Can I leave it anymore longer between posts?!
It has been months since I added new content onto my blog. What a disaster in the blogosphere. Many things have changed and I’m just starting to find my bearings. So what has been happening?
First of all, I found a job! For those following, I was a PhD student ever since I started this blog and then found myself done and dusted. This usually means that sooner or later, I would need to make a living in this world. I found one! And the best thing is? I get to travel for work! Although just domestically. They say baby steps right?
Secondly, I moved out of home! Gone now are the days to penny counting for my holidays- money now flies out from my wallet left right and centre.
Thirdly, I don’t have enough annual leave to take a holiday yet! But obviously, there are plans. Stay tuned!
And finally, I’ve graduated! You can now officially call me Dr if you feel like it.
Tell me what I’ve missed. Tell me something random.
It’s good to be back here.
I found out about Blablacar through locals that I had met in Europe. This service is alittle like Airbnb- essentially, drivers list their trip on blablacar and you can pay for a seat and be a passenger. The website has a review process where you can rate the driver and their driving skills and they can also rate passengers. Once you’ve locked in a trip, you pay (with card) and then get a code to give your driver after your journey. All of this is done via the site but the only thing you do need to sort out with the driver is a meeting place.
- It is cheap! I found that the trips were about half the price (if not more) than a bus or train tickets. If you’re regularly moving around a country, these travel costs can add up quickly and also leave little room to be flexible if train costs increase closer to travel dates. I thought that blablacar helped to cut travel costs during my holiday.
- You get to meet locals. I love meeting new people on trips and what better place than being in the same car with each other. We have chatted about life in our respective countries, our dreams and life in general. One of my drivers is actually in Australia at the moment and hopefully we will get to catch up!
- You can see part of the country. What better way to see the views than the front passenger seat of a car! I found that my drivers would point out different things along the way and we also got to talk about road tolls!
- You can pick who you want to take the trip with. This is dependent on what towns you’re travelling between as some towns tend to have alot of trips happening and some with not so much. If you have choice, you can pick which age group/gender you want to travel with which I think is a good thing.
- Language barrier. On one of my trips, there was a huge language barrier (I can’t speak spanish) and the driver couldn’t speak english. BUT WE MANAGED. It can be awkward if there is a language barrier but it’s generally ok.
- Meeting place. Once a driver agrees to take you, you both have to settle on a meeting place. Usually, the driver has the final say and it can be hard to try and find a place you can easily get to with your luggage without having transport costs blow out. I had very good luck and found someone where I could walk to most of the places but you might not always have this luxury.
I have previously blogged about why I was Helsinki here. Finland is not classified as part of Scandinavia and that’s ok. It has so many things to offer in itself although not in a flashy way. Everything feels more muted and are just waiting for you to find. Despite “living” there for 3 weeks, I still wish I had more time to see more of this beautiful city and country.
This was the first ever winter destination I have been so it holds a special place in my heart. Crisp blue skies and even more crisp snow under my feet, plenty good photos were to be taken. Every direction was just as picturesque as the next and the architecture is such a collection that I think, makes this city so stereotypically different from many others. A mix of the European classical coloured buildings and modern architecture plus a number of churches with little sky scrappers makes Helsinki feel special.
I had heard little of Finland before I knew I was going to go there. But walking around, it’s like the innovative and creative design hubs of Finland are just hidden and waiting to explode into the world (think Nokia) just modestly from these ordinary buildings.
I discovered some delicious pastries! Piirakka was one of my favourites- a rye base with fillings of rice, potatoes or carrots, and I would buy some whenever I could. Korvapuusti- a cinnamon roll, was also a nice tea-time snack with coffee (although to be fair, I’m abit of a coffee snob and no-one does coffee like us Australians). I tried reindeer which is often served with lingonberry jam. Cloudberry jam and seabuckthorn jam were brought home as heavy gifts (available from Stockmanns). A friend from the lab gave me some good old liquorice lollies each with a varying taste of saltiness. I had never seen so many liquorice lollies in a supermarket aisle in my life. I also tried the famous liquorice shot Salmiakki (easy to drink but you will pay for it later ;)).
Sites that I visited:
- Kauppatori: It was the end of Winter when I visited so the market was quite small with no fish for sale when I went but food and handicraft stalls instead. And a very frozen lake (or is it sea?).
- Suomenlinna: Great day trip out to be surrounded by nature. Pictures to come in another post.
- Kiasma: Contemporary art museum. I spent a good few hours there and loved the architecture of the museum.
- Kansallismuseo: National Museum, it was ok. I went after Uni one day- can’t say it was overly impressive (think shelves and shelves of archaeological artifacts).
- Temppeliaukio Kirkko: The church in a rock, hidden in residential streets, it’s not a very far walk from the main strip and is definitely something different to see.
- Ice skating at the outdoor rink outside the Main Railway Station
- Had a drink at Ateljee Bar which gives you a panoramic view of the city.
- Had a peep in the Design Forum. If only I had more money and more luggage room.
What I wished I spent more time on:
- Walking and browsing the design district
- Entering Uspenski and Tuomiokirkko churches
- Eaten out more
If you have visited Helsinki, what did you think? Are there any other things I should add to my list for next time? Are you thinking about travelling to Helsinki? Let me know in the comments.
Paris. One of the most charming cities in the world. It would be even more charming if tourist scammers weren’t out and about at every major site trying to get you to hand over money. The Eiffel Tour, Montmarte and even Gare du Nord are swarming with these scammers on unsuspecting visitors so without further ado, let us go throw the ones I have encountered or been told about.
1. Gypsies asking you if you speak english and whether you can sign a petition.
This is a petition you sign to say that you will hand them money and once it seems like you won’t be paying up, more gypsies appear around you so there is no escape.
2. The bracelet test.
These scammers will appear lovingly to you and will try to tie a bracelet around your wrist. They will tie it so tie, oops will you look at that, it’s stuck on your wrist so you’ve technically bought it, so please, pay up now. They don’t tell you any of that by the way.
3. Let me show you how you can win money by guessing where my ball is.
You will see a group of men standing around a towel on the floor and metal cups trying to guess which cup the ball is under. If you think this is what the elderly play in France, i am afraid you are wrong. These men are working together and once you hand over your minimum bet, it will be IMPOSSIBLE for you to win. Magicians or not, the game is most likely rigged and not in your favour.
4. Crowds around an entertainer
I think this is standard in major cities. Just watch out for your pockets and bags because who knows what group of thieves are working together.
Like any major city, if you do your research and know what to avoid, you can avoid it. A simple no, thank you or non merci and walking away will usually do the trick. Paris is an amazing city so don’t let the scammers put you off! I hope this has been useful information!
A Paris lover,
For those of you out there planning this years travel, considering a trip or considering using Airbnb but aren’t too sure, this post is for you!
Airbnb is such a great accommodation tool now and has gained more popularity. For those you haven’t tried it yet or want to find out more information, here is my list. I’ve stayed at approximately 10 different Airbnb properties in 10 different towns so here is what I’ve learnt from those experiences.
- Bargain prices to be found: Let’s face it, travelling can be expensive especially if you’re travelling as a family. You will need to compare against hotel/hostel prices in places where you’re travelling to but from my experience, I have found that Airbnb is either cheaper or a better deal. By this I mean, if i paid a few more dollars- I could have an entire apartment with a kitchen which would then save on food costs. So it’s worth checking out even if you’ve never used it before.
- Living with a local: If you’re travelling somewhere where you’ve been before and want an “insider” tip to the city, booking a private room in a house or an apartment could be a good option. Not only are your hosts there to offer you a place, there is a local expert in the house! You can ask them for their favourite restaurants, shops or events to truly get a local feel of a place.
- Use of shared equipment: One of the biggest pro’s I find is the ability to use their kitchen and washing machine. Food and washing are just added expenses to your trip so if you can find a way around it, then I would be all for it. Of course, some places might charge you to do laundry but this should be stated on the accommodation listing so keep an eye out for it. Or else, you have the option of asking before booking.
- Reviews: I love love love that you get the chance to review your host and the place as well as being reviewed. I have found through experience that it is a good idea to read every single review incase there is something hidden or just to get the jist of the place and host. I have also been annoyed at other guests not leaving helpful reviews so I urge you to write one after your stay to help out fellow travellers.
- Cancelling comes with a price: There may be times when plans fall through or you’ve changed your mind. It’s super easy to cancel a booking and you do get your money back (depending on how many days you’ve cancelled in advance, check this!) but you won’t be getting back the Airbnb admin fee. Things happen but this sucks. This is in comparison to hotel and hostel cancelling fees (especially when booked through bookings.com) where for some, cancelling is free.
- Untruthful hosts: This is why it is so important to read and leave good reviews! We like to believe the best in people but sadly, the best of people isn’t always there. Always always read the whole listing description and feel free to ask questions. Even then, as I have learnt, you might still be surprised by things not seeming as they should be.
- No fence-sitter: If you were staying at a hostel or hotel and had a problem, you could easily see reception to get your problem fixed. However, when you’re staying in someone else’s place, well….they have their own best interests and you have yours. There is no immediate mediator (apart from Airbnb) and raising an issue could make the rest of your stay awkward. This is obviously different from person to person (maybe you would raise the issue) but I would feel awkward if something didn’t turn out as listed and I brought it up but still lived in their place.
So all in all, I guess you can’t really know until you go! I have mostly had brilliant hosts and places were mostly as listed (and if not, I have written reviews saying so). Also remember that someone else is offering up their home to a complete stranger so the uncomfortable non-trusting feelings run on both sides.
If you have used Airbnb, what do you think of my list? Would you add anything else? If you haven’t used Airbnb, what are the things that are stopping you from using it? I’d love to discuss in the comments so leave one there!
I’m always writing about places on the otherside of the world and saw a video of someone doing the pros and cons of Sydney so I thought that I would do my own! For those who don’t know, I am born and raised in Sydney so let me run you through the list about Sydney.
- Weather: For one, we can see blue skies. We have a very mild winter (day temperature around the 16C mark and nights around 8C) so for most of the year, our temperature is generally around the 20C mark. Our summers stretch usually over 3 months and we do get the occasional +35C but luckily, there are not that many.
- Multicultural: One thing I do miss when I go travelling is the multiculturism (is that even a word?) of the society that I have grown up in. Depending where you stay/visit in Sydney, there are ethnic groups dotted around in the suburbs but generally, you can find just about every cuisine from every culture in Sydney. It is safe to say that many Australians have grown up eating Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Lebanese and Greek food (plus many more).
- Beaches: I have yet to go to a beach overseas and thought “Hey, this is better than the beaches back home”. Actual soft sand, clear waters and views of the infinite ocean is what Australia is all about. Bondi, Manly, Coogee, Maroubra…..take your pick!
- Harbour: It’s not everyday that you can roll into a train station such as Circular Quay and get a view of the iconic Harbour Bridge with clear waters glistening under it, or take a ferry to the north side of the city or be sitting in an office near the harbour and looking out to see water (if you’re a lucky duck!).
- Flora and Fauna: Being so far from other countries means that we’ve been able to keep our native animals and plants just to Australia. Kangaroos, Koalas, Echidnas, Kookaburras and our assorted deadly spiders and snakes are all a must see whilst you’re here.
- Food and drinks: There are many bars, dessert places and restaurants to try all over the city and in the suburbs and of any cuisine you wish. Despite there not being many “real Australian” foods, there are many others you can enjoy.
- Expensive: You will hear that Sydney is expensive again and again because guess what? it’s true! $4 aud for a cup of coffee, $10 for lunch, $20 for a movie ticket, $10 for one train ticket, the list goes on and on. Once you step outside your expensive house or expensively rented room, money will start to fly from your wallet you don’t know where it all went. Of course, there are cost saving ways but living in Sydney is expensive stuff.
- Transport: Forget about the Paris, London and Hong Kong metro systems, we travel by train, buses, ferry or cars here. All transport run to a timetable so your journey is pretty much set. As Sydney’s metropolitan area is HUGE (spanning some 50km from the city centre), it takes ages to get anywhere. A train ride from Central to the Blue Mountains will take approximately 2 hours and buses from the beach to the city centre will be likely to take at least 30 minutes (if there is no traffic). ALSO, they are all slow.
- Everything is so spread out: Following on from the previous point, most people live in houses so the Sydney area is huge. Forget about being able to walk 5-10 minutes to the grocery store (some exceptions of course), it is likely to be a 5-10 minutes drive instead. If you’re lucky to live near a train station, lucky you!, if not- a slow bus plus a slow train will make your journey exceed 1 hour easily.
- Traffic: I guess this is a problem in every major city and it is not different here. If you fancy sitting on a motorway-turned-parking-lot, take your pick of any of the motorways in peak hour and you’ll find it. There is also human traffic. Go to any of the major festivals running in Sydney and you will know what I mean. Queuing up 1 hour to get some food at the Night Noodle Market? Done.
- Lack of green: This is something that I wished our city would have more of. Greenery! More parks and trees in streets. More bike routes, more eco-friendly consumables, ban on plastic bags (Ok, this is getting too opinionated).
So that’s my list, if you have been to/live in Sydney, do you agree or disagree with my list? Linke me your pros and cons of your city!
London is always on everyone’s list so I eventually added it to mine to see what the fuss is all about. As a long-term British accent and tea lover, I was also keen to see whether there would be any big differences culturally between there and Australia. We are after all, a colony of England. I booked a private room at an Airbnb house and mentally prepared myself for how expensive this week would be. To give you an estimate, it’s about 0.45 Australian cents to 1 pound!
One of the first things I did a walking tour to tick off all the main sights. I chose Sandemann’s Free Walking Tour which brought us to Trafalgar square, Buckingham palace and Westminister were covered on the tour (free walking Sandemann’s). Also on my list were the British Museum, Natural History Museum, V&A, Oxford St and Borough markets (to try the chorizo burger from Brindisa, it was delicious!).
What I didn’t expect, for some weird reason, was how many people there were everywhere at any given time. I was told to avoid the tube during peak hour and from what I’ve heard, you don’t want to be there at that time anyway. Even out of these hours, I found tube stations FULL of people. This picture above was taken at the Natural History Museum and the line to see the dinosaur exhibition! I was also pleasantly surprised by how many parks there were within the city centre. Sydney also has a Hyde Park but is miniscule compared to the London Hyde Park! Near Buckingham Palace were also Green and St Jame’s Park which were both a scene of autumn colours. Ahh, it was so pretty!
One of things that wasn’t initially on my list was London Tower: the old fort looking onto the Thames. It wasn’t until I was walking past after my tower bridge walk that I stood outside and thought ” hey, this is pretty cool” and that I would pay to go in. I highly recommend the free tour that they run every 30mins with the beefeaters. It’s the perfect place to entertain young kids and anyone who is interested in forts and medieval times.
Other activities that I ended up doing were booking tickets to see 2 musicals. Coming from Sydney where there is usually only 1 major musical on at a time, I had a field day trying to decide what to see. I ended up picking Billy Eliot and Wicked. I preferred Wicked which had excellent staging and costuming. Plus, who can pass up an opportunity to hear Defying Gravity live?! I got my tickets from TKTS which is located in Leicester Square and they offer discount tickets too.
I’m happy to have checked London off my list but to be completely honest, London wasn’t really for me. I found it too similar culturally to what I know and what I know is not what I want to experience away from home. It is definitely a place to check out, I think the number of bars out number the number of shops sometimes! By the way, the public transport there is amazing. However, the road traffic is not.
Is London on your list? What did you like and/or not like about London? Let me know in the comments!
Paris. Swoon. Paris is one of my favourite cities and how can it not be, just LOOK at the buildings! This was my third time in Paris and I still had things to see. On the list this time were Musee D’Orsay, Musee d’Orangerie, Versaille and to go into Printemps and Galeries Lafayette.
My favourite of my main attractions list was Musee D’Orsay which is housed in an old train station. The museum has some great paintings as well as other things such as sculptures and furniture but the paintings were my favourite. The line is long so you should think about pre-purchasing tickets online OR go to Musee d’Orangerie first and buy a combo ticket (and can be used on 2 consecutive days).
The attraction that I found the most frustrating was Versaille! My tip is to go early. And then go earlier. By the time I arrived at 10:30am, there was already a gigantic entry line to pass security. By gigantic, I mean it took me 1.5 hours to make it inside which put me in a bad place to really get to enjoy the palace. The trip to Versaille is a whole day out. The gardens are magnificent but be warned, it is really big so bring some good comfortable shoes.
This picture above is from the Palais de Justice (where you can also buy a combined ticket for Saint Chapelle located next door). I found this pretty meh. It was where Marie Antoinette was held in her last days but the original prison cell no longer exists. It give you a peep into a handful of cells for the different types of socio-classes. I would say to save this for the bottom of the Paris list. Saint Chapelle however, is gorgeous. I imagine it would be spectacular on a sunny day with light pouring inside across the mosaic windows which are ceiling to floor high.
This last picture is the interiors of Galeries Lafayette which is in great contrast to the seemingly ordinary exterior. I just went in for a wonder and to shelter from the rain.
Have you been to any of these places and what are your thoughts about them? I’d love to hear about them.
Our first town on this trip was Cannes, famously known for the annual Cannes Film Festival. We made the obligatory stop outside the Cannes Theatre and unfortunately, the red carpet was not rolled out on this morning. Right next to it are some bars/restaurants with their own little section of beach (with sand!) and across the road, every designer brand you could ever want. For me, I don’t think I would personally base myself in this town as compared to Nice, Cannes is tiny.
Our next town was Antibes. Again, another tiny town but morning food markets, Picasso museum and some streets of the old town could easily consume you for half a day. A lovely walled old city, you can also marvel at the million dollar boats in the marina.
Next stop and the one i was MOST looking forward to, was Monaco.
This is where you can get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the rich and the famous. The country of no tax for it’s residence, to move here you will need a bank deposit of a few hundred thousand to begin with. The city centre has a complete driving speed of 50km/hr and has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. Bordering on non-existent.
We also stopped briefly at Monte Carlo to have a look at the casino and as many lambourgini’s in a day than you would see over a 2 year period.
Our final town was Eze. Like most small towns perched ontop of a hill, you can climb and climb to reach a garden at the top which will give you amazing views however, this is an entry free (I thought quite expensive!) and still a nice viewing area outside the church in town. Eze was very touristy and much like every other small town in the south of France, housed much of the same stores. The windy rocky streets however are such a charm and something I will never get sick of!
I really would have loved to have spent more time in Monaco but due to time constaints, I couldn’t go myself for the day. There’s an aquarium on the cliff edge as well as the royal palace to check out which I really would’ve liked to see!
Have you been to any of these towns and if so, which one did you like and why?
Travelling in the south of France is easier if you hire a car but for those who prefer not to, a tour will get you around. I decided to join Provence Reservation for their All Provence in one day tour to get a snapshot of the area and because of my time limit. I was promptly picked up in the morning and then whisked away to our first stop: The Lavender Museum. The museum is run by the Lincele family who have a ‘real’ lavender farm in Vaucluse high up in the mountains. This museum is geared towards visitors and included a short film about how lavender oils are extracted, museum featuring antique distilling equipment and a store selling their products. I thought it was a great museum that was easy to navigate and was informative.
Our first town was Gordes for their Tuesday markets. As you may have already guessed, these small towns thrive on tourism (as well as farming) but are not packed with tourists. There were cheese stalls, clothes stalls, nougat stores and of course soap. This market was excellent for those looking for gifts or some nibbles. Go behind the buildings following down-hill paths to get views of the surrounding area.
Next stop, the town of Roussillion perched on a red rock. The redness comes about due to the presence of ocre in the surrounding lands is quite a contrast from Gordes which is approximately a 15 minute drive away. One major street in the city will take you up to the church and sweeping panoramic views of the surrounding area.
Our last town was Les Baux de Provence which was my favourite town. This town felt bigger than Gordes and Roussillon and is perched on a white rock. There is a castle remain at the very top however, due to time constraints, I didn’t get to visit it. There were many stores and cafes around on every winding street and only one entrance and exit to the town so, impossible to get lost. There were more options here in terms of gifts as well (soap, Provence specialty foods, jewellery and ceramics).
Our last stop of the day was the old roman aqueduct Pont du Gard. This three tier bridge was beautiful and paths on either side allow every angle of this bridge imaginable. Level 1 is a pedestrian bridge and allows you to cross to the other side. There are parking lots on both sides of the bridge. Can you believe this bridge use to be open to cars?!
This 10-hour day trip was worth the money as it included entry into the Lavender Museum plus audio guides and into the Pont du Gard site. You need some sturdy shoes as these towns existing ontop of rock formations are of course, rocky and include a lot of uphill and downhill walking. These towns are gems in the Provence region and I would highly recommend a tour if you’re not driving. Time wise, we spent about 1 hour in each town, it’s enough to see everything but not loiter and I would have really liked to have seen the castle ruins in Les Baux. There is always next time!
Do you have any recommendations for other towns in Provence? What did you like about them?