Our very best of 2017

2017 has been another incredible year on the road. In 2015 when we left the Netherlands to see the world we didn’t think we would still be traveling more than 2 years later. Yet 2017 brought some of the most incredible sights in our journey. We want to share them with you in this pretty compact list. Hopefully it will bring you inspiration for travels in the years ahead.

  1. Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

We travel to discover something foreign, a culture, a sight, a cuisine which we don’t have at home. Gardens by the Bay is something truly unique, that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. For me it felt like a vision of a future city, green, modern and a perfect symbiosis of nature and people. I could go back there a thousand times, over and over again and to all of you I recommend it as my unbeatable number 1. Don’t miss the light show by the main Super Trees site. More about the Gardens here.

  1. The Kaluts desert, Iran

That’s Jandirk’s  number 1 and the first place we saw in 2017. The silence, the rock formations and the feeling of landing on the Moon made it one of our very favorite sites. Not to mention the beauty of solitude out there. More about the journey here.

  1. Fuji mountain, Japan

Japan as a country has stolen our hearts. Jandirk has been fascinated by their manga, food and culture for a long time but for me it’s a very new love. Japan as a whole is an incredible journey full of surprises on every corner. But if we had to choose a specific place we would say Fuji Mountain. It can be seen from so many different places and it’s so perfectly symmetrical and majestic. We were lucky enough to see a lot of it from many different angles and we somehow can not imagine a trip to Japan without it.

  1. Sheikh Zayed Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE

In 2017 we saw many incredible mosques in Oman and Iran but there was one winner and surprisingly it was in Abu Dhabi. It was completed in 2007 so I didn’t expect more than tons of gold and kitsch. I was wrong, the mosque is breathtaking! Every bit is magnificent, stylish, very thoughtfully made. In the evening it looks like a fairytale palace from Aladdin or 1001 Nights. It’s lit according to the phases of the moon so the color and intensity of the light changes every day. That should give you an idea about the amount of work and thought that went into this masterpiece.

  1. Pingxi mountains, Taiwan

I love mountainous views. Especially at sunrise there is something magical with the morning mist and clouds disappearing in between rays of light. I have to admit that I am not the type of person who likes hiking just for the joy of it. I have to have something spectacular at the top of the peak. Well Pingxi mountains gave us just that, super short, strenuous hike and absolutely magnificent views worth every bit of sweat and fear. About how to get there and exactly what to see go here.

  1. View on Sigiriya Rock, Sri Lanka

I’m not going to lie to you. We were not enchanted by Sri Lanka. We were stunned by the amount of garbage, scary transportation and not overly kind people. But one view stayed with us and it was the one on the Sigiriya Rock. It looked so blissful, so green, so Avatar-like, something we won’t ever forget. Tempted by this sight we actually visited the fortress on the top of that rock. We recommend you guys not to make that same mistake. It’s not worth the overpriced entrance and the slow, tiring walk up in a column of tourists.

  1. Japan in bloom

People tend to think that bloom in Japan means only cherry blossom and cherry blossom is only seen in Kyoto and Tokyo. The truth is cherry blossom is everywhere but just varies in period very much. This spectacle of nature, although very brief, brings Japan to life, pushes locals to celebrate and cherish what's fugacious in life. There are picnics and festivals everywhere and the trees look just breathtaking. After few days when the petals start falling it almost looks like snow. More about where to see cherry blossom here.

Except for cherry blossom we were lucky enough to see plum blossom which is almost as beautiful. It comes before the cherries and it’s more peaceful, less touristic.

  1. Kyoto, Japan

Every bit, every kilometer of it. It’s the city that charmed me the most this year. Kyoto is just pure essence of Japan for me. There is so much history there, so much soul but also plenty of modern, pleasantly weird Japan. I seriously can’t wait to go back there. For more info about our favorite places in Kyoto go to the post.

  1. Montserrat, Spain

No mountains are like those surrounding Montserrat Monastery. They look like sleeping giants overgrown with plants. I still can’t believe that all these times I came to visit Barcelona I didn’t think about coming here. Short trip away to huge joy.

  1. Tea plantations, Malaysia

We are massive tea drinkers and disappointed by tea plantations on Sri Lanka we decided to give it another tea try in Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. Although the villages in the tea region were hideous, the plantations made up for it pretty fast. Hills of green, filled with bushes of tea. Unforgettable experience.

  1. Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Already the name says it all. It’s a spectacular location that has a lot to offer when it comes to nature, culture and even modern architecture. Perfect escape from somehow chaotic cities of Taiwan. Every Dutch person will be delighted to hear that the best way to explore the area is by bike. More here.

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Girona, Spain

Girona – Game of Thrones day trip from Barcelona

Girona for many years was just a place near Barcelona where cheap flights were landing. Maybe because Jandirk is fascinated with Game of Thrones or maybe simply because we were searching for a nice day trip from Barcelona, we ended up going there AND LOVING IT!

Although it’s possible to visit the main sites in a day, I can imagine we could be walking around those little streets for days. Getting lost in the back alleys and finding our ways to the best restaurants. But well maybe next time. Below all the highlights that can’t be missed.

The Cathedral with its staircase

That’s where our day begun to avoid all the potential crowds and at 9 o’ clock we succeeded.

The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 18th century so as you can imagine it features many styles. Part of it is gothic, some Romanesque and some even baroque. For me the most spectacular part was the staircase leading to the church. The stairs (all 90 of them!) are wide, massive and provide plenty of space and interesting perspectives for beautiful pictures. At the bottom of it there is a charming, little square with cafes and as you climb up there are colorful houses on both sides and some terraces to enjoy the view.

Some of you might recognize the sight from the Game of Thrones TV show. I’ve never watched it but Jandirk reported to me all excited, that it looks pretty much like in the series.

Monastery of Sant Domenec

Another location from GoT. It looks a bit like the Cathedral but in mini-version. It also has a staircase leading to it and the same type of architecture. I absolutely loved the little street going to the left just before the stairs. It’s a perfect hideaway and the first step to explore…

…Girona’s old town’s streets and corners  

The part that we love the most about cities like Girona is that there is an old town where most of the people gather around the main sites and there are plenty of tiny cobblestone streets, archways and passages where you can be all by yourself to soak up the beauty. Even though by the time we started diving into the forgotten alleys it was the late afternoon (read. the sites were packed) we were still alone and managed to find even more GoT locations. Which made JD truly ecstatic.

Don’t forget the bridges!

The old town of Girona is separated from the rest by Onyar River and to cross it there are 5 stunning bridges (in the center, 11 in total). We especially liked the Eiffel Bridge that was built around 1877. You can probably guess from the pictures and the name that it was designed by the same gentleman that created the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The bridge itself is honestly quite a sight but the views from it are truly one of a kind. On both sides you can see the vivid facades of the riverside homes. The flags hanging from many of them will leave you in no doubt that it’s Catalonia you’re in, not Spain.

Another bridge that we loved was the Princess Bridge. It’s probably the most romantic one of them all and also from this one we got a great view of those colorful houses.

The last one that we would recommend to see is the Stone Bridge. It’s the biggest one and when we were there it had a lovely arts& crafts market. I don’t know if that’s a rule or just a temporary thing though so don’t get your hopes up.

Arabic bath

It’s a really tiny spot but for Game of Thrones’ fans it’s a big joy. Another location! I was not too impressed but JD was over the moon. And that for just 2 euros p.p. More info here.

TIP! Some of the GoT locations didn’t knock me off my feet so I didn’t include them as a must see on here but you can find them here and here.

Walking over the city walls

Passeig de la Muralla as they call it, it’s the best way to get a gorgeous panorama of the city with a backdrop on the distant Pyrenees. It shows you the old and the new harmoniously together. The oldest parts of the walls date back to the Roman times. I was shocked to read that the passage was in pretty good shape until the 19th century when the city started to expand… Thankfully nowadays it’s reconstructed and this 3 km walk is seamless again.

I would recommend to do it in the afternoon, if you come here in the summer, to avoid being exposed to the worst heat.

There are various entrances (all of them free). You can enter through Jardin de la Infancia or Jardines de la Francesa (those are close by the cathedral) or Jardines de John Lennon.

Ice cream time!!

Girona is practically a fine dining capital so to deny yourself at least that top notch ice cream would be a sin! That's what we told ourselves when on our way to Rocambolesc Gelateria.

This tiny shop with a massive queue stretching outside is the baby of Jordi Roca, the dessert chef at the three- star legendary restaurant El Celler de Can Roca… where we wouldn’t be able to eat because of a months of fully booked waiting list and a potentially ruining receipt coming with the experience.

However the ice cream place is a more affordable option to try some wicked flavors… and shapes 🙂

The prices start at 2.5 euro for a “normal looking” sorbet ice cream like bloody mary, gin tonic, mojito or pina colada. The more twisted the shape and flavor the more expensive it gets. Rose water and strawberry ice cream in the shape of a nose costs 4 euro, chocolate, raspberry and yogurt “birthday cake” is 5.50 euro. There is also a Lord Vader, a bear, a hand (GoT 😉 ) and God knows what comes next 🙂

If you don’t get a chance to visit that shop, where it all started, you still can enjoy the same flavors at one of their other shops in Barcelona, Madrid or Alicante.

Sangria or two at the Independence Square

This 19th century square is a perfect place to end your day in Girona. It’s full of life, nice cafes and restaurants. Every building surrounding it has a nice passage with arches and plenty of tables to hide away from the sun.

Montserrat- the most epic day trip from Barcelona

I traveled to Barcelona many, many times. It’s one of my favorite European cities and I have a very good friend living there. Somehow all those times I never thought of visiting Montserrat. I knew it was a monastery in the mountains and to be honest I was never a big fan of catholic sites like that. But this year JD and I decided to give it a try. After all if it’s bad it’s only one day wasted.

I love to be wrong like that. It’s literally the best day trip from Barcelona.

What is so special about it?

On paper it doesn’t sound too great. Monastery in the mountains. It’s not as boring as that. The mountain range looks as if there were huge stone giants walking around the region, got tired and decided to lay down and stay. On those people they built a monastery but that’s not even the most spectacular part of the site. There is a little church built in a rock, crazy serpentine of roads in between the peaks and incredible views from numerous places. But let’s go step by step through…

…what is there to see?

Benedictine Monastery

That is by far the biggest and most famous attraction in there. Attraction is an adequate word to describe this site as there is even a bar that sells beer just next to the monastery. Quite shocking honestly. The Santa Maria de Montserrat abbey was founded in 10th century and is still fully functioning with around 70 monks living in residence. It doesn’t look much different from a usual church unless you look from afar. The sight of the monastery surrounded by almighty peaks is just jaw dropping.

Viewing terrace

Very close by the religious sight there is a whole serpentine of roads going back and forth and presenting incredible views on the mountains below as well as Santa Cova Chapel that looks imprisoned in between the rocks. We wandered around quite a bit and managed to find a balcony with two seats and the best views on the valley. We indicated where it was on our map below. Maybe because of the stairs that led to it and the fear of going back people didn’t dare to go there. Their loss was our win, we enjoyed these views with just the two of us.

The Instagram staircase

Just as we were walking around Montserrat we realized that it’s where the famous Staircase to Heaven was. We saw it on soooo many Instagram photos. Although on each and every one of those people climb on the very last of the nine stacked concrete blocks, it’s forbidden. Nowadays there is even a fence to prevent that. It was meant to be a piece of art not an Instagram installation. To be frank I would die of fear if I had to climb it… One false move, could be the last one. Also the view surrounding the staircase is not that spectacular compared to many others in the surrounding.

Santa Cova Chapel

It’s a hillside cave where the Virgin of Montserrat was hidden before being found by shepherds in the IX century. Centuries later a tiny chapel was built here. Although it’s possible to get to it by a funicular, it’s actually a short, not very challenging walk. A return trip would be about 1.5 hour all together. I think it’s the best way to visit it especially since funicular is not really cheap and it doesn’t take you all the way to the chapel anyway.

The church is really tiny but the views and the path leading to it are mind-blowing.

San Miguel’s Cross

From the monastery it might seem that you can visit the Santa Cova Chapel and then continue walking to the Sant Miquel’s Cross. Unfortunately there is no path behind the chapel so those are two separate walks. But going to the cross is a very short, 20 minute stroll that is not really challenging and the views are well worth it. We could admire the monastery from a distance and the gorgeous mountains below. Compared to views that we saw from Santa Cova (which we liked better anyway) these ones were more open simply because it’s a much higher point. I guess we prefer to feel “in the mountain” rather than on top of it but you might like this one better 🙂

Sant Jeroni Mountain

To reach the highest mountain in the area (1236m) we took the funicular that goes to the highest station and from there we followed a very clear path that led us through some forest patches and some beautiful view points over the mountains to the top. As much as we loved the views we recommend this hike to very motivated people. It’s not very strenuous and the path is easy, well maintained and clear but… we did it as the last thing on Montserrat and the sun was just excruciating. What’s more it’s a 3 hour return trip that does indeed provide beautiful views but not much different than the ones from previous places.

How to get to Monserrat and how to get around?

There are so many ways to get to Montserrat that it’s almost too confusing. So which one is the best and which one did we take?

By train and rack railway

That’s the option we chose because we wanted to be on the site as early as possible and the rack railway was beginning earlier in the morning than the cable car. Besides it was a bit cheaper than the option with the cable car (we paid 20.10 euro p.p). It takes about 90 minutes in total from Plaza de Espana to the top, so a bit longer than if we took the option with the cable car.

So with that option you take a R5 train from Plaza Espana to Manresa. You get off at Monistrol de Montserrat right next to that platform is where you have to take the next train. You can’t miss it. The whole route is really beautiful and it gets more and more impressive the higher you get.

Prices, timetables and combined ticket options here.

By train and cable car

It’s pretty much the same option but instead of the rack train you take a cable car from Montserrat Aeri. The cable car takes you up there in 5 minutes. If you’re going off season it’s worth checking if you can actually go with that option since during winter it’s only open on weekends and public holidays.

This mean of transport is best for those who want to get there fast and have the most spectacular views on their way. Additionally it’s few euros more expensive…

To check the cable car timetables and if it's even running go here.

By bus

I heard that there was also a bus going to Montserrat but it’s not frequent and so I didn’t take it under my consideration when we were going.

By car

If you’re into photography and you want to get there for the sunrise or stay till sunset or have the place all for yourself, car is the best option. There is plenty of parking spots up there. Unfortunately I have no idea how much it would cost to park there.

Getting around there

We did most of our sightseeing on foot except taking the San Joan funicular (8.10 euro one way) to shorten our journey to the Sant Jeroni peak. There is also another funicular shortening the trip to Santa Cova Chapel which we considered too expensive for too little (3.25 euro for one way). There is also an option of combining those two tickets for 16 euro both return. More info here.

Zaragoza- A day trip from Barcelona

On the map it looks like Zaragoza is far away from Barcelona.. too far for a day trip. But it’s not true. Nowadays it’s just a 1.5 -2 h train ride separating the two. Ticket prices are not even that bad, especially when you book them early.

So what is there to see in Zaragoza?


It’s the first one on our list simply because we would recommend to go there first as early as possible. It’s the only place in the city where we faced a bit of a crowd. Quite unusual considering that we went there before they even opened.

To be fair this 11th century Islamic palace is really worth the crowds and the detour walk from the center. Normally for that type of architecture you would have to go to Cordoba or Granada. From outside it looks like a fortress but inside there is a fine courtyard surrounded by delicate arches geometrically spread through the building. Further there is a praying room with Arabic inscriptions from the Quran and contrasting with it there is a Throne Room with a very European-looking, wooden ceiling. Some interesting facts, plans of the site, prices and opening times are available here.

Basilica of our Lady of Pillar

It’s one of the biggest churches I have ever seen, it looks impressive with its many towers, ornaments and colorful tiles on its roof. Unfortunately I have to admit that I was not impressed with the inside of the cathedral. Maybe it’s because I have seen soooo many churches already that they all look the same to me. But I would definitely recommend seeing the building itself from the main square and from two other points that I mention below.

Pillar Elevator (Ascensor del Pillar)

One of the towers of the Basilica has an elevator that brings you right up there, to a viewing point 80 m above the ground. From there we were able to see the kaleidoscopic tiles on numerous roofs of the cathedral as well as the urban landscape of the whole city spreading on both sides of the Ebro River. From the elevator there is just a short way to the very top of the tower with a modern, impressive staircase that should be seen anyway. Up there on a sunny day you get a free sauna as you experience how plants feel in greenhouses… but the views are worth every drop of sweat.

TIP! Make sure you go there in the morning or in the afternoon since there is siesta break from 13.30-16.00.

The other side of the river

Crossing the Stone Bridge (Puente de Piedra) we got to the other side of the city where we could chill out and have some lunch in the shadows of trees in a pretty spread park. But we didn’t only go there for that. From there we could admire the Basilica in its full glory, with all its towers and copulas. Accompanied by the Stone Bridge it looks almost medieval… if you overlook the cars passing on the bridge.

Getting lost in the old center

Zaragoza is one of those cities where you just have to walk around and enjoy little streets that you discover, little cafes hidden somewhere in the back alley and little patches of shade that you can find to rest a bit. When in doubt you can always go back to the main square which is truly spectacular with its fountains and numerous cafes.

Grab some lunch at the Mercado Central

Designed and built in the XIX century this Market brought us back in time. Steel, glass and stone work in perfect harmony and create (in my opinion) the most beautiful building in the city.

And there is nothing more Spanish than to squeeze in between screaming people to get your cherries, olives and some bread. If you speak Spanish you can definitely join into the conversation and tell the story of your life to any of the sellers.

How to get to Zaragoza?

There are frequent trains going between Zaragoza and Barcelona and depending on which one you pick it takes between 1.5 to 2 hours. It's best to book the tickets in advance, the more upfront you buy them, the cheaper they get. The cheapest one way ticket I saw was 15 euros. You can check the times and prices here on the renfe site. Once bought, the ticket can be downloaded in their mobile phone application which is very handy if you don't have anywhere to print it.

Vigo, Spain

Meet up in Vigo

Vigo… definitely not a top tourist attraction. No fancy cafeterias (well not many), not an extraordinary archit
ecture (nothing you wouldn’t see in Santiago or other Galician towns), not even any breathtaking museums but... it’s just authentic. Cheerful people, great food
everywhere, superb wine and rain:) and all of that stretched on many hills, all up and down, up and down… Probably to give opportunity of burning some calories gained in many homie restaurants. Vigo is also a gate to paradise- Islas Cies, very picturesque islands that look just like the ones in the Caribbean just with less garbage and ice water.Vigo, Spain

Although Vigo has a lot to offer we came here to meet up with my very good friend. I met Marta years ago when I was studying with her in Santiago. I was a foreigner, she wanted to be a foreigner in Poland. Both with tendency to be unrealistically optimistic and full of dreams of adventure and travel. Obviously we became friends. The four of us, The Martas and our down-to-earth boyfriends hit the road to see the beauty surrounding Vigo. Marta wanted to show us everything but the day only had 24hrs so we saw only the O Eirado das Margaridas, Poio, Spainbest of the best. And there is nothing better than a beer in charming town with stone houses like Pontevedra. All of the restaurants and cafeterias outside were adding
to the atmosphere and they were pleasantly busy, not too little people to feel it’s deserted but not too many to get mad that there was no place. And things got even better with laughs and food in Marcos home village, Poio. The octopus, the wine, the chicken… mmmm all delicious. The desserts were to die for. We also passed through Combarro, which is considered the most beautiful village in Galicia… Well for me it’s one of those places where I think, “glad I saw it, wouldn’t kill myself to see it again”. Pretty little town but very touristic. Which I still can’t say about La Toja. This charming tiny island is so breathtaking with its church totally covered in Saint Jacobs shells. And still there is not a single soul to see it (expect for the 4 of us), just like those years ago when I studied in Galicia. Nice to see some things never change.

Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain

In Ireland of Spain a.k.a. Galicia

My love for Galicia started years ago when I came here to study as an exchange student. I’m not going to lie, it wouldn’t have been my first choice but with a 400 euros scholarship and a dream to go to Spain I could only go for Galicia or a carton box on the central station of Barcelona or Madrid. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life, it changed it completely. My love for food started here and so did my passion for travelling. I met friends for my whole life.

Now going back after years with Jandirk I still think Galicia is one of the most beautiful parts of Europe. Santiago de Compostela is one Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spainof the best known cities in the region due to the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim path. But it has way more to offer than just a stunning cathedral and the grave of Saint James. It is a vibrant city with a great atmosphere and even greater food surrounded by stunning architecture. Although cities like Santiago, Vigo, Coruna or Lugo are worth visiting the true beauty of Galicia is in its villages and forgotten places. To reach all of those grandmas and their amazing food and wine we rented a car as public transport in Galicia could be better… could exist to begin with.

Our journey starts in Canon del Sil, a stunning canyon which is famous for its picturesque situated wine cellars. Going to local restaurants you get fed until you drop with delicious food Canon del Sil, Galicia, Spainand wine for almost no money at all. And the views are just breathtaking and we didn’t have to share those views with anyone. We didn’t even have to share our hotel as it was totally empty but absolutely gorgeous!! Classic, stone building with amazing views and great stylish
indoor. Most of the people don’t know that Galicia is really popular because of it’s delicious wine especially white, Albarino wine.

Another thing that Galicia is famous for (for the people who know that it exists) is the coast. It has some beautiful beaches with rocks, caves and cliffs, perfect to walk around (mostly it’s too cold to swim… at least for me). One of the most popular is Playa de las Catedrales. Tourism here has been waking up and it raised from maybe 20 people per day to a hundred but still it’s big enough for everyone. Going deeper in the coast it’s not a challenge to find a perfect spot only for yourself. And absolutely everywhere you get fed extraordinary food, true paradise for us.

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