travel

Seaside escape to Brighton

DISCLAIMER: I am lagging in posting my blogs – so bare with me (am currently in Germany – too much travel!!)

Recently, my friend Amelie who was visiting from Munich Germany and I decided to go on a day trip from Cambridge to Brighton. All in all the journey only took about 2hrs – but as we were profusely catching up, the time just went by….

The seaside was only a short walk from the station – roughly about 10mins. When we arrived at the seaside, I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed. You see, I was expecting a nice sandy beach where we could bask in the sun for a few hours, chilling. Instead, the entire beach was ROCKY – not even pebbles, they were rocks! And it actually semi-hurt the bottom my foot (I was wearing thin soled shoes – Toms, but still…). After my initial disappointment, I appreciated the fact that the sun was out, blue skies and I was at the sea! We walked along the shore, occasionally stopping to enjoy the scenery.

We arrived at Brighton Pier – which is basically like a fair/carnival just built on a pier – weird if you ask me… but we still explored the pier, I also thought I’d make use of the workers here and asked them about the “Brighton Beach Huts” – total fail! Whomever I asked had no clue what I was talking about (I’m sure they certainly exist!!)

By this stage we were hungry and decided to go for fish and chips – but we couldn’t find anything close by. We ended up going to a little cafe in the vicinity of the Pavilion. Lunch was followed by exploring the grounds of the Pavilion – such a lovely area with nice gardens.

We decided to also go inside and explore this amazing structure – the exterior had a South Asian design, yet the moment you step into the building it was all Chinese – peculiar but grand! We weren’t allowed to take photos inside – but oh how I wish we were allowed. The interior was designed so spectacularly – every inch totally exaggerated, much to King George’s liking ofcourse… The kitchen was HUGE – what I liked about this kitchen compared to other royal displays was the fact that they had on display ALL the copper pots and pans – the things that were actually used for cooking – as opposed to tea cups and saucers…. We spent about an hour in here – the audio guide was brilliant, although some points could have been alot shorter but its easier to skip…

We then decided to go back to the seaside and go on the Volk’s Electric Train – apparently its the oldest running electric train in the world. So we bought our tickets to the “marina” (mind you we had no idea where this was…) and hopped on the train! The train basically took us to the end of the line, to the “marina” where there were fisherman. Nothing too spectacular to see here – unless you wanted to be at the seaside without all the hundreds of people. We then caught the next train back to the pier.

We each bought gelato and sat on the rocks and enjoyed the moment. We were truly impressed by the amazing weather!

What I found strange is that there was alot of development on the actual seaside itself – lots of shops, kiosks hiring out beach chairs, fish and chips stalls – only to name a few. Back home in Australia, thankfully we don’t have any – well at least none on the south coast. I think the beach and the seaside shouldn’t have development and remain original/natural. We humans tend to spoil wherever we go – tis a sad fact…

I would definitely recommend checking Brighton out – a day trip is surely enough. A must is the Pavilion, it was SPECTACULAR! I would have enjoyed the electric train ride if I were 5 – so you can give that a miss…

 

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Stonehenge: Simply Surreal

Stonehenge – I couldn’t believe that I was actually at Stonehenge! It was a surreal moment for me as I first lay my eyes upon the mysterious stones…

You see, I remember helping my brother who was in primary school with an assignment about Stonehenge. Ever since then, I had always wanted to see it, and now that I was standing before Stonehenge – I simply couldn’t believe it!

As I was on a tour of Stonehenge (see Bath post for tour details), our guide Matt had organised our tickets and audio guides. We got on a bus from the Visitor centre which took us to the Stonehenge site which was located about 2kms away. When we got off, Matt explained the significance of Stonehenge and the recent developments of the theories surrounding the existence of the structure. Interestingly, the BBC recently showed that due to advancing technology, now researchers from the UK together with Austria have been mapping  the entire area via a 3D laser scanner. This has enabled researchers to see through the ground and explore what civilisation looked like thousands of years ago!

Listening to Matt saved me from having to listen to the hour long audio guide – so not a fan!

At our own pace, we then circled Stonehenge. NOTE: you don’t actually get to go right up to it, you’re about 5m away from the structure. BUT if you visit during the Summer or Winter Solstice you are infact allowed to go right into Stonehenge (together with the thousands of people who also visit that day!).

As I walked around Stonehenge, I had a magical feeling – although I can’t quite describe how I felt, it was a unique atmosphere. I took my time circling the structure and enjoyed the moment… As I reached full circle, the wind picked up and I hurried back to the bus which took me back to the Visitor centre.

There was also an exhibition about the civilisation that once lived there – on display were bones, tools, trinkets from years ago. The exhibition is small, so you only need about 10mins or so…

Overall, I really enjoyed Stonehenge and I definitely recommend a visit!

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Beautiful Bath

Over the Easter long weekend, I decided to book a day trip tour with Roots Travel to Bath & Stonehenge.  I’m not a tour kind of person, but it was convenient as it departed from Cambridge (and kind of a last minute decision…). Given that Bath was about a 2.5hr drive from Cambridge, I thought LETS DO IT and booked online.

Matt was our guide and we were a group of about 12. We arrived about midday and set off on a mini city walking tour. Matt took us to The Royal Crescent and explained the history behind this amazing piece of architecture. It was a prime example of Georgian architecture – and the sheer size of the building was truly amazing! We were told that there were strict rules as to what owners could do to their houses because it was a category 1 heritage building (basically you cannot do ANYTHING to the building despite owning it and paying ALOT of money for it).

We then made our way over to The Circus which was built by the son of the architect who had built the Crescent. I simply couldn’t capture The Circus because it was basically 3 HUGE buildings forming a “roundabout”. I managed to capture one of the three…

As we kept on walking, Matt pointed out Charles Dickens’ house – which had a plaque stating that it indeed was Dickens’ house. We walked past another famous authour’s house – Jane Austen, who apparently disliked the people in Bath at the time as they were the “rich” from the Industrial Revolution and were simply a different kind of rich (Note: If you’ve read Northanger Abbey you will understand). There is also an actual Jane Austen Centre which is a museum and with tea rooms on the upper levels. I didn’t go in as I didn’t have much time (hence why I don’t like going on tours…)

En route to the centre of town we came to a stop infront of an Italian restaurant. Matt explained that this was Beau Nash’s house – who was basically a matchmaker and a witty man. In those days people paid taxes according to the number of windows in their houses, with 6 windows being free of tax. So witty as Nash was, he sealed up 2 windows in order to avoid paying his taxes!!

We continued along to the centre of town and Matt explained the history behind the Roman Baths. Apparently it’s the only Roman bath that is still in operation in the whole world! Standing there, I noticed a really long queue for the recently opened thermal spa right beside it – clearly this was VERY popular….

We were given some free time (about 2.5hrs) which was seriously no where near enough time to explore Bath properly… I had read online that Bath Buns were a must and that Sally Lunn’s was the place to try them. However, 20 other people also had this idea – hence the long queue, so I had to give that a miss….

I went over to the Roman Baths, but the queue was also long here, so I didn’t go in here either. Instead, I went into Bath Abbey (free entrance) – which had amazing somewhat gothic architecture. I also walked along the river and walked across the Pulteney Bridge – it’s similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence where when you walk across it and you don’t even realise that you are on a bridge, it’s lined with shops and cafes on either side. After reaching the other side, I walked along the river and admired the bridge and this aspect of Bath…

I randomly walked past a cafe that sold Bath Bun’s, and to be honest, they aren’t anything special – they were nice but I was so glad that I didn’t wait in line at Sally Lunn’s….

My experience of Bath was primarily wandering around the town and taking in the amazing architecture. Matt was a great guide and I’d definitely recommend going on one of his tours. Bath really is a beautiful town and I hope to go back and spend an entire weekend to have the full experience…

 

12 Apostles

We arrived at the 12 Apostles before sunset – YAAY! So we managed to fulfil part 1 of our mission. Part 2 of the mission was to secure a good viewing spot to make our time-lapse and capture awesome shots of the sunset. BUT before we set up we thought we’d explore the National Park a bit…

There are many beautiful things to see here – we only managed to get to one of the viewpoints. There were others that we really wanted to see (e.g. London Bridge – rock formation) but we couldn’t risk not making it back in time to see the sunset at the Apostles. So we made our way back to the Apostles view point.

It was such a surreal moment when I first set eyes on the Apostles – I had wanted to come here for such a long time that I couldn’t believe that I was actually there! There weren’t 12 of them anymore – nature had taken its toll. I think there were 7 or so Apostles remaining, but even then, it was absolutely beautiful. We set up our tripods and began our shoot. About 30 mins later, there were 3 other tripods set up next to us – we weren’t the only ones eager to capture the sunset… Slowly the crowds formed so we were happy that we had secured a brilliant spot. It was about 10pm and we were still there! It hadn’t gotten completely dark yet – but the wind had picked up and we were beginning to get cold. We saw the moon rising and we actually managed to capture this in our time-lapse. We wanted to photograph some stars as well but it was too cold and it hadn’t gotten dark enough for the stars to be easily visible through our lenses – so we decided to call it a night.

If you plan on road tripping along the Great Ocean Rd – definitely spend a good few hours at the 12 Apostles National Park. There are a lot of view points and hikes that you can do that would definitely be worth it. Seeing the sunset at the Apostles is a must – absolutely breathtaking! Also, spread out your trip if you have the time. We wanted to go to the zip-lining park around Cape Otway but it was raining on the day and we thought it wouldn’t have been as fun.

All in all – one of the best road trip destinations with loads to see along the way. You will definitely be stopping every half hour just to take a photo of the amazing coastline of Australia!!

Roadtrip: The Great Ocean Road

I have always wanted to drive along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. That part of the country is absolutely stunning! So, during a visit to Melbourne, my friend Brooke and I spontaneously decided to go on a mini road trip! The weather was beautiful, company was great – what more could we ask for? Well, it was the Australia Day long weekend – so ALL the accommodation was completely booked out! Stress levels were on the rise but we both really still wanted to go! So instead of making our cortisol levels sky rocket, we packed the tent and sleeping bags and hoped for the best, so we set out on an adventure…

Our first stop was Bells Beach – where the Ripcurl Pro Surf tournament is held. The view was simply amazing! There were a lot of local surfers, it was nice to see some surfing action whilst we were there. The surf was insane – MASSIVE waves, seeing this made me understand why the best of the best come here to compete….

We then had lunch at Apollo Bay – which was absolutely stunning! This town seemed more touristy, nevertheless, it was still beautiful. There was a main promenade with the beach on one side and shops and cafes on the other. The beach looked really nice and flat. We scored the front yard of a caravan park to put our tent up – sorted =)

We continued along to Lorne – which has a really long jetty that local folk fish from. We walked along the jetty and when we reached the end we were utterly surprised to see SEALS! And there were TWO of them! They were so cute – rolling around in the water. There was a group of local kids jumping off the jetty and climbing back up via the ladder. There was one particular girl who couldn’t bring herself to do it. After many failed attempts, she succumbed to peer pressure and actually jumped off! On our walk back, a small boy was screaming with delight. As I looked over, I noticed that he was happy because of the little fish he had caught. At the end of the jetty there is a nice fish and chip shop – so if you do want to grab a bite to eat, this place looked ok…

Our mission was to get to Cape Otway Lighthouse before it closed. However, en route we saw cars parked on the side of the road and people walking around, pointing up. Let me set the scene: we were in the middle of the bush, in the middle of nowhere. Hence greatly surprised to see random scattered cars parked along the way with people pointing up. Then the penny dropped! Our friends had tipped us off about the wild koalas on the way to Cape Otway – REAL WILD KOALAS! So we parked on the side of the road and also began to hunt for koalas – it was like a game of bingo, as soon as you spotted one you would call out to your friend! As an Australian, I’d never seen a koala out in the wild, so you could imagine my delight when I spotted my first one – I was ECSTATIC!! They were so cute, just chilling in the eucalyptus trees…

We made it to the lighthouse and managed to climb up. The tour guide was very informative and enthusiastic about this particular lighthouse. If memory serves me correct, he mentioned that this was Australia’s oldest lighthouse! All I kept on singing was “have you ever, ever felt like this?” – if you grew up in Australia you will know that this was the opening song from the TV series Round The Twist (the family lived in a lighthouse!). Around the lighthouse grounds were colonial accessories – from houses to anchors…

Our next mission was to get to the 12 Apostles so we could make a timelapse of the sunset and also score some awesome shots…

Day 4 Inca Trail – The Summit on my 30th!

The guides had woken us up well and truly before sunrise, in order to get seats at the final gate (just in case it rained…). I was feeling horrible – I couldn’t even put breakfast down my throat. I could barely walk… at least we got to the gate early so we did manage to get seats. An Irish couple gave me some tablets for my upset tummy – I wished so bad that the drugs would kick in immediately… the Turtles stuck with me as I was walking very very slowly… I simply didn’t have the energy to walk at all. They force fed me an energy bar and juice. A friend carried my day pack for me, which helped me immensely – total lifesaver!! Just as we got to the base of the “sun gate” I was faced with the worlds most steepest stairs – which didn’t even look safe. I don’t know how I managed to get up without cracking my head, but I managed YAAY!

The rest of the group had managed to secure a good vantage point to see the sunrise above Macchu Picchu, so we joined them. I simply wanted to sit down. To everyone’s disappointment, the clouds did not part. The “faster” portion of the group continued to walk to Macchu Picchu, whereas I needed some more time, so the Turtles waited with me. We were somewhat lucky, the clouds parted for about 5 minutes and we saw Macchu Picchu in all its glory – but it wasn’t long enough. We decided to continue our walk and we made it to Macchu Picchu. Close up it was far more amazing. To be honest, the view from the Sun Gate was abit of an anti-climax. But seeing it up close, was AMAZING!

Our guide took us to a few sites and explained the importance. After this, we had free time to explore the Incan site ourselves. It was really cool to be wandering around and taking in our surroundings…

All in all, wandering around Macchu Picchu was truly SPECTACULAR!

We then made our way to Aguas Calientes to catch up with our group. (NOTE: do not spend a lot of time here, it isn’t a very nice place, all the prices are severely inflated).

We bid our farewells to our Inca Trail guides: Angel and Clisor, then caught the train and bus back to Cusco.

We spent one final night in Cusco, where we went for wood fire pizza in celebration of my 30th. The group had even chipped in to buy me a gift – which was very very thoughtful. Our night of fun continued at karaoke – this was sooo much fun! One of the guys even sung “Single Ladies” by Beyonce, which brought the house down!!! I had a very enjoyable and memorable 30th =)

Day 3 Inca Trail – Cloud Forest & Incan Sites

This was my absolute favourite day of the hike! The cloud forest was AMAZING!!! The slower group, mind you, by this stage we had named ourselves “The Turtles”, were taking our time, enjoying the moment and taking photos. We even stopped at one stage for about half an hour to listen to the birds – we saw woodpeckers, they were amazing! The fauna was spectacular – due to the moisture, all the leaves and petals had droplets of water, which made it all the more magical…

We reached the lunch stop and were treated to a nice surprise – the cooks had backed us a cake and had even piped “SEXY LAMAS” on it!!! How amazing?!?!?! The lunch itself was also very tasty. I ate a lot more than what I ate on previous days (which panned out to be a very bad idea…). After full tummy’s we continued on our trek.

The trek was not difficult – in fact it was enjoyable. Again, the Turtles had fallen behind, in fact so behind, that Clisor (the apprentice guide) stayed behind and hiked with us. He was a character – he had a portable speaker connected to his phone with awesome dance beats. So walking next to him – no one could simply walk normally. We all were busting out a groove. We reached an Incan site which we had all to ourselves – it was probably one of the best parts of the trek. Who can say that they were atop an Incan site with a great bunch of friends, dancing to awesome tunes…? We all agreed that this was simply awesome!

We reached camp, and I bee-lined it to the showers. It was still freezing cold water, but it just felt so good to be clean. After dinner, the porters had come into the tent and we thanked them all. We also gave them our tips – which they completely deserved!

We then settled in for sleep. After an hour or two of sleep, I woke up feeling very sick – I had only just realised that I had eaten way too much and that I had a severely upset stomach (digestion takes twice as long when you are at higher altitude). I was drifting in and out of sleep…. I had a very rough night….

Day 2 Inca Trail – Dead Woman’s Pass is Deadly!

We got woken up quite early – but Clisor had come to each of our tents with a mug of cocoa tea, which was very nice. After a nice breakfast (we had pancakes!) we all filled up our hydration bladders and set off. (NOTE: even though the water was boiled, I still used the water purification tablets). The first segment was medium-not too easy yet not too hard. The group still got separated into two, I was in the slower group… This section was like a rainforest with lots of butterflies and caterpillars hanging from webs, which I nearly walked into multiple times. There was also a stream – the fauna and flora was simply amazing. We all enjoyed this part and took it easy as well as taking photos every now and again. We reached the “top” where we met up with the rest of the group and had a little snack. As we joined the others, Anger and Clisor high-fived us – little things like this just gave you the motivation to keep on going… The view was spectacular, so we got some good shots here. It was a little windy so I put on the fleece, but it was still sunny! After a nice little break, we set off again.

This is where it got REALLY hard!

The incline was so steep, plus the altitude was making it hard to breathe. To make matters worse, there was a very very loud Spanish group who were so annoying – they somehow were keeping up with us (unfortunately!!). By this stage the group had completely split up. I could see a few members of the group in the distance in front. When I turned around I could see 2 members of the group not far behind me – whereas I walked solo. This section really tested my will power. Even though I kept going, in my mind I was strategising escape plan routes – I really did not want to go up the stupid mountain… I could see the woman’s face in the mountain (hence the name – Dead Woman’s Pass), yet all I wanted to do was to stop for long periods. I finally could see the first 3 people from my group on the summit in the distance. My friend gave me a wave – which motivated me to keep on going. I finally reached the summit of 4215m and I needed to lie down for about 10mins. The altitude had gotten to me and I wasn’t breathing easily. Sibylle, who is a nurse, told me to have my Snickers bar – my body needed sugar. After I had the bar, I felt normal again, YAAAY! So I began to take in my surroundings – and oh my word, it was such a beautiful view! After a few minutes snapping away, Angel called out to the “sexy lamas” (our group name) to get a shot of us altogether at 4215m.

We then started the descent. As I hadn’t ever using hiking poles, the guide instructed that the poles should be lengthened to about shoulder height when descending. The hiking poles where very very helpful. The descent was much much much better – I was even jolly and began to joke around with the other “slow” hikers from my group. It was actually quite enjoyable.

There was a stream by the camp site – a few members of the group had a “stream shower” – however, I did not. Instead, I braved the ultra cold water in the showers – it was definitely worth it. It felt so good to be clean!

Day 1 Inca Trail – Training Day

In the morning, everyone was slightly panicked at what they could take as we were only allowed to take 6kg including the air mattress, sleeping bag plus clothes and accessories. After packing, unpacking and repacking, we all managed to get to about 6kg in our duffel bags. We were also told to put all our stuff into plastic bags – so if it did rain, our things wouldn’t get wet (also many blogs that I read said the same thing). We met our trail guides Angel and the trainee guide Clisor – both of who were very awesome lads. We got transferred to kilometer 82 and handed over our duffel bags to the porters. We then made our way to the trail “gate” and lined up with all the other trekkers. Passports ready in hand, the officer was checking if the trail permit matched the passport details. So Angel told us all to check to see if all the details were correct. My eyeballs nearly popped out of my head as my passport number was clearly made up – it was written as 123456789! As I called out to Angel and explained that obviously STA Travel had screwed up – he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem, and right he was! The officer simply said – look I trust that you are indeed this person – and simply allowed me to cross the bridge and “officially” enter the trail! After a group photo at the km82 sign we began the trek.

The terrain was mostly flat and the scenery was nice. I think we were all excited by the fact that we were actually here! As we continued the hike, Angel explained to us what “Andean flat” was (slight incline) and that it was going to be mostly like this for today. The sun was out – and it was a gorgeous day for hiking! We made it to the “stop” where the porters had already set up a “dining tent” which had tables and chairs – we were all amazed! As we all took our seats, lunch was served. For the starter we had a soup of some sort – which was delicious. For the main we had rice molded in a dome-like shape served with fish! Truly scrumptious! We even had dessert! All the food was very yummy and impressive. After a little rest, we continued on our hike.

We arrived at camp way before Angel had anticipated – which made us all very proud. He had told us that the first day was the training day, so it was good that we all had done so well. After a little break after tea and popcorn for afternoon tea, dinner was served. Again this was a set of yummy meals, leaving us all satiated! NOTE: I had requested vegetarian meals throughout the hike and boy did the chefs deliver – truly awesome! Also, on the first day we had the option for paying for toilets or using the free ones. Angel told us that we should use the paid toilets (only 1 sole) as these were clean. I’m so glad that we opted for these ones as the toilets on the rest of the hike were dreadful drop toilets – very smelly!

The porters had also put up all our tents and showed us how to inflate the air mattress. Mind you they were uber thin but I’m sure they were in part useful… the first night was actually quite warm, so I had a good sleep.