Planning a big trip: Where we stayed

Hostels, hotels, guesthouse, apartments and even a boat, were just a few of the different places we stayed during our EASTERN EUROPE TRIP.

The idea of accommodation started out simple enough… hostels are cheap lets stay there to save money. But over the time we traveled, we ended up trying all sorts of accommodation for different reasons. Here’s some of the good and bad from the different places.

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See not all cheap accommodation is bad (or a hostel)

Hostels

We stayed in a hostel while in Athens… One of the most horrid sleeps I had during the the trip. I work up the next morning covered in mosquito bites. The 4 bed room had no window in so imagine Greece in summer and you’ll catch my drift. It wasn’t sound proof and located next to stairs.  And most annoyingly it was a hostel that had no kitchen!! I know the absurdness of it all. It did do a good pancake breakfast though. 

While in Mostar, the draw card for the hostel we stayed at was the different tours offered by the owner. Small kitchen but at least we could cook and. By now we knew to take the private room if we had the chance, but sadly in Belgrade it was back to the 6 bed dorm in a city that was known for partying (I however am not). It was however a good stay as we were some of the few guests who had stayed at the hostel, the staff were lovely and even offered us shots of the local alcohol and food to “introduce us the the culture”. 

Hotels

The main draw card for a European hotel… Clean and no shared bathroom! We stayed in 3 (and only 3 nights) during our whole trip. After a week at a hostel in Brasov we decided we needed some time to ourselves in Bucharest and having free nights on bookings.com meant we could stay at a hotel and not feel like we were spending loads of money.

Apartments

Prior to this trip I had never used Airbnb or even thought to. That was until I worked out in some places (especially if staying for an extended period) it was cheaper to rent a whole apartment then it was to rent a dorm in a hostel. It means that at times you don’t get the social atmosphere of the hostel but I don’t mind having a bit of me time.
We’ve rented 6 apartments in 5 different countries, Spilt, Bol, Budapest, Belgrade and Tallinn. Out of them I’d recommend 5 to others the other one…well… Let’s just say this was the front door and that is some serious boltage

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I’ve found one of the hardest things about using Airbnb is having to try and arrange the initial check in. This is especially true if you don’t have wifi and are relying on a phone to either have credit to text or to receive messages. Or if you are not sure of your arrival time which could leave you sitting for an hour waiting for the host to make it across the city

Boat

Don’t get me started on boats

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Did I forget to mention the time I slept on a train?

I’ve added this post to the Travel contrast link up hosted by Emma, Kelly, Rebecca and Zoe. glad I fianlly joined in again 

Planning the Big Trip (part 1)

it’s just under a year since I left the Uk to return to New Zealand but before I went, I knew there were so many more places in europe I wanted to see.

The time for small trips had passed so it was time to plan the big one. We wouldn’t have jobs to rush back to, no rent to pay, family that wouldn’t mind waiting another few months to see us. The only thing holding us back was the amount of funds we could save.

We had two way to do this…

1. We could plan everything in advance. We could know where we would be two months before we went, where we would be. We could have budgeted our money to know exactly how much we could spend in each place on each day. We would have a written itinerary ready to recite when needed or

2. We could wing it. Planning day by day, keeping an eye on money, trying to keep things cheap but not missing out on experiences because of how much things cost.

Our decision was a mix of both. We started our trip at the end of summer, when people still trying to find a bargain, were holidaying in all the places we were headed to first. We knew this would be a factor and when we first started looking into where we wanted to go and places to stay, found that a lot were already being booked up.

Athens Greece

Another factor to consider was that I would be in Malta for the month of August so anything we wanted planned and booked would have to be done before I left for there. This meant lots of nights in July debating where we both dreamed of going and how realistic it was to go (“what do you mean you don’t think it would be a good idea to visit the Russia right now!”) Knowing that our first destination was going to be Greece, We booked our one way tickets to Athens in July, 2 months before we begun and started looking at hostels.

Santorini Greece

We also knew that while we were in Greece, one of Ads best mates  would be as well and considering it would be awhile till they saw each other again, that played a part in choosing where we wanted to go. We wanted to see at least 3 different Islands and so we took to the internet for advice, I found Ngaire’s blog post to be one of the most useful and she was such a source for information when I was asking. In the end we knew the three islands we would visit Santorini, Paros and Milos. We booked the ferry to Santorini but left the rest till later.

Dubrovnik CroatiaThe only other trip we booked ahead of time was a Traveltalk sail Croatia trip. This was in the hopes of having a week off planning on own own, but looking back, I wish we had just done it on our own terms. We might not have partied (I don’t think I would have minded that much) or sunbathed (I probably could have found the time on my own like in Bol) as much but we wouldn’t have been forced to skip places so that we could spend 4 nights in Split so we didn’t miss a party with other boats.

Split Croatia

Apart from that, we were pretty much on our own. We had a guide book (left behind prior by Ads sister) and an idea of what we wanted to see and as we went along places were added and taken away. There were cities that I wanted to see but didn’t work into our plans such as Berlin and places I’d never assume I’d go such as Serbia or Romania. Yes sometimes we did backtrack a bit but at the end of the day it was an experience. We spent the better part of 2 and a half months traveling and getting to see things we would have probably missed out on otherwise and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have a look at where we got to on our travels:

Stay tuned for Part 2: How we traveled 

It’s not the size that counts but the way you use it

While I have my own list of things I want to do, so does the fiancé.

And while in Tallinn, Estonia he got to tick something off his own list. Fire a gun (or 4)

gun show

So on a cold morning, we caught a tram across the city to The Tactical Shooting Centre. It was a good thing we left early since yep, we got lost and after wandering onto a base of some sort (with men who had big guns of their own) they were thankfully able to point us in the right direction.

Arriving, we were led into a room where we were given a safety brief. Number one rule of gun handling… Don’t point it at yourself or others..

shooting tallinn target practise

We got the basic package which consisted of 4 different guns, a pistol (which Ad was better at using), a revolver (that was my favourite), a pump action shot gun and a desert eagle (supposedly the most powerful pistol in the world).

revolver tallinn Shotgun tallinn

Was it fun? Yes Would I do it again? for 50euros probably not, but like I said it was fun andit was an experience and that’s the main point. And I figure with all the chocolate factories and other random excursions I dragged Ad to during our trip, I should at least do something he wanted.

Ad (left) Mine (right) His was done with the assistance of a laser pointer

Ad (left) Mine (right)
His was done with the assistance of a laser pointer

We organised this excusion by emailing in advance and booking a time but you can find them at

Shooting range in Tallinn
Taktikalise laskmise keskus OÜ
Kopli 103, 11711 Tallinn

 

There’s no place like home

I’m suppose to be getting a tattoo… My sisters have matching ones. My original idea was that I’d get half on one heel and half on the other so that in the end I could click my heels together three times and wish I was home…just like Dorothy.

They say there’s no place like home and I’d agree. Despite all the wind and rain, despite the occasional fights with siblings, there is really nothing like being home in Wellington….Which is why it is no doubt my favourite place in New Zealand.

Spruce Goose Lyall Bay

And Cafes all along the water

From the beach, to the bush, to the Inner City. You’re never really ten minutes away from any of it. There’s so much to see and do, with more things popping up every day. It’s no wonder I got a lot of things to catch up on since I’ve been away.

Which is why I’ve decided to come up with my own Wellington Bucket list.

Currently there’s not much on it ie. It’s still a work in progress but the nothing I love better then being a tourist in my own city.

So let me know if you have any ideas of things I should do. I’m thinking a ride on the cable car, Somes Island and the new Te Papa exhibit have to be in there somewhere.

This has been added to the #BrunchClub #BlogGreatness link up. This months theme is Favourite Part Of New Zealand. Make sure to check out #BrunchClub if you want to join in next week.

How to spend a rainy day in Tallinn, Estonia

On a cold and miserable day of traveling there’s nothing I like more then hiding in doors as much as I can.

This would be fine except for the fact that being in a new city I want to see as much as possible. Cue museums and the more obscure the better. 

apothecary museum

apothecary museum Tallinn

Right in the middle of Tallinn, in the Main Square lies the Apothecary museum. It’s free entry and only two rooms, but worth a peek inside if you’re wanting to escape from the cold for a while.

Meremuuseum (Estonia Maritime museum)

Best thing about this museum (or so I’m told by Ad who I left to go and see my  own museum) Was the views.

Tallinn Maritime museum Tallinn Maritime Maritime Museum view

 Estonian Health Care Museum

This was my choice for museums and it was perfect for me. Interactive and warm inside, I was able to be entertained for well over two hours, while becoming well informed (and realising how much I needed new glasses)

Tallinn health museum Tallinn Health care

Kalev Marzipan Factory Museum

Do I need to say anything else?

Or if you really want to brave the cold you could check out some sights around Tallinn...

 

Let’s just pretend its Christmas time all year round in Tallinn, Estonia 

If there was a prize for most quintessential Christmas town, I think Tallinn, Estonia’s old town would win.

Tallinn, Estonia night

The narrow cobble stone streets, lined either side by brick buildings, set the scene for a magical 4 day trip. All that was missing was the snow. Though we stayed outside of the old town, that first entrance, through the imposing city gates left their mark.

Tallinn City Gates

Tallinn did feel rather touristy in the old town at times, with a few streets lined with souvenir stand and shops, but once you got passed them you could see why Tallinn is such a magical place to visit. 

Tallinn Alleyways Tallinn Roads

From the Main Square and it’s town hall,  surrounded by even more amazing looking buildings, to Tallinn’s Parliamentary building watching from above. You can walk through the town and see Fat Margaret (once part of the city walls, now the maritime museum) The old city walls remain giving you an even bigger sense that you could be in a different time or place while here.

Tallinn Harbour Tallinn Paul bird

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral Tallinn At Night in Tallinn munga Kelder

Tallinn was the one country I wanted to go to to visit Christmas Markets. We missed out by a matter of days but were lucky enough to see them erect the Christmas tree in the Main Square.

Tallinn streets Tallinn St Catherines Passage Tallinn Christmas

Jenna and the Chocolate Factory 

You may not have a golden tickets but here’s an easy way to get into the chocolate factory.

Laima chocolate factory

Up the velvet red stairs. Under the giant bar of dripping melted chocolate (sadly plastic)

Pay for the tickets (€7 but trust me it’s worth it)

Eat all the dark and milk chocolates and biscuits sitting on the counter, and why not put some of the wrapped candy in your bag for later (there’s chocolate wafer bars in there!)

As the woman dressed in a tutu shows you into the first room, pause for a moment to enjoy that smell. What is that delicious aroma you ask? Melted chocolate and you’re about to get a cup full, dark or milk? This is when it’s good to be a couple. Why? Get one of each and share. We were offered another cup but (I’d never thought I’d say this) but it was so rich, one was enough!

Chocolate fountain Laima Chocolate

Chocolate factory riga

Explore the rest of the room finding out how chocolate is produced at Laima factory while deciding how to personalise your free bar of chocolate. Will it be in English or Latvian?

Onto the next room where you get to learn about the history of chocolate and how it’s involved. Where you can get your photo taken and projected onto a clock, a miniature of the Laima clock near Freedom Square. Or where you can record your own video clip.

Laima Clock History of chocolate

Laima Latvia

It may not be the biggest of chocolate factories but walking out those doors to collect our personalised chocolate bars, I felt it was worth the money and the trip. It’s about a 20minute (slow) walk from the old town but if you’re feeling lazy and don’t want to burn off that chocolate you could catch a tram even closer.