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 Manchester in 24 hours.

Manchester, I’ve lived there for 13 years and I love it, there’s so much to do if you enjoy eating out, bars and clubs. Although there aren’t any stand out sights like in London, Paris or Rome there is so much history here.

Workers rights, the birthplace of communism, women’s suffrage and the industrial revolution. These are just some of the things to have spiralled out of Manchester.

Starting out as a Roman fort in 79AD, Manchester grew exponentially in the 18th century thanks to the many textile factories that sprang up, making Manchester the first industrialised City in the world and the birthplace of the industrial revolution.

Although it saw a decline after WWII it has now become the 3rd most visited City in the United Kingdom, and is famous for it’s vibrant music scene, two heavyweight football clubs in City and United and a renowned tolerance with a thriving LGBTQ+ scene.

Linked to most major Cities in the UK by train, usually from Piccadilly station, the airport is only 8 miles from the City and the train takes just 20 minutes. Manchester Piccadilly is located right next to the ultra hipster area of Manchester, the Northern Quarter.

Take your time to wander the through the streets here, stop for brunch at one of the many cool cafes and restaurants and marvel at the architecture. Marvel Studios filmed Captain America here for the 1940s scenes in New York! It’s definitely the place if you like quirky bars and vintage clothes of all kinds.

Step into Afflecks palace for a true journey through knick knack heaven, and admire the chaos of it all. Fig and Sparrow is a great place to get some breakfast and tasty coffee or tea, or Siop Shop is a fun Welsh themed cafe on Tib street.

Head past the Arndale shopping centre and you’ll find yourself in Cathedral gardens. You can check out the football museum, and take a wander through Manchester Cathedral.

The best spot here though is Cheetham library, the oldest free public library in the UK. It was established in 1653 and has been in continuous use since then. It’s free of charge but you must join up with a guided tour.

It’s so interesting and once you reach the library it’s a stunning place, my favourite part is sitting at the same table that Marx and Engels sat at while they researched the disparity between social classes. This led to the communist manifesto.

Once you’ve had your fill here head back past the cathedral and stop off at shambles square for a quick pint at one of the traditional pubs. These pubs were built in 1551, but in 1999 they were moved from their original spot after redevelopment of the area.

After this refreshment go down the hill and turn right at the bridge. Follow this road along till you pass under the railway bridge and look for a tiny restaurant called the Sparrow under the railway arches.

Stop here for amazing Tyrolean food such as Spatzl and Mezzelune, along with fresh salads, and some of the best wine from central Europe. It’s a real hidden gem and you won’t be disappointed.

If that doesn’t work for you, head into the Arndale and find hidden gems such as Blue Caribou, Wholesome Junkies and Pancho’s Burrito in the marketplace.

Back up into the City you can follow Deansgate street until you reach John Rylands LIbrary, a late victorian neo-gothic building opened in 1900.

The architecture inside and out is amazing and there are some seriously old classic works here such as a Gutendberg bible and editions of the aldine press. You’re right next to Spinningfields here, the financial district and a great place to grab an afternoon cocktail at one of the trendy bars.

Double back on yourself and you can walk up John Dalton street, past the cute St Mary’s church to Albert Square, in December this is filled with the Christmas markets, which is so festive it almost hurts. Definitely stop for a mulled wine and some delicious food.

There’s usually something happening all year round here such as the international film festival, so check the local media for more info before you go.

Walk through between the town hall and the library to get a little dose of Harry Potter vibes, and emerge onto St Peter’s square, the site of the Peterloo massacre when police cavalry charged into a crowd of 70,000 who were peacefully protesting for reform of parliamentary representation. Eventually this led to reform and improvement of workers rights across the UK.

The library itself is a great building and you can find a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst here, a British suffragette who helped women win the right to vote who was born in Manchester.

If you want you can take the metrolink tram from here out to Salford Quays, where you’ll find the end of the Manchester ship canal, the imperial war museum and the BBC building. It’s nicest in Summer when you can walk around the quays and enjoy the sunshine at some outdoor bars. This is also the home of Manchester United, and you can take a tour of Old Trafford here too.

Otherwise, you can check out the nearby Manchester art gallery for free, or head back down to Deansgate and go to the Science and Industry museum for some interactive learning. If you head there make sure you stop at the Hilton for a drink at Cloud 23, with panoramic views of Manchester. It’s currently the tallest building in the City, but that will soon change.

Once you’re done with culture, head back up to Piccadilly gardens and find the little steps down to Bundobust, an indian street food restaurant that serves vegetarian food and craft ale. The food here is incredible whether you’re a veggie or not.

Depending on your choice of nightlife, you can watch a show at one of the theatres, a band at one of the many live venues, or head to Canal street, Manchester’s gay village and one of the biggest LGBTQ+ areas in the UK for a great atmosphere and dancing.

If you want something more low key, head through the Northern Quarter to the new Ancoats district, here you can taste some great local beers at seven brothers brewery and then try sample the 10th best pizza in the world at Rudy’s or fresh Vietnamese at Viet Shack.

If you get a minute, take the time to visit Sackville gardens to see a statue of Alan Turing, a WWII code breaker who is said to have helped won the war, who was later chemically castrated for being Gay and committed suicide.

If you fancy some independent cinema head to Home on first street, you’ll even get to see a statue of Engels, the aforementioned father of communism and get a delicious beer at The Gas Works.

The next morning you should definitely try Federal for a healthy breakfast, or Moose for something a little more hangover friendly. Then spend the last bit of your time in Manchester at the People’s history museum or wandering the canals of Castlefield. Unless you’re a Manchester City fan, in which case take a tour of the Etihad stadium.

VISIT MANCHESTER, YOU WON’T REGRET IT.

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.

A Kiek in De Kok and Dark Tourism in Tallinn.

So today there were more than a few sore heads this morning, I needed food, so a few of us managed to drag ourselves up and out. I had heard of a pancake place called Kompressor and it did not disappoint!

We ordered potato balls, cheese balls to share and pancakes, check out the menu here. It was delicious, the garlic sauce that came with the snacks was amazing, and the pancakes were soooo tasty, just what we needed! Plus the price was so cheap!

Feeling partly refreshed, we were back on the sightseeing game. It was time to visit Kiek in de Kok, the artillery tower from 1475 with the amazing name. The name comes from early German, due to the ability to see into people’s kitchens from these tall towers. I think we must’ve said the name about 1000 times between us all.

The actual tower is impressive, the walls are 4m thick and you can spot cannon balls dating from 1577 stuck in the outer walls! Inside is a museum with some really cool features, lots of interactive moments including a medieval torture device you can test out! You can do a bit of dress up, and the views from the upper floors are immense, especially out of Toompea hill and the cathedral.

After stopping for a coffee we met up with the final members of the group, there’s a cute little train you can take around the town for those that don’t want to walk too much, very handy for a hangover. We checked out the Kalev Marzipan Museum, a very random shop selling every conceivable item made out of marzipan. It’s worth a little wander around and a fun gift for someone back home. They use molds that are around a hundred years old, and claim that Estonia were the inventors of the sweet candy treat!

Our next destination was quite the opposite of a sweet treat, we were heading to the Museum of Occupations and Freedom, I love learning about a countries history and I think it’s important to know what it’s citizens have been through till this point. It was really interesting learning about the occupation and resistance in Estonia. I will always love the story of the Baltic chain, when 2 million people held hands to form a line from Tallinn all the way to Vilnius in Lithuania as an act of peaceful protest against Soviet rule. Read more about it here.

Our last stop was the old KGB prison cells, at only 5 euros it’s small but very interesting and you really get an understanding of the horrors and suspicions that people faced everyday. It had a pretty creepy vibe too, it’s a top destination to visit for dark tourism, and I always find places like this really eye opening.

After this we went for dinner at a bad curry house, but sometimes you make wrong choices hungover! Everyone was up early the next day to travel onwards so after a little night time walk around Snelli park it was time to chill in the apartment together. Snelli park was actually really pretty, the water was all frozen over and couples were taking romantic walks along the banks. Plus the sight of the old castle and buildings up on Toompea was amazing, unfortunately my phone battery had died so I couldn’t take any pics.

The next day I was taking the star ferry over to Helsinki to spend a few days there, while everyone else took the bus to Riga to fly home. The report back that I got of the bus was really positive! Comfy seats, air con and in-seat entertainment for free! The ferry was really easy too, I bought my ticket at the terminal on the day and it was amazing travelling across the Tallinn bay and the gulf of Finland with ice blocks floating past. Apparently the Blatic has a really low salinity so it freezes over much more than other bodies of saltwater.

Butrint and Exploring Ksamil.

Our first day in Albania had been pretty amazing, so we were looking forward to what today would bring. After all the raki last night I was worried we’d be a bit hungover but after a bit of breakfast we were ready to go!

Today we were heading to Butrint, an ancient Greek, then Roman City located close to the reek border. It was first inhabited between the 10th and 8th centuries BC, so it’s pretty damn old! It’s also a UNESCO world heritage sight and national park.

As we were staying in Ksamil we decided to take the bus down to the entrance, they’re every hour and cost around a Euro. It was a leisurely 30 minutes to get there along a road filled with stunning scenery as we wound our way along hills with amazing views of the sea.

Arriving at butrint we were amazed at the beauty of the place. There’s a cute little wooden ferry taking you across the river which we had to try, and from here we explored a small fortress and took in the views. You can see for miles and there are lots of little hilltop churches and villages across the flood plains.

The entrance fee is around £4.50 and there’s a map at the beginning which I took a photo of to give us a clue of what we were looking at. We started off by walking along the river, spotting a watch tower in a beautiful wild flower meadow.

We doubled back and followed the path through the woods and it suddenly opened out to huge remains of old buildings. It was partially flooded which gave it an even more interesting vibe. Butrint was abandoned after an earthquake flooded much of the City and destroyed it.

The amphitheatre was particularly impressive and there was hardly anyone else there, so it felt like we had the place to ourselves to climb and clamber around. There were even little european pond turtles in the water. Butrint is known for it’s biodiversity and you can see all sorts of animals such as grey wolves, sea turtles, dolphins, salamander, jackals and golden eagles in the area if you’re lucky.

Butrint is amazing to just wander around if you have the full day, the Baptisterium was cool with all it’s pillars and is famous for it’s mosaic floor, unfortunately it’s kept submerged under water and mud for much of the year to keep it intact as it dates from the 6th century.

The great basilica was one of my favourite spots as it was really maintained with it’s beautiful archways, we felt like such explorers with all the ruins, and you get more and more views of the surrounding area as you walk around the island. we passed the Lion’s gateway before starting the ascent up to the Venetian castle and Sanctuary of Asclepius.

There’s an interesting museum up here and again, awesome views of the coastline and we watched eagles soaring high up in the distance. The castle is well maintained and you can get a drink and some food at the Dea Art Bar. The weather was really good which was a bonus for us. After the castle we had wandered for a good few hours. So we were ready to head back to Ksamil.

The bus dropped us off on the main road, and from here it was a short walk past a lot of half finished resort hotels. It seemed like there had been a real boom of tourism at one point but it’s a shame it’s a bit run down as when we got to the beaches they were amazing.

The sand was bright white and the water crystal clear, we took our shoes off and had a little paddle around. Then stopped and looked out at the little islands dotted around the bay. I’d definitely like to go back in peak season as the beaches weren’t very well maintained and nowhere looked open.

We had this problem as we looked for somewhere to eat, in the end we bought a typical mediterranean dinner of cheese, olives, bread and wine. We took this back to our hotel and sat on the balcony, watching the sun slowly set over the Ionian sea.

The next day we took the bus back to Sarande, and had a little wander around the shops to spend our last Albanian Lek before we took the ferry back to Corfu. I would definitely recommend staying a few days here over Summer. It was so cheap and there are a lot of things to do and see, I can’t wait to explore more of Albania one day!

Albania and the climb to Gjirokaster.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

48 hours in Kiev, Day 1.

Ukraine

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

Kiev

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

Top Sights of Kiev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

48 Hours in Minsk.

Entry to Belarus

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

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

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

Belarus

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

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

Minsk

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

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

My Top Sights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Quokka thing, Rottnest Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple trekking in Yogyakarta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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