The Best Capital Cities I’ve Visited

Copenhagen

The starting place of my inter-railing adventure from Denmark to Switzerland, Copenhagen set the tone for what turned out to be a brilliant European journey. As most of my friends will tell you I will cycle or walk whenever its an option, especially in a busy city. Using public transport is a great way to save energy and feel like a local but I prefer being able to take my time, go off the beaten track and take way too many photos. Also its a great money saver if your on a budget!

 

Copenhagen is filled with students, bikes and friendly locals. The city far exceeded by expectations and everyone we met was incredibly helpful.  The only disappointment I had was the famous ‘Little Mermaid’ bronze statue. It was much smaller than I was expecting and it was engulfed by tourists. The city is very walkable and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants to experience Scandinavian cuisine first hand.

As you would expect from a capital city, Copenhagen has great transport links. You can get a train over the famous bridge to Sweden, a boat to Germany or a flight to almost anywhere in Europe.

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Tokyo

Tokyo, another starting point of an adventure. This time my 2016 Japanese adventure. Our 24 day journey started and ended in Tokyo. Overall we spent 6 days in Tokyo, I could’ve happily spent 6 months here. Being so big I knew there was a potential of being overwhelmed, especially while still experiencing jet lag. But from the minute we landed at the airport I felt at home. The sheer size of Tokyo means it has a suburb offering something for everyone. Whether you want to spend your day walking around the beautiful parks or dressing up as your favourite anime character, theres a place to do that (and not be judged!).

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Like every city Tokyo has its flaws. Both me and Juna were disheartened by Akihabara. The district is know for its vibrant electronic stores and arcades. Although I did find the Japanese Harry Potter DVD’s I had been longing for, the shops didn’t hide their adult material and there was lots of it. Adult DVD’s and comics weren’t off limits, they could’ve easily been accessed by children. It made for an uncomfortable trip through the district’s shops. But in the almost month-long time I spent in Japan this was my only negative experience.

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The underground train system is intimidating at first but once you get the hang of it, its an efficient, clean and relatively cheap way of getting around.And the nightlife in Tokyo is as eclectic as you can imagine. You can eat dinner at a robot restaurant, have drinks at a bar that fits only 5 people and then sing the night away at a Karaoke Bar.

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Juna at the Moomin Cafe

I am already planning my return to Tokyo and if you haven’t yet been now is the time! The country is gearing up for hosting the 2020 olympics, you can already feel the excitement and see the venues being constructed.

Budapest

Budapest happens to be the first place I travelled to with just my friends so it will always hold special memories. It was the first time we had held the responsibilities of having a successful trip; not loosing our passports, exchanging currency,  planning enough to keep us occupied without being so tired we walk around with our eyes shut.

Terri outside our ‘Happy Flat’ hostel

Budapest has a range of sights and a good nightlife which entices a lot of young (and older) visitors from around the world. From ruin bars and riding the tram to visiting the spa, you could spend a week just scratching the surface of what Budapest has to offer.

As a big fan of architecture I loved winding through the streets of Budapest and photographing the grand castles and decadent government buildings. The thermal spa is a must visit and if your looking to save your money theres great walks ending with brilliant panoramic views across the city. It was a very happy surprise that Budapest was so cheap, if you play your cards right you can eat dinner out for under £5. I really enjoyed my 4 days in Budapest and created a short film..

Feel free to recommend and comment your favourite Cities!

Barcelona Day Four: Easy Mazes and the Gothic Quarter

Our last day here in Barcelona started slowly as our over-priced cocktails from last night took a grip. After re-hydrating we sloped towards the nearest cafe we could find. Typically we found the best breakfast spot on our last day. It was a tiny, albeit slightly cramped veggie cafe. But it was cheap and delicious.

After consuming some food (5 plates of food to be precise..) we strolled around the nearby gothic quarter; home of the town hall and very impressive gothic cathedral. The area was buzzing with locals, tourists and street sellers.

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When i’m in a new city I like to try out the different modes of transport they have on offer, and Barcelona has trams. So we boarded a tram to our next and last destination of the holiday- a hilltop maze. unfortunately it turns out the tram lines are very limited and we had to get off after two stops to get a bus. We both needed the toilet and luckily we had got off the tram near a new, and very modern shopping mall in the middle of nowhere. There was music playing out speakers around the shopping mall, if you’ve ever played Sims, you can imagine the music playing.

We also realised we hadn’t consumed any water for a very long time so headed into a CarreFour super market- well we tried. The entrance wasn’t very clearly marked (considering Alex speaks both Catalan and Spanish)  so we just headed backwards through the self checkouts so we could get into the supermarket. But one lady on the checkout did not take us ‘breaking in’ to the shop very kindly and proceeded to shout at us then call security..

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So after that slight misunderstanding we boarded the bus; drink-less.  It dropped us at the bottom of a massive hill, on a road, with no pavement and no phone signal. Against our better judgement we started to walk up the giant hill.. And to our surprise the winding path did lead us to a beautiful gardens complete with a maze..

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Although often the main selling point of these gardens is the maze, it was very small thus easy to complete. The real charm of the place is the hidden, secluded paths winding through forests, past waterfalls and beautiful wildlife.

As we reached the exit of the gardens and the entrance of the metro it dawned on us that this was the end of our holiday. So we collected our luggage, stocked up on tapas and spent our euros in duty free. So here we are at Barcelona airport planning our next trip whilst waiting for our delayed flight home..

Barcelona Day Three: Cable Cars and Castles

Day three in Barcelona called for an Al Fresco breakfast. Alex and I returned to the cool shopping centre built in an old bullring to buy some pastries and fresh orange juice. We then headed to the  national art museum of Catalunya. I was promised escalators to the top and there were- but they weren’t moving. So after a sweaty trip up hundreds of stairs and some now, slightly warm orange juice we made it to the entrance of the museum. But we weren’t there for the museum- the view opposite is stunning. The only problem was, this view is no secret. There were hundreds of tourists and school kids at the top. Along with some pesky pigeons vying for my pastry so we didn’t stay too long.

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The view from the bottom of the art museum of Catalunya

Luckily the paths at the back of the museum is slightly quieter and even better, leads to a cable car.. The cable car was 8 euros and took around 10 minutes to get you to the summit- the location of Montjuic Castle. As we are travelling on a budget we decided not to pay to enter the castle, instead we went for a stroll around the castle grounds which are free. You can do a full circle around the castle- we even spotted some archery practice.

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After a returning on the cable car, a frantic search for a free toilet and a delicious waffle we decided we needed some culture. After looking through a list of art exhibitions in Barcelona we chose to visit the centre of Photography, showcasing the work of legendary photographer August Sander. I was really excited as I had researched Sanders work last term at uni. The Photography Centre is extremely accessible, plonked ring tin the middle of Las Ramblas. Which made it even more odd that it was so quiet when we entered. Not that odd though when we re-read the exhibition poster. It was opening in 3 days time- a day after we leave. With our tail between our legs we did the only thing possible- retail therapy. After Alex bought a whole load of make-up which will be impossible to pack in our hand luggage decided a rest at the apartment was needed.

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The Terraza Hotel 360 bar

I don’t know why but when deciding what I wanted to do in Barcelona, I was set on seeing a sun set. Maybe (and rather embarrassingly) I assumed the sun would set beautifully over the beach- obviously not, Barcelona is on the East coast. After speaking to some local friends they suggested the rooftop terrace at the upmarket Terraza hotel. So after dressing up and pretending we knew what we were doing we walked straight into the hotel lobby, to the lift and up to the top floor. We walked straight into a 360 rooftop bar with seats around the edge primed to witness the sunset- just what we were looking for. After paying for some over-priced cocktails we sat down ready for the sunset and boy did it live up to expectations…

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Barcelona Day One: Airports and Beaches

Today I set off for the East coast Spanish city of Barcelona. I have been before, but when I was a kid so I was looking forward to returning and exploring more. I am here just for few days during my spring break from university. I am travelling with Alex who like me, lives in Brighton but spent her childhood in Barcelona.

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Like any good holiday we spent our morning consuming overpriced food at the airport, loosing track of time and running to our gate. Although we were the last to board the plane, we made it in time to sit onboard as our flight got more and more delayed.

Finally we were off and after watching copious amount of Parks and Rec we landed. Travelling with someone who has spent half their life in Barcelona made travelling from the airport to the city centre stress free. This was helped by the constant stream of reasonably priced airport shuttle buses.

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An aerial shot of Las Ramblas

It was a 30 minute bus ride into the centre and then a 5 minute walk to the apartment we were staying in. By the time we had refreshed and unpacked it was early evening. So we decided on a walk along the beach and some food. To get to the beach we had to stroll down the most famous street in Barcelona; Las Ramblas. Its a palm tree-lined avenue leading from the centre of town down to the beach. As I remembered from when I was a child it was filled with tourists and stalls selling everything from souvenirs to flamenco show tickets. If visiting it’s a good idea to keep your belongings close as pick pockets operate in this area.

The beach was beautifully serene and quiet with the sun setting behind it. The only danger here is getting hit by what felt like hundreds of skateboarders- all way cooler than I’ll ever be.

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Walking along the beach built up our appetite so we dipped into a side street for some tapas from a recommended restaurant. This was the first tapas I have ever had and it didn’t disappoint. The only negative I can think of, is the broken unisex toilet door which led me to seeing a man in a rather uncompromising position…

With full stomachs a good night sleep was needed so we headed back here to the apartment. Tomorrow we have a full day planned so stay tuned..

 

 

 

 

Lisbon Travel Diary: The Graffiti of Alfama

My favourite district of Lisbon is without a doubt Alfama. Its a cool neighbourhood filled with locals, students, cafe’s and elderly women selling alcohol from their front room..

It is also the Shoreditch of Lisbon, the streets and alleys house some of the city’s most famous graffiti. Here are a few of my favourite/ most controversial pieces..

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Lisbon Travel Diary: Eating the Most Famous Custard Tarts in the World!

Belém, a district famous for it’s custard tarts and monastery, is just a short tram ride away from the city centre. Unfortunately for us the tram didn’t turn up for half an hour and the queue was so long we wouldn’t of got on the first couple of trams that arrived.

So we made the decision to take the metro- only problem was the metro doesn’t go to Belém. So just two metro’s and a train later we finally arrived.  First impressions was busy- so so busy. Filled with tourists and students spilling out the cafe’s and taking in the beautiful architecture of the monastery.

Like many visiting, first stop was lunch. After trying to find a seat in a few restaurants we stumbled into a burger place. Turns out this place was a cosy, artisan burger joint and the best decision we made all day- it was absolutely delicious. Unfortunately I was so hungry I ate it before I could take a picture but this is the front of the restaurant, if you ever visit Lisbon I highly recommend a visit..

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With our stomachs full we headed to the windy riverside to see the gigantic monument; Padrão dos Descobrimentos.

The 171ft tall monument was finished in 1960 after 2 years of construction. It sits on the edge of the Tagus river and has a viewing platform at the top. There are 33 sculptures surrounding the monument representing figures (mainly white men) from history, with Henry the Navigator leading from the front.

The size and detail makes this a must see for a visit to Lisbon, as is the most famous Portuguese custard tart cafe. Pastéis de Belém house’s the most secretive recipe in the whole of Europe. The recipe was first created by monks 200 years ago and the recipe has not changed since. It is so secretive only 3 people know the recipe-and they won’t travel in the same car together. The custard tarts are so popular on an average day they sell 20,000!

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The queue came out the entrance all around the block.  But as we weren’t planning on returning to Belém during our time in Lisbon we joined the masses. And to be fair, the queue went down extremely quickly and before we knew it we were inside ordering a couple of custard tarts to take away. And boy, did they live up to the highest of expectations, well worth the wait.

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To end the day we headed back into the centre of Lisbon, this time by bus, and took a funicular up to a stunning viewpoint across the city to watch the (cloudy) sun set.

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Lisbon Travel Diary: Thunderstorms & Rainbows

A fully packed day here in Lisbon started with a trip to one of the biggest shopping malls in Europe. I don’t normally factor in time for shopping when I’m travelling or visiting a new city but with us both needing new shoes (and an umbrella) it was a much needed first stop of the day.

After spending way too long in the maze-like shopping mall we dropped our new shoes of at the hotel and went exploring. We chose to explore the Alfama neighbourhood, home of the castle and many cathedrals.

Despite the erratic weather we had a great time winding in and out the lanes and keeping warm in the pastry shops. The area is also famed for its graffiti. Whether you like it or not it, the graffiti here adds colour to the streets and the majority is very creative (with a few exceptions of course). The only downside of the area is the entry fee to the castle- you can’t even see the grounds or view without paying a relatively expensive admission fee.

Next up-food. Both a travel magazine and our hotel receptionist recommended the Time Out market. A short walk from the main square along the river you arrive at the grand entrance of the market. Once you go through the doors you are faced with what feels like a hundred potential food options, with kiosks lining the four walls of the indoor market.

Long, communal tables fill the middle of the modern market. It was so busy it was hard to find a seat, but everyone was very friendly and happily partook in a Tetris-like game in order to fit everyone in.

Most food was fish or meat based- you’d be hard pressed to find many vegetarian options. I opted for a very tasty beef burger and was able to watch the filming of a Korean food program, it was extremely humorous watching the presenters and full crew trying to manoeuvre their way through the crowds against a time limit.

After filling up and soaking in the atmosphere we headed back through the streets of the capital back to the hotel. Lisbon is a beautiful, very walkable city but there are a lot of hills so if you visit, get ready to have aching legs at the end of the day.

Once again Lisbon has lived up to expectations and recommendations- despite having to dodge the rain for most of the day. Tomorrow we are taking part in a walking tour then will be exploring different neighbourhoods and eating even more food!

Lisbon Travel Diary: Touching Down

One lost boarding pass, a dropped phone and a two hour delay later we were out of Gatwick and finally on a plane flying to Lisbon.

We landed at 2.30pm and after a brief walk found ourselves on the metro. The station was incredibly grand and decorated with black and white murals.

It’s a relatively short journey from the airport to the centre of town (30 mins) and we soon arrived at the metro stop nearest our hotel. As we clambered up the stairs with our cases out the station we came to a stunning view; statue’s and a beautiful square in one direction and the sun shining on a winding river the other.

After taking too many photos we checked into our hotel. We’re not normally ones to complain but the room we were given in this highly-recommend hotel was very dark, claustrophobic and had an odd bathroom-you could see through from the bed..

But the staff were extremely helpful and moved us into another room which has both natural light and a bathroom with an actual door. So after quickly unpacking into our new room we went to explore.

We didn’t have much time left before the sun set so we just wandered around the local area, got some dinner and headed for an early night after having to get up at an inhumane hour for a delayed flight.

My first impressions of Lisbon are as good as they could be; pastry shops everywhere, trams and a beautiful riverside walk. I am really looking forward to getting to know this city and it’s history more in the next few days.

Snapshots of Eastern Europe

After performing so well when I was living in Bangladesh I chose to take my Olympus MJUII 35mm camera on my Eastern European Adventure. I loaded it up with Agfa 35mm colour film and took it everywhere with me..

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If you missed any of my posts from the 4 cities me and Emily visited you can check them out here:

72 hours in Budapest

36 hours in Bratislava 

48 hours in Krakow

72 hours in Prague 

72 Hours in Prague

The longest day of my life started at 9am at Krakow bus station, waiting for a bus that was already in the station but had the wrong number on the front. After eventually coming to the conclusion that that was indeed our bus me and Emily got on and sat in the last two remaining seats. Both were single seats next to people who I can only assume had forgotten to wash for a number of days.

But then more people boarded the bus- it had been overbooked. The 8 hour journey consisted of 3 people sitting on the floor of the bus, due to the overcrowding, blocking the way to the toilet. So every time we stopped to pick up more passengers to squeeze onto the bus, me and Emily sprinted to use the bus station toilets.

Thankfully just as the sun was setting we arrived in Prague and not only that, we got a free room upgrade at our hostel!

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Our local metro station had the longest escalator in the EU. It took 2.5 minutes to go up.

Day One 

After the first good night sleep we had had in weeks we made our way to the start of a free walking tour. The tour was led by Michael, an American 25-year old. At first we were sceptical about having a Prague tour led by an American who had not yet lived in the city for a year. But he was extremely knowledgable and personable. Although his timekeeping was not the best- the 2 hour tour lasted 3 hours in the bitter cold. But we did learn a lot about the Prague’s history and the famous architecture which contributes to the capital being known as the ‘city of a hundred spires’.

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Students taking a break

After warming up in a cafe we made our way through the narrow streets and crowds to the famous Charles bridge. It was incredibly busy but it was worth it to see the beautiful statues that line the bridge and a very enthusiastic busker.

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The busker on the bridge

All the sightseeing took its toll on us so after an amazingly tasty burger (which we go on to eat for the next two nights running) we headed back to the hostel for an early night.

Day Two 

By complete coincidence Emily’s dad was also in Prague. So while she went to meet him to drop off all the stuff she had bought on our trip and couldn’t fit in her case I went to the main square, which was draped in sunlight, to do an hour of street photography. It was the first time on the trip the sun allowed me to do some street photography. I will be posting them to this blog on Thursday but if you can’t wait till then you can head over to my instagram.

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After miraculously meeting up with Emily after my phone ran out of battery we headed over the Charles Bridge and up to Prague castle. Again it was very busy and the queue was so long we decided to take in the view of the city rather than go inside the castle. We then wiggled our way through the alleys and streets surrounding the castle. This was the first time in two days there were no tourists in sight and we felt like we were seeing an authentic side of Prague.

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Emily on our way up to the castle

We spent the rest of the evening trying to get lost to see a different side of Prague but kept ending up at the main square!

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A consumer of a ‘traditional’ chimney cake

My first impressions of Prague was not what I expected. Some places were so busy and full of tour groups you literally couldn’t move and we witnessed how a select few locals have capitalised on this. With ‘traditional’ cakes being sold (which are from Hungary) along with signs put up by the council warning tourists of not using taxi’s due to how much they will overcharge. We were also on the end of some very poor customer service in a couple of restaurants and a cafe (think 1/5 on Trip Advisor worthy). And we saw road rage so extreme the two drivers took to the street to ‘sort it out’ in front of a historic statue.

Day Three

Our final day consisted of no plans- just to wander. We felt very safe to explore the different suburbs. We ended up walking along the river and up to a huge pendulum at the top of a hill. The pendulum represents moving forward and the end of communism. From here we had one of the best views of our whole trip. You could see the river wind round the city, all the bridges and hundreds of church spires.

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With a few hours left before our flight we decided to explore the suburb at the top of the hill- I’m so glad we did. It was understated yet beautiful and filled with Prague locals going about their day. The suburb was surrounded by well-maintained parks and an easter fairground. Until this point I could never imagine what it would be like to live in Prague, but here I got a small glimpse and loved it.

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My opinions on Prague changed from hour to hour. I loved the architecture and river but the mass of tourists and lack of customer service skills left us feeling a bit underwhelmed. But these are just my personal views from what we experienced and I would never discourage anyone from visiting. Prague and the Czech Republic have an intriguing history and the beer is not taxed like other alcohol which helps contribute to a (very) lively night life.

Sadly Prague was our last city on our trip! I am currently putting together a video of our Eastern European adventure which I’ll be posting to this blog, but until then I hope you all have great week, and please recommend where I should visit next!