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

A Sneak-Peek at my 9-day Egypt Itinerary 

Cairo – 3 nights

We start in Cairo, staying at the iconic Mena House Hotel; I cannot wait to see the Pyramids from my bedroom window when we arrive. I don’t think there is a better way to start our trip.

We were originally going to do a half-day tour to visit the Pyramids, but me being me, a girl with a fascination for all things Ancient Egypt since the age of seven, this was swiftly altered to a full-day tour, to include Saqqara and Dahshur.

Our final day will see us spend the morning at the Egyptian Museum and explore the city sites.


Luxor – 1 night

A short flight will take us to Luxor for a brief 1-night stay at the Hilton before boarding our Nile Cruise to Aswan. J. had wanted to take the overnight train from Cairo which he had done before, but we were advised against this form of travel by the agency over safety concerns. I am happy with the short flight that is roughly the same price as the train ticket.


Nile Cruise – 3 nights

The itinerary looks action-packed with an early start each day. We will visit Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kinds and Queens, Edfu Temple, Kom Ombo Temple and Temple of Philae – lots of temples! I can already see J. getting worn out by temple-overload after a day or two but this is the kind of travel I love.


Aswan – 2 nights

We will be staying at the Old Cataract Hotel – the hotel that J. was extremely keen to stay at. There were no rooms available for the night we had originally planned, so the agency changed the itinerary of the trip especially, to work around staying at this hotel. The original plan was to stay 1 night, but due to the changes, we were given a complimentary extra night and in an upgraded Nile-view luxury room – wow. This will be a lovely way to end our trip, before flying back to London via Cairo.


 

Although it will be a cultural trip, the fact that all transport, tours and accommodation are all sorted means it will, fingers-crossed, be less stressful than say doing a DIY version.

This is the most luxurious trip we have taken. I’m more used to backpacking my way around, but I am sure I will adapt!

Have you been to Egypt before? Let me know any tips and ‘must-do’s’ in the comments!

Robyn

Escape to Andalucía: One day in Córdoba

One Day in_Córdoba

Back in October-November 2017 I spent my half term wandering around the streets of Madrid, which I blogged about here and here. I seized at the opportunity to get out of the capital and spend a day in a very different city I had yet to visit.

The greatest part about Madrid is how it sits smack bang in the centre of Spain and has excellent rail connections to most parts of the county. In only an hour and a half after boarding the train at Atocha station, I was walking the streets of Córdoba in the balmy heat of your average Andalucian Autumnal morning.

Córdoba is a small city, so a gentle 25-minute walk from the station will find you at its historic centre, where you will find plenty to fill your 1-day itinerary.

Most visitors come to marvel at its iconic Mezquita. You can book tickets in advance online and you should! I had read many reports that the Mezquita is never too crowded and it is easy to get a ticket on the day. How misinformed I was. Usually I book these things in advance just in case things go wrong; but I had been in Spain a few days and already I was super relaxed about everything.

The Mezquita had a massive queue when I arrived, but it closed for several hours in the afternoon when I came back for another try, and only reopened a little before I had to catch my train back to Madrid. Before heading back to the station, there was the most ridiculous queue of people waiting at the entrance to get inside. It was disappointing, so I will know next time not to leave these things to chance.

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Outside the Mezquita

Despite not being able to visit the main site in the city, Córdoba had a few other places of interest which I may not have had the chance to see otherwise!

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

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Not far from the Mezquita is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, or Palace of the Christian Kings. The gardens were enjoyable to look around and you can see inside some of the original buildings. It is very different to the Alcazares of Sevilla and Granada as this one seems less grand and much smaller, but for a couple of euros it is a must-do when in Córdoba.

Roman Bridge

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Opposite the Mezquita you can walk along the Roman Bridge. This is a famous film set too for Game of Thrones as the ‘Long Bridge of Volantis.’ As a fan, I appreciated this.

Jewish Quarter

Córdoba has a small but rich Jewish heritage in its historic centre. Visit the small but informative Casa de Sefarad to get an idea of what life was like for Jews in the city prior to C15th. Around the corner is a Synagogue, built in the 14th century which still has some beautiful and intricate carvings on the walls.

Celleja de las Flores

Be prepared to be patient if you are heading to this next spot and wanting a picture-perfect shot of the tiny street adorned with flowers, as everyone else is trying to do the same thing! Look past the crowds and enjoy the beauty in this small place.

The best part about Córdoba is wandering its narrow streets, stumbling upon beautiful buildings, and being lost in another time. It was particularly good to stock up on some Vitamin D as this was the last time for a while that I felt the suns rays before I returned to the cold of winter in England!

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SHOREDITCH, London

SHOREDITCHL D N

I’m definitely warming up to London the more I visit, and an afternoon in Shoreditch did win me over.

I took the train in for the day to meet up with a friend to see an art exhibit and then see where to go after. J. suggested Shoreditch as a good place to explore for the afternoon. I had never been but it was easy to get to on the Tube/Overground from Victoria.

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We headed to Brick Lane to indulge in the famous beigels at Beigel Bake. So many of my friends have raved about Brick Lane beigels for years and finally I can understand what they are on about.

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a generous portion of salt beef beigel – yum!

The area is a vintage shop-lovers/street-art enthusiast’s paradise, and I could get lost in the rails upon rails of clothes for days or wander the streets looking for cool art. The area is so edgy but that’s the charm.

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By reading this you probably guessed that I actually absolutely loved Shoreditch. It’s a shame that this corner of LDN hasn’t been on my radar until now. There is a lot to see and do – I have only just scratched the surface; so when I’m next down to London (hopefully soon – wait did I just say that?!) I will be wanting/demanding to spend some time here.

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Rainbow Beigels


What do you make of Shoreditch? Anywhere in particular I need to check out on my next visit? Let me know in the comments 🙂

 

Road Trip: Hadrian’s Wall in February

Road Trip_Hadrin's Wallin February(2)

The historical value

Since studying Latin at school for GCSE, Hadrian’s Wall has been a place on my radar for so long. It was interesting to visit the nearby Vindolanda, partially due to it being the home of Minimus, the main character from the first Latin course I studied in primary school, but also for its historical significance – of course. We also visited the nearby Housesteads Roman Fort and a moderate walk to the picturesque Sycamore Gap nearby.

Where to stay?

Trying to find accommodation available and in budget was interesting – booking a trip during half-term and the weekend before Valentine’s Day was not easy! Luckily we stumbled upon a great deal online for two nights at a hotel in Hexham – a historic market town we had not heard of before. A quick check on Google Maps and it was a great location; in the heart of Northumberland and in close proximity to Hadrian’s Wall. Hexham itself also has a few places of interest worth visiting itself too.

My last and only trip to Northumberland was several years ago on a day trip to Alnwick Castle  and I have been wanting to explore more of this beautiful region ever since.

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Road Trip!

But February is too cold!

The only concern of mine for this weekend away was the weather. February is one of the coldest months in the UK and the weather forecast was pessimistic all week, talking of snow and ice. Somehow we managed to avoid the bad weather and we were blessed with bright sunshine both days (albeit still very cold!). Best advice is to prepare for the worst, wrap up warm with plenty of layers and make the most of this lovely slice of rural England. With it being the off-season, the empty car parks and low number of visitors was warmly welcomed, I couldn’t imagine how busy everywhere must be in peak season…

In my next post I will be sharing all about what we did on our weekend trip. Northumberland is such a vast county and I cannot wait to plan my next trip – hopefully to the Northumberland coast I am hearing so many good things about!

Have you visited Northumberland and/or Hadrian’s Wall? What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

South America: unforgettable moments

SOUTH AMERICA_Unforgettable Moments

I have loved sharing my weekly blog posts about my backpacking adventure around South America. It was truly an incredible trip with so many amazing experiences.

However, I tried to keep the best until last; here I have collated all the funny, terrifying and absolutely bonkers moments during the 3 weeks.

C H I L E

Sandstorm in San Pedro de Atacama: Having to go against the sandstorm to make it back to our accommodation. It didn’t matter the sunglasses, the neckerchief around my entire face, my hat and all the layers, I was absolutely covered in sand! Make-up wipes came to the rescue to remove the sand from inside ears and nostrils! Yuck! Definitely not cut out for desert life.

 

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C H I L E – B O L I V I A   B O R D E R

One guy came in on a passport that needed to pay a 150$ visa. He did not have 150$ on him and the closest ATM was all the way back in San Pedro. Solution? Haggling. 50$, some Bolivianos and a frozen chicken (donated by a driver)….he got through!

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S U C R E , B O L I V I A

We arrived by bus to ‘Bolivia’s beautiful capital.’ We haggled for a 50p shared taxi-ride to our hotel. We got in, it all looked okay, our companions were two Swiss guys who had quit their jobs that they hated to travel the world – they were teachers (ha…ha…ha…wah). Then, we discovered that the driver’s dashboard was not on the side of the steering wheel…aND it didn’t even work. The driver was just driving blindly not knowing how fast he was going. We survived though! #bargain

In the Plaza de Armas, I loved the little, 8 year old entrepreneur who was trying very hard to get our custom with his shoe-shining business. He told me that my trainers were filthy and I should be ashamed of walking in them. Well we had just left the desert so, he wasn’t wrong. But his leather shoe-shine kit wasn’t going to help me much!

C U S C O , P E R U

We spent our final day  in Cusco buying everything in the amazing markets – which I absolutely adore by the way. Somehow we both ended up buying massive floor rugs and managed to actually get them to fit in our already full-to-the-brim backpacks #skills

L I M A , P E R U

Walking along the coastal path in Miraflores, a group of screaming teenage girls ran after us. They thought J. was Ed Sheeran because of his red hair. They begged for photos, even after me explaining that this was NOT Ed Sheeran. There was a full on fashion shoot going on before I dragged him away. I was so tempted to ask for 5 soles for the photos, like how the ladies with the llamas do when tourists take photos of them in Cusco…

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And the best of all…

Rocking up to the business-class check-in desk  (#freeupgrade) to fly back to London in our scruffy backpacks and equally scruffy outfits, while everyone else was queuing looking at us like ???How are they in business class??? Even we didn’t know, but it was the best flight ever. I slept a solid eight hours!

So that’s it for my second trip to South America. It is an incredible continent to travel around and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You can spend weeks, months, years and only scratch the surface. I cannot wait to return hopefully in the not-so-distant future to explore destinations like Brazil, Argentina, Columbia and Ecuador. After all, it’s all good Spanish and Portuguese-speaking practice too!

What’s your favourite place/where do you want to go most in South America? Let me know in the comments!

Robyn

 

How I landed with a FREE Business Upgrade!

Checking in for our flight back home on our mobile app, J. tells me he just saw something he couldn’t believe. It sounded like it was something bad… Hands shaking, he is unable to speak. Snatching the phone from him, my eyes adjust to the screen to read our ticket status: ‘Club World.’

We had been upgraded to Club World (Business Class) for free for our 12-hour flight back to London! Could we believe it? NOPE! Dancing around our hostel room in Lima, we were in shock.

We had paid a little extra for Economy Comfort on the way back, which might have helped us  get to the top of the list to get upgraded. We are also OneWorld/BA Blue Members – free so it’s worth joining. The thought of experiencing business class for our flight back was enough for me to not feel too sad about heading to the airport the next day and leaving Peru behind. A flat bed to sleep in for the flight!

We arrived at the airport to find a huge queue for the BA check in desk, but we were able to waltz through to the Club check-in.  Rucksacks on our backs, jeans and a t-shirt, we definitely didn’t look like business class ticket holders. The disbelief of the other travelers – we looked like the worst backpackers ever (aren’t backpackers meant to like save money, not splurge?!). Something similar happened when we were upgraded last year on our flight from Bangkok – the check-in desk lady refused to let us in the Business Area as she didn’t believe we could be in Business… awkward…

We got through security and made the most of arriving early at Lima airport for the Lounge which had WiFi, snacks and drinks. It was the night of the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale at 8pm local time, and I was sitting with HBO on the TV! Unfortunately our flight had to board 10 minutes before the episode started – go figure.

After dinner on board, it was time to get some sleep in my flat bed-seat. Only 12 hours until we would be back in London. I usually find it so hard to sleep on flights, but this time I slept like a log! I woke up disorientated mid-flight, not sure what the time was. I asked one of the cabin crew how long there was left, and she said that we would be back in an hour and that they were just about to serve breakfast. I had slept the ENTIRE flight?! J. was still sound asleep so I had to wake him up.

Business class sure made the long flight feel like it was nothing, and I stepped off the plane well-rested and not ratty for a change! It was 2:30pm when we landed and we somehow managed to get through security, grab our rucksacks, go to the toilet and still catch our train home at 3:03pm – amazing!

It was a bittersweet ending to the most incredible journey. Three weeks came and went by so quickly. We definitely made the most of every minute but I was exhausted due to being on the go every day. When I made it back to my house, I did nothing but sleep for five days, gathering up my strength to go back to work for the new school year. Business class does not prevent jet lag it seems, haha.

Have you ever had a free flight upgrade? Do you have any tips that have helped you? Let me know in the comments!