Brussels in 48 hours.

Brussels, capital of Belgium and home to the EU. The only reason I visited here the first time was because of cheap flights. My friends and I were desperate to get away somewhere and it cost about £25 return each.

After a few days here, I fell in love. There’s so much to see and do! The food is great and the beer is some of the best in the world.

I returned recently to relive some experiences and to find some new sights and it was just as magical. The gay scene here is also top notch.

We were based right next to the Grand Place, a huge square surrounded by some of the most extravagant and beautiful buildings you’ll see in Europe.

Starting off as a market square sometime in the 11th century, it’s now home to the town hall, old guildhalls and the City museum. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site.

From here head down Rue Charles Buls to one of the strangest attractions I’ve ever seen in a country. The Manneken Pis is a 17th century fountain of a young boy having a wee.

There were big crowds here both times I visited, he gets dressed up for festivals and holidays, and you can’t go 10 feet without seeing a souvenir with him on it.

They even built a female version called Jeanneke Pis. Don’t spend much time here, but rather enjoy the cool street art dotted around and indulge in a Belgian waffle or some frites with mayo.

A beautiful area of the City is the Parc De Bruxelles, a lovely green space which leads up to the Palace De Bruxelles. You can walk down through the Parc Bruxelles to get back to the main part of the City.

For those interested in street art, this is the City to go to. I spent a couple of hours following this map here. My advice? Wander around and stop at the many bars for a real taste of Belgian beer along the way.

You can admire the beautiful old architecture along the way, my walk took me out to the canal, before heading back into the City via Plaine de Jeux Quai A la Houille and it’s cute pigeon soldier statue.

I followed the square down, past Fontaine Anspach to St Catherine’s church. Then stopped for a few beers and to watch some football. I got chatting to an American Dad and Son and we had a good time enjoying the beers and watching the football.

We ate on Rue des Bouchers, something which I wouldn’t recommend, it’s all catered towards tourism, although the street is cute to walk along, the food was the worst we had and it was Moules a Frites! a staple of Belgian cuisine.

That night was spent singing karaoke and dancing away. We went on a day trip the following day to Bruges, but it was literally a downpour so we didn’t do much there apart from a very wet boat ride and sampling Belgian beers.

If you get chance, head out towards the Atomium, an exhibition space that’s a very interesting building especially from the outside. It was built for the world fair in Brussels.

Just along from here is a miniature recreation of Europe! Although not essential it’s a pretty fun place to wander around and see each countries most famous sights.

There’s even a space rocket launch at the end!

A Trip to Toledo.

Toledo is a City in Spain about a 45minute train journey South of the countries capital, Madrid. One of it’s earliest mentions is from 193BC by a Roman general, so it’s pretty old! It’s also a UNESCO world heritage site and has cultural influences from Christians, Jews, and Muslims as well as Roman and Visigoth.

Although Madrid is a cool City, we wanted a bit of medieval history and I thought Toledo looked like a great place to take a day trip to. So after having Breakfast at Plenti, a cute little place not far from our hotel.

We walked over to the train station and got our tickets. It was a little pricey as we were taking the tourist train. I’ve since heard you can get the tickets for much cheaper, especially if you plan ahead. Make sure you check out the lovely tropical garden in the oldest part of the station.

The train journey was pleasant as we passed through the dry Spanish countryside, and as soon as we arrived I knew we were going to love it in Toledo! The station opened in 1920 and was designed to imitate the architecture of the City, it was gorgeous and the tiling inside was so pretty.

The walk up to the walled City isn’t too taxing, and the first sight you get is magnificent, Toledo has a river running alongside it, so you see the bridge over to this walled Citadel and a huge palace sat at the top.

After taking a few pictures we ran up to the bridge and crossed, passing underneath a gatehouse. It’s a little bit of a steep walk up but you can stop and take a look back from a huge terrace halfway up.

We carried on and after passing a statue of a very dapper looking gent, we found ourselves on Zocodover plaza, we picked one of the many streets ahead of us and started our exploration.

The shops are filled with medieval antiques, classic spanish food and wine and a lot of souvenirs. Our favourite street was Calle Comercio because of the view down to the cathedral.

Along the way we even found a shop that had roman ruins in it’s basement that you could look at for free beneath a glass floor! The walled area of Toledo isn’t too big so it’s easy to wander without fear of getting lost, which is exactly what we did.

We soon found ourselves at the Monastery of Santo Domingo Real, built and run by Nuns since 1364. It’s a beautiful building with the interior to match.

Our only problem so far was that every church or monastery wanted to charge a pretty large fee to enter, we wanted to climb up the belltower of one church but it was over 10E, I don’t mind donations but charging to enter a church is a bit much.

After reaching the Puerta del Sol or ‘South Gate’ we turned back to stay inside the City walls, following a street along to more panoramic views of the countryside and the river.

Turning into the City we decided to head towards the huge tower that is Toledo Cathedral. Work on the cathedral began in 1226 and it wasn’t completed until 1493! It’s a huge building and very grand with it’s gothic architecture.

It’s so big you almost can’t get it all in to one picture it’s said to be this size to cover the sacred space that the old mosque held before it. It was nice to sit and gawk at it in the square at the front, with it’s majestic stained glass windows and 146ft height! It was early afternoon at this point and we were hungry.

So we found a cute little restaurant off the main streets in a small plaza. We shared a beautiful vegetable paella, olives and a a couple of glasses of Spanish Rioja, the sun was shining and it was a perfect lunch. Obviously we had to finish it off with some churros, the famous spanish elongated donuts with choc sauce.

Once we were finished it was time to check out the Alcazar of Toledo, built up on the highest part of Toledo you can see it from miles around. There was originally a Roman fortification built here in the 3rd century but much of the Alcazar was destroyed in the Spanish Civil war and had to be rebuilt between 1939 and 1957.

The Alcazar is impressive, but we loved the little park just beneath it, where you can stand on the turrets and look out across the valley to the military academy on the opposite hill.

Honestly the views are incredible and it was sad to say goodbye to them, but we didn’t want to get back into Madrid too late as we were checking out one of the art galleries it’s famous for.

On our way back down we noticed a cute little marzipan shop and decided to have a look inside. The lady that worked there was wonderful and let us try a few things, they were so delicious we had to buy some sweets and marzipan ice cream, yum! Once we reached the other side of the river we realised we still had 40 minutes or so till our train, so we took a little stroll along the river bank.

It was nice to get another angle of the City, and there was a cool abandoned building on bank which looked like an old mill house. We slowly wandered back under the bridge and down to the station, on our way we found a fun Toledo sign to take a pic of.

I’m sure there are a few things we missed out on seeing in Toledo, but half the fun is exploring without using a guide or map and seeing what you discover.

It’s so old, Craig loved it as there aren’t any buildings like those in Australia. The train back was nice and relaxing after a full day of walking and we both ended up having a little power nap before arriving back in Madrid.

48 hours in Kiev, Day 2.

Kiev is such a vast City, the day before I had done a good job of walking around a lot of it, but I still had so much more to see. Read about Day 1 in Kiev

I began the day by walking toward Khreschatyk Street, the main street in Kiev, on my way I passed this beautiful old wooden gate called the Golden Gate, it’s a replica of the original gateway built in the 11th century.

The square it’s located in was also really nice, I got a coffee from a vendor to wake up a little and sat watching the world go by while I enjoyed it. I decided to go into the gate, it only cost 50p and it had lots of history info inside, but the views from the top, looking out over the City made it really worth it.

Afterwards I walked over to St Sophia’s Cathedral, an Orthodox church founded in 1037. It’s an absolutely beautiful building with amazing turrets covered in green and gold.

Entry was super cheap and it was just as lovely inside as out, make sure you climb the bell tower! From here you can walk around the cute Sophia Square, make sure you check out the Bohdan Khmelnytsky Monument, dedicated to the man who led a revolt against the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom in 1648.

Directly across the square is another amazing religious building, St Michael’s Golden-Domed Monastery. Originally built between 1108 and 1113 it was demolished by the Soviets in the 1930s but rebuilt in 1999 following Ukrainian independance.

It’s free to go inside, look out for the statue of archangel michael and the refectory. Also just watch out for people trying to dress you up and hold animals for pictures, in the square they were pretty aggressive to some tourists. Just be firm from the get go if you don’t want a picture.

On my way to the next sight, I passed another Monument to the victims of famine in 1933 and a monument to Princess Olga who acted as a regent for her son between 945 and 960ad.

This area was really pretty with some gorgeous looking buildings. I was heading towards the National History Museum of Ukraine but I got a little side tracked at a booze festival in the Arthall D12 building. It was incredible, I had some mulled wine and tried a couple of local beers, it was really interesting wandering around and checking out the different stalls. I even tried these garlicky blue cheese snails!

Feeling a little tipsy I finally headed over to the Museum and learned a bit more about the Crimean annexation by Russia and a little bit more of the history between the two countries.

It was certainly an eye opener and there was also loads of information about Ukraine’s history. There’s a cute little Tithe Church in the same square as the museum and you get some great views of another big orthodox place, St Andrew’s Church.

I honestly don’t think I would get bored of looking at these, the architecture is amazing.

If you want souvenirs then walk down Andriivs’kyi descent, it’s filled with hawkers selling all sorts of local wares, stop for a coffee and enjoy the vibe. I was pretty hungry so I wandered past Kontraktova Square and the Monument Petra Sagaidachnogo and found myself on a street of the same name.

There were loads of restaurants to choose from but I ended up in Star Burger and it was so tasty. I got the bacon cheddar with fries and coleslaw, delicious!

Powered up I went to explore the Ukrainian Chernobyl Museum to learn a little more about the nuclear disaster before heading there myself the next day, you can read all about that adventure here.

There’s a huge monument to Volodymyr the Great who brought christianity to Ukraine and solidified it as an empire by 980ad back past the Star Burger, and you can wander around Volodymyr Hill one of many green spaces in the City. I did a little wandering around before taking the funicular back up the hill.

It was getting towards evening at this point, so I wandered back towards the national museum and checked out the Park Landscape Alley and Peizazhna Alley to look at some random quirky pieces of art, the missile half buried was a particular highlight! I found some cool pieces of street art around this area too, and loads of cool bars.

So I picked one and spent a couple of hours watching the football and chatting to the locals about current events in Kiev which was awesome. They even pushed me to try pigs ear after I told them my horror story of trying it in Lithuania and it was delicious, it was everything I thought it was going to be the first time.

It was getting late now, and I had to be up really early for my Chernobyl tour, so I half walked half staggered back to my hotel, stopping off at Veterano pizza again before going past the Red House on the way through Taras Shevchenko Park.

Kiev has truly been a complete surprise at how much I’ve loved it, there is so much to see and do and such a rich history. The architecture is unreal, the food and drink good and the people are really open and friendly. There is loads more I saw and did that I can’t even fit into the blog posts, so many cool statues and monuments, parks and the underground/tram systems are cool too.

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.

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.

48 Hours in Manila

So, before I left on my journey around SE Asia, all the info I found on Manila was basically telling me not to go. The capital of the Philippines does not have a good reputation, a lot of it is centred around the awful traffic, while other bits I read just said it was too vast, too run down to bother with. In my opinion, you’re missing out by not exploring this wonderful capital.

My plan was to spend just a couple of nights there, spend one day exploring and take a flight over to Palawan the next day. After checking hotels I decided to book one well in advance for my first night and stay somewhere really nice, at least that way I could enjoy the hotel even if I didn’t enjoy Manila that much. The thing that hit me immediately about Manila was that I had suddenly arrived in a place in Asia, that uses pesos as currency, has San Miguel adverts everywhere and my taxi driver was called Pedro. I was in love.

I arrived from Taiwan early and the first thing I did was get a sim card, I think it cost about £10 for 5GB of data, and I soon had the Grab app up and running, this time I booked a pool journey over to Makati as it was so cheap. It took about 45 minutes, and traffic was pretty congested as we got further into the City but I think being prepared for the worst helped me. The City Garden hotel was incredible when I arrived, great service, big comfy room and an amazing rooftop pool.

I decided to freshen up and head straight out, and Grab was a godsend during my stay in Manila getting me about everywhere for cheap cheap prices, I booked one to take me up to the old Intramuros area again this took around 40 minutes or so but cost about £4. The driver dropped me off at Rizal park and I had a great little wander around there, the Philippines has such an incredible history of Spanish colonialism followed by American influence and the destruction that WW2 wrought, and this park had tributes to some of the leaders of an independance movement.

Rizal was a key member of the Filipino independence movement who was executed by the colonial Spanish government after the Philippine revolution, which was partly inspired by his writings.

Realising I hadn’t eaten anything since morning, I noticed a fast food joint across the road from the park called Jollibee. I would later find out that this is a Filipino institution and is found pretty much everywhere across the country. I walked in and soon realised that there wasn’t much for a vegetarian so ordered a milkshake and large fries and tucked in. Refreshed and rejuvenated with the echoes of Jollibee songs stuck in my head, I walked up to the gates of Intramuros and Fort Santiago.

Fort Santiago is a citadel that was built around 1590 and is one of the only remaining historical sites in Manila. Built and occupied by the Spanish, it has also experienced British, American and Japanese rule. Intramuros is the surrounding area contained within the old walls, and I started my exploration of the area.

I realised I could walk along the old walls and immediately bounded up the steps, here I found beautiful views of the City and surrounding area. The old moat area has been turned into verdent golf course, lush with grass and plants and a sharp contrast to the ram shackle city towers.

I wandered along the walls, marvelling that this was free and apart from a few kids shielding themselves from the sweltering sunshine it was just me. After some time I decided to head back down into Intramuros, grabbed a beautiful pineapple shake for about 50p and found some very cool old colonial buildings and churchs as I wound my way towards the Fort.

I soon found the Fort and entered for around 75 pesos. There’s not a great deal to it, but it’s very beautiful, a long wide avenue takes you down to the main gate and walls, whuch you cross a small moat to enter. Then you find yourself in a big green courtyard with some amazing old walls, a few buildings open to explore and some more great views over the river and City. It’s also got a great museum centred around Rizal and his life and death, as he was jailed here in 1896 and executed.

As with most executions of political revolutionaries this only caused more strong will in the Filipino people for independence. The thing I appreciated the most about Rizal’s story, was his insistance that education and national identity were the main things in achieving freedom.

After around and hour and a half I had explored every inch of the Fort I decided it was time to head back towards the hotel but taking the long way around as an adventure. Little did I know just how long it would be. As I walked towards the exit to Intramuros I found some amazing street art which I had to get pictures of, and found some old artillery which was pretty cool.

Once out of Intramuros I took another grab to the seafront which I thought would make a lovely walk, how wrong I was, looking out across the bay it seemed the waves were made of garbage, and the small shacks dotted along the promenade were people’s houses. It was the first and last time in the Philippines that I felt unsafe and upset about the amount of rubbish.

With this in mind it seemed like a good idea to head into the City and the general direction of the hotel, hopefully via a huge mural on the side of a building. I stopped at a 7/11 for snacks and pocari sweat to re-hydrate and carried on my walk. It took me through some very interesting areas to say the least before I finally found it, but I never felt unsafe. By now it was getting late and I realised I was walking along a triple carriageway on what barely counted as a curb.

So it was back to grab and what was a 30 minute walk on google maps turned into an hour and 15 minute journey by car, in all fairness it was rush hour, and I had a great chat to my taxi driver Carlos. Now extremely sweaty, covered in a fine layer of dust a shower seemed appropriate before heading up to enjoy the sunset and city lights of Manila from the rooftop.

An ice cold beer and a cooling dip in the pool was just what I needed, and I got chatting to two Canadian girls who had missed their flight to Palawan that day and had to book a last minute hotel. They seemed to be taking advantage of it as they ordered some more shots for us all. As we hung over the rooftop edge enjoying the heights and the sunset, we agreed to get ready before meeting up later for some drinks.

Now anyone who knows me, knows I take around 15-20 minutes to get ready, including a shower. This left me ready with time to spare before we met, so I went off in search of food, as my stomach suddenly reminded me I had barely eaten all day. The hotel is located near some really cool bars on and around Don Pedro street and I was excited to try them out.

I found a cute little kebab place that did falafel and rice, it was cheap, huge and delicious, in fact it was so big I probably didn’t need the fries I got, but they seemed to disappear quite quickly too. Fuelled up I walked back along the street to a great looking bar with a little terrace I had noticed earlier.

I found a little spot overlooking the street and ordered and amazing take on the old fashioned, the girls messaged me to let me know they were on their way, so I leaned back and relaxed. Once they arrived we ordered some of the bars locally brewed beers and swapped travelling tales. Beofre we knew it the bar called for last orders, so we discussed further drinking plans with a final beer.

The girls had noticed another street nearby full of bars, so off we trotted in search of more drinks. P. Burgos street was a complete contrast to where we had been, big bold brash and full of expats, I think the best way to explain it is by the first thing I was offered by a young man on the street….viagra. Not letting it deter us we stopped at one of the many bars along here sat down, ordered some beers and people watched.

Before long the night was up, so we walked back along to the hotel, making those sort of drunk plans to meet up further along the line that we all knew would never happen. Back in my big comfy hotel room I soon slipped off to a peaceful sleep.

The next day I moved hotels to a cheaper hostel called The Fort Budget hotel, I was in a sharing room which was fine for the price and they had an amazing rooftop area that you could enjoy. So I dropped my stuff off here and took a short walk to the Bonifacio area. It used to be part of the Philippine army camp, but after a lot of redevelopment it’s now one of the most financially successful areas of Manila, and a complete change of scenery to the metropolitan area I had walked around yesterday.

It’s all big shiny skyscrapers, wide avenues and lots of greenery. I actually thought it was a beautiful City inside a City but it’s crazy that all this wealth is in Manila but you still have slums everywhere too.

My main reason to explore this area was to check out some of the street art on offer here, I had found a really great map to follow which showed some of the more prominent works. I stopped for a quick pancake session at an IHOP, somewhere I loved back in the states, it also showed the relationship between the Philippines and the United States, a lot of American culture has been adopted by the Filipinos.

So filled with red velvet pancakes I was ready to go! I checked the map and decided to visit the American-Manila WW2 cemetary. It’s a beautiful and peaceful memorial to the lives lost in WW2 in the Pacific battles against Japan and subsequent liberation of the Philippines by the United States.

The grounds with white crosses spreading out in every direction was very sombre and impactful, while the main memorial in the centre was exremely informative about the battles that had happened. It’s something I didn’t have much knowledge of previously so it was good to learn a little more about the history of the Philippines during the war. It’s also free to enter and a great oasis from the metallic City surrounding it.

I walked from here to the art centre, with a few really cool murals hidden around it such as a giant astronaut and a cool bookcase showcasing aspects of culture from around SE Asia.

A lot of the next bits of art work were located in and around Bonificao high street, ranging from small pieces hidden down side streets to huge murals! I was really loving it and the high street was actually really impressive too. If you enjoy shopping it’d be a great place to visit, I had a great time visiting a huge book store, some interesting clothing stores and there was so much choice for food!

Back to the street art, I found an amazing Stranger Things mural and a really cool Filipino farmer mural. This self -guided tour had taken up most of the day, but even as I walked back to my hostel I found some more really cool pieces.

I got back to the hotel via a 7/11 with evening snacks and drinks, and I sat watching this vast City go by from the rooftop. I really enjoyed Manila, but it was time to head out for a bit of beach life and adventure.

Temples, Tamsui, and Taipei 101. Taipei part 2.

Today I was visiting one of the previous holders of tallest building in the world, the Taipei 101 tower! I was super excited as I love the design and could add it to my list after visiting the Petronas towers in Kuala Lumpur.

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I am getting a little ahead of myself though, as first up I was going to get a little culture, a little nature, and some amazing food. Taipei is huge, especially when you include the surrounding areas, but luckily the rail system is amazing. Today I planned to head North stopping off at some interesting sights along the way.

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My first stop was Yuanshan and the Taipei Confucius temple. Confucius was a Chinese philosopher who began the way of life or religion ‘Confucianism’. It’s a cute temple with lots of cool architecture, it also has a plaque inscribed by Chiang Kai-Shek which translates as ‘Education without discrimination’.

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Next up on the tour is something you’d never expect in a City, Mangroves! I took the same metro line to Hongshulin, and after a little education on the mangroves I wandered along raised wooden walkways looking for snakes and crabs. It is pretty cool that there are mangroves just a short journey from the centre of a huge City like Taipei.

The weather wasn’t great but I didn’t mind, I had my waterproof jacket and decided to walk along the water front to Tamsui, my next stop. Tamsui is famous for its Old Street, full of restaurants and shops but it was also the site of a Spanish colony. This was built in 1629 but in 1641 the Dutch expelled them from the island and took over the fort.

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It soon went to the Chinese and became a major port, but recently it has become a big tourist destination thanks to all the amazing food and waterfront views. On a clear day you can see an old volcano on the opposite side of the river too!

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I made it to the town and instantly fell in love with the seaside vines, architecture and especially this little side alley and staircase with amazing realistic artwork painted all over the walls and floor. It was a really pretty little area and even with the rain coming down I loved taking pics of it all.

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I walked along the waterfront and up to the old Spanish fort of Santo Domingo. This is just an okay tourist location. Some interesting history of the area but I wasn’t blown away by it.

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I followed the path up past the Oxford College and back down to the main street. I was starving and it was lunch time, so I did what any normal person would do, bought a whole cheesy egg cake and munched down! It’s one of the most delicious things I’ve ever tried wobbling about in its box.

I didn’t quite finish it all in the end, popping it in my bag for later, it was time to jump back on the metro to Jiantan. I had read you could do a little hike in some hills here in the middle of the City which really appealed to me. So I found the little path near the station and up I went.

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t was a nice walk through the trees and if it weren’t for the clouds it would’ve been an amazing view from up there. Luckily the walk coincided with another sight…The Grand Hotel. It’s one of tallest Chinese classical buildings in the world at 285 feet high. It’s pretty impressive, and several notable people such as Eisenhower, Nixon, Mandela, and Yoshida.

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My aim from here was to get to Elephant mountain on the East side of the City. Using google maps I organised a route to take that would go past a couple of points of interest, first up was the 823 artillery park memorial, dedicated to the conflict between Taiwan and China in 1958. There were a couple of military planes and guns and a memorial statue, and some weird bird that I got a little video of.

I saw there was some kind of arch of Yuanshan scenic area but that would have taken me back up into the hills I believe. SO it was onwards to the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ shrine. The building houses 390,000 spirit tablets of people killed in the various wars that the Taiwanese have been involved in. I was lucky enough to arrive there during the changing of the guard which was a great experience. I also loved the architecture with another wide avenue and interesting buildings surrounding it.

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Eventually I made it to Dazhi station and took the underground over to Xiangshan station. I was really looking forward to this as I wandered past a little ecological park for tree frogs, unfortunately I couldn’t see any. At the end of Xiangshan park is the trail up Elephant mountain. I wasn’t too concerned about the hike up and bought a pPcari sweat to keep me going. However it’s actually pretty difficult going up all the steps in the heat and you climb it quite quickly. I had to take a rest about halfway up before getting some amazing views….The reason you climb the mountain is to get a great picture or image of the Taipei 101 tower. At one point there are two rocks which you can climb up to get a really great shot.

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I really enjoyed this and finished walking to the top, amazed at the nature you can find in the middle of this massive place. After seeing the tower from afar it was now time to climb it! I walked over rather than took the underground and planned to go up for sunset. The problem was the enormous cloud coverage. So instead I opted for a night time view.

Whilst waiting I went to  food court at the basement of the tower and feasted on kimchi ramen, once done I was ready to go! It costs around £15 to go to the top, which is quite a lot but compared to a lot of places around the world it’s not too bad. I queued up before taking the lift up to the top, and the views were unreal. I love being so high in a City and being able to see everything for miles. I was glad I went after sunset too as I saw the City come alive with all the lights.

After a while walking around and learning a bit more about the construction of the tower, it was the tallest building in the world from 2004 until the Burj Khalifa was built in Dubai. In 2011 it won an award for being the tallest green structure in the world, and it has amazing features to withstand earthquakes and tropical storms.

It’s design is based around the traditional Asian pagodas, along with a stalk of bamboo and Chinese money boxes stacked on top of one another. It’s truly an architectural marvel.

 

After such a big day of exploring I was ready for a beer, so after a quick change back in the hotel I walked over to the gay area behind the red house near Ximen station. I was surprised at how many bars and people were there. I enjoyed a few beers in one of the main bars in the square, then headed to a club called Commander D. It was fun but as one of the only Westerners there it was hard to get away from a lot of unwanted attention.

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I was soon back in my little underground bunker bed, hoping for a really fun day out tomorrow.

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Heading to Taipei, Capital of Taiwan.

Today I was off to my next Taiwan destination, the capital Taipei! It’s an easy journey from Taichung. I took the regular train which took around 2 and a half hours, but you can also take a bus or the high speed rail which only takes around 40 minutes!

I opted for the regular train from Taichung main station to save some cash but also to enjoy the Taiwanese countryside. If you want to take the high speed just hop over to Xinwuri and the high speed rail station.

The train journey was very comfortable and I arrived in Taipei around midday. The York hotel was just a short walk south of Taipei station on Nanyang St. It was also a bit of a shock! I’d only briefly glanced at the photos when I booked my room, so when I arrived I was given a key and room number and told to go down to the basement.

When I got there it was completely decked out like a nuclear bunker! It was actually pretty cool and fun after the initial shock and for less than £20 a night to have my own room in the centre was pretty good!

I dumped my stuff and checked my lovely planet guide and found an architecture walk I could take, so thinking I’d give it a try I headed out to explore Taipei.

The start of the walk was a little further from the hotel, so I incorporated the Huashan 1914 creative park into my little tour. It’s an art and film hub located in and around an old sake factory. It was pretty interesting to wander around with some cool exhibits.

So far I was impressed with Taipei, it was super quirky and futuristic but with a lot of traditional buildings around too. I started this self guided walking tour, and soon found myself extremely bored and regretting it. I’m not sure if it was my architectural ignorance or if it was just not very interesting.

The mayor’s residence art salon was ok, but probably the highlight. Luckily the tour didn’t take too long and it ended right by a much more interesting spot. First up was the East gate, a reconstruction of the old Japanese gate that once stood there.

Not far from here is Liberty Square. The central point of Taipei, not only is the Liberty Arch here but also the Chiang Kai-Shek memorial hall. Chiang is a controversial figure, a Chinese general who fought the Japanese in WWII but also ruled as a dictator. However he is seen as a hero on Taiwan for repelling the Communist advance from Mao.

It’s a beautifully created square, vast and open and I really enjoyed learning some history of Taiwan. It’s an interesting place as they take so much influence from both Japan and China. As you can see below the memorial building is amazing too.

From here I checked out the President’s office building and took a detour through the peace park nearby. Getting a little taste of tranquility in the big City.

My next destination was the north gate, and from here I wandered through a pretty interesting part of Taipei, with some great old buildings and a bit of street art to Ximen district and the Red house.

Built as a market in 1908 it’s now used as a theatre and for shopping, but it’s a pretty interesting building. Plus behind it is the main gay area in Taipei. Ximen as a district was also really cool, filled with little food stalls, futuristic shops and arcades and an awesome street art section.

It really reminded me of Japan, and the street art was out of this world, I probably spent an hour wandering the back streets finding more art stuff to look at, and I easily could have spent longer.

Once I’d had my fill of the graffiti, I needed my food fix. So I checked the maps and noticed a night market about 30 minutes all north. So off I went! On the way I discovered a cute little park that was a reservoir in WWII used to put out fires from air raids. A market was built on top of this and then demolished after years of decline.

Finally I made it to the market and was overloaded to the max with sights, smells and tastes. I had tasty vegetable gyoza, some more eggy pancakes, and ice cream to finish! It was late now, so I took the underground back to my hotel. After a little planning I was soon fast asleep.

24 Hours in L.A.

How do you spend a short amount of time in a City as vast as Los Angeles? Part of it depends on where you’re staying, and what you’re interested in.

Flying through from London on my way through to Melbourne, it almost felt like the pressure was off to see and do things in L.A. However, I was meeting Craig there and we had 2 nights and one full day to try and capture at least a small essence of California life.

Our hotel was a little far out (Woodland hills) and we knew traffic could be horrendous and time consuming, but after a chilled first night we were ready to go. The LACMA was high on our list, mostly for the amazing Urban Lights installation. A collection of lamp posts might not sound interesting, but check out the pics! Definitely an instagrammable spot.

The LACMA itself was actually closed on a Wednesday! So we had a little wander around the grounds, checking out some of the weird arty installations and the Brea tar pits, where I met a lovely giant sloth! I thought this was a cool little side quest to the main adventure of the day.

We then walked over to The Grove, an outdoor shopping area which is pure USA. We stopped at Sprinkles cupcake and picked the tastiest looking one.

Next up on our list was Monty’s burger, a purely vegan burger place that was recommended to me by a friend. Located in Koreatown it was so easy to take the bus along West 3rd Street. The best thing is that even the ‘plastics’ and containers are compostable.

Monty’s was amazing! A little pricey but the burgers and tater tots were soooo good, made from impossible fake meat patty’s we took 2 doubles and shared the tots. The vibe inside was very cool too. Another perfect Instagram moment.

Our next stop was downtown and the Arts District, so we hopped back on the bus, only costing us $1 each for the ride into the City. We got off near Pershing Square and walked over to 4th Street to start the Arts trail. This end of downtown is a little run down with some interesting characters, but there was some very cool street art to be found.

I had noticed a couple of brewery’s on Google maps and the Arts District brewery was out first stop. It’s located in an old warehouse and there’s plenty more street art to be seen around this area including a few pretty famous ones.

The beer was good, the weather was amazing and we sat outside watching the world go by. Angel City Brewery was next up and even better, their outside space is amazing, free water and some cool pieces of art to look at as you drink. I also had a great pineapple beer here and there was such a great vibe. If you are in L.A. for a while I’d definitely recommend it.

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Our plan was sunset at Santa Monica, and after getting a bus that didn’t really go anywhere, we checked and realised we could take a train the whole way. So we jumped on the blue line, and realised we were on the wrong blue line 😆. So we quickly got off and made our way onto the correct train.

It took about 45 minutes to get over to Santa Monica and there were some nice views over the City. We arrived just in time to get to Santa Monica pier for the sun to set. It was absolutely stunning and we loved wandering up the pier and being on the beach.

At this point we were starving, so we went to 800 degrees for pizza and salad, once you get over the weird ordering system the food was so good, it was pretty cheap, around £30 for mains and drinks total. After both of us flying across the Atlantic and Pacific respectively we were pretty tired so it was a cab ride home and bed.

The next day we only had a few hours to spare before flying on to Australia. So we decided to do the Getty museum, located on the 405 near Beverly Hills, it was built by the Getty family, a huge oil tycoon who loved art. The best thing? It’s free!

Our Uber took so long because of traffic, so always bear that in mind when planning L.A.

The architecture of the place is actually incredible, and there are some interesting pieces from Turner, Monet and Van Gogh. I liked the contrast of each building housing different examples of art such as photography or historical pieces.

The highlight for us was the central gardens, with beautiful landscaping and views over the City, we loved just wandering through looking at the different plants and flowers.

We had our lunch in the cafe, this was a nice food court type place with plenty of choice, even for vegetarians. Knowing the traffic could be bad we headed back to Woodland Hills and got some snacks and booze to take back to Australia from Westfield mall.

L.A. is so big it can feel a little daunting to get around and see things, but it’s definitely worth making that extra effort. If the weather has been a little less windy on our first day we would’ve hiked up to the Hollywood sign which is still on our list! I hope this gives you a little inspiration of things to do with limited time and budget.

36 hours in Berlin.

So an impromptu visit to Berlin was on the cards, I’ve visited before and loved it as a City. This time we were going over for a concert and a quick sightseeing adventure.

Arriving late we headed straight for our Air BnB before hitting a couple of pubs, wandered across check point charlie and grabbed some beers from one of the ‘spatis’, the famous late night shops you can buy booze and snacks from.

The next day we were up pretty early and headed in the direction of the closest piece of the Berlin wall, one of the most famous monuments in history. Walking along the wall gave a real perspective of this barrier separating a nation. We stopped for a quick breakfast where I had a matcha latte to die for.

Continuing our walk we found another piece of wall before wandering through Berlin, checking out some souvenirs and then sombrely navigating our way through the Holocaust memorial site.

The maze like structure takes up a good amount of space and it’s an interesting and haunting place as you walk between the various shapes blocks.

From here we found ourselves at the Brandenburg Gate, the famous Berlin landmark built over 200 years ago.

Moving on we spotted the memorial to Gypsies murdered in the Holocaust, a peaceful circular pool almost hidden away in the city park. It was a short walk from here to the Reichstag building, it was mostly burnt down in 1933 under suspicious circumstances which the Nazis used to their advantage against the communists.

We hung out here for a bit before checking the map and heading over to the Soviet war memorial in Tiergarten. It’s a pretty impressive monument and one of 3 you can find in Berlin. We stopped for lunch and had some yummy Asian food to fill us up, then wandered back through the City towards a bunker museum about Hitler and WWII.

This was actually super interesting, detailing Hitler’s life and how he changed into this maniacal dictator, and how the country and the political climate allowed him to gain such a control over Germany. We spent so long here we had to rush to get ready and go out to see The National.

The rest of the night was spent chaotically trying to find karaoke and then a bar to drink in! It was fun to spend a little break in Berlin and catch up on some sights.