Where We Stayed During Our Travels

One question we get a lot from people planning their own trips to Europe, is “Where did you stay?”

Travelers on a budget will frequently use youth hostels, or couchsurf.  While you can find awesome deals at these places, they do come with many pitfalls, and we’ve decided that paying a little extra for some peace, quiet, and comfort was more to our liking. (Most likely, we’ve grown out of our “party” phase.)

One website we utilized HEAVILY was AirBnb. If you’re not familiar with it, it is a website that allows you to book vacation rentals that can provide you with unique insight into the lives of locals. So instead of staying at an expensive hotel or noisy hostel near the outskirts of town, you could potentially stay in someone’s clean, unoccupied apartment near the city center. Or stay with a host family and learn about their country’s culture, share a meal, and listen to their stories. Prices may vary at different times of the year, but we’ve met some truly awesome people through AirBnb, and felt that our hosts greatly enhanced our experiences. We only had one negative experience with AirBnb (not listed below), and it was primarily because the host was new, and was not prepared to have guests (we were his first customers, so he was learning the ropes). We learned from that experience, and prefer to stay with hosts that have several positive reviews.

Another homestay alternative to AirBnb is to house-sit for someone while traveling.

For hostels and hotels, we used Booking.com a lot.

Anyway, here is a list of all the places we’ve stayed in during our travels. With the exception of Morocco, all these places have been handpicked and researched by us, and were generally booked at least 2 weeks before arrival (or in the case of Paris, 3 hours ahead of arrival!). We favored housing that was close to public transportation (within a 10 min walk) or near the city center. Our budget was $75/night for 2 people, and I think we did a pretty good job of sticking to it. We really enjoyed staying at these places, and recommend you check them out as well.

 

ICELAND

SCOTLAND

ENGLAND

  • London – AirBnb (Philippa & Bill) – HIGHLY recommended, they are a great couple to be around, and we’d love to stay with them again.

FRANCE

MOROCCO
(All housing—except Casablanca—pre-arranged via Naturally Morocco)

MEDITERRANEAN CRUISE
(Bari, Katakolon, Izmir, Istanbul, Dubrovnik)

ITALY

AUSTRIA

CZECH REPUBLIC

GERMANY

  • Rothenburg ob de Tauber – Jugendherberge Youth Hostel Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber – Private bedroom, ensuite bathroom.
  • MunichEuro Youth Hotel – Shared bedroom, ensuite bathroom. (Get a private room if possible, we shared a room with 2 other girls, and one of them had a very loud one-night-stand with a random stranger while we were all trying to sleep.)
  • BerlinAirBnb (Simone & Uwe) – Also HIGHLY recommended, we felt like a part of their family and loved spending time with them.

 

Feel free to leave recommendations for places to stay in the comments!

Ourika Valley, High Atlas Mountains

by Karen
20131107-235421.jpg
Ourika Valley is nestled within the heart of the High Atlas Mountains, about 45 mins east-ish of Marrakech. Most people usually visit as a day trip, then return to the city. It’s mostly hiking trails, beautiful (lush!) scenery, picturesque villages, and waterfalls that draw tourists to the area.
20131107-232125.jpg
We pretty much spent our 1.5 days hiking up mountains and enjoying the scenery. The afternoon we arrived at our hotel, we decided to check out the waterfall. It was a bit underwhelming (and overcrowded), having already seen magnificent waterfalls in Iceland.
20131107-235904.jpg
The hiking was strenuous, but good, it was about a 3hr hike roundtrip. Our guide from the hotel, Ahmed, didn’t speak any English at all, but we managed to be able to understand each other.
20131107-235917.jpg
20131107-235928.jpg
To get to the trail, we had to catch a local “bus”, which was essentially a van with as many people squeezed in as possible. It was a fun adventurous ride, albeit watching your driver take sharp turns along cliffsides and driving onto oncoming traffic can cause quite an adrenaline rush.
20131108-004107.jpg
At the bottom of these cliffs was a large riverbed, which at the moment is quite dry. The river usually fills up during the winter rains. But for now, the dry river provides for nice cafe seating.
20131108-004128.jpg
20131107-235440.jpg
Our second day was the big hike. The hotel owner recommended us to take this trail, which would give us excellent views of the valley, and allow us to visit a Berber village. He was right; despite the altitude sickness and heat, the valley was gorgeous, and not something we’d expected to see in Morocco, land of deserts and dried-up rivers.

It took us approximately 4 hours to reach the village. We took many breaks along the way, and I was quite embarrassed about how out of shape I was (our guide was 60, and he was running up the mountain!)
20131108-004941.jpg
20131108-005017.jpg
20131108-005357.jpg
20131108-005424.jpg
20131108-005345.jpg
20131108-005412.jpg
The owner of the hotel had even arranged a cooking lesson for me from one of his chefs, since I mentioned that I loved to cook. I was able to eat the result, a tasty tagine of kefta meatballs.
20131108-015508.jpg
In all, we enjoyed our stay in Ourika Valley. It was a nice mixture of relaxation and hiking, and wish we could’ve stayed an extra day.
20131108-015717.jpg

Essaouira – A Quiet Little Seaside Town

by Karen

I’ll be honest, Marrakech was wonderful in all its sights and smells, people, foods, and activities, but it was somewhat mentally stressful. Yes, we had culture shock, and we always had our guard up. We’d been pickpocketed (thankfully for us, both attempts were unsuccessful), chased after by “local guides”, and harrassed by market vendors. Getting lost in a labyrinth of neverending dark alleyways with no street signs, landmarks, lights, or noises can be very scary. We could never truly relax. And on that note, we were off to the next place on our itinerary, Essaouira!

(The bus from Marrakech to Essaouira is 140DH, runs 8x/day, and is a 3hr ride, with pit stop. You’ll also need to buy a separate ticket for your luggage, 5DH per bag.)
20131101-184240.jpg
20131101-184300.jpg
20131101-184323.jpg
Essaouira is a complete breath of fresh air, both literally and figuratively. It sits right on the Atlantic coast, with great views of the ocean and sunset. It used to be a fortified city in the 18th century, and the town itself is still surrounded by remnants of its walls and towers. On the pier, surrounded by brightly-painted blue rowboats and fishing vessels, is what remains of the Essaouira Ramparts, with beautiful views of the town itself, and providing soldiers a tactical vantage point to fire upon enemies invading its waters.
20131101-184514.jpg
20131101-184545.jpg
20131101-184606.jpg
20131101-184625.jpg
20131101-184747.jpg
20131101-184829.jpg
20131101-184909.jpg
20131102-014815.jpg
Essaouira is also refreshingly small. At least the town within the city walls. Whereas Marrakech was a jumble of streets, Essaouira only has two major streets, both completely parallel to each other, with the smaller side streets in a gridlike pattern (more or less). You could get lost, but it would be very easy to find your way again. You could also easily walk the whole town within two hours.
20131101-184411.jpg
20131101-184439.jpg
Because of its small size, there really aren’t many attractions in the area. This is a place to unwind, relax, catch some sun, and enjoy the ocean breeze. There is a very big beach that gets crowded in the summer. The Ramparts are the only main attraction here. There are a lot of tourists in town, but the atmosphere here is very chill, relaxed, and calm. The street vendors are not aggressive. We felt extremely lazy here, and we were totally ok with it.
20131102-014916.jpg
20131102-014932.jpg
20131102-015037.jpg
20131102-015050.jpg
20131102-015116.jpg
On the pier, there is are several fish stalls where you can order a plate of fish, and they grill it right in front of you. All the stall prices are fixed, so there’s no danger of being cheated. The fish is also fresh, as the fishing boats come back to harbor around noon with the day’s catch (so it’s best to go at lunchtime!). The sardines are probably some of the best I’ve ever had. On the flip side, we will probably stay away from street food for the rest of our stay in Morocco, as the aftermath of the experience is not something we’d want to try again!
20131102-015004.jpg
20131102-015016.jpg
We stayed at Riad Chakir Mogador, conveniently located next to one of the main streets. It was nice when we’d buy stuff and think “Oh, let’s just go drop this off at our room,” or if there was an emergency, “Oh, let’s go back to our room and use the bathroom.” It’s probably bigger than the riad we stayed at in Marrakech, but a lot cozier and homey.
20131102-014846.jpg
20131102-020630.jpg
20131102-020700.jpg
20131102-020728.jpg
Some people stay in Essaouira for a few days, others stay for weeks. We’re only here for 2 nights, but wish we could’ve stayed a 3rd, just to unwind a bit more. 🙂
20131102-015131.jpg

Shameless plug: Our YouTube Channel

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

We’ve been doing a bad job of filming videos during our trip, and when we do, we’ve been doing an equally worse job of uploading them! On top of that, we’ve been adding repetitive YouTube-approved background music to each video! 😀

Anyways, if you haven’t noticed the links in our sidebar, we DO have a YouTube channel, and we try to update it whenever we can obtain a fast wi-fi connection. Please visit and enjoy! 🙂

http://www.youtube.com/sohflo

Iceland, Day 1 – Reykjavik

We landed in Keflavik Airport (KEF) around 6:30 am this morning. It was a smooth flight, Iceland is about 4 hrs ahead of Boston, so obviously we were jetlagged from our red-eye flight.

Hmm, maybe I should study up on this...
One important thing we learned about KEF: get your ass through Immigration & Customs ASAP once your flight lands. We didn’t realize how strict they were about this, so we hung out around the terminal, browsed through gift shops, and pretty much loitered around, trying to recharge and refresh ourselves.

Then a police officer came up to us and barked at us for not having gone through Immigration yet, since they were already closing (by this point it was almost 8am). We also didn’t realize that they weren’t open for continuous hours (I believe they only open after a flight lands). The officer escorted us to some corridor, took our passports, and went inside a room. Then he came back, gave us back our passports with stamps, and shooed us along. We’d just landed in a foreign country and our first instance of human interaction was to annoy a cop, whoops! >_<

20130925-233702.jpg
Once we got to the bus lobby around 8:30am, we also learned that buses only operate after a flight lands, thus the next bus into Reykjavik (45 mins away from KEF) would’ve been at 11:30am. Oh well, we’ll just chill in the lobby and take a nap or something. Fortunately, another woman on our flight also made the same mistake we did with Immigration, and also had to wait for an 11:30 bus. And since there were three people waiting to get into the city, that was enough for the bus driver to give us all a ride on the spot (or “on-demand”). Nice!

During the bus ride, we chatted a bit with the other woman, and learned that she was from around Phoenix, AZ (she looked like a well-seasoned backpacker). She was doing a stopover in Iceland for 3 days before continuing on to Copenhagen to meet up with her daughter in college. She mentioned that she was an avid couchsurfer, and suggested that we look into it for expensive cities like Paris. Essentially you’d be sleeping on someone’s couch for free, but she mentioned that it takes a certain mindset to be a couchsurfer.

Got to our hostel around 9:30ish, we’re staying at a place called Idglo Guesthouse. It’s pretty barebones, and makes me feel like I’m in college again. We have a room to ourselves, and share a bathroom, kitchen, and lounge with other people. It’s also freezing, and forecasted to rain over the next 2 days.

20130925-233934.jpg20130925-233945.jpg20130925-233956.jpg
We pretty much spent the rest of the day napping and walking into town (about 20 mins from our hostel). The main street in Reykjavik is called Laugavegur, which is an incredibly long road with shops, restaurants, and bars. From my observations, Reykjavik has a very large number of Indian, pizza, and Mediterranean restaurants, greatly outnumbering “local” cuisine.

We went to 10-11 (a convenience store) and BONUS (a supermarket) and picked up some breads, cheeses, jellies, and meats, and ate those as our meals for the day (it’s not whale meat or puffin, but we’re working towards it!).
20130925-234315.jpg20130925-234502.jpg
The water here is also interesting. Supposedly the cold tap water is safe enough to drink, and tastes fresh and pure (verified). However, the hot water seems to come from some geothermal hot spring (unverified), and you smell nothing but sulfur. This might pose a problem while showering…

Probably the highlight of my day was discovering a small hot dog shack in the back alley of a rental car shop and having probably one of the best hot dogs I’ve ever eaten (kr 390). It was covered in this sweet brown gravy with mayonnaise, and had this onion relish underneath the hot dog. The bun was well crisped. I’d be tempted to go back if I could remember where it was.
20130925-234726.jpg20130925-234736.jpg

20130925-234201.jpg20130925-234252.jpg

20130925-235016.jpg

20130925-235037.jpg

20130925-235046.jpg

20130925-235057.jpg

Christmas Lodgings in Munich, Germany

English: Christmas market at Munich

English: Christmas market at Munich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our entire trip is pretty much based around being in Germany for Christmas, since we really want to experience German Christmas markets. Being such a major holiday, we figured we needed to start early and look for housing. As of yesterday, Munich was already 49% booked for Christmas week.

Some of the neighborhoods we wanted to check out were Schwabing, Haidhausen, Neuhausen, and Isarvorstadt. Schwabing is where most of the action happens, and is also the most expensive. But luckily we found a hostel right next to the Hauptbahnhof (Hbf—“central station”), which is their major transportation hub, hence easy access to the entire city.

We also noticed that hostel rates shoot up 2-3x on weekends, and this is true for a lot of hostels. For example, a room costing 30€ during the week can cost 70€ on weekends. Thus, we plan to stay in hostels Sun-Thurs, and do AirBnB for Fri-Sat (since that seems to be a more consistent flat rate). This allows us to see different parts of the city, and it’s nice to meet different people along the way. Because we are in Bavaria for approx. two weeks without a solid plan of where to go, we figured it might also be a good idea to look up castles or monasteries in the area where we can spend the night.

And this is the hostel we ended up booking:
http://www.euro-youth-hotel.de/

One less set of keys

We finally packed up and moved out. It’s a strange feeling, being homeless. We don’t have anywhere to go to, and we’re essentially bumming around other people’s homes.

It also feels weird to not have any house keys. We’re pretty much living out of my car for now, which seems like the only consistent roof over our heads.

From a 735 square foot apt, to a 55 liter backpack.

20130926-021118.jpg
20130926-021404.jpg