Diocletian’s Palace Hostel, Split

Note: I receive accommodation in exchange for a review. I always provide my honest opinion; I only stay at places that look awesome; and I only say a place is awesome if it truly is.

Fancy sleeping above the oldest standing arches that support the ruins of an ancient emperors palace?  At Diocletian’s Palace Hostel in Split, Croatia, guests are not simply close to the attractions, but in the midst of them. Though the location is ideal, it can be tricky to navigate the maze of cobblestone alleyways that comprise Split’s Old Town.

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The hostel is situated on UNESCO protected property, which inhibites the owners to overtly advertise. The hostel sits ontop of a fine dinning resturant down one of the narrower streets. At the end of the fantastic almost-free walking tour (cost: 1€), participants receive a glass of free wine, which should be enough to convince guests to stay and order off the affordable backpacker’s menu.

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The hostel’s narrow dorm rooms mimic the skinny streets outside.  They can become a bit cramped and stuffy when the room is fully occupied. Though there are large lockers for use (with a 20 kroner key deposit), the dorm room doors remain unlocked. If you’re not fussed over sharing showers seperated with curtains, holding down the nozzle head, and using co-ed toilets, Diocletian’s Palace will suit your simple needs perfectly.
There are 11 dorm rooms of various size, including 1 private room. Free wifi connects with full bars in every room and the bunkbeds are quite comfortable.  Upon arrival, your bed is freshly made with a small towel included.  The reception is open 24/7 and the staff are friendly and informative without being overbearing.

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In my opinion, the hostel’s biggest downfall was its lack of a kitchen and common room. The kind manager, Josef, explained to me that it is rare for hostels in Croatia to have kitchens, and that the old common room had caused unnecessary ruckus that distrupted both the restaurant beneath and the hostel rooms above.
Luckily for me, there was a solution.  When I was itching for a cup of tea, the kitchen staff brought me hot water, and the many shops and fast food joints around Split were within my backpacking budget.

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Despite the lack of a communal hangout spot, I managed to meet some of the most amazing people I’ve encountered on my journey at this hostel. I suppose good places attract good people, and Diocletian’s Palace is no exception.

Hostels fill up fast in Split during the summer months – book a bed or a next-door appartment early through http://www.diocletianpalace.com/index.php/en/

Bratislava, Slovakia

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I bumped across the border between Austria and Slovakia on a 7-euro bus ride, but it definitely wasn’t what I received. The recently Communist-relieved city is a strange mixture of beautiful sculpted buildings and boxy concrete Soviet structures. Despite the incessant rain and wind that froze me on my three days in the city, I fell in love with Bratislava and all its honest, controversial history – thought I must admit, three days was enough.

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The only thing I had heard repetitively about Bratislava was that its nightlife was wild. My friends and I searched eagerly for a place to party, but all the bars were dark. We followed some Slovak university students to the 4th floor of their dorm building for the strangest terrace party I’ve ever attended, after failing to find a boat party that apparently floats on the Danube river.

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In the daylight, the streets were still deserted. In the main square, a gigantic statue of Slovakia’s most famous poet sits holding a feather pen. As much of Bratislava’s political history is controversial, the statues and art work mostly focus on irony and religion.

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Slovakia looks nothing like the rest of Europe. Bratislava Castle looks flawlessly modern from afar, and upon closer inspection, it is, and disappointingly so. The castle is often compared to an upside down table, but to me it looked like a fake Disney Princess ride. The view from the castle is worth the climb, but the 6 euro admission for the exhibitions inside isn’t.
Much of Bratislava was destroyed during the Communist Regime. An old fountain in the shape of a fat rose stands hauntingly with the water turned off and covered in graffiti tags. An abandoned communist hospital stands across from a blue smurf church. This place is bizarre. And I love it.

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Beer is extravagantly cheap in Eastern Europe, along with nearly everything else.  Unless you already know you enjoy sheep’s cheese, do NOT let yourself be convinced to try the Slovak specialty, potato dumplings – snag a doner on your way home from the club instead.

Street signs are slicked back onto buildings, so finding your way is initially impossible—not to mention that the Slovakian language is indecipherable. After a fantastic free walking tour and a few days wandering the city, landmarks became my map. Once I began to feel familiar with the city center, I knew it was time to leave—so I hopped a bus to my next destination, Vienna!

Hostel Blues, Bratislava

Note: I receive accommodation in exchange for a review. I always provide my honest opinion; I only stay at places that look awesome; and I only say a place is awesome if it truly is.

Last Wednesday I arrived in Slovakia, sleepy and suffering from culture shock.  I checked in to Hostel Blues, one of the highest rated affordable accommodation options in Bratislava.  The hostel’s popularity is due to its clean, spacious dorm rooms, free wifi, free live music nights, cooking classes, and—more than anything—its superb staffing.

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Eva handed me a lock and key from behind the reception desk.  Her friendliness, impressive English skills, and helpful advice had me checked in in no time.  I asked her several questions, to which she responded with limitless answers.  Each staff member I bombarded with questions responded with personalized advice and extensive options.  Never before have I encountered hostel staff that is so diligent, knowledgeable, and personable.

Hostel Blues offers a cozy, laid-back atmosphere that makes the 6-floor hostel feel like home.  Acoustic guitars teeter on the walls of the room surrounding reception, though I never saw anyone pick one up and play.  There is no curfew and the desk remains open all night.  Guests can do their laundry for a minimal fee, rent a bike for 10 euros a day, or borrow a hair dryer for free.

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Hostel Blues has been a haven for backpackers since 2007.  Modern, hip, and low-key, the hostel has 115 beds, 8 of which belong to private rooms.  Hostel Blues’ guests come from a diversity of ethnicities, with the majority being Western Europeans.  The hostel is located a quick jaunt from the Old Square, with a convenient (and cheap) Tescos on the way.  Don’t miss the second hand shop next door, where everything is 99 cents!

Every good hostel should have a kitchen, and Hostel Blues is no exception.  Albeit it a bit small, a shinning white countertop stands between modern black burners.  Behind the kitchen is a wood-floor dinning room.  The area never remains messy for long.

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It is rare to find a trustworthy elevator even at hotels in Europe—more often I find myself lugging my baggage up a narrow, winding, creaking staircase.  Hostel Blues provides guests with a relieving lift, perhaps my favourite amenity in the building.

The whole property of Hostel Blues is refreshingly clean and open, with high-ceilings and classic decor.  My dorm room has an en-suite bathroom that seem impervious to dirt, though the shower temperature is bipolar in the mornings.

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Despite its upbeat atmosphere, Hostel Blues is not a party hostel.  That means no shattered glass on the kitchen floor, no unbearably rowdy pregame parties, and a soothingly peaceful sleep.  However, the live music nights draw in a small crowd that sips giant 2.50 euro bottles of beer—containing enough for 3 pints—once per week.

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My dorm room was furnished with oak bunkbeds, lockers and red walls bearing silver leaves.  The motion-censored hallway lights are a little annoying for epileptics, but the electric sockets, shelves, and lamps next to each bed are practical additions that every backpacker craves.

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Bratislava is a unique experience.  I would recommend the city and this hostel to all Eurotrippers keen to break free of the usual Western Europe route.  Hostel Blues was a fantastic place to be trapped inside due to bad weather.

Leaving Bratislava was bittersweet.  As Helena, a spunky hostel worker with curly blonde hair told me in reaction to my plans to travel to Vienna: “Is not possible.  Wind will bring you back.”  I hope she’s right.

To book with Hostel Blues, please visit their website or send them an email at bookings@hostelblues.sk

Three Days in Frankfurt

Lush, rolling green hills, sprawling farmland and toppling vineyards—this is Germany?

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My weeks spent exploring Germany’s winter white Christmas markets did not prepare me for the acres of nature that surround the small towns in Southern Germany.  I spent three days in Frankfurt and its surroundings and fell in love with the country all over again.

A small uphill trek to the view point in Lorsch greets travellers with an unrelenting view of the lush landscape, and if you’re lucky, a beer, Tuesday through Saturday.  From this vantage point one can see all the way to Hieldburg, another small town hailed for its romantic allure.

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Skip the castle’s admission fee and soak in the million-dollar view from the gardens.  When your eyes are done feasting, satisfy your stomach with Flammkuchen and Radler at one of many cafes in Hieldburg’s small town square, situated right outside on the cobblestone.

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Despite many claims of Frankfurt’s ugliness, I enjoyed walking through the industrially confused city next to the river in bipolar weather.  Though the Old Town is both beautiful and historic, the cluttering construction doesn’t do much for the skyscraper-covered city skyline.

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Europe always continues to surprise me with its many angles.  As with all travel, the view always depends on your perspective.

Road Trip Through the Rockies

The twisting, one-lane highway that connects my new home, Kelowna, BC to my hometown of Grande Prairie, AB winds through stunning mountainous views, lined with pristine lakes and breathtaking nature.

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With the Pacific Ocean to the west and endless prairie skies to the east, the 13 hour road trip always causes my jaw to drop and my camera to come out.

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White-capped mountain peaks, shimmering turquoise lakes, and quiet country towns await you along the drive.  Stop in Jasper, a quaint tourist town with access to Marmont Basin, a fantastic ski hill.  Tourist season is in full heat in summer, when hikes and wildlife are plentiful.  However, the seasons are unpredictable: I was there in May, and the town was blanketed in snow.  Welcome to Alberta!

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Mount Robson is the highest peak in the Rockies.  Often cloud-covered at the top, it is possible to hike to the summit in good weather.  The mountain is covered in unique fauna, graceful elk, and Asian tourists.

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Mountain goats and deer may seem tame and friendly, but native tourists who approach them for a photograph or as if in a petting zoo are in for a nasty surprise.  Moose can be one of the most dangerous animals, for pedestrians as well as distracted drivers.  It is illegal (and extremely stupid) to feed any animal in Jasper National Park.

It is also not uncommon to see bears along the highway.  Blackbears are smaller and more docile, while it would be fatal to get between a grizzly and her cubs.

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Back in BC, the Okanagan Valley blossoms with ripe vineyards and giant lakes.  Dive into Okanagan Lake and risk meeting the Ogopogo or cruise through Summerland and Peachland sampling fresh fruit in the rising heat.  Kalamalka lake, next to the small town of Vernon, is haled by locals as the best lake in the valley.

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I don’t mean to brag, but I love where I live.  I feel blessed and excited to trek through some of the most beautiful, untouched nature in the world.  It’s true what they say – West Coast Best Coast!!