Monday, May 2, 2016

A quick guide to Ohrid, Macedonia



I didn't put a lot of thought or planning into my trip to Macedonia. As I was lazily clicking  through Skyscanner one day (instead of online clothes shopping like a normal person) I stumbled across bargain flights to Macedonia.
Macedonia? Although I could vaguely pinpoint where said country was on a map, I had absolutely no idea really about anything to do with Macedonia.

After a quick Google Images search I was easily won over and booked the tickets for a five day trip, along with a few friends who were keen to visit a lesser known European destination. 

Leading up to my trip, I couldn't find a great deal of information about our destination, Ohrid, so after a few hours of attempted research, I decided the information I had was enough and hoped for the best! Despite being unprepared, I had the most incredible time, and was so pleasantly surprised. I would fly back there in a heart beat!

However, if you prefer to be a little bit more prepared then below are a few tips and notes that you might find helpful if you are planning a trip to Ohrid.



Location
Ohrid is a small city located on the shores of Lake Ohrid, in the south west of the country. Two thirds of the lake belongs to Macedonia, with the remaining third part belonging to Albania, the border of which is about an hours drive from Ohrid. 

The town is set on a hill, with lots of pretty old buildings dotted around. The lake is just stunning with blue glittering water, lying beneath green mountains all around the lake.

What to do
Despite being a small city, there is still plenty to fill a few days in Ohrid, below being just a few.




















  • Visit Samuel's Fortress, towering on the hill above Ohrid for a spectacular view.





























  • Go for a boat ride on Lake Ohrid. The prices are reasonable and on a sunny, warm day it's just perfect.





  • Church of St John - A pleasant walk up a hill on the edge of the city will bring you here. Once again, a beautiful view as well as a good dose of history wrapped up in the church.















  • Drive around Galicica National Park for some of the most incredible views in the world. Sit perched on a rock with glassy water below and green mountains surrounding you.





























  • Visit Albania! Many of the taxi drivers at the taxi rank near the lake will be happy to drive you around the lake for a day trip. We paid 80 euros for the day, however prices do fluctuate depending on the season. Start the morning in Galicica National Park, check out Sveti Naum Monastery, then grab some lunch in Tushemisht or Pogradec in Albania. If you have the time left, make a quick stop in Struga in Macedonia, and head back to Ohrid in time for dinner.


Prices
Compared with London and most of Western Europe, the prices here are ridiculously cheap. An average decent sized main meal will cost about 3-4 GBP, and accommodation is easy to find for well under 50 GBP per night. I found there were many apartments/ hotels set up to cater for groups of four for this price.

Currency
Macedonia has its own currency, the Macedonian Denar, but Euros are accepted pretty much everywhere. 

Transport
Taxis are the most convenient and cheapest way of gettig around. From the airport into town, there is a bus for 300 denar per person (about 2.5 GBP) but if there is a few of you, a taxi is usually more cost effective. The drivers I found were quite pushy, and I know I paid more than local rates, but 700 denar (approx 9 GBP) for four of us was still reasonable to me and cheaper than the bus.





Food
I found the food quite similar to Greek food, although like everywhere there are of course local and national dishes. A standard meal would consist of lots of meat, with a small side salad or serve of vegetables, so I found it best to also order an extra salad to balance out the meat! Bread is usually served for free.

Accommodation
We booked a hotel for under 40 GBP/night including breakfast for the four of us, which was an absolute steal! No, it wasn't glamorous and the hallways reeked of cigarette smoke, but the room itself was clean, well presented and centrally located, so I wasn't complaining.

There are some "fancier" hotels around, but if you are on a budget, I felt the standard of accommodation for a basic hotel was adequate, especially if you are only there to sleep at night.

Safety
Of course, like anywhere it's important to use common sense and take precautions, however I found Ohrid to be one of the safest places I have ever visited. The people were genuinely friendly and helpful, and I never felt like a) there were always people watching us or b) constantly trying to rip us off for being a tourist.
We walked around at night, and even in the quieter areas I didn't ever feel uneasy.

Well, there you go! 
Hopefully these tips have helped if you are planning a trip to Ohrid. It really is a beautiful place, and perfect for a few days to relax and explore a lesser known country!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen




I have to say straight up that for me amusement parks are something that I could take or leave. If it's a choice between a theme park and doing some shopping or visiting a castle, I will definitely take one of the latter options. I guess at some point in time I stopped finding rides, crowds and fairy floss fun and rather found them nauseating. Actually that's probably not true. I think everyone regardless of age that visits a theme parks goes home feeling nauseated... 

Well anyway...at the ripe old age of 18 I had decided I was too old and boring for theme parks. Despite my grumbles though, my two friends who went to Copenhagen with me really wanted to go to Tivoli Gardens. Not wanting to be a massive fun sucker and deciding that Tivoli had some historical interest (it is the second oldest amusement park in the world), I tagged along.


We arrived some time in the early afternoon so there was no queue. We were also visiting in mid-May before tourist season had completely fallen across Europe. After stepping into the park, I realised it was not like other theme park I had been to. There were trees lining every path, and instead of a crazed atmosphere it actually felt quite calm. 





I was trying to fight off a headache that day, so as my friends went and lined up for one of the most popular rides - the Star Flyer - I went and found a quiet spot to sit. The queue for their ride was at least half an hour, so after I was sufficiently bored with staring at the little people in plastic chairs spinning around in the big blue sky, I decided to go for a wander.





Surprisingly, instead of finding obnoxious coloured buildings and tacky costumed actors, I found that Tivoli was actually a really beautiful park. There was a massive fountain, and loads of green areas lined with brightly coloured tulips. Along with that, there was also a couple of beautiful resident peacocks that roamed around, showing off their iridescent feathers.





However, my favourite part of the park was the lake in the middle. It had a massive pirate ship (which is actually a restaurant) bobbing on it and despite being in a theme park it had a serenity and calmness surrounding it. After catching up with my friends again, we sat near the edge of the lake where there were lots of little water features bubbling away. Finally after reaching optimum chill level, we decided to call it a day and head back to our apartment.






It was such a nice day, and I was so pleasantly surprised with Tivoli Gardens. Even though I didn't go on any rides, I still think it was worth the entry fee just to wander around the lake and gardens. So, if you are thinking of going but aren't keen on theme parks, I can highly recommend just going to chill out for a couple of hours!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Christiansborg Palace, Copenhagen



If you've been to a few countries in Europe, you've no doubt seen a few palaces. Coming from Australia where I'm pretty sure the palace count is zero, I have always loved exploring them. After a while though I realised that sometimes palaces can all look a little bit the same. Call me spoilt, but sometimes there are only so many old beds (that no one slept in anyway) that you can see. So although I wasn't too fussed about visiting any of Copenhagen's palaces, after reading a review from a travel blogger I convinced myself that it was worth seeing.


Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was the exterior, which is not at all what you imagine a typical "fairytale" palace to be like. However, as soon as I bought my ticket, I realised that Christiansborg Palace was going to be pretty special. They make everyone wear plastic shoe covers for goodness sake! A sure sign of pride and care.


After ascending a regal staircase, I found myself in the first room. Like all the rooms to follow it was gorgeous, with glittering chandeliers and pristine flooring (thanks to the shoe covers). Usually in palaces, I find the Grand Hall or Ballroom the most stunning, but my favourite room in Christiansborg Palace was actually the Queens Library. I absolutely love libraries, and this one is now my favourite! There are sparkling chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and beautiful ornate bookcases lining every wall. There were two floors to the library, with the second floor not accessible to us commoners, but still pretty just to look at from the ground floor. I'm already planning how I can somehow have a library just like it one day. You know, when I find a prince to marry or something...





After dragging myself away from the library (not before ducking back in one last time when all the other people had left), I walked through the Grand Hall. It was quite different to any other I has seen, because instead of the classic royal portraits or mirrors that usually adorn a great hall, the walls were covered in massive brightly coloured tapestries showing the history of Denmark in a really quirky way. I'm not sure whether I preferred that look or not, but it was definitely different!


The palace didn't take long to look through, as there was less than 10 rooms to look through, so afterwards I moved on to the other two parts of the palace included in my ticket - the Royal Stables & palace ruins. The ruins were nothing special, but it was interesting learning about the history of the palace. The two previous palaces on the site burned down so they've had to build the palace several times. However I'm not sure whether showing a video about how many times it has burned down is really the best thing when you're in a dark place surrounded by ruins underground! Thankfully I'm not that claustrophobic...







After leaving the ruins, I visited the royal stables where you actually get to walk around the stables whilst the royal horses are there! They are all snow white horses, and are so gorgeous. It annoyed me that many people ignored the signs not to approach them and instead ran up to them frantically trying to pat them and take pictures with flash! Sigh...I enjoyed just looking at the horses though and snapping a few pictures from a distance (without flash of course) ;). There are also many carriages there that are quite interesting to look at, along with a video about when the horses are used.





Overall, it was definitely worth the £10 ticket to see the three parts of Christiansborg Palace. Just before I left, I went up the tower which you can enter for free to get an awesome view of Copenhagen. Although the queue felt like it took forever as they have airport style scanners to check everyone, the view was worth it. And as a bonus, there are two lifts so you only end up having to walk up about 30 stairs. After lots of walking around that day it was a welcome relief!


I highly recommend a visit to Christiansborg Palace if you are in Copenhagen. It is so 

beautiful and well kept, and it's worth it just to see the library!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Copenhagen City Guide



Copenhagen had never really been on the top of my list of cities to see. I don't know if anyone else is like this, but for me sometimes I have a particular idea of what I think a place should look like even if my rational side knows it is not true. And because of that it makes me not want to visit for fear of crushing my little imaginary place. Nope, just me? 

For me, Copenhagen was one of those places. Ever since I was a kid, for some reason - I'm blaming Hans Christian Andersen - I always imagined it to be a fairy-tale town with cobbled streets, mint green houses and pale pink turrets. I didn't go so far as thinking princesses paraded up and down them, but yeah I had stuck in my mind what I thought Copenhagen should look like. So, not wanting to crush the little world of Copenhagen that my childhood imagination conjured up, I was never really that fussed about visiting.

That is until, one morning I was perusing random flights (as you do!) and came across £20 return flights to Copenhagen for dates that suited me. Never one for passing up flights cheaper than a dinner out in London, I booked right away. So last week I hopped on a plane ready for 5 days in Copenhagen!

I didn't manage to see absolutely everything in Copenhagen, but I explored enough to be satisfied that I saw most of it. It is not a massive city, so a couple of full days is enough to see the main sights. Here are the top things I recommend you do or see if visiting Copenhagen!

What to see

Christiansborg Palace




























I will write more about this in a post to follow, but Christiansborg Palace is now one of my favourite palaces! It's rooms were simply stunning and I could have stood in the Queen's Library all day. The view from the tower attached to the palace (free entry for the tower) is also pretty gorgeous and you can see in all directions.

Nyhavn


This is where all the little colorful houses you've no doubt seen pictures of reside. This is where my little childhood imaginary Copenhagen is as well! I was quite happy that Copenhagen (kind of) was like how I imagined it. This little strip of buildings along the canal is really picturesque, and if you visit when the sun is shining bright the colours are even more vibrant.

Canal boat tour



I love being around water, so I always love going on canal or river tours. Copenhagen was no exception. Despite the weather during my one hour tour literally being rain, hail and shine it was still very interesting and I didn't regret it. Every time the rain and hail stopped I would run out to the uncovered part of the boat, because after the heavy rain I could see hardly anything through the windows. 

Tivoli Gardens



Before you go telling me you hate theme parks, just hang on a second. When I visited Tivoli Gardens I had a headache and so the mere thought of a theme park left me feeling sick. I went anyway as my friends were keen to go on some rides, and I also didn't want to wander home without at least seeing Tivoli Gardens. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Tivoli wasn't just a place with roller coasters and fairy floss. There was a beautiful lake with a pirate ship restaurant bobbing on it, a large fountain and lots of green areas. There may have even been a couple of peacocks!! So even if amusement parks aren't your thing, I highly recommend you visit to see the quieter parts of the park.

Food

Breakfast at Bodega in Nørrebro

I didn't really know what to expect from Danish food, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that all the food I had there was delicious and fresh. One thing I recommend trying is Smørrebrød which is basically an open sandwich on rye bread, and you can choose from lots of different toppings. There are many traditional places that serve Smørrebrød around central Copenhagen, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one.

From what people had told me about Copenhagen, I was expecting restaurant prices to be sky high, but I found that outside the Nyhavn area prices were quite reasonable. Compared to crazy London prices anyway!

Transport

I found the transport system extremely easy to navigate. I bought a 24 hour ticket for 80 DKK which covered 4 zones for buses, trains & metro. The metro was very simple to use and the buses are efficient. It is also quite easy to walk between the main tourist sites. 

If you get a chance, make sure to hire some bikes and go for a ride. It is one of the best cities in the world to ride bikes as there are designated bike paths nearly everywhere as well as the center not being too crowded with car traffic.

Where to stay

I always like to stay right in the center of a place. However, the more reasonably priced places in Copenhagen seemed to be around the central station. I have a general rule not to stay right near any large train station, as they tend to be a bit seedy. So instead I ended up staying in Nørrebro. It turned out to be a great location though and it was really easy to get in to see the main sights by metro, bus or bike. It was also quite a nice area, with trendy cafes with decent prices too.



Monday, May 4, 2015

A perfect spring day in London - bike riding along Regent's Canal


Besides today being a bank holiday (yay!) it also turned out to be a warm and sunny day! After deciding not to waste such a gorgeous day indoors, my brothers and I decided to head out to ride bikes along Regent's Canal.  
Regent's Canal is one of my favourite places in London. On a bank holiday I just completely avoid anything remotely touristy which is sure to be packed, and try to find something just a little bit quieter. I find that a lot of the people walking along the canal are locals with only a few scattered tourists. Many tourists will of course take pictures of the canal in Camden and maybe wander down for a few metres, but the majority will not walk down it for very long.

We headed down to Camden to hire some Santander Bikes/Boris Bike's/whatever you want to call them and lugged them down a few steps to the canal path. You can access the canal from many points, but we got there from Camden Lock. After deciding which way to head (one way goes towards King's Cross and the other towards Little Venice) we headed down past Camden Lock and on towards Regent's Park and Little Venice.


My favourite part of the canal is from Camden to Little Venice. There are trees covering either side for most of the way, and it really feels like you are in somewhere other than London. There is none of the usual noise and crowds found elsewhere in London. Even though it was a sunny bank holiday, I didn't find it too busy which made riding a bank along it much easier. Of all the places, you do not want to fall in to the canal. Who knows what is in there!! (Well I've heard stories...but I'd rather not know)

Riding along there are some amazing houses with perfect landscaping, which almost look like mini palaces. As well as that you actually go through London Zoo, with the boar and hunting dog enclosures on one side and the aviary on the other. You can't actually access the Zoo from the canal but admiring it from the canal path is enough! Finally after about 20 minutes riding, we ended up in Little Venice. The first time I visited here, Little Venice definitely did not meet my expectations. I think I must have been expecting shiny gondolas and singing Italian men or something, which London's Little Venice certainly is not. It's worth a look though, and it's quite interesting to see how people actually live on the house boats. Just don't go expecting anything amazing!

Wait...what happened to the sun?!



After turning around at Little Venice (you can't ride through there, just walk) we headed to back along the canal and dropped off the bikes in Primrose Hill. We then walked for about 15 minutes back to Camden where we grabbed some lunch. Happily stuffed with pizza, we headed back home satisfied that we hadn't missed out on the few hours of sunshine that today had in store. Perfect day achieved!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Tips for travelling on a budget


I think that I can speak for most people when I say that if you can save some money without compromising on comfort or quality then you would jump at it. Many people wonder how I can travel regularly even though I work part time and study, thinking that I either a) have a magical money tree or b) my parents fund it. I usually laugh at both of these suggestions. I'll admit that most of the travel I have done so far was funded by my parents, but only because I was still in school and didn't exactly have much of a choice! (No complaints here though) 
But since I finished school I am obviously expected to be self-funded when it comes to travel.

Now, coming to my point about where I have all this money to spend on travel. It's not so much the amount I earn (trainees don't earn a great deal!) but how I spend what I have. I am careful about how I spend money on "non-essentials" but I am also careful when it comes to spending money on travel itself. There are some amazing deals and bargains to be had if you just look hard enough. There are always cheap flights around if you are flexible with dates and destination, and many hotels offer discounts for staying in certain periods. 

Moving on now - here are my tips for saving money on some of the main expenses when travelling!

Flight

As much as I love to whinge about certain budget airlines with their ridiculous luggage restrictions and moody staff, I wouldn't have been to the places I have without them. I recently booked a £20 return flight to Copenhagen on Ryanair to go in May, which is one of the lowest prices I've seen in a while. And really, who can complain about moody staff when your flight is cheaper than a meal and drink in Soho?

Also, if you don't have kids make sure to take advantage of off-peak flights. During school holidays, flights can be sky-high as all families are pigeon-holed into going away at these times. Flying to destinations outside their peak time can also save you some money. So if you visit a "summer" destination in autumn, winter or spring chances are there will be less demand and therefore cheaper prices.

Accommodation

The country or city you are visiting will determine what is the best accommodation option. However, generally places on websites such as AirBnB will be a good deal cheaper than hotels, and also offer you a lot more variety. When trying to find accommodation in Copenhagen I was struggling to find even hostels, (let alone hotels) for my group's budget, but managed to find a three bedroom apartment just outside the center on AirBnB for our budget.

Transport

This one is actually closely linked to accommodation. I usually try to limit my use of transport in favour of staying in a central location. You might see a cheap place about an hour out of the center of the city and think "oh great, money saved!". But really you could end up spending all the money you thought you saved on accommodation and putting it all into transport and have an inconvenient commute!

Food

I find this one the easiest to save money on. Living in London means that restaurants in most other countries seem cheap in comparison! I am a big believer in not compromising your travel experience for the sake of saving money. What I mean by this is that I don't want to eat bread and butter and packet noodles for the whole time I am in a new country. For me, discovering and trying local food is just as important as seeing the most famous tourist attraction there! I will at least try to have one meal a day out at a restaurant that serves decent and authentic food.  For the other meals I will go to the nearest supermarket and buy some things there. Actually, one of my favourite things about a new country is going to the supermarket! I have found some of the most amazing things there because it is what the locals eat and use every day.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Where to stay in Fes


Before I went to Morocco last December I found it quite difficult to pinpoint the best place to stay in Fes. After a fair bit of research, I finally figured out that Fes el Bali is the old medina part of town and the best spot to stay. However, this is a large area! After further research, I figured out that The Blue Gate or Bab Boujloud is one of the main things to see and seemed to be the spot to be.
So based on this vague information I managed to collect, I booked my accommodation a 10-15 minute walk away from Bab Boujloud. I wasn't too wrong about the location, but a few things were clarified once I got to Fes, as is always the case!

So it turns out that Bab Boujloud is the main entrance to the medina. Once you go through the gate, it forks so that you can go left or right. The majority of shops and stalls are on these streets, and a few spill out into the interconnecting streets. Unless you want to see a particular attraction on one of the streets, it doesn't really matter which way you go as both have fairly similar shops.

It is extremely easy to get lost in the medina's streets. All 9000 of them look similar and there are not many street signs! For the first few days, I got slightly lost trying to get to Bab Boujloud in the morning and then finding my way back to the riad again later. A 10 minute walk turned into 30 minutes very quickly! The location of the riad was fine once I got oriented and figured out where to go, but for the first few days it would have been so much easier if I had stayed really close to the Blue Gate. Why? Well one of the things about the medina is that it goes downhill from Bab Boujloud. So I found that after wandering the medina streets for a few hours, I could always find my way back to the Blue Gate if I went uphill. Easy hey? So if you are only in Fes for a few days, you will save loads of time if you are staying near Bab Boujloud and know this tip!

Of course you could just do what I didn't do and buy a cheap SIM card with data and let Google Maps guide you. Then it doesn't really matter if you are staying a bit further away from the gate. Thinking about it now, I don't know why I didn't get a SIM as it would have made it so much easier. Oh well, sometimes the best way to explore is by getting lost!

If you are only in Fes for a few days and don't plan on getting a SIM with data, it's best to stay as close to Bab Boujloud as possible. This means that you can see everything you need to without getting lost every day! If you are getting a SIM or have an excellent sense of direction, staying 10-15 minutes out of the busy part can be nice as you can get away from the crowds and shops at the end of the day.

A final tip would be that if you are staying in a riad, make sure that they arrange for someone to either pick you up from the airport or pick you up from the nearest gate. Often the taxi drivers will only know where the gates are, not the streets because they can't drive in there. So if you can at least get someone to meet you at the gate it will mean you're not walking around dark streets late at night!