Ok, it’s been 2018 for a hot minute now, so instead, welcome to the first Amateur’s Guide of 2018! I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and the start of your new year. I’m writing this at the end of April, despite visiting Prague mid-March. It’s fine, this is a long blog post and takes a lot of time so you know what you’re in for when you visit Prague as an amateur too.
Stretched across fourteen islands on the east ‘bum’ of Sweden lies the capital Stockholm, a vibrant, friendly city buzzing with tourists and residents alike wrapped in hats, scarves, and drinking expensive coffee. Welcome to an amateur’s guide, where I, an amateur traveller, talk about my experiences as I set off to new, exciting places in the world carrying not enough money and a too heavy suitcase.
This chapter, I’m off to Scandinavia again to a new capital. Earlier this month, I fell in love with Copenhagen, a quiet city with palaces, parks, and cycle roads scattered across this small haven. I knew once I had left, that I would be returning to Scandinavia within the year, and Stockholm was a place I’d always wanted to visit. It’s a vibrant city filled with culture, history, and lots and lots of food.
In & Around
Getting to Stockholm was actually one of the worst travelling experiences I’ve ever had, but don’t worry, it was all to do with me and not airlines or transport provided. So I doubt your experience would be the same. Missed trains in the middle of the night meant an expensive taxi from London Paddington to Gatwick Airport, meaning 24 hours of no sleep. I don’t think I’ve ever understood the term ‘dead man walking’ until now.
Getting around Stockholm is the opposite of a problem. There are many ways to get from the airport to the city centre. The best by far is the Arlanda Express, a quick, luxurious train that takes 20 minutes and takes you straight into Stockholm. It isn’t the cheapest option, but if you’ve been awake for too long, been stressed and had a break down while back in England, a smooth, beautiful train that takes you through Sweden’s autumnal countryside is just what you need. The trains are about every twenty minutes and run all day and almost all night. It looks like a long way, but the speed you’re going at and the comfort you’re feeling, you’ll think you weren’t riding that train long enough.
After that, just like in Copenhagen, you’re walking. And it’s so worth it. There is a metro line you can take if you’re planning on going into the suburbs outside of the centre, but I wouldn’t use it to get to tourist attractions as they’re all so close to one another. Stockholm is also super safe and, while busier than Copenhagen, still not overcrowded and unsafe. I felt completely comfortable and safe walking around the city late after dinner out, even down quiet streets where I wasn’t too sure where I was. So don’t worry about walking to and from places at night, and people will be more than happy to stop and help you. Scandinavia on the whole is very good at cracking on with their English lessons, and even speaking to older people we found that they spoke fluent English. But, if you still want to be polite (like I was), just ask “Pratar du Engelska?”, but usually they figure it out even before you speak to them. I asked a lady in a store once if she spoke English, but I only knew how to say it in Norwegian (Snakker du Engelsk?) and she still understood. Trust me, you’ll be fine.
One of the things I loved about Copenhagen was whenever you turned a corner, you were standing in front of a beautiful, archaic palace. It’s wrong to assume that all Scandinavian capitals are the same, especially when you’ve literally only been to one, but I was quite surprised with the lack of large palaces in Stockholm. There is, of course, beautiful architecture and I could walk around the city all day, but there was nothing spectacular like The Marble Church.
One of the best things, however, was the Vasa Museum on the island of Djurgården, which is also home to many other museums and even an amusement park for young kids. Not only is the island beautiful with a walk along the harbour looking over at the rest of Stockholm, the Vasa museum is an affordable, really interesting trip that houses a real life and preserved 17th Century warship that sank on her maiden voyage. I loved it, and I’m not usually crazy about museums; it was an interesting look at Swedish maritime as well as how they preserve such a huge, practically intact ship. Also great for kids, or if you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day!
The jewel of Stockholm is of course, Gamla Stan, one of the smaller islands but also the most touristy and dubbed Stockholm’s ‘old town’ because of it’s narrow passages and beautiful and sometimes tiny buildings. It’s almost completely pedestrianized save a road or two that go around the outside of the island, but everything is walkable so don’t worry about getting there on trains/buses/taxis. Obviously, however, if you’re disabled or have mobility issues or you’ve had a super long day and you just can’t walk around the whole of Gamla Stan, the island has it’s own stop on the metro on the green and red lines.
It’s important to know that there are many places and public transport that are cashless, meaning that they only take credit/debit cards. I was a little concerned about this, but we were only caught out once at the front of the queue at a coffee shop. Everywhere else has taken cash no problem; sometimes that meant going to a cashier in a store instead of self-service or having to join a different queue for people not paying by card, but Stockholm does cater to people with cash. If you were just thinking of taking your card, or even a travelcard with Swedish Kronor loaded onto it, then you’re trip maybe that little bit easier.
This is always my favourite part of going away. I absolutely adore finding the highest points in the city and taking some amazing shots with my heavy camera that I’ve been carrying around all day.
I knew of one place that would be a fantastic place to get shots of the colourful buildings of Gamla Stan, and it was free, quiet, and easy to get to. Mariaberget is an observation point on the hillside walking deck called Monteliusvagen, which boasts incredible views of Stockholm and the river. It’s a fair walk away from any stations or bus stops and isn’t very easily sign-posted, so make sure you have google maps at the ready! It was one of my favourite places to go, and I found it was the best, maybe even the only place to go and take pictures of the whole of the city. Unfortunately, there was nowhere within the city itself to get a shot that would be completely 360, as a lot of the taller buildings weren’t accessible to the public.
Where To Stay
Gosh, each time I write one of these guides, I can never decide what to call this part of it. If you have any suggestions, let me know!
As I’m still very much an amateur and always that little bit anxious when it comes to hostels, I went for the safe option and stayed in a hostel chain that I’d stayed in in the past. Generator Hostels are, by far, not the best hostels in the world, but they’re safe, clean and easily accessible. Like always, they won top marks on location, price, and rooms. The Stockholm one was different in some ways than Copenhagen, and I would argue that Copenhagen is in fact better.
The room was much smaller, but still tried to pack in everything the 6 bed female room Copenhagen had. It meant moving around the room was difficult, and we were often in other girls’ ways. The shower and the toilet were also not separate, and the sink was inside the the bathroom, which meant if someone was in there, no one could do anything else. In Copenhagen the sink was in the room with us, which meant washing your face/brushing teeth etc could be done without locking people out of the shower and toilet. In Stockholm, if you were bursting for the loo and someone was in the shower, you were screwed (or you could just navigate your way around the hostel looking for the communal toilets, but you’ve paid for the ensuite so really, you should have access to them).
Once again, there were no kitchens to set yourself up in, which I think is just normal for a Generator Hostel and I expected as much. What I didn’t expect was literally nowhere to eat save for the very pretentious bar/club that seemed to only sell one type of dish a day. It was always busy, with people drinking in the middle of the day with very loud music thumping overhead. There were no couches, nothing like a pool table or a place to set up camp if you needed to work on a laptop. It felt a lot more hostile unlike in Copenhagen, where there was an open space with lots of recreational places to hang out and even an all day menu which meant we could order nachos at 3 in the afternoon. We never once ate here apart from taking food back to our room that we’d bought from 7-Eleven. This also means I don’t know what the breakfast situation is like, but if it’s anything like Copenhagen, then it would be great with lots of offer. But remember to pay, as in Copenhagen we didn’t realise the breakfast wasn’t paid for until after we’d eaten it and left. I know that wherever I go next, it will not be a Generator Hostel just so I can try something new!
And that’s me done for the year. I’ve been so fortunate to have had the time and the funds to go on three trips in 2017, and it’s certainly made my year that much brighter than what was a very negative 2016. I’ve overcome so much and battled anxiety and it’s meant that I’ve been able to do stuff like this. Last year, going away with friends to a new place that I’d never been before felt like something impossible. But, if you suffer from anxiety or anything that stops you from travelling, I would definitely start off with Scandinavia. It’s safe, not busy, and not far from home (if you’re from the UK like me). Next year? I’ve plans to go to Prague, Budapest, maybe even Lisbon. Harder languages, countries further away. It’s all about taking small steps, only to then turn around and see you’ve climbed a mountain.
Ciao and benvenuto to another installment in my amateur’s guide series where I, an amateur, give you an insight into my travels where I’m not really sure what I’m doing! 2017 is the year of visiting countries I’ve never been to before, and this time it’s Italy; probably one of the most romanticized countries ever. Cute cafes on each corner, mopeds speeding along beautiful tree-lined roads with beautiful villas on hilltops.
I knew I wouldn’t be going to this idyllic scene. I was going to the capital, Roma. A place filled with rich history and ruins,
In & Around
Rome is definitely a lot bigger than I thought, but it’s still super easy to get around. The metro, while not like the underground with it’s mainy lines and routes, is still super helpful and inexpensive.
The main station of Rome is Termini station, this great big thing slap bag in the middle of the city with a shopping centre inside. Coming from Fumicino airport, The Leonardo Express is your best bet right into the city with no fuss. But taxis and buses are also readily available.
There are two lines on the metro; red line and blue line. I didn’t even set foot on the blue line, but I assume it operates in the same way as red but only going a different route. The metro is perfectly safe, and I often saw armed soldiers roaming near ticket booths and information points which – seemed a little excessive. But, considering there was a terrorist attack on the London underground while we were away, I can’t say that it didn’t make us all feel a little bit better.
I think the main sites of Rome, the ones in all the guide books, are The Vatican and The Colosseum. These were, without even opening up a website about Rome, places I knew for a fact would be huge, busy and need a good portion of a day to do.
For both, without a prebooked ticket, you’re going to be queuing a lot. I saw lines so long they stressed around the walls of The Vatican and I’d heard from previous holiday goers that they had regrettably not bought a ticket and queued for as long as 4 hours. FOUR HOURS OF YOUR HOLIDAY. STANDING AROUND DOING NOTHING. So buy a ticket if you want to get in and spend that time actually sight seeing.
The Vatican and The Vatican museum was by far the most boring part of my trip. As a family of non-religious people, we were hoping to at least be enamored by architecture and paintings and the history behind Catholicism but instead there was just a lot of shuffling around hot corridors and being pushed through The Sistine Chapel. It was very disappointing, and the crowds made my anxiety flair.
St Peter’s Square was a little different; it’s free, more spacious, and much more impressive. We sat there taking pictures, eating ice creams, and ignored the men selling roses.
I feel like they need a whole paragraph. Throughout Rome, there are people selling crap you don’t need. They do not respect your personal space and will shove a rose or fidget spinner or anything into your face even if you’re sat down, speaking to someone, or taking a picture. There are also people hired by tour companies around major sites that make it seem like they’re just offering friendly, free advice, but will eventually coax you into purchasing expensive tours that you don’t necessarily need, especially if you already have a tour prepared and paid for. The whole walk to The Vatican we were accosted by people standing a few feet from one another, attempting to sell stuff. It’s fine to be polite at first, but eventually you’ll want to punch one of them in the face. Just ignore them, just keep walking, and even if you have to stop for some reason, keep ignoring them when they come up to you. Some got angry when we did that, calling us rude, but trust me, they are being much ruder.
The Colosseum was also a little different. The queues were the same, the annoying people selling things were there, but the history, the sites, the ruins were so much more interesting. There’s the Colosseum and Palatine Hill (which I accidentally called Palpatine Hill and then just continued for the rest of the trip) and the Roman Forum, and it’s honestly beautiful. So much history and culture and quiet in the middle of a bustling and cramped city. If you’re thinking the Vatican isn’t your thing, then definitely keep the Colosseum on your list.
I found while walking through Rome, that Rome is not exactly what I expected. Despite being in the cultural centre of Italy, it didn’t feel very…Italian. However, that wasn’t the case when we visited the stunning and the quintessentially Italian district of Trastevere.
Trastevere is filled with narrow, cobbled streets filled with music, food, drinks and lights. Sometimes you feel like you’re getting lost, but it’s the fun part of a holiday; getting lost in a beautiful city. It felt like a world within a world with it’s own culture and life. It had small cafes with people spilling out of them, fountains, entertainers and small museums. I would recommend coming here for something to eat and peace and quiet from the horrific traffic and graffiti of the rest of the city.
The best place to go for views, without a doubt, is Villa Borghese Park, above the Spanish Steps and overlooking Rome. The best time to go is at dusk, with all the buildings looking orange and the city itself looking so peaceful, while it’s always busy wherever you go, people are chill and quiet, taking nice photos and enjoying the cool breeze up there. I found that it’s popular with couples too so if you’re a couple in Rome then you’ll feel right at home making out on a bench in a park. Seriously, it was like heterosexuality was being shoved in my face but the view was worth it.
There are also other places with spectacular views, including the dome of St Peter’s Basilica, Castel Sant’Angelo and Palatine Hill.
Safety and Expectations
So at this part of the guide, I usually go into sleeping arrangements, my hostel/hotel experiences, but as we just stayed in an apartment outside of Rome, I thought to use this space to talk about safety, and the realities of Rome which I found out during the planning and researching of my trip.
Unlike my trip to Copenhagen, I did TONS of research about Rome. I am always mindful that, as a tourist, I am automatically a vulnerable target; I don’t know the language, I’m carrying lots of bags, and I’m in unfamiliar surroundings. Rome is a very popular place to get pickpocketed or robbed. I watched countless footage of it on Youtube actually happening, and of people talking about their experiences. The most popular places to get pickpocketed are as follows; train/metro stations, crowded tourist areas, just after you’ve been to an ATM. But, you should always be vigilant. I wore a money belt which, to be honest, wasn’t really necessary when my mum had a backpack that she defended with her life, but it reassured me that to get to my phone and card, pickpocketers would literally have to feel me up to get to them – which is quite common on public transport. We also avoided Termini station altogether, which is known to be a hot spot for theft. Like I said, Rome is easy to get around on foot and the only time you should have to go through Termini is getting on and off The Leonardo Express.
There are also a lot of street sellers. These aren’t beggars or buskers, they’re just guys trying to sell you stuff and do not care about your personal space. They are mainly in large tourist areas, and are similar to the commissioned fake tour advisors. They’re pushy, relentless, and will trick you into buying things. At one point I was on the Spanish Steps when an American couple asked me to take a picture of them. Right as I was taking the picture, some guy shoved a fake rose into my face saying “1 Euro? I Euro?” and would not stop until I physically pushed him (gently) and yelled “No!” in his face.
And that is my second amateur’s guide of the year! Let me know where you’ve been recently and recommend any places I should visit next!
Hello, and welcome to the first in a travel series called An Amateur’s Guide, where I, an amateur traveler, will give you a guide to all the places I’ve been and hopefully share with you some tips and tricks into getting the best out of your trips.
While I may be an amateur (and very poor), I’m determined to visit as many places as possible, meeting new people, and exploring beautiful countries and cities that may not be as far from you as you think. I’m going to be splitting these posts into sections; In & Around, Doing Stuff, Good Views, and Sleeps, but also just talking about how beautiful and amazing each place is.
Two middle aged men sit across from me on the train home from Gatwick Airport.
“So what’s your youngest doing now?”
“He’s just been signed to a modelling agency! He’s only eighteen! What about your Sarah? She still at uni?”
“She graduated with a 1st, and now she’s a top marketing executive in London!”
It’s strange that this story starts at the end, when I’m tired and greasy and starving. The flight from Copenhagen to Gatwick was only 1 hour 40 minutes but adding on the waiting and the queuing and the scanning of tickets and passports I’d say it feels like an all day shindig. I rarely eavesdrop on people’s conversations, even if they’re sat so close on an empty train in the middle of the night, but the conversation between the two proud dads got to me.
As a young person who can find fault in everything I do, I find it difficult to feel like I’ve achieved something. I’m unemployed, living at home, with dreams and ambitions that can often seem out of reach. While these things aren’t things to be ashamed of, they certainly pale in comparison to others.
The feeling of success is subjective and ever changing. It can be measured in so many ways, so many little intricate threads that make you proud of the person you are. Success moves with time, and changes depending on the decades, years, months, minutes. I haven’t felt successful in a long time, but on the late night train journey back home from a few days in Copenhagen, overhearing a conversation about the large successes of others in my generation and younger did not stoke the fires of my insecurities, but allowed me to process what I had just been through, or for a better term, what I had achieved.
Copenhagen was spontaneous. I’d been cooped up in my house, in the little bubble of my life for far too long. I wanted to leave, even just for a long weekend, to experience something else. My friends made excuses (but also valid reasons) as to why they could not come with me. While going to another country on my own is always an option, to me, that was a step too far. But Twitter wasn’t. I tweeted indirectly that I wanted to go somewhere but just had no-one to go with, and hoped someone, if anyone, would take the bait (preferably mutuals of course).
And it worked!
I’d found friends online who wanted to join me and even an old work colleague who heard about my trip. The dates were set, deposits were paid, the flights booked. And then, the anxiety kicked in. Having a ton of responsibility suddenly be hitched onto your shoulders takes a lot of getting used to, and as an impatient worrier such as myself, I found the only thing to calm myself down was to research city maps, how to get from one terminal to the next, what trains to take, where to visit and how long it will take to get there, and to research more into the hostel we were staying in (and try not to let my friend’s exclaims of ‘hostels are dangerous you’re gonna die!’ get to me).
When the morning of the flight came I was a wreck. However, when I’m that nervous, I sort of turn into a shouty army officer who wants things to be done quickly and efficiently without any mucking about. It was that morning that I realised I wouldn’t just be responsible for myself, but also for my work colleague who is younger, less experienced in travel, and just all around a bit dopey with no sense of urgency. Don’t worry, she agrees with all these things.
The feeling of pride and achievement didn’t really set in until we’d checked into our hostel and I lay on my bunk bed and took in a deep breath. I’d done it. I’d gone through the awful experience of airport security unscathed and I’d traveled to another country without any adults whilst also looking after another human. I’d gone on the metro, found the way to the hostel and walked through a city with luggage (a big fear of mine is getting mugged).
And then beyond that; I was able to find my way around a whole new city which was in a different language, tried new foods, met new people, slept in a room with strangers, made decisions for where to eat (because my friends can’t make decisions), and made sure my friend didn’t walk into the many bicycles around the city. I also counted her money for her, made sure she didn’t accidentally shop lift, checked her bag was closed, and got her to stop asking me permission to do something/go somewhere. I was an independent traveler and also a mum.
I visited a beautiful city in a beautiful country, experienced something new, and looked after myself in a way I haven’t in a really long time. I felt strong, I felt independent, I felt capable. And that to me, is a success. So, while I may not have a top job in London, a fancy apartment, or a million followers on Instagram, I was able to sit on the night train back home and feel just as proud as the dads sat opposite me.
And don’t worry, there’ll be a guide to Copenhagen coming soon!