Brussels and Ghent: one weekend, two cities, three thousand Delirium beers…

World famous chocolate, the best waffles and an endless choice of beer should be more than enough solid reasons to add Belgium to your travel bucket list!

We only had a weekend in Belgium due to us having no holiday left from work, oops! Luckily for us though we’re only an hour’s plane journey away, and by now we’re pretty good at drinking our way around a new place in a couple of days! We managed to visit both Brussels and Ghent, spending a full day in each city. For us, we would recommend spending longer in Ghent (we would have if we had the time), the bars have the same endless beer choices as Brussels but tasted so much better overlooking the canal in the sunshine!

Getting there…

Our go to budget airline (good old Ryanair) offer cheap enough flights from the UK to Brussels South Charleroi airport pretty much all year round. We flew out after work on a Friday evening and arrived in Brussels at around 10.30pm. Because we landed so late, we decided to book a hotel in Charleroi rather than travelling into Brussels. 

Leonardo Hotel Charleroi City Center was around a 10-minute taxi journey from the airport so it’s ideal for a stopover! That being said, we weren’t impressed with the greeting from the taxi drivers outside the terminal! Be prepared to get ripped off here as there are no other transport options to get into town late at night and the drivers know it! The whole experience was far from welcoming! 

Despite our late arrival in Charleroi we were still able to get in one quick beer (obviously) just before the restaurant next door to the hotel closed. Jupiler was our first beer on Belgium soil and Nat’s favourite of the trip! The fact Jupiler is Belgium’s answer to a cheap beer when all the UK has to offer is Carling makes us super sad ☹ Head here for our list of must try Belgium beers! 

The Leonardo hotel is conveniently within walking distance of Charleroi Sud train station, which was ideal for our early train journey to Brussels the following morning. We booked our tickets through the trainline app. Its so easy to book European rail tickets on the app and it saves the need for paper as the tickets are just scanned directly from your phone 😊

The central station in Brussels is Bruxelles-Midi and there is a direct train from Charleroi Sud which takes approx. 50 minutes. If you’re in Brussels for longer than a weekend and don’t have an early check in time to drop your bags, we would recommend using Luggage Hero, so you can spend the day exploring luggage free. At October 2019, code: 2FREE gives you 2 hours free storage 😊

Brussels

Belgium’s capital city is a food and beer lovers dream, so don’t expect to go home from a weekend in Brussels without gaining a few pounds. The city is packed full of history and anyone who is interested in architecture will love checking out all of the photo-worthy Gothic and Baroque style buildings on the walks between waffle shops and beer halls 😉

Things to do

The centre of Brussels is relatively small, so it’s easily doable to see it all in one day. Here’s a few places we suggest you check out:

  • Grand Place: The highlight of Brussels! The UNESCO world heritage site is the central square of the city and should be number one on your sights to see. Make sure you head there both in the day and when the sun’s gone down.
The square is beautiful at night when all the buildings are lit up! 

There aren’t any bars in the square, so we followed the locals and grabbed some good quality beers from a convenience store (for a couple of euros each) and enjoyed these perched on one of the ledges around the edge of the square. 

That age old question – blonde or brunette?! 😉

The other suggestions below are all within a 10-minute walk from the Grand Place (we used this as our main reference point). Brussels is an easily walkable city, so no public transport is required.

Moving on to one of Nat’s favourite things…

Waffles

You should be eating a minimum 3 Belgium waffles a day 😉 Our top picks for places to indulge your sweet tooth are:

  • Maison Dandoy: Sat just off one of the side streets from the Grand Place, the pricier option but their waffles and coffee are worth it. Expect long wait times as this is pretty popular, but they do have outdoor seating for the warmer weather. 
  • La Funambule (cash only!): Located opposite the Manneken Pis statue, this little shop has an amazing selection of waffle toppings to choose from their window display! There’s nowhere to sit so we recommend grabbing your waffle to go and sitting somewhere outside to enjoy them. 
  • Waffle Factory: Although this is actually a chain, it’s still ranked as one of the best waffles in Brussels. You can watch the bakers making the waffles unlike other waffle stores and they provide something different with the Lunchwaf (a waffle stuffed with lunch meats and veggies).

Beers

We won’t mention how many beers you should be trying a day, or how many we had! Our top picks for bars and cafes are:

  • Moeder Lambic: This was our favourite place to have a beer in Brussels! Their craft beer selection is amazing, coupled with a modern, cosy setting with the best bar area we’d seen. Their meat platters looked delicious too!
  • Au Brasseur (cash only!): This bar had a really traditional feel, we imagine it is always busy due to its central position just past the Hard Rock Café down the street from Grand Place. The perfect location to grab a table outside and people watch the day away. Try the 6-beer taster for a taste of Belgium’s most famous brews. Great value for money with very generous servings for a tasting board, which means you can get away with sharing one with your beer buddy!
  • Delirium Café/village: No trip to Brussels would be complete without a visit to Deliruim! This is the bucket list bar that boasts the world record for the greatest number of beers available. We would recommend visiting all the bars in the ‘village’ as each has something unique to offer. Our personal favourite was a little dive bar downstairs from the main taproom, which is decorated with bottles, glasses and plenty more beer related décor. It also has live music in the evenings for when you end up hanging around all day trying to get through as many of the 3000 beers on offer as you can. 
  • Toone (cash only!): A real hidden gem of a pub in the heart of Brussels. Quaint and charming with a great selection of beer and a puppet theatre! Puppet show performances are on Thursday to Saturday evenings (bear in mind they are in French). It can get very busy in the evenings so try and go in the afternoon if you can.

Accommodation

We chose to base ourselves near the station again (in the Saint-Gillies area) as we planned to catch another early train to Ghent the following morning. This time we booked an Airbnb and although it cost £46/ night for a room and shared bathroom, we still saved significantly compared to city hotel prices.  

Money saving tip: If you are travelling around try and plan it so you’re not in the capital on a weekend (mainly Saturday night) as accommodation is already going to be expensive enough and for those of you who haven’t yet used Airbnb, using the link below will save you £25 off your first booking !

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/c/natalieh9827?currency=GBP

Ghent

Ghent is just a half an hour train ride away from Brussels and you can catch a direct train from Bruxelles-Midi to Gent-Sint-Peters station. The centre is a short tram ride away and you can catch one from just outside the train station, head towards Wondelgelm on line 1 and get off at Korenmarkt for the medieval centre.

Ghent is often overlooked by people visiting Belgium, which is a real shame. With its medieval old town and canal side bars that rival Amsterdam, Ghent is a great lesser known destination to visit!

Everything we’ve picked out below is within walking distance of Korenmarkt and you can easily cover everything in a day. 

Things to do

The main things we would recommend checking out in Ghent are:

  • The views from the Belfry Tower: The views from the 91-metre-tall tower of Het Belfort Van Ghent are not to be missed! For only €8 you can head up the tower for a great panorama of the old city and St Nicholas Church. You can climb the stairs to the top of the tower but there is a lift at the first level which will take you up to the top for no extra charge!
  • Gravensteen: This 12th Century castle is city’s most famous landmark. It has a reasonable entrance fee that includes an audio tour of the Castle, which is very different to any audio tour we have listened to before, it’s actually quite funny at times as well as factual! We would recommend picking this up as there are no information boards around the castle. The view from the top of the main tower looking out over the roof tops is definitely a bonus.
  • St Michael’s Bridge: One of the best views of the old city is from St Michael’s Bridge, with a 360-degree vantage point to snap some cool shots of the canals and St Michael’s Belfry with Gravensteen in the distance. Head here at dusk when the lights come on for the best selfie backdrop.

Beers

Most importantly the bars we would recommend checking out are 😉:

  • Dulle Griet: This was our favourite bar in Ghent, it had a Delirium style vibe with a cosy atmosphere. With 500 different beers to choose from, the staff are more than happy to share their knowledge, the most helpful bartenders we came across in Belgium! And for the perfectionists, the beer always comes in the corresponding branded glass, which you can then purchase on request.
  • Kaffee The Planck (cash only!): This pub is in such a unique setting based on a converted barge. Really nice indoor and outdoor seating areas and reasonably priced considering you’re on a boat. 
  • Trollekelder: Is another pub located in a cool setting within a 200-year-old building, they also have a nice outdoor seating area with views of the nearby Cathedral. 
  • Meraki: We were lucky enough to grab one of the tables here right on the edge of the River Lys, we didn’t even need to venture inside due to the rapid table service. Definitely a place for a summer drink!
  • Het Waterhuis aan de Bierkant: One of Ghent’s traditional pubs and another one for the beer loving tourist! There are 160 beers to choose from, but the stars of the show are the three home brews Gandavum, Klokke Roeland and Mammeloker.
  • ‘t Dreupelkot: Next door to Waterhuis is this gin lovers paradise! A traditional jenever café with over 200 gins to choose from, including 50+ that are homemade and distilled in house. The terrace outside along with Waterhuis, overlooking the river, is a great spot to enjoy a drink in the sun.

Journey home 🙁

We caught the train back to Bruxelles-Midi early evening to catch the (Flibco) airport shuttle bus back to Brussels South Charleroi airport. The bus runs every 30 minutes and operates from 3.30am to 10.30pm. The journey time is just under an hour. It was very easy to pre-book tickets online (we did this on the train journey back) and also handy for us as we hardly ever carry cash! 

We did find the tickets pricey at €15 each for a one-way ticket, so if you are lucky enough to be travelling in a big group you should enquire into taxi prices first. The bus stop is located just outside Bruxelles-Midi station and the google maps location is accurate, check it out here if needed.

If you have more than 2 days in Belgium…

We would recommend a day in the beautiful city of Bruges, again easily accessible from Brussels being only an hour train ride away. Another one of Belgium’s best-preserved medieval cities with a historic centre lined with cobbled streets and canals, much like Ghent. We will definitely be returning to Belgium to check out Bruges for a weekend, hopefully around Christmas time so the festive markets are in full swing!

We hope you have as much fun exploring Belgium as we did! Just remember that Belgium beer is strong, so drink responsibly! (ish…) 

Click here for the Belgium beer bucklist to tick off for yourselves and add to your Instagram stories 😊 Make sure to tag us @backpacksandbeverages ! 

Lots of drunken hugs,

Joe & Nat xxx

Kiev: Europe’s Most Underrated Capital City?

To make it clear from the outset, we fell in love with Kiev! Another one of our ‘off the map’ destinations, it’s gilded churches, quirky street art, cheaper than cheap beer, excellent food and interesting architecture. All of this was enough for Nat to crown Kiev “one of my favourite European cities”, and she’s been to a lot!

Interest in Ukraine’s capital city has skyrocketed since the release of the Sky Atlantic series Chernobyl. If you want to read all about our trip into the Chernobyl exclusion zone (home to the site of one of the world’s worst nuclear disaster), check out our guide here

This is the itinerary we followed for the rest of our long weekend. There is so much more to see and do around Kiev as well as taking a trip into a nuclear wasteland. 

Beer of the trip – American Amber Ale, Solomianska Brovarnia

Scratch map beer – Chernihvske

Getting there…

Boryspil International is the main airport for travelling into Kiev. We were lucky to bag flights from Manchester for £45 return over May bank holiday. Having a quick browse flights have dramatically risen since then, most being around £100 return from the UK. Don’t be put off by this though as the amount of money you will spend in Kiev is less than a quarter of the amount you would spend in most European capitals. 

They also have the cutest airport signs

The airport is 19 miles from the centre of the city and we only paid £12 in an Uber to drop us at Independence Square, Uber is easily the best way to get around the city. 

Just be careful before you book as they have a specific taxi pick up and drop off area for all terminals, we think this was on the second floor. Don’t just head outside and hit the button like we did as you may be charged a cancellation fee (don’t worry if you do though it was only small!).

Currency…

Ukraine still operate their own currency, the Ukrainian Hryvnia (UAH), which makes the British pound stretch even further (yay!). The exchange rate at August 2019 is £1 to 31 UAH. To put this into a context that everyone is interested in, on average one domestic beer (0.5l) is 29 UAH, or 94p 😊 and a 3-course meal for 2 people in a mid-range restaurant is 650 UAH, or £21.

Where to stay?…

A word of warning, Kiev is huge! For your first visit, Shevchenkivskyi or the northern edge of Pecherskyi district (where we stayed) are probably your best bets. These areas are central and a good base to explore the outer reaches of the city. Fancy hotels and Plus Airbnb’s are happily affordable, so you don’t have to splurge to get excellent accommodation or if you want to be extra savvy (like us) regular Airbnb’s are super cheap.

Day 1: Independence Square, Kreshchatyk, Churches & Craft Beer

After dropping off your bags at your accommodation order an Uber or walk to Independence Square and the Independence Monument.  These are located at the northeast end of Khreshchatyk, the main street running through the centre of the city.

You will more than likely be approached by street performers for pictures in the square which can be quite funny if you feel like a laugh but beware, they will demand a decent payment for their time (150 Hryvnia per person is what they managed to blag from us)!

Still, not every day you have a photo with Garfield while a Dove sits on your head…

Take a stroll down Khreshchatyk after visiting the square for a look at some imposing soviet architecture, plenty of shopping and a variety of bars and restaurants. One thing we didn’t know beforehand (that we wish we did) was that during the evening on Sundays (and on public holidays), Khreshchatyk and Independence Square are closed off to vehicles, and locals come out in force to see a host of street performers and musicians. Finding somewhere to eat and grab a drink al fresco is the best way to enjoy the atmosphere. Make sure you come back during the evening.

After Independence Square and Kreshchatyk you should spend the afternoon exploring some of the city’s famous golden domed churches. There are so many to see that you would be hard pressed to visit them all, but each church is beautiful in its own right so try and visit as many as can!

Firstly, walk up to St Sophia’s Cathedral and take a walk around the church grounds.

For amazing views over the city, make sure you climb the bell tower, which is just a small additional fee over the £1 entry to the grounds.

From St Sophia’s walk down the street to St Michaels Golden domed Monastery (the blue church in the picture above). It’s free entry into the grounds of the monastery and it is stunning! The sky-blue walls of the church and the gilded domes are a photographer’s dream.

If you have time to go inside the churches you should, they are just as impressive inside as outside.

A short walk away is St Andrew’s Church. Unfortunately, the church was closed when we were there however around the rear of the grounds is a viewing platform with great panoramas over northern Kiev looking over the Dnieper River.

Of course it wouldn’t be complete without a beer pic!

You will definitely be thirsty after checking out all the sights, so you should head down the street from St Andrew’s to Solomyanska Brovarnia, A two-storey microbrewery. The ground floor has more of a local pub feel while upstairs is reserved for the restaurant and dining. Grab the tasting flutes to try out their in-house brews, find your favourite and pair it with some of the tasty appetizers from the menu, the tempura prawns are a must.

A little further north is Drunken Monkey, a quirky basement bar with 20 taps of their in-house craft brews on rotation. Famed for their ‘different’ naming style for their beers, classics such as White Walker weizenbock (for all of Joe’s fellow Game of Thones fans), Fat Girlfriend brown ale, and F*ck Like Chocolate Rabbits stout will keep you entertained and tipsy all night long!

Kiev will also not disappoint all you foodies. The food in Ukraine is different to what you would typically find in the rest of Europe, but you can find plenty of international food on offer all around the city. We had great meat & potato skillets at Sunduk, a traditional pub a 5-minute walk from Kreshchatyk (near St Volodymyr’s Cathedral) and make sure you grab a drink from Pilsner Bar just down the road if you’re still thirsty.

Skillet at Sunduk restaurant, still drooling!

Day 2: Botanical Gardens, Motherland Monument & Steaks

Start your second day by grabbing breakfast at one of Kiev’s small cafés. The breakfast at Blue Cup Coffee Shop is worth an honourable mention and will not disappoint!

Head south into the Pechersk district to find The Motherland Monument, a colossal 102m tall statue standing on top of the National Museum of the History of Ukraine in the Second World War. 

The Motherland Monument

The monument and grounds are worth exploring on your way down to the Hryshko National Botanical Garden. The gardens cover 1.3 km² and are home to 13,000 types of trees, shrubs, flowers and other plants from around the world. There is a small entry fee but it’s a great place to leisurely explore and snap some pretty good views of the city from the higher areas of the park.

It’s also an ideal spot to pick up a couple of beverages and enjoy them on the grass in the sun 😉

If you are a fan of steak you need to head over to Syndicate Beer & Grill during your stay! A microbrewery and steakhouse decorated in a prohibition style, with an extensive menu of great home brewed beer and tasty beef that won’t break the bank. 

We would go back tomorrow just for the parmesan fries 😊

Day 3 – Chernobyl

No visit to Kiev would be complete without taking a tour of Chernobyl! The city is only two hours away from the Chernobyl exclusion zone and is the main starting point for guided tours visiting the power plant site and the 30 km nuclear wasteland surrounding it. There are a variety of tour operators offering trips into the exclusion zone so be sure to do your research before booking up. You can read all about our experience at Chernobyl in our blog here

You will probably arrive back into Kiev quite late after your trip so the bars and restaurants along Kreshchatyk will be your best bet after getting dropped off back at Independence Square. We recommend Moments, the pork lion wrapped in bacon is delicious!

Kiev is without a doubt one of Europe’s most underrated destinations. Both inside the city and out, there are places to explore that you would struggle to find anywhere else. If it isn’t already, Kiev should definitely be on your travel radar!

We hope we have been able to help you with your travel planning and you have a wonderful trip to this amazing city.  We would also be more than happy to provide any additional info if needed, drop us a comment below or message us on Instagram @backpacksandbeverages.

Cheers guys,

Joe & Nat xxx

Pasteis De Natas in Portugal

Pasteis De Natas in Portugal: A Weekend in Lisbon

We spent our gloomy UK May bank holiday in Lisbon and it very quickly became one of our favourite European cities! If brightly coloured pastel buildings, terracotta rooftops, riding on old rickety trams and eating pastries by the dozen sounds like fun to you, we’re sure you’ll love Lisbon too! The historic centre of Portugal’s capital city is home to beautiful architecture, incredible views and of course, plenty of great bars to enjoy a drink or two after leg burning walks up and down the winding streets (do NOT underestimate how hilly it is!)

Lisbon is great for a short weekend break, but there is so much to do that you could easily spend a lot of time getting lost around its seemingly endless backstreets. Here are our recommendations to help you come up with that perfect Lisbon itinerary.

Visit Belem

Brits abroad know to always have a brolly handy 😉

Spend a morning exploring Belem, considered to be the city’s most cultural district. Here you’ll find the 500-year-old, UNESCO World Heritage site Torre de Belém or Tower of Belem. The Belem is one of the most famous monuments in Lisbon. It is one of the most photographed landmarks and as a result, gets very busy. If you want to go inside the castle, get there as early as you can as the entrance line is pretty long, although the general opinion is you could pass on this as the outside view is the most impressive part. We arrived mid-afternoon and the queue was steadily building up, so we just took in the tower from outside, and snapped the traditional photo of course 😉

A short walk down the river from the tower is the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, or Monument of the Discoveries, a huge 52-meter-high structure featuring sculptures of the most famous explorers of Portugal’s ‘Age of Discovery’ during the 15th & 16th centuries. There are lots of cool street vendors serving cocktails, wine and ice cream near the grassed areas, so this is a great spot to grab a drink and relax by the river.

We do put down the beers occasionally for a cute photo 🙂

Be sure to take a walk past Jerónimos Monastery on your way back to the bus or tram stop. Also, part of the UNESCO world heritage site, the monastery took 100 years to build and is another amazing example of renaissance architecture. 

Try a LOT of Pasteis de Nata

Now for a subject that is very close to Nat’s heart, the Pastel de Nata <3

A small egg tart pastry that you should always enjoy dusted with cinnamon. Please do not be put off thinking they are like an English egg custard tart, as I cannot stand those either! Think you’d be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of 65 who enjoys those (no offence to our older readers!).

The best place to grab a Pastel de Nata if…

…you’re visiting the Belem region: Pastéis de Belém, which is thought to be the home of the original Pastel de Nata recipe. This is proven by the size of the queue outside the shop door, the largest queue we saw (this was even in the pouring rain!). Pastéis de Belém opens at 8am every day, so if you don’t fancy queuing for half an hour make sure you get there nice and early 😊

…you’ve spent the day at Castelo de São Jorge: Pastry Santo Antonio, this place was my personal favorite and the best Pastel de Nata I had in Lisbon, it was baked to perfection. The perfect espresso and pastry stop after a long afternoon exploring the beautiful castle. 

…you want to watch the bakers in action: Manteigaria allows you to see the Pasteis de Nata’s being made while you watch through the glass windows. There is no space to sit so take your pastries away and enjoy them in the sunshine or grab a large take away box – they will keep for up to 3 days. 

Eat at Timeout Market

Time Out Market is one of the most well-known places to grab a bite to eat in Lisbon for good reason. There aren’t many places where you can find 24 restaurants, 8 bars, shops and a high-end music venue all under one roof! There are tons of different options apart from the award-winning Portuguese cuisine (they have a Manteigaria bakery here too!), including Asian, seafood, burgers and desserts. Time Out Market has something for everyone! Check out the Super Bock Experience while you’re there for an education in pouring your perfect pint. Also, a great option if you are unlucky (like us ☹) to have an afternoon or day of rain as the majority is based indoors. 

Head to the top of the Santa Justa Elevator

For one of the best viewpoints in the city, make sure you head down to the Elevador de Santa Justa. The elevator was opened at the turn of the 20th century to assist with navigating the hilly districts of  Baixa and Largo do Carmo (Carmo Square). Nowadays the elevator offers tourists a seven storey ride to the top of the viewing platform.

TIP: there is a very easy walking route up to the viewing platform which avoids the seemingly endless queue for the elevator itself, read about how to get there here (Please do this 😊).

Drink some craft beer

Something that might surprise you about Lisbon is that Sagres and Super Bock aren’t the only choices of beer on offer nowadays! (although we do love them too! 😊). The craft beer scene has well and truly taken hold in Portugal and there are several great spots in the city to enjoy a few crafty cold ones.

Our personal favourites are; Duque Brewpub, Lisbon’s first brewpub, specialising in local beers as well as their in-house brews. 

Their cured meat platter and homemade bread is amazing as well!

Crafty Corner, just around the corner from Timeout Market, which offers 12 taps on rotation with cool décor touches such as bar stools made of empty beer kegs, and a laid-back daytime atmosphere perfect for an afternoon pint;

and Quimera Brewpub (Lisbon’s second after Duque), which is located in a converted 18th century coach tunnel (this was Joe’s favourite!).

The menu is inspired by the bar’s American owners, with pastrami sandwiches and hot dogs amongst some of the choices to pair with their experimental IPAs that are brewed in house. They also have regular live music, with a jazz guitar duo providing the background ambiance for our visit.

As well as all of these, there is a craft beer festival held every September in the nearby beach suburb of Cascais, so Lisbon is really an up and coming destination for the international beer lover.

Take a day trip to Sintra

Superman / Super Bock

Sintra is a picturesque town located roughly 25km from Lisbon that is famed for its grand palaces, castles and gardens that has made the town a popular day trip destination for people visiting the city. Taking in this stunning scenery is a must during your visit! 

Sintra is just a 40-minute train ride from Lisbon Rossio station, and we would advise taking the train as the roads around Sintra are always jammed with people visiting, plus its only €1.90 each way!

The historic centre of Sintra is a short walk from the station and is a great spot to grab a bite to eat or a drink. We’re guessing though that you (like us) will want to head up to explore the Palácio da Pena, a 19th Century Romanticist style palace once used by the Portuguese royal family. With its colourful facades, turrets and domes, the palace will no doubt be the highlight of your day.

The castle sits high in the Sintra Mountains with incredible views over the town, valleys and Portuguese Riviera below. Head round to the back along the ‘wall walk’ for the best views but there are plenty of Instagram-worthy photo spots all around the palace and grounds.

We decided to walk up to the palace, to work off all the past few days’ craft beer and because the roads were gridlocked with people heading up to the palace. If trekking for 1 hour up a mountain doesn’t sound like fun, then you can catch the 434 tourist bus from town.

Ride the Trams

Trams have been an icon of Lisbon and a traditional mode of public transport since the network opened in 1873. The number 28 is the classic Lisbon tram journey most tourists want to experience. The route winds its way around tight bends and climbs steep hills through several districts, passing many attractions, so it’s a great way to take a tour of the city while screeching around in a quaint, yellow 1930s Tram. Just be aware, the trams do get very busy so board early to get yourself a seat or at least some space. Pickpocketing is also a reality so make sure you are extra vigilant with your belongings during any journey.

Walk around Commerce Square

Take a walk around Praça do Comércio (Commerce Square) and check out the Triumphal Rua Augusta Arch and the statue of Joseph I (not our Joseph, unfortunately 😉).

Sit outside one of the many restaurants and cafes enjoying a drink in the sun, watching the world go by to recharge your batteries before you get back to exploring. Also make sure you check out the Ginjinha stand! Ginjinha or Ginja is a sweet cherry liquor, and second place in Nat’s Lisbon loves <3

For around €2 you can enjoy not one but two shots in a delicious chocolate cup, who doesn’t love a free refill?! 😊  

The square is a great starting point for walking along the River Tagus or wandering the back streets of the central Baixa district. Just to let you know, people will probably try to sell you weed here, each to their own.

Take in the view at Castelo de São Jorge 

For the unquestioned best view of Lisbon, you need to make your way up to Castelo de São Jorge. The history of the castle dates back to the first century and it overlooks the centre of the city with incredible panoramic views. The 25 de Abril Bridge and Cristo Rei (the sister statue to Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro) can be seen from the castle walls, making this spot the best for capturing the entire city in its terracotta glory.

It seemed a shame to take in such epic scenery without a beverage in hand 😉 So we treated ourselves to two glasses of red from Wine With a View, a small cart selling local wines within the castle grounds. Good value and delicious, the perfect way to enjoy your time at the castle!

The definition of a wine with a view!

Check out Lisbon Cathedral

A short walk from the Castle is Lisbon Cathedral, better known as Sé de Lisboa. It is the oldest and most important church in the city, dating from around the twelfth century. The cathedral is now used partly as a museum and as an archaeological site after a roman road was excavated in its central courtyard. For only €2.50 it’s definitely worth exploring.

Well there you go folks…

If you want even more hints and tips to get the most out of your Lisbon visit and more importantly, avoid the mistakes we made 😉 Check out our other Lisbon blog post ‘Lisbon, Portugal: The things No-one Tells You’ here.

Lisbon has something for everyone tucked away around every back street, so just get lost exploring this fantastic city! If you guys think we have missed anything, let us know down in the comments below. We will absolutely be returning to Lisbon one day, so we’ll be sure to check it out!

Enjoy your travels 😊

Love, Joe & Nat xxx

Chernobyl tour : What it’s really like visiting one of the most radioactive places on Earth?

When we booked to go on a day trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone we received a mixture of reactions from our friends and family. “Why on earth would you want to go there?”, “surely it’s not safe and still full of deadly radiation?” and the odd “interesting, I’d like to learn more about Chernobyl myself!”.

Following on from the recent success of the Sky Atlantic series, Chernobyl, these reactions have changed slightly. People are now a lot more interested in finding out for themselves how the desolate area surrounding Chernobyl looks today, only 33 years after the fatal nuclear disaster.

About the disaster…

On 26th April 1996, an experiment on reactor number 4 of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant went catastrophically wrong, causing an explosion that resulted in radioactive material being released into the atmosphere, and deposited over most of Europe. 

Watching the series for ourselves has really made us appreciate the importance of where we were. So we have summed up our experience for any of you who may be interested in visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, to visit a place that is said to be uninhabitable for at least 3,000 years. 

Tour details

We booked our tour with Solo East, one of several Kiev based firms that run daily trips into the exclusion zone. They had a lot of positive trip advisor reviews and they promised a maximum group size of twelve (which they kept true to) so everyone on the tour could make the most of the guide’s knowledge of the area. Plus, it keeps queue sizes down through each of the checkpoints within the zone, making for much quicker entry. 

How long do the tours last?

We opted for the one-day trip into the zone, which at May 2019 cost around £90 pp. You can also do a two-day tour which includes spending the night in the exclusion zone for around £250 pp. The price gap between the one and two-day tours may put you off taking the longer trip, especially as the price of pretty much everything else in the Ukraine is so low compared to the rest of Europe. However, after doing some research and speaking to various tour guides on the day, you do get a much more in-depth experience compared to the one-day trip.

You need to be aware that the one-day trip is a very long and tiring day! The tour involves an early get up, meeting at around 8am, arriving back into Kiev between 7 and 9pm (depending on the traffic.) Also, due to the amount of stop offs during the day at each of the tour sites, it can seem a rush to see all the main locations. We were exhausted by the time we arrived back into Kiev!

What should you wear for a Chernobyl tour?

Chernobyl tours operate a strict dress code policy. You will need to wear a long sleeved top or jacket, with long trousers and closed toe shoes. No sandals, shorts or skirts are allowed.

Make sure you pack light and preferably take a backpack, as it’s forbidden to place your bag on the ground at any time. If one of your possessions does come into contact with radioactive material and it cannot be cleaned, you will have to leave it behind.  This shouldn’t happen if you stay on the path advised by your tour guide and don’t sit down or put anything on the ground!

Is the Chernobyl tour safe?

It is perfectly safe to enter the zone with a guided tour, providing you stay with your tour group and listen to the safety briefings.

During a Chernobyl tour, the level of exposure falls within a range which is similar to the radiation you would be exposed to on a long-haul plane flight. Just remember to always follow your tour guide, the Ukrainian military patrols within the zone do not take kindly to tourists that wander away from their tour groups to explore on their own and DEFINITELY DON’T take anything away as a souvenir from the zones. 

Things to consider…

1. If you are booking the tour online make sure you opt to rent a Geiger counter, a device used for measuring background radiation. It is interesting to monitor the radiation levels throughout the day and as we can’t see, hear or smell radiation, it would be like visiting an art gallery without your glasses! and they also make for great photo opportunities!

Throughout the day the counters remain quiet with a general ticking noise, until you are advised to hold them against a known ‘hotspot’ by your tour guide and you see them go wild. This really makes the tour come to life. Don’t worry, the radioactive areas you will be taken to cannot give you a harmful dose.

2. Another point to note for the girls especially, the toilet stops are extremely limited, and the only decent bathroom stop is for lunch at the canteen. Make sure you have a pack of tissues and anti bac gel at the ready! Ladies, Nat would recommend planning your Chernobyl trip for a time when you know you won’t be having your period, as she can’t imagine how uncomfortable it would have been. 

3. We would recommend packing enough snacks, snacks and more snacks to last you for the day. There is only one stop off for food during the day for lunch at the canteen, so you will need plenty to keep you going for the 12-14 hours you will be on the tour. We were getting very hangry by the time we made it back to Kiev!

What to expect during the trip…

Tours leave from Independence Square in the centre of Kiev at around 8am, your tour rep will meet you, check your passports, confirmation and then advise which minibus you’ll be on. There is a McDonalds conveniently located nearby so we would recommend grabbing a breakfast or even taking one with you to eat on the journey.

It is a 2-hour drive from Kiev to the first checkpoint at the edge of the exclusion zone. You do stop at a petrol station on the way down where you can also get drinks and snacks. You should definitely use this opportunity to take a bathroom break as well!

At the first checkpoint you need to show your passport to the guards (you need to send your passport info to your tour operator before the trip) while they do a quick search of the tour bus. Your tour guide will issue you with individual tickets for the tour at this point and a Geiger counter if you’ve reserved one.

From here, you will enter the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone and visit several locations throughout your day. For us our first stop was one of the many abandoned villages inside the zone, where we saw what life would have been like in rural Soviet Ukraine. Despite the whole area being completely overgrown, most of the buildings were still standing, sort of!

Next up was the Chernobyl town sign, which interestingly, still has the Soviet hammer & chisel symbol. Inside the exclusion zone is the only place throughout all the former Soviet Union that you can still see Soviet propaganda symbols, as these were removed from everywhere else following the downfall of the USSR.

From there we went to a former military base which is home to two enormous radio antennae called “The Russian Woodpecker”, this was used during the cold war to detect incoming ballistic missiles fired at the Soviet Union.

At this point it was time to stop for lunch, which was surprisingly good for a small canteen in a nuclear wasteland! The food is typical Ukrainian fare of meat, potatoes and bread, they did offer vegetarian options too.

After lunch we finally made it to the power plant site itself and got surprisingly close to the reactor building. You can’t actually see the damaged reactor as it is contained in a domed metal structure, where automated robots will be working for around the next 100 years to safely dismantle and dispose of what remains of the power plant.

What the Chernobyl Power Plant looks like today.

The last stop on our trip was the abandoned city of Pripyat. Purpose built for the workers of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, Pripyat was home to approximately 50,000 people at the time of the disaster. The tour of Pripyat takes you to the main square, the leisure centre, the hospital, the school, the supermarket and the famous fairground which you will have probably seen plenty of creepy photos of.

Here our tour guide is holding a picture of what the main square looked like before the disaster.
The abandoned fair ground – possibly the most iconic pictures of Chernobyl.
The highest level of radiation we experienced was detected when our tour guide placed the geiger counter near one of the carriages.
Pripyat school – a lot of scary dolls left behind.
The scariest doll we came across!
The swimming pool within the leisure centre – glad I left my swimming shorts at home today.

After Pripyat you will make your way out of the exclusion zone, and from there it’s another couple of hours back to Kiev traffic permitting. It took us around three and a half hours to get back to the city ☹

It was a very long (and incredibly interesting) day so do bare this in mind, in hindsight the 2-day tour may have been the better option but as we didn’t have long in Kiev unfortunately it didn’t work as an option for us. If you do have the time we would love to hear your opinion on the 2-day trip, please drop us a comment in the box below or a message on instagram.

We hope that this helps solve your debate on whether to take a trip to explore the most “dangerous” place on Earth 😊 

We also fell in love with the beautiful city of Kiev and will be posting a blog about our recommendations / itinerary as soon as we get chance! So watch this space for more help planning your Ukrainian escape 🙂

Happy exploring!

Joe & Nat xxx

Lisbon, Portugal: The Things No-one Tells You

Seeing as it was our first time in Lisbon, we’d read countless blogs and felt relatively prepared for our weekend exploring. But as always, we couldn’t possibly know everything before we arrived, and part of the fun exploring new places is learning what you didn’t already know. So here are a few hints and tips that we wish we’d known at the start of our trip, that will help you get the most out of your visit and (fingers crossed) save you time and money. 

Quick top tips; 

Don’t queue for the Santa Justa Lift viewpoint |

The Elevador de Santa Justa is Lisbon’s only vertical lift and is located within the historic centre on Santa Justa Street. The iron structure stands at 45 metres tall and provides a viewing platform with spectacular views over all of Lisbon. The queue for the lift ride is insanely long and judging by the trip advisor reviews, this remains a problem all year round. What we didn’t realise is that you can easily walk to the viewpoint platform. 

The walk to the viewing platform is not sign posted, and Joe just happened to stumble upon it on his way back from his second trip to the toilet as we’d already been queueing for nearly an hour at this point, so please don’t let that be you as well!

The stairs above are located next to MUJI opposite H & M. Turn right after these stairs and you will see that there is another set of stairs that takes you further up. Follow these until you reach the top and the large monastery will be directly in front of you (you won’t miss it!). To the right of the monastery you will see a restaurant, Bellalisa Elevador, a beautiful backdrop for a sunset sipping a glass of vino overlooking the terracotta roofs. If you walk up the small steps and carry on past the restaurant, you’ll come onto a bridge adorned with love locks, that leads to the spiral staircase up to the viewing platform. This costs €1.50 per person to enter and you have to pay this even if you’ve come up via the lift, so really, you’re not saving anything, and you’ve earned more beer from climbing those stairs #result!

Sintra Pena Palace |

If you do have a day spare, a day trip to the fairy tale castles of Pena Palace in Sintra is a must! (please see our top tips for travelling there below.)

Purchasing your tickets for Pena Palace can be easily done online on the day and this gives you a 5% discount on the gate prices. They accept screenshot tickets on phones so no need to worry about printing tickets out.

We made the mistake of adding ‘Inside the Castle’ to our tickets, as we thought this was needed to view the Palace and the surreal views over the valley and town below. Unless you’re really into Portuguese history however, we wouldn’t suggest doing this as the queue was ridiculous and easily took over an hour. The palace interior resembles what life would have been like when kings and queens occupied the castle. If like us, you aren’t interested in four poster beds and murals painted on ceilings, don’t bother, save yourself time and money. The Palace grounds are the most impressive part of the day and this is already included in the Entrance only ticket. Plus, you will have the satisfaction of walking up past all the queueing tourists, who will wait for up to two hours to get the same view as you. You’ll likely pass them again on your way back down!

Super man / super bock 😉

Use the time saved at Pena to visit Castelo Dos Mouros | Castelo Dos Mouros is noted as the least visited castle in Sintra, and it’s easy to see why due to its mostly grey exterior compared to the bright colours of Pena Palace. If you do choose to venture over and walk up to the top though, you will be rewarded with some of the most picturesque views of Pena Palace. Something we realised when looking down from Pena and thinking, “I bet this looks great from down there”.

Don’t waste your money on taxi’s | Black cabs and Ubers are surprisingly inexpensive! Bare this in mind if you are planning on pre-booking your airport transfer. You might think if you book early that obviously you’ll save money, sounds normal doesn’t it. Well, that’s the wrong answer for Lisbon! Our flight was delayed, and our airport transfer kindly decided not to show at 1.30am 😊 Luckily, a black cab ride to House Sao Bento cost us €11, significantly cheaper than what we’d paid for our pre-booked ride. So, after fighting for a refund we ended up saving money! Karma’s a great thing.

Uber is also cheaper to use than in most European countries, sometimes working out at the same price or (cheaper!) than if we had paid to do a single journey on the metro. Handy if you’re in a rush or want to explore up until the very last minute, as an Uber from the centre of Lisbon to the airport costs around €9 and takes around 15 mins.

If you do happen to use Uber, here’s our invite code: natalieh4280ue

Visit Time Out Market on a rainy day | If you are unfortunate like us to have the odd rainy day or afternoon, Mercado da Ribeira (Time Out Market) is the perfect place to pass the time without missing out on Lisbon’s best eats. Boasting 32 gourmet food (and drink 😉) kiosks, offering the best of the city’s dishes all under one roof. 

Due to its popularity, try and aim for out of hours meal times if you can, around mid-afternoon or late evening would be best. Finding a seat can be extremely difficult, so if you do stumble upon a free space, we’d suggest leaving a low value jacket or item on the seat (Nat wanted to leave Joe) while you go gather your foodie items!

Our personal picks include: Balcao da Esquina’s Roast Pork Sandwich, Asian Lab’s Pad Thai, Manteigaria’s Pasteis de nata (regarded by some as the best in the city!), Sea Me’s Octopus Hot Dog and Café de Sao Bento’s Garlic Shrimp. Mmm 😊

Buy a Viva Viagem Travel Card | You can purchase a Viva Viagem card for €0.50 from any metro and suburban train station from the automatic ticket machines or from the ticket office. When you purchase the card, you’ll have the option to add 24-hour travel, a single journey or use the “zapping” option and upload €5, €10 or €15 etc, and be charged for the individual journeys you take (similar to contactless on the tube).

Here is the best value for money options, if you’re planning on:

  • Travelling around a lot on the bus, tram and metro = 1-day ticket €6.40 (valid for 24 hours). 
  • Purely travelling from Lisbon to Sintra/Cascais/Estoril on the train = zapping option €1.90 each way.
  • Travelling around a lot on the metro and train to Sintra/Cascais/Estoril = 1-day ticket €10.55 (valid for 24 hours).

The train from Rossio (in central Lisbon) to Sintra is one of the most popular journeys and you will most likely see a huge queue of people in the train station purchasing train tickets to Sintra. DO NOT JOIN IT! You can purchase these tickets from the automated machine in Rossio Metro (5 mins walk away) or any other close Metro station with zero time wasted queueing. 

Another point, we went on a Saturday so bad planning from us, but the train was PACKED, so try and aim to get there as early as you can. There were 9 carriages though (a commuter’s dream 😊)

Try Ginjinha |

You must make sure you visit a Ginjinha stand during your visit to Lisbon, try Ginginha do Carmo conveniently located at the bottom of our favourite walking street filled with endless bars and restaurants. Make sure you opt for the chocolate shot cup, by doing this you get an extra shot and it tastes so damn good! 😊

Be savvy at Castelo Sao Jorge | The best views over the beautiful terracotta roofs can be found during a visit to Castelo Sao Jorge. Unlike Pena Palace they don’t offer online tickets, so bare this in mind if you are tight on time as you do have to queue, although the line does move quickly. Also, anyone lucky enough to be under 25 benefits from a half price ticket so make sure you bring some form of ID if you are asked to prove this.

The ultimate wine with a view!

There we have it, 8 things we wish we knew before arriving in Lisbon. We really hope these help you out and help you make the most of your trip to this fantastic city. If you have any suggestions that we might have missed, we would love to hear them in the comments below!

As always happy drinking folks 😊

Cheers,

Nat and Joe xxxxxx

Northern Italian Adventure

Milan › Lake Como › Venice

Most people will probably tell you that you shouldn’t book a trip with someone you’ve only been officially dating for 6 weeks, good thing we aren’t most people! So, we decided to book ourselves a whistle stop tour of northern Italy covering Milan, Lake Como and Venice as our first ever relationship mini-adventure, even though we’re pretty sure neither of us still knew when the other’s birthday was…

Beer of the trip : Peroni Red

Scratch map beer : Birra Moretti

Favourite local beverage: Aperol

Getting there… 

There is an endless choice of airports to fly into – Marco Polo (Venice), Treviso (Venice), Linate (Milan), Malpensa (Milan) and Bergamo (Milan) are all good options. TIP – Milan Bergamo normally comes out the cheapest on Skyscanner from the UK so check this first, and the bus from the airport to Milan Central and vice versa (60 minutes) is only €5. 

Easy access is available between Milan and Venice via a 2-hour train ride, so it really doesn’t matter which airport you fly into.

We did just that. We picked up flights from Manchester to Marco Polo for around £80 each, and after a short bus transfer into central Venice caught the Trenitalia from Santa Lucia station to Milano Centrale.

Accommodation…

Milan – MilanoRooms Bacone – booking.com (around £50/60 per night)

Our apartment was located within the Zona Buenos Aires area (5 mins walk from Lima Metro Station), which doesn’t demand the high prices for accommodation or food & drink and also provides easy access for getting around Northern Italy on the train as the central station is around 15 mins walk away.

Venice – Dimora Dogale – booking.com 

5 minutes’ walk to Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s Square, averaging around £40 a night, this really is a great little place to stay. We would definitely recommend, perfect location, cute and ideal for couples!

Day 1 – Milan

We arrived in Milan, dropped off our bags at the apartment and still had the afternoon to explore. We hopped on the Metro straight over to Piazza Duomo to check out Milan Cathedral, an architectural masterpiece you should definitely visit when you’re in the city. If you can, take the winding stairways up to the roof for panoramic views of Duomo. The Piazza itself is a big old place but will most likely be packed with other tourists, especially in peak season, so if you want to snap a good shot of the Cathedral without too many bystanders get there early!

After an afternoon exploring central Milan, there was only one thing on Joe’s mind, finding the doughiest, cheesiest, prosciuttoiest pizza Italy’s fashion capital has to offer, as it was of course a weekend off from his typical runway model’s diet that most would-be fashionistas would naturally be following when preparing for a Milan visit. A great little restaurant to check out not far from Duomo is Granario Caffe E Cucina.

This was the first occasion of the now almost weekly institution of Peroni date nights!

We were going to take in our first European football game, however it looked like that wasn’t meant to be (please read hints and tips below) 🙁 Instead we decided to explore some of the bars local to our apartment. After a short spell of happy hour Aperol’s, we stumbled upon a quirky cocktail bar Drinc. Cocktail & Conversation. A very cool, modern cocktail bar which serves the best presented tequila slammers.

Its slightly pricey so definitely a treat, however if you’re in the area and cool cocktails are your scene you should absolutely go for it!

Hardly your typical slammer on a night out in Britain with a salt shaker from behind the bar and lime wedge from someone’s empty rum and coke glass!


Day 2 – Lake Como

Getting there – Train from Milano Centrale station to Varenna-Esino. The journey takes around 1 hour and tickets can be purchased on the day for €12 return. 

For day 2, after a very traditional Italian breakfast consisting of a sausage and egg McMuffin in the train station, we hopped on a train up to Lake Como to explore the dramatic scenery around one of Europe’s deepest lakes.

After arriving in Varenna, a small town on the lake’s west coast, we walked up the winding road to the viewpoint at Castello De Viezo.

The obvious highlight after the hour-long walk up the mountain was the spectacular views of Lake Como’s two southern forks looking towards Como and Lecco.
The €5 Aperol Spritz in the café made the trek even more worthwhile!

Three or four each (we can’t quite remember how many) were swiftly polished off before heading back down to catch the short 20-minute ferry over to Bellagio.

The ferry ride over boasted the most amazing views of Bellagio
With a pint of Moretti in hand for the trip, of course!

The beautiful town of Bellagio boasts some of the most luxurious (and pricey!) boutique hotels Lake Como has to offer. Fortunately for us, there’s a great terrace bar at Hotel Metropole Bellagio, with fantastic views over the lake and a drinks menu that’s seemingly endless and not as steeply priced!

 Needless to say, a fair few drinks later, time was starting to run away from us, so we decided to head towards the ferry terminal to get back to Varenna. But before that, we decided that the right way to end our day was to grab a couple of Peroni Red Labels and enjoy them on the steps leading down to the lake and watch the sun set over the pristine Italian Alps.  

We think it’s fair to say that for anyone wanting to take in this spectacular scenery, having the lake water lap at your feet while sipping on arguably one of the world’s tastiest lagers is absolutely the way to do it!


Day 3 – Milan / Venice

On the morning of our third day we had a little more time exploring Milan before our train back to Venice.

Luckily for us the unseasonal downpour didn’t ‘dampen’ our spirits!

If like us you find yourselves with enough time to tick off something small from your Milano to do list, we would highly recommend a visit to the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Many of the world’s most prestigious fashion houses boast flagship stores in this spectacular example of nineteenth century Italian architecture, but shopping for high fashion is something that neither of us have a flair for.

We do however have a flair for drinking! Luckily for us, the Galleria is also home to Terrazza Aperol. Accessible via a side door to the main entrance, Milan’s self-proclaimed ‘centre of aperitifs’ is a must if you are even remotely a fan of the classic cocktail. The Terrazza isn’t Milan’s cheapest bar at €12 (not the most expensive either!) but this will cover the cost of your aperitif and entry.  

Make sure you get there before the crowds though, as this is a popular spot due to the stunning views of the Cathedral and bustling Piazza below.

Your perfectly mixed aperitif must be enjoyed out on the terrace (rain or shine, rain in our case)

To finish off we (obviously) went for some more beers in the very affordable Bar Marino at the rear of the Galleria (The draft Italian wheat beer was our favourite) before catching our train to Venezia. 

Venice 

Seeing as the weather had followed us from Milan, we begrudgingly caught the Vaporetto (water taxi) from outside Santa Lucia to get to our hotel. However, if you are lucky enough to have the weather on your side we would recommend walking the many winding passageways, alleys and bridges to really explore the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’.

You will quickly learn that the sheer number of bars and restaurants lining the streets of the San Marco area will make your choice of evening meal a difficult one. We gave Taverna San Lio a try and would absolutely recommend for an affordable but high-quality meal. We also discovered that sweet Aperol is more to our palate than the traditionally bitter Campari. Give it a try and let us know which one you prefer!?

After searching around for bars we stumbled upon Hotel Ai Cavalieri di Venezia, set within an eerily gothic 16th century building. Lightening flashing and rain tapping on the windows on this particularly quiet Monday night resulted in our own Tower of Terror hotel experience! If you do visit please let us know if you think the same or if the pathetic fallacy got the better of us?!

We ended our night in Ristorante Marco Polo with a beverage and a traditional shot of limoncello as this drew a close to our evening in Venice. 

Day 4 – Venice

After a quick continental breakfast (included in the price of our room), we were keen to get stuck into what would be a very fast paced tour of Venice’s top spots. We started out by taking a short walk down to Piazza San Marco to check out St Mark’s Basilica and the other landmarks surrounding the city’s main square. Unfortunately, as we were short on time we were unable to go inside and have a look around at the famous gold mosaics lining the floors and walls of the church, entrance to the Basilica is free although there is likely to be a queue. We carried on down to the Piazzetta San Marco, the smaller open space to the square’s south east, to take in the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, two of Venice’s most recognisable landmarks.

The square also boasts one of the best views of the city and surrounding islands, from the top of the bell tower of St Marks Campanile, a visit will cost you €8 but the pictures are absolutely worth it.

After a morning exploring you will probably need an energy boost to power through the rest of your day (Cue Nat pining for caffeine.) We decided to head towards the Rialto Bridge to find somewhere to grab some lunch and a cold one (no coffee for Joe) with a view. There are numerous bars and restaurants lining the Grand Canal around the bridge where you can sit back and take in the buzz of the city’s main waterway. We chose to stop off at Ristorante Florida and sit under the pagoda with a goblet of strong beer and an even stronger coffee.

If you would rather use your money during the day for having a couple of drinks (like we do) there are small “fast food” pizzerias located all over the city where you can grab a cheap bite to eat. We picked up a slice of pizza (it was hugeeee!) from Self Service Rialto, for half the price as a restaurant and it was the tastiest pizza we had during our whole trip.

After lunch, it was time for us to fully embrace Venetian tradition and take a gondola tour of the canals. The gondolas are quite possibly the most recognisable image of Venice both past and present, once used exclusively by the city’s upper classes as transport around the waterways. The fixed cost of a 30-40-minute tour is €80 during the day and €100 after 7pm for evening tours.

We wouldn’t be Backpacks and Beverages if we didn’t stop off for one final glassful towards the end of our Italian adventure. We decided that a small, open fronted bar packed with 7 or 8 Gondoliers on a break must be a good idea, and we weren’t disappointed! 

Unfortunately, it was time to head back to Marco Polo and catch our flight home. We caught the airport bus transfer from the Piazzale Roma, a short walk from Santa Lucia station, the bus only takes around 20 minutes and costs €8.

HINTS AND TIPS – MILAN 

  • If you decide to fly into Venice like we did, pre-book your train tickets. Venice to Milan return cost around €45 for the two of us, whereas the normal price is around €40 each way! Definitely worth looking into and tickets can be easily booked through the Trainline. Be careful – some of the train companies only accept printed tickets so it’s worth checking at home before you travel if you need to print out your tickets.
  • If you do fancy heading over to the San Siro Stadium to catch a football match, make sure you book tickets in advance. I’d read online that you shouldn’t struggle to get cheap tickets from the Box Office, how wrong was I! After queuing for over an hour and a half we were told the only tickets left were €90 each for pretty poor seats, frustrating to say the least! Try livefootballtickets.com a couple of weeks before to be sure. 

HINTS AND TIPS – VENICE 

  • The bars and restaurants seemed to close at around 10pm, so bear this in mind if you’re planning on arriving late! However, we’re not sure if this was because of the awful weather or the fact it was a Monday night.
  • You can easily walk to most places from Santa Lucia station, don’t bother paying for the water taxi if you can help it, pained us to pay €7.50 each for a 10-minute journey! ALTHOUGH €20 will give you a 24-hour travel card so this is worth it if you want to explore all the far reaches of Venice and will even take you to some of the cities neighbouring islands, which are highly recommended if you have the time to spare.
  • A gondola holds 6 people, so if you are travelling as a couple ask other’s in the queue if they would like to share a ride with you and split the cost, €40 is a fair few beverages to waste ! 😉

So that was our first Backpacks and Beverages adventure! For us, Italy will always be such a special place, it’s where we found our love for travelling and exploring the world one drink at a time as a couple, and this certainly won’t be our last visit. Watch this space for more Moretti and Aperol fuelled fun! x