Sunday, May 25, 2014

Where should my friends travel in Europe - not the normal spots

When you're a travel blogger, you tend to get quite a few messages from random people with questions about a trip they're planning - and I like answering them - but what is even more fun is when a good friend asks for some tips!

I got this text message from my friend Susannah last week, who's heading to Europe with her mother for two and a half weeks. They've both done a reasonable amount of travelling already and I love that she wants some tips to travel to "not the normal spots" - that kind of advice is the kind I love to give the most. I put on my thinking cap and have come up with a few suggestions for Susannah and her mother to consider ...

Brainstorming: I turned to Pinterest to plan a European trip!

Susannah told me she imagined spending three or four days in four or five different places and I immediately had some ideas. Compared to travelling around Australia, it's so easy in Europe to see some really different parts quickly and cheaply - oh for the budget airlines of Europe over here in Australia (obviously totally impractical given the lack of population but a girl can dream, right?).

You may know I have had a bit of an obsession with Pinterest lately and I love the map feature, so I set up a secret board to plan out some trip suggestions for Susannah. This is what I came up with:

Trip planning on Pinterest - central Europe

Once I heard Susannah had never been to Berlin, it became a must visit (you can read about my Berlin highlights to know more). She also said she'd like to return to Budapest, a city she loved but didn't get to spend much time in, and that she's had an inkling for ages that Croatia is place she'd enjoy.

Down the centre of Europe: Estonia, Poland, Hungary and Croatia

My first thought when I think of "not the normal spots" in Europe is the Baltic States. I visited Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania initially on my way to Bratislava to work (coming across Russia on the Trans-Siberian to start with) and I especially loved Estonia, and have returned to Tallinn again. Estonia's such a fun country to visit - along with Tallinn, I've suggested the university town of Tartu and the gorgeous island of Saaremaa - and it's kind of unique because despite being part of the USSR, it managed to remain a bit more Western, thanks to its close connections to Finland, and it came out of the Cold War in a better position than most of the eastern bloc. I found the people of Estonia extraordinarily friendly and helpful; it's lovely and scenic; and it's small and easy to get around.

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in Estonia's gorgeous capital, Tallinn

I think Poland doesn't get enough of a look-in on travel itineraries and that's a shame because it's a country with so much to offer. It's quite big and therefore diverse. Warsaw is fascinating and definitely worth seeing but my favourite part is Krakow in the south. Such a gorgeous city, with interesting history and culture; if you're up to it, then visiting the Auschwitz/Birkenau concentration camps is a short excursion away from Krakow, although I think everyone has to decide for themselves if these are places they want to see, as they're pretty confronting - I had nightmares for quite a few weeks after my visit and am still haunted by some of what I saw there, but I'm glad I went.

Cloth Hall, in Krakow's beautiful main square, Poland

Budapest is a particularly cool capital city (who can go past the idea of swimming in a cathedral?) but rural Hungary is fantastic too. I think picking a small Hungarian town - preferably known for wine, as many are - to spend a couple of nights would be a good move. I loved the thermal baths at Heviz and that whole region around Lake Ballaton is a brilliant spot to stay.

Hotel Gellert (home to the famous baths) in Budapest, Hungary

Scooting on down to Croatia from Hungary is a reasonable idea ... not it's a fabulous idea because Croatia is amazing! Everyone knows the gorgeous coastline and of course the spectacular city of Dubrovnik, a place I'd love to go back to (my Dubrovnik stay was cut short!). But my all-time favourite part of Croatia is the Plitvice Lakes National Park, one of the most beautiful, beautiful places on earth.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, northern Croatia

Other ideas for "not normal spots" in Europe?

So those are my thoughts for the lovely Susannah and her equally lovely mother, but what are yours? Please leave some suggestions in the comments for other great parts of Europe to visit that might classify as "not the normal spots" - thanks in advance!



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