Amsterdam, Netherlands

I absolutely loved Amsterdam. It’s such an infamous place that before I arrived I had heard all sorts of different things about it – both good and bad. But for me, apart from a very cold, wet first night and a mediocre hostel, it was all good.

Amsterdam is such a beautiful city. It’s so wonderful – just all green and lush, canals everywhere, old buildings, adorable little cafés (the regular kind and the smoking kind) and restaurants and boutiques everywhere. I got the feeling that I could have stayed for months (or years!) and still not have explored all of the lovely spots the city had to offer. I could have spent days wandering around the Vondepark and many nights exploring the Red Light District. Amsterdam is a city with a lot of history and politics and I found it all incredibly fascinating. Plus, it’s beautiful: it was amazing to just sit on a bench under some trees and watch the world go by.

I was only there for a few days before heading off to London to finish up my adventure, but I loved the time I had. I was staying right near the Museumplein (where the I Amsterdam sign lives!) which was perfect to access the tram transportation to downtown and right next to the Vondepark (a big beautiful park in the middle of Amsterdam). Like I said, my first night was cold and rainy, but I still ventured out to near the Flower Market (bought some beautiful tulip bulbs for the gardening ladies in my family) and ate a huge falafel from Maoz (a chain I discovered I loved in Barcelona) before coming back to my hostel for a cherry beer (sounds disgusting, ISN’T.) and heading to bed to dry out my wet clothes and shoes – yuck. The next day I did a walking tour (awesome, as always) and learned more about the city. I spent the day with two girls I met on the tour, eating french fries (Amsterdam has some of the best fries I’ve ever had!), walking around, and visiting the Anne Frank House. It’s quite an incredible experience, seeing the rooms Anne Frank and her family lived in, and imagining their situation. I found it very powerful.

That evening, we took a guided tour of the Red Light District. Our tour guide was incredibly knowledgable: his first job in Amsterdam was as an errand boy for the sex workers and has since befriended and interviewed many of them – his name is Mark and he’s amazing. He took us through the area (surprisingly family-friendly, not seedy or dirty in the slightest) and explained the laws, the policies, the breakdown of how the industry works, and told personal stories as well. I couldn’t recommend the tour more highly. Additionally, Mark is a great resource for all things Amsterdam and recommended an outdoor street market the next day where I spent a few hours wandering around and had the most delicious apple cake I’ve ever had. That evening, I met up with a lovely couple I’d met on the night train from San Sebastian to Lisbon (crazy!! but amazing) and it was like meeting up with old friends. We wandered the Vondepark, had drinks, had dinner, strolled along the canals and had a wonderful time. It was the perfect way to end my time in Amsterdam. The next morning I was off to meet family in London!

Favourites:

  • Winkel 43: the best apple cake, possibly in the world. It’s right next to the big Saturday market so it’s the perfect place to start or end your market day. It’s packed full of families and couples and friends, and it has a wonderful atmosphere.
  • Sandemann’s Red Light District Tour: totally respectful, informative and interesting. Ask for Mark! (His website also has a ton of great suggestions for things to do in Amsterdam).
  • Vleminckx: delicious fries with about a hundred options for sauce/toppings. Amazing.
  • Noordemarkt: the wonderful Saturday market!

Munich, Germany

You’d never guess from these photos, but for the majority of my time in Munich, the weather was miserable. And after a solid two and a half months of absolutely perfect weather (I can count on three fingers the number of times it rained or wasn’t a sunny blue skies day) it was a bit of a rude awakening to find myself in a much colder, much rainier climate. I didn’t have many cold-weather clothes with me, and my little canvas shoes got soaked through in no time at all. I also felt myself getting sick, so I did a lot of sleeping, and one of my two days in Munich was spent indoors at my hostel (the first and only time I did this on my *entire* trip!) with a quick trip to the train station for food and to ask about train reservations.

But it wasn’t all bad, by any means! The train ride from Venice to Munich alone was reason enough to visit Munich – I was lucky enough to see some of the most beautiful landscapes and scenery I’ve ever seen. It’s all lush and green, with enormous mountains towering on both sides of little villages (and even littler trains) and mist everywhere. It’s inexplicable, but it’s gorgeous. I spent the majority of the ride nursing a tea in the dining car, gazing out at the countryside. It was lovely.

In Munich itself, my experience varied. My first day, I marched out into the city, only to be met with rain seemingly every time I stepped outside (which, obviously, subsided as soon as I ran for cover – at one point it was actually laughable, the consistency with which this phenomenon happened). There was thankfully a stretch of sunny skies weather in the afternoon and I got to explore the English Gardens, Munich’s largest and most beautiful park. It’s a great park: people everywhere jogging, eating, climbing up to the gazebo on the hill, and even surfing!

After being in Italy for almost a month, I was craving something other than Italian food (Italy doesn’t have much good food of cultures besides its own!) – specifically, Asian. My first night, I was too tired to venture very far in the pouring rain, so I went across the street from my hostel to a very German place: think pretzels, schnitzel, waitresses in dirndls, big family-style tables and lots and lots of beer. It was extremely busy, so I got the single vegetarian dish on the otherwise totally-carnivorous menu – mushroom gravy with a dumpling. I took it back to my hostel bed and it turned out to be a lovely, hearty meal. The other nights, I ventured out to Asian restaurants and was psyched to be eating fried rice, spring rolls and curry. Amazing.

When I initially planned to stop in Munich, it was because I’d had it recommended as a nice city en route from Italy to Amsterdam. At the time, since I’d be stopping there in September, it didn’t even occur to me that Octoberfest might have been on. Turns out, it wasn’t – it started two days after I left. It was a shame! But I was excited to keep moving and keep my rendez-vous with my cousins in London and relatives in Wales. It was cool to see them setting up the fairgrounds (right near my hostel) for the festival, but after meeting some of the people who came to Munich for Octoberfest (including one guy who threw up all over himself and his bed next to me in the dorm room) I decided it was probably for the best I didn’t go this time around – I’ll just have to come back with a few friends another time. :)

Favourites:

  • Jasmin Asia Cuisine: delicious food, amazing service, peaceful restaurant.
  • MiMi Asia Restaurant: a quiet neighbourhood place, full of locals, where I had a really amazing curry
  • English Gardens: this park is so wonderful to explore! Don’t miss the surfers near the entrance to the park.

Venice, Italy

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Venice is a really special place. I had heard mixed reviews from other travellers before I arrived, but I totally fell in love with the city. I was there towards the tail end of tourist season (mid-September), but I can’t imagine what the place is like in peak season, since it still seemed fairly busy to me. But it’s easy to escape the tourists a little bit and get lost in Venice – in fact, I tried to get lost intentionally because I heard that’s how you get to discover some of the real character of the place. The fact is that Venice is a pretty touristy place, especially in terms of restaurants, but it also has lots of beautiful churches and cute shops and tons of gorgeous canals and crumbly buildings, you just have to get off the beaten path a bit to find them.

I was only in Venice for two days, but I really enjoyed my time there. I spent it wandering the streets, taking the vaporetto (water bus) up and down the Grand Canal, touring the beautiful St. Mark’s Cathedral, listening to the music of the string quartets playing at the cafés in the square, eating a picnic dinner on the banks of the canal, enjoying delicious gelato, and taking pictures of all the beautiful buildings, boats and waterways. It was lovely.

Favourites:

  • Vaporetto no.1: this water bus line is slow, but it takes you all the way down the beautiful Grand Canal and the ride costs about a sixth of the price of a gondola ride so it’s a great alternative on a budget :)
  • Acqua Alta: this is the most beautiful, charming, magical bookstore I’ve ever visited. Books are everywhere – stacked to the ceiling, filling entire boats, forming steps up to look out over the canal. The store is right on the water, and it’s amazing.
  • Drink an Aperol Spritz: it seems to be the drink of choice in Venice! It’s bright orange and super tasty.

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

The Amalfi Coast was my last real blast of summer. After my time there, I made my way North (I’m now in beautiful Wales), my tan faded and I started wearing long pants. But even after a summer as long and as beautiful as the one I’ve had, I was still so appreciative of the (mostly) great weather on the coast.

I spent three nights each in Sorrento and Positano, and I made daytrips to Pompeii (totally amazing!), Mount Vesuvius (slightly less exciting) and the town of Amalfi. I also hiked the totally gorgeous Path of the Gods which winds through the mountains looking down on the coast.

For Sorrento I was staying in a big hostel in a small town that was one stop away from Sorrento on the little old train they have running all the way between Naples and Sorrento. Sant Agnello, where I stayed, was the second to last stop on the line, and there wasn’t really much in the town besides a restaurant, a bar, a supermarket, a couple hotels, and the nicest hostel (in terms of facilities) I stayed in on my trip. It was huge, spacious, had fierce air conditioning and ample storage, and very modern facilities…it was like staying in a shared hotel room. After a really bad experience in hostels in Rome, I was very relieved to have a clean room.

Not that I was there much. I spent most of my time in the town of Sorrento (which is very picturesque), exploring the small streets packed with stores and restaurants and enjoying the view from the lookout points. I’d met a nice German couple in Rome and we ended up hanging out in Sorrento as well! They were also vegetarians and we had a delicious meal at a vegetarian restaurant and enjoyed one of the several great ice cream places in Sorrento.

Then I was off to Positano, which I liked a bit better. Sorrento is beautiful, but it’s very touristy. Positano is touristy too, but the way it’s built into the cliff face means you have stunning views from wherever you are (Sorrento is built up on top of the cliff so you kind of have to seek the views out a bit) and it’s such a magical place with its twisty windy roads and adorable little in-town shuttle bus and all the hundreds of steps up and down to get from one road to another or to get to the beach. My hostel didn’t have as great facilities, but it had a huge balcony with stunning views and a great big wooden table where all the guests would gather so it was so easy to make friends.

By sheer coincidence, some friends from home were in Positano on my first day! It was lovely to see friendly faces and we spent a nice day at the beach and having food and wine on the balcony at their great bed and breakfast room. One of the other days, I took the bus (which whips around corners beeping its horn – such a fun experience) up to the start of the Path of the Gods and had such a nice morning hiking through the mountains enjoying the gorgeous views. We saw a herd of mountain goats with an adorable sheepdog herding them around, as well as a big beautiful horse whose owner was a hilarious shirtless old man who spoke very little English. After tackling the 1700 (yes, 1700) steps down (walking downstairs is harder than it seems!!!) we were exhausted and sweaty, but it was such a good walk.

All in all, I had a great few days relaxing on the coast. It was a great break in between my time in Rome and Venice.

Favourites: not many to name for the Amalfi coast! It’s mostly just small restaurants and to be honest I didn’t pay much attention to their names. And there was only one hostel in each city: Seven Hostel in Sant Agnello and Hostel Brikette in Positano. And I loved the vegetarian restaurant Mondo Bio in Sorrento.