We took the train from Prague to Brno. It is the second city in the Czech Republic and has become quite popular recently. As we only had the afternoon to explore, we dropped our bags at the hotel and headed off.
Our first stop was Soul Bistro, a cool cafe and restaurant serving delicious food with plenty of veggie options (lunch for three including drinks and tip for 600 CZK).
We then headed to the Old Town centre and checked out the sights. We climbed the tower at the Old Town Hall (tickets for 70 CZK per person) to get great views over the city centre.
From there we checked out the Cabbage Market (the main town square) and Peter and Paul Cathedral. After wandering around in the rain a bit more, we stopped for a quick drink at the cute Jedna Basen (drinks for three for 127 CZK including tip). Then it was time to head back to the hotel and pack up again.
Brno is not as beautiful as Prague, but it is an interesting city. There’s a good amount of street art and lots of cool bars and restaurants. It is also definitely cheaper than Prague and much less touristy, so the appeal are the local places which feel more authentic and just nice places to go rather than traditional Czech places.
HOW TO DO IT:
- Go: Brno is best visited as part of a trip around the region (I wouldn’t stay more than one day). From both Prague and Vienna you can take regular trains which take less than three hours and cost less than 15€.
- Stay: We stayed at Efi Hotel (we paid 76€ for three people), which was located just off the city centre but was nice, spacious and cheap. They offered a free glass of wine on arrival and free taxi rides to the centre and back. Breakfast was also included.
We took the ferry from Helsinki to Tallinn for the day. After exploring the Old Town for a bit, we stopped for lunch at V, a vegan restaurant that was ideally located in the city centre and had the best food (lunch for two including drinks and tip for 30€).
Our next stop was St Olaf’s church – you can climb up the tower to get amazing views over the centre and the bay. Tickets cost only 2€ per person, so it’s definitely worth a go.
We continued exploring the city centre, finding the Orthodox cathedral and another viewing point nearby. We stopped for a drink at Bogapott, then explored some more of the little corners and alleyways of the Old Town (which is a Unesco Heritage site).
We stopped at the Holy Spirit church, went across St Catherine’s passage and then climbed up Hellemann tower and walls (tickets cost 3€ per person). We then headed to Cafe Inspiration for some more yummy vegan food (a light dinner for two including drinks and tip for 26€) before getting back on the ferry to Helsinki.
Tallinn is definitely worth a visit – what a picturesque place!
HOW TO DO IT:
- Getting there: Helsinki and Tallinn are very close, so you can take one of the many ferries available. We chose Linda Line which seemed to have the fastest options (1h30 on the way there and about two hours on the way back). Prices can go up, so it’s best to book in advance (we paid about 40€ return per person). We left Helsinki on the 10am ferry and took the 8pm service on the way back, which gave us plenty of time to explore.
- Money: Tallinn is very cheap as compared to nearby Helsinki. Drinks at the Old Town for about 3-4€.
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!
- 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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!