First impressions of Cyprus

The plane landed smoothly on the tarmac at Larnaca airport, but the plane of Russians started clapping vigorously and smiling at their loved ones like they had survived a near miss. Larnaca airport seemed fresh, clean and relaxed after the chaos of Moscow Domodevodo. I picked up my luggage, bought a sim card and a Lipton iced tea and strode out into the sun.

I got the bus to Larnaca centre, not a long journey, but I found myself looking at the passing scenes with a manic grin on my face. I was in a new country, a country I knew little about and it excited me greatly.

The bus dropped me off right next to the beach. The strip was full of modern restaurants and coffee shops like Starbucks, Pizza hut and the Hard rock cafe. Not exactly what I was expecting. Nevertheless it was nice to stroll down the street and watch the people relaxing in the bars and restaurants. I couldn’t find my apartment so I asked in a local shop. The woman was incredibly kind and sincere and gave me much-needed directions in English.

I eventually found my apartment, it was a stones throw from the beach. The owner was once again genuine and kind, offering me as much advice as he could. I chose the apartments because it was called apartment Stephanie, and it didn’t disappoint.

I left my bag in my room, had a quick shower and headed out to explore. I had been advised to walk further down the beach to see the more traditional area. After six months of winter in Moscow, it was nice to feel the sun on my bare skin. It wasn’t hot but pleasant and I enjoyed strolling down the beach, watching the laughing Cypriots and the many tourists.

Happy to feel the sun after an eternal winter

I decided to stop off for some food and ordered a feta cheese crepe. Once again the service was friendly and genuine, there’s no fake smiles here. I decided to eat my meal on the windy beach to the sound of the waves crashing. It was so peaceful.

For some reason I decided to walk an hour out of my way to see the flamingos at the salt lake. It was just my luck that the flamingos were stood right in the middle of the lake, I could only see their shadows in front of the setting sun.

On the way back to my apartment I decided to walk through the narrow residential areas. Everywhere seemed a little dilapidated with flaking paint and broken balconies. However sporadic bursts of colour and the noises of living coming from the houses made it seem quite romantic. It was like I was on a movie set.

I explored a small mosque and an extremely old church located just metres away from each other. I love it when religions can live in harmony. I was yet to learn about the Turkish occupation of the North side of Cyprus and the problems that face the people because of this division.

Grand Mosque, Larnaca
St Lazarus church, Larnaca

In the evening I strolled along the beach-side bars and restaurants. Cypriot teenage boys walked proudly with their arms draped over their girlfriend and chatted in an animated and confident fashion with other groups of teenagers. I saw many nationalities of tourists too, all going about their business in a relaxed manner. It’s at times like this when I feel lonely. I guess it’s the downside of solo travel. I spotted a packed local kabab shop and enjoyed a chicken gyros and a beer in solitude.

Cyprus seemed like a relaxed and happy country. I immediately warmed to Cypriots with their honest hearts and sincere words. I had originally planned to spend 6 days in Paphos, diving and relaxing. But I realised that I wanted to see more of this beautiful island. The next day I rented a car and set off travelling around the island. It was the first time that I’d driven in over two years and i felt nervous yet exhilarated.

I felt at home.

2016, a year of Travel: Part 1

In 2016 I felt like I barely travelled anywhere. I can only add one new country to my ‘list’ and that is Russia, my new home.

However looking back 2017 was probably one of the most important years of my life. I fell in love, decided that Japan wasn’t the country for me and decided to take a huge risk and move to Moscow, leaving my love behind in Japan. Even though I only travelled to one new country, I travelled to many places in Japan, travelled to Abu Dhabi, explored Dubai in different way and visited the Venice of the north, Saint Petersburg.

February 2016

Sapporo snow festival, Hokkaido, Japan.

Ever since I moved to Japan, the Sapporo snow festival or ‘Yuki Matsuri’ as it’s known in Japan was mentioned nearly every couple of weeks. It seemed like a right of passage for many Japanese and something that nearly everyone wanted to visit. I had a few days off in February and managed to book last-minute flights and a great hostel, despite many people saying that I had no chance of booking a ticket or a hostel and that many places book up months in advance.

I didn’t really know what to expect when I disembarked the plane in Sapporo. I arrived in the middle of a massive blizzard and had never seen so much snow in my life. I found my way to my cozy little hostel where I had a self enclosed bed and set off exploring Sapporo. Hokkaido was surprisingly more relaxed than the mainland. I saw tattoo shops and just felt a lot more relaxed when walking around, like there was less societal expectation.

The snow festival itself was absolutely amazing. There were many giant statues made of snow and smaller statues dotted around the main park in Sapporo. I was surprised to see Russian dolls being sold and Russian food stalls at the festival. I bought a pierozhki and ate it as I wandered around, no inkling at all about what the future would hold.

One of the weirdest things I saw at the festival was a girl band performing next to a statue and middle-aged men singing along to the lyrics and acting like obsessive fans, jumping up in tandem.

Tokyo, Japan

When I lived in Japan I travelled to Tokyo at every given opportunity. The worlds biggest city is also one of the worlds best and I never got bored with its energy and innovation. One day I travelled to Tokyo with some fellow English teachers and we had an amazing day exploring Akihabara, buying used panties from vending machines, visiting a maid cafe and we ended the day with one of the greatest experiences in my life, Robot restaurant in Shinjuku.

April 2016

Kanamara matsuri, The penis festival.

Life in rural Japan is extremely boring, sometimes Japan delivers something extremely quirky and crazy, the penis festival is one. The trains to the festival were paclked like sardines and the streets surrounding the small temple where the parade starts from were also heaving. It was worth beating my way through the crowds when I saw the giant, pink phallus sitting serenely in the middle of the crowd. Later it was joined by an even bigger black phallus and they were paraded through the streets. I touched the phallus, it is a festival of fertility and I certainly want children someday.

The best part of the festival was buying realistic penis and vagina lollipops and shocking the innocent citizens of Japan as we paraded with them through the streets.

Hiroshima and Miyajima, Japan.

Hiroshima was probably my favourite place in Japan next to Tokyo. I absolutely loved it laid back vibe, beautiful wide, tree-lined streets and its abundance of canals. I found it such a romantic city and was blessed with perfect weather during my visit. I visited the harrowing historical sites such as the museum, flame and the dome. I attended a German beer festival and enjoyed one of the most expensive half pints of beer I’ve ever had. I ate the best food of my life and became inexplicably addicted to oysters after trying them grilled in Miyajima, after that I ate oysters at least once a day. I also realised that I had never truly ate okonomiyaki before, the food in Hiroshima was amazing.

Miyajima is an island not far from Hiroshima. I knew it was famous for the burnt orange floating tori gate but I was astounded by the islands natural beauty. It was like paradise and made me a little bit homesick for Thailand. (Is it possible to be homesick for a place other than your birthplace?).

Hiroshima dome

Miyajima oysters

May, 2016

Sanja Matsuri, Tokyo

I attended the biggest and best festival in Japan with a group of amateur photographers. I was not disappointed with my decision. I got some amazing photos because the other photographers kept moving to different vantage points to photograph the parade. I only got a few sly shots of Yakuza (Japanese gangsters) but It was great to see such an enigma in real life. After the Matsuri I ate my favourite Japanese food, okonomiyaki with a group of fellow teachers. I found out that one of them lived in Moscow for a few years…

A birds eye view of the action from Senso-Ji
The body suit of a Yakuza member

 

 

June, 2016

Sendai, Japan

Sendai is a city in Northern Japan, like every big city in Japan it felt completely different to the others. What I loved most about it was it’s proximity to nature. You could literally walk from the skyscrapers in the centre to a quiet river or secluded mountainside in 40 minutes. I think it would be a great city to live. My then boyfriend lived there so I travelled up as frequently as I could to visit him. We ate amazing ramen, visited Sendai zoo (sidenote, don’t visit zoos in Japan, they are extremely sad places) enjoyed walking around the city and attended a few festivals.

Ushiku and Tskuba, Ibaraki, Japan

I moved to Ushiku in March but I waited until the summer to see it’s most famous sight, the Ushiku Daibutsu, the tallest standing buddha in the world. I didn’t think I would be too impressed, after all I’ve travelled to Thailand so many times and seen so many giant buddhas. I was awestruck when I saw it though and felt calm and spiritual.

I went to Tskuba alone on a lonely weekend and ended up attending an international festival. It felt so nice to see other cultures being celebrated and to see people of different races together. During my time in Japan I felt acutely aware of the fact I was different to most people, this day in Tskuba was welcome respite.

The famous Ushiku Daibutsu

 

Part 2 of my year will come soon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Beach: Oh Thailand, what are you doing to me part 2

The morning light caught my face as I lay in the comfortable bed of my guesthouse. I woke up and walked to my bathroom/oasis and freshened up. Compared to the hostel from hell this place was absolute luxury and I relished privacy and the lack of horny Italian men.

Way back when, Thailand was just a dream to me. I`d watched the film `The Beach` and dreamn`t that one day I would make it. I did manage to make it in 2013 when I travelled from the other side of Thailand just to see `The Beach`.

I had no plans for the day, the sun was shining so I decided to revisit my old pilgrimage spot.

11924374_10156004965405271_7534826809397958372_o

When I climbed on the rickety long tail boat  memories started flooding back. I instantly regretted booking a long tail rather than a more expensive speed boat. I was in for an adventure.

The salty sea stung as it flew up towards my face. My unruly hair made a break for it as my hair bobble disintegrated and abandoned ship. The driver of this boat was in a hurry and he wasn`t going to let 6 foot waves slow him down.

We skimmed across the sea, occasionally dipping into a wave causing a bucketful of sea water to soak us. Eventually we make it to Monkey island and ravenous monkeys started clamouring on the boat.

Rather than giving the monkeys bananas or other monkey appropriate food stuff, the driver of the boat handed a can of full sugar coke to the monkey who casually grasped it and retreated to the safety of a nearby tree. The monkey deftly opened the can by the ringpull and swigged the can of coke in one, not spilling a  drop. He then crushed the can with his tiny fingers and threw it into the sea and went back to posing for photos with tourists.

Monkey island was quite bizarre.

A monkey actually eating a healthy banana rather than a can of full fat coke...
A monkey actually eating a healthy banana rather than a can of full fat coke…

The next stop was viking cove for a spot of snorkelling. As I remembered the snorkelling was amazing and I saw so many fish and a sea turtle. It was quite upsetting seeing tourists kicking the delicate, bleached coral and spying crushed coral next to the boats anchor.

Last time I visited Maya Bay I had to climb up a slippery staircase to reach the island. I prayed that the boat would land us directly in the bay, but alas, 400 Baht will not buy you that luxury.

We parked the boat at the edge of a cove `Ok, Maya bay, you swim there` the boat driver said, gesturing over to a muddled mound of  twisted rope. Shit. Last time I must have been here at high tide, now it was low tide and it wasn`t just the stairs I had to contend with but over 10 feet of intertwined rope.

But I`m a world traveller, I`ve done this before and I`m strong. This would be easy for me.

The rope 'ladder' at Maya bay
The rope ‘ladder’ at Maya bay

I jumped off the boat into the water, the waves felt stronger than they looked on the boat. I swam as fast as I could towards the rope, trying to stay far away from the waves crashing on the sharp rocks to my right.

I reached the rope but my struggle was not over yet. People clung to the rope in pain, struggling to traverse it In front of my a hysterical woman was being calmed down by her boyfriend. I have no boyfriend, I`m here alone and have to fend for myself.

I pushed past the woman as courteously as I could, my skin slipping across her smooth tanned skin. I pulled myself up and climbed as fast as I cold, ignoring the searing pain in my feet and my British manners. I made it to the slippery stairs and carefully held on, pushing past the nervous women, sinking my feet flat on the wood to try to keep my balance.

At the top of the stairs I heaved a sigh of relief. I made it! I slowly walked down the stairs and was surprised to find myself sitting at the bottom. Like in 2013 I slipped down the stairs….

The slippery staircase
The slippery staircase

Once in the island it was as beautiful as I remembered. I met a lovely German girl on the boat who showed me her new bamboo tattoo that she got on the island. We swam, took photos and enjoyed beautiful Maya Bay before making our way back to the boat, down the treacherous stairs and ropey assault course.

We had a few drinks at a beach side bar to celebrate the fact that we were still alive and made plans to meet for dinner later. I had a Thai massage to ease my aching muscles.

As I was walking towards my guesthouse I came across a scuba diving shop. The guy there was friendly but not overly flirtatious like the other dive shops so I decided to book a spur of the moment dive for the next day. The instructor said that the boat would sail to shark point, the best place to see sharks n the area apparently.

I had always wanted to scuba dive with sharks. What could go wrong?

Maya bay. It really is beautiful.
Maya bay. It really is beautiful.

Find out in part 3 of `Oh Thailand, what have you done to me?`

Hostel from hell: Oh Thailand, what are you doing to me? (Part 1)

When people ask me what my favourite country is, I always say Thailand. Thailand is such a diverse country and you just can’t compare the countryside in the North to the hedonistic partying that happens in the Southern Islands. It has something for everyone which was why I decided to visit it in my summer vacation.

I love living in Japan but it’s a very constricting culture. Most people try their best to be harmonious in all ways which is nice at first but after a while can feel a bit fake and oppressive. There’s so many unwritten rules to follow and it can get exhausting.

So I decided to visit crazy Thailand, land of not many rules!

The first few days in Thailand were everything I imagened them to be. I met a lovely French girl who lives in Tokyo on the plane and we spent the first day pampering ourselves with massages on the street and delicious street food. The second day her friends came and we explored the Grand palace and Wat Pho, places that I’ve never visited before despite staying in Bangkok three times in 2013!

It was bliss.

Just chilling at the absolutely beautiful Grand palace on a sunny day.
Just chilling at the absolutely beautiful Grand palace on a sunny day.
Having fun with my French friends!
Having fun with my French friends!

On the third day I left the blue skys and caught a plane to Krabi. On the way there turbulance rocked the plane and I was greeted by grey skies and rain drops sliding across the small oval windows of the plane.

Oh, did I mention that the plane was delayed for nearly 2 hours?

But oh no, this wasn’t going to get me down. I’m a strong independent traveller and it’s not the destination but the journey, right?

When I was on the plane I saw the clouds below me turn from fluffy white marshmallows to soddon, dirty dripping cloths. I knew the weather on the Southern islands was going to be bad but I wasn’t expecting this…

Dirty, wet dripping cloths...
Dirty, wet dripping cloths…

Lies, all lies

I hopped on a bus to take me to the pier, from my research I could make the 3pm ferry. ‘Sorry Madame, no 3pm ferry, only 4pm today’, the shifty man uttered when I tried to buy a boat ticket at a cafe that the bus company uses as a ‘holding house’ for backpackers like me. I immediatelly thought that he was lying and that he was telling me a later time to force me to buy food fron his cafe. I would not succumb, even if I starved!

I somehow managed to persuade the man to take me the pier for 3pm. I laughed inside as the mini bus drove away, thinking of how stupid my fellow travellers were to believe the creepy guys story. I’m an experienced traveller and no-one is going to trick me, haha!

Unfortunately I didn’t get the last laugh as the next ferry was actually at 3pm. Despite being majorly pissed off I made friends with some fellow English girls and ate a tuna sandwich.

The ferry ride from hell

I travelled on a boat many times during my 2013 sabbatical so I like to think of myself as a kind of expert. I chose a seat near the front of the boat to reduce the chance of sickness.

It made no difference.

The boat rocked from side to side so violently that there were sporadic screams from the passengers. The air changed from musky backpacker to acrid vomit within seconds and I was forced to seek refuge on the top of the boat. All was well until the rain started to pour down and I risked my life sliding across the slippy deck back into the safe but disgusting inside of the boat.

Koh Phi Phi?

Koh Phi Phi was a place of pilgrimage for me in 2013. When I was in my car visiting patients as a podiatrist I would listen to Pure Shores by All Saints on repeat and imagine I was on that beach. ‘One day, you will make it to that beach’, I whispered softly to myself.

Koh Phi Phi felt so far removed from the paradise I remembered. The rain was pouring down and salt from my sweat was stinging my eyes. I was not broken though, no. I was staying in the islands best party hostel and I wasn’t going to let a bit of rain get in the way of my fun.

The dark and dreary beach, a lot different to how I remembered it in 2013!
The dark and dreary beach, a lot different to how I remembered it in 2013!
Koh Phi Phi back to it's beautiful self after the storm
Koh Phi Phi back to it’s beautiful self after the storm

Hostel from hell

I finally found the hostel after trudging across the beach. I had to wait a good 20 minutes before being seen to (Solo travellers don’t seem that cool to hostel staff maybe…). I wish I could say that the room was worth the wait but it was a cramped and grubby room right next to the bar. I had a bottom bunk though so it wasn’t so bad I guess? The one window was blocked up and the pain was peeling from the walls. If there was going to be another ‘Hostel’ sequel I think that this hostel would be the perfect place!

I was ready to party the night away. Rain won’t stop me! I made my way to the shower, got undressed and turned the shower on. Rather than being greeted with a lucious stream of warm water I saw a barely visible dribble of water. It took me a good 20 minutes to rinse my hair but I wasn’t going to let it get me down! I then realised that there was no mirror in the dorm so I had to get ready in the corridor.

Oh no, I didn’t have a lock! I completely forgot to bring one, it’s been a while since I’ve been a backpacker you see. No worries I’ll buy one from the hostel.

‘Sorry, no have’. Hmmmm, no worries I’ll buy one when I’m out for dinner!

I had an amazing Italian meal and met a cool Dutch girl who kindly followed me around while I went on the search for an elusive padlock. I looked in every convenience store and couldn’t find one. The rain was so bad that I give up and decided to go to my jail cell for a rest.

The hostel staff kindly found me a lock, then made me pay 200baht for it, okay….

I hit the bar and treated myself to a large Chang and made friends with a bunch of people. The drinks were flowing, the music was playing, it was a good night. Then I saw a sight from the corner of my eye, a naked man! In a bar! I looked around and saw the staff member who checked me in with no bra and another girl in just her illuninous thong. I like to party and have fun but I’ve never really experienced hedonism like this. I decided to keep an open mind and enjoy the day.

koh Phi Phi
Grainy selfie with a bottle of Chang! If you look behind me you can see people in varying states of nakedness…
Partying in Phi Phi, the night before the Italian incident...
Partying in Phi Phi, the night before the Italian incident…

The next day I went to the toilet and realised that there was writing all over the walls, most of it in red pen so it looked like blood. Creepy. The writing was quite rude with lots of people writing their conquests on the wall ect. ‘Dave fingered Jenny here 2015’….

I wanted another shower to freshen up, I thought I’d be clever this time and check all the showers. Two only dribbled water and the other two had the shower head ripped off! I asked a staff member if there was a shower I could use but he said they were all broken, ‘because you know what people are like then they have a drink eh’, what they cut off a hostels water supply?

That evening I had a beer with the Italian guys in my dorm. I normally stay in female dorms but decided to stay in a mixed dorm since that’s all the ‘best party hostel in Koh Phi Phi’ has. They seemed like nice guys though so I wasn’t worried.

I went out for the night with my friends and had a great night. I went back to the dorm and tried to get changed in the dark. The Italian guys burst in and turned the light on. I sheepishly pulled my nighty on and had a bit of a chat with them before turning over and trying to get asleep.

I was woken up a few minutes later by the smallest Italian screaming ‘I like big boobies’!’ and flinging himself in the bed next to me, trying to kiss me. I pushed him off and sternly told him to go back in his own bed. That’s the reason I try not to stay in mixed dorms…and the fact that men snore more than women.

The next day I demanded a refund. ‘oh is it not your scene?’ the guy said condescendingly.

No, I guess it’s not.

I checked out and moved to a lovely private room with actual orchids growing in the bathroom.

You’ll have to wait until part 2 to see what happened next in my favourite country….

orchids

 

Have you ever stayed at a dodgy hostel like this one? Did you tough it out or check out straight away? As always I love hearing your thoughts on this post!

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Months of Travel: Summary and Review Part two

edited new zealand

Throughout my travels people had hyped up the South island so much I was actually scared that I would be disappointed. I’m glad to say that the South island actually took my breath away at every spot that I visited. The landscape is so diverse and untouched that it sometimes seemed too beautiful to be true!

 

We woke up early in the morning to catch the ferry to the South Island. For some reason the Kiwi experience lot dropped us off far too early and we spent hours waiting in the ferry terminal. By now I had developed an addiction to New Zealand chocolate and could easily devour a large bar of Whittakers in a day…

The ferry was really comfortable with affordable food so I decided to treat myself to even more treats. Unfortunately the weather was quite bad so the upstairs deck was closed. The ferry passes through the beautiful Queen Charlotte sound and our guide said that you can sometimes see dolphins and even whales!

Kaiteriteri

One of the most beautiful sounds in the world is ‘Kaiteriteri’ said in a Kiwi accent! We only spent one night in this beautiful place, I could have easily spent a week there. The beach was absolutely beautiful and apparently the weather here is beautiful all year round!

 

 

Westport

The drive to Westport was absolutely beautiful and I was starting to believe the hype of the South island.

In the evening we went on a little trek along the coast and spent the night around a campfire on the beach. Another beautiful experience that made me glad that I chose to explore this beautiful country with the Kiwi Experience.

 

Lake Mahinapua

The drive to Lake Mahnipua was along the coast and the scenery really blew me away. The scenery seemed to be getting better and better the more South we headed! Our guide said that most of this part of New Zealand hasn’t changed since the Jurassic period. There was something so uplifting about seeing scenery untouched by man.

Lake Mahnipua was a peculiar stop. There used to be a quirky old guy who worked at the pub near the lake who was quite a personality but he had recently passed away. We had a fancy dress night where people bought outfits from the local town. I decided not to spend $ on my fancy dress outfit so simply bought a sailor hat and wore a stripy top…

Before the party we had a delicious meal together of steak. I preferred staying in small hostels in New Zealand because we felt like more of a group. In the evening everyone had a great laugh and some of the outfits were amazing considering the limited time we had to plan them!

People said that the lake was beautiful too but I forfeited a walk on the lake for a well needed nap…

 

 

Franz Josef

I opened my mouth in awe as the big green bus headed towards magnificent snow capped mountains and shiny white glaciers. The small village of Franz Josef was sophisticated with the most beautiful views of the imposing mountains and kettle lakes.

My time in Franz Josef was action packed, I hiked on the vast glacier one day and Kayaked on a beautiful reflective kettle lake the next. I felt like a great explorer in Franz!

One evening we even went in search of glow-worms along a dark path. It was a lot cheaper than paying $40 to see some captive ones in a cave in Waitomo!

 

 

 

 

Wanaka

Wanaka, oh Wanaka. Every day in New Zealand I would see the most beautiful scenery in the world. I don’t think anything can beat the view from the beach in Wanaka. Lush green mountains, beautifully blue lake Wanaka and views of snow capped mountains in the distance all topped off with a quirky tree in the lake!

Wanaka is seriously beautiful but I found the actual town to be quite boring.

It was a friends birthday so we enjoyed an Indian and a few beers in a local restaurant and had an early night in anticipation for the early ride to Queenstown.

 

 

Queenstown

Queenstown is probably the liveliest place in New Zealand’s South Island. The whole town has a really cool chilled out vibe, there’s loads of restaurants serving most types of food and it has an amazing nightlife!

My time in Queenstown was spent on a bar crawl , eating numerous types of burgers from the amazing ‘Fergburger’, shopping and(Where we visited an Ice bar!) checking out the beautiful scenery around the lake.

I decided to Bungy jump in Queenstown and two of my friends even did a tandem jump!

 

 

 

 

Milford Sound

Prior to this trip I’d heard that Milford sound was supposed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth so I booked an excursion to go on a cruise there with high expectations.

Milford sound was beautiful, not as beautiful as other places that I’d seen in New Zealand though. The boat tour felt very touristy and although enjoyable was not a highlight of the trip.

 

 

Christchurch

On the way to Christchurch we stopped off at lake Tekapo, a lake that could rival lake Wanaka for it’s beauty! It’s the most beautiful turquoise blue colour and we visited a little chapel that overlooked the lake, apparently its booked up years in advance, and I could see why!

I was a little bit apprehensive about visiting Christchurch because of the earthquakes that devastated the city a few years back.

I found Christchurch to be a city of opposites. In one way it was a city of devastation, it was creepy to walk around at night because the streets were empty. It has little to no nightlife and you can feel sadness when you walk around this once great city.

On the other hand it’s a city of hope. In the day the streets are full of families enjoying street performances or bites to eat in the quirky refurbished centre which is now the Re:start mall where the shops and restaurants are housed in brightly coloured shipping containers!

Christchurch was where I said goodbye to all of my Kiwi experience friends. Everyday we said goodbye to someone until I was the last one left.

 

 

 

 

New Brighton

Due to unexpected circumstances (That I will talk about in a future blog post!) I spent my last few days in the normal working class seaside town of New Brighton. It’s not really a place that attracts travellers, more people on a working holiday visa.

It was nice to spend the last few days of my trip on the beach though. Before I knew it I was on a plane that would take me to Dubai for a night and then back home to spend Christmas at home with my family and friends.

So this concludes the monthly roundup of my big trip! Have you ever travelled with the Kiwi Experience gang? If so what did you think? How did the North Island compare to the South Island? Did you love Milford sound more than me? 

Please ask me any questions you like!

 

I’m heading to Egypt!

 

If you follow me on my Facebook page you will know that I will be heading to Egypt next week!

I’ve only recently come back from Krakow, a place where I spent a very reflective 6 days drinking Polish beer and vodka and learning about the very dark history of Krakow from Medieval times through to World War two.

Now it’s time to travel to my fourth continent and experience a very different side to travel. For the past three years I have travelled on a serious budget, even sleeping in $1.50 a night dorms in Cambodia and taking 10cent train rides through rural Sri Lanka.

Now it’s time to experience all inclusive travel!

I will be staying in Sharm El Sheikh which is located on the tip of the Sinai peninsular lining the beautiful Red sea. I’m excited to spend two weeks basking in the warm sun and using the PADI I gained in Thailand by scuba diving in the Red sea. I want to see Nemo or maybe even a (friendly!) shark.

Recreate my ‘endless summer’ of 2013!

I’m also excited to have my towels transformed in to beautiful statues on my bed each day, sad I know.

Although Sharm may not be classed as ‘real Egypt’ because it doesn’t have magnificent cultural icons like Cairo, I’m looking forward to just soaking up the atmosphere in the souks and observing daily life in Egypt!

File:Red sea-reef 3990.jpg

Have you every travelled to Egypt or Sharm El Sheikh? If so what did you think of it? Have you ever travelled on an all inclusive holiday?

Ten Months of Travel: Summary and Review, Part One

north island

My tenth and final month of travel was spent in beautiful New Zealand. After feeling thoroughly underwhelmed by Australia, a country I had initially dreamed of emigrating to I had no idea what to expect of Australia’s quiet neighbor. I had nothing to worry about, I soon fell in love with the natural beauty and laid back lifestyle. The food was amazing and the people were genuinely friendly with a similar sense of humour as the British.

It was just what I needed.

The first week was spent visiting family who I had never actually met before! Initially I was nervous about sopending time with someone who I’ve never met before but after a week I didn’t want to leave. My Dad’s cousin was absolutely lovely and made me feel very welcome. I also got all of the inside gossip about what New Zealand is REALLY like!

 

 

The beautiful Coromandel

I went for a weekend away to the beautiful Coromandel Peninsular with my cousin’s workmates, (Who were all midwives…). Apart from hearing far too many gory stories about childbirth I had an amazing weekend. I visited a winery and vineyard, saw a pod of killer whales just ten metres from the beach and even got a proposal from a Kiwi boy who didn’t want me to leave New Zealand!

Was it a sign? Am I meant to live in New Zealand?

coromandel cheeseandwine

Look at that beautiful food and wine!

I discovered that the world is a very small place when an acquaintance messaged me on Facebook to tell me that her best friend was in New Zealand, alone and wanted someone to travel with! Could the timing have been any more perfect?! Her best friend actually went the same school as me and it was so nice to travel with someone with the same accent, who knew the same people and places that I grew up with.

My initial plan was to rent a car and drive across New Zealand, my friend Ashley had actually booked to travel on the Kiwi Experience bus, a sort of semi organised tour. I decided to join her and had a very easy, fast paced month of travel where I met some amazing people and did many things that I would only do once in my life!

 

All aboard the Kiwi bus! I’m rocking head to toe grey…

The first stop on the Kiwi Experience bus was the Bay of Islands in the North. Most people stayed here for a few days but we decided to stay just one night. I enjoyed getting to know other travellers on the Kiwi experience bus and took a ferry to the cutest little island Russell where I saw a manta ray in the clear blue waters of the marina!

kiwi

Auckland tower

The next stop was Auckland, I stayed there in the suburbs for the week I spent with my family but I never actually had chance to explore the actual city. My friend took a few of us on a whistle stop tour of the city and I ate one of the most delicious burgers of my life.

We travelled up to the Coromandel Peninsular to the amazing hot water beach, it really does have to be seen to be believed, like many of the crazy geo-thermal wonders of New Zealand. We dug our own hot spa on the beach, such a surreal experience.

hotwater

Helping to dig the thermal spa on hot water beach!

In Waitomo I got to see glow worms! It’s hard to believe that the actual ‘glowing’ part of the worm is it’s faeces! As we travelled down the country to Rotorua we visited the amazing Hobbiton. I’m a big Lord Of the Rings and The Hobbit fan so I was in my element posing near the cute Hobbit Houses. I really was in my element!

hobbiton

 

Rotorura is a small town that smells like eggs because of geothermal activity. Right next to the hostel that we were staying at there were bubbling pools of mud and water that were only surrounded by fences the year before. The Te Puia geothermal reserve was where I saw a geyser erupt and ate an egg that was cooked in a geothermal pool.

egg tepuia

Te Puia

Then we travelled to Taupo, a place I was dying to go to and secretly dreading because I would have to jump out of a plane at 12,000 feet. Luckily I didn’t wimp out and skydiving was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Even to this day I still can’t believe that I had the guts to willingly jump out of a plane! In the evening I went on a relaxing cruise on Lake Taupo and wore my skydiving T shirt with pride! I wanted to hike the Tongariro crossing but unfortunately it was closed due to bad weather. I was still buzzing after skydiving so I had a well needed chill day in the hostel.

 

boat

Feeling on top of the world after jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet!

River Valley was a peculiar stop. It’s not really on the tourist trail and it’s basically a lodge in a secluded location. Most people went white water rafting but I used the time wisely and had a nap. I was finding this fast paced travel really enjoyable but also really hard. I was used to travelling at my own pace and staying in each place for a minimum of 3 days, here I was lucky if we stayed somewhere for 24 hours! It was good not having to book or research anything and to have a ready made group of friends for a month!

My last stop on the North island was the surprising little city of Wellington. It lived up to it’s name of ‘Windy Wellington’ but was a charming and beautiful little city. One day we took the cable car to the  botanic gardens at the top of the hill which had fantastic views of the Sea and the city. I also had a much needed Chinese massage for only $20. It’s a place where I could see myself living in the future.

wellington

Have you ever travelled to New Zealand? If so did you find it very different to Australia? Have you ever travelled on the Kiwi Experience bus?

 

 

I’ve been nominated for the Leibster blog award (For the second time running!)

Ooh, I was nominated for the Leibster blog award for the second year running by Char Williams from LovefromCornwall.com.

So here are the answers to the 11 questions asked by Char!

1) What motivates you to blog?

I enjoy writing and imparting my knowledge to others. When I was planning my big trip I absorbed the itinerary and packing list of every solo female travel blog I could read. I have experienced and learnt so many things on my travels and I want to help both newbie and experienced travellers.

2) Top three favourite blogs?

Adventurous Kate and Never ending footsteps are my favorite blogs. I love their writing style and they are what inspired me to travel to South East Asia and follow in their footsteps.

I also used to love Girl and the world, she inspired me to travel to Sri Lanka even though it’s not a typical backpacker destination. Unfortunately the website is no longer updated.

Beautiful Hikkaduwa in Sri Lanka

 

3) What was the best day of your life?

Wow, what a hard choice! Climbing Adams peak was special, we started climbing at 1am and watched the sun rise from the Buddhist temple at the top. It was a very special travel moment.

4) The best place you’ve ever travelled to?

Koh Tao was my paradise. Good food, beautiful beaches and it’s where I got over my fear and completed my PADI.

5) Who would you hate to be stuck in a lift with?

David Cameron.

6) …And who would you love to be stuck with?

Baz Lurhman (The director of The Great Gatsby and Moulin Rouge), I would love to see inside his amazing mind.

7) Most embarrassing moment of your life? (I’ve had many!)

Forgetting that I had a knife in my hand luggage when going through security in Australia, oops!

8) Describe your ideal Saturday… no cash/travel limits!

Wow, I guess I would wake up in a luxurious hotel in the Maldives, enjoy breakfast on the beach then go for a scuba dive.

I would travel to Naples for lunch, enjoying real Italian pizza. Then head over to Rome and Venice for some sightseeing.

I would then skydive over the Grand Canyon in America and enjoy a steak with a cowboy in Texas. Mmmmm

I would then pop over to Iceland to see the Northern lights before enjoying a few drinks in an icebar then falling asleep in a big, fluffy bed.

That would be my perfect day if a time/teleportation machine was invented.

9) As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

It sounds really boring but I wanted to be a dentist or a geologist. I collected rocks and was fascinated about how they were formed and where they were found.

Saying that I was also obsessed with Tomb Raider, I wanted to visit the places she does in the games. Now I can say I have 🙂

10) Favorite song ever?

I absolutely love Porcelain by Moby. It reminds me of a time in life where I went against everything that I knew and planned a whole year away. The song is featured in the Film ‘The Beach’ and it was always my dream to go there. In August 2013 I realised my dream and travelled to Maya bay in Thailand.

11) The best advice you’ve ever been given?

‘Decide what you want to pack in your backpack then just pack half.’

I took a massive bag and greatly overpacked for my trip. I was in South East Asia for most of it where just a few vests, pair of shorts and a dress or two would have been perfectly adequate. Don’t be like me and carry a 20kg backpack around the world!

 

My nominations are:

George on the go

Y Q Travelling

Helen in Wonderlust

My Eleven questions are…

1) What is your most essential possession in your backpack?

2 What is your least essential posession in your backpack?

3) Where was the first country abroad that you visited?

4) What spf do you use? (If any?)

5) What is your favorite travel song?

6) In your opinion what country has the best food?

7) What continent is your favorite?

8) What backpack/suitcase do you use for travel?

9) What is your favorite foreign beer?

10) Have you ever kissed a fellow traveller?

11) Describe your ideal Saturday… no cash/travel limits!

 

I look forward to hearing your answers!

 

 

 

You can keep up to date with my adventures by following my Facebook page. I update it daily and it’s an easy way to contact me.

https://www.facebook.com/PearlsandPassports

Nine Months of Travel: Summary and review

koala

My ninth month of travel was mostly spent in Australia, I place I have mixed feelings about. I don’t think that I ever really got over my reverse culture shock whilst I was there.

 

 

After a few days in the chilled out town of Coolangatta which is right on the border of New South Wales, it was time to head to the cool alternative town of Nimbin!

 

 

If only travel was as easy as that! When I arrived in Byron Bay, fully expecting there to be transport to Nimbin I was told that there was only ONE bus a day travelling to Nimbin and that I was an hour too late!

Initially I panicked, big time. I had arranged to stay in Nimbin because there was no accommodation in Byron Bay due to it being a busy weekend. I started thinking rationally about how I could sleep on the streets that night and how I would hide my valuables when a helpful woman at the information centre interrupted my train of thought and handed me a list of hostels in Byron bay.

I rang about 6 hostels, saddened to hear that there was no room at the inn, then I found one! I was so happy I accepted the bed without even enquiring how much it was. Luckily it was the cheapest hostel bed that I payed for in Australia.

I stayed the night in Byron bay, made some great friends and went on a fun night out. I was on a high and really enjoying New South Wales. The next day I got the bus to Nimbin,  but all was not what it seemed…

 

 

 

The bus to Nimbin is sold as a kind of hippy bus. Basically people go to Nimbin for the day to gawp at aging hippies, buy a few space cakes then hop back on the bus to civilised Byron Bay. I wanted to explore deeper than that and I ended up staying 2 nights in Nimbin (Sleeping in a teepee!) and 1 night in nearby Jiggy staying with a guy called ‘Dave Cannabis’ and riding ‘Hippy horses’. I had the true Nimbin experience!

 

 

 

In hindsight I should have stayed in Nimbin for longer, I loved the laid back attitude of the town and the beauty of it’s natural surroundings. There’s nothing nicer than falling asleep to the sound of wallabies, exotic birds and badicoots outside!

But no, the adventurer in me wanted to see more of this massive country so after a few more days in Brron bay I spent 2 nights in Coffs harbour. One of the most boring places in the world. The beach was beautiful and I enjoyed some delicious fish and chips there but the whole town was very residential and ‘vanilla’. Not my cup of tea.

 

Coffs harbour. This is the best bit about the town.

 

Bellingen was supposedly another alternative town like Nimbin and I was very excited to visit. If alternative means middle class ladies who lunch dressed in hippy pants this is the town for you. It was not an alternative town by any means. It was very chilled out and a nice place to spend a few days though. I will never tire of seeing ‘old’ heritage buildings that were built in 1921 though!

 

 

 

 

It was time to get back on the Greyhound bus and head to Port Maquarie, a place I chose to go because I found a flyer for a hostel that had floral bedding, a swimming pool and free WIFI! Did I mention the FREE WIFI?!

When I got there I was told that there was no free breakfast and WIFI like the leaflet promised. The bedding was a manly gemoetric style too. Noooo! Port Maquarie was another ‘vanilla’ town. Probably a nice place to live but a boring place to visit.

I’d had enough of small town living and needed to spend time in a metropolitan city, boy did Sydney deliver!

Sydney ended up being one of my favorite cities of all time. I stayed in a quirky train carriage right on the tracks of central station and I set my alarm for 7am everyday because there was so much to see and do. I loved how historical Sydney is, something that the rest of Australia lacks.

 

 

 

 

 

I spent my days wandering around the city, exploring every museum and art gallery within walking distance, sipping Lindt hot chocolate and attending every free walking tour available.

I was in love!

 

IMG_8830

In love with a city in Australia? I could barely believe it! It felt good though so I extended my stay for 5 more days.

Melbourne. Oh Melbourne. It’s the city I had highest hopes for in the world and the city that disappointing me a bit. I absolutely loved the city but it was not the ‘alternative city’ that people had been promising me. No one dressed individual or arty like I was expecting, just ‘charity shop chic’ and I was the most ‘vintage girl’ around apart from a beautiful 50’s girl in an alternative shop.

It was quirky but nothing like what I had expected. I don’t think the freezing cold temperatures helped either. I had to buy tights, cardigans and a skirt because it was so cold and rainy. The cold and rain also limited what I could do.

I loved the quirky laneways in Melbourne and the diverse little districts like St Kilda, Fitzroy and Brunswick. Melbourne is also home to one of the  best museums in Australia: Melbourne museum and the most useless museum in the world: The Hellenic museum (Greeks settled in Melbourne. The end).

 

The South Bank at night.

The street art is very cool though!

 

Australia tired me out mentally and physically. It was not what I had been expecting and in a way that was quite liberating.

Part of me was expecting to fall in love with Australia, I thought I would love the sun, nature and the laid back lifestyle. I found out that it just wasn’t for me and that was ok.

I still think that you are either an Asia lover or and Australia lover.

I’m certainly an Asia lover!

 

Which one are you?

You can keep up to date with my adventures by following my Facebook page. I update it daily and it’s an easy way to contact me.

https://www.facebook.com/PearlsandPassports

 

Eight months of Travel: Summary and review

8months

Month eight was the month where I had to say goodbye to my beloved Asia in Exchange for a new country and a new continent, Australia on the other side of the world!

I started my month in Koh Phi Phi after a last minute decision less than 2 hours before the night boat departed. It was probably one of the best decisions of my travel and let me say goodbye to Thailand in style, in the one and only Maya bay from the film ‘The beach’!

 

 

The sight of Maya bay got me through hours of overtime at work as I was saving for this trip. When I arrived in the bay it made my life feel complete. It was a surreal experience. I had dreamed about this place and this moment and now it was happening. I felt so happy and so proud of how far I have come in my many months of solo travel.

In another last minute decision I decided to travel all day and night to Kuala Lumpur to spend time with a good friend that I met at the retreat in Cambodia. It was well worth it and I had one of the best days of my travels going shopping, gossiping, eating  Nando’s and sipping cocktails overlooking the imposing Petronas towers.

 

It was lovely acting like a normal girl again!

I then travelling on the most luxurious bus ever to Singapore. It had complimentary food, a blanket and a console in the chair where I could watch films! After travelling on the back of pick up trucks in Asia I appreciated this small luxury!

My last days in Singapore were spent chilling at the amazing happy snail hostel. I feel so at home there and I love the comfy beds with quilts. I went shopping in Orchard and ate as much Singaporean food as I could fit inside me.

On the 30th September I arrived in Australia. Initially I was excited but then spent a few days suffering from reverse culture shock.

 

I soon picked myself up and recovered a bit when I moved to a more sociable hostel with a pool. I spent my first week in Brisbane due to a lack of planning. I even had to buy a guide book because I had no idea about anywhere in Australia and unlike Asia, you had to book in advance and not decide two hours before….

I love Australian marsupials and visited the amazing Australia zoo, home of my idol Steve Irwin. Whilst there I held a croc and was amazed at the croc show in the crocoseum. I had to hold back my tears when I read the many tributes to Steve that were dotted around the park. He was a man of passion who loved what he did.

 

I hope to find my passion one day. Something that makes me spring out of bed everyday and where I make a real difference to the world.

I visited the Lone Pine koala sanctuary where I cuddled a koala, fed kangaroos and met many of Australia’s wildlife population. I also walked around Brisbane’s clean city streets.

After a week in a city it was time to move on so I travelled North to Noosa and spent a night at a flashpackers hostel and travelled to the countryside to spend three nights at the Gagaju bushcamp where I discovered my talent in life, canoeing!

 

I spent a few days with a friend in Labrador and it was so nice to live a normal life and sleep in my own room. Small luxuries like privacy and just relaxing on the sofa with a cup of tea are hard to come by when staying in hostels!

Surfers paradise was a little taste of home, it reminded me of Blackpool! I had my first big night out in Surfers paradise and tried to bodyboard in the massive waves,I’m glad that I survived… It made me vow to do a surfing lesson whilst I’m in Australia though.

 

I decided to give the small resort town of Coolangatta a shot after Surfers Paradise and I’m so glad that I did! I loved the relaxed town centre and the beautiful beach. I saw a whale breach in the ocean whilst I was having a coffee in a cafe, it was such a unique experience. I would love to see these beautiful creatures up close one day!

 

After Coolangatta it was time to head to the busy Byron bay….

Modes of transport= Night bus from Sihanoukville to Bangkok then a variety of buses and ferrys as I island hopped.

Number of cuddly toys bought= 1, a crocodile to remind me of my time in Australia Zoo.

Number of times someone has said ‘G’day!’ to me= 262

Bucket list item ticked off= 1, holding a koala!

Lessons I have Learned= You need change to grow as a person. Accept it.

Number of cool bags bought= 1, food is so expensive here in Australia so I’m having to cook for myself for the first time in 7 months!

Number of times I have gawped, open mouthed at the crazy creatures in Oz= 3736

So there it is, my summary after 8 months of travel! Travel is amazing but not always easy as I realised when I suffered from reverse culture shock when I arrived in Australia. I no longer suffer from culture shock but I’m travelling quite fast in Australia which means that it’s harder to meet people to travel with. It’s worth it though because I get to see as much as I can of this vast country.

Have you ever visited Australia or South East Asia?

Have you ever cuddled a koala or fed a kangaroo?