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Next up was the old parliament, a classic looking white building which was superseded by the new parliament built up on Capitol hill.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

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.

A Trip to Toledo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

48 hours in Kiev, Day 1.

Ukraine

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

Kiev

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

Top Sights of Kiev

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

48 Hours in Minsk.

Entry to Belarus

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

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

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

Belarus

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

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

Minsk

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

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

My Top Sights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s a Quokka thing, Rottnest Island.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Temple trekking in Yogyakarta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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