Belgium #Brussels

Our trip to Brussels was a rather short and bleak one. Despite gorgeous weather in Bruges, Brussels greeted us with grey skies and then a lot of rain.

We boarded a train from Bruges to Brussels and then hopped on the line 6 metro to the Belgian Comic Strip Center.

The Belgian Comic Center building itself is pretty fab, designed in 1905 by Victor Horta it has the art nouveau style that I love and apparently it once served as a textile department store. On the ground floor there’s a restaurant and a comic store (there was little point trying to keep Matt away) and then there’s three further floors for the museum itself. The first floor boasts original comic book pages by various artists, taking you through the history of comics from the monks to modern marketing and political scandal. The second floor is more specific to Belgian comics, of course Tin Tin and an area for Smurfs.

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After Matt purchased a few French Astrix comics we headed on foot through Brussels to the Grand Palace – and how very grand it is. Before this Brussels had seemed very grey and well run down and to be honest I felt like I was in a bit of a location deja-vu with Coventry – hidden through six sideways with cobbled streets is this massive square that boasts this palace. You just cannot fit it into a picture.

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We walked around the square looking at each point, the spired 15th century city hall and the gilded statues. We then sat in a cafe listening to the big band and rock band play in the square.

Then back to the train station to catch our Eurostar home.

Tazscribbles and Belgium out.

x

 

 

Belgium #Bruges

In Bruges? The 2008 dark comedy film, have you seen it? No, neither had I until Matt made me watch it a few nights ago before we departed for our latest weekend getaway in Bruges.  To quote the film;

Ray: “After I killed them, I dropped the gun in the Thames, washed the residue off me hands in the bathroom of a Burger King, and walked home to await instructions. Shortly thereafter the instructions came through. “Get the fuck out of London, youse dumb fucks. Get to Bruges.” I didn’t even know where Bruges fucking was.”

Second Ray: “It’s in Belgium.”

So Belgium, a county in Western Europe, another Europe country ticked off our ever growing Bucket list, it’s supposedly known for it’s medieval towns, my favourite renaissance architecture and it’s also the headquarters for the EU and Nato (not that the EU counts for much now with good and bad Brexit).

It’s also a country that some might say doesn’t really know what it is, mainly because it’s a very multilingual speaking country with regions in the North speaking Dutch, others French and then German in the East and of course you could not be in Europe if you also didn’t speak English. Nevertheless, Belgian chocolate and Belgian beer – perfect excuse to getaway.

ARRIVAL:

We decided to take the Eurostar from London to Brussels, 2 hours and 1 minute, we then hopped on another train that took us from Brussels to Bruges. Always liking to get the steps up we walked from Bruges train station to our hotel, a mere 25 minute walk along cobbled streets delighting in what I’d like to describe as a Gingerbread town! We checked into our rather nice hotel at about 4pm, a quick unpack and freshen up before exploring our surroundings.

Our first tourist things to do was get the boat along the dreamy canals, now it’s no Venice, for one it’s not your own private gondola, two you’re with about 20+ other tourists and three well it’s very cheap at only €8, but lasts about 30 minutes. We dodged the loud and brash boat full of German men and boarded a more family friendly boat. I’d recommend a boat trip, as despite Bruges being a very good walking city you get to see a lot in less time from the boat.

Bruges by Canal

After our short boat trip we continued exploring along the canal and grabbed a beer at 2be (The Beerwell) and watched the remaining tourist boats come up and down the canal.

Not wishing to be too drunk with the 8% beer we headed to a nearby restaurant for the dish that you won’t be able to miss – Moules-frites before heading back to our hotel for a steam room and sauna.

DAY ONE: (Friday 9th September)

After a rather lovely breakfast we walked 5 minutes to the Belfry to enjoy some panoramic views of Bruges. Unquestionably, no holiday in my books is  fully read without a view from the tallest building or climbing a tower. The Belfort van Brugge has a rather narrow staircase of 366 steps leading to the top of the tower at about 272 ft (83m). The Belfty was added to the market square in 1240, a fire later it was rebuilt and the octagonal upper part of the belfry was added around the 1400’s, with it’s wooden spire then added, to then being destroyed by a lightning strike in 1493, before another fire…

In the market-place of Bruges stands the belfry old and brown;Thrice consumed and thrice rebuilded, still it watches o’er the town. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

Nevertheless, some stunning views of Bruges, the clock stroke 11 and the bells started to chime and sing, wonderful and loud and thankfully no fire!

View from Belfry

A coffee stop and a delicious waffle in the square before exploring more cobbled streets, past Sint-Annaplein church, a church that has a street of houses around it but is called a square… Odd but everything about Bruges has a wonkiness quirk feel to it.

We then headed to see the Windmills, of which there are now four, as well as seeing some of the old city wall boundaries, Coelweymolen is the most popular but unfortunately for us, none were working or open for us to see. Totally worth leaving the main city tourist area for a walk along the canal to see these.

Windmills

Following a tip from a friend we headed to the olderst pub in Bruges; Herberg Vlissinghe since 1515, an olde worlde true pub off the tourist track but worth a visit and with a gorgeous garden.

After our beer we headed to Choco-Story – Chocolate Museum. Did you know there’s also a Frietmuseum? Yes a museum in Bruges, devoted to the history of potatoes and the production of Belgian fries..! Anyway choco-story a slightly educational tour of the history of chocolate and you also get to watch some chocolate being made. Interesting but needed a bit more chocolate making and devouring.

Afterwards we headed to St. Salvator’s Cathedral, the most impressive thing about the cathedral is as you walk in, look backwards at the organ (built by Jacobus Van Eynde), rather impressive.

Continuing our wandering we popped into some art shops, pondering at how expensive some pieces were, we didn’t buy any.

We then headed back past the markets before enjoying another meal out and stopping off at another recommended bar – De Koninck which had so much choice of beers I really didn’t know where to start. Then of course an ice cream on the way back to the hotel.

DAY TWO :

So Bruges really isn’t that big. It’s a perfect weekend getaway, you can squeeze a lot in and still drink quite a few beers but wow, today is Saturday and after pleasantly saying how lovely it was yet not crowded full of tourists… Bam! We headed on our normal route to be greeted with thousands of tourists and the charm of gingerbread houses and cobbles blocked by thousands of people slowly annoying me – I would definitely recommend going but if you can maybe avoid a weekend!

We headed to Minnewaterpark, also known as Lover’s Lake – a lovely little place in Southern Bruges with attractive buildings, of course a lake filled with swans.

Lake of Love

We continued our walk back around the canal and heading into Begijnhof, from the French béguinage, a complex to house religious women. We didn’t partake in a tour but the grounds and building and especially the archway over the bridge are wonderful to look at. Outside you’ll find the horses on much needed rest breaks and well as tourist- priced terraced restaurants.

We then headed for some beer.. In the Beer Museum. Not your normal museum, you’re greeted with an iPad Mini of which you scan in QR codes that take you through the history of beer to the present day, as well as having quiz questions, which I think I got about 7/20 on! Clearly do not know enough about beer… After the Museum you can then head up to the bar area with fantastic view of the market with a beer or three.

We then headed to Koningin Astridpark, a very small park (albeit Bruges is small), a nice bandstand and a little pond but very quick to walk around it.

Of course with it being our last full day of Bruges we then headed back to the centre for some chocolate shopping, on returning the chocolate to our room we headed out for our fill of Moules again, we then went for a 2 hour evening stroll around Bruges, seeing the Windmills at night and hidden streets we hadn’t uncovered.

Loved Bruges, it is a fairy-medieval town, it has picturesque buildings, boasts lovely canals and a fabulous beer selection – what’s not to love!

France #Paris

I remember reading an article in the Telegraph of the Top 10 European city breaks earlier this year – and I’m quite lucky that I have travelled a lot of Europe and crossed most of the cities off the ever growing bucket list, yet I’ve never really “done” one of the World’s most popular tourist destinations that really is on my doorstep, well a door step down from London that is.

Having said that this city break did have a little twist on our normal Europe jet-setter experience, in that this trip was mainly planned around a visit to Disneyland Paris, a gift to my not so little sister for her 18th birthday.

ARRIVAL / DAY ONE:

Our trip started with a train ride into London, with a hop, skip and tube journey to London St Pancras to catch our 11.01 Eurostar departure, due to arrive at Paris Nord Railway for at 14.17 local time, we arrived a fair bit later with good old delays.

Paris is divided into 20 districts or arrondissements, our hotel was based in the 18th, a little further out from the centre but also on the doorstop of Gare du Nord train station, a metro line and the Sacré-Cœur.

We walked to our hotel, checked in and then headed out to the summit of Montmarte – the highest point in Paris to see Sacré-Cœur basilica – also known as The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris.

History wise, Montmarte has been a place of worship from the Druids of Ancient Gaul, to Roman temples and now the Church with the Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur. Though I am not religious I have an interest in all beliefs and a passionate amazement and love for the architecture of these histrionic buildings. We walked around inside and then headed up the 300 steps to see even more impressive views of Paris.

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We then headed to Barbès – Rochechouart to catch the metro to Les Halles, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Gay Pride festival – sadly we were a bit late so pottered around the area (9th arrondissements) getting a feel for the city, our surroundings and seeing a few of the many bridges along the River Seine. Surprising art works on display to entice, or amuse you. After, our feet were in need of a rest so we grabbed an all French cuisine of Pizza and beer before heading back to the hotel. 🙂

DAY TWO:

Sunday, like most of Europe, Paris too seems to “sleep”. Now contrary to most believes, there are still plenty of tourist places open, alongside plenty of bars and cafes but no carrefour shopping market for us to buy a baguette and some fillings for a cheaper lunch.

We headed across the road to a Cafe/Bar for a morning coffee and croissant before getting the metro to Denfert-Rochereau to visit Les Catacombs.

We arrived at 10.50 and we finally made it in to purchase our tickets at 13.40 – a rather timely queue but one the catacombs are worth it and two because no matter where you are in Paris there is always a patisserie that will sell some delicious pastries. Dellen and I opted for a fruit tart and I chose a mini doughnut for Matt who was holding our place in the queue.

The Catacombs holds many remains and although I’d read up on it, I genuinely wasn’t expecting to see that many skulls and bones on display, throughout the walk through the catacombs, every step saw these remains. The underground ossuaries/mines hold the remains of over six million people.

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After the Catacombs we took a ponder down to Notre Dame de Paris – being a Sunday there was a mass and not being a French speaker I couldn’t understand a word of it.

The Cathedral itself is stunning inside and out, the north transept rose is stunning to look at and outside you can admire the famous gargoyles, designed for draining water off and the chimeras – hard to believe all of this architecture was essentially completed in 1345. Modern buildings have a lot to answer for.

Unfortunately we were unable to climb the narrow 387 steps to to top to enjoy some more Paris views as it was closing for the day. 😦

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It was turning a bit drizzly so we headed to a local cafe for a warm drink and a crepe before exploring more Parisian areas, along Rue Dante, where we stumbled across comic book store galore – and my favourite (though not open) a TinTin store.

Home time – well time to sit in our local bar and watch France beat Iceland in the Euros.

DAY THREE:

Dellen’s day – Disneyland Paris!

We walked to Gard du Nord, caught the RER to Les Halles and then boarded another RER A line train to Marne-la-Vallée – right outside Disneyland.

We headed to Walt Disney Studios Park first – what a drama that was. We queued for two rides, both rides broke down when we were literally at the front to go on the ride. It was dampening the fairytale experience so we left this park and headed to where Dellen really wanted to be – Disneyland Park.

Cue an excited face at the magical buildings… 🙂

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A few rides later, a few Disney purchases later and a little wait to meet Mickey Mouse we headed home.

 

DAY FOUR:

Our last day in Paris and still a lot of fit in, first stop the iconic landmark that is the Eiffel Tower. Eiffel tower facts; build by Gustave Eiffeel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle, originally only intended to last 20 years, it’s 324 metres tall (1063 ft), the square base alone is 124 metres (410 ft). During it’s construction the Eiffel Tower overtook the Washington Monument to become the tallest man-made structure in the World, a title it held for 41 years until the Chrysler Building in NYC was finished in 1930.

Plenty of touts lurk around all tourist spots in Paris, Dellen and Matt got collared by ladies asking you to sign a petition for helping the disabled and then refuse to leave you until you hand them over some cash – don’t get caught by them.

We headed through security and then went for the first entrance in sight – the North entrance, also a lift entrance. We purchased a ticket to the summit and waited in line for the lift up.

It’s a regular trip past-time to view cities/places from the best vantage point and seeing all of Paris from the tower was as splendid as every other view, from the 2nd floor to the summit, panoramic views of all of Paris – You can even enjoy a spot of champagne from the bar if you like.

We descended by taking the 704 steps down to ground level, marveling in the awesomeness and the intricacies of this impressive structure.

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We then headed along Avenue Kléber, one the twelve avenues leading out of the Arc de Triomphe.

And what a colossal triumphal arch it is – built between 1806 and 1836. A fantastic ensemble of decorative sculptures in honour of those those who fought in France.

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We then walked down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées – (8th arrondissement of Paris), filled with shops and grandiose buildings. I’d recommend walking the avenue to Place de la Concorde and taking in each personality that the districts has. We then walked through Jardin des Tuileries (gardens) towards The Louvre; a lovely grand garden that could have been thoroughly enjoyed on the summery day.

Sadly we didn’t research well when it came to visiting the Louvre museum, as The Louvre is closed on Tuesday’s – no Mona Lisa for us 😦

We continued to explore more of the area on foot before heading back to Gare Du Nord for our Eurostar home.

Paris is a beautiful city, with many things to love although it’s a small city, it has a big feel and is easily accessible on foot, or the metro gets you everywhere! Each district has it’s own unique sense of place, packed full of cafes, bars, monuments and unique urban arts on display and it’s a hugely international and diverse city. Though densely packed, you can find smaller pockets of intimate areas and still feel in the breath of the historic part as well as the intensely lived in areas.

The football didn’t ruin our weekend either! 🙂

Time to work on finishing off rest of Europe – Belgium is up next for the latest installment of TazScribbles.

Much love

x

 

 

 

USA #New York City

Holidays, backpacking, city breaks it’s been a while! It’s a bit of a tradition that Matt and I go away at the beginning of the May, one because it’s May Day bank holiday but two (mainly) because it falls near my birthday. This year was no different, celebrating the big 30 in New York City, and my first time in the United States of America.

ARRIVAL:

We flew out on Thursday 5th May, due to arrive at JFK at 19:00 a mere 7 hour 45 minute flight made longer with some in-air delays. After a bit of a queue we made it to Border Control, we’d been warned about how brash the American border control could be, however we must have struck lucky, his question amongst other checks was “What brings you to New York?” my reply was “Here for my Birthday” to which our New Yorker implored Matt and I to have an awesome time, which we had to state in our most energetic happy (jet-lagged) states!

We then endured yet another queue for a Yellow Taxi to our friend Will’s apartment. Rush Hour lasts most of the evening in New York City, but what a journey, a ride in a yellow cab was on my list so you kinda have to cross it off, for the way they drive, the road rage from the rest of the commuting New Yorkers and the views… The views of approaching the City, that journey would never get old. Some many hours later we arrived and went for a stroll in Will’s neighbourhood for an evening explore before rightly so crashing out!

DAY ONE:

It’s Spring time in NYC, yet it felt more like Spring in the UK, it was wet, very wet, then on checking the weather back home you were all enjoying a mini heatwave – to the contrary though we are in NYC so Taz – 1, UK – 0.

As it was a Friday, Will had to work, however we joined him for a coffee at the Gotham West Market before walking in the direction of Will’s office and 7th Avenue. It was nearing Brunch time so with a recommendation from Will we headed to Carnegie Deli, I ordered eggs, bagel with their speciality fries and a side of cinnamon toast – goodness I love cinnamon toast.

Carnegie comes with an outstanding reputation for curing and smoking their own meat products and well whilst you’re looking at the celebrity wall of fame you’ll see the mammoth Pastrami sandwich come out – it’s huge, wishing I swapped out my eggs! An American couple were seated next to us and unlike us Brit’s who don’t make eye contact, they started up a conversation, telling us that not all American’s were fat and stupid and they didn’t support Trump – thank god for that. They also very kindly purchased our brunch for us – thank you!

After our Brunch, we carried on with our foot tour of a slightly damp Times Square, round many blocks to the Rockefeller Plaza. A big part of what made New York so great for me was just soaking it up for free, walking the city streets taking in the views – admittingly for the first day, some were obscured by the view of my umbrella!

Our next free tourist spot was Grand Central Terminal, opened in 1871 and well it is very grand and it really is exactly like you see it in the many movies. Now is it Grand Central Depot, Station or Terminal? The original building was Grand Central Depot, it then became Grand Central Station after renovation and expansion in 1901. The new building unveiled in 1913 is what’s known as Grand Central Terminal.

Grand Central Terminal

Grand Central Terminal

After Grand Central Terminal we had a mosey around the Market before having a foot rest in Starbucks – there really are Starbucks everywhere! I don’t even really like Starbucks coffee.

Those who know Matt will know that he loves his comics so it was only right that we visited Midtown Comics after our coffee break – the only issue then was that Matt probably wanted to purchase everything so he settled on a T-Shirt.

We then headed to Grand Central again, to board the Subway to Fulton Street, NYC Subway is an experience – unlike our underground back home I received smiles.

Our next visit was the National September 11 Memorial & Museum Plaza. The Memorial Plaza itself is thoughtfully done, a somber and reflective place. The Twin Pools have the names inscribed in bronze of every person who died in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and those of February 26, 1993. A moving and majestic tribute. I had never seen the Tower’s before but I remember the Day when the Towers fell, it takes you back and there are plenty of moments for reflection. Though most of the people were respectful around the two pools, there sadly were people taking selfies – I just don’t get it. Why would you want to selfie at a memorial. It felt odd to take a picture of the memorial, so we took the most tasteful one we could.

Rose, Memorial Plaza

Rose, Memorial Plaza

We then purchased our ticket for the Museum ($24) and made our way through the exhibitions, unable to process that were I was standing was were the base of one of the towers. The hardest exhibition for me was the Historical Exhibition which takes you through the Events of the Day, Before 9/11 and then After 9/11. If one person had asked me if I was OK I would have cried, I walked around it with a sickening feeling in my stomach and a lump in my throat, I am an overly high empathetic person and I felt every bit of that exhibition. If you visit New York, I recommend that you visit the Museum and Plaza, but maybe in the afternoon or towards the end of your trip as it’s emotionally wearing, but a must.

NO DAY SHALL ERASE YOU FROM THE MEMORY OF TIME 

To finish our day we walked back through Tribeca and all along Hudson Street, it’s funny how the various areas of New York change as you walk through the different districts.

We then picked up The High Line – unlike any other public park I’ve seen, this one is built on an historic freight rail line elevated about the streets of Manhattan’s West Side, it runs from Gansevoort Street to West 34th Street. It’s a little gem for Manhattan and it’s art scene. On our visit the “Wanderlust” exhibition was on and we saw Tony Matelli’s Sleepwalker.

The High Line Park

The High Line Park

DAY TWO:

Happy Birthday to me! To start my birthday in style we headed to a local diner and I had yummy Banana Pancakes with Nutella – two thick and large pancakes with a filling of banana with a side portion of nutella – yummy but I couldn’t finish it. Think I’d need a few more weeks to finish those portion sizes.

The weather was still a bit grey so we decided to head over to Brooklyn Bridge via the subway, our stroll started down Park Avenue (midtown Manhattan), through the Helmsley Building – a 35 story building built in 1929, impressive architecture wise, we then headed through MetLife Building – 59 storey skyscraper into Grand Central. It’s odd to think a grand terminal can stand beneath these skyscrapers.

On arrival at Brooklyn Bridge station there was a crowd gathering around some B-Boys so we watched their performance before starting our walk across Brooklyn Bridge. The Bridge itself is one of the oldest types of cable-stayed/suspension bridges in the United States, completed in 1883 connection Manhattan and Brooklyn with a span of 1,595.feet. The views are impressive, from the buildings on both horizons, the East River and the Bridge itself. Just make sure you do not step out onto the bicycle lane, you will get shouted at by the locals!

Once over the Bridge we headed to Brooklyn Bridge Park, Fulton Ferry Landing – we didn’t board a ferry but walked along the Park’s “coast” and among its pier’s. The park itself stretches Brooklyn’s East River edge by 1.3 miles, I’d recommend exploring it all if you have time.

Moi on Brooklyn Bridge

Moi on Brooklyn Bridge

The sun was finally making it’s way out from behind the clouds so instead of getting the subway back we walked back along the Brooklyn Bridge.

We then hopped back on our subway, back to Will’s apartment to collect our belongings to stay at the Novotel Hotel for my birthday night in Times Square. We celebrated with some cocktails, some beers or three whilst exploring the nigh-time craziness of Times Square/Broadway.

#12.59 miles walked!

DAY THREE:

Spring is finally back and the Sun was shining! Our first stop was a walk to Central Park, it’s odd to think not not so many years ago Central Park and many areas of NYC were unsafe to visit, throughout the whole city I felt perfectly safe. Comparing New York to our home cities you do miss some “green” though there are rooftop gardens and some plants scattered around you do sometimes feel that it is a giant concrete jungle – but one with space and sidewalks.

Central Park is key to New York and the New Yorkers, to escape the city noise and well it boasts 863 acres worth of things to see and do. Our Central Park visit started off with a slice of Pizza from Francescos (you gotta right, the slice was bigger than my face!) and we then stumbled across the lake and turtles – I can watch turtles all day, we were entertained by an adult and baby turtle argue over a tiny branch. We then carried our wander around the Lake and then chanced upon “Japan Day” within Central Park, lots of Japanese, stalls and things to do.

Turtles at Central Park

Turtles at Central Park

I would wholeheartedly recommend picking up a map and allowing a full day to explore Central Park, from Boating on the Lake, visiting the Zoo to sitting on the Great Lawn it’s a treat for New Yorkers and tourists alike.

For our afternoon headed along 5th, past the William Sherman monument all the way to my favourite building of NYC – The Chrysler Building. We’ve seen it before but it was awesome to check out the art deco-style skyscraper without rain and cloudy skies.

We then headed into The Empire State Building, ($32-£52) we had purchased the New York Pass so we upgraded our ticket so we could do both the main and upper observation decks. There was a bit of a queue but the views are totally worth it, don’t forget to check out the art deco ceiling murals before you take the lift up.

I love a trip up any tall buildings, it’s where you can really feel for the city/place you’re visiting and take in 360 views like an eagle in the sky. The main floor is the 86th – you can walk around and see everything New York has to offer from Times Square, Statue of Liberty, how huge Central Park is the Hudson River, East River and various Bridges. We then headed up the Top Deck – 102nd floor – a slightly cramped smaller enclosed view point but the lift is hand-operated so that was kind of retro and cool.

A walk back to Will’s and we then headed to The Meatball Shop for wait, no you guessed it some absolutely delish meatballs – a funky place where you’re handed a laminate to tick off what type, under and side you want as well as any extra sliders. We polished off with an Ice Cream sandwich – yum.

#10.86 miles walked!

DAY FOUR:

We took the subway to South Ferry to board our Miss Liberty ferry to see the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. ($25 excluding tours and crown – free with New York Pass). Despite getting there early the Monument tickets had sold out and as for the Crown, if you want to make it up the Crown you have to book at least 3 months in advance. The ferry journey of course if the only means of making it to the Islands but if you can make it on top deck the views of Liberty coming closer and Manhattan slowly disappearing are worth it.

The Statue of Liberty symbolises freedom, given in the 1800s by France to the United States, though not a skyscraper it’s 93m tall and impressive to see up close.

Lady Liberty!

Lady Liberty!

We then boarded the ferry to go to Ellis Island – it’s hard to think that Ellis Island “closed” in 1954 – processing over 12 million immigrants since 1892. The museum sits within the main building and there are many exhibitions to explore if you have the feet for it, very informational though of course geared to America bias. Make sure you start your trip early and allow half a day.

We then hopped on our ferry back home and walked through Battery Park for a Starbucks foot break.

Saving our feet, we hopped on the subway to the Financial District, our subway jouney this time involved some performing dancers making use of the small space and hand poles for entertainment.

Every district of New York is different, walking along Wall Street (and any every other street) you really are in every single movie that’s been made.

We then headed uptown on the Subway to the the Met Museum of Art (suggested $25, free with NY Pass). We arrived a little late and the museum closed at 5.15 but we managed to explore 1/4 of the exhibitions.

We then headed down one of our favourite avenues (as we seem to walk it so much) – 5th Avenue to Rockefellers – this time for Top of The Rock.

To purchase our ticket was a bit of a fiasco as their systems were down, we had to wait an age to purchase a ticket – think it’s that technology curse that I carry around with me even when I’m not working. After a good 30 minute wait we managed to purchase our ticket and had another 30 minute wait before our allocated slot (another Starbucks!).

The experience itself takes you through the creation and history of the building, the famous photo of construction workers eating lunch on a beam whilst being goodness knows how high up from the ground and then it’s lift time up to the 67th floor. The lift is pretty fast and you have a theatrical ceiling to view as it counts up through the floors. 67th and 69th floors have a glass wall where you can see 360 views of New York, 70th is the Top of The Rock and most importantly where you can get the view of The Empire State – though outsized by the Rockefeller Building, it’s a marvel in its own right. We stayed and watched the sunset over Central Park and the lightshow commence on the Empire State.

View from Top of The Rock at Sunset

View from Top of The Rock at Sunset

DAY FIVE:

Home day 😦 We started with a walk to Carnegie Deli again for breakfast – had to have a fix of cinnamon toast again.

We then went to Carnegie Hall for a tour ($17 or free with NY Pass), Carnegie Hall is one of the most prestigious venues for both classical and pop music. Our tour led us through the Circle seats, down to the main stage were we were taken throughout it’s history, the renovations and restoration of this venue since it opened in 1891. I’m very glad it’s still here and didn’t get knocked down to be replaced by the awful “red building”

After our tour we headed to Madame Tussauds in Times Square ($30, free with NY Pass) as something free to do with our New York Pass. I have to admit that though the wax works are impressive, I also get a little bit freaked out by them.

And that was that… Our little City Break was complete, we had to then head back to Will’s to collect our stuff for a train from Pennsylvania station to Newark Airport 😦

New York, New York – was a fabulous city. Make sure you take comfy shoes and just walk as many blocks as you can and take it all in, the Skyscrapers, the parks, the history and of course the food!  The New Yorkers are friendly and actually this trip has made me think that maybe I should get the rest of USA ticked off my bucket list quicker than I thought.

 

France RoadTrip #Part 3 Tours

To break the drive from Saint-Émilion to Dieppe we decided to have a stop off in Tours. We left the campsite slightly later than planned but arrived safely to our hotel at about 3pm.

Feeling a bit exhausted from our wine consumption we didn’t explore Tours as much as we would have liked, albeit bad planning also meant that we were at Tours on a Sunday and well, France shuts down on a Sunday (as well as Mondays!).

But we’re not hermits so we headed on foot to see the cathedral and have a roam about.

And what a stunning piece of architecture Cathédrale Saint-Gatien de Tours is, a mere 69 metre tall cathedral, with amazing gothic detail. I could have happily played a game of spot the gargoyles for hours. Though I am not religious, I do have great admiration for various historic architecture, the Sagrada Familia is still my favourite but this one takes second place.

Amazing that this started in 1170 and was completed in 1547.

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After exploring the inside, we then went for a stroll along the River Loire, past some very hip like bars but resisted having a drink.

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Due to lack of time, we headed back to the centre of town where I was pleasantly surprised to see what I like to call ‘RoboCop’ looking trams. Sadly no picture but a very modern looking metalic tram, with medieval streets really actually looked quite good!

I would have loved to explore Tours further offerings of all its museums, art galleries and half timbered housing, as well as sampling some Tours rilettes but sadly our French road trip ends with a drive back to Dieppe to get our 12.30 ferry to Newhaven today. 😦

Au revoir France, thank you for amazing wine, lovely weather and expensive but good toll roads!

We’ll be back soon.

X

France RoadTrip #Part 2 Saint-Émilion

Our holiday to France originally involved a weekend in Saint-Émilion to meet up with friends, a nice little group of ten of us.

After loading up the car and cleaning our little bikini hut we hit the road at about 10am for our drive further south to Saint-Émilion. After one incorrect turn we made it to our new campsite for 1pm.

Most of the gang had already arrived, Steve and Cheryl in Petite (the campervan), Jenny and Clare and Louise and Jim, who we will be sharing the chalet with.
We started the afternoon with a welcome beer and then spent the afternoon around the pool. Ben and Clare arrived later than planned after hiring a car took longer than flying from the UK to France! We then had a group meal at the campsites restaurant.

DAY TWO:
Considering how much alcohol was consumed the previous night I woke up  fresh as a daisy at 8am. Cheryl had arranged for the group to sample some wines and visit a Château. We hopped in the campsites taxi service to the town.

Saint-Émilion, if you didn’t know, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is such a picturesque postcard town. The town is named after the monk Émilion and is filled of Romanesque churches and ruins, scattered through steep and narrow streets, then surrounded by vineyards for miles.

First stop, the wine shop to meet Greg. Greg supplied us with ample tasters of gorgeous wines, seven reds and three whites with all the information on the wine. Needless to say I fell in love with one of the slightly more expensive reds and happily turned over €370 on a wine order that will arrive on Tuesday! Oops!

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(Bordeaux Classique Marchand De Vins)

After lunch we headed to our Château tour with Greg, which we can’t call a Château as it’s actually a former convent; Couvent Des Jacobins.

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Couvent des Jacobins is in the heart of Saint-Émilion, a 13th century Dominican monastery and perhaps oddly, not surrounded by Vineyards. The property was purchased by Jean Jean in 1902. The current owner of the vineyard, Rose Noelle Brode, was so welcoming and I adored her stunning home! It was a lovely experience walking through where the wine was made and through the beautifully kept garden. What surprised me the most was the little door that took you underground, I wasn’t expecting to see so much space, and of course lots of wine. Did you know before the French made wine, they had underground quarries for limestone? Of course now these quarries make a great place to keep wine. It was truly a knowledgeable and pleasant experience.

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My wine – 1986

After our tour of the remarkable wine making convent and the amazing secret like underground we headed back to Bordeaux Classique to taste some of Rose Brodes wine that comes from her 11 hectare vineyard, consisting of sand, clay and some limestone in the soils. The vineyard is planted to 75% Merlot and 25% of Cabernet Franc and the wine tasted very nice!

I don’t know why we thought it was a good idea but we all walked back to our campsite, OK it was only 3.5k but in 40 degrees heat it was horrific! Needed that dip in the pool!

DAY THREE:
Probably still not recovered from our exhausting walk the day before Matt and I definitely went with the safe option of driving into town to see the sites. We started our exploration on the outskirts and went to the La Tour Du Château Du Roy, the King’s castle keep, a small castle with 118 steps to have a rewarding view of Saint-Émilion, it’s also the place that the new wines judgement happens every year.

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After a stroll up and down the cobbled streets we then climbed up 196 steps (68 meters above the ground) to enjoy the 360 panoramic view from the Bell Tower of Monathlic Church. Stunning, totally beautiful view, it’s worth the amount of steps.

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We met back up with the group for our underground tour. The guide took us to Emilion’s hermitage cave, and then to the chapel.
The last section, most definitely the best was the entrance to the catacombs and the vast Church, the largest of its kind in Europe. It’s amazing to see the scale of this mystical underground church, very tall compromised limestone pillars are supported with metal bars to ensure that the structure doesn’t collapse. I’d definitely recommend seeing this monument.
Sadly no photos allowed.

To close a very good day, we enjoyed an amazing three course meal at a very good local restaurant to celebrate Jenny’s Birthday! I had duck pate to start, lamb as main and a gorgeous chocolate/mint pudding.

Of course, the night didn’t end there, several bottles of wine later at the campsite so had witnessed an amazing storm and a powercut, bedtime was very late, or very early the next day!

What a lovely weekend, Saint-Émilion is a gem and you have to visit, not just for the wine. Great campsite, great company. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this part of our French RoadTrip!

France RoadTrip #Part 1 Nantes

I have been so excited for our little road trip holiday. Yes I know, it’s only eleven weeks since returning from our long backpacking thirteen week break! But I’m back at work and the normal 9-5 lifestyle makes me crave adventures!

A few weeks ago we were discussing with friends how most, if not all, of our holidays always seem to have a ‘pre-curse’ involved. Now we’ve not experienced natural disasters that have cancelled our flights but we have experienced government coups, protests, banks collapsing and deeply saddening tragic events affecting areas we had just visited/or were planning to. I probably shouldn’t say ‘we’ as ‘I’ seem to be the common factor in these holiday curses!

Well this trip was no different. On the 15th June I received an alert on my phone, informing me that the Basilica in Nantes was on fire. There goes climbing that bell tower, if it had one before the fire, I hadn’t actually researched at that point.

But anyway, we are now on a much needed holiday!

Our little road trip started on Saturday with a drive to Brighton, where we enjoyed some traditional seaside fish and chips, a pint and ice-cream followed by childhood antics on the pier. I’d booked a B&B in Newhaven to be close to the docks to catch our 9am ferry.

Our ferry left on schedule and we arrived at 2pm local time. I can’t really remember the last time I was on a ferry, I remember trips on the Seacat and the Hovercraft with my Dad, think that shows how long ago, as both of these channel crossing vessels have been defunct since 2004-2005!

And so our journey began with a long drive to Nantes, with two pit stops we made good time arriving at around 6.45pm. Feeling kerplunked (and great satisfaction that I made the drive) we unpacked, had a pizza in the campsites restaurant and enjoyed two bottles of vino in the evening sun.

DAY TWO:
We’re glamp-ing so the day started off lazily at around 10.30am. The tram stops right outside our campsite and so we hopped on and headed into town to grab some brunch and a coffee.

Our first intended stop was to visit ‘Les Machines de L’ile’. Little did we know that it was closed on Mondays!

We hopped back on the tram for a few more stops and went to see the ‘Château des ducs de Bretagne’ (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany). An impressive looking castle, but sadly, because it was a Monday the museum and exhibitions were also closed!
(Note to self check opening times on trip advisor!).

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Despite this faux pas, we were able to ponder around the courtyard and the rampart walkway in the glorious weather, followed by a beer in the shade as it was certainly a hot day!

Lastly we headed to the ‘Jardin des Plantes’ overall a lovely, well kept and spotless garden. (Which was open and free!) Lots of plants (obviously) and little lakes full of ducks and this rather attractive bird as shown in the picture.

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Around the garden were loads of antique looking greenhouses, but none are open to the public sadly. We settled with watching frogs and turtles in a nearby bond. Scattered through the garden there are fun things to see made of plants and flower pots and activities to keep children occupied. Laughably a goat petting enclosure, we didn’t enter!

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DAY THREE:
It’s not a Monday – Check!

Feeling a bit of deja-vu we again headed to Les Machines de L’ile! Phew it was open! 🙂 We headed into the gallery where French machinists explained the history and workings of these machines, in French! Needless to say I didn’t understand! Despite this you still managed to gain an understanding of the strange mechanic creatures. We watched the machinists and a school group ‘board’ a very large mechanical heron, quite impressive and like no other exhibition I’ve seen.

You then walk along a mechanical and real plant tree walkway branch and get to view the workshops.

The best bit of the trip is of course is a ride the Grand Éléphant, which sadly we didn’t do but watching it carrying passengers and seeing the mechanics was amazing!

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We then headed to the St-Pierre St-Paul Cathedral, an impressive building from the outside though it did take a while to figure out how to get inside. (Head to the front and enter by brown door on far right).

Temperatures were certainly hot in Nantes (over 32 celecius) so we treated ourselves to a few cool down drinks and I enjoyed a massive ceasar salad with enough parmesan to serve an army!

Now to enjoy a hot rest day of doing not much at all before another long drive on Thursday!

#Travel Budgets

It’s been just over five weeks since returning from travelling and I’ve finally sat down and gone through three months of credit and debit statements to work out our actual travel spend. Eek, now despite the large number, I have no regets, it was worth every hard earned penny that we saved.

When I had decided that I was going to SE Asia for three months, I read a few blogs and spent some time researching on google how much to save for Travelling around Asia for three months. There is no right or wrong answer, we all travel in different ways, whether it’s expensive hotels, or the cheapest hostel you can find. Some of us do do all excursions and see as much as we possibly can, others less so. However it’s good to read another blog about spend, and since I’ve finally worked out the spend, I thought I’d share it for fellow travellers.

I was very paranoid about not having enough money and wanted to make sure I had extra money for emergencies, and well for maybe staying out a while longer, even if Matt kept telling me it was never an option! Whilst having extra money is never a bad thing, the more money you have the more you’ll spend, unless you have a really good money head.

I did start my travels with a budget spreadsheet and simple notepad of tracking food, hostel and travel costs to help other travellers and for this “blogging” purpose, but within three weeks I had given up tracking the spend, it got all too confusing with paying deposits for hostels, then trying to deduct that remaining balance off the cash we took out etc. We met travellers who documented every spend in a pad, others who had given themselves a strict tiny budget and they stuck to it.

I’m not the greatest with money, but I can save when I put my mind to it. I put my mind to this and saved really hard. We’ll soon be saving for our next adventure and I will try to budget a lot better. But hey, it’s a life experience, what’s money, especially as you can’t take it with you. These memories will be cherished for a long time.

So anyway, here is the boring financial stuff, please bear in mind that the below spends are for TWO people, a couple who stayed in mostly PRIVATE rooms. Our route was Thailand > Cambodia > Vietnam > China > Hong Kong < China > Home and we also travelled in January – April.

PRE-Backpacking Spend:

VISA’s £742; £371 each for Four Visas (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China)

I would recommend you get your first country Visa before departing, but if you’re travelling the same route as us, sort the remaining visas for your next country when you’re there.(If this is still possible when you read this). We really didn’t need to spend so much money on all the Visas, also Visa processing fees although it kept my control freak personality happy knowing it was all sorted.

TRAVEL INSURANCE £166: £83 each

So, we never claimed on our insurance but I wholeheartedly recommend you purchase some, make sure that it covers you for extended trips and also any sporting activities that aren’t the “norm”.

TRAVEL INJECTIONS AND MALARIA £710: £355 each

We actually didn’t think when we signed up for all the jabs that it would have cost this much, still it’s your health, not worth any risks there! We’re now both covered for most trips around the World and only need a few (cheaper) boosters.

THAILAND

Flights: Our flights to Thailand (from LHR) cost us £989.92; £494.96 each for a one way outbound flight only, we did book these a few months before hand.

Cash: In total we withdrew 136,000 Thai Baht, £2,813; £1,406 each.

Hostel Deposits: £230

Excluding flights: We were in Thailand for 28 days, so that works out to be around £54 spend each per day. Like all of our destinations, our spend per day covered everything, our accommodation, laundry and all of our transport to and from Islands, First Class Sleeper Trains, boats, taxis etc. This covered all our food and alcohol and many excursion activities from Open Water PADI diving to the Elephant Nature Park. We didn’t have more than maybe three days where we weren’t off seeing or doing something. Don’t forget clothes, bargain for your clothes, 150-200 Thai baht for a t-shirt is great, but of course as that was so cheap… I then purchased a few, and a few more and some elephant travel trousers. 🙂

As well as all of the above, that also covered a few hospital trips to cover treatment, long list of tablets and lots of dressing for my reaction to mosquito bites. Can’t recall how much we spent there but it all added up.

Accommodation is anything from £6 per night to £20 per night, and street food is cheap. We ate out a lot and in a lot of western style restaurants too which are more expensive. You could easily slash £15-£20 a day of your daily spend by having street food and also enjoying some food from the 7/11 supermarkets.

CASH TIP: The most we could take out was 12,000 Thai Baht – each withdrawal costs 180 Thai Baht. So for 12,000 Thai Baht we got charged 12,180 Thai Baht, £260 odd, excluding any foreign withdrawal charges. I would really recommend looking into foreign currency cards where you can avoid charges; we were a bit late on planning this so we wasted a lot of money on charges.

Additionally most, if not all Hostels charge a Key deposit that will be returned as long as you return they key – take this into consideration if you’re on the last of your cash.

CAMBODIA

Flights: Our flight to Cambodia cost us £170; £85 each (the bus is a lot cheaper!) and we did book this the day before we flew.

We hadn’t planned on flying to Cambodia, we were going to get the “less stress” government bus but we were too late to book it and we couldn’t really stay in Thailand any longer without really pushing our schedule.

Cash: In total we withdrew $1,550 USD. £1,018; £509 each.

Hostel Deposits: £70.25

Excluding flights: We were in Cambodia for 17 days, so that works out to be around £29 each per day.

I’m quite surprised we spent that much a day, seeing as a beer is only $1!

CASH TIP: Make sure your US Dollars are crisp, they will not accept them if they’re not. If you’re given change in Cambodian Riel, be sure to check that it’s the right amount.

VIETNAM

Cash: In total we withdrew 345,000 Vietnamese Dong. £1,085; £542 each.

Hostel Deposits: £33.96

We were in Vietnam for only 19 days, which I will add is not enough to do all of Vietnam, unless you live on sleeper buses every night. That works out to be around £29 each per day spends. I can tell you now a lot of that daily spend went on those lovely iced coffees and a really expensive hotel overlooking Halong Bay.

CHINA

Flights: Our flight to China (from Vietnam) cost us £389; £194 each. We had pre-booked this flight in advance.

In addition to our flights, we had also pre-paid a G Adventures tour for our 8 day tour of China; Beijing to Shanghai which totalled £1,298 for both of us.

Cash: In total we withdrew 6,000 Chinese Yuan, £653;£326 each.

Hostel Deposits/Full Balance: £202

Our G Adventures tour covered some excursions and accommodation but a few tours and all meals (and some transport) were covered by our cash spend. We also spent a few more days in China without the tour group.

We were in China for 12 days bringing the average daily spend (excluding the pre-booked tour) to £36 each per day.

HONG KONG

We splashed the cash a little here, we had the money left so we treated ourselves, however I recommend you look for a Hostel and maybe not eat out a lot if you’re on a budget! Hong Kong has some very expensive food and drinks and then there’s the compulsory service charge that’s included. We couldn’t afford (or justify) eating out every night so we stuck to a bakery for breakfast/lunch and then only had expensive dinner for the evenings. Getting the subway everywhere was pretty cheap, as was the Tram.

Flights: Our return flights from China (Shanghai) to Hong Kong were £442: £221 each.

Accommodation: For four nights we splashed £217

Cash: We withdrew a whopping 19,000 Hong Kong Dollars: £402; £201 each

These tallies the Hong Kong daily spend to an average of £77 each per day as we were only there for four days. Wowser! But remember we splashed the cash on a hotel (hostel would have been half the price) and eating and drinking out in Hong Kong is super expensive, in comparison to SE Asia. £7 a pint, which they then also kindly apply a service charge on. Stick to bakeries for Breakfast and Lunch and only eat out in the evenings if you’re strapped for cash. Alternatively they have a M&S!

All the cash we took out paid for everything you could possibly think of that you would use, need and not need over a 13 week / 81 day travel period. I am not recommending you set this same budget for your travels but I will definitely say that you can do this trip, or parts of the trip for much cheaper than we did. Just have some control over spending, give yourself a weekly budget, it’s OK to spend more, but just be prepared to spend less the following week – which is what we didn’t do!

As I say. YOU CAN do this MUCH cheaper than we did by eating street food, avoiding Western Food and buying beer from the 7/11 instead of bars.

If you have any questions or need tips, please leave a comment.

Travel Spend

# 4 Second Memories

On Thursday we would be have been “home” for six weeks. Six weeks, didn’t take long to fall back into normality but I really am still missing and craving travelling.

Way back before we started travelling Matt had this idea that each day we should record 4 seconds every day and then stitch it all together (his DSLR does this anyway) so we have “Memory Video” of our travels, but maybe also something that someone else will happily watch, compared to over 6000+ photos a six minute video is nothing right?  Right!

Needless to say we started off with great intentions, and then once we actually got into travelling we kinda forget to record our 4 second clip each and every day. We’d often also say to each other after the event “doh we should have recorded that!” Despite this I think we did quite well, yes the video has some photos where videos were not captured, or wouldn’t suffice but we (well, Matt did all the hard work) finally have our 4 Seconds of Asia movie.

I hope you enjoy our little movie, it took a lot of effort for Matt to make it. We only apologise for it being, well 6 weeks late I suppose. 🙂

Again, thanks to everyone for being part of our memories in all of the places we visited; Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Hong Kong. Special thanks to the people we met but also thanks to all you below, couldn’t have done the trip without you.

The best booking and review sites; Hostel World, Hostel Bookers, Agodo, Hotels.com and Trip Advisor.

Our transport providers; Virgin Atlantic, Thai Airways, Air Asia, Hong Kong airlines and all those bus and train companies!

Crystal Diving in Koh Tao for our diving experiences.

G Adventures / STA Travel for our amazing tour of China.

Favourite Bit of Travelling?

Favourite bit of Travelling, Favourite Country, Best Thing you did?

All really hard questions to answer. Though we’ve often asked each other throughout the trip “what’s your top 5 now?”, the list often changed based on people, sights and emotions.

So to recap, we travelled to Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, China and also Hong Kong. I have so many fond memories and endless favourite things, the list is endless but I guess here lies the most emotional.

  • Best wow moment – It was seeing Angkor Wat, but then climbing the Great Wall of China also made me go wow. I’ve wanted to see both since a little girl so seeing two wonders of the world is an amazing wow memory.
  • Best emotional day – Killing Fields and S21 Museum, I’ve never quite felt so much anger and pain than when I went to these two places, however I also felt peaceful, just by meeting and seeing so many amazing people in Cambodia.
  • Best rewarded feeling – Elephant Nature Park, I adored my day with the elephants so much, I regret not staying longer. We should all thrive to do more rescuing and looking after animals like they do here. I am grateful for my tiny contribution.
  • Best tense moment – Crossing the roads in Saigon and riding mope heads. Excitement and fear in one go, you have to do it.
  • Worst Feeling – Tiger Sanctuary – it just didn’t feel like a sanctuary and I was full of dread for the whole experience.

Ultimately what surprised me the most about travelling, was actually how easy it was! I was really lucky to have Matt with me the whole time, so I can honestly say I still can’t read a map all that well, because I didn’t need to but travelling changes a person. Everyone should travel.

For those who know me this trip to Asia was my first “backpacking adventure”. Yes I’ve travelled before, but mainly Europe, and mostly city breaks, week-long holidays with at least 3* hotels. When the day arrived for us to go to London Heathrow and fly to Bangkok, I was scared and also extremely excited. I had never done anything like this before, as well as quitting my job to do this.

For what was an absolute control freak natured person, this was an experience that pushed the control boundaries and I like to think made me into a much better person. Its quite amusing how returning home makes you feel slightly lost and disappointed. Firstly, typing on a computer again, what an alien feeling, my fingers no longer know which button to press and I was probably one of the fastest typists you know. Driving a car, whoah that was surreal, was I learning to drive again. Sitting in the local Costa, it’s just not the same as Starbucks in Hong Kong, or a local coffee shop in the bustling streets of Hanoi.

So, since returning what have I noticed? Well, most of our stuff is in boxes as we’re due to be moving, but wow I have so many clothes. After living in the same rotating 10 items of clothing, I can really no longer complain to Matt “I have no clothes to wear”, so I’m not the most girly girl in the world and I am no where near to being a shopaholic, but before I went travelling I hardly had any clothes, now I seem to have more, and even better I don’t really care for what’s there. I’ve also noticed the amount of hair, body and make up crap I had before, now it’s nice to come back to some decent shampoo and conditioner and some good moisturiser, but really, do I really need this shit? Nope, don’t think I do. Additionally, now it would have been nice to have been a bit skinnier throughout the travels but as time went on I actually didn’t worry about my image, I was travelling, I looked like everyone else, and it doesn’t matter – I am me. This confidence, it’s excellent, of course I’m going to get my arse back down the gym and shift some pounds but I feel much happier in myself now.

Most importantly, my lack of OCD, as each day passed, it wasn’t that I started to care less, but I started to care for the stuff that really mattered. I could cope with not knowing where we were, if we didn’t have a bed for the night and if we didn’t know where we were heading, all things I couldn’t cope with before. Travelling is an eye opener, I only wished I did it much sooner and I hope I do not fall into my previous traits of being a control freak, being a workaholic and ultimately worrying about everyone else but myself.

After a long weekend, it’s time to get my arse into finding a job and finding routine again. But mainly saving and planning for the next big trip. 🙂