth paying a bit more to see them.

ephesus24

ephesus29

ephesus15

Izmir:

There isn’t that much to do in Izmir itself, but the promenade by the bay is a great place to go for dinner.

We found Kosebasi, a nice Turkish restaurant with the kind of hospitality you only find in places tourists haven’t colonised yet. The food was really good, and we also tried the local spirit (raki, which is similar to ouzo although you should not say that to any locals), which I regretted straight away. Dinner for two including drinks and tip for 150TL (a bit expensive for local prices but definitely worth it).

HOW TO DO IT:

  • Go: We flew from Istanbul to Izmir with local budget airline Pegasus. Tickets start from only £13 and the flight takes about 1h.
  • Stay: We found a good deal and stayed at the Movenpick, which was located right by the bay. We had Swedish massages at the spa (175TL for 1h, but we got 1/3 off) which were really great. The spa also includes a gym and swimming pool, free to use. We paid £50 per night including a yummy breakfast. Bargain!

ephesus08

ephesus10

ephesus19

ephesus20

ephesus33

ephesus31

ephesus27

ephesus32

ephesus18

ephesus21

ephesus35

ephesus30

ephesus09

ephesus25

ephesus17

ephesus26

ephesus14

ephesus23

ephesus16

ephesus34

ephesus13