From January 28th to July 25th of 2017, I travelled my way through Europe beginning in the UK and ending in Cyprus.
The borders of Europe in the east are arbitrary and there are various definitions of which countries are included. In my opinion I include Cyprus but consider Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan to be in Asia, and Turkey to at least be mostly in Asia.
I now find myself 7 months in, having started in the UAE January 4th, and finished what I consider the Europe half of my round the world trip. I thought I would summarize the adventure so far with a focus on one of the most important aspects of my life overseas: coffee.
I didn’t keep a list as I went, but it took all of ten minutes to locate every café that I loved on the way. You could drop me in most of the cities I’ve been to and I could pretty easily find my way back to my favourite café. Many places won’t make the list, but any I mention have the official seal of approval, and if you find yourself visiting any of these cities I’d recommend seeking these places out.
Without further ado, here’s what my time in Europe looked like.
I began in Manchester, UK, and was incredibly fortunate to spend my time there living with my friend Dalip and his family. I did my utmost to assimilate to British life, drinking copious amounts of tea and, to my surprise, starting to care about (or at least enjoy watching) football.
Dalip’s family is Sikh, and they let me ask a lot of questions and come along to the gurdwara one night. Everyone is welcome at the gurdwara regardless of faith, so despite feeling very intimidated walking through the centre of the room to bow to the holy scripture Guru Granth Sahib, it became evident later at langar (free vegetarian food for everyone) that I was indeed welcome and that everyone was friendly.
I was definitely spoiled staying with his family, and Dalip’s mom made the best Masala Chai I’ve ever had.
With Manchester as a base, Dalip took me to see both Leeds, where he went to university, and Liverpool, which I’m obligated to say is inferior to Manchester in every way. Liverpool was beautiful, but as soon as we got out of the car some guy with nothing better to do started yelling at us, proclaiming Liverpool to be god’s land. The cathedral was nice anyways, and didn’t yell at us.
I realized early in the trip that while it is great to have a plan, it rarely stays the same. My first major road block which ended up changing the entire trip, was discovering what the Schengen Area is. As I was planning my next steps in Manchester, I discovered that most of the countries I intended to spend the next six months in were in the Schengen Area, and thus I could only be in them for three.
This might have been the best thing to happen to me so far. I loved Western Europe, but as I moved east I found that I enjoyed exploring lesser known places, with histories I’d never learned and languages I’d never heard. Having to shorten my time in Shengen countries meant adding more countries later on, and spending more time in the Balkans, which is a region I came to love.
Accepting early on in the trip that I would be wrong about many things, I came upon opportunities that I wouldn’t have been able to plan. From Manchester, I took advantage of the proximity and took my first Ryanair flight to Dublin, Ireland, which was not a country on my original list.
As the first diversion from ‘the plan,’ Ireland was great for many reasons.
I stayed in my first hostel and explored a European city alone for the first time. (Doha is the first city I ever explored completely alone.) Seeing Trinity College, The Book of Kells, the Irish Harp, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral kept me pretty busy, but I was able to find an awesome café.
If you are in Dublin, check out Craft Coffee Roasters. It’s quality.
Ireland was short and I returned to Manchester, so at this point I still felt comfortable while worrying a little at what I’d soon be taking on. Before independent travel would begin however, I flew to Lisbon, Portugal where my sister and father were waiting for me.
It had already been over a month away from home, so I was very happy for the week of family travel I got here. My sister and I were well trained in travel by our parents, by which I mean that taxis weren’t even considered as a means of exploring Lisbon. This, at its worst, resulted in 21km of walking in one day. Add to that the total lack of flat streets in Lisbon, and we all collapsed into bed at the end of the day.
My dad and I complained often about the surprising lack of good coffee in the city, though we did find a place called Fabrica that passed the test.
The solution to this problem is port. The port in Lisbon was so good, and my favourite memory is of the three of us sitting on the walls of the castle overlooking the city drinking port together.
We took two trips outside of Lisbon to visit the walled town of Óbidos, and the mountainous town of Sintra. The Pena Palace in Sintra is pretty unique, and after a more demanding trek up to the Alta Cruz, it was nice to explore.
The week was soon over, and it was time to say the real goodbye to my family. They saw me on to my first (and hopefully last) night train that would take me from Lisbon to Madrid. To any prospective travelers: for no reason I can think of, traveling from Portugal to Spain is way more difficult than it should be.
In the morning, after a genuinely uncomfortable night, I arrived in Madrid. Madrid is still one of my favourite cities of the entire trip, I loved it here.
On the first day I wandered into the park while waiting for my hostel check in time, and ended up staying for at least an hour listening to these flamenco guitarists.
I particularly love this memory because I got talking with one of the guitarist’s son, and had a great conversation with my limited Spanish and his limited English. He told me that he considers Bilbao to be the most beautiful city in Spain and I learned my first rule of travel: the list doesn’t shrink as you cross off places you’ve been, it expands. I’ve been to more cities so far that I didn’t plan on visiting than ones that I did.
In Madrid there is a Golden Triangle of art museums, and I was able to cross off a bucket list item in seeing Picasso’s Guernica. This is the city that most reminded me of my mom, so to see the original of a painting that hung on our house my whole life and that my mom studied was surreal.
There also happened to be an MC Escher exhibition in Madrid at the time, so seeing those originals was an experience as well.
I’m going to give both Spain and Italy a general approval rating when it comes to coffee, but I’ll mention that in Madrid I spent a good amount of time reading Les Misèrables at Least Café Belle Bonbon. The staff knew me after the first day and it was always nice to visit.
For three months after that first night train to Madrid, I enjoyed the freedom afforded by a continuous Eurail pass. While Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy make it unpleasant by requiring additional reservations on top of the ticket, for the amount I travelled the pass was well worth it. I took a day trip from Madrid south to Toledo, and spent my time there in a constant state of awe at the beauty of the city.
My next stop after Madrid was Barcelona, but I spent my first day there on a day trip to Zaragoza. I originally planned to visit my friend Cristina in her hometown of Turin, but since she is brilliant she was studying in Zaragoza and I adjusted my plans. Cristina made a complete Italian lunch and brought me to her approved gelato place, so I feel like I got the best of both worlds.
The next day, I finally started exploring Barcelona.
Barcelona has a lot to offer and is truly an amazing place. The catch? Everything was expensive. You can see a lot of Park Güell for free, but if you want that iconic view you’re going to have to wait in line and pay. I could see myself enjoying Barcelona much more if it was my only destination, and my vacation money could be focused there, but as this was early in the trip I couldn’t bring myself to pay for too many things.
I didn’t mind paying for the big ticket item though, and La Sagrada Familia lived up to the hype.
Besides, I won’t see anything like this anywhere else right?
Spain is a beautiful country, and I spent a significant amount of my Schengen time there without any regret. I saw Madrid, Toledo, Zaragoza, and Barcelona. I didn’t see Bilbao, Seville, Granada… do you see my problem? I will definitely return someday.
While in Barcelona, I decided to take a bus to the relatively unknown country Andorra, located in the Pyrenees mountains between France and Spain.
After hours of beautiful scenery I arrived in the capital Andorra La Vella, and did a quick exploration of the city.
A particular highlight was this 9th century church.
I was still new to solo travel at this point, and was feeling overwhelmed at how much I had to think of and plan myself. I ended up once again changing my plans to make my way to a friend of my mom living in Italy. I took the train from Barcelona to Marseille, France, where I spent the night.
My favourite book is the Count of Monte Cristo, so I made sure to see the Château d’If while there.
I consistently enjoy these moments of seeing for real places that were only ever a part of stories previously.
As much as I wanted to stop in Monaco, I kept going until arriving in Siena. The distinction of most beautiful city of the trip is currently enjoyed by both Siena and Prague.
I was welcomed in by Stephanie and Gianfranco, and based myself in Siena for my Italy travels. On the first night I assured them both when I arrived that I wasn’t too tired, then went up to my room and slept for 14 hours. The next day Stephanie and I caught up and told stories while sitting in Siena’s piazza.
I’m willing to say that the food in Italy is the best of any country I’ve been to so far, and I’m not sure if I’d be able to find bad wine there if I tried. Additionally, the access to gelato is very important.
In addition to being in the country of food, I was treated to dinner at Gianfranco’s restaurant one night. What can I say other than it was as incredible as you might expect a nice restaurant in the heart of Siena to be. There’s no way I’ll top it anytime soon.
The restaurant even had a wine cellar! If you plan on visiting Italy I highly recommend Siena and the restaurant Compagnia dei Vinattieri, it’s just fantastic.
I had visited Rome a few years ago and loved it, so this time I decided to explore north. My first trip from Siena was to Venice.
It was very touristy, which was certainly reflected in the prices, but no less impressive because of it. The gondaleers call out to tourists passing by to offer their €80 gondola rides. I must not have the look of an €80 tourist because they always silently watched me walk by.
Where I happily spent my money however was on a concert in a church one night. Venetian musicians were performing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and I got there early enough for a front row seat to what seemed to me a virtuoso performance.
Venice was fun to explore, and I was happy with only three days. I ended my time there on the piano in the train station, looking forward to the day I’m reunited with my own back home.
The easiest city to visit from Siena was Florence, as any connection passed through there anyways.
I love the silk ties that you can get there, and the Ponte Vecchio is always cool to see, not that I can afford anything being sold on it.
Somehow when visiting Florence a few years ago I missed the Uffizi Gallery, so I was sure to fix that and see this Botticelli.
After a few more days in Siena, and a Stephanie-guided tour through the Montalcino region, I started moving north.
I spent a day in Milan, which wasn’t quite enough though I had an excellent time.
Seeing Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco “The Last Supper” made me grateful to be on a trip where I get to see so many of the world’s treasures.
What made Milan really special though was my friend Dallas. Before I left, she gave me 12 letters to be opened on my trip, and one of them was labelled “Open sometime in Milan.” Inside was a quest to find a certain pastry shop, which let me end my time in Italy like this.
I am frequently asked what my favourite and least favourite country of the trip is, so I have go to answers for both. My least favourite stop of the trip was the absolutely beautiful country of Switzerland.
I’m sure that most of my issues were circumstantial, and would not advise anyone against visiting Switzerland. It just so happened that after enjoying the food and coffee in Italy for so long, paying $8 for a bad coffee in Switzerland kinda put me off.
I stayed in Zürich and visited Geneva, and loved the train rides for the beauty of the landscapes we passed through.
I’ll have to return and do Switzerland properly someday.
Since some of the Eurail trains required buying a reservation, I was happy to find a 4 train reservationless path to Brussels that passed through Luxembourg.
The day was spent simply walking through the city taking in the scenery. I loved the bridges, and enjoyed learning some of Luxembourg’s history.
Later that day I arrived in Brussels, Belgium, where I would spend a little over a week.
As expected, the waffles were great, and it didn’t take long to find a quality café where I could start my days: OR espresso bar.
What I was most excited for was the arrival of a travel companion from home, my good friend Luke.
I was so excited to share part of my trip with such a good friend, as he was able to see three countries with me. We started out exploring Brussels, including a stop at the famous Atomium, before branching out to see Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp.
From Brussels it was a short train ride to Bruges, a medieval town known for its beautiful architecture and canals.
If you’re considering a Belgium trip, it takes an hour by train to Bruges, then a half hour back towards Brussels to Ghent, making for a picturesque day in Flanders.
Belgium was an easy country to visit, with well connected tourist friendly cities and beautiful countryside in between. On our way to the next country, we spent an afternoon in Antwerp checking out the Diamond District and this wooden escalator.
Completing the tour of Benelux, our next destination was Amsterdam, in The Netherlands.
Amsterdam had excellent coffee. Coffee & Juices, and Coffee Roastery Old West are both great places, but the best coffee I had in Amsterdam was traditionally prepared Ethiopian coffee at Lalibela Restaurant. The Ethiopian food was great too!
We managed to check out some other cities as well. A train ride past fields of tulips brought us on day to Rotterdam, and another day to The Hague.
The Hague has an Indonesian restaurant called Restaurant Dayang that had excellent Indonesian coffee (and food).
Our visiting of Amsterdam included seeing original Van Goghs and enjoying the beauty of the city in general, and after about a week Luke and I continued on to our last destination together.
I loved Berlin, and rank it among my favourite cities. There’s just so much here, including many things I didn’t expect. The bust of Nefertiti for one, and the Ishtar Gate for another.
In addition to the many museums, the Berlin’s turbulent history is evident in its landmarks. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe was impressive and sad, located close to the Brandenburg Gate.
I thought that the best museum there was the Topography of Terror Museum, located in the former Gestapo Headquarters by the largest remaining section of the Berlin Wall.
History and culture aside, Berlin had great coffee.
My favourite coffee place was called Espresso – Ambulanz, and that’s where Luke and I spent our last morning before he returned to Canada and I continued on my way.
Italy, France, the UK, Spain, Germany, they’re all amazing and quite deservedly some of the most visited countries in the world. I was more than happy to see the many priceless paintings and artifacts, and experience some of the world’s most dominant cultures, but I was ready for something new. I didn’t feel like I had covered any uncommon ground yet, so while it isn’t the most exotic destination, I was excited to experience Prague, in the Czech Republic.
This was the perfect place to be for Easter, with the dazzling colours, the smell of woodsmoke, and the sounds of happy people enjoying the festivities.
As I mentioned before, Prague is beautiful. It was originally a masterpiece painting, until the magic of the Astronomical Clock turned it into a real city. Don’t bother fact checking, that’s how it happened.
The highlight of my time here was not only accidentally finding the church featured in the movie Amadeus, but later that day attending the organ concert being held there. I will never tire of hearing Toccata and Fugue on a church organ.
Good coffee in Prague: Original Coffee.
In keeping with the musical theme, my next two stops were in Austria, beginning with Vienna.
To my continuing surprise, I was never impressed with the coffee in Austria. Their famous coffee houses were beautiful, and the alcohol was plentiful, but the coffee just wasn’t great. If they moved some money from their wallpaper budget to their coffee budget, there would be an alarming increase in quality.
Nevertheless, Vienna was incredible. It might have been even better if it was the main stop on a trip. I didn’t have the energy at that time to visit all of the museums, and it was one of the very few cities where I couldn’t find a hostel in the city centre. (The hostels exist, but after a certain price point I don’t acknowledge their existence anymore.) What I loved most was the art of the Belvedere Palace, where “The Kiss” by Klimt is.
Imperial pancakes get second place.
As amazing as Vienna was though, there are very few places that can compete with my mindless joy in Salzburg.
As the birthplace of Mozart, I was already excited to be here.
But the real reason I was so happy, that made the rain a laughable attempt at dampening my spirits, was that Salzburg is where The Sound of Music was made.
If that movie holds any significance for you, and if you happen to love the genius of Mozart, get to Salzburg quick.
It’s the garden! THE GARDEN.
Ok. Time to find out what’s beyond Austria.
The answer was only an hour away in Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. My arrival was cold but the people were warm.
As if to apologize for the lack of quality I had experienced for the past week, there exists a place downtown called Caffe 4U that roasts their own coffee, and lets you order by the country of origin.
Sumatran and Ethiopian are my favourites, but I was happy to try Zambia as well. With this place found on the first day, my visit was destined to be good.
Bratislava was the first of many places where I encountered people at the hostel complaining that there was nothing to do and that the city is boring. In my experience this has never been true. Seriously. Never.
The hike up to the castle gives amazing views, and as I write this in Jerusalem, I’m incredibly jealous of past me who walked up to the castle in a sweater and jacket. Middle Eastern summer weather is not for this Canadian.
There’s another higher hike worth taking, as it brings you through a less busy area of the city. On top of the hill is a war monument and views of not only the city but the castle as well.
I felt like I caught my breath in Bratislava, and found the energy to happily take on my next stop: Budapest, Hungary.
This is a city that has it all. The architecture is incredible.
The food is unique. (Somloi cake, uniquely Hungarian.)
And the history is fascinating. Hungary is such a unique country, and I spent an entire afternoon going through their history museum. It’s the most comprehensive history of a nation I’ve ever encountered, with some fascinating objects like a Hunnic skull and Beethoven’s piano.
Much like it happened in Prague, I visited Szent Istvan’s cathedral a few minutes before a concert, and I was once again treated to Tocatta and Fugue (amongst other songs) by a virtuoso organist.
There was good coffee to be had all over town, I particularly liked Apricot Coffee and Fekete.
The city is beautiful at night, and having only spent a week, I’m sure I need to return someday.
From Budapest, I was looking for a convenient way to Serbia and wasn’t satisfied with my options. I looked at a map and saw a nearby city in Romania that I’d never heard of before, and before I knew it I was in Timișoara.
This city was gorgeous, with flowers everywhere and an amazing church.
This being one of my first encounters with Orthodox churches, I was properly impressed.
My time here was packed, as I went on a trip through the hostel to the Danube by the border with Serbia for a boat tour.
The goal of the trip was to see this carving of the Dacian king Decebalus.
After the boat ride we climbed up for a picnic overlooking the river, which made for a peaceful day in the beautiful nature of Romania.
Back in Timișoara I was feeling particularly lonely one evening and was walking around town. I was surprised when I turned a corner and heard singing, and followed my ear. On the best day I could’ve found it, I enjoyed a free concert by the Timișoara choir performing songs from The Sound of Music, Les Misèrables, and Disney.
I left Timișoara pretty happy, and nervous about my next stop in Belgrade, Serbia.
If you haven’t noticed the theme yet I’ll tell you: I have no idea what I’m doing. I continue to worry about my next destination, because surely it’s more difficult and dangerous than where I’ve been so far. Five minutes after leaving the train station in Belgrade, I’m in conversation with a stranger in the street who’s happy I’m visiting Serbia and welcoming me to the city.
Not only that, but I met a guy named Luka who is a fantastic person, and is one of the genuine connections I’ve made on this trip, beyond the usual “how are you, where are you from, have a good trip” you go through so many times at hostels. He showed me the city, claiming not to be the best guide and proceeding to tell me tons of history I’d never heard before.
I also had a strange experience with coffee. A fellow Canadian named Zain who was also staying at Karavan Inn taught me how to make Serbian coffee, and the quality of coffee at the hostel was so good that I didn’t really venture out to cafés.
It would be an understatement to say that I enjoyed Belgrade, it was a fantastic city of wonderful people that I consider along with Madrid and Berlin as a favourite city.
I continued on my Eurail pass to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.
Cogito Coffee Shop was my coffee choice here.
Zagreb wasn’t the most exciting city, but it was worth visiting for sure. It was cool to see a wall of Glagolitic in the main cathedral, and the Museum of Broken Relationships is unique and both dad and hilarious.
Zagreb was a convenient hub to visit Slovenia from, and return through on my way to Bosnia and Herzegovina. I first went north on one of the most picturesque train rides of my journey to Slovenia’s capital, Ljubljana.
I found Ljubljana to be a strange but pleasant city. Cafetino was the best coffee place I found, and I frequented a restaurant serving Slovenian food called Gostilna Pod Vrbo.
From excellent food, to a hilltop castle, to an artsy autonomous district, Ljubljana had a lot to offer.
Where I truly fell in love with Slovenia though, was Vintgar Gorge.
Walking through Vintgar Gorge was one of the most peaceful experiences of my trip, I could hardly believe the place was real.
Returning from the gorge, the town of Bled was also very nice and had its own specialty dessert.
As a final Slovenian experience, I went to the Skocjan Caves. It wasn’t Vintgar Gorge, but it was certainly beautiful in its own right.
From Slovenia, I passed back through Zagreb to my answer to the question “what’s been your favourite country so far?” The answer remains Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first of my three stops in the country is really what solidified its status as my favourite. I would have still loved Sarajevo and Mostar, but the variety and wonder that Jajce brought to the journey is what makes it number one.
Let’s start with: there’s a waterfall right in town.
There were very few tourists in town, so I was able to enjoy much of Jajce by myself. In fact, I had the castle completely to myself when I visited, and greatly enjoyed the solitude and the breeze as I surveyed Jajce and the surrounding land.
Jajce already looks pretty good right? Well that’s not all. An hour walk from town are the water mills.
Yes. A place like this exists and it is called Jajce.
I then took a bus to the capital, Sarajevo.
As usual, I was nervous. Isn’t Sarajevo dangerous? The bus station review on Google maps told me I was going to get mugged, what am I doing here?
Oh look coffee.
This was such a sad and incredible city to visit. The scars of the recent war are evident everywhere, not just on the buildings.
You can be having a great day walking through the city only to see a sudden reminder of the trauma the city experienced in the form of a Sarajevo rose.
I think that this is an effective reminder that the people still live with these events. If you’ve lost somebody, a memory can find you abruptly during your day the same as if you come across a Sarajevo rose. Life goes on but the past stays with you.
Espresso Lab and Caffe Divan, as well as the old city in general, are good coffee choices.
It was actually at Espresso Lab that I made another connection that I hope to be a lasting one, a guy named Jeppe. We spent the whole day talking and wandering around the city, talking about music, travel, and our reasons for setting out on our adventures. The next day he introduced me to Kathleen, and the three of us met each night from Sarajevo to Mostar to drink coffee and enjoy each other’s company.
Mostar was a relaxing way to end my time in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main attraction is the old bridge, so when I wasn’t admiring the bridge I was happily drinking Bosnian coffee at my hostel and resting.
It turns out that the order I visit countries greatly affects how much I enjoy them. When I got to Split, Croatia, fellow travelers were happily discussing how cheap it is and how few tourists there are. I took a few days to warm up to Split because after Bosnia and Herzegovina, I wanted to complain about how expensive and busy it was. Nevertheless, I ended up enjoying my time in Split and Dubrovnik.
Split was a beautiful seaside city, with the Roman ruins of Diocletian’s Palace (sphynx included) at its heart.
After a few days of searching, I decided that Choco Café had the best coffee in town. After finding good coffee, spending an afternoon with a half kilo of cherries from the fruit market, and finding solitude hiking up the nearby hill, I found myself enjoying Split.
Taking a bus down the coast brought me to the famous city of Dubrovnik, where I could pretend to be in Game of Thrones as I walked its beautiful walls.
What really surprised me is that despite the number of tourists and the fact that it was more expensive than my recent stops, I still felt it to be a worthwhile stop.
Like when I left Germany though, I was ready to get back on the road less traveled. I have very simple needs. I just wanted a vehicle free old town with its own walls, both mountain and ocean scenery at the same time, with the convenience of the euro without being expensive, oh and with excellent coffee.
I got exactly what I wanted in Kotor, Montenegro.
What really made Kotor special for me was Letrika Caffe Bar and its charcoal coffee. I will learn how to make this, don’t worry.
From Kotor it was a short bus ride to the town of Perast, with the island monastery Our Lady of the Rocks.
The natural beauty of the Balkans is incredible. Montenegro is one place where I really felt the traveler problem of too many places not enough time. I think it’s a safe bet that I’ll be back to the Balkans before long.
On my way out of Montenegro I stopped for a day in the capital, Podgorica. I loved two things about the city. Firstly, the Karver – Bookstore and Café under a bridge serves quality coffee, and secondly I was taken by surprise with the beauty of the cathedral.
I spent the following day on planes, trains, and automobiles, and by that I mean three different buses, going through Kosovo.
It was a brief visit, but the country was intriguing and the people very friendly. Certainly worth a more in depth visit.
After the long day of travel, I made it to my hostel in Skopje, Macedonia.
Why is it good when your plans fall through? When my Schengen problems arose, I found myself with three months of time I didn’t know what to do with, but already I was thankful for the extra time in the Balkans, which I didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I did. I think it was important for my plans to fall through because I could make new ones based on my now months of experience traveling. Back in Canada I thought “Macedonia? Too dangerous, I can skip over it.” As I made my way through the Balkans I kept encountering people telling me that Macedonia was their favourite, it’s completely safe, the people are wonderful. I just needed a few months of confidence to make myself go, and I didn’t regret it at all.
It was cool to see where Mother Teresa comes from!
The Coffee Factory is a place where I happily spent many hours.
Skopje has potential, there’s a lot there worth seeing. Its current struggle to find a national identity that encompasses all of its people is holding it back, but with many different groups to draw from, being the birthplace of a saint, and having good coffee, I think it could be great.
My exit from Macedonia included a bus ride next to a Macedonian movie star and meeting a Bulgarian world record holder. It was interesting to say the least.
Macedonia and my next country gave me another rule of travel: learn from the locals how to cross the street. I tend to rely on the law of human shields: if there’s a person between you and the oncoming traffic you’re good to go, but with crosswalks in the middle of busy city streets, Bulgaria required more attention.
Quite unexpectedly, Bulgaria’s capital Sofia became one of my favourite cities quickly. The architecture is unique and the city feels both big and small at the same time. It’s not busy enough to be overwhelming but it has everything a major city does, including the notable landmark that is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.
One factor that may or may not (but definitely does) influence my appraisal of the city is my Golden Triangle of Coffee. There were three quality cafés that I spent my days between, making sure that my path to any major sight passed through at least one. The cafés are: Barista Coffee and more, Factory Rainbow, and Green Deli Café.
I wanted to check out another Bulgarian city, and found my way to Plovdiv, which claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe.
The heat and lack of AC in the hostel kept me grumpy for most of the time, but the café Malkata Biblioteka managed to make up for it. It has the distinction of the first perfect vanilla latte I’ve had on the trip. Perfect is when the balance is perfect and you don’t taste the components separately, but smoothly as one glorious drink.
I was sad to leave the coffee shop behind, but not the heat.
Of all the countries I visited in Europe, the one I was least comfortable in was not the one I expected. It wasn’t Switzerland, despite the terrifying prices, it wasn’t Macedonia, with its sketchier reputation, it was Greece.
That shouldn’t suggest, however, that Greece wasn’t incredible anyways. Of my four stops in Greece, Thessaloniki was my first.
From the mosaics in the Rotunda, to the drug dealers outside my hostel, Thessaloniki was an interesting place.
It took more effort than usual, but I found a café worth walking across town for: The Blue Cup.
Thanks to a friend I made in the hostel and my ensuing questions, this would also be the closest I get to Russia on this trip. My friend Pavel and I complained about the weather and explored the amazing sights of Thessaloniki.
My next two stops were my favourite parts of Greece: Kalabaka and Delphi.
The monasteries of Meteora from Kalabaka were like nothing I’d ever seen. The monasteries were peaceful with amazing artwork inside and breathtaking view of the town.
The path down to town was a tranquil escape from the sun, and I’d recommend Kalabaka as essential if you’re visiting Greece. My friend Elektra told me to go, and I’m so glad I listened.
I traded Greek islands for the time to visit Delphi, so while I don’t regret it, I’ll need to return to experience that side of Greece.
The ruins of Delphi are amazing, they give you the sense that you are indeed at the centre of the world.
Delphi has a great coffee shop called Melopoleio, as if you needed another reason to visit.
After Delphi I finally arrived in Athens, a city that friends and locals warned me about repeatedly.
One temple of Zeus and a few art and archeological treasures later, and I passed my time in Greece without any incidents.
The attractions in Athens cost you, but I suppose for such an iconic location it’s worth it.
I didn’t explore Athens as thoroughly as I’d have liked to, but Just Made 33 has Owen approved coffee.
My final destination was a short flight away: Cyprus.
Ridiculously hot, but also ridiculously beautiful, Cyprus was a good way to end my Europe adventures.
I stayed in Nicosia, the last divided capital city in the world, and visited both Cyprus, and the occupied Northern Cyprus.
My favourite thing was the Rocks of Aphrodite, where the goddess is supposed to have been born, while my favourite experience was trying the oldest named wine in the world.
In downtown Nicosia, Pieto is the coffee shop to check out.
Before I knew it, half a year had passed and I was getting on a flight to Israel. You know, a nice stress free transition to my Asian adventures beginning with Israel and Palestine.
I miss home, my family, my friends, my piano, and much more. I miss making coffee for myself, and I miss making coffee for others. I’ve added to my constant search for a piano the search for someone to play cards with. I keep a pack in my backpack just in case, and recently got what was either approval or judgement from a security guard that searched my bag.
As much as I miss home, whenever I think about what I’d want to do if I were home the answer remains the same: travel.
I still want to see everywhere. I haven’t even completed Europe, and haven’t even started Africa. There’s just so much, but it’s a challenge I’m more than happy to take on. I continue to meet awesome people, occasionally making connections that I believe will last, and that alone makes it worth it.
To anyone who has been following along, I appreciate the support and hope you’re enjoying seeing some amazing places from my perspective. I’ll be happy to share all the stories when I see you again!
For now, I’m taking on Asia.
And its coffee.