Panama was my final Central American country as I had visited the others in my Best of Central America tour, starting in Costa Rica exactly a year ago today! (Check it out here).
I spent 4 days solo in Panama City in Feb 2019. Panama City is the capital city, is generally safe and has a very cosmopolitan feel to it with international banks and high rise hotels juxtaposed with the beautiful colonial old town and neighbourhoods in between.
I flew into Panama’s Tocumen International Airport (the largest airport in Central America) via Avianca, with a short layover in Bogota, Colombia. It is then easy and cheap to get into the city centre via Uber.
I stayed in Tryp by Wyndham Panama Centro which is a lovely hotel and affordably boujee (£165 for 4 nights). It has a free rooftop pool, sauna and gym, happy hour drinks deals and breakfast which you can pay extra for. The views of Panama city from the rooftop (and my bedroom) were worth the money alone. From my previous posts, you’ll see that I often stay in hostels and this is a good idea especially when solo travelling. But I really fancied treating myself this time which is needed every so often!
Exploring Panama City and beyond
*Interesting fact* This is where the old town was relocated after the original one (Panama Viejo) was attacked by English Pirate Henry Morgan!
It has the classic Spanish colonial feel to it and is also where most of the best bars and restaurants in town are located. From my hotel, I took the metro to 5 de Mayo and walked to the Old town. The area surrounding this metro station is apparently dodgy (I learnt this afterwards ha) so just be streetwise in the day.
Just by the station, you’ll find the Afro Antillean Musuem which looks like a small black American church. It’s $1 entry and explains the 2 waves of black migration into Panama and how the difficulties they faced in society.
My tour started at Plaza de Santa Ana, a square which was previously used as a market and for bullfights before it became a park. There’s a church and park benches but not much else was happening so I quickly moved on.
From here, I ended up by the coast where you could see the city centre skyline across the canal and were surrounded by more beautiful greenery.
Cathedral Plaza houses La Cathedral Metropolitana (the main cathedral in the city) plus open markets where you may see dance performances. The cathedral is open to enter for free and has an important shrine dedicated to Saint Mary of La Antigua (the Patroness of Panama).
Other places nearby to check out are: the beautiful yellow Palacio Bolívar and the church next to it, Iglesia de la Compania de Jesús, Arco Chato (the Flat Arch) and as many pretty side streets and colonial buildings as you like! The beauty of this area can be appreciated just by strolling and taking it all in.
This is probably the most visited tourist attraction in the city and rightly so. It connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean across the isthmus of Panama, which makes the location key for transporting goods. Crossing the Panama Canal means a ship crosses these seas in 8-10 hours as opposed to almost 2 weeks it would take to go around the continent!
I visited Miraflores Lock which is one of 3 locks of the Canal which costs $20 for adults. The visit includes a museum which explains how the Canal was built and the struggle that Panama faced to gain authority over it from the US. There were a lot of workers brought in from the Caribbean and other parts of the world and the devastation faced with tropical diseases and fighting for their rights to be in Panama after the Canal was completed is interesting to learn about.
There is also a cinema showing a short film which looks at the development of the Canal through children’s eyes during the different Ages.
The ideal thing to see whilst here is the actual passing of ships through the Canal. It happens in the morning and the afternoon but I found it hard to tell online exactly when they passed. I caught the afternoon one which started at 1.30pm. It was amazing to see the process in real time and how different sized ships go through.
This 25 minute hike will take you to a great view over the city. It’s free to go up and there’s a house turned café for tourists which sells drinks, snacks and offers toilets if needed. Due to its location, it’s a good place to combine with your Panama Canal trip (as your ticket for the Canal allows re-entry. So if you arrive and the boats aren’t due to come for another couple of hours, this is a great way to break up the day).
The original old city of Panama which was the first settlement of Spanish on the Pacific Coast. Due to poor defences, it was attacked by pirates and abandoned for Casco Viejo.
It’s $20 to enter and you visit the museum and ruins (including those of the cathedral) around the site. I enjoyed the museum a lot as it’s super interactive and takes you through life of Native Panamanians, how this changed with subsequent invasions and it touches on the Canal too.
San Blas Islands
These paradise islands, officially known as Guna Yala can be visited on a day trip or overnight trips. I chose a day trip as I only had 4 days here and wanted to maximise my time. The day is tiring so overnight trips is an option if you want to relax more!
There is a lot of flexibility with booking as it can be done via your accommodation a couple of days before you go. The tour consists of an initial car ride to the sea which takes an hour an a half in a 4×4 due to the roughness of the road. You need to bring your passport as there is a checkpoint where it’ll be checked.
You then go on a boat ride to visit the different islands. We visited 3 islands including Isla Perro Grande where we spent the most time, enjoyed fresh fruits including coconuts and the sea. My favourite part of the day was being in the ocean where we spotted beautiful starfishes (estrellas del mar).
The Guna Yala flag has a black swastika on it which is confusing at first and I was on the trip with a group of Jewish girls so didn’t know what to say. But it’s important to know that their Revolution occurred 94 years ago and so obviously has a completely different meaning.
Food and drink
Tántalo – this is a great place for lunch, dinner, happy hour rooftop drinks and a night out! The bar and kitchen is attached to a hostel in Casco Viejo and a must visit for one of the above. I had lunch here and also attended the Wednesday night Latin night which was a lot of fun.
El Trapiche – I had an incredible breakfast here called desayuno centario (flour fritter topped with fried eggs, pork cracklings, grated cheese and creole sauce) as below.
Arepas Vía España– generous portions of chicken, rice, plantain and salad for $6!
New York Café – for amazing breakfasts. I had the pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage and watermelon juice which was filling and fairly priced. I have to say, all the fresh juices in Panama are to die for!
Everyone recommends Hard Rock Café for a drink and great views over Panama City. I didn’t go as my hotel offered the same views but it’s one to check out if you’re staying elsewhere!
Useful tips for Panama
Although Panama has its own currency (Panamanian Balboa), it is like for like with the US dollar. Meaning you can pay in dollars (paper and coins)..you may be given change back as a mixture of the 2. Card payments all appear as USD.
Uber is your friend when it comes to getting around! It’s so cheap and all the drivers are lovely. Although there is a metro system, it’s not very extensive or leads you to walk though less populated areas and I felt this was a safer option, particularly at night.
And finally little bit of Spanish goes a long way! I think this is a great Central American country to solo travel around for all the above reasons so check it out and let me know what you think!
One of the important factors in deciding where your favourite place you’ve travelled to is how much love you felt there. This love can come from those you travelled with, the locals you meet or even just the general feeling in the air.
I reached out to some incredible bloggers that I follow to share their experiences of where they felt love around world and I guarantee this will give you some travel inspo for 2019!
1. A home away from home
Abi and Lulu on New York, USA:
It’s no secret that our hearts have been firmly captivated by this particular concrete jungle. We defend it as if we were Mayor. As Croydon (South London) natives, we get more than enough postcode war practice so we’ll never take a bad word against the Bronx, our honorary home borough, lying down.
Our winter 2014 visit stirred a raging internal warmth that we have found incredibly hard to match from anywhere else. Our summer 2016 visit exuded a vibe so tantalising that two weeks just wasn’t enough. We found ourselves being our happiest selves in NYC, and try to bring these versions of us home and everywhere else we travel to.
New York, why do we love you? Let us count the ways – well, we already have and we struggled to cut our list down to 10. Our fondest travel memories were birthed at your core, our big sweet cinnamon apple. Until we meet again, our love!
Jenna on Jamaica:
In 2013, I travelled back to one of my countries, the beautiful Island of Jamaica 🇯🇲. I had not been back for sometime now, so you can imagine the level of excitement that I was feeling.
From the moment I stepped out of the airport and felt the hot sun ☀️ and cool breeze serenade my skin, I knew my time in Jamaica was going to be amazing.
The love I received in Jamaica was real. From the warm embrace I received from my family to the smiles exchanged with strangers in the streets. Home was happy to have me and I was even happier to be there. It is always a nice feeling to come back to your country and feel the love from the people. Jamaica has been the only country that I have ever visited that makes me cry like a baby when I leave, lol.
2. Being more accepted in previously challenging environments
Johnny on Dublin, Ireland:
It’s up there when I think of the warmth, kindness and genuity its natives showed me. From my Airbnb hosts, fellow travellers I befriended when sightseeing, the bartenders who served me at the local bar to the old man who blocked me from crossing the road so that I wasn’t hit by oncoming traffic.
The city never failed in educating me about its history and delivering on the hospitality front. This is all despite Dublin actually having a pretty dark history that includes its war for independence, many of its residents living in sub-standard conditions around that time and suffering from slavery (something me as a black man can strongly empathise with).
The icing on the cake was the cloudless sunny weekend when I visited. I’d say the sun shining on the city alone epitomises that Dublin and the Irish in general look past the darkness and live in hope looking forward.
Ibby on Portugal:
Out of 39 countries I’ve visited, I felt the most love here in 2017. I’d been to Portugal before and was discriminated against so my attitude towards the country was mostly negative.
Trying out one of my hobbies this time allowed me to experience Portugal in a fun, exciting way. I was my happy, bubbly self, mingling and meeting new people. I made friends with the opposing teams through bantering and shared helpful tips on focusing on individuality outside of the competitive game.
My personality was noticed by the organisers and recognised for my contributions as I received a lot of love from opposing teammates. The cherry on top was my team went undefeated and won. At the end of the tournament, I bonded with a local who took me around his hometown, showing me some hidden gems.
For anyone reading this piece, I would definitely recommend meeting people who have similar interests and passions abroad.
Kim on Nashville, USA:
A few years ago, my friends and I were in need of a new adventure. So, we packed up a car and drove from Atlanta to Nashville. While there, we stuffed our faces with hot chicken, danced at the best music joints, and even experienced something new together: zip lining.
However, we also faced conspicuous eye rolls on the street and went to flea markets decorated with Confederate flags. No one said anything to us, but they didn’t need to. Being from The South (of the US), we were familiar with this dance. However, it was on this trip that I felt the most loved.
I can’t tell you if Nashville has changed, but the bond between my friends and I did. We leaned on each other and mustered up collective gusto to enjoy ourselves. For us, this trip was about attempting new things and creating unforgettable memories—which is exactly what we did.
3. Love from the locals
Dineo on Mexico:
I recently spent 54 days here and it’s really one of the happiest places in the world. When I travel, I love to interact with locals and make friends along the way. The people in Mexico made my time truly memorable because they have a simple recipe to happiness – a large dose of social contact.
In Playa Del Carmen, I met two girls randomly at a bar. We instantly got along and danced the night away like we had been friends for years, I felt love then and still do now.
I never thought I’d fall in love with a place like I did with the island of Cozumel. The locals are happy, laid back and take life as it comes. They are also helpful and didn’t hesitate to give directions to top beaches or suggestions for the best food.
Mexico is officially one of my favourite countries in the world because I felt the love at every place I explored.
With a lifestyle that sees me jetting off on the weekly, I’ve met ALOT of people around the world. I recently went on my first safari in Kruger National Park…everyone had been SO friendly but just as I was wheeling out my Barbie pink suitcase, the love was taken to a whole new level.
One of the ladies who worked in housekeeping at The Outpost Lodge caught eyes with me, shared her beaming smile, I thanked her for looking after us, she picked me up off the floor, squeezed and twirled me around. Then excitedly she asked me how The Queen was and her grandchildren. She told us about Prince Harry and Megan’s wedding, the drama BTS from one of the hotel’s magazine and had a million further questions about the royal family. She left me with another massive hug, humming on her way and we left The Outpost Lodge on a crazy high feeling SO loved.
Gary on Paris, France:
Tolu on Dominican Republic:
People always talk about the Caribbean hospitality being second to none and my girls trip to Punta Cana in the beautiful Dominican Republic confirmed this. The people there have such big hearts and were happy to help in any way they could.
On an excursion, we made friends with some of the locals who showed us the ‘real’ Punta Cana and we ended up spending a few nights out with them! It’s not often that you go away and stay in touch with the people you met whilst on holiday but that was the case for some of us. That alongside some of the amazing days out we had puts it up there as one of the countries I fell in love with.
4. When strangers become friends
Pelumi on Athens, Greece:
We had just finished a 2 hour walking tour under the sun and I felt so dehydrated, not help by the fact that the lady issue began at that exact moment. I thought I was going to pass out.
Fenia my walking tour guide (an absolutely blessing) walked all the way to the pharmacy to get some pain killers whilst two total stranger from the tour group tried to keep my hydrated and fanned me. I felt like a princess in distress (lol). She came back with some pain killers and called a taxi for me to take me back to the hotel to get some rest.
Feeling a lot better that evening we met up at The National Observatory of Athens for a night tour to watch the stars. We have maintained our friendship to this date.
Davida on Paris, France:
There was Sergio, the Serbian guy whose house we gathered in for endless laughs over hot meals. Charles the Californian who was a kindred wanderer-in-chief, ever ready for arty walks and random happenings in the city. Jamaican sistren, Hanni, who was the embodiment of fashion and faith, always turning heads with her admirable style.
Greek ladies, Maria and Valia, whose infectious energy made everything seem like an adventure from the inside of their warm hearts. American pastor, Ginger, who brought a sense of humour and compassion on Tuesdays when the Christians got together for pizza and prayers.
And then there was me, the Ghanaian Londoner who brought Jollof rice to the potluck while we got our fill of culture and cuisine. We were a motley crew making memories in a new city, thrown together from all walks of life. But for one magical moment in time, we were family – and Paris was ours.
5. And one of the best feelings ever…being surrounded by love when in love!
Stefan and Sebastien on Key West:
One of the places we fell in love with when travelling was South Florida, particularly Key West. It’s super relaxed, Bohemian and very gay friendly.
There is a terrific gay scene here with bars like 801 Bourbon, Bourbon St Pub and Aqua. They have hilarious drag shows and famous local drag queens to look out for like “Miss Sushi” and “Randy Roberts”.
Key West also has many gay hotels, Island House being the most famous, which is also a day spa with a fun pool party on Sundays.
The stand out highlight for us in Key West, which we loved the most are the stunning sunsets that you see every evening. So much so, that there’s a “Sunset Celebration” at Mallory Square each evening where people gather to watch the sunset and enjoy the street performers.
Tenesia and Terence on Aruba:
One of our trips where we felt a ton of love was Aruba! Not necessarily love towards each other (which there was that too), but love from the people! After visiting, we understand why they call Aruba ‘The Happy Island’—it really is a happy place!
Everyone we met there was friendly and helpful. From our Airbnb host giving us a cell phone and a million recommendations to go, to a random guy we met at a wine bar giving us lessons on vaping and having a conversation with us that turned into hours! Even the guy we rented UTVs from gave us recommendations on places to go and what to see!
All the love we received from the locals made us love Aruba even more!! We would definitely recommend it as a destination for anyone who needs/wants to be surrounded by good vibes! xoxo
Travelling makes you truly appreciate the things on your doorstep. As much as we loved Scotland’s beauty, we weren’t so keen on its weather. Having both grown up loving the idea of travelling, we couldn’t wait to explore the rest of the world. We have travelled to over 20 countries together and since then, our appreciation for our beautiful home country has never been greater.
Those views we used to plan to escape from are some of the most beautiful in the world. Loch Lomond is a popular stop on a Scottish road trip as the gateway to Glencoe and the Highlands. The mountains have been there for millions of years, and will be enjoyed for millions of years to come.
During the toughest times of our University years, they provided perspective. No matter how big you think your problems are, this landscape reminds you how insignificant they are.
These lands will always have a place in our hearts.
The Matthews on Ghana:
It was Christmas Eve when we arrived. As we descended the stairs of the aircraft, the warmth of the Ghanaian air kissed our cheeks. The locals in the airport cheerfully greeted us; AKWAABA! This was much more than a welcome, it symbolized acceptance of foreign customs, friendliness and cooperation. It really was setting the tone for what would be the trip of a lifetime.
Throughout our visit in Ghana, we were made to feel Royal; the accommodations, food, music and experiences all brought on a feeling of HOME. It was the most mystical vibe to feel so connected to a place we were visiting for the first time.
The river of love was overflowing; so much that on New Years Eve, hubby asked for my hand in marriage. This was the beginning of two becoming ONE.
Ghana, we love you because you first loved us!
November 2018 was the month that I finally visited an Asian country. This coincided with my first blogversary of Road2culturedom so I’m glad that I celebrated this way!
Thailand is the typical gateway country to South East Asia so it made sense for me to start here. Due to the flight distance from the UK and incredible prices once you’re there, people will visit for 2 weeks minimum. 1 Thai Baht was worth about 0.04 pounds at the time of travelling so this is great for all budgets. I only had a week’s holiday left for the year and decided to go anyways because no one ever did Thailand in one trip!
I flew with Air China from Heathrow which has a short layover in China before landing in Bangkok. The flights were fairly cheap at £350 return. Thai airways does fly directly if you are willing to part with another £200. Download the app “Grab” for the best taxi prices from the airport and around town.
We spent just under 2 days here, staying at Onion Hostel for one night. It’s central, basic, clean and “breakfast” was included – in reality it was toast and tea! We were next to the flower market, night markets as well as a KFC, Starbucks and Boots.
In Thailand, the word for a temple is “Wat” and there are so many Buddhist temples to choose from in each city. Make sure that you’re covered up before you go (long loose trousers or long skirts/maxis and a scarf to cover your shoulders. In a few cases, a t-shirt is preferred). If you end up not being appropriately dressed, check out the markets down the road for cover ups.
Wat Pho is the first temple we visited and it’s 100 baht for entry. It’s one of the oldest temples in the city and is classed as a high grade royal temple. It was the first public university in Thailand, is home to the Thai school of medicine and is where the traditional Thai massage began! Within the temple complex, you’ll find various buildings including:
Chedis – usually conical shape but they can vary. They are the most sacred structure within the temple complex, containing relics of Buddha or shrines of Kings or monks. There are many beautiful chedis throughout the courtyard here.
Bot – ordination hall where Monks are ordained and other temple rituals occur here.
Viharns – these are assembly halls. Viharn Phranorn holds the impressive structure of the reclining Buddha here. It’s gold and 46 metres long! Also make sure you check out the soles of his feet which have been decorated with beautiful symbols.
Keep hold of your entry ticket for Wat Pho to claim your free bottle of cold water which you’ll be grateful for in the sweltering heat!
Wat Arun – The temple of the Dawn. You get to it via Chao Phraya River on a public ferry for 4 baht per person. The ferries leave every 10 minutes so waiting times are generally not too bad. Avoid anyone who promises a private ferry as it takes 5 minutes to get across and isn’t worth paying any more! Once you reach the temple, you initially enter the complex for free but then pay 50 baht to enter the area with all the gorgeous Prangs (tower with a conical shape, getting narrower towards the top).
Whilst we were there, a monk asked me to take a picture with him which was nice! You can’t come in close contact with/ touch monks but they are happy to chat with you and take pictures if asked. They are really respected around Thailand and will have their own seating on buses, in airports etc.
The Grand Palace. We didn’t make it here properly but I’ve heard mixed reviews. Firstly it closes at 3.30pm whereas the other temples close at 5-5.30pm so this will have to be your first stop. Next it’s 500 baht to visit which is a lot more than the other places. You can’t pay with card unless you’re buying multiple tickets too. They are so strict about the dress code here – you have to be wearing a proper top (a scarf across your shoulders isn’t enough), and if your trousers are tight, you may not get in. Appropriate clothing can be bought within the complex for extortionate prices so go prepared!
I ended up taking a few pictures in the grounds as I couldn’t get in with my trousers but if you do enter, let me know! Apparently the Emerald temple is gorgeous.
Thai food is amazing and their street food is definitely one to try! You can get a meal for 40thb which is literally £1!
Khao San Road is a party street filled mostly with backpackers. Along this road are multiple food stalls (including the women selling insects!!), juice and alcoholic drinks, sit down restaurants, bars, clubs, ping pong shows and massage parlours. A massage post dancing is quite ideal!
Getting around town is quite hard on foot due to the size of the city so you have a few options:
Tuk tuk. A tourist trap which can be fun if you enjoy clinging on for dear life as they race through heavy traffic! The prices are expensive, especially for smaller groups or during the night.
Taxis especially grab taxis are more ideal if you can!
Bikes/moped – if you’re brave enough to take on Thai traffic.
From Bangkok, it’s an hour flight away or over 12 hours overnight on land. If you do fly, make sure you enjoy the culinary delights in Bangkok’s airport…we basically did a food crawl and it’s an absolute treat! Air Asia do feed you as well so bear that in mind!
Chiang Mai is a lovely city and is more chilled compared with the madness that is Bangkok. The city centre is very close to the airport – a mere 10 minute taxi ride which cost 200thb for the 4 of us. Grab taxi doesn’t work here unfortunately.
We stayed in What’s Up Chiang Mai which was a newly opened hostel and one of the best hostels I’ve stayed in! We stayed in the female dorm which had 8 beds and there’s also 2 other rooms which are male and mixed. The rooms access a balcony and outside there’s a pool and lounge area. Their hospitality is A1!
There’s quite a lot to do around Chiang Mai:
Unlike Bangkok, most of the temples in town are free/cost significantly less to enter. They are smaller but just as beautiful.
Wat Phrah Singh was the only one I paid entry for here – 20 baht. Here you will see Lanna style temple art and architecture. The Lanna Kingdom covered parts of Northern Thailand, Laos, Burma and even China so it’ll be interesting to see the similarities when I visit these other areas.
Inside one of the assembly halls is a monk who will give you bracelets and then bless them your parents which was lovely. On the other side were a row of monks which are so life like that everyone spent a minute trying to talk to them before we realised that they are just statues!!
Wat Inthakhin Sademuang is a tiny temple near the Arts and Cultural centre. Its outside monochrome architecture is stunning and it has a free onsite museum on its history.
Wat Chiang Man is the oldest temple in Chiang Mai! Its “chedi” was built as elephants holding up the temple which is a really powerful image as traditionally elephants have been highly respected animal in Thailand.
I particularly loved the “wisdom trees” which had thoughtful phrases and words of wisdom hanging off them.
Other places to visit:
Tha Phae Gate – located in between Rachadmnoen Road and Tha Phae Road. It was once a fortress for the Old City but today is a popular attraction, well located near bars, restaurants, massage parlours. temples, hotels and more. There’s a square next to it which hosts live entertainment on Saturday evenings as well as food markets. Most of the important festivals will host events here including Loy Krathong which happened whilst we were here (see below).
Three King’s Monument – this is a statue of King Mengrai (the founder of Chiang Mai) friend King Ramkamhaeng of Sukothai and King Ngam Muang of Payao who are thought to have worked together on the city. The statue stands outside the Chiang Mai City Art and Cultural centre.
Buak Hard Park – a beautiful but small park in the south west of the old city. You can get here easily in the red taxis (which act like an Uber pool and are also cheaper than a tuk tuk) but I hitchhiked with a girl on a moped which was fun! The park is a great place to chill or work out (they offer yoga sessions in the morning).
Food and drink
Bagel House – go here for all your bagel needs! I had the iced thai green tea with the bagel Thai ranch style – 185 baht in total.
Tapae Gate – for a buffet breakfast for 189 baht (including tea/coffee). The restaurant is connected to a fancy guesthouse so it’s really lovely and the staff are attentive.
The Night Bazaar is a great place to have an evening snack (pre midnight) . In the food court, I tried the delicious khachaburi which was filled with cheese, spinach and potato for 120 baht.
As Thailand is typically hot, this is the perfect place to indulge in ice cream. Tesco Lotus Express had some interesting flavours like the “unicornetto” below for 24 baht.
The Night Bazaar is bustling at night and has a great atmosphere. As well as the food mentioned above, it also features stalls within it and outside, selling all you could want from the classic elephant trousers to candles, soaps, ornaments, jewellery and more.
Thai massage – after a hard day of sightseeing, this is the perfect way to wind down. Most parlours stay open until about midnight. We had an hour long oil massage at Giving Tree Massage for 400 baht each.
If you fancy a night out, Las Vegas is the club to be. 100 baht entry includes a drink and here you’ll find a good mix of locals and tourists. It’s hidden amongst residential areas so there’s security to make sure people don’t stand outside making noise which is thoughtful of them.
A Thai cooking class is an absolute must! I hadn’t taken part in one abroad before but I loved it so much that I’ll try to incorporate them into more of my travels. Your hotel/hostel will have a list of cooking schools they recommend. I went with Smile Organic Cooking School which was 800 baht for 6 hours.
They pick you up from your accommodation and then the first stop is to a local food market. Here are we are introduced to the main ingredients used in Thai cooking. Next stop is the cooking school. We get to wander around the farm and check out the fresh herbs before we choose our meals for each course and get cooking! I made pad thai, red chicken curry and hot and creamy soup. We also made group spring rolls!
The evening ended with a free Thai cook book.
Seeing elephants is a popular tourist activity but it comes with a lot of responsibility for us travellers to make sure that we are doing it as ethically as possible. Whatever you do, remember that riding elephants is a no-no! It’s bad for their backs and they are mistreated in order to make them comply with this. There are plenty of animal sanctuaries around which again your accommodation can recommend.
We checked out Dumbo Elephant Spa which was 1600 baht for a half day. The reason we chose this one was to see the 4 month old baby elephant called Ellie! We spent the afternoon playing the elephants, feeding them and then bathing them (although the volunteers seemed to be splashing us more than the elephants did!). They provide the colourful T-shirts plus food and drink once you’re done.
The Light Festival
The main reason we visited Chiang Mai was for the Lanna style Loy Krathong and Yi Peng “light” festivals. These occur in November each year.
Loy Krathong is celebrated on the full moon night of the 12th month of the lunar calendar. Small floats made of banana leaves and decorated with flowers and candles are lit and set afloat the river as a simple of thanksgiving to the Water Goddess and for good luck. We did this along the Ping River where the majority of people taking part had gathered.
Alongside this is Yi Peng where lit up paper lanterns are released into the sky. This is one of the most magical scenes I’ve ever seen! There is a private party where you pay a lot of money to do this, however it’s completely unnecessary as there is plenty of space along the river bank to release your lantern (for free) and it’s nice doing so with the locals!
The krathongs (small floats) are available to buy from the markets along the Ping River on that evening (prices between 20-30 baht) and the lanterns cost 50. Bring a lighter if you can, but otherwise people will offer theirs to you or you can buy them for 10 baht each.
Once you’re done, then there’s plenty of food and drink stalls nearby to indulge in.
Compared with Chiang Mai, this city is smaller and more relaxed. It is a few hours drive from Chiang Mai. We found a tuk tuk driver in Chiang Mai who offered to be our driver for the day. We paid him 3000 baht which is a pretty sweet deal for him and economical for us. The other economical way to get there if in a smaller group/solo is via coach (Greenbus) which goes frequently between the 2 cities. Make sure you book in advance otherwise you’ll end up slightly stranded as I was when I had to go back to Chiang Rai for my flight!
Wat Rong Khun aka The White Temple is probably the most famous temple in Chiang Rai. The pure white design is fascinating and the whole complex is filled with symbols relating to human desires. It costs 50 baht to enter. You can get here from Chiang Rai city centre via taxi or bus from the old bus station.
Village tribes – We visited the “Union of hill tribe villages and Long Neck Karen” where we got a taster of their way of living for 300 baht. There is a path which goes between the tribes where they are selling items that they’ve made and are willing to interact with you. The Karen tribe are famous for the gold rings which lengthen their necks as a symbol of beauty. Interestingly the women also had these rings on their legs. The process starts from the age of 5 and rings are added every 9 years until she turns 45.
Chiang Rai city centre is much smaller and quieter compared with the others so is great for a rest day if required. There is a Night Bazaar which has a restaurant perfectly placed opposite the stage where live performances occur and surrounding it is the Night Market which closes at 11pm. One thing to try here are the delicious ice cream rolls which are made to your taste. I had the vanilla, choc chip and pepo (green jelly) topped with caramel sauce…and it tasted amazing!
So that’s a summary of my week in Thailand! I’m excited to go back to explore the islands next time. If you haven’t been to Thailand yet, make sure it’s top of your list as the weather is great, the people are some of the loveliest that I’ve ever met and the food and culture is amazing.
Oktoberfest is the well known German beer festival held in Munich from mid September to early October each year. Oktoberfest like events have become popular in the UK over the past few years but the real German experience has been on my bucket list for a while. However, I was introduced to the perfect alternative which I think everyone should consider – Cannstatter Volksfest or Wasen.
This autumn “beer” festival is the 2nd largest after Oktoberfest and is held in the German city of Stuttgart from late September to mid October. One of the girls I met on my Central America tour earlier this year (read all about it here) was from Stuttgart and so it made sense to catch up with her and check this out at the same time.
My friend Sarah and I visited Stuttgart from the 12th – 14th of October and we went to the festival on Saturday 13th. Stuttgart is easily reached from London via EasyJet for half the price it would cost to go to Munich during the same period. And only taking the essentials in a carry on will be make it even cheaper… I discovered a very helpful travel packing list on foreignlemonade.com to help with this!
The price of accommodation was also much more affordable, with a fairly central Airbnb for the weekend costing us €88 each.
The S and U Bahn trains will be your best way to get around town (and in and out of the festival). The VVS Mobil app is useful for planning your trip and checking out train times. It can also save you almost €1 per ticket. This didn’t work for me so it’s worth checking this before you board in case you need to use the machines on the platform instead.
Things to do in Stuttgart
- Get lost in Castle grounds
European countries boast some incredible castles and Germany is no exception to this rule (Neuschwanstein castle anyone?!) but there are many closer to Stuttgart which are incredible to explore.
Ludwigsburg Castle (looks like a palace but all the Germans called it a castle) is a short train ride away on the S4. Entry is $9 which is well worth it as you’ll see below. I can imagine its stunning to visit all year round but during autumn time, they host a pumpkin size contest which was cool to see. Honestly, I had no idea pumpkins could grow so big!
On the other side of the castle, we found an actual pumpkin city. There were various statues made out of pumpkins, stalls showcasing different types of pumpkins, pumpkin taster stations, all the pumpkin flavoured food you could imagine and a gift shop, mostly filled with…pumpkin memorabilia!
Also found in the grounds of this castle are real life fairytales. As in, they have recreated well known fairy tales and brought them to life with great animations for kids (and “big kids”) to enjoy. You start on a boat ride into the whale where you’ll find Pinocchio and eventually end up at the bottom of Rapunzel’s tower!
The second castle we saw was New Palace (Neues Schloss) which is in the centre of Stuttgart in Schlossplatz. You can’t normally get a tour of it as it holds a lot of government offices but its gardens are nice to sit in and you may see a wedding photo shoot happening outside as we did!
2. Schlossplatz – is a great place to spend a day wandering around the fountains, or doing some shopping nearby. At night, people sit on the steps and drink beers bought from the supermarket. This is allowed and people are civilised with it. To recycle the cans, you leave them next to a bin and it will be picked up by people (who appeared to be migrants to Germany) who wonder around looking for them. When returned to supermarkets, they are given a small amount of money per can which can add up if you take in enough!
3. Fernsehturm Stuttgart is the TV tower which offers gorgeous views over Stuttgart and beyond. It costs €7 to enter and you proceed to the lift, which takes you up 150m in 36 seconds. Here you’ll find the viewing points for a full 360 degree experience. When it gets too windy or crowded, you can appreciate the views in the cafe instead.
Where we ate and drink:
Claus Deli – is perfect for brunch or an ice cream break. The portions are generous and the food is so tasty. It’s popular with locals so I knew it would be good!
Bären – for tapas style of traditional German food! There are no descriptions of what the dishes are so just trust the waiters’ recommendations for this! And a pint of German beer to help it all go down of course.
Schwaben bräu – a outdoor bar. The bar itself is in a little hut and then everyone sits outside around it. It sounds simple but is very popular!
Babel – this is a hipster café where for €12.80, you get an all you can eat buffet brunch (drinks are extra). It’s worth going back a couple of times as new dishes appear just when you think you’ve tried everything. And to keep yourself entertained, there are various board games and books lying around.
The festival is held in a huge fairground with rides, stalls and the beer tents all in one place. The tents are named after the different beers that are served and hold thousands of people inside them!
Wasen is easily reached by train and entry to the grounds are free.There are 2 times of the day to visit if you’re planning to go to the beer tents – the morning session which finishes late afternoon and the second session which starts from 5.30pm until closing time (11pm).
In order to get into a beer tent, you will need a wristband. We hadn’t bought wristbands prior to going but luckily our German friends managed to buy them from some people in the crowd. We paid €15 each for a Klauss & Klauss tent wristband . This is just for your entry! Once inside, 1 mass of beer is €10.80 and you can also buy food too. Forget your cards as cash is king here.and exact change if possible is better! We didn’t eat in the tent but had lined our stomachs before and ate after too..in this case, eating is definitely not cheating as the beer will destroy you otherwise! Also I’m not a beer drinker but this tastes really good. And if you’re still not convinced, you can order the beer that comes mixed with lemonade which goes down too well!
The tents are filled with tables which will all have been prebooked. This is worth it for big groups/not wanting the stress of not knowing where to sit. But if you don’t secure this beforehand, quickly try sweet talking people who have space on their tables and you may be in luck!
The other important thing to sort out in advance is your costume! It’s great to wear the traditional Bavarian clothing – dirndls for women and lederhosen for men but some women wore these too. We were lucky to borrow dirndls from Laura as I’ve heard they can be very expensive. They are magical dresses with pockets so you don’t need a bag (or only a bumbag if you must) to cut down security check time and minimise the risk of losing/having your things stolen. And wear casual shoes as you’ll be on your feet all night! There’s a live band playing traditional German tunes mixed in with a DJ playing more well known tracks. Stay close to a German nearby so they can teach you the steps to some of their songs!
Stuttgart is a lovely city to visit and coinciding this with Wasen was even better! I hope to make it to Munich one year for Oktoberfest as I can imagine it would also be so much fun! If you’re planning to visit the 2019 festivals of either, I would advise starting to plan it…now! We were lucky to have locals guiding us through it, otherwise it would’ve been quite stressful at that short notice. Get your wristband the minute you know you’re going and consider booking a table too. Then you can start searching for the best deals for the traditional clothing.
During the 3 weeks, there are also parades and various activities that occur so you can tailor which week to visit in. For Munich especially, I would look at getting accommodation and flights as early as you can. The weekdays are a bit quieter if you don’t want to experience too big a crowd, or if you’re the opposite, go on the closing Saturday for a big party. Either way, you’ll likely only need one day to experience everything. It’s best to check out the festival in the day then do the beer tents in the early evening so you end your night on a high and have the next morning to recover!
Is Oktoberfest/Wasen on your list? Or have you been before? Let me know below!
Milan is THE Italian fashion capital known for its beautiful, well dressed people and even more beautiful architecture. We coincidentally visited during September’s Fashion Week which was an amazing experience. Of course the shows and parties were private but there were models and celebs casually strolling around town being papped and it felt almost normal! Plus we ended up in the same club as Chris Brown but that’s a story for another day.
Milan is one of the cheapest Italian cities to fly to from London (with easyJet). From the airport, we took the airport bus express to the central station for €14 return. If you are planning day trips from Milan then it’s best to get train tickets from here in advance. There are 2 train companies and which you use depends on where you’re going so best to ask for advice there.
You can also buy the Milano card here which gives you free transport around the city and discounted museum and gallery entry. We bought ours online so got free entry to the Highlife Galleria rooftop (4th floor) which over looks Milan’s cathedral and the square…pretty epic at sunset. On the other floors, you’ll find a bar which is in prime position with the cathedral in the background (and drinks prices to match) and a restaurant dedicated to legend Pavarotti.
We stayed in Meninger Hostel which was right next to Lambrate station (train and metro). It meant that we weren’t paying extortionate central prices but were still close to the action. As far as hostels go, this one is very decent and a perfect way to ease yourself into hostel life.
Things to see and do in the city:
Duomo – the cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen! It is worth getting there early otherwise you’ll be competing with hundreds for that perfect shot. You have a few of options on how to appreciate it further after you shoot: either a paid tour inside plus or minus the roof or attend church mass for free. We went to Sunday evening mass and although it was entirely in Italian, it was fairly easy to follow. Come at least 20 minutes before mass starts so you can get in (and don’t forget to cover up appropriately!)
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – the shopping complex next to the cathedral. It contains all the designer powerhouses plus a few boutiques. The shopping centre itself is a work of art so it’s worth visiting just to appreciate this! Here we spotted the most photoshoots (and got papped ourselves!). It was one of the many locations which had the mirror cubes with information inside explaining all aspects of fashion and design (a fashion week feature only it seems).
Sforza Castle – only a few metro stops away from Duomo, this castle complex is a treat. The museum entry is €5 or free in late afternoons most days. We strolled around the gardens taking in the sites and then found ourselves watching a courtyard performance of opera singing and medieval dancing!
Parco Sempione is just beyond the castle and perfect for hanging out in sunny weather. If you keep walking away from the castle, you’ll come across the Arco Della Pace (Arch of Peace) which is very similar to the Arc de Triomphe and originates from the Roman walls of Milan.
Royal Palace has many parts to it and is worth checking out an exhibition if you can. We discovered the free Bonalumi art exhibition which featured a lot of bold and striking pieces. Even the picture of the artist was fabulous!
All the museums in Milan are grand so you’re truly spoilt for choice. We visited Museo Poldi Pezzoli which showcased a lavish stately home, taught us about lace and its origins and so much more. It’s €10 for adults/€7 with a Milano card or €4.50 for students and those under 26.
La Scala – Milan’s opera house. You can go on a paid tour outside of rehearsal times (no set time, just luck really) if you don’t want to pay for a whole show. The day we visited, the green fashion awards were on which we saw them prepping for but couldn’t wing our way in to!
Spend time in the Navigli neighbourhood. Did you know that Milan has canals?! Neither did I! This part of town is full of restaurants, bars and club surrounding the canals. The vibe is cool and there’s something for everyone…we saw older Italians dancing salsa at one end and the younger ones enjoying hip hop just yards away.
And finally find a beautiful Vespa to ride…or match with if you would prefer!
Eat and drink
My first time in Italy did not disappoint food wise. Even street food was incredible!
La laconda del gatto rosso is one of the restaurants in the designer shopping centre. Although the prices weren’t bad, the difference is in the food tax they add on top. I had la laconda pizza (puréed spicy salami,red onion, tomato and mozzarella) plus red wine. €19 in total but then an additional €4 for tax! And then you add a tip on top!!
La cappelletta – homely Italian restaurant which was a short walking distance from our hostel (near Lambrate metro station). You can buy a litre of red wine for €7 here!! I enjoyed the best pasta with bolognnaise there.
Arancini – fried rice balls made from risotto and filled with anything e.g. mushroom, cheese etc which you can buy anywhere. SO GOOD.
Gelato! To be honest, it doesn’t matter where you get it from as it’ll all blow your mind.
Rosa & Co for a modern insta worthy feel. This pretty in pink cafe serves plenty of good Italian coffee and sweet treats for decent prices.
We had dinner in a Peruvian restaurant El Hornero one night and it’s worth a visit if you’re in the area as Peruvian food is SO good (as you know from my Peru blog).
If you have time, this is such a great way to escape the city. We went on 2 day trips:
Lake Como. A huge and incredibly beautiful Lake whose beauty can be appreciated on a tour of its towns. We bought specific round trip tickets from the train station via Trenitalia to visit Varenna, Bellagio and Como (for just over €40). Our day started with a morning train to Varenna (either 08.20 or 10.20) which takes an hour. From here, we followed the signs to the castle which was a very steep 40 minute hike but once you get to the top, you have the most insane view of the Lake. Entry to the castle is only a few euros and you are provided with a written guide to help you appreciate it. The walk back down is much kinder!
We had lunch at the beautiful and bougie Lake facing Hotel Royal Victoria. The spaghetti was delicious and cost €20 plus €5 cover (remember this isn’t a tip) but check out this view!
Next was the ferry to Bellagio (included in the train ticket). However this part of our day flopped massively. We arrived at 3pm and knew we wanted to get to Como by 5pm latest to explore, get food and see the sunset. Our options for the onward ferries were either a “speedy” 45 mins or the slow 2 plus hours. It cost us an extra €12.60 (instead of €5 as we had been told in Milan) for the speedy one and everyone wanted to get on that ferry so we used all our exploring time to queue instead. Meaning I have no idea what Bellagio looks like beyond its port…let me know if you visit!
Our final stop was the town of Como which was bigger than the other 2. The main sights we checked out were the Cathedral (another impressive Italian design) and San Fedele Church before indulging in more gelato. Checking out the sunset over the lake will really make this day trip extra special! To get back to Milan, there are many trains from Como’s station which are included in the tour price.
The romantic city where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is set. It’s only 2 hours away from Milan by train and easily doable in a day. Our original aim was to visit Juliet’s Balcony and eat good food but then we achieved so much more.
We started with a 4 Church tour (3 churches and a cathedral) which cost €6. Each church offered guided audio tours in every language and is easy to fit into a couple of hours.
Basilica de San Zeno – named after the Bishop of Verona. Originally from Mauritania, he was likely a black man! The church features an interesting bronze door whose art illustrates stories from the bible. It is thought that the crypt is where Romeo and Juliet wed.
San Fermo Maggiore – Gothic style church which is separated into the upper and lower church. The upper church has many chapels and altars. The most striking piece in this church was the wooden ceiling, shaped like a ship and displays the pictures of over 400 saints.
The lower church is divided into 4 naves and has many religious drawings over the walls and pillars.
Basilica de Santa Anastasia – named after the 4th century virgin martyr. It was designed by Dominican friars and took at least 200 years to build from about the 14th century. Inside there are many chapels which belong to royal or important families and all are dedicated to various saints, making it the richest church in Verona. The interior is impressively filled with art pieces such as Pisanello’s fresco (St George with the princess, waiting to slay the dragon).
Cathedral complex (duomo) – made up of San Maria Matricolare (the cathedral), San Giovanni en Fonte and San Elena. Initially it was the 1st Basilica in Verona, built by San Zeno but it became too small for the population and was later replaced. All the churches were impressive but the cathedral was on a whole other level!
You’ll cross the river at some point during the churches tour and this is the perfect time to pass through Castelvecchio. Literally translates as old castle and is free to wander over its bridge and courtyard. The castle has the smallest love lock bridge I’ve ever seen on my travels so far!
Juliet’s balcony was a massive tourist trap and quite disappointing. You pass through an alleyway to the courtyard and to get onto her balcony, you have to pay and then queue for your 20seconds on there. The statue of her was being groped as apparently that brought good luck? Anything for a better love life it seems! Oh and Romeo has a balcony too but that looked permanently closed.
Verona also has a colosseum which you can check out on a general tour or for outdoor shows! Imagine watching a rendition of Romeo and Juliet in this amphitheatre in Verona…culture goals!
Eating and drinking around here is cheaper than Milan so get treat yourself and maybe get an apertivo in too (essentially happy hour where the drinks include snacks). Here I had the most delicious tiramisu of my life!
So that’s my 5 days in and around Milan in a nutshell. It’s a destination that can be fully appreciated in a short space of time which is perfect for weekend/ day breaks! But I would love my next visit to Italy to be much longer, possibly a trip for Summer ‘19? Stay tuned to find out!
October is Black History Month (BHM) in the UK and it is a time to reflect on the past but also be proud of how much black people have accomplished and contribute to British life. During this month, I’ve checked out some great events, contributed to blog pieces looking at the experiences we have faced in travel and school life and really enjoyed the positive energy that has surrounded it all.
My first and very unexpected BHM exhibition was at Cumberland Lodge in Windsor. I visited on a work trip and upon arriving at this gorgeous stately house, I noticed many photos along the downstairs corridor of black and Asian young people with their families. It was titled “Where I came from” from Bill Knight’s work for Rare Recruitment, which helps young BAME and others from under represented backgrounds get good jobs. I spotted a pic of Bishop Karowei ( a medical doctor and now the first black Bishop of Woolwich who I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year) and his son which my mum enjoyed a snap of and quickly responded that we would look so good on that wall too ha!
Antony and Cleopatra – this Shakespeare classic is being shown at the Olivier Theatre in Southbank. I thoroughly enjoyed it and was particularly impressed by the diversity of the cast and how race didn’t dictate the casting for roles. The Beyoncé lemonade dress reference made when Cleopatra hears of Anthony’s betrayal was iconic but sadly went over most of the audience’s head due to the demographics! This highlighted to us that black people need to be getting out into theatre and art spaces more as we can relate to more than you may realise!
Michael Jackson On The Wall. This exhibition was on at the National Portrait Gallery (ended on 21st October). It exhibited a series of art of the King of Pop depicting different areas of his life through paintings, videos and more. I particularly enjoyed the pieces that reflected on his importance as a black man not only to the Western wold but African countries too and how his legacy will continue. It’ll be on in Grand Palais, Paris from the 21st of November if you happen to be in town!
Black British Travel Meetup – Autumn Edition. I first joined this travel tribe back in May and since then, I have met the most amazing people both online and offline and we even took over Facebook London in the summer! This meetup didn’t disappoint with great food from Kwaku’s kitchen, networking, games and a panel who shared their travel experiences and how to maximise ours. Thanks again to Hannah and Doyin for another top evening..the next one will be in December so stay tuned here!
I was invited to the Jo Maxwell Show Season 2 premiere. This talk show showcases the lives of black women (and men too) living in the UK. Season 1 was on YouTube and Jo has managed to get her second season on both voxafrica and fametv channels! I hope you guys tune in as it promises to be a great series and who knows, we could have Britain’s Oprah in our midst! Catch up on her work here.
Black Girl Fest – it only started last year and was an instant success so I was very excited to check it out this year. It happened at Shoreditch Town Hall and the Protein Studios. The day was packed with seminars on everything from social media strategy, finance, politics of hair and beauty to the marketplace which showcased so many talented creatives and their work plus an evening of music and good vibes. Being around all these successful and beautiful black sisters really moved me (especially connecting with my fellow travel ladies) and I hope this event continues to grow every year. Paula and Nicole have literally created black girl magic with this!
During this month, I’ve been asked to feature in a few blogs which is always an honour. The first is by Johnny who did a great collab piece of travelling whilst black featuring a few of my faves. It’s such an interesting read and can be checked out here.
Next was a piece I wrote for Bankra on my private school experience as the only black girl in my year which can be found on their website here. It was quite a personal piece for me to write so I hope you enjoy it!
Travel power couple who have successfully travelled to 100 countries together will be featuring me on their website (Road to 100 countries) from the 5th of November. They have a wealth of knowledge on how to travel smart on any budget so check them out on the socials.
And finally I was lucky to win a free ticket to melanin journey’s “Take me to Senegal” event which is happening on the 1st of December. An evening filled with Senegalese storytelling, culture, music and good food.. come join me and get your tickets here.
So I was having a casual discussion about BHM and some great questions came up – “Do we really need this month?” “Shouldn’t we be putting these events on throughout the year, learning and reflecting about our history at any time instead of relying on October to be our “woke” month?” And these are all valid points!
So let me know what you think about this and if there are any great exhibitions/events on in November and beyond so I can check them out!
This August bank holiday, I spent the weekend in the beautiful Norwegian city of Bergen, hosted by the Norwegian girls that I had met during my Central American tour (check out the series here). It’s fairly easy to bond with like minded travellers when abroad but to actually stay in touch and successfully organise a reunion only a few months later? I was impressed with us!
The easiest and cheapest way to fly to Bergen was with Norwegian airlines – a bit of Bank holiday inflation but outside of this, easily less than £100 return. After my nightmare 21 hour delay with Norweigan Airlines on my way to Costa Rica, I was quite apprehensive this time round. However it was a painless flight and they have free WiFi which genuinely works. Bergen’s airport has a question mark after its name but the Norweigans couldn’t explain why…I’m interested if anyone ever finds out!
Bergen is a beautiful city surrounded by many mountains, fjords and made up of islands too, 2 of which the girls lived on. After being picked up from the airport, we spent our first night in the quiet area of Fjell, in chez Tellnes.
We spent the majority of the weekend in Askøy being hosted at Mareyn’s house. I loved how the Norweigan homes have letterboxes or doorbells with each family member’s name painted on so the household could be identified. A great idea in a safe feeling community but not something I expect to see in London anytime soon!
The girls’ neighbourhoods were separated by a bridge which has gorgeous views overlooking the other islands.
It’s fairly easy to get into the city centre via bus from Askøy and they even run through the night. However a scenic alternative (until 6pm) is the 25 minute ferry which costs 37NOK one way (same as the buses). Skyss Billett is a useful app to buy your public transport tickets with.
Norweigans are super fit and all about the outdoor life so the girls took us for “walks” read “HIKES”. You can tell this as everyone walks around in fabulous athletic wear. Our first walk/hike was up Fløyen mountain. From the harbour and fish market, it’s a 2 minute walk, if that, to the start of its trail. The routes are signposted well and you’re spoilt for choice on which to use. Our way up passed through some residential areas, an athletic track and even a nursery in the forest. Half an hour later, we were treated to an incredible view over Bergen! It had been raining so bad the whole way up but luckily it cleared whilst we were at the top!
A quick alternative to get to the top is via the Fløibanen funicular but the hike is the best option if you can!
As well as a restaurant and souvenir shop, we also spotted a troll! These mythical creatures have been in Norwegian and Scandinavian folk tales for centuries and although I’m sure no modern day Norwegian believes in them, it’s nice to see they still have fun with it!
The forest route on the way back down (tippetue) was stunning with beautiful trees and waterfalls.
Our second mountain of the weekend (back in Askøy) was Kolbeinsvarden. Now this is a beast and we didn’t make it anywhere near the top but just up to Brikafjellet. It was still very scenic from this point but if you did go all the way up, I’m told you get a 360degree view of all of Bergen.
Bergen’s city centre is picturesque with plenty to explore. There’s a row of colourful houses by the port called Bryggen. Today they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site used for restaurants, museums and even a club (also with galleries and cafes in alleyways in between) but they were once very important in Bergen’s history. They were wooden houses used in trading from the Middle Ages with Bergen exporting fish and its oils in return for flour, grain etc which were stored in these houses. At one point, many Germans (part of the Hanseatic League) were living in the area and trading from their office (which may explain the use of German words on many items as spotted by Laura).
A few of the Bryggen “houses” are currently being renovated but all should be done by next year!
The port is gorgeous to stroll around to check out the insanely huge boats, the market and from there, you can check out the rest of the city.
One of the main purposes of the weekend was to attend Kygo’s Kids in Love Tour. He is a Norweigan DJ and plays all over the world including a residency in Ibiza’s summer season of course. He’s from Bergen so the atmosphere was amazing as any homecoming night is. Hearing the sound check from the top of Fløyen the day before was quite surreal! He performed in Koengen which is an outdoor venue, next to medieval fortress Bergenhus Festning. Luckily for us, the rain stopped just as the music started!
Eating and drinking out in Norway is expensive so we did plenty of home cooking over the weekend. Our breakfasts and lunches involved a lot of bread, cold meat, cheese and fruit which seemed typical here. The “Norwegian Taco” – tortillas filled with meat, salad plus grapes and mango salsa is apparently a weekend family favourite.
And if you think buying drinks in supermarkets is cheap..it isn’t! Minimum 40NOK for a single can of cider (which is basically £4 but that could get you about 3 cans in the UK!). So to get around this, Norweigans stock up on duty free alcohol. If you are to go out to a bar or club, this is still your best option! But don’t worry about looking smart..as long as you don’t have wellies on, you can get into most places (even wearing a raincoat yes).
I had a great weekend visiting the girls and exploring my second Scandinavian country (Denmark being my first last year). I love how friendly every single person was and even the airport security guard who had a nice chat with me as I loaded my bags and wished me a pleasant journey home! Being from London, I’m used to quite grey rainy conditions but don’t we half moan about it! Whereas here, they accept it is their life and it doesn’t stop them from smiling and wearing those bright yellow raincoats!
Few final tips for visiting this area:
Find accommodation early! Lucky for me, I stayed with the girls but you’ll likely choose to be in the city centre so this is key for getting the best deals.
Bring your hiking gear as it’s the best way to see the city. And a raincoat and wellies if you have them.
I would avoid getting out cash as you’ll end up with a large amounts of notes for not much money.
And finally, do not even entertain the idea of a taxi (unless you’re in a big group or being bougie isn’t an issue). My taxi to the airport cost £50 for a 20minute journey. It was an early flight back and we had all been drinking from the concert so I couldn’t be driven back…plus being a Sunday morning, the buses weren’t reliable. So make sure you think about this when booking your flight times!
I will definitely be back in Norway in the future! If you have questions or comments on Bergen, do let me know below.
I did a wild thing back in the summer which resulted in this trip. I sent a tweet to my travel twitter asking for company for a trip to anywhere in Europe. I was pleasantly surprised when I got 3 responses and the next thing I knew, we had booked a girls trip to Belgium! My travel pals were Ella (heyparadis.com), Yasmin (yasmintells.com) and Caroline (traveleatslay.com) . Bearing in mind that we were essentially strangers prior to this trip, there was no telling how it would pan out. Luckily for us, Ella had grown up in Belgium so knew all the places to hang out and appreciate Belgian culture…we were in a treat!
We travelled in the last week of July with the Eurostar from London St Pancras directly to Brussels Centraal Station. This was my first time taking this train (a getaway of firsts it seems)! They advise you to arrive at least an hour before your train takes off and I would do so as the queues were crazy so we just made it! The trains are quite nice and fares are cheaper if you’re under 26. We also invested in a 10 trip train ticket for anywhere in Belgium which is €77 for adults or €52 for under 26s.
We stayed in the student town of Gent which is about a 30 minute train ride from Brussels. Gent is a lovely, quaint town and was a great place for our base due to its affordability. We stayed in a great studio which was a short walking distance to the city centre but also right next to a tram stop (options are key!)
The day we arrived was the last day of the Gentse Feesten (Gent Festival) which was on from the 13th – 22nd July. This year was its 175th anniversary. The whole city is transformed into food and drink stalls with different music stages to suit different tastes and ages (my favourite being Pole Pole which showcased hip hop, salsa and turned into a club night).
There are a lot of traditions which are observed during the festival. One interesting one is the men walking around town in white shirts with nooses around their neck. These are the Guild of Noose Bearers who commemorate the Revolt of Gent to pay their respects to the rebels who were paraded through the streets in this way when they were caught. A less historical but fun tradition was Belgians wearing pink elephant hats (the pink elephant is the symbol for their delirium beer!).
“Nie neute, nie pleuje” a motto we saw around town which translates as no whining, no folding. It essentially means that you can’t complain and have to keep going!
We also had our first taste of a Belgian beer (Hoegaarden which also comes in fruity flavours – €2.80 for one!!) and Belgian fries from a fritkot.
After the festival, we did plenty more sightseeing around the city.
Gravensteen castle is a gorgeous medieval castle which we passed by most days. It was previously home to the Counts Flanders until the 14th century and is now a historical landmark. Fun fact – you can get married here for only €600 per half an hour!
There’s a trio of buildings which are best photographed in golden hour. They are:
1. St Niklaas Church. It features the beautiful monochrome and gold designs with pieces of art hung up which seems to be classic in Belgian churches. It is free to wander around inside.
2. Belfry Tower. It is where the dragon was supposedly kept to keep watch of the city. It’s free for kids and those with a city card, €2.70 for 19-25 year olds €8 for 26 and over. It has 4 levels – the first one is reached by stairs and with the other 3, you have the option of a lift. Each floor has a different display and explanations relating to the tower and at the top, you have an incredible view over Gent.
3. St. Bavo’s Cathedral (Sint Baafskathedraal) – a magnificent building which is free to enter. It had one of the most extravagant altars that I’ve ever seen. In the crypt, there are displays of priests clothing and old cups etc. For €4, you can enter to see the blood of Jesus too.
A chilled way to see the city is on a boat tour! It only costs €7.50 for an hour or so and the multilingual guide share plenty of knowledge along the way. On the day we did our tour it was a scorching 38 degrees so they provided us with umbrellas for shade!
Generally a lot of time is spent along the river, either with a drink during golden hour or just messing about as we did in the pics below (don’t try this at home guys!!)
If you love street art like me, you have to check out Werregarenstraat or “Graffitistraatje” which is an alley with graffiti. So many artists have contributed and they are all super talented for sure!
The capital city of Belgium and of the EU. We spent half a day here wandering its beautiful cobbled streets. Did you know that many famous cartoon characters such as Tintin and the Smurfs are Belgian? You’ll see murals dedicated to them around town.
Galeries Royales St Hubert is a gorgeously expensive shopping mall with designer shops and also great chocolatiers. It’s worth wandering in just to appreciate its architecture if nothing else.
Next up, Grand Place (Grote Markt) which is Brussels’ main Square. Here you have the Town Hall, the King’s House, the Museum of Brussels plus a few pricey touristy restaurants. The square has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for 20 years! As you can imagine, it’s incredibly busy but worth a visit to check out the golden designs.
I did not expect Brussels to have the most bizarre monument I’ve ever seen. It’s called Manneken Pis and is a little boy having a piss. And there isn’t a real story behind it as confirmed by Ella and a passing tour guide!
We ended our afternoon at Place des Martyrs or Martelarenplein – Martyrs Square. It is slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the city so is a great place to chill. It has great historical significance as there’s a crypt here where many who died in the Belgian Revolution are buried in.
This is a cool city and is the heart of fashion and diamonds in Belgium. It also had the most fancy train station of all the places we visited this week! The name means “throwing hand” and this is related to the legend of the giant who would cut off your hand and throw it into the river if you refused to pay the toll to enter the city!
We went on a walking tour around the city starting at Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekathedraal or Our Lady Cathedral (a Roman Catholic one). One of its towers is still being built but it’s an amazing building nonetheless. There is a fee to go inside if you fancy a tour. Outside is a statue of an orphan boy lying down with his dog – nello and patrasche. It’s a sad story as they both eventually died of hunger in the cathedral!
Next up was the Market Square which has the statue of the giant throwing a hand!
St Peter’s Church was the first Belgian Church we went inside to check out. Don’t let the simple outside fool you as inside has beautifully monochrome with gold designs. Also they had incredible art pieces inside – here it depicted Jesus’ life story painted in a series by various painters.
This was the longest train journey from Gent, taking a good few hours each way. Spa is in the South which is predominantly French speaking compared with Dutch in the North. Spa is the hometown of spas (as Bath is for Baths). It is also where the Belgian F1 race takes place!
It is a small town which can be seen in a few hours. From the tourist centre, you can get a map which gives you a route to follow to see the key points.
There is a funicular which takes you up to one of the spas and offers great views of the town. (€1.50 one way). The climb up is quite quick but it was so hot that we only walked down to ease the sweating (10 minute walk down).
There is a tourist train which for €6 takes you through the forest to the natural springs. You can collect some water to drink from Source de la Gérontère. Spa Baristat is the source for sparkling water.
This city is picturesque and was one of my favourites along with Gent. Within the city wall, all the old architecture is preserved and it’s so cute! Brugge is known for its lace and artisanal chocolate.
We walked through Minne Vater Park to pass through the nuns place before getting into town. This city is perfect for a boat ride as you can appreciate it all in one go (€8). Another popular way to see the city seemed to be on sedgeways.
We bought the majority of our chocolate from here for a decent price of 20 pieces for €10. The free tasters were a perk too! I tried rose chocolate for the first time and I’m sadly not a fan..it’s not quite its own flavour but let me know if you’ve ever had it.
We sat for lunch in the main square and were treated to live music by buskers.
A beautiful Church to visit here is Basilica of the Holy Blood which is free to enter.
Food and drink
Belgian fries (not French fries FYI) are delicious and will come with most meals. You can also buy them to take away from fritkots.. try it with this delicious spicy mayo.
Belgian waffles are heavenly! Holiday calories don’t count so feel free to enjoy. The best ones we had were from yoghito in Gent train station.
Belgian chocolate is a must!
We also tried the traditional Belgian beef stew which is served with fries and is so delicious! This one was at De witte leeuw restaurant by the river in Gent.
Belgian beer is tasty and very cheap! I’ve already mentioned the Hoegaarden and delirium tremens which I tried but also the brugse zot (local to Brugge).
We ate 3 times at Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast! We had tried most of the menu by the time we left Belgium. My favourite was the Manhattan – smoked salmon, bread, soft boiled egg, ricotta cheese, juice and tea for €9.99.
Gust is a cool brunch place to come to in Gent (booking is highly recommend). I had the green waffles below (made with courgettes). They also have more typical choices such as American pancakes, eggs etc.
Brunch at Wasbar in Gent (a restaurant where you can get your laundry done whilst eating!). Various bagels and side salads with the most refreshing drink for a sweltering day!
And finally, the mother of all meals during our trip. We went to Amadeus which is an All you can eat ribs (YES) place. The ribs are fire but that jacket potato with the butter is on another level. And it’s just under €18 for this! We only managed 2 rounds!
So our Belgian trip was filled with great food and drink, culture, sunshine, lols, the usual travel drama and plenty of content creation. Travelling with fellow bloggers means you have an understanding for photo time and you learn so much about everyone’s travel styles. I can’t wait to read how the others cover this trip too!
Have you ever done a bloggers trip before? If not, I hope this inspires you to plan one!
It is well known that us Londoners can find it difficult to appreciate anything outside the M25 and this is a shame as the rest of the UK does have a lot to offer! I did try to visit a few places this summer but my to do list is long and I plan to do better in 2019!
There are plenty of lovely beaches in the UK which people often disregard due to cold weather but this year wasn’t an excuse! Even from London, there are many you can visit on a day trip:
Brighton Beach – one of my favourite beaches in the South for many reasons. The pier has entertainment for all, the beach bars and clubs are a lot of fun and you’ll soon overlook the fact that it’s a pebbled beach. And Britney performed at Pride there this year so that says it all really! The city itself is great to explore and very easy to reach on the road or via train from London Victoria.
On my most recent visit here, I also visited Worthing Beach which is about 25 minutes drive away from Brighton. If you plan to stay in Brighton for longer than a day or so and are looking for cheaper accommodation, this could be your answer.
Dymchurch Beach – this lovely sandy beach in Kent is an hour and a half drive from London. This year was perfect for sunbathing here everyday (but should be done before 5pm when the tide comes in fully) . A very short walking distance away is an English heritage site, a funfair and a delightful afternoon tea spot called Mary’s Tea Room.
British festivals are down to earth and usually wet and muddy…but not this year! I went to Parklife in Manchester which runs over 2 days in June. It isn’t a camping festival but being the North, you can stay in the city for a decent price (but I’m lucky to have friends up there). The line up was amazing – N.E.R.D, The XX, Lourde, Sampha and Giggs to name a few. If you’re bougie like us, you can get VIP tickets for an extra £20 which gives you access to less crowded bar areas, a disco tent and much better toilet and water filling experiences! It’s a great alternative to Wireless Festival in London.
The Great Outdoors
You’ve probably seen the lavender fields all over Instagram but did you know that some existed in the UK too?! I visited the Hitchin Lavender Farm which has both lavender and sunflower fields! As the season is almost over, it is now free to enter (open until the 16th of September) .
Cambridge – a great place to visit to have a picnic in the sun, go punting on the river and appreciate the beauty of its colleges. I spent half a day here in July (with no photos to show for it sadly!)
Plans for further warm weather and 2019:
*To visit Stonehenge – on Summer Solistice is the ultimate dream!
*A summer visit to the Peak District. I saw its beauty in the snow last year so I’m looking forward to see it in its green glory.
*Cornwall – on a sunny day, it looks like a foreign beach! It is quite a few hours drive from London and well anywhere else in the country really so has to be done as a proper holiday.
*And finally to appreciate Ireland, Wales and Scotland in warmer weather.
Where has been your favourite UK place this summer? And any for your bucket list in the coming year?
I absolutely love living in London and particularly in the summer time when there is endless amounts to do. And with this year’s heatwave, we’ve had a dreamy couple of months! In between my Central America tour (see Latin America ) and a couple of getaways in July (see Europe ), I managed to check out a few places (mostly food related FYI) below.
Some events and places are still open in September and others can be saved for next year. For the most up to date activities to do all year round, Timeout is an absolute treat.
Summer in London would be nothing without its rooftops! Here are a few of my faves:
Bussey Rooftop – the rival Peckham rooftop to Frank’s cafe (insta pink perfection) which also offers stellar views of London. Their food is simple and decently priced compared to most rooftops (I loved the hotdogs served in a brioche bread) and they often hold great events up here including their rooftop cinema which is still happening this month (and you can buy bottomless popcorn as part of your ticket!!!)
Madison’s Rooftop Terrace – this place wins with its views. It overlooks St Paul’s Cathedral on one side and London Eye to the Shard going around. You have to look smart when you come here (no trainers or sporty looking clothes) but don’t let that put you off as the vibes upstairs are chilled. Mid afternoon is the best time to come for the best seating and shortest bar queues but golden hour is also ideal for pictures. The drinks are Central London prices but really you’re paying for the view.
Bar Elba – this is in Waterloo and has some of the cutest wall art as you climb up to the top. The views aren’t the greatest but the whole place is very picturesque. And it’s next to Tonight Josephine bar if you need a millennial pink fix.
Tip: Join their mailing list for a free cocktail when you go!
John Lewis – for Summer of Sound on the Roof. This is great for some rest bite from the mayhem of Oxford Street. It has a gin bar and chill music with DJs especially on weekends. On until the 30th of September.
Outdoor/open space dining:
Another classically London thing to do. This year was perfect for it and hopefully the next few weeks will allow more of this:
Coppa Club – this restaurant in Tower Bridge is home to these incredible pods! Until Sep 30th, you can hire one (for free, up to 2 hours for max 8 people) and have food and/or drinks with amazing views of Tower Bridge and the Shard. They do split the pods if your group is smaller than 8 and walk ins are possible. The food here is delicious so it’s worth a visit.
Dinerama, Shoreditch – we came here to watch a World Cup match and it was good fun. The bar is outside and then various food stalls within the complex and upstairs if a private event isn’t happening. A less crowded alternative to Boxpark.
Peckham Levels – in this previously abandoned car park behind the cinema, it has been transformed into a dining and bar experience with pop up restaurants. On the weekends, they have a DJ and dance floor which is good fun.
Brixton Market – inside this market place are many quirky shops and stalls plus restaurants. Brixton’s community is traditionally Caribbean so I recommend trying out traditional dishes such as jerk chicken, rice and peas etc.
Pop Brixton – a complex with food stalls, bars, marketplace and even a barbershop! They sell food from around the world (so far I’ve had the steak and chips, bao buns, Venezuelan empañadas and churros) and it’s all delicious! Entry is usually free.
Sassy cidre – a pop up outside St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. This French cider brand teamed up with others during the summer and sold many delicious ciders for a reasonable price. Sadly the pop up is over now but do keep an eye out for them in bars around London (and France!).
Casa do Frango – this Portuguese restaurant near London Bridge has to be one of my favourites this year! It has a lovely light, open space and you’re sat on benches next to fellow diners which is a nice experience. The menu is tapas style and every single item we had was on point. Plus we tried green wine which is quite light and slightly bubbly. 10/10 for their customer service!
Treat yourself dining
Although I am all for finding the best/free deals, sometimes you just have to go an extra mile to treat yourself right!?
Sushi Samba – this gorgeous fusion Brazilian/Japanese/Peruvian restaurant offers an incredible view over the city of London. The combination of flavours are quite unique and everything on the menu looks delicious. Expect Central London prices with a few omg items!
Oblix at the Shard – now this is perfect for celebrating occasions or just a bougie evening in town. It’s only a third of the way up the Shard but the views are exceptional, especially at night.
Brunch at Sanderson’s Hotel – I love this place as the outdoor dining area is surrounded by flamingos, a waterfall and the prettiest floral swing. Brunch is varied and wallet friendly. They also do a Mad Hatter’s Afternoon Tea which sounds intriguing!
Afternoon tea at Richoux – this restaurant in Piccadilly serves delicious afternoon tea and you can get great deals via groupon! Their scones and cakes are more generously sized than most places and their tea selection is on point.
Treats at Aubaine Selfridges – located on the 2nd floor of Selfridges is this beautiful cafe. Main courses can vary in cost but drinks, tea and cakes are decently priced! The window seats round the corner are the best for your insta shots.
In such a hectic city, it’s nice to be able to enjoy time away from it all and reconnect with nature:
Kew Gardens – home to all kinds of plants and flowers from around the world too. They have many resident displays and often seasonal exhibitions too (the latest one being the Down Under II series (plants from Australia and NZ) which is on until the 16th of September). It is such a big complex that you’ll need to spend most of your day here so bring some snacks and drinks to enjoy!
Parks – London has many parks to escape the city stress. There are often outdoor activities going on into September too. Some of my favourite ones are Primrose Hill (epic views of London from the top), Greenwich Park, Battersea Park and Holland Park (especially the Japanese inspired Kyoto Gardens).
The great thing about living in a city with a river is enjoying all the activities that occur around it!
Southbank – this area is perfect at all times of the year to be honest. It stretches from Waterloo Bridge to Westminster Bridge and is lined with food and drink stalls, restaurants and entertainment. The Queen Elizabeth Centre is great for rooftop drinks and the Southbank Centre hosts arts and cultural events (sign up with them to access limited free tickets if you’re under 30).
King’s Cross – a short walk behind the station is Regents Canal and Granary Square which hosted the Summer of Love outdoor screenings of Wimbledon and various films in July. It’s a chilled area to enjoy a drink and people watch or you can hire a party boat along the canal!
The river bank from Tate Modern to London Bridge and then across to Tower Bridge has always been one of my favourite places. New bars and restaurants pop up all the time plus the views are iconic of course.
For the Culture
Notting Hill Carnival – takes place on the last weekend of August during our summer bank holiday (the Sunday and Monday). It’s a celebration of Caribbean culture and a huge street party which isn’t to be missed! Sunday is perfect for families and not a crazy time as Monday is the bigger party. It’s free to attend as part of the crowd so all you need are your dance moves, good vibes and plenty of liquid to cool yourself down!
Greenwich Painted Hall Ceiling Tour – for those of you interested in art and history. The ceiling (and its art) is being restored so until the end of September, you can take a guided tour (£10 for adults) and get close to enough to appreciate it and learn more about what it all means. It’s mainly related to the Navy (as Greenwich is known for) and is really interesting. Opposite is a gorgeous chapel you can check out, the National Maritime museum is across the road and Greenwich Park nearby too.
And finally, I plan to visit the Michael Jackson On the Wall exhibition this month which is in the National Portrait Gallery. It’s in celebration of his 60th birthday this year…definitely one to check out if you can as it’s on until October 21st.
Did you enjoy summer in London? Or do you plan to next year? Let me know in the comments below!