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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