I’ve had itchy feet pretty much the whole time since I got back from my voluntary redundancy-funded travels around the world (well, the Northern Hemisphere anyway) during 2016.
I’m hoping to fit in a mini trip in the next few months if circumstances allow. In the meantime, I thought I’d pull together a list of places I’d love to return to.
Top image: A view of the Stari Most (Old Bridge) in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
These are almost all cities, owing to the fact that I was mostly dependent on public transport while I was away. My ideal trip combines wandering around cities and exploring the outdoors on foot or by bike.
Wrocław (pronounced vrots-waff, but in my head I still call it rock-law) was by far my favourite of the Polish cities I visited. Its huge main square (Rynek) and Cathedral Island (Ostrów Tumski) are gorgeous and there was a great buzz, even in February. Unique sights include 100s of bronze dwarves dotted around the city (with origins in anti-communist protest in the 1980s) and the Skybound Train, an artwork consisting of a full-size locomotive pointing almost vertically into the sky.
Looking across to Cathedral Island
I joined a walking tour and was fascinated by the fact that up until 1945 Wrocław was the German city of Breslau. It was completely rebuilt following the carnage of the Second World War and resettled by Poles expelled from Lwów/Lviv in present-day Ukraine (another city I’d love to visit).
One of the 100s of themed bronze dwarves to be found around the city
Olomouc, Czech Republic
I spent less than a day in Prague and didn’t care much for it, owing to the inflated prices and hordes of overly excited, selfie stick-wielding tourists centred on the Old Town and especially Charles Bridge. I was glad to leave it behind for this much smaller but, in my eyes, much more charming city in the east of the country (pronounced ol-oh-moats).
There’s fine, central European architecture with spacious squares (the biggest is home to the UNESCO-designated Holy Trinity Column) and the locals (and pubs) were welcoming. It rained for most of my visit, otherwise I would have spent a lot more time wandering around and taking photos.
One of the few photos I did take in Olomouc: a performance of the reconstructed, Soviet-influenced astronomical clock which adorns the Town Hall
One of the more conventionally touristy cities on this list (I tend to prefer slightly less trodden destinations), Salzburg held a special place on my trip. It was my first time seeing the jagged, snowy peaks of the Alps and I even managed to fit in a welcome hike up the Kapuzinerberg, the 640m mountain in the centre of the city. I enjoyed a tour of the lofty Hohensalzburg Castle and the views from and of it.
Looking across to the castle on my way down the Kapuzinerberg
And the view over the city from the castle
Salzburg is also great base; for one thing, it’s only a stone’s throw from the German state of Bavaria. I made the most of my rail pass while I was there to take the scenic train journey west into Switzerland (via very quick stop offs in Innsbruck and Liechtenstein… everyone needs a Liechtenstein Selfie), though once again the weather didn’t quite play ball. Finally, I found the people in Salzburg, and Austria generally, to be friendly and laid back, with a manner similar to the Irish.
After leaving Salzburg, I did a whistlestop tour of five former Yugoslav states en route to Athens for a flight connection. Zagreb was a city I had no real concept of before visiting but which I quickly fell in love with. This was my second visit to Croatia, following a longer holiday in Dubrovnik back in 2006, and what I liked about the capital was that it felt liked a bustling, ‘lived in’ city that didn’t exist primarily for tourists.
A view of the Cathedral of the Assumption from the Zagreb 360° attraction; I read that the twin spires are seemingly always under renovation, and any photos I’ve seen support this theory
St. Mark’s Church in Zagreb’s atmospheric Upper Town
It’s an ideal-sized city to wander around and take in the fine Austro-Hungarian architecture and experience the cafe culture. I visited two of Zagreb’s many museums during my short visit, the fun-for-all-ages Museum of Illusions and the acclaimed Museum of Broken Relationships. I also bought my much-loved Hvratska beanie hat (Hvratska being what the locals call the country), seen in a couple of posts in this blog, at the busy Dolac Market beside the Cathedral.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
I visited Herzegovina’s main city on a day trip from the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo. I’d wanted to go ever since seeing an excursion advertised in Dubrovnik 10 years earlier. Mostar’s iconic landmark is the Stari Most, the Ottoman arched bridge over the Neretva River, famously rebuilt in 2004 following its destruction during the 1990s conflict.
I must admit to being shocked and disappointed at the scale of the bridge; it looked much more imposing in photos and videos. I found myself a little underwhelmed generally by Mostar’s small Old Town but for me the appeal was more in the dynamics of this divided city: Bosniak Muslims live primarily on the east bank of the river with Catholic Croats on the west, a set-up eerily familiar from my own corner of the world.
The mountaintop cross is visible throughout the city and I wondered what the Muslim population made of it; the Cathedral of Mary, Mother of the Church is on the right
I visited a parochial centre/cafe next to the Catholic Cathedral where a group of young people were chatting informally with a priest (probably a rare enough sight here in Ireland these days) and got a sense of a community’s pride and determination to hold onto its traditions. It’s a city where I was conscious of my own prejudices and that I’d love to spend more time getting to know. Next time I plan to take the scenic train journey from Sarajevo (closed last time) and visit the nearby pilgrimage town of Medjugorje.
In Part 2 I’ll look at some places in Asia and the USA that I’d love to return to some day.
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