Melbourne: Getting Set Up – Tips No One Tells You

Our first week in Australia was a bit of a rollercoaster to be honest. The same day we arrived we were off to set up bank accounts and get SIM cards, the next day we finalised the bank stuff, got Medicare set up and went to view a van we had had our eye on the last couple of weeks, and on day three we signed the paperwork and bought the van! We were so excited it was all coming together so quickly. At the same times we were in this amazing city but hadn’t stopped to enjoy it yet and although we were eager to get the van sorted so early on it meant there was more life admin to do there too. After having a roadworthy done for the van (equivalent to MOT) and hearing all that needed fixing with the van we were worried. It could have been worse but it was also another hit to our budget and everyday it was in the garage we were concerned more problems would be found. Luckily, nothing more cropped up, we took the hit moneywise as it needed to be done, and we breathed a sigh of relief when our new little home was back on its plot. That’s when the excitement really kicked in, knowing we could start our road trip as soon as we were ready and hit the road. Phew!

As this was all going on there were a few things we struggled to find clear advise about online so here are some tips based on our experience that hopefully might point other backpackers in similars situations down the right path.

1. The Big One – Needing an Australian Address

We didn’t quite realise just how important and how much this would be needed. If you plan on renting or living in your hostel for a significant amount of time this won’t be a problem. But if, like us, you wanted to move on as quick as possible and don’t want to be waiting around for documents in the post, this is a bit more of an issue. Most hostels will still collect post up to two weeks after you have checked out so if you are still in the area you can return to pick up documents. The other option is to set up a PO Box but be wary some places may be reluctant to send things to a PO Box and need a residential address. Probably the best and easiest way is to have a friend or family member things can be posted to. Often you won’t need the actual document, just the information on it, so if you have a trusted person who can receive it for you it makes things super easy. Tax number for example will be posted 2-4 weeks after applying, but it is only the actual number you need. Similar with the medicard, you will need the physical Medicare card eventually but to start with as long as you have a Medicare number you can update your address and get the card posted when you are staying somewhere more permanent.

2. You can’t get a bank account without an Australian number and you can’t set up a phone plan without an Australian bank account…huh?

Don’t worry about a full on phone plan when you first arrive. Get yourself set up with a SIM only deal as these still offer great packages and once your bank account is sorted you can set up a proper plan for added perks if you need to. You can also switch your Australian number from the SIM only onto the plan so no need to worry about updating to a new number everywhere. Once you’ve got the number next up is the bank account.

3. Documents you need to set up a bank account

You’ll need your passport for starters and one other of the following

-Drivers licence

-Boarding pass

-WHV confirmation

4.Registering your vehicle aka. The Rego, varies massively from state to state. In Victoria this is what you need to do:

– First important step is to get yourself a customer number. You will need this while filling out the transfer of sale form.

– Next, when you’ve found your vehicle and ready to buy fill in the Transfer (Buyer and Seller) form with the person you are buying the vehicle from. They keep a copy and you take a copy

– After this transaction you have 14 days to go to Vicsroad and complete the Transfer of Sale. At the same time you will need to pay to register the vehicle and there are various lengths of time you can choose from 3, 6 and 12 months slots. Whichever you go for you can extend anytime online so if you aren’t sure on timings it might be good to go for a shorter period and extend as needs be. Just be aware the reminder notice will go to the address on your forms so if you will be traveling be on it as to when your registration with expire

-Next up you have 28 days to complete roadworthy. This is essentially like an MOT to make sure the car is sound to be on the road. If there are any problems with it you then have 7 days to fix any issues otherwise you will need to pay for a new roadworthy to start the process again. The mechanic you do the roadworthy with will give you a document, take this in to be stamped and your vehicle is good to go!

For now that was enough to get the key things set up. When you first arrive, get anything that requires documents being posted to you first such as bank account (along with the phone number to allow you to do that), tax number and Medicare. Superannuation needs to be set up too but is less urgent if you aren’t planning on working straight away. The application for superannuation can be done online and you can apply through most Australian banks. This may even be a post I continue to add to as I learn more about getting set up in Australia so keep checking in.

All life admin ticked off we started making plans to explore Melbourne better, find some fun and plan our road trip. Look out for the next post for what we got up to in Melbourne.

Advertisements

Bali Part 3 – Broken Roads, Manta Rays and Surfer Pros

Spending the past week in one place was a really welcome break but with so much to see and do in Bali we started to get itchy feet to explore some more. We were enjoying island life and had heard good things about the Nusa islands so we hopped back on the ferry and left the gorgeous Gili islands behind.

Day 12 – To pick up where I left off we arrived in Nusa Lembongan and had booked a stay at Taos House. While checking in our host told us it was her birthday and invited us to join in the celebrations later that night. We were immediatly made to feel welcome with home cooked food and ice cold Bintang beers, which mysteriously kept replenishing every time one was finished. Once the Bintang ran low we were offered vodka in a small martini glass and from there graduated to a strong Balinese liquor that came from a plastic water bottle. Apart from the fact it tasted like nail polisher remover, it didn’t seem all that strong but that being said we only had a bottle cap full. It was a fun and unexpected experience – the party as a whole, not just the alcohol!

Day 13 – Our main reason for coming to the Nusa islands was because we had heard we were basically guaranteed to see manta rays there, something which had become a bucket list item for us after hearing it was a possibility in Bali. So first on the agenda was to find a dive centre and book in a manta dive. We asked around at a few places before settling on Two Fish divers and booking in for two dives the next day.

With this underway we stopped for lunch by the sea and then continued on our way the Mangrove forests. You can book boat trips, snorkel trips or kayaking through the forest. When a guy we were chatting to knocked the price down to 100,000 IDR we were tempted but having lots of cameras and bits with us we didn’t trust leaving them behind or potentially getting them wet. I had also read up that there wasn’t a huge amount to see in the Mangrove forest, that being said though the only way to see them is to take a boat trip. We went to the edge thinking we could at least see a little bit or venture part way in ourselves but the way is pretty much blocked by restaurants and places to arrange tours. Being able to bargain down to £5 for a couple of hours trip though isn’t a bad deal if you do want to explore.

From the mangroves it was on to the neighbouring island of Nusa Cenigan. I had heard of some beautiful spots, such as Blue Lagoon and Secret Beach. They were a bit tricky to track down and to be honest Blue Lagoon was pretty but nothing spectacular and after rattling down a dirt track and going through a resort to get to Secret Beach, I was disappointed to see it was nothing special. The wind and waves were too fierce to swim there and it was a rocky beach with very little sand to chill on. The photos I had seen online looked more impressive. It is something which has been a topic of conversation recently that many typical instagram spots in Bali turn out not to live up to expectation and I have to say this is something we encountered a lot. Many places looked nice but less impressive than the edited photos online and for these photos to have zero tourists in they must have had superb timing in visiting places as it was a constant struggle to get photos without crowds. Aesthetics aside the other disappointment is that many of these picturesque beaches are too dangerous to swim in and generally, views aside, there are not a lot of activities to do on these islands.

That being said, simply watching life pass by from the back of the motorbike, zipping through villages, past bustling markets, serene temples or even the beautiful blue ocean, on our way to these view points and beaches was an experience in itself and made the day all round worth it.

Day 14 – An early start for our dives this morning but it wasn’t long before we were on the boat speeding round to Nusa Penida. After some research we discovered that although Manta Point dive site is off Nusa Penida, most dive shops are based on Nusa Lembongan, although more are opening up on Nusa Penida now too, and they will charge an extra fee for the manta dive sites (150,000 IDR per person). On the way we saw a couple of dolphins jumping out of the surf and I took it as a good sign for the days dive.

The water was a lot colder than we had been used to in the Gili islands as manta rays prefer colder water. We were diving down to a known cleaning station where other fish come to eat parasites and other icky things from the rays, keeping them nice and healthy and feeding the other fish at the same time. I was expecting we would be lucky to see a couple on our dive but almost immediately we saw our first manta ray and it was stunning. I knew they would be big but their size still surprised me and so did their grace as they glided through the water. I could have watched them all day. The most magical moment was when a particularly dark one, black almost all over, came straight towards me. I hovered in the water as it moved closer, feeling completely at peace and in awe of this incredible creature, before it swerved away into the ocean depths. One of my favourite moments of the trip.

After that experience the second dive was a bit of an anti-climax however it was still a beautiful reef, teeming with fish. We managed to see a couple of moray eels and I even spotted a lobster that had recently de-shelled, the poor naked lobster looked very startled and scurried under a rock!

Day 15 – We checked out of our AirBnB and headed to the Yellow Bridge to get a boat across to Nusa Penida. The journey is just 10 – 15 minutes and costs 40,000 IDR per person each way. It was simple to get a ticket, there was a guy with a stall, he handed us a yellow ticket with the names of the boats on the back for us to look out for on our open return and then took a seat and waited to be called up. Our next Air BnB picked us up the other end and a kind local even helped us out by calling him to let him know we had arrived when he saw us trying to track down wifi to message him.

The rest of the day was spent chilling out and in the evening we hopped on a scooter hired from our host and headed to a popular restaurant I had read about online called Penida Colada. If you are a big group it is best to book ahead and I think most tables are reserved after 8pm as there is always a queue. But the wait wasn’t long and it was most definitely worth it! Penida Colada is a stylish beach side restaurant with a mixture of tables and more casual beanbags, benches and sofas, in case you want to wander straight off the beach, and is great for watching the sunset. It was started by a Balinese guy called Pak Wayan and his Australian wife, Liz, you can usually see him helping out around the restaurant and keeping things running smoothly. They only hire locals and cook with local produce, which is great in itself, but they also make it their mission to get involved in community projects, run beach cleanups you can join in with and sell eco friendly bits and bobs such as bamboo straws. The menu is quite small but there is only one thing you need to order – the honey barbequeue prawns. We ended up coming back a second time and I couldn’t resist eating them again. Joey had major regrets and food envy both times. If you are on Nusa Penida definitely pay them a visit, it is a great way to support the local community and eat some amazing food.

Day 16 – Around lunchtime we headed to the nearby Crystal Bay, the same bay we had done our second dive at, to chill on the beach. We were hoping it would be a bit more built up so we could grab lunch, wander through some shops and then relax on the beach but it turns out to be a few shack shops selling cheap lunch and not much else. So we chilled for a bit and then hit the road again to find the Guri Putri Cave temple.

When you arrive you can hire sarongs from a shop over the road, then head up the stairs where at the top you’ll receive a blessing and provide a donation to enter (40,000 IDR for two of us). The entrance is a very small hole you have to climb into. It isn’t too tight a squeeze and as soon as you are in the ceiling is low but it all opens up pretty quickly then you can walk through these huge caverns. It was very humid and there were several alters and statues in the different chambers we passed through. A few people were at prayer but otherwise when we visited it was very quiet.

At the end as we left there were some monkeys outside the temple, only I got completely caught off guard by one on a railing that I seemed to have also startled. He bared his teeth at me and then made to lunge forward, I took a step back and lowered my gaze, trying to appear submissive, and at the same time one of the men from the temple chased him off but it was a scary moment!

Day 17 – Today was our big siteseeing day. We were driving over to the other side of the island to see Broken Beach and Angel’s Billabong, Kelingking Beach and Waterfalls. As we were leaving our AirBnB host warned “broken beach, broken road” and he was not wrong! I expected some uneven ground, potholes and dirt tracks, what we got was mile stretches of all of these things combined to the worst possible standard you could imagine, plus going up and down hills, plus going round tight bends sometimes and as there were plenty of big cars taking other tourists there, we also had to occasionally dodge these too. “Hold on”, Joey was yelling repeatedly as I gripped the back of the motorbike and rattled around so much I swear my brain was bouncing about in my skull. But eventually, we made it.

Angel’s Billabong is a rock pool that creates a natural infinity pool overlooking the sea. If you come at low tide you can swim, enjoying the crystal clear waters, but at high tide the waves crash over the edge and it is too dangerous to enter the pool. We had tried to time our visit for low tide but seemed to have gotten the wrong information as the pool was cordoned off. There were so many people surrounding it to get photos that I was almost glad I wasn’t swimming with them in a small pool where everyone would be trying to get the over the edge shot.

Around the corner from Angel’s Billabong is Broken Beach, so called as it is encircled by land that has an opening, creating a kind of bridge on one side and an enclosed beach to look down on. You can’t get down to the beach but it makes for some stunning pictures from above.

Next was KelingKing Beach, so well known as the rocky outcrop next to it looks like a t-Rex head from above. Again it was a bit of a battle to get photos without people in (how they do it for instagram I have no idea?!) but it looked gorgeous. The beach is accessible here… if you fancy climbing down approximately one thousand steep steps. We went part way down for a better look but didn’t much fancy the climb back up and to be honest we would be glad we saved our energy. This is another beach that isn’t great for swimming, though as long as you don’t go too far out in the surf you can actually get in the water.

Final stop for the day was Waterfall and if I thought the steps at Kelkinking were bad I was in for a surprise! The blue stairs leading down was more like a ladder at points and the gaps between the stairs themselves were enough to make my knees weak. The fact that the old, collapsed and rusted previous stairs still lay directly underneath these new ones didn’t help either. However, it was worth the journey. At the bottom is a temple so you need to wear a sarong t visit. When we reached the rocks at the bottom there was water cascading over them and it was a little slippy so you had to be careful. We passed through the small temple gates and down the rocks, with nothing more than natural footholds to climb down, to an area where you can bathe. There is a set of mini infinity pools that offer a beautiful look out to sea as the waves crash just below you. For the first time that day there were not many people around, we reached the bottom not long before sunset so everything had a slight golden glow and the water was cool and refreshing after a humid hike down. It was so peaceful. I took a moment just to be.

Unfortunatly it couldnt last too long though as we were nervous about getting caught on bad roads in the dark so as much as I would have liked to sit and watch the sunset we got going on the long climb back up and luckily didn’t come across any broken roads on the way back.

Day 17 – The end of our trip was approaching fast and we had decided to spend our final days back in Canggu. We loved the food, it was nice to go back to somewhere we knew and we were still keen to give surfing a go. It took us retry much the whole day to get back as it involved getting the short boat trip back to Lembongan first, getting picked up by Scoot at the Yellow Bridge, a bumpy boat journey back to mainland Bali and then a long taxi ride mostly in traffic from Sanur to Canggu.

Day 18 – Canggu is known as a good place to give surfing a go as the waves are great for beginners. I had only tried surfing once before and loved it, so was keen to give it another try. We booked a lesson for 350,000 IDR per person but we went with the first person we spoke to so it is worth asking around for the cheapest price.

The instructor didn’t have the best English so I felt like I missed some of the finer points of surf techniques but once I got the hang of it in the water he was very encouraging. It was slightly disappointing that Joey had a different instructor and was taken off separately but he really needed bigger waves than me to get the best experience. We managed to cross paths though when I looked up to find the surfer in the white rash guard was my boyfriend, my first thought was ‘amazing! He’s standing up!’ And my second, as he came straight towards me was ‘please dont kill me!’ Up to that point I had been struggling to stand, always losing my balance at the last moment, but I think seeing him made me more determined than ever and on my next go I stood up on the board. I was amazed that I managed to ride a wave a fair while and only jump off when I was either losing momentum or heading towards another surfer.

It was a great way to end our time in Bali and we sat talking over our trip and reminiscing about our favourite parts as we sat on the beach, cold drinks in hand and watched surfers more pro than us. Our next adventure was about to start and although I hoped there would be more times like this I knew that we had a lot to do when we touched down in Melbourne. Bali was the perfect break we needed to soak up the sun, let go of past stresses and find our feet traveling. There were times this country surprised me, times it didn’t quite meet expectations and times it exceeded them immensely. Above all I can see why people come back again and again and I knew as we lingered another moment longer on that beach, that we too would be back again one day.

Bali Part 2 – Turtles, Reef Sharks and Sunsets

Gili Trawangan is an island off Lombok known for a party atmosphere but even if partying is not your thing there are a host of other activities to enjoy. We had barely dipped our toes into the ocean and now we were off to the gorgeous white sands and crystal clear waters of Gili T for diving, snorkelling and more. If you want to hit the strip and hop from bar to bar there are cheap drinks to be had and great live music to get the party started. However, our scene is a bit more laid back and we discovered there is still plenty of more chilled out spots, fresh local seafood to try and amazing ocean life to experience.

Day 7 – We travelled to Gili T on a one way ferry ticket for 500,000 IDR for both of us, which is around £28. There may be cheaper deals to be had if you book a return ticket or even with a bit more haggling but since we had heard of return tickets for one going for 600,000 IDR we didn’t think this was too bad. It’s always hard to know what is a fair deal for the locals and a cheap price for yourself.

It was an early start to get to the dock with an hour transfer there and then a lot of standing around in the heat waiting for our boat. You need to have your wits about you as a guy who seemed to be taking us to our boat left us waiting and never came back to collect us when it actually turned up. Luckily the local hawkers on the pier were very helpful and let us know we needed to get a move on to catch our boat. The journey was fine if a bit hot and stuffy and we were soon piling out onto the white sands of Gili T.

Just seeing the hustle and bustle of holiday makers and backpackers, the array or restaurants, shops and bars along the beach front and the dive shops everywhere you looked we had already decided we were glad not to get a return ticket and to extend our time here. Having a 4* hotel also helped! Villa Ombak was stunning and we stayed in a traditional Lumbung room, with our own private terrace and balcony plus outdoor shower to bathe under the stars. We wanted to stay forever.

Day 8 – Knowing our days in luxury were numbered we took full advantage of the facilities today and spent most of the day swimming and sunbathing. In the afternoon we went back to one of the dive shops we had checked out earlier and booked in to dive the next day.

Day 9 – There are a lot of choice with dive shops but after ducking our heads into a few we went with Dive Central as they made the dive sites sound most exciting and seemed pretty chill about us getting back in the water after quite a break from the last time. Only downside was we did feel at times they were selling the dive packages and courses a little too much. This is surely down to competition from other dive shops and partly also because we seemed to speak to a different person each time but as we dropped in a few times over the course of the week to chat about what dive sites were coming up this got a bit repetitive.

Selling aside they were great to dive with and we headed to Turtle Heaven for a mid morning dive. This certainly lived up to its name! Within 5-10 minutes we had spotted our first turtle. They have a mix of Green and Hawksbill turtles and I’ll admit I’m not sure I could tell the difference. I was impressed by the size though with some stretching up to my shoulder if we were laid down next to each other. We lost track of how many we saw in the end but we loved every minute and along with turtles we saw a stonefish, trumpetfish and humphead bannerfish. Along with, of course, many of the regulars you see on tropical reefs, the yellow, black and white bannerfish you would recognise as Gill from Finding Nemo, clownfish too, many bright blue and neon fish, anemones and so much more. If you want to see a video of the dive you can check it out here on our facebook page @ThereAndBackAgainJJ.

Day 10 – As if we hadn’t had enough of turtles we started our day with a snorkelling trip. If you are on a budget then you can join the group boat trips from as little as 150,000 IDR (around £8) but these trips can have up to 30 people on them, so a great way to meet other backpackers but also expect crowds. We opted for a two hour private snorkelling trip so we could choose a time when the sites would be less busy and went early in the morning, which I would definitely recommend. We paid 600,000 (around £34), which in hindsight was more than it was worth for 2 hours, especially as they had advertised it as 4 sites and we only went to 3, however the first place we went to had asked for 900,000 and we had talked the one we booked with down from 750,000 but we were told the prices were high because of peak season.

Regardless we had a great time! Our first stop was Turtle Heaven again and this time the turtles were a lot more active, coming up to the surface to breathe so that we could swim right alongside them. It felt magical to dive under the waves and float along next to them as they munched on coral.

The second site was not great visibility so we didn’t see a huge amount of sea life and didn’t stay long. The final site was the famous ring of statues that is also a popular instagram spot and this was my least favourite of the day. It was pretty cool to dive down and swim amongst the statues but dodging the flippers of other snorkelers trying to get that perfect shot in the water was not so fun. The way everyone was splashing about in clusters reminded me of a net of fish on dry land, flapping about, not really sure which way to go. It has the possibility of being such a peaceful spot but after a while it got a bit too much and we gave up and hopped back on the boat.

To end the day we hired bikes from our Air BnB (by this point we had moved to Lumbung Cottage Air BnB, a huge step back to basics after our gorgeous hotel but it would do the trick or the next few days and the staff were very helpful and kind) and set off to see more of the island. We stuck to the coast and some of the paths were pretty tricky, stony or too sandy to ride over at all, when we cycled back we had more luck cutting across the island where the roads weren’t cut off by sections of beach. The sunset side of the island is a completely different vibe, very quiet and dining and drinking options a lot more spread out but I have to say some of the accommodation we passed looked lovely. Definitely a good shout if you want some peace and quiet. We settled down right in line for the sunset and although slightly obscured by the clouds, it was gorgeous and the perfect way to end the day.

Day 11 – Joey wasn’t feeling a second dive so opted to do research on our next stop but as you can’t keep me out of the water I booked an early morning dive to Shark Point. Dive Central explained that with the water temperature drop recently and the sharks enjoying cooler water there was a good chance of seeing them and I was in luck! This dive was deeper than the one before and the currents were strong so it was a bit of a battle at times but as we were drifting along, letting the current take us, our guide pointed out two white tip reef sharks sitting on the bottom. Neither were huge but one was bigger than the other and both darted awake as us divers went past. I wasn’t nervous of the sharks at all, they really just look like big fish, but I can’t say I would be so chill if it was a great white!

Along with the sharks I saw a sting ray and blue spotted eagle ray, an octopus hiding away in the rocks and a cuttlefish that was so well camouflaged I had to look three times to spot him! It’s incredible to see this animals in their natural habitat and I’m always recommending people give diving a go to enjoy the same wonders. It may not be for everyone but it certainly gives you a whole new perspective from snorkelling alone and actually a lot of the time the breathing is easier (if that’s something that worries you) as there is no chance of accidentally sucking up water. You won’t notice the depth either because there is just so much to see! It really is an amazing experience I feel privileged to be able to do.

Day 12 – As I write this we are sitting in a cafe not far rom the ferry port waiting to catch a ride to Nusa Lembongan where we will stay for a few nights before heading on to Nusa Penida and finally back to Canggu for a final couple of nights. There are lots to do on these islands so I feel our chill out time is coming to an end but having the luxury of three weeks to explore means we’ve been able to do everything at a slow pace and not cram a lot in. The Nusa islands offer some amazing beaches, cliff top lookouts and swimming with manta rays (fingers crossed for us and this big bucket list item!) so lots to see and do. We managed to get a direct ferry from Gili T for 600,000 IDR for both of us which also included a ferry on from Nusa Lembongan back to Sanur, Bali and a transfer from there to Canggu, so even better value than our outbound trip. And apparently boats between the islands are pretty cheap.

I can’t believe we have reached the end of our second week in Bali! I can feel that now we are more energised our attention is beginning to shift to Australia and all we need to prepare for our Working Holiday. It is exciting to still have so much to look forward to but for now I can’t wait to get to Nusa Lembongan and plan our next week of adventuring.

Bali Part 1 – Finding Our Feet, Thieving Monkeys and Canyoning

Bali, the land of rice paddies, instagrammable swing moments and stunning temples. I had previously dismissed Bali on the South East Asia trip as being too touristy, and though this may still be true, I’ve had so many recommendations to go I couldn’t wait to see it for myself. It also seemed like the perfect respite between quitting our jobs and heading over to work in Australia and only a week into our Bali trip so far, that is exactly what it has been.

Day 1 – We arrived in the evening to Denpasar and had a transfer booked through our Air BnB, though I’ve heard much advise on being careful with the taxis ripping you off and being careful to get metered taxis or even walk a way outside the airport to find a decent rate. Our first two nights were in Canggu, which I had heard was less touristy than Kuta and Seminyak but still close enough to the airport to not be too long of a drive after we had just arrived – though I never accounted for the traffic, which meant we arrived late and crashed out almost immediately.

Day 2 – I was keen to experience surfing in Canggu as the waves are often perfect for beginners but between jet lag and a general feeling of finding our feet in a new place we actually opted to give it a miss for now but hope to return later in the trip.

Instead we explored the local area and enjoyed the food – Oh my gosh the food! We ate mostly Western fare and struggled to find local Balinese places (although we didn’t stray too far from the beaten track either) but every meal was deliscious from the much-needed breakfast burger to the healthy chicken wraps to the spicy noodles for dinner. As much as I always try to sample the local dishes and encourage others to do so I’m a big believer in eating what you want when you travel. If all you are craving is a burger, go for it. If you’ve fallen in love with a local dish and you want to eat it everyday, no one is here to stop you. I think sometimes there can be strange preconceptions on the way we should and shouldn’t do things, including the way we eat, while traveling but at the end of the day variety and balance is usually best and ultimately, do what you enjoy.

That being said, Canggu does seem very set up for Westerners with cool cafes, sleek restaurants and a myriad of clothes shops. There are times when it feels difficult to see the real Bali beneath these tourist constructs, and sometimes it is all taken too far, but for the most part I can’t seem to help but find it all very likeable. Canggu was an easy place to just chill, wandering from shop to shop, more dining options than we could ever hope to try and some great surfing and yoga options too. It is the perfect introductory place to ease yourself into Bali or even as a base to explore from if you fancy hiring a bike and finding more obscure places to visit.

Day 3 – Moving day. Check out was late from our Air BnB. We had been staying in a simple but lovely room attached to four others of the same with a small communal kitchen (though the food is so cheap I’m sure it is rarely used) and a tiny pool to cool off in. If you want some privacy and a quirky or chic place to stay Air BnB’s are a great choice in Bali. Hostels are of course available if you are looking or a more social way of traveling but with such affordable luxury hotels and Air BnB’s you may as well treat yourself and they are often the more popular choice. So after a leisurely breakfast at Monseiur Spoon, at which we had eaten the day before and equally savoured every bite again today, we experienced the joy of doing nothing while waiting for our transfer.

We were heading to Ubud to stay in the gorgeous Hotel Tjamuhan. It’s a place I recommended often through work and I was excited to experience it for myself. It did not disappoint. The hotel looks out over the jungle and winding pathways take you to traditionally decorated rooms overlooking the river. I will admit parts of the hotel are looking a bit tired and shabby, maybe in need of a spruce up but for the sake of the wonderful service and stunning setting this was easily overlooked.

Day 4 – After a few days of settling in, getting over jet lag and generally relaxing I was eager to get out and explore. The Monkey Forest Sanctuary was only a short walk away from our hotel and cost just 80,000 IDR, approximately £4.40 per person. Word of advise, keep everything in your bag and a lock on your bag too, those cheeky monkeys will grab anything not bolted down, cameras and phones in hand being the exception perhaps, and they know how to undo zips. We discovered this to our peril only a few steps into the sanctuary. Although we had put away sunglasses and hats, Joey had stopped to get something out of the bag for his camera. We were near two monkeys grooming and all of a sudden Joey’s rustling caught one of the monkeys attention. “Joey…” I tried to call to him but it was too late and the monkey was on him! With deft fingers it managed to get into the front pocket and luckily grabbed nothing more valuable than a pack of tissues. After ripping the packet open with his teeth he seemed disapointed to pull out tissue after tissue instead of the yummy snack he was surely hoping for. They never seemed to go for cameras and phones, it was always things in plastic packaging (we wistnessed a few packets of wet wipes being stolen and one couple’s plastic money bag, which luckily the attendants chased down the monkey and retrieved it for them) so they have obviously learnt what is most likely to have food in.

After that we were more cautious but even so I must have caught the eye of a monkey, something you are not suppposed to do, while crouching down to take a photo and next thing I knew he was clinging to my skirt. I tried to calmly back away and the photo Joey snapped may seem like I’m thinking nothing more than ‘oh my gosh, a monkey!’ But I was definitely more nervous than I let on!

For the most part though the monkeys will leave you alone and as long as you follow the advise at the entrance on how to behave they wont be aggressive. It’s a great way to get up close to these semi-wild animals and get great photos. There are also temples there, which seem overshadowed by the wildlife, which is a shame and not what I expected from the complex (I imagined something like Angkor Wat but smaller and with monkeys) but they were still beautiful to see. One area was shrouded in vines and a bridge nearby goes straight through a tree whose roots stand tall and vine- like as well. There are many statues scattered around and Balinese carving is really a sight to see, as our driver the following day joked, “We have so much time on our hands we just carve everything”, and he was right! It is all so intricate and detailed you could stare at it for hours and keep finding new points of interest.

In the afternoon we took advantage of the spa facilities at our hotel. Similarly to Thailand but perhaps not quite as cheap and popular, are the masssages and treatments. We went for a package that included an hour massage, body scrub, yoghurt rub, flower bath and use of spa facilities for half the day for only 1,188,000 IDR approx £70 for two people. Ill admit it was a slightly odd experience at times, having two lovely Balinese women rub us down in what turned out to be literally yoghurt and not some fancy way of describing body lotion, while wearing very ill fitting and very transparent disposable underwear but we walked away feeling relaxed and serene none-the-less. It helps that the massages and flower bath take place looking out over the river with the gentle sounds of the running water, bird life and rhythmic chirping of crickets to further relax you. Would highly recommend.

Day 5 – Our busiest day yet. A good friend recommended us Bali Bro Tours as she had met it’s owner, Dedy, on a previous trip to Bali, before he set up his own business of Bali Bro Tours. We had a blast with him! His sense of humour will have you chuckling all day and although he left most of the decisions as to what we wanted to see for the day up to us, at times he had some suggestions to take us away from the more touristy areas.

Our first stop was Beji Guwang Hidden Canyon to go Canyoning. I had read that morning that the water wasn’t too deep and at points we may go up to our waist but if the water was low it could also be likely we got in no deeper than our knees. Dedy also reassured us the water was likely to be low but we had brought our swimming gear and towels anyway and boy were we glad! As soon as we got the front desk we were told it was full submersion today! The price was 300,000 IDR or £17 approx. This was a little more than what i had read online which suggested the entrance was 15,000 IDR per person plus 100,000 IDR for a guide but possibly my research was out of date or there are multiple entrances that charge different prices, so do your research ahead of time. The currents were also strong in places so if you don’t feel confident in the water it might be best to call in the morning and find out what the water level is like. The guides are great though as they are locals who have been playing in the canyon since they were children and despite being lean they were strong enough to help me up rocks and pull me through stronger currents.

The canyon was so pretty though and there were not many others going through it so it never felt like one long queue of people. We scrambled over rocks, clinging to small ledges at points, waded through water and hopped from boulder to boulder. Round every corner seemed to be smooth rocks with the sun shining down from the crack cross the sky or a peaceful area with small waterfalls running between huge round rocks, or a sunspot between a junction in the river that I could have stayed at for hours. Well worth it.

I was keen to see the natural beauty of Bali and Joey had looked into some waterfall spots we could stop at, including Tegenungan waterfall. This was the only part of our day which was a disappointment. The waterfall was surrounded by restaurants and hotels, which were blasting music, and swarming with people. We had pictured a natural beauty spot but to be honest it all seemed very unnatural and there was a charge, albeit a small one, for going down to the waterfall at 20,000 IDR per person. I think if you want to see waterfalls you will be better off doing research, hiring a scooter and heading off to more secluded areas.

The rice fields were next on the day’s agenda and they were everything I imagined them to be. Even though we had come just after harvest so the rice wasn’t as tall and lush as it would normall be, it made for a spectacular view for a lunch spot and it was nice to go further down for some photo opportunities in the fields themselves.

Though we had two stops left on the list we only made it to one as it was already late afternoon. Dedy had suggested a Luwak coffee place he knew of that also had swings there that would be cheaper than going to some of the more official Bali swings, though almost everywhere we went had either swings or those woven nest type perches for photo opportunities. Luwak coffee is known as one of the most expense coffees in the world, it is made from coffee cherries that have been fed to and passed through the digestive tract of civet cats. I am skeptical of the ethics of Luwak coffee and have to admit the cats were in fairly small cages. We were reassured that they are fed other foods as well as the coffeee cherries and that they would naturally eat these cherries as well but with different countries having different standards of animal care sometimes, it’s hard to tell.

I did feel guilty for enjoying my time here but couldnt help feeling it was a lovely end to the day. Attentive guides talked us through the coffee making process and gave us a free sample of the different flavour coffees they make. It was only 50,000 IDR for a cup of Luwak coffee, which at around £2.80 is cheaper than most standard coffee in the UK and a hell of a lot cheaper than the £30-40 you can buy the Luwak coffee for in some places. Not being a coffee drinker myself I stuck to the locally grown cocoa and treated myself to a chocolate ice cream.

Last to tick off the list was a Bali swing. At 200,000 IDR (approx £11) for around 5 minutes on the swing is probably a rip off but was also cheaper than entry to the swing parks, which we were less interested in. I spent a ridiculous amount of time worrying about getting the perfect photo on the swing. Before coming to Bali I had filled my head with instagram pictures of beautiful women in flowing dresses posing on swings and felt like it was almost a requirement to get that perfect shot. Silly I know. I had even brought a dress to change into to fully look my best and I was worrying about this to Joey who said, “Why dont you do it just for the fun of it and not for the photo”. At that moment behind us a little girl was just being strapped into a swing and when they let her go she whooped with joy. Seeing her giggling and smiling as she flew out over the rainforest made me feel like even more of a fool. She was having the time of her life, the swing was something fun to do, not a modelling opportunity. So I did it, and of course I still wanted some nice photos of the experience, but I also tried to let go and just enjoy it. I whooped too at that rush when they let you go and you feel like you’re flying over this incredible view below. It didn’t matter how I looked; it was fun.

Day 6 – After a couple of busy days we decided to balance it out with a more relaxed one and simply hung out at the hotel most of the day. It was also a chance to forward plan for the next few days and we got our transfer to Gili T booked in. We managed to get a deal for 500,000 IDR (around £28 for two people) one way. We might have been able to get cheaper for a return or haggling a bit more but from comparing places nearby this seemed a fair price for a one hour transfer and over an hour ferry journey. We wanted to leave things open as the planned part of our trip was coming to an end. Once we arrived in Gili T we had three nights at Vila Ombak booked in and then the rest was yet to be decided.

So far though I am loving Bali life. Australia will be all go, lots of planning, driving, adventuring and working too so even if we may be doing things at a slow pace, it is pure joy to sit in a cafe chatting or writing or going through photos and knowing the only thing we have to do with our day is decided whether to go for a swim or where to go for dinner. Two thoughts that are always the forefront of my mind.

I have had some technical issues uploading photos and formatting so apologies for any issues.

Amsterdam: Birthdays, Marijuana Museums and Dutch cycle rides

Amsterdam is a classic weekend break and I feel like almost everyone I know has visited it before, some for the museums and the culture, others for more alternative reasons. Even my customers all seem to be going and they ask me where is a good place to stay and what is worth seeing and I figured I’d finally find out for myself as a Birthday trip last November. This post has been a little delayed with all the Christmas excitement but finally I have a chance to share it.

I’ve been to Amsterdam once before but I wouldn’t really count walking through the streets, getting lost, getting hangry, doing a short canal cruise and then leaving after less than 12 hours a proper visit. As mine and Joey’s birthdays were coming up and they are so close together we thought this would be the perfect way to treat ourselves. So I flexed my fingers, cracked out my travel agent skills and got booking.

 

Day 1 – Pizza and a Temperamental Balloon

Arriving at the airport with the minimum amount of time left to spare I still decided it was a good idea to sit down in Bella Italia and have the pizza I was craving. Twenty-five minutes later and I’m asking the waitress to cancel the order because the plane is boarding as I can see them placing the pizza on the counter ready to be served. We ran to the plane with said pizza in a take away box and munched it while the air hostess did the safety announcement and our fellow passengers shot us dirty looks for being the last ones on the plane. But it was a damn good pizza – I regret nothing!

The air hostesses barely had time to whizz down the isle with their cart before we were touching down. We were staying in The Student Hotel, a place recommended by friends and through work so we knew it was easy to get to we just didn’t know how. Our first experience of the Dutch was amazing! A cheerful lady recommended the 3 day travel passes to us that would allow us to use the trains and trams, explained the easiest route to get to our hotel and wrote down all the details we needed. We were off to a great start.

Getting to the Student Hotel was as easy as promised and a half hour or so later we were crashed out for a late afternoon nap as if we had just flown halfway across the world rather than a 2 hour flight.

 

Feeling refreshed we headed out to Dam Square where I had heard of the grand Switching On of the Christmas lights. We didn’t really know what to expect but it turned out to be pretty cool. A whole show was put on including acrobatics on a crane, singing, dancing and giant balloon birds! The only downside (apart from the fact it was all in Dutch and we couldn’t understand a thing) was the giant balloons had a mind of their own and kept drifting in front of our view at the vital moment. Hence why my photo looks like a giant balloon giving birth to baby balloons! We were so excited by it all though that we failed to notice that the Christmas lights on the De Bijenkorf department store never actually switched on! It was only when we returned home that we discovered someone had tripped a switch and they were never actually switched on.

Day 2 – Anne Franks house and the Weed Museum

Our first proper day of exploring started with a Sandemans tour. We’d been on one of their tours in Berlin which had been brilliant. The guide told us interesting and unique stories and had even given us a full history of Berlin in an amazing 10 minute run down. This tour didn’t quite hit the mark on the same level but I think after Berlin our expectations were high. Our guide, Kendra, was funny and chatty but told more stories about previous groups than about the history of Amsterdam. However, when she did talk history it was clear that was where her passion was and she knew all the old buildings and what they used to be at different points in time.

We went down backstreets, checked out the University and the Amsterdam Museum. She told us that if you’re walking down the street with a pint in one hand and a spliff in the other the police are more likely to stop you for drinking in the street. Marijuana is not technically legal but is tolerated to the point where even the police won’t bat an eyelid about you smoking in the street. We learnt just how many bicycles end up in the canals (between 12,000-15,000) and saw the skinniest house in Amsterdam. And as a final treat Kendra popped over the road to grab us some delicious Dutch cheese from a friend of hers.

IMG_7471

Pancakes came highly recommended to us as a post-tour lunch so we headed there next. It was a nice cafe but not particularly warm or cosy as it had a chain feel to it and the pancakes were nothing special. It’s certainly nice for a quick lunch and more filling than you would expect but there are better options out there and after a bad customer service experience with them later in the trip they wouldn’t be top of my recommended places.

In the afternoon we visited Anne Frank’s House. This is an experience that must not be missed and I found it very inspirational. For me personally, it wasn’t just what the family did to try and survive but Anne’s determination to make something of herself despite her adverse situation. She didn’t just write her diary for fun or to stop herself going crazy in that attack (though these were also important reasons) but to give people a unique narrative of the events around her, something she knew would be hugely important in the future. As a writer this was what I took away from the experience more than anything.

Most of the house is empty and the only things to see are the information and photographs on the wall but the audio tour was very enlightening. Alongside general descriptions are anecdotes and insights from those who were there at the time, making everything in the house seem more real despite the sparse rooms. You move through the house practically in single file and see the warehouse rooms, the offices upstairs and finally the iconic bookcase that kept the annex secret for just over two years. The annex itself is one of those rooms that carries an almost tangible feeling with it. It wasn’t chilling in the same way standing in the gas chambers at Auschwitz was, after all these walls had heard laughter and everyday chatter as well as sadness, worry and fear. Yet it still felt heavy, like a magnet at once drawing you in and weighing you down. What struck me the most was the photos pasted on the wall, perhaps because there was no other furniture, but also because I knew whose hands had pasted them there and from the extract printed next to them “Thanks to Father – who bought my entire postcard and film collection here beforehand – […] I was able to plaster the walls with pictures. It looks much more cheerful” I knew what they had meant to Anne Frank. On my way out I bought her diary at the gift shop and received a special sticker inside to say I had bought it there. I’m still only in the beginning stages of the diary and it is interesting to hear Anne talk about daily life and how, although in many ways it was quite different, in yet more they still went through the same every day struggles they did outside of the secret annex.

IMG_0140

It was still early and there was so much more to see and do so we headed over to the Hash, Marjuna and Hemp Museum in the Red Light District next – just a slight change of pace from Anne Frank’s house! The museum was actually split up into two exhibits in separate buildings down the street from each other. The first detailed the history of marjuana, it’s uses and different varieties. There were some interesting tit-bits in here but no great wisdom that would set about changing opinions on the subject. The second was focused on hemp and the products you can make with it. As fascinating as it is to see car doors, shoes, clothes and children’s toys made from the same substance as a recreational drug, we were flagging at this point and could probably have missed it out altogether. However if you want your free taster of vaporised weed then it’s still worth stopping in at.

Day 3 – Banksy and Red Light Secrets

As we felt that somehow we had flitted back and forth from the Red Light District (who would have known it would be such a lure?) we decided to head off to a different area of Amsterdam and visit the museum square. First things first we attempted to take our classic “I am Amsterdam” sign photo but typically all the other tourists were ruining my own perfect selfie. It was also threatening rain so after a quick snap we ran to the nearest museum.

IMG_7550

The Van Gogh museum takes some forward planning as the queues are ridiculous if you want to get in there and then. Book ahead or rock up literally as they open the doors if you are keen to go. We weren’t feeling the Van Gogh vibes on this trip, instead we went to the Moco museum, which had a great selection of Banksy’s most thought-provoking works. It was just a shame there wasn’t more information about where each artwork was placed as often this is half the significance of the peace. I still found it very interesting and also enjoyed the Roy Lichtenstein and Salvador Dali works that were also on display. It was just the right amount of art for the day and didn’t take too long to go around – plus we picked up discount cards from our hotel to get a cheaper entry.

Our next museum of the day was the Body Worlds Exhibition. This was one I wasn’t sure how I felt about at the end. In case you haven’t heard of it before the Body Worlds displays plastinagtions which are essentially a real human body that has been dissected and preserved with special polymers turning them into anatomical models. Many will find this quite macabre. Peering at dissected body parts or full posed bodies did at times make me feel a bit funny. After all these were people who had once lived their lives, dancing, running and sitting in the same ways their bodies were now eternally posed in. However it also serves an important purpose to showcase our internal structures and make us think in more detail about what makes us us. The exhibit is not just limited to anatomical knowledge and learning how the body works physically but also has a specific theme for each exhibit. The one in Amsterdam was exploring the idea of happiness and all the ways in which our bodily functions affect our happiness. Despite the initial weirdness it was fascinating and I just wanted to absorb every piece of information in there. If you have reservations I would say give it a chance, you might be surprised.

IMG_7557

As if the attractions we had visited so far couldn’t already be more different our next stop was Red Light Secrets the Museum of Prostitution. This is of course in The Red Light District and features the only windows you are actually allowed to take photos of (although of course you ideally want a picture from the outside of yourself in the window but to do this you would need to go through the museum while your friend waited outside). Since prostitution is legal in Amsterdam I was expecting a positive argument running through the museum to persuade people of the reasonings behind this move but I was surprised to find that the information didn’t shy away from the dangers of this profession. You’ll get to see replications of the rooms they use and the difference between a high class prostitute and your average red light window. There are plenty of hilarious photo opportunities as you check out the bondage room and the classic red lit windows. There is also a screen that shows the kind of looks the workers get as they stand in their windows, which definitely sent a shudder down my spine. Actually the part I enjoyed the most was the sex confessions that visitors had written on the wall just before the gift shop. They were brilliant! Even though it wasn’t shining as positive a light on prostitution as I expected it was still a pretty good museum and was the perfect balance of gimmicky and informative.

IMG_7603

Day 4 – Birthday celebrations!

Today was my birthday and as such we were in no rush to go anywhere early. Though the trip was for both our birthdays, Joey had celebrated his the day before we departed so it was my turn to open my presents. I sat in bed eating what has to be the ultimate birthday breakfast of a strawberry and cream waffle drizzled in chocolate and opening my cards. I had already received my awesome polaroid camera early so I could use it on the trip and I had a couple left for when I returned home but even so I was totally spoilt.

IMG_0162

After a relaxing morning we headed off for the Sandemans cycle tour in the afternoon. This isn’t one of their free tours but an extra you can book. Funnily enough we ended up with Kendra as our guide again and enjoyed a few more funny stories and historical facts as we took our bikes across on the ferry with the rest of the group. It was a nice change to get out of the city centre and see some countryside. We zoomed through picturesque parks and cycled along country roads. We saw some classic Dutch houses and the highlight of the tour was the pretty windmill perched on the riverbank. It was an easy pace with lots of stops to ask Kendra questions and hear more anecdotes. On our way back she announced that she had an idea. we could either continue on our way or take a detour to a new brewery that had just popped up nearby. Of course the majority voted brewery and off we went! Though I’m not a fan of beer I will admit that the SOMETHING had some interesting flavours to try and was a unique twist to our tour.

IMG_0174

Back on our bikes we went over on the ferry again and saw the last stragglers from the Sinterklaas parade, the celebration to welcome old Saint Nick to the city for Christmas, that had taken place that day. As much as I enjoyed the ride I couldn’t help the little kid in me being kind of disappointed at having missed Santa Claus.

As if the Marijuana Museum, Prostitution Museum and even the sex show weren’t enough we decided we had to check out the Sex Museum too. This was something I had never imagined doing on my birthday! There is also an Erotic Museum but apparently the Sex Museum is much more worth visiting. I hadn’t expected it to be so big! Although why I was shocked about the amount of sexual artefacts, photos, erotic designs and other paraphernalia that existed from throughout the years I don’t know! It was a good laugh and the sheer amount of stuff was overwhelming! There are actually a few interesting exhibits that show different cultures views on sex throughout history but for the most part this is a very tongue in cheek museum from the giant penis model to the clunky animatronics. It’s cheap, it’s funny, it’s full of penises – whats not to like?

A birthday celebration wouldn’t be complete with a full blow out meal and we couldn’t have chosen a better place. The Seafood Bar does the most amazing seafood platters we just had to try first hand! I think the waiter was getting a bit impatient as he came over about three times and each time we were still debating what size platter we could realistically manage. You can choose between a hot or cold platter with a variety of shellfish and fish dishes piled together in the ultimate feast. We opted for the hot one as it came with prawns and lobster and our eyes almost fell out of our heads when they placed a stand on our table that would hold a plate almost as big as the table itself. We gorged ourselves on seafood and still had room for dessert afterwards. As an extra special touch they even served our desserts on the same plate with a birthday message to the both of us written out in chocolate. Right from the free procesecco when we arrived to the birthday wishes at the end, the staff really worked to make the night special.

Day 5 – Souvineer Shopping and Final Canal Walks

We only had one morning left in Amsterdam and we decided to use this to grab our souvenirs for friends and family. There are plenty of shops around Dam Square (also where Body Worlds and the Sex Museum are located) so we wondered in and out buying tulip bulbs and postcards. Even though it was bitterly cold and threatening rain we took some final photos on the quaint canal bridges and of the neat narrow iconic Dutch townhouses.

I loved Amsterdam and I could see why it was such a popular destination. Even though we had crammed a lot into our five days here it is somewhere I could easily return to again and again and still have more to do.  Winter time was a lovely time to visit, though unfortunately we were just slightly too early for the Christmas markets, but I can imagine that summer strolls along the canals and picnics in the park as bikes whiz by would be equally beautiful. Amsterdam might seem like a city break that everyone has done but there is a good reason for this. I’m already looking forward to my next visit.

IMG_0207

 

10 Things To Remember When Travelling To The Seychelles

Imagine clear blue seas, white sandy beaches, palm trees heavy with coconuts, local markets, friendly people and all the sea food you could eat. Sound like paradise right? The Seychelles was even more beautiful than I pictured it and there was so much more to this little cluster of islands than I expected. I was invited along by a family friend for a birthday trip and I happily signed up without really knowing what to expect so I thought I would pass on a few tips to help anyone about to travel to the Seychelles prepare for their trip.

Here are 10 tips for what you should remember when travelling to the Seychelles so you know just what to expect for yourself.

1 – Bring Your Snorkel!

Seriously. I’ve never been anywhere where the snorkelling was so consistently good. Jump on the new full-face snorkel craze and find out just how much to see right off the beach. We spotted cuttlefish, starfish, a couple of stingrays, a multitude of colourful parrotfish and so much more! The beaches may be the main thing to do on the Seychelles but there is a good reason for that. Usually you’ll have your 3 standard types of beaches everywhere you go; the tourist beach that is fairly good but is the easiest and most popular to get to, the stony beach often still in a fairly good location but not as comfortable to sit and relax on and the perfect out of the way beach, the one that has fine sand and calm seas but is usually more of a trek to get to. Not so in the Seychelles. Every beach is a number three beach! Some had rougher seas and some you couldn’t swim on at all but all had lovely stretches of sand, turquoise ocean and absolutely every one had amazing snorkelling.

 

2 – Dive a Little Deeper

If you’re not satisfied with merely floating around on the surface there are a good few dive centres as well. We went with Kempinski Dive Centre but there was also Blue Sea Divers and several other centre at the main hotels. It is an easy place to dive if you are a beginner as many of the reefs are quite shallow. We were lucky enough to see a turtle but there are also black tipped and white tipped reef sharks and you might be lucky enough to see whale sharks! Apparently the peak time to see them is October but when we went early in the month there hadn’t been any sightings yet. These gentle giants are less scary than they sound (don’t worry, they eat plankton not divers) but their sheer size makes them a sight to see in the wild.

DCIM101GOPROG2368839.

3 – Watch Out For Bats!

They may have a bad reputation for turning into blood sucking monsters but imagine floating in the sea at dusk, the sky a swirl of purple and indigo as black silhouettes glide overhead. During the day you can hear them chattering in the trees or finding a comfortable place to snooze upside-down. The Seychellois

apparently love bats almost as much as I do… just not quite in the same way… Fruit bat is apparently a very tasty dish on the Seychelles. I didn’t see it on any menus when eating out but we stayed for one night in Victoria and the owner of our apartment was stringing up nets in the nearby tree to catch the poor unsuspecting creatures. I’m not sure if he caught any but the BBQ was definitely sizzling and ready to go when we left to find a more conventional dinner.

 

4 – Beware of the Roads!

If you’ve gone careening down the Bolivian Death Road then you might feel right at home swerving and bouncing along the narrow roads of the Seychelles, otherwise you might want to be wary. Travelling with Irish friends one pointed out that the roads were no narrower than those in Ireland but the difference here is that if you pull over you won’t be crammed into a bush you’ll be tumbling down the rocky drops or deep trenches that line the roads! Buses frequently speed around the island but otherwise if you want to get around hiring a car is your best option – just be careful and watch for the dongas!

 

5 – It’s Not Cheap

Unless you stay somewhere like the stunning Four Seasons Hotel on Mahe island, travelling the Seychelles won’t break the bank but it’s certainly not the place to go if you are a budget traveller. We kept costs down by staying in a self-catering villa and cooking for ourselves but eating out could quickly rack up your costs. A simple curry dish you might expect to pay between £8-£10 for in the UK could be anywhere between £10-15 on the island. Even buying food from the shops will depend on availability as one day that delicious mango juice you bought for breakfast will be on the shelves and the next time not. The main place your spending money will be disappearing fast though is activities. We spent €150 per person for a trip to the neighbouring islands of Le Dique and Praslin. It was nice to explore different islands and have a break from chilling on beaches (I know, such a hard life) but it was not worth the money. However if you want to do it there is not many other options. Even getting the public ferry over will set you back for between €45-60.

IMG_7283

6 – Seychelles Accept Euros

It’s a small point to make but always a handy thing to know. Seychelles have their own currency of Seychelle Rupees but you won’t be able to get hold of these in the UK. There are banks (even Barclays), ATMS and money exchange in Victoria town so it will be easy to get currency once you arrive but if you want a little cash to start you off then Euro is widely accepted and sometimes even preferred over Seychelle Rupee.

 

7 – Head to Beau Vallon Beach for Watersports

If sunbathing and reading on the beach isn’t enough for you there are plenty of watersports available too. We tried paddle boarding at the Four Seasons hotel, most of which will offer kayaking and paddle boarding but if you’re looking for a bit more head to Beau Vallon Beach on Mahe island. The prices are reasonable (for the Seychelles) and they offer wakeboarding too! Surfing is available as well but the Seychelles isn’t known for its waves so your surf costs may include a ride to a different beach.

DCIM101GOPROG2889563.

8- Try Fresh Fish at the Markets

Near Beau Vallon Beach you’ll find the market. There are some souvineers but the main thing to go for is the food, the best of which being grilled fresh fish. Now I’m not a fish person (other than when I’m in the water myself) but this BBQ snack was delicious! If you’re not feeling fish then there are lots of fruit markets too where I had some tiny juicy mangos and mini sweet bananas. If it’s coconut your craving you’ll be sorted too, we spent half our holiday trying to figure out how to break into the tough husks before the cleaner at our villa showed us how to prize it open with the end of a pick axe before splitting the shell with the back of a cleaver. Don’t worry, the markets sell them ready cracked though!

IMG_0375

9- Say Hello to the Local Giants

I thought I would be lucky to see one or two giant tortoises but turns out they are more common than I thought. There are plenty of places to see these lazy creatures stretching their necks and limbs out in the sun. We found some down at the Four Seasons resort on Mahe where they do feedings at 4pm you can join in with, at the botanical gardens in Victoria you can also get involved with a feeding and on La Digue there was a collection of tortoises whose age ranged between 25 to over 100 years old! Though I didn’t go myself I’ve heard there is an island called Curieuse where they roam totally free!

IMG_7264

10 – A Final Word of Warning!

You won’t want to leave.

The Adventure Begins 

The day of departing for my trip has come round quickly. As I boarded the plane I felt waves of excitement and fear. Can I do this on my own? Have I made the right decisions? Will being away for five months be hard?

Yes. Yes. And Yes.

This experience is going to test me, there will inevitably be hard times, moments of indecisions and times where everything is out of my control. Those are moments that will only make me stronger.

There’s a lot more to look forward to though. Laughing with friends old and new. Finding hidden paradise beaches. Getting myself from one end of the country to another. Working with orangutans and getting up close to elephants. Trying hidden gem street foods. Dancing all night. Having an adventure.

I’ve wanted this trip for so long and it’s finally here so I’m going to make the most of it! This will be 143 days of joy so keep reading to hear about each and every one of them.
Follow me on Instagram to see my #143daysofjoy

Ready to jet off around the world! Now just to find a jet…

5 Reasons Why I Want to Volunteer Abroad

One of the parts of my South East Asia trip I’m most excited about is my week in Chang Mai working with elephants. Elephants are and always have been my favourite animal. I mean, these are animals who can communicate with each other over staggering distances, they mourn the deaths of loved ones and they remember and greet old friends with affection. Their intelligence and empathy has always astounded me so I look forward to being up close to these amazing animals. I’ll also be working with Orangutans in Borneo, another exciting aspect of my trip and a chance to learn more about this endangered species. These aren’t the only reasons I chose to do these volunteering experiences or why I think it’s important to volunteer abroad in the first place, in fact, here’s my top 5 reasons why I want to volunteer abroad, not just on this trip but hopefully on future trips too…

  1. To Make a Difference
    Of course I wouldn’t volunteer if I didn’t believe in the cause I was supporting. Helping people, animals or the environment is the best part of volunteering; it’s knowing that one small part of the world is different because you helped in some way. A couple of years ago I got the opportunity to visit Teenage Cancer Trust’s new specialised unit at the Bristol Haematology and Oncology Centre and the best part was speaking to people who have been affected by cancer, who knew just how big an impact this would have on the patients wellbeing. Every little donation added up to this amazing unit that will help countless people and that kind of impact, big or small, is worth volunteering for, especially in countries in need of that impact.

 

  • To Gain New Experiences
    Because when else am I going to get to splash about in a river with an elephant? Volunteering abroad offers you experiences you might otherwise never get. It’s also a chance to meet like-minded people and when you’re working together so closely, you’re bound to make new friends.

 

 

  • To Work Hard
    This might seem a strange thing to want from volunteering abroad but to be honest I like to keep busy. Doing a bit of hard grafting will make me appreciate the times when I get to chill out and do absolutely nothing even more. Plus it’s always a great thing to add on your CV!

 

 

  • To Learn About Different Cultures
    Taking part in a volunteer project abroad can be a great way to break down boundaries and throw you into the thick of a new culture. Often projects abroad mean meeting the locals and eating traditional foods so what could be a better way to get to know a place?

 

 

  • To Learn More About Myself
    Volunteering should challenge you as a person. Helping others, meeting new people, gaining new experiences, working hard and learning about other cultures will change you in a positive way. Volunteering in the UK has made me a more confident, motivated and, hopefully, kinder person so I can only imagine what volunteering abroad, throwing myself out of my comfort zone and into new situations, will teach me about myself. The question is, what will volunteering abroad do for you?

 

The Best Way to Spend a Weekend in Berlin

Berlin is a city with two sides. On the one side is an interesting yet devastating history and the unique culture that has grown from it, on the other is an exciting night life. I’ll admit I’ve seen more of the history and culture than the nightlife but it’s out there! I promise!

I’ve been to Berlin twice, firstly on an evil trip with my university (and I mean that literally – it was for a Literature and Evil module) and secondly for a Valentines weekend away with my other single friends in Feb 2016. Each time was totally different because there is so much to see and do but this post will focus around my most recent trip. So if you’re wondering how to have the best city break in Berlin then take a sneak peak at my Berlin journal to find out…

Day 1

The Valentines squad, my good friends Joey, Miriam and Grace were reunited after our last trip to Paris in 2014 and arrived at Freiraum hostel. We found this place on airbnb.co.uk and was perfect for a small group of friends wanting our own private space. The managers were so helpful in giving us instructions on how to get around and the best places close by for eats.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 14.29.42

Day 2 

One of the best ways to see Berlin, especially if you’re a budget traveller, is to book a Sandeman’s tour. This company hires volunteers with a passion for history to give free tours around Berlin. Though the tour is free there is an opportunity to pay what you feel it was worth at the end and, trust me, you’ll want to give a generous donation because these guides earn it. Our guide, Rochelle, gave us 800 years of German history in 8 minutes and told us some incredible escape stories about the Berlin Wall – one guy even tight-rope walked across!

“I find it impressive how proud Germany are of their culture and how they don’t shy away from their awful history. Rochelle told us they are one of the only places where they are honest about their own crimes while remembering those that died at their hands.”

Other highlights of the tour include all of Berlin’s hot spots like the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Hitler’s Bunker, Checkpoint Charlie and Gendarmenmarkt square to name a few. As a book nerd my favourite stop was probably the book burning memorial in Bebelplatz, which I didn’t even know existed before. In the ground is a window you can peer down to see empty shelves beneath. Rochelle aptly quoted Heinrich Heine, a German poet and journalist who said: “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people”.

“I thought this was beautiful that they would remember dead books, lost words, forgotten titles, ashy stories.”

IMG_1569

Once the tour was over we headed towards Rosa-Luxemburg Strasse, a short walk from Alexander Platz, to find a little Mexican burrito places called Dolores. There isn’t a huge amount of choice for places to eat around here but Dolores is one of the quick pit-stop places that serves up some tasty grub to keep you exploring.

And boy did we need it for climbing the 285 steps of the Berlin Victory Collumn! It’s cheap and worth the climb to see some spectacular views of the city. The perfect way to end a day of sightseeing.

“We made it just as the sun began to set, splashing orange and yellows across the horizon, making Berlin city glow.”

 

When the sun has gone down head over to Warschaur Strasse where there are lots of restaurants and bars. I recommend Euphoria for fairly cheap drinks and food but if you like cocktails then go to the swanky Goldfish bar for a cosmo.

Day 3 

The Valentines Squad temporarily parted ways as Miriam and Grace headed off to check out Berghain, a famous techno club and famously difficult to gain entry too (as the girls discovered). So while Miriam and Grace tried their luck there, Joey and I decided to do some more sightseeing.

Our first stop was getting our passports stamped at Checkpoint Charlie. At €5 for six stamps it might seem pointless to some people but it’s just the sort of souvenir I like. Be careful of scammers offering cheap stamps that may invalidate your passport though and get it done at the actual checkpoint.

IMG_1630.JPG

Getting a few cheesey stamps was fun but learning more about the East and West Berlin divide was much more interesting. Right by Checkpoint Charlie is the Black Box, an informative little museum with propaganda, videos, posters, toys and news reels to explain all you need to know about the Cold War. It’s fairly small and will probably only take you an hour to look round but at only €5 entry and €3.50 for students it’s worth it.

Taking a break from history for a bit, Joey and I decided to visit Mauer Park Market. I had heard of this place last time I was in Berlin but didn’t get a chance to visit it. This quirky market is packed with vintage toys and cameras as well as some great street music.You’ll definitely come across some interesting finds here, my personal favourite was a homemade Mickey Mouse snow globe that looked more like someone had tried to preserve the poor mouse in a jar of formaldehyde.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 16.53.06.png

Escaping the soggy afternoon we came back to the centre of Berlin to visit the DDR museum (€9 adult, €6 student). Berlin seems to love their interactive museums and this one did not disappoint. The majority of the museum is made up of cupboards you can pull open to see facts and displays about how people in East Berlin used to live. There is even a life-sized set of a house you can explore and an interrogation room where you can listen to an actual interrogation by placing your elbows on speakers in the desk.

Day 4

We couldn’t leave Berlin without visiting the East Side Gallery. I could spend hours wondering up and down the wall admiring the different styles and interpretations on this important piece of architecture. When I visited last year you could walk right up to the wall and I witnessed several people leaving their own mark so now, unfortunately, most of the wall is protected by a chain link fence making the experience slightly less enjoyable. Still it is a must-see and I challenge you to find Batman amongst the many incredible paintings.

“I think people forget how important this artwork is. It symbolises something very significant and yet it’s becoming more and more damaged and graffitied. So sad.”

Before we left we had to visit Burgermeister, a tiny burger joint in a converted public restroom. From the outside it looks pretty innocuous but the burgers are so tasty. I’ll admit it wasn’t as great as the hype lead me to believe but it still made for a great lunch.

I  feel like I’ve seen and done a lot of what Berlin has to offer but that wouldn’t stop me from coming back again. Berlin is a city with as much going on as London but with a more laid back attitude. If you’re looking for a little escape from the 9-5 routine then it’s definitely the place to go.