6. Have you traveled anywhere this year?

Before long 2018 was coming to a close and it was time to set New Years resolutions for 2019. Along with the classic “I will join a gym” and “I will not place ASOS orders at 2am in the morning when I can’t sleep” I decided my main goal for the year ahead was to visit 5 countries. Unlike the other 2, I am proud to say I achieved it!

1. Canada

I kicked the year off with a trip to Canada in February to see my brother. Ben had decided to cross the pond and do a ski season out in the stunning town of whistler and it gave my dad and I the perfect excuse for a holiday! My plan originally was to go snowboarding but that was put on hold when I managed to fracture both of my wrists 2 weeks before we were due to go out (well done me!). As a result I had to find other ways to keep occupied whilst my family were off bombing down the mountains and to my surprise there was actually plenty to do! I went for walks through the snow covered Forrest, went for a massage at their Swedish spa and even managed to make it up the mountain in one of the cable cars to take in the view. I have 2 blog posts written in more detail about what to do in whistler when you can’t ski that I will link here (adventurous) and here (relaxing). It was lovely to see my brother and his girlfriend after 5 months of them being away and also a great escape to a beautiful winter wonderland. Hopefully next time I go though I won’t have 2 hands in casts!

2. Croatia

My trips abroad came to a bit of halt over spring so when May came around I was desperate for some time away! The problem was, I couldn’t actually find anyone to come with me. My friends were all saving up their precious holiday days for a long trip away over summer and my boyfriend had just started a new job so didn’t feel he could take time off yet. So I went on my own, as I now recommend everyone should do once in their life. To begin with I booked into a cute air BnB but then figured I might get a bit lonely not talking to anyone for 4 days so I swapped to a hostel right in the old town of Dubrovnik. The city itself was beautiful and I was also lucky enough to be there when the final season of Game of Thrones was released (kings landing is filmed in Dubrovnik) so was able to watch an episode in the very place it was produced. I have a blog post of what to do in Dubrovnik here and also one about my game of thrones tour here. Everyone in the hostel was incredibly friendly and I ended up on a day trip to Montenegro with a girl I met one night over dinner (so technically that brings my country count to 6.) that you can read about here. Looking back now, I kind of see this trip to Croatia as my test run for my big trip away next year, I wanted to see if I enjoyed being away on my own and staying in hostels before committing to it for months, thousands of miles away from home. Clearly I loved it!

3. Marrakech

Just like I struggled to get away over Easter, I found it virtually impossible to get any time off over summer so my next holiday didn’t come around until September. This was my bonus holiday of the year as I won my ticket on the plane in a raffle put on by my job. We got flights and accommodation paid for, as well as tickets to a 3 day festival in the desert called Oasis. I didn’t have a clue what to expect from this holiday as we didn’t know where we were staying until we pulled up at the front door but we ended up being well and truly spoilt! Marrakech itself was like no where I had ever been. I had heard nothing but horror stories before we went out and, yes, it is incredibly crowded and busy and i wouldn’t think about doing it on my own as a young girl but it had the most incredible energy that radiated in everything from the people to the architecture. We spent most mornings wandering around the markets, the afternoons were dedicated to lounging by the pool and then we danced the evenings away at the festival. (We possibly danced a bit too hard on the last night, getting back to the villa at 6am and then leaving at 6:30am to catch our flight home. That was not a fun experience!) The highlight of Marrakech for me though was definitely the food, it is a must spot for the foodies of the world out there!

4. Italy

As the nights started getting darker and the cold was coming in, my boyfriend and I felt like it was time to get away for a bit. We looked for cheap flights on sky scanner and ended up getting a great deal for flights and a hotel in Lake Como. I have always had a soft spot for Italy and Como did nothing but make my love for the country grow. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel on the edge of the lake, with the most insta-grammable pool I have ever dipped my toes into, and managed to get the balance of adventure and relaxation just right. We would spend a day out exploring the breathtaking town of Como and beyond either by boat, walking or funicular and then the next day we would head to the spa in the hotel or hide from the downpours in a local pizzeria. The highlight of the trip for me was probably the views from the top of Volta’s lighthouse in Brunate. As it was a quiet season at the lake we had the whole place to ourselves and followed up our climb with a fresh slice of chocolate and pear cake and a cup of tea. I can definitely see why lake como was the inspiration behind the phrase “la dolce vita”!

5. Tenerife

Around 8 years ago now my grandad moved out to a small coastal town on the island of Tenerife and every year since I have gone out for at least a long weekend. This year my mum and I decided to embrace the chance to get some winter sun and we flew out over the first weekend of December. To me the small town of san blas now feels like a home away from home. We know where to stay, where to eat, where to walk so whenever we go we generally do nothing but relax and indulge in paella and tapas. We spent most days and evenings out with my grandad, as well only see him once a year, and the rest of the time we lounged by the pool or read our books on the balcony. I can definitely get used to 26 degree weather in December!

6. England (bonus)

I set my resolution as 5 different countries but I have also been lucky enough this year to go on 3 short stay-cations across England. For the August bank holiday my family and I packed up the car and drove down to Bournemouth for a gloriously sunny weekend at the beach. We played plenty of board games, explored the Jurassic coast and I got absolutely annihilated at a game of mini golf on the coast. For my step-mums 55th birthday I joined her and 20 of her friends in a church air BnB in Somerset. A lot of wine was drunk and cake eaten but we also went out to explore the beautiful Wells cathedral and did some shopping in the clarks outlet city. My biggest trip away in England though was the week I spent in Cornwall with my boyfriend. We made the 6 hour drive down to port Isaac and stayed in the most adorable farm house a 5 minute walk from the coast. The weather was not on our side but it meant we had the place to ourselves and went on plenty of walks where the only company we kept were cows and sheep. It can be easy to forget how many wonderful places England has to offer and I am looking forward to exploring more of the place I am lucky enough to call home.

2019 ended up being a big year for travel for me so it feels quite surreal to say that 2020 is going to be even bigger! It’s not often you can say you’re going to go to 4 countries in January alone! Think I’m going to have to come up with a new resolution for next year.

Merry Christmas and happy travels!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Travel Diary – Kotor, Montenegro

According to GetByBus it takes 1hour and 50 minutes to get from Dubrovnik to Kotor in Montenegro. According to experience I now know it takes more like 3 hours and 50 minutes. The bus pulled out of Dubrovnik bus station at 10am and within 5 minutes I was deep into conversation with Kerala. We had met the day before in the hostel common room. Both solo female travellers, both on our last full day of our holiday and both looking for an escape away from the rain so we decided to pair up and go to Kotor for the day. I knew nothing of the city before getting on the bus and was really looking forward to exploring somewhere totally new and unexpected.

TOP TIP: You have to have your tickets printed to get on the bus and each ticket has 2 sheets of paper. Make sure to print them on separate pieces of paper and not double sided as the bus driver takes one and you keep one. If you don’t have a printer in your accommodation, there is a small travel shop about an 8 minute walk from the bus station that prints tickers for around 50p a page.

About an hour and a half into the journey we pulled into passport control and one by one had to step off the coach and present our passports to the officers. It didn’t take too long but hanging around in the rain for 30 passports to get checked will not go down as the highlight of the trip! After bustling back into the comfort of the coach I thought we were on our way. I was wrong. No longer than 20minutes down the road we stopped at a second passport control and had to do the whole process again. Now call me a naïve traveller, but it wasn’t until I had my passport stamped at the border that I realised Montenegro is not in the EU.

SIDE NOTE: This wasn’t an issue as EU citizens are allowed to travel through Montenegro for 90 days without a visa but if you don’t hold an EU passport then be sure to research what rules apply to you. The only problem I seemed to face with it was my phone usage charge for the day went up to £6 as I was no longer in the Vodafone Free to Roam zone.

After some manic (checking I am not about to be deported) searching, my fears were put to rest and we were finally back on the bus. The whole passport control process took about 45 minutes so be sure to factor that into any journey time! By this point I was quite ready to get off the bus but we still had around an hour and a half to go. Although it was a long journey it was a beautiful one. After breaking away from the border we emerged on a long road winding its way around the Bay of Kotor. We passed small seaside towns nestled between the mountains and the water’s edge and looked out over the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks that stands alone in the middle of the sea. If you have longer to spend in Kotor, you can get a boat out to see the church, something I would be loved to have done!

Just at the point when I felt like I had morphed into the bus seat, we made it to Kotor bus station. Now I have always been told not to judge a book by a cover but when we pulled into the bus station, I instantly thought we had made a mistake in visiting. The station looked out over an abandoned office block and graffiti ridden buildings that led down to a ferry harbour. We wondered down the road past building debris and old tattered cafes before emerging at the entrance to the city walls.  An easily missed passage, emerald green shutters framed the windows lining the single alleyway that we found ourselves ambling down. This was the Kotor I was imagining. Quaint, local shops appeared around every corner and, similar to Dubrovnik, everywhere you looked there was a different path just waiting to be explored. It was like a beautiful stone maze.

We soon popped out at one of the main squares and hid from the sudden downpour of rain in the Kotor Cathedral. Kotor had a handful of stunning churches, with gorgeous architectures and even more breath-taking interiors so we built up a good appetite dipping in and out of all the sites. By this point it was around 12PM and we settled down in the square for a bite to eat. The food resembled that of Croatia and was mostly made up of sea food, pizza and pasta, I had absolutely no complaints, and a pizza was around €8-10.

TOP TIP: Montenegro takes Euros and most places only take cash so if you are going on a day trip from Croatia then be sure to take out some Euros beforehand.

However stunning the old town was, it wasn’t significantly big and by this point we had seen most of it. With 5 hours to go till our bus departed we decided to get our 10,000 steps (plus a few more) in for the day and climb up the mountain to the Castle of San Giovanni. We had to ask a local for directions to the entrance as there weren’t any signs, but we found our way to the stairs at the base of the old town and began our ascent. Within a few hundred meters we were stopped by a man at a toll gate who charged us €8 each, I had heard that there is an entrance somewhere were you don’t have to pay but we were short on time and desperate not to get lost so we handed over the cash and continued the mammoth climb. 1350 steps hugged the mountain side and weaved in and out of old fortresses. Though my thighs have never burnt so much in my life the view got more and more spectacular with each step. I felt like Shrek on his way to find the princess as we dipped in and out of grey stone walls (and I was equally as out of breath and unfit as an ogre). The rocky terrain was quite hard to navigate at times and if you’re not a fan of heights then I would be careful not to look over the sides of the walls but if you’re going to Kotor then this is the way to spend your day.

TOP TIP: there were a few stops to buy drinks along the way but I am not sure what they were charging or how long the bottles had been sat in the sun for, so be sure to bring some water up with you to avoid dehydration.

At the top sits the ruins of the Castle of San Giovanni and was an incredible spot for some breath-taking photos. Though there are just a few walls of the actual castle left, it remained a great platform to sit, talk, take in the view and revel in pride that we had actually made it to the top! Unfortunately, time slipped away from us however and with only one bus to catch we had to start our descent back to the old town quicker than we would’ve hoped. The way down did pose a few more issues as it could be hard to grip on the rocky terrain but around 3 hours after we had set off we were back at the base of the steps. Now what better way to reward ourselves than with some ice cream and a Nutella crepe once safety back in the old town. We had a final mooch around the shops and grabbed some water and snacks for the bus journey home before heading back to where it all began.

TOP TIP: Be sure to go to the toilet and bring some snacks before getting on the bus as there are no chances to do either along the way. (Well there was a toilet on the bus but peeing on the move didn’t seem too appealing to me!)

Sitting at the bus station we met a Canadian Guy called Mitch who was on his way to Dubrovnik too. After assuming he was traveling alone we were taken by surprise when he said he was actually away with 7 friends who had already successfully made it to Croatia. He told us that he had got the bus that morning at 10AM but after arriving at passport control, realised his passport was still safely locked back in his locker at the hostel. He trekked 3 hours in the rain back to a gas station where he managed to catch a bus to Kotor, retrieve his passport and was now retracing his steps to finally get to Dubrovnik and his friends. Moral of the story? Always check you have your passport!

TOP TIP: For journeys leaving Kotor, even if you already have you bus tickets printed, you have to sign in at the bus station and pay a fee of around €2 each so be sure to factor this in when planning your day!

Turns out our driver on the way out either had a fear of boats or just liked taking his time as on the way back we simply got a ferry across the bay and cut about an hour off the driving time! After hopping on and off the coach at the various passport controls and reuniting Mitch with his friends it was time to get back to the hotel. The bus station is just outside of the old town in Dubrovnik and you have to either get a taxi or a local bus from outside the station to the entrance of Pile Gate (I explained this in a lot more detail in my Dubrovnik travel guide). I would be lying if I said taking a day trip to an unknown country with a girl I had known less that 8 hours wasn’t daunting but it turned out incredible. The Old town in Kotor is like something out of a fairy-tale book and the views over the bay from the top of the castle were about as breath-taking as the number of steps we climbed to get there. I left with a new friend, some incredible memories and a desire to not sit on a bus again for a very long time!

Have you ever been to Kotor or is it a place that you would like to go to?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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My Hostel survival guide

HOW TO PICK A HOSTEL

Every morning, as my 6:20 alarm blasted in my ear, I had the same thought. I need a holiday. It was hard to lock down anyone else to go with me so I made the decision to simply go alone. I hopped straight onto Air BnB, found a whole apartment with a stunning view over Dubrovnik old town and booked in 3 nights in May. I couldn’t have been more excited and pictured myself, glass of wine in hand, watching the sun set over the sea. What more could I possibly want?

As the day went on however the doubts started to creep in. Is it safe to stay on my own? Is it a long walk away from the centre of town? Will this mean that I literally don’t communicate at all with another human being for 4 whole days? Is this really the smartest decision?

I have stayed in loads of Air BnBs before, so it felt familiar to me and I didn’t want to splash out on a hotel but whenever the word ‘hostel’ popped up I just pictured sharing dirty bunk beds with drunken strangers and going home with athletes’ foot from the showers (slightly dramatic I know!). It is sad to say but I knew it wouldn’t be that safe for me to stay alone in a whole apartment in a place I wasn’t familiar with, so I cancelled my Air BnB, got over my fear of foot bunions, and started browsing Hostel World instead.

Just like I would when picking any accommodation for a trip, I evaluated the following factors and then ordered them from 1 (absolute necessity) to 8 (not fussed about compromising on). This way I could filter down the endless list of hostels easier:

  1. Location
  2. Cleanliness
  3. Safety
  4. Price
  5. Common area (space to socialise)
  6. Amenities (kitchen/ washing machine/ bathrooms)
  7. Amount of people in room
  8. Single gender/Mixed

The things I was most concerned about were location, cleanliness and safety so I browsed the map to find hostels inside the city walls and then compared the ratings of cleanliness and safety for each hostel. I wasn’t actually fussed about staying in a mixed room, but it was nice to know that some places do provide the option of single sex rooms if that would make you feel more comfortable. I spent a good day and half reading reviews, looking at pictures and comparing prices until I decided on the best hostel for me. I know that everyone says the excitement of traveling is  being able to ‘live in the moment’ but if it is your first time in a hostel and you’re a bit nervous then there is no harm in taking time to find one that you’re going to feel comfortable in.

TOP TIP: if you are traveling alone then look for rooms with an odd number of beds (3,5,7) as that often means they will have one single bed amongst the double beds, this way you may not have to bunk with a total stranger.

 

HOW TO GET COMFORTABLE AND SOCIALISE

I remember walking into my 5 bed room for the first time and being genuinely surprised with how clean, airy and pretty it was! It was empty when I got there but there were 4 open suitcases on the floor. I have to admit that was the most nerve-wracking time of the whole holiday for me, I felt like I couldn’t really relax until I knew who was going to be sleeping within 5 feet of me. Naturally my mind jumped to images of serial killers and smelly, drunk lunatics but I was quickly brought back to reality when 3 English boys on a break from University and an American girl discovering Europe bounded in to say hello. It is easy to forget that 95% of people in hostels are welcoming, friendly travellers in exactly the same shoes as you and not Ted Bundy enthusiasts with a rope under their pillow!

Naturally social situations have never been a problem for me but being in a foreign country with a room full of strangers did throw me a bit! If you feel anxious about just how to socialise with your new roomies (or anyone you come across in the hostel for that matter) then here are a few ice breaking conversation starters that really helped me to settle in…

  1. Where are you from?
  2. How long have you been here for?
  3. What have been your highlights of the city/location you’re in?
  4. Are you traveling anywhere else after this?
  5. I am starving, any recommendations on where to eat?
  6. Do you know where the bathroom/kitchen is?
  7. I am glad to be away from the rain in England, what’s the weather been like here?
  8. I’m really excited to see/visit the ____, have you been there yet?

It can be incredibly daunting starting conversations and if you really struggle with social situations then look for hostels with smaller or even private rooms and try and avoid any with ‘party’ in the name. I think I must’ve walked up and down the stairs from my room to the common area at least 4 times before I got the courage to actually go in and talk to people. There was quite a big crowd gathered in the lounge, so I initially headed to the kitchen and asked a girl cooking if the teabags were free to use. I made a quick joke about how typical it was that the first thing I do in a new country is make a cup of tea and that you can take the girl out of England but not the English out the girl. Luckily, she laughed and we then started a conversation about how much she wanted to visit London. She introduced me to the group and before I knew it 4 hours of discussing everything from travel to cows had passed and I felt right at home.

 

WHAT TO PACK

I know there are hundreds of lists online of essentials to pack when staying in a hostel but I thought I would give my top selection of game changers that I was very glad I had in my case…

  1. Padlock, everyone in my room was totally chilled but you can never be too sure so just bring a padlock so you can lock your valuables away in the lockers. I came to learn that padlocks with codes are better as a few people in my hostel had lost or muddled up their padlock keys and had to pay a fine to break the lockers open and retrieve their stuff.
  2. Money Belt, if lockers aren’t provided then get a comfy money belt that you can always keep your passport and money in, even when sleeping. Quick disclaimer: if you’re reading this before staying in a hostel and are now thinking “oh crap I don’t feel comfortable staying somewhere where I physically have to strap my valuables to my body” then please don’t fret! For my whole holiday I didn’t lock anything away and kept my passport and money in a bag under my bed with absolutely no fear of it getting taken as everyone in my room was so lovely. I am just putting this on my list because you never know, and it is better to be prepared and not use it rather than risk it and wish you had it.
  3. Flip Flops, great for avoiding the dreaded athletes’ foot and also for walking around the hostel in the evening in when you want to be a bit more relaxed.
  4. Small Towel, most hostels don’t provide towels and also don’t have loads of room to hang things up to dry so just bring a small one that you can drape over your bed when it is wet and won’t take up much room.
  5. Extension lead, plugs can be hard to come by and you are normally limited to 1 per person so bring an extension lead. Then all you need is 1 wall plug and 1 adapter but you will have up to 4 sockets to charge your own things from.
  6. Comfy clothes, I found during the day everyone was out and about exploring but in the evenings we would all meet downstairs in the common room whilst some people cooked dinner and others just sat and socialised. It was such a game changer having some comfy shorts and a jumper to throw on!
  7. Sleeping mask, curtains aren’t always an option!
  8. Ear plugs, people snore!
  9. A book, although there was normally someone around to talk to, when the 4 o’clock “I need a break” time arrived for me I really enjoyed going back to the hostel and just relaxing in my bed with a book.
  10. Chocolate, food is a great way to make friends and snacks are just essential no matter what let’s be honest!

 

If you’re debating whether to stay in a hostel or not then my suggestion would be do some good research into finding one that is going to suit you, bring some snacks to share with your new roommates, pack your bag and just do it! They’re cheap and frequent enough in the big cities that if you’re not happy then simply move on to the next one or if worse comes to worse then you can just book an Air BnB for the night. I am so glad that I chose to stay in a hostel and I think I got really lucky that all of my roommates were lovely. I even ended up going on a day trip with one of the girls from the common room and I now consider her to be a good friend! I may have gone away on my own, but I was never alone and before long a room full of strangers felt like family.

If you have any more questions or any tips for me then please leave them below!

For anyone wondering I stayed in the Old Town Hostel in Dubrovnik and absolutely loved it! If you;re heading on a trip there then I couldn’t recommend it more as a place to stay and if you would like to know more about what to do in Dubrovnik then be sure to read my travel guide here!

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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Travel Diary – Dubrovnik, Croatia

My alarm went off at 4am but I don’t think I really woke up until I was sat alone on the EZY851 EasyJet flight to Dubrovnik thinking “what have I got myself into?”

I have been intrigued by the beautiful architecture, rich history and stunning scenery of Croatia for years now. To begin with I had looked into spending some time in Split or venturing out to see the stunning waterfalls at the Plitvice Lakes National Park but when a photo of Dubrovnik appeared on my timeline, and I learnt about its connection with one of my favourite shows (Game of Thrones), my sight was set. My decision to take on this adventure solo requires a blog post of its own, but I had a passport, a camera, a bit of money saved and a desperate desire for a holiday. I booked my flights, secured a bed in a hostel and jet off on one of the best holidays I have ever had.

TOP TIP: If you’re flying into Dubrovnik from England then aim for a window seat on the left-hand side of the plane as you get incredible views of the old town as you go into land.

The only ‘faff’ I seemed to have on the whole holiday was with the buses to/from the airport. According to my hostel instructions there was a bus that went direct to Pile Gate but on arrival I learnt this wasn’t the case. After a discussion with a rather aggressive bus driver I had to venture back into the airport to buy my shuttle bus ticket (80 Kunas for a return) which then took me to the main bus station situated about 20 minutes away from the Old Town. From there I followed a crowd of other seemingly lost tourists to a bus stop where we were predominantly shuffled into a large taxi and offered a shared ride in for the same price as a bus ticket.

TOP TIP: After a bit of questioning at the hostel later on I learnt that you can get the 1a, 1b, 3 or 8 to Pile Gate from the bus station and you can buy your ticket on the bus for around 15 Kuna or from a local newsagent for 12 Kuna.

Venturing in through the medieval Pile Gate, I emerged into the picturesque Placa Stadun – a wide road that cut straight through the Old Town, narrow alleyways broke off from it in all directions and at the end stood the entrance to the port where moored boats bobbed over the choppy sea. Had it not been for my heavy bag practically dragging my shoulder to the floor, I could’ve happily spent the whole afternoon stood there watching the birds fly over the burnt orange rooves and people meandering in and out of shops. But I was tired, hungry and anxious to see what my hostel would be like. I chose to stay in the Old Town Hostel because it was situated right in the centre of the Old Town (funnily enough) and had no issue in finding it down one of the many narrow passageways. It was too early to check in but I was able to leave my bag at the reception and set off in search of food. The only negative I would have to say about Dubrovnik is that it was busy and as a result of that everywhere was very expensive. Though the choice of restaurants was infinite I didn’t really want to spend money on 2 big meals out a day so I strolled through the maze of alleys until I found a perfect solution – a bakery. They offered everything from sandwiches to traditional pastries and even pizza slices, just enough for lunch without breaking the bank! (I would highly recommend the cheese and spinach burek from Mlinar bakery it was exquisite!)

Loaded up on a slice of pizza the real exploring could begin! According to the weather forecast it was meant to rain non-stop for the 2 full days I was there, so I really wanted to make the most of the sunshine whilst I could. I headed to the tourist centre, located right by the entrance to Pile Gate, and asked for some advice on what to do. As It happened I had actually arrived at a bit of a bad time, due to a financial debate the cable car to the top of the mountain had been closed and the rain in and around the area had caused the sea to be incredibly choppy so the boats weren’t running to Lokrum Island. 2 of the things I really wanted to do weren’t available for the duration of my stay, brilliant! All hope wasn’t lost however, and I was able to get a ticket to walk the city walls. You purchase the tickets at the base of the walls for 200 Kuna and then you are free to wander round above the city for as long as you like. It also came with an entrance ticket to the Fort Lovrijenac located just outside Pile Gate.

TOP TIP: Here is one I annoyingly didn’t learn till I left, If you purchase a Dubrovnik Card (either 1 day, 3 day or 5 day) it gets you into 6 museums, 2 galleries and a ticket to the City Wall. The 3 day card is around 250Kuna so a good price for all of that!

Now I know my opinion is limited as I wasn’t able to look down on the town from the cable car or explore the luscious botanical gardens of Lokrum Island, but I think if you were to do one thing only in Dubrovnik then it should definitely be the City Walls! You get the most stunning views across all aspects of the city from the main town square to the port and even out across the sea to the island and the fort. You can climb up the towers, hear the crash of the waves against the walls and watch the birds float across the sea of orange rooves. The passage itself around the walls is quite narrow but it is all one way and there are larger areas to stop and take in the 360 view. I stopped at one of the shady cafes halfway round and drank a fresh fruit smoothie whilst taking in the breath-taking view of the island. For any Game of Thrones fans out there you can also walk around the tower that Daenerys frantically runs around when her dragons go missing in the house of the undying. Including the smoothie break and stopping to take about 10000 photos, it took me just under 2 hours to complete the circuit, but you have full freedom to be up there as long or little as you like. Although you can only enter the walls by Pile Gate you can leave them at the port side of the city if you don’t fancy going all the way around.

Given my early start and the long day of travelling I was rather exhausted by the time the evening rolled around. After spending a bit of time in the hostel meeting my roommates, I set out for an early dinner. I will be uploading another post soon all about my hostel experience in a lot more detail so stay tuned for that! Seeing as Dubrovnik is located on the seafront it would be wrong to not try out some of the fresh seafood they had to offer! A live school orchestra was playing in the main square so I found a restaurant nearby where I could avoid the crowds but still hear the music. It was a bit daunting going for dinner on my own, but I actually got caught up in great conversation with an elderly pair of ladies sat on the table next to me. Their stories about the dishy captain on their cruise definitely made for an entertaining meal! I went for a fresh seafood risotto with extra prawns and had to hold back from licking the plate clean at the end. In general, I would say seafood, pasta and pizza seemed to make up the core of the food offered in the Old Town, though for my second night I did come across a Mexican offering the most incredible fajitas! The cobbled side streets were riddled with a huge variety of places to eat and drink, from vegan restaurants to Irish bars, and there were also a few supermarkets hidden amongst them if you prefer to make your own meals when away!

I slept like a baby that night and awoke to the gentle but disappointing sound of rain on the window. Of course everyone would prefer a clear day when on holiday but I was determined to not let it ruin my trip. I am English after all, if we can’t get on with life in the rain then who can! The bonus of the downpour was that not many people shared the same spirit as me, so I practically had the city to myself! I took it upon myself to seek out the famous cliff bar hidden on the side of the walls. After ascending the “shame” steps, GOT fans will know what I mean, I wound my way through the outer lanes of the city till I came across a metal gate in the wall and a wooden sign saying ‘cold drinks’ on it. The doorway emerged out onto the cliff edge where a row of steps led down to bar. I read a few reviews of this place before leaving and in the summer months it is supposedly packed, but on this rainy May morning it was just me, myself and I (well and the bar staff). I chose a seat right on the edge, ordered a coffee and read my book to the sound of the waves throwing themselves against the wall. I think it can be hard on short city breaks to actually allow yourself time to relax as it often feels like there is so much more you could be doing or seeing, but it is important to give yourself time to unwind and just enjoy the moment and the place that you are in!

Now even though I was only half way into my holiday at this point I am actually going to end this blog post here. The remainder of my Sunday I spent on a Game of Thrones tour, which I have written a separate post about here, and then on Monday I went on a day trip to Montenegro which I also think deserves a post of it’s own. At times looking back on this holiday I do feel as if I missed out on a lot Dubrovnik had to offer, I didn’t see the island or the views from above the mountain, but everything I did get to experience I loved. It is the kind of city that you can lose yourself in. The criss-crossing alleyways will always lead to new shops and restaurants to explore, you can sit and watch boats drift in and out of the port for hours and it is rich with so much history, all told in the various museums and galleries, that I think even if I spent a month there I still would be left feeling like there was more to see and do.

Have you ever been to Dubrovnik or is it a place that you would like to go to?

Go and grab another cuppa on me, Em x

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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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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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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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