23 places I’ve visited in my 23 years (part 1)
A few days ago, I turned the ripe old age of 23. This effectively means it’s time to swap my heels for Clarks pumps, start recording Escape to the Country and storing odd buttons in an old biscuit tin. No longer will I be found in the nearest gentrified dive bar sipping £10 cocktails from a rustic-chic tin can on a Friday night, surrounded by handlebar moustaches and people “ironically” singing along to Bieber. Instead, you’ll catch me folded up on the sofa with a lukewarm mug of Horlicks, listening to Radio 4. Clearly, I spend a lot of time with people over the age of 25 and definitely know what they do with their time.
To suitably mark my birthday, I’ve decided to give a quick rundown of 23 places I’ve visited in all my 23 years. What’s a travel blog without the travel, after all?
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
I visited Copenhagen in February 2017. For anyone that isn’t well acquainted with Scandinavian Februaries, let me let you in on a tip: it is COLD. Not normal cold, no; wind-burn, numb-toe, don’t-leave-your-hotel-room cold. If you can push through all that (who needs fully-functioning fingers these days anyway?), it really is a gorgeous, super-clean, trendy city.
Highlight: Reffen Food Market (formally at PapirØen, now at Refshaleøen) is a sustainable mish-mash of street food market stalls and general gastronomic wonder. It also offers a welcome reprieve from the weather if you’re into that (I bloody well was).
2. Dresden, Germany
Dresden is one of my favourite German cities, and not just because I’m a massive history nerd. The architecture is breathtaking, there are museums to suit every possible type of person (seriously…50 museums, 60 galleries!) and gorgeous views of the Elbe. To put it in perspective, I got there after a very long and delayed Flixbus ride. I realised that it was, in fact, a bank holiday and subsequently no shops and hardly any attractions were open. And it was raining. But I still loved it!
Highlight: The Frauenkirche offers a fantastic 67m viewing platform, as well as views into the inner and main stone dome.
3. Ljlublijana, Slovenia
Ljubljana is Slovenia’s capital city, known for its winding, leafy, car-free city streets and quirky options for food and accommodation. Top tip: visit in Autumn and you’ll get to see the city changing colour in the most glorious way.
Highlight: Mango mojitos at Asian restaurant DA BU DA – so lethal they led me to a backstreet karaoke-cum-shisha bar, watching tipsy Slovenians murder classic rock. 10/10 would absolutely recommend.
4. Madrid, Spain
Is it a tourist hotspot? Absolutely. Does that make it less worthy of a visit? Absolutely not. Madrid is teeming with amazing bars, culture, attractions, churches and delicious traditional food (if you search hard enough). One of my favourite trips to date.
Highlight: Rooftop cocktails at The Hat (are you sensing a theme?) Amazing views, amazing rum.
5. The Algarve, Portugal
I’ve been lucky enough to spend many summers of my life in the sunny seaside town of Praia da Luz, located on the stunning western Algarve coastline. Although it was traditionally a fishing village, the town is now a resort that’s popular with tourists because of the great restaurants, gorgeous beaches and warm weather.
Highlight: Visit the medieval Church of Nossa Senhora da Luz on a sunny day. Originally built around 1521 but recently refurbished, the contrast between the bright white building and the blue sky is breathtaking.
6. Edinburgh, Scotland
You don’t need me to sit here and tell you how glorious Edinburgh is; chances are, you’re familiar with the stunning skyline, quaint cobbled streets and rolling hills. My own trip in February of this year was magical; the city was rendered by a cold, wintery light, perfect for museum-browsing and coffee-shop-going (my favourite pastimes).
Highlight: The Stand Comedy Club is an institution in Edinburgh, a place famous for its love of comedy. Go to the Friday or Saturday Show to see a selection of the best up-and-coming/local comedians the city has to offer.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is popular with the English, and in particular, with stags. Head out here on any given weekend and you will become front-row spectators to the ‘Best of British Binging’, starring Mike from Bradford, 11 Czech beers deep and currently midway through an intense altercation with a lamppost. My favourite trip to Prague took place around Christmas time. Strolling along Charles Bridge eating an apple and cinnamon Trdelník (chimney cake), drinking mulled wine on the banks of the Vltava river, browsing the market at the Old Town Square. Even Merry Mike singing ’12 Days of Christmas’ off-key in the background couldn’t dampen my spirits.
Highlight: The John Lennon Wall is an incredible shrine to John Lennon and The Beatles, featuring graffitied lyrics, pictures and quotes. It used to be a great place to pay homage to the group but unfortunately the graffiti has become less tasteful, more tasteless in recent years.
8. Paphos, Cyprus
The harbour town of Paphos in Cyprus is popular with tourists due to the fact that the temperature rarely dips below 20 degrees, even in the spring. This means that it’s fairly anglicized (think puce-coloured, Manchester-United shirt-wearing, bald Steves watching Only Fools and Horses in an Irish pub). If you look past all of this, you’ll understand why it was voted the European Capital of Culture for 2017: it’s inundated with romantic castles, churches, blindingly-white beaches and fun and fascinating cultural events.
Highlight: The Kato Paphos Archaeological Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for good reason: the site dates back to prehistoric times and features incredible Roman architecture and gorgeously preserved mosaics.
9. Rome, Italy
I’m not going to add to the ridiculous amount of Rome travel guides already in existence on the internet. I will tell you that in 2014, I watched the Germany-Argentina World Cup Final from the Piazza Madonna di Loreto, next to the gargantuan Il Vittoriano (or ‘wedding cake monument’) on a screen so large it most likely caused issues for overhead air traffic. I sat on the floor in a crowd of thousands, drinking lukewarm Stella from the can, and I still remember feeling very part of something (football mob mentality, probably).
Highlight: See above.
10. Venice, Italy
Venice often gets a bad rap. Give it a Google and you’ll find the phrases commonly attributed to the city to be “war-like’, “tourist-ridden” and “so expensive we could only take 1 of our 3 children and now Emily and Tom want to live with their grandparents”. Amidst all this, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Venice is a gothic labyrinth of palazzi, secluded bars and charming back streets. I shied away from all the central chaos and opted to stay at the gorgeous Viktoria Palace Hotel at Venice Lido. It’s rare for me to feel classy but I very much did, drinking wine and watching the sunset over the Venetian Lagoon.
Highlight: Would you believe me if I said the water taxi? The cheapest, most convenient way to see the city is via water taxi. If you close your eyes you can feel the sun on your face and pretend that you’re being chauffeured around, instead of on a hard plastic chair, surrounded by irritable Italians.
11. Milan, Italy
A far cry from tourist-trap Rome and bustling Venice, Milan is Italy’s good-looking, successful older sister. She always dresses impeccably, has a great job in business, is cool and street-smart. This stiletto-wearing city is the prosperous financial hub of Italy. It gleams with aperitivo gems, dazzling shopping arcades, more luxury brands than you can shake a stick at and a smorgasbord of white-clothed restaurants. However, it’s also interspersed with the hauntingly beautiful gothic architecture of, for example, the Duomo di Milano and the baked red brick walls of Sforza Castle. A truly Jekyll-and-Hyde city.
Highlight: Milan is undoubtedly an urban hotspot, so if you’re craving some greenery head to Parco Sempione. Situated in northwest Milan, this 116 acre-large park is the perfect place to enjoy a picnic. There are also regular events; I have a fond, if bizarre, memory of eating melted cheese on the grass listening in on some sort of soul music festival. A joy.
Click here for part 2!