Prague, Czech Republic

Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, is bisected by the Vltava River. Nicknamed “the City of a Hundred Spires,” it’s known for its Old Town Square, the heart of its historic core, with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock, which gives an animated hourly show. Here are the suggested things to do:

  1. Old town square – it has remained relatively untouched since the 10th century and here you will find on the best preserved medieval mechanical clock in the world.
  2. Prague Castle – Entry to the grounds of the castle are free although many buildings such as the St Vitus cathedral, Basillica of St George and Golden Lane can be visited with a combined entry ticket.
  3. Stroll across Charles Bridge.  The bridge was commissioned in 1357 by Charles IV to replace an older bridge that had been washed away by floods. Although completed in 1390, with the striking statues added in the 17th century, the bridge did not take Charles’ name until the 19th century. You will enjoy the musical performances by buskers, paintings by artists and other vendors.
  4. Admire the Lenon wall – Although Prague is a long way from Liverpool, the birthplace of the Beatles, fans should certainly check out this shrine to one of the most famous bands of all time. The wall has been covered in John Lennon and The Beatles graffiti, lyrics and quotations since the 1980s and is very popular among tourists and young fans wishing to pay homage to the group.
  5. Petrin Hill – For its gardens, views of the city from the miniature Eiffel Tower, unusual church of St Michael and mirror maze. You can walk up or ride the funicular railway to the top.
  6. The narrowest street in Prague – you actually do have to follow the pedestrian traffic light! 19.6inch wide gap nestled in Prague’s oldest neighbourhood, Mala Strana. IMG_9749
  7. Wanceslas Square – one of the main city squares and the centre of the business and cultural communities in the New Town of Prague, Czech Republic. Many historical events occurred there, and it is a traditional setting for demonstrations, celebrations, and other public gatherings.
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  8. Kampa park – you will find the random row of yellow penguins and other art sculptures. If you keep on going across the park, it eventually links to island in the middle of the river where you enjoy the views of Charles bridge and the town.
  9. Dancing houseIMG_7994
  10. Spotting art all across the city – some stranger than others. King Kong Balls is what they call this one.
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  11. Chimney Cake – Good food coffee and bakery was highly rated so that’s what I tried but you can find this everywhere! IMG_9791
  12. Prague hotdog – I wasn’t a fan but again you can find it everywhere as a convenient on the go food
  13. Key specialities – Roast pork knuckle and roast duck with cabbage and dumplings.IMG_9726

Day trips from Taipei

Having been to Taipei several times now, I decided to explore the countryside a little bit more. Here are some day trip options even though I chose to stay over night at Jiu Fen to make the trip a bit more relaxing and to avoid large groups of tourists:

  1. Jiu Fen and Jing Gua Shi – Jiufen is a mountain town east of Taipei. It’s known for the narrow alleyways of its old town, packed with teahouses, street-food shacks and souvenir shops. It is also known as the back drop for the movie Spirited Away! Don’t forget to try Grandma Lai’s famous mochi type dessert opposite the post office along the old street.Close by, the Gold Mine Museum in Jing Gua Shi traces the town’s history as a mining hub during the Japanese-era gold rush. Be sure to check out the golden waterfall too which you will surprisingly find just by the main road.

    You can easily take a public bus from Rui Fang station to Jiu Fen and from Jiu Fen to Jing Gua Shi.

  2. Jing Tong to Ping Xi to Shi Fen to Rui Fang – Buy a day pass or use your easy card to access the Ping Xi line train that connects all these must see villages. This area is rich in history and is famous for the sky lantern experience. I chose to do the sky lantern at Ping Xi station instead of the famous Shi Fen one because of the number of tourists! Releasing a sky lantern starts from 150NT depending on the number of colours you want on your latern as each color represents a different meaning (this matters to some people). Shifen is also known for it’s waterfall so be sure to check that out (closes at 4:30pm) – photo in my Taipei blog post.
  3. Ying Ge is famous for the production of porcelain and an abundance of art studios and shops. It was good fun learning to make pottery! Note that it take’s about a month for it to be fired and colored so it might be useful to have a Taiwan friend help you pick this up as I’m not sure that they do international deliveries. It cost 150NT to make and an additional 150NT for the firing process etc.

Athens, Greece

Athens is the capital of Greece. It was also at the heart of Ancient Greece, a powerful civilization and empire. The city is still dominated by 5th-century BC landmarks, including the Acropolis, a hilltop citadel topped with ancient buildings like the colonnaded Parthenon temple.

You could do a free walking tour to learn more about what you will end up seeing (because it all just looks like a pile of ruins if you don’t have any background info) and the tour will help you catch the changing of the guards which takes place every hour.  The free walking tours do not enter any of the sites so just use it as a source of direct information making your Greek experience more interesting and educational! Definitely by the 30euro package deal which gives you access to 7 sites (Acropolis, archeological museum, temple of Zeus, museum of ancient agora, roman agora, lyceum and Hadrian’s library) . Of if you are an EU student, show you student card and gain access to all sites FREE. You can walk everywhere apart from the Archeological museum which is a bit further out (bargain with a taxi driver and it should cost around 5euros only). Of course if you visit when it isn’t so hot, I’m sure you can easily walk it too.

It’s really beautiful walking around the alleyways of Athens. It’s surrounded by well decorated restaurants and buildings. That was the part I loved most about Athens actually, the varied alleyways.

 

Note: Taxi’s don’t use their meters, make sure you negotiate a price beforehand. Bus X95 goes straight from the airport to Syntagma square and is only 6 Euros, taking around 45mins depending on traffic. We kept getting warned about pick pockets so be aware. Finally, Summer gets really hot so be prepped!

  1. Parliament for the changing of the guards162E116A-BBB4-4581-9C53-E84BB2CE3404
  2. Hadrian’s Arch and Temple of Zeus (they are next to each other) 

  3. Panathenaic stadium
  4. Parthenon The Acropolis and Theatre of Dionysos 

  5. Acropolis museum4A56C101-C959-419D-97DC-3B0CD7DA6847
  6. Museum of Ancient Agora – I think you get one of the best views from here on the way to the temple of Hephaestus, still in this same ticketed area. DCE21354-1755-4CCF-84E1-D0ED8749DD23
  7. Hadrian’s library 72F8C881-8A27-432D-8661-CFCFEA29F737
  8. Roman Agora 

  9. The best bubble tea I have ever had was from some random Chinese restaurant just outside the airport bus ticket office in the city. I wish I noted the name down but if you are ever in Athens, try it! I wish I took down the name but you’ll just have to trust me on this one.

Here is the tourist map you can pick up which isn’t the most clear tbh

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Crete (Heraklion), Greece

Expect to be shocked as soon as you step out of Crete’s Heraklion airport with a line of tour company stalls and groups of tourists! Pick up their tourist map because it shows you five routes you can take to tour the key sites in a mapped out way. You can spend two or three days visiting all the sites including the Palace of Knossos, and be sure to enjoy some fresh seafood along the waterfront, they are all in a row. A recommended restaurant would be Kastella 🙂 You can take a 20min taxi from the airport straight to the city 15Euros to most city centre locations. And from the city back to the airport, you can find taxi’s for as low as 10 euros! They will have sign boards so they can’t cheat you. They don’t use their meters in Greece so make sure you clarify price beforehand.

The main area is really walkable and the only commute is to the Palace. c800e5f2-ae88-4dbb-961b-299298c2d39b.jpeg

Heraklion, also known as Iraklio, is a port city and the capital of the Greek island of Crete. It’s known for the Palace of Knossos, just outside the city. The huge archaeological site dates back thousands of years to the Minoan civilization, and includes frescoes and baths. Guarding the city’s Venetian port is the 16th-century Koules fortress. Heraklion Archaeological Museum has a large collection of Minoan art.

Note for breakers: You can train at the town hall 8pm onwards! There are skaters there too.  I was lucky enough to join in on their busking the night I was there which was the highlight of my trip. F666FAB1-D99D-489D-B126-5CF3CEA79414

Note for EU students: You gain free entry everywhere to most sites!

Here are some of the highlights from my trip:

  1. Palace of Knossos –  the main Bronze Age archaeological site at Heraklion, a modern port city on the north central coast of Crete. It really is just ruined remaining but worth a visit since it’s their main highlight. Read some history beforehand as there are limited sign boards at the site. There are tour guides you can pay for outside if you have the extra money. I would also recommend getting the entry ticket that includes the archeological museum as they do a package deal that make’s it a lot cheaper.
  2. Archeological museum
  3. Venetian Port and fortress
  4. Historical Museum
  5. Church of St Titus 16AF610F-7781-4459-A74F-94F609E57A27
  6. Town hall 80632474-941B-4D2C-8484-04014629E8F5
  7. Cathedral of St Minas and Museum of Christian Art which is right next to the church 968CB171-17AE-4955-85BA-4A50A4A9B21A
  8. Natural History Museum 6C14AA04-CB55-42B7-9D00-C19A303F1F68
  9. Morosini fountain, Lion Square. 4CA19B9C-A13A-4989-85AF-5261DD23B52F
  10. Priuli Fountain 5EEFCCC8-4AE5-42A1-84DD-8D2B65FFECDD
  11. Enjoy the main street filled with shops D2FB5736-E979-4B09-83A5-98FEEF2C3E98
  12. Stay at Dom Boutique Hotel – one of the best hotels I’ve stayed at. They had amazing service and it’s in the heart of the city centre.

 

Munich, Germany

Munich, Bavaria’s capital, is home to centuries-old buildings and numerous museums. In the Altstadt (Old Town), central Marienplatz square contains landmarks such as Neo-Gothic Neues Rathaus (town hall), with a popular glockenspiel show that chimes and reenacts stories from the 16th century. Here are my recommendations:

  1. Neuschwanstein Castle, also famously known for inspiring Disneyland’s Castle. Make sure you book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment as they allocate time slots and are always very busy.  You can pay later (12euros per person) but just pre-book a slot! It takes 2hours from the central main station followed by a short bus ride. You get incredible views from here and can also consider visiting the castle next door called Hohenschwangau castle (the yellow one)

  2. Dachau concentration camp 5h half day tour where you will experience the memorial to the holocaust and learn about the history and workings of the camp. I don’t have any pictures to post here for sensitivity reasons, but would still recommend this insightful visit.
  3. BMW museum and world where you can test cars, see how designs have changed over the years and admire the architecture of the building.13240623_10155140864643849_318971308103394758_n
  4. Historic residence and treasury – see the collections and learn some history13265923_10155140865853849_4249492002833796793_n
  5. Marienplatzs is a central square in the city centre of Munich. It has been the city’s main square since 1158. Look out in particular for the New City Hall (Neues Rathaus) on the North side with a Glockenspeil in the tower. 13254649_10155140854698849_6015921144990356539_o

 

Marbella and Malaga, Spain

Málaga is a port city on southern Spain’s Costa del Sol, known for its high-rise hotels and resorts jutting up from yellow-sand beaches. You can catch a bus or cab from Malaga to Marbella (50min journey) to enjoy its famous resort area of sandy Mediterranean beaches, villas, hotels and golf courses. West of Marbella town, the Golden Mile of prestigious nightclubs and coastal estates leads to Puerto Banús marina, filled with luxury yachts, and surrounded by upmarket boutiques and bars. Here are my top 5 recommendations:

 

  1. Puerto Banus marine Marbella
  2. 4×4 Ronda Tour by Monta Aventura eco tours where you will see Ronda, learn a lot about nature and also see the well-known Sony “Smurf Village” in Júzcar. I highly recommend this tour, it was really educational and covered a lot.

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  3. Visit Malaga bullring –  La Malagueta is a world-class bullring, seating as many as 9,032 spectators and holding the most important events of the bullfighting season, like the Easter bullfights, the Picassian Gala, the August Fair or the bullfight dedicated to Málaga’s Patroness.
  4. Walk along Malaga port or do a segway ride! You’ll pass by Centre Pompidou, a stand out colourful cube building.
  5. Visit the cathedral, Alcazaba and the Roman ampi theatre, all in close walking distance from one another in down town Malaga.

 

Taipei, Taiwan

Taiwan is a small island nation 180km east of China with modern cities, traditional Chinese temples, hot springs resorts and dramatic mountainous terrain. Taipei is it’s capital up North. I was in Taipei for over 2 months to learn mandarin, ended up falling in love with the place so visited a year later making it extremely difficult for me to narrow down my top recommendations! But here goes nothing:

In Taipei:

  1. Climb Xiang Shan for a view of Taipei, in particular of the 101 tower. Of course, why not do this and watch sunset! Tip: Don’t pay to go up the tower, book your place in Starbucks for a free view since you just pay for your drink.
  2. Visit Yang Ming Shan both in the day and at night and have a meal up top, but be sure to book in advance as it always gets busy. Ride a scooter if you dare to, everyone has a bike in Taiwan!
  3. Visit Chiang Kai Shek Memorial, National Palace Museum and Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall. These are significant places and beautiful grounds. You can even see dancers practicing around the buildings if you’re lucky. I love how their government is extremely open about arts, culture and hip-hop.
  4. Taiwan is extremely famous for its night markets, my favourites in Taipei being Shilin night market and Roehe night market. Enjoy all the hawker foods, different types of noodles and make sure you try their mango ice dessert.
  5. Continuing on about food, try their most famous bubble tea in Gong Guan night market with the delicious Gua Bao (pork bao) stall opposite and also try the 2h buffet style Ma La hotpot!

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  6. The Chinese course I did was through the mandarin learning centre at National Taipei Normal University. However, my mandarin improved by joining HRC dance school where I got to interact with the locals on a day-to-day basis. If you’re into dancing, I highly recommend their studio which has two locations in Taipei. And of course, catch all the dance related camps/festivals/competitions that go on!
  7. Visit the upside down house in Hua Shan creative park which also has other exhibitions you can visit e.g. where is wally.
  8. Visit Yi Lan beach where I first tried surfing!13557666_10155269511323849_597601209174748538_n
  9. Visit Ying Ge famous for its pottery
  10. If you are into hiking, you’re visiting the right place. There are so many trails with amazing views and waterfalls in a lot of the places. 13615417_10155278469828849_3243686137910364284_n
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    绢丝瀑布, 冷水坑 & 擎天岗

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    Shifen Waterfall

Please see my other post about things to do outside of Taipei which are all accessible from Taipei, especially with their high speed rail system.

Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap is a resort town in northwestern Cambodia and the main reason tourists visit is to see the ruins of Angkor. There are so many sites and recent historical events to Cambodia which is why hiring a tour guide would be the best way to really understand what you are looking at as well as to get to know the country better. This is the company I used (link) and my tour guide Mr Chet was absolutely incredible. You could ask him anything about world history and he also knew the best spots to take photos which is always helpful considering how packed the place can get.

Note: The temples can and will flood if it rains, so make sure you don’t go during their rainy season. Our guide told us there are major issues with the drainage system sadly.

  1. Visit Angkor Watt and all the other temples such as where Tomb Raider was filmed. Definitely worth catching sunrise and seeing the reflection in the waters at Angkor Watt.13516460_10155240966043849_5538501040491788683_n13521946_10154194303037159_5237467394466484476_n13501577_10155238291248849_361577087993809525_n13521888_10154187896477159_4493892656580829320_n13494934_10155240975358849_8697230333085399707_n13510938_10155238291823849_7385750362683323995_n
  2. See the monks wondering around or meditating. I love how their orange garment stands out.
  3. Dine at Crystal Angkor restaurant while watching a really relaxing traditional dance show. 13517537_10155237092853849_8141448254792395640_o
  4. Stay at Lotus Blanc Resort and try their Damnak fine dining restaurant. Did you know Cambodia is famous for its dining and has a wide range of cuisines? 13509150_10155237095118849_2361018783711579675_n13509044_10155237093558849_7663625544931416472_n
  5. Travel around by ‘tuk tuk‘, visit Angkor National Museum and shop at Angkor’s night market in Siem Reap. Buy comfortable clothes and art work for super cheap! 13450906_10155237094868849_6706515383436222658_n13434921_10154187905282159_7243914447856779269_n

North Wales, United Kingdom

What brought me to North Wales for the first time was my graduate Midnight Snowdon hike challenge in support of Alzheimer’s Society. sixteen graduates from GVA set off to conquer Mt Snowdon over night and succeeded in under 4.5 hours! I then extended my trip to tour around myself, first time traveling solo, and I loved it.

Note: Expect North Wales to rain and have grey skies. I was only lucky in Caernarfon!

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Visit Llanberis and climb Mount Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, at an elevation of 1,085 metres above sea level, and the highest point in the British Isles south of the Scottish Highlands. 

  2. Visit Anglesey, an island off the north-west coast of Wales. Specifically, visit Menai bridge on the way to Beaumaris famous for its castle, coast and pastel coloured houses. Also try Beau’s tea shop, it has such beautiful decor. 

     

  3. From Beaumaris, take a ferry to visit Puffin island and Trwyn Du light house, or Black Point which dates from 1838, and guided sailors through the passage between Penmon and Puffin Island.19397173_10156642004533849_8713041693481194888_n19247571_10156642002813849_3895077496144114257_n
  4. Visit Caernarfon Castle, a medieval fortress on the eastern shore of the Menai Strait, opposite the Isle of Anglesey19424495_10156642698848849_7503409698617401662_n19424194_10156642693573849_5561285517140394384_n
  5. Visit Llandudno a seaside resort, town and community. Make sure you catch the Great Orme tramway to visit the Great Orme, a prominent limestone headland on the north coast of Wales. You can even go further via a cable car but I didn’t have good enough weather to bother with this.19399300_10156646339803849_732351528926752664_n19430060_10156646339543849_8260118457623678123_n19400174_10156646339388849_4854750953815478246_nOther: I used Bangor as my base and stayed at a wonderful hotel called Bangor Garden hotel. This was above a cantonese restaurant,  family run so everyone was super friendly and helpful.

Ha Noi, Vietnam

Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam, is known for its centuries-old architecture and a rich culture with Southeast Asian, Chinese and French influences. At its heart is the chaotic Old Quarter, where the narrow streets are roughly arranged by trade. And I thought Ho Chi Minh was chaotic…

Heads up: Most restaurants had very low tables and stools, especially if you want to try local options, so if you’re a tall person, be prepared!

  1. Take a cyclo tour within the old quarter to understand the general structure, go around the main Hoan Kiem lake
  2. Try a food and walking tour. What better way than to get a local guide to take you to all the famous restaurants, covering all types of Vietnamese foods. I would suggest coming with an empty stomach because they are so generous with the portions and you have about 7 meals on the tour! http://www.hanoistreetfoodtour.com/
  3. Visit Ha Long Bay where you take a cruise trip to view a scatter of islands, towering limestone pillars and eroded grottoes.
  4. As part of your Ha Long Bay tour, you should stop by an organisation that helps disabled people who were affected by the chemical agent orange, come back into the work place through art. Here you can purchase some of their work to support them. 17201112_10156208050643849_2342946739179711639_n
  5. Visit Trang An caves in Ninh Binh Province. You can enjoy the traditional rowboats along the Sao Khe River through limestone caves and watch your boat rower do it with their feet! 19340123_10156614872953849_533667555_o19340067_10156614872913849_1093316059_o