Country #100 - Sweden

The 100th Country!!!!!

I’m excited to be back in Sweden for many reasons, but the most important is that I have finally hit 100 countries!!!! It has been a crazy past eight months and it is honestly hard to believe that I have made it this far, but here we are! I’m now officially been to 100 countries and am more than halfway to visiting them all. It is an exciting milestone for sure, and I can’t wait to keep going!

Sweden seemed like an appropriate country to be number 100 for a few reasons First and most importantly it fit that way on my schedule. But for more sentimental reasons it was a perfect fit. Sweden is actually the first country that I ever visited on my own. Almost two years exactly to the day I flew from London to Gothenburg, spent a day in Gothenburg, and then flew to Stockholm for a few days before heading to Finland. It was an amazing experience and I like to think it helped to spark all of this!

I only had a few hours to enjoy Stockholm this morning. I wish I had more time but it’s unfortunately a Monday so most things would have been closed if I stayed an extra day, and tomorrow I would have to deal with flight connections instead of a direct flight to the US so I made the difficult choice of only one day in Stockholm.

I started my day by getting a great night of sleep and then having a nice breakfast at Hotel Rival. Afterwards I walked just down the street from the hotel to Monteliusvägen, which offers an amazing view out over the entirety of Stockholm. It is a great path to walk along and totally worth it just for the amazing views! I then took the T just two stops to Galma Stan (the Old Town). Gamla Stan is fantastic - it is basically a tiny island in the middle of Stockholm that is home to countless tiny shops and restaurants.

DSC05847.JPG

I had about an hour to spare and I spent it walking around Galma Stan. I really enjoyed just walking along the streets and going to the stores, and also got a hot chocolate from a great spot called Kaffekoppen. I got mine to go but I recommend sitting down as it is a cool place inside. To finish up my visit to Galma Stan I headed in a store that I realized was the store that I bought my current hat in last time I was in Stockholm: it was quite the coincidence!

DSC05883.JPG

I decided to buy myself a new hat since this one has been through the ringer for the past two years, and also to help celebrate country number 100! The brand is Sätila and it’s pretty cool as it is a Swedish brand that has been around since 1896. I also really love that they include a tiny text on the inside of the hat that tells you who actually knitted it. I also bought a cute Swedish ram stuffed animal (yes, it’s for me..) to commemorate my 100th country. I’ve found over my two trips here that Stockholm is basically an endless money pit. I don’t know what it is, maybe all of the cute stores, but money seems to go much quicker in Stockholm than most places I’ve been!

DSC05898.JPG

After my walk around Galma Stan I then headed back to Mariatorget where I stopped in the Sandqvist store. I bought my first Sandqvist backpack two years ago at this store and still absolutely love it. I bought another to use on my trip and it has been great for everything that I have needed. I love the Swedish brand and couldn’t leave without stopping by and looking around. I bought a tiny pouch that matches my backpack that I’m going to use to store my extra foreign money keepsakes in.

I then made my way back to Rival Hotel to grab my bags and then took the T back to the central station. I unfortunately missed the first train to the airport by just a few seconds (I would have made it if the signs in the station had been accurate - they listed that it was running seven minutes late but it definitely was not). The next train left fifteen minutes later. I wasn’t late to the airport but I definitely wasn’t early. The line for security was very short but then the line for passport control was over thirty minutes long. It was not ideal but I eventually made it through! I was totally fine, though, because my flight ended up boarding and departing about thirty minutes late.

I’m flying straight from Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) to LAX. It’s a long flight but at only around $180 is quite the bargain, as all my transatlantic flights with Norwegian tend to be. I’ll land around 4pm, and then take a flight from LAX to Dallas. Good news is I have a whole row to myself on the ten-hour flight! When I get back I’ll spend the next few weeks in Dallas really working to make the rest of my trip happen. I’ve gotten it all logistically planned, but I still have to get the financial situation figured out. I know that it’s possible, but the next few weeks will be all about making it a reality! After my time in the US I plan on starting the Asian leg of my trip. Asia is the region that I have been most looking forward to since starting my trip, and I am so excited for it!

This past month of travel has been so crazy. It’s been stressful but it has also been fantastic. I have met amazing people all along the way; whether it be on a train in Hungary, the airport in Guinea-Bissau, or a hotel in Algeria, I have really enjoyed getting to meet so many people. I have really enjoyed these countries as well. I won’t miss the indoor smoking in the Balkans but I will miss learning about such a unique region. I’ve officially finished up with Europe so I am of course going to miss it, but I know I will be back someday so it is thankfully not too difficult to say goodbye for now. I also began my time in Africa, and along with doing so my level of worry for that part of my trip has decreased as I have only had incredible experiences so far. It’s been an amazing month, but I’m excited to go home for a bit and take a nice, long nap!

100 countries down, 95 to go.

For more information on Sweden click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Rival Hotel click here.

Country #99 - Armenia

The Sprint Through Yerevan

Today I overslept. It was kind of on purpose but also not really. I was planning on sleeping for four hours, which would have been until 10:30am given my late arrival last night. But I slept about an hour more, which left me with only an hour to see the city when all was said and done. It was unfortunate, because I really wanted to see more of Yerevan, but also necessary because I had no sleep and hadn’t showered in two days. I can’t thank Tufenkian Heritage Hotels for providing such a great room for getting caught up on some much-needed sleep! It was, apparently, a very comfortable bed that was quite the struggle to get up from.

Once I did finally get up there was lots of music that I could hear right outside of my window. It turns out that Tufenkian Heritage Hotels was located right next door to Vernissage, a big open-air market set up. It was a nice first stop on what would be a whirlwind tour of the city. I stopped by the front desk to drop off my luggage where I enjoyed talking with the staff for a bit. They were great! One of the best parts about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels was that I was in a really great location in the Yerevan that would allow me to see as much as possible in about an hour.

DSC05740.JPG

From Vernissage I walked to Republic Square. It’s one of the main areas of the city and when it isn’t freezing outside is home to a really cool fountain show! From what I read it sounded like a smaller version of the fountains in Dubai, so I’m sad to have missed it. I took lots of pictures in Republic Square before heading to my next destination: Charles Aznavour Square. It was another nice square though not as large but was also very busy.

From there I headed to Freedom Square, which is in front of the Opera House and has large statues out front. At this point, I was almost up on time and had to head back to the hotel. I walked back along Northern Avenue which was filled with people and seemed to be the main shopping street. I also stopped to read a bit about the Armenian Genocide. My biggest regret in Yerevan was not having enough time to visit the Armenian Genocide Museum and memorial area. It was interesting to learn a little just by what I was able to read in town, and I definitely recommend that you read more about it on your own as I did. I had heard of it before but had no idea just how large in size or scope that it was.

When I arrived back at the hotel I had a few minutes to spare and walked back through the Vernissage market before calling a taxi and heading back to the airport. I encountered a lot of people who spoke English well but my taxi driver didn’t even understand airport so I think that was a first for me. I had to show him on my phone after my failed attempts to act out an airplane taking off.

I do wish that I had had more time in Armenia, but once again it all came down do flight scheduling and timing. I would love to spend more time exploring the country in the future as well as a few others in the region that I had to rush through, so hopefully, at some point, I can make it back!

The airport had a really nice lounge where I ate lunch and was able to look out and see my gate so I knew exactly when to board. My flight was to Kiev, Ukraine, and from there I would have a two-hour layover before flying to Stockholm, Sweden. I slept on the first flight, ate chicken in a lounge in Kiev for dinner, and then worked on blog posts on the second flight. The second flight thankfully didn’t feel too long, and before I knew it I was landing in Stockholm. I took the Arlanda Express train from the airport to the city, and then took the metro (called the T) from Stockholm Central Station to my hotel, Rival Hotel.

Rival Hotel is in a great area called Mariatorget. I was there in about five minutes by metro, and then a two-minute walk from the metro station. My room was absolutely fantastic! It had a great balcony (though it was a bit too cold to enjoy given that it was snowing) and was all around just so unique while being luxurious as well. I really liked the cool light fixture that gave the room a lot of character. There was also a DVD and CD collection in the room to enjoy, a sound system that worked throughout the room and the bathroom, and an amazing shower and tub. Thank you so much to Rival Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip. I look forward to getting a great night sleep before having a few hours to explore Stockholm tomorrow!

99 countries down, 96 to go.

For more information on Armenia click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels click here.

To learn more about Rival Hotel click here.

Country #98 - Azerbaijan

The Airport

When I arrived in Baku, Azerbaijan I was amazed by the very modern and new airport. It was so cool! It only made me sadder that due to my missed connection that I would no longer be able to see the city as it is known for its modern architecture similar to the airport. I definitely enjoyed my time at the airport, though! I spent a while taking pictures and enjoying it before heading to my gate.

Security and immigration were both more interesting than usual. In the security line there was this device that scanned your feet. You would put one foot on it, it would beep, and then you would put the other. I’m not quite sure what it was for but having been through security all around the world I thought I had seen everything - but apparently not! Then, going through immigration, I had to explain that I was traveling to Yerevan, Armenia, through Moscow. The immigration officer asked if I knew that Azerbaijan and Armenia are engaged in a conflict. I was expecting some questions of course, but it was still just an interesting situation to be in. Of course I knew that they were in conflict, why else would I be flying five hours out of the way, with a five-hour layover in between, for what should be a simple hour-long flight. Because of the conflict, though, there are no flights or other methods of transportation between the countries.

DSC05688.JPG

After immigration, I was in the departures area. There was this really interesting part of what were called “cocoons”. They each had something inside like a restaurant, spa, or even a library! It was one of the most unique airport setups that I have seen. They also had a sleeping pod area which was cool to see! It would have definitely come in handy to have had those last night.

While the airport and my interactions in Baku had been really great, it was quite weird to be approached by a guy while walking through the terminal and asked where I was from, with the follow-up question being if I was married. I shook him off pretty easily but it will never not be weird to be asked that question even though it happens quite often in some of the regions that I have been to.

I was able to find the airport lounge which was, of course, in another cool part of the airport. I had about an hour to spare (which definitely would not have been enough time to go into the city) that I used to catch up on emails before heading off on a long flight to Moscow. My flight was 2.5 hours and I landed to a ton of snow in Moscow. Because would it really be Russia without the snow? I had almost five hours to wait but I found a nice lounge to wait in that had good internet and was comfortable as well. It was a long five hours but I was at least able to get a lot done!

The flight boarded only a little late which was amazing given how much it was snowing. But I guess Moscow is used to the snow! It was a full flight but I fell asleep almost immediately and slept all the way until the plane landed. That doesn’t happen too often; only when I am beyond tired.

When I landed in Yerevan I was once again questioned about traveling to both Azerbaijan and Armenia. They asked why I had traveled to Azerbaijan (tourism) and why I was traveling to Armenia (again, tourism). So it wasn’t a big deal either time, but just really interesting to see how that conflict is quite prevalent in everyday life. I used a taxi app similar to Uber (called GG Taxi) to go to my hotel, and it was almost four times cheaper than the price airport taxis try to scam tourists by charging. I arrived around 6am and fell asleep immediately. Special thanks to Tufenkian Heritage Hotels for sponsoring this night of my trip! I was exhausted and it was so nice to have a very nice room to crash for a few hours. It’s been a long day of travel, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Armenia tomorrow!

98 countries down, 97 to go.

For more information on Azerbaijan click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Tufenkian Heritage Hotels click here.

Country #97 - Bulgaria

The Airport Sprint

When I arrived in Lisbon, Portugal from Praia, Cape Verde it was about 7am and only my first of three flights of the day. There was a very long immigration line that took about an hour, and then I had to change terminals in Lisbon from the nice terminal to the dingy low-cost carrier terminal. Of course, this isn’t an easy process. You have to completely exit customs and then the airport itself just to change terminals. Going back through security took a while again but I was finally to my gate, this time to head to Frankfurt.

I would just be flying through Frankfurt to get to Sofia, Bulgaria and I knew that it would be a very quick connection time. It didn’t help matters that my plane leaving Lisbon ended up being about thirty minutes late. It was quite the long flight for continental Europe at about three hours. It was so long that I had to break down and pay for food on the plane! When I arrived in Frankfurt I had to take a bus to the terminal as almost always in Europe, but this ride was especially interesting as there had been a wreck between another bus and a baggage carrier. There were ambulances and fire trucks everywhere, but it looked like thankfully everything was fine - there were just tons of precautions! From this minor slowdown forward my nightmare of running through Frankfurt began.

When I finally arrived at the terminal I had 15 minutes in which time I cleared immigration, went through security, and ran for 15 minutes straight. I was dying with all of my luggage and my winter coat and drenched in sweat. I arrived at the boarding gate right when the gate was about to close. The bus was still there - the driver was standing right by the gate agent. I was about to pass out from my sprint. The gate agent told me that it was too late - which was not true as I had about a minute to spare before the gate was to technically close, and the bus was right there! Obviously, it wasn’t true, as after about 30 seconds of my panting from exhaustion he decided to let me on.

This was great! I was so appreciative that he decided to let me on. I began to apologize profusely, at which time my airline ordeal became much, much worse. Just to preface this, I have flown so much this past year, and have never had such a bad experience with an employee of any capacity within the travel agency. This Wizz Airlines employee absolutely went off on me. He told me that no, I was not sorry, or else this would not have happened. He told me that there was no way that I was sorry or I wouldn’t have been late. I tried very sincerely to apologize but every time I said sorry he would continue to mock me and tell me that I was not sorry. Which I obviously was! I hated being late and having to run - it’s not like I decided to do it for fun.

The problems only continued from there. I was now very upset from how he had treated me, but I was on the bus and ready to go. However, while waiting for the bus to go I looked inside and saw the gate agent making fun of me to four or five colleagues! He was mimicking my breathing and then mimicked my apology. It was horrible and I was pretty furious at this point. Like I said, I have never been treated so badly let alone by an airline but as a customer in any industry. I was sincerely sorry and after being mocked to my face I was then made fun of in plain view! It’s like the employee forgot glass and existed and that I could see everything that he was doing.

Anyways, this was an absolutely horrible experience and I wrote to Wizz Air to let them know about my experience, so we will see what happens! I fly almost daily and deal with low-cost carriers (including Wizz Air) very often and have never had this happen so I know it is an isolated incident, but nonetheless, it was very unfortunate. After dealing with that whole ordeal I was thrilled once the plane was moving and it was behind me.

I arrived in Sofia at around 7:30pm to find that I had arrived in the terminal without a metro connection and that the bus to the other terminal would not run again for another thirty minutes. I was incredibly lucky, though, as I made a new friend who helped me make it to the city center very easily! He was a former professional dancer who now teaches dance and has lived all over Europe, so it was really interesting to talk with him not only about his home country of Bulgaria but about Europe and travel in general.

We had a great talk on the bus ride and he even was nice enough to walk me the last few minutes to my hotel. It was another great chance encounter on my trip, and I can’t thank him enough for his helpfulness, generosity, and enjoyable conversation!

DSC05537.JPG

When I arrived at my hotel, Sense Hotel, I was blown away with how nice it was and immediately was so excited to just really enjoy a great night of sleep for the first time in a few days. My room was beautiful and modern and had lots of fun buttons to push to control all of the lights and settings in the room. There was a really nice shower and also a good night chocolate which was so cute and an unexpected treat. Thank you so much to Sense Hotel for sponsoring this night of my trip and allowing me to get a much needed full night of rest.

It ended up being quite the ordeal to get to Sofia, but I am so excited to get to explore Bulgaria tomorrow!

The Churches

I felt rested for the first time in days thanks to my cosy night’s sleep at Sense Hotel and had a great breakfast with amazing views out over all of Sofia to start my day off right. I enjoyed talking with the really sweet girls at the front desk (who were kind enough to give me an extra hour to check out) before heading out for the day in Sofia.

My first stop was Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski which is probably the most well known of the many churches in Sofia. It has quite the unique design and was actually built by the Russians. That makes sense upon seeing the architecture which really is stunning. My next stop was just right across the street at Temple Sveta Sofia. It is one of the historically most important spots in the city as it has been around in some capacity for almost two millennia. It stands in stark contrast to Cathedral Saint Alexandar Nevski, but was beautiful in its own way. The best part was being able to walk around all of the old ruins of previous churches that have stood on the site. You actually go underneath the church and it was really quite cool.

From there I headed to yet another church, Russian Church Sveti Nikolay Mirlikiiski. It looked very traditionally Orthodox and though small was beautiful both inside and out. My next stop was the Amphitheater of Serdica which was quite bizarre. The Amphitheater of Serdica is ruins of an ancient amphitheater, but they are now inside of a hotel. So you go inside of a hotel to see these ruins. It was fine but just weird and the ruins were not very impressive as there was not very much to see. Luckily for me everything in Sofia is very close together so it didn’t hurt to give it a quick look!

DSC05598.JPG

I transitioned here from looking at old ruins and churches to visit my first museum of the day, Museum of the History of Sofia. It was not a very large museum but it contained a lot and was very easy to do in under an hour. Everything was in English and I learned a good amount about the city in one quick visit. From here it was back to visiting churches. I attempted to visit Sofia Synagogue but it was closed. My next stop was Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya, but on the way I ran into quite the interesting site! The East Gate of Serdica ruins were discovered when the city was building a metro station in 2012, and is almost an entire Roman street from the 6th century! It was really cool to walk through, and I found it especially interesting as it is right in the middle of the city and is such a recent discovery.

DSC05625.JPG

Cathedral Church Sveta Nedelya was right past the East Gate of Serdica and was yet another beautiful church in Sofia. From there I visited, of course, one last church. It truly was impressive how many beautiful churches are in Sofia! My last one was Church St. George Rotunda, which you could just tell was very historic. It was surrounded outside by many ruins. I then headed just next door to visit the National Archeology Museum. It was not very large but was pretty interesting, especially after having seen so many historic sites today!

My last stop was to grab a quick dinner at a restaurant called Corso. I had a nice chicken dish for a reasonable price before heading just a few minutes down the street back to Sense Hotel to get my bags and head to the airport. I took the metro as it was very quick and inexpensive. It was pretty easy though I did need to double check and make sure that I was getting on the right train.

When I arrived at the airport I was at the right terminal this time thankfully. This terminal is much nicer and newer than the one I flew into yesterday. I cleared security and immigration easily and then made my way to the airport lounge for a few hours. Things were going smoothly until I noticed my flight was delayed by an hour. This was not a huge deal but was not ideal. It left me with only an hour to connect in Istanbul. However, things only got worse. Before I knew it one hour turned to two. After finally boarding the plane and taking off I pretty much lost all hope of catching my flight when the plane had to circle in the air for another hour, bringing the delay total up to three hours.

When I arrived I was told that my flight was still at the airport, but I knew that there was no way I would make it. The flight was in the final call stage when my flight had just landed and I checked online, and when I checked the departures board in the airport it went from final call to no longer being listed on the board. I had walked quickly for a few minutes before completely giving up when it was no longer on the board. I definitely was not the only one with a missed connection. Apparently, all of this was caused by the weather in Istanbul.

There were probably hundreds of people in line to have their flight changed on Turkish Airlines. I thought that I would be in line forever, but then I got very lucky. They decided to open up a new desk to deal with the demand and they chose my spot in line to go to the front. It was so lucky and I couldn’t believe it - perhaps I would get a little sleep after all.

I had my ticket changed to a 9am flight, meaning that I would still have plenty of time to enter Azerbaijan, but I would unfortunately now not have time to see Baku which I was definitely disappointed about. I’m really glad I decided on getting Priority Pass to use for the remainder of my trip because it came in handy big time tonight. I found a lounge that I was able to sleep on a couch in for about four hours. It was a bit noisy but I was on a couch and there was even a big locker for my things so I can’t complain. I woke up around 8am, headed to my gate, and finally boarded my plane for Baku, Azerbaijan.

While tonight was quite the ordeal, it is also the first time that I have had a flight connection missed which I honestly have a hard time believing myself. Especially because, in quite exciting news, I am now one country away from being halfway on my trip! To have made it halfway without something like this happening is truly amazing. While it isn’t ideal I’m just very glad that it wasn’t worse and that I was still able to make it to Azerbaijan within the time that I needed to be there.

97 countries down, 98 to go.

For more information on Bulgaria click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Sense Hotel click here.

Country #96 - Cape Verde

The Wind

After telling everyone in Guinea-Bissau goodbye I boarded my flight to Praia, Cape Verde. It was a really late flight (about 2am) and didn’t arrive until almost 3:30am. I then was witness to one of the most inefficient visa on arrival systems that I have seen. There were maybe eight people in front of me and it took an average of ten minutes each. And to be honest I would say the blame was not entirely with the visa officials as almost everyone had forgotten some paperwork or done something wrong! It was a nightmare, especially given the time. When it was my turn it took maybe three minutes and I was finally on my way.

I met the driver that I had arranged through where I would be staying, Praiadise Hostel. The drive was about ten minutes and I was so excited to finally go to sleep. It was a legitimate hostel setup (shared room type) but there was only one other person in my room and they checked out before I even fell asleep, so I had the entire room to myself. I finally went to sleep around 5am and woke up around 10am. I woke up plenty throughout the night, though, as the wind was as intense as I have ever heard and it was constant.

I’m staying in Praia, the capital of Cape Verde, which is an archipelago country of 10 islands off the coast of West Africa. I didn’t have much planned for the day but I was still excited to see the island. My first stop was to walk to the Cruz De Papa viewpoint out over the water. The view was amazing as promised, and from there I headed down towards the water. I headed to find a place to eat. My first stop was in the Praia Shopping center but it was closed for the season, so I then made my way to Bica D'Areia which was definitely the better move anyway. Bica D'Areia was right on the water and I had an amazing view of Quebra Canela beach and the beautiful weather throughout my lunch. I was starving by this point and so glad to finally eat a big meal for the first time in a few days.

DSC05478.JPG

After looking out over Quebra Canela beach for a bit I walked down to it before making my way back to sit at the Cruz De Papa viewpoint again. It was really a great spot! After taking in the views and the vicious wind I made my way back to Praiadise Hostel. I decided to work for a bit with the great wifi and was able to sit on the balcony while I worked which was very nice. After a while, I made my way back out to get dinner at a nice little spot called Terrazza Italia. I had a tasty pizza before heading back to Praiadise for the evening. I would have another crazy early morning flight so I worked until about 11:30pm when I took a taxi to the airport.

DSC05505.JPG

The flight was unfortunately full so I had no chance of getting a good sleep. It was made worse by the guy next to me spilling his orange juice everywhere, including all over my pants and blanket. And then TAP Air Portugal did not have one extra blanket on the whole plane! I have not been impressed at all by this airline over the past few days. Anyways, I probably was able to sleep for a few hours before arriving back in Lisbon to continue my travels back towards the east tomorrow as I head to Bulgaria!

I enjoyed my time in Praia but would probably head to another more tourist-focused island the next time that I visit Cape Verde. There were other tourists, and you can tell that Praia is becoming a more popular destination, but there were not a lot of things to see or do. I did enjoy the weather and the beach, though!

96 countries down, 101 to go.

For more information on Cape Verde click here to read my guide.

To learn more about Praiadise Hostel click here.