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Thoughts on Travel and that Country #25 Dream

April 26, 2012
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I came back from Sweden a week ago, and it’s country 24 on 25-country travel goal!

I experienced all the four seasons in one weekend but I still had a great time in Stockholm.  

But I’m not here to talk about my trip to Sweden (sorry readers, but I’ll keep it for other blog posts).

Stockholm, Sweden - Gondolen View

But while on top of the Gondolen view deck overlooking the Stockholm twilight,  I realised that my 25-country goal is soon coming to an end.

Rewind back to five years ago, I never thought that travel will play a large part of my young life. If I asked my 19-year old self then, “How I see myself five years from now?” – I can say “starting a career as a lawyer or a journalist” – a statement with no trace of travel aspirations.

I never thought I would travel as I had now. This 25 countries before I turn 25  goal is far-fetched and a goal reserved for globe-trotting travel journalists, National Geographic documentary filmmakers or young millionaires, but not for a Filipino guy who just graduated from university.

Jump shot - Paris

Society dictates that we must follow a normal pattern to life. It starts with graduating university, getting  job, growing a career and raising a family, then once you become successful, you may travel and see the world! 

My life started the same way but I made a choice. I am not waiting until the end to see the world.

I am still working on a full-time career, working at a 9-6 job and clocking in my timesheet everyday.

And still, I  travel and have no thoughts of stopping.  I’m happy to continue to have a balance of travel and work

But it didn’t come that easy. Working on a full-time job, the amount of holidays to map out and the money to pay for travel, made  it  difficult  to achieve my goal. But after three years and looking at my list, I feel that I accomplished a lot already.

And now, I am one country to go from achieving my list – and it feels great! And to help sort things out, here’s a simple Q&A just to explain my travel plans for country 25 and the destinations after that.

What will be Country 25?

To be honest with you, I am still open to options on where to go. All I know is that it’s in June – I am going to make it!

I’ve already have a few destinations in mind. Romania, Serbia, Portugal, Iceland and Norway are some of my choices to cap off my 25 country adventure.

How would I make my choice? It really boils down to the activities available in the country as well as my financial status. I have a little over a month to decide but regardless of the decision, I think it will be an epic trip!

What’s next for 25 travels?

Well, of course, obviously my website is named 25travels and have been built on the foundation of my 25-country challenge, it’s a question on what will I do next with my blog.

Just to assure you, I will keep on travel blogging and I’ll be keeping the name! But the idea of having 30travels lingers in my mind 😉

What will be my next goal? 25 countries in the next 25 years? Maybe. I have already something in mind, but I will keep it for now and announce it soon!

Amsterdam & Backpack

Where are your next travels after Country 25?

Finishing my 25-country goal doesn’t mean that I am stopping my travels. It’s motivating me more actually.

After visiting Country 25, I’m set to travel to Thailand in July for a two-week trip. 

I’ll be hitting the UK late summer to see the Paralympics with Neil of Backpacks and Bunkbeds (@packsandbunks) too. And definitely, I’m open to doing trips around Europe – Latvia, Lithuania, Switzerland and Estonia perhaps are on my list. And a possible return to Budapest (yes, again!), Prague and Berlin. I still have to hit Barcelona too!

These are just ideas – if you have destinations that you like to suggest –feel free to comment!

I think I’ll leave it to that – and as always you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook for updates.

Happy travels!

 

Travel Blog

Travel Blogger Feature: Euan & Rachel from Our Wee Trip

April 23, 2012
Enjoying Mojitos at the Lebua Sky Bar in Bangkok

It’s good to be back and interviewing  fellow travel bloggers again!

For this edition, I’m lucky to have Euan & Rachel of Our Wee Trip – the adventurous (and good looking) travel couple from Scotland. They left their jobs, packed their bags and set off to see the world! They’ve recently finished their Asian trip and are now travelling across Australia. They keep their blog regularly updated so be sure to follow their stories and adventures!

Our day with the elephants in Chiang Mai

Here’s my short interview with Rachel & Euan.

Names:Rachel Bielinska & Euan Black
Where are you from? We are both proud to be Scottish!
Website: www.ourweetrip.com
Twitter Handle: @OurWeeTrip
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/OurWeeTrip

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

We’re a mid-twenties, Scottish couple who met at university – Euan’s a PR Pro and Social Media Geek, and Rachel’s a Marketing Graduate and Shopaholic. We realised last year we had a decision to make – settle down in Scotland, or pack up and see the world. Six months later and here we are, sitting doing this interview in a café in Laos. We definitely made the right decision!

Why did you decide to start a travel blog?

We both love to write and take photos, and Rachel worked in digital marketing for the last year so it just made a lot of sense – we thought we had the ingredients for a good travel blog!

It’s turned out to be a great decision – we’ve met loads of people, been given tonnes of advice by other bloggers and had a great fun maintaining it.

 

What’s the most challenging part of being a travel blogger?

Trying to pick the best photos to put on the blog! We’ve got literally thousands of shots we know our friends and family would love to see, but it takes so much time processing and uploading them. We’ll have to invite everyone round when we get back and have a slideshow marathon!

Enjoying Mojitos at the Lebua Sky Bar in Bangkok

Can you tell us about your first travel experience?

Rachel: I’ve been abroad every year since I was 2 when my Mum and Dad took me on my first holiday to Greece (the story goes that I was determined not to get on the plane!). I’ve travelled throughout Europe and the US but this trip is my first travel experience as a backpacker. I was nervous, but I’ve loved every second!

Euan: My first real travel experience (independent from my parents) came when I was 16 and went with a few friends to stay in Barcelona for a week. We had the time of our lives and it was at that point I caught the travel bug.

What’s your favourite destination and why?

Rachel: Italy. The scenery is just breathtaking and the food is amazing. I couldn’t eat pasta at home for a long time after my last trip to Lake Garda – it just didn’t even come close to the how it tasted in Italy.

Euan: Almost impossible to answer – I’ve visited so many amazing places! But Mauritius stands out, as does Croatia. I would recommend anyone travelling round Europe to stop off in Croatia. It’s a beautiful country and I reckon it will become really popular with travellers in the next few years.

If you can travel with a real or fictional character, who will you travel with and why?

Rachel: Euan – cheesy I know but I don’t know anyone else that would carry their own 90 litre rucksack on their back while also carrying my 70 litre rucksack on their front! It’s also nice having your own personal body guard to walk you to the toilet in the middle of the night when you are on a sleeper train or in a hostel with a shared bathroom!

Euan: I should really say Rachel now shouldn’t I?! How about Bear Grylls – the survival expert/adventurer. Some of the stuff he does is awesome and I’d love to travel like that for a while – living off the land.

On a dusty tuk-tuk ride in Phnom Penh

What’s your favourite travel quote (from a book, film, TV show etc)?

Rachel: “No road is long with good company” – Unknown

Euan: “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac, On the Road

If you have one flight ticket to go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where will you go?

Rachel: Krakow, Poland. My paternal grandfather was Polish and there is something special about Krakow. I find it so welcoming and comforting. It’s an amazing place to just sit in a cafe and watch the world go by.

Euan: A bit of a contentious answer, but I’m going to go for Bora Bora. It’s not really a ‘travellers’ destination, more like somewhere you go for a luxury holiday. But I don’t care – I could swim, snorkel, scuba, and fish…brilliant!

What is the strangest thing you have eaten, drank or experienced on your travels?

Rachel: I think you find something strange happens nearly every day when you’re travelling but I still can’t get over how publicly and loudly everyone belches in Asia!

Euan: On my first backpacking trip around Europe, I was at a club in Valencia, Spain and there was a gun fight…that was quite an experience.

Advice to fellow newbie travel bloggers?

Make sure you take advantage of travel time – we always make sure our netbooks are charged up while we are travelling so we can be productive during long waits at the airport or even during boat journeys!

ourweetrip

 

“Our Wee Trip details the adventures of us, a young Scottish couple, as we travel through Asia, New Zealand and Australia in search of exciting and ‘different’ experiences. We’ve scuba-dived in Thailand, fished for squid in Halong Bay, watched the sun come up over Angkor Wat, and had many many more amazing adventures we love sharing on our blog. There are also lots of great photos and videos!”

All photos in this post are Rachel and Euan’s property but are hosted on this blog’s flickr count. All rights remain with them.

Do you want to be interviewed on our next session of Talk with a Travel Newcomer? The only requirement of course is that you have to be a newbie travel blogger. Contact me if you’d like to be featured!

Travel Blog

GUEST POST: 24 hours in Hong Kong

April 20, 2012

Neil Barnes of Backpacks and Bunkbeds shares his experience going around Hong Kong for 24 hours. He presents a great itinerary for those who only have a few hours to spend in this bustling cosmopolitan city. Enjoy!

Hong Kong - Photo by Neil Barnes

Like me and my pal Dan, you’ll probably visit Hong Kong either on your way to or from Australia, New Zealand or somewhere else really far away.  It’s often used as a stopover by travellers, but don’t waste your time at the airport;  there are some really great things to see and do while in Hong Kong.  You may not have a long time there, but you can have a damn good time!

Upon waking from a deep slumber to your first and potentially only full day in Hong Kong, the first thing you’ll want to do if you are staying anywhere near the harbour is get your lazy backside out of bed and take a look out your window.  Take in the famous Victoria harbour and try spot the star ferry taking commuters to work and tourist to all the sights. You’ll be on that vessel very very soon.

Hong Kong - Photo by Neil Barnes

Now that you’re up have a shower and some breaky if that’s your thing and then hot step it over to the star ferry terminal and commence boarding (I did tell you you’d be on ‘that vessel’ soon).  From the ferry you’ll get another amazing view of the Hong Kong harbour, and the ferry journey is a pretty relaxing way to spend half an hour.

I would recommend heading in the general direction of Victoria Peak.

Back on dry land, hop aboard your next mode of transport, the tram up to Victoria Peak’s viewing platform. Now view the same harbour, but from another totally amazing vantage point. Not bad eh!?

Hong Kong - Photo by Neil Barnes

Once you’re had your harbour fill (for now), head from high to low and find your way to the subway.  You’ll want to travel all the way to Tung Chung MTR station so that you can clamber abroad your thirs transportation device of the day.

To get to the Tian Tan Buddha (big Buddha) that sits loftily upon the hills of Lantau Island you’ll be taking the Ngong Ping Cable Car.

Over the course of 25 minutes the cable car will carry you over North Lantau Country Park before depositing you at Ngong Ping village.

The village acts as the gateway to the giant bronze Buddha, but be prepared for a couple of steps if you want to get up close and personal with the big man.

Hong Kong - Photo by Neil Barnes

In the interest of time you’ll probably want to get the cable car back down and then off to get some munch and a wee drinkie maybe. Find the way to the markets and you might be able to pick yourself up some not so legal DVDs,  amongst other things.

Back in your room after a long day, take one last look out your window at the harbour by night before collapsing under the weight of a hard days traveling and curling up in bed.

Good work soldier.

How will you spend 24 hours in Hong Kong? Share your tips and experiences below!

Travel Blog

Crazy Nights in the Ruin Bars of Budapest

April 18, 2012
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I always think that for a trip to be full there should be a balance of a busy sightseeing day and a bustling nightlife. Any trip is defined not just by the sights and monuments you see but also by the places where you hang out after and the people who you spend getting drunk at night with.

During my first trip to Budapest in 2009, I have missed out on the Budapest nightlife – and it somewhat made me think a lot about coming back.

Back then, my host and very good friend, Csenge, lived outside of Budapest, which meant that she can’t stay & drive at night.  It was a great trip, don’t get me wrong, as I have seen a lot of Budapest – but by the time we were leaving I felt that there was something missing.

Csendes - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

I promised to return to Budapest the minute I left Hungary. But things didn’t work out that easily – and it took me two years to finally make it back! This time, experiencing the nightlife is at the top of my itinerary – and I didn’t fail on it.

Together with Roy of the Riding Dutchman – we made it to Budapest for a two day trip during the Easter break.

We were hosted by my very good Hungarian friend, Daniel, who I met and hosted in Brussels three years ago. It was a long overdue reunion, and I was happy that he’s available to show us the night life of Budapest. I know from all my talks during the past years that Daniel knows a lot about the coolest areas in Budapest – and he didn’t disappoint I may say. 🙂

Budapest nightlife is all about ruin bars.

Ruin bars are called “ruins” simply because they used to be old buildings, apartments etc.

Ruin bars, from the outside, looks similar to most doors in the Pest district. But inside, each ruin bar has a distinct personality that differentiates them from bars I normally see. The look reminded me a lot of a living room of a student flat.

It’s a mish-mash of random things, numerous rooms, blackboards as menu. The interior is decorated with stuff varying from torn-up sofas, dolls, posters, sewing machine tables, zippers on the roof. It was as if an artist decorated the walls and ceilings from things bought from the flea market.

Even if it was eclectic in the eye, it runs like any typical bar. And most of the bars even have free wi-fi (other bars owners, hope you’re reading this)

As good as our guide was, we manage to visit a lot of bars (a given). And here are just a sample of the ones we visited (more likely, the ones I remember. :p)

Trapez

Trapez - Budapest Ruin Bars - 25travels

It was our first stop for the day (day meaning around 2PM) after a visit and some shopping at Nagycsarnok (Great Market Hall) on Fővám Tér. Trapez is a popular student hangout since its location is close to Hungary’s Corvinus University. A big black board dominates the ground floor with posters and masks accentuating the bohemian feel of the place. Going up the creaky steps gets you into the main hall – which looks like the attic of a mountain cabin – with wooden beams and decorated with road signs, large paintings and other random oddities. 

We were there early in the afternoon and on a weekend, so there was no one except us so we didn’t see it in its full life. But it didn’t stop us from order a beer and a shot of palinka – an Eastern European spirit made with plum mixed with flavours such as peach and apricots.

Szimpla Kert

Szimpla Kert - Budapest Ruin Bars - 25travels

Szimpla Kert prides itself for being the first ruin bar in Budapest having been established in 2001. It has a large open courtyard, a dwarf on a swing and a Trabant, an old communist car, as one of the tables. Definitely, I understand why it remains to be one of the most popular ruin bars in Budapest among locals and tourists alike.

Again, we were there in the afternoon – so by far, there was hardly any happening – but Daniel assured me that this place gets busy at night. He explained that it had lost its bohemian touch, given its popularity with tourists, but it’s still worth a visit.

At Szimpla Kert, I had my first try of Froccs – a Hungarian wine spritzer made by mixing white wine and carbonated water. And there are varying names to each mix depending on the ratio of wine and water. Ratio varies from 1 to 1, to 9 parts wine to 1 part water. We got hosszúlépés – a spritzer with 1/3 wine, 2/3 water.  It’s worth a try definitely, but I think after spending two years in French Brussels – mixing wine with anything is a bit strange. But hey, in the Philippines – we used to add ice on our wine glasses – so screw it. 😛

Corvinteto

Corvinteto - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

Fast forward to late at night after a couple of glasses of Belgian beers, glasses of 1euro Jim Beam whiskey, countless Hungarian beers and wines– we ended up in Corvinteto. Corvinteto stands at the topmost level of a department store. It’s known for its rooftop parties with a grand view of Pest but since it was freezing outside, the rooftop wasn’t open. But with a little help from its killer electro music and dynamic (and hot*) crowd, we continued to party until late at night.

Instant

Instant - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

Instant - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

After recovering from a long Saturday night and a Sunday afternoon spent sightseeing – we started Sunday night at Instant. The interior is more close to a flat party – complete with rooms, sofas, tables and people who you don’t know – rather than bar. There are two dance rooms (basement and on the first floor) offering two different kinds of music. At the centre is an interior courtyard with a guy with an owl as an head and a herd of stuffed rabbits (?).One room has sewing machines as tables and furniture glued in the ceiling. It’s pretty much as eclectic as it can be. Crowd is quite good but alcohol is pricier compared to other places.

Anker Klub

By the standards of a ruin bar, Anker seems to be less bohemian and eclectic as how I defined it. It is unique (for not being too unique) in a way that it’s a “real” bar with a great crowd of people.  Crowd is good, music was so-so and drinks are relatively cheap. And they have some Belgian beers on tap which I think is enough reason to include as a stop.

Csendes

Csendes - Budapest Ruin Bar - 25travels

Csendes is Daniel’s favourite bar and I guess I see how it became so.  It’s less of club but more of a place to sit-down and talk kind-of-place (Csendes actually mean silent in Hungarian ).

It still keeps within the description of a ruin bar with its strong ambiance and eclectic-designed roofs, floors, toilets, and ceilings. Ornaments of posters, old photos, and electric fans to a bathtub for a seat, complete the entire picture.  We spent a couple of hours at Csendes just trying to chill and talk together with a pint of Soproni (so far, the only Hungarian beer that I liked) before going back to Instant to complete the night.

I definitely do not regret coming to Hungary even for a short week-end. Every minute of our trip counts and I can say that Budapest definitely should pride itself for its amazing nightlife, cheap booze, amazing music atmosphere and friendly people.

Definitely, I think there’s more to ruin bars and Budapest from what I’ve seen – so maybe I’ll calendar in another date to come visit!

 

Have you been in Budapest? Have you visited any ruin bars? Share your advice and comments on the box below!

Travel Blog

Travel Blogger Feature: Will of My Spanish Adventure

March 29, 2012
english-teacer-london

My next interviewee is Will Peach of My Spanish Adventure.

Guys, this dude has great comedic flair and a talent for interesting banter over at twitter kingdom.  A definite must follow on twitter. And any great fan of Jack Kerouac deserves a space on this interview! You can follow his expat stories over at My Spanish Adventure and Travel Sex Life.

Here’s my short interview with Will Peach:

Will - My Spanish Adventure

Name: Will Peach
Where are you from? South England, but living in Spain
Website: gapdaemon.com, myspanishadventure.com, travelsexlife.com, vagabundomagazine.com
Twitter : willpeach
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/will.peach1

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Will, a 26-year-old British guy, living in Granada, Spain. Here I work as a travel editor for the gap year travel site Gapdaemon and for the digital travel magazine Vagabundo. I bloody love learning Spanish (despite not being all that good yet) and track my progress along with talking about what to see and do on my Spanish travel blog My Spanish Adventure. I love Spanish omelets. I don’t eat meat. And I’ve got a lot of time for basking in the Spanish sun like a cold-blooded reptile.

Why did you decide to start a travel blog?

Well I’ve been blogging on and off really for the last ten years. I started travel blogging when I left the UK to live and work in Vietnam about four years ago. Back then I was just getting to grips with WordPress and back into the swing of blogging – I was actually working in print at the time for a travel magazine based in Ho Chi Minh City!

When I came back to London I started working for Gap Daemon, running their travel blog and chatting with other travellers around the globe. I decided to start up my own late last year after hitting the road once again and coming out to Spain!

What’s the most challenging part of being a travel blogger?

Dealing with all the female attention. I get knickers thrown at me everywhere I go.

On a more serious note I’d say it probably has to do with consistency. Sometimes you’ll have a ton of good ideas on what to write about and then other days you’re left desperately searching for inspiration!

Will - My Spanish Adventure

And then there’s the problem of discipline as well as sticking it out in the early days when nobody reads or cares about you. Boo hoo.

Can you tell us about your first travel experience?

I was lucky to have many travel experiences growing up as my family took vacations around the world. My first real independent one however, and the one I feel is most significant, was my study year abroad in the USA.

As an English exchange student at the University of Miami you’d probably expect I got in all sorts of trouble with those gutsy American dames. Nothing could be further from the truth however as I was still very shy and very much bewildered by the whole experience.

In terms of seeing the world however that’s what got me out there and lead me to the path I’m on now. Seeing America and living the culture was a fantastic experience that I’ll always take with me. Beer pong or no beer pong.

What’s your favourite destination and why?

I really love Southeast Asia mainly because I had the greatest two years of my life there living in Vietnam and travelling around neighbouring countries. The best thing I love about the area is its mix of the modern and traditional as well as the buzz that fills the air making all those big cities appear as if they are thriving with opportunity.

Another thing I loved of course were the people, who were always friendly and respectful and helped me out with a crap-load of things. The weather and the beaches aren’t too shabby either!

If you can travel with a real or fictional character, who will you travel with and why?

Ha I’m going to get lambasted for coming out with such a cliché but it would have to be my hero Jack Kerouac, author of the book that changed my life On The Road.

I probably couldn’t keep up with him in the drinking and womanizing stakes, but to travel the world while he comes up with poetic ways of describing even the most mundane things I can’t imagine being too unpleasant.

What’s your favourite travel quote (from a book, film, TV show etc)?

Again I’d have to turn to Jack and a quote I remember standing out for me, moving the hairs on the back of my neck as I read it, for the first time, as a lost twenty-one-year-old.

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road if life”.

It’s kind of astonishing how Word will highlight this as being grammatically inaccurate given just how iconic a phrase it is. Soon after reading this the road became my life and now, five years later, I still don’t want to stand still.

If you have one flight ticket to go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where will you go?

Brazil without a doubt. Or failing that anywhere in South America. It fascinates me so much and I can’t wait to go there, experience the sights, the people and the smells and hopefully put my Spanish (or Portuguese as might be the case) into action.

Will - My Spanish Adventure

I’d love to hang out and see Boca Juniors play, have a go at dancing the Tango, see the Rio Carnival, hang out in coffee shops and chat with locals. That’s the dream.

What is the strangest thing you have eaten, drank or experienced on your travels?

Being a vegetarian I tend to play it safe. I haven’t chomped on insects or duck foetuses or anything like that – don’t think I could hold it down either. I’ve drank a fair bit of snake wine in my time though, that’s pretty disgusting.

I remember almost puking up trying a bit of Durian too. Us Westerners can’t handle the smell. Putting that putrid mess into my mouth left me feeling like a little girl as tears welled up in my eyes –that feeling hits most days though you see.

Advice to fellow newbie travel bloggers

Great question and I’d say talk with as many travel bloggers as you can. Get really social, jump on Facebook, Twitter and other peoples blogs and help share their stuff. This karma will always come back to you in some way or another.

My Spanish adventure

“My Spanish blog is all about my life running around the country, learning the language and living cheaply. Gap Daemon is a brilliant resource for planning gap year travel and is full of handy guides and community advice. TravelSexLife is all about the naughtier side of travelling and talks openly about sex abroad. Vagabundo Magazine puts the spotlight on travellers all over the world and asks them to submit their work for inclusion in a quarterly digital magazine. I want to start more!”

All photos in this post are Will’s property but are hosted on this blog’s flickr count. All rights remain with Will!

Do you want to be interviewed on our next session of Talk with a Travel Newcomer? The only requirement of course is that you have to be a newbie travel blogger. Contact me if you’d like to be featured!

Travel Blog

Five ways of enjoying the Hong Kong skyline

March 12, 2012
P1040273

One of the things I look for when visiting an urban destination is the skyline. Paris, New York, and Singapore are just few of my favourite ones.

And after my short visit to Hong Kong last November, I’m adding its skyline on my list. I loved it so much that I spent an entire afternoon savouring the view.

And what I like about Hong Kong is that there are many ways to enjoy their awesome skyline. Here are my top picks on where it’s best to enjoy it:

Tsim Sha Tsui

The skyline of Hong Kong island can be seen beautifully and conveniently from the neighboring Kowloon and the Tsim Sha Tsui’s harbor is the most scenic place to enjoy a great view of the skyline.

Hong Kong Skyline - at day

And I spent almost an entire afternoon at the harbor walking around and enjoying the view.

For starters, walk along the Avenue of the Stars – equivalent to Hollywood’s walk of fame. And along the way, there are quirky statues that any cam-loving person will enjoy.

The most famous is the Bruce Lee statue , with both the statue and people posing for photos  attractions in their own right. I’m more of an observer and pretty much took photos of other people doing it – much more fun if you ask me.

Bruce Lee and Bruce Lee

And if you just want to sit down, there’s a bunch of cafes and restaurant along. I spent my afternoon mainly at the corner Starbucks – I got a great view and coffee at the same time. Nothing beats that!

Tsim Sha Tsui (at night)

Okay, but the awesomeness doesn’t stop in daylight. Stay a bit further to witness the skyline transform into a bright and colourful display. I tell you that at night is the best time to enjoy the skyline.

Hong Kong skyline - at night

And if you wait further until around 8PM – Hong Kong’s famous Symphony of Light starts – a light and laser display featuring 44 buildings on both sides of the harbour!  The best place to view it at the Avenue of Stars and on the ferries. It’s a tourist draw – but still worth seeing if you ask me.

Victoria Peak

Okay, if there’s one thing I regret most not doing is going to Victoria Peak.  It was on my list of things to do – but plans changed and weather as always, didn’t cooperate. Don’t make the same mistake as I did or else you’ll miss this amazing view.

The Star Ferry

Aside from being a convenient way to move from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, the Star Ferry is also one of the good place to snap on some photos of the HK skyline. It takes a mere 15 minutes to cross to the other end – which is enough to look out and enjoy the view! It also costs a few Hong Kong dollars for a single ride – a definite treat if you ask me.

Hong Kong skyline - at night

Me and my friend Tina used this often simply because we can’t get enough of the view. 🙂

From downtown itself

The view of the skyline from afar is notable– but it’s also worth it to view the skyscrapers from bottom looking up. There’s the International Finance Centre buildings, which if you are geek like me, would know was where Batman in the Dark Knight jumped from tower 1 to tower 2.

There’s also the Bank of China tower – which looks like a bamboo shoot from afar.  Hong Kong has 19 of the 200 tallest buildings in the world. A pretty amazing feat if you ask me.

What’s the city that has  the best skyline for you? Share them on the comment box below!

Travel Blog

Travel Blogger Feature: Ed of Rexyedventures

February 28, 2012
ed

A bit late for the week but here’s my interview for the week with none other than Ed Rex of Rexyedventures! He’s one of my recent travel blogger friends and upon reading his blog I was impressed on his travel dedication and spirit. He’s also profoundly deaf but it’s not stopping him from going on a journey around the world this March. Ladies (and gentlemen), Ed is definitely a guy worth following!

Here’s my short interview of Ed

Ed - Rexyedventures 2

 

Name: Ed Rex
Where are you from? East Yorkshire, UK, the best place ever!
Website: http://rexyedventures.com
Twitter Handle: @rexyedventures
Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/rexyedventures


Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a profoundly deaf, tall, dark and handsome god who absolutely loves travelling and getting involved in new experiences. I’m an out and proud original Yorkshireman who never strays too far from a supply of Yorkshire Tea.

I’m famed throughout my mates for my love of silly hats, my incessant photo taking, being a massively busy social bee, cheesy chat up lines, and yes..okay a poser.

After several University degrees and several jobs, I’m currently working as an Environmental Technician in a Water Company but I’m jacking that in to go around the world. Woo woo!

Why did you decide to start a travel blog?

I realised I adored travelling and I was always recounting my experiences to friends, family and even random strangers on the bus! But I have too many stories to say and store in my head! So that’s why I decided to create a travel blog to:

  • Share the stories and experiences with other people
  • Learn how to run a blog and web design to avoid being like my parents who refuse to conform to the latest technology and keep relying on me to fix their computer issues. 
  • Also, meet absolutely amazing travel bloggers from around the world to share the love of travel!

What’s the most challenging part of being a travel blogger?

I think there’s 2 parts that are most challenging for me:

    • Learning about coding and website design. It’s all very well and interesting but sometimes I’m unsure if I am getting the best deal out it. Luckily, I have literally awesome travel blogger mates who know their stuff and are helping me decide what I want. Currently, I’m supported by WordPress but I’d quite like to use my own hosting. 
    • Keeping up with the content! I do so much at home and I always want to write about my experiences and I haven’t even left on my first RTW yet!

Ed - Rexyedventures

Can you tell us about your first travel experience?

Even though I have been on plenty of holidays with my family before, I would class my holiday with them to Malta as my first travel experience. Dad and a 16 year old of me, took the bus to Valletta to visit the city. It was great to mingle with the locals on that bus and just experience Maltese life in the city. However, my first travel moment has to be when we hired a car to go to the other island but the car doesn’t start unless I get out and push (with both parents inside, how unfair!). This happened when we were on the ferry going over to the other island of Malta and we were the first vehicle that had to get off! So pushing the car up a ramp to get on the island was truly an experience with all the locals shouting and beeping their horns at me from behind and the police hanging around just laughing at my attempts! I grinned. This was amazing!

What’s your favourite destination and why?

Without a doubt, Uganda. There’s so much to experience and see in this beautiful country. Safaris, white-water rafting on the River Nile, eat in the local restaurants, volunteer with children, build schools, and go trekking. Lend of a country!

If you can travel with a real or fictional character, who will you travel with and why?

If I had to, then it would be a much younger version of my dad. He had me when he was mid forties and beforehand, he was a very much accomplished climber and trekker and backpacker! He always tells me of his glory days in the Alps, in Switzerland, Austria, Norway and much of Africa. I wish I could have travelled with him then and as we get on so much now, we would have had a massive laugh! I’ll never forget the time he took me mountaineering when I was 7/8.

What’s your favourite travel quote (from a book, film, TV show etc)?

Can’t think of one from the top of my head but the quote from the Bucket List have me reciting this to everyone:

Never Pass Up a Bathroom, Never Waste a Hard On, Never let a Never Trust a Fart!
If you have one flight ticket to go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where will you go?

South Africa. I’ve heard so many great  things about this beautiful country. I’ve heard so many stories from my parents when they went there on business. I was enthralled when I was younger listening to my dad recounting the time he wrestled a lion in the wild…I now find this to be highly untrue! How gullible was I!
Ed - Rexyedventures

What is the strangest thing you have eaten, drank or experienced on your travels?

Eaten – There’s nothing I have eaten that I classify as strange. If it’s not strange to that local country then it’s not strange to me. But I do have to say that Celery is by far my strangest food. It doesn’t taste of anything. I don’t understand it. And I never will.

Drink – Spezi (Germany) I’ll never forget the day I glanced the menu at a German Restaurant and I spied this drink. Half fanta and half coke?! Why haven’t I tried this before?! I quickly ordered one and I can’t still figure out the taste…my brain was telling me fanta and my taste buds were telling me coke. Who knows?!
Experienced – During my freefall on my skydive, I was washed over with an eerie calm. I was enthralled by the curvature of the Earth and felt like I was top of the world. But I didn’t fell like I was falling…It was like being in a swimming pool!

Advice to fellow newbie travel bloggers

Always take up the challenges and experiences. You’ll regret it if you don’t. At least you tried it once so you could say that you didn’t enjoy it and won’t do it again. Me? I’ll always keep on doing new challenges and experiences as I missed out so much before because I was too shy and wouldn’t say boo to a goose..(hey…could that be a challenge…to say boo to a goose?!)

Rexyedventures

A Solo RTW digital travel expert blog seeing the world the Rex Way! Trying to push myself to the limit; always trying out new experiences; new challenges; and new customs all around the globe! Also, I’m trying to tell you that Britain is one of the best places to travel as a backpacker 🙂

 

All photos in this post are Ed’s property but are hosted on this blog’s flickr count. All rights remain with Ed!

Do you want to be interviewed on our next session of Talk with a Travel Newcomer? The only requirement of course is that you have to be a newbie travel blogger.  Contact me  if you’d like to be featured!

Travel Blog

Travel Blogger Feature: Natalie from Girl and the World

February 21, 2012
Natalie - Girl and the world

Today’s Newbie travel blogger interview is with Natalie of Girl and the World! Her blog is really great and has fantastic resources on solo travel especially for women. And of course, there are lots of great posts about South Korea (where she spent a year teaching) and Sri Lanka. And she’s now saving up for long term travel. Definitely, watch out for Natalie as she’s set to conquer to world!

Here’s my short interview with Natalie. 

Natalie from Girl and the World

Name: Natalie Lyall-Grant
Where are you from? London, England
Website: www.girlandtheworld.org
Twitter: @girlandtheworld
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/GirlAndTheWorld

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your travel blog?

I’m a English and Creative Writing graduate who discovered travel at the age of 18 and found herself totally addicted. I traveled as much as I could in my breaks from university, and then as soon as I graduated I left England and moved to Sri Lanka to take up writing professionally for a travel and tours company. I ended up running out of money and moving to South Korea to work as a teacher, where I’ve now been living for almost a year. I am currently saving up for my next big trip, which will be working my way across Asia over the space of a year. My blog is an exploration of places and cultures, trying to dig under the surface of what makes that country tick, and why it is worthwhile as a travel destination, specifically from a female point of view. I also run a series of interviews with women from around the world, trying to give voice to those who are so often globally silenced.

Why did you decide to start a travel blog?

I’ve been blogging for a while now for my friends and family back home, but I decided to create a commercial travel blog only last month. I’ve been rolling the idea around in my head for a while, but wasn’t sure what I could write about as I’m stuck in an office most of the time in Korea. Now that I’m finally about to don my backpack, say goodbye to the 9-5 and head off on a year-long adventure, I felt it was the right time to make a start on travel blogging, as I figured that people would be interested in reading about my experience.

What’s the most challenging part of being a travel blogger?

I found that setting up my blog initially was one of the biggest challenges. It took a lot of work to get it all up and running – buy the domain and host site, tweak the appearance with HTML, find the right plugins to get the layout I wanted, run the whole site through with SEO, etc etc. There were so many times in the first few days that I just wanted to give up! Once the blog was up and running there were other challenges (how to promote it? How to get followers on twitter? and so on…) but once I started getting kind comments and responses from other bloggers, it was so rewarding, I barely noticed the hard work I was putting in.

Can you tell us about your first travel experience?

My first solo travel experience, independent of friends and family was in Sri Lanka in 2006. I went over there as a naive 18 year old, with no idea of what to expect, barely even registering the fact that there was a war on at the time, just keen to do something different. I volunteered out there for two months and honestly felt like I came back a different person. That brief period of travel opened my eyes up to so many things, it was a truly amazing start to my travels.

Natalie from Girl and the World

What’s your favourite destination and why?

Sri Lanka is still my favourite destination. I’ve been back there three times now, and started studying Sinhalese (one of the three main languages of Sri Lanka) last year. Every time I go back I notice something new and wonderful about the country. I’m currently writing a novel set in Sri Lanka, which I hope to finish by the end of next year, and I will be returning there for a few months to continue my Sinhala studies this year.

If you can travel with a real or fictional character, who will you travel with and why?

What a great question! I’ve never really thought about it before. To be honest I like to travel alone, but if I could meet up with someone for a coffee along the way I’d chose real people over fictional characters. Perhaps Roma Tearne, the writer of Mosquito, a book about Sri Lanka. Or Bruce Parry, from BBC’s Tribe. I’d love to sit down and share a banana pancake on a beach somewhere with both of them!

What’s your favourite travel quote (from a book, film, TV show etc)?

“to travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries” – Aldous Huxley

If you have one flight ticket to go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where will you go?

Since I’m already going to be traveling across Asia, I’ll pick somewhere from a different continent and go with… Ecuador. I’ve never been to South America but a girl once told me she has spent a month studying frogs in the amazon rainforest in Ecuador. It sounded amazing and I’ve wanted to go ever since!

Natalie from Girl and the World

What is the strangest thing you have eaten, drank or experienced on your travels?

I’ve eaten a lot of strange things over the years – silkworm larvae, blood soup, live octopus and shark, just to name a few. I can’t say I’ve drunk many strange things though. Perhaps the most disconcerting drink I have ever tried was the dreaded Lao Lao in Laos. Sold in brandless plastic bottles on the side of the street, smelling like petrol, and tasting like ethanol, I can’t say it was the nicest drink I’ve ever had!

Advice to fellow newbie travel bloggers

Find a niche. I struggled to get the views when I was just writing broadly about travel, but when I started narrowing down the content my views went way up. Also network as much as possible. The travel community on twitter is a wonderful source of information with some truly fantastic people in it.

Natalie from Girl and the World

Girl And The World is a solo female travel blog looking to get under the skin of travel destinations and closer to the communities that make up those countries.

 

All photos in this post are Natalie’s property but are hosted on this blog’s flickr count. All rights remain with Natalie!

Do you want to be interviewed on our next session of Talk with a Travel Newcomer? The only requirement of course is that you have to be a newbie travel blogger.  Contact me  if you’d like to be featured!

Travel Blog

5 Reasons To Not Miss Belgium On Your European Tour

February 8, 2012
Bruges, Belgium

Backpacking in Europe is almost a rite of passage for all of us non- Europeans. It’s what we all dream of for the summer right after high school and before university. And tourism in Europe caters to this. Youth hostels are abundant and cheap, public transportation domestically and internationally is excellent, and for the less independent, a variety of whirlwind European bus tours exist.

For many, a trip Europe includes stops at all the big names – London, Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, and maybe even Berlin. But one country which is all too often overlooked is Belgium. Belgium is conveniently located near Germany, France, and the Netherlands and can be easily reached from any of those countries.

Cycling by a Windmill

Belgium is also a compact country, which makes it very convenient to travel in. You can go from one end of the country to the other by rail in under four hours, and as you will see, it is packed with reasons why you should not pass it up.

1) Varied Cultures

Belgium is made up of three main cultural groups. The German speakers, the Walloons (French speakers), and the Flemish (Dutch speakers). Each region is unique, with their language, art, food, and politics. Although it can be challenging for those new to the country to read a map (each city has both a French and a Dutch name), it also lends a very cosmopolitan feel to be able to hear the locals converse in several different languages.

2) Varied Landscapes

In tiny Belgium you can really find a little bit of everything when it comes to the vista. Sandy beaches can be find in Oostende, along with rolling sand dunes which provide an otherworldly experience to hike around. The flat plains of Flanders, dotted with windmills provide a stark contrast to the rolling hills of the French speaking Ardennes with their small towns and old monasteries. And for the most die hard of city breaker, there are plenty of urban areas to explore, all within a short train ride from each other.

Ostende / Ostend

3) Food

Belgium is not instantly thought of for its culinary delights – but it should be. Although, most of this food is not very good for your waist line. “French” fries, as any Belgian will inform you, were actually invented here – and of course, should be enjoyed with both mayonnaise and tomato sauce. And after a good dinner of frites (potatoes count as a vegetable right?), you can not forget the amazing Belgian desserts. Waffles and chocolate should be eaten in as much quantity as possible when in Belgium (in my opinion). Even the cheap chocolate is amazing in Belgium. Even the chocolate that comes out of vending machines is amazing in Belgium. And if you do spurge on some of the grommet chocolate – then you better be prepared for a mind blowing experience.

Ok, ok so we all know that Belgium is famous for waffles and chocolate. But something you might not have heard of exists in this country which is possibly even better. Its called Speculoos. Speculoos was traditionally a type of gingery cookie, but now it comes in all sorts of incredibly delicious varieties. The one type to definitely not miss is the speculoos pasta (or paste), a sinfully mouth watering spread for toast (or you can be like me and just eat if out of the jar – on another note – I wonder how I gained so much weight in Belgium….hmmm…)

My first taste of Speculoos Pasta


Although, after time it is possible to become tired of gorging yourself on chocolate and french fries (I’ve been told), so rest assured, there are some more wholesome Belgian specialties as well. Why not try to kilo of Oostende mussels …. cooked in beer? Which brings me to my next point….

4) Beer

Don’t listen to the Germans – it’s the Belgians who are the masters of the beer. And with over 700 different varieties, everyone is bound to find something that they like. Before I moved to Belgium I actually hated beer. I hated the taste, I hated the smell – I hated everything about it.

I started off simple (and girly) by trying as many of the fruit flavoured beers as possible. Kriek – a cherry beer is a great way to ease yourself into enjoying beer. Before I knew it, I was an avid lover of dark beers, and would enthusiastically try to drink my way through the beer cafe’s extensive menus. One at a time of course – I am a weak drinker.

Belgian Beer Bottles

Belgium also produces six of the seven world famous trappist beers. Trappist beers are brewed by monks in a monastery, and all profits must go to either the monastery or to social programs. The most famous, and difficult to obtain, is Westvleteren beer, with only a limited amount produced each year. The most famous internationally is probably Chimay, while my personal favourite is definitely Orval.

Still not convinced? Do you hate all beer? Well Belgium also has its own signature spirit. Jenever is a type of gin and comes in a myriad of flavours. From the traditional jenever, to fruit flavoured jenever, to even creamy jenever (hazelnut is amazing!) – there is really something for everyone.

5) History

Lovers of history will find their itineraries packed while in Belgium. Belgium was the site of several WW1 and WW2 conflicts, and those interested in military history will of course want to visit Flanders Fields and the Ypres war memorial.

Dinant

For those who love beautiful medieval architecture will find everything they are looking for in Bruges (although you will also find a lot of other tourists as well), and for those who love Art Nouveau will love wandering through Brussels which has been recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site for its iconic Art Nouveau houses.

Also not to miss is the old fortress in Ghent, the citadel in Dinant, and the glittery Grote Markt (town square) in Antwerp.

So why not give Belgium a try?

Despite being somewhat of a wallflower when it comes to international tourism, Belgium offers so much to tourists who give it the time. There is really something for everyone packed into this small country, and once you have seen it all, it is just too easy to jet off to yet another European destination. Let the European backpacking tour begin!

This is a guest post by Jade Johnston.


Jade Johnston is a writer at OurOyster.com – the website for budget travellers, long term travellers, and the simply adventurous. She and her partner currently live in Australia and are planning an epic overland trip all over this great country. You can also find her on twitter and facebook.

Travel Blog

Travel Blogger Feature: Monica of The Travel Hack

February 6, 2012
IMGP3459

I’ve started reading Monica’s first blog  Total Travel Bug and I got hooked! She has a great material not only about travel destinations but also how she uses travel as a way learn and push  forward professional writing career (she’s a journalism graduate). She’s now back in the UK but she has lots of great material on her blog!

Here’s my short interview with Monica of The Travel Hack

Monica Stott - The Travel Hack

Name: Monica Stott
Where are you from? : North Wales
Website: www.thetravelhack.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/thetravelhack
Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/TheTravelHack


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your travel blog?

When I finished uni I bought a one way ticket to Australia and didn’t look back for almost 2 years. I travelled around SE Asia and worked my way around Oz before heading home last summer. Since then I’ve started a journalism course and work at Gap Daemon, a gap year website, as an editorial assistant.

My blog follows my travels, my weekends away and my journey to becoming a travel journalist.

Why did you decide to start a travel blog?

Before I left to go travelling I was working for my local newspaper and they asked me if I’d be interested in blogging about my travels for their website. At the time I barely even knew what a blog was but it wasn’t long before I’d caught the blogging bug and began teaching myself the basics.

What’s the most challenging part of being a travel blogger?

Blogging is really time consuming so the most challenging thing is simply finding the time to write my posts and keep up to date with my favourite travel blogs. At the minute I’m juggling blogging with full time work, studying part time and trying to have something that resembles a social life. I’ve been told that travel bloggers don’t sleep so this is something I need to work on and then my life will be much easier!

Can you tell us about your first travel experience?

I grew up with family holidays to European beach destinations but it wasn’t until I was18 that I did something a little different and visited Jamaica. My boyfriend and I travelled around the country staying in little beach huts, eco-resorts and tree huts where there wasn’t another tourist in sight. It was this trip that truly sparked my love for travelling and finding unique places to stay. We spent a while in a tree hut overlooking the sea with a bathroom in the jungle and this huge bathtub on the edge of a cliff. It was a pretty unique experience and something that’s going to be hard to beat.

Monica Stott - The Travel Hack

What’s your favourite destination and why?

Thailand. I know it isn’t very original and it’s everyone’s favourite place but I really love it. The people are so kind and friendly, the food is amazing, the beaches are stunning, the countryside is spectacular, the diving is top-notch and there’s so much to see and explore. And when you’re tired with all the exploring you can hop on a scooter and find a deserted beach and pretend you’re the only person in the world.

If you can travel with a real or fictional character, who will you travel with and why?

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter would have to be the best travel buddy. Not only would she have absolutely everything you could possibly want or need in a teeny tiny bag but you could also hold her hand and she could magic you to anywhere in the world. She’d have that awesome little tent you could pop up that is actually huge and she has a pretty good wardrobe so I’d like to borrow her clothes.

I also love organised people. I’m probably the least organised person in the whole world so I love being around organisation and neat, orderly people. I always wanted to be one of those people who have different compartments in their backpack for different things but within 10 minutes everything in my bag is a mess.

Monica Stott - The Travel Hack

What’s your favourite travel quote (from a book, film, TV show etc)?

Can I quote Nike? I know this isn’t very intellectual for someone who has an English literature degree but I love their slogan ‘Just do it’. It bugs me when people say, ‘I really want to travel and see this and do that.’ And all I can say is, ‘Just do it!’ Don’t sit around at home thinking about it and telling everyone how much you want to do it, just do it!
I’m not much of a planner and tend to make impulsive decisions so ‘Just do it’ is pretty much how I live my life.

If you have one flight ticket to go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where will you go?

India. I’m fascinated by India and the culture so a big trip to India is next on my list for October 2012. It’s a long way away but I’m excited already!

What is the strangest thing you have eaten, drank or experienced on your travels?

While I was in Vietnam there was a typhoon and we were trapped in our hotel for a couple of nights because the flood water was about 6 metres high. This wouldn’t have been too bad but it was a cheap hotel with no windows and obviously all the power was out so we were stuck there for 4 days in the dark. Claustrophobia would be a massive understatement!

Everyone from the ground floor was moved up a level which meant strangers were sharing rooms and all the staff who worked there had their families come to stay because their houses were flooded. It was such a strange experience as the hotel became one huge, multicultural home. Because it was always dark we were constantly bumping into one another and we became really close to perfect strangers who didn’t even speak the same language.

The weirdest part was when the flood water was eventually swept away and we could leave – everyone went straight back to being strangers again. That close, family feel just vanished and it was as though we hadn’t been trapped together for all that time. 

Advice to fellow newbie travel bloggers

Read as many travel blogs as you can. They will keep you motivated and help you realise what you like about travel blogging and what you should or shouldn’t use in your own blog.

Monica Stott - The Travel Hack

“My blog is all about my travels and travel related things that make me smile. I’m not quite a flashpacker but I do like to add a bit of style to my trips. My blog follows my journey to becoming a travel journalist, my life in London, my weekend escapes and my plans for my next big trip. “

All photos in this post are Monica’ property but are hosted on this blog’s flickr count. All rights remain with Monica.

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