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

Bratislava, Slovakia

Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia, is set along the Danube River by the border with Austria and Hungary. Stay in the old town, the heart of the city where you will then have easy access to all the main sites. You can take bus 61 from the airport to Hlavna stanica railway station and it’s a 20 minute walk to the old town from here. The old town is predominantly pedestrianised so you will have a great time sitting outdoors at a restaurant without having to breathe in fumes!

Note: Most museums are closed on Monday’s so plan what you want to enter ahead of time. Pre-buy your bus tickets from the yellow machines and make sure you get them stamped when you enter the bus. You buy a bus ticket according to journey time e.g. to get to Devin’s castle, you buy a 30min bus because the journey take’s around 25mins.

You can cover everything in 2 days. It’s very easy to get around!

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Bratislava Castle and it’s surrounding gardens. Views of the castle is of course, better from further away from it, in particular, from the bridges.
  2. St Martin’s Cathedral. Between 1563 and 1830 St Martin’s served as the coronation church for Hungarian kings and their consorts, marked to this day by a 300-kg gilded replica of the Hungarian royal crown perched on the top of the cathedral’s 85-metre-tall neo-Gothic tower. If you pick up a tourist map of Bratislava, in red, it marks out the path the royal people would walk after they were coronated. You can also spot metal crowns on the road marking out their paths.
  3. Old Town Hall and the square is a really nice chill spot 773F45C0-3A84-45F0-A2C8-F8D4B8841B10
  4. Primates Palace, pretty in pink! 21B7DE9B-19BE-4491-8DBB-631027B72289
  5. Michael’s Gate – is the only city gate that has been preserved of the medieval fortifications and ranks among the oldest town buildings.186F4349-3F25-4371-BC6B-8AB1FEB7C2B9
  6. Galerie Nedbalka. I liked the umbrella’s outside! C9FAC51A-14AF-41F7-BF67-4FC7B7854066
  7. Grassalkovich Palace. Just outside the old town, 5min walk and really pretty with a fountain in the front. 3D00B59D-A651-4C3B-ADDB-443F9FF93AC8
  8. Slavin Memorial. To get here, take a trolley bus 203 from Grassalkovich palace and get off at the end station where you do a short walk up hill to the beautiful memorial site. The statue there is as tall as the Rio Jesus Christ statue. 88CD1E2B-9179-4108-ABE8-01BD129C5CD5
  9. UFO observation deck. Definitely go up top at sunset! You can avoid paying the entry fee if you have a meal but of course the restaurant isn’t cheap. Be warned, it’s super windy. C3EAEE2F-9704-40DE-8F74-77E39F0CD069
  10. Old and new National Theatre. Which do you prefer?
  11. Eurovea mall is about a 15min walk away from the old city, beyond the green bridge and is their latest development.  The surrounding area, with a fake beach has many restaurants along the river. 201924AB-2F61-4274-9D83-9708A2C12DAD
  12. Man at work statue and right opposite is statue that holds a hat.
  13. Take a bus under the UFO bridge to Devin’s castle
  14. Best place to have breakfast/brunch or dessert – Mondieu. Their hot chocolate is incredible!
  15. Slovakian food to try – Their garlic soup in a bread roll and sheep cheese pasta. Bryndzové halušky is one of the national dishes. This meal consists of halušky (boiled lumps of potato dough similar in appearance to gnocchi) and bryndza (a soft sheep cheese), optionally sprinkled with cooked bits of smoked pork fat/bacon.2B716332-3DE7-46C5-BAC2-ED01737994FC

Great Ocean Road and Grampians

I’d like to share my itinerary for this famous road trip to make your life easier!

Tip: It tends to be gloomy in the morning with really blue skies 12pm onwards, so keep this in mind for your photos.

Day 1:

Pick up car from Melbourne Airport, drive to the Great Ocean Road putting in Torquay as you first stop. The Great Ocean Road is a permanent memorial to those who lost their lives whilst fighting WW1. From here, head to Bell’s beach known for its surfing -> Anglesea -> Memorial Arch -> Lorne -> Eskirne Falls > Teddy’s Lookout -> Apollo Bay for lunch and grab takeaway dinner here -> Otway National Park for Cape Otway light station (this is a paid activity and closes at 5pm with last entry being 430pm. If you miss this, you can still do a free walk on the side to see the lighthouse from a distance). Check in to 12 Apostles Inn and drive to Gibson Steps and the 12 Apostles for sunset.

This sounds like a lot in one day but keep in mind it’s all about the drive and view points so nothing took up too much time other than the lighthouse walk. Of course we took the first flight that got us into Melbourne ASAP.

Day 2:

Continue along the Great Ocean Road and ensure plenty of time to stop at the lookouts along the way. There are short walks at Loch and Gorge -> Bay of Islands -> Logans Beach viewing platform for whale watching (May-Oct is best) -> Warrnambool for lunch and cheesy factory-> Tower Hill State Game Reserve for multiple walk options -> Port Fairy for Griffith Island lighthouse (nice gentle walk) -> Stay the night in Warrnambool Redwood Manor Motel Apartments.

 

Day 3:

Drive to the Grampians! First stop Dunkeld where you will find The Old Bakery known for its croissants (opens 9am) -> Boroka Lookout especially stunning at sunset if you wanted to do the drive here the night before instead (90m from carpark, best view) -> Reeds lookout (100m from carpark) -> The Balconies (Easy 2km return walk) starting from the Reeds lookout carpark -> Mackenzie Falls 2km return to the base of the falls (there are also other short walks to other falls from here) -> Beehive falls which is almost the highest point of the Grampians National Park (there wasn’t any water when we went, seasonal, 2.8km return therefore not worth doing) -> Pinnacle Lookout (2.1km climbing rocks too, best hike, starting from Sundial Carpark). Stay at Halls Gap, The Grampians Motel and eat at The Views Bar and Restaurant. Food around this area is pricy because there isn’t much choice. Halls Gap is the base for the Grampians. Sunset is best from The Balconies and Reeds Lookout if you want to catch this.

We initially thought we needed to split all these across two days but it is absolutely doable to see and hike everything in the one day as long as you stay the night because you will need the rest!

 

Day 4

Grampians to Ballarat exploring the town known for Gold. From the information centre in the city centre, pick up a free walking tour guide so you can read up on the historic buildings you will see everywhere you walk. Definitely visit Sovereign Hill and the gold museum. Drive back to the airport to return the car and fly home.

Solo Travelling: My reflection

Pros

  • People are more willing to help you
  • Easier to ask for help and favours
  • Do what you want, when you want
  • People are more likely to approach and include you
  • More likely to YOLO things and be able to change plans last minute without having to consult anyone or consider anyone else
  • Save money, you naturally feel the need to be like all backpackers and live on a tight budget
  • Learn to be independent, get used to eating along, get stronger from carrying own stuff and being more aware of what to bring in future
  • Figure things out yourself if something goes wrong
  • More likely to squeeze in to get a space e.g. buses, shows
  • Get out of comfort zone, challenge
  • Time to reflect
  • Increase compassion and care as you meet people from everywhere
  • Learn to stand up for yourself
  • Face your weaknesses
  • Teachers you to streamline your life, packing little and living simply
  • You’re never truly alone
  • The world will no longer be as scary as you think
  • Learn to trust your gut instincts
  • Makes you more spontaneous
  • Walk loads
  • Collect memories and photos instead of things

Cons

  • I definitely kept on wanting to tell someone about what I was doing, what I encountered, my feelings, my upcoming plans etc. So I guess it’s not purely traveling solo if I’m always texting, insta storying?
  • Unable to stay out too long when it’s dark. Potentially affecting the joy of watching sunset peacefully
  • Always have to be SO alert and awake
  • Major dress down, act poor, pretend I’m just a student
  • Have to take the cheaper transport option as you can’t split cab fares if in a large group. Public transport takes a lot longer and have set times
  • Hostel room = potentially messy, crowded, upper bunk, people snoring
  • Lonely! You also feel scared
  • Not as safe, therefore limited places, countries you can visit
  • Can’t discuss options to rationalise
  • No one to watch your back or help you with simple things e.g. a zip or fluff in your hair
  • Some activities are more fun with more people
  • Overtime if you have to do all the planning, it can get tiring. No one to share out the work load

Tips for first time solo travellers:

  • Towel x2 (activities outside)
  • Ear plugs
  • Torch
  • Learn to read a map
  • Be willing to speak to people
  • Avoid eye contact with dodgy looking people and groups
  • Always be around other people and stay on main roads
  • Find out about student/youth discounts
  • Cough candy
  • Pre-book at least your first hostel, don’t assume you can’t just roll up especially during peak season
  • Consider travelling during low season if you want a more quiet trip and better service
  • Your hostel will have a locker so don’t worry about sleeping with your valuables
  • Bug spray
  • Sunblock and shades
  • Always pick up a map of the area, learn to rely on that rather than Google maps especially to get away from tech
  • Don’t hitch hike alone
  • Pack light, it can get tiring if your bag is heavy
  • Water bottle

 

Xiamen, China

Xiamen is a port city on China’s southeast coast, across a strait from Taiwan. It encompasses 2 main islands and a region on the mainland. Formerly known as Amoy, it was a British-run treaty port from 1842 to 1912. Many Europeans and Japanese lived on Gulangyu, today a vehicle-free island with beaches and meandering streets lined with old colonial villas. I went straight to the countryside as part of my volunteer trip!

  1. Great for mountain biking as they have so much open land
  2. Teach at a local school, they could do with volunteers teaching English
  3. Stay in a traditional ‘Tu Lou’ protected by UNESCO World Heritage. A Tu Lou is usually circular in configuration, between three and fie stories high and housing up to 800 people. Smaller interior buildings are often enclosed by these huge peripheral walls which can contain halls, storehouses, wells and living areas, the whole structure resembling a small fortified city. There are several you can visit including Chuxi tulou group, Tianluokeng tulou cluster, Hekeng tulou cluster, Gaobei tulou cluster, Dadi tulou cluster, Hongkeng tulou cluster, Yangxian lou, Huiyuan lou, Zhengfu lou and Hegui lou
  4. Get a view from the top of the traditional houses
  5. Visit a tea plantation and pick tea leaves!

Trento and Asiago, Italy

Trento is a city in the Trentino–Alto Adige region of northern Italy. I was lucky enough to have had a local friend take me around which also included visiting Lake caldonazzo and Asiago town. Catch the Christmas markets if you go in December! Top 5 recommendations:

  1. Visit Piaza Fiera where you can find the Christmas market selling local products and food stalls. You will have to try Goulash and plantain, a common dish here. Just outside Trento train station there is also a nice park (although I was told the park was created to try improve the safety of that particular area, so be careful).23915698_10157236784318849_1989658320170067178_n 

  2. Trento Cathedral, featuring a rose window and a baroque chapel, sits on Piazza Duomo and Neptune fountain right in front. And diagonal from the cathedral, behind the fountain, you can find Case Cazuffi-Rella, a Renaissance building with a frescoed facade (washed out painting on the building, bottom left image). 

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  3. Loacker cafe! Even though it’s an Austrian brand, they have a dedicated Loacker cafe in the city centre, great for breakfast.20171126_112225
  4. Lake Caldonazzo. In the Summer, a lot of people visit from Germany to chill here23844460_10157236784208849_4957956520050855077_n
  5. Asiago town centre – a minor township in the surrounding plateau region in the Province of Vicenza in the Veneto region of Northeastern Italy. It took about 1h to drive from Trento, passing by the lake along the way.23915626_10157236783463849_4248685400442187806_n23915680_10157236783518849_1867737988198450114_n23843552_10157236783603849_1755541038535597556_n

 

 

Zante, Greece

Zakynthos is a Greek island in the Ionian Sea and a well-known summer resort. The harbor city of Zakynthos is the capital and major hub, centered around waterfront Solomos Square. Popular beaches like Agios Nikolaos, Alykanas and Tsilivi offer swimming and water sports. Accessed by boat, Navagio beach is the site of a famed 1980 shipwreck resting in a sandy cove framed by cliffs. Your perfect beach getaway with crystal clear waters and sea turtles!

Note: There are no buses from the airport, you’ll have to take a taxi which won’t cost very much as all the main beaches and Zante town is super close. Kalamaki beach is the closest to the airport.

Here are my recommendations:

  1. Shipwreck Beach and Blue caves departing from Laganas beach. You can climb the ship but just be careful because it’s quite rusty and has many sharp edges. This tour was also suppose to include the famous view point to look down at Shipwreck Beach, but unfortunately there was a forest fire going on that entire weekend ><
  2.  Turtle Island (Marathonisi) and Keri caves departing from Keri beach. You’ll have time to swim in the caves and chill at turtle beach as part of the tour.
  3. Laganas (Party town at night) and Kalamaki beach. You can rent pedal boats, kayaks and all types of fun floats to relax in the sea. Plenty of restaurants to choose from as these two beaches are connected. Most people choose to stay here (in terms of accom)
  4. Xigia Beach, known as Zante’s natural spa as the water is quite sulphuric and you can smell it (like rotten eggs but not as strong as Iceland)
  5. Zante Town

Must try dessert: Frigania. Extremely sweet, kinda like a Banoffee pie. My photo isn’t great, but it was really yummy!

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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.

 

Fjord, Norway

What is a fjord? A fjord is a deep, narrow and elongated sea or lakedrain, with steep land on three sides. The longest fjord in the world is Scoresby Sund in Greenland (350 km), but the Western Norway region (Fjord Norway) boasts the next two spots on the list, with the Sognefjord (203 km), and the Hardanger Fjord (179 km).

I used the Norway in a nutshell 1 day tour (here) to get from Oslo to Bergen, while visiting fjords along the way. This tour was really well organised allowing you to experience the Bergen Railway, Flam railway, a cruise from Flam to Aurlandsfjord and on the narrowest fjord in the world- Nærøyfjord, and a bus ride from Gudvangen to Voss. If you have more time and money, I would highly recommend doing more than just this day trip, there are several options on the site to extend your journey. Here are some photos from my mystical experience:

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It got really cold at some point on the train ride!
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Fjords at Flam
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I love the reflection on the calm waters, taken from the ferry
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You pass by beautiful towns on the ferry

It would be nice to come back in future when there are blue skies. I can imagine a whole new look! Perhaps I’ll find some hiking options in future to oversee the area rather than be low down on the waters.