We have dedicated the latest posts on Backpack ME to vicarious travels: we invited a series of travel and expat bloggers to take us on a virtual trip to their countries.
After passing by The Americas, dipping ourselves into the Caribbean, exploring the ancient treasures of Africa & The Middle East and taking exotic trips around Asia, we have now landed in the old continent, Europe!
Spain is so much more than meets the eye. Where there are flamenco chords, there’s a dive bar pulsating heavy metal music; where there’s sangria, there’s also craft beer in pop-up stores and breweries. Toros bravos are bred for show in the fields where purebred Andalusian horses graze. For every beach, there’s a mountain range, and for every soaring cathedral, there’s a cutting-edge laboratory or museum.
Spain truly is the land of contrasts, thanks to its long and varied history, and that’s what makes every rinconcito (corner) worth exploring. Even with the crippling financial crisis taking its toll, Spain is really reinventing itself by pushing its cultural and gastronomic offerings, and young people are taking entrepreneurial risks to modernize the country while still paying tribute to its rich history. Spain’s tourism brand has long been a leader – it’s constantly in the top five for annual foreign touristic visits – and the lure of sun, sand and sangria can be satisfied while discovering much more in the 17 regions that make up the kingdom.
My picks? Nibbling on tapas in one of hundreds of bars in Seville or Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, catching a music show in Barcelona’s underground bars, visiting a modern art museum in Bilbao and exploring Roman ruins in Extremadura, the “Cradle of Conquistadors.” Consider skipping one of the big cities on your list for outdoor activities or small town offerings. Vayas dónde vayas, as the saying goes, Spain never, ever disappoints.
By Cat from Sunshine and Siestas
A voyage to Greece! But why Greece?
A voyage, is not a trip. A trip is driving to work, taking the bus, getting on a plane. Going from point A to point B, silently wondering “…are we there yet?” A voyage, though, is the dream vacation, the dream you always had.
This is a voyage to Greece!
One of the most fascinating voyages of all times, as described by the master Homer in his epic storytelling, is Ulysses’ (Odysseus) legendary, almost mythical return to his homeland of Ithaca. Living intensely, every moment of the adventure.
Forget destination. Focus on the voyage. Understand life – in itself a magical travel – and wander around a newly found yet ancient land. From the azure Greek seas, the unforgettable sunsets, the golden sunrises, the lush greenery, the whispering trees, the bright sun, the deep, cool shade, the smiling faces, the true meaning of hospitality (Xenia, as invented here and practiced for 3,000 years) to the mouth-watering tastes, the déjà vu of past lives we all have lived in one way or the other, the getting in touch with one’s self by dreaming of the future while looking at — touching even — the glorious past in a mythical country.
Contemporary Greece is an endless terrain for the art of discovery and the spiritual uplifting every demanding traveller seeks.
So “Why Greece?” You may think there are other places with stunning natural beauty, epic history, healthy cuisine or mesmerizing romance in the air. Of course! The point is that Greece magically combines all those elements in one place, one destination, one country. And this is actually the conclusion, the real answer.
Why Greece? Because here you can find them all – like magic, it will touch your heart and move you!
By Antonis from The Greek Traveller
Most people mix Switzerland up with Sweden or only think of finances, cheese and chocolate when Switzerland is mentioned – but the country right in the heart of Europe has more to offer than its cliches. Adventurous ones explore the Alps by hiking and climbing, those more interested in culture and shopping head to the cities. As Switzerland is a small country, you can easily combine both.
We from myfriendfromzurich especially recommend a stop at Switzerlands largest city – and that for many reasons. Zurich is a great place for a city trip. Friendly neighborhoods with cosy coffee places and unique shops are perfect for a stroll. The cultural variety is huge – concerts, exhibitions, festivals – there’s always something going on. And in summer, lake Zurich makes it easy to forget, Switzerland has no access to sea.
Our top three must-dos for Zurich are:
Start your day with a brunch at cosy Kafi Dihei.
After a long sightseeing day, unwind with a cocktail at elegant and hip Bar Dante.
Zurich lies in the heart of Switzerland and is therefore perfectly located for day trips. Here are some suggestions:
Explore the medieval city centre of Bern or Murten.
In Luzern, take the cable car up to mountain Titlis or do a trip on lake Luzern.
Visit the Rheinfall, Switzerland’s Niagara Falls.
By Manu & Nina from My Friend from Zurich
I find it difficult to summarise why I enjoy living and travelling in Portugal so much but I’ll try. Apart from the mostly sunny weather, I think I’m most in love with the architecture and landscapes. For a relatively small country, its diversity is striking.
The Algarve is famous for its cliffs and beaches but the coastline varies tremendously between the east and west of the Algarve. As you move north through the country, you encounter forests, cork oak plantations, vineyards, rocky mountains, boulder-strewn plains, rivers, lakes and and lush green countryside. It’s a great country for walking and outdoor activities or even just to drive through.
Half the country is surrounded by ocean so there’s no shortage of beaches, many of them wild and almost deserted, especially out of season, although the popular ones get quite busy in summer. Inland, there’s a network of unique river beaches to explore.
The other half of Portugal is bordered by Spain and many centuries ago a fierce battle was fought over ownership of Portugal. The line of defence is marked by a series of hilltop castles and forts in various states of preservation. Many of the medieval settlements around these castles have been restored, like the historical village of Sortelha. People still live in the tiny whitewashed houses with impossibly small doors. There are also plenty of grand manor houses and palace dotted around, some of which you can stay in and feel like nobility.
Of course Portugal has far more to offer than scenery and buildings. It’s got everything from sleepy villages where women carry baskets of vegetables on their heads to vibrant cities like Lisbon and Porto where you’ll find plenty of creativity and culture, not to mention nightlife.
I don’t think the Portuguese would forgive me if I didn’t mention their food. I don’t love all of it but I’m a huge fan of Serra da Estrela cheese and baked octopus as well as port wine and the herby liqueur, Licor Beirão.
By Julie from Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal
People bemoan the cost of the UK, and then it turns out they’ve only been to London. There’s a lot more to my home country than London.
I always tell people to head up north and explore the cities there, which are cheaper, more cheerful and well worth checking out. Newcastle is nightlife central, with the Geordies, the city’s famously friendly locals, living by the mantra, ‘work hard, play harder’ – just do like the hardy locals, and never wear a coat on a night out, no matter the temperature. Start your night out on Jesmond’s Osborne Road. York and Durham should be stops for lovers of Gothic architecture as they both boast magnificent cathedrals, and my hometown, pretty little Harrogate, is worth a day trip for its quaint atmosphere and Victorian buildings. Make sure you stop at Bettys Cafe for a bite to eat. Manchester is a buzzing metropolis, and my tip for here would be to have a drink down Canal Street, the centre of LGBT life in the city, before heading to Affleck’s Palace in the quirky Northern Quarter to browse this treasure trove of goodies.
The north isn’t just England, though – a quick flight will take you to Belfast, the Northern Irish capital, where you can enjoy fresh seafood, stroll the city centre, and take a Black Cab taxi tour to learn about Belfast’s troubled past. As for Scotland? That’s a place I need to explore more myself, with artsy Edinburgh, gritty Glasgow, and the remote Scottish islands featuring high on my wish-list.
The UK is more than just London, and you’ll be rewarded if you make time for it.
By Tom from Waegook Tom
Now most people would visit Amsterdam if they came to Holland. There is nothing wrong with that but there is much more to see. Rotterdam for example, bombed during the war has arisen from its ashes as a phoenix. Now it is a very modern designed city. Rent a bike and bike from the northern site of the Erasmusbridge to the southside of the river Maas to see all the exciting new architecture. Stay along the river and take the next bridge north to visit the cube houses.
For nature lovers it is really worth going north. Did you know that the Netherlands has several islands with sandy beaches? Try Terschelling. Put your bike on the boat to the island and live like an islander.
Or do you prefer houses from medieval times near a river surrounded by green luscious fields? Travel east towards the German border. Stop at Doesburg, the first in line of beautiful medieval towns following the river IJssel going north. From here you bike to Zutphen, Deventer, Zwolle, Kampen, Hattem. All beautiful places with houses from the 1400’s around old market squares. And all of them with a riverfront. You can take your bike on boats across the river. Or do the towns by boat.
Do wave at us, when you travel by!
By Anneke de Bundel from Nomad and Villager
Nowadays, Poland is getting more and more popular among budget travelers, holiday makers and history passionate. It is no longer overlooked as a travel destination and once people visit it, they always come back. Moreover, Poland is not only a country where you can enjoy nice food, ever-present culture and history, but also experience local hospitality and European charm. Everyone can find something for themselves. Are you mountains lover? Why not try to hike Sniezka. Prefer beach walk? You can’t miss Gdansk and Sopot. Do you want to experience crazy nightlife? Head to Warsaw – the capital city. The good news is Poland is a budget friendly place so you can enjoy yourself without spending much money.
Let me share with you my top reasons for visiting Poland.
Tasty Cuisine: Are you a travel foodie? Great news! Get ready for an unforgettable culinary journey in Poland. Although the country is known for its calories bomb dishes, once you try it, you will not be able to resist the temptation! Polish cuisine is all about the meat, bread and sausages. They are served freshly with some beetroots, sauerkraut, cucumbers (pickles and gherkins), mushrooms, sour cream and different herbs and spices such as marjoram, dill, caraway, parsley and pepper. Once you come to Poland, you can’t miss Polish dumplings stuffed with meat, sauerkraut and mushrooms, seasonal fruit (blueberries, strawberries and cherries), buckwheat, sweet cottage cheese or boiled potatoes with fried onions (called Russian dumplings), famous Polish croissant cookies or a chicken soup!
Interesting History and Culture: Poland has a lot to offer in terms of its culture and history. This country will take you back to the Second World War so you can get more familiar with its painful history. Moreover, there are plenty of museums and national galleries, baroque churches, parks, monuments and statues. One of the most interesting place would be Warsaw – the capital city of Poland where you can’t miss a stroll down the Old Market Square, take some stunning photos of one of the oldest castles in the world (the Royal Castle), visit Historical Museum of Warsaw to understand the complex and unique character of Warsaw or get to the top of the Palace of Culture and Science in order to drink a glass of wine or hot chocolate with a piece of cheese cake and enjoy the view of Warsaw!
Budget Friendly Environment: Poland offers food, accommodation and touristic spots for all budgets and all occasions. You can get a plate of Polish pierogi in a cozy restaurant for 8-10 zloty ($2,50-$3), a glass of red wine for 5 zloty ($1.60) or get to the top of the Palace of Culture and Science for only 15 zloty ($5). Moreover, you can either stay in a youth hostel, guesthouse or book a room in an exclusive apartment.
Easy to Get Around: You can easily move from one place to another by a variety of transport channels – from public buses, coaches, trains, underground to taxis. Catch a tram or a metro at any time. The tickets vary from 2 zloty to 5 zloty per ticket (60 cents to$1.50).
Great Hospitality: Any foreigner is warmly welcomed to Poland with a glass of Polish vodka and a massive piece of freshly baked bread. We are amazingly hospitable people who are always more than happy to make anyone home. I promise you that you will never feel lonely here. There will be plenty of people who will look after you and become your new friends!
By Agness from eTramping
I guess the first (okay, many) things that comes to my mind when I think of Italy are – apart from the delicious cuisine – the amazing art and architecture scattered around every corner of the country, the many beautiful coasts, the various lakes and mountains, the fashionable style that can make an Italian recognizable everywhere and the big diversity between each region in terms of culture, food and dialects (even if I love those, I still struggle to understand many of them).
In fact, being from the UNESCO town of Alberobello in the Puglia region, I can see how Southern Italy is quite different and unique compared to the rest of the the country commonly known as ‘The Boot’.
People are so friendly that they would let you into their house to join in for lunch. The atmosphere is very laid-back and not as fast paced as in the Northern Regions, so everything might seem a bit slow, but very relaxed.
The landscape can differ from the dramatic ruins of the ghost town of Pompeii or the busy streets of Naples, from the weird cone houses in my hometown Alberobello to the enlarged man-made caves cut into the cliffs to be used as houses in Matera. From the breathtaking romantic coastline of Amalfi and Positano to the still untouched beaches of Calabria, from the archaeological sites of Sicily to the more posh areas in Sardegna. There is a little corner for everyone!
The food alone is incredibly tasty not too overwhelmed with species and the methods are traditionally rustic so that the freshness of the ingredients can still be tasted.
Same areas of the South of Italy are still to be discovered by the machine of mass tourism, leaving them – not always easy to navigate – but more people free and again, a relaxing place to be.
Have you booked your ticket to the South of Italy yet? What are you waiting for?
By Franca from AngloItalianFollowUs
I know there is a lot of interest in visiting Russia amongst the travel community. I mean seriously, who wouldn’t be at least a little bit intrigued by this vast land stretching across half of the map? And that’s the way it should be! After all, Russia is an enigma: the largest country in the world with a very rich but complicated history; closed for decades to any international travel; imperial and soviet at the same time; culturally bursting but linguistically intimidating… It has it all: large cities and wild nature (a lot of it), cultural attractions and off-the-beaten-track adventures.
Russians love talking about the ‘Russian soul’ but can never get settled on the exact definition or even a description, so the consensus is that everyone gets to come up with their own, largely indescribable meaning. So why not make an adventure out of it? – go on a treasure hunt for the Russian soul! But mind you, if you want to experience the real Russia, go beyond the obvious Moscow and St. Petersburg and discover the hole in the wall places that are unexplored and hence not prettied-up. Even a mere (well, by Russian standards) 200 km away from Moscow you can feel like you are back in times when log cabins were the latest trend. It’s places like that where people still walk the streets – instead of sitting in their cars in traffic – and are actually curious about visitors.
I hope you have fun! And when you are back, please tell me all about it.
By Irina from Trips That Work
Why Visit Turkey?
Everyone knows about Istanbul, the city that spans two continents and was the capital of three empires – Roman, Byzantian and Ottoman. The natural beauty of its location on the Bosphorous, as well as its architectural masterpieces make Istanbul a required stop for any world traveller.
But there’s much more to Turkey than Istanbul. Turkey has more Hellenistic ruins than Greece and more Roman ruins than Italy. With both Mediterranean and Aegean coasts, Turkey also has some of the world’s best beaches, from which you can cruise in a gulet (wooden boat) or paraglide for the best views. There’s also a ski resort near Antalya; those snow-capped mountains framing your beach scene are not just for show!
On the Aegean side, near Bodrum, lie the remains of Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Further north is Troy, marked with a replica of the Trojan horse.
In Anatolia (central Turkey), Konya is home to the Mevlani , the “Whirling Dervishes” founded by Rumi, the world’s most published poet. In Cappadocia, you can watch the sun rise over unique rock formations and cave dwellings from a hot air balloon.
Further east, you can go hiking and rafting in the Kackar mountains and stop along the way to visit 1,000 year-old Georgian churches. Nearby, Erzurum is filled with Seljuk architecture, while Mt Nemrut has giant statues from Biblical times, and Sanliurfa has Gobeki Tepe, the oldest religious site (12,000 years old) in the world.
While exploring the cradle of civilization, enjoying the famous Turkish hospitality and drinking lots of tea, you’ll also be sampling one of the world’s great cuisines, and listening to music ranging from centuries-old classical and folk tunes to today’s Turkish pop and rock music which exemplifies Turkish culture by blending the influences of the West with the traditions of the East.
By Ellen from Ellen in Turkey
If your country hasn’t been featured in this series,
tell us where you come from and why we should go there!
Are you in the mood for other parts of the world? READ ON…
- Travel to my Country, 1/4: Asia & Australia
- Travel to my Country, 2/4: Africa & The Middle East
- Travel to my Country, 3/4: The Americas & Caribbean