Playing around in Playa Del Carmen.

I was so excited to be heading over to Mexico, home of my favourite food, my favourite drinks and my favourite thing, adventure! It was my partners friend’s birthday, so we decided to go all out and book an all inclusive, adults only hotel in the heart of Playa. This resort is located on the Yucatan peninsula, right on the Caribbean shores.

We flew into Cancun after bottomless mimosa and drag brunch the day before in LA. We had booked transport through Booking.com which was quick and easy, Cancun is a busy airport though so be prepared to wait as they find somewhere to park. Luckily they sell Margaritas as soon as you leave the airport, so we got two huge frozen ones to share for the hour long journey.

We stayed at The Reef 28, a relatively new hotel found right in the centre of Playa, with a rooftop pool, 3 restaurants and a snack bar it was perfect for what we wanted. We spent many an evening playing pool, giant jenga and card games on the rooftop. It was also just 5 minutes walk to the beach, and Quinta Avenida or 5th Ave the next street over.

Here are a few fun things to do in and around Playa Del Carmen….

5th Avenue

This sprawling mecca of all things Mexico goes for at least 2km and is filled with restaurants, bars and shops. It’s a vibrant place and no visit to Playa is complete without a wander along here.

There is literally something for everyone, Senor Frogs for the Spring Breakers, up to classier restaurants like Catch and everything in between. Prices can vary from bar to bar so make sure you check a few out before deciding where your first margarita or tequila will be! I love street art and there were so many cool pieces dotted about as we wandered up.

You can check out the Frida Kahlo museum full of information about the famous Mexican painter, 3D museum of wonders or just tequila taste and souvenir shop! If you want something a bit more chill head to 10th ave, the next street over for restaurants and bars without the big crowds or for a big party 1st Ave is the place to be with 3 big bars/clubs on one corner.

For a little bit of culture/relaxation Parque Los Fundadores is a lovely little green space found on one end of the avenue. There’s an impressive bronze archway here, an adorable white church and traditional Mayan performances. Grab some fresh fruit from one the vendors, sit back and enjoy the shows!

Playacar

The beach at Playa is beautiful, white sand and clear waters, but it’s not the biggest due to development going almost right to the water and lots of areas filled with boats. Instead take a 30 minute walk or catch a bus to Playacar.

This gated and upmarket community has the best beach we visited. The water was warm and so blue, with palm trees lining the powdery white sand. Luckily The Reef has a sister hotel here we could use which was amazing, cocktails , ice cream and a huge lunch buffet to enjoy!

Make sure you stop off and explore some mini ruins on the walk there or back, just as you enter Playacar from the beach at Playa Del Carmen you can spot them, including a crazy palm tree that is growing sideways then vertically! It’s a nice little addition to a fun walk, and Iguanas are sunbathing on the ancient rocks.

Cozumel

This tropical island is found just 30 minuets by ferry from Playa. Get your tickets down near Parque Los Fundadores and head over for a great little day trip.

The ferries leave every hour on the hour which is simple to remember. There’s a wonderful square here where you can get some food and drinks, but if you head down the coast towards the South of the island you can find amazing snorkelling opportunites!

Unfortunately we arrived there on the same day as 5 huge cruise ships did, so taxi prices were super inflated so we didn’t make it as far as Playa El Cielo where there’s meant to be incredible snorkelling just off the beach with a natural reef.

Instead we walked along the road to find a beach club we could eat and swim from. It ended up being a great afternoon as we found El Cid La Ceiba beach! We had a great lunch here, beautiful quesadillas and then got to lounge on the jetty, with hammocks in the water, and hundreds of fish to marvel at while we snorkelled. Locals were chilling out here too which I always think is a good impression of somewhere.

The bar even has it’s own mascot, Cid the Pig! After swimming and relaxing here we walked back, spotting Pelicans diving into the water and Iguanas sun baking. A lot of locals were swimming in the rock pools along the street here too. Then we watched the sunset from the boat as flying fish scattered ahead of us.

Gay Playa Del Carmen

As our group consisted of 3 gay men, I had to have a little section on the gay scene here. While not huge, there’s definitely a lot going on. The main bar/club is Bar69 found just off 5th Ave down a side street. This place was pretty quiet in the week but on the weekend it was full!

They had drag queen performances and Gogo dancers, just make sure you have Pesos for the cover charge and drinks. We felt really safe in Playa and didn’t get any hassle when holding hands or arms around each other while walking along 5th Ave. There’s a good row of cash machines on 10th Ave. Don’t trust the ATMs on 5th they charge loads and most only give out USD.

There were also a couple of bars on Calle 6 which were gay friendly, and Billy Gin which an instagram friend 2minionsontour recommended. This was a great little place for a few drinks before heading to bar69. It was great to meet someone who actually had been living there so we got loads of great advice from Jeroen.

Day Trips!

There are soooo many activities and trips you can take from Playa. All the different cenotes (sinkholes you can swim in) Mayan ruins like Coba and Chichen Itza (Which we did) plus activity parks, diving and boat trips. Check out Flamingogaytours and meridagaytours for gay friendly tours all around the Yucatan peninsula!

We had such a great time in Playa, and we would love to visit again one day and see some more of the scenery and snorkelling opportunities. The all inclusive was perfect for what we wanted, but some of our best meals were when we headed out and did some exploring. My favourite street was Calle 38, it was so different to everywhere else, lined with trees and the coolest looking restaurants.

We ate at Amate 38 and it was so good! Lots of veggie options and we got to try some excellent Mezcal surrounded by nature. Check out my link to the Chichen Itza tour and doing a Tulum tour ourselves coming soon HERE.

Doin’ Dallas. The Top Sights.

Dallas is the 9th largest City in the United States, located in the vast state of Texas. It’s also the birthplace of the frozen margarita machine, the microchip and 7/11 stores! It grew as a trade center from it’s history of Ranching, farming and oil production. It’s now an important business, financial and tech center.

I was lucky enough to be in a situation where I could fly over and check out some of the best things to do in and around Dallas and I was super excited. I was staying in the gay district called Oak Lawn. Home to a street of LGBTQ+ friendly bars and businesses it was a good starting off point! Here are the top sights in Dallas.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science

This place is jaw dropping from the outisde, an architecturally impressive masterpiece plus it’s an eco building which is awesome. As soon as I was greeted by a Diplodocus skeleton I knew would enjoy it.

It’s definitely a great place to spend with families but I noticed people of all ages enjoying the exhibitons. These range from history to science, culture to technology and space.

6th Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

This was a surreal place to visit, a massive moment in American politics. It’s the place that Lee Harvey Oswald used as a vantage point to shoot the 35th American President – John F Kennedy. It was fascinating learning about the lead up to the murder. There’s a no photo policy inside the museum so be aware.

However it was the aftermath, what happened, conspiracy theories and the outpouring of good will from around the world in dedication to a man who really seemed like he wanted to change people’s lives for the better. You can look out of the same window and there’s an X on the road below to mark where it happened. Walk along the road a little to a wooden fence with tributes from people carved into it.

Dallas CBD

I found the center of Dallas pretty non existant and mostly business buildings, but there are a few pretty cool points of interest if you have the time. Nearby the 6th Floor Museum is an interesting memorial to JFK with a whole plaza dedicated to him.

Near this is the John Neely Bryan Cabin, a replica of the founder of Dallas’ home. You can also see the Old Red Courthouse here, I didn’t go inside but it’s a beautiful old building with some interesting exhibits inside.

One of the coolest things I saw in central Dallas was Pioneer Plaza! This had a great sculpture of cowboys herding cattle, which as a big fan of cowboys when I was younger was pretty amazing!

Also look out for the big red pegasus, which started out on the top of the City’s first skyscraper, it’s said to look over Dallas and is a bit of a cultural icon nowadays. Head to Reunion Tower for for panoramic 360 degree views of Dallas, with the Central business district impressive from here at 470 feet in the air!

Fort Worth Stockyards

Actually a nearby City, Fort Worth was an important trading post for cowboys, and is located around 35 miles from Dallas. It’s now home to a historic district called the Stockyards which is a fully realised glimpe of the American wild west!

Full of restored shops, bars and hotels it’s like stepping back in time. Wander along and buy yourself a pair of cowboy boots, or a hat and watch the cattle drive. There’s a mini train to take you around some parts of it and live cowboy acts if you’re lucky.

It was pretty cool, and obviously we had to stop off for a beer in an old timey saloon! Lookout for the Texas trail of fame, a nod to the walk of fame in LA only with famous cowboys and pioneers!

Dallas Parks and Gardens

If you want a break from the City there are a few beautiful green spaces in and around the City. The Arboretum and Botanical Gardens are 66 acres of serenity where you can experience Shinrin-Yoku or forest bathing.

It’s located on the shore of White Rock Lake, has stunning sculpted gardens and a cafe that serves food that utilises things grown there.

A really fun walk I did here was the Katy Trail, this recreational area runs 240 miles across America. In Dallas you can walk 3.5 miles of greenland in the heart of the City. Check out turtle creek along the way to spot snapper turtles.

I love it when a City really uses it’s space to create fun walking/running areas. Klyde Warren Park is the ultimate goal of a green City. Built over a freeway it’s 5.2 acres of parks with food trucks lining the street on the side of it. You can get lovely ice cream and street food snacks from here while you enjoy the fountains and shade in the heat of the day.

Deep Ellum

Known for it’s completely hipster vibe, this area has been totally regenerated and filled with street art, local brewpubs selling pale ales and IPAs, and quirky stores selling oddities.

It’s a great place to get lost in while checking out the murals, stopping off for a beer or coffee and enjoying some live music at one of the many venues around here.

I stopped off at braindead which had an amazing craft ale menu. It’s also super artsy in general around here with cool sculptures and small independent art galleries.

While here make sure you try some Tex Mex cuisine a staple of Dallas life, sip a frozen margartia while you do it.

Gay District – Oak Lawn

Head here for a night of pure southern charm, start off at JRs for a balcony view of the street and ice cold beers.They host drag shows and have great drinks offers.

For a real taste of gay culture in Texas head to the Round Up Saloon here you can either watch or get involved in some line dancing, I was told about it but until you see it you’ll never understand. The central dance floor is sunken a few feet and it was filled with people in cowboy hats and boots dancing in complete sync.

I didn’t have the guts to join in but I definitely enjoyed watching! I then headed over to Station 4. This place had GoGo boys dancing on poles and they also host awesome drag shows, Asia O’Hara from S10 Dragrace fame comes from Dallas! If you’re after something a little more interesting Eagle bar Dallas is a short taxi ride down the road, where you can enjoy a men only space with lots of fetish nights.

NASA Houston

Houston is a 4 hour drive from Dallas, home of Beyonce but more interestingly for me the home of NASA. I wasn’t sure if it was worth spending a night away from Dallas to do it but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

We drove through a huge storm which was pretty insane, but we did get to stop at iHop for a pancake breakfast! We got there in the afternoon and decided to head to Galveston on the coast.

It was fun to stand in the Atlantic ocean as Pelicans flew overhead. It’s a cute old school seaside resort and I enjoyed looking at some of the old buildings.

After some tasty Mexican we hit the hay and headed over to NASA early in the morning.

This is the birthplace of space exploration, and it was an absolutely incredible experience! From learning about the history of the space race, looking at all the flight suits and history, even getting to see the command centre where the immortal ‘Houston we have a problem’ happened, and the speaker where those and other amazing words came from.

You get to look around the science buildings and find out what NASA are working towards, and explore a real space shuttle. There were so many things to see and do we spent a good 5 or 6 hours, maybe more here!

Dallas might not be on a lot of people’s must see lists, but it’s a great City, a big LGBTQ+ friendly area and the locals are some of the friendliest I’ve ever encountered.

I’d love to head back to Texas and check out Austin and maybe Houston properly, Dallas was a great introduction to Texan life and really opened my eyes to a place that I wasn’t sure would welcome me with open arms. I didn’t make it there but I’ve heard the art galleries in Dallas are meant to be incredible too, so there’s definitely enough to keep you occupied for a few days at least here.

A short visit to Canberra. Australia’s Capital.

When you think of Australia, you think of Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane. So it surprises a lot of people to find out the capital is actually little Canberra.

Located between Victoria and New South Wales, it’s a relatively new City with building commencing in 1913. It was built due to a disagreement over which existing City should become the Capital of a united Australia.

We were visiting as a little stop off point between Melbourne and Sydney. It’s a 9 hour drive between these two, and Canberra sits around 6 hours from Melbourne.

We arrived late in the evening after an eventful drive, stopping off to see a giant Ned Kelly, a submarine and a dog on a tucker box. It was a pleasant drive until we hit the smoke from the NSW fires.

We stayed at the QT Canberra, which is a lovely hotel set within walking distance of the parliament and museum area.

We woke up early and crossed lake Burley Griffin, a huge man made lake set right in the centre of the City. You can hike around the whole thing which would be fun. Unfortunately the huge fountain located in the lake wasn’t on when we walked over.

We stopped along the opposite bank and followed the Australian of the year walkway before passing the national library.

Next up was the old parliament, a classic looking white building which was superseded by the new parliament built up on Capitol hill.

So off we trekked up the hill, and the new building is definitely well thought out architecturally. The best part is that you can wander around inside with no tour guide or security following you.

So we visited the senate room and the house of representatives. Although parliament wasn’t on session, it was still interesting to learn more about Australian politics.

The great hall was beautiful, with a great tapestry on the wall, but the best part was heading to the roof and seeing the 266ft flagpole. The views from here were also amazing, albeit ruined by the bushfire smoke a little, but hey, that’s the least of Australia’s problems with the fires.

We headed back to the hotel and checked out. Then drove over to the ANZAC parade. This was really interesting with memorials lining the parade to every war Australia has fought in.

There was also a memorial for army nurses which I loved, but the most interesting were the Boer and Vietnamese war memorials. Lots of history and information.

I really love the quote from Atatürk after the battle of Gallipoli.

We didn’t have time to go inside the actual war museum, instead we drove up to Mount Ainslie lookout. If you had time the hike up there would be brilliant, with a chance to see kangaroos and other interesting Australian animals.

The view was still hazy, but it was still really interesting, with a straight look down ANZAC parade to the lake, and the fountain was now on!

That was the end of our little Canberra journey, it felt like there was still a lot of hiking opportunities we missed because of time constraints, and I’ve heard the art galleries and museums are top class here.

So there’s plenty to see and do to fill at least a couple of days. Lastly, we were on a budget so we didn’t try out any of the restaurants, but Canberra is meant to be a foodies dream!

It was on to Sydney for us, this time we got to see a giant Merino sheep and stopped at the town of Yass! To get a picture with the sign and live our Queer Eye fantasy.

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!