Greek Islands – Corfu

Although we had flown into Corfu, we literally just stayed the night there before taking the ferry to Albania, now we were returning from Albania and had a couple of nights here. It was March but the sky was clear and it was around 18°c.

After the ferry dropped us off we took a taxi to Mayor Mon Repos, our hotel. It’s a lovely hotel for the price, we even got a glass of champagne on arrival!

Once we had unpacked and settled down for a bit, off we went to explore. There’s a lovely old windmill right by the hotel, and beautiful beaches with the clearest water.

You can see Corfu fortress from the hotel, so we walked around the bay, trying to spot fish in the water and enjoying the little parks. It’s a beautiful walk and one I would definitely recommend.

Passing the Douglas column we walked up to the monument of Kapodistrias, the founder of the modern Greek state who was born here.

This leads to a gorgeous plaza, with restaurants, statues and a lovely green space. This plaza is right next to the Old Fortress, so we crossed the bridge and entered.

It was built by the Venetians in the early 15th century, who also created the sea channel, turning it into an artificial island. There’s a lot of history here, from the repulsion of 3 major Ottoman sieges, to the Italian siege of Corfu and it was even used in the James Bond film, ‘For Your Eyes Only’.

It’s an amazing place, built on two extremely steep hills, you’re free to wander at your own leisure after paying 6E. There’s not too much remaining but the views are incredible.

Unfortunately you can’t make your way to the top of the hills but there are enough ruins to explore around the main fortress.

From here we headed over to Faliraki, a little peninsula with a cool view of the Old Fortress. The museum of Asian Art is also here, which is a beautiful old building.

We spent the rest of the day walking around the old town, it’s full of little squares and pretty streets. After stopping for a pint of Mythos, the locally brewed beer, we found our way to Corfu’s new fortress.

I think by the time we got there it had closed, as it’s only open until 15:30pm. So we walked back through the lovely streets of the old town to the hotel, where we enjoyed a bottle of Albanian wine we had brought back with us as we watched the sun set.

Dinner was amazing, we walked over the street to Nautilus, where we ate the most amazing seafood platter. The venue is lovely, right on the water with the lights of Corfu across the bay.

The next day I woke up early, and looking out from the balcony, was rewarded for it! The sunrise from the mainland was incredible.

Today we decided to head South, towards Vlacherna Monastery. Google maps said it would only take about 30 minutes but there were a few places along the way we could stop at.

The weather was beautiful as we wandered off, our first stop was Mon Repos palace. Prince Phillip was born here before his family was exiled from Greece.

The palace isn’t actually too big, but the park leading up to it is stunning. With a terrace overlooking the Ionian sea.

Walking along the street, I did my usual trick of using Google maps to find interesting places. That’s how we found ourselves at the monastery of St Theodore and the Temple of Artemis.

The monastery is one of the oldest on the Island, with part of the building from the 5th century. The temple of Artemis ruins date all the way back to 580BC!

Finally we reached the Vlacherna Monastery. It was so beautiful on it’s own little island. The only way to reach it is across the man made pier, but you can wander around at your leisure, there’s even a few nice cafes with outdoor seating here.

The best surprise however was the plane spotting viewpoint! It was a lot of fun standing out on the stone wall with planes flying soooo close. A great photo opportunity too!

There’s also a beach here, it was a little too cold for more than a paddle in March but I’m sure in summer it would be amazing.

After all the walking it was time for a beer, so we trekked up the hill to Kanoni Cafe. The views from here are outstanding!

Instead of walking back we took the bus, it was really easy, picking us up right by the monastery car park and taking us all the way to the Old Town.

From here we just did some more exploring, finding great views of the imposing New Fortress and lovely little stone streets. Obviously we stopped for gelato and another beer.

It was time to head back after an awesome adventure over the last few days. Corfu surprised me as I always had it down as a package holiday type place, but it has so much more to offer.

Top sights of Liverpool in 24 hours.

Liverpool is a City in the North of England that’s full of history, believed to have been founded in 1207 it’s located on the West coast, looking out over the Irish sea and running alongside the River Mersey.

The legendary band The Beatles came from here, and musicians from Liverpool have provided 56 number 1 hits, the most in the world from one City. The success of the boy band and other acts has led to significant tourism in Liverpool, along with the success of Liverpool and Everton football clubs.

Liverpool has great transport access, with Lime Street Station linking to most major Cities in the UK by train and Liverpool John Lennon airport which is just under 9 miles from the Centre offering budget flights to the City. There’s plenty to keep you occupied here but you can easily see most of the City in one day as it’s relatively small.

Coming in by train, there are a few cool sights such as Liverpool library, and the national and world museums. Spot the ellington monument on the way over there.

Head down to Bold street for some boutique shopping and stop off at Leaf for a great cuppa and some top brunch. At the end of Bold street is St Luke’s, a church that was bombed in WWII. It now stands as an empty shell and memorial to those who died in the war. It’s a beautiful and haunting building, and there are often events such as outdoor cinema and markets held there.

Head right as you’re facing the church to reach Liverpool Cathedral, the largest religious building in Britain and 5th largest cathedral in the world. It took between 1904 and 1978 to complete it and the belltower is the largest in the world.

The outside may seem impressive, but the inside is absolutely gorgeous, the stain glass windows are amazing and the size is just unbelievable. Stop off for a traditional english scone and a coffee in the little cafe and head up the tower to enjoy views across Liverpool to the English countryside.

If religious buildings aren’t your thing, head to the Baltic triangle. This is the hipster part of town, with lots of incredible street art to find, craft beerhouses and coffee shops. Cains Brewery Village is a great place to try some street food and pick up some interesting souvenirs and vintage clothes from the traders.

We stopped at Craft Minded for a taster board which was delicious. Camp and Furnace is nearby, another brilliant space for eating and drinking.

It’s a pleasant walk from the Baltic Triangle to Albert Docks, we had a quick stop at the Wheel of Liverpool to see if I could spot Wales from the top, it’s reasonably priced and a fun little addition to the day.

The Albert Docks have always been one of the nicest parts of Liverpool, it was the first non combustible warehouse system in the world, with no structural wood, it was made from cast iron, brick and stone and you can feel the history and class oozing out of it. It’s also UNESCO heritage and the largest single collection of Grade 1 buildings in the UK. There is plenty to do here such as the Beatles story, TATE art gallery, and the maritime museum.

For a darker tale of Liverpool’s past and how it came to be one of the biggest and wealthiest Cities in the world, check out the international slavery museum. Once you’ve wandered around the docks, enjoy the walk along the river to the Titanic memorial, dedicated to the engine room workers who stayed on the ship, helping others escape. On the way look up and spot the Liver birds at the top of the Liver building, the mythical creatures which are a symbol of Liverpool.

The main attraction for a lot of people is the Beatles tour, I have never tried it, but friends tell me the Magical Mystery tour is really good. Starting at the beautiful Albert Docks it’s a 2 hour tour full of Beatles history, where the bus stops off at places such as Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields and some of their childhood homes.

You finish off at the Cavern Club, where The Beatles played in 1961 and made 293 appearances in just a couple of years. It’s also seen the likes of Queen, Elton John The Who and The Rolling Stones. Look out for the wall of fame, a collection of all 56 number ones.

The area around here is great for a drink as it’s home to LGBTQ+ bars and night clubs, with some chain restaurants located nearby too. From here you can wander through Liverpool One, a modern outdoor shopping area filled with every brand and store you could need. There’s often interesting things happening on the rooftop of the cinema here too.

This is a pretty full on day of walking and sightseeing, so treat yourself to dinner at one of the many exceptional restaurants that Liverpool has to offer, head to the Ropewalks area for the more independent vibe.

If you’re staying the night there is no end to the choices of bars and clubs you can go to, check local media for whats on. The next day head to Moose coffee for the perfect hangover breakfast, or out to The Tavern Co, rated as one of the UKs best breakfast spots.

From here you can walk it off at Sefton Park, wander around and enjoy the green spaces, and check out the Palm House, a glass house built in 1896. Make sure you look at all the statues of famous explorers dotted around the outside. Nearby is Lark Lane, famous for it’s boutiques, cafes and bars. A great place to relax before heading back to your own City.

What to do in Helsinki, Finland.

HELSINKI

Helsinki is the capital of Finland, it’s the world’s coldest capital with an average yearly temperature that doesn’t go past 0°c! The tap water comes from mountain springs and is such high quality that it’s exported to other countries! It arrives via the longest water tunnel in the world, the päijänne tunnel. Central Helsinki has heated sidewalks to keep them clear from snow in winter!

I was super excited to visit in January, I loved the idea of wandering through the snow in mainland Europe’s most Northern capital City. Only beaten by Reykjavik in Iceland. The tram and ferry system was so good when I was there, it meant that staying a little out of the City centre was much easier than I thought it might be. My top cost saving tip is for Helsinki is to eat at RAX, an all you can eat buffet restaurant that was sooo tasty and only 11E!!

What to do in Helsinki

Check out the amazing architecture

There are some incredible feats of architecture in Helsinki, Temppeliaukion church is built directly into a rock face and the skylight lets in amazing natural sunlight, the acoustics are so good that it’s also used as a concert venue.

It would be such a cool venue, the outside was covered with snow so I couldn’t get a good idea of how it looks but the inside was fabulous. I even found a sled nearby and had a little toboggan session!

Uspenski cathedral is near the sky wheel and Allas sauna, you can’t miss it up on it’s small hill. It’s free to enter, built in 1862 and was designed by a russian architect. The red brick and golden spires are beautiful.

A major landmark of the City is the neoclassical Helsinki Cathedral, this was completed in 1852 and dominates senate square where it’s located.

It’s plan is based on a Greek cross which makes it symmetrical in all directions. Senate Square and it’s surrounding area is the oldest part of Helsinki and you can find the Government Palace and Main building of Helsinki University here. There are also some lovely little streets running off from it to explore.

The train station is also a sublime and impressive piece of architecture, and railway square had ice rinks and fun winter stuff when I visited. The streets surrounding it are full of restaurants shops and bars. If you want something a little more modern, head up Finlandia hall and National opera and ballet house.

The Kallion Kirkko with it’s imposing tower is worth a visit if you’re in the Kallio area, it’s one of the more bohemian places in Helsinki with some cool alternative bars and not far from where I was staying.

Apparently you can see the Estonian coastline from the tower of the church. The walk from Kallio into Helsinki centre across the Pitkasilta bridge was really pretty.

Try out the traditional sauna

Saunas were invented in Finland and are a huge part of life and culture here. One of the first texts regarding sauna was written in 1112, they have a saying that they believe that you should act the same in a sauna as in church. Saunas are supposed to have many health benefits such as soothing tired muscles, relieves tension and stress and helps condition the heart amongst many others.

So I checked out a couple of saunas in Helsinki, my absolute favourite was the Allas sea pool, it’s located on Katajanokka island which is pretty nice to walk around, you can do a full circuit along the coast and there are some nice restaurants around that area too. It cost 14E for sauna and access to the sea pool at Allas, and it was such an amazing experience.

There are mixed, male, and female sauna, so you heat up, sweat it out, then head outside to the sea pool. In January it was 3°c! I jumped in and immediately lost my breath, it was so cold! There’s always a lifeguard to watch out for any problems so don’t be too scared to try it. I loved it so much I went for a repeat experience. There was also a nicely heated outdoor pool which was nice with the snow falling down around me as I swam.

Loyly was the other sauna I visited, it’s on the other side of the bay to Allas, in the Munkisaari district. I walked there in a huge snowstorm, even my beard froze! It was pretty exciting though, and I had about 8 layers on.

I did a 2 hour sauna that cost 19E and this included towels and shower products. This was a little more classy than Allas but instead of a sea pool you can just jump directly into the sea! It was really rough because of the blizzard so I opted not to try it for fear of being washed away, but I think it would be amazing in Summer.

There is also the infamous Burger King sauna in Helsinki, I didn’t visit it but you can book out the whole sauna with 48″ TV, playstation 4 and obviously access to Burger Kings full menu. Definitely an interesting choice of venue!

Visit the fortress of Suomenlinna

This UNESCO heritage site was built in the 18th century when Finland was part of Sweden to protect it from Russian advances, it’s built over 8 islands just 4km away from Helsinki City Centre. You take a short ferry ride to get there, when I visited in January the boat ploughed through the frozen sea which was cool. The ferry departs just opposite the presidential palace and is pretty frequent.

There’s a wonderful old pink gatehouse which has tourist information next to it, and once through this gate you can wander to your hearts content. In 1808 the Swedish ceded the fortress to Russia, and the following year Finland came under Russian rule, it stayed like that until 1917 when Finland declared independence.

Wrap up warm if you’re going in Winter, it was beautiful with the snow and frost, I visited a couple of the museums on the island including the Suomenlinna museum and the war museum to get a better understanding of Finnish history. Be sure to check opening times for all the main sights as some are seasonal.

As I wandered I passed a cool old submarine that was built in 1933, unfortunately the museum inside was closed when I visited. I continued on to the southernmost point of the islands, and found loads of cool fortifications with artillery pointing out to sea.

The fortress here was amazing, you can walk along the tops of the walls, through some spooky dark corridors and explore the King’s Gate. This was built in the 1700s and the strairs lead out to the water which has amazing views over the archipelago.

You can easily spend a full day exploring here, the 4 main islands are pretty big. There’s still a minimum security labor colony on Suomenlinna whose inmates volunteer to maintain the fortifications and reconstruction! Another fun fact is that George Martin, writer of Game of Thrones wrote a short story about Suomelinna in school!

Immerse yourself in Culture

The birthplace of the Moomins, Death Metal and sauna, the location of lapland and Father Christmas, Finland has a rich history, learn more about it at the National Museum of Finland, it had so many cool interactive exhibits on show, and the building is really pretty. Make sure you check out the stain glassed windows.

The Finnish Museum of Natural History is okay but there was nothing really here that I haven’t seen in other natural history museums around the world. Helsinki computer game museum is definitely only worth it if you’re in the nearby vicinity and really into computer games, but the view from the top of the shopping centre is pretty awesome.

For a real taste of Finland head to Market Square and the Old Market Hall, serving people since the late 1800s. You can find all sorts of traditional food and items here, plus souvenirs. There are a few nice little restaurants that you can sit in. The building itself is really pretty too.

Just wander and explore

It sounds a little morbid but the cemetary on the West side of Helsinki was pretty cool, a little further North is Sibeliusken park which has the impressive Sibelius monument and coastal views. Kaivopuisto park was also fun mainly because the snow was so deep!

I also really liked being able to see out across the bay at all the islands and the sea ice was amazing! I really felt like I was far north with all the snow.

Take a day trip to Tallinn

Take the star ferry over to Estonia for a cheeky extra country while visiting Finland, read all about what to do in Tallinn here. It takes around 2 hours one way on the ferry, with beautiful views over the gulf of Finland. Costs vary from 20E one way to 50E.

Helsinki is such a lovely City, loads of architecture to look at, the sauna is so amazing especially in the colder months, and I didn’t realise how much culture Finland had!

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!

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.

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.

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.