So I’m finally back after 6 weeks in Europe and I have loads to write about and share. There are so many places we went to, which is why I’m going to divide this post into countries. And of course, the recommended restaurants need to be noticed, so I bolded those. I was going to divide this post into two parts, but I’ve decided to put everything in one, even though it’s 4000 words in total.
We started out in a popular tourist spot in Gothenburg, Sweden. The temperature was colder than I expected, but I liked it because it was relaxing. First off in the morning, we did a canal tour that went through and around the beautiful city.
Afterwards, since our luggage was delayed at the airport, we managed to do a bit of shopping in the town and then we went to the cool Fish Church where there was really good cheap food inside (it’s not the restaurants but a takeaway counter). We each bought a box and ate at the picnic benches just outside. After lunch, we visited Haga, a cute little area with nice restaurants and local stores. We also went to an amusement park, Liseberg, and in my opinion, it was the best one I’ve ever been to. For dinner we ate at Smaka and the food was pretty good! The prices in Sweden are really expensive though.
The next day, we went to the Volvo museum and looked at their progression from old to new. I think that was my brother’s favourite part of the trip since he is in love with cars.
We then drove past Gamla, a town in Sweden which specialises in candies, and reached Vadstena. It’s an old castle that was formerly used as the Royal Palace of Sweden.
We slept in Stockholm and the next morning I had a mini workout at the bottom floor of the hotel which consisted of trying out the machines for two seconds each 😅. Stockholm is really a lovely city to walk in, and the change of guards at the palace is very interesting and it includes a marching band.
For restaurants I recommend Tutto Bello! I didn’t actually eat there because there was no more space, but please check it out (and reserve in advance!) if you visit Stockholm. It looked really good, lots of amazing reviews on the internet and the prices were actually decent and cheaper than some touristy restaurants probably because it wasn’t in the middle of the tourist hotspots. There’s also the royal Drottningholm palace that we saw, which is a bit of a drive from the city, but the sights and grandeur of the gardens make up for it.
From Stockholm to Finland, we took an overnight Viking ferry where we ate a ginormous buffet (I may or may not have eaten a bit too much of the desserts) and got off at Turku, Finland, in the morning. We then drove for a very long time to get to Helsinki, where my aunt from my mother’s side lives. They were pretty excited to see us, and they made so much good food, including a speciality named pig thigh (it’s very salty!).
We visited the city of Helsinki and went to the regular landmarks: Helsinki Senate Square, Uspenski Cathedral, Sibelius Monument and the Temppeliaukio Church (it’s made out of stone) and then went to Suomenlinna. Suomenlinna is a sea fortress built on six islands and we reached it by ferry.
The next day we headed to Porvo, a nice old city with lots of shops and colourful houses. For lunch, my cousin introduced us to an amazing restaurant that is pretty healthy. Zum Beispiel has vegan burgers, homemade pasta and many other dishes. They have baskets of breads and different types of oils that you can serve yourself too.
In Helsinki, we visited a museum that even had our 6-year-old cousin interested in. It was called the National Museum of Finland (original, right?) and had an exhibition illustrating the Finnish history from prehistoric times to the 19th century. It’s interactive too and there’s even a place for kids to play around while learning. For example, there were map puzzles, a grinding stone, a textile machine and coffee making.
At night, we went to my cousin’s house and ate amazing smoked salmon and about 6 kg of barbecued meat. It was a wonderful night, and my cousin’s daughter is so adorable. I even made a blueberry pie for dessert!
Last day in Finland was enjoyed by picking blueberries in the the forest. I’ll always remember this day because everyone thought they had lost me! I was picking a bit further from the group, and my uncle told me that we were leaving soon, but I thought he meant that everyone had already left and I was supposed to go, so I went. The walk was around thirty minutes, so for thirty minutes, my family waited for me at the forest, not knowing I had already gone ahead. My brother even ran back to see if I was walking back, but he must have taken another route because we never saw each other. It was only when I returned to the apartment that they knew where I was. After that incident, we went to Linnanmaki, an amusement park, with my other cousin and one of the rides was terrifying. It literally zooms up vertically and then drops you back down!
There’s a ferry to Talinn, Estonia which only takes a few hours, but we decided to stay on the ferry overnight to be able to catch some sleep without needing another hotel and also enjoying their buffet onboard. In the morning, we got off the ferry and walked about in Talinn a bit.
The drive to Haapsalu from Talinn was not as long as I expected, only one and a half hour. We were supposed to explore the Haapsalu Bishop’s Castle, but there was some sort of American cars expo in the castle, so it was closed off. We did, however, discover an amazing restaurant on the water promenade. I absolutely recommend Café Hugo for lunch there. They serve amazing food with amazing prices and a beautiful view.
Our next stop was Saaremaa, and we went there by a ferry that departed from Virtsu. Saaremaa is the largest island in Estonia and is a popular stop for vacationers. We drove across the island all the way to a house we rented. The house was pretty, but it was isolated and the water had a really distinct copper smell.
You need a car here, because the sights are all over the island. We went to the Kuressaare Episcopal Castle, a church (they all look so similar, I forgot which one it was), Angla windmills and the Kali 9-meteorite crater. We went back to Kuressaare, the main town, to eat dinner.
To go back on the mainland, we had to drive all the way back to the ferry terminal. We then drove to Parnu, a beach town, but it was super windy so I was so cold on the beach. Our last stop for the day was Riga, in Latvia.
We arrived in Riga in the afternoon, so we were able to go to the supermarket and buy ingredients for our dinner while also being able to walk in the old town for the evening. Riga is a much bigger city than the ones we were at recently, so we definitely enjoyed the atmosphere and the sights. There’s a humongous library in Riga and although I couldn’t go in because I didn’t have a Riga library card, my bookworm side still stared in awe at the multiple levels of hundreds and thousands of books. I just wished I could steal a library card off of someone.
Since it was raining, we quickly walked to Riga’s Central Market which is partly covered and partly not. In the market, we salivated at all the fruit and meat and donuts and bread and spices and all these other kinds of food laying in the vendors’ stalls. We might’ve stayed there a bit longer than necessarily due to the onslaught of rain, but it was a nice visit nonetheless. We then decided to drive to Jurmala, the beachside, and then we ate at Lido for dinner. Lido is a cafeteria style restaurant in a cabin-style building where you serve yourself and then go to the cashier to pay. The food was pretty nice if you picked right and the prices were fantabulous. Decorations were also very cool.
A must-visit place has to be Rundale Palace, a stunning building with Baroque and Rococo elements built in the 18th century. It’s really big and there’s even a complete collection of Voltaire’s work. We also visited Bauskas pils, another castle, but much smaller. We didn’t go inside to save that admission fee for Rundale Palace, but the scenery is really beautiful and the outside of the castle is nice as well.
If you ever visit Lithuania please visit Vilnius. It’s one of the bigger towns with very nice streets and buildings. We went to the Vilnius Cathedral, some other churches and Uzupis. Uzupis is an area inside Vilnius which declared itself as an independent republic.
I don’t think it’s that serious, but it’s very nice for walking and eating. We ate lunch in Uzupis and I recommend wholeheartedly Prie Angelo. The food is fantastic and there’s a daily menu on a chalkboard where you can choose a soup and a main dish for only 4,50€! That’s a really good deal for the quality of food. Since the lodging in Vilnius is quite expensive, we slept in Trakai, which is about a thirty minute drive from Vilnius. Trakai has a lot of kibinai, traditional pastries filled with meat or vegetables, and to be honest, it didn’t really suit my tastebuds. What did suit me, however, was this really sweet cake that we bought in Vilnius for dessert. It was nutty and had macaron-like cookies adorning the outside. We were so full after that cake, which might’ve been a tad too sweet, but it was some good dessert. Thankfully, dinner was on the light side with just salad and bread.
First stop in Poland was Na Skarpie, and the ride there was very eventful to say the least. We took bathroom stops at almost every gas station and also stopped at the supermarket multiple times on the road to quench our famished stomachs. My mom’s glasses got squished between the car seat, so a stop to the local optometrist to get them fixed was in order. There was a really good restaurant in the town we stayed at by the river, with an entire piece of fish for practically nothing (but that’s because they miscalculated by accident) and the rest was also very good.
In Poland, we had to visit the places where World War II made its mark. In Warsaw, we entered the Warsaw Uprising Museum with no idea what had happened and we left with heavy hearts. If you would like to visit the museum, it is always advisable to go early in the morning because when we got there, it was already very crowded inside. We also drove to Krakow and visited Schindler’s Factory Museum which showed Oskar Schindler’s efforts in helping the Jews, even though he was part of the Nazi party himself. Many are familiar with the movie created from this real story, Schindler’s List. Our ticket to the factory included a visit to the Pharmacy Museum, so we visited that too. The Wawel Royal Castle is a must-see too, for it is one of the largest castles in Poland with an Italian-style courtyard. Very impressive.
A walk in the Jewish quarters and the main square had our stomachs groaning with hunger, but we ate spaghetti at the apartment instead since we had already bought some things to cook.
Our last stop in Poland was the Nazi extermination camp, Auschwitz I and II, and I also recommend getting here early. The entrance is free, but if you want to be part of a tour, you’ll have to pay. There are multiple buildings line by line and in most buildings the horrors of the camp are exhibited in there. There was one room full of the prisoners’ hair, and I learned that the Nazis sold most of it to other companies to be made into products, like textiles. Definitely disgusting and horrifying. I had already finished grade 10 Social Studies, so I knew some things already, like the fact that to kill the prisoners, the Nazis promised them a bath and instead gave them a mortal dose of Zyklon B gas, which was initially developed to kill rats scampering around in ships.
After Poland, we made our way into Slovakia and stayed in a small town where the main attraction was the Orasky castle. Our tour guide was very funny, and near the end, it started raining so we had to run back to our guesthouse soaking wet. Side note: Love Trembling In the Balance was actually filmed at the castle! For dinner, since the reviews weren’t that great in Orasky, we went to a nearby town, Dolny Kubin, to eat at Top Restuaracia Marina, which was very delicious.
The next day, we drove to Cicmany, an interesting small town with black wooden houses decorated with white designs on the outside. We then moved on to Bojnice, where there was a very big castle. There were even deer next to the castle walls. After our walk around the castle, we went to a nearby town and my brother and I, plus my little cousin and aunt, played soccer on a soccer field. What we didn’t know, and what earned us a harsh Slovak screaming rant from the neighbour, was that we weren’t actually allowed to shoot in the net. So the rest of our time on the field was just some meek passing around, hoping the guy wouldn’t come back and start shouting again.
In Bratislava, we visited the old town by walking around, and then we ate at a fabulous Japanese restaurant. We found it by accident. We had stopped to take a break and right in front of us was a sign depicting Kansai Restaurant, which recently opened January 2017. The food is really fresh and has lots of taste, which was just what we needed after eating so much European food. I got the okonomiyaki, which is a cabbage pancake with some really delicious sauce and fish chips. The prices were around 5 to 10 euros per dish, so that was pretty great as well.
Our visit in Vienna was short but sweet. Just a notice, the food here is quite expensive. Even when we went to the supermarket, my eyes went wide as saucers when I saw the prices. But anyways, apart from that, Vienna was lovely. We took a tour in the Vienna State Opera, one of the most famous opera houses in the world. It is very impressive and big. We also went to a few churches, the Parliament and the market.
The following day we drove to Maria Wörth, which is an idyllic town nested on the shores of Lake Wörth.
There’s a picturesque church sitting on the peninsula and the toilets are free (something common in Canada but in Europe it’s pretty hard to find one without paying for it). We took many pictures and ate lunch here before continuing on to Italy.
Venice is probably known to most people as the city on water. It’s popular for a reason and that’s because it has the nicest views and picture opportunities. Just be prepared for the loads of people. There’s a takeaway pizza place that we quite liked, nothing extraordinary but it was good food. Pizza Jungle is on the outskirts of Venice, not even on the island, but if you pass by it’s well worth a stop.
To visit Venice, we bought an all-day transport ticket which allowed us to take the tram and the ferry as much as we want, and it definitely payed off. There’s some islands around Venice, and the ferry to those islands was included, so we were able to visit Murano, the island of glass-blowing, and Burano, the island of pretty-coloured houses. In Murano, there’s a very cheap restaurant that serves pasta named La Perla Ai Bisatei. It’s no frills, and the best thing to get there would have to be the Cuttlefish spaghetti.
We then drove to Ferrara, walked around a bit and stretched our legs, then moved on to Palaia. Palaia is a really small town that we chose to stay in for a week so that we could have a central location from where to visit the popular areas around us. We visited Siena and San Gimignano, where I would say we found the best ice cream. It’s called Gelateria Dondoli and they even advertise that they sell the best ice cream in the world. The line-up was long, the flavours were extensive, and the ice cream itself was amazing. Especially when it was 40°C. I think we visited Italy on it’s warmest week because even the newspapers’ headlines were announcing an unprecedented heat.
We also visited Lucca, where the headquarters of a washable paper bag company was located, Uashmama, and I am very embarrassed to say that I didn’t buy anything. I regret that but I guess there’s always next time.
A must-go restaurant I recommend with good fares and just outside the walls of Lucca is Caffe Celide. This was the best restaurant in the entire trip. It’s located right next to Ristorante Celide, and is only open for lunch I think. The prices are around 10 euros and is frequented by businessmen, but oh, the food. It was plated so nicely and I absolutely loved the taste. I got crab gnocchi but I would recommend anything on that menu. The food melted in my mouth and the flavours still linger now. Also, if you want to try tiramisu, they have that as well!
After lunch, we went on a little wine trip on our way to Pisa, where the leaning tower is located. The only thing in Pisa for me that was interesting was the tower.
Volterra is a nice town with cobblestone streets and old buildings to walk around, but it isn’t that big. Also, the temperature didn’t go down at all so we would be walking around, sweating like crazy, in 40°C heat, then we would jump in the air-conditioned car where it would only be 20°C. That part was horrible.
Florence, known for its high-quality leather and being one of the largest cities in Italy, was a no-brainer for us.
We first went early in the morning to the Uffizi Gallery (something my French teacher recommended) and I was very happy to see some of the paintings we had studied in class, such as The Birth of Venus. It’s really interesting to see if you know the meaning behind the art.
After the museum, we ate lunch and ugh, it was revolting. We saw this really good-looking takeaway sandwich shop that had a long line of customers, so we bought some there. Little did we know, well my dad knew but he deigned not to tell us until after we had taken a couple of bites, was that the meat was intentionally raw! I was disgusted and my stomach was already churning with the thought of what just entered my stomach, so I traded sandwiches with my uncle, who had taken a cooked meat sandwich. I am so grateful that he was okay to trade, because I knew there was no way I was going to finish it.
I also saw the statue pictured below in class, and I was surprised when I saw it on the streets of Florence. This statue is not the original one, but I didn’t want to go into another museum so I took a picture of this one instead.
Our friends drove over to Italy from France, so we ate pizza together back at Palaia and had a great evening. The next morning, our friends and us drove to Cinque Terre, a two-hour drive, and got there at 8 am. Cinque Terre is the location of 5 beautiful sea-side towns that are only accessible by foot or by train. We bought out trekking and train tickets at the train station and hurriedly went to the third out of five towns by train, Corniglia. Since we were early, we thankfully missed the crowds and hiked for about an hour and a half to get to the fourth town, Vernazza. We ate lunch there and took a couple of pictures before heading to the last town, Monterosso Al Mare.
The views were splendid and I wasn’t as tired as I expected I would be, even though it was insanely hot. It really was a wonderful hike, but getting on the train in the late afternoon was not the funnest thing to do. Some of the train cabins had no air-con either. We had to go to the second town, Manarola, by train because the trekking paths were closed.
For dinner, we headed out to Ristorante David in Collesalvetti. They serve delicious seafood, fresh I believe, at decent prices and the owner was very friendly. The outside didn’t look like much when we got there, as the sign was faded and it was in the middle of a few houses, but don’t let that fool you!
We also quickly visited Livorno and ate there for dinner.
I’m very excited to announce that we went to Verona! The place where Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet is located. The town has an amazing Roman amphitheater, Arena di Verona, which houses large opera performances.
Near the amphitheater, you’ll find an expensive shopping street which leads to Juliet’s Balcony. I’m fairly certain it is not really Juliet’s balcony, but it’s still cool to see. The bridges in Verona, which cross over a river, are a nice stop to take some pictures too.
To go to Bormio, our last stop in Italy, we passed by some beautiful mountain landscapes and visited Lake Garda, which is lovely.
Bormio was only 15°C, and I was surprised by the sudden drop of temperature. Surprised, but happy. It’s also a skiing town, and since we went during the summer the prices were much lower than during its high season. We ate at Cristall Bar Mountain Bistrot for dinner, and their veggie spinach burger was yummy.
So we had to go to Austria again for the sake of reaching Germany, and this time we stayed in Berwang. We went there by the Stelvio Pass and it was spectacular. The road was very winding (we passed by two motorcycles who fell over because they didn’t have enough space to turn) but the views were incredible and we even saw some nice cars which my brother fangirled over.
We also got to drive to Switzerland for 2 minutes because it was so close to us and my dad couldn’t resist a small detour. The reason we stayed in Berwang was because the Schloss Neuschwanstein, a famous castle, is close by but the lodging in Germany was expensive near that area.
In the early morning, we departed for the Neuschwanstein Castle to avoid the big crowds but it seemed we didn’t get there early enough because the next time slot available to enter the castle was at 3 pm. So instead we walked around the castle and took a small trek to a bridge nearby, Marienbrücke, where we had a better viewpoint of the castle.
We drove to Munich the same day and since Munich is also very expensive, we opted to stay out of the center and buy a daily group ticket for 12,5€ which included five people. The only bad thing about this ticket is that you have to travel in a group, no separation. We walked in Munich for a day and ate at the Lowenbrau Keller, a beer garden with traditional food. I don’t really like traditional Bavarian food because I find it very heavy on meat and sauce, but if you like that kind of thing this restaurant serves decent food.
We also drove to the Allianz Arena since my brother is a crazy soccer fan and we found a secret entrance that let us in the arena! Not going to give it up here, but let’s just say there’s one somewhere.
And that’s it! Our trip concluded in Germany and we flew back home, parting ways with my aunt’s family.
Since you’ve scrolled all the way down here, I’ll leave some bonus travel tips:
- Some countries in Europe, like Finland, have free parking but you’ll need a parking meter thingy to put on your dashboard to show what time you parked there. You can get the blue plastic with the arrow at the gas stations.
- In Europe, the blue lines indicate parking for anyone, but the yellow lines indicate parking for people with a license, like the locals who live there.
- Bring some coins for the bathroom. You’ll need it.
- Bottled water is a must on vacation.
- Some cities will have roads with limited access to reduce car emissions and traffic, so if you see a sign with a red circle and it says you cannot enter, do not enter but park outside of the city instead.
- Some highways, like the ones in Slovakia and Austria, require that you buy a pass online or at the gas station to be able to drive on those highways. If you don’t, you’ll be fined.
- Italy’s toll-paying highways have free toilets at Autogrill (restaurant/gas station/small shop), which you’ll notice on the signs as you drive.
- Daily unlimited transport tickets are usually a great deal if you visit the city, especially if your hotel is not nearby.
- As always, prepare ahead of time and have fun!