Visiting Montenegro’s Cetinje & St. Petar’s Mausoleum: as an independent day trip

Montenegro’s Old Royal Capital Cetinje is a beautiful, peaceful town well worth a visit on it’s own, but also the entry point to St. Petar’s Mausoleum. Perched atop Jezerski Vrh peak of Lovcen Mountain, the Mausoleum itself is not overly impressive, but the views from the top are spectacular. A quick 10 minute (steep) hike to the the rocky peak affords views of rugged mountains and the Bay of Kotor in the distance. Be sure to walk through the Mausoleum and along the narrow path to the guvno, a circular stone structure traditionally serving as a gathering point where important decisions were made.

Cetinj-1

Getting there

From the capital Podgorica or the popular town of Kotor you can take a local bus to the Cetinje bus station. The trip from Podgorica is shorter, at around 30-45 minutes and a little cheaper (3.5€) than the 5€, 1.5 hour trip from Kotor.

From the bus station in Cetinje it’s best to take a taxi to the Mausoleum. It should cost around 25€ for the return trip, including an hour of exploring at the top. I split the trip with two fellow travelers, so it was very affordable at around 8€ each.

Entrance Fees

Entrance to the Lovcen National Park is 2€ per person and 5€ to the Mausoleum. You can still appreciate the view without paying for the Mausoleum entrance but the best view is at the end and well worth the fee.

Cetinj-25

10 Of The Best Cafes In Budapest

One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to find a great local cafe, relax with a coffee and absorb the new world around me. I love interesting, beautiful and quirky interiors, good people watching vantages, great service, and of course an excellent brew of coffee. Here are ten cafes that deliver all this in the heart of Budapest.

Coffee and Croissant-00609.jpg

1. Cafe Frei


You’ll find this coffee house on the touristy Vaci Ut, near the central market. With an inviting retro atmosphere, split over two levels, you’ll want to keep returning to try all of the different styles of coffee from around the world. There’s everything from Peruvian Orange Blossom to Cornflower Coffee, Coconut Hot Chocolate from the Philippines and a myriad of Italian coffee styles. They also specialise in alcoholic coffees from around the world. Expect to pay around 1€ for coffee, 2€ for hot chocolate and 2-3€ for alcoholic coffee.

2. Bluebird Cafe


This cute little cafe has excellent coffee, outdoor seating with swings and to top it off, the barista draws your portrait on a coffee cup. Unmissable. You’ll find it in the popular 7th district.

3. Double Shot


Just north of Magrit Bridge along Pozsonyi Ut are a cluster of inviting cafes. Away from the tourist heart of the city it’s here that you’ll find locals’ favourites. One of the best is tiny Double Shot. They have a couple of outdoor seats and an inviting area upstairs overlooking the leafy street. But it’s their coffee that is the real winner, their macchiato was one of the best we’ve had. Ever.

4. My Green Cup


Just across the road from Double Shot in Pozsonyi Ut this cafe has delicious baked goods, and excellent coffee. There are several outdoor seats and plenty of indoor seating.

5. Astoria Cafe


Just above the Astoria metro stop (which takes it’s name from the Grand Astoria Hotel), this place screams old world charm. Reminiscent of traditional Viennese coffee houses, Astoria is grand, quiet and refreshingly cool during hot summer days.

Open from 7am to 10pm, it’s the perfect spot to sit and read, write or just escape the buzz of the city. The coffee is a little more expensive than other places in Budapest (around 2€) but is high quality and the service is impeccable.

6. Fekete


Hidden down an alley off the busy Múzeum Krt you’ll find this trendy cafe. There’s seating in an interior courtyard and a few tables inside a small but beautifully decorated space. The coffee is delicious, as is the food- if a little expensive.

7. Szerpentin Szalon

I loved the quirkiness of this part antique store, part cafe. Sit inside amidst forgotten treasures or watch the world go by in one of their side walk seats. Their smoothies and ice coffee are particularly delicious in summer.

8. Central Cafe

Central Cafe-2

Founded in 1887, Central Cafe is another cafe with an old world cafe feel. Located at an intersection full of inviting cafes and bars, the place has a beautiful, huge interior and elegant classic music.

9. Budai Ketto


This cafe is another favorite of locals, in a residential area of Buda. The range of croissants is amazing and crazily cheap at 1€ each. They also serve sandwiches and their coffee is good.

10. Pekmuhely

Another local haunt in Buda, the line was out the door when we arrived. Freshly baked local pastries, bread and decent coffee, all at very cheap prices make it easy to see why.

The Best Hidden Cafe in Helsinki

Ihana Kahvila literally means wonderful coffee in Finnish, and a visit to the tucked-away seaside cafe definitely lives up to the name.

I’ve lived in Helsinki for a few years, yet somehow only recently ventured to Ihana Kahvila. The literal translation from Finnish is wonderful coffee, and a visit to the tucked-away seaside cafe definitely lives up to the name. Set off a winding path through construction sites, it’s a decent walk- but worth every step. You’ll find outdoor tables, deck chairs and hammocks, with a view over the water to the Helsinki Cathedral.

The easiest way to reach Ihana Kahvila from the city center is to take the metro to Kalasatama. From the metro walk along Arielinkatu until you reach the junction with Parrulaituri. Then you should see a sign pointing to the cafe. From here it’s around 1km, with further signposting along the way.

 

 

Traditional Finnish Lakeside Camping: how to reach Nuuksio National Park by public transport

Finland is know as the land of a thousand lakes. In reality, there are over 187,000 lakes– one for every 29 Finns! Finnish lakes are not only numerous but incredibly beautiful, surrounded by pine forests and rocky outcrops, the water is often fresh, clear, and ideal for swimming. Blueberry bushes are never far away, providing a delicious foraged snack- not only legal throughout Finland, but highly encouraged!

With these allures it’s not surprising that escaping city life to recharge at a lakeside cottage or campsite is a favourite summer pastime in Finland. One of the most popular places to experience the Finnish nature close to Helsinki is Nuuksio National Park. In this post I describe how to use public transport to get from Helsinki to two stunning camp sites in Nuuksio.
Nuuksio-07312
Nuuksio-07096

Getting from Helsinki to Nuuksio bus stop

  1. Download the HSL transport app. I’d also suggest getting the Maastokartta trail map app. After adding your credit card details to the HSL you can buy an ABC zone ticket which you’ll need to show to bus driver and any ticket inspectors on the train. The ticket is 4.80€ and valid for 90 minutes– so if you plan the connections correctly this is all you will need. You can also use the ticket to get to the Central Railway Station by tram, bus or metro.
  2. From the Central Railway Station catch the U, I or E train to Espoo. These run frequently and the journey is around 25 minutes.
  3. Almost immediately after exiting the train you should see a bus stop listing numerous services including the 245A bus. Google Maps gives a slightly incorrect location for the bus stop, if in doubt as a local. This bus runs every half hour and also takes around 25 minutes.
  4. Take the bus to either ‘Haukkalammentie’ (third last stop) or ‘Katilla’ (last stop) depending on the route chosen below.
  5. If getting off at Haukkalammentie you should take the first left hand turn down a dirt road. It’s roughly 2km (30 minutes) walk down the road to Haukkalampi. Here you’ll find a shop, free drinking water to refill bottles, rubbish bins and a lake with a little island that can be reached by a bridge. In summer you can rent row boats or paddle boards here. In itself it’s a beautiful spot for a day trip.

Getting from the bus stop to the camp site

Here I’ve listed two beautiful campsites with some photos to help you decide which to visit and directions to get there.

Nuuksio-07069
Haukkalampi

1. Holma-Saarijärvi

Saarijärvi translates to ‘island-lake‘ which is exactly what you find at this beautiful campsite. There are two campsites in the area, one on the island itself and another on the opposite bank of the lake. As with many Finnish campsites you will find long-drop toilets, a cooking fire with a grill and a store of firewood with an axe.

To reach Holma-Saarijärvi take the 245A bus to the ‘Haukkalammentie’ stop, walk to Haukkalampi and then follow the trail to the lake. Some parts of the trail are marked by signs, but others not, so make sure you have the app or a paper map to guide you. It should take around 40 minutes from Haukkalampi to reach the lake.

2. Iso-Holma

The camp sites here are slightly less picturesque than Holma-Saarijärvi but are more secluded, peaceful and calm. I preferred swimming in this lake as the water had less sediment and was deeper. There are many lily pads in the lake but on the northern side of the campsite you’ll find a perfect spot for swimming- a clearing of lily pads and a large waterside rock to dive in from. When I pointed out the rock to a Fin he said it must have been placed there by God.

To get to the campsite you have two options.

Firstly, to get off the 245A bus at Haukkalammentie, walk to Haukkalampi as above and then take a different trail to Iso-Holma. This walk is around 35 minutes, so combined with the walk from the bus stop, this option is roughly an hour in total. This is a good option if you need to stop for water or other supplies at Haukkalampi.

Option two is to take the bus to the end of the line and get off at Katilla. There is no water, toilets, rubbish bins or shop at the bus stop and the closest lake is a little walk off. However this route is much faster (30 minutes total) and more scenic as it’s predominantly a walk through the forest with no road walking. To find the trail head across the fields to the forest area and then follow your map.

Things to keep in mind

  • Be sure not to leave any rubbish behind and respect the natural flora and fauna
  • Blueberries are edible and delicious and completely legal to forage
  • In summer there can be a fire ban which means the only camp fires allowed are those covered by a roof and chimney. You can check the status of any bans here
  • Most camp sites have long drop toilets with sawdust (empty a scoop in the toilet after you use it) and camp fires with plenty of fire wood and an axe
  • For more information visit the National Park website

 

 

5 things to do in enchanting Tallinn

If you only have a day to explore Estonia’s capital then be sure not to miss these five sites.

With a unique fairy-tale old town, Tallinn is one of my favourite cities to explore in Europe. If you are staying for a few days, I’d also recommend venturing out to the lesser known parts of Estonia on alternative day trip or visiting the eastern city of Tartu. If you only have a day or two, then be sure not to miss these five sites in the capital.

1. Explore abandoned Linnahall

This huge Soviet style building was completed in 1980 as a venue for the sailing events of the Moscow Olympics. The hall then became an entertainment complex and was finally closed in 2010. Despite recent plans for renovations, the area remains derelict, with grass growing through the concrete steps, graffiti on the walls and an a somewhat eerie feel- although these days it’s quite a popular tourist attraction.

Linnahall graffitiLinnahall entrance 2Linnahall steps with shrubs

2. View the old city from above

The old town of Tallinn (Vana Tallinn) has a magical fairy-tale feel to it, in part due to the well preserved town wall and castle on Toompea hill. To get the best view of the old town (and to get your bearings for further exploring) head up the tower of St. Olav’s Church or the town hall in Raekoja Plats. Both are 3€ entry and require climbing of over 100 narrow stone steps!

Tallinn from aboveTallinn above detailTallinn roofs

3. Visit the markets in Raekoja Plats

At the center of the old town you’ll find Raekoja Plats– the Town Square. As with many towns, the main square is the heart of the city. Here you’ll find regular weekend markets, plenty of restaurants, cafes and interesting museums.

Since 1441 the old Raekoja Plats has been home to a magical Christmas Market. It’s even been said that the Brotherhood of the Blackheads erected the world’s first Christmas Tree here, although others claim that neighboring Riga holds this title.

dsc07451.jpg
Horse in old town

Raekoja Plats.jpg

Raekoja Plats Markets

4. Wander through Toompea Hill

Positioned above the rest of the old town, Toompea (Cathedral) Hill boasts impressive views of the city, the old castle- which is now the Estonian Parliament building and the stunning Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Toompea streetAlexander Nevsky Cathedral

 

5. Head to Telliskivi

If you want to see a different side of Tallinn then head out of the Old Town time-warp to Telliskivi, an inspiring “creative city for everything new”. Here you’ll find second-hand shops, homeware and arts stores, food and thrift markets and plenty of trendy cafes and bars. My favourite is F-Hoone.

dav

What happens when you take undeveloped film in checked luggage?

You get foggy film.

The effect is much worse when undeveloped film is packed in checked luggage rather than carry on, as the X-ray intensity is much higher. The more times the film goes through the X-ray the more faded/washed out the images will be. If you do need to travel with undeveloped film then be sure to take it in your carry on luggage and ask the airport staff to exclude it from the X-ray. It’s best if you have it in a separate clear plastic bag and ask as you hand over your belongings for scanning.

I completely forgot to do this with my latest films and while one roll was ruined, another had a distinct vintage feel to it that I actually really liked. Here are some of the shots of Cornwall from that roll.

CNV000002CNV000004CNV000005CNV000006CNV000007CNV000009CNV000014CNV000018CNV000019CNV000020CNV000022CNV000030CNV000028CNV000026CNV000029

Bassano del Grappa: the perfect daytrip from Venice

A quick one hour train ride from Venice is one of the loveliest towns I’ve visited in Italy- Bassano del Grappa. The town has a beautiful green river running through it’s heart and is surrounded by rugged mountains (including Monte Grappa) and countryside. While the incredibly strong grappa is the most traditional drink of the area, my favourite was mezzoemezzo from the Nardini distillery by the Ponte Vecchio. The back room of the distillery overlooking the river is the perfect place to sit and read- maybe something of Hemmingway- his wartime experiences in Bassano form part of A Farewell to Arms.

Here are some photos from my visit.

Exploring Oxford on foot: 5 things to do in the City of Dreaming Spires

DSC00302.jpg

Oxford has been a place I’ve longed to visit for years- a city synonymous with excellence in education and research, in a beautiful and historic setting. Easily reached by train or bus from London, the city provides a perfect day trip or weekend getaway from the capital.

Here are my favourite 5 things to do in the City of Dreaming Spires.

DSC00551

1. Marvel at the Bodleian Library and Bridge of Sighs

Opened in 1602, the Bodleian Library (or ‘the Bod’ as locals refer to it) houses over 12 million items which are primarily used for reference- meaning they can’t be taken from the library reading rooms. The most famous part of the library is the Radcliffe Camera– the stunning round building. To get the best view of the ‘Rad Cam’ go inside the neighbouring Church of St Mary the Virgin and up the church tower. Be sure to go early in the day as the line can become quite long later on.

The nearby Hartford Bridge, more commonly known as the Bridge of Sighs is a replica of the Ponte dei Sospiri in Venice and also worth a visit.

 

2. Visit the University Colleges

The University of Oxford has 38 Colleges and 6 Permanent Private Halls of Religious Foundation. If you’re a student or staff member at the University, you must belong to one of these colleges, with everything from accommodation, dining, drinking and studying occurring within them. The oldest is University College which was founded in 1249 and boasts alumni such as Stephen Hawking, C.S Lewis and Bill Clinton.

I was lucky enough to get free entry to the colleges as I visited with a friend who is a researcher at the University. Normally entrance is between 3-6£ per college.

If you only visit one, I’d recommend Christ Church as it’s impressively grand and one of the film locations for Harry PotterEspecially look out for the Cloisters, Bodley Tower Staircase and the Dining Hall. Here you’ll also find a stained glass window dedicated to Lewis Carol’s works.

 

3. Enjoy brunch at Handle Bar Cafe

This place is run by a couple of French guys and not only provides a relaxed vibe and interesting decor, but delicious brunch and coffee with sustainably sourced ingredients. Arrive before you’re starving as it can become pretty busy on the weekends and you may need to wait for a table. More info here.

 

4. Have a drink at one of the classic pubs

There are many traditional old pubs in Oxford with my favourite being Turf Tavern which dates back to 1381! You’ll find it down a tiny alley (St. Helen’s Passage) next to the Bridge of Sighs- opposite the Bodleian Library. It was here in 1963 that legendary Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke set the Guinness World Record for drinking a yard glass of ale in 11 seconds.

Other local favourites include Bear Inn (established in 1242) and the King’s Arms. If cocktails are more your thing try FREVD cocktail bar.

5. Step into the largest single room selling books in the world

Blackwell’s Bookshop on Broad Street was founded in 1879 and boasts the largest single room selling books worldwide- the Norrington Room. A must for any book lovers, my favourite thing was the mystery books wrapped in brown paper with elusive blurbs.

IMG_2073.jpg

 

If you have time to spare then check out the Natural History Museum on Parks Road- entry is free!

 

 

Exploring Bratislava on foot: 5 things to do in Slovakia’s capital

I spent four days exploring the old town and surrounds of Bratislava and it was such a welcome shift of pace from nearby Vienna and Budapest. It’s quite a compact city so getting around by walking is perfect.

Here are five things I loved exploring on foot in Slovakia’s capital.

DSC03052

 

 

1. Climb up to the castle and have a drink overlooking the old town

After exploring the castle and gardens, head to the castle wall for unparalleled views, then grab a drink at the restaurant Reštaurácia Hrad where you can have a cocktail overlooking the old town. Drinks are similarly priced to elsewhere in the city but the food is relatively expensive.

2. Watch the sunset over the Danube and old town from above

For around 7€ you can go up the UFO Observation Deck where the views at sunset are worth every cent. There’s also a restaurant and bar at the top- you’ll need to book for the restaurant and prices are more than in the old town- but the view compensates!

3. Walk to the colorful Hotel Galeria Spirit and Blue Church

If you like unique tourist attractions then head to these colorful sites. The Hotel Galeria is a quirky colorful hotel of many angles and levels located 30 minutes walk from the castle. The Blue Church of St. Elizabeth is located on the far eastern side of the old town, around 25 minutes from the castle.

4. See the Slavin Monument

On the way back from the Hotel Galeria and up quite a hill, you’ll find this Slavic monument overlooking the city and river. It’s a memorial and burial ground for Soviet soldiers who died in WWII.

5. Wander the old town and try traditional Slovakian food

As is often the case when exploring, one of the best thing to do in an old town is to wander the maze like streets with no set plans and see what you find. There are plenty of restaurants to try traditional Slovakian food- my favorite was Segnerova Kúria.

 

DSC03237

Have you been to Bratislava? What was your favorite thing to explore on foot?

Travel Budget: Venice

While Venice is definitely not the cheapest city to visit, there are a few tricks I learnt during my stay that saved me a tonne of money. If you plan to visit The City of Canals on a budget then this post is for you!

DSC04242-2.jpg

City: Venice, Italy

Travel Style: Budget

Currency: Euro

Daily Spend: 53.6€

 

 

Cost Breakdown

Accommodation: 3 nights = 51€

Stay in Mestre rather than Venice itself. There’s nicer budget accommodation options for half the price and it’s only a 15min train ride into the heart of Venice. You also get to experience the old town of Mestre which to me, felt like a more authentic local Italian vibe than touristy Venice.

  • 17€ per night for a 6 bed dorm room at Anda Hostel. This hostel is a stone’s throw from the train/bus station so it’s very convenient when arriving in the region and also to get into and back from Venice. One of the better hostels I’ve stayed in
  • If you want to save more money then stay at AO Hostel. It’s also very close to the train station and super clean and modern but has much less of a cool hostel vibe than Anda

 

Transport: 3 days = 36€ 

DSC04245

  • Daily return train tickets to Venice: 2.70€
  • Walking around the canals
  • One day water ferry ticket that will get you all around Venice and out to Murano: 20€
  • Airport bus/train: 8€

 

Food & Drink: 3 days = 74€

img_4697Eating at Venice’s traditional bacari is not only a great way to experience the local culture but also saves a lot of money compared to eating at a restaurant. In this post I list 7 of my favorites in Venice.

  • Breakfast: I opted for the buffet breakfast at the hostel for 6€. Alternatively you can grab a cappuccino and croissant in Mestre for around 3€
  • Lunch: bacari with spritz, 8€
  • Dinner: I alternated between bacari with wine (6€) and restaurants in Mestre- for example da Bepi seafood restaurant has an amazing 3 course dinner for 20€

 

Total spent:  161€ / 3 nights = 53.6€ per day

 

DSC04265