Upcoming travels: Shetland

May is fast approaching and with it, a very welcomed week off work! J. and I have been talking about visiting Shetland for a few years as he has family who live there. He went to Shetland back when he was still at school but this will be my first trip to islands. After calling his uncle on Christmas Day who asked him ‘so, when are you coming up to visit us in Shetland?’ it prompted us to make a move on and do it in 2018.

We would have loved to have gone for Up Helly Aa, an annual festival held at the end of January in Shetland, but due to me being a teacher and not much (any) leeway in my holiday dates, I don’t know if this will ever happen. The great thing about May though, is that I have been promised I will see puffins!


Getting there

There are two ways to get to Shetland: ferry or fly.

The flight from Aberdeen only takes 1-hour but the flight times and prices were not convenient for us, so we settled on the overnight ferry. As soon as we knew our dates, we booked the ferry to secure our transport there.

The ferry leaves late afternoon from Aberdeen to Lerwick, so it’s easy to get a train up in the morning and head straight for the ferry upon arrival. However, it would be a bit of a shame to not look around what Aberdeen has to offer. We decided we would include a 1-night stay in Aberdeen to break up the journey, see a bit of the city and because I am dying to see Dunnottar Castle, a short train journey away outside of Stonehaven.


We are spending four days, three nights in Shetland, and I am really looking forward to seeing the wildlife, the scenery and exploring the ‘last untamed corner of the UK’

Have you visited Scotland, Shetland or any of the Scottish Isles? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.

Robyn

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Lima for FREE

We had made it to Lima, the last stop on this whirlwind journey through Chile, Bolivia and Peru. With one day left in Peru before our flight home and with dwindling bank accounts, this is what we did all for free!

Go for a stroll

Lima has plenty of parks and places to go for a late afternoon or early evening walk. We loved the Miraflores Boardwalk which hugs the coastline. Start at Lacromar, a new shopping area on the cliff edge, wander around for half an hour before going right along the coast.

Along the way, there are lots of lovely little parks, benches, sports facilities and viewpoints to take in the Pacific Coast. We enjoyed seeing all the cute dogs – many fancy breeds showcased around too!

What we didn’t expect however, was 6 teenage girls run and scream after us because they thought J. was Ed Sheeran because of his red hair (oh dear…). They were desperate to get some selfies with him. He enjoyed his 2 minutes of fame. After all the selfies and Chinese ladies wanting to get pictures of him in South East Asia last year, we thought with only one day left of our trip that we had got away with this not happening on the trip – so wrong.

I especially loved the Parque Kennedy, or as it should be called- The Cat Park! There are about twenty cats who call this park their home, where they are safe and are well fed. It was so cute watching them frolic about in the flowerbeds or hide themselves high up in the tree branches. We saw a man on his lunch break who had brought a can of tuna, so his feline friend could join him for lunch. If you love cats, this is a must!

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Then we had to pack our bags to head the next day to the airport for the 12-hour flight home.

 

Adventures at Home: Pembrokeshire, Wales

It was the first weekend after school broke up in July and I was geared up for a nice, weekend break in sunny South Wales. Of course, things didn’t go to plan! First, J. and I were planning a weekend camping together, but this soon became a group thing with a few of his old coursemates and housemates. Luckily we are all good friends…

I spent a lot of my childhood exploring North Wales, living only a short drive away in Merseyside. Many memories were made getting lost in Snowdonia on expeditions for The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, so it was good to go south for a change.

We stayed at a campsite only a short drive away from nearby Pembroke which has an impressive castle and a high street with some shops, pubs and restaurants. A little further along was Tenby; with its pastel-coloured houses along the harbour, it is a picturesque little seaside town, which we enjoyed going to on both Saturday and Sunday morning for a stroll along the narrow streets and get a spot of breakfast.

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J. and I arrived early on Friday afternoon to the campsite, well before the rest of the group. We were welcomed by nothing less than torrential rain. Looking forward to a ‘summer holiday’, and definitely too optimistic in our choice of clothing (jeans – what was I thinking?!), we were very unprepared to put up our tent and regretting everything.

Sitting in the parked car for a few minutes we agreed we were not going outside. A lady knocked on my car window and asked me to meet her in the reception to check-in. Poor thing had got soaked for that! J. said he was staying put, so it was up to me to brave the weather. It’s not like we don’t have the equipment – I have waterproofs and everything but didn’t bother to pack them. Definitely the wrong decision.

The rain was not subsiding even after quite a while, so we agreed we would just have to put the tent up and get soaked. Get soaked we did. Two hours passed and still the rain was hammering down on the tent. We were getting hungry so it was time to once again get wet, just when our clothes were starting to dry! I called my mum and said suggested we just put the tent down and go find a B&B. It was so tempting but we were too stubborn for that!

There was not much parking in Pembroke. But by the time we got there, we found some free parking only available after 6pm (hooray!). Unfortunately, the main pubs and restaurants were about a ten minute walk away – of course! Walking down the street, we were turned away by a few places as they stopped serving at 7pm and were closing up. So odd as it was a Friday night! Eventually, we found a pub/restaurant/hotel which did food, so we sat down at last. We looked out the window from our table, jaws dropped – it had stopped raining the second we found shelter – typical!

After being well fed, our clothes were drying quickly and one of our friends finally arrived to join us. We were waiting for three more, but after horrific traffic all the way from Sheffield and 2 hours of stagnancy on the roads, they arrived in the thick of night at 11pm. Car lights were useful in helping to put the tent up!

After the nightmare of the rain on Friday afternoon, we were grateful that there was no more for the rest of the weekend! We spent Saturday afternoon relaxing on Stackpole Beach which is known as the best beach in Wales! The walk along the clifftops makes for a dramatic arrival to the beach, but because of this, it is not very accessible for those with restricted mobility. There were a lot of sand-flies as well which wasn’t great, but the views were spectacular.

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On the way back to the campsite, we stopped in Pembroke to pick up food for a BBQ which was a great way to spend our only real proper night together there.

Pembroke is a beautiful, little corner of Wales which has some lovely villages and beaches to visit. Luckily, after a terrible start weather-wise, we were treated more kindly for the days that followed, with some sunshine. Although, this is Wales, we should have known better! Next time though, I think we will rent a cottage together, or at least go glamping/book a B&B. I think my DofE days are past me!

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Japan Series: Rainy Kyoto

Welcome back to the Japan Series! After a few days in Tokyo and a day trip to Kamakura, it was time for a weekend trip to Kyoto…

During our trip to Kyoto we rented an Airbnb, staying in a traditional Japanese house near Toji Station. This was a great location and amazing to stay in a beautiful Japanese home.

We arrived Friday night after a long coach journey, and had only 2 full days to make the most of this city, which I must admit, is not long enough to see everything. Pressure!

In Kyoto, there is a lot of tourism. So much so, that it can get to the point were there are just too many tourists at sites. Still, we found that by being smart with our itinerary, there are ways to avoid a lot of the stress of the crowded temples and shrines. It was also coming to the end of sakura season, so the main bulk of tourists had fizzled out. Nevertheless, for some places, the overcrowding is just inevitable and you have to suck it up and go with the flow (of the crowd).

The weather forecast was not looking promising for Saturday morning, so we changed our plans up a bit to take into account the rainy weather.

Our first stop was to the nearby Toji Temple. Now, this is not one of the ‘top sites’ as such, but with it being a short walk away it would have been a shame not to see it. In all honesty though, this was one of my favourite places that I visited in Kyoto. Maybe because it was quite empty, maybe because it was just so beautiful, I don’t know, but I loved it! The 5-storey pagoda is really something, and has been even earthquake-proof for a few centuries! It was really interesting reading about how they managed that.

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Toji

 

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Toji

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Toji

The rain still beating down, we made our way to Tofukuji Temple. We caught the bus right outside Toji which took us straight there – handy! It was a short walk to the Temple. This one is interesting as it has two very different gardens which you have to pay to enter. We decided we may as well do both while we were there. These gardens are actually made to be appreciated in rainy weather, and there are plenty of walkways to keep dry if necessary.

The first garden, you can walk around and explore away from the sheltered areas and really get into nature. It was so tranquil and the colours around were mesmerising.

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The second was a ‘zen garden’ which was also beautiful in its own way but with a lot more structure and perfectionism to it.

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It wasn’t long after until the sun reappeared and it became sunny and humid again, just in time for our next stop, Fushimi-Inari Shrine, which I will talk about in next week’s post…

Robyn

Japan Series: Tranquility in Tokyo

How to describe Tokyo in three words? Massive, dazzling, overwhelming. Tranquility ain’t normally one of them!

This was certainly not the case either, when I woke up at 3am on the first night and the room shook for 3 seconds – yes, that was an earthquake! It was only a 2.0 so was not horrific but earthquakes are common in Japan.

As a first-time traveller to the country, Tokyo was really something. I have never been in a city comparable in size to it. The scale of Tokyo only began to unravel when I gazed out through the window in the Government Building tower one night. So. Big. (this is a great way to see the city day or night for free by the way!).

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Still, despite the hustle and bustle of city life, stuffed metro carriages and huge zebra crossings, there are pockets of calm in the form of gardens and shrines that slow down the pace.

Meiji Shrine is one of them. It is currently being renovated in time for the 2020 Olympics, so I did not see her in her true glory, but the size and beauty of the surrounding area is so serene, only a stones’ throw away from Harajuku.

Hamarikyu Gardens, a 40-minute ferry-ride away from the beautiful yet touristy Asakusa temple, is such a tranquil spot to appreciate natural beauty surrounded by the cityscape. The gardens do not hide from the skyscrapers and modern buildings, rather they embrace them. The tea rooms here gave me my first experience of Japanese green tea and wagashi (sweets).

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Asakusa

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Asakusa and my first sight of sakura!! (cherry blossom)

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Hamarikyu

 

On my final day, I braced the area of Shinjuku on my own, clutching my phone with the GPS on, using Harrie’s trusty portable wifi, stashed in my bag, to go to the Shinjuki Gyoen (Gardens). These gardens were massive and only 200 yen to enter. It took me a good 2 hours to walk the length and breadth of this place, but it did not feel anywhere near as magical as the last two places. My only guess is that this is just such a huge area and they simply don’t have the means to truly care for every corner of it. It did feel like it wasn’t looking its best, or maybe I just have high expectations. Either way, it is a great way to spend some time away from the faced-paced city, whilst still in the center of it.

This city really threw me in the deep-end as my first stop on my whirlwind trip to Japan. Despite all that, it was exhilarating and totally different to anywhere I have been before.

 

What do you think of Tokyo? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

5 Reasons Why you have to book a flight to Vietnam

Although I enjoyed my time immensely in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, each one of the three countries was so unique and diverse, with its own cultural norms and views towards backpackers. Truthfully, I was not expecting my experience to be so different each time I stepped across a border, but it made the trip all the more eye-opening. However hands down, Vietnam was the best part of the trip – here are my top 5 reasons you need to go!

1. The chaos.

If you can cross a road in Hanoi or Saigon, you can cross a road anywhere in the world – fact. Every time you step off the pavement, there is always that worry of whether you will get to the other side. When you do make it though, it is a triumphant feeling, as you have lived to see another day, well, until the next road crossing that is…

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Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

2. The pavements

These are reserved for: parking scooters, driving scooters, pop-up shops and street-food vendors, sitting to eat your pho noodles, anything and everything, all except walking. More often than not, you have to walk in the street – no escape from the chaos mentioned above!

3. The food.

How could I talk about Vietnam without mentioning the food? Personally, the food here was the best of the trip – and so cheap! You will never go hungry. On our first night in Hanoi, we were recommended to eat at a small restaurant. When we arrived, it was packed with locals but no travellers. We ordered our pho bo (beef noodle soup) and Coca Cola bottles for 20p and slurped up the best pho I have ever eaten, while sitting on the tiniest, most uncomfortable plastic stools you can possibly imagine.

4. The scenery.

Get out of the bustling cities! See some of Vietnam’s spectacular natural beauty. With only two weeks in the country, it was not possible to go everywhere. We will definitely be back for more. The major highlight for us was surprisingly not Ha Long Bay which is raved about online, but a day-trip to nearby Ninh Binh (a 2-hour drive south of Hanoi). Ninh Binh receives fewer tourists and therefore it gives you the sensation that you are going slightly off the beaten track. We caught a little slice of paradise while taking a leisurely boat-ride down the river to marvel at the rock formations, and cycling past the lush paddy fields.

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Ninh Binh

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Ha Long Bay

5. The locals.

The Vietnamese are friendly and a smile and a few words in Vietnamese can go a long way. When we took the overnight trains between Hanoi-Da Nang and Da Nang-Ho Chi Minh City, the locals we met in our berth and along the train loved nothing more than to let us join in their conversations (albeit with difficulty), celebrations or meals, as it was quite rare for Westerners to walk up to the restaurant-car for dinner and pass the second and third-class carriages.

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Yet like with any trip, there were issues. We had so many people trying to scam us, to donate money to false causes, to harassment with people trying to selling us things. Although we didn’t fall into any of their traps, and most of the time we laughed it off, the encounters remained unpleasant.

The important thing is to remain aware, don’t make any rushed decisions and don’t take any photos of locals or they may just follow you down the road demanding money and for you to buy 30 bananas off them! It was painful watching tourists getting scammed that way.

Our overall experience of Vietnam was that it was very affordable for backpackers on a budget, the food was delicious, the country is welcoming to respectful travellers and that it is such a diverse country. With so many opportunities for things to do from North to South; golden beaches, to lush mountainous regions and huge bustling cities. WHat are you waiting for?

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Hoi An (Japanese Bridge)

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Sunday Snapshot: Keukenhof Gardens

Photography taken during my visit to The Netherlands, 24/03/16. The Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse is one of the largest flower gardens of Europe, with over seven million flower bulbs planted there each year.

Our visit was on the opening day of the 2016 season, and thus the tulip fields were not in full bloom. Still, the indoor exhibits were fascinatingly beautiful, especially the Orchid area. I had to drag myself away from buyign one of the most grogeous blue orchid plants which were flying off the shelves from other visitors. If you are coming to Amsterdam in the Spring (March-June), consider spending an afternoon away from the city, admiring nature in this gem of a place.

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