Category Archives: Western Europe

Why My Favourite Way to See Europe is Cruising

When it comes to traveling Europe, it’s safe to say I’ve done it all. I’ve visited Europe with a large tour group and explored Italy on my own backpacking tour when I was 20. So when my parents suggested getting the family together on a river cruise through Europe I agreed without hesitation. Was I worried I was going to be the only person under 35 on this cruise? Yes, but there was no way I was going to pass up another opportunity to visit Europe.

Before the trip, my family wasn’t sure which cruise company to go with. We had a lot of options and it was overwhelming to decide! There are many different cruise companies that operate in Europe. My dad ended up making the final decision with his eyes closed. He chose a river cruise called Scenic Cruises. I’ve never heard of this cruise line before this trip so I was excited for the new experience.

Traveling across Europe on a river cruise was different in many ways. Everything from the pace of the trip to the people you traveled with varied from my past travel experiences. The luxury river cruise my family chose to go on was everything you’d expect it to be when you first hear the words “luxury river cruise”: lavish suites, five-star guest experience and elegant, world-class excursions. My last Euro trip consisted of cheap eats and a constant go-go-go vibe; this river cruise couldn’t have been more opposite.

The first thing I noticed when I boarded the ship was the size: this was no 1000 plus guests ocean cruiser. With only 85 suites and a maximum head count of 169 guests, the ship I traveled on was designed with comfort and luxury in mind. It was an all-inclusive travel experience which meant I not only had free reign of the mini bar in my cabin but  my own personal butler (you have to see it to believe it). 

As a (relatively) young woman who’s had to make her own bed since the age of 10, I was thrilled to discover that for one glorious week, I wouldn’t have to worry about fluffing my pillows or finding spare change for laundry. On top of having your own butler, the cruise line offered nightly turndown service, complimentary laundry concierge as well as 24 hour room service. There were numerous restaurants available for dining as well as unlimited access to a gym, wellness centre, pool, panoramic lounge and sun deck (which lead me to put my guard down for one afternoon and go easy on the sunscreen- big mistake. Huge).

Obviously, I was over the moon with these discoveries; as seasoned cruisers, even my hard-to-please parents were impressed by the attention-to-detail. With a 1:3 crew to guest ratio, however, I shouldn’t have expected anything less than first class.

Perhaps the biggest difference I noticed between traveling on your own and via boat cruise is the touring schedule. With a river cruise, your travel itinerary is already organized and laid out for you. The daily routine in place aboard a cruise is that the boat will move at night and dock by breakfast. The daily land excursions alternate between half and full day and allow for little independent sightseeing, which I guess is the point for the majority of travelers aboard the cruise.

There is little time to go off on your own since the ship has a set schedule to dock and depart every night. Knowing what I do now, I can say it’s smart to do your research before choosing a cruise line.

Each cruise line will vary in style, itinerary and destination. The river cruise I experienced had every day of the trip organized and planned for guests- while I’ll admit it took a huge weight off my shoulders in terms of pre-cruise organization, the pre-arranged schedule did limit my ability to explore a city independently without another 15 people tagging along.

The land excursions, I have to say, are in a league of their own. Curated by the cruise line’s very own “journey designers,” I saw a part of Europe I couldn’t have possibly experienced backpacking on my own. While the attractions were similar, it was the extra attention-to-detail that made me become fully immersed in the country’s culture.

As an example, on day four of my cruise, I got to taste my way around a local market in Vienna, Austria but with an added twist- a local private chef was there to accompany fellow guests and teach us about the delicacies known to the region (there is a half finished note on my Iphone dating back to this excursion that reads, “How to make Bratwurst from scratch”). One of the highlights of my cruise though took place In Freudenberg, Germany. I had the most amazing day celebrating Oktoberfest with guests and locals alike-there was food, there was dancing and yup, there was a staggering amount of beer (beer everywhere!).

Celebrating a classic Bavarian tradition with a crowd that traveled from all over the world to experience it firsthand took a seemingly simple excursion to the next level. While we all took part in the excursion for different reasons- I came for the beer, my parents came for the bratwurst and Andrew from Australia simply wanted to get acquainted with his German roots- we all left with the same awesome memory.

After 15 days floating down the Rhine and Danube rivers, I have to say there’s something to putting your feet up and shelling out some extra cash (okay, a lot of cash) for someone else to do the hard work of planning a trip for you. That was my favourite part of taking the scenic route; if you ask my parents, they’ll reference “wine night” in Budapest, Hungary.

I personally think traveling around on a cruise is one of the best ways to go on a multi-country trip. Why? It’s easy, it’s relaxing and they make it oh-so-convenient. I will say that it’s not for everyone: if you’re an independent traveler or a club-goer, a luxury river cruise won’t give you what you’re looking for.

At 33, I was easily one of the youngest people aboard the ship; however, I wouldn’t write off a river cruise for that reason alone. I found the crowd to be interesting, educated and well traveled. Many were entrepreneurs with their own successful businesses (which would explain how they could afford the price tag). Again, this too, will vary from cruise to cruise.

In light of my early travel hesitations, I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the river cruise. I am so grateful! I met some amazing people and I got to experience Budapest to Amsterdam all in one shot (thanks mom and dad!)

Lauren Martineau

Professional freelance blogger & writer, storyteller & adventuress. When Lauren's not typing 80 wpm, she's travelling and staying fit.

More Posts

Follow Me:
Twitter

southwest collective house

Southwest Collective: a Coworking Retreat in Portugal

I came across Southwest Collective, a one week coworking retreat later this year, and since readers here are generally the digital nomad type, I thought I’d share.

Where: Guia, Portugal
When: 11-18 September 2016

The house attendees will stay at:

southwest collective house

More info and application, head over to their website: http://southwestcollective.co/

Having spent 2 weeks at StartUp Abroad in Bali in 2012, I can confidently say a co-working retreat is good for the soul.

PS: Coliving is one of the public groups we’ve added to Horizon’s web version (http://api.horizonapp.co/groups/). For those interested in coworking/coliving, I recommend you join.

Drew Meyers

Drew Meyers is the co-founder of Horizon & Oh Hey World. He worked for Zillow.com from September of 2005 to January of 2010 on the marketing team managing Zillow’s API program and various online partnerships. Founder of Geek Estate Blog, a multi-author blog focused on real estate technology for real estate professionals, and myKRO.org, a blog devoted to exploring the world of microfinance. As passionate as you get about travel.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterGoogle Plus

Screen Shot 2015-10-22 at 8.47.37 PM

Anthony Bourdain Says Go to Marseilles. Why?

In advance of a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown,” CNN released a video in which Bourdain is asked for the most underrated travel destination in the world. His answer is Marseille, where the episode is filmed. He calls the city a “glorious stew of Mediterranean madness, easily the most interesting, under-visited, underexploited place I’ve been in a really long time.”

In the episode itself, he declares his love even more openly: “I could retire here. That’s sort of the measure of a place, for me, if you start thinking thoughts like that.” These are strong words coming from the notoriously cynical Bourdain. What is so special about Marseille that it makes even Anthony Bourdain lose his edge? And why has it been under appreciated?

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 2.24.52 PM

A Cultural Melting Pot

Marseille is the second largest city in France and was settled by the ancient Greeks, who named is Massalia. As a port city, it has long been home to a wide variety of immigrants, including large groups of North Africans, Italians, Corsicans, and Armenians. Its religious diversity also contributes to reputation as a cultural intersection point. While a majority of the population identify as Roman Catholics, about 30% are Muslim, and there is a large Jewish community as well. This blend of influences with colliding cultures makes Marseille feel more like a diverse international seaport than a resort town in Provence.

But as Bourdain also notes in the CNN video, Marseille is a “victim of bad reputation.” Many in France associate Marseille with the drug trade and gang violence, a perception that is heightened by the city’s relative poverty and high unemployment rate. But violent crime has taken a sharp downturn in recent years, and the people of Marseille take great pride in their city and their sense of community. They are fiercely devoted to their club soccer team, Olympique de Marseille, and to their own flourishing local rap scene, which has produced popular groups such as IAM and Le 3ème Oeil.

Historic Sights and Natural Beauty

Marseille is known for its sunny beaches, such as the Catalans and Pointe-Rouge, and its relaxed seaside atmosphere. Many of the shopping streets in the city center have been blocked off as pedestrian zones, making leisurely strolling the ideal means of transportation. For the perfect rambling tour, start at entrance to the Old Port, which is flanked by two forts constructed in 1660 by Louis XIV, and continue up La Canebière, the city’s most famous historic shopping street. From there, head to the stunning Palais Longchamp, which houses a museum of fine arts and a natural history museum. Then turn south to see Notre-Dame de la Garde, a basilica in the Roman-Byzantine style. It’s built on the highest elevation in the city, and from the top it offers a panoramic view of Marseille and the sea.

For a taste of Marseille’s multiculturalism, head to the Noailles market, where Algerian couscous and Corsican cheese are sold side by side. And for the traditional Marseille culinary experience, bouillabaisse is essential. It’s served first as a broth with grilled bread and a rouille of saffron and garlic, and followed by a large platter of fish. The best in town may be from Gérald Passédat at Le Petit Nice, who holds three Michelin stars.

The area around Marseille offers stunning natural beauty as well as historic architecture. The Frioul archipelago off the coast is home to the Château d’If, where Edmond Dantès is imprisoned in Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo.” The beautifully isolated limestone structure is accessible by boat from Marseille. And for a sunny day adventure, head to the Calanque de Sugiton, one of the stone inlets that dots the Mediterranean coast. This one is accessible by boat or by hike and offers a lovely sea view.

Screen Shot 2015-10-21 at 2.24.39 PM

New Developments

Marseille served as the European Capital of Culture in 2013, which boosted the city’s profile and helped to improve its reputation. The city spent millions of dollars to revamp the port area, fix up old buildings, and make the city center greener and more inviting. The most notable addition is the Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilizations, which opened in 2013 as part of the festivities. The stunning modern building sits right on the waterfront, contrasting and complementing its neighbor, the 17th century Fort Saint-Jean. The building was designed by Algerian-born French architect Rudy Ricciotti, who trained in Marseille.

Marseille’s unique charm comes from the blending of disparate elements: Africa and Europe, nature and architecture, old and new. Those influences fuse into a strong identity and sense of place for its inhabitants. And if travelers can look past the city’s reputation, they will find a truly singular experience in Marseille’s intersection of cultures. With Bourdain’s recommendation, the city may not be underrated for much longer, so now is the best time to plan a trip. Marseille will defy expectations, offering a surprise at every turn.

Screen Shot 2015-10-10 at 7.05.03 PM

The Most Majestic Architecture In Europe

Traveling through Europe is a great way to experience not only some of the world’s best food, art, and culture, but also some of its best architecture. Architecture in Europe seamlessly blends the ancient with the modern to create a landscape that honors history, while also being innovative and forward-thinking. Though nearly every European city offers up an array of beautiful museums and storied cathedrals, there are a few with magnificent architecture that set them above the rest.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 6.23.28 PM

Valencia, Spain

Popular for its sunny beaches along Spain’s Orange Blossom Coast, Valencia is also well known for its breathtaking architecture. The buildings in the historic Barrio del Carmen are from ancient Roman times, while the soaring Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados is a Gothic behemoth that towers over the neighborhood’s winding cobble-stoned streets. Famed architect Santiago Calatrava designed the modern architectural jewel of Valencia: the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. A performing arts venue located at the at the end of the river Turia, the crystalline dome appears lifted straight from the riverbed, and makes for quite the spectacle as it sits glowing on the water at night.  

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 6.23.55 PM

Bilbao, Spain

North of Valencia in the Spanish Basque Country lies Bilbao, a small city that’s garnered a large reputation for its impressive architectural wonders. Chief amongst these wonders is the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, one of the most admired creations of contemporary architecture. Designed by Frank Gehry, the museum was built in 1997 along the Nervion River and has since drawn massive crowds of people to gaze upon its warped metallic frame. Many experts have deemed it one of the most important architectural works of the twentieth century, as aside from its impressive construction, the museum is also well-known for its extensive contemporary art collection.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 6.24.26 PM

Sintra, Portugal

Sintra is best known for its many 19th century Roman architectural monuments, which have garnered this colorful town the honor of being named a UNESCO World Heritage site. Just a quick day trip from Lisbon, tourists flock to this small wonder of a city to check out the prehistoric monuments like the Castle of the Moors and the National Palace of Pena. Several royal residences can also be found in the city, many of them dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 6.25.35 PM

Strasbourg, France

Another of Europe’s many UNESCO World Heritage sites is Strasbourg’s historic city centre, Grande Île. Grande Île was the first entire city centre to be placed on the World Heritage list, and for good reason, as many of its streets appear pulled straight out of the Middle Ages. The medieval landscape of ancient Strasbourg is captivating in and of itself, but its crown jewel is the Cathedral of Our Lady. Construction of the cathedral began in 1015 and wasn’t completed until the late 1400s, making it the tallest man-made structure in the world at the time.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 6.26.06 PM

Cambridge, England

Around the same time as many of the buildings in Strasbourg were being built, The University of Cambridge was holding its first classes. Founded in 1209, Cambridge is one of the oldest and longest-surviving universities in the world, and today its name is synonymous with academia, prestige, and history. Its sweeping campus combines richly green lawns with stately, iconic halls, like King’s College Chapel and the Cripps Building at St. John’s College. The most notable feature of Cambridge’s architecture is the patterned brickwork found on many of its buildings, which experts believe to be some of the earliest examples of this style in the world.

Edinburgh is famous for its fresh, quality seafood, which you can get right down the block from great Edinburgh hotels.

10 Ways to Savour Scottish Cuisine in Edinburgh

Edinburgh is renowned for its castle and historic streets. It is also a top foodie destination, with many culinary attractions in easy reach of most hotels in Edinburgh. Here’s a lowdown on how to get a taste of Edinburgh’s food and drink highlights.

1. Chase the Game

Much of Scottish cuisine features wild game. For venison and more, check out Wildest Dram, which specializes in game cooking.

2. Learn to Cook

There are some great places to learn Scottish cooking techniques close to many of Edinburgh’s top hotels. Check out classes in seafood and Scottish specialties.

3. Dine in a Police Box

Some of the distinctive police telephone boxes in Edinburgh have been transformed into snack bars. You’ll find some eclectic local and world cuisine around the city and parks, served from these iconic structures.

4. Taste Haggis

Who could go to Scotland without tasting haggis? Be there on Burns Night in January to experience the historic traditions associated with this Scottish food. Don’t worry if you miss Burns Night because haggis is served year-round at Dubh Prais on Edinburgh’s High Street.

5. Take Afternoon Tea

Afternoon tea is quite an establishment in Edinburgh. You can enjoy sandwiches, cakes and even champagne at this traditional extra meal. One of the best places for an upmarket tea is the G&V Hotel on the Royal Mile.

6. Become a Whisky Expert

Scotland and whiskey are synonymous. The Whisky Experience on the Royal Mile offers tours showing how this renowned drink is made. There are also courses on becoming a whiskey connoisseur — with the obligatory tasting, of course.

7. Sample Local Specialties

Edinburgh has some excellent farmers markets. You’ll find a monthly Sunday market in Stockbridge, just a short walk from the city center, featuring local cheeses and other specialties. Each Saturday, Edinburgh’s Castle Terrace hosts another farmers market, resplendent with fine food.

8. Step Out on a Foodie Walking Tour

What better way to burn a few calories than to go on an Edinburgh Foodie Walking Tour? Tours include tastings at local delis, along with histories of local food production.

9. Shuck Oysters

Top-quality seafood is plentiful in Edinburgh, especially the local oysters. One of the best places to dine on fine seafood is Ondine’s on the George IV Bridge. Reservations are highly recommended.

10. Drink in a Haunted Pub

Some of Edinburgh’s many historic and famous pubs even come with their own ghosts. The Banshee Labyrinth is renowned for spooky events — like glasses suddenly falling off tables. For other eerie drinking places, try the White Hart or the Scotsman Hotel.

Edinburgh is a wonderful place to broaden your culinary horizons. Come for the food, and stay to enjoy the historic attractions.

 

 

 

 

Powered by Scripted.com

Dublin Ireland

The Beautiful Town of Dingle

Dublin Ireland

Ever since the day I watched the movie ‘Leap year’, Ireland made a very special place in my heart. The town Dingle shown in the movie took the number one slot in my list titled ‘must visit places of the world’. It was after a year that my dream became a reality. I had saved money the whole year to make sure I fulfilled my dream. Going by a friend’s recommendation, I booked a cheap flight to Dublin and to make my reservation in Dingle Bay hotel. It took me approximately four hours to reach Dingle from Dublin. Dingle, a small town in county Kerry, Ireland was more beautiful than my imagination. In my short 5 day stay, I fell in love with the town. Here are some of the amazing places that I visited during my trip.

Eask Tower

On my first day in Dingle, I went to visit the popular Eask tower. This is a stone tower on top of Carhoo Hill. The tower overlooks the Dingle harbor. From the top, you can also see a large proportion of the Dingle peninsula including Blasket Islands and Ireland’s highest mountains – Mount Brandon and Carrauntoohill. Standing on top with the wind blowing, this place offered a spectacular view that left me mesmerized.

Gallurus Oratory

Believed to be a Christian church, Gallarus Oratory is made from large cut stones. The Oratory has sloping side walls. It is said to be built somewhere in between 6th and 9th century. The dimly lit room is small and interesting. I loved the tiny round-headed window opposite the entrance door. As told by an Irish local, the local myth is that whoever goes through this window will have his soul cleansed. The church stands at a beautiful location.

Dingle Peninsula

The Dingle Peninsula is located near the town of Dingle. My visit to the Slea Head was one that I can never forget. I doubt I can explain the beauty of this place in mere words. This scenic landmark provided a beautiful view of the Blasket Islands. It is the perfect place to meditate and hear the sound of waves against the rocks. The Dingle peninsula is home to some of the most stunning beaches. Unfortunately I just got to visit one. The Inch beach was truly one of the best beaches I had ever visited. It has appeared in many movies because of its beauty. Surfing, swimming and the long walk at this beach was a wonderful experience.

Eask Tower

Saying Goodbye..

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially if the place is as beautiful as Dingle. But I was happy that I had made such wonderful memories. The amazing sights and locations captured in my camera serve as a reminder of my delightful trip. I wish my stay could’ve been longer. Surely there were many other places to discover. The Irish traditional music, pubs, cafes and delicious fish will always be remembered. I’ll miss the Goat Street Café the most which was my usual place for lunch during the stay.

Julia Taylor

To sum it up shortly, I have two passions; exploring the endless beauty of earth and watching the eyes of my third grade students dilate with wonder as I narrate to them stories from my diary called “Julia’s travel”

More Posts

Backpacking for Brits

Backpacking is becoming an increasingly popular way of travelling for people who want to see the world, just on a smaller budget. If that’s the kind of thing that interests you then you’ve come to the right place because this site is a great resource for backpackers.

Although backpacking is a great way to see the world, I’m actually going to be covering the best places for backpackers here in the UK.

Lake District

The Lake District provides some of the most beautiful scenery in the UK and its landscape is a match for anywhere in the world. Located in Cumbria in the North of England, the Lake District was created a national park by the British Government in 1951 and attracts well over 20 million visitors a year.

When visiting the Lakes you can’t help but be amazed by the rolling mountains, calm lakes and thriving woodland. It is little wonder that this area provided the inspiration for many of Wordsworth’s best known poems.

Any backpackers visiting the park should take in the scenery whilst taking a long stroll. Alternatively you could have a look around one of the many villages that can be found nestled in valleys, Ambleside which is next to Lake Windermere is a popular destination and has the feel of a frontier town.

Snowdonia

One of the largest national parks in the UK, Snowdonia is home to the second tallest mountain in the Britain, Snowdon. It receives millions of visitors every year who mainly come to take in the dramatic scenery whilst climbing Snowdon.

As good as Snowdon is, and as much as I recommend it to every backpacker out there, there is so much more to see in this stunning landscape. There are numerous campsites located throughout the park so you’ll always have a good place to start your adventures.

If you don’t want to spend your whole time walking then you should definitely have a look around the medieval town of Caernarfon (pr. Ca-nar-von) which is just outside the park’s boundaries. The town is home to a well preserved castle which is worth a look, as well as many reasonably priced bars and cafes.

Scottish Highlands

All the way to the top of the country now to the wild moors of the Scottish Highlands. It is in these moors that you can get about as far away from civilization as possible in the UK. It is also here that you’ll encounter the tallest mountain in the UK, Ben Nevis. Standing at just under 4,500ft Ben Nevis has been a tourist attraction for decades.

As with most of these locations there are numerous campsites available which will appeal to backpackers. Although actually getting to this part of Scotland can take a very long time by train or car so it may not always be that economical.

The highlands themselves range for hundreds of miles and are mostly covered in moorland or dense woodland. The wildlife in these parts is truly impressive, with the Pine Marten, Red Squirrel, Mink, Beaver and Golden Eagle being notable inclusions.

Josh

Josh is a British traveler and writer.

More Posts