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Sofia, Yawn?

Sofia is a beautiful city, full of friendly people, great weather and ridiculously cheap prices! You can survive as a tourist here extremely well. Live the high life; go to the finest bars and restaurants and pay a pittance compared to many capitals in Europe! However, if you aren't a big drinker or eater, like the drunkard fatty I am, then there actually isn't too much to do in Sofia. Other backpackers we met en-route agreed that Sofia can leave you trying to fill time and perhaps visits to Bulgaria are better spent on the Black Sea Coast where there are, apparently, non-stop parties, tourists and sandy beaches. Despite this, Sofia is a nice place and a good stop if you are backpacking, but I wouldn't recommend sticking around more than 3 days.

What is there to do?
Not a great deal if you’re a typical young backpacker, and even less to do if the weather isn't good. There is a subdued 'National Museum of Natural History' which, as you would expect, contains a lot of stuffed animals with facts and fossils. There is also a Royal Palace which is pretty, but that's about it... Although now I've done a bit of research, obviously a bit too late, I have found a few other apparent highlights but they do all revolve around museums, gardens and religious buildings, which can be good but I find they can also get somewhat repetitive. Accommodation wise, plenty of choice, all cheap and in the centre. We stayed at the Orient Express Hotel. Central, cheap, however no bar...

Eat and drink?
There is a place called 'Happy Bar and Grill' which is a mix of Hooters and TGI Fridays. Good burgers and short skirts...There are plenty of other bars, cafes and restaurants with a mix of food. There are also some really nice breakfast places with plenty of air con as the weather was quite hot which was great. Just like the food, drink is also not hard to come by. Cheap cocktails, cheaper beers, cool bars, reasons why I probably liked Sofia so much. Expect to pay £2 for a cocktail and £1 for a beer in the centre of the city in the nicest bars. Can’t complain at that, however don’t expect a huge clubbing scene, maybe that’s more out of the city but we didn't come across many clubs.

Sofia is a quiet place, and not quite like other European capital cities as its cheap, tranquil and laid back. There is culture but not many backpacking haunts. A nice place, and a good stop off for a backpacking trip but not one that necessarily should be on everyone’s agenda.


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Istanpul?

Istanbul. The only city in the world that spans two continents (Asia and Europe if you’re wondering…), and the final part of my and James' Eastern Europe trip. Istanbul at first glance is breathtaking. It is a city full of culture, tradition, religion and friendly people. We were lucky enough to be travelling during the month of Ramadan, which meant each night saw feasts and celebrations outside the gigantic mosques. A few days or even a week in Istanbul means you won’t be tired of finding things to do and see, however when we went, the summer, the city was really hot for my pale northern skin. This made it quite difficult to full on 'backpack' and travel around the city. Despite the heat, Istanbul is a great place to visit, and a great city for those with the backpack bug. As you would imagine of the capital of one of the world's foremost emerging countries, Istanbul is tourist friendly, but unfortunately comes with the prices to match. Expect Western Europe prices for food and drink, but lower for accommodation. Also not all of the bars serve alcohol, so don’t come here for a boozy trip!

Istanbul is easy enough to get to by plane, bus or sleeper train (book a day in advance); save €15 for the border fee - a fact that we failed to remember which saw us scraping around the bottom of our bags for change - and you’ll be set. On the accommodation front we stayed in the Green Apple Hostel. Decent enough, fairly priced, right in the centre, nothing out of the ordinary but good enough to say I would stay again.

What did we do?
Istanbul has recently featured in the latest Bond film, Skyfall, and it’s nice to look around and see which sites were featured on the set. An obvious sight was the Hagia Sophia. A pricey entrance fee considering mosques similar sizes next to it were free, but then again it has the status of being a seventh wonder and it was a must see. Another spectacle is the Blue Mosque which is magnificent to see from the outside as well as the in. Near these two great landmarks is also the subterranean Basilica Cistern which has held water underground since Roman times for the local populace. A peaceful and cool spot, which is worth a quick visit, even if it is just to get out of the heat. A final ‘must see’ has to be the world famous Turkish Bazaars, (also featured in Skyfall). You can't visit Istanbul without going to the Spice Bazaar and the Grand Bazaar. Tons to buy and see; just be prepared to haggle.

Eat and drink?
As a vegetarian there wasn’t too much choice, but great restaurants none the less. Decent food and enough choice for those who like fish, kebabs and meat. Drink-wise, as I previously said not all of the bars serve alcohol but you won’t be stuck for finding a few that do. Just don’t expect too many reasonably priced clubs, or stag do’s here… Apart from alcohol it’s worth trying some of the flavoured teas which are found in most bars, which also usually provide shisha pipes. When in Turkey do as the Turkish do and be sure to try one! Overall Istanbul surprised me. It’s a beautiful city, and it has so much to offer. The people are nothing but friendly, even if you do offend them by bartering too hard in the bazaars, and you certainly won’t be stuck for things to do and places to see.   


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Dublin... Cracking!

The phrases ‘good crack’ and ‘it’s grand’ spring to mind when thinking of Dublin, not only because of the Irish lingo but the fact that Dublin is a great place to visit, to party, and to soak up the culture. Only having spent a weekend in Dublin I can’t provide too much detail on every corner of the city, but there is enough here to cover the highlights and a decent trip across the water. Flights from the UK to Dublin come as cheap as £30 so not massive cost there, the same goes for hotels. I stayed at the Ardmore which was about a 20 minute bus ride from town (€20 taxi on a Saturday night) and it came in at an impressive £25 a night for a few really nice rooms, so if people say to you that you can’t get a decent cheap hotel in Dublin, they’re lying.

What to do?
There is a great deal to do for a weekend trip but also for a leisurely week. The Guinness Storehouse is apparently a must see, although I didn’t see it because tours were fully booked, but none the less…
Second to the Guinness Storehouse is the Jameson Whiskey factory. Again, you need to pre-book a tour, I’d recommend the day before. It’s about €15 and you get a 30 minute tour including a few 'free' drinks. Apparently they annoyingly don’t make any whisky at this site, but I didn’t hear why due to the free drinks…A few other places which probably aren't on most people’s agenda are The Natural History MuseumThe Dublin National GalleryDublin CastleSt Stephens Green park and some other park. They were free, it was cold, but they were pretty good sites and worth a visit if you’re sober and have the time. Kilmainham Gaol is the final ‘must see’ in Dublin. A famous tourist prison but also another place that was fully booked with tours, so book the day before, I’ve heard good things.

Eat and drink?

Vast amount of food places, and not as expensive as previously heard. A personal favourite was the Queen of Tarts, a cute set of cafes spread in the centre of the city perfect for lunch, coffee, etc. Drink-wise, you certainly won’t go short in Dublin. Temple Bar is the area I would recommend. We didn't try many other areas to compare but this is the main hotspot where all the tourists and all the locals go to. It’s about €5 a drink, good music, live bands and clubs. On the Saturday night my friend found a great gig called 'The Irish House Party' which I'd highly recommend. An event like this gets you into the Irish spirit and also gives you plenty of time to go out afterwards. 'The Irish house Party' consisted of a small theatre and a small stage of 5 people aged between 28-50 I'd say, all playing different Irish instruments. They were full of banter, good tunes, and even the odd Irish jig. The night was a mix of songs, dancing, jokes and a bit of a music lesson.

Overall Dublin lives up to its 'good crack' and grand persona. A city which can be done cheap, but also not as expensive as made out if you want to go out every night, stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Expect cheaper than London but not too far removed from that price mark. Great city, I’d definitely go back.


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Welcome!

Hello and welcome to Backpack Bug!

We're two friends who love to travel. We've finally decided to share some of our travel experience and knowledge with you, the beautiful internet people. Together we have visited over 35 countries and we're rapidly adding more to the list.

Expect tales and recommendations from commonly blogged about favourites such as London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong to tiny villages on islands in the Philippines and Indonesia. All of our suggestions will be categorised by location so you can see where we stayed, ate and got wasted at a glance. Expect more features to be added over time.

Thanks for reading and we hope to see a lot more of you over the coming posts...

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By James on
About London, Paris, Tokyo and Hong Kong