Nov 172013
 

Today marks day 171 of my world tour and as I am writing this I’m sitting right at the back of an Etihad airplane destined for Abu Dhabi (thanks to my sister Maz for hooking me up my first ever standby staff travel ticket).

During the month since my last post I have covered quite a lot of ground. Spain to Portugal then back to Spain and then over to Morocco. It is amazing how much the world changes in such a short space of time.  The super relaxed Spanish seaside town of Tarifa is absolutely no comparison to the mayhem that awaits you about 35 minutes across the strait of Gibraltar in Tangier.

So without risking boring everyone to death with the detail of everything I have done, I’m simply going to list my top 3 for the final 4 European cities I visited (San Sebastian, Porto, Lisbon and Seville).  You will see some similar themes (food, food and more food) – I am amazed how I haven’t put inches onto my waistline.

San Sebastian

1.       Pintxos – These are the Basque regions version of tapas (see earlier post). The food in San Sebastian was right up there with some of the best I have experienced on this trip.

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2.       Atmosphere – I really fell in love with the relaxed vibe in San Sebastian.  I find the Spanish super chill as it is, but here it drops another gear.

3.       Surf – It was great to be within a 5 minute walk of the surf beach.  The last time I surfed was in San Diego in June and whilst the surf wasn’t pumping during my time in San Sebastian it was great just to get out there and get some salt water on my face.

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Porto

1.       Food – The Portuguese have a genuine passion for all things sweet and you will find patisseries scattered everywhere in the city.  I also loaded up on the local sandwich called Francesinha which is rated in the world’s top 10 and only available in Porto. Finally the Bacalau (salt cured cod) was a real hit and with so many recipes I was spoiled for choice.

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2.       Port – Porto is the home of Port and along the Gaia are dozens and dozens of wineries where one can sample and buy some premium wines.  I tried most wines including blanco, tawny and ruby as well as a few vintages.  My favourite were some vintage ruby’s which were divine when simply matched with freshly roasted almonds and local soft cheeses.

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3.      Architecture – One can’t help but to fall in love with the Portuguese architecture.

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Lisbon

1.       Nightlife – Lisbon is a hotspot for nightlife and the Bairro Alto is definitely where it is at.  During the day the narrow streets a deserted but come nigh time they fill with people drinking on the streets outside their favourite tiny bars and move from one to another.  There are also some nightclubs which I visited, but the bars that line the Barrio Alto are definitely my choice for a night out.

2.       Sintra – About an hour or so drive from Lisbon, this beautiful little town in the hills is home to some stunning palaces and buildings.  The town is small and cute and one can sample sweets that are exclusive to this region as well as the local drink “Ginjinha” which is cherry liquor poured in a chocolate cup where you drink half and then swallow the lot for a mix of chocolate and cherry bliss.

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3.       Pastel de nata– By this stage of my trip I had sampled so many sweets and devoured several Portuguese tarts in preparation for my visit to the birthplace of the national sweet – Casa Pastéis de Belém.  Fortunately we arrived at the store in the evening and the queue was minimal (they sell over 20,000 everyday).  Words cannot describe how amazing they were and miles better than any other I have ever experienced. The pastry was ultra-crispy, the egg custard filling was so decadent and creamy and the slight dusting of cinnamon and sugar on top gave it that little edge to make this an experience I would never forget.

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Seville

1.       People – The locals in Seville have an extra level warmth that I didn’t quite experience in other parts of Spain.  I was so fortunate to meet Gema who worked night shift in the hostel I was staying. I have never met a person so patient and reassuring which was exactly what I needed after my 6am car pool to Tarifa didn’t show up.   She was so confident of getting me to Tangier on time and literally searched for all the options available. She then told me about her favourite pastime in Spain which was to have a traditional Spanish breakfast. So with the hour or so I had spare until my bus that was exactly what I had.

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2.       Tapas – Southern Spain is the home of tapas and I made sure that I consumed as much as I could in the 48 hours I had in Seville.  The slightly experimental / Japanese fusion style I had at La Azotea were a standout.

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3.       Flamenco – I really had no idea what Flamenco was before a tour guide in Lisbon said that I must see a show whilst in Seville. I was so lucky to discover the only known museum dedicated to Flamenco and receive a deeper insight into its background and history.  The performance was bursting with emotion and you could really see it on the dancer’s faces as well as feel it in the intensity of their moves. The costumes were colourful and the music played in perfect harmony which made it really difficult to break my concentration just to take a photograph.

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And that marks the end of my 97 days in Europe. Looking back I really can’t believe how quickly the time passed as it only feels like yesterday when I landed in Paris after flying in from New York.

As expected my European visit was chock full of culture. I ate my way through so much delicious food, drank some unbelievably good liquor as well as admired some beautiful architecture and art.  I met some lifelong friends along the way and most importantly had a real blast.

To all those wonderful people I met along the way, thank you so much for being part of my world tour.

Oct 252013
 

Pintxos (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pincho) are a basque appetizer similar to tapas on small slices of bread.  San Sebastián has a huge amount of small bars that are well-known for their signature pintxo dishes.

Leo (our hostel host) took us out on a pintxos tour a few nights ago.  We sampled so many great dishes and I have to write a short post about it..

The highlight by far was the award-winning Zeruko in old town with their inventive style pintxo. The video below is me trying their signature cod dish which was lightly smoked on hot coal and washed down with a lettuce shot.

I have also attached a few pictures taken from some of the other bars.

If you are a food lover then San Sebastián is definitely the place for you.

 

 

 

Oct 222013
 

So I’ve thought a lot about my trip since my last update in Zadar 14 days ago.

Today represents 146 days on the road and I’m starting to get just a bit tired… Tired from living out of my macpac, tired of being woken up during the night and tired of being constantly on the move.

I never thought I would say it but I really miss my routine.

But this blog post is not about me having a whine.  Whilst most people who read about my travels thinks it’s all roses, it definitely is not. Without a doubt what has kept me going so long has been the people I have met along the way and the experiences I have had.

Last night I was out with a bunch of people from my hostel in San Sebastián, and the hostel manager Leo said something that really resonated with me.  He said that travelling really changes a person and the experiences from being exposed to different cultures both develops one’s personality and builds character.  He also told me both people I already know and new people I meet will see this.

And that is exactly what the last 14 days have been about. Hangin’ with the Homeboys.

Meet Christian.

Christian and I at a Borussia Dortmund - SC Freiburg football match.

Christian and I at a Borussia Dortmund – SC Freiburg football match.

Christian responded to a CouchSurfing post I made in the Kraków forum shortly before I arrived in August.  From the very first night we got along like a house on fire and had an insane 2 weeks in Kraków. Towards the end of that stay Christian invited me to come hang out with him at his home town in Düsseldorf and that is exactly what I did following Zadar.

The 4 days I spent in Düsseldorf could only be described as ‘local’ as that is exactly how I felt hanging out with Christian and his friends.

From clubbing at Milch Bar to seeing a Bundesliga football league match to attending a friends 90’s themed birthday party – these are all things I would be doing at home and it was a welcome change from the usual ‘tourist’ type activities.

90's fancy dress birthday party.

90’s fancy dress birthday party.

Meet Pete (Booosh)

The one and only Booosh.

The one and only Booosh.

Pete is not exactly a new friend I made on this trip as I have known him for close to 20 years.  But we certainly shared some experiences together in Berlin where finally our ‘East meets West’ reunion occurred.  About 9 months ago Pete introduced me to the film ‘Berlin Calling’ and we made a pact to spend time in Berlin to drink beer and party.

For the past 6 months Pete has travelled over-land all the way from Thailand through to Berlin and I have been in contact with him throughout that time.  As I had been in the USA heading towards Europe, Pete coined the term ‘East meets West’ very early in the piece.

After 5 months away from all my family and friends it was awesome to see a familiar face in Berlin for just over 2 weeks.  We shared a cool apartment together in Kreuzburg and I learned a thing or 2 about living economically as we shopped in Lidl and Aldi to save our valuable resources for nightclubs and beer.

There were some freaky occurrences in Berlin. Like me getting into a dialogue with Redman’s tour DJ over Instagram and arranging VIP entry to a private show they did for a Converse gallery opening called ‘Cons Space’.  This was the second time I have seen Redman on this trip and seriously could not believe our luck!

Redman live @ Cons Space (Berlin)

Redman live @ Cons Space (Berlin)

Pete also introduced me to the Spätkauf scene in Berlin.  A spätkauf is a kind of convenience store which also sells beer and other alcoholic beverages at very affordable prices.  The better spätkauf’ also have tables and chairs outside where many locals will chill before heading out for their evening festivities.  In addition to the many local beers I fell in love with, I also discovered the “Jaeger-Mate” which is a knockout combination of Club Mate (a German type of fizzy Iced Tea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Club-Mate) mixed with Jägermeister.  And in Germany you can enjoy a drink anywhere you wish… whether it be on the street or public transport – we exploited that to its fullest.

Probably our clubbing highlight was a Sunday night at a club called KaterHolzig (http://www.katerholzig.de/). Berlin is well-known for its nightlife scene and this club should definitely be on your list if you are ever out clubbing in Berlin.  Whilst some clubs like Berghain are known for waits of up to 4 hours and inconsistent door policy, Pete and I were really fortunate to have some locals with us to make sure we didn’t either wait too long or have language barriers with the  door staff.  The crowd at KaterHolzig was one of the coolest I have seen with zero pretension and the club had a totally relaxed environment.

And finally meet Kevin.

Kevin, Sam and I at Greenhouse in Manhattan. Turned out to be a HUGE night!!!

Kevin, Sam and I at Greenhouse in Manhattan. Turned out to be a HUGE night!!!

For those that have read my earlier posts you may recall I met Kevin whilst in Brooklyn, New york.  Kevin lives in Dublin, Ireland and extended an invitation for me to visit whilst I was travelling through Europe.

So after finding a super cheap Ryanair flight to Dublin from Berlin, that’s exactly what I did.  I stayed a total of 4 days with Kevin and his 3 Irish room mates Gavin (Jerry), Kieran and Ronan (Splinter).  These were a super cool bunch of Irish lads and for 4 days straight I was given a guided tour of Dublin’s finest bars and nightclubs courtesy of these characters.

Gav, Victor, Kav and I at a Spanish party in Dublin.

Me, Gav, Victor and Kev at a Spanish party in Dublin.

So many friends warned me before arriving about the drinking culture in Ireland.  But reality far exceeded my expectations as these guys redefine the term drinking.  But on a serious note the Irish hospitality is right up there with the most friendly I have received around the world and the Aussies are very well received over there as well.

Guinness Storehouse

Guinness Storehouse

I think I also developed an addiction to Guinness during my stay in Dublin with a few pints consumed. I can still remember Kevin telling me to slow down on the stuff as Id be halfway through a pint as the guys had barely had a few sips of their beers.

I was also fortunate enough to have Ronan arrange a tour of the Jameson Distillery as he works there.  I definitely learnt a thing or 2 about whiskey after that experience and am definitely sold on the Irish stuff from now on.

Jameson Distillery

Jameson Distillery

I’m sure some people who read this post may not necessarily understand the collective impact of these experiences on one’s persona or character however I can assure you that it would be near impossible to replicate even with the help of the world’s best tour guide or host.

This is what I define as travel and experiencing local culture.  Not only do I have some fond memories but more importantly I have some lasting friendships to show for it.

 

Oct 082013
 

Zadar in Northern Dalmatia is about 400 km’s northwest from Dubrovnik.  My bus trip took nearly 8 hours with a few stops and border crossings into Bosnia along the way.  I was really looking forward to visiting Zadar as I had read some great reviews and knew it would be far less touristy than Dubrovnik.  It also had more to offer by way of things of interest to me – like island tours and national parks etc

View of Zadar Old town from Preko ferry

View of Zadar Old town from Preko ferry

Believe it or not I was also looking forward to staying in a hostel again .  In Dubrovnik my 3 night stay in a single room meant that it was far less social than what I am now accustomed to. The trade-off between a good nights rest and social interaction – I’ll now opt for social interaction 99% of the time.

So shortly after checking into my hostel in Zadar I met a lovely girl named Sarah.  She was in Croatia as part of her US university grant and was studying poetry.  She was travelling around the country finding inspiration for her work and maintaining a blog. We walked around old town together and visited the famous Sea Organ which is a man-made organ with the motion of the waves and 35 pipes to create a musical soundscape.  It was pretty cool to see, especially with a nice sunset.

The Garden

The Garden

Later on, we went and visited a bar that had positive reviews called ‘The Garden’. Opened by 2 members of the band UB40 it was beautiful and relaxed as well as practically deserted as peak tourist season was over.  After our beer, we went and had dinner at an italian restaurant recommended by the lady at our hostel.  It had been such a long time  since I actually sat down to a beautiful dinner, a bottle of local red wine and most importantly some great company.

Zadar marina at sunset.

Zadar marina at sunset.

The next day after a nice sleep in, I decided to take the ferry over to Preko Island for a lazy afternoon in the sunshine.  The town was so quiet which made it so easy to absorb the mediterranean atmosphere by walking along the coastline past the Croatian holiday homes and their magnificent fruit gardens.  I was so tempted to pick some grapes along the way but decided against it in fear of upsetting the locals.

One of the many fruit gardens at the front of local homes on Preko

One of the many fruit gardens at the front of local homes on Preko

During my walk I stumbled across a tiny local restaurant just past the fishing village.  Once again I had the place to myself and opted for the prime table overlooking the water’s edge with the fishing trawlers in the foreground.  This is now one of my most favourite lunches thus far with a simple serving of fresh seafood, crusty bread and cold beer.

An awesome lunch I had at Preko

An awesome lunch I had at Preko

I had a small dilemma for my last day in Zadar – choose between the Kornati Islands National Park tour or visit the stunning waterfalls and lakes of the Plitvice National Park. I opted to avoid the crowds and take a tour boat out to Kornati Islands.  I did my research on the tour companies and chose the ‘Blue Lagoon’ boat which had some good reviews.

Blue Lagoon boat to Kornati Islands National Park

Blue Lagoon boat to Kornati Islands National Park

I knew I was in for a long day when offered a shot of home-brew rakija immediately after boarding the boat at 8am.  Needless to say I had the shot but also met a fun girl from London called Lorraine.  The Croatian host of the tour asked me where I was from when boarding and then immediately paired me up with Lorraine as we were both from ‘commonwealth’ countries.

Kornati Islands

Kornati Islands

The 2 hours it took to arrive to the Kornati Islands were probably not as stunning as I was expecting.  The landscape was far more arid and less green or lush as I had imagined and the minor chance that we’d see a pod dolphins along the way did not eventuate.  But regardless I was having some great conversation and that continued as  we also stopped at another island for lunch on the way back.  Our table was once again hand-picked by our tour host which meant meeting  lots of cool people from around the world.  The home cooked fresh fish and vegetables were a smash hit as well.

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One of the many Kornati Island cliffs…

But probably the highlight of my 3 days in Zadar was the 14-metre cliff jump out in the Kornati Islands National Park.  After being the macho man and talking myself up for the upcoming cliff jump, for the first time I experienced the feeling of being weak at the knees when I looked down over the edge of the cliff.  I literally had to sit down as I was getting really wobbly – huge thanks to Lorraine for capturing this on my video camera without any instruction from me at all.

I had a great time in Zadar.  It is well worth visiting and should be on your itinerary if you intend on travelling to Croatia.

 

Oct 012013
 

I’d heard so many positive things about Croatia – both during this trip as well as from friends and family that have travelled there before. I must admit my expectations were high even after some recent advice that Dubrovnik in particular was quite touristy and expensive. But I didn’t quite comprehend the magnitude and downplayed it somewhat as I thought visiting late September (which was well outside peak season) would be nice and relaxed.

I have been so accustomed to paying between AUD $10-$20 per night for hostels in eastern European cities that I was almost outraged to see prices in Dubrovnik hovering around the AUD$40-$50 mark. Regardless, I decided to spoil myself somewhat with a very basic single room in a private lodging as getting woken at all hours in hostel dorms was starting to wear thin on me. Private lodgings are essentially the main form of ‘non-hotel’ type accommodation in Croatia, where the locals rent out rooms in their houses and apartments.

My overpriced single room in Dubrovnik.

My overpriced single room in Dubrovnik.

My bus from Kotor to Dubrovnik lasted about 4 hours with a couple of border crossings. I felt really bad for a Korean guy I was travelling with whom realised at the first border crossing (about 2 hours out of Kotor) that he had left his passport at the hostel and that was the end of his bus ride – not sure what happened to the poor guy.

As the bus started to approach Dubrovnik I started to get really excited with the stunning views of the old town, it looked so beautiful and the sun was shining so brightly. I was really looking forward to just chilling out in the sun and enjoying the scenery.

View of Old Town from Sveti Jakov Beach.

View of Old Town from Sveti Jakov Beach.

When the bus finally arrived at the main bus station, I literally put one foot outside the door of the bus and was bombarded by old Croatian ladies putting pictures of their apartments in my face and trying to sell their room – I was totally not expecting that and found it quite funny actually. It was then when the penny dropped and I knew this was not going to be as relaxed as expected.

I caught a local bus to my accommodation in old town. During the 15 minute journey all I could hear was the sound of Aussie accents on the bus, it almost felt like home. Whilst I have bumped into fellow Aussie’s pretty much everywhere I have travelled, Dubrovnik seemed to have far more than recent cities I have visited.

As I only had 2 nights in Dubrovnik, I headed straight into old town after checking into my room. As I approached the Pile Gate entrance to Old Town I really wanted to just stand and admire the beauty of it but couldn’t as I had to dodge the masses of tourists swarming around the place.

Pile Gate

Pile Gate

I walked around old town through Placa Stradum the main thoroughfare with a whole heap of cute little alleys coming off it. I also walked around the marina at the Lokrum end of old town and saw a few people swimming in the rock pools outside the city walls.

Placa Stradum

Placa Stradum

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By this stage I was a little thirsty and decided to get a drink at Cafe Buža – a place I had read about as a must visit when in Dubrovnik. The tables and chairs are set out on the ocean side of a cliff and the beers are served in bottles and plastic cups. Even though the drinks are massively over-priced, the view was amazing and it was awesome to escape the crowds.

Cafe Buža

Cafe Buža

After my drink, I walked the famous 2km City Walls which surround Dubrovnik. The history of the City Walls was to protect from the enemy – the views from the walls are spectacular. It’s also another great way to escape the hordes of tourists in Old Town.

Old Town

Old Town

Old Town

Old Town

On day 2, I did some research on which beach to visit as I really wanted something with few crowds, local and clean. I was able to achieve most expectations with a beautiful little beach called Sveti Jakov Beach. After walking about 3.5km’s to get there I was surprised to see it looked exactly as pictured on the internet – and practically deserted! There were only a few locals on the beach and the single cafe/bar was now shut since the end of the peak season. It really was great to swim and sunbath with the beach exclusively to me.

Sveti Jakov Beach.

Sveti Jakov Beach.

Dubrovnik is definitely a city you should put on your itinerary if you intend on visiting Europe.  It really is beautiful and the Old Town in particular is worth seeing.  If there is a time when it is less overrun by tourists then try to visit then, otherwise keep your trip short and see more of what Croatia has to offer – stay tuned for my next update on Zadar.

Old Town

Old Town

 

Sep 222013
 

A picture tells a thousand words.  There is nothing I can write to describe the beauty of Montenegro.  My 3 days in Kotor and Perast won’t be my last.  Below is a selection of my favourite pictures – enjoy.

Sep 192013
 

Belgrade was never on the itinerary of my solo world tour, but after reading an article (read here) sent to me from a friend I made in Krakow I thought I’d give it a shot.

The overnight train from Budapest to Belgrade wasn’t the most comfortable trip unfortunately, even with my sleeper cabin.  The 2 border checkpoints (Hungary and Serbia)  first at about midnight and another an hour later didn’t really make for a good night’s sleep.  Add to that the stench of urine in my cabin due to being next door to the toilet, well it could have been worse  I guess.  As my brother Kam said, it’s all part of the adventure.

After getting off the train at central station, I walked around the streets of Belgrade aimlessly for over an hour trying to find my hostel which got a little frustrating, especially when I finally found it and learned that I had walked past it about 3 times.  I guess the positive side of that was that I found a cool Pekora which is like a fast food store and bakery combined in one.

Belgrade from a distance.

Belgrade from a distance.

For me, Belgrade is an emerging city – kind of an old meets new.  It has some great nightlife and café culture but also retains old traditions like Kafanas and old-fashioned hospitality. Whilst the city doesn’t possess the architectural beauty that Budapest or Krakow have, if you look hard enough beyond the communist era buildings and bullet marked walls you will find a few little surprises.

Bullet holes in the walls of many buildings in Belgrade

Bullet holes in the walls of many buildings in Belgrade

With limited time, I was able to do a great deal at a relatively slow pace.  I don’t see the point in running around trying to tick boxes.

Below is my Top 10 for Belgrade, and I’d definitely recommend a visit to this city if you are visiting Eastern Europe.

1. Befriend some locals

Some cool Belgrade locals whom I played a few games of beach volleyball with at Ada.

Some cool Belgrade locals whom I played a few games of beach volleyball with at Ada.

2. Drink local beer and make new friends in the ‘Students’ Park at night

Akademski (Students) Park - due to its proximity to the local uni's

Akademski (Students) Park – due to its proximity to the local uni’s

3. Have a few shots of the national drink ‘Rakija’

Traditional Serbian Rakija - lethal stuff.

Traditional Serbian Rakija – lethal stuff.

4. Drink Serbian coffee, eat Cevapi (minced meat sausage) and drink local beer at one of the many Kafanas scattered across town

Serbian/Turkish coffee - same thing really

Serbian/Turkish coffee – same thing really

5. Spend a sunny afternoon at Ada Cigalina playing beach volleyball with the locals or hire a bike and ride around the lake

Ada Ciganlija

Ada Ciganlija

6. Hop from one club to another on the Sava on a Saturday night

Kunal & I at Klub Schlep

Kunal & I at Klub Schlep

7. Drink café lattes in any of the hip cafes along ‘Silicon Valley’ (named after the plastic surgery of choice for the girls that frequent this strip)

A great Cafe Latte I enjoyed at Insomnia on Silicon Valley

A great Cafe Latte I enjoyed at Insomnia on Silicon Valley

8. Do a walking tour of the city

Belgrade Fortress - I would have missed this completely if I had not done the walking tour.

Belgrade Fortress – I would have missed this completely if I had not done the walking tour.

9. Have Burek (cheese) and yoghurt at a Pekora drink for breakfast (especially following a night out clubbing)

Burek (Cheese) and Yoghurt drink from my favourite Pekora after arriving in Belgrade

Burek (Cheese) and Yoghurt drink from my favourite Pekora after arriving in Belgrade

10. Catch the train (day) to Bar, Montenegro and make sure you get a window seat – the scenery is breathtaking and gets rated as one of the most picturesque in Europe

So now I am in one of the most beautiful little towns in Europe and I can’t wait to update my blog with a post about this relatively unknown gem.

Finally, you can see a few pictures in my Belgrade album here

Dovidjenja.

 

Sep 112013
 

My original plan after leaving Krakow was to spend 3 or 4 days in Budapest and then head further south towards Serbia, Montenegro and then Croatia.  I am now into day 9 of my Budapest stay, and whilst I am enjoying my time here – my extra time spent is not particularly due to the enjoyment factor.

After week 14 of my Solo World Tour, I’m still having a blast but at the same time I am also starting to feel the effects of the constant drinking, partying and poor diet.  With my first few days in Budapest being no different to my first days in most cities I have visited – which involves eating the local food (which I might add is extremely heavy and involves meat, more meat and even more meat), frequenting the local bars called Ruin Pubs and making new friends.

Szimpla (Ruin Pub)

Szimpla (Ruin Pub)

1. Téliszalámi 'Pick' (Hungarian cold smoked, and dry ripened salami) 2. Libamájpástétom (Hungarian Delicacy Foie Gras / Goose Liver Pâté) 3. Májas Hurka (Liver Sausage)  4. Bull's Blood of Eger (Surprisingly good Hungarian Red Blend)

1. Téliszalámi ‘Pick’ (Hungarian cold smoked, and dry ripened salami)
2. Libamájpástétom (Hungarian Delicacy Foie Gras / Goose Liver Pâté)
3. Májas Hurka (Liver Sausage)
4. Bull’s Blood of Eger (Surprisingly good Hungarian Red Blend)

I did also manage to find time to take part in the free walking tours of Budapest – in fact 2 of them. I really enjoyed the free walking tours in Krakow and as soon as I heard about similar tours in Budapest I jumped at the chance.  Both the general Budapest tour as well as the Jewish District tour were awesome and I would highly recommend them. It is a great way to quickly get your bearings, learn a lot of history and meet people all at the same time.  The tours are also based on a tip system, so at the end you basically give what you think it was worth and what you can afford.

Parliament Building

Parliament Building

After making some new local friends, we took a boat cruise along the Danube River at night which was spectacular, the evening Budapest skyline looks absolutely stunning.

Budapest at night (Image Wilfredo R. Rodriguez H)

Budapest at night (Image Wilfredo R. Rodriguez H)

However not even 2 walking tours (2.5 hours) each were enough for me to shake off the ‘mid tour blues’.  I have really been missing my gym and ‘clean eating’, hence I made the decision to do a detox / boot camp of sorts.

The hostel at which I am staying (Adam’s Apple) is awesome. Whilst it’s not a party hostel, it is only 6 weeks old with excellent kitchen facilities and great staff.  I have also had my 7 bed dorm to myself for most of my stay which is pure bliss.  This has provided a great foundation for me to rest, relax as well as cook some healthy meals.

After discovering the central market very early into my trip, I decided to load up on a heap of fresh vegetables, eggs and a few kilos of chicken breasts.  I never thought brown rice and egg whites would ever taste so good, even after all the decadent food I have eaten to date.

On top of that I found a perfectly acceptable bodybuilding gym a few blocks down the road from where I am staying. Whilst it is not FitnessFirst, it has some good equipment and a casual visit rate of $4.

So for the past 7 days, I have not touched a drop of alcohol – I really feel like an alcoholic saying that 🙂 And I have also been cooking all my meals daily which is also something I have missed terribly.  On top of that I have hit the gym really hard and getting a lot of early nights in as well.  I really don’t feel like I’m on world tour now except for the fact I’m in a foreign country where english is not widely spoken.  Most importantly though I feel great and love having some normality back into my life!

I’m not sure how much longer I’ll stick around Budapest.  I guess the goal from here is a get some balance and moderation back into my world tour and not treat everyday like it is a Saturday night.  The weather is starting to deteriorate quickly with a few rainy days and cooler temperatures but the positive side is that the tourist crowds are starting to dissipate as well.

I have about 2 weeks before I need to be in Düsseldorf to meet up with my friend Christian whom I met whilst I was in Krakow. Still on my list are Belgrade, Mostar, Zadar and Prague. I am also looking forward to catching up with my old pal ‘Boosh’ in Berlin early October who has travelled from Thailand to Berlin over land – a classic ‘east meets west’.

And how great it was to see the blueboys win last weekend, most people in my hostel had no idea what AFL was until they saw me going crazy in the common area. Let’s hope we are at least competitive against Sydney.

Finally, feel free to check out my small Budapest gallery if you want to see a small collection of this beautiful city.

szia

Some nice people I met in Budapest (Szimpla Ruin Bar)

Some nice people I met in Budapest (Szimpla Ruin Bar)

 

Aug 192013
 

I arrived in Amsterdam by bus on the 9th August and stayed for 6 days.  I really enjoyed Amsterdam during my first visit 5 years ago which is why I decided to return this time.

Amsterdam is a beautiful city with its canals, alleyways and gothic architecture – some of the buildings date as far back as 1306. But for me, it’s the people and culture that really define Amsterdam. I love how tolerant and open-minded Dutch people are, one can get away with anything in the Netherlands (within reason).

Not a lot a has changed in the 5 years since I last visited – except for the volume of tourists, that seems to have increased significantly.  The simple pleasure of walking around the city was ruined by having to navigate around the masses of people, especially going around those dreaded incredibly slow walkers and hand holders.  The tourists Amsterdam attracts are far more oriented to drinking and partying with a skew towards tourists from England – I guess the proximity and relative cost makes it an obvious destination for our English friends.  You could almost compare the English in Amsterdam to the Australians in Bali. My advice to anyone visiting Amsterdam in the future would be to find accommodation outside Central/Red Light and look at Jordaan if you want to avoid the chaos.

I had a really interesting hostel experience whilst visiting Amsterdam, staying at a place called Shelter City.  This was a Christian hostel with daily bible readings and discussion (not compulsory) and zero no alcohol/drug policy.  The staff there were mostly volunteers from abroad and were SUPER friendly and helpful.  It was one of the most pleasant hostels I have stayed in to date simply because of the positive vibe the staff propelled through the place.

One of the first things I did when arriving was getting myself a bicycle.  Anyone that has visited before would know that it is pretty much the main form of transport around the city.  It was a great way to get in some much-needed exercise and get out to the surrounding suburbs for a much more authentic Dutch experience.  Cars were almost none existent in Amsterdam, and those I did spot were having an awful time trying to squeeze into tiny car parks at hugely inflated prices.

Some of my Amsterdam highlights were the following:

Osseworst – this traditional Dutch sausage was a great discovery and went so well with the local beers I was drinking.  It reminded me a lot of some Lebanese sausages I grew up with.  Even though the meat is raw, it doesn’t really taste as such with the smoking process and spices used.

Osseworst - raw minced beef smoked at a low temperature (Photo courtesy of Takeaway)

Osseworst – raw minced beef smoked at a low temperature (Photo courtesy of Takeaway)

Komijnekaas – A local I met told me about a butcher near my hostel which doubled as a sandwich shop.  For 3 euro I was eating some incredible sandwiches, with my favourite being a simple super crusty roll with the local Dutch cheese Komijnekaas. The cumin pleasantly comes through but it doesn’t dominate at all – and I was eating a mature variety which tends to be stronger in flavour.

Leidse kaas is the most common type of komijnekaas - cheese including cumin as an ingredient (Photo courtesy of Edwtie)

Leidse kaas is the most common type of komijnekaas – cheese including cumin as an ingredient (Photo courtesy of Edwtie)

The Dutch make some incredible beer, and have some awesome breweries within easy reach of Amsterdam by foot or bike.  One of my favourites was Brouwerij ‘t IJ Amsterdam located below the windmills. My pick was the Zatte (8%): yellow/gold tripel – a strong pale ale with a sweet finish.

Brouwerij 't IJ Amsterdam, Netherlands (Photo courtesy of gfdl)

Brouwerij ‘t IJ Amsterdam, Netherlands (Photo courtesy of gfdl)

I did also manage to sneak in a visit to the Allard Pierson Museum with a friend I made – his name was Khalid and he worked at a coffee shop very close to my hostel.   Museums take on a whole new dimension when you visit a coffee shop before hand 😉

Apart from Khalid and the staff at my hostel, my social interaction was limited in Amsterdam.  I was talking to a close friend yesterday and he summed it up nicely “certain cities just seem to work with you and your personality”Pete Bewsher 2013

After experiencing a social high in Paris, Amsterdam was somewhat a ‘come down’. I guess after 80 days of straight partying on this trip, I needed to slow down and that didn’t exactly match the chaos of central Amsterdam and red light district.

So now I’m in Warsaw, Poland and I’ll post another update soon.  I have thought a lot about the rest of my world tour and what I want to achieve. I potentially may have some exciting news which I’ll announce in due course.

Signing out for now.

 

Aug 062013
 

Well all I can say is that at exactly this time yesterday, I was ready to bounce the hell out of Paris.

I wasn’t feeling the vibe on my 2nd trip here in 5 years but that all changed following one integral decision I made yesterday – change hostels.  For 3 nights I was staying at the highly regarded Le Village Hostel in Montmartre and whilst is was relatively clean and the staff were nice, it lacked big time on atmosphere.  In 3 days I don’t think I spoke with a single person staying there.

Yesterday, I checked into the brand new St Christopher hostel in Gare Du Nord.  Not only is this place massive, new and modern – it is also a party hostel with a great atmosphere. It helps a lot when there is a huge bar and social area right within the entrance of the hostel.

Shortly after I checked in yesterday, I made friends with my roommate from Quebec – Alex.  Having a wingman that speaks French is a real bonus, even though most people find him difficult to understand as the Canadian French accent is difficult for the locals to comprehend but who am I to complain.

Anyway, I can’t really reveal too much about my adventures last night except to say that it has catapulted Paris to number 1 place on my soloworldtour rankings.  (And for those that have a 1-track mind it’s not for that reason). I am suffering a little today with a nasty hangover but a couple more Gatorade will hopefully fix that.

Adventures just take on a whole new dimension when you are in a foreign country and don’t understand the local language. Essentially relying on people’s tone and expression makes things so much more fun.

So, today I’m checking out the Catacombs of Paris with Alex and Jason (another guy we met in the hostel).  We will follow that up with a French dinner at a local restaurant with a bunch of locals I met via a couchsurfing event.

Vive La France!

Catacombs of Paris -  is an underground ossuary which holds the remains of about six million people.

Catacombs of Paris – is an underground ossuary which holds the remains of about six million people.

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