Greek Islands – Corfu

Although we had flown into Corfu, we literally just stayed the night there before taking the ferry to Albania, now we were returning from Albania and had a couple of nights here. It was March but the sky was clear and it was around 18°c.

After the ferry dropped us off we took a taxi to Mayor Mon Repos, our hotel. It’s a lovely hotel for the price, we even got a glass of champagne on arrival!

Once we had unpacked and settled down for a bit, off we went to explore. There’s a lovely old windmill right by the hotel, and beautiful beaches with the clearest water.

You can see Corfu fortress from the hotel, so we walked around the bay, trying to spot fish in the water and enjoying the little parks. It’s a beautiful walk and one I would definitely recommend.

Passing the Douglas column we walked up to the monument of Kapodistrias, the founder of the modern Greek state who was born here.

This leads to a gorgeous plaza, with restaurants, statues and a lovely green space. This plaza is right next to the Old Fortress, so we crossed the bridge and entered.

It was built by the Venetians in the early 15th century, who also created the sea channel, turning it into an artificial island. There’s a lot of history here, from the repulsion of 3 major Ottoman sieges, to the Italian siege of Corfu and it was even used in the James Bond film, ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

It’s an amazing place, built on two extremely steep hills, you’re free to wander at your own leisure after paying 6E. There’s not too much remaining but the views are incredible.

Unfortunately you can’t make your way to the top of the hills but there are enough ruins to explore around the main fortress.

From here we headed over to Faliraki, a little peninsula with a cool view of the Old Fortress. The museum of Asian Art is also here, which is a beautiful old building.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the old town, it’s full of little squares and pretty streets. After stopping for a pint of Mythos, the locally brewed beer, we found our way to Corfu’s new fortress.

I think by the time we got there it had closed, as it’s only open until 15:30pm. So we walked back through the lovely streets of the old town to the hotel, where we enjoyed a bottle of Albanian wine we had brought back with us as we watched the sun set.

Dinner was amazing, we walked over the street to Nautilus, where we ate the most amazing seafood platter. The venue is lovely, right on the water with the lights of Corfu across the bay.

The next day I woke up early, and looking out from the balcony, was rewarded for it! The sunrise from the mainland was incredible.

Today we decided to head South, towards Vlacherna Monastery. Google maps said it would only take about 30 minutes but there were a few places along the way we could stop at.

The weather was beautiful as we wandered off, our first stop was Mon Repos palace. Prince Phillip was born here before his family was exiled from Greece.

The palace isn’t actually too big, but the park leading up to it is stunning. With a terrace overlooking the Ionian sea.

Walking along the street, I did my usual trick of using Google maps to find interesting places. That’s how we found ourselves at the monastery of St Theodore and the Temple of Artemis.

The monastery is one of the oldest on the Island, with part of the building from the 5th century. The temple of Artemis ruins date all the way back to 580BC!

Finally we reached the Vlacherna Monastery. It was so beautiful on it’s own little island. The only way to reach it is across the man made pier, but you can wander around at your leisure, there’s even a few nice cafes with outdoor seating here.

The best surprise however was the plane spotting viewpoint! It was a lot of fun standing out on the stone wall with planes flying soooo close. A great photo opportunity too!

There’s also a beach here, it was a little too cold for more than a paddle in March but I’m sure in summer it would be amazing.

After all the walking it was time for a beer, so we trekked up the hill to Kanoni Cafe. The views from here are outstanding!

Instead of walking back we took the bus, it was really easy, picking us up right by the monastery car park and taking us all the way to the Old Town.

From here we just did some more exploring, finding great views of the imposing New Fortress and lovely little stone streets. Obviously we stopped for gelato and another beer.

It was time to head back after an awesome adventure over the last few days. Corfu surprised me as I always had it down as a package holiday type place, but it has so much more to offer.

A Trip to Toledo.

Toledo is a City in Spain about a 45minute train journey South of the countries capital, Madrid. One of it’s earliest mentions is from 193BC by a Roman general, so it’s pretty old! It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site and has cultural influences from Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as Roman and Visigoth.

Although Madrid is a cool City, we wanted a bit of medieval history and I thought Toledo looked like a great place to take a day trip to. So after having Breakfast at Plenti, a cute little place not far from our hotel.

We walked over to the train station and got our tickets. It was a little pricey as we were taking the tourist train. I’ve since heard you can get the tickets for much cheaper, especially if you plan ahead. Make sure you check out the lovely tropical garden in the oldest part of the station.

The train journey was pleasant as we passed through the dry Spanish countryside, and as soon as we arrived I knew we were going to love it in Toledo! The station opened in 1920 and was designed to imitate the architecture of the City, it was gorgeous and the tiling inside was so pretty.

The walk up to the walled City isn’t too taxing, and the first sight you get is magnificent, Toledo has a river running alongside it, so you see the bridge over to this walled Citadel and a huge palace sat at the top.

After taking a few pictures we ran up to the bridge and crossed, passing underneath a gatehouse. It’s a little bit of a steep walk up but you can stop and take a look back from a huge terrace halfway up.

We carried on and after passing a statue of a very dapper looking gent, we found ourselves on Zocodover plaza, we picked one of the many streets ahead of us and started our exploration.

The shops are filled with medieval antiques, classic spanish food and wine and a lot of souvenirs. Our favourite street was Calle Comercio because of the view down to the cathedral.

Along the way we even found a shop that had roman ruins in it’s basement that you could look at for free beneath a glass floor! The walled area of Toledo isn’t too big so it’s easy to wander without fear of getting lost, which is exactly what we did.

We soon found ourselves at the Monastery of Santo Domingo Real, built and run by Nuns since 1364. It’s a beautiful building with the interior to match.

Our only problem so far was that every church or monastery wanted to charge a pretty large fee to enter, we wanted to climb up the belltower of one church but it was over 10E, I don’t mind donations but charging to enter a church is a bit much.

After reaching the Puerta del Sol or ‘South Gate’ we turned back to stay inside the City walls, following a street along to more panoramic views of the countryside and the river.

Turning into the City we decided to head towards the huge tower that is Toledo Cathedral. Work on the cathedral began in 1226 and it wasn’t completed until 1493! It’s a huge building and very grand with it’s gothic architecture.

It’s so big you almost can’t get it all in to one picture it’s said to be this size to cover the sacred space that the old mosque held before it. It was nice to sit and gawk at it in the square at the front, with it’s majestic stained glass windows and 146ft height! It was early afternoon at this point and we were hungry.

So we found a cute little restaurant off the main streets in a small plaza. We shared a beautiful vegetable paella, olives and a a couple of glasses of Spanish Rioja, the sun was shining and it was a perfect lunch. Obviously we had to finish it off with some churros, the famous spanish elongated donuts with choc sauce.

Once we were finished it was time to check out the Alcazar of Toledo, built up on the highest part of Toledo you can see it from miles around. There was originally a Roman fortification built here in the 3rd century but much of the Alcazar was destroyed in the Spanish Civil war and had to be rebuilt between 1939 and 1957.

The Alcazar is impressive, but we loved the little park just beneath it, where you can stand on the turrets and look out across the valley to the military academy on the opposite hill.

Honestly the views are incredible and it was sad to say goodbye to them, but we didn’t want to get back into Madrid too late as we were checking out one of the art galleries it’s famous for.

On our way back down we noticed a cute little marzipan shop and decided to have a look inside. The lady that worked there was wonderful and let us try a few things, they were so delicious we had to buy some sweets and marzipan ice cream, yum! Once we reached the other side of the river we realised we still had 40 minutes or so till our train, so we took a little stroll along the river bank.

It was nice to get another angle of the City, and there was a cool abandoned building on bank which looked like an old mill house. We slowly wandered back under the bridge and down to the station, on our way we found a fun Toledo sign to take a pic of.

I’m sure there are a few things we missed out on seeing in Toledo, but half the fun is exploring without using a guide or map and seeing what you discover.

It’s so old, Craig loved it as there aren’t any buildings like those in Australia. The train back was nice and relaxing after a full day of walking and we both ended up having a little power nap before arriving back in Madrid.

Top sights of Manchester in 24 hours.

Manchester, I’ve lived there for 13 years and I love it, there’s so much to do if you enjoy eating out, bars and clubs. Although there aren’t any stand out sights like in London, Paris or Rome there is so much history here.

Workers rights, the birthplace of communism, women’s suffrage and the industrial revolution. These are just some of the things to have spiralled out of Manchester.

Starting out as a Roman fort in 79AD, Manchester grew exponentially in the 18th century thanks to the many textile factories that sprang up, making Manchester the first industrialised City in the world and the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

Although it saw a decline after WWII it has now become the 3rd most visited City in the United Kingdom, and is famous for it’s vibrant music scene, two heavyweight football clubs in City and United and a renowned tolerance with a thriving LGBTQ+ scene.

Linked to most major Cities in the UK by train, usually from Piccadilly station, the airport is only 8 miles from the City and the train takes just 20 minutes. Manchester Piccadilly is located right next to the ultra hipster area of Manchester, the Northern Quarter.

Take your time to wander the through the streets here, stop for brunch at one of the many cool cafes and restaurants and marvel at the architecture. Marvel Studios filmed Captain America here for the 1940s scenes in New York! It’s definitely the place if you like quirky bars and vintage clothes of all kinds.

Step into Afflecks palace for a true journey through knick knack heaven, and admire the chaos of it all. Fig and Sparrow is a great place to get some breakfast and tasty coffee or tea, or Siop Shop is a fun Welsh themed cafe on Tib street.

Head past the Arndale shopping centre and you’ll find yourself in Cathedral gardens. You can check out the football museum, and take a wander through Manchester Cathedral.

The best spot here though is Cheetham library, the oldest free public library in the UK. It was established in 1653 and has been in continuous use since then. It’s free of charge but you must join up with a guided tour.

It’s so interesting and once you reach the library it’s a stunning place, my favourite part is sitting at the same table that Marx and Engels sat at while they researched the disparity between social classes. This led to the communist manifesto.

Once you’ve had your fill here head back past the cathedral and stop off at shambles square for a quick pint at one of the traditional pubs. These pubs were built in 1551, but in 1999 they were moved from their original spot after redevelopment of the area.

After this refreshment go down the hill and turn right at the bridge. Follow this road along till you pass under the railway bridge and look for a tiny restaurant called the Sparrow under the railway arches.

Stop here for amazing Tyrolean food such as Spatzl and Mezzelune, along with fresh salads, and some of the best wine from central Europe. It’s a real hidden gem and you won’t be disappointed.

If that doesn’t work for you, head into the Arndale and find hidden gems such as Blue Caribou, Wholesome Junkies and Pancho’s Burrito in the marketplace.

Back up into the City you can follow Deansgate street until you reach John Rylands LIbrary, a late victorian neo-gothic building opened in 1900.

The architecture inside and out is amazing and there are some seriously old classic works here such as a Gutendberg bible and editions of the aldine press. You’re right next to Spinningfields here, the financial district and a great place to grab an afternoon cocktail at one of the trendy bars.

Double back on yourself and you can walk up John Dalton street, past the cute St Mary’s church to Albert Square, in December this is filled with the Christmas markets, which is so festive it almost hurts. Definitely stop for a mulled wine and some delicious food.

There’s usually something happening all year round here such as the international film festival, so check the local media for more info before you go.

Walk through between the town hall and the library to get a little dose of Harry Potter vibes, and emerge onto St Peter’s square, the site of the Peterloo massacre when police cavalry charged into a crowd of 70,000 who were peacefully protesting for reform of parliamentary representation. Eventually this led to reform and improvement of workers rights across the UK.

The library itself is a great building and you can find a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst here, a British suffragette who helped women win the right to vote who was born in Manchester.

If you want you can take the metrolink tram from here out to Salford Quays, where you’ll find the end of the Manchester ship canal, the imperial war museum and the BBC building. It’s nicest in Summer when you can walk around the quays and enjoy the sunshine at some outdoor bars. This is also the home of Manchester United, and you can take a tour of Old Trafford here too.

Otherwise, you can check out the nearby Manchester art gallery for free, or head back down to Deansgate and go to the Science and Industry museum for some interactive learning. If you head there make sure you stop at the Hilton for a drink at Cloud 23, with panoramic views of Manchester. It’s currently the tallest building in the City, but that will soon change.

Once you’re done with culture, head back up to Piccadilly gardens and find the little steps down to Bundobust, an indian street food restaurant that serves vegetarian food and craft ale. The food here is incredible whether you’re a veggie or not.

Depending on your choice of nightlife, you can watch a show at one of the theatres, a band at one of the many live venues, or head to Canal street, Manchester’s gay village and one of the biggest LGBTQ+ areas in the UK for a great atmosphere and dancing.

If you want something more low key, head through the Northern Quarter to the new Ancoats district, here you can taste some great local beers at seven brothers brewery and then try sample the 10th best pizza in the world at Rudy’s or fresh Vietnamese at Viet Shack.

If you get a minute, take the time to visit Sackville gardens to see a statue of Alan Turing, a WWII code breaker who is said to have helped won the war, who was later chemically castrated for being Gay and committed suicide.

If you fancy some independent cinema head to Home on first street, you’ll even get to see a statue of Engels, the aforementioned father of communism and get a delicious beer at The Gas Works.

The next morning you should definitely try Federal for a healthy breakfast, or Moose for something a little more hangover friendly. Then spend the last bit of your time in Manchester at the People’s history museum or wandering the canals of Castlefield. Unless you’re a Manchester City fan, in which case take a tour of the Etihad stadium.

VISIT MANCHESTER, YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

Top sights of Liverpool in 24 hours.

Liverpool is a City in the North of England that’s full of history, believed to have been founded in 1207 it’s located on the West coast, looking out over the Irish sea and running alongside the River Mersey.

The legendary band The Beatles came from here, and musicians from Liverpool have provided 56 number 1 hits, the most in the world from one City. The success of the boy band and other acts has led to significant tourism in Liverpool, along with the success of Liverpool and Everton football clubs.

Liverpool has great transport access, with Lime Street Station linking to most major Cities in the UK by train and Liverpool John Lennon airport which is just under 9 miles from the Centre offering budget flights to the City. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here but you can easily see most of the City in one day as it’s relatively small.

Coming in by train, there are a few cool sights such as Liverpool library, and the national and world museums. Spot the ellington monument on the way over there.

Head down to Bold street for some boutique shopping and stop off at Leaf for a great cuppa and some top brunch. At the end of Bold street is St Luke’s, a church that was bombed in WWII. It now stands as an empty shell and memorial to those who died in the war. It’s a beautiful and haunting building, and there are often events such as outdoor cinema and markets held there.

Head right as you’re facing the church to reach Liverpool Cathedral, the largest religious building in Britain and 5th largest cathedral in the world. It took between 1904 and 1978 to complete it and the belltower is the largest in the world.

The outside may seem impressive, but the inside is absolutely gorgeous, the stain glass windows are amazing and the size is just unbelievable. Stop off for a traditional english scone and a coffee in the little cafe and head up the tower to enjoy views across Liverpool to the English countryside.

If religious buildings aren’t your thing, head to the Baltic triangle. This is the hipster part of town, with lots of incredible street art to find, craft beerhouses and coffee shops. Cains Brewery Village is a great place to try some street food and pick up some interesting souvenirs and vintage clothes from the traders.

We stopped at Craft Minded for a taster board which was delicious. Camp and Furnace is nearby, another brilliant space for eating and drinking.

It’s a pleasant walk from the Baltic Triangle to Albert Docks, we had a quick stop at the Wheel of Liverpool to see if I could spot Wales from the top, it’s reasonably priced and a fun little addition to the day.

The Albert Docks have always been one of the nicest parts of Liverpool, it was the first non combustible warehouse system in the world, with no structural wood, it was made from cast iron, brick and stone and you can feel the history and class oozing out of it. It’s also UNESCO heritage and the largest single collection of Grade 1 buildings in the UK. There is plenty to do here such as the Beatles story, TATE art gallery, and the maritime museum.

For a darker tale of Liverpool’s past and how it came to be one of the biggest and wealthiest Cities in the world, check out the international slavery museum. Once you’ve wandered around the docks, enjoy the walk along the river to the Titanic memorial, dedicated to the engine room workers who stayed on the ship, helping others escape. On the way look up and spot the Liver birds at the top of the Liver building, the mythical creatures which are a symbol of Liverpool.

The main attraction for a lot of people is the Beatles tour, I have never tried it, but friends tell me the Magical Mystery tour is really good. Starting at the beautiful Albert Docks it’s a 2 hour tour full of Beatles history, where the bus stops off at places such as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and some of their childhood homes.

You finish off at the Cavern Club, where The Beatles played in 1961 and made 293 appearances in just a couple of years. It’s also seen the likes of Queen, Elton John The Who and The Rolling Stones. Look out for the wall of fame, a collection of all 56 number ones.

The area around here is great for a drink as it’s home to LGBTQ+ bars and night clubs, with some chain restaurants located nearby too. From here you can wander through Liverpool One, a modern outdoor shopping area filled with every brand and store you could need. There’s often interesting things happening on the rooftop of the cinema here too.

This is a pretty full on day of walking and sightseeing, so treat yourself to dinner at one of the many exceptional restaurants that Liverpool has to offer, head to the Ropewalks area for the more independent vibe.

If you’re staying the night there is no end to the choices of bars and clubs you can go to, check local media for whats on. The next day head to Moose coffee for the perfect hangover breakfast, or out to The Tavern Co, rated as one of the UKs best breakfast spots.

From here you can walk it off at Sefton Park, wander around and enjoy the green spaces, and check out the Palm House, a glass house built in 1896. Make sure you look at all the statues of famous explorers dotted around the outside. Nearby is Lark Lane, famous for it’s boutiques, cafes and bars. A great place to relax before heading back to your own City.

The Silent City of Mdina, Malta

After exploring much of Valletta, we decided to take a trip over to Mdina, a historic fortified City in Malta. Mdina was founded in the 8th century by the Phoenicians, and served as the capital of Malta until 1530. There are only 300 inhabitants inside the city walls, it’s seen Roman, Byzantine and Arab rulers come and go and still stands today.

I had read that the bus system on Malta was really good, so we decided to travel that way.It would take us two buses to get there and after possibly the worst buffet breakfast I’ve ever seen, we were off! We were staying in Sliema just over the water from Valletta and luckily could take a bus from right outside our hotel!

The first bus took us to Tad-Daqqaq, only when we tried to catch the next bus, it was full and drove right past us! Not to be deterred we tried another bus stop and had the same problem and again and again. Luckily we spotted this amazing looking church at the end of the street we were waiting on and decided to go check it out. Lucky we did as it started to pour down with rain!

We just made it and found out the church was the Mosta Rotunda, a beautiful 17th century church set in a lovely square with cute shops and restaurants around it. Upon entering we found out an amazing story of a WW2 bomb that came through the roof of the church but didn’t explode! You can see a replica of the bomb in a small museum at the back of the building.

The inside was really pretty too, and there’s a small air raid shelter you can check out just in front of the main entranceway. After looking around the rain had stopped and the sun started to come out, after waiting for another two buses that were both full we decided to walk to Mdina as it was only an hour away.

The countryside was beautiful to walk through and the roads weren’t very busy so it felt pretty safe, and then Mdina came into view and it was breath taking. Sat up on a plateau, the walls are made of a lovely honey colour brick. It was a bit of a slog up the steep hill to Mdina, but it’s even more spectacular up close.

We entered through Mdina gate and were immediately on architecture and travel heaven. There are cute churches, alleyways and squares to discover, along with amazing old doorways and steps.

The views from the terrace by Fontanella tea rooms are gorgeous. We were going to stop and have a drink there but it was pretty busy. So we carried on wandering and found this amazing place called Coogis.

We were sat in the courtyard, looking around thinking how pretty it was when the waiter came over and asked if we’d rather sit on the rooftop. Of course we jumped at the chance, it was super pretty up there and we enjoyed a nice Cisk, the tasty local lager while we marvelled at the countryside spread out before us. We had some salad and pizza which was really good.

Nice and satisfied we headed outside of the walls and into Rabat, the surrounding town. I had read about some cute churches and the possibility of ancient Roman catacombs and in the parish church of St Pauls we found both! The actual church is a beautiful building and the little old lady working there who showed us to the catacombs was so lovely.

We got to go down there by ourselves and even though it was spooky it was so cool, I think there are larger ones nearby but we were happy with our cute little one. So it was time to leave, it had been so much fun and luckily this time the bus would take us all the way to Valletta. In Valletta we stopped off at one of the many bars that you can find on the stairways and had a drink. Then it was time to say goodbye!

We got the taxi-boat across to Sliema and grabbed a couple of huge slices of pizza, following it up with our daily dose of gelato. We finished the day sat on our little balcony at the bayview hotel, drinking Cisk and reflecting on Malta being the perfect holiday destination.

Bergen and the mountain trolls.

I arrived in Bergen after an amazing few days in Tromso. Which you can also read about if you scroll down here.

Bergen is located in the Southwest of Norway, surrounded by fjords and mountains. It’s the second largest City in Norway behind Oslo, and averages 231 days of rain a year!

I was excited to visit for the hiking, cute wooden houses of Bryggen, and to see some of Norway’s famous fjords.

I took the flybussen into the City, it took 30 mins and cost about £10. I stayed at the Bergen Budget Hostel which was basic but the cheapest option!

I immediately set off to explore the City, passing some fun troll street art. Norway is famous for trolls, watch Troll Hunter to learn more.

I was heading towards Bryggen, the old centre of Hanseatic leagues empire. It’s full of colourful wooden houses that line the waterfront.

Built in 1702 after a fire had destroyed most of the City, it’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. Make sure you explore the little alleyways between and behind the houses, where you can find shops and restaurants.

If you continue along the waterfront past Bryggen you come to Bergenhus Fortress, some of the buildings here were built in the 1240s and it’s one of the oldest stone castles left in Norway.

I turned back here and followed the waterfront round in the opposite direction, keep an eye out for some of the amazing street art pieces that are dotted about the City. For fish lovers there’s a fishmarket on Strandkaien, and the main shopping streets are just up from here.

The streets around Sydneskleiven are really beautiful, and there are some great views from the end of Oysteins Gate and St John’s Church is right by here too. I took a little detour through the university area and walked around the lovely Lille Lungegardsvannet lake.

This only took the morning as I had arrived into Bergen early, so I decided to go hiking! You can take a cable car up to the top of Floyen mountain near Bryggen and once up there you can walk to your hearts content. The views up here of Bergen and out to sea were incredible.

I headed to Granbakken, a little mountain lake first, along lovely little wooden walkways through green forest. It doesn’t take long to get away from the crowds around the cable car spot.

The lake was frozen over which was cool, and there were some awesome places to stop, one where I dangled my legs above the forest below!

From here I decided to walk through the forest to Skredderdalen, and followed the river up to lake Nedrediket. This took me along ridges, with more views of Bergen, and following the raging river up towards the lake was amazing.

I was loving the walk and continued on to a bigger lake called Storevatnet, you couldn’t even see the other side of this one due to some fog.

I noticed some steps going up alongside the lake and thought the views from the top would be amazing. Unfortunately when I got to the top this fog rolled in and I could barely see in front of me.

This led to a rather dicey hike across the tops of the mountain in thick fog, snow and ice. Honestly there was a point where I got a little bit worried, luckily google maps worked the entire time, so I could easily follow the path along to Rundemanen, a little heritage museum that had a proper road heading back down towards the cable car.

Apart from a section of road that was closed due to an avalanche the rest of the walk down was pretty nice, the fog had subsided. It took me around 5 hours in total to hike around the mountains, and I was definitely ready to eat something.

So I stopped off at a pizza place in the City, I was so tired that I went back to the hostel and pretty much passed out.

I wish I had gone around the City at night to see it from a different perspective, but there will always be next time!

Tromso and the Northern Lights

I chose to visit Tromsø as I’d heard that there was an almost 100% chance of seeing the Northern Lights! It was a bit of a birthday treat to myself and I was also travelling around Norway a little bit. I arrived from Oslo by plane. The flight was incredible going over the fjords and snow capped mountains.

Tromso is located in Norway up in the Arctic circle, it has the worlds northernmost university, brewery and cathedral. It’s famous as a bit of a party town due to the large student numbers it has. For two months in the summer, there are 24 hours of daylight, and for two months in winter there is so sun, but there is some light in the day, called the blue twilight.

The main airport is located on the opposite side of the island to the main little town, it was a gloriously sunny day when I landed, and I decided to walk over the hills to Tromso rather than get a bus, as I had the whole afternoon to wander. Using google maps to track my way, at first I regretted my decision a little as I walked through residential areas, but soon I was walking through beautiful countryside.

I stopped for a break to enjoy the stunning views, it was the beginning of April and the snow was still really deep, covering the picnic benches that I could spot. There were even people barbequing up there which was really cool.

I started my descent into the town and was greeted by even better views, going across the water to the hills and mountains in the distance. I was staying at the Tromso Activities Hostel which was cute and friendly enough but for the price you’d expect a little more, but Norway is an expensive place.

I dropped my stuff off as usual, and headed out to wander the streets and get a good bearing, I had found a little burger place called Burgr near the hostel so I went there first for a beer and something to eat. It was a little cheaper than other places in Norway and the veggie option was delicious, I loved the retro gaming decor too.

From here I just wandered down Havnegata street, stopping off to look at the quirky shops and admire the reflections at the marina. I ended up near the Tromso Cathedral which is a cute little church in a pleasant park. I walked back down along Gronnegata, the lovely wooden buildings are so nice and I stopped to pick up some snacks and food to cook back at the hostel.

Knowing I was going to be up half the night, I had a nice evening nap, getting up at around 8pm to prepare. I put on about 6 layers of clothing and 4 paris of socks inside my big boots. I had hat, scarf, gloves, and gopro, I was ready to face the cold! I was doing this on a relative budget so instead of going on a tour, I walked down to the Folkeparken on the southern tip of the island which took about 45 minutes to walk there along the road.

I arrived there and wasn’t alone! There were two other groups with fires sat around chatting, so I found a spot a little way from them and parked up. It was freezing cold but the walk had kept me warm, I had my headphones on and just sat and waited….It reached 11pm and I noticed something in the sky, at first I dismissed it as clouds and my fantasizing.

As I watched this white smear slowly spread across the sky I realised it was happening, I was fulfilling a lifelong bucketlist moment! I was so happy I jumped onto the picnic table I was sat on and started dancing around, I must have looked like a lunatic.

I watched these white smears dance around the sky then disappear, I started thinking was that it? It wasn’t like the pictures I had seen at all, so I sat there until about 1:30am, wondering when I would call it a night and go home. Suddenly the white smears returned!

Turning to greens, swirling and spreading above me. It was the most wonderful theatre production I have ever seen, as it was totally performed by nature itself. This time they lasted for a good 45 minutes, leaving me satisfied and ready to head back, by this point my little toes were freezing!

I slept in the next day and then did some sightseeing around the town, there’s really not much to do or see in Tromso apart from tours out to the countryside. I visited the polar museum which was okay for an hour or so, and crossed the Tromsobrua bridge to take a look at the viking-esque Tromsoysund Menighetshus, the Arctic cathedral.

I decided to hike up to the top of Fjellheisen, a mountain on the mainland. You can also take a cable car up there which I took on the way down. The walk up wasn’t too taxing and the incredible scenery at the top was worth it.

You can enjoy the views from nearby the cable car, but I hiked up to the Pa Toppen, this was pretty difficult in the deep snow but once up there I felt like I was in a completely different world of ice and snow.

I took a little picnic up there with me, so I had my late lunch, sat there and just watched the world go by. It was a great way to relax and enjoy the peacefulness. On the way back I stopped at the Polaria, an arctic aquarium but I wasn’t a fan it was small and a the seal show was sad. You can take a look at an old arctic ship next door called the MS Polstjerna which was cool.

That night I was back on the northern light chase, this time I headed up into the hills to Prestvannet, a big lake that freezes over in Winter. This was another recommended dark spot and it was brilliant! The lights came again, this time a little earlier and lasted for a couple of hours, even as I walked back down into the town you could still see them shimmering up above.

The next day I just hiked around the island, there are lots of ski tracks you can follow, I even saw a seal out in the water. The walks are beautiful through the forests and along the water’s edge with little huts and beaches along the way. So many people are out skiing or barbequing it feels like such a relaxed place. I was off to Bergen next, satisfied that I had witnessed something truly magical.

What to do in Helsinki, Finland.

HELSINKI

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, it’s the world’s coldest capital with an average yearly temperature that doesn’t go past 0°c! The tap water comes from mountain springs and is such high quality that it’s exported to other countries! It arrives via the longest water tunnel in the world, the päijänne tunnel. Central Helsinki has heated sidewalks to keep them clear from snow in winter!

I was super excited to visit in January, I loved the idea of wandering through the snow in mainland Europe’s most Northern capital City. Only beaten by Reykjavik in Iceland. The tram and ferry system was so good when I was there, it meant that staying a little out of the City centre was much easier than I thought it might be. My top cost saving tip is for Helsinki is to eat at RAX, an all you can eat buffet restaurant that was sooo tasty and only 11E!!

What to do in Helsinki

Check out the amazing architecture

There are some incredible feats of architecture in Helsinki, Temppeliaukion church is built directly into a rock face and the skylight lets in amazing natural sunlight, the acoustics are so good that it’s also used as a concert venue.

It would be such a cool venue, the outside was covered with snow so I couldn’t get a good idea of how it looks but the inside was fabulous. I even found a sled nearby and had a little toboggan session!

Uspenski cathedral is near the sky wheel and Allas sauna, you can’t miss it up on it’s small hill. It’s free to enter, built in 1862 and was designed by a russian architect. The red brick and golden spires are beautiful.

A major landmark of the City is the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral, this was completed in 1852 and dominates senate square where it’s located.

It’s plan is based on a Greek cross which makes it symmetrical in all directions. Senate Square and it’s surrounding area is the oldest part of Helsinki and you can find the Government Palace and Main building of Helsinki University here. There are also some lovely little streets running off from it to explore.

The train station is also a sublime and impressive piece of architecture, and railway square had ice rinks and fun winter stuff when I visited. The streets surrounding it are full of restaurants shops and bars. If you want something a little more modern, head up Finlandia hall and National opera and ballet house.

The Kallion Kirkko with it’s imposing tower is worth a visit if you’re in the Kallio area, it’s one of the more bohemian places in Helsinki with some cool alternative bars and not far from where I was staying.

Apparently you can see the Estonian coastline from the tower of the church. The walk from Kallio into Helsinki centre across the Pitkasilta bridge was really pretty.

Try out the traditional sauna

Saunas were invented in Finland and are a huge part of life and culture here. One of the first texts regarding sauna was written in 1112, they have a saying that they believe that you should act the same in a sauna as in church. Saunas are supposed to have many health benefits such as soothing tired muscles, relieves tension and stress and helps condition the heart amongst many others.

So I checked out a couple of saunas in Helsinki, my absolute favourite was the Allas sea pool, it’s located on Katajanokka island which is pretty nice to walk around, you can do a full circuit along the coast and there are some nice restaurants around that area too. It cost 14E for sauna and access to the sea pool at Allas, and it was such an amazing experience.

There are mixed, male, and female sauna, so you heat up, sweat it out, then head outside to the sea pool. In January it was 3°c! I jumped in and immediately lost my breath, it was so cold! There’s always a lifeguard to watch out for any problems so don’t be too scared to try it. I loved it so much I went for a repeat experience. There was also a nicely heated outdoor pool which was nice with the snow falling down around me as I swam.

Loyly was the other sauna I visited, it’s on the other side of the bay to Allas, in the Munkisaari district. I walked there in a huge snowstorm, even my beard froze! It was pretty exciting though, and I had about 8 layers on.

I did a 2 hour sauna that cost 19E and this included towels and shower products. This was a little more classy than Allas but instead of a sea pool you can just jump directly into the sea! It was really rough because of the blizzard so I opted not to try it for fear of being washed away, but I think it would be amazing in Summer.

There is also the infamous Burger King sauna in Helsinki, I didn’t visit it but you can book out the whole sauna with 48″ TV, playstation 4 and obviously access to Burger Kings full menu. Definitely an interesting choice of venue!

Visit the fortress of Suomenlinna

This UNESCO heritage site was built in the 18th century when Finland was part of Sweden to protect it from Russian advances, it’s built over 8 islands just 4km away from Helsinki City Centre. You take a short ferry ride to get there, when I visited in January the boat ploughed through the frozen sea which was cool. The ferry departs just opposite the presidential palace and is pretty frequent.

There’s a wonderful old pink gatehouse which has tourist information next to it, and once through this gate you can wander to your hearts content. In 1808 the Swedish ceded the fortress to Russia, and the following year Finland came under Russian rule, it stayed like that until 1917 when Finland declared independence.

Wrap up warm if you’re going in Winter, it was beautiful with the snow and frost, I visited a couple of the museums on the island including the Suomenlinna museum and the war museum to get a better understanding of Finnish history. Be sure to check opening times for all the main sights as some are seasonal.

As I wandered I passed a cool old submarine that was built in 1933, unfortunately the museum inside was closed when I visited. I continued on to the southernmost point of the islands, and found loads of cool fortifications with artillery pointing out to sea.

The fortress here was amazing, you can walk along the tops of the walls, through some spooky dark corridors and explore the King’s Gate. This was built in the 1700s and the strairs lead out to the water which has amazing views over the archipelago.

You can easily spend a full day exploring here, the 4 main islands are pretty big. There’s still a minimum security labor colony on Suomenlinna whose inmates volunteer to maintain the fortifications and reconstruction! Another fun fact is that George Martin, writer of Game of Thrones wrote a short story about Suomelinna in school!

Immerse yourself in Culture

The birthplace of the Moomins, Death Metal and sauna, the location of lapland and Father Christmas, Finland has a rich history, learn more about it at the National Museum of Finland, it had so many cool interactive exhibits on show, and the building is really pretty. Make sure you check out the stain glassed windows.

The Finnish Museum of Natural History is okay but there was nothing really here that I haven’t seen in other natural history museums around the world. Helsinki computer game museum is definitely only worth it if you’re in the nearby vicinity and really into computer games, but the view from the top of the shopping centre is pretty awesome.

For a real taste of Finland head to Market Square and the Old Market Hall, serving people since the late 1800s. You can find all sorts of traditional food and items here, plus souvenirs. There are a few nice little restaurants that you can sit in. The building itself is really pretty too.

Just wander and explore

It sounds a little morbid but the cemetary on the West side of Helsinki was pretty cool, a little further North is Sibeliusken park which has the impressive Sibelius monument and coastal views. Kaivopuisto park was also fun mainly because the snow was so deep!

I also really liked being able to see out across the bay at all the islands and the sea ice was amazing! I really felt like I was far north with all the snow.

Take a day trip to Tallinn

Take the star ferry over to Estonia for a cheeky extra country while visiting Finland, read all about what to do in Tallinn here. It takes around 2 hours one way on the ferry, with beautiful views over the gulf of Finland. Costs vary from 20E one way to 50E.

Helsinki is such a lovely City, loads of architecture to look at, the sauna is so amazing especially in the colder months, and I didn’t realise how much culture Finland had!

A Kiek in De Kok and Dark Tourism in Tallinn.

So today there were more than a few sore heads this morning, I needed food, so a few of us managed to drag ourselves up and out. I had heard of a pancake place called Kompressor and it did not disappoint!

We ordered potato balls, cheese balls to share and pancakes, check out the menu here. It was delicious, the garlic sauce that came with the snacks was amazing, and the pancakes were soooo tasty, just what we needed! Plus the price was so cheap!

Feeling partly refreshed, we were back on the sightseeing game. It was time to visit Kiek in de Kok, the artillery tower from 1475 with the amazing name. The name comes from early German, due to the ability to see into people’s kitchens from these tall towers. I think we must’ve said the name about 1000 times between us all.

The actual tower is impressive, the walls are 4m thick and you can spot cannon balls dating from 1577 stuck in the outer walls! Inside is a museum with some really cool features, lots of interactive moments including a medieval torture device you can test out! You can do a bit of dress up, and the views from the upper floors are immense, especially out of Toompea hill and the cathedral.

After stopping for a coffee we met up with the final members of the group, there’s a cute little train you can take around the town for those that don’t want to walk too much, very handy for a hangover. We checked out the Kalev Marzipan Museum, a very random shop selling every conceivable item made out of marzipan. It’s worth a little wander around and a fun gift for someone back home. They use molds that are around a hundred years old, and claim that Estonia were the inventors of the sweet candy treat!

Our next destination was quite the opposite of a sweet treat, we were heading to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom, I love learning about a countries history and I think it’s important to know what it’s citizens have been through till this point. It was really interesting learning about the occupation and resistance in Estonia. I will always love the story of the Baltic chain, when 2 million people held hands to form a line from Tallinn all the way to Vilnius in Lithuania as an act of peaceful protest against Soviet rule. Read more about it here.

Our last stop was the old KGB prison cells, at only 5 euros it’s small but very interesting and you really get an understanding of the horrors and suspicions that people faced everyday. It had a pretty creepy vibe too, it’s a top destination to visit for dark tourism, and I always find places like this really eye opening.

After this we went for dinner at a bad curry house, but sometimes you make wrong choices hungover! Everyone was up early the next day to travel onwards so after a little night time walk around Snelli park it was time to chill in the apartment together. Snelli park was actually really pretty, the water was all frozen over and couples were taking romantic walks along the banks. Plus the sight of the old castle and buildings up on Toompea was amazing, unfortunately my phone battery had died so I couldn’t take any pics.

The next day I was taking the star ferry over to Helsinki to spend a few days there, while everyone else took the bus to Riga to fly home. The report back that I got of the bus was really positive! Comfy seats, air con and in-seat entertainment for free! The ferry was really easy too, I bought my ticket at the terminal on the day and it was amazing travelling across the Tallinn bay and the gulf of Finland with ice blocks floating past. Apparently the Blatic has a really low salinity so it freezes over much more than other bodies of saltwater.

A Winter Wonderland in Tallinn.

Tallinn had always been high on my list of places to visit. Somehow I had made it to the other Baltic nations of Latvia and Lithuania first, mainly because they were both easier to get to.

It’s is the capital of Estonia, it’s located on the North coast directly across the gulf of Finland from Helsinki. It has a rich history, and was occupied between 1940-1991 by the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany and then the Soviet Union again!

52% of the country is covered in forest, and it has one of the lowest populations in Europe at 1.325million.

To reach Estonia we took a flight to Riga and then on to Tallinn from there. It was actually pretty easy and fun because we met up with our friend Amy in Riga airport. It was January so we were hoping for snow and we weren’t disappointed.

We arrived quite late and took a taxi to our cute apartment located right by the old walls of the City. I used Booking.com and we used daily apartments for 7 of us. It was a beautiful space and great location. After a quick change we headed out for dinner.

We ate at a traditional Estonian place where I tried Elk for the first time! It was pretty good and we had a couple of local beers to wash it down, after another beer or two at a nearby pub we walked through the winter wonderland that was the town square with a huge Christmas tree in the center and everything was covered in snow. There’s a big Irish bar situated here and we took the opportunity to try Vana Tallinn, the Cities own personal liquer!

The next day we got up and headed out to explore properly. It’s such a pretty place and the whole old town is UNESCO heritage, we wandered along the old town walls and through a lovely big park at Tower’s square. We stopped at some cute shops along the way and emerged into the town square again.

The town hall is so cute, it was completed in 1404 and is the oldest in the Baltic/Scandinavian region. I loved all the Gothic and Hanseatic architecture, it feels like you’ve gone back in time hundreds of years.

We walked down Viru Tanav which is pretty touristy but not overly busy. It ends at Viru gate, two big towers guarding the way in and out. For €3 you can climb the walls and explore, the views from here of the tiled rooftops covered in snow was amazing.

Tallinn is a great place to wander the little streets and get lost, and that’s just what we did. It felt like a really safe place too. We somehow ended up back in the main square and stopped at another traditional restaurant for lunch, it was pretty expensive so do some research before you go.

Once we were all filled up we decided to head up Toompea hill. It’s a large tableland piece of limestone that sits right in the middle of the City. It’s believed to be the resting place of King Kalev, an important figure in Estonian culture and folklore. Now it holds Toompea castle and the awesome Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, it also houses the Estonian Parliament.

It’s a fun walk up the hill and not too taxing, and once you’re at the top the Cathedral takes centre stage, big and imposing it feels like it sits right in the middle of the hill. It was starting to get dark already due to the time of year and the temperature dropped a bit, luckily we found someone selling mulled wine which was delicious.

There are some gorgeous buildings here, but the main event for me was thge Kohtuotsa viewing platform. This looks out over the whole of the old town, and as night fell twinkling lights began to appear in front of us and it began to snow. It was an amazing spectacle to witness.

We followed a different path down into the town and passed Kiek De Kok which we’d be heading to tomorrow, and freedom square. Freedom square is a big open space which has the cross of liberty as part of Estonia’s memorial to the war of independence.

After a lot of sightseeing we stopped at a bar we noticed along the way, it was called Labor Baar and was totally science themed, you could order test tube shots and cocktails in science beakers and the whole placed was decked out to the max. We stopped to have some food and then walked up to a fun bar that was completely dedicated to Depeche Mode.

After a few beers we realised we didn’t know as many songs as we thought, so off we went to Satumaa karaoke bar! It was a lot of fun and everyone was pretty crazy there, we sang a few songs and somehow managed to wander back to our apartment feeling pretty tipsy.