Europe 2018 - the good, the bad, the breathtaking
We always ask people "what was the best place you visited?" after they've travelled, but that's always the toughest question to answer. How do you compare apples and pears? Or how do you choose just one favourite? So, in the wake of that, I'm going to do a bit of an awards show, sharing some of the best and the worst from my 2018 Europe trip.
I think London would have to be at the top of my list of favourite cities. I've just always loved London. I feel like a small town, country bumpkin when I go because everywhere I look I'm in awe of the incredible architecture and the history around every corner. But I'm moving back to Aarhus in Denmark, so that's definitely a close second. I also really loved Budapest, Cologne and Seville.
Most adorable city
I don't know whether Ljubljana is considered a big town or a small city, but I think it should have a special mention as the most adorable one that I've visited. It had so many quaint buildings and they really love their dragons! It's known as the city of love, because the name sounds similar to "the beloved" in the Slovenian language and when you visit it yourself you'll see why the name isn't a coincidence.
There were a lot of places that I visited that I wouldn't really count as cities and I wish I'd seen more to be honest, but I mostly stuck to cities for ease of travel. My favourite would have to be Lagos in Portugal. It's a beach destination with the most chilled vibe and great nightlife. I can see why it was filled with Aussies!
Least favourite city
This one might surprise some people because it's such an iconic city, but Paris is really not my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful place and I loved the Louvre and the architecture, but the rest of it just doesn't really wow me. I struggled to find good food, maybe because of my budget, but I didn't have too much of a problem in other places. None of the people did anything to break the stereotype that Parisians are assholes. The weather sucked and I arrived to the sound of car horns blaring as there had been strikes and riots earlier in the day, causing road blockages, making for a jarring experience. I didn't even think that much of the shopping. Maybe I just haven't done Paris right, maybe I need more of a budget to get more out of it, or maybe just more time. Who knows, but I am yet to fall in love with Paris and I definitely won't be repeating the mantra "Paris is always a good idea". I really didn't like Reykjavik either, it was very gloomy and bleak, I can't imagine how people could live their when there's only a few hours of sun each day.
This one is a really tough because if there’s on thing that European cities have in abundance, it’s incredible architecture from numerous eras, empire and influences. The architecture of a city tells the story of its culture and history, whether it’s an arena building from the Roman empire, dragons from legends adorning walls and bridges or a distinct mosaic wall to set your churches apart from those in your neighbouring country. For me the architecture I was most drawn to was in Spain. As a country it has so much influence from within, as well as outside influences such as the Moorish invasion. I visited the incredible Alhambra Palace, was wowed by the Plaza de España in Seville, saw some of Gaudi’s most famous buildings which are all works of art and was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across the City of Arts and Science in Valencia which looked like something from a sci-fi movie. Portugal was close behind with its spectacular Pena Palace and, of course, Rome was stunning and awe-inspiring.
The whole coast around Lagos was absolutely breathtaking. The crazy rock formations make it so unique and I just wandered around all the cliffs and beaches for hours, constantly in awe of it. They're all free to get to but some have the option of renting loungers if I recall correctly, and they're all sandy and seemed pretty safe to swim in. If I had to pick one, I would say Praia do Camilo, it's a little further over than the others, but still only about 30 minutes walk from the town. The beaches of Croatia were also fantastic! Particularly the ones in Pula, Split and Zadar. And, of course, some of the beaches on the quieter islands in Greece, like Ano Koufonisi.
My favourite beach wasn't actually one of the ones in Lagos. Sure, they were absolutely incredible, but I wouldn't say any of them are my favourite for a couple of reasons. The first is that the water is too cold to swim in for long because it's the Atlantic Ocean. The second is that the beaches weren't super safe from crime, you still have to keep an eye on your belongings. So, my favourite beach was one that I actually don't know the name of, but it was just a 10 minute walk from the little port town Bol, which is on the island in Brač, Croatia. Even though it had pebbles, it was my favourite because it was really chill in spite of the amount of people there, the water was the perfect temperature, it was theft-free as far as I could tell, it had a lovely monastery on one end and when you swam in it, it was so clear you could see the bottom even when you swam out deep. I certainly felt like a mermaid there, I had a huge smile on my face the whole time.
Most disappointing beach
I think the Santorini beaches were very average. The other islands had much better beaches, but the ones on Santorini weren't as good at all. The first time I was there I did a boat tour around the island, even spent a bit more money to do one that visited the black, white and red sand beaches and the only one that looked any good was the red sand one. I guess the beaches are not the reason people go to Santorini though. I was also a little annoyed at the beaches in Italy, they're all geared up for rich tourists, so there's not much room for people who don't want to fork out 15 Euros for a sunbed.
Most picturesque road trip
This one has to go to Iceland. Driving the Golden Circle and down to the southern coast was a highlight of my trip and I just wish the rain had cleared out so I could've seen more of the landscape. But honestly, the scenery still looked impressive and dramatic even with the sky reading doom and gloom. A special mention also goes to the coastal route between Rijeka and Zadar in Croatia. The whole way along that coastline was just spectacular, I wish I had been in a car so I could've stopped to enjoy the countless little beaches we passed. The water looked so inviting and they were almost all empty.
Another one for Croatia! Such a gem, I can't recommend it enough. I don't know exactly why, but it seems to have a lot less crime and I felt a lot safer there. I felt comfortable leaving my stuff unattended when I swam most of the time (though I still remained vigilant) and I didn't feel like I was being leered at when I walked the streets. I felt comfortable being alone, even when the sun went down. Denmark, Sweden (Gothenburg) and Germany (Cologne) also felt very safe.
Least safe destination
A lot of places in Europe are known for pickpockets and other crimes that target tourists, like London, Paris, Barcelona and Rome, but I felt the least safe in Rome. It wasn't just the constant threat of having my stuff stolen and the harassment from people trying to sell shitty knick knacks, but the men in general made me feel so uncomfortable the whole time. I know that the men in Italy are infamous for behaviour like whistling at women walking down the street, but in Rome it just felt much more aggressive and intrusive than that. It is such a shame, because there were times that it just made me not want to be there at all.
Best place to party
I'll throw in a disclaimer here and say that I wasn't really into partying in Europe, mainly for safety reasons, so I only went out when I had good people to go with. But in the Greek Islands I definitely made the most of it! I was there on a Topdeck trip so there was always a good bunch of people to go out with and we hit some really great spots. My favourite was the silent disco bar in Ios, it was the best one I'd been to. I also went out a fair bit in Spain too, and Lagos was a good time, lots of bars in a really small area. Also, Aarhus is great for going out because most places are within a 5 minute walk of each other and there's a good mix of bars, pubs and clubs.
Hostels aren't always the dingy, smelly hovels that their reputation suggests. A few of the ones I stayed in felt like boutique hotels, and one was actually part of a hotel. The nicest one I stayed in was For You Hostel Seville. The entrance and kitchen area felt like a chic resort you might find in Bali or somewhere similar. The room wasn't huge but it had two different storage options and a bathroom area that had a towel hook for each bed, multiple showers and toilets, so it was more than comfortable. When your bed has a curtain, lamp and power socket then it feels very nice and private.
At the end of the day, it's usually the people who make a hostel awesome. It's hard to narrow it down. Obviously I loved the hostel I stayed at in Aarhus, Danhostel Aarhus City, but I also really enjoyed my stays at X Hostel Alicante and Home Youth Hostel Valencia because they went the extra mile to make the hostels fun and social. Home Youth Hostel had a free dinner night, followed by sangria, but my favourite was X Hostel Alicante because it had the best vibes and I met so many awesome people. They had a really fun night of drinking games in the living room and there was an excellent rooftop which was perfect to chill out and spend time with each other. Alicante itself wasn't too great but the hostel made me stay another night.
Not so good hostels
During my trip I stayed in a few hostels that weren't great, but I must admit that none were terrible and I luckily don't have any horror stories. I wouldn't tell people to stay away from these places, but if you're in the area I would recommend looking at other options. Young and Happy in Paris wasn't very nice, the beds were awful, the hostel was cramped and the bathrooms were a bit gross. But the breakfast they had included was decent. Black Sheep Hostel Cologne was in a really creepy location and the rooms were hot and noisy and the bathrooms again weren't very good. Staff were a redeeming factor. Bob's Youth Hostel in Amsterdam was average, not many good things to say about it. Soul Backpackers wasn't awful, just the room I stayed in was; a 12 bed mixed dorm with no air con and interesting characters.
I was pleasantly surprised by the shopping in Barcelona! I had no expectations but I ended up doing so much shopping there and even found some cool retro and secondhand stores. I also found a lot of really great shops in Sweden and some that were even in my price range.
I'm not a great one for food recommendations because I'm not much of a foodie and it's one area where I can save a lot of money. I suck at finding affordable places and good deals, I didn't even manage to figure out cheap tapas. But, I loved Greece the most for food because how can you beat a gyros for under 3 Euros?! It also got me into feta, I wasn't much of a fan before, but after have saganaki several days in a row I'm sold! Special mention to the Mexican place in Gibraltar, Iguanas, for having the best selection of Mexican food I think I've ever seen.
What are some of your favourite places in Europe? Any hidden gems to share?