Busabout Tour Review: Iberian Adventure

Having never visited mainland Spain, Portugal or Morocco before, the Busabout Iberian adventure trip looked perfect for exploring all three in one trip. In the space of 7 days, you get to visit 8 places across 3 countries.

Day One

The trip started and ended at U Hostels in Madrid, where I stayed the night before and after the tour. The hostel is really nice and modern, and has a bar and cinema/games room, so has plenty to keep you entertained. The first day of the trip is spent travelling to Seville with a stop in Cordoba on the way. Cordoba is a fairly small city and you get a few hours to explore the sights, including the Mezquita, which I’d definitely recommend taking a look at. The Mezquita is a Mosque-Cathedral and so has some interesting architecture, including the striped arches which you have probably seen on Instagram. In the centre of the building is a grand Christian cathedral which is surrounded by Moorish architecture – a fascinating sight!

After grabbing some lunch we jumped back on the coach to Seville where we checked in to the hostel and headed out on a 2-hour walking tour of Seville. Despite it begin 44° C, the tour gave a good overview of the city and came in handy the next morning when exploring. Following the walking tour the group headed to a local tapas bar which served reasonably good and cheap food including aubergine drizzled with honey, aioli potatoes and strong cheeses.

Day Two

The morning of the second day is all free time to do whatever you want. I headed out for a walk around the local parks, and then into the city to explore the streets, as well as paying a short visit to the Archivo General de Indias. I personally found it quite interesting as I’d studied the history of the Spanish in the Americas, and the building itself was pretty too. I grabbed some churros with melted chocolate on the way back to the hostel – I would recommend giving these a try but perhaps look for them in a cafe rather than a takeaway joint as I did as they can be quite greasy! Before setting off for Lagos, the group paid a visit to Plaza de España, which was featured in Star Wars. The plaza was built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and is very grand featuring mosaics, fountains and its own boating river.

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© 2016

Arriving in Lagos we found we were staying at somebody’s home rather than a hostel, which featured its own pool, which the group spent the rest of the afternoon at. As dusk fell we headed to a local restaurant, and although we were the first people in, it immediately filled up and people were forming a queue outside (apparently a regular occurrence). The group all then went to a roof terrace bar for cocktails with views across the city – a great place to spend an evening. Following this, we went to a shots bar/club and after a few more I headed back to the hostel so I could be reasonably fresh for the next morning!

Day Three

The group met at 9am to walk down to the beach for a 3-hour sea-kayaking tour. This was pretty hard work after drinking the night before, but it was a really fun experience. We paddled into grottoes along the coast, saw various cliff formations and stopped at the beach for a swim and to chill part way through. Returning to shore I decided to wander through the markets on the seafront and grab some lunch before heading back to where we were staying for an afternoon sunbathing by the pool. It was super relaxing and definitely needed! That evening the group headed out for dinner at Nah Nah Bah, which has been voted as one of the top 50 burger joints worldwide. It served amazing! (and interestingly named) burgers and fries, even as a vegetarian.

Day Four

On day four, we headed down to Tarifa for our ferry over to Tangier. Tarifa had a nice chilled-out vibe to it, like Lagos, and we had some free time to grab some lunch which I had at a tapas bar on one of the main streets. The ferry then took us over to Tangier, and upon arrival we jumped on a different coach for a driving tour. We stopped at various points at which you had the opportunity to sit on a camel. We eventually ended up close to the medina and markets. The local tour guide walked us around the city giving us various insights before ending up at a Berber pharmacy, where we had the opportunity to buy herbal medicines and spices. The next stop was dinner at a local restaurant, accompanied by traditional music, and eventually some group dancing. Dinner finished fairly late, so the group headed back to the hotel. The hotel rooms were nice, comfortable and spacious.

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Day Five 

The next morning we had a buffet breakfast in the hotel gardens which was delicious. We then got back on the ferry back to Tarifa where we met up again with our original coach driver. Although I’m glad I visited Morocco, it’s not somewhere I plan to go back to anytime soon as it was hectic and people didn’t appear too happy.

On the afternoon of day five we arrived in Granada, which appeared to be a fairly modern city from first sight. However, after walking for around 1o minutes to the White Nest Hostel where we were staying, the architecture began to change and become more Medieval in appearance. That evening the group visited a local tapas bar which served good food and sangria, before walking up to a viewing point across the city which gave an amazing view of the Alhambra at night. We then walked to Sacromente to a house built into the caves for a flamenco show, which is worth a visit if in Spain!

Day Six

The following day started with a visit to the Hammam Al Ándalus Arab baths – a series of baths ranging in temperatures. I also had a massage which was super relaxing. After the hammam I wandered around the nearby streets and grabbed some lunch before meeting back with the group for a 3-hour tour of the Alhambra. Although this seems like a long tour, I would definitely recommend it as the sights and views are amazing, and the guide was interesting too. That evening I went to dinner with a few people from the group at the Plaza Nueva where various street performers could be seen nearby which kept us entertained into the night.

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Day Seven

Although day seven of the trip was the last day, there was still plenty to see. On the way back to Madrid, we stopped in Consuegra and visited the famous La Mancha windmills, which are all named after Don Quixote characters. From the hill where the windmills stood you could see for miles around which was a pretty amazing sight. After Consuegra we drove on to Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a Medieval city on top of a hill, famous for its marzipan and Cathedral. This wasn’t my favourite place on the trip (there were one too many tourist shops for my liking!) but I wouldn’t have missed it either way. After Toledo it was only around an hours drive back to Madrid. After chilling out at the hostel for a few hours the group decided to head to a highly recommended burrito joint just down the road from the hostel, and then for sangria in the hostel bar.

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I would definitely recommend this trip for anyone who hasn’t visited Spain before. The cost is reasonable, the length of the trip is good, especially if you want to visit other parts of Spain afterwards, as I did with Barcelona,  and there’s plenty to see and do on the way round, without it being too hectic. I’ve heard that Busabout have added Lisbon to the itinerary, which I would have loved to have visited on my trip, definitely one for the future!

Having previously travelled with Topdeck, Busabout is fairly similar in what you get for your money, and I would recommend either company for people travelling on their own who are happy to stay in hostels.

Budapest and Bratislava: Castles, Thermal baths and Food!

Following a conversation with a tour guide who claimed Budapest to be his favourite place in Europe, and working with a Hungarian girl, who also claimed it was great, I recently decided to book flights to Budapest, visiting Bratislava on the same trip so I could tick more than one country off my bucket list in one trip!

Day One

The plan on day one was to arrive in Budapest by midday and explore. However, after a 7 hour flight delay this didn’t quite go to plan. We arrived in Budapest after a 2 and a half hour flight and booked the airport shuttle bus to our hotel. The desk is just to your right as you go through arrivals and it is fairly cheap and easy to just book when you arrive.

We stayed in the Budapest City Central which is located in the city centre close to the Great Synagogue. The entrance itself is fairly hidden as you need to go through a large gate which is locked by an intercom system. The receptionists were very hospitable and helpful, and the rooms themselves were clean and comfortable. There are only a few rooms in the hotel so it was quiet too.

That evening we headed out to explore the locality and to grab some food at an Italian restaurant near to the Opera metro station. There are plenty of restaurants in Budapest to choose from, and there were at least some vegetarian options on most menus.

Day Two

On the second day we grabbed some breakfast at a local cafe before jumping on the Giraffe hop-on, hop-off bus. We jumped off at the stop before the castle and walked along the riverside to check out the views of the bridges and Pest from the Buda side on the Danube. We then took the funicular up to the Castle District which costs around 1200 HUF (about £3) for a single ticket and 1800 HUF (about £4.50) for a return. This is pretty fun and will save you walking up the steep incline.

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Funicular ©2016

The Changing  of the Guards was taking place in front of the Hungarian Presidential Palace when we arrived. You can check out a video of this here.

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Changing of the guards ©2016

We spent a fair amount of time wandering around the castle grounds which were fairly big and full of interesting nooks and staircases. We grabbed some lunch at Korona Kávéház just by the castle, which was cheap and delicious.

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Castle Grounds ©2016

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Budapest Royal Palace ©2016

Next we headed to the Fisherman’s Bastion passing the ornately decorated exterior of Matthias Church. The Fisherman’s Bastion is a highly decorated series of lookout towers, with amazing views over Budapest. You can pay to go up to the towers and turrets, but we decided not to and still managed to see the majority of it and thought it was an amazing attraction.

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Fisherman’s Bastion ©2016

After the Fisherman’s Bastion we walked over to the Hospital in the Rock Nuclear Bunker museum. The only way to see the museum is by guided tour – the cost for an adult being 3600 HUF which is just under £9. The tour itself lasts about an hour and traverses the military hospital and nuclear bunker used during World War 2. The tour is fairly interesting, and I would recommend it to history buffs, although if you’re aren’t too into this then perhaps visit somewhere different if you are on a tight schedule.

Following the tour, we jumped back on the hop-on hop-off bus to Szechenyi Baths. A ticket with a locker is around 4900 HUF (just under £12) and you can rent towels if you don’t want or remember to bring your own. The outdoor pools are large and despite it raining were hot enough to lounge around in for the rest of the afternoon. The pool at the far end is a bit cooler and has a whirlpool in the centre of it which is fun to try.

That evening we decided to visit Govinda, a vegetarian Indian restaurant that had been recommended to us. We may have just visited at a bad time, but the food was lukewarm and with little flavour. After a bad experience with food poisoning on one of our last trips we decided to grab food elsewhere.

Later that evening we headed over to Szimpla Kert a run pub popular with visitors to Budapest. The pub itself is huge and fascinating to walk around with really fun decor. Cocktails and beer is cheap, and there are also shisa pipes, pickled carrots and pretzels so there is something for everyone.

On our way back we went into the Yellow Zebra Bar which had more of a local feel and live music. You can also rent bikes from here so worth a visit either way!

Day Three

We spent most of Day Three on Margaret Island. There is quite a bit to see on the island and I would recommend a visit if the weather is nice. We hired out a four wheel bike to see one half of the island before wandering around the rest of it. The musical fountains are fun to watch and there are jogging tracks if you enjoy running. There are plenty of boats to Margaret Island from the docks on the Pest side of the river.

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Margaret Island ©2016

For lunch we went to the Hard Rock Cafe, not our usually our preferred place for food but our options as vegetarians were fairly limited. The food turned out to be fairly reasonable and the staff were very accommodating to our preferences.

That evening we dropped by Brklyn bar which was a bit pretentious but served nice drinks and had live music on. 

Day Four

On Day 4 we caught the train to Bratislava. Getting to Keleti station from our hotel by metro was easy and cheap, the ticket sellers in the station spoke good English and the trains were also cheap and clean. I would definitely recommend this way of travelling between the two countries as you get to see so much more than if you flew and the journey is only a couple of hours long.

We stayed at the Garni Hotel Virgo which was cheap, modern and close to the city centre. If you do stay here I would recommend that you request a room not on the bottom floor, as we were given one that was street facing and next to reception which was fairly noisy throughout the night.

For dinner that evening we ate at a local Italian restaurant. The food here was again cheap and enjoyable. We then wandered further into town, trying to choose which of the many amazing cakes we should try, before settling on Mondieu cafe where we indulged in some seriously yummy goodies.

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Mondieu sweet treats ©2016

Day Five

Food options in Bratislava were much more wide-ranging and we found some great places to eat. For breakfast we headed into the city and there was so much to choose from.

Next we caught the metro and then the bus to Devin castle, which doesn’t take as long as it may sound. The castle itself is high up on a hill and is mainly in ruins, however the walk along the river and around the hill is very enjoyable, especially in the summer, and there are also some interesting Iron Curtain memorials along the way.

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Devin Castle ©2016

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Iron Curtain memorial, Devin ©2016

On our way to our next stop, Bratislava castle, we came across a cat cafe, which we stopped off at for some cake and a play with some super cute kitties. Well worth a visit if you’re missing your cat back home.

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Bratislava Castle ©2016

Bratislava Castle is much smaller than Budapest Castle but also offers amazing views across the city and it is free to walk around the grounds.

After wandering round all day we decided to head back into the town centre for dinner. Again we found another great place to eat.

Later that evening we headed out to a local shisha bar, Habibi cafe, for a chilled out evening watching the world go by before our flight home the next day.

Day Six

On our last day we had a fairly early flight back home. The airport is about 20-30 minutes from the centre, so it is worth booking a taxi in advance.

We really enjoyed our time in Budapest and Bratislava and I hope this post helps you plan your visit!

Topdeck Europe Uncovered Tour Review – Part Two

Continued from Part One here.

Day 12 Venice to Pag Island, Croatia (n.b. the most recent change I am aware of is to Pula, Croatia)

The next morning we woke up early and drove to Pag Island in Croatia. The drive to Pag was long and took most of the day, however we got to see plenty of the Croatian coast from the coach window. Pag is a sparsely populated island known for its party scene. The town in which we stayed had a few small bars and restaurants, and after a swim in the warm clear waters just by our hotel (Hotel Biser) we checked a few of them out.

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Pag Island ©2015

If you plan on heading to Zrće Beach on the first night I would highly recommend that you book your taxis in advance. The beach is about 20km away, so not exactly walkable for a night out.

Day 13 Pag Island, Croatia

Today we spent our time chilling out on the beach close to the hotel, and visited Zrće Beach in the afternoon which had plenty of reasonably priced watersports (jet skis, inflatable rings etc), bars and even an option to do a bungee jump. Its worth going even if it’s just to chill out by and have a few drinks. Things liven up a lot more at around 5pm, so I’d recommend heading down from late afternoon if you like to party.

Day 14 Pag Island, Croatia to Ljubljana, Slovenia 

On Day 14 we set off from Pag to Ljubljana, visiting Postojna Caves on the way. The cave tour involves a train ride and a walking tour led by a guide. Even if you’ve been in a cave before I would definitely recommend visiting this one. The caves are pretty big, the train ride is fun and the Concert Hall at the end is a magnificent sight. I’d definitely take a jacket as the caves are a slightly cool 10°C!sal

After spending a few hours at the caves, we carried on to Ljubljana where we dropped our bags off at the Park Hotel before setting off on a walking tour of the city. The city is pretty green and relaxed, and we saw plenty of the city’s emblematic dragon statues. The rest of the evening is yours to explore, and we took the funicular up to Ljubljana Castle. The castle itself is fairly small but worth going up for the views over Ljubljana and funiculars are always fun! After the castle we visited Cantina Mexicana for dinner. The food is great and they give you a free shot will your bill!

Day 15 Ljubljana to Salzburg, Austria

The next morning we visited Lake Bled, which is absolutely stunning. We hired a rowing boat with a few others from our tour group and rowed to Bled island (you can hire someone else to row the boat for you if you feel like a more relaxed journey!). On Bled Island the main attraction is the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria, where you can ring the bell for luck in love. I’d also recommend trying Bled cream cake before you leave!

After spending the morning in Bled, it’s back on the coach for a drive to Salzburg. Following a  walking tour, visiting spots such as Mozart’s birthplace we headed to a beerhouse for dinner with the group. That evening we stayed at the Hotel Haunspergerhof Hof.

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Salzburg Castle ©2015

Day 16 Salzburg to Prague, Czech Republic

Day 16 is a fairly emotional and educational day. We travelled to Prague via Mauthausen concentration camp. The stories you will read and the things you see at the camp will stay with you, and no doubt change your perception in some way. What happened should never be forgotten so however upsetting the visit is, this is an experience I think everyone should have.

The rest of the day is spent travelling to Prague, where we stayed at the My Hotel Apollon. The hotel is slightly out of the city centre, but it is easy enough to get around, with a tram stop just over the road. That evening we were given a walking tour of the city, visiting the Lennon Wall, the Charles Bridge and other more alternative sights. We also stopped in Old Town Square and saw the famous Astronomical Clock.

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Old Town Square ©2015

After the tour we went for a group dinner and there was the choice to head out to a few bars and to go back and rest up at the hotel, which we chose to do so that we could get up early and see the city the next day.

Day 17 Prague

The next day is a completely free day. We set off on the tram for  Prague Castle. The castle is quite big and you can spend a reasonable amount of time wandering around, as well as seeing incredible views of the city. We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Prague, visting the markets and the recommended Vytopna Railway Restaurant for a drink. We also caught a 3×3 FIBA World Tour game – a great way to chill out after a hot and busy day.

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View from Prague Castle ©2015

Day 18 Prague to Berlin, Germany

On day 18 is the drive from Prague to Berlin, stopping at Dresden on the way. Dresden has an interesting history, which you’ll get to hear on your walk round with the tour guide. You’ll also get time for lunch in Dresden. After visiting one of the Thai restaurants I would recommend that you absolutely AVOID rice unless you know that it has been freshly cooked. We both got food poisoning which we felt the effects of until the end of the trip and were completely unable to eat and could barely move the whole of the next day. Not what you want when there is no air con in your hotel room and the temperature is over 30°C.

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Dresden ©2015

Upon arrival in Berlin we got the chance to visit the Berlin Wall, which is full of really interesting images, followed by a driving tour of Berlin, which is a huge city. The tour is great for giving you an idea of all the sights you can visit the following day.

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Berlin Wall ©2015

The driving tour ends at Hofbräuhaus where we had a group dinner and tried beer in one of the huge steins. That evening we stayed at the Hotel Klassik.

Day 19 Berlin

The following day was spent in the hotel due to the aforementioned food poisoning. There is so much to see in Berlin and we would both love to go back, especially after hearing how much fun everyone else had. There are a few optionals including a pub crawl and a Third Reich walking tour, which a few people mentioned was really good even if you aren’t that into history. A few others from our group organised to go to Dinner in the Dark which sounds like a fun experience if you’re looking for something else new to try.

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Berlin Wall ©2015

Day 20 Berlin to Amsterdam, Netherlands

The next stop on the trip is a visit to a local Dutch farm to see how cheese and clogs are made. This is pretty interesting if you haven’t seen anything like it before and the clog maker is a bit of a joker.

After dropping your bags off at the Amstel Botel at NDSM- PIER 3 we headed into the city to see Amsterdam, and to try out the traditional mayo-dipped fries. The walking tour takes you to Dam Square and the National Monument and, of course, the infamous Red Light District. There is the option to see a sex show (which is more than a bit awkward and not necessarily recommended).

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View from the Amstel Botel ©2015

Day 21 Amsterdam

On the second to last day there is the choice to do a bicycle tour of Amsterdam. As I had already had two accidents involving bikes on the trip, and had already done a bike tour on a previous trip to Amsterdam, I decided to give this a miss. However, I’d recommend the bike tour as you get to see some alternative parts of the city that you otherwise probably wouldn’t know about.

Today is a completely free day and there is plenty to do. As this was my third time in Amsterdam I decided to check out some of the side streets and shops, before heading to a Moroccan cafe for mint tea and a stroopwaffel (these are yummy, especially when warmed up and made all melty over a hot drink, so make sure you try at least one!).

We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets of Amsterdam (there is so much to see) before joining the rest of the group for a farewell dinner on a cruise boat. I’d definitely recommend a cruise around the canals of Amsterdam whilst you are here as you get to see the city from a different side.

Day 22 Amsterdam to London, UK

Our last day was a full day trip back to London, stopping at Bruges on the way.

Setting off early from Amsterdam we arrived in Bruges in time for lunch. We had time to try traditional pancakes at a restaurant on the Market Place (which was super nice!) before checking out all the chocolate shops for gifts for people back at home (and ourselves of course!).

The rest of the day was spent on the coach and ferry, and we arrived back at the departure hotel in London in the early evening. I would recommend booking the departure hotel as recommended by Topdeck for this evening as it is easy and you don’t have to worry about getting around London after a long day travelling. A fair few of our tripmates booked back into the departure hotel as well and we headed out for dinner that evening which was a nice way to round off the trip.

What’s included: Accommodation (hotels), most breakfasts and some dinners, Guide, Travel (does not include flights), sightseeing walking tours of all major cities

Cost: Around £2k (depending on the time of year you book and when you want to go)

I hope you found this review useful and it helps you to decide if a Topdeck tour is for you!

Topdeck Europe Uncovered Tour Review – Part One

Last summer I went on my second Topdeck tour – the Europe Uncovered 22-day trip. Below is a review of the trip to help you decide if its for you!

If you’re looking for a shorter tour or for a look at the European Wonder tour check out my review here. Just to note, a lot of couples were on our Europe Uncovered tour, whereas the European Wonder is great for if you’re going on your own or with friends.

Day 1: London, UK to Paris, France

The first day started with an early morning wake up call (the first of many) and a drive to Dover to catch the ferry to Calais.  The hotel we stayed in the night before (Burns Hotel Kensington) was pretty average but fine for an easy pre-trip place to stay and close to a tube station. The drive to Calais took a couple of hours but  gives you time to have a chat with other people who are joining the tour, meet our tour guide and have a nap before the fun begun! Also, the coach and driver you travel to the port with aren’t the ones which you will be spending the next few weeks with so if they look a bit old school don’t be too concerned!

The journey from Dover to Calais takes about 1h 30m, plenty of time to grab some lunch, take a look around the shops and to go up on deck to get your first glimpse of France!

Upon arrival in Calais we jumped on the coach on which we spent the rest of the trip and met our driver. Our driver Deansey had years of experience and had driven all kinds of huge vehicles, including road trains, so we knew we were in safe hands.

The rest of the afternoon was spent driving to Paris. The hotel we stayed in was the Hotel Campanile Paris 14 which was clean and comfortable. In the evening we headed with the rest of the group for dinner at a local restaurant and then ended the evening with a Paris ‘City Lights’ Tour. We stopped at the Eiffel Tower just in time for the evening light show – an amazing end to our first night in Paris!

Day 2: Paris

The next day is a free day for you to go out and explore the city. I headed towards the River Seine for a cruise, whilst my partner got up early to beat the crowds to head to the Catacombs which was fairly near to the hotel. The cruise lasted about an hour and it was great to get an alternative view of Paris.

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River Seine cruise ©2015

Following the cruise we headed to a veggie cafe (recommended compared to restaurants which can be expensive if you just want a snack/light lunch) and then went on to a Topdeck optional bike tour. I would recommend this if you’re confident riding a bike in the city, but not so much if not as there is a lot of traffic!

After the bike tour we visited the Rodin Museum which is well worth a visit. There’s some really interesting sculptures and a beautiful garden to take a relaxing walk through.

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Rodin Museum ©2015

After a visit to the museum it was time to head back to the park by the Eiffel Tower for the Topdeck provided Gourmet Picnic. The food was fresh, and dietary requirements were well catered for. We even got to try a macaroon and it was a good opportunity to catch up with what others had been up to that day. Once the picnic was finished their was an option to head to the Latin Quarter to watch a cabaret show. As I’d already seen the show we headed back on the Metro to check out the bars nearby and watched as the road was briefly closed off for the Pari Rollers to skate by – an interesting sight to see!

Day 3: Paris to Engelberg, Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Day 3 was spent travelling to Engelberg in the Swiss Alps. Although this takes another full day, it’s good for catching up on some sleep to recover from Paris and when you do reach Switzerland the views of the Alps are absolutely breathtaking.

We stayed at Ski Lodge Engelberg which has a chilled-out vibe and is decorated in an apres-ski style to match. There is a bar downstairs with a variety of drinks on offer and an outdoor seating area with fire pits and blankets surrounded by mountains in the distance – perfect to check out after dinner.

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Ski Lodge Engelberg ©2015

A group dinner was served in Brasserie Konrad, the on-site restaurant. The food was fresh and delicious and I’d definitely recommend the vegetarian option which even made the meat-eaters jealous!

Day 4: Engelberg, Swiss Alps

The optional on day 4 was a trip to the summit of Mount Titlis. A series of gondola rides, including a revolving gondola gets you to the very top and you get to see incredible views of the surrounding scenery on the way, all to the sound of the jingle of cowbells. Once we reached the top we checked out Europe’s highest suspension bridge (slightly nervewracking!), visited the glacier cave and took the Ice Flyer to the Truebsee Snow park where we played on snowtubes and mini sled-type things! There are a number of food places that can be found at the top of the mountain – we tried out the pizza place but you can also try out more chocolate-y options!

You can get back down the mountain the way you came, by the gondola, or you could combine it with a walk or hire a devil bike. We opted for an alternative, Troti bikes, which are like super speedy and larger scooters. All I can say is watch out for the cars on the way down and get to know your brakes (if you’re as inexperienced as me you should also expect a few cuts and bruises by the time you reach the bottom – say that it is fun though!

After a long day out we headed to the on-site hot tub and sauna at our hotel with a drink surrounded by amazing views!

Day 5 Engelberg, Swiss Alps to French Riviera, France

The following day we headed to Nice on the French Riviera. We arrived at Hotel Busby in the afternoon giving us some time to spend some time on the beach (the beach is stony and the waves are pretty rough so make sure to take footwear and swimwear to suit if you plan on spending a lot of time here!). Later that evening we headed with the rest of the group for an included dinner at a local French restaurant, which was followed by a walking tour of Nice. Nice isn’t too big so this didn’t take too long, then we headed to a local shisha bar whilst the rest of the group headed out to bars or to bed!

Day 6 French Riviera 

On our only full morning in Nice we decided to climb up to the Colline du Chateau overlook before it got too hot (although it was still very warm for us, considering we barely get a summer in England!). From the overlook you can see over the city of Nice and across the whole promenade which the beach runs along. There are a few other things to see if you continue further on from the overlook, including an archaeological site whilst we were there and a waterfall. It’s well worth the climb.

After heading back down to the beach we headed into the city and grabbed some food at a pizza restaurant near the fish market. There are plenty of options for food so it’s just a case of deciding where looks best!

We then headed to Fenocchio, a local gelateria that sells every flavour gelatoyou can think of, and you’ll want to try them all! I opted for cactus gelato as I’d never seen it before and I’d definitely recommend it.

By this point the temperature had got up into the high 30’s so we headed back down to the beach for the rest of the day. There are a few water sports you can try down at the beach such as parasailing if you feel like doing something a little more adventurous than sunbathing!

In the evening we visited Eze for an included perfumery tour, before heading to Monaco for a walking tour up to Prince’s Palace to watch the changing of the guards and for a look out across the port filled with yachts.

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Monaco ©2015

Next we headed towards the casinos, seeing the F1 Grand Prix Fairmont hairpin on the way as well as many supercars.

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©2015

The Casino Monte Carlo costs around 10 euros to get in and is pretty grand looking, yet a bit small if you don’t have the cash to visit the super high-roller tables in rooms at the back of the casino.

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Casino Monte-Carlo ©2015

After a quick look at Casino Monte Carlo we decided to visit the Sun Casino in the Fairmont Hotel, which is free to get in, has plenty of tables and I ended up trebling my money! After a bit of a gambling we went up to the pool bar (as recommended by our guide). The bar is super chilled with comfy beds and sofas, and there are some great views over Monaco.

A quick tip: If you plan on visiting the casinos remember to take a passport as checks to make sure you are not a resident of Monaco usually take place (as they are not allowed to visit the casinos!), and remember the smart dress code!

Day 7 French Riviera to Florence, Italy

Day 7 is the drive from Nice to Florence, visiting Pisa on the way. Pisa is a small place and as you only get a short time there, there isn’t time to climb the Leaning Tower of Pisa. You can definitely squeeze in some photos and grab some gelato whilst you’re there though. If you do any shopping stick to the stalls and shops, and watch out for the guys selling fake handbags, sunglasses etc on the streets as it is illegal to buy from them!

After the stop in Pisa we continued our journey to Florence eventually arriving at the Columbus Hotel . That evening we headed out for an included meal with the rest of the group, walking alongside the River Arno on the way there.

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View over the River Arno ©2015

Day 8 Florence to Rome 

Day 8 started with a walking tour of Florence with a local guide. This lasted about two hours and covered the main tourist sights. There was plenty of opportunities for photos at places including the Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and the Piazza della Signoria. At the end of the tour we visited a local shop for an included leather demonstration (not really my thing considering I’m a veggie!). We then had time to grab lunch and gelato (there are plenty of options) before heading on to Rome!

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Florence ©2015

Upon arrival in Rome there is an opportunity to do a walking tour of the city. This lasts about five hours,which seems long (and it is, so make sure you wear some comfy shoes!) but I would definitely recommend if you have never visited Rome before. As you are only in Rome for a short time it will help you to decide what you want to visit the next day.

As my partner and I had already been to Rome before we decided to head off on our own and ended up in an amazing small traditional restaurant not far from the Trevi Fountain looking to find shelter from a heavy downpour. The pizza, wine and spaghetti were all delicious. There are plenty of places to eat in Rome and the food never fails to impress. That evening we stayed in The Church Village Hotel.

Day 9 Rome

Whilst in Rome there is the opportunity to visit the Vatican City (and why not as it is another country you can tick off your list!). The tour lets you take in sights such as the Sistine Chapel and St Peter’s Basilica and is another one worth doing.

As we’d already visited on previous trips, we headed to Villa Borghese Gardens. Here you could rent segways and other vehicles to get around the park, but it was easy enough to see everything on foot.

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Villa Borghese gardens ©2015

After a day of wandering around the city we headed for food at another restaurant, this time near to the Spanish steps. If you get the chance to try lemon spaghetti whilst in Rome I’d definitely recommend it – it tastes so fresh!

Day 10 Rome to Venice via Verona 

The following day we set off for Venice via Verona. Verona is another fairly touristy city, but you get the chance to see Juliet’s balcony (Casa di Giulietta) and the thousands of love notes stuck on the walls in the entrance to the courtyard. In the courtyard itself is a bronze sculpture of Juliet. You’ll find plenty of people rubbing her right breast which apparently brings you luck in love!

After a short time in Verona we continued on our journey to Venice. We didn’t stay in Venice itself, which can be expensive, staying instead at the Hotel Centrale in Mestre which is right on a main bus route into Venice itself. That evening we headed out for an included meal with the group and had a few drinks in bars close to hotel.

Day 11 Venice

After a morning walking tour of Venice we headed out on a gondola ride with the rest of the group. This starts and ends just near Hard Rock Cafe close to Piazza San Marco and takes you down the Grand Canal allowing you to catch a glimpse of the Rialto Bridge.

Next we headed back to Piazza San Marco for a lace demonstration in a local shop with the rest of the group. The lace is the type that resembles your Nana’s curtains rather than the sexy kind (although they have a few items that may be good for a wedding if you’re planning one!). If there’s something else you want to do I would say you wouldn’t be missing out on much if you decided not to go to the lace demonstration.

We spent the rest of the afternoon eating and wandering the many streets and canals of Venice. You can get fairly lost but its generally quite easy to get back on track if you keep some of the main square names in mind.

That evening we walked down to a small square close to our hotel where we had dinner. It was fairly quiet in Mestre so we decided to get some rest back at the hotel before heading to Croatia the next day.

Part Two (days 12-22) can be read here.

 

 

Alternatives to Riding an Elephant

unsplash - elephant - Cristy Zinn

photo credit: Cristy Zinn via Unsplash

Up until recently I had ‘ride an elephant’ on my bucket list. After seeing it on quite a few other lists it seemed like a typical thing that most people wanted to do and a good way to spend time with elephants.

After a bit of research, and the realisation that the places that offer elephant rides do not have the welfare of the elephants at their heart, I have decided to remove it. No matter how fun an experience seems to be, I would never want to see animals suffer.

Instead, I have found a number of alternatives that I’d like to look into further. Let me know if you’ve tried any of them out!

Volunteer at a Sanctuary 

There are a number of sanctuaries in Thailand including the Elephant Nature Park, the Wildlife Friends Thailand Foundation (WFFT) and Elephant Worlds. At these parks you can choose to interact with elephants that have been rescued from the tourism and illegal logging industries where they have been treated poorly, instead knowing that they are now being well cared for.

Conservation Work

Habitats are being destroyed worldwide. By helping to protect natural places elephants are able keep on living in them and to return to them once they have been rehabilitated at a sanctuary. One way to get involved is through a Forest Restoration project.

Donate 

There are plenty of charities dedicated to helping elephants escape poor treatment. Donating what you can to places like the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust helps to support the care of orphaned and endangered species and their habitats.

Try something else!

There’s so much to do in the world so if you’re unsure what harm you will be doing undertaking one activity, look into doing another!

For more info on how to have an animal friendly holiday check out World Animal Protection’s blog post here.

 

Haggis Adventures: Skye High Review

I’ve just returned from a 3 day tour of the Highlands and the Isle of Skye with Haggis Adventures. The trip was perfect as I didn’t have a lot of time to travel and wanted to do something fairly cheaply.

Here is a short review of the trip:

Day 1:

Day one started off departing from Edinburgh with a group of 36 other people at 8.30am. We chose to stay in the Smart City Hostel the night before, which was reasonably priced considering the Edinburgh Fringe and the Edinburgh Tattoo were both on, and close to the Haggis Adventures departure point on the Royal Mile.

Our first stop was Dunkeld Cathedral by the River Tay, followed by a trip to the Tomatin whisky distillery where we got to see where the whisky was made and to try a sample. It was interesting to learn how to drink whisky properly despite it not being something I would usually have.

© Dunkeld Cathedral

© Dunkeld Cathedral

© Tomatin Whisky Distillery

© Tomatin Whisky Distillery

Next we headed to Culloden Battlefield where we were told about the history of the place and treat to some accordion music by our guide Scot.

© Culloden Battlefield

© Culloden Battlefield

After a stop for lunch in Aviemore, we drove to Loch Ness. By this time it had started to rain, but this didn’t matter as Scot showed us how to call upon Nessie. Unfortunately she didn’t raise her head, but it was fun nonetheless, and was another item ticked off my bucket list!

© Nessie

© Nessie

After a drive around Loch Ness we headed to Morag’s Lodge where we were staying for the night. The rooms were cheap and a reasonable size, and dinner was a large plate of good home cooked food.

We got the opportunity to see a show nearby by one of the locals, who told us about the history of this part of Scotland and about how people would have lived. He had dressed Mel Gibson for the film Braveheart, and dressed volunteers up in kilts, showing us how they were traditionally tied. He also had a number of large and brutal looking weapons to show us, with stories behind each. I’d definitely recommend going to this show if you go on the trip as it only costs an extra fiver and is very entertaining.

Back at the hostel the atmosphere in the bar was great, with traditional folk music being played and karaoke for those who wanted to join in later on.

Day 2:

Day Two started off with a small walk in the woods down to a Victorian building overlooking a waterfall to clear our heads.

© Highland Cow

© Highland Cow

© Waterfall

© Waterfall

Next we headed to Eilean Donan Castle for a tour. The castle is surrounded by beautiful scenery and was a great location to take some pictures.

© Eilan Donan Castle

© Eilan Donan Castle

Following the visit to the castle, we set off for the Isle of Skye where we drove up the east coast of the island to take in the views, followed by a picnic lunch and a visit to Kilt Rock.

© Kilt Rock

© Kilt Rock

After a tour of the island, stopping off at various locations for photos and a whole bunch of stories from Scot, we headed to our hostel for the evening, Saucy Mary’s in Kyleakin. The rooms were cheap at only £19pppn, and there was live music at all of the (2) pubs in the town. After watching the sun set over the Skye Bridge we grabbed some drinks at the bar and spent an evening chatting to our trip mates. I would definitely recommend trying the Skye Red and Gold!

© Sunset over the Skye Bridge

© Sunset over the Skye Bridge

© Saucy Mary's Hostel

© Saucy Mary’s Hostel

Day 3:

The final day started with a trip back towards Eilean Donan Castle for some more scenic pictures, with a stop at Sligachan to dip our faces in the river for seven seconds in an attempt to gain eternal youth. I’m not sure if this worked but here’s hoping!

© Eilan Donan Castle

© Eilan Donan Castle

We then set off for the Commando Remembrance Memorial. Here there were memorials for soldiers aged from their early 20’s to late 90’s.

© Commando Remembrance Memorial

© Commando Remembrance Memorial

After a few more stops to take in the local scenery, we stopped at The Green Welly Stop for some homemade food for lunch, before we headed back to Edinburgh, taking in The Kelpies on the way.

The trip had gone over really quickly, and was a lot of fun. The guide Scot was very knowledgeable and it was great to hear his playlist of folk and traditional music on the coach. Time on the bus was kept to a minimum and there was plenty of sightseeing. The trip was well worth the price, just remember your waterproofs and boots, even in the summer!

Cost: £125/120 (Students)

Global Tribe Cafe, Leeds

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Global Tribe Cafe Leeds ©2014

Global Tribe is a vegan/raw/vegetarian cafe located on Swan Street in the centre of Leeds. They serve a wide range of food, perfect for all kinds of diets and all served at reasonable prices. The quality of the food is shown by how busy the place gets every day of the week. More of these cafes should definitely open up! Additionally, local artists display their work on the walls, which is definitely worth a look.

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Portobello burger ©2014

On the day I visited I tried the Portobello mushroom burger served with cheesy kale chips and the raw strawberry cheesecake. Both were amazing and filling, and I would definitely get them both again if the rest of the menu wasn’t so extensive.

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Raw strawberry cheesecake ©2014

This is one of my favourite places to eat in Leeds, and one of the best veggie cafés I’ve been to. A visit to the café is definitely recommended, and the shop downstairs (Global Tribe Crystals) is worth a look too.

Pickard’s Tea Room, Leeds

 

© 2014

© 2014

Pickard’s Tea Room is a small café located on Woodhouse Lane in Leeds. From the outside it looks like any of the other sandwich shops on the street. Inside the décor is slightly aged, but it gives the place a slightly vintage feel, alongside the cute cups and saucers used to serve food. The interesting furniture added to this feel, and included a table painted as a chessboard, with pieces available to allow customers to play if they choose to.  On the day I visited there were a few spare seats, so I chose to eat in. A whole variety of sandwiches and hot drinks are sold. I settled on the jasmine pearl tea which came in a Japanese style teapot, with just the right amount for one person. I also purchased a brie and tomato sandwich which was delicious. Both were reasonably priced.

Pickard’s has a funky feel to it and the food is great. I wish I’d discovered this place sooner and visited more during my time at university in Leeds.

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Last weekend I visited Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield. The park contains an outdoor gallery and events space, as well as a number of indoor galleries  with frequently changing exhibitions.

© 2014

© 2014

The park is large and there is plenty to see, which means you can make a short visit or a day trip out of it. There are also beautiful views over the surrounding countryside which make a visit worthwhile in itself.

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Yorkshire Sculpture Park ©2014

My favourite piece was probably the Buddha piece, as can be seen below, by Niki de Saint Phalle. Roger Hiorns Seizure exhibit, the results of a copper sulphate filled bedsit, was also intriguing.

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Niki de Saint Phalle ©2014

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Niki de Saint Phalle ©2014

Overall, I would say that the park is definitely worth a visit for people of all ages. On a warm, summery day you could even take a picnic with you and make a day of it. I look forward to going back, and seeing more of the exhibits that the park holds.

Entry to the park is free and parking is £8 for an all-day pass, or £5 for up to 2 hours. There is a gift shop and cafe on site.

Opening times and events can be found here

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Ursula von Rydingsvard ©2014

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©2014

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©2014

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Jonathan Borofsky ©2014

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©2014

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Thomas Houseago ©2014