WHY YOU SHOULD TRAVEL EUROPE BY TRAIN

Unfortunately, traveling the world by plane has a nasty impact on the environment. Guest editor Larissa traveled by train to show you how beautiful Europe is when you see it from the ground.

Why travel Europe by train?

According to several environmental organisations, the best means to travel is by public transportation. I decided to book an Interrail train trip to explore Europe! This means you buy a ticket that is valid for 30 days and you can hop on or off at any European train station you would like. First of all, the beauty of Europe will pleasantly surprise you. There’s no need to travel half through the world to discover some picture perfect places. It’s closer than you think. This train tour through Europe ended up being one of the best trips of my life.

travelling by train
Ready to travel Europe by train!

First stop: Czech Republic

Okay, to be honest, Prague was a bit too touristy for me. Aa a matter of fact, locals call Prague the Disneyland of Czech Republic and I totally understand why. However, the Alternative City tour showed us a lot of cool hidden gems! Additionally, I could really appreciate the cocktail scene. Go and discover bars like The Alchemist, this place has a mysterious look and feel. Tip: try the ‘choose your fate’ of the cocktail menu, I’ll say no more..

Prague
Seeing Prague from above

Moving on in Czech Republic, we visited a place I really loved: Brno. It’s a local city full of culinary highlights, local delicious wines, pubs and vegan ice creams. Hip and happening! From this little city it’s easy to discover some beautiful castles in Lednice and Valtice. At Valtice palace, you can even try out 100 amazing local wines under the ground. My favorite: number 43, Grand Reserve Chardonnay of 2016. Definitely a winner!

Lednice castle

Next stop: Hungary

The city that surprised me in a good way was definitely Budapest. The city has four sides, the tranquil vibes at the river side, the bustling city with beautiful buildings and culinary highlights (tip: a dinner at Zeller Bistro with live music!), local hangouts in the ruin bars and total relaxation at the bathhouses. This city has a lot to offer, and I enjoyed every bit of it.

Budapest

Zamárdi

After we discovered the whole city in a couple days, we jumped in the train to Zamárdi. This weekend was all about partying and having a good festival time! At the Balaton Lake there was one of the biggest festivals of Hungary: Balaton Sound. Fortunately, the train station was at walking distance of this festival. As soon as we could, we got in our bikini to enjoy the sun, some drinks and dances during the day. After a refreshing shower, we had the whole night to dance again in our festival outfits while enjoying the music of among other Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano and Armin van Buren!

Travel Europe by train

Last stop: Croatia

In Croatia the public transport is not as common, that’s why you can better stop the Interrail when you arrive at Zagreb and continue the trip with a rental car. Our first stop on our road trip through Croatia was the Plitvice Lakes. The best time to visit is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. We arrived around 4 a clock, which was a perfect time to wander around without too much other people. They say the short route takes you about 2 to 3 hours, it took us one and a half hour, so don’t worry about a long hike! Personally, I preferred the Plitvice lakes over the Krka waterfalls. But both are worth seeing during a trip trough Croatia.

Plitvice
The stunning Plitvice lakes

Krka waterfalls

Sibenik

In the evening we arrived in Sibenik. What a lovely town! It’s pure and authentic, very cute and filled with a nice ambience. We stayed at the Heritage Hotel Life Palace and you’ll enjoy the freshest breakfast we’ve had so far. All the ingredients they use in this town is locally produced. Too bad we had to leave after the breakfast to catch our boat to Brac island. By the way, they filmed parts of Game of Thrones in Sibenik, remember the city of many faces?

Sibenik

Brac island

Last but not least, we ended the trip with some nice beach days at Brac island. This place is built to celebrate a nice tranquil holiday. We didn’t want to leave! At the famous beach ‘Zlatni Rat’ you can rent a beach bed for about 9,50 euro and enjoy the nice weather whole day long. This was exactly what we needed after the busy trip we’ve had travelling around in Europe.

Brac island

Time & Cost

In conclusion, the whole trip took us 17 days in total, but it felt like months as we saw and experienced so much in such short amount of time. One youth travel ticket costed me €515,- for 2 persons and includes all the above mentioned stops. For adults above 27 years old ticket prices start around 285 per person. Your train ticket will be valid for 30 days so you have no rush! Accommodations are not included. I enjoyed every minute of the trip and recommend this to everyone who has the same addiction as I have: Wanderlust.

Love,

Larissa

Oostende | The sunniest town in Belgium

When you think of Belgium, you may think of Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent or Bruges. But there is a town near the coast we want you to hear about. It’s the place where Marvin Gaye wrote his hit Sexual Healing and people don’t just call it the sunniest town in Belgium for nothing. We’re talking about Oostende.

Oostende is located on the west-coast of Belgium. It may be tiny, but it has more to it than meets the eye. Yearly more than 100.000 people visit the street art festival The Crystal Ship, where international street artists use Oostende as their canvas. And yes, the marvellous Marvin Gaye wrote one of the most iconic love songs of the world while he lived in Oostende many years ago. Oostende must have something special..

Oostende Belgium
Oostende beach

How to get there

The train station in Oostende is easy to reach from Antwerpen central, so no need to travel by car. There are many hotels, restaurants and shops, but the jewel of the city has to be the beach. During summer this results in a vibrant place to sunbathe and relax at one of the beach bars alongside the promenade. 

Where to Stay

There are many hotels to choose from but the most hip hotel in Oostende is by far the Upstairs Hotel. Funky rooms with brick walls, vintage punch bags and a slide in the lobby (yes, really). The location is perfect because it’s in walking distance from everywhere in Oostende. Rooms are available from 57 euro and includes a breakfast buffet.

Upstairs hotel Oostende
Upstairs Hotel

For a stunning view over the beach, check out fancy hotel C-Hotels Andromeda. Prices are a bit higher but it’s perfect for a romantic getaway. If you are on a budget, there is a fancy youth hostel called De Ploate Hostel which offers dorms but also private rooms with ensuite for a smaller price.

Street Art Festival

If you visit Oostende in April, you must check out this street art festival named The Crystal Ship. The festival was founded back in 2011 but kept changing locations until they made a deal with the city of Oostende. Since then Oostende has become a more colourful city because of the many murals. In total there are 59 large murals and 200+ smaller art pieces throughout the city. The cool thing is that most murals stay here permanently and every year new street art is added to the city.

Street art Oostende
Street Art in Oostende

Where to Eat & Drink

Oostende has a lot of little streets where you’ll find several eateries and bars that will fill up your tummy. Also try a bag of shrimps from one of the local seafoodmarket alongside the beach, or their famous prawn croquette.

  • For a fancy dinner head to Marina. Getting there is also fun because you can take the free ferry across the water and walk for about 7 minutes through an industrial area, where housing developments are well on their way. This part is going to become the new & hip Oostende, mark our words.
  • If you are looking for something a bit more relaxed but trendy, have drinks and bites at Mommy’s Bastards. This place used to be infamous for its mussels but they decided to turn things around which resulted in a funky bar/restaurant with delicious comfort food like burgers, salads and yes, they still serve those killer mussels. Also, try the pink mocktail or G&T’s.
  • Check out Lafayette for casual drinks. They play all sorts of music and young and old take the dancefloor. It’s nothing fancy, but very “gezellig”.
  • If you fancy a traditional Oostende lunch, you can choose between Histoires d’O, where they serve the famous shrimp croquette or Passe-Vite, a trendy hotspot where you can also come for breakfast. Is vegan food your thing? Try Sassy’s for instance. You’ll like the retro look here.


Mommy’s Bastards

Boat Oostende

Where to Shop

There is one main shopping street in Oostende where you will find the bigger brands and stores, but there are also quaint little streets where you can also find some cute concept stores. Our favourites are by far; LILY (for women only, but ooh so good), Lolotte (concept store for all ages!), Joyridestreet (for sneakers and skatewear), Ferm (for goodies, clothes, gifts and jewellery).

shopping Oostende
Lily Oostende

So next time you’re heading to Belgium and you think that Antwerp or Ghent are the only places to visit, think again. Oostende should be added to the list. Find out more about Belgiums sunniest city!

Love,

Elke

 

Folegandros » Discovering the Cyclades

There is something rather special about this island, located in the Cyclades region: Folegandros. Most people visit nearby Santorini, but little do they know that Folegandros is like a dream.

How to get there

From Naxos I took the ferry to Folegandros but if you do, always make sure you check the ferry times before planning your trip. My ferry stopped at about 3 different islands before arriving in Folegandros and this resulted me arriving in the evening so I missed a whole day. When you arrive in Folegandros, you can take a public bus to the village which cost about 1.80 euro’s per person and takes you there in less than 15 min.

Folegandros Church

Where to stay

The island is very small and you immediately get a sense of the peace & calmness this place represents. It was easy to find my bed for the night because all the locals know each other and when I asked for my reservation at “Castro“, I was pointed in the right direction. The more steps I took, the more I fell in love. Hotel Castro owes its name from the location where it’s found, in the region of the medieval Castle of Folegandros. The Castle of Folegandros functioned as a defensive fortress and.. I got to sleep there. How cool! The friendly owners guided me to my room and although it was getting dark, my mouth fell open when I saw my balcony with probably the best view in town!

Hotel Castro Folegandros
The amazing private balcony at Castro’s

Eat & Drink

At night, the town turns into a romantic bohemian village. Trees with lights cover the top of outside restaurants. There are 6 different squares divided and each one of those has another cute place to eat. I arrived on a Saturday and because most Greek people are free on Sunday, the town is vibrant and alive. You will see everyone having a drink, pretty much everywhere where they can sit. If you want to join in the fun, you should try Raki, Ouzo or a hot drink I wasn’t familiar with, called Rakomelo. It tastes a bit like Glühwine and is delicious!

Folegandros
A bohemian dream

Explore

Folegandros is too beautiful to lay in your bed for too long, so I advice you to get up early. The town is wonderful in the morning and great to shoot some nice pictures. My balcony was a great place to have breakfast but you should also go into town and sit in one of the beautiful gardens to drink coffee. I had breakfast at Pounda where you can enjoy a Greek breakfast whilst looking at beautiful flowers.

Folegandros
The town of Chora is beautiful for walking around

Folegandros
Feeling completely zen at Agios Nikolaos beach.

The beaches

The best beaches in Folegandros are Agios Nikolaos beach (if you like peace and quiet), Agali beach (more popular) and the beach near the port, Karavostasi beach.

I would recommend to stay on Folegandros for at least 3 days. It’s an amazing place to relax and a total contrast to the busy Santorini or Mykonos.

Love,

Elke

WHY VISITING ISTANBUL IS A GOOD IDEA

I have visited a lot of cities in my life but there was always one on top of my city-bucket-list; Istanbul. Why? It’s the perfect mix between Asia and Europe and has so much to offer, even in winter!

Yes, Istanbul is in fact separated by the Bosporus river into European and Asian portions. One of my best friends even told me it’s his favourite city in Europe. Time to check it out. Instead of visiting Istanbul during spring or summer, I booked my ticket for the end of February, full on winter! Needless to say that I was hoping the weather would be good so far out on the east side of Europe. But one day before I was about to fly, the news reported that Istanbul was coping with the worst snowstorms in 15 years! 

Istanbul birds

Getting Around & Good To Know

Arriving in Istanbul it was a little confusing because I wasn’t aware that you need a tourist visa so… that’s my first tip! A tourist visa will cost you 25 euro’s and you can buy this online here. Always check with your local whether is safe enough to travel due to political issues in the country. Traveling to Istanbul is declared save again since of July 2018. You can also buy the visa on arrival like I did, but then you need to wait in line and it can take a long time getting through customs so my advice is to buy it beforehand. 

During the winter period, it’s less crowded, cheaper but still beautiful

Getting to my hotel was pretty easy. There are big comfy busses going into town and cost 14 Lira, which is about 5 euro’s. They leave every half hour and take you into the city centre in about 1 hour. The nearest busstop from my hotel was Taksim Square. This is a famous square which collides with the endless Istiklal street where you can go shopping or visit a nice Starbucks. You can take the Tünel, this is a cute small tram which runs straight through the shopping street.

Tram Istanbul
The Tünel in Istiklal Street

Where to Stay in Istanbul

I booked my hotel via Booking.com and because of the low season, I got a very good rate: 120 euro’s for 3 nights! The rate included breakfast and the manager was very friendly and even gave his own Travel Card for me to use. (this is a card you can use for public transport) My only warning, if you are staying near a Mosque (and chances are you will), you will hear the people sing though the loudspeakers, also known as ezan, around 5 times a day. If you are not a morning person, double check your location.

Luxury: Raffles Istanbul (nice view, spa, swimming pool, great service)
Mid Range: Bankerhan Hotel or Sub Karakoy (trendy area!)
Budget: Empress Zoe Hotel (Lush garden, great breakfast. Rooms go from €40,-)

I stayed near the Galata tower and picked this area because it’s authentic and you can really taste the Turkish culture here. The tower itself is worth a visit if you want to check out the nice view and take some good pictures. It will cost you 20 lire to get in and there is a restaurant on the top.

Tip: Go in the morning if you want to skip the queues. From the hotel I could walk right across the street to catch the tram which takes you over the bridge and into the westside of Istanbul. Taking the tram over the Bosporus is only a short ride which takes no longer than 10 min from the Galata area.

istanbul

paint Istanbul
Istanbul is full of spices and colors

Must Sees in Istanbul

On this side there are a few big tourist attractions that are just too good to skip:

» The blue Mosque (make sure you bring a scarf to cover your hair. Same thing applies for the Hagia Sofia)
» Hagia Sofia
» The Grand Bazaar (Great for Turkish shopping like handbags, Scarf, Lamps
» The Spice Market (Get ready for some crazy scents and flavors!)

Istanbul
Inside the blue Mosque

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I loved the Spice Market the most because of all the colours and different tea’s.

Walking through the grand Bazaar Istanbul

Where to Eat & Drink

After a day of walking around, you should definitely take a coffee break or try traditional Salep. My new Turkish addiction. This is a hot milky drink topped off with cinnamon. You can pretty much get it in every Turkish Café. For the best Meze you should try Ciya and At night Istanbul really comes to live. Restaurants stay open late, and it’s rooftop galore with many restaurants and bars that you wouldn’t expect to be hidden away all the way up there.

Here a few of my rooftop favorites:

» 5Kat is a traditional restaurant/bar that has been there forever. You can eat in or outside on the roof terrace. The entrance looks a bit shabby but once you go up, you are rewarded with a wonderful view of the Bosporus.

» 360 is a great place. For food, drinks and even dancing. Killing view. Reservations are required and leave your sneakers at home. 

» Vogue is upscale and also serves sushi for those that are in for a lavish night out. The music isn’t for dancing but for catching up and drinking cocktails.

Vogue Istanbul
Vogue Istanbul

» LTERA is a rooftoop restaurant which opens up in the summer. Looking over the river, it has a beautiful view and the food is tasty!

» Mikla is posh but well worth it if you love to get dressed up one evening and go for that amazing wine & dine experience. It was once voted in the top 50 best restaurants in the world. This a-claimed restaurant also has a rooftop but during the winter it may be closed. 

Also check out Limonlu Bahçe Beyoglu, this hipster garden is great for amazing coffee, drinks and western style dishes.

drinks Istanbul
Source  Drinks at Limonlu

A little further along side the Bosporus river you have amazing chique clubs like the Supperclub and Reina. I didn’t manage to go there because of the chilly nights but I will be back to try those out!

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Fishermen trying to get their catch of the day

The Asian District

Most tourists only visit the European part of the city but you should definitely take the time for the Asian part! There is the lively Kadikoy where you have markets on different days of the week. Small shops and nice lunch spots make this a super fun day trip. To get there, you take the boat across the bosporus which takes about 30 min. When you are departing Istanbul from Sabiha Cökçen airport, you can also take the bus from there which makes it a shorter ride and you can combine this with a visit to this vibrant part of the city.

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Fresh fish at Kadiköy, the Asian part of Istanbul

Be sure to visit Istanbul when it’s a little warmer but even so, it was magical and my friend was right. It’s great!

Love,

Elke

Photo Report » Finding Magic on the Isle of Skye

In the first week of November, a small remote island on the west coast of Scotland prepares for winter lockdown. Tourists flee and sea mist covers the land in shadows. All that’s left is deserted roads curling through rough landscapes dotted with thousands of sheep. Not the best season to visit Scotland, or so you might think. But on an island where history has been dominated by myths and legends, you might be rewarded if you put your trust in the hands of the Gods. I was ready for the Magic on the Isle of Skye.

For two weeks, I drove around the Isle of Skye in a campervan with my good friend and journalist, Hans Roozekrans. We drove, hiked, and camped all day, every day, experiencing all the magic the small island had to offer.

Magic on the Isle of Skye

Magic on the Isle of Skye

I’d heard many things about Scottish weather, but shiny, calm, and sunny weren’t any of them, especially about the fall season. We got lucky. We opened the door of the campervan each morning and found ourselves deserted under a perfect, blue Scottish sky, looking out at spectacular cliffs of lush green valleys. Each morning was a gift. The landmarks on our map of Skye had names like “The Fairy Pools,” “The Fairy Bridge,” and “The Old Man of Storr.” It was easy to imagine that, on this little island, fairy tales could be real.

Deer

Walking through The Isle of

I’m always on the hunt for the most rugged and remote landscapes to travel and photograph. One of the things I love about photography is that it allows me to get outside so often. My two weeks in Skye were filled with long hikes, sleeping under the stars, and walking for days without seeing another soul.

I love the independence that photography gives me. I love that there’s no right or wrong way. I love being able to walk outside and photograph whatever I want. For me, travel photography is about wandering and observing. There are just as many unique ways to look at things as there are unique things to look at.

Magic on the Isle of Skye

 

Pie

*Pie Aerts is a professional Instagram photographer from The Netherlands and travels around the world trying to capture those special places. He recently got featured in the amazing photobook Depart where 12 photographers tell their story. Follow him on Instagram or contact him on info@pieaerts.com.