Brussels in 48 hours.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gozo, Island of Wonders Pt.2

Today we were going into full on exploration mode. After another wonderful breakfast we took the bus over to Victoria also known as Rabat, the capital of Gozo.

The main sight here is the Citadel, it dominates the skyline in Victoria, and it’s just a short walk up from the bus station.

The first fortifications were built here in 1500BC and it’s believed to be the Acropolis of a Roman City called Gaulos. The buildings you see now are from the 15th century.

It once would have served as a defense against pirates, and until 1637 the Gozitan settlers had to stay within the walls at night by law.

A 5 Euro ticket gets you access to the main citadel, a few museums and a prison. It starts with an amazing digital show charting the history of the place.

From there you’re free to wander at your own leisure, the size of the place is amazing and we started by following along the huge outer walls.

From here we climbed up into the depths of the Citadel, and found ourselves in front of the magnificent Cathedral of Gozo. Unfortunately you have to pay to go inside so we just enjoyed the lovely square and baroque architecture.

We checked out some of the museums, they’re only small but the nature museum was pretty interesting, and the prison was cool.

One of the best parts was wandering the little side streets, there were a few nice shops around and the views from the Citadel walkway were unreal. You could see the Gozitan countryside for miles around, and it was such a beautiful day.

Once we had exhausted the sights inside the Citadel, it was time to explore the main town. It’s full of charming alleyways, hidden squares and lots of nice little restaurants and bars.

We tried the local pastizzi, a pastry stuffed with ricotta cheese which was delicious. After this little snack we stopped for lunch on St George’s square.

We shared a traditional platter, filled with everything I love about Mediterranean food. Washed down with a couple of cold beers.

You can also try Capitan Spriss for something more modern and for some good wine and cake.

We headed back towards the bus station through the narrow streets, stoping to admire flowers cascading down the walls and old wooden doorways.

We were heading over to Dwejra bay, but we had 45 minutes to spare so we walked around the Villa Rundle gardens. These were really pretty, and I loved the little art sculptures like the bees and the rainbow.

We noticed a gelato place opposite the bus station and it’s some of the best ice cream either of us had ever had. It was called Vanilla+ and it was soooo creamy and delicious.

We were soon on our way to Dwejra. Once famous for the Azure Window, a natural arch formation that collapsed in 2017.

Despite this I had heard it was a beautiful spot, with a sea tunnel and some amazing rock formations. Sadly the boats that take you through the tunnel weren’t running that day, but we had great fun exploring the crazy landscape.

The cliffs and rock pools are fun to wander around, and in Summer you can get a better chance to swim apparently. The Azure Window restaurant is also a good place to grab lunch or even just a beer.

The bus journey there is also amazing, you can spot Ta’pinu, the oldest church on the island, legend says that after it was ordered to be demolished, the first hammer blow to it broke the workers arm, so they left it standing!

We also passed golden fields of corn, and even the ruins of an aqueduct! If we’d had more time or a car we definitely would have stopped to explore these places.

After a long day we decided to cook for ourselves to save some money, so we stopped at the Arkadia foodstore. There was so much amazing stuff here, we had to hold back from buying too much!

Finally we arrived home, after eating a lovely little meal we took our wine down to the terrace lookout and watched the sun set on another amazing day in Gozo.

Comino Island and the Blue Lagoon.

Today we were shifting away from Gozo life, and heading out to Comino Island, located between Gozo and Malta, it has a population of 3! It’s named after Cumin seeds but it was formerly known as Ephaestia.

We took the bus down to Mgarr early and got a coupe of prices from the guys at the harbour. It cost us about 10 euro each round trip.

So after waiting for a few more people to sign up off we sped to Comino! It’s famous for the blue lagoon, a shallow stretch of water between Comino and a smaller island called Cominotto.

It only takes about 15-20 minutes, and it was exciting as we got our first views of the lagoon heading into the bay.

There’s a small jetty to disembark and a few food and drink stalks dotted around here. There’s actually not much beach and the little there was already filled with people. This is May, so I can’t imagine what it would be like in the height of Summer.

We walked along the cliffs, this is where most people set up for the day so we found a spot and immediately went for the water. It’s so blue, so clear, we couldn’t believe how beautiful it was.

So we swam over to little Cominotto and had a little explore around the rocks there, just watch out as there were a few jellyfish around.

There were some lovely little snorkelling spots around here and we sat enjoying the sunshine and the gorgeous setting.

Back on Comino, we lounged on the rocks for a while and took another dip. Then decided to go explore more of the island.

We headed South, past the beautiful crystal lagoon, with some private boats dotted about the bays. There were even a few people cliff jumping!

Our wandering took us to St Mary’s Tower, an ancient watchtower with panoramic views of the island from the rooftop. It’s 5E to go in and have a look.

We wandered back as we had been given set times to return and we didn’t want to get back too late. So after enjoying the blue lagoon a bit longer we got a beer at the jetty and sat waiting for our boat.

It’s a bit of carnage at this point with lots of boats and different queues, just relax and you’ll be fine. So off we went, back to Mgarr ready to head over to the Gozo capital Victoria.

I had read about a few nice sounding restaurants on culture trip, but after checking 3 of then out, I realised the article was pretty old, 2 of them were closed down! We did get some lovely late evening views though.

Not to be deterred we took the bus back to In-Nadur and found an amazing place just off the main square called The Fat Rabbit.

The wine was amazing, we got a huge free starter of rice salad, bean salad, cheese and bread!

Then we had pasta to start, which were huge followed by pizza which we couldn’t manage most of. Obviously we finished the night with a brownie to share. The service was really friendly too, and the stroll back to the hotel was lovely on a warm night.

Gozo, Island of Wonders. Pt 1

I was so excited to visit Gozo, it’s the second largest island in Malta and is known for it’s more rural lifestyle and scenic hills. We flew in to Malta airport, and easily found the bus that would take us all the way to the ferry on the North coast.

It took us around 2 hours to get there, the scenery was amazing, and the route travels all along the super pretty coast.Once at the ferry terminal it was an easy 30 minutes to cross over to Gozo and it only cost 5E, we celebrated with a can of Cisk, the local Maltese beer.

Leaving the ferry terminal on the other side at Mgarr, we were swarmed by taxi drivers, and the taxis here cost a lot, I think we were quoted about 25euro for a 10 minute journey.

After a quick google I figured out the bus route, and next thing we knew we were in Nadur, our home for the next 5 days. I had found a cute little room with a kitchenette in an old farmhouse called In-Nuffara guest house.

It was nice with a lovely breakfast included every morning but the rooms wasn’t serviced well and it got very damp in the day time. The room wasn’t ready when we arrived so we left our bags and went to explore the local town.

It was ssssooooo pretty! The limestone really gives the buildings a beautiful honey hue, walking up we found the main square, with an amazing church dominating the area. This seemed the liveliest place in a very quiet town, Gozo is very laid back, quiet and peaceful.

After wandering around most of the town, we stopped at the square and got a very cheap beer, I think it was just over a euro! I was very happy with this pricing. It was lovely enjoying the sunshine sat out on the square, we hadn’t eaten much through the day and the lady we were staying with had recommended a bakery called Mekren.

We stopped at a supermarket and picked up the essentials such as wine, cheese and beer and grabbed a pizza from the bakery. The best thing about the apartment was the view from just across the road. There’s a gorgeous terrace overlooking half of Gozo, so we sat with our legs dangling over the wall eating our pizza.

It was still a lovely warm evening so we walked over to Ta’Kenuna Tower, originally built by the British in 1848 as a telegram tower, it is now used as a lighthouse. The views here were stunning, I love the Maltese countryside, all hilltop towns and fields.

We spent the rest of the evening drinking tasty red wine on the terrace watching the sunset, before retiring to our room to snack on cheese and bread. Malta is famous for it’s sheep cheese, particularly ones studded with peppercorns.

The next day we got up early, breakfast was continental with lovely fresh bread delivered to our door, homemade jam and cheese. We were going to rent bikes, the owner had said she’d sort some for us but in the end we were happy she didn’t. It’s a really hilly island and in the heat we think it would get a little annoying after a while.

So off we went to walk around the island, we walked down to Ramla bay a beach that’s covered in red sand, but we were in adventure mode, not beach mode so we climbed up the cliffs on the left hand side to explore an abandoned mansion. There are caves on the right hand side of the beach to explore too.

There’s meant to be some caves up past the mansion too, but they were closed when we walked past, there was a cool natural platform to look out over the bay from though. From here it took us around 45 minutes to walk down into Xaghra, the next town. There are buses that are usually every hour to take you between each town, but we enjoy the walking.

Xaghra is home to Ggantija, one of the world’s oldest monuments, much older than the pyramids! They were built during the Neolithic period and are over 5500 years old. It was pretty amazing that they’re still standing and the buildings themselves were really impressive, it’s a UNESCO world heritage site and there’s a small museum where you can learn a little more.

There’s an old windmill nearby which, although not a must see place was fun to look around and cheap to go in. You can climb up to the top and enjoy the views, and each room has a little info about what life in the 1700s was like in Gozo. We stopped at the square for a slice of cake and a beer while we planned our next move.

Craig wanted to check out St John Baptist Church across the valley in Xewkija, unfortunately we had just missed the bus, so we decided to walk over again, it took just under an hour and we passed some lovely golden corn fields, an interesting cemetery before we got to the church.

It’s one of the largest buildings on the island and it dominates the skyline, the inside was really beautiful with marble floors and gorgeous paintings. You can go right up to the rooftop and even climb the steps up to the bell tower. I got to the top and marvelled at how far I could see, and even the view of the church was wonderful.

After so much walking we were finally ready for beach time, so we jumped on a bus from Xewkija which took us all the way to Ramla bay! We got some tasty orange juice and found a spot on the beach. I had been carrying a little picnic around in a cooler, we demolished the cheese and bread we’d brought.

After a couple of beers and a dip in the beautifully clear but cold waters (it warms up later in the Summer, we visited in May) it was time to leave before the sun set, I got an amazing ice cream from one of the little shops that line the path from the beach. The queue for the bus was quite big but we were one of the first stops, I just imagine in Summer it could be pretty crazy.

Our night was spent in a little bar watching the football, with cheap tasty pizza and even cheaper tasty beer! The people working there were so friendly, making sure the right football was on and moving people if they stood in our way!

We couldn’t wait to explore more of Gozo, and even after two days we were already enamoured with the whole place.

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.

Bergen and the mountain trolls.

I arrived in Bergen after an amazing few days in Tromso. Which you can also read about if you scroll down here.

Bergen is located in the Southwest of Norway, surrounded by fjords and mountains. It’s the second largest City in Norway behind Oslo, and averages 231 days of rain a year!

I was excited to visit for the hiking, cute wooden houses of Bryggen, and to see some of Norway’s famous fjords.

I took the flybussen into the City, it took 30 mins and cost about £10. I stayed at the Bergen Budget Hostel which was basic but the cheapest option!

I immediately set off to explore the City, passing some fun troll street art. Norway is famous for trolls, watch Troll Hunter to learn more.

I was heading towards Bryggen, the old centre of Hanseatic leagues empire. It’s full of colourful wooden houses that line the waterfront.

Built in 1702 after a fire had destroyed most of the City, it’s now a UNESCO world heritage site. Make sure you explore the little alleyways between and behind the houses, where you can find shops and restaurants.

If you continue along the waterfront past Bryggen you come to Bergenhus Fortress, some of the buildings here were built in the 1240s and it’s one of the oldest stone castles left in Norway.

I turned back here and followed the waterfront round in the opposite direction, keep an eye out for some of the amazing street art pieces that are dotted about the City. For fish lovers there’s a fishmarket on Strandkaien, and the main shopping streets are just up from here.

The streets around Sydneskleiven are really beautiful, and there are some great views from the end of Oysteins Gate and St John’s Church is right by here too. I took a little detour through the university area and walked around the lovely Lille Lungegardsvannet lake.

This only took the morning as I had arrived into Bergen early, so I decided to go hiking! You can take a cable car up to the top of Floyen mountain near Bryggen and once up there you can walk to your hearts content. The views up here of Bergen and out to sea were incredible.

I headed to Granbakken, a little mountain lake first, along lovely little wooden walkways through green forest. It doesn’t take long to get away from the crowds around the cable car spot.

The lake was frozen over which was cool, and there were some awesome places to stop, one where I dangled my legs above the forest below!

From here I decided to walk through the forest to Skredderdalen, and followed the river up to lake Nedrediket. This took me along ridges, with more views of Bergen, and following the raging river up towards the lake was amazing.

I was loving the walk and continued on to a bigger lake called Storevatnet, you couldn’t even see the other side of this one due to some fog.

I noticed some steps going up alongside the lake and thought the views from the top would be amazing. Unfortunately when I got to the top this fog rolled in and I could barely see in front of me.

This led to a rather dicey hike across the tops of the mountain in thick fog, snow and ice. Honestly there was a point where I got a little bit worried, luckily google maps worked the entire time, so I could easily follow the path along to Rundemanen, a little heritage museum that had a proper road heading back down towards the cable car.

Apart from a section of road that was closed due to an avalanche the rest of the walk down was pretty nice, the fog had subsided. It took me around 5 hours in total to hike around the mountains, and I was definitely ready to eat something.

So I stopped off at a pizza place in the City, I was so tired that I went back to the hostel and pretty much passed out.

I wish I had gone around the City at night to see it from a different perspective, but there will always be next time!

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.

Labuan Bajo, Gateway to Komodo.

Come for the Komodo Dragons, but stay for the chilled atmosphere, liveaboard boats and stunning scenery. Just be prepared for the plastic waste everywhere, unfortunately this isn’t just a Labuan Bajo issue so try to limit your plastic consumption at all times.

THINGS TO DO IN LABUAN BAJO.

Labuan Bajo is a far cry from Bali, with just one main street by the water, it’s mainly filled with dive shops and a few restaurants/hotels. Make sure to take a walk along the promenade and check out the amazing Komodo statue and the cute pink jetty.

STAY ON A BOATEL

Our first two nights were spent on Le Pirate Boatel! Le Pirate Located out beyond the harbour, it’s so cute. With just ten rooms and a deck it’s small and it doesn’t feel busy. The room consists of a double bed, a shelf and a cupboard and toilets are communal. Make sure to book through their own website for free breakfast.

We arrived via the shuttle boat service which runs throughout the day for those missing dry land. We got there in the evening, but awoke to the most beautiful sunrise. Make the effort to get up, it’s worth it for the views and the turtles that swim past.

The rest of the day was spent lounging on our private outdoor area, in the hammock and diving into the beautiful warm waters. The sunset that night was possibly even better than the sunrise!

Snorkeling is free on the boat and if you head towards the jetty and beach there’s a lot of marine life to see. Unfortunately the beach is absolutely covered in rubbish and there’s quite a bit in the water which was a big let down. It was fun watching monkeys playing on the beach in the morning though.

RENT A SCOOTER

We rented a Scooter for the day and rode up to sunset hill for amazing views of the bay. It’s much prettier on the opposite side to the docks. We found a secret beach that all the locals were at, drive around the East side of the peninsula to find it.

The water was so warm and clear, and you can walk out for ages as it’s so shallow. Park up, strip to your swimmers and jump in! It was fun to be around all the locals, they’re so friendly and find it extremely fun to talk to us.

We got back on the bike and it wouldn’t start, a small kid tried helping us to kick start it before another local just lifted the stand up and it worked. It was pretty embarrassing stuff.

There were a few nice beaches along this road, but be prepared for plastic everywhere, it’s such a shame because it would truly be paradise otherwise. We drove around and found a cool bar up at the top of a hill called One Tree Hill! It was super colourful and had cool street art covering it.

The views from the top were amazing! A huge storm rolled in as we were there having a beer and it was incredible. I bet the sunset is amazing from here too.

As we drove along we stopped off at little shops along the way to cool down and get a can of something to drink. It was great to use the local places rather than spend all our money in a circle K.

VISIT SOME CAVES

As we were driving around we saw some caves on Google maps and it was such a fun experience.

Batu Cermin is only a ten minute drive or so from the town, and costs 50,000pp to enter plus a small parking fee. We weren’t sure what it would be like as we walked past clumps of bamboo and spotted monkeys playing around.

As we got closer we were amazed by the formations of the rocks, and we found out that the whole island used to be underwater and these rocks even had coral embedded in them.

As you walk between the rocks birds and butterflies are flying around you and the light coming through makes everything look even more beautiful.

You can take a guide if you’re nervous about going into the actual caves but otherwise helmets are provided at the entrance. It’s pretty cool being underground and you do have to crouch and crawl a bit, but it’s totally worth it for the passageway with a small window high above that lets in the sun to light up the cave.

There are more caves around Labuan Bajo and you can even swim in some of them like Rangko cave.

PLACES TO EAT

We ate at a few places, our first night was at Le Pirate hotel on the top floor. It’s decked out nicely, with a hostel vibe to it, the food was good but nothing spectacular and reasonably priced.

Happy Banana is the highest rated restaurant in the area, but it has no soul and you could be eating anywhere in the world, it’s also on the higher end for prices and no sunset views.

Bajo Taco is a Mexican place that we went to for the rooftop bar, and stayed for the happy hour deals and tasty food. Get there before sunset for amazing views and a soundtrack of the Islam call to prayer. The food here is really good and well priced, the free chipotle mayo was gorgeous.

Warung Mama was our favourite place, just walk up the stairs and over to the glass cabinet, pick out your choice of Indonesian food with rice and enjoy. It was really good for us vegetarians and the cheapest meal at 66k for 2 and 80k for 2 plus drinks.

We stopped at Blue Marlin for lunch one day and at the time thought it was pretty good, but after visiting Warung Mama and Bajo taco we realised it’s pretty basic. Also watch out for the extra taxes that aren’t included in the price. The sunset was good from here though.

Don’t be afraid to try the little Warungs dotted about, Craig got a really good Nasi Goreng in a place just across from our hotel. If you’re worried about the meat etc, just ask for it veggie! We had no problem with this everywhere we went like one place on the main street that we tried after Mama had run out of veggie food.

Eco-tree hotel gets a bonus mention, we only had beers here but the sunset views were amazing! Plus it’s a cool building, head to the top floor to walk the plank.

LIVEABOARDS AND DAY TRIPS

Read all about our Komodo National Park boat tour HERE. Booked through Seek Sophie

After doing the tour we would definitely recommend taking a liveaboard boat trip for a few nights around the islands, our tour was amazing but we wished we’d had more time at each place and could’ve discovered more of the amazing islands.

We spent the rest of our time here relaxing by the pool at our hotel, Bintang Flores and enjoying the amazing Indonesian sunsets. I don’t think we had a bad one in the whole week.

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!