EUROPE

Lisbon

Despite the fact, that I grew up in Luxembourg around a numerous amount of portuguese people, while hearing their language on a daily basis and getting partly in touch with their culture, it still took me 34 years to discover the beauty of Portugal's capital Lisbon.

For too many years, relatives and friends, were talking about traveling to Barcelona, the catalonian capital. Rarely my friends used "Lisbon" to pinpoint their next destination. So after my recent trip to Portugal, all I can tell is that "Lisbon is going to be the next Barcelona".

Talking about a hip city? Lisbon is hip! Partying with a mediterranean flair? You get it in Lisbon. Delicious mediterranean cuisine and its matching wines? Lisbon, check! Traveling on budget? You won't find cheaper than Portugal.

Maybe I was just lucky, for having met amazing fellow travelers in Lisbon. The weather definitely was on my side, during my 5 days in the capital of Portugal. I had the best stay, i could have ever expected, at the "YES HOSTEL" very nearby the Praca do Comercio.

I don't really know what made my journey in Lisbon so special, it just must have been the whole package.

Getting out of the hostel, and walking two blocks south, I met up with my best friend at the Praca do Comercio. It's a large public place, with an old historic arch leading to the main shopping street of the Baixa district. But passing the Praca do Comercio will lead you to the shore, where you can have a summerish cocktail, and enjoy the stroll towards the docks {docas}, or the famous "Ponte 25 de Abril" bridge. Almost any tiny alley that will lead you north to Bairro Alto, is packed with unique gems: bars, bakeries, tiny traditional restaurants, clubs. Just explore the whole area, and learn how to enjoy the diversity of the colorful capital.

On my first days, I visited the Alfama district twice. Just after passing the busy main shopping street of Baixa, the first alleys will get very steep after a couple of hundred meters. The different paths will lead you to the top of the "Sao Jorge" castle. Sadly the entrance fee to the castle isn't cheap, so don't plan on visiting it twice. I would recommend it, for taking scenic photos of the city. If you've visited a castle before, this one won't be a lot different. But you get a bunch of impressive overlooks.

The prettiest part of Alfama for me, were the different street art spots or urban art installations. Whole Alfama is packed with uban art. While looking at the colorful murals, you will hear the different trams passing by. The old tram lines definitely bring a unique charm to the capital. In my opinion it's an important part of the city's landmark, like the cabs of London. Expect at least half a day to explore the prettiest corners of Alfama. Have one or two port wines on one of the few scenic terraces or patios, have a mediterranean lunch, and listen to some Fado. You will love that district of Lisbon.

From the city center of Lisbon, you can easily catch a short train ride, and visit Belem or Cascais, two beautiful gems which are definitely worth a visit. Sadly I jumped on an express train, which didn't stop at Belem, and I was just too exhausted to switch the train for a 3rd time. 

The same train line, takes approximately 15 minutes to Belem, and 45 minutes to Cascais. The one-way ticket to Cascais only costs 2.20 Euro (3 us$). However if you plan on visiting around mid-day expect long waiting queues in summer. A lot of tourists and locals plan on visiting the beaches around Lisbon. I waited at least 40 minutes to get a ticket, since the metro-card won't work for the train lines. 

After having jumped off the train in Cascais, I felt like i made it to the "Santa Barbara" of Portugal. The streets of Cascais looked fancy, lots of beautiful people on the beaches, infinite lines of white buildings and hundreds of shops. How can you not like Cascais? It surely attracts too many tourists in summer, but the views, the sun, the beaches are all worth it. A 30-40 minutes walk from the train station will lead you uphill to the "boca do inferno", an impressive shore of seaside cliffs, a total different nature-spectacle compared to the fancy beaches downtown. 

I can't tell anything about Belem, but all the locals told me to check out the Belem tower, and enjoy the famous "pasteis de belem", a culinary highlight.

So much different parts of the city to check out during hot summer days. But what about nightlife? Except the nightlife of "Bairro Alto" I haven't seen much of the busy spots, which wasn't bad at all actually. I had an amazing time at the "YES HOSTEL". Every evening I could enjoy wine, port wine or delicious sangria for 1 Euro a cup... yep, you got it right, 1 Euro only! Around dinner time, 8pm or 9pm all the guests of the hostel came downstairs to the bar, to start the evening. Just standing at the counter and ordering a drink, made you bump into travelers and start a conversation right away. I met a lot of lovely travelers from Sweden, Canada and Germany. After having met the first time on my first night in Lisbon, we met up every other evening for a couple of drinks, and went out to different parts of the city. Some were quiet, some were busy. 

The Bairro Alto block, was definitely very very busy on the weekend, too many bars and too many people. Actually it was a good place to go out, but as a tourist it was hard to tell which bar to choose. The drinks weren't the best ones, but cheap. So in Bairro Alto is was quantity over quality, the perfect spot to get wasted. I would say it's the place where people go "hunting", you could smell the flirting on every corner.

I did like the "House of Gin" [or the "vintage gourmet" which is the name of restaurant]. Nuno, the barman, had an impressive knowledge about gin, and easily owns over 150 different gins from all over the world. I had the chance to try a couple of gins, which I couldn't find nearby the place where i live: Brooklyn Gin (USA), Nao Gin (P), Adamus Gin (P). Of course the drinks weren't cheap, expect to pay 10-13 euro for a drink. I guess those are the prices you'll have to pay all over Europe for a fancy gin & tonic.

Sadly I got my mobile phone stolen on my following trip to Barcelona, and didn't manage to back-up my photos from Portugal. I was glad I put some shots on Instagram and Facebook, which I could save at a later time, to add on this blog-post.

The whole city of Lisbon is packed with architectural pearls and colorful murals. It takes you more than 5 days to discover the beauties of the capital. That's why I've decided to do a road trip across Portugal in 2017. This trip amazed me with only positive impressions, obrigado Lisboa!

Useful informations

  • You can get a cheap bus ride right outside of the airport. Check the different bus stops (with numbers on it), and look which one leads to your destination. I paid 3.50 Euro for a ticket, and the ride from the airport to the Praca Do Comercio took about 40 minutes. A taxi ride could cost you between 25 and 30 euro, and doesn't need to be faster during rush hour.
  • After my couple of days in Lisbon, I took a train ride to Porto. The train took almost 3 hours to reach Porto. The one day ticket costs 30 Euros. During the very busy summer season, I still managed to get a train ticket on the day I left Lisbon. Trains to Porto leave every 30 to 60 minutes.
     
  • I can't tell you any negative parts of my trip, or which tourist traps you should avoid. I felt safe all the time, at any hour of the day. Even the most touristic places, offer you fair prices for food and drinks. Expect to pay 6-10 Euro for lunch or dinner, and 1-2 Euro for the common drinks like soft drinks, wines or beers.
     
  • Most people do speak english, french or german, even the older people. It wasn't hard to get around. Even though we met some younger folks who weren't fluent in english, somehow we managed to communicate, and it was a lot of fun, discovering the different cultural sides of the city. A lot of tourists as well, but it was so easy to make new friends in Lisbon. I will definitely add a small review of the "YES" hostel, which gave me the warmest welcome in Portugal. Sadly like previously mentioned, I got my phone stolen in Barcelona, and I forgot to back up my photos from my Iphone. I wish I could have fed you with a lot more of beautiful shots of Lisbon.

Praha {1}.

Prague, the capital of Czech Republic, has been on my check list for quite a while. It should have become the 4th city, i'd visit in eastern europe. 

Expectations were high, because I have had some truely amazing experiences in Moscow, Budapest, and Krakow. Sadly Prague didn't blow me away as the previous mentioned cities. I guess travel-blogging should allow posts, that wouldn't compliment the travel experience too much. Sadly Prague was one of the cities, I didn't or couldn't enjoy that much. But why?

First of all, the weather wasn't the best. If you travel by plane, to reach your destination, and the weather doesn't allow you take decent photos, or let you enjoy the sights in and around the city, the only fun you could get would be with indoor activities, like restaurants & bars.

On our first day, the weather wasn't on our side. We stayed in Praha 1, so it was obvious that we would visit the Old Town of Prague. Without any doubt the Old Town is beautiful. But after having experienced Budapest and Krakow, it just seemed like another "old town" to me. Nothing that impressed me much.

The scenery and view all over the city, reminded me a lot of Budapest, but with a bigger amount of tourists around me, fighting for the best spot to take a snapshot of Prague.

It takes you about 1 day to check out the Old Town. The highlight in my eyes was the walk over the world famous Charles Bridge. I was told that it would be even prettier at night, with the street lamps turned on, and the cast shadows on the old paved road.

At the main square I really enjoyed the "Church of Our Lady before Týn", and its pretty black towers. I didn't get the tourist's joy for the astronomical clock though. 

During our stay, there were easter markets all over the cities. The good thing was that we could get "Trdelník", a traditional czech cake, around every corner. The Trdelnik kinda was the highlight of my Prague trip. So delicious!

What I really missed in Prague, were the fancy or trendy pubs, coffee bars, restaurants, which I really enjoyed in Budapest or Krakow. The bars or restaurants in the Praha 1 area, looked very traditional and dull. Except the few absinthe bars! We did really enjoyed those. 

No interesting shopping avenue. No delightful restaurants. Too many irish pubs. Too many fierce bouncers.

Another downside was, that nothing was really cheap in Prague. The prices were alike to those in central Europe. Expect to pay triple the price, that you would get in the capital of Hungary or Poland. 

I only heard good echoes about Prague. Prague has made a name among the top travel cities in Europe. So in my opinion, the casual traveler, would go for Prague. If you've never visited eastern europe before, you will love Prague. If you haven't traveled much, you will love Prague as well ! In my case, I would send you straight to Budapest, and guarantee you a better time!

During the evening hours the center of Prague was packed with guys, mostly africans or local czechs, asking you for a strip show, pushing you towards the bars they were working for. Too many invitations for strip clubs. At some point we really had to tell them to "fxxx off". This was another downside, traveling as a group of 5 guys. 

We had good times in a 50s diner restaurant, called James Dean. The stairs to the basement of the restaurant, lead to a club, which was really packed after midnight ! We had our best times in that basement. Good music, good people, and fair prices on the drinks.

I wish I had read some books of the author Franz Kafka, before visiting Prague. You will find lots of "Kafka" in the city; statues, museums, mugs & books with Kafka's face on it. A Kafka Cafe. Well, a lot of Kafka!

After getting back home, I ordered my first novel of Franz Kafka. :) 

KØBENHAVN.

Copenhagen was my first experience in one of the scandinavian countries, and i guess it was the right city to visit first. Copenhagen isn't too big, it's the perfect city-size for a weekend trip. Do it like the danes ... grab a bike and explore the city!

Below you'll find a map with my favorite spots in the city:

{YELLOW}  Nyhavn
{GREEN} Christiania
{BLUE} Tivoli
{RED} Orsteds Park, Botanical Garden, Peblinge lake

I gotta be honest, I wasn't well prepared, and didn't know anything about Copenhagen. All I knew was, that they served great food, own an impressive music scene, and got lots of beautiful danes. We decided to hit Copenhagen by car and the ferry, that we took on the german shore. Seven hours of driving, 1 hour on the ferry, and another 90 minutes to reach Copenhagen.

We  booked a double room at the WAKE-UP hotel, for an unbelievable cheap rate. The good thing about the hotel, was its central location, and the indoor-parking lot just below the hotel. The lobby and check-in desk, were just a few steps away from our car. 

The Tivoli amusement park was in the same neighbour-hood. Amusement park sounds more like a playground for kids, but that wasn't the case. The vintage touch of Tivoli, the green areas in the center of the park, sunbeds, restaurants and bars, ... all this made me appreciate the park as well. It's a nice place to relax with your girlfriend or kids after a vivid sightseeing day.

Christiania probably was the most eye-opening part of our trip. It's considered as a free-state right in the heart of Copenhagen. Taking photos behind the walls, which surround Christiania, is not allowed. As soon as you try to get one single photo of the location, there's already someone shouting at you, or tapping on your shoulder. The main reason would be, that you're allowed to buy just any kind of drugs. To avoid that the "dealers" could be recognized on tourists' photos, the use of cameras is not allowed. Besides the drugs, it still looks like the common danish neighbourhood. Plenty of wooden houses, a big lake, diy (do-it-yourself) markets and shops, a beer-garden, ... and no cars. That same night, after we had visited Christiania, i read a couple of articles, about the riots and shootings, when the governement tried to take over that part of the city. As far as I could experience Christiania it felt like a very peaceful place. 

I just loved Nyhavn. The lovely harbor alley, where a narrow canal leads to the big sea. The alley is packed with restaurants, bars, and some tattoo parlours. Enjoy some delicious sea food, watch the hipsters sitting next to the canal, and the danes docking their boats. It's a very busy and crowded place. At the end of the alley, you will notice the NOMA restaurant, just across the river. NOMA has been considered for a couple of years, as being the best restaurant in the world. In Nyhavn you can buy a ticket for a boat-tour. Usually i'm not a big fan of guided bus tours, but the boat tour, will bring you to areas, which are only accessible by boat. Totally worth it!

I discovered the northern part of the city center on a quiet sunday morning. I was looking for the tattoo parlour of a very famous danish tattoo artist. I planned to check out all the single parks which were on my path to the studio. I walked through Orsteds Park, the Botanical Garden with its castle to cross the bridges of the  Peblinge lake. Well they weren't the most prettiest parks I've been at so far, but it felt like the right spot to visit on a sunday morning, if you're just fed up with crowded streets, and the millions of bicycles passing by. Yes I said millions... if you think you've seen loads of cycles in Amsterdam, well, you haven't visited Copenhagen yet!

For early bookers, Copenhagen can be a bargain if you're on a budget. Food and alcohol isn't as expensive as in Sweden, or Norway. I barely couldn't notice a difference in prices compared to our capital in Luxembourg. I'm definitely going back pretty soon. There's still so much left undiscovered, and next time I'll do my homework, and visit the city better prepared.


TOKIO {BUDAPEST}

I just returned back home from my 3rd trip to the lovely city of Budapest. After visiting and testing some of their fantastic restaurants, I knew within a heartbeat that I got to write about the great japanese fusion restaurant "TOKIO" in Budapest, which is located nearby the St. Stephan Basilica, at Zrinyi Street.

On my very first trip I tried different kinds of makis, and they were all delicious. Of course they didn't blew me away like the ones I had in Japan. But I gotta admit, they put much more creativity and details on their sushis and makis at "TOKIO". It's just the right fusion of japanese and european cuisine. 

The chicken ramen was very delicious as well. Not as a fatty as the ones I tried in Japan. I guess they adapted it to the 37°C we had outside, while having lunch. Some light soja dashi & tare, vegetables, chicken, thin sliced scallions... a fest!

This time I tried their bento box. It was just too hot outside, to have a bigger lunch. The bento box consisted of some fried tofu with spicy mushrooms, gyozas, avocado makis, a salad, prawns tempura. Every small mouth-watering dish in that bento box, fulfilled the expectations of my japanese heart.

Another huge plus of the restaurant is its very colorful, and eye-catching design, that reminds you of of the "Bladerunner" city. The tables, chairs, and bar look rather classy. What a catch !

Compared to other restaurants in the city, it's quite pricey. Expect to spend at least 30 euro {36 us$} for an average size lunch, with drinks. The sushis & makis are pretty expensive, for a city, where drinking and eating is considered as rather cheap. But for myself, it was totally worth it. 

I always got the finest table service, which is also included in the final price. Therefor, no tip needed. 

Great location, great views, lovely waiters, an eye-catching design, delicous food... enjoy "TOKIO". Oishii ne !?

Adress: 1051 BUDAPEST, SZÉCHENYI T 7-8
Website: tokiobudapest.com

 

 

 

Istanbul

I just turned back home from the beautiful turkish city Istanbul. It was my first trip to Turkey, so I really didn't know what to expect from that multicultural city. We spent 5 nights in the area of Karakoy, which apparently is becoming Istanbul's hotspot.

 

Istanbul is divided into 3 main areas :

  • Eminönü & Fatih 
  • Beyoglu & Besiktas 
  • and the asian shore Üsküdar & Kadiköy.

Eminönü & Fatih

Eminönü and Fatih are located in the older part of Istanbul, which is famous for its mosques and lots of historical buildings like Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia. It was the first area I visited on our first day in Istanbul. We spent a whole day on that side of the city, and we could have spend another whole day to check out every corner on the west-side. Among the mosques you will find countless streets filled with markets, the Grand-Bazaar and the famous Spice-Market. At different times a day you will hear the prayers through the speakers who are attached on the mosque's towers. For myself it was the most interesting and unique part of Istanbul, and it's the place where you certainly will feel like a total stranger.

 

Beyoglu & Besiktas

We stayed at the hotel Grandiva in Karakoy, just across the Galata Bridge at the modern part of Istanbul. In my opinion it was the best spot for a hotel. You could reach the old part of Istanbul within a 10-minutes walk, and it took the same time to reach the Galata Tower. From Galata Tower, it's easy to get to the Istiklal avenue, a super long avenue, which leads to the popular Taksim area.

It felt like, that the modern area had culturally less to offer than Eminönü, but still there was so much to check out: too many restaurants, different spots where nightlife takes place, an endless shopping street, streetfood-stalls, and many historical buildings.

The neighbourhood of the Galata Tower was packed with a diversity of people, the youngsters, the hipsters, the older generation, the hippies. In the evening many people were sitting on the pavement around the tower to chit-chat, and share food & drinks.

While walking down the less attractive Istiklal avenue, you had the choice between hundreds of restaurants, from every price-range. After dinner, we hit the Taksim block, which was filled with quite a diversity of bars and smaller clubs. Arsen Lüpen would be an interesting bar to check out. On thursday nights, they host a jam-session, where everyone can join the stage, to play an instrument or sing with other musicians. No entrance fee, some crazy dancing and lots of fun!

On our second last night in Istanbul, we met a lovely local girl who brought us to the nightlife-heart of Karakoy which is located on Mumhane street and Kemankes street. It was the hippest part we discovered in Istanbul, and i'm pretty sure, the next time I'm gonna visit Istanbul again, this will be the place I'm going to hang out every night! It's the most attractive nightlife spot, and it's packed with too many beautiful people.

At the Grandiva Hotel we had the chance to get delicious breakfast in the morning. However if you miss the breakfast-hour, check out the Güney restaurant next to Galata Tower. It offers a variety of typical turkish breakfasts, for an affordable price of course! And you get taken care of by some turkish hipsters :). 

 

Prince's Islands

On our third day we planned walking towards the Bosphorus Bridge, but it was just too far away from out hotel. At the first ferryboat station, we decided to buy a ticket to get to the asian side of Istanbul faster. As a total stranger in Istanbul, we didn't thought about carrying our passport. 

We opted to check out one of the 9 princes' islands. Büyükada is the biggest one. A ferry ticket to the big island was around 6 turkish liras [2 euro, 3 us$]. A bargain! But we didn't know it would take us 2 hours to reach the island! 2 hours with too many people aboard, and we got a free sunburn. If you get the chance to catch a direct ferry from Istanbul to Büyükada or the other way around, it will still take you an hour at least.

Different travel-websites recommended to visit at least one of the islands, and considered Büyükada and Adalar as a must-see. I wouldn't recommend the island of Büyükada to anyone. It definitely was a beautiful place. So many beautiful victorian houses, no cars allowed on the island, lots of nature and parks, and great views of the ocean. But that was all it had to offer. The pier-area, where you get off the ferry, is packed with too many tourists, and every shop-owners wants you to buy food, drinks, and just any kind of presents. Once you get out of that mass of people, you're slowly walking into the silent streets of the city. 

But there are just too many horse-carriages on the streets of Büyükada. The constant noise of the horse-shoes ruins the vibe of the island. Most restaurants look very touristic, most people you will walk by will be tourists, and the shops are tourist-traps as well. 

If you love hiking or if you are into floral photography, it's definitely a place to check out. If you prefer the city life and hunting for must-see-spots of Istanbul, I wouldn't recommend you "Büyükada".

 

My thoughts about Istanbul

To be honest, the first 48 hours, I didn't have the feeling of being welcomed by the turkish people, especially the turkish men. It wasn't as bad as in Moscow, but still I had mixed feelings for Istanbul. Most of the men were unfriendly, not helpful towards tourists, some bumped into you without apologizing, even at the bars or restaurants, there was barely no communication. You could hardly notice a smile on their faces.

Things changed when we went out at night. Different hours, different people. It was quite easy to get into conversations with the locals. Especially with girls. Most of the women & girls, religious or non-religious, were super friendly, and totaly helpful. They showed us different places in the city, and introduced us to the turkish cuisine: turkish coffe followed by a coffee-ground-clairvoyance, the delicious streetfood mussels, turkish Ayran [iced water, yogurt, salt], and other turkish street food specialties.

We met many lovely turkish people! And during my last hours in Turkey, when we headed back to the airport, I felt like I needed to get back to Istanbul very soon! There's still so much to discover, so many turkish dishes to check out, and too many lovely Turks to meet. 

 

Useful informations

  • The taxi-ride from Atatürk airport to the Galata Bridge takes about 35 to 45 minutes, and costs around 50-60 turkish liras [20 euros, 24 us$].
  • Food is cheap. Booze isn't. A menu at a touristic restaurant [entree & main dish] with water and a glass of wine mostly costs around 20-30 euros [26-34 us$]. Longdrinks costs 25 turkish liras [7-9 euros, 10-11us$]. Cheapest drinks would be water, softdrinks and beer.
  • A single ticket for the tram-ride in the city center costs 4 TL [1.3 euros, 2us$]
  • A one-way ferry ticket costs around 4-6 TL.

 

 

Krakow.

Last winter we decided to celebrate new year's eve in Krakow, Poland. We were looking for a city we haven't visited yet, and which was afordable at the same time. Without any big expectations we flew to Krakow. I didn't have any clue about the country, nor the city before my arrival at the airport. Our gentle cabdriver Jozef drove us to our hotel at Jozefa street, which was located in Kazimierz, the old jewish neighbourhood.

Krakow is  a small city. I'd recommend it as a lovely weekend trip of 3-4 days, which would be long enough to discover the beauties in and around the city.

My favorite part of Krakow was Kazimierz, because it was full of street art, new discoveries around every corner. It was the right mix of old historical buildings and modern art. Kazimierz is very lively at night. There are plenties of bars, and a big diversity of restaurants. I'd recommend to try every single polish dish in the city, because their food is amazingly delicious. I'd go for Pierogis [polish dumplings] any day! Check out the restaurant "Starka" at Jozefa Street, a lovely arty restaurant, which serves polish dishes. great wines and home-made vodkas.

The main square of the city, would be the place that reflects the image of Krakow the most. It's a huge place surrounded by old cathedrals and historical buildings. I think it's the biggest square i've ever been at. Because we were visting for new year's eve, the whole place was covered with food stalls, and a big christmas market [yes, after Christmas]. Same as Kazimierz, the square is surrounded by hundreds of restaurants and all kind of bars, jazz clubs, sports pubs, and old polish tavernes. The Royal Castle is just inbetween Kazimierz and the city's main square.

While in Krakow, I guess it's a must to visit Auschwitz, or in polish Oświęcim. Visiting a concentration camp was still on my check list. During highschool we had to read so many books about 2nd world war, and the concentration camps across Europe, that I had to witness this monsterous place on my own. Our cabdriver Jozef picked us up at our hotel, and drove us to Auschwitz, which took us about 50 minutes by car. The guided tour lasts approximately 2 hours. After Auschwitz you get another short busride which will bring you to Birkenau. Visiting both camps takes half a day. 

After Auschwitz Jozef took us to Wieliczka Salt Mine which is located nearby Krakow. The Wieliczka mine is often referred to as the Underground Salt Cathedral of Poland. Now it's hard to tell if the salt mine is a tourist trap or not. Some rooms, mostly at the bottom of the salt mine, were quiet impressive, considering that all the statues,  chandeliers, stairs, have been carved out of saltblocks. The floor, the ceilings ... they're all made out of salt. The negative part of the saltmine was the guided tour. We had a lovely guide, but the tour just lasted too long. 

Sadly I can't tell what Krakow looks like in summer. We had some pretty cold and grey days in Poland, but they were the right match for the new year's eve vibe, and our visit of Auschwitz. Depsite the freezing weather, Kaziemierz was always busy at night, same for the main square area. We met a couple of polish people, who they were all super welcoming. It's a cheap city, so it allows you to have a good time, and enjoy your stay without carrying too much about your wallet.

 
 

Reykjavik & the Iceland Airwaves Festival.

I was really excited about going to Iceland. I startet listening to the icelandic band "Sigur Ros" when i was 15 or 16 years old. It's an amazing and unique band, which totally "sounds like iceland", and their music videos are packed with the most beautiful icelandic natural spectacles. My mind got tricked with many clichés: epic natural panoramas, woolen sweaters, lots of sea food, and good music. The clichés turned out to be right. 

 

After a friend had told me about the annual music festival called "iceland airwaves", which takes place in Reykjavik, I had to google it online. I was instantly conviced. Reading more and more about that festival, I got the message that "ICELAND AIRWAVES" is a festival for music lovers, purists, ....yeah for the music snobs :). I had to get there! 200 concerts a day, during 5 days! Over 1000 concerts in different places all over the city! Some of the bands which were playing at the festival, were still on my check-list. I needed to get to Iceland! I bought an early-bird ticket for Iceland Airwaves almost 10 months before the event. After i found a package-deal (hotel&flight) for 350 euro, instead of 650 euro, it was a done deal! [fyi check out "WOW Airline" for the cheapest flights from London].

 

My first impressions I got after spending some days in Reykjavik, or mainly in Iceland:

• After my arrival at the airport I noticed the difference in design and warm decor of the airport.
Keflavik (international airport of Iceland), which probably is the nicest airport i've ever visited. Later I noticed that the hotels & shops which looked alike, were heavily influenced by the nordic design that we know from Ikea, Sweden or Norway. Simple, but unique.

• Pretty designs, pretty people. Icelandic people are beautiful people. Crazy that there are barely no obese icelandics. All the icelandics i observed in Reykjavik and some other cities, looked pretty fit, thin, and had the most pretty faces. If you're on the hunt for your next partner, go visit Iceland ! :)

• I expected lots of delicious sea food and traditional icelandic dishes. But many locals strongly recommended me to avoid those dishes. I had a fish soup on daily basis, which was the best fish soup i ever had. I also had the worst sush i ever had in Reykjavik, even though I never had bad sushi before. Gastronomical wise...Iceland wasn't a big fish. They had lots of fast-food restaurants, or the typical greasy dishes you get in every other country, for example: fish&chips.

• Is everybody an artist or a musician in Iceland? I read that 60-65% of the icelandic population lives in the area around Reykjavik. The festival line-up was packed with too many fantastic bands from Iceland. Bands which have a hard time getting famous outside of their country. I dont get it. So many talented musicians live in Iceland, with a unique sound, beautiful music and lots of talents (some band names to check out: Valdimar, Rokkurro, Vök, Jonsi, Sigur Ros, Asgeir, ...and so many more). I became a huge fan of their music-scene. 

• YES Iceland is VERY expensive. 12 euro for a gin tonic. 6 euro for a beer. 22 euro for a soup, water, and a coffee. 55 euro for sushi. I got a rental car for 24h, a cheap Toyota Yaris [shitty car] but it was cheaper than the sushi i had the night before. Food and drinks are very expensive. Busrides were expensive as well, when you didn't have the exact change. Busride was 350 kroners. So you needed at least 4 coins to get the 350 kroners together. 4 Tickets a day, makes a lot of change. I rarely carried that much change in my pocket. Most of the time I had to pay with a 500 kroners bill. And you never get any change back from the bus-driver. TAXI is SUPER EXPENSIVE. Dont ever take a cab in iceland.

• The most impressive thing I saw in Iceland, was the amazing nature! So many waterfalls, geisyrs, rivers, oceans, mountains, crazy sunsets, northern lights.... a blast of an natural experience! Take many storage-cards with you, because you're going to need them for the photos. The nature-scenery often looks unreal. I've seen so much beauty in 5 days traveling. Japan was quite impressive, but nature-wise no country beats Iceland.

The only thing I would reconsider, the next time I'm going to visit Iceland, don't do sightseeing and a music festival in one day. It's just too much, too much to appreciate at once. On my next travels to Iceland I'd consider doing a roadtrip for 5-6 days across the whole island, and then do 3 days of one of their popular music festival [Iceland Airwaves or Secret Solstice].

Oh i forgot about another fact that stroke me while being in Iceland... the pride of the icelandics! Does it sound bad, if I say "pride" ? I guess not. The people who live on that iceland, who grew up over there, are proud of what they have around them. They don't brag, or show their pride that much, as we know it from the U.S. "'muricaaaaaaa". But the way they talk, welcome people, their daily clothes... you can feel that they're pride of where they come from. You don't see a lot of immigrants,  barely none... You never feel walking around in a melting pot, with different cultures, it's just icelandic people around you. And I kind of like it when people are proud of their own culture, and the history that made their country, a fact that makes their country unique. Somehow it reminded me of Japan. It's a nice to see that a country doesn't lose its own face. 

Budapest

I visited a lot of cities in Europe, some were more impressive, others more entertaining, but I gotta admit ... for now ... that Budapest became my favorite european city. I first discovered the beautiful capital of Hungary last summer in July 2014. My first trip lasted 5 nights, and after that short trip, I knew I had to turn back. So I booked another flight to Budapest for September 2014. After those 2 trips last year, I'm heading back this summer in August 2015.

There is so much to discover and to enjoy in Budapest. The city is packed with delicious restaurants, beautifully designed bars, and lots of historical sights. The main attractions are located centrally. Most parts are reachable by walking distances, so public transportation isn't needed. For the 10 days i spent in the capital, we always had the best weather.

Let's start with the north of the city-center, where the Budapest City Park Városliget is located. You can spend a couple of hours in that part of city. The beautiful park is surrounded by historical buildings & castles, the famous heroes square, a big pond, and a bunch of restaurants.  I'd recommend the restaurant "Robinson" and its charming outdoor dining area, where you can try some delicious hungarian dishes, and a panoramic view of the pond the park is included with your hungarian goulash. :) Inside the park, there's the famous and biggest thermal bath of Budapast "Széchenyi". It's an eyecatcher for sure, and you will feel like taking a bath in the 19th century. Every weekend they organize an open-air party at the Széchenyi  thermal bath. Even if it's cold or raining, the warm temperature of the water, will put you at ease.

 

If you're booking a hotel room, I'd recommend looking for the area nearby the St. Stephen's Basilica. In my opinion that's the very center of the city. You can reach anything within walking distance. Just in front of the basilica starts the Zrinyi Street, which is packed with restaurants, and some of the most popular clubs and bars of Budapest. The Erzsébet Square is only 3 minutes walking away from the basilica. The square is a beautiful and hip place to hangout all day in summer time. People are cooling down their foot in the small pool, you can have food at the nearby open-air dining area, or you just go clubbing at the Akvarium Club which is located below the square in the basement floor.

The southern part of the city, which is located on the BUDA side of the Danube river, is reachable within 20 minutes. Just pass the Széchenyi Chain Bridge, and follow the path to the top of the Buda Castle, or the less tiring option would be the elevator. From the top of the hill, you can enjoy the the beautiful skyline of the PEST side of the city. You get pretty much the same view from different areas of the BUDA side. The Citadella fortress on the south-east side is totally worth the hike. It's even higher than the Buda castle, and on the top there's beautiful botanical garden (during summer time), once you walk down the citadella hill, you will reach the famous thermal bath Gellert. Passing Gellert, and moving over the bridge back to the Pest side, you will hit the Central Market Hall, which is worth a visit. 

 

WHAT KEEPS ME GOING BACK TO BUDAPEST ...

• it never gets boring. I guess i've seen most of the main attractions, but just walking through the streets of Budapest is totally enjoyable. Everyone is super friendy, and everyone I met speaks english, even the older generation. 

• it's cheap ! Like many eastern-european cities, food & drinks are half the price than central Europe.  It's a great city, to go out dining in a restaurant everyday. Expect to pay around 10 euro [13 Us$] for a starter, the main dish, a coffee, 2 softdrinks and a glass of wine. Half a pint of beer is around 1 euro, gin&tonic is around 3.50 euro, and a cocktail around 5 euro. 

• it's a lively city. I've only been there twice, but during those trips there was a biiiig beer festival in the mainstreet of the center, a food festival, parties on the cruising-ship, parties at the thermal bath, a techno party at the Margit Island... Budapest people know how to enjoy life. The city has a big diversity of bars, wine bars, restaurants... boredom never comes up.

• it's easy to meet people in Budapest. Not only locals, but during summer season, there are lots of tourists and students all over the city. Is it annoying ? Not really, there are so many different places to hang out that you won't notice the huge amount of tourists in the city. Budapest women are very pretty as well ! Classy, and good looking... Sorry girls, I can't tell about the men. :)

I had such a great time in Budapest, that it keeps me from visiting the beautiful city of Prague. Both cities often get compared with each other, that's why I'm afraid of not enjoy Prague that much, after I fell i love with Budapest.

 

• Here's a gallery of the photos I took during my trip : Budapest