Travel Diaries: North to South to North through East
I have recently finished my studies in Leeds, Northern England and had to make the choice of where to next. Should I stay or should I go? I wish this was only a catchy song, but at this point it seems to be the hit phrase of my life. My journey seemed uncertain at first, but I had an itinerary for three destinations and my past year in two suitcases and a rucksack. The two former staying with a friend in England and the latter one accompanying me on my journey.
My first stop was just a skip away, as a convenient direct flight from Manchester took me to Split in Southern Croatia. Split is a popular tourist destination due to its convenient location, early medieval and Roman architecture and fabulous weather. However, I was staying in Trogir, which is just opposite Split and even though smaller, it is just as much of a little treasure box, and it is only 28 km away from the home of Diocletian’s Palace aka the city of Split. Three plus one reasons to stay in Trogir and the nearby tourist apartments instead of Split:
• Bigger is not always better, at least when it comes to popular tourist destinations - While Split may be beckoning with its Roman streets and historic buildings, it can be quite daunting to face the crowd day by day. If you want to escape the busy city life and relax, but be in reach of Split and the Romans, then Trogir is the place to be.
• Smaller doesn’t always mean eventless - When the clock hits ten in the morning and one wants to get to the town centre from the neighbouring apartment houses by car, a two hour wait is in order. However, the morning market worth the wait, or depending on where you are based, you may as well walk to Trogir town centre and catch a glimpse of the endless homemade goods.
• A hint of glamour - Trogir is big enough to have its own harbour, and like all coastal towns it sleeps some nice yachts over the night. Not only that, but they also have some local clubs along the harbour, so you could be dancing to the summer’s Croatian hit music, while slurping on an ice cold pivo and looking at luxurious yachts.
• Mediterranean serenity - Are you a nature walker? No problem! Everyone finds their match here, the Krka National Pis only 40 km away by car, and here you can take a dip in one of the cleanest and clearest waters I have ever seen.
• Must taste - Burek the layered pastry looking like a pizza, filled with either cottage cheese, apples or meat.
Fast forward two weeks later, which flew by sooner than the number of sunny days one gets to live through in Wales, and I was on my way to Budapest the Hungarian capital of Eastern Europe. Budapest is a mix of a little bit of everything. The language is nothing like the Slavic languages surrounding the tiny country, the food may seem to follow a mix of German and Slavic traits, and when it comes to relaxation you may enjoy the countless baths that are the relics of a 200 years long relationship with the Ottoman Empire. The list of cultural tapestries goes on and on, but what makes Budapest really Budapest then, you ask? Well, besides many other things, one word - ruins, and I am not talking about the ones that were once built by the Romans, but a much more contemporary scenery.
• The Ruin Bars of Budapest - There are a plethora of places one can choose from when looking for ruin bars. However, most of you may end up in the bigger places, which are not to be dissed, because they have become successful for a reason. The list of these currently include Szimpla Kert and Fogasház, which are the two biggest and most touristy ruin bars in the city.
• Fogasház - Ever since Fogasház was extended into an even bigger place with multiple dance floors catering to fans of different genres of music, it has been taking a real effort to get in, so much so that I still haven’t been able to take a peek. Waiting to get in may take an hour depending on what time of the day you go, and if you want to skip the line to check the place out before the party starts, then it worth going when it opens in the evening to enjoy a beer in one of the many dark corners on once neglected sofas. However, if you don’t mind the queue then you are in for a treat of all night dancing in the biggest ruin bar of Budapest.
• Szimpla Kert - This charming bar was once the first ruin bar to open its doors to the public, and is up to date one of the most popular ones. You can also go here during the day and enjoy a meal or coffee while freelancing on your laptop. The building, just like most turn of the century houses in Budapest has an inner courtyard, where every Sunday of the month a farmer’s market opens with stalls of organic bread, dairy and meat products. So, if organic food for breakfast in a ruin bar with frothy cappuccinos and chic alternative music is something you fancy, then you are welcome. What happens when the night falls? Similarly to Fogasház, there may be a queue to get in, you can see live bands playing in one of the smaller rooms, and there is usually a DJ spinning something along the lines of hip-electro-swing music, so your most comfortable shoes are a must haves here too.
• Off the beaten path - There are, of course, quite a few lesser known places that are frequented mostly by Hungarians or expats living the life in Budapest. Here is a few listed below:
Kék Ló - Small, quirky, a bit hidden
Beat on The Brat - Dancing, live DJ, indie music
Hintaló Iszoda - Rum, Whisky, cool
Dzzs Bar - Little wooden tables, café like feeling, hip
• Must taste - Fröccs is basically a wine spritzer, but you can give the bartender directions on the ratio of the wine and soda, while in Szimpla you can also ask them to add a couple slices of orange and some berries to make it taste more like a fresh lemonade. However, if you are not a big fan of wine, then you can ask for some local craft beers, and don’t even get me started on the number of craft beer bars Budapest is home to, but more about this in maybe an upcoming article ;)
The time has come for me to say my goodbyes, and fly to the bigger, but apparently German version of Budapest - Berlin. However, I had not arrived to my final destination just yet, and I didn’t plan on staying in Berlin too long this time, so after a mere four hour break I was on the floor of a rather packed train for three hours and on my way to Germany’s ‘Gateway to the World’ - Hamburg.
• Dogs - Whether you are planning a shopping spree in the city centre, or just feel like popping in to check out the latest picks in fast fashion while you are walking your dog, either way you are welcome to take your fury friend with you. Not a dog owner just yet, but fond of the little four legged ones? No problem, if you keep roaming the stores it is guaranteed you’ll come across one of them, while their owner is looking at the goods.
• Mind the path - Turning the famous ‘All roads lead to Rome’ around a little here, a bike path takes you anywhere would be more accurate. However, you better watch out when being a pedestrian, because the bike paths are located on the sidewalks.
• Sunday rest instead of Sunday roast - On Sundays all shops are closed, no, I am not joking. There is something romantic about this, if you think back to older times when the seventh day of the week was indeed dedicated to resting. However, when you are used to being able to buy food each day of the week then you may make the same mistake I have done a few times by now, which is to completely forget about this and almost starve to death waiting for Monday to come like opening presents on Christmas Eve.
• For the party animals - Reeperbahn, the fame of which was sang by many poets in earlier times too, is the city's red light district as well as home to some of the cheapest bars or even clubs without an admission fee. The clubs are situated in a little street off the busier part of the main avenue, where the red lights are, so no need to worry about mixing the two up. However, this is of course, not the only part of the city where you can go out. There are plenty of clubs such as the Bunker on Feldstrasse, or other alternative clubs for electronic music, but I am still discovering these myself :)
• Alternative bars - Of course, there are many districts in Hamburg and each has their own little bars, so if you are in favour of the Budapest-style ruin bars with hip music, then Sternschanze or even Altona can be your destination for a drink.
• Bike lovers - This city is pretty much amazing when it comes to its public bike system. You may pay 5€ and off you go, for a year you can use the public bike system! It's available in all central areas, and I mean really anywhere, thanks to the ever present safe bike paths on the side walks.
• The Gateway to the World - Indeed, there are quite a few international communities you can join to as a new expat including Couchsurfing, Meetup, Internations and various Facebook group events. Thanks to these you may also find free Jazz gigs on Mondays for instance ;)
• Elbphilharmonie - If you are a fan of breath taking architectural masterpieces and classical music, then the recently opened Elbphilharmonie is your dream come true. With its stunning structure emerging in the harbour as if it was some castle from another world, this beauty is a must see at least from the outside.
• Must taste - Imitation is the sincerest form of adoration, and so it happened that Hamburgians tried to copy the French croissant, but added some delicious cinnamon to it and the Franzbrötchen was born. And in all honesty, I think it is for the better that they failed to copy the French pastry, because this stuff is just perfect as it is!
As I am new to Hamburg, I am still discovering it, but besides the lively international milieu, red light district, and busy everydays, what I also like about the city is that it has space. You never feel like you are being crushed when taking the underground on your way home from work, or that the buses are going to sweep you off the road when getting on a bike.
In conclusion, you never know where life takes you, but you have to stay open, accept what it has to bring to you and try to follow your heart while pursuing your dreams. I came to Hamburg to find my gateway job to advertising, and even though I am still looking, life has already brought me some pleasant surprises since I am here, and I am certain that there will be many more.
Disclaimer: This is by no means a complete list of must sees and dos in each city, but rather the little bits and bobs from a personal perspective that I wanted to highlight for you dear reader.