When it comes to traveling, I feel like I developed a pattern. I tend to always strive for places and destinations that are far away, the further the better. At least it looks like that when I look at the stamps in my passport. Colombia, New Zealand, the U.S.A, Mexico … all of those places are at least a 7 hour flight away.
I only started to realize that about a year ago, when people I talked to were always sure that wouldn’t be interested in a trip to Italy, because “I’m sure you’ve been there already”. They were always pretty surprised when I told them that I hardly knew Europe yet. I haven’t been to Italy really, I haven’t been to London or Paris and I haven’t even been to Bratislava, which is literally RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER.
So in May, a friend and I decided to check out Bratislava for a couple of days. Not knowing what to expect, because, well, it is so close to Vienna and the Austrian border, we were a bit afraid it would be pretty much the same but smaller.
Up until about two years ago, I’ve never heard about the Grüner See (Green Lake) in Styria. But then there was this article about it in the news papers and it got nominated to be one of Austria’s most beautiful spots. I started wondering why neither I nor anyone I know has ever been there, since it’s pretty close to home and honestly… hence the size of Austria, pretty close to about every corner of good old Austria! 😉
Two friends and I had the idea of doing a little more homeland exploring whenever we have some time to spare and when the idea of going to Grüner See came up, we were instantly hooked.
Although I’m living in Vienna for a couple of years now, and the connection between the hungarian capital and the austrian one is pretty amazing (there is plenty of busses and trains, that take you there for under 20 Euros), I haven’t been to Budapest for more than a stop-over. When friends told me a couple of weeks ago, that they will be stopping there on their backpacking trip, I was totally up for joining.
So last week I took the Flixbus from Vienna and three short hours later, ended up in a city that looks so similar to Vienna, but it SO TOTALLY different.
Since we only had a couple days to explore, me and my friends just dropped our bags at the hostel and started into the bustling city.
Since no great day ever started without breakfast, this was exactly where we were heading first. Thanks to my favorite travel inspiration (Instagram 😉 ) I found this very cute and stylish breakfast place named “Szimply”. It was kind of hard to find at first, since it is located in a patio, but totally worth looking for. We actually ended up there twice; this is how good it was! 😉
The café itself is tiny and for coffee you have to cross over to the other side of the patio to get it from a different place, but the breakfast there was amazing. Great quality of food perfectly seasoned and gorgeously arranged. And most important – they have an amazing variety vegetarian and vegan breakfast options. Being a vegetarian myself and traveling with a vegan, finding veggie friendly places to eat wasn’t actually as hard as we feared. At the Szimply we opted for a sweet quinoa bowl with fruits and flowers, pan fried eggs with lots of salmon and been purée and the best avocado bread I’ve ever had.
After breakfast we started our Budapest exploration, we walked all over Pest, passing impressive monuments, street artists, Baumkuchen stands and a loooot of fellow traveler. One of the most memorable place we came across was the holocaust memorial. The „Shoes on the Danube“ memorial is one of the most moving memorials I’ve ever seen.
Gyula Pauer and Can Togay , two sculptors, created this touching memorial in memory of the victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944 and 1945.
Next we crossed the bridge over to Buda.
Buda and Pest have been united into one city only in 1873 and from what I’ve seen there is still a huge difference between the two sides of the city.
Buda with its hills, the Castle Quarter, the museums and the cobblestone streets makes you feel like you just went back into imperial times. Besides of a couple of tourist groups we didn’t meet any other people and the whole area felt like it is just there for being looked at and admired. Over at the Buda side of the City, we also had quite a hard time finding a place to stop for coffee. Since we tried to avoid “touristy” places, we wandered around Buda for quite a while till we found a café.
One thing I really liked about Buda is the view from the castle hill. There is a couple of famous viewpoints, like the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Citadella fortress, where you’ll have a splendid look over Pest, the Danube and the gorgeous Chain Bridge. To get up to the castle, you can either walk through the gardens underneath the castle, wander through the part of town underneath the hill and find the steps that take you up the hill, or you take the more comfortable way and ride up the hill with the Funicular.
On top of the hill – Buda Castle
Pest on the other hand is full of life and you wouldn’t have to walk more than 2 minutes to find a coffee place. Pest is also where all the nightlife is happening. From the famous ruin bars ( there is more than 30 of them) to hundreds of pubs and clubs, there is a chance to party in Pest every night of the year. But Pest has more to offer than just party; it is great for shopping, eating out and there is lots of historic sights on this side of the Danube as well.
One of my favorite places in Pest was definitely the market hall. It is full of fresh fruits, great variety of typical hungarian food and all sorts of souvenirs. Also, the hall itself is pretty spectacular.
The Jewish Quarter in Pest is known for the ruin bars and its young, hip vibe. I loved everything about it. There is pop up food festivals, affordable restaurants and unique shops, something to discover around every corner.
At night, Pest is definitely the better place to be, not only because of all the entertainment, also because the view from the esplanade at night is top. Strolling along the Danube at night, looking at the brightly lit castle on the Buda side is breathtaking.
For dinner we found another great vegan friendly place close to our Hostel. It was called Napfényes Étterem and I pretty much fell in love with their rague.
More about my trip to Budapest, including a review on a visit to one of Budapests famous Spas in a follow up post!
I can hardly remember a time in my life when I wouldn’t have been up for packing my bags instantly, board a plane and travel the world. But unfortunately… to travel you need money and therefor, like most people, I have to spend an awful amount of time working and doing „serious“ life things.
BUT , this doesn’t prevent me from constantly dreaming, planning and looking forward to my next trip to ANYWHERE. ❤
At times when my heart is especially restless, I love reading travel quotes, I have at least 200 of them screenshotted on my phone and a whole lot more in all of my notebooks.
I spent the first time of my stay in Colombia in the Caribbeanregion, I loved it, but there was one thing that was a true disappointment to me. The coffee tasted awful.
This might not be a valid reason to be disappointed for some people, but I am an official coffee addict and worshiper through and through. So, I almost gave up on the coffee-heaven Image of Colombia I had for so many years, but then… I got to Salento.
Salento itself is a gorgeous little town. It’s center is easily walked within one hour and the main plaza is always full of life. Be it school kids on their lunch break, backpackers waiting for the trucks to take them to the Cocora Valley (Post on the Cocora Valley here ) or locals drinking their coffee and chatting for hours.
Right from the main plaza starts the busiest street in town (which isn’t actually that busy at all… another thing I loved about Salento), there is a lot of shops, restaurants and bars lined up, so if you can’t decide what to do with your day , start off there and you will be entertained for hours. This street ends at a staircase which leads you up to a Punto de Vista, where you’ll have an amazing view over the famous eje-cafetera region and of course beautiful Salento.
I truly loved everything about Salento, the fact that there is almost as many Colombian weekend tourist as gringo backpackers, the friendly people, who actually greeted us from day one and knew our names by day 3, the tours you can go on from there, horse riding to hidden waterfalls, biking, hiking the Cocora Valley, visit traditional Coffee farms and many more, the fact that I stayed in the most beautiful hostel I’ve ever seen, the amazing coffee everywhere and the millions of different shades of green.
The Hostel we stayed in is called “La Serrana” and it is located about 20-25 minutes of walking distance outside of town. It is surrounded by literally NOTHING but green hills full of coffee plantations and in the morning, when the fog is still lingering around the hills, you feel like you are the only person in the world. So peaceful . ❤
They also have great common rooms, which are always full of guitar playing and storytelling fellow traveler and they serve amazing breakfast and dinner.
Coffee farm highlight
For me, a passionate coffee lover, going to the coffee plantations was a MUST DO. My friends and I decided to go see a traditional, organic one named Sacha Mama.
It took us about an hour to get there . We started at our hostel and the path lead us mostly downhill through the core of the Coffee zone.
Sacha Mama is a special kind of Coffee farm, with a lot of history and run by the same family since ages.
The lady there went on a tour through her families coffee plantation with us, we learned so much about the traditional coffee making process and in the end we were even rewarded with a cup of amazing self-made Colombian Coffee, cookies and cakes.
For a trip to the Coffee Farm, you definitely need a whole day, since you are walking quite a bit to get there and even more going back (since it is ALL UPHILL ;P ) and you should definitely take the chance to talk to the people who run the farm, they will answer all your questions and are really happy to meet people who are truly interested in coffee.
They also sell their organic, self-made coffee at the farm, which is SO MUCH better than the one you get in the stores… obviously! 😉
Battambang was one of the cutest cities I’ve been to in Cambodia. We arrived late in the afternoon with the Angkor Express Boat , that I already told you about in one of my previous articles. Since we were really tired we just grabbed something to eat, went for a short walk and then right into bed.
The next day we got up very early looking for a Tuktuk driver to show us the best of Battambang, since we just had this one day. A few minutes later we found one and hit the road to the Bamboo Train.
Let the journey begin 😀
The Bamboo Train is one of the most famous attractions in Battambang that is why we had to go there and check it out! With this train you don’t actually get somewhere, it is just for the experience – you drive 15 to 20 minutes in one direction and then the same way back for around $5. It wasn’t very comfortable, very bumpy and the train gets really fast – it was fun though and you get to take some really nice pictures.
Since the way there and back is the same, they have to get the train off the tracks to let the other trains pass. After an hour and a half we were finished and went to the next stop on our list.
Wat Banan Temple
This is a really small but beautiful temple a little outside of Battambang and it is definitely worth going there. You have to go up a very steep staircase but once you are on the top you get a really nice view.
Killing Caves and Phnom Sampeau Temple
Our Tuktuk driver told us a lot about Cambodias history and the victims of the Khmer Rouge who came to death at those killing caves. It is unbelievable what happened at this place not that long ago.
From the Killing Caves it is a nice walk up to Phnom Sampeau, which is also a really beautiful temple around Battambang, it is more modern than Wat Banan though.
Last stop Battambang Bat Caves
After walking down from Phnom Sampeau our last stop were the Bat Caves, this was just amazing – at 6 p.m. millions – and I really mean millions – of bats come bursting out of this hole in the mountain and fly towards the countryside, where they spend the night.
After that our Tuktuk driver brought us back to our hotel and his friend drove us to Phnom Penh the next morning, which he arranged for us! What a lovely day 🙂
Salento is a typical paisa village located about 20 kilometers away from Armenia in Colombia, it is located in the famous eje cafetero ( the Colombian Coffee region). Besides of being a truly beautiful place itself, Salento is the perfect starting point for a hike trough the Valle de Cocora, which , for me, is a definite MUST SEE in Colombia.
The Cocora Valley is famous for it’s huge wax palm trees, which are actually a national symbol of Colombia and to be honest… one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen so far.
When staying in Salento, it is pretty easy to get to the Valley, you simply wait at the main plaza, where there will be a couple of old pick up trucks lining up at several times of the day. (Leaving hours start from 6.10 in the morning) I’ll recommend you to start in the early morning hours, since there is always a high risk of rain in the mountains of the valley during the afternoon.
The cars will stop right in front of the entrance of the valley and you’ll have two options to start from there.
You can take the short way (the one on the left) , which will lead you straight to the wax palm fields. This way doesn’t take more than 90 minutes to walk and you’ll have a great view on the wax palm trees without much effort. But, obviously you’ll miss out on all the other highlights of the walk.
So anybody who is in decent physical shape… DO TAKE THE LONG WAY! 🙂
The long way will take you about 5-6 hours, you’ll cross wild rivers on dangerous looking rope bridges, you’ll climb steep hillsides, you’ll walk through ankle deep mud paths and you’ll also come across a hummingbird sanctuary. It will be an experience you’ll never forget, I’ll promise you that.
Another important thing is to ALWAYS be prepared for changes in weather! When me and my friends went on the hike, we were lucky enough to be close to a lodge, which is located halfway of the way on top of the mountain, when it started to rain heavily. I don’t want to imagine how our walk would have turned out otherwise, because we definitely didn’t bring appropriate gear.
So… pack the rain jackets and make sure you wear proper footwear! 😉
The lodge I mentioned is called Finca la montana and it’s the best place to rest a little while drinking the famous hot chocolate with cheese ❤
When you finished all of the walk, you’ll end up exactly where you started. Unless you get there really late, there will also be trucks to take you back to Salento.