Game of Thrones tour – Dubrovnik (Kings Landing)

Quick disclaimer: there may be a few spoilers dotted around this post so if you haven’t caught up totally on the seasons yet then tread carefully!

The stars of the seven kingdoms aligned for me (mixed in with a little bit of careful planning) and I was in Dubrovnik the weekend that the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones Season 8 came out. I woke up early Tuesday morning and manoeuvred my way around the city till I could find a spot clearly visible in the programme. I felt like I had stepped into my screen and was watching all the drama unfold from within the walls of Kings Landing. Luckily though my biggest threat of attack came from a pigeon eyeing up my croissant not a fire breathing dragon! I was brought back to reality however when I learnt from the lovely Laura at LauraOverThinksIt that all of those scenes in Season 8 were actually filmed on a replica set built in Dublin, not actually in the streets of Dubrovnik. The smug look on my face dropped quicker than Little Fingers at Arya’s trial in Winterfell and I felt weirdly hard done by but as soon as the bells started ringing out across Dubrovnik the magic was restored.

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Although those specific scenes in Season 8 weren’t filmed in Dubrovnik, plenty of other incredible moments from Seasons 1-7 all took place within the walls of the old city. In order to see as much of it as I could, I decided to go on a Game of Thrones tour. There are hundreds of tours that take place throughout the city, but I chose to go on the one organised by the tourist office at the entrance to Pile Gate. It cost 150 Kuna (about £17) and lasted 2 hours. I bought tickets from the office on the day that I wanted to go and then simply met up with the group outside the large Amerling fountain 10 minutes before it was meant to set off.

TOP TIP: If you walk the City Walls, anytime up to 3 days before the GOT tour, then included in your ticket for that is an entrance ticket to the Fort. You go to the Fort as part of the GOT tour and entrance is 50 Kuna but if you have a city walls ticket then you can use that and get in for free.

We were guided around by the incredibly bubbly and knowledgeable Ivana, who said that she regrettably turned down a role to be an extra in the first season of GOT, and started our tour by the ‘docks of Kings Landing’. The stunning pier protruding from the base of Fort Lovrjenac (also known as the Red Keep) is the spot of many famous scenes like when Jamie returned to King’s Landing with Myrcellas’s body and Robert Baratheon’ bastard kids were killed. It was incredible to look out over “Blackwater Bay’ and see exactly what the actors and actresses saw when filming, but the highlight of this area for me came from a stranger in my tour. On this particular day it was raining cats and dogs (actually more like lions and wolves) which had caused the sea to be dangerously choppy. As a massive wave crashed over the pier and soaked everyone on it, a man from the back shouted, “WATER IS COMING!” I will be totally honest and say I nearly peed a bit laughing so hard.

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One thing I came to love and loathe about Dubrovnik was the number of stairs it had; the true test of my thighs however came when we had to climb up to the Fort Lovrjenac. After a few moments to catch our breath, and once we had gone through the ticket barriers where my top tip comes in handy, we entered into the iconic “Red Keep”. Some really notable Lanister scenes took place here such as Joffrey’s Nameday Tournament and Cersei and Littlefingers debate about what “Power” is. An aspect of the tour that I really enjoyed was that Ivana would hold up pictures from the programme in each area we visited so we could see exactly how it matched up in real life and what they edited in or out of the scenes. The fort itself was quite bare but it did have spectacular views of back over the city walls. After talking us through the Game of Thrones scenes as well as a bit of history about the fort itself, Ivana gave us enough time to take those all-important photos before heading back down the stairs to the old town.

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On the walk back Ivana told us stories of how the cast used to mingle amongst locals and that apparently Tyrion Lannister drank as much in real life as he did on screen. Things like that made me really glad I went on an actual tour instead of following an online route as the guides had so many personal stories about the series. Once inside the walls of the city we momentarily stopped at the entrance to Pile Gate, as a lot of the riot scenes from Season 2 were filmed here, before going to the most iconic place of all. The Walk of Shame steps. I think it is one of the most memorable scenes in the whole programme and seeing as it was raining, we were lucky enough to have the place to ourselves. Ivana filled us in on plenty of interesting trivia about how many extras they needed for the filming of this scene and that it originally was meant to be filmed outside the Dubrovnik Cathedral, but the Priests denied them access once they learnt Cersei would be naked. I can imagine it would’ve been an incredible sight to film looking out on over 2000 extras and it was a great experience to stand at the top put yourself in Cersei’s shoes. I can’t say that anyone stripped down to their birthday suit on my tour thankfully.

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There were some areas that we didn’t cover on the tour however such as the Spice King’s Palace in Quarth, as it is inside the Rectors Palace that requires an entry ticket, or the House of the Undying which is situated on the City Walls but Ivana did point them all out to us in case we wanted to go back and visit them another day. The tour concluded in a souvenir shop, nestled amongst the maze-like streets of the city. It contained a replica of the Iron Throne and as part of our tour we were allowed to take photos on it. If you’re not on a tour you can still use it but you have to make a purchase in the shop first. I think this was the most underwhelming part of the tour as the throne was just cramped into the corner of the shop and I found it almost awkward to take a photo on when the shop was busy but still a good memory to keep!

TOP TIP: I learnt at a later date that there is actually a better throne that you can sit on for free on Lokrum Island and it has more space around it rather than being cramped in a shop.

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I know that tours aren’t everyone’s cup of tea and there are a tonne of free online resources, such as blog posts, that I think would be another great way to take in all the Game of Thrones sights but I just personally wanted to do a tour. I didn’t have to worry about getting lost or missing anything and hearing Ivana’s personal stories of how much of an effect the GOT franchise has had on Dubrovnik and its residence really made the whole thing special. Since the series began, tourism has increased in Dubrovnik by 30% and it appears everywhere you turn either in souvenirs or themed dishes in restaurants. Being taken round by someone who has come face to face with the cast and seen the enthusiasm for the show grow over the years made the whole thing a lot more personal and I also enjoyed how she dropped in facts about the history of the city as well.

Every sign across the town states that they are offering the “best Game of Thrones tour ever” and I am sure, with a bit more extensive research, you could discover which one of them was actually telling the truth but I chose to just go with what the city offered and I am really glad I did. I shamefully descended the stairs like Cersei, looked longingly across Blackwater Bay like Sansa and eventually left feeling like Varys – knowing everything that goes on behind the scenes of Kings Landing.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Relaxing Activities

If you’re looking for more adventurous things to do away from the slopes then the first part of my Winter in Whistler series is here!

To summarise from my last post, I had a snowboarding holiday booked to visit my brother in Whistler, Canada, but after a rather nasty fall a couple of weeks before departure I was left with 2 fractured wrists and a refund on my snowboard. Even with both my wrists bandaged up in splints, I was still determined to make the most of my time in Whistler and catch up on some much-needed relaxation away from work! The picturesque mountain views and flourishes of snow that turned the town into a huge snow globe meant that you could simply sit by the fire, grab a hot drink and watch the world pass by happily. In this post however I am going to highlight some specific activities and places that helped me to switch off and unwind.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – Seeing as in my last post the cheapest option was still a bit pricey I figured for this one I would go as cheap as I could…free! Whistler is burrowed deep up amongst forests, mountains and frozen lakes just waiting to be explored. Each more breathtakingly beautiful than the last, there are a few mapped out paths around the edges of the town that you can follow. Seeing as my whole family were off skiing, I charged up my camera battery, threw on every layer I owned and headed off down the Valley Trail. It took me down past the start of the cross-country skiing route, alongside the skateboard park that was now nothing more than mounds of snow, and across a wooden bridge that looked like something out of Harry Potter. On the other side of the bridge was the town of Blackcomb. I had a mooch around the shops there and grabbed a hot drink to warm me up again before finishing off the trail. It also passed the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre that was unfortunately shut on the day I was there but could be another great place to have a wander around! A few days on I managed to entice my family away from the slopes and we all went on a walk, that was a 20 minute drive away, to Nairn Falls. Now I will put a small warning in here, this was an unmaintained trail in the winter so the path was incredibly icy and actually quite dangerous to walk down. If you are going to attempt it in the snowy season then be sure to wear lots of warm layers and shoes with plenty of grip. The falls themselves had half frozen over into astonishing icicles and the other perk of being the only ones’ stupid enough to walk the trail is we had the falls all to ourselves! My camera got so cold on the hike that it had died by the time we reached the waterfall, luckily it held up for a few seconds to get one good shot though. It took us about 3 hours altogether (most of that time at least one of our bums was on the floor) and if you do want to go in winter the car park is closed but you can leave your car in the little lay-by off the highway.

Mid-Range – There was one part of skiing that my fractured wrists and I could definitely get behind, the après ski! Whistler certainly didn’t have a limit to the places you could grab a drink and a bite to eat so my advice would be to make the most of it! If you’re after a tasty lunch to regenerate after a long day exploring then my top recommendation would be the Mile 1 located just outside Whistler in Pemberton. They offered such a vast range of food choice but for me the Mac’n’cheese was the best I have ever had! It also led to one of the comedy highlights of the holiday when my dad expected it to turn up as burger (think he forgot that Mac only relates to burgers in McDonlads.) If it is a big family meal you want in the evening then the steaks at The Keg were incredible or a more laid-back bar-vibe, but still with excellent food, can be found at Brickworks. One of my favourite meals however was at Il Cammineto, a stunning, classy Italian restaurant right in the centre of the town. The décor was beautifully elegant and the food was mouth-wateringly rich and delicious. Now it wouldn’t be a trip to Canada without a bit of syrup! I had mine drizzled on top of hearty stack of pancakes at Wild Wood that I would eat everyday for breakfast, if only I could actually manage to cook pancakes successfully! All of these restaurants came in at different price tags. There were small cafes and bars if it was a light snack you’re after (Purebread is the place to go if it is cakes that you’ve got the taste for) or tonnes of larger restaurants to really indulge in.

Expensive – Now this activity is by far the most relaxing one of all once you get there. The drive there however was the most stressful part of the holiday for me. I was driving a car twice the size of mine, in the snow and on the other side of the road – let’s just say a stop sign definitely does what it says on the tin when you go straight into it! But minor crash aside we made it to the Scandinave Spa in one piece, couldn’t be a better time to be booked in for a massage really could it. The Spa is a wellness spa in which you can either go for a treatment or just utilise their traditional therapy baths. My massage was incredibly relaxing but also rather painful as she worked all the tension out of my neck. I left feeling so loose and calm though so the agony was worth it. From there we went down to the main floor of the spa. Stepping out into -15 degrees in nothing but a bikini and a dressing gown is a rather shocking experience but all is rewarded when you sink yourself into the 40 degree hot tubs bubbling away. The whole spa works on a system – 15 minutes in the hot tub, a 10 second dunk in the cold pool, then 15 minutes in the relaxation rooms. It is a way to completely shut off from the outside world as all technology must be left in the lockers and no talking is allowed anywhere. I struggled a bit with the last bit but I can promise that a word did not leave my lips as I snuggled down on a bed next to the fire watching the snow float down across the spa. It was such an amazing way to take a moment for yourself and either read a book, have a nap or just do some good proper thinking! The spa is located deep in the forest away from any and all noise, the tall trees surrounding it really make you feel like you’ve entered a whole new world. This level of peace and tranquillity came at a high price though, it was $79 to just use the baths or around $189 for a massage and entry to the baths. In my opinion, the baths and relaxation rooms are such a calming, unusual and detoxing experience that it almost overshadowed the massage so don’t feel like you’re missing out if you can’t fit in a Swedish rub down as well! Just a heads up, you get 2 towels included in both packages but if you just do the baths then you have to pay extra to rent the robes so I would recommend bringing your own if you can!

Whistler is the kind of town that you can make it what you want it to be. If you want a hair-raising thrill-filled adventure holiday then it can provide but likewise if you want some time to shut off from the outside world and just enjoy good company and beautiful settings then it is also a dream destination. With views to take your breathe away and enough food to render your belt useless it shouldn’t be overlooked as a place to kick back and chill in. Just make sure your camera is fully charged and pump your car brakes in the snow!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Winter in Whistler when you don’t Ski – Adventurous Activities

It is two weeks before I am meant to be jetting off to Whistler, Canada, for a week on the slopes but I am sat in hospital. The X-Ray scan comes back. It is 2 fractured wrists….”Hi Dad, it’s Emma. I think you’re going to have to cancel my snowboard rental and slope pass!”

As of September 2018, my older brother and his girlfriend had moved to Whistler to complete a ski season and my dad and I were flying out to see them. My wrists were wrapped up in metal plated splints and my fear of falling over had now increased twofold but I was determined to get the most out of my holiday. I wasn’t able to board down the mountains anymore but I equally didn’t want to miss out on all the adventures that Whistler had to offer so I layered up like the Micheline man, locked my feet into the sturdiest boots I could find and set out into the cold. I was quite surprised to find how much was actually on offer off the slopes, around every corner was another adventure company offering everything from snow-trekking to sledding with huskies. There was even a giant bungee jump open all year round! I had 6 days to fill and a whole load of jet lag waking me up before the sun had even risen so plenty of time for activities and adventures. I am going to highlight my top experiences in this post.

One thing that needs to be said is that Whistler is not the cheapest of locations to visit. The price tags were as steep as the mountains that encase the town and for that reason I have split this guide up into 3 sections – cheap, mid-range and expensive. This way you can find an activity to do no matter what your budget is. (Prices correct as of February 2019)

Cheap – It was our last day in Whistler and we had a morning to kill before our flight home. It had hit the bitter temperature of -15 degrees each day of the holiday so there was definitely an appeal for something that wouldn’t involve venturing into the bitter cold again. The perfect solution came in the form of the Escape! Escape rooms. The 4 of us took on the Pinball challenge and were taken into a puzzling arcade world that involved a lot of balls, buttons and wires to escape from. I don’t want to go into too much detail as I don’t want to ruin the experience if any of you do decide to take it on but I will say that so much effort had clearly gone into the décor and the puzzles themselves, it was an incredibly fun but flabbergasting experience. Located a stone’s throw from the base of the gondolas it was really easy to get to and if we had more time I would be loved to have taken on the other 3 rooms they offered. The Pinball room was in their mid-tier of difficulty but they did have one designed for families and another for brain-boxes who wanted a big-old challenge. Now I have put this in ‘cheap’ section but at $33 per person I will hold my hands up and say it isn’t a bargain but it was the cheapest thing we did there. When I said the beauty and adventure of Whistler came at a price I meant it! (Just a heads up in my next blog post that is focused on more relaxing things to do there are some free options!) We managed to escape with around 3 minutes to spare so I challenge you all to go and see if you can beat us!

I don’t have any photos of the escape room seeing as it’s all meant to be kept a mystery sorry!

Mid-Range – Just because you can’t/don’t want to ski down the mountains doesn’t mean that you have to miss out on going up them. The Whistler Gondola runs daily from the centre of the town up to the top of the mountain. Leaving every minute, it takes endless streams of skiers and boarders up to their start point and for $70 you can join them. The gondola itself takes about 23 minutes and, on a clear day, gives you stunning views back over the town as well as the open winding ski runs that twist and turn down the face of the mountain. At the top there is a small shop and café where you can warm your hands up with a toasty hot chocolate and watch skiers glide down the slopes. I have added this into the adventurous part of the blog series because at the top you also get access to the Peak 2 Peak. Included in your ticket price, it is a separate Gondola that connects Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain. At 436m, it is the highest cable car above ground and if like me heights aren’t your thing then it will certainly leave you a little shaky at the knees. It takes about 11 minutes to get from one side to the other and does give you the most incredible views of snow topped trees and the frozen valley below. You can either get off at Blackcomb and spend time in the little café up there or you can just stay in the car as it takes you back to Whistler. There is no limit to the amount of times you’re allowed to go on it and if you want something to get your heart racing a bit more there are a couple of pods with glass bottoms. When you’ve taken all the phots you want and drunk as much hot chocolate as you can manage then just simply catch the Whistler Gondola back to the base again.

Expensive – For all those adrenaline junkies out there I am sure you’ll be laughing in the face of my escape room and gondola. Sat there thinking they’re about as adventurous as a trip to garden centre but I see your thrill-seeking desire and I raise you a 60mph snow mobile adventure through the back country of Canada. If you really want the kind of adventure to take your breath away then the Wilderness Run Snowmobile Tour with Canadian Wilderness Adventures should be at the top of your list. We all gathered at their shop located in the centre of the town before getting driven out and up to the back country. We were decked out in warm layers, boots, helmet and goggles then given an overview on how to use the snow mobiles safety. If you have a valid driving license then you can drive your own or you can ride along on the back of someone else in your group. Seeing as I couldn’t grip the handle bars, I hung on to my Dad for dear life as he followed the guide through the forest and up the mountain side. Our guide was so much fun and took us over bumpy terrain, round tight corners and even let us run loose on a frozen lake where I think Dad reached speeds close to 70mph. The highlight of the trip for me though was the view at the top of the mountain. Framed by rolling mountain tops and blanketed by thick, untouched snow that glistened in the sunlight it was the kind of view that belonged on a computer screensaver! After taking some beautiful photos we sped back down the mountain, handed back all the equipment and were returned to the town centre. The thrill factor definitely shot up but so did the price, at around $600 for the 4 of us it was the big treat of the holiday but what a treat it was! They also offered dog sledding adventures that I would have loved to try had we had more time.

The host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Whistler is renown for its snow-sport activities and facilities but you don’t have to Ski to enjoy your time there! It is a beautiful Canadian town nestled amongst the Coast Mountains. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants and there isn’t an unfriendly face in sight as the locals embrace and welcome the endless streams of tourists that flood there annually. Fancy a more laid back, chilled out holiday in Whistler? Don’t worry I have you covered. My next blog post will be highlighting all the best things to do when you don’t really want to do anything at all.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Guide to Costa Rica : Monte Verde & Tamarindo

Part one of my trip around Costa Rica can be found here and part two can be found here!

Whilst driving down the roads of England you may be lucky enough to see a badger or fox crossing the street. In Costa Rica however we often stopped on the road to look at sloths or iguanas loitering by the roadside. On the journey to Monte Verde we were also welcomed by the most beautiful views of the rolling hills, something so different to the other landscapes we’d experienced thus far.

The windy roads did lead to a couple of upset stomachs along the way but a few pit stops later we made it to Hotel Belmar. It almost looked out of place in Costa Rica, the wooden panels and scalloped edges of the window pains suited it more to a ski resort in the Alps. An incoming tropical storm however soon reminded us of where we were as we darted into the hotel for shelter. My family shared great amazement in the storm that illuminated the whole horizon but as a person who is petrified of lightning I stuck my head under a pillow and gave that show a miss. My interest was sparked again however when the mention of a hot tub arose. Cosies’ on we sprinted through the rain to the bottom of the garden where nestled amongst the trees was a glasshouse. We could see the steam filling the windows and the vibrations of the bubbles tickled out toes as we crossed the patio. Were it not for the infestation of, what I could only imagine were, mosquitos that also lay claim to the hot tub I could’ve easily stayed there all day.

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All suitably heated and reenergised it was time to leave the compound of the hotel and head back into the rainforest. We were taken on a Cloud Forest tour through the canopy, spotting the likes of snakes, tarantulas and bats harbouring high in the safety of the tree trunks. The species that stole the show however were the birds. Likened only to the noise of bees around a hive, we were swarmed by hummingbirds drawn to the sweet aroma of the sugar water. In the blink of an eye they would flutter from one drinks post to the next, their wings stopping only for a millisecond to rest before taking off like planes in the night. Flashes of sapphire and emerald lit up the canopy and if you stood still enough you could feel the brush of their tiny wings against your ears. The highlight came for us however when we were lucky enough to spot a Quetzal, the national bird of Costa Rica, taking refuge on a nearby power cable. Almost like a robin mixed with a parrot, I had never seen so many bold colours on a bird and the way its blue wings shone against the sun as it took off was unforgettable.

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Having had so much success in the daytime we decided to return in the evening for a night tour. With nothing but a torch we followed a guide deep into the rainforest. It is crazy how much your other senses heighten when your sight is restricted, every rustle and rumble made me jump out my skin but in the end it all seemed to be for nothing. The only animal we came across was a mouse. Scary stuff! At that point we decided to bank the amazing sightings we had already had over our holiday and draw a line under our animal tours. To end our tour in Monte Verde on a high, or in hindsight a low, we partook in a yoga lesson in the wooden halls of the hotel. As someone who has taken a couple of classes before I found it rather enjoyable but, as I watched my own father crawl out the hall when the instructor turned her back, I gathered it wasn’t for everyone.

By this point we had wandered museums in the capital city, searched for sloths by boat in the rainforest, zip lined over volcanoes and ventured deep into the unknown in the dead of night. It was definitely time for some TLC and relaxation! We hoped on board a plane and before long were kicking up sand between our toes as we dived into the warm ocean water surrounding Costa Rica. Our accommodation for the last few nights of our trip was the Hotel Capitan Suizo, located directly on the beach and within walking distinct of the vibrant town of Tamarindo.  Monkeys and racoons traversed the tress above us whist we swayed in hammocks to the sound of the crashing waves, pure bliss.

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Failing to sit still for longer than an hour or so however we were soon back on our feet, following the curves of the ocean around to the town of Tamarindo. Brightly coloured buildings and quirky market shops lined the roads. We took refuge under the shade of the palm trees as the difference in temperature outside the cover and dampness of the rainforest was overwhelming. My favourite purchase from the market place was a small wooden surfboard, no bigger than a dinner plate, with the words “Pura Vida” engraved by hand into its edge. It now sits proudly above my cupboard and reminds me each day of the pure and happy lifestyle embraced by the people of Costa Rica.

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The only downside of the beautiful paradise we found ourselves in was the mosquitos. I have unpleasant memories of smothering the 50+ bites that plagued my legs in cream each night, just to get some relief from the constant itching. On our final night I could barely walk and didn’t want to face another night eating out on the beach where the bugs seemed to have me on the menu. It turned out to be one of my favourite dining experiences of the holiday however when my dad turned the storage trunk at the end of my bed into a table and we spent some lovely quality time together over a room service meal. The food was just as delicious, I got to spend some one-on-one time with my dad and my legs weren’t masquerade by a raging fleet of mosquitos, it was perfect! When the rest of my family returned from dinner, the holiday was rounded off by more competitive card games and laughter shared long into the night then I drifted off to the sound of the ocean. I couldn’t ask for a better end to the most amazing holiday if I tried.

On our journey home the next day we first had to fly to Miami and then catch the long flight back to London. Warn out from the adventures I’d been so lucky to experience I slept for a majority of the flight, woken only once by a friendly flight attendant who offered me warm milk and cookies before drifting back into a deep slumber. A smorgasbord of landscapes, climates and adventures waiting to happen, Costa Rica is a country destined to be explored. Whether its spotting wildlife, relaxation or an adrenaline rush that you seek to accomplish from a holiday this breathtaking island has endless opportunities to offer. Its true beauty however lies in the simple joy that radiates from all who live there, their infectious smiles can light up even the darkest of tropical storms as they embrace the “Pura Vida”. I implore anyone and everyone to visit Costa Rica and embrace the pure life that radiates through the entire island. Just make sure to pack the bug spray!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Guide to Costa Rica : Arenal Volcano

Part one of my trip around Costa Rica can be found here!

5 days in and we had already experienced the life in the capital city of San Jose and saw wild animals roam free in the rainforest of Tortoguero so what was next? A volcano.

Now we were back on dry land our new mode of transport was a mini bus that became more like a second home. The drive to Arenal took around 5 hours but as soon as we pulled through the gates of Arenal Springs Resort we knew it was worth it.  Situated at the base of the volcano this resort felt more like its own little village than a hotel. With multiple restaurants, a tropical pool, a spa and even a golf cart system in which you could order one to give you a lift, almost like an Uber, it was the little bit of luxury we’d been craving. The long drive left me with a killer migraine but it seemed to disappear instantly as soon as I found a spot by the in-pool-bar. Funny that!

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Just as soon as we had settled in however it was time to get back in the van and head out on our next adventure. Fabio, from Wave Expeditions, greeted us at the door with a signature Costa-Rican smile as he talked us through all the safety points of the day. We were driving up stream in order to turn right around and white water raft all the way back down. I have to admit I had been rafting before but this one set the bar so high even a giraffe on top of the shard couldn’t reach it. Paddles in hand we flew over rapids and expertly manoeuvred around waterfalls. It did get a bit scary when I fell out the boat but it wasn’t too much of a concern as I was only left with a mildly bruised hip and a realisation that I should’ve paid more attention to those safety points! I think the reason this white water rafting stood out above the rest however was the water was deliciously warm. We didn’t mind getting splashed by the waves and could even get in the water and float alongside the boat when there weren’t any rocks around. It is definitely a more enjoyable experience when you don’t feel like you’ve just had an ice bath. Once safely back down the river, beers in hand, we were taken to a sugar cane plantation and taught how to make moonshine from the juice of the plant. It is safe to say that we all returned to the resort that evening in a very, very jolly mood!

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If you hadn’t gathered already from these posts, my family are not very good at doing nothing so with a new day came a new set of experiences and on this day they took place amongst the trees. It kicked off with a Sky Adventures Nature Walk. We emerged at the base of some suspense bridges high above the canopy, birds escaped from the trees below us as the structure swayed in the wind. Normally I am quite good with heights but this left my knees trembling as I shuffled along trying my best not to look down.  Luckily the stunning views over the forest and man made Arenal Reservoir was enough to take my mind off the 230ft drop below me. This was only the start of the heights though; we were about to go even higher and faster on the Sky Trek Zip Wire! Made up of 7 zip lines, the longest being The Daddy at 850m long, and with views that will sweep you off your feet, literally, this was any adrenaline junkies dream. We flew through the sky, sometimes upside down, and looked across at the Arenal Volcano that had broken through the clouds. Definitely a ‘high’light of the trip for me!

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However amazing these experiences are, the thing I love most about traveling with my family is the fun we get to have together.  That evening we chose a table in the resort that looked out over the 1,670m Volcano and played endless games of Rummy and Uno. A rule was set that whoever picked the green 5 card had to run out into the rain and shout Uno. An innocent forfeit but that green card shook all our nerves to the core and resulted in us laughing more than anyone would think a card could! Now I never go traveling without a pack of Uno cards in my bag.

For our last day in Arenal we began by getting in a lot of exercise, 400 steps of exercise to be precise. We cascaded the side of a mountain to reach the beautiful Catarata Waterfall and took a dip in the icy pool at its base. The current turned out to be a lot stronger than we anticipated so, like something from an episode of Bear Grylls Born Survivor, we all linked arms and waded through the icy stream to the safety of the bank. The waterfall stood tall at 230ft and was a hidden gem nestled amongst the forest trees. After the mammoth task of climbing back up the 400 steps we were rewarded with one of my favourite things on the planet – chocolate. Unlike your classic bar of Cadburys however this required a bit more effort. We went to a cocoa bean plantation and carried out each step of the dark chocolate making process in the style of a blue peter ‘here is what I prepared earlier’ segment. For those wondering it is…

  1. Plant the cocoa seeds
  2. Wait for them to grow
  3. Pick them when they turn yellow
  4. Dry them out
  5. Sift the husks
  6. Grind the beans either by hand or with a machine
  7. Add sugar and bean butter from the pod to make a paste
  8. Add toppings and flavourings

For my younger brother the chocolate indulgence didn’t end there either. All a bit worn out from the week we decided to head back to the resort and make full use of their spa, after all it would be criminal not to! Most of us were lathered in rich oils and massaged till we were on the brink of sleep but Lewis opted for the children’s package and the oil was swapped out for melted chocolate. I will never forget the sight of my younger brother sprinting out the spa smothered in dairy milk like the swamp monster from Scooby Doo.

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Like every good thing in life this part of the holiday had to come to an end. I think our adrenalin levels peaked, pardon the pun, in the shadow of the volcano that stands proud at the centre of this town. We flew like birds through the trees and waded through the water like sloths (I didn’t realise they swam either!) but most memorably grew closer as a family. We waved goodbye to the resort but unfortunately not the rain. That wasn’t done with us quite yet!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Guide to Costa Rica : San Jose & Tortoguero

Pura Vida. In English “Pura Vida” is simply translated to “Pure Life” but in Costa Rica itself it means more than just words, it is a way of life. It means to live life with a smile, to embrace any new adventure but most importantly to find joy in the simple things in life. It shines out through any local you meet and gives the whole country a sense of peace and joy that I had never experienced before.

We landed in the capital city of San Jose where a friendly driver eagerly awaited to transfer us to our accommodation for the night, the Hotel Gran de Oro. The corridors were all laced with thick wooden panels and hanging plants dangled from every crevice. The building centred around a grand courtyard restaurant where we gathered for a quick snack before setting out to explore the capital. For me the highlight of San Jose was the National Theatre of Costa Rica, founded in 1897 it is one of the most breath-taking buildings I have ever seen and I would’ve loved the chance to experience a performance there under the hand painted dome and blinding chandelier.  Whist reflecting on the trip as whole, San Jose felt quite underwhelming, but it was interesting to learn more about the history and culture of the country at the National Museum of Costa Rica. It was a great kick-start to our holiday but I wouldn’t prioritise it as a place to spend a large chunk of your holiday in.

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The morning light brought with it our first introduction to a tropical down pour and I think the next 2 weeks were spent in a constant state of dampness. We drove for what felt like hours down bumpy country roads and past rushing waterfalls till we reached our transfer to Tortoguero at the local harbour. The boat sped through the winding rivers blanketed by dense tropical trees, an American Crocodile watched us with one beady eye from the bank, and before we knew it we were out of civilisation and into to the depths of the rainforest. We stayed at the Manatus hotel, named after the old manatee scientific monitoring station that used to be situated there, but we only had time to drop our bags off at our huts before heading back on the boat to the local town. I think if anywhere was to sum up “Pura Vida” it was the town of Tortoguero. It wasn’t a place of wealth or blinding beauty but children ran playfully down the streets whilst their parents gathered under corrugated shelters, sharing food and stories of days past. The sense of community was overwhelming; our tour guide lived locally and was welcomed by everyone with open arms and bright smiles. Even the gushing rain couldn’t dampen the carefree feeling that enchanted the town, it did however leave us shivering so we made our way back to the hotel to hide out from the storm.

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That night I was awoken to a noise that I can only compare to a hailstorm (well if boulders were falling form the sky).  The rain trickled silently down the window pains but above us came a whole series of crashes that made the entire roof shake. Had the risk of getting soaked not been so high I would have ventured out to investigate but it was a good job I didn’t. After raising the issue at breakfast the following morning I was told by a waiter it was a pack of howler monkeys that often used the metal roofs of the huts to crack open nuts and fruit for their dinner. Talk about noisy neighbours!

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For the rest of the day we got to experience the majesty that is the Costa Rican rainforest. All loaded onto the boat our guide Luis took us deep into the lush green canopy, his eyes so fine-tuned to the surroundings that he could spot even the most camouflaged of creature. Three fingered sloths draped from trees, giant Christ lizards lapped up the sun on overhang leaves and monkeys flew through the sky like trapeze artists in a circus.  There truly isn’t anything more captivating than seeing an animal in their natural habitat, though I definitely wouldn’t want to get any closer to the Caymans than we did.  The guided tour finished around lunchtime but our feet didn’t stay on solid ground for long. If I’m ever asked to recall my most memorable moment traveling this is always the one I turn to. Accompanied by my dad, we were kayaking back down the river when a rustle in the trees caught my attention. Camouflaged by his algae ridden fur the three toed sloth was certainly hard to spot but luckily, due to their laid back approach to life, we were able to sit and watch him for what felt like hours. I decided to call him Cedric.

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Tortoguero stands for the “Land of the Turtle”, something that we were lucky enough to experience first hand. Instead of a comfortable evening tucked up in bed, we clambered back onto the boat and sped across the river in the dead of night. Our destination was a beach on the edge of the national park. Our purpose was giant turtles. In the warmer months of the year, female turtles clamber upon the beach to lay 100s of their eggs in the sand. Seeing as turtles don’t have schedules we sat in a hut in the dark for around an hour or so before one was spotted. Following the glow of a red light (Turtles use the white moon light as a guide back to the ocean so torches aren’t allowed in case the turtles get them confused) we tiptoed across the beach. Deep in the sand lay a humongous female turtle who was kicking up a sand storm with her back legs. They dig holes in order to lay their eggs then fill them back in with sand to protect their children from predators. It was an emotional experience to then watch the mother turtle crawl back to the ocean knowing that only 1/1000 of her offspring have a chance of making it to adulthood. The people of Costa Rica put in a great effort to protect these beautiful creatures and it was such a humbling experience to see them in their natural surroundings and contribute to the cause.

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Just as quickly as we had arrived it was time to get back on the trusty boat once more and head out of Tortoguero.  The sound of the rainforest stayed with me long after my feet were back on solid ground though. The trickle of the rain, the rush of the boat along the river, the rustle of the wind through the trees and the constant hum of the life rummaging around the forest floor echoed through my ears. The calmness of Tortoguero amongst the madness of the environment it was situated in was something very special and after only 3 days there I can honestly say that I now truly understand the meaning of Pura Vida.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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I want to be a travel blogger…

It wasn’t until this day, my 8016th day on earth according to google, that I really understood what I want to do with my blog. For the last year I feel like Out of Tea Bags has been a pot luck meal, will it be a fashion post, some kind of advice post or a lamb chop this week? Who knows (spoiler alert: not even me).

After a late night facetime with my brother, who is currently somewhere up a mountain in Canada, and listening to some very inspirational podcasts by Twins That Travel I realised that my favourite thing to do in life is just to do something. Whether that is jetting across the world on holiday or just going for a walk in a field out the back of my house I have such a passion for exploring and trying new things, something that doesn’t come across on my blog.

Yes I love fashion but I am only as fashionable as any girl with an ASOS account. Yes I like handing out advice but in reality I have as much common sense as a toddler. Yes I love design but to me that is more of a job than a passionate hobby. So what does that leave me with?

Destination.

From now on I will be focusing Out Of Tea Bags on my travels, my experiences and all the destinations that I will hopefully explore. I won’t be going half way across the world daily but I am going to challenge myself to try something new every week. If that isn’t possible then I want to delve into the world of the amazing things that I have gotten up to in the past – I mean are there a tonne of people who can say that they have zip-wired over a volcano in Costa Rica? or seen their own dad get married in a treehouse in Kenya? Can I sound any more pretentious if I tried? Will I stop with these rhetorical questions?  The answer to all those is probably not. So those experiences are what I now want to focus on.

I will still be adding in touches of the other things I love through outfit diaries or amazing artwork I find in a city but this will now be a space filled with travel posts, holiday stories, travel advice/reviews and just a space to grow with me as I experience new things.

Plus I thought it was time to make this whole “Out of tea bags” phrase actually have a meaning! So I will add in a cheeky review at the end of each place with a review of their cups of tea – clearly the most important facts.

Let me know if you have any suggestions of places for me to add to my ever-growing list of destinations and I hope you are as excited for this change as I am.

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Verona outfit diary

I was lucky enough to spend a few days exploring the beautiful Italian city of Verona and I am a sucker for city break fashion. Here is my diary of what I wore day to day on my holiday (also keep your eyes peeled for a vlog and blog post about my trip)

DAY 1 – City Break

Our first day was spent wandering the streets of Verona. I knew I wanted something cool and comfortable but I was so inspired by the colour palette of the gorgeous buildings I couldn’t not wear this dress from New Look. It’s such a flattering length on my legs and didn’t stick to me in the boiling sun. Easy breezy as I like to call it. I opted for comfy shoes to get me across the cobbled streets and the rose gold stripes on these trainers matched my dress so perfectly.

  1. Dress – New Look
  2. Shoes – Adidas
  3. Glasses – Debenhams IMG_2838-1

DAY 2 – Poolside

Would it really be a holiday if you didn’t spend one day lounging around the pool. Our second day was spent doing just this. I absolutely adore this swimming costume from New Look. It has padding for my chest and synchs in slightly at the waist to give me such a flattering figure. Extra important to remember to put suncream on under the chain at the front though as no one wants a burn in the shape of a ladder running down their boobies now do they!

  1. Costume – New Look
  2. Glasses – Debenhams IMG_2840-2

DAY 3 – Lakeside

Seeing as we were only an hour out from Lake Garda we decided we would be stupid to miss out on seeing its beauty. I knew we would be out walking all day so I wanted to protect my shoulders from the sun and didn’t want to wear anything tight or uncomfortable. This dress was absolutely perfect. It’s thick enough to save my skin from burning but was so loose and floaty that, if I’m honest, I didn’t feel like I was wearing anything at all.

  1. Dress – Pretty Little Thing
  2. Watch –  M&S
  3. Glasses – Debenhams IMG_3111-2

DAY 4 – Sweet and Simple

Sometimes you just want to keep your outfit sweet and simple. I love the combination of the white and denim and think the blue trim on the top really ties the outfit together. We didn’t really have a set plan for this day so I thought this outfit would be perfect as it was comfortable enough to move around in but also made me feel put-together and girly. Lets be honest, you can never go wrong with a classic white tee and a bit of denim can you!

  1. Top – Zara
  2. Skirt – Topshop
  3. Glasses – Debenhams IMG_3148-2

DAY 5 – Traveler

If you haven’t gathered by now I am all about comfort when it comes to clothes and especially when my day involves a lot of traveling. This jumpsuit is the perfect transition piece as it is chic enough to wear around the city but the wide legs also means you can nice and comfy on your flight home. I would’ve been lost this holiday without this little rucksack as well. The colours goes with everything and its the perfect size to fit in all your essentials without feeling like you’re carrying around the kitchen sink everywhere you go.

  1. Jumpsuit – Stradivarius
  2. Rucksack – Accessorize IMG_3187-2

NIGHT TIME – Bar Goer

Every evening we found ourselves in out hotel bar playing cards and drinking cocktails. This was my favourite outfit of them all, firstly because it matched the colour scheme of the building so well! It is definitely a piece that can be dressed up easily with some jewellery and a pair of pretty sandals. The colour is so complimentary with my hair colour and I find wrap dresses to be so flattering. A 10/10 all round!

  1. Dress – New Look
  2. Glasses – Debenhams IMG_3025-2

If you want to see what I got up to in more detail here is my vlog of my trip too!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Lapland travel diary

In December of 2017 I was lucky enough to visit Lapland, Sweden, for my 21st birthday. It was the most amazing holiday of my life and I made sure to vlog it, which you can watch here, but I figured it also deserved a written account on my blog. Here is my travel diary of what I got up to and the things I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a magical winter break next year.

DAY 1 – Arrival 

Today was solely a travel day. We got a flight from Gatwick to Stockholm and then changed to a domestic flight to Kiruna which overall took around 4 hours. When we landed at Kiruna, at about 4pm, it was pitch black and -20 degrees which I must admit was a bit of a shock. We were picked up by a representative from Nordic Visitor, who were our travel company for the trip, and taken to their base to pick up some warm overalls, snow boots and grabbed a slice of pizza for dinner. From there we were dropped at our accommodation, we stayed in cabins at Camp Ripan. Each cabin was big enough for a family of 4 and there was also a main reception with a bar, viewing platform and restaurant. After unpacking we headed into the bar for some Glogg, a traditional mulled wine made with cloves and cinnamon, and some gingerbread cookies – absolute heaven!

DAY 2 – Icehotel and Snowmobiling 

Kicking the holiday off with a bit of exploring, we layered up and headed out into the town of Kiruna. It was like something taken out of a fairytale with pastel coloured houses buried under mountains of snow. We looked around the traditional church and even sat in to listen to some beautiful carols being sung. The whole town is built next to a iron mine and as a result it is slowly sinking. They plan on up and moving the whole town and its residence 3km away from its current location, including taking apart and reassembling the church, which was really interesting to read about in the town hall. Lunch was a very surreal experience. We found a burger van parked in a petrol garage that was selling reindeer sandwiches and chips but it also had the most beautiful teepee seating area filled with fairy lights and a roaring open fire. Very delicious but left you very delirious when you stepped out to see the locals filling their cars up with petrol.

Once back at out hotel we got picked up by a guide and taken to the Icehotel. It is a stunning structure made entirely of ice and offering 65 individually designed rooms for guests to spend the night in. We spent a couple of hours exploring the different rooms, my favourite being the space themed room, before being shown to our own bedrooms for the night. We were lucky enough to stay in the deluxe rooms which meant they had a ‘hot room’ in the back with a bathroom and sauna in. The bedrooms themselves are kept at a constant temperature of -5 degrees (which was actually warmer than the -25 degree temperature outside) so you have to sleep in a thermal sleeping bag and wholly hat. My room was like a maze of giant walls of ice that created a pathway to the bed and it felt like something out of Game of Thrones.

In the evening we were taken out deep into the middle of nowhere for a snowmobiling trip. We followed the guide out along twisty paths through the snowy forest but the most amazing part of the night happened when we entered a massive clearing. For the next 20 minutes we sat and watched the most incredible display of northern lights in the sky. Our guide told us it was the best they had seen for 4 years and it was absolutely breath taking. Turns out it is also very difficult to photograph but I will never forget the bright colours dancing across the sky. We carried on snowmobiling and then stopped in a cabin for some dinner of lingonberry juice and reindeer stew (there is lots of reindeer on this trip)  before returning to the ice hotel for one of the most bizarre night sleeps of my life.

DAY 3 – Spa and Snow Shoes 

I was woken up by a lovely member of the Icehotel staff who gave me a hot cup of lingonberry juice and essentially checked that I hadn’t frozen the death in the night. Given the circumstances I slept really well, the beds were comfy and the sleeping bags were incredibly warm, I just got a very chilly nose! We had one last look around the Icehotel and then headed back to Camp Ripan where we discovered the spa. Dipping in and out of the saunas and hot pools we had a very relaxing day and caught up on a bit of sleep that we missed out on the night before.

Of all the days this was our least busy and most relaxing. In the evening my dad, brother and I ventured back out into the forrest with some snow shoes. They were like big spades with grips on that you attached to the bottom of your shoes and they allowed you to trudge through the snow. Of all the activities this was my least favourite I have to admit, it was very cold, quite difficult and in a way rather pointless as we just walked around in a circle. We did start a fire and saw some amazing stars, as we weren’t allowed any lights, but other than that it would not be something that I would recommend.

DAY 4 – Huskies and Sky Station 

This day was without a doubt my favourite! We spent the day being Husky mushers (driving sleds pulled by huskies) and it was practically my dream came true. On arrival we were greeted by around 140 dogs and led to our sleds made up of 6 huskies. My brother and I took it in turns driving whilst the other sat on the sled being pulled along. We ran across fields of snow and through the woods, with the most beautiful views, but most importantly we got to stroke and cuddle around 30 husky dogs. The youngest on our sled was around one year old and each one loved being snuggled more than the last. I cannot recommend this experience enough! All the guides were so friendly and we stopped for lunch of hot mushroom soup and cheesy bread in a lovely teepee. Most importantly though it was a day with dogs, lots and lots of dogs! (Have I mentioned that dogs were involved enough?)

In the evening we drove for about an hour to the Abisko Sky Station. We were meant to go up a in a chairlift to the station but unfortunately the winds were too strong so it was cancelled. We still got an amazing 3 course meal and watched an interesting presentation all about the Aurora Borealis (northern lights). Following the meal we went on a walk down to a lake where there was a possibility to see the lights again but due to the wind it was incredibly cloudy so we weren’t able to. We were told that it is known to be a place with a high chance of seeing the lights though so if you want to see them you should check it out!

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I forgot to take any photos of the sky station or the meal so here are more dogs to make up for it

DAY 5 – Reindeer farm and Home time 

This was our final day in Kiruna. In the morning we checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to the local reindeer farm. The farm itself was really interesting as it had lots of information about the natives and how they used to live. We were then able to go into a cornered off area and hand feed some reindeers. It seemed a bit intimidating at first as they are rather large animals but turns out they are just like large friendly dogs! They took the food so gently and were happy for you to give them a stroke. It is important to say however that they are incredibly greedy animals so if you want their attention then you will definitely need some food!

We had a rather tense journey home as we were only allocated 50 minutes, once we landed in Stockholm, to get to our connecting flight back to London. Seeing as we were going from a domestic flight to a international flight we had to cut through the lines at security and passport control in order to make it. Ironically after sprinting for the flight our plane got held on the tarmac for an hour due to heavy traffic, at least it gave us time to catch our breath! Before long we were back home and the magic was over! I cannot express enough how much of a winter wonderland lapland is and could not recommend  it enough as a holiday if you want to get away in the colder months! Just remember to pack lots of layers and some reindeer food!

Once again I did vlog the whole holiday so if you want a more visual representation of what I got up to then you can watch it here!

Go and grab another cuppa (or a glass of Glogg) on me, Em x

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