Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part IV: Petrovac with a Hint of Bečići and Budva

IMG_20180622_140603Balcony with views to the sea, Apartments & Rooms Vjera, Petrovac

Day 7: The Three Beaches of Petrovac

After my busy, sweaty stint on the mountains, it was time for a change in pace and scenery. I wanted to combine my hiking holiday with a relaxing stay by the sea. I picked Petrovac for that, because the good people of the internet had been saying it’s a beautiful, sleepy town with no nightlife whatsoever – a perfect sloth resort. I needed two separate buses and one train connection to travel Žabljak-Podgorica-Sutomore-Petrovac, but I still made it to my destination early in the afternoon.

There are no hostels in Petrovac, but the cheapest of the mirthless private rooms would have cost less than 20 euros per night. This time, however, I decided to treat myself and paid a whopping 90 euros for a weekend stay at an apartment with its own kitchen and bathroom. The main selling point was the huge balcony overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Such an incredible spot to line-dry my laundry.

IMG_20180622_154018Always good to travel thousands of kilometres just to take pictures of cats

Petrovac was everything I had been hoping for: beaches, tranquility, narrow streets and beautiful views. There was also a good selection of shops, restaurants and random Nutella pancake stands, everything a sloth might need. However, the best part of the town are its three beaches: the town beach, Lučice and Buljarica. I tested all three on my first day there.

IMG_20180622_155007Petrovac town beach: easily accessible with lots of services

IMG_20180622_171902Lučice: tiny beach tucked away in a sheltered cove, a 10-minute walk from downtown. Features a popular, reasonably priced restaurant.

IMG_20180622_173403Buljarica: a four-kilometre stretch of peaceful beach far from everything and everyone

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that Buljarica was my absolute favourite of the three. In Montenegro, most beaches are run by beach bars, which means you’ll have to pay for a sunbed and a parasol, and listen to the generic bass boosted noise poorly chosen by the DJ. The law requires that the bars always leave a small stretch of beach free for everyone to use, but usually those are so crowded you can hardly see the pebbles from underneath all the laid-out towels. That’s why Buljarica is so great: most of the beach is still in its natural state, and you can easily get your own private spot by walking a little further than others.

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It takes around half an hour to walk from the centre of Petrovac to the beginning of Buljarica. On the Petrovac side, there is a small area filled with rentable sunbeds and a couple of bars, but the other side is free from both services and people. When heading out toward the quiet side of the beach, it’s good to note that there’s a small nudist area on the way. I was not aware of that – until, all of a sudden, I found myself staring straight into the depths of the brown eye of a dude happily sticking out his bum for all the world to see. Not quite the views I was after. I kept going for another half a kilometre until I finally found a good, solitary spot to swim and admire the sunset. It was wonderful to spend a whole day doing nothing much in particular.

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Day 8: Bečići, Budva, and the abandoned Hotel As by the Perazic Do Beach

I actually spent the first half of the eighth day in Sveti Stefan, but I’ll make a separate post for that next. There’s no way I could reasonably include it here, because there’s no place further removed from a “budget holiday” than that.

Later in the afternoon, I ended up walking through the Bečići and Budva beaches before returning to Petrovac. I’m not even claiming to know anything about these two holiday destinations, but based on my first impressions, I don’t really even care to find out more, either. It seems as though nobody actually lives in Bečići, because the whole beach boulevard was all hotels, hotels, and more hotels. Even though the beach is quite long, it was also extremely crowded and therefore not to my taste at all. I think Bečići is mostly marketed to Russians, because most of the restaurant signs included Russian, or even went as far as being written in Russian only.

IMG_20180623_171626Bečići
IMG_20180623_171940The best of Bečići: a house swallowed by flowers

Budva didn’t impress me any more than Bečići: Coca-Cola and Tuborg sunbrellas ruined the views, and the aforementioned, generic bass boosted noise poisoned the air. I must admit I was too tired to visit the old town, maybe there could have been something to see there?

IMG_20180623_182409Budva beach with views of the old town

No, Petrovac is surely the shining star among the beach resorts in the Budva region in every way imaginable – unless you enjoy getting wasted at beach bars, in which case it’s best to stay away from ruining Petrovac to us (mentally) elderly people. I felt like I had wasted the day, so I saved it by going for a little sunset walk from Petrovac to the Perazic Do beach. The half-hour, one-way walk is half amazing ocean views, half scary tunnel through the mountain. In other words, nicely balanced.

IMG_20180623_203723OK for a jogging pathIMG_20180623_203240Views from the roadIMG_20180623_204132This beach can only be accessed by boat, or by climbing down a vertical wallIMG_20180623_205603In through this end of the tunnel…IMG_20180623_204706and out from here.

IMG_20180623_204714The abandoned Hotel As

The massive skeleton of the abandoned Hotel As looms over the Perazic Do beach. This place would have been amazing if they had been able to finish construction! It’s not really a beach for swimming, since there are huge boulders and random pieces of concrete probably left there when the construction site was abandoned. The beach seemed to be a popular sunset chill-out spot for a lot of people, though, and I can see why: the abandoned hotel creates an eery vibe while the colours of the sky slide from pale pastels to flaming orange. Don’t miss this walk if you ever find yourself in Petrovac!

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To read the rest of my Montenegro posts in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

Budget Holiday in Montenegro, Part I: Podgorica and Lake Skadar

There are two simple factors that traditionally determine the destination for my summer vacation. First, there must be mountains. Secondly, the price level must not blow up my tiny budget. Montenegro, the trendiest destination of yesteryear, ticks both boxes so that’s where I headed this summer. I hopped on the bandwagon quite late, since all the hipsters have already abandoned the Black Mountain and are now travelling to its neighbouring state, Albania, instead. Luckily that doesn’t bother me at all.

My two-week holiday included hiking in the mountains, chilling on the beach and strolling around cities, but still the total cost came in well under a thousand euros. Strongly recommended for all cheapskates like me! I’ll revisit the detailed budget right after I’ve managed to churn out the whole travelogue.

Hostel Q Podgorica

I spent the first three nights of my holiday in the capital. The only downside to the otherwise wonderful Hostel Q was its location in the suburbs. The neighbourhood itself was very nice and peaceful, but the three-kilometre trek to the city centre was a bit of a pain. Sure, a taxi would take you back and forth for around five euros, but that’s already one third of the accommodation cost per night. You might as well stay in the city centre for less fuss and the same amount of money. It’s not the most social hostel, either: there are only a couple of dorms and a couple of private rooms, and people seemed to spend a lot of time in solitude. I would still warmly recommend this hostel to anyone that likes peace, quiet and hammocks.

IMG_20180616_091455The terrace outside the dorms with a mountain view
IMG_20180616_090948Breakfast is served in the common room – you can also grab a fig right off a tree in the hostel garden!IMG_20180616_091127Bingo tips for next year’s Eurovision
IMG_20180617_172827What’s better after a long day of hardcore touristing than a nap in a hammock?

Day 1: Day Trip to Lake Skadar and a Dip in the Adriatic Sea

The first whole day of my holiday, I visited the Lake Skadar National Park. Podgorica is a great base for a variety of day trips around Montenegro, all thanks to its excellent bus and train connections to every corner (ok, most corners) of the tiny country. Instead of an actual train network, however, there is basically just one train line between Bijelo Polje and Bar. I paid one euro for a train ticket to Virpazar, the closest entrance to the national park. However, before I could enjoy the nature, I still had to make my way from the train station to the centre of the village. I wish I could have adopted all the stray dogs hanging out at the station, especially the tiny pupper all the bigger dogs kept bullying. :(

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Montenegrins don’t seem to be big fans of pavements – I guess everyone just drives everywhere, even the shortest distances? I had to balance on a narrow piece of concrete separating the highway and the railroad tracks for over half a kilometre, just because I couldn’t come up with any better route to the village. There were signs warning people to drive slowly and watch out for otters crossing the road, but I doubt the drivers even saw the signs at those speeds, let alone noticing a lone balancing sloth on the side of the road.

As soon as I made it to the village, I was immediately ambushed by over-eager travel agents.

“Hey, lady! HEY! Want a boat ride? Kayaking? Hiking? Taxi? Hey, HELLO! Anything? I can take you anywhere! HEY! Just give me ten euros!

The only thing I gave them was an exasperated sideways glance. If you think about it, ten euros is a great price for a relaxing boat ride on the lake in the stunning scenery, but the aggressive approach of these guys was a huge turn-off for me.  If you’re not bringing a car, booking a tour would probably be the best way to make the most of your visit to the park. I wish I had had the common sense to do some advance research on these options. Now, all the surprise yelling and pushiness just made me want to run away and hide. I also wasn’t keen on ending up on a boat alone with any of these guys – the last time I was in that kind of a situation, the guy made me watch a video of mating tortoises on his phone instead of just letting me enjoy the scenery.

IMG_20180616_115932Apocalypse? Nah, not raining bugs, just chillin’ in their massive web

After losing the peddlers, I decided to do a couple-hour hike to the nearest town, Godinje. I walked along the narrow, winding road that circles the lake, and fortunately there was barely any traffic at all. It felt so good to breathe in peace without anyone trying to sell me anything. The views just kept getting better, too.
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In Godinje, I ran into this unofficial dumping ground and the EU-funded sign telling people to please dispose of their trash properly. It wasn’t the only heap of trash of its kind, either – similar dumping grounds (and signs) can be spotted through the train windows, too. Here’s hoping the signs do their job in the future. I think it’s the same global phenomenon you also see back home: people often just don’t fully appreciate all the amazing things around them.

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Trash aside, most of the scenery was total postcard material. A boat ride on the lake would have offered a different perspective on the surrounding mountains, but I was still quite happy with my snack break views as pictured above.

Hiking in the scorching sun had made me want to go for a swim, but the best beaches were too far to reach by foot and as far as I know, there are few if any buses connecting the small lakeside towns. The little ball of sweat I was, I didn’t even consider hitch-hiking. Instead, I returned to Virpazar by foot. Since the day was still young and public transport practically free, in a moment of fancy I hopped back on the train and rode it all the way to the Adriatic Sea. For one euro, again.

IMG_20180616_161320Rare pedestrians-only access to the beach – better have strong knees for this one
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I got off the train in Sutomore, just because on Google Maps it seemed to be the closest train station next to a beach. The town of Sutomore is basically just a single, long stretch of a narrow beach boulevard with a plenty of cheap food and knick-knacks for tourists to spend their money on. The beach is a foot-massaging pebble beach. Based on my short visit, I got the impression that this is the locals’ choice for a beach holiday destination. There is nothing that really sets it apart from any other similar coastal towns, but it suited my purposes perfectly: all I really wanted was to cool off in the crystal clear waters, and that’s exactly what I did.

On my two-euro train ride back to Podgorica, I had a plenty of time to admire the views for all my money’s worth. In Montenegro, train travel is always a great idea even if you’re not really going anywhere. Just go for the views.

IMG_20180616_183728 IMG_20180616_183550Yes, this photo too was taken through a train window

Day 2: Podgorica City Tour

On the second day, bad weather was forecast for the whole country. I had originally planned to catch the train in the other direction toward the Biogradska Gora National Park, because so many people have been saying it’s the single most beautiful train journey in all of Europe. Hiking in the mountainous national park in heavy rain and thunder would have been a spectacularly stupid idea, though, so I begrudgingly went for Plan B and spent the day touring the limited sights in the capital.

IMG_20180617_133647First impression: it’s really quiet in here?

IMG_20180617_134019Not the President’s castle, just your average municipal assembly buildingIMG_20180617_153020Hey there, Bob!
IMG_20180617_133043Keep it up, boys!
IMG_20180617_133059Hooligans
IMG_20180617_133128Is this some type of guerrilla marketing? Bachelor of Business Administration wants to know
IMG_20180617_151223I like the sly moustachioed one in the middleIMG_20180617_133259This explains the reckless driving!IMG_20180617_134433DRAMAIMG_20180617_134831Obligatory statue of Very Important Man on a Horse ™
IMG_20180617_160040Could we please have some of this jungle in the Finnish suburbs, too?IMG_20180617_140523My favourite fountain
IMG_20180617_142524Apparently, this humble bell tower is the main tourist attraction in the old townIMG_20180617_143306Another humble towerIMG_20180617_143824Anatomy of electrical wiring
IMG_20180617_150313AcrobaticsIMG_20180617_150724River Moraca, my favourite thing about Podgorica

Half a day was plenty enough to walk around the city and see the sights. For the rest of the day, I hid from the rain in a hammock under a tree. Podgorica wouldn’t be my first choice for a city break, but it works fine when your other plans have been cancelled.

To read all my posts on this Montenegro trip in English, click here: Montenegro18EN

How to Get from Podgorica Airport to the City Centre by Public Transport: Yes, It IS Possible (Kind of!)

Google the question in the title, like any budget-minded traveller heading to Montenegro would, and prepare to be met with a resounding response boiling down to just one word: “impossible”. Advice forums are full of people saying that there are no buses or trains, and that the only way out of the airport is by taxi. These same helpful folks often continue by recommending their “favourite” taxi company, which is not suspicious at all, nuh-uh. However, while planning my own trip, I came across a lone, rebellious comment stating that there might be other options. Being the cheapskate that I am, I obviously had to investigate it further. So, here are the results of my empirical research. In brief: yes, it is sort of possible, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Option 1: Podgorica Airport to Podgorica by Train

Try this first! There is a train station about one kilometre from the airport, and it’s a fairly quick and easy walk that takes about 10-15 minutes. When you first step out of the airport, shake the numerous taxi drivers peddling their services and yelling about how there is no bus, and exit the parking lot to the only street leading out towards the main road. Note that there are no sidewalks and the cars drive by fast, but for most of the way you can walk on a gravel path that follows the road on the right.

IMG_20180615_194905This is how the gravel path looks, the road is on the left behind the bushes

IMG_20180615_195257This is right before the bridge over the railroad starts – do not enter the bridge; instead, cross the road to the left side

IMG_20180615_195330Keep walking down on the left side of the bridge

IMG_20180615_195534When the tarmac turns into gravel again, you’re almost there

IMG_20180615_195639Aaaand there it is! Cross the tracks to get to the station

IMG_20180615_195730 Looking in the Podgorica direction

The empty shack of a station may seem abandoned, but don’t let it fool you: the train does stop there. I’ve seen locals hop on the train on my way from Podgorica to Virpazar and back. However, the main problem is that there are only ten daily connections, so if your flight schedule doesn’t match the train schedule, you’ll have to opt for the bus. You can check the train timetable here: http://www.zcg-prevoz.me/search, from station “Aerodrom” to station “Podgorica”.

Option 2: Podgorica Airport to Podgorica by Bus

Okay, so the train schedule doesn’t match yours? No worries, you’re already halfway to the bus stop. Keep following the path on the left side of the bridge to reach the main road.

IMG_20180615_200003Walk past the basketball court and keep going

IMG_20180615_200113The bridge across the tracks ends here, keep walking on this narrow path. At some point you can switch back to the right side of the road again

IMG_20180615_200514The road from the airport meets the main road at this traffic circle. Take the exit to the right in the Podgorica direction

IMG_20180615_200701A wild pavement appears! And disappears. And appears again.

IMG_20180615_200752Almost there! Just have to cross this blue bridge and walk a tiny bit further

IMG_20180615_201134Voilà! The bus stop is next to the Pizza Restaurant Ester

IMG_20180615_202639A single journey ticket costs 0.90€ (June 2018)

A bus sped up past me a minute before I reached the stop, but on a Friday night I only had to wait about 15 minutes before the next one arrived. I tried to look for the bus timetables online, but had no luck there. I assume they run fairly regularly. If you see any locals waiting at the same stop, you’re golden. I’ve also come across a few random comments on a mysterious “L20” bus line that supposedly runs all the way to the airport seven times a day, but unfortunately I could not confirm its existence. Further research is needed there.

But Is It Worth It?

Alright, before you embark on this epic journey to the bus stop, you must first decide how much you value your time, effort and safety. The taxi to the city costs around 15€ (or less if you manage to negotiate it down or book in advance), a single bus ticket costs 0.90€, and a train ticket costs 1€. It is a 2.5 km walk to the bus stop, which took me about half an hour + 15 minutes of waiting time. How much would you have to save to make it worth the hike, the time, and the risk of being run over by the reckless drivers?

I feel like the train/bus option is great for cheap solo backpackers like myself, but when you have two or more people in your group, the cost per person is significantly reduced if you just take the easy way out and hop on a taxi. I would also think twice before attempting this with a heavy trolley bag.

For me, a major perk of this public transport option was the mere fact I got to avoid taxis! I haven’t been scammed often when travelling, but the few times I’ve been left feeling ripped off or just generally bamboozled, a taxi driver has almost always been somehow involved. So, personally, I’m willing to go the literal extra mile to avoid them. Your mileage may vary.

Let me know in the comments if any of this was helpful! :)

Read more on my budget holiday in Montenegro by clicking here: Montenegro18EN

A Weekend in Reykjavik

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After the Golden Circle tour, we had two full days left to spend on a Reykjavik city break. Our guesthouse was located right next to Hallgrimskirkja. The church is massive and can be seen from nearly any part of the city – for someone who could get lost for a living, it was the perfect landmark orienteering-wise. We started the day by hopping on the elevator to the top of the church, and from there we could gawk at all the colourful houses of Reykjavik.

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After our church visit, it was time to roam the streets of the city. My first impression of Reykjavik is a mish-mash of adorable wooden houses and tons of graffiti covering the walls. It also seems like a pretty laid-back city (even though they’ve deemed it necessary to specifically ban tractors on the roads during rush hours). A young man tending a hot dog stand tackled his grey day blues by singing out the tiny window of the stand, singing out so loud his voice echoed throughout the block. While my mum and I cursed the rain, a man in a suit closed his eyes, lifted his face up against the sky, and smiled at the raindrops bouncing off his cheeks to join the puddles on the ground.

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As we reached the harbour, we started to wonder about the crowds of people, families and couples, all going in the same direction. We joined the march out of pure curiousity and soon found out that the local rescue services were holding some kind of an open doors event. We actually got to go on a free tour on the Coast Guard boat! They also had a cavalcade of different rescue vehicles in a neat row outside, including a gigantic 4×4 for the difficult inland terrain. It seems that car rental companies are scaring tourists about Iceland’s dangerous small roads for a good reason.

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We finished off Saturday night at the Harpa concert hall, where we saw the amazing How to Become Icelandic in 60 Minutes. This hilarious one-man comedy show included not only stand up, but also a lot of props and video material, and the goal of the evening was to turn the audience into fresh, new Icelanders to help keep their tiny nation afloat. This show is pure gold and I can absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Reykjavik! I dare you not to laugh for an entire hour at Bjarni Haukur Þórsson’s mercy. The concert hall in itself is also quite a sight.

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On Sunday it was time for another soak, this time at the Laugardalslaug geothermal outdoor pool. This is another strongly recommended destination for Reykjavik visitors. The entrance fees are reasonable, under 1000 ISK, and for the price you get to enjoy a variety of different pools and other services. In addition to the “normal” sports pool, they also have a steam room, a seawater pool, a waterslide, and a bunch of smaller pools of different temperatures up to 44 degrees Celsius. All of the water is geothermally heated and the pools are open year-round. It seems swimming is one of Icelanders’ favourite hobbies, and what better way to catch up with friends and family than soaking in a warm tub of awesomeness.

Since we had already seen most of the must-sees on Saturday, on Sunday we could focus more on the details. I was charmed by the streamlined, bright red street lamps, geometric roundabout art, and sidewalks tiles that made them look like pixel art. Unfortunately I managed to destroy my memory card before I had the last day’s pictures safe on the computer. I lost them all, I cried, but what can you do. Fortunately the good memories of this trip will be much better stored on my brain than they were on the SD card.

Finally, here are a couple of Icelandic music videos. We kept hearing the first brainworm all the time on the car radio. The second video takes you to the streets and roofs of Reykjavik. The third video features a rapper riding through the suburbs on an icelandic horse. :D So heartwarming!

Around Belgium in Six Days: Romantic Bruges

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We saved the best for last: Bruges is definitely worth all the hype it gets. Back at the wedding, when we mentioned our plan to finish our holiday in Bruges, the response was always the same: “Heh heh, so the lady wants to go to Bruges? *wink wink, nudge nudge*” In fact, the idea was Chef’s, and what a brilliant one it was. Bruges has a well-deserved reputation of being the perfect romantic destination for two. Ornate buildings, cobbled streets, beautiful canals crossing the city: you simply cannot get enough of leisurely strolls around town. Let the pictures speak for themselves!

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Around Belgium in Six Days: Liège by Night

After Prague, another three weeks flew by at work. The last week of August, I got another chance to travel. This time it was with my fiancé Chef, whose best friend C was about to get married in Neufchâteau, Belgium. As Chef and I had a very limited budget and little time off work, our only shared vacation this year was planned around the wedding weekend. The cheapest AirBaltic flight from Helsinki to Brussels required a five-hour stopover in Latvia, but it wasn’t a problem. The whole Pokémon hype was still going strong, so we spent those extra hours happily chasing after pocket monsters around the beautiful parks in Riga.

IMG_2186Son rows the boat, mom looks for Magikarp

At the Brussels airport, we immediately noticed how this year’s terrorist attacks had had a major impact on security policies. Three years ago, when I first visited Belgium, I hadn’t noticed anything special about the arrangements, but this time there were guards and metal detectors at every corner. Somehow we managed to steer away from the “official” route leading to the correct train platform and ended up in a queue of people trying to enter the airport. Stressed out and already running late, we figured we would never catch our connecting train if we had to go through yet another security check. A friendly guard let us jump over the fence when he heard the situation and, thanks to him, we got to the train just in time. Either the the massive security operations were just for show to give people a sense of safety or we both seemed 100% harmless. I would probably put my money on the former.

At the actual railway station it became clear that there had been no need for rush. First, our connecting train was only supposed to be a couple minutes late, but then the bonus minutes really started piling up. Finally, 45 minutes behind schedule, we were on our way to Liège.

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Our welcome to Liège was luxurious. C and his future wife B had already travelled to the village of Neufchâteau well in advance for their wedding and left us their apartment (and car!) to use. Their friendly neighbour gave us the keys and encouraged us to knock on her door if we needed anything. We hadn’t discussed the specifics with C, so at first, we were looking for an inflatable mattress or something similar for sleeping arrangements. However, a peek at the master bedroom revealed that, in addition to the apartment and car, the “good” bed had also been reserved to us. Gotta love Belgians! <3

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After a long day of travelling, I would have been ready to collapse into bed immediately, but hunger drove us back to the city centre. An unusual heat wave lingered above Belgium, and Liége by night felt almost Mediterranean. Deux spritz, s’il vous plaît. I managed to order us drinks without using a word of English, despite the fact that I had painfully pushed my way through spring semester French with the lowest grade possible. 100 hours of study truly paid off, here!

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Long Weekend in Prague, Day 3: Old Town Square & John Lennon Wall

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On Monday, we had already started to run out of steam a little, but fortunately many of the “must-sees” had already been ticked off the list. We kicked off the day by saying hello to the adorable baby hippo napping in the photo above, but the rest of the zoo visit was kept short. Once again, we ended up wandering around the city before our return flight in the evening.

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Travelling with Redds has always been smooth. However, when we were trying to get to the Old Town Square, feeling hot and hungry, “guided” by a deplorable map full of ads, we both came extremely close to losing our temper. There’s always a first, I suppose! These photos don’t do any justice to the stunning buildings around the square at all. In the end, we both agreed that the impressive sights were completely worth the brief stint of frustration.

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The previous night, we had already caught a glimpse of the John Lennon wall by the Charles Bridge. On Monday, we wanted to see the wall better in daylight. Lennon-related texts and images first started to appear on the wall in the 80s, right after he was murdered. At first, the local authorities tried to keep the wall clear of graffiti, but eventually they gave up and graffiti took over. Over the years, the messages have evolved to encompass a more general philosophy of love and peace. The wall keeps on transforming, as new art slowly covers the old.

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What better way to end a trip than heeding advice from an organic collection of wisdom and inspiration. As a cherry on top, I also got to squeeze the adorable Mole back at the airport. Try to guess which one of the dozens of drool stains is mine!

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(Trick question: all of them!)