Albania and the climb to Gjirokaster.

We took the ferry from Corfu over to Sarande in Albania. Albania isn’t high on a lot of people’s lists but it’s starting to make waves as an alternative to the ever popular Croatia.

Sarande is part of the Albanian Riviera along the Ionian sea, and known for white stretches of beach and turquoise waters.

I was excited to see these beaches for myself and experience a new country however on arrival it started to rain! We visited in late march so knew the weather may be against us, so after a little wander around Sarande we stopped and had brunch along the promenade.

Sarande is a small town, the beach is rocky and there’s only a few things to do, such as the old synagogue ruins, the promenade and Lekuresi castle on the hill overlooking the town, though it’s been turned into restaurant now.

Because of the rain and lack of sights we had to think outside of the box, and decided to visit Gjirokaster.

Gjirokaster old town is a UNESCO world heritage sight, dates back to 1336 as part of the Byzantine empire and has a magnificent fortress overlooking the town.

We walked over to the bus station in Sarande and bought a ticket from the office there before being pointed in the right direction to the bus. Buses leave every 30 minutes to an hour and it cost around €3.50.

The bus journey was amazing as we climbed up into the mountains and were rewarded with amazing views of the countryside. We crossed raging rivers and through beautiful flat plains as we approached Gjirokaster. Surrounded on both sides by looming mountains.

The bus took around an hour and 15 mins and drops you off at the main road, so we started our walk with our backpacks in the drizzly rain. It gave the whole place a mysterious vibe with the low clouds.

The first 10-15 minutes aren’t so impressive, but you soon find yourself on windy cobbled streets with beautiful stone buildings lining the road.

We reached the fortress and loved the views over the old town rooftops. The fortress itself costs £1.50 per ticket and houses some interesting statues, a tank and an old plane. A lot of it is in ruin but the main building is still impressive.

After wandering around the fortress and the old town a little more we checked out some cute historical buildings as we descended back down to the main town.

We got some amazing cake and traditional byrek from a little bakery to dry off and recharge. Byrek is a flaky pastry filled with cheese or meat. Even with all the walking Mum was having a great time exploring with me!

We took the bus back with no issues, and arrived back in Sarande in the early evening. We decided to walk along the main road and take a bus to Ksamil, where we would be staying. Unfortunately the bus didn’t turn up, I’m not sure if we got our timings wrong or if it just didn’t run in that hour.

Instead we stopped at a restaurant and had an amazing Albanian red wine and looked out over the bay. We took a taxi to our hotel, which took about 25 minutes and I think we were the only ones staying there! Two older Albanian men greeted us and proceeded to give us a lot of home brewed raki.

Needless to say we got a little tipsy from this, it was a funny experience as neither men spoke much English and we spoke no Albanian. They then drove us to a little kebab place where we ate tasty Greek salad and chips. Funnily enough we were soon sound asleep back at the hotel and looking forward to the next adventure!

48 hours in Kiev, Day 1.

Ukraine

Kiev is the capital of Ukraine, the 2nd largest country in Europe behind Russia. Located in Eastern Europe, it shares a border with Russia, Belarus, Romania and Poland. I wanted to visit Ukraine so I could enter the Chernobyl exclusion zone, and Kiev is the best place to do this from. I had also found cheap flights from Ryanair, unfortunately they cancelled these so I had to re-book with British Airways. There are some no go areas of Ukraine at the moment due to the annexation of Crimea by the Russians, so check the UK government website for up to date advice.

Kiev

It was founded in the 5th century, has a world heritage site amongst it’s many Orthodox churches, the world’s deepest underground railway line and it is where Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt met to discuss them organisation of post WWII Europe! Unfortunately and much to my dismay the chicken kiev wasn’t invented here! Communist symbols and street names were outlawed here in 2015 to attempt to move away from Russia and the Soviet Union.

Top Sights of Kiev

I arrived late into Kiev and took the sky bus found in front of terminal D and B to the main station. This took almost an hour, I didn’t see much as it was already dark by the time I got there. There is now a train that runs twice an hour and only takes 40 minutes to the City. I stayed at irisHotel right by the station for a couple of nights, then changed to the Fire Inn for the last two nights. Both were cheap, comfy and clean, the Fire Inn was in an old fire station which was pretty cool.

I started my tour of Kiev by heading to the Ukrainian State Museum of the Great Patriotic War. I had just visited one in Belarus and it was so interesting seeing how the two nations portrayed the war so differently, especially how they perceived Russia/The Soviets.

It’s another really interesting museum even if you don’t have much interest in history or WWII. The most impressive part of the museum is outside where you can view the Motherland Monument.

Standing at 62 metres tall it dominates the skyline above the museum. It was finished in 1981 and has been exempt from the decommunisation law because of it’s WWII significance. It looks like something out of a sci-fi film and it’s one of the grandest statues I’ve ever seen.

There’s also a monument to the UN, the founders of Kiev and a load of cool tanks and a nice park area around the museum. You can walk straight from here past a few cafes and shops to the next big sight, the Pechersk Lavra.

A monastery with a huge cave complex underneath it with several saints and religious figures reported to be buried there, it began in 1051 and the complex now consists of several pretty orthodox churches and you can visit the catacombs for a small fee. You aren’t allowed to take photos in the catacombs but are free to wander around the rest of it and take as many pics as you like. It’s definitely one of the best things to do here.

There are a couple of museums and art galleries nearby but I didn’t visit them, instead heading to the Holodomor Genocide museum, here you can learn more about the famine caused by Stalinist policies such as collectivisation in the early 1930s that killed an estimated 7.5 million Ukrainians.

It’s a harrowing tale, especially the propaganda used such as spreading tales that the peasants were hoarding food for themselves instead of giving to the wider collective of the USSR. Just along from here is a memorial to the Unknown Soldier.

Next up was the Mariyinsky Palace, completed in 1752 it’s the official residence of the president of Ukraine in Kiev and is joined to the parliament of Ukraine. It was built in the baroque style and the first royal figure to stay here was Catherine the Great! It was badly damaged in WWII and has had a couple of major restorations since then.

It’s a beautiful building and the adjacent park is lovely to wander around too. You can check out the old Dynamo Kiev stadium before walking over the park bridge and enjoy amazing views over the river Dnipro and to the East of Kiev.

I followed the walkway past the Museum of Water and stopped for a picture with a big bronze frog, you throw a coin in it’s mouth for good luck.

It was starting to get a bit dark and walking through the parks was so nice as they were all lit up, and if you follow on from the frog you get to the Friendship of Nations Arch.

Another throwback to Soviet rule it was completed in 1982 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the USSR and 1500th anniversary of Kiev. It’s a huge 50m diameter rainbow shaped arch made of titanium, with a bronze statue of russian and ukrainian workers underneath.

During eurovision it was lit up in rainbow colours and renamed the arch of diversity however after 3 weeks it went back to normal. It was supposed to be removed and replaced with a memorial to soldiers fighting russian rebels in the East of the country, but it still stands as far as I’m aware!

I was starving now as I had only had a cute little hotdog from a place in one of the subway stations, it was delicious but I needed something more substantial. After a quick google I headed to Veterano Pizzeria, I liked the name and I adore pizza!

The decor was so cool inside, with army memorabilia on the walls and table tops made from bullets. The food was really good too and I had a couple of beers to go alongside the pizza and cheesecake.

I spent the rest of the evening wandering down Khreschatyk St, a huge avenue runnning through central Kiev, it was stunning!

All the buildings were lit up and it was almost like Vienna in it’s grandiosity. So far Kiev was nothing like I was expecting, and I was super impressed. I stopped at Independance Square, where there was a huge mural of chains saying ‘freedom is our religion’, an I love Kiev sign and some cute statues.

I had walked so much today in the cold but I had enjoyed every moment. I would have missed a lot of things that I found by mistake if I had taken the underground or taxis/buses. I also thought it was amazing that half of Kiev seemed to be out, drinking coffee from little huts on the pavement all wrapped up. It was very European. On my way back to the hotel I passed this stunning building called Volodymyr’s Cathedral, I couldn’t wait to explore the rest of Kiev!

48 Hours in Minsk.

Entry to Belarus

Belarus is the forgotten child of Europe, more closely linked with Russia than any other nation, it’s only recently changed the rules for entry. When I visited I had just started applying for the visa, but stopped after they allowed 30 days entry through Minsk airport.

I flew through Vilnius in Lithuania as I couldn’t find any direct flights from the UK to Minsk, and my plan was to take a train to the Ukrainian City of Lviv. Unfortunately I didn’t read the fine print, which stated you had to leave through Minsk airport!

After a 3 hour train journey to the border, I was taken off the train and given a stern telling off and questioned by Belarusian border guards, made to sleep in an abandoned train overnight and shipped back to Minsk where I had to book a flight out to Kiev. I was lucky that one of the guards seemed to feel sorry for me, and came and got me in the morning before giving me instructions on how to get back to Minsk.

Belarus

While this was all a big hassle and meant I missed out on visiting Lviv it was certainly an adventure! I also really enjoyed my time in Minsk, it was such a different place to anywhere I had ever been before and I found it quite charming.

Located as far East in Europe as you can get before hitting Russia. Belarus shares a border with Poland and Ukraine and is the 13th largest country in Europe. 40% of it’s area is forested, making it one of the greenest countries in Europe. I had 48 hours to explore Minsk, the capital. A City that has reportedly been destroyed and rebuilt 8 times!

Minsk

I was visiting in November so it was pretty cold, but i was hoping for some snow to add to the beauty of the place. I arrived mid-afternoon and took a bus from the airport to the City centre which was around 45 minutes.

I decided to walk in the cold evening air to my hotel and enjoy some sights.I was staying at the Yubileiny Hotel which was near to a few of the things I wanted to see. It was very soviet, much like a lot of the City and a little old fashioned, but it was cheap, comfy and staff were very friendly.

My Top Sights

Number one on my list was the Museum of the Great Patriotic War otherwise known as WWII. We get a lot of Western history around the war, but I always fin dit interesting to see what happened in other parts of Europe and the World and the fact that they call it a completely different name intrigued me. So this was the first sight I wanted to look at. It’s also hard to miss, located on a hill in a huge green slice of land called Victory Park.

It’s amazing architecturally looking very modern but also with a hint of soviet in there. I had a wander around the park and then found an amazing statue of a soldier and his wife. It really spoke to me and I thought it was beautiful.

The museum itself is so interesting, loads of good information and everything had English alongside the Belarusian. The final memorial hall is also a must see, towering above you it’s a truly stunning place.

The next place on my itinerary was Minsk Old Town on Trinity Hill. I followed the river South for about 1km and had great views across to the cute traditional houses. Don’t forget to stop at the small island in front and check out the awe inspiring Sons of the Fatherland monument and the crying angel statue.

The old town has a few traditional shops and the cobbled street and pastel houses are nice to see. This area was actually built in the 1980s to show visitors a small slice of old Minsk as over 80% of the City was destroyed in WWII.

Crossing the river takes you over to more of the old town, with a cool statue of citizens using measuring scales, with a beautiful church in the background with it’s distinctive Eastern orthodox architecture.

In fact Minsk seemed to have hundreds of amazing statues dotted across the City. You can also find the Palace of the Republic here with it’s dominating architecture and the Palace of Culture.

I continued my journey down Praspiekt Niezalieznasci to the Belarusian State Circus, another grand old soviet building, you can come here to watch some interesting acts. Though I’m not sure what the animal welfare situation is like so I chose not to go to a show. There are a couple of funny statues just outside too, and Janki Kupaly Park is just across the road. I love how every park has to have some sort of statue mounted in it.

I decided to check out Gorky Park as well, which was just a little further up the road and across the river. There are so many green spaces in the City it’s brilliant, this one is home to an old fashioned ferris wheel and the planetarium.

It was a cold day and suddenly little snowflakes started falling as I walked through the park. It was beautiful so I sat for a moment to enjoy the scenery.

I also realised that Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who assasinated John F Kennedy had lived right around the corner from here, so I had to go check it out. I walked around the apartment block but couldn’t really find or see any evidence that he lived there but it’s a cool slice of history hidden away here.

I stopped at the National Art Museum to check out a exhibition on Lenin, the former head of Soviet russia and a revolutionary. This was interesting and apparently there are over 400 Lenin statues in Belarus alone. I love the soviet imagery, it’s so grand and imposing. The City really started to come alive as the sun went down and I headed back out into the streets.

I walked back towards the old town and stopped off at the State Opera house, I tried to buy a ticket but unfortunately the show for that night had sold out so get there early to buy your tickets.

I watched the sunset behind the little houses of the old town and walked back towards Praspiekt Niezalieznasci and Oktoberpl station, nearby is a little pyramid which shows the true centre of Minsk that all roads in Belarus lead to called Kilometre zero.

I walked straight down the street, passing lots of restaurants and shops to see the statue of the Archangel Michael, and a monument to the victims of nuclear war. Further down however was the main reason I wanted to walk all this way.

The statue of Lenin surrounded by these huge domineering communist era buildings. It was all very imposing and I visited in the day time too so I could get the contrast.

My last stop were the Gates of Minsk these resemble two castle towers. I had read that it was impressive at night and it certainly was, the towers are 11 storeys high and the clock weighs 300 kilos! They were built in 1953 at the height of soviet imperialism. I thought it was ironic that there is now a Mcdonald right next to it.

The Statues and monuments in Minsk are really cool, because of my border debacle I had to come back to Minsk and felt like I had seen a lot. So after a quick google I found this website http://tobelarus.com/minsk/64-sculptures.html and decided to do my own little tour. It was really fun and walking around I got to see a lot more of the City and the bas-reliefs are really impressive the best one can be found on Niamiha St.

I really enjoyed Minsk, I hope with the new tourist visas more people opt to come and explore this underrated City.

It’s a Quokka thing, Rottnest Island.

Today was a big surprise! We were headed to Perth for my Birthday, unfortunately the flight was delayed by about 5 hours so we arrived late. This left us little time to explore one of the most isolated Cities on earth, as we were only here for 2 nights and the main day was for Rottnest Island!

We arrived at the airport and took a taxi to our Hotel Rendezvous we dumped our stuff and headed out to find food. We headed straight to William Street where I had read about some cool sounding restaurants, and after wandering about for a bit we settled on this cute little Italian called Francoforte Spaghetti bar.

It was some of the best pasta either of us have ever had! We had the pasta broccoli and the eggplant sugo, and we just feeling very happy. Obviously we needed to follow this up with dessert so we headed to Whisk Creamery. This place is a pudding palace! I got a salted caramel cronut with vanilla soft serve. Craig opted for a fish shaped green tea ice cream Taiyaki.

The next day we were picked up at our hotel and whisked away to the Northern port at Hillary’s. We were given our bikes here while we waited for the ferry. It takes around 45 minutes to cross to the island and it was a very choppy sea that day!

You land on the Western side of the island and immediately have free reign to do whatever you like. The only cars on the island are maintenance vans and passenger buses so it’s super easy to cycle around.

We checked out the map and decided to try and do a full loop of the island after grabbing some refreshments, we set off. Starting off South we passed a few buildings and then we were out on our own, I was desperately trying to cycle and look for Quokkas, the reason we had come to the island.

Quokkas are small Marsupials that can only be found on Rottnest Island in the wild because of invasive species on the mainland. They’re also one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Balancing on the bike I spotted movement in the undergrowth and came screeching to a halt, I moved as stealthily as a 6″1 man can, and spotted a little Quokka! I was so happy and the little guy wasn’t bothered by us at all.

Continuing on we stopped at a couple of nice beach areas, and did a bit of rock climbing as I looked for sharks. They are often seen around Rottnest and the Western Australian coast. There’s a cool website you can use to see where the most recent sightings have been. We also stopped to look for Quokkas in the bush to no avail.

As we continued to cycle on we got a little lost, then the heavens opened up above us and the rain came pouring down! Without coats we got absolutely soaked, but we didn’t care as the sun came back out it seemed like hundreds of little Quokkas suddenly emerged from the undergrowth. One took a real shine to Craig and we got some great pics.

Totally happy despite our soggy clothes we cycled on to the big lighthouse in the middle of the island, it’s not free so we didn’t climb up, instead we sheltered from the next wave of rain next to the toilets.

Carrying on towards the South West we had some amazing views of the island, and more Quokkas! This time one decided I was very interesting and came hopping over to give me a sniff, we got some great selfies with him and started to dry off as the glorious sun came out.

Finally we reached the furthest tip of the island, and it was so worth it, the rock formations in the sea were incredible. We sat and had our little lunch and enjoyed the waves crashing through the rocks. This had taken us a few hours with stops along the way so we thought we better start the journey back.

On the way we saw more Quokkas, making my excitement at seeing the first little one a little over the top. The cycling started to get a little harder as I’m not the fittest, and even though it was mostly flat there are some steeper hilly bits, just don’t be too proud to stop if you need to! Again we stopped at a couple of nice points, it was a shame the weather wasn’t a little warmer as the beaches looked amazing with the white sand and clear blue waters.

As we neared our destination we passed a huge lake which smelt pretty eggy, like sulphur, with loads of different birds who didn’t seem to mind the smell one bit. Once we arrived back to the main area we had about an hour till our ferry. At first we were going to continue cycling but it started raining again so we settled for a couple of beers.

There were even Quokkas near the shops and restaurants! It’s probably harder to miss one than find them. We took the ferry back, and it was just as rough, I was in hysterics watching Mr Bean while Craig was trying his best not to be sick along with most of the other passengers. Soon we were back on dry land, handed our bikes back and back in Perth. After all that cycling we were ravenous, we thought we’d head back to William St but on our way we noticed that a burger chain called Grill’d were doing vegetarian night!

Feeling like it must have been a sign, in we went and ordered a classic veggie burger along with a beyond meat burger and 3 types of fries, including zucchini which were delicious! We sank a couple of beers, and then headed back to the hotel. It had been such a fun day out, those little Quokka are everything!

Temple trekking in Yogyakarta

After spending a few days in Bali just relaxing and really not doing much at all, I was looking forward to having a little adventure over on Java island. The City of Yogyakarta is only an hour and 20 mins away from Bali by plane and couldn’t be more different! The flight was cool, going over volcanoes peaking through the clouds.

This is more authentic Muslim Indonesia, less touched by tourists but with some amazing sights to see. I arrived early and after a taxi to my hostel, The Arjuna homestay. I booked a taxi through grab, it was 8 hours for £23. It was the first time I had used this feature and it was so good! Our first stop was Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist monument. It was built in the 9th century but was only rediscovered in 1815 completely covered in volcanic ash.

It took us about an hour to get there, and my driver parked up and pointed me towards the entrance. Be prepared for a lot of sellers trying to get you to buy food and souvenirs on the way in and out of the temple. It cost £16 to get in this was a combo ticket with a temple I would be visiting later, and I was greeted with an amazing approach to the temple to really set the scene. I started to climb this huge complex, its incredible, and even knowing it was restored I still couldn’t believe the magnitude of it. You could get lost going up and down the steps.

There were cool Buddha statues, with more than a few missing their heads and then towards the top you start to see these huge stone bell type structures, each one housing a Buddha. The views of the countryside from the top was also amazing.

The walk back was a bit depressing with some sad looking chained up elephants and more people trying to sell me stuff. I had to wait a little while for my Grab driver to turn up because it was call to prayer so I bought a big pocari sweat and relaxed in the shade for a little while

Our next stop was Mount Merapi, Indonesia’s most active volcano that last erupted in May 2018. I had read you could do a jeep tour of the lower volcanic slopes and see the volcano. Again we parked up and I was pointed in the right direction.

This time the jeep tour cost about £24, it would be less if you weren’t a solo traveller. I greeted my new jeep driver and hopped in. It was pretty fun driving off road, and crazy that you could see where old villages used to be. There was a huge eruption in 2010 that sadly claimed hundreds of lives.

We stopped at a few old buildings, with some possessions inside that you could see the effect the lava had on them and some background to Merapi. The mountain is sacred to Indonesians and they even have a shaman who looks after it.We drove past valleys formed by lava flows and took some pics at a place where huge chunks of rock had landed miles away from the volcano.

My driver was a full on Instagram photo shoot connoisseur, he had me trying all sorts of poses. Especially when we got to the view of the volcano, don’t expect to be that close as it’s so active. It was covered in cloud when we got there, but after ten minutes or so it cleared slightly and I got the view of the volcano! It’s pretty unassuming for something that has caused so much damage and death.

Our last stop was a bunker that actually got buried by 6 feet of lava. Sadly two men had taken refuge there and died from the heat. It was pretty eerie and not very big inside, I couldn’t imagine being trapped in there.

It was definitely a fun adventure and the jeep company were really good. It was now on to our last stop, Prambanan! This time we were heading to the largest Hindu shrine in Indonesia, and the second largest in SE Asia.It was built in the 9th century and believed to be a response to Borobudur, to show that Hinduism had claimed dominance in the region.

I loved it here, unfortunately a lot of the temples have been damaged over the years from earthquakes, looting and volcanic eruptions but it was beautiful. The temples that remain are so amazing. I arrived as the sun was setting and it gave the whole place a mystical quality.

You can climb up and explore inside some of the main temples, spotting little Hindu statues hidden away. I had a lot of fun taking pictures from different angles and took a lot of selfies I think! The temple complex is still used by the Indonesian Hindu community to perform sacred ceremonies and rituals.

There are so many temples in this area, but I didn’t have any more time to explore, so I walked back to the car. Again be warned that you have to walk through a small market to exit. With everyone trying to sell you things. Back at the hostel I wanted to check out Milas vegetarian restaurant nearby but I was tired and just had some veggie Nasi Goreng, dipped my legs in the pool and headed to bed. The hostel was nice at first, but when I woke up in the morning I had been bitten all over by what looked to be bed bugs! My first ever time after 15 weeks and 3 holidays in Asia.

Bohol adventure! Chocolate hills and Tarsiers.

Today was going to be a good day! I had my guy coming to pick me up in the morning for a full day of adventure.

I had a quick breakfast and off we went, our first stop was the Xzootic Animal Park, unfortunately this was a really run down zoo that didn’t look like the best place for the animals. I felt really awkward just being there and refused to hold the animals for pictures as it just didn’t feel right. If you’re offered a similar tour I would ask not to be taken to these ‘zoos’.

My driver was amazing though, he set my phone up to the tuk tuk Bluetooth and had us singing along to 80s and 90s power ballads, he was also great in stopping anywhere he thought I would find interesting so I could take pics.

Our next stop was an ecotourism park, basically it was just so I could zipline across this valley and back, all for about £5. It was great, at first I was a little apprehensive about the safety but once there I felt completely confident.

I loved it, zooming along with this amazing rainforest beneath me. A great way to get the blood pumping!

After this it was a little more sedate, we stopped at the man made forest. This place is beautiful, with mahogany trees forming a tunnel through the greenery. If you have more time there are some walking trails you can do through the forest too. It was also lovely and cool under the shade.

The chocolate hills were up next! Probably one of two reasons people head to this part of Bohol. Unfortunately they’re not giant hills made of chocolate, but are named because of the grasses that grow on them and turn brown when surrounded by a sea of green forest.

Nobody really knows why they’re there, these bumps in the scenery that stretch for miles in this one place. We arrived and my driver dropped me off, agreeing on a time to meet because he couldn’t park up by the visitors centre.

I had a quick browse of the souvenirs and looked out at the landscape. It was beautiful, there’s a stairway up to the top of this hill, which gives you 360° views of the hills surrounding you and a better idea of the peculiarities that they evoke.

Everyone up there were super friendly and offered to take pictures of me with the hills etc. It was a bit of a sweaty climb in the heat but you’re rewarded with a lovely breeze at the top.

It was another wonderful experience and I was so excited for the next one! We were off to see the Tarsiers. This is the other activity that Bohol is famous for. We stopped a couple of times on the way to get a drink and look out at the amazing countryside.

Then we arrived! Tarsiers are one of the smallest primates in the world, are fully carnivorous and they have the largest eyes per body size of all nammals and their status is critically endangered in the wild. Bohol is one of the only places in the world you can see these weird but adorable creatures.

The center was exactly what you would expect, with some information and then you entered the park, it’s a big space for them and there were employees stood almost guarding them against tourists getting too close or being too loud. It’s the only successful conservation center for tarsiers at present. Allowing them to live in a semi wild environment.

It was amazing seeing the Tarsiers, they remind me of little Gremlins.

This day had been so action packed and it was only mid afternoon! So our last stop was back in Loboc. The river cruises here are famous, it’s 250 peso and you get a buffet dinner, desserts and drinks with alcohol extra.

I found the queue system a little confusing but eventually made it onto the boat, which then lazily made it’s way upriver. There was music and we stopped twice to watch some traditional dancing. The food was good and I had a couple of beers to get into the spirit of things.

It was fun seeing the river in the day time and watching families fishing and kids playing with natural slides and rope swings.

You reach a small waterfall and then it’s time to head back to town. My driver took me back to the hotel and I lounged around in the gardens reading before getting another early night.

The next day I was leaving, but not before I took a morning paddle boarding lesson. This time it was just me and the instructor and after setting off I immediately got up onto my feet! Once you’re up I feel like it isn’t too difficult to keep your balance.

I had the most fun doing this, it was so serene and the instructor was really friendly. It took around an hour and a half in total as we leisurely paddled up stream. The water is such a vibrant blue/green colour.

Once back at the hotel, I paid up and started my journey back to Cebu Island via the Jeepneys. My driver from the day before even gave me a free lift to the Jeepney stop! The kindness from the Filipinos is unparalleled.

I arrived at the ferry terminal after stopping off at a small shrine to the blood pact the Spanish Legazpi made with the Chieftain of Bohol in 1565. I even had to ride clinging on to the back of a Jeepney which was definitely an interesting experience!

Anyway, I was soon on the ferry and ready to explore a little of Cebu City!

Gold Coast Getaway, Coolangatta.

So I had arrived in Melbourne, ready to explore a bit of Australia for a few months. So one of the first things we did was book a flight up to the gold coast.

The gold coast is Queensland’s second largest City/Metropolitan, it’s south of Brisbane and the beaches stretch over 43 miles of pure paradise.

The flight is so quick, and we were soon in an Uber to our cute little home for the next two nights. The Pink Hotel in Coolangatta is Instagram friendly, comfortable and cool. With a secret piano bar, a rooftop terrace and a rock bar.

Check in was nice and easy, the rooms were large with interesting features. We loved the pink fluffy flamingo robes!

After a quick freshen up we went out to explore Coolie. It was warm but with a cold wind and we decided to walk up around snapper rocks and to point danger. The beach was white sand, clear blue water and plenty of surfers, it was paradise.

We were pretty hungry, so we stopped for lunch at this great little place on the main strip called Raw Energy. The food was so good and very vegetarian friendly.

After that recharge we walked around the little peninsula at snapper rock, spotted brush turkeys, lizards and rainbow lorikeets, watched the surfers and enjoyed the beautiful views.

Up on point danger we looked out for whales, and checked out the monument to Captain Cook and some nice little war memorials. There were even turkeys up here! The views down the coast we stunning.

It was pretty windy up there, so we wandered back down and decided to stop for a beer. We chose the rainbow surf club, with it’s cute balcony overlooking the beach and ocean.

Lucky for us it was happy hour! So we sat and watched the surfers, the sun slowly going down and enjoyed ice cold beers. Then to our surprise we noticed fins in the water, and before we knew it a pod of dolphins started leaping, splashing and playing right in front of us to the backdrop of a hazy orange sun.

Sadly there were a lot of bushfires inland and you could see the smoke up high causing the sun to go an eerie red as it set.

This was such a great experience so we were buzzing as we walked back to the hotel. We got changed and decided to try Eddie’s Grub house, the bar attached to our hotel.

It was pretty cool, they had a really fun live band playing country/rock music. The beer was good and the food was delicious, especially the jalapeno hush puppies!

Filled up with great food, we walked over to an interesting statue, marking the divide between two states, Queensland and New South Wales. So we took a couple of fun pics of us in either state and took a little walk along the beach. We finished the night off with ice cream.

The next day we hit the beach, at first the weather was a little cold and wet, but by midday it had brightened up and we had fun paddling in the water, relaxing on the beach and enjoying our little picnic we had put together from the Woolworths on the main strip.

It was great to relax, and we spent most of the day here, going over to the rainbow club for more happy hour drinks and then enjoying the view from the top of the hotel.

Tonight we had a drink at the Coolangatta Hotel, watching the lorikeets come in to nest for the night. Then we walked over to have what is probably the worst pizza of my life. I always thought pizza was something you couldn’t get wrong, but Earth and Sea pizza restaurant managed it.

The pizzas came out with about a cm of water under the base so they were really soggy and super small for the price. Definitely avoid it!

It didn’t dampen our spirits though, so we got mcflurrys from McDonald’s and wandered back to the hotel. I peeked into the piano bar which looked really cool but we were getting up for sunrise in the morning so called it quits.

That morning we got up while it was still dark, got dressed and walked up to point danger. We stood looking out over the ocean, watching the sun slowly come up. Then the most amazing thing happened, we spotted something big come up out of the water and disappear.

There was a little pod of Humpback Whales swimming right past us! It was truly a breathtaking experience and my first time seeing Whales! Sadly they didn’t breach but they did a lot of tail slapping which was fun to see.

We were both super happy to enjoy this experience together, it’s definitely worth getting up early to catch a glimpse of these majestic animals.

Breakfast was at the Bread Social, a really good bakery where we shared a blueberry custard donut and savoury eggplant pie. It was delicious and we’d definitely recommend going there for breakfast/lunch.

The rest of the day was spent on the beach, swimming in the cool clear waters, walking along the surf and then it was nearly time to go! We ate some tasty pokebowls on the hotel rooftop and then took a taxi back to the airport. It’s less than ten minutes away so it’s a great place to stay.

Then we were back on a plane to Melbourne, through the smoky haze of the forest fires which gave the landscape a weird look.

It was a great little getaway and we’d definitely go back to Coolie! I can’t wait to explore more of Australia.

Bohol, a morning cave swim and a night time firefly paddle board.

I left Siquijor by ferry, this time doing a full loop up to Bohol and Panglao island. The only ferry leaves at 12:30 from Larena and takes around 1 hour 30. The price is only 500 peso!

I didn’t hang around at my hotel after the spider and bugs from the night before. So I went off by jeepney to the main town, got some cakes for breakfast and took a taxibike over to Larena. I was over an hour early so wandered around the town, there wasn’t much going on, so I waited at the port. After a lovely ferry journey I arrived on Bohol island! I took a taxibike to my hotel and arrived at around 14:30.

I had decided to stay one night at Natura Vista, an adorable looking ecolodge right by the beach. It was such a cute place, after the little hut on Siquijor it seemed like paradise. So I relaxed for half an hour or so then went down to the beach. I was enjoying these relaxing days having some beach time after so many Cities.

I watched the fishermen heading out for the night catches and the sunset was another stunner. I think the Philippines has some of the best in the world!

I ate at the hotel, some lovely veggies and rice and obviously a San Miguel. Then had a great spider-free nights sleep.

The next day I woke early, got up and ready and walked the 30 mins or so around to Hinagdanan cave. It was a fun little walk with some very random statues. I arrived at the caves and paid the 175 peso entrance.

The caves were amazing, the limestone has caused dramatic stalactites, but the best part was the cold lagoon that you could swim in. I was a little nervous at first as the only light coming in is from some holes in the roof.

Once I got in though I loved it, what a way to start the morning! I helped some girls take photos in return for my own. Then went back up to the hotel feeling refreshed.

I was heading to the jungle interior of Bohol this afternoon but I wanted to do it on the cheap. So I took a jeepney into Tagbilaran City. Walked up to the integrated bus terminal and had a quick wander around the mall. I bought some donuts and snacks.

Next was another jeepney to Loboc. Known for its scenic river and a gateway to some great adventures. I was staying at the Fox and Firefly, it was a little above my budget but totally worth it.

The main reason I wanted to stay there was the stand up paddle boarding, I had never done it before and was super excited to try. So obviously I booked a night time one to see fireflies for my first time.

I had dinner in the lovely open restaurant after checking in, and rested until it was time to go. There were only 4 of us, we put on our lifejackets and went straight out onto our boards after a quick lesson. We started by sitting on our knees and paddling.

Even at night it was amazing, we had to keep to the side of the river due to boats, but there were only a handful and otherwise the sky was beautiful, it was peaceful, and best of all we saw hundreds of fireflies.

Our guide took us to two trees that were absolutely covered in them. It was another awe-inspiring moment on my trip. I even managed to stand up for a bit on my board!

We headed back halfway and then took a truck back the rest. I chatted to the driver and he gave me a good price for a full Bohol tour the next day. I went to bed really happy and excited for what was next.

Facing my fears at Kawasan Falls

Today was going to be interesting! Over the last few years I’ve started to notice a real fear of heights and I couldn’t put my finger on where it came from. So I was heading to Kawasan Falls on Cebu Island, travelling from Oslob I took the bus again. I was heading south again to Liloan, the last stop. Then from here you have to take a bus going North, but along the West coast.

Kawasan Falls is famous for cliff jumping and canyoneering, but also for the beautiful turquoise waters. So hopefully I’d be able to do the jumps and get over my vertigo.

I made it to the entrance way and started walking up. There were taxi bikes offering to take you up and various tour companies offering canyoneering. It was a nice pleasant walk and I had decided to check out the waterfalls before doing any jumping/canyoneering.

I paid the small entrance fee, and found that the falls are quite the attraction. There are restaurants and shops all right by the big pool at the base of the falls. You could leave your belongings in a manned locker store which was good. I sat and watched people swimming in the water and going under the waterfall.

I decided I had to do the jumping. So I went over and booked a guide to take me up. We wound our way past a couple of waterfalls, up along the river and finally to a beautiful spot where we watched a couple of people jumping. It looked so high and I started to get very nervous.

We clambered up to the top of the rocks and he showed me where to jump. It was such an effort to get my legs to move, but I did it with a large (manly) scream. I couldn’t believe I had jumped! Then I realised my GoPro was no longer on my stick and it had floated to the bottom, as you can see from the video!

My guide was a hero, and dived down to get it for me, I made sure I tipped him later for the effort. I was now pumped and so I did the jump again, then went down a natural rock slide before swinging on a rope and falling into a beautiful turquoise pool.

It was so much fun! My fears had all gone and I couldn’t wait to do the next jump, this time it was a big one, off an amazing waterfall, I climbed onto the spot and jumped! My guide took over recording duties at this point, it was amazing and I got to go again. This time I could enjoy the quieter pool to swim in, then we went back to the main waterfall and parted ways.

I’d love to go back and do more canyoneering and it really made me feel like I had achieved something. I spent the next couple of hours having a beer and swimming some more. Then it was on to the next adventure!

Back at the main road I took the bus south to Liloan again, and stopped at the docks. This time I was taking a ferry to Dumaguete on the island of Negros. My stop off point to reach the small Island of Siquijor. The ferry journey was quick and easy, my hotel was cheap with breakfast and I enjoyed walking along the promenade.

Dumaguete is quite a big City and I stopped at Chowking to enjoy the national dessert dish of shaved ice, condensed milk an various weird sweets/beans/coconut and topped with ice cream, Halo Halo!

I also finally got my haircut after 5 weeks, had some tasty food at the chowking and a beer on the promenade. Then it was back to the hotel, bed and ready to leave for the ferry the next day.

Cebu Island and the Whale Sharks.

So I arrived in Cebu, and knew I wouldn’t get to Oslob, my next destination until the following morning. So I took the bus from the airport into the centre which was really easy. Then took a grab bike to my hotel, it was a cute place I ate in their restaurant and went to bed early.

I was up at 6am ready to walk over to the South Bus terminal. It was easy to find the correct bus and staff were helpful in buying a ticket etc. The bus takes around 3 and a half hours, it actually got pretty busy too as we wound our way South. It also only cost about £2! You can do a day tour but these can cost up to £80 each.

I was heading to a place where you’re guaranteed to see whale sharks, and as I had got closer to the day I started to read that it was a bit controversial. There are arguments on both sides of this, with some saying that by feeding the whale sharks the fishermen are interrupting their natural migration.

There were also issues with boats injuring the sharks, however there is also research that shows the coral and fish in the area are flourishing because the fishermen are no longer using poor techniques to catch, as they’re making money from us tourists. Plus the local government are continuing to introduce stricter rules when it comes to entering the water and numbers visiting.

I decided to check it out, I’d like to say it was out of interest but I definitely wanted to see these magnificent animals. They’re the biggest fish in the world, and are beautiful gentle beasts.

I arrived in Tan-Awan where I was staying, dropped my stuff off at the hotel and went straight to the Sharks. I got offered a few prices as I walked up, just ignore them and go straight to the people there. It cost me 1000 peso, which was around £15.

We sat through a very thorough guidelines video and talk of the dos and don’ts once we got in the boats, we had to shower before leaving to wash off any sunscreen as it’s damaging. The people working there genuinely seemed to care about the whales but it was pretty hectic.

Once in the boat you get taken out to a spot, jump in with snorkels and watch as the sharks glide past. Surfacing now and again, you couldn’t touch or go within 3 feet of them. Although the fishermen try to control the tourists there are some that are ignorant and try to get close. Also a lot of the tourists couldn’t swim but still jumped in and started thrashing about. So watch out for arms and legs that could hit you.

I was amazed by it all, I’m usually nervous being out of my depths and sharks terrify me, but I think I was so in awe of them that I didn’t even think about it.

The only thing I found uncomfortable was just the number of people in the water at the same time, and I’ve read that they are limiting numbers more and more which is good.

After the buzz of seeing these amazing sharks I decided to keep the adventure up and go to some nearby waterfalls. It cost 200 peso for return trip in a mototaxi, 20 peso entry and 60 peso return for motorbike down to the falls from the carpark. It’s only about 15 mins from the village.

Tumalog falls were incredible, totally different type of waterfall to what I’m used to. It’s about 100 metres tall, and instead of a steady flow of water it sprays down the side of this cliff sparkling in the sunlight. There’s a huge pool at the bottom that you can swim and relax in. Plus the rainforest environment is beautiful to relax in.

I spent a good two hours here, the water was cold and refreshing in the heat and I couldn’t stop looking at the waterfall from different angles.

After a full day I finally checked in to my hotel, Casa Bonita and chilled out for a bit then went for a wander around the little village. There wasn’t much going on, but there are a couple of little stores selling food and a few restaurants. I ate at the hotel again. Some lovely fried veggies and rice. Then I was ready for another busy day tomorrow.