Last week was North America, and this week we start with Europe! My instagram page, @my100by40, is updated daily with a different theme related to the continent in focus of the week:
- Monday’s: An Underrated Gem
- Tuesday’s: A Place I Would Return to
- Wednesday’s: A UNESCO Site
- Thursday’s: Most Impressive Place
- Friday’s: A Photo in Nature
- Saturday’s: A Photo of Architecture
- Sunday’s: My Most Favourite Place
Ok. I cheated with this one. Europe is definitely my favourite continent. Out of the 46 nations that make up Europe (Russia and Cyprus included, Turkey excluded), I have been to 33! There is so much history, culture, nature, food, wine, art, sights… everything that you want as a traveller you can find here.
Europe has been the main player in shaping and defining our world and how it stands today. From pre-ancient civilisations, to the ancient birthplace of democracy, colonisations and invasions, Empires and power imbalances that reverberated decades later and was the catalyst for two global wars, the likes the World has never seen and wishes to never see again.
For this reason, I cheated. I couldn’t narrow down just 7 locations so I am choosing 14 and have split my post into Eastern Europe and Western Europe. Now, I am not following the political boundaries of Eastern Europe (i.e. all the former Soviet nations and Yugoslav nations), rather just geographical Europe. Everything east of Germany and Austria is included here. 11 of the 33 countries have been in the eastern section of Europe. As a fun fact if I had visited this part of Europe in 1990 the 11 countries represented here would have only been 6 back then. So here are my Eastern European candidates:
An Underrated Gem: Bratislava, Slovakia
Completely overshadowed by its historic sister cities of Vienna and Budapest; Bratislava, the cute little capital of Slovakia is a little gem. The city has a small historic centre lined with cute cafes and restaurants, a renovated castle on top of the hill that dominates the skyline, a blue church because why not? and an observation tower in the shape of a UFO. Quirky, cute, underrated, dismissed by many people I have travelled with in favour of other more exciting cities in the area. I really enjoyed my time here. I even came back two years after my first visit.
Bratislava has a rich history that is linked with Austria and Hungary. It was the capital city of the Kingdom of Hungary between 1536 and 1873 when the capital then moved to Budapest. Eleven Kings and Queens of Hungary were coronated in Bratislava, but back then it was known as Pressburg.
This view is from the restaurant atop the UFO tower. It provides a stunning view over Bratislava while you get to sample the best international cuisine and try some surprisingly delicious Slovak wine.
You can do Bratislava as a day trip from Budapest or Vienna. You can catch a 1.5 hour long cruise along the Danube River from Vienna to Bratislava (or vice versa) using Twin City Liner. The cruise is a nice, more scenic alternative than catching a train or a bus as you get to see more of the banks of the Danube and its greenery.
A Place to Return To: Rhodes, Greece
Look, I will happily go back to Greece in a heartbeat. Anywhere in Greece. Athens, Delphi, Olympia, the islands. But I am narrowing it down to my favourite Greek Island, Rhodes. The site of one of the former Ancient Wonders of the World, the Colossus of Rhodes.
Crystal clear beaches to cool down on scorching hot days, ancient ruins, gorgeous vistas, landscapes and more modern historic buildings built by the Knights of St John (who later went on to build Valletta, Malta). It has it all.
I’ve done the exploring of history so when I go back I will probably relax at the beach. I mean, just look at this water! Perfection.
A UNESCO Site: Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
Mostar was originally built as a town in the Ottoman Empire back in the 15th Century and experienced further growth during the ill fated Austrio-Hungarian times in the 19th Centuries. (Why ill fated? Let’s just say Bosnia’s annexation into the Austria-Hungary was one of the catalysts of World War 1, after which the Austro-Hungarian Empire ceased to exist).
The iconic sight of Mostar is Stari Most, the Old Bridge. Nowadays, locals raise money and then jump of the bridge into the cool waters of the river below. But the bridge and the historic centre have a more fundamental and significant purpose; the reason it is listed as a UNESCO Site. Mostar unites east and west, geographically, architecturally, culturally and ideologically. Its architecture symbolises peace between cultures.
The bridge and much of the city was destroyed during the Balkan Wars which devastated Bosnia & Herzegovina. It was rebuilt and today remains a symbol of…
“reconciliation, international cooperation and the coexistence of diverse cultural, ethnic and religious communities.”UNESCO – https://whc.unesco.org/en/list/946/
Most Impressive Place: Montenegro
Let’s set the scene: I arrived in Podgorica, Montenegro after a luxurious hotel stay on the island of Cyprus. I was keen to start exploring a new country. I enter the airport terminal and my transfer doesn’t turn up. Being in a non EU country, my sim card didn’t work so I couldn’t ring the phone number attached to my booking and opted just to take a taxi to the hotel. The good thing here is that Montenegro, even though not in the EU, uses the Euro as its currency. The temperature, even in the early morning was already above 35 degrees Celsius, a high of 42 was predicted. In Fahrenheit…. that’s something. I can never understand the conversion. The taxi driver en route informs me “there is nothing to see here in Podgorica”….
He was right. There wasn’t much and what there was I saw it all in a couple of minutes. It wasn’t a great start to Montenegro. But then I went to Kotor and everything changed.
This old Venetian fortified town on the banks of a ria of the Adriatic Sea. Its historic feel, its fortifications, its architecture within the walls, its much more lively vibe than Podgorica, and its stunning views from the top of San Giovanni Castle.
I climbed the 1,350 steps to the top of the castle nearing in the afternoon when it was still really hot. Perhaps, not advisable. A definite workout for the glutes and quads. But, I did get to cool down in the refreshing waters of the sea later. So…. silver linings.
(Note: to refer to Kotor as being the southernmost fjord in Europe is incorrect. Fjords are carved by glaciers. Kotor Bay is a ria, a submerged river valley with access to the sea. The most famous ria in the world is…. SYDNEY HARBOUR!)
To top off a wonderful stay in Kotor, I opted to do a tour with 360Monte, to take me to Lake Skadar. From the looks of their website, they only just started operating in 2017, the year I went, and business is doing well! The all day tour took us to Lovcen National Park. Lovcen is a mountain and is the inspiration of Montenegro’s name, Crna Gora meaning Black Mountain. At the top of the mountain you can find Petar II’s mausoleum, a poet and former Prince-Bishop of Montenegro.
The tour then took us to Lake Skadar National Park. Where we go to do a short party boat ride, complete with Montenegrin wine, tunes and swimming. Let me tell you, the River Crnojevic, whilst scenic is very deep. Jumping of the boat I just kept sinking and sinking and remember thinking to myself “am I ever going to touch the ground?” The answer, no… but by the time you realise that you are naturally making your back up to the surface again.
After a rocky start in Montenegro in turned out to be a really awesome place and I would happily go back!
A Photo in Nature: Plitvice National Park, Croatia
A national park dedicated to lakes. Need I say more?
16 Lakes in glorious natural setting. Beautiful Croatian weather. Rugged mountain scenery. Crystal clear waters. Unexpected caves. Nature. Nature, Nature and nature in perfection.
This stunning park is highly popular in summer. Even though the waterfalls are drier in summer. It does make it slightly unappealing with just masses and masses of people. Similarly to Dubrovnik, there are calls to place a limit on the amount of people accessing the park each day.
My experience at the park was a little chaotic. 5 minutes after entering the park the group of 3 I was travelling with took a wrong turn and got lost. We ended up cutting through a road and getting back on the main path. There we explored a few lakes walking in one direction. We didn’t really notice that everyone we passed was walking in another direction. Until we got the crowded parts and we saw everyone not walking in our direction stuck at a standstill in pedestrian traffic jams. We thought it was strange but never saw a sign saying it was a one way only….
Until the end of the track, which was of course actually the beginning where it clearly said “One way only”….. Oops…
A Photo of Architecture: Budapest, Hungary
Is the Hungarian Parliament Building the most beautiful building I have ever seen? Maybe. But it definitely earns its place in the architecture category. Day or night this stunning building is an architectural beauty. Opened in 1902 to house the Hungarian parliament, it has been the largest building in Hungary ever since. Its design and facade is renowned around the world and it is even more impressive seeing it up close.
Make sure to do an evening dinner cruise on the Danube to get a picture like this and of many other of the cities notable landmarks lit up.
In the day, the city of Budapest is no less beautiful either. Like these extraordinary architectural designs on Castle Hill.
Most Favourite Place: Prague, Czech Republic
I don’t know if I can explain why I love Prague so much. Maybe it’s just a mixture of everything. Maybe it was the 5 storey nightclub plus other nightlife. Maybe it was all the stunning architecture. Maybe it was the easy going feel and good public transport system,. Maybe it was the hearty meals, the beers and desserts. Maybe it was The Astronomical Clock which puts on a show every hour. Maybe it was the beautiful streets which I could walk around aimlessly for, for hours on end. It was all these things. So much wow and beauty and fun. I loved the city.
Of course no trip to Prague is complete without a visit to the castle complex. Climb the stairs to enjoy an unbeatable view over Prague. Everything is glorious.
Then you have the Church of our Lady before Tyn which just makes the city look like it is a fairytale.
And the trdelník! Oh my, the trdelník… The chimney cake that is just all sorts of deliciousness and can be filled with ice cream for extra goodness. Heaven in a dessert…. I still think about it to this day.
An Underrated Gem: Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. A city devastated by war and the city where that one bullet started World War 1, it is surprisingly cosmopolitan. Even if this is just a facade to cover up internal instability….
UNESCO Site: The Parthenon, Athens, Greece. The famous building overlooking Athens that was the centre of religious life in Ancient Athens.
Nature: Meteora, Greece. Several monasteries perched dizzyingly high up on huge mountains with almost sheer vertical drops.
My Most Favourite Place: Greece. Everywhere in Greece. But considering this was a whole country…. I thought I better narrow it down a little bit
Well that concludes the Best of Eastern Europe. Two more continents to go! Stick around for next week for another post, 7 different places of the same themes, in Western Europe! This one is going to be a big one.
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