Big & Small’s 2018 Year in Review

Italy, the Middle East, SE Asia, USA and the Balkans

Taking in one of Italy’s most glamorous views in Positano.

Big & Small did slightly less traveling in 2018. Still, we managed to do a complete trip around the globe—starting in Italy, we headed east, only to end up back in Italy for the close of the year. We slept in a total of 41 beds, and visited 8 new countries. Through it all, we made use of planes, trains, automobiles, trams, buses, tuk-tuks, scooters, and our own two feet to get across vast oceans and mountain ranges, charming old towns and coastal villages, and sprawling metropolises.

Here are our top 12 highlights—and all of our YouTube videos!—from Italy to the Balkans, the Middle East to SE Asia, and the USA to a few hidden treasures in between. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel for regular updates on our adventures!

1. Puglia, Italy

Big & Small skipped the car and decided to rent scooters to explore the charming towns of Puglia, Italy, including the magical home of the fairytale-like trulli—Alberobello! Other towns we visited include: Ostuni, Cisternino, Locorotondo, Martina Franca, Carovigno, Costa Merlata, Torre Canne, San Vito dei Normanni, Monopoli, and Polignano a Mare. We had a few scooter problems along the way, but enjoyed the beauty of the countryside and the stunning coastline of one of Italy’s most underrated regions. Follow our journey!

2. Valbona to Theth Hike, Albania

We made it to the top of Albania!

After a quick change in travel plans, we decided to head into Albania from Montenegro. We had heard about the Valbona to Theth hike, a roughly 10-km trek that takes you between two tiny villages nestled deep in the heart of the Albanian Alps. This is the first time Big & Small hiked with everything on our backs, navigating rocky terrain as we made our way to the peak from Valbona before walking through dense forest on the knee-buckling descent to Theth. We managed to do this hike at the tail-end of the season in October, which meant we were rewarded with spectacular fall colors—swaths of bright reds and oranges blanketing the rugged mountain edges. We relished the fresh air, local food, and lack of WiFi. Just getting to this area of Albania is a journey in itself (including a ferry and some harrowing bus rides). But that means it remains rather unspoiled, and we sure hope it stays that way.

3. Sarajevo, Bosnia

Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a city where wars began and olympics were held. You’ll see stunning landscapes, sweeping mountains, and remnants of tragedy. Here are 10 things to do in Sarajevo, including taking the new cable car up Trebevic Mountain, walking along the abandoned Olympic bobsled track, trying local food and coffee, and learning about the city’s most harrowing moments under siege.

4. Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai was Big & Small’s introduction to the Middle East, and it did not disappoint. We spent a whirlwind two days in this luxe desert city, hopping between glamorous malls, a 7-star hotel, faux beaches, and the tallest building in the world. But the best part was getting a taste of the much more modest Old Dubai.

5. The Amalfi Coast, Italy

Discover southern Italy’s Campania region and the jaw-dropping Amalfi Coast! This is the land of colorful, cliffside villages; narrow, nail-biting roads; stunning hidden beaches; and pure luxury living. But this doesn’t mean budget travelers can’t experience all the fun and fabulousness. Here are our tips on doing the Amalfi Coast on a budget.

6. Galle, Sri Lanka

A visit to this pearl of the Indian Ocean was an unexpected surprise. The island of Sri Lanka is a must-see, thanks to the kind and generous people, fresh and vibrant foods, beautiful beaches, calm waters, and the chance to meet sea turtles and a monkey in stylish pants! Our journey to the southern coast town of Galle began with a rickety but scenic train ride and took us to hidden beaches, a sea turtle hatchery, and the locals’ best breakfast spot.

7. Belgrade, Serbia

Belgrade, Serbia, is a mix of grit, decay, hipness, and luxury, and its dynamic energy is like no other European capital we’ve explored. Once the heart of the former Yugoslavia, the Balkans’ grandest city has a fascinating history—plenty of it dark—which can be found in everything from its scenic fortress overlooking the Sava and Danube Rivers to the shocking ruins of the NATO bombings of 1999. But Belgrade is just as much a bustling metropolis for the young at heart, with its great restaurants, sleek cafes, renowned nightclubs, newly renovated waterfront, and one of the coolest museums devoted to Serbian inventor Nikola Tesla.

8. Sofia & Seven Rila Lakes, Bulgaria

One of the most beautiful hikes in the Balkans.

The capital city of Bulgaria has a fascinating history interwoven with its diverse mix of influence from the Romans, Ottomans, and Greeks. Throughout the city center, you’ll walk through old Roman ruins; catch a full view of a mosque, Catholic cathedral, orthodox church, and synagogue all at once (the Square of Tolerance); and pass by dilapidated, Communist-era buildings sitting alongside hip new cafes and restaurants. In Sofia, we visited the Museum of Socialist Art, took a free food tour, drank some “miracle” mineral waters, and explored the nearby Vitosha Mountain. But our most memorable moment in Bulgaria was hiking the Seven Rila Lakes trail (part of the highest mountain range in the Balkans), one of the most breathtaking and rewarding hikes we’ve ever done. 

9. Liguria, Italy

If you’ve already battled the crowds of Cinque Terre and are looking for a more tranquil side to the seaside region of Liguria, Italy, we’ve got your itinerary. Big & Small based ourselves in the larger town of La Spezia, and traveled by bus and train to six other nearby coastal villages that rival the five towns of Cinque Terre for their spectacular views, colorful houses, and fresh seafood. Join us as we walk through Porto Venere, Lerici, San Terenzo, Levanto, Bonassola, and Framura. This is our “alternative” Cinque Terre—or more like our “Sei Terre” (Six Lands)!

10. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Big & Small spent a month in Malaysia’s gleaming, bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur. Our intention here was not only to take in the city’s spicy food and melting-pot culture, but to be true “digital nomads,” i.e. save money and focus on our online work. But we found plenty of time to sit by the pool and explore the city as well. We visited the Petronas Towers and the national mosque, checked out traditional Malay dance, dodged monkeys at the Batu Caves, and caught plenty of whiffs of the world’s stinkiest fruit.

11. Montenegro

Montenegro boasts fewer than 700,000 residents, but welcomes more than 1 million tourists every year. This is because this small Balkan country has quite a lot to offer, from its rugged mountains to its narrow strip of beaches along the Adriatic coastline. Big & Small traveled through the country via bus and train. We walked the boardwalk of Bar, meandered our way through the old towns of Kotor and Budva, enjoyed fresh seafood and pomegranate juice, and visited the largest lake in the Balkans. But we also had a few disappointments along the way…

12. San Francisco, California, USA

This was our home base for several years, so we enjoyed being reintroduced to San Francisco’s many charms (even with its growing ills, too). The City by the Bay is now infamous for its outrageous prices, but it’s still a place full of things to see and do that require nothing but your curiosity.

The Best Way to See Puglia, Italy: On a Scooter!

Big & Small traveled to the southern Italian region of Puglia to see if we could pull off the unthinkable—getting around without a car. Now, most people will tell you it’s damn near impossible to see this region without a good set of four wheels, but we like to prove most people wrong. We also hate driving.

So, we made our way to scenic beach towns via buses and bustling inland cities via trains. But to really get a sense of the charming, quiet countryside and stunning undeveloped coastline, we opted to try out Italy’s most beloved mode of transport—the scooter!

Enjoy our video above, and keep reading below for more info on all of the towns we visited on our epic scooter trip through Puglia, Italy.

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How to Do the Amalfi Coast in Italy on a Budget

Big & Small welcome you to southern Italy’s Campania region and the jaw-dropping Amalfi Coast! This is the land of colorful, cliffside villages; narrow, nail-biting roads; stunning hidden beaches; and pure luxury living. But this doesn’t mean budget travelers can’t experience all the fun and fabulousness. Watch our video above for all of our tips on doing the Amalfi Coast on a budget. Keep reading for more details on exact prices and itineraries.

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A Day Trip to the Artsy Tuscan Town of Pietrasanta, Italy

Roberto Barni Exhibition in Sant'Agostino, December 2017

Big & Small took the train up from Lucca to the chic Tuscan town of Pietrasanta to enjoy an artisanal chocolate festival and the opening of the stunning Roberto Barni exhibition. The Italian sculptor’s works were scattered around the main square (Piazza del Duomo) and the former 14th-century church of Sant’Agostino. To be honest, our main mission of the day was to snatch up a whole lot of handmade chocolate, but we were pleasantly surprised to discover such a charming artistic enclave full of trendy boutiques, galleries, and restaurants.

Here’s a look at our day and night (when the town really comes alive) in Pietrasanta.

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48 Hours in Lake Como on a Budget

On our busy tour around Northern Italy—which included Trieste, Venice, Bologna, Bergamo, Brescia, and Verona—Big & Small fell head over heels for the spectacular Lake Como. With its glistening waters rippling against the foothills of the Alps and its scenic towns colored by stacks of modest abodes and luxury villas, it’s hard not to fall in love. Even big-name celebrities like George Clooney and Madonna have been unable to resist its charms.

This kind of high-profile place can be intimidating for budget travelers, but Big & Small were able to keep costs low while taking in all the natural beauty and effortless elegance of this Italian gem—it just takes a little strategizing. Here, we offer some tips on how to enjoy a quick 48-hour trip to Lake Como on a budget. And click the video above for more information!

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7 Fun Facts About the Leaning Tower of Pisa

PRESS PLAY ABOVE TO FIND OUT 7 FUN FACTS ABOUT THE LEANING TOWER OF PISA!

We hate to ruin our undoubtedly cool image (!), but Big & Small are, well, history geeks. So, when we were deciding on a place to settle down for a few weeks in Italy, we chose the cozy, historical town of Pisa. Of course, staying in Pisa for more than 24 hours isn’t your typical itinerary. There’s usually only one bullet point on most tourists’ checklist: a peek at the world’s most famous architectural screwup, the Leaning Tower. Admittedly, this is what Big & Small did on our first trip to the town in 2015. But upon our return, we found there was much more to love about Pisa and much more to learn about its most popular attraction.

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VIDEO: See the Best of Rome in Just 3 Minutes!

There are few places left in this world where you can casually walk through 2,000 years of history. Wandering through Rome, Italy, you are constantly reminded of a storied empire that laid the foundation for Western civilization. Around every corner, you’ll run into a formidable ancient monument, grandly gilded cathedral, or priceless piece of Renaissance art. But behind all that outward splendor and beauty are tragic tales of power, religion, death, and destruction – this is history served up in all its brutal rawness.

To capture Rome in every bit of its glory, Big & Small Travel present this quick video of its highlights.

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PhotoPhiles: Cinque Terre, Italy – The Italian Riviera

 

Monterosso in Cinque Terre
Monterosso in Cinque Terre

It’s hard to pick the most breathtaking spot in a country full of them, but this is one part of Italy that will truly wow you into submission. On the coast of the Italian Riviera, in the Liguria region, Cinque Terre or “The Five Lands” comprises a quintet of quaint villages: Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The stunning and jaw-dropping architectural beauty of Cinque Terre was created over a millennium by farmers and residents. Houses and buildings rise sharply from the sea, as do intricate rows of grapevines.

Our home base while visiting Cinque Terre was in La Spezia, a mid-sized town just south of Riomaggiore. It’s a convenient and more affordable spot to stay when visiting the area, and has easy access to the train line that runs between the villages. It’s also a great base for a day trip to Pisa (just a 1-hour train ride) or even Florence (a little over 2 hours on the train). Each town has its unique flair: Be sure to purchase a hiking and train pass to make a stop at each. We recommend grabbing an espresso in Monterosso, sharing a pizza in Vernazza, slurping up a basil-olive oil gelato in Corniglia, digging into stuffed mussels in Manarola, and topping it all off with a glass of red in Riomaggiore. (Don’t worry, the steep, sometimes treacherous, hiking will burn it all off!)

Enjoy our photos and videos showcasing one of the world’s most charming corners.

Manarola: Taking in the sunset after enjoying stuffed mussels and incredible Italian red wine.

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Corniglia from the hiking trail: Primary industries here are fishing and winemaking.

Manarola: The stunning harbor and vista in the town center.

Cinque Terre Vista
Vista point from the hiking trail, near Corniglia.

Manorial: The terraces in Cinque Terre are supported by over 7000 KM of dry stone walls.

Monterosso: JCrew enjoys coffee time along the Liguria Sea.

Monterosso: The biggest town in Cinque Terre brings in the biggest crowds with its expansive sand beach.

Handstand Steph at Monterosso.

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Corniglia: The Oratory of Rocco dates from 1480.

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Riomaggiore: Hiking along the free trail, just outside the town.

Beach in Monterosso.
Monterosso: Beautiful blues line the Cinque Terre’s most northern town.

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Near Corniglia: Cinque Terre resident selling freshly squeezed orange juice along the paid trail.