Stories of 2019 #62: Adriatic Explorer with TUI Marella Cruises

We discovered historic cities and picturesque ports along the Adriatic coast on Marella’s Discovery ship last week. I always knew I have had a long romance with Europe’s lesser known cities from four years ago when I went interrailing through Eastern Europe with my friend Eve and we got to see uncovered corners such as Krakow, Sophia and Bratislava. Europe in my eyes is simply beautiful and this cruise did not prove my point wrong.

The Discovery docked in Kotor, Montenegro with the tender boats bringing us too and from the boat

Before we left, none of us really knew what to expect from this cruise. Our family holidays have often consisted of waking up, going for breakfast, sunbathing, going for lunch, sunbathing, getting ready, dinner and then bed. You know, your usual relaxing week away. But seeing as we were visiting all these amazing countries we felt that we needed get off the boat and have a taste of each port. However, dubious as my dad is not too into the whole sight-seeing thing.

Adriatic Explorer itinerary;

  • Fly into Corfu from Luton
  • Day at sea
  • Koper, Slovenia
  • Venice, Italy
  • Split, Croatia
  • Dubrovnik, Croatia
  • Kotor, Montenegro
  • Corfu, Greece and fly home to UK ūüė¶

The nice thing we all agreed on about visiting these places on a cruise was we got the best of both worlds. We were able to get off for a few hours and walk the cobbled streets and sip on ice cold beers (or mainly Aperol in my case) in the main city squares. Then when the boys we dragged along with us got bored, we could get back on-board for a few hours of rest and relaxation on our sun beds before the ship departed for the next port of call.

Sipping the world’s best Aperol in Venice

Venice and Montenegro were the ports I was most excited for. Venice because it is Venice… and Montenegro because it has forever been on my bucket list and I have longed to visit the majestic fjords and quaint city of Kotor. But Croatia I had recognised as becoming more of tourist destination now as flights and access to the islands have become much easier and Slovenia I had been to before and was never blown away by the city of Ljubljana but I was going with an open mind with these places.

By the end of the cruise my highlights were of course, Montenegro. It is an utterly breathtaking place and I am so happy it lived up and exceeded my expectations completely. I was surprised by Croatia and I would 100% return to both Split and Dubrovnik and hopefully explore more of this idyllic haven. Both ports had a real buzzing atmosphere, packed with rich histories and both nights had fire-like sunsets – my absolute fave thing to see. And of course, Venice was beautiful but I must say it is only a place I would go to for a day, out of all the ports we visited, with the best part about visiting Venice being the incredible sail away party Marella cruises hosted as we sailed through the Grand Canal of Venice with prosecco cocktails and a live opera singer. Finally, Slovenia as I had expected was a sleepy town, with not too much to do. In hindsight we should have gone on one of the excursions that Marella cruises offer rather than wandering around aimlessly. And Corfu or I mean Corfu’s airport was, unfortunately, all we got to see.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Our home for the week was Marella’s Discovery boat. An 11 deck cruise liner with 918 cabins, seven restaurants, seven bars, a climbing wall, a spa, mini-golf and two swimming pools. We have stayed on TUI cruise liners before it was Marella, as well as other company cruises such as Royal Caribbean but I think this ship was the perfect size in order not to get lost everyday (you would be amazed how hard it is to get your bearings on a ship) and be able to be involved with all activities throughout the day.

Everyone on-board is also part of the all-inclusive package so all drinks and most food is included. We had the premier drinks package so we had more spirits, beers and cocktails included as well as the coffees from the Coffee Port station on-board. This is where you would find me more often than not if you lost me! Coffee bean is my nickname…

Unlimited expresso martinis – yes please!

Food is incredible on cruises… full stop. From buffet options to more formal three-course meals, you cannot fault the food on-board. I read one day in the Cruise News (delivered every night to your room) that the average cruiser puts on 1 to 2 pounds a day! A DAY! And that does not surprise me with the delicious food they plate up every hour, everyday of the week.

Also as a veggie I was worried that I would end up eating chips and salad all week but in the main restaurants (Islands, 47 Degrees and Gallery 47) they had the most amazing vegan/vegetarian options available. Inserting images for you (and me) to drool over… Especially the trio of tiramisu at Gallery 47.

It is not surprise the scales were up when I got home as I flick through these images but with the menu being different each day it is so nice to be able to try all these different dishes. I would never have Russian dumplings otherwise. And yes, that is a tower of Baileys, Amaretto and Cointreau…

It was also my birthday whilst we were on-board and seeing as it was a special occasion we booked into Kora La which is a restaurant were you have to pay a supplement. It is pan-Asian cuisine and the dishes are created by renowned chef – Ian Pengelley. The menu included crusted tofu, satay chicken and several curries accompanied by rice, naan and some veggies. We all thorough enjoyed this meal and all loosened our belts a few notches after. I had tofu to start and then a vegetable kashmiri before a big spoonful of the sweetest, most delicious birthday cake. Happy Birthday to me!

After dinner most nights we would find ourselves having a little flutter in the casino in Live bar before heading to deck 11 where we found, funnily enough, Bar Eleven and we would cut the shapes on the dance floor until the early hours of the morning. Around the clock there is always something going on on a cruise ship! From the morning stretch, to poolside catch-phrase, afternoon bingo and late night discos, I think you find it hard to be bored on-board.

Our cabin was on deck seven and also had a balcony. We have had outside cabins before with no balcony but only a little port hole and I must say, it makes such a difference having that extra little bit of space to sit outside. Also, coming in and out of these amazing ports it was so lovely being able to roll out of bed in your pjs onto the balcony and see the cities as they are waking up.

Early morning docking in Kotor, Montenegro

I loved every moment on this cruise with some very special memories of beautiful countries, breathtaking experiences and an untold amounts of funny memories.

More to come on the ports we visited.

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Stories of 2019 #61: 8 Reasons to Visit Perth, Australia

One in 10 people who live in Perth was born in the UK and they often faced the question, why Perth? The WA for Western Australia was replaced with ‘wait awhile’ as the world’s most isolated city had little going for it. But they have waited, and now the city is booming with pop-ups, bars and hip suburbs. So much so¬†The New York Times¬†named it one of the top places to visit in 2019. From Leaderville to Fremantle, to the Hummus Club restaurant to secret speak-easy bars – Perth has come out from under-the-radar and put itself on the map.¬†

I was lucky enough to visit and here are my top 8 reasons to visit Perth.

1 The CBD

Perth is a young city and one that is continuing to grow year on year. With exciting things happening right in the heart of the it, there is no better time than to experience Perth. When I was thinking about going, I did not really know what to expect. This would be my first experience of Australia and whilst I have family who live in Perth, you hear and read much more about what to do in the glamorous city of Sydney or the cool city of Melbourne. But what about Perth? Fortunately, I was very surprised. While it is not quiet a big as other cities in Australia, Perth packs a punch with what they have to offer to tourists with a growing set of shopping malls, museums, parks and places to eat and drinks.

Attractions include; Yagan Square, Elizabeth Quays, Perth Zoo, the Perth Mint and the Bell Tower to name a few spots.

2 Rottnest Island

Only 19km from the coast of Perth, Rottnest Island boasts some of the best coastline, marine life and the iconic smiling quokkas. This little island got its name when the Dutch explorer – William De Vlamingh – found this island and mistook these quokkas for the common rat and the name Rottnest translates simply to, rats nest! But now, having a selfie with these smiling ‘rats’ has become a main attraction for visitors. So when you are making your way around the island, be sure to keep your eye out for the happiest animal on the planet.

Once you have arrived in ‘Rotto’ as it is better know as to the local Aussie’s, this idyllic island playground offers up 63 beaches, 20 pristine bays, and plenty of coral reefs to snorkel in. But to make sure this beautiful reserve stays in its pristine state, the island is car-free with the exception of the Bayseeker Bus. The best way to explore Rottnest is to hire a bicycle and explore this 11km long and 4km wide island. Cycle to Cathedral Rocks and see the seals or to the Wadjemup Lighthouse to take in the view from the highest point. Take a picnic (watch out for seagulls if you stop for lunch at The Settlement – they got lucky and left with our pies), your bathers and suncream for the perfect day trip from the city.

Get there by ferry from Perth City, Fremantle and Hilarys.

3 The Coastline

From a morning dip to a dazzling Indian Ocean sunset – you can play all day at Perth’s many beaches. Think crystal blue seas and white, soft sand and you have the Western Australia coastline. Forget the bar crawl and do a beach crawl up the coast in your car or you can even walk, run or cycle! One day, when I was in Perth, I choose to walk from North beach to Scarborough and then up to Hilary’s.

Cottesloe beach is the poster girl for Perth’s coastline and it is not a surprise when the beach has 1km of paper-white sand and some of WA’s best swimming spots. Generations of families have spent over 100 years of summers here, cooling off in the ocean with the iconic Indian teahouse in the background and the floating bell on the distant shore. This is also the beach that you may have seen many people standing on in their swimming costumes and santa hats on Good Morning Britain on Christmas Day.

Further up the coast is City Beach, Scarborough, North Beach and at the top of the coastal path, Sorrento’s where Hilary’s Harbour is. All just as breathtaking as each other and all have restaurants, bars and playgrounds for the children. Make sure you catch the sun set into the ocean, as the sky lights up with vivid oranges and deep reds!

4 Wineries

Several wine regions are waiting to be sampled by you. But the closest one to Perth’s city is the Swan Valley. Easily reached by car or you can enjoy a scenic cruise on the river from the city centre.

Swan Valley is the oldest wine region in WA and you can taste your way around the valley from wine to chocolate to cheese! Make sure you have lots of room in your belly to fit it all in – especially at the chocolate factory where there is plenty to try! Swan Valley is a 32km loop that is home to over 200 attractions. If you are here for the wine, maybe join a tour or get yourself a driver so you can have a few (or many) glasses of fine wine. All the wines are paired with a breathtaking view over the valley and you can meet all the makers of these delicious products. The Swan Valley is renowned for its Verdelho, Shiraz and Cabernet.

A little further afield is the Great Southern wine region and Margaret River. I did not get to visit these other two but what I saw of Swan Valley has made me add the others to my bucket list.

5 Food and Drink

Chefs, baristas, mixologists and winemakers. In Perth you can now indulge your senses in the city that is making waves in the culinary world. Roof-top eateries, whole-food cafes and speakeasy bars are constantly opening in the hip suburb of Northbridge and the CBD.

As Perth is one of the sunniest places in Australia, Perth is blessed with a climate that can grow avocados, kiwis, papaya and everything in between! And being sat on-top of the Indian Ocean, they have a sea that is brimming with fresh fish and seafood. So, with local produce fresh and available pretty much on their door-step, you can see why Perth is making waves. This is not just in the CBD either, head to suburbs outside of the city precinct and find yourself cafe and restaurant hopping.

I was only in Perth for just over two weeks and I think I gave it a pretty good go at tasting some of their culinary delights. My favourite being The Hummus Club in Northbridge. Yes, that is a whole tapas style menu dedicated to hummus… I mean, it cannot get better than that! I also tried charcoal ice-cream from Hilary’s harbour, had falafel bowls at Glory Bowls in Scarborough, dukkah avocado toast in the city, smoothie bowls in Freo and BBQ breakfasts at my uncles!

The question really is, where should you go first?

6 Sunshine

Did you know they get an average of 8.8 hours of sunshine everyday throughout the year? However, I beg to differ as when I was there most of my days consisted of rain but I shall continue to have faith in the stats… But because there is so much sunshine, the people of Perth make the most of it and head outdoors to enjoy walking, cycling, running or playing games in the park. So make sure you soak up some of the delicious Aussie sunshine!

7 Fremantle

A short train ride away from downtown Perth is Frementle or ‘Freo’ as the locals call it. A history but hip area in Perth.

Freo is more commonly known for being the world’s best-preserved example of the 19th century port streetscape. But this is not all the suburb has to offer. You can have a coffee along their iconic Cappuccino Strip, shop at the Fremantle market or delve into the history at the prison. The streets buzz with buskers jamming in the streets and quirky, cool people as they dine in hipster style pop-ups, trendy coffee bars or rummage through thrift stores.

Head to Freo for a day trip, like I did, or better yet, stay for a night or two and soak up the nightlife.

Fremantle is not the only hip place to explore in Perth. In the heart of the city – Northbridge is a place not to miss – as well as, Leaderville.

8 Kings Park

Forget New York’s Central Park – Perth is actually home to the largest inner-city park.

Perched high on the hill, Kings Park provides the cities best panoramic views of the CBD and the river. Try to imagine 400 hectares of bushland, flowers, local WA plants, 75-year-old trees, shrubs and colourful birds. Pretty impressive! Simply wander around and take in the beauty of the nature and think to yourself, “I can’t believe I am in Australia.” (Like I was)

Stories of 2019 #58: The Train to C√°diz

Whilst we loved the city, the sound of waves crashing on the beach and the sand between our toes was calling our names! Especially, as it was so hot. We needed a dip to cool off.

Before leaving for Seville, I had had a quick look at how far the nearest beach was and how easy it was to get to. There I found C√°diz – an ancient port city in the Andalusia region and only an hour and a half on the train.

So, on the Monday we caught the 12pm train to the Cadíz from Sevilla Santa Justa station.

What we learnt on this trip was that Google Maps lies. We thought the train station was going to be miles away but to our surprise, the train station of Cad√≠z was literally just around the corner to the main square. Like Seville, Cad√≠z is a maze and over the next 24 hours we had several moments of thinking, ‘oh we are here?’ after coming out of a narrow street and being stood, once again, in the main square. I tell you, these Spanish cities are not the most straightforward.

With the sun shining, we sat outside a cafe in the Plaza de la Cathedral, where we admired the granduer of the square, whilst drinking large espressos and using all of our brain power to finish our crossword.

But we came here for the beach and a dip in the sea, so that was the next item on the agenda. The coastline is dotted with brightly painted houses and is said to be the twin to Havana in Cuba.

The Atlantic waves crashed against the sea walls as we made our way around the peninsula to Playa de la Caleta, the cities beach. The small cove is sandwiched between two forts; the Castilla de San Sebast√≠an and the Castillo de Santa Catalina. Along the back of the white-shored beach is their mock-Moorish, oriental-inspired bath house, or in Spanish balneario. Fun fact: Bond’s Die Another Day (2002) was famously filmed on this beach, when Halle Berry strode out from the sea in her orange bikini. And, I mean, me and Jessamyn looked exactly like that trying to plunge ourselves into the freezing cold sea! It was quiet uncanny.

Swimsuit – & Other Stories

We had not had anything to eat since our breakfast back in Seville at a cafe called Filo, which was so unbelievably good that I am dedicating a whole post to it (keep eyes peeled), and some crisps and bananas on the train. So, our bellies were starving! The good thing about the Spanish culture is that dinner is always late so you can afford to have lunch at 4pm. We both fancied a sandwich rather than a tapas style lunch and opted to go to the Spar for fresh bread, tomatoes and oranges. This ended up being such a good lunch that we both inhaled and cost us each around 30p…

In Cadíz we choose again to stay in a hostel which we booked through Hostel World called La Casa Morada. At first, we did not think we were able to get in the door or check in with no one on reception whilst we ate our sandwich and oranges in the common area. Eventually the man arrived to check us into our dorms. Phew! We were planning potential sleeping spots on the sofa or the beach. Again, the hostel was in a great location, clean and had all the facilities we needed. A quick freshen up after the beach we headed straight back out to get the most out of Cadíz.

And by this I mean trying the local delicacies. AKA, ice cream! I had seen this place on Instagram called Verde Pistachio and we made it our mission to try it. And boy, was it a good choice. Now as we were on holiday and you know, calories don’t count, we both went for the larger chocolate and nut cone with two scoops each. I had salted (SALTED!!) pistachio and dark chocolate, which was bloody amazing, and Jessamyn had pistachio and vanilla. Quiet possibly this was the biggest ice cream I had ever eaten and for the whole time it took us to eat these scoops of utter deliciousness we either did not speak and simply savoured the amazing flavour or we could not stop laughing at how good it was! Does that happen to anyone else? You just can’t stop laughing when something is so so good? Laughing in disbelief? Or, maybe it was the sugar…

I WANT THIS NOW!!

Cad√≠z was beautiful and I simply loved the way that no matter what street you headed down, your eyes were busy trying to take in all the detail. The sinuous streets are shabby, yet romantic and you just have to wander in any direction the wind takes you to come to one of the cities neighbourhoods such as El P√≥pula, Santa Maria and La Vi√Īa. All with a different story to tell. Cad√≠z is said to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, so there are definitely lots of stories to be told in these streets.

Semana Santa continued through the streets here as well and we decided to head to the front to catch a glimpse of the sun setting and less crowds. However, as we had only come to stay for one night and really only one day, we only had the clothes we were wearing. Jessamyn in a short dress and myself in shorts and a top and Cadíz on this day decided to be extremely windy and goose-bump inducing! Determined to see the sunset and probably looking like crazy tourists in barely any clothes whilst everyone else was in jeans, coats and scarfs, we sat on the sea wall and enjoyed the sounds of the waves and the burnt orange sun.

Sunset and us two cold, we sought the warmth of a sweet sangria and dinner. And you will never guess what we found… vegan tapas. Yes! Vegan tapas in a city of fried fish, cheese and meat. We did not even use the Happy Cow app on this occasion, the vegan Gods were simply there for us. We pretty much had the whole menu, with the seitan fillet being the favourite. We both reviewed a solid 8/10!

The next day our train was at 2pm and we wanted to know more about this historical city. We wanted to learn about the culture and history of Cadíz and we decided to join the free walking tour at 10am, which allowed us plenty of time to pack up and also have lunch before going back to Seville. Breakfast of cereal and toast was included in the price of the hostel so before checking out we had a bite to eat and a chat with some of the others staying there also.

The free walking tour was really insightful and provided us with so much information about the city of Cadíz. It lasted for around 2 hours and we weaved in and out of the streets, hearing of stories from the past and learning about the people of Cadíz. Time peeled back down each street as our tour guide lead us from the centre to the beach and we finally gained an understanding of the city. Previously when I have done free walking tours in other European cities, there are normally around 30 people all taking part. But just to show you how un-touristy this ancient city is to English people, only six people spoke English and the English speaking tour was almost cancelled due to the lack of us. The Spanish speaking group was massive! This had its advantages as we got a more intimate tour of the city.

Two o’clock rolled round pretty quickly and we were once again back at the train station. Sad to leave the beach and the beautiful port city of Cad√≠z but excited by the lure of the city, our train pulled away and we watched Cad√≠z fade into the distance. Glad we took a mini-trip on our trip to see more of what Andalusia had to offer and only confirmed my thoughts of Spain being a truly wonderful, rich and exciting place to be!

Next stop: Seville, calling at flamenco shows and more cocktails…

Stories of 2019 #57: The Real Alc√°zar, Seville

In the heart of Seville, the Real Alc√°zar is the oldest palace still in use today. Over the 11 centuries it has been in use, it has seen many changes. From being a fort for the governors of Seville to a royal palace for the Spanish royal family to reside when they are in the city. And it is no wonder they choose to reside in this glorious palace – it is utterly breathtaking. Gold ceilings, intricate and colourful tiled walls and lush gardens, I could picture myself wandering around this peaceful palace in my long silk dressing gown and heeled slippers… unfortunately, when I visited so were 200 other people.

A few minutes walk from our hostel, we saw people still queuing for the palace despite the opening times online saying it shut at 5pm? We decided to queue as we had been pre-warned that during the day you can be queueing for several hours! They tell you to buy your tickets online beforehand but the website does not seem to work. Twenty minutes later and closer to the entrance, the palace was now working to their summer opening hours until 7pm. And to top this off, we only paid ‚ā¨3, as we are between the ages of 16-25. ‚ā¨11 otherwise or free is your a Seville citizen.

Walk through the Puetra del Le√≥n onto the Plaza de Triunfu, where the palace’s beauty truly begins. Take your time to meander at the rich history of the palaces rooms and gardens, taking in its detail. My favourite area of the Real Alc√°zar is the Palacio Mud√©jar. The elaborate interior is unbelievably detailed that you could spend hours letting your eyes work over the tiled walls, carved archways and golden ceilings (especially in the Ambassadors Hall). In some rooms this Moorish interior designs does not leave an inch untouched. With contrasting designs and clashing of colours, you can become almost hypnotised! Adding the golden sunlight, and the palace feels even more magical.

Luckily, the evening we spent in the palace the sun was like liquid gold seeping into the rooms and the blue sky matched perfectly with the iconic Triana-made ceramics.

But the beauty does not just run within. Step outside into the lush gardens and a whole new world awaits to be explored. You would not believe that you are in the heart of a busy city when you are daydreaming around the grounds of the palace’s gardens.

Walk through the different time periods and let your mind wander to who and what has once happened in each. Choose from the more modern English Garden or the Poets’ Garden, or head further back in time to the Cross Garden or 12th century garden. Walk beneath the 170 types of trees, sit on one of the many benches or watch the peacocks roam amongst the visitors.

Mesmerised by the tranquil Real Alc√°zar, we needed hydrating and a sit down to let the beauty sink in. Walking down the river earlier in the day we spotted a small bar perched on the rivers edge, and with it being such a beautiful evening we both agreed this would be the perfect place to stop. Now, it would not be a true holiday without a little alcoholic beverage and as tradition goes now, for mine and Jessamyn’s trips, an Aperol spritz was in need. The bar was called Manhattan River Bar Cocktails. It had a great atmosphere as the sun set in Seville and cheap drinks with big slices of Seville oranges in!


Not only did the bar have a nice atmosphere but as we were walking back along the river, we noticed the chilled out vibe of the city. People sat on the rivers wall, sipping beers and chatting with friends. There was a buzz as the sun set over Seville.

Back on the Happy Cow app, we headed to a restaurant in the center of the city where we tried sherry and had big bowls of pasta. Not our most authentic meal of the trip but we were so tired after being up since 2:30am and disorientated of not only being in a new city, but also having to navigate the Holy Week processions taking place.

After a long busy day, once we had dinner we climbed up into out top bunks and fell into a much needed sleep.

Stories of 2019 #56: The Streets of Seville

Winding narrow streets lined with flower covered balconies and yellow painted walls, tapas bars packed with people sipping carveza and eating small plates of fried fish, and a grand gothic cathedral which looms over the city – Seville is bound to seduce you with its authentic charm and passionate spirit.

As the capital of Andalusia, set on the plain of the river Guadalquivir, Seville is the fourth largest city in Spain, as well as one of the hottest metropolitan areas in Southern western Europe. A fact me and Jessamyn liked!

People asked, why Seville? Well, neither of us had the answer to this either, which I think is why we both loved the city so much. We had no expectations, no understanding of what was there or what it would be like. We simply booked one night and a few weeks later, we were off. That is the beauty of unplanned travel – you never know what is around the corner.

We arrived late morning after the extremely early start of 2:30am to go to the airport (thank you Jessamyn’s mum and dad). Once we had landed and made our way through passport security, we caught the airport shuttle into the city centre (‚ā¨4, single fare). Opting for a cheaper and more social scene, we had booked into a hostel called The Black Swan in Seville’s historic centre. Excellent hostel actually and I would highly recommend to anyone off to Seville. It was clean, friendly, great location next to Plaza Nueva and had all facilities you would need (even a hairdryer! Which annoyingly I had packed also). We were not allowed to check into our dorms until 2pm so we left our bags there and got lost in the maze of the city.

Turning right out of our hostel, we found ourselves by the river and crossing the bridge over to the area of Triana. Lined with cobbled streets, bustling coffee bars and ceramic tiles, the area of Triana is said to be more real in comparison to the city. We stumbled across the Real Parroquia de Sen√Ķra Santa Ana, a historic 13th-century catholic church. Many people were coming and going from the church with handfuls of flowers and all in their Sunday best. Giving it no thought, we seated ourselves outside of the church entrance at a bar called Santa Ana, where we had our first sips of Spanish espressos. Whilst Jessamyn was ordering our coffees, a swarm of people turned round the corner holding huge silver crosses, incense, flowers and dressed in white gowns. My table and I were swallowed up by the crowd and by the time Jessamyn returned, it had been spit back out! I could not believe what I was witnessing. This was our first (and least extravagant) sighting of the iconic Holy festival in Seville and one we would then continue to be followed by.

Perfumed by incense and buzzed by strong coffee, we walked further down the river or otherwise known as the Calle Betis towards the Parque de Maria Luisa and the Plaza de Espa√Īa. We wandered down the avenues which were shaded by hundreds of exotic trees and orange groves, as horse and carriages rode past with excited tourists sitting inside. The gardens are beautiful and with the sun shining, the park felt even more magical as we smelt roses, admired the mosaic tiled benches and watched the birds bathe themselves in that ponds.

Half a mile long, the parks centre is the hugely magnificent, Plaza de Espa√Īa. Known by the locals as the ‘Venice of Seville’ as the opulent semi-circle building has a 500-metre canal perched in-front, where you can rent small row boats and admire the granduer of the building and its four bridges from the rose lined canal. Brightly coloured ceramics feature heavily in the square, from the lamp posts to the floors, with pops of yellow and blue. And, if that was enough to squeeze into this lavish square, they also have 22 brightly coloured, uniquely designed benches that represent the 22 provinces in Spain. So, not only does the plaza encapsulate the spirit and beauty of Seville but also the entirety of Spain. (Also, we were so lucky with the weather. How beautifully blue is the sky)

Be sure to also keep your eyes peeled and ears out for the floor stomp of a flamenco dancer here in the square.

With our bellies rumbling after not eating since Stanstead’s finest restaurant, Weatherspoons, several hours ago, our taste buds were itching for their first taste of a true Spanish tapas. Unsure where to go as veggies in a city of fish and meat, we took to the Happy Cow app (something we came to rely on) and sourced a great Lebanese/Spanish tapas called El Rincon de Beirut along Calle San Fernando. We had hummus, tabbouleh, pitta, and falafel. It was also a great people watching spot! Especially with their Semana Santa festival unraveling around the city, so many people were gathering to see the processions.

On the way back to the hostel to finally freshen up, we caught our first procession of the hooded brotherhoods and marching bands! An amazing but eerie spectacle to witness. It was incredible to see such huge city come together and we both said we could not imagine anything like this happening at home. Honestly, thousands of people descending to the streets of Seville until the early hours of the morning. We also noted how many people in Spain could play an instrument?! I only know Hot Cross Buns on the recorder and even that is a push. Still confused (me too)… I will do a whole blog post on Holy Week, don’t you worry.

Through the maze of Seville’s streets, we arrived back to the hostel, showered and changed into our more weather-appropriate clothing. But the night is young and our next stop is the Royal Alc√°zar of Seville…

Stories of 2019 #48: Realities of Solo Travel

I have been home now from travelling for over four months. But as soon as I got home, it was like I had never even been? Not one for being quizzed, I loved hearing about what everyone else has been up to. Life went on, I signed back up to the gym, I went back to work and daily life continued on without much thought about what a big deal it kind of was?! It is only since someone said to me, “how mad was it that you went to Australia?” that I started thinking, yes, that was mad! I went to Bali and Australia all on my own.

Now, I know that really this is not that big a deal. I know people who have left for god knows how long, and I only went for a tiny dent of that time but it is the fact I still packed my bags and went. Personally, for me, I love to travel and experience the different cultures but I do not know if I could do that length of time, over the other side of the world for so long? Especially for my first trip. Just over three months was the perfect step for me.

So, this post is a reflection on my time as a solo traveller.

I was meant to go with a friend from home but as it turned out being it was not meant to be as she got ill and other things got in the way. Luckily, she is back to full fighting health and even got to do her stint of solo travelling! But I do think it was a blessing in disguise that we went separately. It would have been a completely different experience and looking back at my time away, I would not have wanted it any differently. Being solo forced me to be social, forced me to step out of that comfort zone and take risks you would not take if you had the comfort of a friend. It also enabled me to do what the hell I wanted! If I wanted to go to bed at 9pm (in true party style), I could. If I wanted to stop and have endless cups of coffee, I could. And if I wanted to go anywhere and do anything, I could. That is the beauty of travelling on your own. It is flexible and completely up to you.

My highlights

All the people I met being away were my highlights! I made friends with people I never would have made friends with if I was not on my own. Once I had got into the flow of just being myself, I was chatting to everyone. I have got the traveller conversation nailed… What’s your name? Where are you from? How long are you away for? Are you going up or down the coast? How long are you at this hostel for? If you have stayed in hostels and travelled, I bet you have had that exact same conversation at least 20 times!

Rosa and Alex, were two girls I pretty much spent a whole month with and we would all get upset if one of us choose to stay somewhere for one day longer and then would be all happy again when we were reunited. It was hard to say goodbye to these amazing ladies but I am sure I will see them again. I also made friends with Tom in hostel bus after the Greyhound, Sean in a exercise class in a hostel, Ali over a box of goon, Jada on the Uncle Brians Tour in Cairns and Mary on our skydive. So many people make your experience whilst you are travelling and I know you would meet people if you were travelling with other people but being on my own made me chat to anyone who would sit next to me and I loved that aspect sometimes (yes, sometimes, if you carry on reading lol).

Really it is such a bizarre concept staying in hostels, sleeping in a room with people you have never met from around the world. But the people you met, are those who you would never have the chance to meet at home and that is one big highlight for me!

Another highlight for me was having that peace and quiet when you needed it. Travelling can be tiring. You are constantly surrounded by people and constantly trying to make some sort of conversation. Truthfully, the only time you are completely on your own is when you are in the toilet. The full door toilet, not even them cubicle ones. I remember in Melbourne, one girl even said she was so fed up with talking to people that one time she sat in the toilet and read her book for an hour just to have a break. For me I went the beach or the park but each to their own hey!

I remember one afternoon in St Kilda, Melbourne, I laid down for near enough two hours staring into the sky, relaxing my body and thinking about everything going on. It was beautiful. I also did this on the beach in Byron Bay one morning. If I was not on my own, I would not be able to do this (well, not without feeling a little bit bad). Taking a break where necessary is a hidden beauty of going on your own.

St Kila, Melbourne

My not so highlights…

I had many lows when I was away. More lows in Australia than I did in Bali. I think this was primarily down to being on my own in Australia, compared to Bali, where I was with a big group of bloody amazing girls. Not having an organised day or group, made you have to make an effort and sometimes you were faced with a true sense of loneliness. Everyone you meet, is at a different point in their travelling experiences. I met people who were itching to meet people and go exploring but then I also met people who were on their second year, working and the novelty of the excited traveller had worn off.

Just keep on smiling // Me in Brisbane

I found this happened more in cities like Sydney or Brisbane, where people based themselves for jobs. Especially in Brisbane, I was hit square in the face with loneliness. It was horrible and an experience I really wish not to have again. Do not get me wrong, the city was lovely and I spent three days doing some fun things like seeing a circus show, eating I think the best pizza, petting joey’s and watching fireworks but I also cried in the cinema toilets, looked for tickets home and just wished I was moving to the next place already. I did not expect it to hit me like it did. You feel silly too (well I know I did) because I was in Australia?! Australia! Living the dream and travelling and you could not moan or be upset to those at home, in the cold, working hard. But honestly, talk to people. Let them know you are feeling low and they can send you virtual hug. Also, do things you enjoy. Yes, I may have cried in the cinema toilets but I also love the cinema and saw a really good film – Crazy Rich Asians.

I also had this feeling in Byron Bay. It was my first night after the overnight bus from Sydney, where I had the most amazing few days with Cole, and I had spent all of my first day in Byron Bay on the beach, alone. That evening, I cooked dinner and felt brave enough to go into the social area. All I saw was people on their phones (one time I think they are a curse travelling) or in big groups (intimidating…) and ended up rushing back to my bunk, feeling like a complete loser at travelling. I text my friend, Jessamyn, saying I can’t make friends and I am being unsociable. Upsettingly saying to her I thought travelling would be all party, party, party. But like she said, you do not need to make friends. You have friends at home! This was just what I needed to hear. Why was I putting such a pressure on myself to make friends? So, if you ever have this feeling of not making friends, just remember your friends at home waiting for you and simply remind yourself that tomorrow is a new day, ready for new adventures. You are there to see the sights and when you stop worrying so much, I found I relaxed and was able to speak to people. This early night was actually followed by two of my most favourite nights travelling, so it is proof it works!

Byron Bay beach (nice and cloudy)

No experience is smooth sailing and we all need them times were we are suffering to realise what we are made of. So, as much as I did not like the low points I had, they made my trip what it did and made me stronger for future ones. I am still amazed I actually went. But even though I have been to the other side of the world on my Tod, I still get incredibly nervous to do things on my own. I am not now this independent women, I get nervous going to bloody London or have spent the last few months deciding what to do next and whether I could do that trip on my own (totally forgetting I have done it before…). We often forget what we have achieved when we get more concerned with worry about the future, filling our heads with self-doubt. I remember feeling so incredibly nervous waiting at Heathrow Airport for my flight to Bali but then I also felt incredibly nervous waiting for my flight home, wondering what is next for me? As deep as this will sound, you are solo in life, whether you are in Boxfield Green or a hostel in the depths of Cape Tribulation being bitten alive by mossies! I somehow managed to get the courage to go away solo then and now I need to get the same courage to do my next trip or next step in life and my time away solo has taught me that for me, India Paine, this is possible.

That took a turn there at the end but that is me always going off on tangents! If you want to travel solo, I highly recommend but just expect you have to take the rough with the smooth. However, it will be the most amazing time.

Stories of 2019 #43: 2019 Travel Plans

2019 is a year of unknowns. Which is what life is – unknown. But at the moment, I wish I knew which path my life was going to take. I know everyone says you should relax and enjoy this time off but I am a person who loves to be busy, outside and having a sense of purpose really and at the moment I am still in the adjusting process. I bet when I finally start to enjoy my time without a career, I will get one! We can all guess that, can’t we?

But the one thing not unknown at the moment is where I am traveling to this year! Now, this is exciting. From camping to cruises, 2019’s travel and holidays are looking like they are set to be extremely fun. And also growing as many places are being added to my list…

Brighton

We have family friends – Justine and Glen – who live just outside the cool city of Brighton and we are fortunate enough to go down south and visit. However, I have not been since 2017! The last time I went it was a beautifully sunny day, as the pictures show. We went on the I360 and ate fish and chips on the seafront followed by an ice-cream, of course. One thing I love about Brighton is North Laine – packed full of small, quirky and independent stores and cafes – it is easy to spend your whole day mooching around the shops. We then escape the city life, to West Sussex, where our friends own a beautiful house on the front. I am so looking forward to this and revisiting one of my favorite spots.

Cruise

Also dubbed as the ‘booze cruise’ according to my sister’s boyfriend. This is our annual family holiday and with an extra special treat as we will be away for my birthday. We fly from Stanstead to Corfu, where we will board our ship, before sailing to Slovenia, Venice, Croatia, and Montenegro. All the places I have always wanted to go to! Especially Montenegro. Serenaded on a gondola to bathing in the Krka waterfalls in Spilt, I am already planning outfits and bikinis for each place. But you thought cruises were for old people? Well, you have got it all wrong. I have been on four cruises now, this years being my fifth, and they are full of things to do and an endless list of food and drinks that will keep you busy if there is nothing you fancy doing. On one cruise ship by Royal Caribbean, there was even a full-sized ice-rink, zip wire, and elevating bar?! Having not been back at sea for almost five years, I am excited to get back on board the ‘booze cruise.’

Camping

When I was younger, we were always camping. We even spent a whole two weeks in Cornwall, living in our tent (although was cut short due to the endless rain). There is nothing quite like waking up to the sounds of the birds and sitting outside with your morning cup of tea before going to the shower block to get ready. Some people do not like the idea of camping and think that it is basic but not for us Paines. We have carpet, electric and even our hairdryers. We are probably more glamping, than camping. Anyhow, nearby to our home in Stevenage we have a campsite where we are going to. I know it sounds funny to go camping literally 20 minutes down the road but it is just nice to be out in the tent, it does not matter how far or close you are.

Seville

Back with my partner in crime, we are off on another trip! After the last one being fueled by Aperol and tiramisu in Italy, we are hopping over to Spain to test the tapas and sangria. Jessamyn called me one night and asked if I wanted to go away? Obviously, my answer was yes and 20 minutes later we had picked Seville and our flights were booked. Our main reason to pick Seville was the warm temperatures in April and the fact I saw an article on Suitcase Magazine saying the streets were lined with lively bars and flamenco dancing. We are there for four days, so plenty of time to explore the city. However, we have booked during their Holy Week when there are some interesting parades going on… wish us luck!

South West Coastal Path?

Now, this is not set in stone as of yet but I have wanted to do this walk for so long. I am thinking about doing a small section for two weeks rather than the whole 600 or so miles, although I would love to do that! But maybe to ease myself into the idea of solo-trekking, a couple of weeks is enough? I am currently reading two books about people who have walking the whole path and it just sounds breathtaking! Have you ever done the South West Coastal Path or know anyone who has because I would love some advice/recommendations.

So far that is where I am off too and possibly (hopefully) a few more!

Where are you going in 2019?