10. What’s on your bucket list?

Lets be honest it would not be a classic travel gap year if I didn’t have a bucket list would it? Everything from South East Asia is what I am looking forward to the most from my group tour and then everywhere from Australia and New Zealand are the places I am going to build my route around. I will be working at a camp, for Camp America, in upstate New York so these are the places that I want to visit on my time off.

Thailand – Chang Mai Elephant Sanctuary

To begin with this was actually something I was conscious of, as I don’t want to contribute to any kind of animal exploitation, but with further research I am so happy to see that this is an ethical sanctuary that puts the elephants first. We will help to feed, bathe and walk them (with strictly no riding) as they roam freely in their natural environment and for this reason, I cannot wait! Elephants have always fascinated me so the opportunity to get up-close with one is going to be incredible. I apologise in advance for the spam of elephant photos that is about to come your way!

Laos – Kuang Si Waterfalls in Laung Prabang

I would be lying if I said I knew anything about Laos and, if I am being honest, I probably wouldn’t be visiting it if my tour didn’t go there but having looked into it more then I can really see why they added it to the route. Something that is described to have a “fairy-tale feel” is the breath-taking Kaung Si Waterfall and anything that can be associated with a fairy-tale will of course spark my interest! There are also 33 temples in Laung Prabang that I cannot wait to explore and truly indulge myself into their rich spiritual culture.

Vietnam – Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Min and the Hao Lo prison in Hanoi

With an A-Level in history under my belt, in which I did a module on the Vietnam War, I cannot wait to see the facts written in the text books come to life. The Cu Chi tunnels in Ho Chi Min, that were used to smuggle people and supplies during the Vietnam War, will be fascinating as well as the Hao Lo prison in Hanoi, where we will have a chance to learn about the history of communism in Vietnam.

Cambodia – S21 Prison in Phnom Penh and Angkor Wat

Another country with a rich and heart-breaking history is Cambodia. I think visiting the S21 prison in Phnom Penh and seeing the atrocious consequences of the Killing Fields will be an eye-opening and humbling experience. Unlike any of my other birthdays, which have mostly been spent hiding from the rain, for my 23rdbirthday I will be watching the sunrise over Angkor Wat! If that isn’t worthy of a spot on the bucket list then I don’t know what is!

Australia – Great Ocean Road and the Great Barrier Reef

This one, I will not lie, is mostly influenced by the photos I have seen on Instagram but I cannot wait to drive the Great Ocean Road! However thrilling sitting in traffic on the M25 is, I don’t think it will quite compare to the ocean views and open roads that Australia has to offer. I feel very lucky to be alive in a time when there are still living corals in the Great Barrier Reef so that is definitely something I want to see whilst we still have the chance.

New Zealand – Tongariro Crossing hike

I think if there is any place to go on a hike then it has to be New Zealand and I have heard that the Tongariro Crossing is the most popular of them all. The only problem being I can count the amount of times  I have been to the gym this year on one hand. As a result, if this 12 mile hike turns out to be too much for me then I am sure I can find an equally picturesque but less strenuous alternative!

America – Salem, Boston

I have been lucky enough to visit New York twice in my life already so although I am excited to go back it is not at the top of my bucket list. Somewhere that is however is Boston and more specifically Salem.  It wasn’t only the history we learnt in school that fascinated me; I have also always had a keen interest in conspiracy theories and the darker history of the world. I remember reading book after book on the Salem Witch Trials when I was younger so it is fair to say this has been on the list for a while.

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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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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