I had heard all kinds of opinions about Luxembourg – none of which were particularly negative, nor excessively positive – middle of the road statements like “it’s quite small,” or “there’s not a lot to do there.” So, I decided to see for myself.
Hosted by Visit Luxembourg, the tourism agency of Luxembourg, I was able to spend a lovely three day weekend in this beautiful country. My observation? Well, it really is a lovely place, and in my opinion, definitely worth at least ONE visit!! If you really want to delve into the fascinating history and have time to see the surrounding areas (not just downtown Luxembourg City), it would be ideal to have at least one week in the country, or come back for multiple trips. Also, having visited in early December, I am a huge advocate for the pre-Christmas time given the spectacular Christmas markets that Luxembourg puts on, though I would also love to see it in the spring/summer months.
Let me bring you along on my little Luxembourg journey…
Christmas time in Luxembourg is a magical time
I arrived to Luxembourg City by train from Switzerland on a Friday evening and it was just beginning to get dark. As with many European train stations, Gare Luxembourg is absolutely beautiful, and quite unique from anything else I’ve seen thus far. The city is well-connected by public transport (mostly bus in the downtown area), so a quick bus brought us to our hotel – Hotel Vauban, located directly on the Place Guillaume in the heart of downtown Luxembourg City, and the perfect location as a base for exploring the city.
We passed at least two small Christmas markets and tons of shimmering lights just on the short drive from the station to our hotel, and to our very happy surprise, discovered that our hotel was not only situated in the midst of a very lively market, but that it was within 5 min walking distance of two of the other best markets in town!
We dropped our things at the hotel, which was simple, cozy and clean, and bundled up for an evening at the markets. First, we visited the market right across from our hotel, in the partially-enclosed Place Guillaume, which focused on food, drinks and fun loud music, with a gorgeously-illuminated ice skating rink and beautiful Christmas lights strewn over the buildings and sparkling from the tops of trees. We ate a typically Germanic sausage dog for dinner, preceded (and followed) by Glühwein (hot/mulled wine), the staple drink of Christmas markets and European winter season, generally.
We visited one more market before turning in for the evening, just around the corner at the Place d’Armes, which boasts a giant lighted Christmas tree and the “Lights of Luxembourg” sign. This market is significantly larger, with many stalls serving different types of food, drink (also Glühwein, of course – at this market they served it in the cute colorful boot mugs, which we of course took as souvenirs), and knickknacks of all sorts. Towards the back of the market near a carousel was a Christmas tree display featuring a variety of decorations that seem to have been done by local schoolchildren.
All things UNESCO – a city full of history
Our first morning and full day in Luxembourg was dedicated to exploring some of the most famous landmarks and historical areas of the city. The city’s fortifications and historical quarter were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1994, and it is possible to see nearly all, if not all, of the included attractions in one afternoon of exploring. Visit Luxembourg has a recommended walking route to complete a tour of all the UNESCO sites; my path was a bit different as I wanted to experience the full mix of classic, contemporary and medieval architecture that the city has to offer.
Downtown Luxembourg City and Pont Adolphe
We explored downtown a bit to see the mix of architecture, featuring various governmental-related buildings with beautiful designs and a street lined with remarkable buildings, reminiscent of the French style. Next we visited Adolphe bridge, which is lovely from all angles and has beautiful and intriguing ruins underneath it, and several walking paths.
Notre Dame Cathedral and Casemates du Bock
Notre-Dame’s cornerstone was first laid in 1613, and after passing through various phases and different religious associations, was refurbished in neo-gothic style from 1854. The inside of the cathedral is classic and elegant, with expansive ceilings and richly colored stained glass displays. Even if you don’t have a lot of time to explore or sit inside, it is worth peeking in and open to the public (except perhaps during certain masses).
We walked from the downtown area of Notre Dame to Casemates du Bock, which led us down various quaint cobblestone alleys and past multiple styles of architecture; walking around the city really is the best way to see it properly.
A bit of history about the Casemates from Visit Luxembourg: In 963, Count Siegfried built a fortified castle on the Bock promontory, which was soon to become the cradle of the city. In the course of the centuries, on the western side, mighty ring walls were added, which, however, did not foil the Burgundians in their attempt to conquer the city in 1443. The best builder-engineers of the new masters (the Burgundians, the Spaniards, the French, the Austrians and the German Confederation) eventually turned the city into one of the most powerful emplacements in the world, the “Gibraltar of the North”. Its defences were bolstered by three fortified rings with 24 forts, 16 other strong defensive works and a unique 23 km long network of casemates: these could not only shelter thousands of soldiers and their horses, but also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, slaughter-houses etc. In 1867, after the declaration of neutrality,the military withdrew from the fortress and during the following 16 years 90% of the defences were demolished. In 1875, the superstructure of the Bock, a tremendous construction, was razed. However, it proved to be impossible to blow up the casemates, without also demolishing part of the city, so the entrances and the key connecting galleries were sealed. In spite of this, 17 kilometres of tunnels remain, often on different levels and tremendous stairways penetrate up to 40 metres inside the rock face.
As per the tourism website, the Casemates are open for visitation from February through November, so I had just missed the window to go inside, though even from the outside, these ancient walls and fortifications are truly fascinating to see, especially when one imagines just how old it all is, and the history behind its making.
A city of history and art
From Casemates du Bock, there is a walking route to the hill, atop which sits MUDAM, the modern art museum of Luxembourg (Musée d’art moderne Grand-Duc Jean). The strikingly modern museum sits on the site of the historical Fort Thüngen in Dräi Eechelen Park, and was inaugurated in 2006. Most of the original fortress (Thüngen) was demolished after the 1867 Treaty of London, which demanded the demolition of Luxembourg City’s numerous fortifications. The three towers and the foundations of the rest of the fort were all that remained. During the 1990s, the site was reconstructed in its entirety, in parallel with the development of the site for the construction of MUDAM. After being fully restored, the building was reopened in 2012 as Musée Dräi Eechelen.
Outside of MUDAM can currently be seen an exhibit titled “Wind Caravan” by Japanese artist Susumu Shingu, whose art is dependent upon wind to exist. His elegant sculptures are animated by the slightest breath and thereby reveal the intangible but omnipresent nature of air. Outside the museum are a set of 21 such sculptures, and inside, his “Water Tree” and various other works driven by the harmonious interactions of wind, water and light in his dedicated exhibit room.
Very near to MUDAM is the Philharmonie, an architectural marvel in itself and really beautiful to see at twilight or after dark, when it is illuminated against the night sky. We stopped by on our way to the bus stop, which took us back to our friendly neighborhood of Christmas markets for the evening.
Our last day in Luxembourg was dedicated to exploring the historical area around Casemates du Bock a bit more thoroughly, and From our hotel, we took the back way through the small alleys down towards the Grund. The Grund is technically a neighborhood of Luxembourg City, and has a very relaxed, historical (cobblestoned streets dating from the 10th century, walls from the 14th) and village-like feel to it; perfect for a quiet Sunday stroll. The path winds downhill along a very scenic route, passing by colorful and quaint houses with lovely views out over the river, Neumünster Abbey (a UNESCO building), and the river, bridges and the Casemates du Bock further in the background – the places we had explored from a new angle!
Near to the Grund is Luxembourg’s National Museum of History and Art, which typically hosts an eclectic variety of classical and historical artwork and artifacts, alongside a selection of contemporary art. This is a good museum for those that are interested in history and other cultures. At the time of my visit, the headline exhibit was about ancient Chinese civilization, a fascinating journey from the beginning of the oldest civilization in the world, through to modern times. There were also some amazing exhibits including paintings and even an exhibit dedicated to the evolution of the national currency of Luxembourg.
I am so glad that I was able to visit Luxembourg myself and experience some of its fascinating culture and history. I honestly expected to come to yet another postage stamp-sized nation with a sort of Liechtensteinien vibe – small but cute, pretty but really not much that you cannot see and do in one day. I was pleasantly surprised at the vastness of Luxembourg’s national history, its present mix of cultures, beautiful architecture and absolute mastery of the Christmas spirit… I would absolutely return for another visit, especially to see more of the surrounding countryside and villages outside of Luxembourg City.
Getting around: The Luxembourg Card, like the one I had provided by Visit Luxembourg, a travel pass which allows travel by all forms of public transport within Luxembourg and entrance into most tourist attractions and museums, is an excellent thing to have for your visit. They are available for 1, 2 or 3 days for individuals or family passes. More info and prices here.
Money: most places around the city accept credit card for typical purchases, but if you want to make smaller purchases or especially, if you visit during Christmas Market season, you’ll want to have some cash – there are plenty of ATMs around the city and Luxembourg’s currency is the Euro, so if you’re already traveling around Europe, you’re in luck!
What to see and do:
get more ideas for your trip from Visit Luxembourg!
I’m currently based in Zürich and had a few days’ off of work for the All Saints’ Day long holiday. I had never been to Liechtenstein (is that a thing?) and so figured why not! I didn’t really know that much about this tiny landlocked nation before visiting – I knew there was a Prince and had heard about it being a friendly billionaire tax-haven. After spending a few days in this country, sandwiched between Switzerland and Austria, I can attest to it being absolutely lovely, and very worth a visit.
To get to the capital city, Vaduz, I took a train from Zürich HB to Sargans, right on the Swiss border and then a bus to Vaduz, Post (quite central). The commute was stunning and I could hardly stop filming out the window – leaving Switzerland, the train passed Walensee with its beautiful turquoise color and quaint sailboats bobbing in the wind, and then once I switched to the bus, the scenery switched to magnificent snowcapped alps. The entire trip only took about 1.5 hours , which was very reachable and even more convenient than several trips I’ve taken within Switzerland!
As it turns out, Vaduz is basically all things pleasant about cute European cities – quaint, pleasantly walkable, nice restaurants, (very) artsy, clean, organized, and photogenic. Not having known what to expect before going, I was pleasantly surprised and certainly happy that I went ahead and made the trip.
Not knowing exactly where the most poppin part of town was when I made an extremely last minute booking, I ended up in a hotel just across the town border in Triesen (only about 20 min walk from downtown Vaduz). The Meierhof Hotel was super comfy, snuggly and the perfect little nest for a few days of exploring Vaduz.
I only spent one night in Liechtenstein and for two partial days of exploring, feel that I saw Vaduz fairly thoroughly. I started with a delicious Italian lunch at Amarone, then headed to see Schloss Vaduz (Vaduz Castle), the current permanent residence of the Prince of Liechtenstein and family.
After stalking the Prince for a while, I continued on through the old part of Vaduz to the Red House, which was built in 1338 and is famous mostly for its color but has also passed ownership various times throughout the years and centuries… as one would hope.
Walking down from the Red House through the old town (Mitteldorf area of Vaduz) was very peaceful and the perfect place to experience a gorgeous sunset, with quaint vineyards of Red House and other small abodes in the foreground and Vaduz Castle, standing in front of impressive alpine peaks as a backdrop to purple billowing clouds.
By the time sun had set, my exploring day had just about come to an end and I made it my mission to stop only twice on the way back to the hotel – at the chocolate shop Dolce, (you need this chocolate in your life) and at the Mövenpick wine store (also has wine-tasting available!). I actually made three stops by mistake, as I ended up buying shoes on the way home (eye roll) – they are warm comfy boots, how can you go wrong?!
After a solid night’s sleep and a lovely breakkie at Hotel Meierhof, I set out for exploring day 2, but with a different agenda in mind. I headed directly for Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, the 10 year old modern and contemporary art museum that houses a thoroughly interesting collection, largely comprising of the provate collection of the Principality of Liecthtenstein. The architecture of the building itself is quite renown for its “great structural complexity and and discreet simplicity,” built by Swiss architects and contributing significantly to the overall aesthetic of this central pedestrian street of Vaduz.
At the time of my visit, the featured exhibition was Yuri Albert’s Elitist Democratic Art. This exhibition is the Russian-born artist’s first comprehensive solo exhibit outside of Russia. [In this series the artist contrasts the language of art with the languages of blind or deaf people or also the terminology of sailors and stenographers in order to analyse the individual semiotic systems and the system of art as a whole, their comprehensibility and accessibility. The museum visitor is always an interlocutor in these studies of the relationship between artwork and interpretation, image and text, visibility and invisibility, original and copy. Yuri Albert’s works draw us into a dialogue with and about art, inviting us to ponder the status of art: elitist or democratic.]
After absorbing (or not understanding anything as likely intended this time) of the delicous modern art, I set about buying a few souveneirs with my last hours in Liechtenstein. I visited the main souvenier shop that was open, as Hoi was closed for the public holiday. For souvenir hunters, you needn’t look further than this pedestrian walk, as the Landesmuseum Liechtenstein also has a unique selection, and further up the road, Nimrod AG turns the “traditional to fashionable” with dirndls and lederhosen – Oktoberfest plans, anyone??
For the museum fanatics, there are multiple museums precisely in this area of Vaduz, including the Landesmuseum (country history), Postmuseum (post office, stamps and related history) and various others. I was super content with my dose of contemporary and modern art in the morning, and after grabbing a cold Alpenlager at my hotel, was ready to head out for a leisurely return to Zürich.
Overall – Liechtenstein is just precious. Would I prioritize coming back every year? – maybe not, but if you’re wondering whether it is “worth” visiting (on a super packed Eurotrip, for example), I would say it is! If you are in the area and it is relatively convenient and not extremely expensive to get to, I would 100% recommend this tiny and fabulous mountain nation.
LIECHTENSTEIN IN A FLASH:
Where to stay: Hotel Maierhof
What to do: Kunstmuseum Liechtenstein, Vaduz Castle, Walk through old town (downtown), Red House
Where to eat/drink: Local vineyards, Mövenpick Wine Outlet, Dolce, Amarone
Feeling cooped up with city life, or simply craving some crisp mountain air? Mount Rigi is the perfect getaway that you can do in one day (or even just a morning/afternoon), and without any special planning or gear. Trains from Zürich HB leave every hour straight to Arth Goldau station, from where the Rigi train departs. Ride the tiny blue train for about 40 minutes uphill at a snail pace, taking in some truly gorgeous views on the way up.
I decided on a whim to visit Mount Rigi one afternoon and took the 2:09PM train from Züruch HB, so I arrived at the end station (Rigi Kulm) just before 4PM. This gave me a few hours to walk around the small peak grassy area and take in the stunning panoramic views of the hills and lakes below, and alpine peaks in the background, before sunset around 6:30PM (in October).
At the top of Rigi Kulm there is a full restaurant that is part of a hotel and it seems to serve proper hot meals all day (it was closed by the time we went but again, it was close to 6PM) – but you can still buy sandwiches, chips, drinks and snacks. We sat on the outdoor patio built like a jetty to jut out over the hill with a beautiful view of the mountains and facing the setting sun.
After having a snack, we made our way down past the wooden lounge chairs to the edge of the fence to witness the stunning golden glow of a magical sunset.
I took this opportunity to test out a few different DSLR settings, but because I struggle with technology, I think some of my iPhone pics might have turned out better – I’ll let you be the judge of that.
The views from up here – and the sunset – are things I could never ever get sick of and it makes me think twice about city life. This is a perfect place to getaway from the hustle and bustle for a bit, even just for a few hours. Take your mind off things, breathe some fresh mountain air and let your soul drink in the beauty of this amazing planet. If you want to make it a longer trip, even for several days, there are several hotels in the area and plenty of daytime activities to keep you and your family busy!
Golden hour at Mount Rigi
There are several trains down for those of you that wish to catch the sunset (highly recommended if you’re already there during the afternoon!!!) I took the 7:00PM train, which sadly no longer connects directly to Arth Goldau, so the way back to Zürich HB involves two middle of nowhere bus connections and then a train, but as with all trips in Switzerland – my recommendation is to simply trust the SBB app to plan your trip, and make sure you have decent phone battery on the way down!
Any chance you’ve recently drooled over pictures of Canada’s Banff National Park? For very good reason; the stunning turquoise of the glacial lakes, like Lake Louise, is enough to make me want to go right now. Well, I can interestingly say that I’ve found the lake’s European TWIN, in Switzerland! Let me convince you of the likeness with a couple (ok, a TON) of photos.
Gelmersee is a hydroelectric reservoir held by a dam that was constructed in 1932. The “lake” can be reached by taking the Gelmerbahn, a ride of duration 8-10 minutes with a maximum inclination of 106%! According to a map posted at the lake’s entrance, it can also be reached by foot via a hiking trail (in red, below). One can also continue hiking further upwards to reach the Gelmerhütte, a lookout point above the lake.
Gelmersee is an excellent place for a quiet hike and to enjoy the spectacular natural beauty of the glacial water. There is a hiking trail around the entire lake, which takes about two full hours to complete with some stops. If you plan to take 3489283 photos like I did or want extra time to sit and enjoy the views every once and a while, maybe have a picnic halfway on one of the large flat rocks that are perfect for sitting and relaxing, it would be best to allow several hours up at the lake. It is important to plan your visit ahead because there is limited space on the Gelmerbahn and tickets sell out, especially in summer and during nice weather. Read more here about how to plan your trip and riding the Gelmerbahn.
Starting the hike around Gelmersee – The trail is quite rocky in places and narrow in others (at one point, there is a rope to hang on to for extra balance and security), so it is recommended to bring sturdy walking/hiking shoes with good soles and be relatively sure-footed if you plan to do the whole hike. It is relatively flat, so not very strenuous.
For me, this little piece of the world is a slice of heaven on earth, and I could honestly happily stay here for hours and hours and hours, hiking around the lake again and again, staring into the turquoise water and pondering my existence… alas, I had only booked 2.5 hours at the top before our return trip on the Gelmerbahn, so we had to really make every minute count – which we did!!
Needless to say, Gelmersee has earned a permanent spot on my life’s repeat bucket list, if that’s even a thing (you know, those absolute favorite places you simply must visit, perhaps at least once a year or every few months even?!) The dream is to visit this place in summer – even though I doubt anyone dares to swim in the ice cold glacial waters, I could totally get involved with sunbathing and reading on a rock all day, minus a few layers.
Tips for visiting Gelmersee:
When I visited Zürich two years ago from my base in Germany, I can’t say I was all that impressed with the city. Perhaps it was the rainy, cold gloom that had descended across all of Europe at that time, or the fact that when we went bar and restaurant hunting in the rather quiet and old neighborhood we were staying in, we were greeted with a lot of “closed” signs.
Fast forward two years, when I am calling Zürich home for a few months… and I really only have good things to say about this city! I have been here for a few weeks now and this place is nothing short of lovely. Here are are few things that I have enjoyed most about Zürich, and reasons it should have a spot on your Eurotrip list.
Swiss people are friendly.
Whether you are stopping to ask directions or purchase a Laugenbrötchen from a local bakery, you will find that in general, Swiss people are cute, friendly and overall cuddly – interacting with them is pleasant and you may just want to adopt some of them as your temporary grandparents. As with many European cities, I would say the English level is generally strong, but if you know a few words of German (Hochdeutsch is fine!), they will love you for trying.
It is very Instagrammable.
AKA, the modern way of saying it is simply a gorgeous city with lots of very aesthetically pleasing spots. Photographers love it, but even if you aren’t part of the Instagram game and don’t care to be, there are numerous spots around the city to enjoy a cup of coffee, glass of wine or good book with an absolutely stunning view.
There is a lot of nature.
The fact that downtown Zürich wraps around Lake Zürich automatically gives this city a very unique outdoorsy and water-based vibe. I love being around water and for those of you that miss beaches, oceans, rivers and lakes terribly when living in/visiting cities, Lake Zürich provides the perfect remedy. Swiss people have a strong reputation for loving the outdoors, which is evident by just how packed the waterfront is every evening, really rain or shine – but especially during the long sunny summer days and golden autumn evenings. Nature in Zürich isn’t only limited to the lakeside – there are many green parks throughout the city where you can go for a jog, do some yoga, or again park yourself on a bench with your journal or a good book.
It is an easy walking city.
Even though the city is relatively well-connected by public transport including trams and buses, walking throughout the city and from place to place (even if you have somewhere to be) is both convenient and pleasant. I have simply walked from my home to the Central Station several times, even though it takes 30-45 minutes, simply because it is such a nice walk! Pedestrians always have the right away on crosswalks and drivers are cognizant and courteous to let you cross. When the weather is nice, tons of people have the same idea, and you see more people walking or on bikes than on public transport.
The food is delicious.
While Swiss food is excellent (hello?!, land of CHOCOLATE AND CHEESE!!!), there are so many options if you’re not into more traditional German-esque fare (think sausage, spätzle, bread, cheese, etc.). Zürich offers quite a range of international cuisines and there are many hip restaurants downtown and slightly on the outskirts that seem to be open on weekends (even Sundays) and late into the evening. Even casual restaurants serve mouth-watering food; aka, you don’t have to worry about going hungry in this city, and you will likely love what you eat – it comes at a price though, so be prepared to spend a little more than you likely would at home. Plus, there are COOP, Migros and Denner stores all over the place that sell lovely fresh fruits, veggies, fresh bread and healthy pre-made meals (salads, etc.), fresh bakeries everywhere, and most importantly, LINDT is the mainstream chocolate option… it only gets BETTER from there *drool*. Don’t plan to go on a diet when you visit Zürich.
Fresh salad, Mamarita pizza & wine at STRIPPED PIZZA
There is a lot to do.
If you get tired of long walks by the lakeside (or if the weather prevents these), there are plenty of other activities to keep you entertained during your time in Zürich. In my case, such activities revolve heavily around EATING, but there are many cultural and social things to keep you busy as well! Here are some favorite must-do’s:
Have you been to Zürich? Let me know some of the reasons you enjoyed this city in the comments below!
Set deep in the beautiful green canton of Bern, Switzerland, a little red train car chugs its way up and down a treacherously steep track – adventurous hikers can have the ride (and views!) of a lifetime on the one and only Gelmer Funicular (Gelmerbahn).
The funicular was originally built in the 1920s to haul heavy materials and equipment up to the top of the mountain for the construction of the Gelmersee reservoir and dam. Now, the car shuttles 24 people each time, approximately 30 times per day, with the first ride up at 9:00AM and the last one down around 4:00PM (see the official schedule and book tickets here). The Gelmerbahn only runs in summer/autumn months, usually late May-late October.
The ride takes 8-10 minutes one way (so the videos you have seen on Instagram making the ride look like an insanely fast rollercoaster are on hyper-speed!), and you have plenty of time to enjoy the breathtaking views of the valley and mountains. There is only a drop-down bar (think Ferris wheel style) to keep passengers safe, but the car neither jolts, tilts, nor goes fast enough to worry about safety.
Once you reach the top, it is an absolute must to hike around the gorgeous turquoise lake (Gelmersee). This must be the Swiss-Banff equivalent; I swear, I have never seen water of such a stunning color. The hike around the lake takes approximately 2 hours, though if you are in the habit of pausing frequently or taking 23720 pictures (like me), you may want to allow yourself significant extra time, as this is not a place that you want to feel rushed.
Some important facts and tips for your Gelmerbahn trip:
How to get there:
By foot: if you are staying at the closely Handeck Hotel/Naturresort, you will only need to walk 5-10 min, either down the road, or over the hanging bridge (much more fun option) to get to the lower terminal of Gelmerbahn.
By car: there is a parking lot out in the grass/meadow just down the road from the Gelmerbahn (follow signs)
By public transport: 5 min walk from nearby bus station Handegg, Gelmerbahn
My second time to the beautiful land of Croatia did not disappoint – my last visit was in 2014 – four years ago! Not a whole lot has changed; locals are still browner than ever, spending their days sprawled on rocky beaches, swimming in crystal clear waters and munching on crispy calamari – in fact, I would bet that if I compared my photos of this trip to those of the last one, the very same fishing boats will be parked in the main harbor! (Perhaps I should give that a try.)
The main purpose behind my 2014 visit to Croatia was ULTRA music festival, occurring in Europe for the second time – it is hosted at the Stadion Poljud in Split every summer, usually in July. It was one hell of a party, and continued onto Hvar island several days later. Hvar is an equally stunning destination, complete with beaches, lovely ocean walks, delicious sea-to-table cuisine and the one and only Hula Hula Hvar beach bar – lots of great memories there.
This time, I was able to revisit Split on a bit of a last minute, spontaneous trip, and it was wonderful as expected! A few of my very favorite highlights revolve around my favorite things in life: sunshine and FOOD. So here they are!
In Croatia, Life’s a Beach
I stayed at the Radisson Blu Resort for this visit in Split, which is perched on a hill; my room had a stunning view overlooking the ocean and a beach. You can’t imagine how much I wish this were my view waking up every. single. morninggg.
After an epic breakfast buffet each morning, I would pack my bag with some sunscreen and a book and head off for some much needed vitamin SEA. The first day, I spent most of the morning and afternoon doing it “like the locals do,” lounging on the pebbly beach just a short walk from the hotel.
The Croatian coastline (also of Split itself) is lined by multiple little inlets, bays and harbors and around each corner can be found a whole new little secret paradise – just on the walk from Radisson to the main harbor (where the Aci Marina and the major ferry terminals are), there are at least SIX separate inlets – some of which are small, private and calm and others, like Bacvice Beach, that are significantly more wild and touristy.
I loved walking this path every day, as close to the ocean as possible – from the hotel to the main harbor, it took about 30 minutes easy walking. The first evening, we walked into town for dinner. The main harbor at dusk is a truly beautiful sight – the boats swaying gently and fisherman and tour groups wrap up their workday and the sun reflecting off the sparkling water, throwing a golden glow over the beautiful old buildings.
My second full day in Split was a bit more adventurous; I took the same ocean path all the way into the main harbor, soaked everything in and took an obnoxious amount of photos… and then continued on in the same direction beyond Aci Marina and past where the big yachts are docked, right alongside the path – (interesting story, one very friendly Uber driver told us that Split is a beloved getaway for several extremely wealthy Sheikhs and many celebrities like Beyoncé, who usually arrive via yacht, why not). I swear you could get totally lost aboard some of these things – they are legitimately the size of several houses, and I was surprised not to see a bowling alley and golf course on top; they have just about everything else!
The destination of my daytime adventure was a favorite spot amongst locals and tourists alike: a swimming hole/cliff jumping spot called Uvala Ježinac (Jezinac Bay). This is a place that my friends and I walked to every single day that we spent in Split in 2014 – it was the ultimate ULTRA pregame: take a cold Karlovacko, some sunscreen and hit the beach for a glorious sunshine-filled morning before heading out to party. This time, it was just as good, even sans EDM-filled nights.
Eat All The Things
Now on to the really important topic – food and where to find it in Split. The first evening in Split, we ate at a lovely, eclectic little restaurant unassumingly tucked away into a literal hole in the wall, called Artičok. With funky, hipster decor and unexpected jazz music that strangely didn’t clash with the ambiance but in fact added to it, this place is an excellent spot for a date night or nice-casual dinner in downtown. The local wine (we tried one from the island of Brac) is a must – in all restaurants really.
My next top of list recommendation for restaurants while in Split is Bokeria – again, all of my favorite things – snazzy vibes, classy yet funky atmosphere and decor, unique and delicious menu – check check check! We tried the lamb, it was delicious, and this meat and cheese appetizer platter (with cantaloupe accents, fresh jam spread made from local figs and olives) was to die for.
The last day of our visit to Split was a Friday, and luckily we were able to squeeze in one last ocean swim and a lovely lunch (and gelato!) before departing. The last lunch that we had was along the main harbor walkway, where there are many open-air restaurants lining the entire oceanside stretch. We chose The Olive Tree Vintage Caffe. Complete with real olive trees in planters and whimsical decor, this open air cafe is a bit of an experience in itself. I love finding unique, eclectic and out of the ordinary places to eat when I travel; something that connects me with the local cuisine and culture, but also brings some personality and creativity.
I feel the same as I did following my 2014 visit to Split: Croatia is a lovely place and high up on my list of places I would happily revisit time and again. There is certainly something to be said for living in a place that has a ridiculous amount of sunny days per year (something like 320+!!!) and a stunning natural landscape. In case you have any trouble identifying locals from tourists, just look for the extremely tan, fit and beautiful people who clearly live on permanent island time – Croatians all seem to have this very chill, easy going vibe about them, which I love. It is a lifestyle I could get used to!
There is still so much to be seen in the beautiful country of Croatia, and even in the surroundings of Split – this is my Croatia bucket list for future visits:
See you next time, Croatia!
Wintry days are here to stay (for those of us not lucky enough to be in tropics), and for those souls who claim to enjoy said brisk season, now is the time to bundle, bundle bundle – whip out the fuzz, the wool, the coats, scarves and hot cocoa, and commence with the crackling fireplaces, good company, coziness, and general snugglery. Here are some fun and snuggly words from around the world to get you through these frosty days and through to springtime!
Go forth and snuggle, friends – and stay warm through these last few nippy months – just keep in mind, spring is around the corner, and in the meantime, enjoy the coziness that only the cold can sometimes bring!!
Koh Lipe is a secret paradise in and of itself, and on the north most tip of the island, practically with its own private beach, is perched yet another paradise – the Mountain Resort.
After arriving to Koh Lipe by traditional Thai longboat in a sudden downpour, I was happily to drag my soggy self into a comfortable room in one of the several “garden villa huts” at Mountain Resort. In my room were two twin beds, both clean and well-made, classically decorated with Thai colors and fabrics. The furniture was minimal and tasteful, and the bathroom and shower were outdoors but walled within my room, separated from my bedroom by a sliding door (which later proved extremely helpful in keeping away unwanted mozzy visitors).
There are a number of different accommodation options at the resort, from hut-style single-bedroom villas to raised huts on stilts down on the beach, through to more condo-style, concrete and glass rooms within a larger cluster. All have nearly equally-stunning views of either the luscious green surroundings, the ocean, the neighboring islands, or all of the above. Some of the rooms would have a fantastic sunset view, along with their own little rooftop balcony areas (romantic getaway, anyone?)
What to do: If you came to the island to lay in the sun and read all day (cough cough), well you’re in luck – the beach is your backyard. If you came to go on wild snorkeling adventures, Mountain Resort provides all the gear you need, just visit the little shack down by the beach, down the staircase from the restaurant and check in building; you can easily float just off the shore and spot various underwater life amongst the coral reefs. The beach next to Mountain Resort is the one that shows up in so many Google images of Koh Lipe – the one that juts out and becomes a bit wider and circular right at the end, lending an oxford comma to the sea. Aptly referred to as “Sunset Beach,” this spot provides an excellent view for amazing, deep orange and red sunsets.
If you for some reason get sick of being at the beach (on a tiny tropical island that you decided to come to)… Mountain Resort has got a lovely, turquoise blue swimming pool that also has a pretty impressive view of the sea, so you have the option to float around here for a while, or alternate between ocean and pool.
What/How to eat: Granted, there’s not tons of food floating around Koh Lipe, even as it is becoming slightly more touristy as time goes on. There are a few warungs and of course, a mix of backpackers’ hostels through to hotels and resorts scattered along the main stretch of beach, but otherwise not the type of place that you can roll up expecting whatever dish may tickle your fancy. Luckily, my laziness for the weekend was reinforced by delicious food, right at the Mountain Resort’s restaurant. The continental breakfast that was included in the room was quite typical for Thailand and Asian hotels, serving up the usual variety of Asian hot and western warm, cold or somewhere in between dishes. Fruit, cereal, coffee… there are plenty of small snacks for those looking to grab a light breakfast in lieu of traditional noodles before hitting the beach. It almost wouldn’t matter what you choose to eat, because the entire experience is made by the simply astounding view from the restaurant, out over the sparkling blues of the water and onto the neighboring Koh Adang.
I came to Koh Lipe for a quiet, relaxing and tropical getaway, unperturbed as possible by traffic, noise and even internet-connectedness. While the resort has WiFi, the vibe (and slow nature of all connection due to the island’s remoteness) gives a perfect excuse to unplug, throw on your swimsuit, grab a book, your flippers and head for the beach. Mountain Resort, tucked away and significantly removed from any other accommodation spots on the entire island, provides just one more added layer of privacy and luxury to an already magical place.
Ho Chi Minh was my first introduction to the beautiful country of Vietnam; as the largest city in Vietnam, I chose to visit HCMC first and experience its hustle and bustle, food, culture, history, and all that contributes to create such a vibrant and interesting city.
I arrived into HCMC Saturday morning after a sleepy 1.5 hour flight from KL, waking up to a turbulent and cloudy landing, just as our plane glided over the rooftops of waves upon waves of houses – my first glance of the city. I had already arranged everything for my visa (online application prior to traveling required) and so I went to the windows to turn in all materials necessary (application papers, 4×6 photo and $25USD) and eventually received my passport back, visa inside. After getting through immigration, I arranged a taxi at one of the many small counters inside, which was prepaid at 220,000 VND (Dong). I had read that a taxi from airport should cost around 160,000, but these counters all charged the same so I assumed the price had perhaps increased since, though in retrospect, as Grab is available in HCMC, it may have been possible to get onto the airport free WiFi and Grab, which would have been presumably cheaper (next time).
It took about 30-45 minutes to drive into the city, and I arrived around 10:30AM at my hotel, the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside. My room as reserved was not yet ready but I was informed that I could already have a 2 bedroom that overlooked the river, so I checked in and got settled. Before heading out to explore, I had a glance at the rooftop pool, which also overlooks the Song Sai Gon river, with expansive views of all the barges, cruises and everything else floating along.
Needing breakfast, I grabbed my laptop and headed just 3 minutes around the corner to The Workshop Café, on Dhong Koi street. I’ve made it my goal to at least find one funky hipster café in each new urban destination that I visit, and was able to immediately check that off my list after a delicious breakkie of eggs benedict and coffee at The Workshop. After walking up a few flights of stairs in what seems like a derelict building, I was greeted by a cozy, creative nook of a space with a central coffee bar and overhanging lamps throughout. Inside is a mix of long communal work tables and separate small tables for ones or twos.
Sleepy, but well fed and happy, I dropped my laptop back at my hotel and was ready to explore. I had downloaded an offline Google Map of the city and so getting around wasn’t a problem – I set off for the War Remnants Museum first, feeling that as such an important reminder of Vietnam’s painful history and a true must-see while in HCMC, I would start with this museum and take as long as needed there. The walk took about 30 minutes, passing by a mix of shanty shops and hole in the wall pho or street food stalls, alongside sky-scraping glass office buildings, already illustrating the diversity of the city in many realms.
The fence outside of the War Remnants Museum sports signs with peace slogans and cheerful emblems – once inside the compound, American military planes, helicopters and tanks already contribute to the discomfort of the place. An adult entrance ticket costs 15,000 VND. Immediately at the entrance is an example structure of the prisons and torture areas utilized during the war; models and explanations of the ranging and many torture techniques employed against prisoners, including “Tiger Cages” and many revolting practices are illustrated through models and information boards explaining. This section as well as the entire museum includes photography, some certainly more graphic than others, so good to come prepared. As would be imagined, the museum itself, through three floors of exhibits, offers quite a solemn and difficult experience. Comparable (experience-wise) to a visit to the concentration camps of Europe or the museums and memorials commemorating the tragedies and atrocities of WWII, the War Remnants Museum offers a sobering glance into the history behind the American war of aggression as perpetrated in Vietnam in the 1960s-70s, the lasting impacts, many of which have transcended time, and the worldwide sentiment of solidarity with Vietnam which emerged during that time. As mentioned, some exhibits are more graphic than others – particularly those illustrating photographs with descriptions taken in and around the battlefield, the aftermath of American time bombs, which both during and (many years) after the war, caused many deaths. The exhibit focused on the impact of Agent Orange (and more specifically, the toxic dioxin chemical), is especially grim, showing detailed photos of the effect on many people during and after the war, including four generations of children born showing a multitude of physical and genetic defects caused by the exposure of their parents and ancestors to the horrific substance. An elderly Vietnamese woman, giving a tour in Spanish, explained – “the effects of the dioxin chemical were horrific and long lasting. Eventually, the American veterans that were affected with symptoms demanded from the U.S. government for retribution, and they were helped. The U.S. never helped the Vietnamese people that had been affected and were still suffering.” The museum is noticeably propagandist, but nevertheless an important, necessary and interesting experience to have while visiting Vietnam and HCMC.
After spending about 3 hours scouring the exhibits of the War Remnants Museum, I decided for a change of scenery. I was headed for Ben Thanh Market when after walking for about 15 minutes, I felt the first few heavy drops of rain… not wanting to stand for who knows how long exactly under a random overhang, I decided to keep going and try to at least find a spot to eat; I had read about a Pho restaurant right across from the market and knew I was getting close. In the time it took me to walk only 100 yards, the droplets had turned to downpour, people scattering in all directions to find shelter. Hurrying the last few steps and slipping in my flip flops, I ducked into the “Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf” café, above which was the restaurant I was looking for, Pho 2000. I was pleased to find that I was one of, if not the only non-local in the nondescript spot. I ordered vegetable Pho (Pho Chay) and a Vietnamese iced coffee. Alongside the Pho was served plates of fresh bean sprouts and fresh herbs to mix into the broth, and delicious rich coffee, poured over ice and sweet condensed milk (a Vietnamese specialty – get involved if you aren’t already). Who’s to know how strange they thought I was, sitting alone at my little table, dripping ever so slightly.
After a delicious lunch of Pho, I ventured back out to find that the rain had all but ceased, so I crossed the street between motorbikes and into the Ben Thanh Market. Ben Thanh is one of the largest and most famous markets in HCMC, which translates into most touristy, but it is still an amazing place to see, experience, and get some souvenir shopping done. Selling everything from clothing and bags to magnets, candles and all crazy trinkets in between, Ben Thanh market is home to a constant noisy hum, absolutely buzzing with activity. Vendors shouting out to me from all sides, I wound my way deeper into the market, pushing past bundles of clothing and tables full of collectables. After haggling the price at least in half (and a piece of me thinks I should have done even better), I bought a few things and headed on my way. To give you an idea of price, I was told that a cloth backpack with embroidered flowers (similar to bags in Thailand and SEA) was 800,000 VND – I ended up paying 380,000 for the bag and several smaller trinkets. I was later told that a single scarf costs 1,000,000 – I ended up with 2 for less than 400,000, but the ones that weren’t “100% silk”. The argument for higher prices is always something along the lines of the goods being handmade up in the mountains, or real pure silk, or some other variation; I completely agree with this and also that the goods are amazing works of art, though I also know that no matter what I end up paying, it is still a very decent deal for the vendors and so in the interest of saving money, I bargain to the bitter end most of the time anyway – it is expected and anticipated for in the high first prices that are given, which are always up to double for tourists anyway.
After visiting the market, I made my way back to my hotel (the whole day I explored by foot, as I felt this would allow me to slow down and take in all the sights and surroundings as much as possible to experience the city better). Nearby my hotel a lady stood outside handing out business cards for the upstairs massage business, and after taking a few steps past, I thought “why not” – and circled back to inquire about a foot massage. I ended up getting a lovely foot massage, though more expensive than I am used to in KL (only by a few USD of course), and adherent to a much more pressured tipping policy. Of course, tipping varies in every country and then further in each massage house, but in this case the lady that I was with followed my foot massage with “so you tip me” – not exactly a question. I had said of course and pulled out the VND I had left, which clearly did not please her. She became a bit flustered, exclaiming how small the Vietnamese money is and that this is nothing, she then said I would pay and tip by credit card. At this point, I didn’t have a choice and followed her down to a hotel lobby (they must collaborate) as she carried my credit card and told the lady at the desk what amount to charge (300 for massage, 100 for tip) – something that just wouldn’t happen in Malaysia, or hasn’t yet to me, but it was a one time thing, so fine. Nevertheless, it was lovely and I returned home lazy and comfy after a long day of wandering, exploring, and was embarrassingly ready to turn in for the evening.
I had heard and read a bit about the backpacker street (supposed Khaosan Road of HCMC), which is the go-to night spot for travelers and locals to have a beer and chill or get wild. Despite my desire to explore and experience the full spectrum of life in the city, after getting back to my room to drop off my stuff, I was feeling so tired from the early morning of travelling and not much sleep the night prior that I couldn’t bring myself to leave again. So, I proceeded to convince myself that I wouldn’t be missing TOO much, and that surely it is similar to all of the other “backpacker streets” in Asia (let me know if I was horribly mistaken and should go back?!) and swallowed my FOMO, to happily curl up in bed.
My Sunday in HCMC started well-rested, and with a lovely continental breakfast at the Liberty Central Saigon Riverside hotel. After eating a leisurely breakfast, I geared up for more exploring (read: highly touristy sightseeing) and headed out. On my way to the sights, my attention was caught by THE MOST AMAZING boutique shop – Thuy Design House. Just from the windows outside, this place looks crazy. Once inside, I was greeted by colors, sequins, crazy patterns galore; just my kind of place! This shop seems to combine traditional Vietnamese styles, patterns and fabric with the insanely eclectic creativity of the designers, who have created some truly amazing pieces! Certainly quite unlike anything I had ever seen before. After dabbling in the store for a while, I continued on my original quest. Here are the places I visited:
Saigon Notre Dame Basilica and Central Post Office
The cathedral, a mini Notre Dame in light reddish brick, sits perched in a well-manicured garden in the center of a roundabout-like square, backdrop to a variety of tourist photos and wedding shoots. I did not go inside actually, as there seemed to be a service going on for Sunday, and the gates were closed. I have also been advised that because this cathedral is so popular, it becomes extremely busy inside to the point of almost not worth seeing around. Regardless, it is indeed a beautiful building from the outside and very photographic, so recommended to at least see. The Saigon Central Post office is a vivid yellow building from the exterior, almost directly across from the Notre Dame cathedral. Designed and built by Gustave Eiffel in gothic style, it began operations in 1886 and still remains one of the most famous and celebrated structures in the city – and is still in full use as a proper post office! The interior of the post office, with stark contrasts across a long, domed roof, is drippingly instagrammable and striking in and of itself – definitely worth a glance inside.
Tan Dinh Market
Having already explored Ben Thanh the previous day, I wanted to see a different type of market, and Tan Dinh was just that; this is a place for locals, truly. I didn’t honestly encounter a single tourist nearby or inside the market, which sells a staggering variety of goods, on a massive scale. The market is most famous for its cloths and fabrics, of silk and any and every variety, color, print, and style that you could imagine. If you seek traditional Vietnamese fabric or any variation thereof, and especially if you plan on designing some of your own clothing, this is your place. One downside is that the fabrics are mostly sold in quite large quantities, which are perfect to buy for the purpose of clothing design etc., but just so happen to be a bit inconvenient for the luggage-bound traveler. Still, an amazing place to have a look around, and the vendors are far less pushy and rather uninterested in visitors, so you can wander through quite peacefully. The glances that I got wandering through were some of the most amusing- some quizzical, some simply bewildered, and some of the warmest smiles I’ve seen. Being in this market, and wandering even to the very back, among the bags of rice and spices and household goods and foods finally felt like a piece of true Ho Chi Minh, if not of Vietnam.
Tan Dinh Parish Church
Where Barbie goes to church. No really, I’m serious. Have a look for yourself. This church was built in the 1880s, during the French colonial period. The church is the second largest in the city (after Notre Dame) and is drenched in the most obnoxiously precious shade of bubblegum pink. Instagrammers, at the ready (ew). What a beautiful church though, pink or no pink – although the color certainly helps its random appeal (you’ll see what I mean when you see the street at which it is situated) – with impressive roman architecture creating a splendid grandeur, smack in the middle of an otherwise rather rough and tumble Asian street. A peaceful garden outside of the church hosts statues of Jesus and apostles, and offers a peaceful, quiet and shaded place for those wanting to pray, reflect or just sit and take it all in. Looking through the windows, I could see the inside of the church is completely whitewashed (it was closed for entry that day, and the gates to view the outer part were closed until 2PM, probably due to services).
Seeing these main sights took me a fair distance through the city, and after I had visited them all it was nearing my time to head back. As I would, I got caught in a total downpour while walking back, ducked into a high end mall alongside many other soggy walkers, and eventually ended up hopping in a taxi for the short ride back to my hotel, as the rain didn’t seem to intend on slowing down anytime soon. The rest of my time before airport was spent in the hotel lobby, happily curled up with a cup of coffee and reading.
My time in Vietnam (the very first for me!) was short but filled with interesting experiences, thoughts and observations. I would like to go back for a longer visit, to get an even better feel of the society, culture, and history.