your guide to Europe off the beaten path

Category: Explore Europe

Capturing the Gastronomic Spirit of Cyprus

With its enviable geographic location, diverse landscape and wide range of climates, Cyprus has both the resources and the heritage to produce one of the most fresh, fragrant and dynamic…

With its enviable geographic location, diverse landscape and wide range of climates, Cyprus has both the resources and the heritage to produce one of the most fresh, fragrant and dynamic cuisines in the world. Its position in the Mediterranean has brought a range of culinary influences to its shores, principally from Greece, but also from Turkey and the Middle East, though the people of Cyprus also continue to use traditional and entirely indigenous recipes today.

Here are some of the quintessential dishes to try on your foray into the flavours of this exciting epicurean realm;


This showcase of punchy Cypriot flavours is best enjoyed in the evening with a large glass of chilled local wine, and in good company. A selection of dishes might incorporate Koupepia (stuffed vine leaves), fried octopus or squid, talattouri (like the Turkish Cacik, a yoghurt, mint and cucumber dip), olives, hummus and lamb, with plenty of warmed pitta bread for dipping.

meze first choice


For a sweet little treat, this nut brittle is ubiquitous, and can be found in most supermarkets and grocery stores. Simply made from the honey of the Carob tree with peanuts, almonds and sesame seeds, it’s the perfect souvenir to bring a taste of Cyprus home to nibble on.


This native cheese is made from a mixture of sheep and goat’s milk, and has a similar appearance to mozzarella, but is saltier. Enjoy in a simple salad, or grilled as part of a kebab, and bring some new recipes home with which to delight your vegetarian friends.

halloumi first choice


Similarly to the Turkish tradition of serving coffee, Cypriot coffee is brewed in a small pot, and sugar is added to the mix before heating. Once vigorously boiled, a froth appears on the top, and the final product is served with a glass of water, for cleansing the palate in anticipation of flavour fireworks.


A delicious snack, this grilled fast food originating in Greece is simply skewered shards of meat, usually pork, served in warmed pitta bread with tomato and cucumber salad. The ultimate appetite appeaser, souvlaki can be bought almost everywhere in Cyprus.


As one of the most seasoned winemaking countries in the world, it is thought that wine has been produced on Cyprus for over 6000 years. The island has four traditional wineries, Etko, Keo, Loel and Sodap, as well as an insurgence of youthful little upstart businesses speckling about its hills in the past 20 years. When in Cyprus, visitors should sample the Commandaria, a sweet, amber-hued tipple made from native grape varieties. It is the oldest wine still in production.

How to get there

The republic of Cyprus has two international airports – Larnaka and Pafos with a many direct flights to and from UK, and although many tourist use cheap, no frills airlines to get there, you can opt for a package holidays to avoid the hassle.

Hungry yet? From savouries, to sweets to refreshing wines and indulgent coffees, Cyprus is the place to treat the senses. Bon Voyage!

Any other dishes you would add?

Images by First Choice

4 Comments on Capturing the Gastronomic Spirit of Cyprus

Bar To Belgrade By Train – The Most Scenic Eastern European Train Ride

Everyone has heard about the Bergen railway, Flam railway and Glacier Express, but what about the Eastern Europe and its railway routes? One route that definitely deserves attention is the…

Everyone has heard about the Bergen railway, Flam railway and Glacier Express, but what about the Eastern Europe and its railway routes? One route that definitely deserves attention is the one from Bar to Belgrade, which connects the Montenegrin coast with the capital of Serbia.

Not only does this route include breathtaking mountain scenery but also the crossing of 254 tunnels and 435 bridges of which the most impressive one is Mala Rijeka viaduct- the world’s highest railway viaduct.

Here are some basic facts;

Fares and timetable

For fares and timetable click here. You’ll need to enter the stations and the date first to get the prices.


17 hours, 550 km

The train leaves Bar at 5pm and arrives in Belgrade next morning at 10am.

When to go


Points of interest

Montenegro: Lake Skadar, the highest railway viaduct at Mala Rijeka, Moraca valley

Serbia: Kumanica monastery, Lim river, Zlatibor, Belgrade

I have traveled this route in August 2014 and it was one of the most unforgettable experiences. You might want to make a reservation a day or two earlier because 3-berth compartments may be taken really fast. I’ve bought a ticket in 6-berth compartment and went to the platform. There was a column of people, many of which with children, who were moving from car to car without knowing in which one to enter. The whole mess lasted about 20-30 minutes, after which the train whistled and finally moved.

Bar train station

Bar train station

Belgrade Bar by train

6-berth compartment

Belgrade Bar by train 2

I got a bed on top which involved climbing the ladder, and there we were… a Serb, Macedonian, an Englishman and Russian in a small 6-berth compartment which was a bit claustrophobic. The temperature was high but the refreshment came almost immediately after the departure of the train. Getting a supply of food and drinks is recommended because there’s no restaurant in the train. There are a couple of restaurants and shops near the train station where you can buy things.

You may wonder why it takes 17 hours for 550 km of travel? It’s even more bizarre that in 2014 it takes 17 hours while in 1975 it just took 7 hours to reach Bar from Belgrade. Welcome to the Balkans! However, there is a reason for this. During the nineties, this railway suffered from underfunding which has resulted in the railway deteriorating. Also, this line has been the target of NATO bombing in 1999, when parts of the tracks were seriously damaged.

As soon as the train passed the tunnel Sozina which is the longest one on this route (6 km), majority of people left their compartments and stood by the windows enjoying the beautiful scenery. A train passes by lake Skadar which is splendid, before arriving in the Montenegrin capital to pick up the passengers. The most impressive moments of the journey were crossing the viaduct Mala Rijeka, as well as passing through the canyon of Moraca river.

Belgrade Bar by train 3 - Lake Skadar

Lake Skadar

Belgrade Bar by train 4

Leaving Podgorica

Belgrade Bar by train 5

Belgrade Bar by train 6

Belgrade Bar by train 7

Mala Rijeka viaduct

The passage is full of students who are talking about the exams that await them, older people who debate about politics and crying children, but they all have something in common – not taking their eyes off the beautiful landscape. I had the opportunity to meet a few Polish girls in a train, who have shared their cherry vodka with me and my friend, and made this journey even more interesting. Cherry vodka, the wind blowing your hair and amazing scenery… what else can you wish for?

Belgrade Bar by train 8

Belgrade Bar by train 9

Belgrade Bar by train 10

Belgrade Bar by train 11

 After 175 km the train arrives at the border with Serbia, more precisely, at the border crossing Bijelo Polje. By then it’s already dark outside and everybody is back in their compartments for the passport check. Majority of people decided to sleep or have a rest, while outside there were just people who were having a smoke. Traveling through the Serbian countryside and seeing the moon shining down on isolated homes is also an unforgettable experience.

The next morning, the passage was again full of people with their heads out of the window, anxiously awaiting to see a symbol of Belgrade – Avala Tower, and to arrive in the capital.

Belgrade Bar by train 13

Slowly approaching Belgrade

Belgrade Bar by train 14

Abandoned train cars

Belgrade Bar by train 15

Final destination – Belgrade

Have you ever traveled this route before? Is there a train ride that you will never forget? Feel free to comment below.

12 Comments on Bar To Belgrade By Train – The Most Scenic Eastern European Train Ride

Hitchhiking Is Not Dead (It Just Took a Break)

This is a guest post by Jamie Bowlby-Whiting who is the creator of Great Big Scary World where he shares his adventures through stories, photos, and videos. He has published…

This is a guest post by Jamie Bowlby-Whiting who is the creator of Great Big Scary World where he shares his adventures through stories, photos, and videos. He has published a book, The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, which is a true story of fear and hitchhiking, covering the six months that he spent on the road in Europe. You can follow him via Facebook or Twitter.
Back in the sixties, it is rumoured that hitchhiking was the thing to do. In fact, if I am to listen to the stories of people a generation above me, I start to believe that everybody used to hitchhike. So why the sudden apparent change? According to this same generation, it is because the world has become a dangerous place and there are now bad people who want to do bad things to others.
Yet can the people of the world have possibly changed so much?
Back in 2007, I signed up to a charity hitchhiking event. Myself and a girl that I didn’t know too well, would hitchhike 1,600 miles from the UK to Morocco, raising money for charity by getting people to sponsor is. In our charity hitch t-shirts, we along with a few hundred other nineteen and twenty year olds, made it to Morocco and felt amazement at the fact that we had travelled so far without money.
Fast forward nearly six years and I had all but forgotten about hitchhiking until I missed a bus in Japan and was faced with the prospect of paying a £200 train fare to catch up with my friends who had gone on ahead. Rather than paying this outrageous sum, I walked to the road and put my thumb out. There my hitchhiking dreams were rekindled and I made a promise to myself that I would one day hit the road without plans and without an end date. Nearly a year later, that is exactly what I did.

hitchhiking eastern europe

What I found, was a world that I thought had disappeared. For the first few weeks, I saw no other hitchhikers and everyone I met thought I was mad. But then I started to meet other hitchhikers on the road and heard more stories from people who had also tried hitchhiking. As one thing led to another, I soon found myself at a hitchhiking festival in Lithuania along with over one hundred other hitchhikers from around the world, many of whom were living long term, nomadic lifestyles with very small amounts of money.
I was hooked. It was like scratching away at the surface of some huge, impenetrable barrier, only to find something so very sweet and delicious beneath the surface. My hitchhiking journey continued for half a year across twenty-four countries, during which time I spent many nights guerilla camping or staying in the homes of strangers. I spent hardly any money each day and soon realised that with a little bit of work, this life was sustainable – so many other people had been doing it for so much longer than I.
hitchhiking in the back of a van

Hitchhiking in the back of a van

Hitchhiking isn’t quite as visible as it used to be, but I blame the bad news stories and the rules of society for this. However, take the time to look around and trust in people, and you might just find something a little bit more wonderful than you expected. I certainly did. I now use hitchhiking as a normal method of transport, simply to save myself money. Even when I have a plane to catch, I know that by sticking out my thumb and trusting in strangers, I can get where I’m going for free, without having to further contribute to the negative environmental impact that would ensue if I was to drive my own car (not that I own a car anymore).
Hitchhiking isn’t dead, it just slipped out of view. There are new movements in fresh thinkers of today who are returning to the world of hitchhiking and for the next many years, I expect it to continue. Sites such as HitchWiki are a perfect example of this.
All you have to do is have a little trust in the world.
No Comments on Hitchhiking Is Not Dead (It Just Took a Break)

A journey to Albania – The Land of Bunkers, Mercedes Cars and Undiscovered Nature

A journey to Albania- With only 178,000 overnight stays in 2013, Albania is one of the least visited and least known countries in Europe. It’s really rare to hear anything…

A journey to Albania- With only 178,000 overnight stays in 2013, Albania is one of the least visited and least known countries in Europe. It’s really rare to hear anything about it on TV and the country is usually surrounded by mystery and prejudices.  It used to be isolated for very long periods of time which made it unique in comparison to many other European countries. However, Albania is waking up and it’s trying to attract more tourists with its interesting and specific tourist offer.

As I was always really curious about alternative destinations (just like my friend Luke from United Kingdom) we decided to give a chance to Albania. We bought bus tickets in Belgrade and took off to Prishtina where we arrived seven hours later.  A bus station in Prishtina is at the end of the Bill Clinton Boulevard where buses leave often to Tirana.

We decided to go  through Prishtina thanks to the new and modern highway which makes the journey faster than going through Macedonia. This highway looks seriously great and on the way to Tirana we passed through a six kilometer tunnel. The northern part of Albania was a real surprise as the nature here is beautiful.

traveling to Tirana

the northern Albanian landscape

traveling to Tirana 2

traveling to Tirana 3

traveling to Tirana 4

At some point a bus stopped for a toilet break, and although squat toilets are no more the norm you will find them in many places outside of Tirana. There’s no running water so you have to use a bucket full of water to flush 🙂  You’ll find them in many cafes and restaurants by the roads. Bring wet wipes so you can clean hands as many places don’t even have a soap.

Another thing you will notice when traveling around the country is that 80% of the cars are Mercedes-Benz. It really is an interesting phenomenon and Albania has the highest percentage of Mercedes per capita. I’ll point you to an interesting article made by the New York Times “In Poor Albania, Mercedes Rules Road“.

You will also notice the large numbers of bunkers that are spread throughout the country. Leaving Warsaw Pact, Albania constructed 700,000 bunkers as a form of defense against the enemy. You’ll spot the bunkers on the mountains, at the beaches, in the cities and well, almost everywhere. Most of them were built in the period from 1950 to 1985. They are extremely hard to destroy or move, so the only thing locals could do was decorate them in different colours.

Bunker in Tirana

Bunker in Tirana

We arrived to Tirana at the evening and immediately headed to our hostel. We stayed in Tirana Backpacker Hostel which has a great green garden. Hostel can accommodate 54 people but it was full when we arrived so we stayed in their newly built private cabins (28 EUR). You can search for accommodation in Tirana via HotelsCombined or Booking.

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Garden of the hostel

Tirana Backpacker Hostel

Entrance to the garden

The evening ended with me trying to explore the gastronomic side of Tirana. Once in Albania you should try byrek which comes in many forms and can be filled with meat, spinach, cheese etc. Turkish kebab and meat balls are also very popular and you will find them everywhere.

Next morning we took off to discover the city and got familiar with Tirana’s crazy and noisy side- its traffic. You should be careful when walking at the night because some streets are full of holes and some are even missing manhole covers.

Tirana streets

Missing manhole cover

Tirana city center

Tirana International Hotel and Mercedes Benz of course 🙂

Tirana Opera

The National Opera

Tirana architecture

Architecture in Tirana is a mix of Italian, Ottoman and Communist styles.

Piramida Tirana

Pyramid of Tirana

One of the most famous landmarks in Tirana is its pyramid. It was a museum of Enver Hoxha in the past, while today it’s being used as a broadcasting center. It’s very popular among the locals (especially kids) who actually climb all the way to the top of the pyramid.

Pyramid of Tirana

Pyramid was also a venue of a disco club called The Mummy.

Pyramid of Tirana 2

Love Freedom.

Tirana park

Tirana neighborhood

Tirana neighborhood

After Tirana, our next destination was Shkodra which is the fourth largest city in the country. As Tirana doesn’t have a bus station you need to look for a place where furgons (mini buses) stop. This is of course a challenge, so I recommend getting a taxi to take you to the right departure point. The schedule is not always accurate, because the drivers sometimes wait until furgon gets full. In Albania everyone travels with furgon which can accommodate 9 to 12 passengers. It’s the quickest and the cheapest way to travel around the country. The one we got into was full and the ride was a total adventure. For instance, we got stopped by the police and afterwards a driver stopped a furgon so he could go buy a watermelon.

Once we got to Shkodra we tried to communicate with the driver and explain him that we’d like him to take us to the border with Montenegro which turned out to be a sign language conversation. Nobody in the furgon could speak English and the only thing we got was “Parlare Italiano“?. This is no surprise as in 1991 about 20,000 Albanians went to Brindisi from Vlore as refugees, but eventually they were given an opportunity to stay in Italy.

Shkodra is an interesting place. The surrounding area is beautiful as Prokletije mountains can be seen in the back and the largest lake in the Balkans is located here. Walk along the main pedestrian street  and definitely don’t miss seing Rozafa fortress. It’s one of the most beautiful landmarks in Albania and the views from the top are beautiful.

Unless you don’t plan a road trip I suggest going to Albania by plane. AirSerbia is starting flights to Tirana from September 23rd which will connect this city with other European cities through its hub in Belgrade.

Although there are many prejudices surrounding Albania, number one problem is safety on the roads. New York Times included Albania in their “Top 52 places to go in 2014”, and although the country needs investors in order to improve its touristic offer and infrastructure, it’s definitely a place to go if you are lover of alternative tourism and if you wanna visit this place before it gets exploited by mass tourism. Next time I’d definetely like to explore the Ionian coast.

10 Comments on A journey to Albania – The Land of Bunkers, Mercedes Cars and Undiscovered Nature

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review

Picking the right backpack is important because you will be using it in the years to come, although it can be very time-consuming AND confusing if you don’t know what…

Picking the right backpack is important because you will be using it in the years to come, although it can be very time-consuming AND confusing if you don’t know what to look for. There are many choices in the market (backpacks, suitcases, bags with wheels etc.), but if you prefer the ease of movement you will probably opt for a backpack.

Cabin Max Metz backpack is designed as a carry-on bag, allowing you to maximize your hand luggage allowance which means it’s a great choice for low-cost airlines such as WizzAir, RyanAir, Monarch, Germanwings, Norwegian and others. Of course it can be used for other means of transportation too. It’s especially handy if you travel by train.

As it’s really difficult to find a backpack that isn’t too expensive and that looks nice because most of the backpacks available online are dedicated to hikers, Cabin Max Metz is great for urban travelers.

Cabin Max Specifications;

  • weights 0.66 kg

  • measures 55 x 40 x 20 cm

  • sells in 14 colors

  • 3 year guarantee

  • 44 litre capacity

  • price: 31 EUR

  • Amazon user rating: 5/5


Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 4

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 5

I like the fact that the main section of the backpack opens like a suitcase. That’s good because once you open the bag you will be able to find your things easily. Unfortunately there are no straps or dividers inside the main compartment as you can see, so you will have to be creative while packing to maximize the use of the bag. Also note that if the bag is not fully packed your stuff inside will be mixed.

If you wonder what can be packed inside, that’s week’s worth of stuff! I found this bag to be even bigger than expected (or maybe I just prefer packing really light)! I’ve managed to pack: 3 pairs of jeans, 4 tshirts, sweater, pair of shoes, pair of pijamas, underwear and socks, toiletries, laptop and there was still some free space left. The bag doesn’t have a separate laptop pocket.

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 6

There are two external pockets with great organizational ability. In these compartments you can put your passport, flight tickets, gadgets, keys etc. The bottom compartment is ideal for iPad for example.

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 6

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 7

You could try to put your  laptop here but I don’t recommend it as it would make the bag look bulky from the outside.

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 8

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 9

This is what the bag looks like when it’s full.

Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review 10

Backpack straps are good and the bag is comfortable to carry although I think it’s not the best choice for some long-term backpacking or hiking. If you need a bag that you will have to carry for a few hours at a time you might want to get something else, but if you’ll be using it for short periods of time then you’ll be fine.


  • affordable price

  • lightweight and roomy

  • nice design

  • great organizational ability of the external pockets

  • saves you time and money at the airport


  • no laptop compartment

  • no dividers in the main compartment


I really like this bag. It’s fantastic value for money. I think it’s perfect for city-hopping in Europe and traveling by low-cost airlines and train. It’s nicely designed and budget friendly. It would be great if there were dividers in the main compartment and a laptop section but for this price you won’t be able to find a better carry-on bag. Some great but way more expensive alternatives are North Face Surge II backpack (82 EUR) and Minaal Backpack (219 EUR).

The Cabin Max Metz backpack is available on Amazon or you can buy it directly from the Cabin Max website. There are more than 20 different bags available on their official website.

3 Comments on Cabin Max Metz Backpack Review

Škocjan Caves – A Must See in Slovenia

Slovenia is a country that is known for its karst terrain and which has more than 7,000 caves. Although Postojna cave is the biggest and the most popular one, these…

Slovenia is a country that is known for its karst terrain and which has more than 7,000 caves. Although Postojna cave is the biggest and the most popular one, these caves are less touristy and therefore more pleasant to visit.

Škocjan Caves consist of seven caves in total and they are part of UNESCO’s list of natural and cultural world heritage sites since 1986.

These caves were inhabited since prehistoric times, while the first explorations of the area commenced in the 19th century. The underground canyon in the caves is the largest of its kind in the world.

The only way to visit the caves is through tours which are led by professional guides of the park and which last an hour and a half. The constant temperature inside is 12 degrees so bring a light jacket or sweater. Photos are not allowed because the ecosystem could be disturbed.

You will see many beautiful stalactites and stalagmites, but the most impressive part of the tour was walking down the stairs and reaching the bridge which is located above the Reka river, some 45 meters above. This of course gives you the feeling, as if you were in Indiana Jones movies.

Škocjan caves

The bridge above Reka river (Photo: Flickr/sitomon under CC)

While this may seem scary, the trails are safe and not too physically challenging as you’ll have to walk around 1.5 km. But be sure to wear comfortable shoes because surface can be slippery.

Exiting the cave, you will be able to see the view of the underground canyon of the Reka River, where you can take photos.

Skocjan caves 2

Skocjan Caves 3

Skocjan Caves 4

Skocjan Caves 6

At the end of the tour, the elevator takes you back to the top, but if you have time I suggest you to visit surrounding villages Škocjan and Betanja, which are part of Škocjan Educational Trail. This should also last about an hour and a half but the nature is really beautiful so it’s worth it. The Škocjan Caves are home to an incredible amount of flora and fauna: 250 varieties of plants and 15 different types of bats.

Skocjan Caves Betanja

If you have the time I suggest staying here overnight and exploring the amazing nature of this area.

Prices for tours are as follows;

Adults                 16.00 €
Senior citizens      12.00 €
Students             12.00 €
Children               7.50 €

 To learn more about this place visit the official website of the park.

5 Comments on Škocjan Caves – A Must See in Slovenia

Type on the field below and hit Enter/Return to search