Theres more to Catalonia than just Barcelona.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Well known for its consistent heat, the man made beach and of course Las ramblas, you can see why Barcelona is a very popular destination, but there is also lots to see outside of the city center. If the hustle and bustle of this busy city can get a bit much, especially when your in holiday mode, I've put together a list of things to see and do that are all within an hour of the madness so you could easily pop out for the afternoon or even book in an overnight stay if you fancied.

Visit Monstraat
Whilst mountains aren't usually something I would recommend for fun, in fact I really thought I wasn't a fan of any mountain activity (apart from eating), I really enjoyed my day in Monstarrat. Firstly, it was the first time I've been up to the top of a mountain and it was hot so that gave the whole afternoon a whole other edge and secondly, the train ride up there was an experience in itself, I felt like I was on a real life thunder mountain in regards to the mountains and the views (not the crazy rode part) At the top, we took a walk around in the sunshine, watched a school boy choir sing in the huge monastery, had a local lunch and then got the train back to the station. 
Segway ride in Sitges
Segway tours are such a fun thing to do. With the sun out, our evening tour was still pretty warm and a great alternative way to see a place. Don't worry if you've never done it before, I hadn't but our guide was great and went through it individually with each of us before we set off; plus our route was super simple although there was some time to play sound once we got to the park. It's really easy, although riding a segway can actually get pretty exhausting too so an hour was the perfect amount of time.

P.S. I was told that a building site on the seafront was the beginning of ME Barcelona  so soon that'll be another reason to visit Sitges.

Beach club in Vilanova
Vilanova is a very quiet seaside town but as you venture out along the harbor, once you pass all of the yachts, you'll find La Daurada beach club at the end. This is where we had our welcome party and we were all told to wear white in traditional beach club fashion. Starting upstairs, we grabbed a glass of cava and drank it on the balcony before finding the cocktail bar and grabbing a seat downstairs on the beach front. There we watched the sunset which was really quite impressive. The sky changed from clear blue through an incredible range of oranges and reds whilst the live band played.

  • Drink wine in Vilafranca

If you're a wine lover, then this is the one for you. Vilafranca is the wine capital of Catalonia and we did lots of wine related activities during our day there. Firstly, there is the Vinseum where you can learn about wine culture if that's your kind of thing and of course it ends with a glass of wine. We also went to the most beautiful vineyard for lunch (the restaurant there was called Mas Rabell) where we were served 5 courses each paired with a wine. The food felt like there was a lot of thought put into it; each dish was very tasty and well presented too. Lastly, we went up to the bell tower of Santa Maria church whee you can see sweeping views all around. You have to book in your visit but you can opt for the sunset and with a glass of wine visit for just €5. Cheers!

See a human tower in Terressa
Human towers (or castellers) are a traditional spectacle in Catalonia and upon seeing my first one I can confirm they are very impressive. Time you're visit right and you'll be able to catch a public display that happens over most holiday and festivals but if not, like us you can go and watch the local team practice. Minyons de Terrassa, who we went to see were the first team in Spain to build a tower 10 people high. Pretty impressive!
Human towers are tradition in Spain & last night we watched the @visitaterrassa team train 😮 #BCNmuchmore #costabarcelonaweek @Spain_inUK
*Thanks to Costa Barcelona Week for hosting me


Monday, 23 October 2017

I arrived in Bali a little bit broken. Twelve days of non-stop partying as well as making some major life decisions had taken its toll on my body and I was starting to get ill. I only got to bed an hour before my flight the night before; going to bed at 6am was a terrible idea, hindsight eh? so apart from waking up for some instant noodles, I slept the whole way to Bali and woke up tired and disorientated in a new country. Basically, I was in a bit of a state and I needed to sort myself out. Luckily, I was heading to Sukhavati retreat for the next three days and they did just that for me.
I didn’t really think too much about going to a retreat on my own when I booked it in but after the week I had had, it was the perfect place to reflect on what had happened and being there alone gave me the time to just think and really understand what being on my own felt like.

Being picked up from the airport was part of the package and after a very comfortable hours drive, we had arrived in paradise. My time at Sukhavati started with a facial and foot massage in my villa; which was pretty amazing by the way. I've never had treatments in my own space before but it really added another level to the luxury of it; laying on my own bed with the sound of the pool and birds outside, not to mention it was probably the best foot massage I think I have ever had.

The villa was very similar to the one I stayed at in Ubud last year although it was much bigger and this time I had the whole thing to myself. It had a private pool, a huge outdoor sofa area at the front and an incredible outdoor bathroom out the back so I lived in my bikini for three days and didn’t leave unless I really had to (aka going to the spa).

Although there was the option to have dinner brought to the villa, I decided to use meal times as another opportunity to leave the room. There were only a few of us staying at the resort which meant we could all go hours or even days at a time without seeing another else so each night we all sat together and ate at one table which I thought was really lovely - we all got to know each other pretty well over the few days.

It was here, talking to everyone on the first evening that I realised that this retreat wasn’t just about staying somewhere nice and being pampered; people actually came here to get better. A few of the guests were on some kind of starvation day which the doctor had prescribed for them and they were telling us how much the felt better for it. Those of us eating had delicious vegetarian meals each time. This one, beetroot curry, a dahl, quinoa, pumpkin and spinach which was full of goodness and was one of my favourites of my stay. It was just the kind of food I was craving after eating Nandos almost every single day for two weeks back in Kuala Lumpur.
Mornings at the retreat started with early yoga on the terrace, followed by breakfast; which I ate in the villa both times. It was so amazing just getting out of bed, opening the big doors of the villa and sitting down to eat by my private pool. 

After breakfast on my first day, it was my turn to meet with the doctor. I was a little bit worried he was going to put me on a food cleanse but luckily he didn’t. He did however do something which completely amazed me. He asked to feel my pulse and held down on my write for a few minutes. From that he told me that I had disrupted menstruation, which he was right about; he also said there is a stiffness in my back and that I have problems with my digestion. Three things are that really affect my everyday life; I just sat there in shock. He must be a wizard.
A few hours later, I was booked in to have three Ayurvedic treatments that he had prescribed for me; Abhyanga, Body stamping & Shirodhara and they were completely out of this world. Abhyanga is an oil massage but it was different for two reasons, firstly, I was completely covered in oil which the Dr said was important for penetrate the skin and help flush out toxins but also, this massage was done by two people. A couple of times, I caught myself thinking how on earth is she doing that before I realised there were actually four hands rather than two. The next treatment was described to me as body stamping and involved the two therapists using bags of compressed herbs to push more hot oil into my joints.

The last treatment, Shirodhara was just other worldly. I had read about it online and didn’t really understand the benefits of running hot oil over the forehead but once I had experienced it I changed my mind. I laid there for 15 minutes drifting in and out of consciousness; it was a little bit like having an out of body experience. I remembered having conversations with people back in Kuala Lumpar as if it was really happening. It was really strange but totally amazing and I felt so relaxed afterwards - I'd definitely recommend it if you get the chance. 

Back at the villa, I had a couple of hours to relax before dinner and just to process my day. Even after just a few hours here, I was totally relaxed and feeling very spiritual, ready to take on the world again.

Check out their website at Sukhavati retreat

*Thanks to Sukhuvati for hosting me. All comments are 100% my own

Two days in Yogyakarta, Java.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

After getting myself so settled in KL, I was a little bit scared all over again when I arrived in Java. I got there late the night before so after heading straight to bed, I had no idea what I was going to do with myself in the morning; although that didn't take long to change. I sat down for breakfast and the next thing I know, another girl sits down opposite me with her banana pancakes, puts her tea down on the bamboo tables and knocks the whole lot over me. She apologised like crazy and that's how we ended up making plans for one of my favourite days of travelling so far. 

After we had finished our pancakes, we walked out on to the crazy main road in search of the Sultans palace. With only a hand drawn map, I still have no idea how we got there but we did before heading off to the water castle too. Obviously looking a little bit confused, a local man offered to walk us there. I was a little unsure of him at first, if someone had done that in England, there would definitely be some kind of ulterior motive but there wasn't. He took us through a residential area and said goodbye at the gate of the water castle. 

After doing all the local stuff, Clarence wanted to go and see Prambanan temple and she wanted to get a public bus there. Normal, anxious, UK me would not have even thought about it but I followed her up the stairs to the bus stop and bought a ticket without a second thought. Neither of us had any idea where we were going but most of the time, people were shouting directions at us before we had even told them where we wanted to go, they must get a lot of confused tourists. 
Prambaran is one of two very famous temples in Yogyakarta and obviously, it was pretty incredible we arrived half an hour before closing so we didn't have too much time but it was great to see the temple at sunset. Every few minutes whilst wondering around the ruins, we had crowds of school children coming up for photos with us, I now know what it feels like to be a z-lister.

When we finally found the bus stop again afterwards, it was doubly crowded and took twice as long in the evening traffic but I still felt super calm. We were both comfortable with each other by now; one minute we were chatting, the next staring into space with exhaustion and after that we were falling asleep on each other. By the time we got back, it was dark and late so we went to pick up some take away Chinese and ate it together back at the hostel.

The next day I got to do what I came to Yogyakarta for; Borobodur; but this time I was on my own and I was definitely not going to attempt six buses so I booked myself onto a private minibus to and from the temple. I ended up with the front seat so I had my own space and my own air con and it was great.

Borobodur was just as magical as it looked in the photos and I was feeling pretty happy with myself to be there. I had actually flown across the world, on my own and was at a temple that I never thought I'd get the chance to see IRL. I took half an hour to just sit and take it all in, again as the sun was setting; it was another one of those moments for me.

I hardly spoke to anyone all day and it was actually really cool. To go out and explore and not need to rely on anyone. I wanted to leave early so I could look at the market on the way back to the car; so I did, I spent far too long looking at all the Batik clothes and then I left. I hopped straight back in the front seat of the car, put my headphones in and fell alseep, before being dropped off right outside my hostel. 

5 Safety Tips for Flashpacking South East Asia

Friday, 1 September 2017

Whilst travelling to South East Asia is one of my absolute favourite things to do, it can be a very daunting experience, especially if it's your fist time doing so. Not only is it a long way away from home but arriving there, whether it's into a big, crazy city or a small island without any mobile signal, can be a huge culture shock (that's kinda one of the reasons I love it there so much.)

There is a whole different way of life from what I know here in the UK and whilst that means that there lots of new people, places and food to experience, it also means that there are different things to look out for and think about when keeping yourself safe so here are some tips and some things I like to do to keep myself reassured when I'm there.
Hidden Emergency Cash
The whole experience of having money stolen from you whilst you are out exploring a new place is bad enough; but the aftermath of being left with no money is also not very nice. If you are away from your accommodation on a tour for example, you were probably going to need it for food, water and transportation back so it is always helpful to have a secret stash on you that you can use in emergencies like this.

I also try to take as little cash as possible in my wallet on a day out. Just as much as I think I'll need and a little more I'd say, that way, if it does get stolen, I haven't lost too much. Apart from that, I find it very reassuring to keep one larger note easily accessible, on my body just in case. I'd either put it in my shoe or tucked away in my bra but whatever works for you.
Online Protection
Using the free wifi from hostels, coffee shops and airports when you are traveling around South East Asia might seem like the obvious thing to do when you need to get online but doing so makes it very easy for your online world to be hacked into. With access to personal information, someone can very easily ruin a trip, so installing something like Kaspersky Security Cloud is a great way to protect yourself online.

Having security means that any information input to a website when buying a plane ticket or booking accommodation for the next few days for example is kept safe. Also, things like passwords and other personal information such a private messages and data is protected against hackers; and because it is cloud based, you don't need to worry about it taking up precious memory on your laptop. More space for photos!
RFID blocking cards
Card skimming, also known as electronic pick pocketing, can be done from a distance and can result in credit card fraud and stolen identities. By just walking past you in the street, someone can skim all of your personal information from the credit card in your pocket. Passport and driving licence also have these chips in them FYI.

RFID stands for Radio-frequency identification and RFID blocking cards interfere with the radio waves, blocking the frequencies so that any information held in the RFID chip can't be read. They are pricey for a piece of plastic (I got mine as a gift but they were £8) but once you have them, they just slot into your wallet, in front of the important cards and could save you a lot in the long run.

Know Where You're Staying
This helped me out many times when I was in Vietnam and is something I wish I had thought about the year before when I was in Bali with Andrew. We were staying in a luxury resort but it was down a long, one way road and most of the taxi drivers hadn't heard of it before. If we had had a business card on us, they would have just been able to Google the address and take us there but as it was, we didn't and Andrew spent most of our taxi ride directing the driver which way to go. So this year, when I went backpacking through Vietnam, without Andrew (I have no idea where I'm going most of the time), I made sure to take a business card from the hostel out with me so I could just pass it to the driver and have him take me back.
Try To Blend In
Whilst I was very tempted to pack some of favourite holiday clothes and elephant shorts from my last trip (I snuck them in as pyjamas in the end), I think it is much more important to dress safely than fashionably when you are travelling alone. Instead of a bright pink co-ord that I might have packed if I was going on holiday with Andrew, I opted for a simple grey t-shirt dress so as not to draw too much attention to myself when wandering around the big cities on my own.

It's obvious that I'm not a local, of course, but I'd rather try to look like an expat that knows what they are doing than a tourist who can be easily taken advantage of.
*Sponsored post

Through the Fleahole

Friday, 25 August 2017

It was my birthday last week and I totally forgot to tell you guys! Andrew took me to Disneyland to celebrate (amazing) but since everyone was either at work (Andrew, friends) or asleep (dad, hungover brother) on the day, I got to spend the majority of it with Molly.

I'm thinking she enjoyed my birthday just as much as I did because in the morning whilst everyone was still awake, we started off with a nice long walk through the park and to the high street where we had brunch in the sunshine! Avotoast for me, obviously and Molly got most of my brother’s sausage along with some of my halloumi and a load of my dads feta so everyone was happy! Then we went to the bank which she enjoyed more than I would have thought, she had everyone on the floor stroking her for a good ten minutes. When we got home everyone else went off to bed and Molly and I got cozy in her bedroom (the second lounge) and settled in for an afternoon of TV and snacks whilst it was raining outside.

Talking of little doggies, I wanted to share with you FRONTLINE’s new campaign. They sent it over to me on Friday and I managed to get it to play on the TV; Lucky Molly, having the room with the only smart TV in the house! Anyway, the videos are really fun - they're working with two celebrity pooches on a little campaign. Luna and Scrumble star in a couple of videos showing you around their owner’s house and viewers have to guess who they belong too; hence the title, Through The Flea Hole! OMG they are too cute.

Can you guess who Scrumble and Luna belong to? 


*Sponsored by FRONTLINE

Walking Camino de Santiago del norte

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Camino de Santiago del norte, The Northern Way, is a well trodden pilgrimage route, along northern Spain and as it turns out, 2017 is a holy year for it. Originally, pilgrims walked this route to reach a monastery but these days, people who enjoy walking take this route to see northern Spain and stop off to see and do things along the way. It's a bit of an adventure really.
I did a little section earlier this year, and spent four days exploring the route starting in Santandar and finishing at the monastery. Santander is a seaside town and reminded me a little of Brighton. We ate outside in the sunshine before taking a stroll the front with an ice cream and finishing up with a glass of cava at a beachside bar; My kind of afternoon!
Spain Ice Cream
Northern Spain Tapas
Over the next four days, from Santander, we walked a little along the coast through the Oyambre national park. With beautiful green landscapes and a lovely stretch of very quite beach, I really enjoyed walking this part before we headed inland. There we visited a cave, El Soplao, although that's not really my style so I spent that hour outside in the sunshine. We also got a cable car to the top and explored picos de europa mountain range.
 Spain Cable Car
Of course there was also lots of food along the way. Cantabria is full of local culinary delights and as usual, I wanted to try them all. We ate Cocido montañés which was the perfect hearty lunch after a morning exploring in the cold!
Cocido montañés
spain food
My favourite stop of the trip had to be Potes; the cute little cobbled town that we reached just before our final stop. The old town was a lovely place to spend the morning wandering around I just love a town with a river running right through it. A very pretty place!
Our trip finished at the monastery. We walked through the door of forgiveness, as pilgrims had come to do in the past, and once inside was able to see the Lígnum Crucis. This metal cross houses the largest surviving piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on.
 After chatting with the priest, we took a group selfie to celebrate the end of our trip!
*Thanks to The Spanish Tourism Board for hosting me.

Halong bay on cristina diamond cruise

Monday, 7 August 2017

It’s kind of impossible to go to Vietnam and not hear about Halong Bay. Located in the north, 4 hours drive from Hanoi, Halong Bay consists of almost 2000 limestone islands and it’s pretty incredible. It'll probably be the priciest expense on your trip to Vietnam (it definitely was on mine) but it is worth paying for!

You can go for one, two or three days trip but it's a long drive there and back so overnight is recommended. With so many different boats, choosing one online was turning into a bit of a nightmare; they all looked exactly the same but the prices were completely different so in the end, I emailed the hostel that I had booked for Hanoi and asked for their help. They sent me some options at different prices and I picked the 2 night, 3 day Cristina Diamond Cruise which they went ahead and booked for me. Shout out to Nexy!

Our three day cruise cost $255 each which admittedly, was quite a lot (I opted for the luxury boat, come on - lady of luxury at heart remember? plus it was the only one with (terrible) wifi) although that included everything from the three hour transfer there and back, two nights on the boat, all meals and all entrance fees; we only had to pay extra for drinks which were actually very expensive for Vietnam; were talking $1 bottles of water (which really isn’t that much in the grand scheme of things.) 
Halong Bay Cruise
Cristina Diamond Halong
Day 1
We locked our bags away in the luggage room at the hostel and waited in reception to be picked up with just our overnight bags and all of the extra Pringles and Oreos that I'd bought as a precaution. A minibus came to get us at 7.45am and along with about 15 other people we began our journey to Halong. After a tourist trap toilet stop, we were checking into our rooms on the boat by 11.30. Our twin room was a little bit old but it was clean and it was comfortable - I would have been upset if they were any nicer because we hardly spent any time in there at all. We had a big window, a rusty balcony and a very modern bathroom complete with products. 

After dumping our bags down, the first order of the day was a buffet lunch in the restaurant as the cruise got going. The food wasn't incredible but it wasn't bad and there was more than enough of it. I didn’t touch my snacks!
Halong Bay Food
The first stop was to visit a pearl farm. I had read that this was a big waste of time and another tourist trap but actually, we took a 45 minute ride on a bamboo row boat to get there. We then spent 10 minutes watching how they make the pearls (this was actually really interesting) and spent less than 5 minutes walking through the shop to get back on the tender and then went straight to a beach so not a waste of time at all.
We were welcomed back on board with a ‘sunset party‘ on the top deck which involved some (free) wine and juice, some fresh fruit and some mini matcha cupcakes which I ate far too many of. It was all very romantic and on the first night there were a lot of couples which made me start to actually miss Andrew 12 days into my trip (sorry Andrew) but it varies because the next night was full of groups of friends.
Dinner was at 6.45pm back in the dining room and afterwards we spend the rest of the evening chatting to Tugen, the bar man who was the same age as us. I always find it fascinating talking to locals about their life in the country; he was super smiley and sounded like he loved working on a boat. After a little bit of unsuccessful squid fishing we headed to bed and were gently rocked to sleep. I always sleep so peacefully on water.

Day 2
The mornings start with 6.45am Tai Chi on the top deck so I left Nathan asleep in the room and went up to have a go. After 15 minutes of waving our arms around in the air; trying to follow the Tai Chi master, I went back down to the restaurant to meet Nathan for breakfast - I had a couple of scrambled eggs whilst he went a little bit more adventurous and had a pho.
 Then it was time to split from the two day cruisers. They went off to see a cave (what we would be doing on our third day) whilst we waited on the main boat for our day boat to come and pick us up.  There was only one other couple who had booked the three day trip like we had so we near enough had a private tour which was absolutely incredible. This second day we got a proper experience of Halong Bay so I would completely recommend booking the three day trip.
The day started with an hour of sailing in the sunshine. There wasn’t another tourist boat in sight all day, it really did feel like we were the only ones there and it was so peaceful. We lost all track of time and had started drinking beer before anyone realised that it was actually only 9am.

In between sailing, we stopped off to explore a deserted cave and go out fishing with a couple of local fishermen - they took us out in a tiny wooden boat that they had somehow put a motor in and were controlling it with a hook on a piece of string and a branch, it was quite the experience!
That was actually a replacement activity since the government banned both kayaking and swimming just a few days earlier. No one could tell us why but luckily we were more than happy to relax on the boat instead. With an on board BBQ for lunch and a nap on the sun deck, we returned back to the main boat at around about 5pm feeling totally refreshed and just in time for the sunset party again.
Whilst we were away, they had offloaded the two day cruisers that we originally got on with and loaded up with another group. Then we started again with the sunset party up on the deck followed by dinner. This time they prepared a different meal for the four of us so we ended up spending all day and all night with our new friends! Luckily we got on pretty well and ended up spending the rest of the night at the dinner table drinking cocktails.
Day 3
Again, my morning started with Tai Chi on the deck followed by breakfast and now it was our turn to visit the first cave from yesterday. I actually decided to stay on the beach instead as it was super crowded and it was making me feel a bit ill. Still, they came out 20 minutes later and it was time to get back on the boat and check out of our rooms. We had a spring roll making lesson (yeah it really is as easy as it looks) before our last lunch on board and the long drive back to Ha Noi.
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