Posts Tagged With: europe

My Favorite Places in Poland

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So this may come as a shock, but back in the summer I completed my teaching contract and subsequently decided to return to my homeland, aka the Great White North!

I regret not posting as much about my time in Poland as I would have liked, though I did touch on the city I was living in, which was Radom. IMHO, it wasn’t exactly ‘top’ of my favorites list. So now I’m going to focus on some of my favorite Polish locales I encountered during my time there. Hopefully, you will be inspired to visit these places!

Warsaw

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Ah, good old Warsaw, or Warszawa as it is called in Polish. The capital and often the starting point to any Polish travels. Since Warsaw was a two-hour bus ride from Radom, I was there A LOT! Like almost every weekend. Because of the frequency of buses between Radom and the capital, it was the perfect day trip. Now most people I met said they preferred Krakow over Warsaw (Poles included), but Warsaw held a special place in my heart. It has great restaurants, chic coffee houses and a growing craft beer scene! My favorite place happened to be the Old Town. I was dating a Polish girl, who lived in Warsaw, and we had our second date there (great romantic spot FYI).

There was always something going there all year. And if you’re a fan of green spaces, there’s this neat park in the south end of the city. I like to call it Poland’s version of Central Park but on a smaller scale. I will always remember all the times I spent in Warsaw.

Toruń

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Now your average tourist wouldn’t think to include Toruń (pronounced ‘tor-in‘) in their travel plans. And I think that’s a shame! This little medieval town, located about a two-hour train ride from Warsaw, is actually the birth place of Nicolaus Copernicus. You will hear his name a lot there. In fact, there is a statue of him near the main cathedral in the center of town. I only visited Toruń once on a weekend trip, but it was well worth the journey and money! I met some locals there in a bar and ended up dancing with them in a nightclub! When you visit some of the lesser known places in Poland, it is really easy to get noticed by the locals!

I definitely recommend stopping by Toruń if Poland is on your travel bucket list!

 

Zakopane

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Pronounced ‘zak-o-pa-nay‘. This little town, which lies in the extreme south of Poland, is dubbed the Winter Capital of Poland. Polish winter enthusiasts flock to this town during the winter months, especially during Christmas and the first week of February (kids have a break from school during this time). Because it is nestled at the foot of the Tatra Mountains, it provides opportunities for skiing and winter hiking. Of course, Zakopane is a great place to visit all year round; summer hikers would love the opportunities here. However, many Poles will tell you that to truly experience the richness of Zakopane, you must visit it during winter. And that’s exactly what I did! One chilly, snowy weekend in February, I made the trip here. Being a winter enthusiast myself, I had to. I did a mini hike through the national park that straddles the Tatra Mountains, and it turned out to be one of the most memorable Polish experiences for me!

Another interesting thing about this town is the folklore. It isn’t long before you notice the locals wearing traditional clothing, especially the staff at restaurants and hotels. It almost felt as I was in a Polish version of Bavaria. Zakopane is also famous for its cheese-filled pastries. No trip here is complete without sampling one!

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Be forewarned: the closest airport is Krakow, so the only practical way of getting there without renting a car is bus. You can catch one from Krakow, which takes three hours. There is one from Warsaw as well, BUT add five hours to the journey. Since that bus stops in Krakow anyway, it’s better to just start from there unless you’re a fan of long bus rides.

 

Honorable mentions go to Krakow and Wrocław. The former is especially wonderful during Christmas when the main square becomes a giant Christmas market. The latter is a neat university city, offering a authentic taste of Poland. But I think I have bombarded you enough with information already.

Sadly, I didn’t make it to Gdansk or Auschwitz. I was not able to include either in any weekend trips, nor was I able to extend my time in Poland after the teaching contract. So many things to do, so little time! However, I may not be living in Poland now but it doesn’t mean I won’t ever be back.

So with this I close the chapter on my posts about Poland. The experience there was one of the best in my life and changed me forever. Will I go back to teach abroad? Perhaps. But this moment, I am happy on home soil.

If Poland is on your travel radar, be sure to include the places I have mentioned. If Poland isn’t on your bucket list, well…maybe you should consider it!

 

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How to Save Money While Traveling in Europe

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(Canal district, Amsterdam)

 

 

 

It’s that time of year when many European cities are teeming with tourists. Savoring the countless sights is rewarding, but the costs involved, not so. The plane ticket and hotels can pack a punch on your wallet alone. As well, the exchange rate with the euro is enough to make your head spin. How do you spend two weeks or more in this lovely continent without breaking the bank? It’s possible, believe me. I manage to save quite a bit every time I go there. Even the little things can save you big bucks.

Here are some tips to help you save money while traveling around Europe:

  1. Buy a tourist card. These cards, which can be purchased at European airports or official tourist offices, allow you to visit all the main attractions for free. When you buy them, they can be used for one, two or even three days. These cards start at 30 euro for one day and run up to 60 euro for three days (more or less). If you plan on visiting four major attractions, say London or Paris, it’s worth it to buy the card because you’ll pay one price for the card and be able to visit all the major attractions for free. I recently went to Dublin for three days and purchased a tourist card for one day’s use. As a result, I visited the Guinness Brewery, Dublin Writer’s Museum and the Jameson Distillery for one price. I would’ve spent more if I had paid separate admission to these places! Additionally, these cards entitle you to discounts at restaurants, bars/pubs and even free public transportation.
  2. Avoid eating lunches in restaurants. An alternative is buying food in local supermarkets. I usually eat a light meal at lunch, so a few rolls, an apple and a can of juice is all I need. And I usually never pay more than six euro. Many European supermarkets have hot counters, so you can buy a sausage roll or hot sandwich for half the price you would pay in a restaurant. However, if you happen to be going to Madrid, I would recommend a restaurant called, Museo del Jamón. You can get what is called a ‘Picnic Para Llevar’, which includes a sandwich, an apple/banana and a can of soda or beer all for 2 euro – you won’t do better than that for lunch in Madrid!
  3. Use public transport from the airport to the city center. Let’s take Madrid for example. A cab ride to the city center from the airport can cost up to 30 euro (cabs charge supplements for airport rides and luggage). If you took the metro or train, you would only pay up to 6 euro for that same journey. If you don’t have a lot of luggage, this is a better option and will save you a lot of money.
  4. Avoid restaurants and cafes in the touristy zones. You’ve heard about them from friends/family and read about them in tour books and websites. They are great for sightseeing, but best avoided for eating/drinking. Not only are they expensive, but they are catered to the tourists, which means you don’t get the authentic cuisine of the city you are in. Furthermore, you are more likely to get robbed because these zones are full of pickpockets and other thieves. The lesser known zones often have cheaper, and more authentic restaurants. Ask someone at your hotel or drop by the local tourist office for suggestions.

 

Hopefully this helps you better plan your trip, so you can enjoy Europe while saving money at the same time. Take it from someone who has spent more than a year living there.

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Tips for a great trip to Europe

 

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Heading to Europe this summer? Ah the endless sites: Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Leaning Tower. And let’s not forget the countless art museums and gothic cathedrals. Then there’s riding on the gondolas in Venice, while being serenaded by that young man in the brim hat. The list goes on. Having lived in England and Spain myself, I’ve travelled around this wonderful continent. From Munich to Moscow; Barcelona to Belgrade. I could go on, but then you would likely get bored and skip reading. Europe is a grand place to see, but I’ve learned a thing or to about travelling there. Some the easy way and some…not so easy.

With all the excitement of looking forward to seeing new places and meeting new people, we often forget that we’re heading to a foreign land, where things are different from back home. There are many safety concerns there, which we don’t normally encounter at home. We also have to keep a few things in mind.

So whether it’s your first time in Europe, or a Euro veteran, try following these little tips:

  • learn some of the language (unless you’re only going to Britain and Ireland). Bring along a phrasebook, so that you’ll know the basics of the tongue of the place or places you’ll visit. I’ve found that the locals really appreciate it when you attempt to speak their language, even if it’s not great. Don’t assume that everyone speaks English in Europe, especially if you’re going to a small town.
  • Never pack everything in one back. Bring a money pouch, so you can store your passport, money and credit cards in. You can wear them around your neck or waist and are especially great when you’re travelling to Europe from home. My friend and I went to a restaurant in Barcelona, and while we were there her bag had been snatched. She had her passport, money and even her plane ticket in it. It was very difficult trying to get a new passport for her.
  • Make photocopies of your travel documents: passport, driver’s license etc. If you happen to have your passport stolen, having a photocopy makes replacing it at the embassy much easier.
  • Don’t stand out as a tourist. Many thieves can spot foreigners by the clothes they were. Most Europeans don’t wear baseball caps or flip-flops; they often dress as if they were going to a club. If you look more like a local, you’re less likely to not attract the attention of a thief
  • Remain alert in public places. Many thieves hang out in crowded markets, squares, subways, so be aware of your surroundings. Carry your backpack in front of you and never carry your wallet in your back pocket. Like I mentioned with my friend, if you eat a restaurant, keep your bags in between your legs. Better still, stick one leg through the strap. That way your stuff can’t be snatched without you seeing it.
  • Instead of eating all your meals at a restaurant, shop at a local grocery store or market. They are relatively cheap and you can experience some of the local food also.
  • Planning to visit the popular sites? Get out early, I’m talking between 8 and 9am. This is especially important if you’re going to London, Paris, Rome or Barcelona. I remember visiting Barcelona one weekend, and by 10am there was a mile-long lineup for everything!
  • Don’t pigeonhole things that are different. Yes, we live in a great country, and things are not quite the same in Europe. But just accept that. Many Europeans hate it when tourists criticize their lifestyle or economy. They also hate being reminded that they are in financial crisis. Remember, you’re a guest in their country.
  • Bring comfortable walking shoes; Europe is abound with cobblestone streets.
  • Take lots of pictures and enjoy every moment you’re there.

Wondering where to go in Europe? Here’s a list of my favorite cities:

  1. Madrid
  2. Dublin
  3. Lisbon
  4. Seville
  5. Munich

 

So I wish you happy travels. And one more thing: can you name the landmark in the above image and where it is?

 

 

 

 

 

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