72 HOURS IN… BUDAPEST

For my 50th blog post (!!) I thought I would finally get around to writing about my first ever independent city break, Budapest!

During my gap year, I was working and saving up for my big 3 month adventure around Southeast Asia. About halfway through my 7 months of working at a camping store, I decided to book a spontaneous European city break.

I didn’t have any expectations or ideas about where to go, so I just looked for the cheapest flights leaving the following week (in February 2016) and ended up with Budapest! I asked one of my best friends if she wanted to come with me and it was a resounding yes!

It is probably one of my cheapest city breaks to date, costing less than £200 for 3 nights/4 days, including flights, airport parking, accommodation and food! My sister also went on a solo trip there last summer and loved it (and shared some of her pics for me to use here, thank you Lottie!). Here’s my guide to having the best stay in Budapest…

Heroes Square
Fisherman’s Bastion

WHAT TO SEE & DO

  • Szechenyi Thermal Baths – these are the largest thermal baths in Europe!
  • Parliament Building – the most popular tourist attraction and iconic landmark of Budapest, the Parliament building is stunning from the outside and equally as ornate and interesting on the inside! Book a tour online or at the tourist office for around £10.
  • Buda Castle – first completed in 1265, the huge Baroque complex standing there today was actually built in the 18th century and now houses the Hungarian National Gallery.
  • St. Matthias Church and Fisherman’s Bastion – the uniquely tiled Church and Neo-Romanesque terraces of the bastion offer the most incredible panoramic views of the city and the famous River Danube.
  • Heroes Square – this iconic statue complex features the 7 chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian leaders. It’s a huge sculpture and worth a visit!
  • Vajdahunyad Palace – in winter this is home to an ice rink, and in summer it is a boating lake!
Vajdahunyad Palace ice rink
  • St. Stephen’s Basilica – named after the first King of Hungary, the basilica is a beautiful building
  • Margaret Island – this island in the middle of the river is filled with flowers and a musical fountain in summer. Hire a bike and cycle around the island on your way across the river!
  • Jewish Quarter – now thought to be the trendier part of the city, the Jewish Quarter is popular with backpackers heading out on pub crawls and exploring the city’s galleries.
St. Matthias Church

HOW TO GET AROUND

As usual, I stuck to walking around the city! We hopped on a bus to cross from Pest to Buda which cost just a few pence, and when we visited the castle and Fisherman’s Bastion we got the funicular up the hill which cost around 1,200 Hungarian Forint, which is approximately £3. The view of the River Danube and the Parliament building on the other side as you go up is incredible, so it is definitely worth doing!

Looking down as we headed up the funicular
The view of the Parliament building and Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion

WHERE TO STAY

We stayed in a cute little Airbnb about 10 minutes’ walk from the Parliament building and it only cost £14 per night – split between the two of us that made it around £20 each for 3 nights!

There are plenty of other options for great places to stay in Budapest. I always recommend finding somewhere on Airbnb as having your own kitchen facilities is great if you’re on a budget. Flow Hostel is highly recommended, as is Hostel One Basilica.

Parliament building in summer

WHAT TO EAT & DRINK

  • Hungarian Goulash – this beef and vegetable stew is Hungary’s most famous dish and is absolutely delicious, especially on a cold winter day!
  • Chimney Cake – the official dessert of Hungary, Kürtőskalács is a warm spiralled sweet bread, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, covered in sugar and often cinnamon or chocolate. You can buy them freshly made on the street for about 800 Forint (~ £2).
  • Hungarian Pudding Cake – a classic dessert typically filled with sweet cottage cheese and vanilla cream.
  • Unicum – the national beverage of Hungary is a (very strong) herbal liqueur
  • Plenty of hostels run pub crawls, and there are loads of pubs and bars on the Pest side of the river (and in the Jewish Quarter) which are super affordable and popular among interrailers and backpackers in summer. For fancier cocktails, head to Warm Up Cocktail Bar where they make tailor-made cocktails to your preference!
Chimney cake, credit: Pinterest

WHAT ARE THE WONDERS OF THE WORLD?

A phrase that goes around a lot in the travel community is the ‘7 wonders of the world’. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly hearing people refer to different monuments and structures as one of these ‘wonders’. I even see people referring to sites that haven’t made the list as the ‘8th wonder’ (such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia)! Well, it turns out there are different categories…

7 Natural Wonders of the World

  • MOUNT EVEREST

The highest point on earth, the summit of Everest stands at 8,848m above sea level, on the border between Tibet and Nepal, and is protected by Sagarmatha National Park in the Himalayas.

Photo credit: Asgera, britannica.com
  • GREAT BARRIER REEF

The 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands making up the Great Barrier Reef are protected by the GBR Marine Park and listed as a World Heritage Area, but is currently dying due to mass irresponsible tourism.

Photo credit: britannica.com
  • VICTORIA FALLS

Plunging 108m down and sitting 1.7km across, Victoria Falls perches on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad
  • GUANABARA BAY, HARBOUR OF RIO DE JANEIRO

This iconic bay is famous for its Christ the Redeemer statue perched atop the huge granite mountains.

Photo credit: Destination 360
  • GRAND CANYON

One of the USA’s most famous landmarks, the Grand Canyon stretches 446km through Arizona and is a popular hiking destination.

Photo credit: Renee Roaming
  • AURORA BOREALIS

The Northern Lights have entranced humans for centuries, with its vivid swirling colours and mysterious mythological legends.

Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad
  • PPARICUTIN VOLCANO

The newest and only volcano to ever emerge with eyewitnesses, Paricutin volcano in southern Mexico surged out of a cornfield in 1943 and has lain dormant since 1952.

Photo credit: britannica.com

7 New Wonders of the World

  • TAJ MAHAL, INDIA

This beautiful structure is symbolic of India. While it looks like a grand palace, it is actually a mausoleum commissioned in 1632 by the Mughul Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his beloved wife.

Photo credit: The Wandering Quinn
  • GREAT WALL OF CHINA

Stretching over 13,000 miles, the Great Wall is a series of fortifications built by various Emperors to keep out unwanted nomadic groups. It was started as early as the 7th century BC and continued to grow until the 17th century AD.

Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad
  • COLOSSEUM, ITALY

The only world wonder I’ve actually visited myself! The centre of the Roman world, the Colosseum symbolises one of the biggest and most successful empires the world has ever seen. The archaeologist in me loves this kind of monument!

  • MACHU PICCHU, PERU

This 15th century Inca citadel is perched high in the Andes; its exact former use and much of the Inca history still remain a mystery today.

Photo credit: my sister!
  • CHICHEN ITZA, MEXICO

One of the largest ancient Mayan cities, Chichen Itza is believed to have been built around 600 AD and abandoned only a few centuries later, making it another American civilisation shrouded in mystery.

Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad
  • PETRA, JORDAN

Once the capital of the Nabatean Kingdom, Petra is a 45m-high temple with an ornate Greek-style facade. It is known today as the ‘Rose City’ due to its striking colour.

Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad
  • CHRIST THE REDEEMER, BRAZIL

A symbol of Christianity around the world, Christ the Redeemer is perched atop Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Constructed in the 1920s, it measures 30m high, and 28m wide.

Photo credit: viator.com

7 Ancient Wonders of the World

The 7 wonders of the ancient world are a collection of structures and monuments which were built and held significance throughout classical antiquity. The Greek conquest of the western world throughout the 5th century BC gave Hellenistic travellers insight into Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian and Phoenician life. Almost all of the monuments were destroyed.

  • THE GREAT PYRAMID OF GIZA, EGYPT

The largest of the three pyramids in the Giza complex, the Great Pyramid is believed to have been built as a tomb for a Pharaoh around 2560 BC. At 481 feet, it was the largest man-made structure in the world for over 3,000 years until Lincoln Cathedral was completed in 1311 AD. And no, the pyramids were not built by aliens.

Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad
  • LIGHTHOUSE OF ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT

Built by the Ptolemaic Kingdom in the 3rd century BC, the Lighthouse was a significant landmark and an incredible feat at the time, before its destruction and abandonment following a series of earthquakes.

Source: britannica.com
  • STATUE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA, GREECE

The statue of Zeus was a giant seated figure made by the Greek sculptor Phidias around 435 BC.

Source: Google
  • HANGING GARDENS OF BABYLON, IRAQ

The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were fabled to be representative of the most beautiful accomplishments of the Hellenic world. Its exact whereabouts are unknown, with some doubting its existence entirely.

Source: historicmysteries.com
  • COLOSSUS OF RHODES, GREECE

The Colossus of Rhodes was a mighty statue of the Greek Sun God Helios, erected on the island of Rhodes by Chares of Lindos in 280 BC. There are many theories as to what the statue really looked like.

Source: theislandofrhodes.com
  • TEMPLE OF ARTEMIS AT EPHESUS, TURKEY

A Greek temple dedicated to the warrior goddess Artemis, which now stands in ruins.

Source: ancient.eu
  • MAUSOLEUM AT HALICARNASSUS, TURKEY

The longest-standing ancient wonder by the time of its destruction by erathquakes in the 15th century, the Mausoleum was built around 350 BC for Mausolus and his sister-wife Artemisia.

Source: britannica.com

Who knew there were so many different types of world wonders! There’s definitely more that I would consider putting on these lists too.

Which of these places have you visited? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear about it!

5 THINGS I CAN’T TRAVEL WITHOUT

Aside from the obvious things like my passport, phone and clothes, everyone has a few little travel essentials that they have to take with them wherever they go.

For some people it’s home comforts like a travel pillow, others it’s makeup or beauty products to make them feel a little more human when they’re fighting jet lag or haven’t showered in 4 days, for others it’s tech they just can’t live without. Here’s my top 5 travel essentials which make my trips more comfortable and enjoyable…

1. Kindle

I wouldn’t be able to cope on a long flight, train or bus ride without something to read. One of the best purchases I have ever made is without a doubt my Kindle; I’ve had it for around 5 years now and it is the perfect travel companion! They’ve even brought out new versions which are waterproof – perfect for reading by the pool or on the beach.

So small and lightweight, it’s far better than lugging around a bag full of books, plus the books are cheaper on Kindle too!

2. Ear plugs

If you’ve ever struggled to sleep on public transport or in a noisy hostel or hotel before, you’ll know exactly why ear plugs are a godsend! I get a little bit nervous nowadays on flights, so having my ear plugs in really helps me to sleep or even just to read without the roaring engine noise.

3. Portable Charger

Not totally necessary for every trip, but a portable charger is a great addition to my backpack or suitcase. It only cost around £25 (I couldn’t find the exact one but linked a similar one here) and can charge 3 devices at once. For our trip to Morocco last year, when we camped in the Sahara and didn’t have any electricity for two days, this battery pack was a life saver and almost everyone in our tour group managed to use it as well as it lasts ages!

4. Chewing gum/mints

One of the first things I buy when I get to the departures lounge in an airport is a pack of gum. Particularly when it comes to long haul flights, I try to brush my teeth in airport loos and even on the plane sometimes, but it always makes me feel a bit cleaner and fresher if I have minty fresh breath!

5. Hand sanitiser/wipes

I think this one is something everyone around the world with now travel with since we’re all hyper aware of hygiene since the Covid-19 outbreak. I’ve always had face wipes or sanitising wipes of some kind in my hand luggage, and usually a little travel-sized bottle of hand sanitiser too, just to stay clean and fresh on public transport.

What 5 things can’t YOU travel without?

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO HIKING

Who doesn’t love a walk around the great outdoors?

I’ve grown up going on family trips to the Lake District, Scotland and Wales and the mountains feel like home to me.

Place Fell, Lake District. July.

With lockdown being eased slightly here in the UK and travel not being an option for the time being, people are re-discovering the abundance of outdoor opportunities in their own back yard.

So if you are someone who is new to exploring the beauty of the UK (or anywhere else in the world you call home), I’ve put together a little beginner’s guide of where to go, how far to walk, what to pack and how to plan your hike.

Where to hike

At the moment it’s best to stay as close to home as possible. Don’t be one of those people travelling 3 hours to the Lakes and contributing to the overcrowding of trails. Start off exploring your local parks and nearby tracks and trails. You’ll be surprised by how many little public footpaths you’ll find!

Higger Tor, Peak District. October.

Once it’s okay to travel a bit further afield, however, I have some great recommendations for where to hike. The Peak District, in Derbyshire, is full of gentle rolling hills suited to beginners, hikers with young children, and more experienced hikers alike.

The Lake District is also well suited to all levels of hiking ability; slow ambles around the many lakes, nature trails in Grizedale Forest and more challenging climbs up Helvellyn and Scafell contribute to the Lakes’ amazing diversity, and it’s why it has a special place in my heart.

Ullswater, Lake District. July.
Snowdon, Wales. August.

For more ideas, research the Yorkshire Dales, Dartmoor, Cornwall’s coastal paths, Hadrian’s Wall, Snowdonia National Park, and so much more. (One day I’ll get around to writing specific guides to these places and what hikes to do there!!)

How far to go

For beginners, it makes sense to start out small and build up as your passion for the outdoors grows. Don’t head straight for Scafell Pike or Snowdon, just enjoy a nice 5 mile walk around a nearby park, lake or woodland. Once you’re confident with carrying your gear, challenge yourself to something a bit more hilly or difficult!

Elterwater, Lake District. June.

When to hike

The short answer is: any time!

But for beginners it’s best to stick to the good weather, especially up in the hills. Avoid snowy and boggy conditions, so maybe stick to hiking between April and September. You can easily check conditions before your hike at https://www.mwis.org.uk/.

Fairfield, Lake District. February.

Recommended gear

To begin with, take a comfortable backpack with back support and around 20L storage space, and make sure you have a decent pair of walking boots and socks which won’t give you blisters!

Footwear – I have the Meindl Bhutan walking boots for long mountain hikes, and these are great to add crampons for hiking in snow. They’re on the more expensive side (I used to work for Go Outdoors so I got over 50% discount at the time) so I also recommend Karrimor Mendip as a similar and lighter all-year-round budget option.

Rucksack – I have the Lowe Alpine AirZone ND 24L rucksack, but there are so many options out there with good back support such as the Osprey DayLite and the Berghaus Arrow 30L. Most rucksacks have a female and male version so that they fit differently and more comfortably.

Fairfield, Lake District. February.

What to pack

It’s vital that you prepare for your hike. Not just the route, but the gear you must take with you.

  • Water – make sure to take at least 1 litre per 5 miles that you walk. This is a very rough guideline and I’d recommend taking more than this, especially if you’re hiking in the heat and in case of emergency.
  • Food – pack light when it comes to food. Avoid things that are bulky, food which needs refrigerating, and items which will easily squish or perish, like bananas. My staples are usually jam sandwiches, apples, cereal bars, and dried fruit and nuts. Make sure to pack extra emergency food in case you get stuck.
  • Extra layers – pack an additional fleece, gloves and a hat if you’re hiking in shoulder season, where it might be colder at altitude.
  • Waterproofs – take a waterproof jacket at the very least, and if you can, pack waterproof trousers too. Do not take an umbrella!
  • Sun protection – at any time of year you should pack sun protection for your hikes, including a sunhat and SPF.
  • Map – if you’re hiking in the hills (or anywhere that’s not an enclosed park), make sure to have a map on you. Preferably a paper map in case your phone runs out of charge.
  • First aid kit – you don’t have to go out and buy one of those huge first aid kits with absolutely everything in it, but do make sure you have some basics with you in case of heat stroke, burns and blisters.
  • Additional optional items you could pack might be a torch and compass.
Striding Edge (Helvellyn), Lake District. November.

Trail rules

It’s super important when hiking to follow these simple rules and abide by hiking/trail etiquette:

  • Leave no trace. This is soooo important – take your rubbish away with you, even fruit skins which you may think will magically melt away still take months or even years to decompose.
  • Go to the toilet far enough off the path and at least 200m away from any water sources. Some hikers stop to fill up their water at streams and don’t want to end up with contaminated water!
  • Don’t feed or disturb any wild animals
Snowdon, Wales. April.

Most importantly, enjoy your hiking experience and stay safe!!

Comment any suggestions you may have below 🙂

BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS FOR 2020

With all this free time at the moment, I’ve been reading more than I have done in years.

At the beginning of the year, one of my goals for 2020 was to read at least 1 book a month, which I thought might be a push given that I was set to move abroad and work full time – I just didn’t think I’d have much time to sit down and read.

But of course that’s all gone out the window and I’ve been trying to spend this time staying at home doing things other than binging Netflix. Although some people might not see reading as being productive, I find that it engages the mind and keeps you focused. To me, reading is learning in the best possible way.

In another sense, reading during this time has been a much needed form of escapism. The things which have really got me down recently and made me feel like I’m failing at life (bailing on living abroad, being unemployed for example) have been threatening to eat away at me, so getting lost in a good book helps take my mind off those things and see the bigger picture.

Here are some of the best books I recommend you try reading this year. Don’t hesitate to leave your own thoughts and recommendations in the comment section below!

The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

This book was a big hit last summer and I devoured it in a matter of days. It follows a narrator who awakes in a forest with what appears to be amnesia, and is given eight days to figure out who murdered Eveleyn Hardcastle. Trapped in a different ‘host’ each day and viewing the run-up to Evelyn’s death from different perspectives, the narrator must not only find the murderer, but also make sure to survive the time loops himself. Almost playing out like a game of Cluedo, the Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will have you hooked.

Cilka’s Journey by Heather Morris

I know most people probably read The Tattooist of Auschwitz last year amidst all the hype, but more recently its sequel, Cilka’s Journey, was published – and it is just as good if not better. Based on the very few facts known about Cilka, we follow her story from one concentration camp to another. Believed to be a Nazi sympathiser, Cilka was transported to a Russian Gulag and forced to spend 10 years there, where she trained as a nurse. Thoroughly recommend this to all readers.

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon

This is on my list and has been recommended to me by my sister. Perfect for those who enjoy reading fantasy fiction, or have an interest in the portrayal of LGBT characters within the genre, the Priory tells the story of a Queen who must conceive a female heir and protect her realm from destruction. It sounds a little Game of Thrones-y to me, so I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Attwood

Another recommendation from my sister, it’s a crime that I haven’t read it yet. Its popularity has been renewed since the release of the hit TV show and its novel sequel, so it’s about time I get stuck into this modern classic.

True to Me by Kay Bratt

Recommending this one as a much lighter read! When Quinn’s mother is on her deathbed, she reveals a secret: the man she thought was her father, was not actually her father at all. On a mission to discover her true roots in Maui, Quinn settles into the Hawaiian culture and learns the importance of family.

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

I’m currently half way through this but I had to include it. The tag line is ‘one house, two families, three bodies’. If that isn’t enough to draw you in, then I don’t know what is! The Family Upstairs follows Libby, who has just inherited a huge London house where she is told her parents were murdered, but the case was left unsolved. The chapters are split between three points of view, so I can’t wait to find out how they are all connected.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

In 1969, the town’s favourite Chase Andrews is found dead in the marsh, with no evidence of it being an accident, suicide or murder. While Barkley Cove’s (pretty terrible) detectives are on the case, we are taken back to the 1940s and ’50s where Kya, AKA the ‘Marsh Girl’, is growing up alone and poor, an outcast of society. This one took a little while to really get into but I loved how unique and beautifully written it was.

The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney

This was very different for me but I enjoyed reading something different to my usual picks! An AI version of Abbie wakes up and is being taught by her husband how to be the perfect wife and mother to their severely autistic child. But where is the real Abbie and why did she leave behind clues suggesting she was not happy? This technological/psychological thriller was a real page turner with so many twists and turns, and has definitely expanded my reading!

I’m always looking for new books to read, so let me know if you have any suggestions – any genre welcome!

7 TV SHOWS TO BINGE-WATCH IN LOCKDOWN

I don’t know about you, but lockdown has got me reading a lot more… and binge-watching Netflix even more. The UK government may be relaxing lockdown but it’s still important to stay safe and stay home, so here’s 7 TV shows I have loved and recommend getting stuck into over the next few weeks!

OUTLANDER

For those who may have already seen it, let’s all take a moment for our heartbeats to slow down because oh. my. god. Jamie Fraser. Outlander season 5 is now on Starz and Amazon Prime and I cannot recommend it enough. Imagine time-travelling through a stone circle from post-war Britain back to 1740s Scotland, falling in love with Lord Broch Tuarach, trying not to get condemned as a witch, all while attempting to prevent the massacre at the Battle of Culloden. 10000% this is my all time favourite show, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed re-watching it while I’ve been social distancing, both in China and here at home.

BROOKLYN 99

A very different genre to my previous recommendation, but I’ve got absolutely hooked on Brooklyn 99 and binged the first 6 seasons in the last 3-4 weeks. I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea, but it’s such a fun and easy watch, so I thoroughly recommend it if you need something to lift your mood.

NORMAL PEOPLE

This whole series is already on BBC iPlayer but each episode is also airing on a weekly basis. Based on Sally Rooney’s book (which I desperately want to read now), Normal People is a coming-of-age show following the lives of Connell and Marianne as they explore friendships, relationships, high school and university. Easy to watch but surprisingly emotive, there’s only 12 episodes so perfect for a quick binge watch.

UNBELIEVABLE

Based on a true story, Netflix’s Unbelievable is a powerful exploration of an investigation into a serial rapist. When teenager Marie cannot remember the minute details of her attack, the police force her into confessing it was all a lie. It’s only 3 years later when a string of attacks happen with the same details, that the cases are looked into seriously. Although I found this show a little slow to get going, it eventually had me hooked and desperate to know how and why this was allowed to happen.

THE GOOD PLACE

One of my favourite series this year, it kept me going while in lockdown in China. Hilarious, clever and full of plot twists, The Good Place is another super easy show to get stuck into and get through pretty quickly!

LOST

Ok bear with me because I know a lot of people who know me are like “ugh, she’s banging on about Lost again”, but seriously!! It is the ultimate TV show for escapism and has literally everything in it: plane crash, adventure, scary natives, beautiful island life, love triangles, scientific experiments, time travel, philosophy and gruesome deaths. Cannot recommmend it enough and all 6 seasons are available on Amazon Prime.

THE 100

Also on Amazon Prime, The 100 is the show I am about to get into, after watching the first season years ago on E4 and just now rediscovering it. It’s about 100 juvenile offenders who are sent from space back down to Earth, generations after a nuclear war wiped out almost all of civilisation and left the atmosphere toxic and unsurvivable. Thinking it’s a death sentence, the teens are lucky to survive and begin exploring the ‘new’ Earth, while survivors from the apocalypse lurk in the forest. A bit of a sci-fi show, The 100 is fun and easy to watch, and there’s plenty of seasons available.

72 HOURS IN… VALENCIA

One of the best places I’ve visited on a summer holiday was Valencia, down the coast from the more popular Barcelona. Quieter, cheaper, and arguably more authentically Spanish, Valencia was a less touristy and slower paced city break. For those who prefer relaxing and exploring by foot, rather than having a jam-packed sight-seeing schedule, Valencia is well worth a visit at any time of year.

What to see & do

  • Torres de Quart and Torres de Serranos – these gothic-style towers were once part of the city’s defensive wall. They each cost just a few euros to climb up the steep stone steps to the top.
  • Valencia Cathedral – marvel at the grandiose gothic-Catholic design and climb to the top of the cathedral for panoramic views of the city.
  • City Hall – the architecture around city hall is just so typical of Western European cities. You can even go inside and gain access to a viewing platform for free!
  • Mercado Central (central market) – this huge market hall can’t be missed, for its incredible architecture and distinctive aromas.
  • Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) – a UNESCO world heritage site, the Silk Exchange opposite the central market was once one of the most important buildings in Valencia. Grab a map and give yourself a tour of this historical site, and finish up on the orange tree patio, a tranquil little garden hidden in the heart of the city.
  • L’Oceanografic and Culture Park – the incredible aquarium and sunken culture park are probably the top attractions in the newer parts of Valencia. You don’t even have to go inside (the tickets are a hefty €29,70 for the aquarium and €38,60 for the cultural park of arts and sciences) to appreciate the striking beauty of the modern architectural complex.
  • Old City – gorgeous cobbled streets make it easy to walk around the Old City for hours, stopping for ice cream and coffee along the way. Join a free walking tour or do it yourself!
  • Jardi del Turia – circling half of the Old City, these gardens stretch from the Turia River in the west, right to the Oceanografic near the harbour.
Torres de Quart

How to get around

The easiest way to get around Valencia is by walking, as most of the best tourist sights are within the Old City. To get to the beaches and harbour, you can buy a tourist card to use on buses, metro and tram, which also provides discounts for some of the city’s attractions.

What to eat & drink

As with anywhere in Spain, you MUST try the local variations of paella and tapas! Try La Riua, a restaurant near the cathedral for some of the best mixed seafood paella, with a view. For a more budget-friendly option, try authentic tapas from Bocadella Tapas, a quaint little restaurant situated between the Old City and the beach at Playa del Cabanyal.

Alternatively, on your visit to the central market, stock up on fresh produce for a delicious picnic.

Central market

ITINERARY FOR 1 WEEK IN LAOS

Finally wrapping up my Gap Year Saga with a one week itinerary for Laos!

The one that everyone seems to miss off their Southeast Asia route, Laos is a quiet, less touristy country known for its French colonial architecture, lush mountainous terrain and stunning golden pagodas. A lot of the country is unexplored by backpackers due to the danger zones – unexploded mines and bombs dropped over Laos during the Vietnam War.

Because of this, Laos is a pretty cheap place to visit (much like its neighbours) and can be visited on a budget of around £25 a day, including accommodation, buses, food and activities.

One of many golden temples in Luang Prabang

Here is a simple 1 week itinerary taking in what I believe to be the key sights, although it can be stretched to a longer trip if you want to pack in more outdoor activities!

DAY 1-2

Arrive in the country’s capital, Vientiane, and visit a couple of the sacred monuments, such as Pha That Luang, a 44m tall golden pinnacle. There’s not a lot to do in the capital, so I recommend jumping on a bus as soon as possible to Vang Vieng – this journey takes around 4 hours.

DAY 2-4

Once in Vang Vieng, the whole mood shifts into that of a typical backpacker haven: bar crawls, sleezy hostels and cafes serving burgers and milkshakes while everyone watches constant reruns of Friends. Traversed by the famous Mekong River, one of the most popular activities for backpackers is to go tubing down the river, which is easily organised at your accommodation and costs around £5. A few years ago, however, this activity became quite dangerous as bars sprung up along the water’s edge and highly intoxicated tourists were at risk of drowning themselves (there’s always a few who spoil the fun), so the bars are mostly gone, making tubing a fun but chilled activity here.

There are so many outdoor activities in Vang Vieng, from rock climbing to kayaking to caving, so if you’re a sporty adventurous traveller then this is the place for you!

The view from our hotel in Vang Vieng of the main street and breathtaking mountain backdrop

DAY 5

This is an optional day but one of the highlights of my trip to Laos: a day spent at the Plain of Jars, a megalithic archaeological site (now classed as a UNESCO world heritage site) just outside of Phonsavan. We decided to visit this site as a break between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang, and to put it simply, it was weird but wonderful. After a hefty 5 hour bus ride, we trekked through fields and a local village, where we were treated to watching a football game amongst the local boys. Eventually we reached rolling hills covered in huge stone ‘jars’, mythologically believed to be evidence of giants living on the land, but more likely part of an elaborate burial ritual dating back to around 500BC.

Nerding out at the Plain of Jars

DAY 6-7

If the Plain of Jars isn’t your thing, have an extra day in Vang Vieng or head straight to Luang Prabang on a 6-7 hour bus.

Everyone is so friendly in this little town and there is such a lovely ‘zen’ vibe, more authentic than the party atmosphere in Vang Vieng. I found the markets to be much less claustrophobic than markets in Thailand or Cambodia, where you’re hounded at every step, and there are beautiful golden pagodas and temples on every street.

The highlight of Luang Prabang for me was hiking up the steep path to Mount Phousi, to watch the sunset over the Mekong River alongside Buddhist monks praying at the summit’s shrine. It was really magical witnessing the sunset over one of the world’s most famous rivers, but make sure to head up there early (with plenty of water and mosquito repellent!) to beat any crowds.

If you have an extra day here, take a trip to the absolutely phenomenal Kuang Si Waterfalls – we attempted to go here on our final day in Luang Prabang but got rained off as we visited in monsoon season (so don’t be daft like us and check you’re going at the right time)!

Kuang Si Falls, borrowed from viator.com

Writing this post has actually made me want to re-visit Laos. At the time (4 years ago), it was my least favourite place that we visited on our gap year trip, but with hindsight I think that was largely due to a) the weather being terrible 90% of the time, and b) we were halfway through our SEAsia route and hit a bit of a lull, and had little motivation to explore more.

We had spent 29 hours on a bus from Hanoi, Vietnam to Luang Prabang (we actually did this itinerary the other way around to how I have recommended it here) and the whole journey had been miserable, which then basically got us started on a bit of a downer. Now, however, I want to re-visit at a more appropriate time of year and see the beautiful waterfalls and do more fun outdoor activities.

I hope this itinerary has inspired you to think a little more about the less-explored corners of the world. Safe travels!

THE MOST DELICIOUS COOKIES EVER

This one’s a little different to my usual travel content, but given the circumstances at the moment I thought I’d branch out a little on the blog! If you know me at all, then you’ll know that aside from my love of travel, I have a huge passion for FOOD!

I’ve been attempting to bake something each week during lockdown and this is by far the best recipe I’ve discovered (and tweaked a bit myself)…

Ingredients

250g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

175g butter

250g brown sugar

75g white caster sugar

1-2 tsp vanilla extract

1 egg

1 egg yolk

Bag of magic stars (or choc chips/other choc sweets of choice) approx. 100g

Method

1. Preheat oven to 165°C.

2. Cream both sugars and butter together in a mixing bowl.

3. Add egg, yolk and vanilla extract. To extract just the yolk, crack the egg in half and scoop the yolk from one half of the shell to the other, allowing the white to spill out into a mug, and leaving the yolk on its own in the shell.

4. Sift in flour, bicarbonate of soda and magic stars.

5. Roll mixture into golf ball sized balls and press down slightly on a greased tray 3 inches apart. The mixture should make about 20 cookies.

6. Cook for 15-17 mins (until they’re still a bit squishy in the middle but crispy on the edges).

7. Try not to devour them all in one go!!!

PROS AND CONS OF A TRIP WITH A TOUR GROUP

Last September my boyfriend and I went on our first ever tour with Intrepid Travel to Morocco. We chose to do this instead of planning it all on our own because we had only travelled to a few European cities together and felt that Morocco was very much out of our comfort zone. On top of this, we managed to get a pretty decent discount through Joe’s mum who works for a travel company, so it was an easy decision to make!

PROS

  • All the planning was done for us. There were loads of tours to choose from so we made a list of the things we definitely wanted to do in Morocco and then picked the tour which included all (or most) of these!
  • We went off the beaten track! I didn’t expect this from our tour but as our guide was local, he showed us local restaurants, got us to sample local delicacies, and took us places that we hadn’t heard of when we did our research beforehand.
  • Constant support. Before the trip, we had the support of the tour company, who helped us plan our trip and made it as easy as possible. During the trip, we had our wonderful guide who was happy to answer any questions we had about the coutnry, people, language, religion, food, literally anything!
  • You’re not alone. Most people book onto tours because they want to travel somewhere but don’t have a friend to go with. Tours are great as you meet like-minded individuals who also have a passion for travel!
  • Budgeting is easier. Although the overall cost of a tour can be a turn off for some, budgeting whilst on the tour is much easier as travel, accommodations, and often meals are already paid for within the cost of the trip.
  • You have a full and engaging itinerary! Tours may feel like a rush sometimes but you can’t deny that you end up seeing so much in a short space of time. They are often great to get a sample of each place, so you can come back for longer in the future if you want to!

CONS

  • They can be expensive. We were lucky and had a bit of discount, but any tour you go on there’s going to be extra fees for the cost of having a tour guide and extra activities thrown in.
  • They can be rushed – there were certainly times on our tour of Morocco when I would’ve loved to stay and soak it all up for an extra day or even just a few more hours.
  • Less flexibility. It’s great having someone else plan the whole trip for you but sometimes it might be nicer to have the flexibility to stay longer in a place or skip another. One instance on our trip was when everyone got a bit sick – it would’ve been good to have a full day to recover and then get back to our jam-packed itinerary.
  • You might not get along with your group. We absolutely loved our group, and I think this is because we specifically chose an 18-30 group so we were all a similar age and had similar interests. Try to be open minded – at the end of the day you’re all there to experience something amazing.
  • No/little alone time. With your full schedule or if you’re sharing dorms with other tour members, you might feel like you just want some alone time. This is why I’d recommend a relatively short tour, say 1-2 weeks, so you don’t get overwhelmed by it.
  • There can be very long travel days. This definitely depends on your style of travel – we spent most days on our minibus for a few hours at a time and while that might not be for everyone, I actually enojyed it as we all chatted, listened to music, and looked at the beautiful scenery as we drove through the country.

Overall our experience with Intrepid was incredible and I would 100% go on an organised tour again, but only if it was somewhere I was a bit nervous of travelling to and organising alone, and as long as it wasn’t too expensive or too long. Check out Intrepid for their amazing tours and offers!