it is France, Canada, Japan or India, there are certain essentials
required to survive a week/season skiing. I know people who have
skied since they could walk, and also people who class themselves as keen
skiers after a week on the powder. Apart from their ability, nothing distances
these people from what need on a ski trip and the advice they need to survive
the cold. So here are what I consider the
essentials for any skier and snowboarder:
- Ski jacket
- Ski gloves
- Thermal top and trousers
- Thick walking/ski socks
- Good shoes (moon boots, gum boots, wellies etc.)
- Scarf/neck warmer
If you’re skiing as part of a university trip, a ‘lads’ holiday or a backpacker holiday, the above are vital items to take. If you plan to ski a lot you may already have your own snowboards/skis but for a beginner or even an advance skier that just skis once a year, I would advise renting gear. It’s much cheaper, you don’t have the hassle of carrying it round the airport and you don’t have to keep up with the maintenance. However, if you’re doing a ski season it may be worthwhile looking in rental shops for old stock. If you’re a skier for example but want to try the odd bit of snowboarding then see how much last season’s stock is, it may be cheaper than renting skis and a snowboard.
No ski trip is complete without après-ski. Europe is big on après-ski, not too sure about Canada or New Zealand, but I know Japan is keen for it as you get a lot of foreigners. Drinking is a big part of the ski life in my opinion. You get to meet a ton of people, and they always have bits of advice on the best runs, or the best bars.
Food-wise - If you’re going for a cheap/uni holiday maybe take your own food such as dry pasta or pot noodles. Firstly, you’re barely in your room as you’ll be skiing or drinking, so best to grab quick food. Also, most people buy bread at resorts and tend to take sandwiches up the mountain rather than keep coming back down for lunch.
General ski advice - Never ski alone. I’d say this is acceptable if you’re skiing on a busy mountain, so if anything did happen then there are a lot of people around. You have to be confident to be any good at skiing or snowboarding, obviously don’t be stupid and go on an advanced run on your first day as a beginner, but don’t just stick to the beginner slopes. Some people don’t wear helmets, I know beginners that don’t but advanced people that do. Always take a route map. Always take a phone, even if you buy a cheap one just for emergencies. And last but not least wrap up! I get quite warm skiing but it’s best to bring a fair few thermals then decide you’re too warm rather than the other way round.
May all seem like obvious stuff but it could help you get through a ski holiday. Make the most of it, ski or snowboard until your muscles ache, as usually you are just there for a few weeks, and overall enjoy!
Budapest, country number one of mine and James' Eastern
Europe trip and a place I’d highly recommend and go back to. Cheap beer,
hammock chairs, awesome bars and amazing people. What’s not to love?
Budapest is a really pretty city, which reminded me of Prague in the way that it has the culture and look of Western Europe but cheap prices and slightly grungy feel of Eastern European. The city is fairly small, so it's really easy to get around and there is plenty to do for the culture vulture or the average drunken backpacker. Budapest has really grown in recent years to be ‘a must see city’ in Europe and is challenging the likes of other cities on the continent for popularity with worldwide backpackers as well as just Europeans.
Getting to Budapest is simple and accessible. The flight is about a 4 hour trip from the UK, or you can rail it from neighbouring cities. Our accommodation of choice was another pick from the trusty hostelworld.com, the Casa de la Musica. Easy to bus to from the airport and near to the main sights, plus a great place to meet fellow backpackers thanks to the hostel’s own bar in the courtyard which is surrounded by the rooms. The only downside is that the website stated it had a pool. Maybe my expectations are too high but I wouldn’t say a child’s paddling pool is exactly what I had in mind for a quick dip...
What to do?
You won’t be bored in Budapest. First sight to visit and the most popular attraction is the Szechenyi Baths. I didn’t visit any other baths to compare but these seemed the biggest and the number one suggestion by locals and backpackers alike. Around £12 for 4 hours gets you access to all of the baths. Expect make-out central in the open warm bath outside, and expect big burly Hungarians in the boiling hot baths inside... sexy… Word of warning, we went to the bath ‘party’ hosted on Saturday nights. Cutting a long story short we got our bag stolen due to a confusion with the lockers, but don’t let that put you off, just keep your valuables at home as well as your dignity as I got escorted from the men’s changing room twice due to language confusion (any excuse).
Not into baths with big sexy hairy Hungarian men? Then there is still plenty to do in Budapest. Try a free walking tour. We found 'Free Budapest Tours', they expect a few pounds for a tip, but it is worth it for a laid back introduction to city sights such as the Basilica of St Stephen, Castle Hill and Parliament. There are plenty more cultural buildings to visit and you could easily spend a week trawling around them all. We met a few guys who even took a trip to some local villages which looked beautiful, so if you do get bored of central Budapest (although unlikely to happen) then hop on a river boat and see the outskirts of the city.
Eat and drink?
Plenty of restaurants to eat like a Hungarian or a typical tourist. As a vegetarian I didn't try any of the famous goulash, but I heard it’s a must try. Towards the south of the city there is a huge food market which is worth wandering round. Drink-wise, you’re in heaven. For backpackers, head to the ruin bars. They are exactly what they say on the tin, bars that are in ‘ruined’ spots. Amongst the main streets in the city you’ll come across the hotspots of ‘Szimpla’ and ‘Instant’ which are bars left over from ruins of the war. Not sure if they are made to look this way or if they are actually still ‘ruined’ from the 1940's but either way, they're pretty cool and unique to Budapest. ‘Szimpla’ is just off the main street in the centre of Budapest, with hanging chairs from the ceiling, a variety of music, open decks and great cocktails. Drinks start from around £2, need I say more? ‘Instant’ is a similar bar except with hanging rabbits and deer on the ceiling… taxidermy of course, not just any old hung up dead rabbit. Apart from these two bars you’ll find cool places with hammock chairs, rooftop dance floors and generally cheap local beer.
Overall a must see city for Europe. It won’t stretch your budget but it will live up to expectations of European culture, and if it doesn’t then find some Hungarian beer and bathe in a Hungarian bath with some hairy locals.
Belgrade clearly shows signs of the war. Not a great way to start a review but you can’t hide from the fact. This is a grey city with not much of a sense of optimism, however it does have potential and the place is cheap so I’d say, don’t visit with high hopes and romanticised expectations, but make the most of what it has to offer. Despite my fairly pessimistic review so far, Belgrade is worth a visit, even if you’re just passing through.
You can get to Belgrade fairly easily from other European cites via sleeper train (book at least a day in advance to guarantee a bed). When stepping off the train, don’t be too down hearted at the ‘Beograd’ sign is hanging rustily from its remaining screw and try not to be even more so when you step out of the station and all you see are the grey concrete buildings which match face of the locals…
I’d recommend staying in a sociable hostel is vital in this city as the locals and keen backpackers tend to know the best and most well hidden bars. We stayed in the 'Green Hostel', which was about a 5-10 minute walk from the station but not too easy to spot as the only sign it is there is a tiny sign on one of the seemingly infinite grey buildings. Up 6 flights of dark stairs doesn’t give too much appeal of this hostel but it was small which meant every guest mixed and drank together. It has a good mix of people, great staff and free beer on arrival!
What is there to do?
Not a lot to be honest. I’m sure if you really dive into the hidden parts of the city you could find some hidden gems but I found that the typical tourist sights aren’t present. Places that were on my agenda included the zoo, a few churches and the Nikola Tesla museum, which is definitely worth a visit, if only to hold a wireless fluorescent bulb and act like a Jedi for five minutes.
Eat and drink?
I didn't try any Serbian dishes, but overall the food was good and cheap. You can find a few glamorous streets of bars, restaurants and open cafes where the cocktails are cheap and the atmosphere is flowing. This is a main plus of Belgrade. However, the only downside is that smoking is everywhere. Fair enough if you like to smoke, but if not, then prepare to have your pasta with a side of ash. On the drink front you certainly won’t fall short, so maybe just visit Belgrade for some bevvies, good music and good parties then spend your day eating and being hungover. Along the Danube, at the centre of the city you’ll find a fair few boat parties which do look like something out of St Tropez or a Made in Chelsea holiday. They look pretty awesome, and the prices aren’t going to kill you. Great music, good atmosphere and perhaps the main reason why Belgrade is becoming more popular.
Even though I haven’t got the greatest opinion about Belgrade, I’d say it’s a destination worth your time but just not for more than a few days. Although on my trip I met a London guy who moved there to get away from the Olympics, his words “Belgrade is the greatest city in the world!” were met with my confused face. Go to Belgrade with an open mind and a view to drink and party and you’ll be fine, just don’t expect a city of high culture and beauty, unless you get really drunk then it may seem quite pretty after all.
University, it's difficult to come across someone who hasn't interrailed, and
it's even more difficult to find someone on your travels who isn't
interrailing. At £280ish a ticket for one month, you can't argue
against the price and idea of interrailing (unless you're not from Europe,
then they charge over double the price)! I've come across many different
routes, as it's not hard to have the freedom of making your own niche trip;
however most routes are pretty similar so I'm going to provide you with a few
ideas for those who want to trail a backpack around Europe and sleeper trains
for a month.
I interrailed for just under a month back in 2010. Western and middle Europe was my port of call. Starting in Paris and ending in Brussels. 8 countries, 14 cities.
1. France - Paris and Lyon
2. Switzerland - Interlaken and Lugano
3. Italy - Lake Como, Florence and Venice
4. Austria - Salzburg and Vienna
5. Slovakia - Bratislava
6. Czech Republic - Prague
7. Germany - Berlin and Frankfurt
8. Belgium – Brussels
Not going into too much detail but this was the extent of my trip. I really thought I visited more cities as the whole trip wore me out. If you're going to travel through western and central Europe I'd recommend taking your time. Places such as Paris, Florence and Prague are tiring as there is a lot to do and tonnes of nightlife, whereas cities such as Lake Como and Bratislava do allow you to chill for a bit and regain some energy. That's my main bit of advice for a big trip, if you're going to visit a lot or party hard then allow time for some 'chill' cities amongst the trip. Another bit of advice on a journey like this is to plan your budget carefully. Obviously put, Western Europe isn't cheap but places like Prague and Bratislava allow you to spend more freely so take advantage when you can. Overall this is a good interrailing route that won't break the bank too much and it allows you to see a lot of countries in a short time.
Having lived in this incredible city for a year back in
2009/2010 I feel it's a responsibility to share the setting of many a
drunken night. Let’s start at the beginning; where to spend the warm-up hours.
A few quiet ones
One thing you can't help but miss in Hong Kong is the breath-taking harbour (indeed Hong Kong is Cantonese for Fragrant Harbour - something I struggle to believe was ever the case) and the best bars on the Island take advantage of this natural panorama. As you ascend the escalators of one of seemingly infinite malls in this city you won’t believe that it is home to one its best rooftop bars. Red Bar is highly recommended for any trip. It’s great for tourists, backpackers and, thanks to the local authority owning the land, is suited to any budget. As you will see when you sit at one of the tables there is a small plaque on each which says anyone can drink there. So, if you’re on a budget pop to seven eleven en-route and pick up a few Tsing-Tao’s to enjoy with one of the world’s most exclusive views.
After Red Bar, walk through the mall and head down to the waterside towards central Ferry Pier Number 3, home to another great view, live bands and unbelievably cheap beer.
Only in Hong Kong
Hidden bars’ are a concept that has been spreading since they started popping up speak-easy style in New York. Hong Kong has its own collection, my favourite of which was the Feather Boa. This venue is a tiny room, which you could easily miss unless you make a real effort to hunt it down. Don’t be afraid to open the mysterious wooden door and step through the curtains as when you enter this colonial style French cocktail lounge you will not be disappointed. Pricing is a little high for the average backpacker but it is well worth to price to know you’ve been somewhere that only the locals frequent.
Oh yes it’s ladies night – although admittedly you could not be blamed for thinking it was ladies night every night in Wan Chai, the home of our next suggestion. If you’re a woman who likes a drink in this city you are apparently in such short supply that bars are willing to ply you with free booze just to get you through the door. I spent many a happy hour with many of my more-than-happy female friends in Carnegies, an Australian bar where there is free-flowing champagne after 9pm on a Wednesday. Before you head to Carnegies we used to check out Swindler’s, which, although it looks like somewhat of a dive from the outside, often has a live band, and decent drink offers.
Wan Chai is worth a visit, even if you’re not drinking. Have a wonder through but try not to get pulled into any of the questionable strip joints by the persistent old ladies.
I experienced a number of clubs in my time in Hong Kong but unfortunately there is a pretty high turnover of the cheaper-end of these kind of venues. ‘Club no 9’ was one of my favourites, which has apparently since closed down. However, Lan Kwai Fong is the place to go as generally there are pretty good offers touted by the promoters. Club Beijing is apparently the local celebrity hangout but I was unwilling to shell out the cover fee and so never bothered.
If you’re looking for a cheap night, every evening you will find hoards of the city’s youth simply hit up the 7-11 in the centre of Lan Kwai Fong and soak up the atmosphere in the square. Meet a few people and find out where they’re heading and you’re bound to have a far better night than if it was pre-planned.