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!

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Five travel goals for five years


I tried to sit down and write a bucket list of all the things I want to do in the next few years or few decades (yikes!) but I finally decided the list would be far too long and take hours to write. Almost every day I discover something new that I want to do or see, and so my bucket list will be never ending! So for now, I have settled for five travel goals that I want to achieve in the next five years
  • Have visited 50 countries
At present, I have visited 29 countries. I have never actually transited without staying overnight on long-haul flights, so all of these are countries I have actually properly visited. To achieve this goal I will have to visit 4 or 5 new countries per year. Thanks to living in the UK I get 5 weeks annual leave per year, so as long as I don't visit too many countries I've already been to I should make it!
  • Visit South & North America
Besides Antartica (which I want to get to one day!) North and South America are the only continents I haven't visited. I especially want to visit New York and Chile.
  • Go on a cruise
Cruises sound absolutely amazing. I have been wanting to go on one for years. When I was in Australia I really wanted to do a South Pacific cruise but it never ended up happening. Now I would love to do a cruise that includes Turkey and Greece, but really I would probably be happy with any cruise! 
  • Visit most of the countries on the European Continent
So far I have 23 countries ticked off and 27 left to see. The list I have includes places like Vatican City & San Marino. Once I've been to them all I can work on revisiting them again and seeing what I missed the first time around. I don't believe that you can ever truly see everything there is to see in one country. Even though I've lived in the UK for two years and tried to see most of it through day trips, weekends or longer, there is still so much to see! 
  • Live in another country for at least three months
Unfortunately one of the side effects of moving country (and hemisphere) every few years, is that it doesn't take me long to start thinking about where to move next. I'm quite happy in London for now (and I imagine the next few years at least) but I would still love to live in another country for at least a few months. I find that when you live in a country, you discover so much more about it than if you were only there on holiday. 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Taking a walking tour of Berlin



Let me start this by saying that usually I hate guided tours of any kind. Just the image of someone waving an umbrella as 50 tourists follow (missing a bunch of interesting things along the way) makes me cringe. However, when I visited Berlin, a few people had recommended doing a free walking tour. I had a look online to see what kind of sites were included and it looked okay, so I decided to overcome my tour prejudice and take a chance.

There are a lot of free walking and paid walking tour companies in Berlin. If you are around Brandenberg gate at around 11am or 2pm you will see what I mean. The company I picked was Sandemans New Europe. Their tour was in English and took 2 hours. A few of the other companies that offered paid tours took 4 hours, which didn't sound very appealing in the freezing cold!! I'm sure that all the free tour companies would offer a similar kind of layout of the tour, and as I have only tried one company I can't say it is better or worse than the others!

Our tour started at 11am. Everyone was instructed to meet at a certain spot, where the massive group of people were then orderly split up into tour groups. Our guide was Seb/Sebastian who had perfect English from living in the UK for ten years and was also very knowledgeable and entertaining. 


We visited a few of the top sites in Berlin including the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, the old Nazi HQ, Checkpoint Charlie and the spot above where Hitler's bunker was. Much of the information in the tour were things that I would probably not have found out had I just walked around on my own. I can always vouch for the value of local knowledge! Although the tour was quite fast paced, I didn't feel like I was going to miss anything. As it was only 2 hours, I knew that I could easily go back and revisit anything I wanted to.


I didn't have to worry about my fear of looking like a lemming either. I don't know if it was because I was so engrossed in the tour or that we actually didn't look like losers, but I didn't feel uncomfortable at all about being part of a tour. There was no waving umbrella or obnoxious tour guide dragging me along. In fact, I enjoyed it so much I was kind of sad when the tour ended! 

The only catch to the tour (which I had already assumed beforehand) is that it isn't technically free. Everyone was encouraged to give what they think the tour was worth. So although you could just walk off without paying a cent, you would look and feel like a bit of a jerk. I didn't have a problem with paying though, because it still works out cheaper than a normal tour if you want it to, without feeling cheap. Also, because the guide knows their income will be based on how awesome their tour is, it means that the free tour is likely more interesting than a prepaid tour.

I can highly recommend taking a free walking tour of Berlin. Most of them are quite short, but still pack a lot in which means that you can get a really good overview of the city. If you take the tour at the beginning of your trip, you can figure out what you want to see again and what you would be happy to skip. Also, having a local guide means you can ask them what else is worth seeing!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A short guide to Berlin


Berlin is a city that is absolutely bursting with history. I feel like Berlin and Germany as a whole is one of the most underrated places in Europe. If you tell someone you're going to Venice or Paris they sigh with envy, but when I tell people I'm going to Germany they tend to react more like, "ah that's nice...have fun...". I guess part of the reason is that places like Italy & France have the romantic edge. German is not a very romantic language and somehow the German people have been stereotyped over the years as being quite harsh and unfriendly. I have to agree that the language isn't very pleasing to the ear... schweinefleisch anyone?? (That's pork by the way) 

But in terms of the people, they are nothing like how they have been portrayed in media, which I think is so unfair. They are very polite and helpful, and although they aren't as emotional as Italians or the Spanish, it doesn't mean that they are rude. They are very logical and orderly people (as a whole), so they tend to talk in quite a direct manner. You want a spoon? Here is a spoon. They don't need to delve into conversation about what kind of cereal you are going to eat with that spoon. I really like the Germans as I think my inner organisational freak kind of likes the extreme orderliness of the people and the country. I have been back to Germany more times than any other country in Europe, which I think says something about how much I love it!

Although, I have been told off for stepping on the grass there more times in Germany than I care to count...

Moving on to Berlin now! Like I said above, Berlin is just packed full of history. The city has seen its fair share of tumult over the centuries, and no more so than in the last century. I was really interested to learn about more of its history, and was so loaded up with facts and historical dates by the end of the week I think I could have qualified to be a German history teacher!

Where to stay

Berlin is quite a large city and there are a few spots that would be good for seeing all the sights. The area of Mitte holds the majority of the tourist attractions. Your own personal interests will determine which sights you want to see, so the best way to pick where to stay would be to decide the top things you want to see and pick accommodation near there. I stayed a 10 minute walk south of Potsdamer Platz which was not too far from Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Gate & Topography of Terrors. Museum Island (which holds the Pergamon museum) was about a 40 minute walk away, so if you want to see lots of museums I would recommend staying closer to there.

Potsdamer Platz

What to do

There is loads to see and do in Berlin, most of it of course involving history. I took a fantastic "free" walking tour (you give what you think the tour was worth) which included the main sights such as Brandenburg Gate, Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and Hitler's Bunker. As well as these top sights there is the Jewish museum (which I unfortunately didn't get to), Museum Island where the Pergamon museum is, Topography of Terrors and the East Side Gallery. I also didn't manage to get to the East Side Gallery which I regret now, but I did manage to see lots of segments of the Berlin Wall throughout the city, some with art and some without. 

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

Part of the Berlin Wall at the Topography of Terrors

If you decide not to do a tour, I would highly recommend reading up on Berlin's history before you see the sites, because it really is interesting. From the history of the Brandenburg Gate, to the events that happened during World War II, and more recently the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the reunification of Germany. I'm showing my age here, but before I visited Berlin I had no idea that Germany was divided just over 25 years ago! What did those Australian schools teach me, hey?

If you are not into history, then fear not! Have a wander through the Tiergarten or Grunewald (forest) or look upon the city from the glass dome of the Reichstag. You could also head to an art gallery or simply eat some delicious German food and beer!

A pond in the Tiergarten
Glass dome in the Reichstag

If you can't stand crowds, then Berlin is the place for you. After getting used to the crush of London, it was refreshing to not be pushed around the streets. I can imagine of course that it will be more crowded in summer, but I still don't think the crowds would be too bad. There is a lot of space in Berlin, large areas to walk and lots of squares to mill about in. I would love to go back and enjoy Berlin when the trees are green and I can spend more time walking through the parks and forests. It was just too cold to do that for long in February!


Friday, February 27, 2015

A short guide to Porto, Portugal



Ah Portugal. I have been wanting to visit Portugal for well, ever since I tried my first Portuguese tart! After dreaming of sunshine and delicious food over this winter, I finally hit the book button and set off for four days in Porto, Portugal. So, I have to admit a silly mistake I made. Whilst having a blonde moment, I thought, "Oh, everywhere in Portugal will be warmer than London..." Wrong. If you want winter warmth, trust me when I say, go further south! It was no warmer than London in Porto, however there was full sunshine for almost the whole time, so I'm definitely not complaining!



After an early flight, (remind me never to book early flights again!) I arrived with my friend in Porto, and we made our way from the airport to the city center on the metro. The metro was incredibly easy to navigate. After following the airport signs to the train station, we bought tickets with the guidance of an incredibly helpful information guy. We were about to buy four tickets, but he quickly swooped in and told us that we reload the tickets we buy on the day we need to (this also means subsequent tickets are cheaper). After hopping on the metro, it was only about 30-40 minutes before we arrived at Trinidade station and made our way to our hotel. Our hotel was on Rue da Fábrica which for point of reference, was about a ten minute walk down to the main part of the river front. 

Where to stay


I found it difficult to find helpful information about the best place to stay in Porto, so just booked the hotel based on what I thought would be a good spot. It turned out to be a really good location. It was a really easy walk to all the main sights, and around the corner from a few restaurants and shops. I would say that anything within a 10-15 minute walk from Dom Luís I Bridge on the north side of the river would be a good spot to stay, as everything seems to be located in that general area.


What to do


Before arriving in Porto, I didn't really have too much on my list to do. I just thought I would figure out what there is to do once I arrived, coupled with wandering around the city to see what I could find by chance. If you only have a short time in Porto, here are some top things to do and see:


- Wander around the old town 



Amongst all the fading and run down buildings that line the streets of Porto, there are some really beautiful gems. Many of the churches have amazing architecture and there are a few that have exteriors covered with stunning blue paintings on white tiles. For an amazing example of these tiles, visit the Porto train station. I could have stayed there staring at the walls for hours! If you just wander around Porto you are sure to find something beautiful. Stroll through the cobbled streets with a Pastel de Nata (Portuguese tart) in hand and enjoy the surroundings! And don't do what I did and order a "Pastel de Nada". Sigh...I even knew what I was supposed to say and it came out as "one nothing cake please"! 

- Go on a Douro river cruise



I got a package deal where I got a river cruise, cable car ride and visit to three Port cellars/information centres for around 15 Euros which (I thought) was a pretty good deal. The cruise lasts for around an hour and takes you under 5 bridges along the Douro river going east, and then back the other way until you can almost see the sea. You get to see Porto from a different angle and admire all the colorful buildings that line the river front. 


- Visit a Port cellar



A visit to Porto isn't complete without trying some Port right? If you walk across Dom Luís I Bridge and then jump in the cable car you will find yourself in Vila Nova de Gaia, which is where all the Port cellars reside. My package ticket included a visit to Cockburn's, Porto Cruz and one other one which I can't remember. It wasn't really worth remembering anyway! Cockburn's was great; my ticket included a tour of the cellar as well as tasting two types of Port wine. If you visit, make sure to have a quick walk through the botanical garden around the corner as well. There is a cool abandoned building there, and of course some nice gardens. After Cockburn's we visited another place which I can't for the life of me remember the name of, but it was just a building with information boards on the walls and a bar where you could go try the Port. It wasn't all that interesting and we didn't stay long. Our final stop was Porto Cruz. There was no cellars to visit or tour, but there was a terrace up the top which would have been great to have a drink at in summer, and then some interesting videos about the history of Port & Porto in the floors below. After all that Port tasting we headed back over the bridge to grab something to eat at one of the restaurants back across the Douro. If you only have limited time, I would make sure to visit somewhere with a cellar like Cockburn's as it is much more interesting than just reading information from a board and you'll learn a lot more about Port!


Livraria Lello & Irmão



I am a sucker for libraries and bookshops. Add in dark furniture, old books and maybe a giant atlas or two, and you won't get me out of there. Lello bookshop is one of the oldest bookshops in Porto, and apparently the third best bookstore in the world. I had pretty high expectations after looking at some stunning Pinterest pictures, so I guess it's no surprise that I wasn't totally blown away by it. Although quite busy with tourists taking photos, it wasn't overwhelmingly packed. The staircase leading up to the second floor looked like it could be very grand, if only there was red carpet instead of just worn and chipped red paint. I'm starting to be too fussy I think....it was a beautiful bookstore and I hung around for a bit looking at the various books for sale and admiring the stained glass skylight. It is definitely worth a visit, but just try not to look at too many pretty pictures before you go!

- Bolsa Palace



On my last day in Porto, I visited Bolsa Palace which was a stock exchange back in the day. You have to pay for a guided tour as you can't just wander around on your own which I usually hate, however our guide was very informative and told us some interesting things that I wouldn't have otherwise known. The Arab room is absolutely stunning, and there are some interesting pockets of history within the Palace. Did you know that Gustave Eiffel (yep, that Eiffel) had an office here, with an amazing view out to Porto and the Dom Luís I Bridge? You can see his office here perfectly intact. His assistant designed the Dom Luís I Bridge too, which explains why it looks like a bridge version of the Eiffel Tower.

I would love to go back to Porto in summer, because I think it would have such a great vibe when it's warm. The advantage of going in winter was that it was quiet and there weren't many tourists around. However the Vila Nova de Gaia area was dead quiet with empty streets, which I think took away from it a bit. In summer I could just imagine people wandering down the streets with gelato in hand and then sitting along the river front to watch the comings and goings. Yes, I'll have to come see you again Porto!





Saturday, January 31, 2015

Common travel excuses & how you can overcome them


Thinking about the places I have had the privilege of visiting in my life, I couldn't possibly imagine my life without travel. After a few weeks of being back from a trip I start thinking about where and when I can go away next. If I'm not travelling, chances are I am thinking about it. However, so many people I know view travel as a massive deal and throw obstacles in front of themselves by making up excuses of why they can't travel. The truth is though, most of these excuses aren't things that should stop anyone from travelling. Most of them can be overcome by a slight change of thinking, careful planning and most of all, a real desire to travel.

Travel is too expensive

Granted, many people work extremely hard and still struggle to pay the rent and feed their families. I deeply admire those people, and at that time in their lives they are likely not going to have anything spare for optional things such as travel. However I get annoyed when people act like I'm rich and spoilt for travelling, but then go out and spend their monthly pay on expensive clothes and restaurants. Yes, I travel a lot and yes I visit beautiful countries. But this doesn't mean that I have a money tree stashed in the cupboard. I worked for the money I have and I don't spend it on unnecessary things. I go to restaurants and buy clothes still, but only what I need. I'd much rather go to Paris for a a weekend than have a designer dress that I probably won't even wear. I value experiences and memories over things. Things can be quickly be lost, stolen and destroyed. Memories can't. Well, not as easily anyway. If you really want to travel but don't think you have the money, look at what you are spending your money on and work out what you can cut back on.

If you simply can't afford a trip to another country, think about the travel you can do in your own country. In the past two years that I've been in the UK, I've visited far more places within the UK than many of my friends who have lived here their whole lives! Travel doesn't mean months in an exotic country. Tourists come from far and wide to see places within your own country, so why shouldn't you? All you need to do is hop on a train or go for a short drive, and for the price of a sandwich and a cup of tea you can be seeing something new and amazing. 

Take every opportunity to see as much as you can, no matter how close to home it is. 



I have kids. I'll travel once they're older since they won't remember it now anyway

I have my parents to thank for my love (well, I guess you could say obsession) of travel. When I was 7, they saved up and took me and my older brother on a 3 month trip around Europe. I learnt so much on that trip and still have very fond memories of it. When I was 11, my brother 13 years old and my younger brother almost 2, they took us to Vienna, Austria for 3 months and then Dublin, Ireland for a year. We loved every minute of it and even my youngest brother who was just a toddler remembers a lot from our time there. I am so grateful that my parents took me travelling from a young age. It meant that I learnt so much about different cultures, countries and people. Travel pushed me out of my comfort zone and out of my little bubble which I know would not have benefited my personal character at all. I had to learn that the world isn't all a perfect suburban paradise and made me realise how privileged I am to have the life that I do. There are people that work 10 times harder than anyone I know and still have to live in poverty, simply because of where they were born, how they were raised, or any number of other circumstantial reasons. I learnt that just because someone doesn't do things the same way that I grew up doing, doesn't mean that they are worse or lesser than me. I learnt to embrace other cultures and appreciate them for what they were. I have had to learn patience, empathy and humility; qualities I'm sure any parent would want to instill in their children.

If there is one gift you give your children before they grow up, give them the gift of travel.


I don't have the time

Time is precious. And as the years go by it seems that people have less and less spare time. But, you don't have to quit your job to travel. Take advantage of annual leave from your job and maximise it as much as possible. For example, if you go away in the week of a bank holiday, you don't need to use as much holiday time as a normal week. I'm very glad to live in the UK, where I get 5 weeks holiday per year (I know, I was shocked when I moved here too!!). But even if you only get a couple of weeks holiday per year, make sure to take advantage of bank holidays, and even think about where you can go just for the weekend. If you leave Friday night and come back on Sunday night, that's still two full days you get to explore a new place.

Plan ahead and make an effort to use all available time off that you have.

I know that people do have genuine reasons why they can't travel. But if you have a real desire to travel and your circumstances suit, you might be able to just change a few things in your life and learn to schedule, budget and plan carefully to allow you to travel. I can tell you for certain that you will never regret travel, and I can be sure you won't be thinking about a Gucci handbag you could have bought when you are sitting in the Spanish sun sipping a Piña Colada!