Krakow, a city in the south of Poland, is a vibrant European city with a beautiful old Town. Krakow offers a great long weekend trip away, with a great party scene with great free walking tours explaining the varied history of the area. It also is one of the closest cities to one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, the concentration and death camps at Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. While it is not a fun trip to visit the camps, it is a humbling and worthy experience.
Stockholm is a vibrant little city with an amazing cafe culture (Fika means coffee and a sweet snack – its no surprise that Swedes are one of the highest consumers of coffee in the world). I have visited Stockholm, the city that self proclaims itself as ‘Scandinavia’s capital’ twice now, and have had a great time each visit. It helps that my girlfriend’s family have a flat there which we have stayed at for free, which keeps some of the costs down. While all of Scandinavia rightfully has a reputation for being expensive, it is definitely possible to have a great weekend in Stockholm without blowing the holiday budget for the year! Beers in a pub (not a club – we didn’t go to the clubbing district, as this is VERY expensive) were around London prices or slightly more expensive (50-60 kronor), food in a nice restaurant was 200-300 kronor (~£20-£30) and coffee 35 kronor. However, you can buy cheap enough food in the supermarket and cook yourself, and Sweden’s craft beer scene is starting to get popular – just make sure you get to the systembolaget (alcohol store) before 3pm on a Saturday as that’s when it closes! You can still buy 3.5% alcohol beer in the supermarkets, but anything harder you will need to plan around the early closing times of the only alcohol stores in town.
Slovenia?! Where’s that?
I have a bit of a confession. When I grew up in New Zealand, I regularly mixed up Slovakia and Slovenia. I couldn’t place either on the map of Europe. Lets say it was NOT high on the list of my places to visit when I ended up making to Europe. That was my first mistake. The second mistake I made was that Slovenians were quiet and didn’t enjoy partying much.
The first Slovenian I met was in Brazil, in Florianopolis, a guy named Mat. He seemed like a quiet lad when we first met him, who stayed in a six bed dorm with me and my mate Huw. Huw and I arrived quite late on one day into Florianopolis and there with no one else in our dorm. We were thinking jackpot! We can spread out a bit, a private room for the price of a dorm. We proceeded to do so, then went out to find out what the local nightlife of Floripa (as it is known) was like (trust me -its good, everyone should go to this island!). We came back late, and discovered Mat in our dorm room, went to sleep, after making a ton of drunken noise, and woke up late the next day, nursing an almighty hangover. We wake up and see this guy there, thinking oh man we have ruined this room for him, hopefully he’s not too angry, he looks Russian, lets not bother him.
Turns out, we couldn’t have been more wrong about Mat. After having breakfast and going out to do work off the hangover during the day, we came back to the hostel for night two in Floripa. The first thing Mat did upon seeing us in the room was say – hi I’m Mat, where-ever you guys went last night, I want to come tonight! My second mistake about Slovenians was quickly rectified, and we proceeded to have a great few nights in Floripa with Mat and some other guys and girls from our hostel, before travelling further south to Punta del Diablo in Uruguay (another amazing place, post to come soon!). At this point we all went our separate ways – Huw flew to Canada to go skiing, and Mat and I continued onto different places in Uruguay. We remained Facebook friends and he ended up coming to meet me in Bariloche in Argentina, and then I promised him Huw and I would come visit his country when we made it to Europe.
PPF – Passport Friday
When I arrived in London four years ago, my friend was going away with a group of guys on a boys trip into Europe, on something called PPF or Passport Friday, which I thought was simply brilliant. The premise is simple. One of the guys, chosen by people on the previous PPF, is given full control over booking the next trip, and everyone who is interested in coming pays £250 to him. On the day of the trip, we are given a meeting point after work on the Friday by the organiser, usually a central train station, where we are presented with boarding passes of the place we are going to, and the organiser fills us in with all the details of where we are going, and some sort of event he has planned on the Saturday at the location.
The name comes from the fact that we have to use our passports to get to the location – it therefore cannot be in the UK, but it could potentially be a Eurostar trip so it doesn’t have to be by plane. The locations so far have been Berlin, Madrid, Prague, Tallin/Helsinki (the first double city and only double country PPF so far!), Lisbon, Budapest, Copenhagen, Majorca, Dusseldorf/Cologne (the one I organised), Stavanger, and Bratislava. The first few trips began with a group of mates who weren’t married, and none were looking like getting married, who wanted an excuse to go on a bachelor party type weekend away with the lads. It now has grown into a regular group of at least 20 guys each trip (with at least one newbie) and does focus a bit more on the event, as well as the drinking! So far, one guy has made it to every single PPF (to the dismay of his fiancé!) and I have attended all of them since the Lisbon trip, PPF 5 – “Back to Basics”.
St Anton these days is known for its crazy apres ski partying and large ski terrain and this reputation is well founded. What is less well known is that St Anton was one of the first locations for downhill skiing, with the first ski club in the Alps founded in St Anton in 1901, and the first ski race at St Anton in 1904.
Dubrovnik, these days immortalised as King’s Landing in Game of Thrones, is a beautiful walled port city in the south of Croatia. The old town as we know it now was completed in the 13th century and is largely unchanged from those days. Due to Game of Thrones tourism, Dubrovnik’s tourism industry has boomed in recent years, but even without Game of Thrones, visiting the town was one of my favourite experiences in Europe. This was due to the history (particularly the military history), the beautiful scenery, the (cheap) food and drink and the great weather! More