Bars around Europe

A big part of the time I spent in Europe was spent in bars.  (Sorry, Mom and Dad!)   But a few of the bars stood out.  All for different reasons, and they’re actually all quite different from the others.  But these are the places that I really enjoyed, that I made sure to go back to, and that I look forward to visiting again on the next trip.  So here are a few of my favorite bars in Europe.

The Spaniard

Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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Now, saying the Spaniard was the only thing I liked about Belfast might be a bit of a stretch.  But not much of a stretch.  Belfast was not one of my favorite places, but the Spaniard definitely was.  Everything about it seemed perfectly set up to ensure you had a great time.  It’s a small pub, definitely full a few times we were there… but worth the wait if you want to hang around for a table.  The bar was covered, floor to ceiling in kitsch.  Every surface was covered in stuff, be it old album covers, retro toys, weird knick knacks… pretty much anything and everything.  Really easy way to spark a lulling conversation, ‘oh hey!  did you hear that album?…’  The other thing that I loved about the bar, was the music.  Really eclectic, fun, ‘oh my goodness, I haven’t heard this song in forever!’ music played at a level that you could actually hear the music… but, didn’t have to shout over it.  Lovely.

Cafe Des Halles

Brussels, Belgium

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Now, to be truthful.  It wasn’t the most amazing bar for anything having to do with itself.  (Though the inside of the bar looked really cool, but we sat on the terrace)  I loved it more for its location, and the amazing people watching that could be had from the terrace.  Located on a busy corner, surrounded by other bars, this was a place where you could kick back with an overpriced mixed drink in a trendy bar and just observe the antics of the trendy people, also drinking their overpriced mixed drinks at all the bars in the area.  I suppose it sounds like a place I wouldn’t really like, but it lacked any kind of pretension and it felt really comfortable.  Plus the menu was on a record.  Cool.

Pudel Baar

Tallinn, Estonia

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And then there was Pudel Baar.  Most weekends I spent more time at Pudel Baar than I did at home.  Now, a big part of what I loved about Pudel was that my friends were there.  Only a few weeks into my time in Estonia, a colleague told me he was going to be opening a bar.  They had just found the location.  It was in an abandoned warehouse complex.  And a piece of me said, ‘What the what?  All the way out in the middle of nowhere… and that building… it doesn’t look so inviting…’  But just a few months later, that building had been turned into a fabulous bar in a very quickly up and coming neighborhood.

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Now there are many reasons that I loved Pudel.  The bar staff were all super nice and really helpful in suggesting drinks.  Those that I didn’t know, quickly became friends… but such is the spirit of the bar.  The spirit of the bar is also beer.  Beer is the name of the game here.   And the beer is spectacular.  I had never been much of a fan of beer.  I made it through university really never drinking any.  I finally caved in Prague when faced with cherry beer and beer prices lower than the cost of ordering water.  But I still wasn’t a fan.  Pudel bar made me a fan.  With about 100 choices, there pretty much has to be something you’ll like, and once I found it, it was easy to keep trying new things.

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Another thing that made me head to the bar was the terrace and outdoor space.  Because it wasn’t located in the middle of Old Town, there is actually enough space to move around.  Many afternoons were spent on the terrace, (that gets sun all day long… which doesn’t seem possible, but is.)  Sometimes we set up a barbeque to do some grilling.  Sometimes we would all meet to eat pancakes.  Also, they have cheese.  Yum.  Much fun.

Honorary Mention:

Red Emperor Bar; Tallinn, Estonia.  Great fun bar with something for everyone.  Cheap beers, pool tables, giant jenga, and a skate bowl (in the bar!)  For me the biggest attraction was the events they have going on all the time.  Personal faves being Karaoke Night (Monday) and Trivia Night (Thursday)

Mouse House; Pogradec, Albania.  Mouse House was a bar owned by a friend of mine that we went to quite often.  Drinks were cheap (as was everything in Albania) and the people were always really friendly.  Drink Rakia, ask Mouse to play Tuna, dance around the bar- Great night!

Caravan; Paris, France.  Lovely little bar, with good wine.  Very relaxed.  It felt more like hanging in someone’s basement than a bar.  But a nice basement.  Not, like, a cement hole.  All mismatched chairs and tables.

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1000 Windows, Albania

Berat is a city in central Albania.  It is a UNESCO World Heritage sight, and known for its Ottoman architecture.  It’s also a city built on the hillsides on either side of a river.  The hillside location, and the Ottoman architecture give it the nickname ‘Town of a Thousand Windows.’  The houses looks as though they are stacked on top of each other, as the hills (mountains) are quite steep. 

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The old town was really fun to walk through.  It was full of impossibly narrow cobblestone ‘streets’ that no car would ever be able to drive on.

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The streets, buildings, fences, railings and pretty much everything else possible seemed to be covered in grapes. 

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It just seemed like a magical place to walk through.  I really enjoyed it.

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After walking through the old town for awhile, I decided to walk up to the castle.  Because, you know me and castles. But then it decided to rain.  So I changed my mind.  So, imagine some castle ruins…
I did love the old bridge in the city.  Great views of the town.

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Berat is especially gorgeous at night, when the windows light up. 

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All in all, a really fun few days, and definitely one of the most picturesque places I’ve seen in Albania. 

Pogradec Castle Ruins, Albania

By now, you’ve probably realized I like castles.  So, you’ll understand that I was pretty excited to learn that there were castle ruins, on a mountain just on the edge of the town I’m living in, Pogradec, Albania.  I set off, thinking that I would walk up, then spend a little while walking around the castle ruins, and maybe try and stay till sunset, to watch the sun set over the lake.  Beautiful.

I started out with a short walk around the lake, and then was happy to see signs pointing the way.  Directionally challenged me was relieved.

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Going in the right direction!

Now, it didn’t take long for the trip to get a little weird.  Definitely still in Albania!  First, there were a lot of chickens running around in the road.  No problem, I’m fine with chickens… (they’re smaller than seagulls) 

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Laundry day and chickens

But chickens aren’t all that strange to see.  (Even though there were a lot of them)  but like stray cats and dogs, chickens aren’t really a surprise to see.  A stray horse, however, was a little less common.  Eating lunch out of a dumpster… Two days later I saw the horse down by the lake snacking on delicious green grass (which is a lot better than the packet of crisps it was trying to eat when I took this photo)  Heh.  I said packet of crisps. 

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Note the angry ear position

So, already this trip was more than I had expected, and I wasn’t even barely on the mountain yet.  Just to mention some other interesting things that happened as I walked up: praying mantis, big flying bugs, wild blackberries… general lack of flowers.
The mountain (which most people would probably call a large hill, but I’ve spent most of the last 6 years in Chicago and Estonia… anything that isn’t flat, is pretty much a mountain in my book) isn’t so large, but the path sort of winds around it, making the journey much longer than it seems like it should be.  But finally I was approaching the summit, excited to finally see Pogradec Castle!

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You could say I was disappointed in the castle ruins.  Or, as I like to call it now, the dents in the ground where a castle should have been. 

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I took a photo of this rock, because maybe at one point is was a part of a castle.  Maybe. 

But on the upside, yes I trekked up to see a castle that turned out to be non existent… but the view!  So wonderful!  On the one side, you had mountains:

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On the other side, you could see the whole city of Pogradec:

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You had great views of the absolutely stunning lake:

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And you can even see the towns and villages dotted around the lake:

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So, yes, the castle was a disappointment.  But the trip was worth it none the less.  Perhaps some new signs advertising the spot as a viewing point would be more applicable. 

And one last picture of the gas station on the edge of town:

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I really do love this place.