Superlatives

The best (and worst) of everything on our trip to date

After 1000 days of travel, we take a look back on our favorite stays, sights, and snacks, and others that were… less enjoyable. Though we’ve found it trying at times, living out of backpacks and moving each month has been an amazing and rewarding way for us to experience the world. Every few weeks we get to sample a new culture, food, and history in a different city or country. There are plenty of places we could see ourselves settling down, but even more that we still want to visit. So, with the big caveat that this list will be outdated by next week, here are our bests and worsts – and a lot of pretty pictures to go along with them.

Where we stayed

Best View: Split

In Podstrana, a suburb of Split↗, watching the sun set was the highlight of our day. The coastal vista was gorgeous, shifting colors and shadows into dusk with expressive clouds and lingering rays glittering off of the Adriatic.

Runner up: Yerevan

Mount Ararat behind Yerevan, Armenia

Waking up with Ararat’s silhouette towering over Yerevan, we sometimes forgot we weren’t home in Seattle. From our perch in Antarayin we watched the mountain’s many moods, and peaceful protests against the government in the city below. It often felt like we were floating above the world.

Worst View: Santiago (but it got better)

Wildfire smoke choked the air of Santiago↗ for the first half of our stay. Even from our 24th story (!) apartment we could only see dim outlines of the nearest hills. A thin patina of ash covered everything, inside and out. Eventually it did clear, revealing a jagged line of distant Andes mountains.

Best Location: Zagreb

Zagreb, Croatia Map

Our apartment in Zagreb↗ was situated near Christmas markets, ice skating, museums, parks, and transit but stayed remarkably quiet and peaceful.

Runner up: Gozo

The brilliant blue Mediterranean dominated our view on Gozo↗ and coastal hikes were just out the door. Marsalforn was small but had everything we wanted for a peaceful stay, even easy access to transit.

Worst Location: Penang

George Town is the heart of Penang, but we stayed in Gelugor, a suburb 30 minutes away by Uber. We were surrounded by apartments and duplexes without much to do. To get groceries or go to the mall (our sole source of free A/C) required a long walk in stifling heat.

Best Value, Accommodation: Mérida ($725)

Quiet Pool, Merida, Mexico

We had cheaper stays and close contenders – Yerevan ($575) and Zagreb ($828) among them – but Mérida↗ wins overall. An entire split-structure home to ourselves, weekly cleaning and electricity included (especially nice for our occasional use of A/C), and most importantly our own swimming pool!

Worst Value, Accommodation: Barcelona ($1200) and Cruise ($3443)

Barcelona↗ was never going to be cheap, but our dark and smelly apartment had zero redeeming qualities. Toss in a wide-open hole in the wall that let bugs in, and we could not wait for the month to end.

Spending two weeks in a room barely big enough for a bed is not ideal. Add in thousands of tourists and no way to escape the boat, and we thought of our Patagonian Cruise↗ as more purgatory than vacation.

Best Value, Cost of Living: Prague

Czech Republic’s beautiful capital is a bargain. From cheap food to beer festivals and nice apartments right by the city center, it was easy to live well without overspending.

Worst Value, Cost of Living: Buenos Aires

Argentina’s overwhelming capital left our wallets noticeably lighter. In our central neighborhood even basic foodstuffs cost more than they should have, and limited selections left us scratching our heads. We couldn’t figure out how locals manage, especially with inflation topping 30% per year.

Worst Noise: Tbilisi

Road Work! Tbilisi, Georgia

A first-floor, street-facing apartment was exactly the wrong choice for Tbilisi↗. Cars love honking, pedestrians love shouting, the manhole cover outside loved clanging twice with every passing vehicle, and road construction crews loved working from midnight til dawn.

Runner up: Skopje, our first canceled reservation

The space we initially booked in Skopje↗ was next to this very-much-under-construction building. The hammering was so extreme we were forced to contact Airbnb and cancel, thankfully finding a more peaceful spot across town.

Best Kitchen: Gozo

Spacious Kitchen, Gozo, Malta

What better way to cook Gozo’s famous rabbit stew than in an enormous and beautifully-equipped kitchen, complete with sea-view and all the amenities one could want?

Runner up: Tallinn

A Full Kitchen! Tallinn, Estonia

We loved our spacious apartment in Tallinn, especially since it came with a kitchen capable of cooking anything we could dream up.

Smallest Kitchen: Dublin

Small Kitchen, Dublin, Ireland

Thankfully we only stayed in Dublin↗ for a week, otherwise this closet-sized kitchen would have been too small to bear. Still, Kevin can whip up delectable meals anywhere. While our kitchen in Buenos Aires was nearly worse, it at least fit a full-size fridge.

Most Livable City: Vilnius

Vilnius↗, Lithuania takes the prize as the most livable city we’ve stayed in. A laid-back lifestyle, low cost of living, ubiquitous parks, and excellent local beer made it a perfect fit. We can’t praise or recommend it highly enough.

Runner up: Prague

Prague is a perennial tourist favorite for a reason. It has a stunningly picturesque Old Town and castle, parks criss-crossed with walking paths and world-class beer gardens. People come from around the globe so it has an outsized international community. Best of all, prices are alarmingly reasonable.

Worst Accommodation: La Floresta

The disastrously-corroded pipe to our hot water heater burst, and thanks to a hands-off host, we had to scramble to fix it ourselves – Kevin walking to town twice in a downpour for tools and parts – and that was just the first day. It just got worse: mosquitoes, spiders, stray dogs, internet that ground to a halt after 5:30pm, and a broken washer that shredded our clothes… the cottage was memorable, but not in a good way.

Best Accommodation: Zagreb

A lovingly-furnished and well-laid-out space made our stay in Zagreb extra cozy. The luxurious kitchen and comfortable furniture made staying in on chilly days an easy decision. Quiet neighbors and an excellent location completed the picture for our best rental to date.

Runner up: Dubrovnik

We snagged a spacious and modern apartment in the Babin Kuk neighborhood of Dubrovnik↗. Plenty of room and light combined with a stellar view toward the Franjo Tudjman Bridge and a welcoming host made our stay on the outskirts of Croatia’s biggest tourist trap homier than we could have hoped.

What we did

Best Museum: MNAC National Art Museum of Catalonia

The National Art Museum of Catalonia, housed in the Renaissance-style Palau Nacional, takes top billing as our favorite gallery. Free on Saturdays, we visited every week of our stay and intimately got to know the expansive and wide-ranging collection.

Runners up: Lennusadam, Tallinn and WWII Museum, Tri-City

Located in a seaplane hangar, the Lennusadam houses military and civilian planes, the Lembit submarine, boats, and weapons; ships docked outside serve as floating museums. It was a fascinating look into Estonia’s technological and seafaring history.

World War II history isn’t easy to tackle, but the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk does an incredible job of exploring the war’s progression while focusing on the suffering Poland endured. It is moving and powerful, from the architecture to the personal stories it tells. Easily one of the top attractions in the Tri-City↗.

Best Parks: Riga

Accessible on foot, by bike, and even with a kayak, the ring of parks surrounding Riga↗ are an ideal way to move about the city. During long summer days, it’s the perfect place to relax in the shade or stop for a picnic.

Runner up: Timișoara

Stretching along the Bega River, Timișoara↗, Romania loves its numerous parks. We took every opportunity to wander the botanical gardens and attended a theater festival at Roses Park.

Best Hiking: Torres del Paine

Neither words nor photos do justice to the landscapes of Torres del Paine National Park↗. Glacier-capped granite peaks soar over glittering aquamarine lakes, forested valleys, and thundering waterfalls. Each view is breathtaking. The two days we had were not nearly enough.

Runners up: Gozo and Georgia

The tiny island of Gozo is ringed by hiking paths leading to 100-meter cliffs plunging into the sea. We had no idea such a small place could contain so much wilderness and natural beauty.

Most hikers in Georgia justifiably focus on trekking the wild northern mountains. But we enjoyed our short hikes in the Lesser Caucasus near Borjomi↗, especially Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and the elegant City Park.

Best Cemetery: Warsaw

Powązki Cemetery in Warsaw↗ spans the breadth of human experience, from simple grave markers to mausoleums of high art. Some tombstones still bear shrapnel marks from WWII. It was a contemplative spot for a stroll and a very personal way to experience local history.

Runners up: Sarajevo and Vilnius

Cemeteries dot Sarajevo↗, some ancient stones worn smooth, many more dated from the Bosnian War. The unparalleled setting, aesthetic variety, and recent tragic history make visiting them especially moving.

Bernardine Cemetery in Vilnius was perfect for peaceful evening walks. Across town, Rasos Cemetery had almost as peaceful a setting and contained many important graves spread across its steep hillsides.

Best Castle: Castle of the Moors

We have an entire post↗ dedicated to great castles, but Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal is still our all-time favorite.

Best Waterfront: Montevideo

Stretching for 20+ kilometers from the Ciudad Vieja to Ciudad de la Costa, La Rambla of Montevideo↗ is the waterfront promenade to beat. During our stay we walked it just about every day, passing fishermen, families, and mate-drinking friends enjoying the stunning sea air.

Runner up: Lima

There are very few places where a bustling metropolis falls off into sheer ocean, which makes the stunning Miraflores neighborhood of Lima↗ one of a kind. Stone beaches form a thin recreational band at the base of imposing cliffs, and surfers of sky and sea flock to Peru’s incredible Pacific shore.

Best Beach: La Floresta

Shore at Sunset, La Floresta, Uruguay

Our awful accommodation didn’t detract from the true claim to fame of La Floresta↗ – the best beach we’ve ever seen. Wide, smooth sand ran for miles and the autumn shoulder season meant we often had it all to ourselves.

Runner up: Playa del Carmen

Our apartment’s location far from the tourist core of Playa del Carmen↗ kept the tourist crowds at bay. The neighborhood was quiet and local; the soft, warm sand perfectly walkable, and brilliant blue waves impeccably soothing.

Best Old Town: Tallinn

The incredibly-preserved Old Town of Tallinn↗ brings together a picture-perfect collection of churches, towers, and castle walls like nowhere else. Big enough to find quiet corners but small enough to see in a day, we never tired of wandering its storied streets.

Runner up: Prague

We had no choice but to join the throngs of tourists inching their way across the Charles Bridge and waiting for the over-hyped Astronomical Clock to chime the hour. Prague’s Old Town took less damage than many cities during the last century, and it shows in the architectural wonder that is its touristy but worthwhile center.

Best Church/Temple: La Sagrada Familia

Though it isn’t even finished yet, La Sagrada Familia towers impossibly over Barcelona. Near sunset, light bathes the sanctuary in a stained-glass rainbow. Walking among the tree-like pillars inside, a marriage of natural beauty and human creativity, was one of the most moving experiences of our entire journey.

Runner up: Kek Lok Si

Nestled next to Penang’s forested hills, Kek Lok Si’s maze of temples were a fantastic retreat next to a frantic city. Vivid colors and styles let our imaginations run wild. Trees tied with ribbons for luck and gifts laid at its many altars made it clear this is a living place of worship.

Best Festival: Song (Lithuania)

Song Festival, Vilnius, Lithuania

Thousands of dancers and singers celebrating their culture over a week’s worth of festivities made the Lithuanian Song Festival↗ the most memorable event we’ve attended. The deep fried garlic bread was good, too.

Runner up: Pierogi (Kraków)

Celebrating a humble dumpling, Kraków’s↗ Pierogi Festival was a tasty treat to stumble upon. The wide variety of flavors from salmon to rose (yes, the flower!) proved that even a simple staple can become just about anything in the right hands.

Food & Drink

Best Food: Malaysia

Penang↗ blends Malay, Thai, Indian, and Chinese culinary delights. There are infinite variations of clay pot rice, char koay teow, mee goreng, mee sotong, hokkien mee, spicy seafood, spicy noodles, and spicy snacks. Everything is delicious, and nothing costs more than a dollar or two.

Runner up: Peru

With ceviche, cuy, chupe, alpaca, anticuchos de corazón, aji de gallina, and so much more we could never choose a favorite dish. (Okay, it’s the ceviche.) Peru embraces local ingredients, and everything is rich with flavor. We would return just to eat!

Worst Food: Cruise

No matter what we ordered, it tasted bland, boring, and heat-lamped. It seemed impossible, but they somehow figured out how to make us miss Argentine food!

Runners up: Argentina and Uruguay

Yes, both Buenos Aires and Montevideo have top-notch beef. But that is all they have. Want a different meat? Fresh veggies? Seafood? Spices? You’re SOL, that is, better off in Santiago Or Lima!

Best Beer: Lithuania

Beer in Lithuania approaches the divine. Its quality and uniqueness provides plenty of surprises – all delicious. Unusual ingredients like peas and hemp are used in perfect balance. Small-batch farmhouse ales follow recipes used nowhere else and are occasionally available on tap in craft bars (as long as you get there before the keg runs out). If you love beer, go to Lithuania!

Runner up: Poland

Poland’s claim to beer fame centers on its wide variety of breweries and styles – some local, others copied from around the world. Just about every one is made to reflect high standards of quality but low price points. It didn’t matter if it came from a large brewery or somebody’s basement, the beers here are almost universally delicious.

Worst Beer: Armenia and Georgia

Both Caucasus nations seemed to think that the secret to beer is to sell it in such huge volumes that people forget how bad it is. Doesn’t work. Hopefully their craft scene will catch up soon.

Best Wine: Argentina

We had fairly low hopes for Argentine wine before we reached Buenos Aires↗, but that all changed with our first glorious Mendoza Malbec. Though we stuck mostly to lower-cost bottles, they never disappointed and almost always blew us away. And of course, it all paired perfectly with Argentina’s mouth-watering beef.

Runner up: Portugal

Affordable wine is basically a birthright in Portugal, one we benefited from by proxy. Nothing cost more than $3 – $4 US, but everything delighted us. Very little of the good stuff gets exported, so the only way to experience it is to actually visit.

Worst Wine: Chile

Wine Tasting Night, Santiago, Chile

Okay, so Chile wasn’t actually the worst. We had awful wines in places that can’t grow grapes, Thailand for example. Uruguay and Mexico only managed a few passable options. But Chile has no excuses. The bottles you find here are the same ones mega-producers export around the world, and at the same prices. When we did catch rare glimpses of small producers, they made truly delightful vintages. It’s just that everything else was such a let-down.

Best Dessert: Pastéis de nata (Portugal)

Monks at the Jerónimos Monastery Lisbon↗ were the first to invent pastéis de nata in the 18th century, but they’ve gone on to be come the food mascot of Portugal. These delicious egg tarts are the perfect snack at any time of day – we know from experience!

Best Bread: Georgia

Fresh Bread, Tbilisi, Georgia

Any lunch in Georgia↗ is going to have to include their incredible bread, either as an ingredient or as the centerpiece. A loaf of shoti puri hot from the oven makes a perfect meal all by itself, no butter or toppings needed.

Runner up: Lithuania

Hemp Bread, Vilnius, Lithuania

Like their beer, Lithuania loves experimenting with all kinds of ingredients in their dense breads. The results sometimes seem more like a building material than a bread, but they always speak for themselves in taste.

Best Fast Food: Balkans

The Balkans love burek and we do too, especially the deep-dish variety from Novi Sad↗. Ćevapi in Bosnia amazed us, and the döner in Ljubljana is second to none. It’s basically impossible to go wrong with fast food in this part of the world… unless you order a cheeseburger.

Runner up: Pierogies in Poland

For fast meals in Poland, pierogies are the answer. This demure pastry can come stuffed with potatoes, cheese, meat, berries, fish, or vegetables. Boiled, baked, or grilled? Any answer is the right one.

Best Markets: Santiago

Santiago’s markets – Mercado Central, Mercado de Abastos, and La Vega – are the city’s beating culinary heart. Fresh seafood streams in from the coast, and an uncountable variety of produce appears daily in summer. With prices starting in the pennies per kilo, we ate like kings.

Runner Up: Vilnius

Vilnius’s biggest markets have recently received tourist-friendly makeovers, but the products thankfully remain peerlessly local. Kalvarijų Turgus tops the surprisingly long list of retail spaces offering tasty bread, honey, fresh and preserved meats and greens, and plenty of odds and ends.

Getting around

Most Walkable: Vilnius

Spacious sidewalks, plenty of parks, and relatively few people made Vilnius the perfect city to wander on foot. Though transit is cheap, we don’t mind taking a little more time in a city this pretty.

Runner up: Tallinn

Cool fall days and a compact layout made Estonia’s capital a joy to explore at ground-level. It also didn’t hurt that Tallinn is incredibly picturesque.

Best Transit: Munich

Buses, trains, trams, S- and U-bahns all mesh to cover every corner of the city and make every other corner (and Germany beyond) reachable with ease. Though it wasn’t as cheap as in other places, the sheer volume and frequency of options for getting around make Munich↗ a public transit dream.

Runners up: Punta Arenas and Budapest

Nestled at the bottom of South America, Punta Arenas↗ has outsized transit for its small stature. Buses charge just $0.50 US for a ride across town. If you don’t want to wait for one, a colectivo is guaranteed to stop in just a minute or two and cost just $0.75 US for the same trip.

Budapest’s transit system is a cinch to understand, with identical cheap tickets on buses, trams, and metro. We stayed further outside the center of this sprawling European capital than we liked, but with the superb transit we didn’t feel disconnected at all.

Best Airport: Tallinn

Tallinn Airport makes waiting for a flight almost fun. It’s small but clean and aesthetically pleasing. A play area and mini-library inside help people of all age pass the time, and plenty of cozy seating options and charging stations fill the rest of the needs hierarchy for weary travelers.

Runner up: Munich

It’s always nice when you can take a train right to your terminal. Munich Airport is well-laid out, has all the usual amenities, and during the Christmas season puts on its own Christkindlmarket (complete with ice skating rink). We’ve passed through several times and never had a negative experience. What’s not to love?

Worst Airport: Berlin-Schönefeld

Meanwhile, on the other side of Germany, Berlin-Schönefeld Airport is woefully overcrowded and confusing to navigate. It’s essentially a bunch of warehouses and shipping containers duct taped together and called an airport. One star for our flight leaving on time at least and getting us out of here.

Best Flight: Split to Dubrovnik by seaplane

Cramming onto a crowded plane isn’t always a pleasant experience, but our seaplane trip from Split to Dubrovnik was practically a private flight and showed off the stunning coastal scenery better than we could have dreamed. We gaped out the windows as we flew over Dalmatian islands and coastal mountains before finally passing over Dubrovnik’s unmistakable city walls.

Stuff of interest

Best Place to Digital Nomad: Budapest

Budapest↗ has it all for a digital nomad: cheap cost of living and a great value for the money, lots of meetups for foreigners and online workers to get out the house and mingle, endless things to see and do around the city, and good connections to the rest of Europe.

Runner up: Prague

Prague↗ is probably a touch more popular than Budapest, and has many of the same attributes. Plus the beer is better. But huge mobs of tourists take over the center on a daily basis and dim its livability for us by a hair.

Worst Place to Digital Nomad: Cruise

Being stuck in one spot and while beautiful landscapes sail by out your window sounds like an ideal way to concentrate and get something done, right? Nope! Zero internet, no quiet space to work, functioning on someone else’s schedule and, oh yeah, no window in our room… it all adds up to a too-stressful work environment. We failed to get anything meaningful done during our two weeks at sea.

Best Internet: Bucharest, Romania

The polar opposite of the cruise’s nonexistent internet can be found in Bucharest↗, Romania. They have the distinct honor of providing the fastest internet we’ve encountered in our travels – perfect for working online (or a big Game of Thrones binge).

Best Mobile Provider: Any in Eastern Europe

Eastern Europe is awash in cheap data. A SIM card and enough internet access for a month (often measured in 10s of gigs) can be found for a few dollars, and with enviable reliability to boot.

Weirdest Gaming Scene: Poland

We couldn’t find a single Nintendo product in the entire country, but it was pretty clear why: everybody is far too busy with mundane job sims! Bus driver, truck driver, train conductor, and no less than half a dozen farming simulators. If the House of Mario wants to make inroads here, they’d better start with a plumbing simulator.

What we learned

Most Surprisingly Appealing: Yerevan

More than anywhere else, Yerevan↗, Armenia surpassed our expectations. The city is full of history, beautiful views of Ararat, big public spaces, and friendly people. During our stay a groundswell revolution of tens of thousands of peaceful protesters forced the prime minister to resign. Though traffic ground to a halt, and police came out in force, we never felt unsafe and celebrated with the crowds as the government acquiesced to their demands.

Runner up: Sarajevo

War scars are still visible in Sarajevo, but we found the city stunningly peaceful and inviting. Its tranquil valley setting made it easy to enjoy the cool fall days and hikes on local hills. We ended up loving the city with its markets, walking streets, and tasty Balkan cuisine.

Worst Healthcare: Armenia

If there was one takeaway from our time in the Caucasus, it’s to avoid getting injured there. Overworked and indifferent hospital staff couldn’t care less about foreign patients getting in the way, and paternalistic doctors shrug off dialogue in favor of prattling and prescriptions. Good luck getting by if you don’t speak Russian, or better yet, the language of palm-greasing.

Weirdest Thing We Discovered: Ants love Q-tips

We don’t know what it is about cotton and cardboard that gets the critters all riled up, but it’s a universal truth: ants in the tropics go nuts for Q-tips. It didn’t matter if we were in Malaysia or Mexico, they always enjoyed finding ways into our containers of cotton swabs.

Ultimate Lesson: It’s all worth seeing!

Our journey has been full of ups and downs, bests and worsts – all of which have contributed to our story, our lives, and ourselves. Whether we’re sipping breathtaking beers or sullenly slapping mosquitoes, these experiences have each been invaluable in their own right. It’s a big world out there… and we love seeing it!

Castle Selfie, Ljubljana, Slovenia

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