I’ve unknowingly become the type of traveller that religiously takes specific items with me everywhere I go, be it close to home in Europe or further afield in Asia or Africa.
Here are 5 things you should always take on your travels according to me.
1. Micro fibre towels
Even if a towel is provided at the accommodation I will always pack my microfibres. One large body one, and a smaller hair towel. It makes your luggage lighter, and day trips to the beach nice and lightweight.
The most convenient way to travel is with a lightweight towel the size of your purse.
2. A travel wallet
Since my first solo trip I have always carried a wallet with me that consists of multiple sections. The original wallet I had was black, boring, and had five sections for money, cards, and anything else small enough to fit it.
Since then I’ve upgraded to this beauty. With several pouches, pockets, and storage slots it’s a dream for any organisation freak such as me.
My overly organised travel wallet
3. Mini sorting bags
This one is for the ultimate neat freaks and the clever time savers. Ever witnessed someone in your dorm room scrambling around at 8am in the morning looking for a pair of socks? Don’t be that person. Be ultra prepared and pack your bag in sections by filling it with smaller bags. One bag for your socks, one for your pants, another for your hair bands, etc. If it fits – put it in a bag. Want to be really organised? Why not go Monica Geller style and label every bag? Sandwich bags are great, but if you want to help save the planet them opt for small cloth bags.
Most Hostels provide a locker of some sort. But not every hostel gives you a padlock to seal it, or they want a deposit. Save yourself the hassle and bring a couple with you.
5. Passport copies
I hope you already do this! If you don’t, please start. Before you leave home place 1 or 2 photocopies of your passport in your main luggage and one in your hand luggage. You can thank me if your passport goes missing!
You only need to copy the photo page that contains your personal information.
When travelling the dirty washing builds up fast. If you are far away from a dry cleaners, or decide to save cash and take it all home with you then a plastic bag is the perfect item for locking away the smelly socks at the bottom of your bag.
If you think that’s gross then you’ve probably never had the luxury of staying in the jungle for over two weeks without a flushing toilet or working shower!
7. Baby Wipes
Simple but super useful.
Mess up your trainers? Baby wipe them.
Water stopped working in the hostel? Baby wipes help you freshen up.
Spill food down you? BABY WIPE IT
Mud on your backpack? USE THOSE BABY WIPES!!!
I rest my case.
Sorry to get all boring but you should 100% get travel insurance before you go anywhere. I am still working on sticking to this one, but it does have the potential to really pay off if you ever become sick or are involved in an accident. During a trip to Portugal I broke my toe whilst surfing and wasn’t insured… I learnt the hard way. Don’t be like me – get the insurance and save your toes the 5 day wait until you get back home.
If I had to choose between taking my phone or my camera away with me I would always select my camera. Phones are great for obvious reasons, but they are also a barrier to really connecting with the people you are around and the place you are in. Next time you are lost in a new place try and find your way without your phone.. You may not find your way quickly, but I garuntee it will be a better story to tell than ” we used Google Maps”. I full recommend the Nikon Coolpix for underwater shots.
If you are taking your phone along for the journey then make sure you have a charging bank/pack. It sucks when you run out of charge just when you need it most. Always have a backup.
11. Reusable Bottle
Save money and the environment by taking an empty bottle away with you. Fill it up with the tap in your bathroom (provided the water is safe to drink) and buy a slice of cake instead. of spending money on water.
12. Extra Socks
I don’t care if you are going to the Bahamas or the Antarctic – ALWAYS bring socks, and make sure you have spares. There is nothing quite like relaxing in the evening with socks on even if you do spend 99.9% of your time bare foot usually. If you are headed for colder and wetter climates then always anticipate that you will probably step in a puddle of which you have underestimated the depth.
Happy travels. Now go write a packing list!
Is there anything that you would never travelwithout?
It was an unexpected pleasure that I had ended up in the little-known historical city of Augsburg, Germany. Visiting Germany in the winter months has become a sort of an unplanned tradition for me, and despite being one of the largest cities in Bavaria I have yet to meet anyone that has actively travelled there, nor stumbled upon it during their time in the country.
I had come to this little gem, just a stones throw away from Munich, for work purposes, and so there was very little time to explore. But hey! That’s what evenings and early mornings are for… exploring.
With this being my third time in Germany I had some expectations; friendly people, giant beer glasses, a bratwurst dominated menu, Gothic architecture, and cold weather. I was mostly right and the main sites were worth bracing the cold weather in the afternoon!
Augsburg could easily be missed, but if you’ve run out of things to do in Munich then a half day/ day trip here wouldn’t be a mistake. Here are some of the highlights:
Leopoldo Mozart (Mozarts dad) was born in this humble home, tucked away in amongst surrounding shops and houses. Tours and audio guides are available for those who want to soak in as much information as possible.
Mozarthaus museum in Augsburg
Two words, night life. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, party, dance, or drink then this is the street for it. Maximilianstrasse is full to the brim with excellent bars, restaurants, and necessary chip shops to soak up the German beer. Despite getting lost looking for the “Oyster Bar” which turned out to actually be called the “Auster bar” we had no trouble in finding dinner here.
Just some of the quirky menu options on Maximilianstrasse
3. Perlachturm Tower and Town Hall
The 70 metre tall ex-watchtower is a sight best viewed from one of the restaurants below in the square. Situated next to the Town Hall I recommend that you sit down for a snack or a beer and enjoy the view for a short while before continuing your tour of Augsburg. For a small fee (1 Euro for students) you can enter the town hall and learn a little more about he history of Augsburg.
Evening view of the town hall and the tower
4. Augsburg Cathedral
The enormous Roman Catholic Church is hard to miss. The architecture is so varied that our will be left questioning when on earth it was built.
5. Dorint Hotel Tower
Ok, so this may be considered an eye-sore to many, but if you can manage to get yourself up to the top then you will be presented with a view that is simply the best in Augsburg. I found the building itself to be quite interesting especially following some research on what it is and why it looks the way it does. This tower is known by locals as the ‘corncob’ and has a large open park at its base, perfect for a picnic or afternoon stroll.
The view from one of the Rooms in the tower that was being rented as an Air bnb for the week.
With little time to explore I sadly didn’t get to see much else in Augsburg, just enough for a half day visit.
If you have longer to stay in this lovely place then why not check out the highly rated Fuggerei, botanic gardens, or many interesting museums.
The decision of whether to stay in a hotel or not whilst on holiday is not usually at the forefront of many people’s minds. Most holiday goers will book their flights and then the top recommended hotel without even a second thought as to where else they could stay.
Why are so many of the population failing to remember that there are alternative, cheaper, more immersive and entertaining options available. Or maybe they just haven’t been informed yet. Well in that case, let’s begin.
Hotels: What are you paying extra for? Absolutely nothing.
If you enjoy late night strolls around a resort, listening to a British expat performing Whitney Houston Covers, and fighting other holiday makers for the sun lounger closest to the pool then hotels are definitely for you. Hotels are notoriously safer, and offer heightened security for families with private lockable rooms with en-suits and balcony areas. Great! But this is not the say that the same quality can’t be found elsewhere.
To offer some tangible evidence of what Hotels offer lets look at ibis hotels.
Whilst staying in an ibis hotel I couldn’t fault the breakfast service, the room, or anything else for that matter really. Although, the common area was less of a common area and more of a standard entrance area into the hotel.
Ibis hotels make good on the buffet breakfast and provide you with all your breakfasty needs from cereals to continental meats you’ve probably never thought to eat for breakfast.
This is all well and good you might say, but why oh why am I paying £50 – £100 (or more) a night. One person, one room, one bed, one breakfast, and you are asking for £60. Call me a cheapskate (because I am) but I say this pricing is totally unnecessary!
To be completely fair to ibis hotels, I searched the going rates across 10 countries in Europe, even ‘cheap’ countries and the prices were pretty similar across the board. Ibis hotels aren’t the only offenders of high prices for little in return, Premier Inn, Travel Lodge, Best Western, Hilton, Marriott… You name it, it was all a little too overpriced for me.
In my opinion, if anyone is paying £50-£80 per night, this is the least you should be asking for:
Sound Proof Walls
Breakfast and Dinner
A fun, free, functioning common room
Outdoor seating areas
Comfortable bed and en-suit
Tea and Coffee in your room
If your paying over £80 for a hotel room then firstly – what on earth are you thinking? And secondly, there had better be a huge heated pool and a sauna with onsite creche for the kiddies to play in.
Hostels: It’s not all doom and gloom
Once you understand that not all hostels are as grubby as they seem in the movies your holiday savings will increase, and your holiday experience will change forever.
Hostels are available in almost every country in the world, and at a fraction of the price of booking a hotel you’d be silly not to consider it. Some of the nicest places I have ever stayed have been hostels costing no more than £13 a night WITH breakfast included. For more information about what staying in a hostel is really like read Myth Busting: Hotels – To stay or not to Stay.
So, let’s address 3 of the main issues that people talk about when I suggest that they stay in a hostel.
1- “I don’t want to stay with 10 other people with no privacy or bathroom to myself.”
2- “It won’t be a safe environment for the kids to sleep in or to be able to walk around in.”
3- “I’m not sleeping in a dirty room where the sheets are gross and the bathroom smells”
I am happy to report that for the most part I have found none of this hearsay to be true. Read
Overall I have found hostels to be more welcoming, friendly, cleaner, entertaining, and helpful than any hotels I have previously stayed in. Private rooms are always a little pricier, but you get what you pay for after all. Booking is easy with sites like Hostelworld and HostelBookers offering a transparent efficient service to users.
Home Stays: Living like a local
Staying in someone else’s home can feel daunting, especially if the family are still in the vicinity during your visit. Unless you had selfish plans to trash the place there’s no reason to feel nervous at all, provided that you have done your research beforehand.
Me with my incredible host family in Nicaragua. 3 months together and we were part of the family.
Whilst in Vietnam we stayed in a host home – accidentally. The family had advertised their home on a hostel site. We were pleasantly surprised as, luckily, we got on well with the family. They were knowledgeable and friendly, and we learnt a lot from the experience.
Whilst some host family / home stays are advertised on the usual hostel sites your best bet is to head over to sites such as Homestay.com or simply type ‘host family stay’ into Google and check out the many country specific results available.
Another option is the increasingly popular Airbnb which offers a wide variety of options depending on your needs. You can rent a whole home, a room, or shared accommodation. The majority of places you find on Airbnb will be self catering, so you will miss out on the luxury meals you are used to at the hotel, but with thousands of yummy restaurants around every corner why not sample the real local cuisine in the streets. This also cuts out all of the moaning about the lack of diversity on the hotel menu.
When booking with Airbnb be sure to tick the ‘whole house’ option if you don’t fancy meeting the homeowners each day. Another mistake we made whilst in Paris was not ticking this. We didn’t mind ultimately, but we did find it strange that the owner was still at the house. That is, until we realised we hadn’t ticked the all important ‘home alone’ button.
Despite any booking errors we may have faced in the past, staying with a host family is always a very enriching experience. I’ll admit that it’s more of a solo traveller / couples travel option, but if children are welcome then why not just book the whole house instead for a fun family experience?
Will you take the plunge?
I think it’s clear to see that I am a hostel kind of girl. Be it a private room, or a communal room, it’s all good to me. Don’t forget to read my blog ‘Myth Busting: Hotels – To stay or not to Stay‘ for a real insight into why I view Hostels as being the best.
Next time you book your accommodation for your holiday perhaps you may take a step back and consider just how much you could save to spend on enjoying expensive foods or activities, rather than on the £100 room that you could have got for £20 elsewhere.
A significant part of your travelling experience lies in the places that you choose to call home each night. Whilst you may not return home with wondrous stories about the incredible comfort levels hidden within the mattress, or the delicious breakfast you ate each morning – the chances are that you will always recall the things that made the accommodation terrible.
When booking my stay anywhere in the world I look at five factors. 1. Is it close to the main attractions. 2. Are the rooms clean and comfortable. 3. Am I paying a decent amount for what is on offer. 4. Will I have somewhere other than my room to hang out in the evening, and 5. How well has the space been rated by past experienced travellers.
I hope that by confronting some of your doubts and answering some of your questions with real experience I can bring you to book your first hostel stay somewhere.
1. You said: I’m not sharing a bedroom with anyone I don’t know. So I might as well just stay in a hotel room anyway.
I say: If you really don’t want to stay with anyone random then the answer is simple, don’t stay with random people. Booking a private room in a hostel is easy and will still save you a large amount of cash. Let’s look at an example I have stayed in –
Where we stayed: The Secret Garden Hostel – Krakow, Poland. 5 nights, two beds for £160 total.
For just £160 we stayed in a lovely private twin bed room with ensuing, TV, cleaning service, common room, kitchen area, and free city maps.
This hostel has family vibes – meaning you are unlikely to be awoken by noisy party goers at 2am in the morning. If you like your privacy and like being slightly out of the centre of town then The Secret Garden hostel is an excellent choice.
If you want breakfast included then you only need to pay a small fee for this, or why not pop to the grocery store just a 2 minute walk away and make your own?
If you opt for one of the many Hotels in the area you will notice ( with a quick search on booking.com ) that you will be lucky for find a room for 5 nights for two people, and under £350.
Choosing a private twin room in a hostel in Krakow saved us £190.
2. You said: Hostels are for young people.
I say: No they’re not!
Where we stayed: Basecamp Bonn – Bonn, Germany. Suitable for all ages.
This quirky hostel offers a very varied environment, and by varied I mean – you can stay in the train carriage a private caravan a tour bus and more, all housed in a giant warehouse of fun.
Whilst younger visitors might opt to stay in the entirely cramped tour bus, older travellers can opt for the privacy and spaciousness of a private caravan for the night. The hostel offers traditional fun boardgames for the younger visitors (not that it stopped us from playing) and a mature atmosphere for the older ones.
If staying in a caravan isn’t your thing then there are plenty of other options available for all the travellers in the world of hostels. All you have to do is set your preferences wisely when searching, and if mobility is an issue then check the facilities and the location before you book.
In the peaceful town of Bonn, Germany is this bonkers hostel. Housed under one huge warehouse sit a renovated train carriage, private caravans, and tour buses to sleep in!
3. You said: I’m not sharing a bathroom!
I said: Whilst it can be hard to find, hostels with private bathrooms do exist.
Where we stayed: Villa Varich – Chumphon, Thailand private ensuit.
Ok, ok, so this hostel isn’t on Hostelworld anymore because it wasn’t technically a hostel, but as the owner was just starting out these private villas were placed on Hostelworld and for bargain price. It’s just so great not feature it here. This does however raise an interesting point about being meticulous in your search for the perfect private bathroom.Once again I urge you to set your preferences to private ensuite and searching for a decent hostel with a private bathroom. Who knows you might just stumbled upon something is great as Villa Varich!
4. You said: I don’t want to party all the time. I just want to read with some light entertainment.
I said: party hostels are all around but if you search with the correct preferences you will find a hostel that suits you perfectly without all the loud music.
Where we stayed: Easy Tiger is an incredible hostel located in Phong Ngha, Vietnam.
Whilst from the booking websites this may seem like an incredibly rowdy hostel you couldn’t be more wrong. You’ll also be pleased to know (for those of you that wanted a private bathroom recommendation) that rooms with four beds in one private bathroom or available.
Upon entering your room you will be greeted by tiger print walls, floors, bedding – you name it! The rooms have thick walls keeping all outside noise out. Scheduled musicians and other interesting acts play in the evenings for your entertainment whilst you grab a bite to eat from their yummy restaurant.
I also recall there being a pool, pool tables, and a theme of supporting good causes.
5. You said: I’ve heard stories. Hostels just aren’t safe!
I say: To date, I have yet to be robbed of anything, nor attacked in some dark hallway. I’ve thought that I’ve been robbed a few times by then realise I just dropped my things next to my bed.
Where we stayed: Asta Venice, Venice, Italy. The locker is under your bed, and bag storage options are available.
some hostels have a lot of room for improvement when it comes to security, but we were pleased to see that Asta has nailed the locker system. Although Asta has done a good job, always travel with a minimum of two padlocks as most hostels or not supply them for you free of charge.
Many of the newer hostels you will notice have cameras around the building and outside rooms (which by the way most hotels only have cameras in the lobby). If you notice any suspicious behaviour, notify the staff (as you would anywhere else) and you will be just fine.
PM: Arriving in Ljubljana, Slovenia by bus from Venice was easy. Our GoOpti driver was incredibly helpful and offered to drop us off at our hostel just 15 minutes down the road from the planned drop off location.
Having chosen to arrive late in Slovenia we headed straight to our rooms at Hostel Pri Janezu to offload our backpacks, before heading out for a late night stroll around the old town.
Ljubljana was impressive by night. Crowded, but impressive. Tourists filled the streets and restaurants along the river, the lights did every favour to the shining white architecture, and the local people were incredibly friendly and welcoming.
The many bridges that jump across the river become stages to talented performers after night fall. We stood a while on the padlocked bridge listening to the beat boxing talents of a stranger, whilst cringing at the lesser talented dancing of tipsy onlookers.
The bridge of padlocks
When the clock struck midnight we decided it was time to head back to our hostel for a good nights sleep as the bells of the local churches rung out through the narrow cobbled streets of the Old Town.
AM: Today we woke around 8am to have breakfast before checking out at 10am. We left our bags in the reception and set out to explore Ljubljana in the day time.
Our first exploration was the infamous Dragon Bridge. After having spent weeks of listening to my partner express his excitement at seeing “Khalisi’s Dragons” we couldn’t not go and have a look at them. With a rich history of folk tales of Dragons in Slovenia it is a must see. You may be underwhelmed by the bridges size, or that the dragons are not much bigger than your dog at home, but at least you can say that you saw the dragons of Ljubljana.
The Dragon Bridge
Feeling slightly underwhelmed by the dragons, but keen to see more, we continued our stroll back towards the main streets of the Old Town to view the entirely pink Franciscan Church of the Annunciation
With the Church being so pink, it is highly doubtful that you will miss this attraction – even if you aren’t purposefully looking for it. As crowds gathers to stare at the pinkest building in town we found ourselves suddenly distracted by what lay in front of it.
Behold… Ljubljana’s miniature circle of rain!
Now this might not sound very exciting, but when the weather is pushing 30 degrees, and you haven’t seen rain for over a month this is nothing short of life changing. We passed through it no less than 4 times during our time travelling in Ljubljana.
Momentary rain left us in high spirits. With a new batch of energy we sought a random thrill, deciding that it was time to find the ‘Illusions Museum’ or that we had heard so much about – and what a Museum it was.
Without getting to much into the museums many strange rooms, it was a fun hour and a half spent looking around and interacting with it’s many puzzles. More information on the crazily themed rooms can be found here.
Following the curious activities of the Museum, and feeling sick because of the Vortex Tunnel (yes they have one of those), we thought it best to grab a small snack for lunch before heading up to Ljubljana Castle for a few hours.
The Funicular Railway sits besides the Central Market, and offers a comfortable, walking free, timely ascent to the castle on the hill for a small fee. Tickets can be bought online or at the terminal itself. Offering wanderlust worthy views over the city – you don’t want to miss this attraction. We chose not to pay for a full access pass to the castle, and instead just a standard up and down ticket. We were more than happy with this and spent our time admiring the view and architecture before heading back down for a proper meal.
PM: With just enough time to grab lunch we took it to go before grabbing our backpacks and setting off on the local bus to Postojna. Getting to Postojna took around 45minutes – 1 hour with a little traffic on the way. The ride was stunning.
We quickly realised that Postojna was…. quiet. I could see a flicker of doubt in Irfan’s eyes as he looked at me wondering why were were there. Our doubt was lifted slightly upon entering the Youth Hostel – Hostel Proteus which was fun, vibrant, and friendly.
One Snickers bar later and our energy returned. We only had one night in Postojna, but in our pre-trip planning we had forgotten that there were TWO incredible caves worth visiting here.
Not wanting to waste our time and miss out on seeing both caves we marched to the Postojna Cave on a mission to get there before the last tour at 6pm.
Made it! We managed to get to the Cave 15 minutes early and were ready to join the tour. We were separated into our chosen language and then ushered inside in an organised manner. Upon entering the cave you will walk for around 10 minutes before boarding a small train. You will then be transported deeper into and around the cave before hopping off for the middle section of the tour on foot. Once the tour has ended you will re-board the train and head for the exit.
With much to talk about we began the walk back to the hostel, grabbing a bite to eat on the way. Whilst in the cave we managed to catch a glimpse of the rare Olm Salamander – We called him Peen, and spoke about him for the rest of our trip.
AM: Today we woke up (9am) packed our bags, checked out, left our bags behind, and grabbed a walking breakfast on the way to the incredible UNESCO site… the Škocjan Caves.
We jumped on a bus and found ourselves lost in a small town along with 5 other baffled strangers wondering where on earth we had ended up. Randomly, and suddenly we were approached by a couple of strangers. “You wana go to the caves get in, free shuttle”. We stupidly jumped in. They could have been anyone! Luckily for us, they kept their promise as it turns out that your entrance ticket covers the shuttle costs. Bargain!
This experience was, in our opinion, much less organised than that of the Postojna Caves. The tour guides stood in front of a crown of around 200 people and shouted (without microphones) hoping that everyone could hear them and get organised. Rather than organising us into languages for the tour groups BEFORE arriving at the front of the cave, we were told to push through the crowd depending on which language you spoke and make your way to the front of the crowd.
Anyway, following this shambolic start (and 150 people later) we made it inside. This cave was different. The views, sheer drops, archaic caving equipment and sheer scale of the cave had a huge impact. As the man at our hostel had explained “It’s like something out of Lord of the Rings. It will make you say WOW”. He wasn’t lying.
The tour was long and cold with far too many steps, and yet none of that mattered because of the sheer brilliance of the cave. Having been on the tour of Postojna the day before we worried that this tour would be much of the same information. Thankfully, the tour was unique and offered new information that was bespoke to this exact cave rather than caves in general.
Once we had finished climbing our way our of the caves (take your inhaler if you have one) we grabbed a souvenir and pushed our way to the front of the shuttle bus queue – much like we had done to get inside the cave.
PM: We arrived back in Postojna in good time. Annoyingly we had to go and retrieve our bags from the hostel which meant that we missed the hour-and-a-halfly bus to Bled via Ljubljana. Bored, sweaty, and tired we sat in the bus shelter for 3 hours listening to a group of boys play terrible Dubstep covers. At least it rained… That was a welcome treat.
Eventually the bus arrived and we clambered aboard ready to see ‘Beautiful Bled’. The ride was smooth and offered wonderful views along the way. We arrive in good time as night fell over the town. Ready to take the hour hike to our hostel the heavens opened, this was the one and only time we would take a taxi whilst in Slovenia.
The taxi driver left us his card (very convenient if you aren’t renting a car of your own) and we entered the ever so charming Vila Mangart to offload our bags and dry off. Feeling hungry, adventurous and deprived of rain (the temperature had been way in the late 20’s early 30’s – more than any Brit can bare) we took a walk back in to town to see what the night life had to offer.
Bled is not the flattest of places in Slovenia. The hills make you feel like you’ve been walking for hours, and the lake was smaller than expected surrounded by hotels at one end, and sealed of swimming areas on the other. We were left underwhelmed and decided to give it another chance in the daytime. Eventually managing to find a snack, we called it a night.
Despite having 13.5 minutes of sleep today was phenomenal.
Last night was nothing short of horrid. Of course, when you book a shared room in a hostel you don’t expect a perfect nights sleep – but, you don’t expect two randoms that just met to get jiggy with it in the bed underneath you. Angry and tired I shouted at the drunken pair and dubbed the guy ‘Three Pump Wander’ before jumping into Irfan’s bed to attempt to get some sleep.
Before I move on – If you are in a shared room, show at least SOME politeness. Coming in STINKING of alcohol at 2am, shagging a random stranger, and snoring like a drowning pig just isn’t really ok. Shared dorm or not.
Anyway, rant over!
Walking down the long path into the main part of town was lovely. Last night all we had seen was darkness, but today we were surrounded by mountains.
Taking in our beautiful surroundings we ended up at a small cafe for breakfast . Two cold coffee’s and two panini’s consumed – we headed back to the hostel and awaited our pick-up. Pick-up for what? I hear you ask…
The rest of the day was spent eating, dipping our feet into lake Bled and long walks around the lake.
Today was reserved for rest and relaxation.
A great plan… However, me and Irfan are absolutely crap at resting and relaxing. It’s just not fun enough. We did give it a good shot. We planned to go swimming in Lake Bled, before realising that it’s just too expensive to be worth it with all the kids that were running around.
Instead we sat by the water with our feet dipped in. The water was so clear that the fish could be seen swimming around no matter how deep they went.
A good 2 hours of soaking our feet later we decided that this just wouldn’t do. We jumped on the next bus to Bohinij Lake. We had heard that it was bigger, colder, and most importantly, it was free of charge.
Double checking that we had packed our snorkel we paid the small fee to get to Bohinij and settled in for the hour drive through the picturesque mountains to get there.
Arriving at Bohinij we immediately realised that it was severely underrated. This wasn’t a problem as it mean that the crowds were small, and finding our own private piece of beach was easy. We dumped our bags in a small spot of grass and waded out into the water.
IT WAS FREEZING!
Irfan plunged straight in whilst I flapped about like an idiot in shock for a good five minutes. Eventually I put my snorkel on and began to forget about the cold as hundreds of tiny fish came to inspect us.
As today was a special holiday in Slovenia we had to be vigilant with bus timings. This meant that we had to leave slightly earlier than we would have planned. Luckily we had enough time to fully enjoy the waters before we had to come back. With nowhere to change our clothes we assisted each other in towel holding before setting off up the pathway back to Bled for the evening.
We spent the evening as we had done the day before, exploring, eating, laughing, talking and dipping our feet in the lake. The next day we would head back to Ljubljana.
Our last day in Slovenia had been left clear for us to buy souvenirs, explore a little more, and eat more pizza.
Today we decided that we had become ‘human carbs’ despite this we opted for more carbs. The main issue we had found with Slovenia, was that unless you wanted to pay extortionate amounts for fine dining, you were stuff with cheap fast food. There didn’t seem to be a middle ground.
Today we wanted to see the things that we hadn’t seen in the night time during our initial visit. In the day time Ljubljana was alive with musicians and street performers. e sat a while watching them all and taking them in before moving to the next act.
Not wanting to pay for a taxi to the bus station we (stupidly) decided to walk to the station where our GoOpti driver would collect us. The walk felt like a 4 hour hike in 32 degree heat with our backpacks on. In reality the walk was 1.5 hours . On the bright side, we didn’t fee like ‘Walking Carbs’ by the time we got there. We waved goodbye to Slovenia as we headed back to Venice for our final few days of adventure.
We had fallen for Slovenia. The people had been incredibly welcoming and friendly. The scenery, caves, horses, sites… It was all amazing. Perhaps we may just come back.
Wanting to experience something different whilst in Bled, Slovenia I proposed the idea of Horse riding to Irfan. Excited to become the next John Wayne he agreed it was an excellent idea.
“You’ll ache so much” people warned us.
“You won’t want to do anything the next day, so make sure you have time to recover.” others advised.
Blissfully ignorant to the aches and pains of riding a horse, Irfan and I continued to live in the dream. The dream that we would be galloping around the mountains on our beautiful mustangs, reins in one hand, cowboy hat in the other, and slow-mo trotting in amongst the trees.
I had booked the experience online with 3GlavAdventures prior to leaving the UK. At just 50 Euros each for over an hour of riding we would have been silly not to have booked the experience. I found the adventure company via random Google searches. The reviews looked good, the prices were reasonable, and the horses looked well cared for. With no booking fee to worry about I booked it and paid the invoice a few days later.
Communication before the activity was great. We were both notified by text as to when the driver would come and collect us. When he was running late we received another update. The driver that came to pick us up was chatty and friendly, and turned out to be the son of the farmer that owned the horses.
He transported us up towards the mountains that formed the backdrop to our walk into the centre of Bled until we reached a small farm.
Jumping out of the car we were greeted by the owner of the horses. He encouraged us to say hello to the horses so that they knew who we were before straddling their backs and whisking them uphill.
Shortly after arriving another couple arrived to complete our party of 4. Knowing that the riding group was small which was a relief. With just 4 of us taking part it was nice to know that the two instructors would have their full attention on us if anything were to go wrong. Now came the horse assignments.
Irfan was given Tim – Tim was an elderly grey with lazy tendencies and a handsome head of white hair. He was also notoriously stubborn, strong willed, and would remain at the back of the line throughout the journey.
I was assigned to Charlie – Charlie was a big brown beauty with a tendency to stop and eat anything and any given time. If you let him have his head, the chances were that he would be bending down to find food.
Time to Ride
Without any teaching we were hoisted up onto the horses. Instinctively (and i’m sure thanks to watching many movies with horses in) we all grabbed the reins, tapped the horses side with our feet and began to walk out of the farm.
Whilst exiting the farm we were instructed on how to turn the horse by pulling the reins one way or another. Having ridden this path many times it was highly unlikely that the horses would decide to go off course, or be diverted by our terrible riding skills.
Entering the main road locals and tourists stared at us. Children waved, and cars slowed to allow us to pass. Ten minutes or so later we approached a steep rocky hill. We all seemed to stare at our horses for a moment in fear that we may fall off backwards. “You’ve got this Charlie” I encouraged him.
Our trusty steeds made it up the steep pass and onto the small town road. As we all began to feel comfortable the horse leading the group began to trot. Our horses followed and the results were hysterical. The other girl in our group let out a little scream, Irfan and I clung on for dear life, and the other guy nervously laughed as we all bounced up and down.
We were given a quick lesson on how to rise up in the saddle and fall back into the saddle. This was not easy.
Stopping for a drink
Following our little uncontrollable trot we wound up in a huge lush green field. The horses knew that this was feeding time. We gave the horses their heads and they all began to feast. Nearby stood a small restaurant, and out of it came a smiling woman with a silver tray. Approaching us without a second thought she raised the tray beside me offering me a shot.
Despite not being a lover of alcohol I took the shot in good spirit. I was definitely allergic to the berries at the bottom of the glass, but not wanting to offend I drank the fruit concoction. “Nazdravyeah” (not the correct spelling) we all said attempting to sound Slovenian.
Handing the glasses back to the lady it was time for us to move on. We continued out scenic walk up to a small lake. Here, the leader of the group jumped off his horse before offering to take photographs of us all. This was unexpected but appreciated. After all, there’s only so many pictures you can take of the back of a horses head.
The leader jumped back on his horse and led us up a small pathway and then down into a shallow stream. The thought of our horses navigating the rocks and slippery surface was scary. Once again reassured Charlie as the others reassured their horses. Luckily for us they were all sure footed and to reward them we stood a while in the cool stream and allowed the horses to cool off and take a drink.
Back We Go
The stream had sufficiently cooled our horses down but now it was time for some more sight seeing. We had been riding for a while now, and the stirrups were beginning to ache our feet. It was also becoming clear that our bottoms were bonier than we first thought, and why cowboys seem to walk with their legs so far apart.
This was that aching feeling that we were warned about.
Exploring through the trees up in the hills we all became a little cocky and begun taking selfies here and there. Everyone managed to keep hold of their phones, but decided that horse riding was best done with two hands on the reins.
The horses completed a loop of the undergrowth before heading back to the lush fields. This time we were to walk through the fields without stopping for a a snack. Charlie and Tim however had clearly not agreed to this plan and both begun fighting for their reins to be let loose. Being the push overs that we are, Irfan and I let the reins go and allowed them another quick snack before catching up with the rest of the group.
The road back was beautiful and sad. Heading back to the farm meant that our time with Charlie, Tim, and the others was almost up. We could have spent another hour and a half at least riding through the hills. The roads were clear so we all had another go at moving a little faster. We had still not perfected the rise and fall motion, but it was fun trying, if not painful.
The end is Neigh
Arriving back at the farm we dismounted our horses. “Oh my gosh” exclaimed the other two riders holding their knees. Still atop of my horse I looked at them confused. There was nothing wrong with my knees… I jumped down from Charlie. “Ouch my knees!” I joined in. Somehow our knees had all begun to ache. This was extremely strange as the only pain we had felt throughout the whole journey was in our butts and our ankles!
We all stood on the ground a while and stretched our legs to relieve the aching. We now believed that we would ache the next day, but not from using our muscles, instead it would be from the bouncing and our bones clattering against the saddle.
We had all formed a bond with them over the past few hours and notably sad to be leaving them. Whilst the incredible father and son duo de-saddled the horses and took two of them inside Irfan and I stayed a while longer to stroke and thank the horses (as you do) for being gracious hosts. An adorable stable kitten came to say hi as the horses were allowed to run freely around the farm fields.
It was time to go. We reluctantly got back in the car and drove away from this incredible place. As we stared back out of the window Tim dropped to the ground and began happily writhing and rolling around on the cold grass putting on a mini show as we departed.
We were dropped back at our hostel and were left wanting to take up horseriding as a permanent hobby.
The entire experience was fantastic and really made an impression on us. Bled is beautiful, but even more so when being seen from horseback.
The horses were well cared for, the price was fair, and the owners were friendly.
Booking the riding was made easy by excellent communication, and the spot of wine made for a very uplifting afternoon.
Friday: Hoping to spend as much time as possible in Belgium we set off on the Eurostar on Friday night from London St. Pancras. With French border control in a pleasant mood I was able to obtain a brand new stamp in the passport. Begging is required.
We arrived promptly in Brussels Midi Station. Feeling tired and ready for bed we headed straight for the metro. A short ride later we were in Louise, and (overestimating my map reading skills) headed down the Long main road towards the hotel… Or so I thought.
Louise by night was a pleasant walk. Charming street lamps, modest nightlife, and high end shops made the walk bearable.
45 minutes of walking later it was clear that I had made a mistake. What should have been a 5 minute walk had taken us 2 miles in the wrong direction. With help from a couple of friendly local women we were put back on track and finally arrived at our hotel – Beau Site.
The man on the reception desk was entirely helpful and welcoming, just what we needed after having dragged our bags around the city. We jumped in the lift, went in the room, took one look at the beds and crashed.
The walk that should not have taken 45minutes.
Saturday morning: Rising early we sat down to a big breakfast before setting out on foot to explore Brussels.
Taking our bags with us to save having to go back to the hotel, we grabbed the tram to go and see the Royal Palace of Brussels and it’s gardens.
With the temperature soaring we lingered just long enough to take in the scenery, some selfies, and sun rays. We then crossed the road and began exploring the surrounding gardens. The gardens were lovely. The statues were interesting, the ducks were swimming in the ponds, and the trees offered shade in the sweltering heat. Approaching the Government Office we made a left and headed for St Michael’s cathedral.
St. Michael’s Cathedral is free to enter with the option to make a donation if you would like to. The interior architecture is a beaut. Walking around you can see why it has taken a decade to renovate. The stain glass windows, statues, and gothic style walls are well worth heading inside for.
If you prefer to observe from the outside take a seat on one of the benches in the park opposite and take in its immense size.
By the afternoon Brussels had become rather busy and London-esque, we decided to walk to the Central Station just 3 minutes away and head to Bruges.
With trains departing regularly to Bruges there is never any rush to make the next train. We grabbed a quick snack for the journey and hopped aboard the 50 minute train.
Arriving in Bruges it was clear that we had two options. Taxi or bus. Not wanting a repeat of Louise we opted for a taxi to our hotel ‘Hotel de Pauw’ for 14 euros.
The hotel stands opposite a small church which made navigating there was easy. We checked in, dumped our bags, and started exploring.
Strolling down the river we came across a giant blue whale made from recycled plastic by fluke. The whale is a sad yet true poignant reminder of how our oceans are being destroyed by plastic pollution.
We found ourselves sitting and staring at the whale for a good twenty minutes before continuing on our way towards the market town.
The market square is the perfect place to spend a half day shopping, eating, and exploring. The road leading to the tower are full of restaurants and so we sat down to an early dinner/late lunch.
Feeling full we continued down the road towards the market square where we were greeted with an impressive view of the tower.
We spent to rest of the evening looking around. Walking under the tower gives you an insight into just why Bruges has its UNESCO status. The history museum (the pictured building on the left with the flags) is great for all ages. We even discovered a virtual reality gaming room if you walk straight through the museum to the other side.
After buying some souvenirs we continued to explore the surrounding streets until we needed up in another square. During the summer months free concerts are held in Bruges. Luckily today was one of those days so we grabbed a bench, enjoyed the music, and soaked in the wonderful buildings surrounding the stage. Eventually the heat got the better of us and we headed back towards the river to chill out and then onto the hotel for a well earned sleep. As we walked through the town there was a notable quietness. It seems that everyone hangs around the main square. This wasn’t a problem, but it was eerily silent.
With an early check-out time we rose early and filled up on yet another continental breakfast. With no solid plans for the day I nabbed a couple of bread rolls to feed to the ducks on the river on the way through.
We checked out, took one last look at our church across the road, and went to wake up a little more by the river.
With the swans and ducks of Bruges fed, we decided to head back to Brussels. The quick bus ride back to the station gave just enough time to plan what we were to do in Brussels until our 8pm departure back to England.
We finalised our plans on the train to Brussels. We were going to see the Royal Palace.
After the quietness of Brugge the centre of Brussels was a shock to the system with people flying everywhere. Not wanting to hang around in crowds we marched out of the station and followed the signs for the palace.
There it was! A ten minute walk from the station. Whilst you can go into the palace we opted to admire it from the outside instead picking a nearby restaurant for lunch.
Despite being an obvious trap for tourists we were pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices and large portions. Belgians sure do make an excellent club sandwich!
With our time short we used our last hours people watching, art scanning, and statue observing., before heading back to Midi-Station to await the Eurostar home…
There is something about visiting UNESCO World Heritage sites that gives me, and millions of other around the world, a sense of accomplishment.
Whether you’re stood face to face with a pile of rocks wondering why exactly you came all that way to look at rocks, or staring up at an incredible statue that you’ll never forget, UNESCO sites come in all shapes and sizes.
First: A list of the UNESCO sites I have been to, some tips, and thoughts.
The Grand Palace is exactly that… grand. Its enormous size leaves the tallest of people feeling small. Perfectly positioned chocolate shops make the palace a must see when in Belgium. If not for the palace, then for the love of all things sweet.
Historic Centre of Brugge
Brugge is an enchanting little place. The jagged roofed buildings are unlike any you will see at home (unless you live there of course). The quirky small design features dotted around town are amusing and offer contant details that will enthuse your wanderlust. The market square is packed with tourists but a lovely site with yummy restaurants.
The Bridge itself is beautiful, and once you understand its significance in the country’s history its beauty only grows. The old city of Mostar is generally one of the friendliest and most interesting UNESCO sites I have had the pleasure of visiting.
We visited this UNESCO site by absolute fluke. It was dark, we had just stepped off of a long bus ride, and in all honesty, the bridge was just another bridge to us. Perhaps if we knew it was a UNESCO site we may have embraced it a little more.
The list for France is super long with 44 sites! So I won’t put it all here. However, it turns out that we visited all of the UNESCO sites in Paris whilst there. The bulk of the sites were architectural. If I were to return I think I would aim for some of the natural sites.
Belem was a pleasant surprise for us. Being just a short tram journey away from Lisbon makes visiting this quaint tower relatively easy. The nearby park is large and houses a random piece of Chinese architecture. Ice cream shops make the day fly past as you relax in the shade admiring the Monastery and the Tower.
This Historic town is quaint, pretty and well… quiet. I understand why visually this little town is on the list, but any longer than a day here and it’s easy to take its beauty for granted as you struggle to find things to do that don’t involve booze and food.
Well deserving of it’s UNESCO status, the crater attracts many backpackers, families, and solo travellers alike. The animals within the crater are incredible to behold. The Masai communities are welcoming, and assist you in having an unforgettable experience.
If you’ve been in Tanzania for a while – roaming around it’s conservation areas – you may find Kilimanjaro National Park to be slightly less thrilling. That is, unless, you only really came to view Kilimanjaro. If that is the case, you’re in luck. If mountains are your thing, Kilimanjaro National Park will blow the other Parks out of the water.
So I’ve never actually been up close with Stonehenge, but I’ve driven past it so much I refuse to pay money just to actually get out of my car. I guess if you love rocks then it’s worth the high payment fee to get in.
If serenity is what you need then look no further. The dense foliage, incredible rural landscape, and wild horses make the Lake District nothing less than enchanting. You probably aren’t supposed to feed the horses…
Kayaking, Canoeing, Swimming, Paddling, rock formations, and so much more! Ha Long Bay is an excellent half day trip. You can choose your route and select a ferry to ensure you have the experience that you want.
Flying into Berlin is a pain free, quick, and easy process that is truly reflective of that good old stereotypical German efficiency .
Shame about the train stations… The train stations that baffle and bewilder many a tourist ruin the efficiency illusion in an instant and, if you don’t speak German, will have you wishing that you had listened more in German class (if you even had the option to learn it).
Unless you have arranged a pickup, I strongly recommend that you research the route to your chosen destination BEFORE you get on the plane. If you are staying in Berlin then you will probably find that the S Bahn is your best option. Type your route into google maps and print it before you leave home. Google maps has a tendency to be rather incredible without shoving your stupidness in your face.
When to go:
Berlin is a city that can be visited all year round with no real limitations to activities due to weather conditions. Just bare in mind that if you want to climb a tall building (because there are so many here) to get a great view, this is not going to happen when it’s poring with rain or foggy outside.
Remember that Sunday afternoons and public holidays can be quieter, with many museums and shops being closed.
The currency is Euro. Berlin can be expensive in and around popular tourist sites. Despite this, it is easy enough to find cheap food if you venture into the suburbs. Kebab shops, burger stops and chippies are never more than a five minute pace away.
The Sbhan is the easiest way around the city. If underground trains aren’t for you then grab a map and explore on foot. Many attractions are close to each other so you shouldn’t have to walk too far between sights. Typical to most European cities, Berlin’s inhabitants do fall prey to telling tourists that “it’s too far to walk” and that they should “take the train because it’s faster and easier”. At least once I challenge you to ignore the nice citizen and go on foot to see if it really is too far. And if come back and it was too far… Well, I’m sorry and I’m sure you made memories that made it worth it anyway right!?
Things to do:
Reichstag dome – Tickets must be purchased online in advance of your visit or you will be refused entry. Allow 15-20 minutes to get through the quick security checks before you enter. Upon entering through the mini airport security you will be transported by an elevator up into the huge dome that sits on top of the reichstag. Audio guides are free and automatically feed you information as you scale higher and higher into the sky. If you are scared of heights you may want to think twice as the majority of the dome is glass, so not looking down is not really an option!
Brandenburg Gate & Around – The gate is situated near some of Berlin’s other main sights and is usually tourist heavy. Before heading here have a walk through the Jewish Monument situated a ten minute walk away. Both the gate and the monument make a big impression at night when the lights come on.
It is almost impossible to go to Berlin and not learn a little about the history it possesses. Going down to see the remaining wall is an interesting visit along with Checkpoint Charlie (be warned that it gets very crowded with tourists), and free museums such as the Topographie des Terror (a highlight of our trip).
Not so central – Venturing out of the centre is highly recommended. Just in the train and explore outer Berlin for some spectacular sights and entertaining things to do. Parks, museums, and more are easy to find.
A place to stay:
If you are looking for a decent place to stay then Plus Berlin Hostel is great. The hostel is by far the biggest hostel I’ve ever stayed in, and with a swimming pool, family friendly rooms, common rooms, restaurant, gardens and even its own art exhibition,it’s as though this hostel made love to a hotel and produced this huge beast. Staying in a dorm here was strange. The rooms were cleaned daily with cute chocolate pieces left on your pillow. Fresh towels were on the foot of the bed when you came back from a days adventures ( see! Just like a hotel right). The pool was a great addition. On one of the days when it was raining we opted for a swimming session which was totally worth it. The food was reasonable for dinner, and the all you can eat breakfast buffet was delicious. Every smart traveller knows – get up a little later and make the buffet a brunch instead of a breakfast for optimum money saving.
Vibes- The general vibe in Berlin is a friendly yet equally standoffish vibe. Kind of like London but with less rushing and more chit chatting. An example of the humour and lightheartedness of Berlin was when I asked a guy if he would take a photo of us. He joked saying that he could not… I didn’t get the joke and stood apologising for even asking, embarrassed. My boyfriend, the comedian, and his friend found it hilarious and laughed at my expression.
Bears, green men, and red women-
If you really pay attention to your surroundings you will notice things that people often miss. Sadly for the unobservant (and I’ve asked around) many people return from Berlin having not seen a single bear statue. Considering its significance here it is sad that they have not one photo or memory of seeing one. Sadly, these same people also have no idea what I’m taking about when I ask them what they thought of the traffic light people. They stare at me blankly… “There are entire shops dedicated to the little people inside the traffic lights! How could you miss them?!” It turns out they just weren’t looking hard enough. Therefore, my recommendation is to pay close attention.
Berlin for me is a standard city of art, culture, history, business and pleasure. Personal preference sways me to feel no real urge to return. A controversial feeling I am aware. Personally, having seen Potsdam, Dresden and Bonn I find that I prefer these smaller jewels for reasons of which I’m not quite sure. But why does it matter? Make up your own mind and get to travelling!