2014 Jaunts – Ideas Please!

Happy New Year to all bloggers and readers – I hope you survived the turkey time and didn’t overindulge on New Years Eve!

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So I’ve been thinking about the various trips I want to do this year and trying to work out the best way to save for them (don’t you wish you had all the money in the world?!). But more than anything I need advice and ideas for what to do and see in each of the places – even any good deals anyone has had before.

I thought what better way to get those ideas than from the blogging community! So if you can check out the places I am going and give me some tips – I would consider that a fantastic New Years gift!

1. Barcelona, Spain.

To start, I will be attending a friend’s wedding in Barcelona in July this year. I think this will be a four-day trip, over a weekend. We have checked out various flights and there are some great cheap airline options available, so this shouldn’t be a problem.

But we haven’t booked anything in the way of accommodation yet – we aren’t dependent on hotels or apartments and will consider all options.

My boyfriend has been to Barcelona before and is keen to show me the sights – but if anyone has any specific recommendations for restaurants or locally renowned places, please let us know!

2. Marrakech, Morocco 

A friend of mine is really keen to head to Morocco for a long weekend later in the year (we were thinking around August or September time). The plan is to stay in a hotel, visit some bazaars, eat some lovely food and have a few cocktails!

Again – we have nothing booked here at all yet, no accommodation, flights or knowledge about the local area. It is very much in the ideas stage! If anyone has visited before, please pass on the travellers knowledge!

3. Colombia

Finally, towards the end of the year, my boyfriend and I are debating a trip to South America to visit the highly recommended country of Colombia. A family friend lives in Bogotá, which will probably help when flying in and out of the country, but otherwise we are not tied to any specific route or location.

We are not thinking this trip will include expensive hotels, so we are more likely to stay in hostels and independent guest houses. But we are definitely going to be looking for exciting things to do and see, so if you have been to Colombia and have anything you can recommend, please make your recommendation known!

Thank you! 

That’s it for now – there will be a few other small trips in between and most likely in the UK, but they are my main focus for the year. I thank each of you for taking an interest in the blog and for any thoughts and ideas you are happy to part with for my benefit!

Happy New Year all!

 

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Buenos Aires – Eat, drink and Tango!

During my 6 month trip around South America I stayed in many wonderful and exciting places, but Buenos Aires by far was one of my favourites. It truly is a magical city and you have to experience it for yourself.

Travelling to Buenos Aires

I travelled to Buenos Aires by bus from Puerto Iguazu, taking 17 hours. I was looking forward to my first Argentinian bus experience, because I’d heard so many good things about them, but it turned out to be disappointing. My seat was broken, so every time I lowered the seat down flat to sleep, it slowly rose back up into a sitting position. I would fall asleep laying down and then wake up 30 minutes later sitting upright!

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My self-elevating bus seat

I had also heard good things about the food on the Argentinian buses, so for that one trip I took very limited provisions – I would usually pack some snacks and water to get through the long hours. I started to get worried when they still hadn’t served anything at 10pm – I was worryingly trying to work out how I could ration my 4 remaining pieces of a mini Toblerone to last 17 hours! At 10:30 they finally served food…and it was worse than aeroplane food; some kind of indescribable meatloaf and rice…ugh. If you’re travelling in Argentina by bus, make sure to pack provisions!

Beautiful BA

Buenos Aires (or BA, as travellers call it) has such a lovely atmosphere for a city; it’s infectious and you can feel it the moment you arrive. It’s an extremely easy place to navigate; a huge 20 lane highway runs right up through the middle to a huge obelisk and dotted around are beautiful palaces and stately buildings. A pretty decent subway/underground system runs to most areas of the city and cabs are decently cheap. The best form of transport is by far the city buses, from which you can see BA in all of its eclectic wonder!

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The obelisk

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A government building

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Casa Rosa – the pink palace

The architecture is very European influenced, with tall grand buildings with ornate sculpturing and iron balconies. But everything has a slightly rougher edge to it, with unkempt shutters and walls adorned with political graffiti. At the Eastern edge of the city is a brand new district called Puerto Madero, which sports huge glass skyscrapers and a modern marina, with restaurants and up-market shops. Beyond this, out into the water of the Rio de la Plata river is an ecological reserve and across the river, Uruguay! You literally have everything you could think of, all in one amazing city!

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BA street

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Graffiti of Che Guevara

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Ecological reserve

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San Telmo street

San Telmo

I stayed in a hostel called PAX in San Telmo, which is the bohemian district – you can wander through street after street of markets and strange little indoor bazaars. They sell everything from old doors and benches, to huge swords and old foreign currency (I found an old 50 pence coin from England whilst digging around).

I wandered these markets with an Australian guy called Daniel who I first met several weeks before in Brazil and who happened to be staying in the same hostel as me; such is the coincidental life of a traveller. We were both pretty disappointed that we wouldn’t be able to buy a sword as a souvenir!  Following the markets, we strolled down to the marina and looked around an old Argentinian Naval boat from the 1800s – it is easy to while away hours just walking around the city – you never know what you’re going to find!

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The marina

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Aboard the naval boat

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Blue skies and the mast

In the evenings in San Telmo there is a lot of activity and live music on the streets – I walked through the district one evening and saw an 8-piece salsa band, a Brazilian drumming band, and a spontaneous tango dancing session. The tango was breathtaking to watch; someone had simply lain down some cardboard as a dance floor and strung a set of fairy lights from a lamp-post in a small plaza. The music came out of a little boom box and soon various couples stopped to show off their tango skills. They would hold each other close, cheek to cheek, but their bodies would move so smoothly across the floor, and the women did lovely ‘flicky’ motions with their lower legs – it was so romantic!

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Tango in San Telmo

Cycling the city

I spent the most part of one day in BA out cycling with a couple of other guys from my hostel, Simon and Gustav. We hired bikes from our hostel for less than £5 for the day and decided to take a look at the ecological reserve. We cycled out in the reserve, to the beaches of the river, stopping for a snack from a food van and passing the huge glass towers and the marina in our loop. I clearly had no luck with seats because my bike seat kept tipping backwards until I was cycling with my knees around my ears, clown-style! We negotiated a crossing of the 20 lane highway in the centre of the city by closing our eyes and wishing for luck!

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Cycling in the reserve

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City beaches

Recoletta cemetery

Another day I decided to take a bus down to a district called Recoletta. I wasn’t too sure about the route I had been given so I asked the bus driver in my limited Spanish if he stopped at Recoletta. He said he did and I was happy with my first real communication in Spanish being such a success. This soon turned to embarrassment when the driver pulled the bus over in the middle of a street (holding up traffic!), called me to the front of the bus and pointed enthusiastically at the street ahead of us. It was very sweet of him to give me such special treatment but I’m not sure the crowded bus of busy Argentinians appreciated it as much!

The main draw for Recoletta is a huge cemetery full of mausoleums for many of Argentina’s most prominent citizens, including presidents, politicians, and (most notably) Maria Eva Duarte Peron – otherwise known as Evita. As I neared the entrance, I was approached by a man collecting money for children with Aids; I felt I should contribute and so gave him some of my spare American currency. However, he then proceeded to grip my hand, kiss my cheeks SIX times, touch the side of my face, and tell me I was beautiful…only in Argentina can you get propositioned outside a cemetery for handing over less than $10! However, you notice how tactile the people are in Argentina – even the men kiss several times when they greet each other.

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cemetery lanes

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Memorial statue

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Mausoleum

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Eva Peron’s resting place

The cemetery was beautiful, which sounds like a strange thing to say. The mausoleums are absolutely huge; some the size of small two-storey buildings. They even have staircases inside that go downstairs to underground crypts. They have glass doors in the fronts and the coffins are prominently displayed inside, with alters containing photographs, personal items and religious offerings. Evita’s mausoleum was surprisingly small and understated, considering her popularity in both life and death, but it is apparently the only one that is always covered in flowers.

La Boca

In the South Eastern edge of the city is a neighbourhood called La Boca, which carries with it a real Bohemian vibe with wide pedestrian streets and brightly coloured houses. The area is quite a tourist haven, with many places selling tango-related objects and there are many bars, restaurants and taverns. You’ll also find a lot of street artists selling their wares and street performers to entertain you.

I took a train down to La Boca one morning and spent the day wandering the area – at first I was a bit unsure, as people told me that the area had been considered unsafe for tourists. However I found it felt safe to walk about the area alone and the people were perfectly friendly! If you like trinkets and an arty vibe then this area is definitely for you!

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La Boca

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Street artist

Goodbye to sandals!

I stayed in BA around August time and the weather had been great; bright blue skies and clear days, with plenty of sunshine. But it was still absolutely freezing! Gone were the flip-flops and shorts that I had been living in for the previous month in Brazil – that 17 hour bus ride had definitely taken me south into the cold.

At one point I thought I had gotten used to the weight of my backpack, because it was surprisingly easy to lift…then I realised it was because I was now wearing half of my clothes in order to keep warm! I went shopping in the Centro district to get some new clothes because the people in BA dress really well and I was sick of looking like a typical messy traveller. I braved the nice shops and worried about having a pretty woman experience, with glamorous shop assistants who would be  mean about me – but the women couldn’t have been nicer! I had an amusing experience asking for skinny black jeans in Spanish and one assistant groping me to figure out my size!

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Shopping district

The BA way

My evenings were spent either socialising in the hostel or heading out to restaurants, bars and dance halls with people from my hostel. One thing that surprised me about the city was the timeline of an evening; no one eats until after 10pm at night and people sit in restaurants and cafes eating food and drinking coffee until gone midnight. They don’t tend to drink alcohol very early in the evening. Clubs and bars open at around 2am and that’s when the Argentinians start to drink – they pace themselves a lot better than people back in the UK!

People never really get home or to bed before dawn. Needless to say, I did not see my bed before 5am for several days in a row and my body clock officially broke!

Visit if you can!

Life in Buenos Aires is a crazy ride but you can’t help but be swept along with it; the place is addictive. Sadly, as is the case with travellers, my little group of friends at the hostel started to disperse, moving on to various other destinations following a week of BA life. When travelling you become attached to people so quickly, getting to know them in a blink of the eye and bonding through shared experiences. Then all too soon it is time to part – it is such a mixture of up’s and down’s. I left the city and moved West into Argentina for more rural experiences.

If you’re visiting Argentina then BA is a must-see stop – even if it’s just to watch the Tango! 

Typhoon Haiyan – As travellers, let’s give a little

It’s scary sometimes to see the impact that bad weather can have on the world. I’m sure that everyone has seen the news about Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines at the end of last week and the devastation that it has wreaked on the area. It is incredibly sad to see the suffering that has been inflicted on millions of people.

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I was inspired to post today for a number of reasons:

1. As travellers we have been lucky enough to gain entry into some of the most beautiful places in the world, for a short stay in what we consider to be paradise. But often the most revered countries to travel in are 3rd world countries, with millions of their inhabitants living in stages of poverty. When something uncontrollable like this hits a country where people are already struggling, I think it is important to remember how lucky we are to live in more privileged and prosperous nations.

2. In 2004 I was travelling in the south islands of Thailand and met many travellers and locals along the way. I left the area only 6 days before the Boxing Day tsunami hit the area and changed it forever. I remember watching scenes on the television in Australia and thinking of all of those people I met – the lovely families who owned the guests houses we stayed in, and the man who owned the Salt and Pepper cafe in Koh Phi Phi. We would never know what became of them. It’s easy when watching snippets on TV to forget that each and every face you see has a story far beyond the nightly news reel.

3. Today would have been the 31st birthday of my childhood friend Zoe. She sadly passed away earlier this year from cancer, far younger than she deserved. She was one of the most inspirational and brave people I have had the pleasure to know. I figured someone so brave wouldn’t mind a bit of money going to a good cause in her name.

So that’s why today I donated to the International Committee of the Red Cross (http://www.icrc.org/eng/) who provide humanitarian support and vital relief assets to countries all over the world. They are currently raising funds to provide essential relief to the Philippines in this hour of need. If you’re feeling inspired to today, maybe stop by and give a little?

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Have you been to the Philippines? Will you be donating to the ICRC today? 

Outback escapades – Pantanal, Brazil

If you’re a regular to my posts you will have heard me mention my 6-month travels around South America in 2010. The first 3 weeks of the trip were spent in Brazil and primarily in city-scapes – Rio, Sao Pàulo. The cities of Brazil are vibrant urban jungles but I was eager to get into the wilderness and use my walking boots; to do what I personally termed ‘real travelling’. So, leaving the South East region, I hopped a bus out to the Brazilian version of the outback – the Pantanal.

The Pantanal

The Pantanal is one of the world’s largest areas of tropical wetland and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is so large it covers an area approximately 200,000 square miles and stretches into Bolivia and Paraguay. During the rainy season (November – March), most of the area floods with water which makes for incredibly diverse eco-systems. I visited the area in the dry season (July) when there are vast swathes of land to trek – perfect to test my walking boots.

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Pantanal outback

Be prepared for a long trip

To get to the Pantanal I left Sao Pàulo late in the evening on a bus, experiencing the usual randomness of travel that occurs in South America – stopping along the way, dropping people off in what looked to be the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. At one stage we hit roadworks on a massive stretch of road and had to wait an hour before the cars from the other direction could get through. People were getting out of their cars and chatting on the side of the road.

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Road works, Brazil-style

We rolled into Campo Grande, one of the towns that acts as a starting point for Pantanal trips, at around midday the following day. I had booked my tour on the internet prior to leaving Sao Pàulo, using a recommended company from a fellow traveller. However, due to the roadworks I had missed my tour which left at half past ten. A Dutch couple on the same bus had also missed the tour group, so the company offered to drive us out to the Pantanal especially (for a little petrol money). So after a 14 hour bus from Sao Pàulo, the three of us then completed two and a half hours on a minibus, two hours on a different minibus, and one and a half hours on a 4×4 jeep across rough terrain. Tiring didn’t begin to describe it.

The minibus journeys were pretty uneventful but the 4×4 Jeep looked to be quite exciting. It was an open sided Jeep, with canvas roof and hard wooden bench seats. At first I loved it because the air was warm and the scenery at sunset and by moonlight was incredible – like I imagine African landscape to be, with far-reaching plains and tall trees. But after one and a half hours of trying not to swallow bugs the size of small birds and I was ready to get off!

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Sunset in the Pantanal

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Our 4×4

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All smiles!

Lodges and night walks

We were introduced to our guide Gabriel and the rest of our tour group, a friendly group of people in their 20s and 30s. But there was no rest for us, as Gabriel announced that we would be going out on a night hike. We put on long trousers and hiking boots before we set off walking in the moonlight. It was nerve-wracking walking around in the dark – there were huge spiders on webs in the trees and the cayman (small ancestors of alligators) were out of the lakes, laying on the grass. You could see their eyes shining in the dark. But I was happy to come across a cute anteater outside my dorm room!

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The caymen

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An anteater outside my lodge room

Trekking and tattoos

The next day, at Gabriel’s suggestion, we woke at sunrise to watch the macaws feeding – they were a brilliant dark blue colour and really, really noisy but incredible to watch so closely. We then went on a 4 hour hike, seeing a host of wildlife, including monkeys, raccoons, boar, and loads of tropical birds (heron, flamingo, jabaru, parakeets). Gabriel took us through such a variety of landscape, from dense trees and undergrowth to wide open wet lands, telling fascinating stories about the foliage and birds nesting habits. We were encouraged to get into nature and walk barefoot through muddy water up to our knees – following Gabriel’s barefoot example.

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Macaws feeding

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Dawn sunrise

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Tree tops

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Undergrowth

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Jabaru nest

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Tree vine

Gabriel stopped in front of a fruit tree and plucked a small plum-sized fruit, telling us that the juice is like a temporary tattooing agent – like henna – so he cut it open and drew small tattoos on us. Mine was a butterfly – and god bless him, Gabriel is a great guide but an artist he isn’t! I was glad when it wore off because I didn’t want to be stuck with it for life!

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Gabriel

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Tattoo fruit

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Drawing my butterfly

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Temporary tattoo

Sting in its tail

As we were walking through a section of thick undergrowth, two girls on our tour started shouting in pain – they had been stung by a huge black insect that looked like a beetle. The younger girl was stung on the hand and the older woman had it go down her top and it stung her just under her breast (very unfortunate). Gabriel told them not to panic – he took the young girl’s hand, reached behind him, and pulled out his massive machete!! This was one of the funniest moments on the trip because the girl thought he was going to chop off her hand!

But Gabriel used the machete to mark the bite (which was swelling rapidly) with a cross and then cut into a nearby tree and spread some of the sap on the bite. It stopped the pain and the swelling went down, acting as a natural anaesthetic. The other woman had the same treatment for her bite, but we gave her some privacy for that!

Lunch at the lodge

The lodge we were staying at was absolutely beautiful – like a farm house with out-buildings, stables, a lake and gorgeous verandas with hammocks. We spent much time relaxing in those hammocks.

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Lodge building

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Hammocks

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View over the lake

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Lake

Following lunch back at the lodge we were all given horses and went riding through the Pantanal for the afternoon. I really enjoyed this part, as we covered a lot of ground and the horses were beautiful. The only drawback to riding in the Pantanal is that the horses tend to scare a lot of the animals away, but you still see lots of birds and tropical plants.

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My beautiful horse

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Horse trekking

Piranha fishing

Later that afternoon, Gabriel took myself and one of the other couples out onto the lake to do some piranha fishing. The boat was like a tiny tin can and we had these huge rods made from sticks of bamboo. Gabriel used meat as our bait and we hooked the pieces onto our lines and swung the rods into the water. Literally the second the meat touched the water, one of us had caught a piranha – they are incredibly fast! Many times they managed to get away with our bait before we even realised – you have to yank the pole out of the water really fast to keep them hooked. This meant that we were all wildly swinging our poles around and narrowly missing each others faces with either empty hooks or freshly-caught piranhas!

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Sunset fishing

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A cayman after our fish!

As the sun fell, more and more bugs appeared around us and this in turn brought out the bats, who were chasing the bugs. The bats were swooping so low that we kept hitting them with the fishing poles! We were also surrounded by caymen, who were sitting in the water watching us fish their dinner! We drank a few cans of beer while all of this was happening, which just added to the general madness of it all. That night Gabriel gutted and cooked up the piranha for our dinner – they’re reasonably tasty fish but there’s not a lot of meat on them.

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Darkness falling

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Caught one!

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Piranha!

River cruising

The next morning we were piled into the Jeep and taken down to a river for a boat ride in the sun. The river birds were out in force – kingfishers, toucans, and heron. We also saw a boa constrictor and some iguana sunning themselves on the banks.

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Kingfisher

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Boa Constrictor

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In the boat

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Iguana

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Drying his wings

Too soon it was over and we were on our way back to Campo Grande – our Pantanal experience was over. If you are an animal lover, this trip would definitely be for you – the guides are absolutely wonderful with their knowledge of the ecosystems and you will come away with some David Attenborough-worthy facts!

Visiting the Pantanal soon? Feel free to ask if you’re curious about anything!

Camping Croatia

I had been intrigued by Croatia for several years and was getting increasingly jealous of the people who were jetting off on holiday there. Martin (my other half) and I decided that this summer (2013) we would make Croatia our own!

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Trip objective

We had a three-fold objective for our trip:

1. to be on the move and not tied to one place;

2. to hold back on spending too much money (as we’re saving for a house!);

3. to be as active as possible!

Bring out the tent! 

In order to meet objectives 1 and 2 (and a little of 3) we decided to make our holiday a camping trip. We were flying with low-budget airline Easy Jet and had to pay for hold luggage, so we paid for one bag and stuffed it with a 2-man festival tent, a rather large air bed, a foot pump, sleeping bags, pillows and a sheet. We packed two small cabin-luggage cases with our necessities and off we went!

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Our holiday tent!

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Tent and car

We were flying from London into Zadar, a city in the northern region of the dalmatian coast – this alone saved us some serious cash, as the most expensive flights in August were from the UK to Croatian cities like Split and Dubrovnik. But Zadar shouldn’t be overlooked (I will be writing a separate blog post about this beautiful city).

Heading south

At the airport we picked up our rental car (booked in advance) and headed straight out of town, aiming south. A short hour and a half later and we were just outside of the Krka National Park in a small town called Skradin. Built next to the Krka River, Skradin is a small harbour town that serves as the main touch point for visitors to the national park.

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Skradin from the battlement

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Entrance to the park

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Clock tower in Skradin

Having researched camp sites in advance, we followed a mountain road south out of Skradin over the mouth of the river and up onto a hillside where we stopped at Camping Krka. Camp sites in Croatia tended to have very good facilities in general, with good showers and toilets. Most of the sites consist of simple rocky ground but they are situated underneath wide-spread pine trees, which provide lots of much-needed shade.

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Skradin camp site

Krka National Park

My sister and her husband were touring through Montenegro and Croatia in their camper van so they came to meet us to tour the Krka park. There are two ways that you can access the park – you can queue with roughly 200 other tourists and pay to board a boat which sails up-stream to the park and its famous waterfalls – or you can walk the 4km journey like we did! The walk was extremely easy, no up-hill climbing required, and only took an hour. The road is pretty dusty but the views of the rocky terrain and gorgeous blue river is a fantastically distracting sight.

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The boat to Krka falls

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View on walk to Krka

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Dusty roads

The park costs 90 Kuna (roughly £10) to enter and consists of hundreds of waterfalls that you can both hike up and swim in. The whole park area is beautiful, with wooden walkways and stone stepping paths through the trees and around the falls. It is a real novelty to be able to swim in a waterfall – but we were kind of disappointed that the park was so crowded. If you aren’t a fan of touristy ventures, you might not enjoy queuing with hundreds of others to simply cross bridges or find a space of water to swim in! But when you’re in the cool water, watching the falls and swimming around you may just forget about the other people (maybe).

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Swimmers in the falls

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The main falls at Krka

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The falls from the water

Murter Island

After a few days in Krka we decided to move back to the coast and drove 25 minutes down to Murter Island. From here you can get tour boats out to the Kornati Islands national park (you can start to see a theme with Croatia – everywhere is so beautiful that it’s a national park!). Just over the connecting bridge between the mainland and Murter island, we passed a small cove which had an inflatable water park anchored just off the shore. This was the scene of one of the most fun hours of the whole trip! There were two massive trampolines which were attached by an inflatable bridge, a huge ‘iceberg’ climbing wall and a catapult bag. We were lucky enough to have this to ourselves for the hour and we made full use, reverting back to 8-year olds.

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Inflatable water park

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Inflatable fun!

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Climbing the iceberg

That night we stayed in a camp site in a bay called Kosirina – the water there was crystal clear, like the Caribbean…but freezing cold! Some sunbathing on the huge boulders surrounding the shoreline soon warmed us up. We had dinner in Murter town that night, at a small restaurant with a roof terrace overlooking the water and watched the sunset over scrumptious pizzas and Croatian beers.

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Kosirina bay

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The freezing water!

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Roof top restaurant

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Dinner at sunset

Moving to the islands

Leaving Murter we drove back onto the mainland coast along to Biograd na Moru where we caught the first ferry leaving the port for Pasman Island. Luckily there was a ferry departing right that moment so we bought our tickets from the booth and drove on-board. The journey across to the island was simply stunning – the water was smooth as glass and there were sailing boats on the horizon.

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Our car, snug in the centre!

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Ferry view

We arrived on the island and drove out of town on the only main road on the island. You honestly can’t go wrong with directions – to reach the coast, you simply take a right off the main road and drive down to the shore! The whole island is only 15-18 km long so you won’t be required to do any great distances. Again we had researched the island and found a nice-sounding campsite, about 10 km from the ferry port in a little town called Groblje. If you want picturesque, you’re looking in the right place here. There is a beautiful stone church built next to a shallow cove, with the most gorgeous aqua water. And this is where our camp site was found, right next to the cove. However if you like to sleep in, maybe don’t stay here, as the church bells start tolling at 6am!

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Feet shot!

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View across the cove

We went out to eat in the evening at one of the two restaurants on the waterfront. When I called it a town earlier, I was maybe being over-generous – the whole place consisted of one small convenience store, two restaurants, a post office and (strangely) a tourist office! The restaurant was really busy with people from the rental apartments that are dotted around and the food was beautiful – the best calamari I have ever had!

Advancing to Ugljan

From there we left the island of Pasman and drove on up to the main port town of Preko on Ugljan Island. I was pleasantly surprised with how pretty this town was, considering how most port towns are kind of industrial looking. Preko had a lovely walkway along the waterfront which had various canopy-covered outdoor seating areas for restaurants and cafes. There is a small island with what looked to be a private residence on it just 100 meters out in the sea and people were swimming across to it and boats were sailing out and back.

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Island off the shore of Preko

We stayed for the morning and had breakfast before proceeding on to the north-west of the island where we planned to stay at a camp site in the harbour village of Muline. There were 2 camp sites in the village, situated right next to each other – I have forgotten what both of these camp sites were called, and I can’t find much information about them online. However this is what its like in Croatia and the smaller islands – they rely on passing trade or people who stay the whole summer every year. It’s actually charming to be somewhere so quaint and un-digital!

During the day we walked along the coastline and sunbathed on the rocks, swimming out to a pontoon. In the evening we drove to the village and had a cold beer on the jetty as the sun was setting. There was a slight ripple on the water and islands in the background, with beautiful pinks and blues in the sky and reflecting off the water. The pictures really don’t do it the full justice.

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Muline cove

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Pontoon diving

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Snorkelling

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Sunset at Muline

Back to the mainland and heading north

We travelled back down to Preko and got the ferry over to the mainland again, pulling into the main port in Zadar. This is a bustling and busy port with many tourist boats of all sizes coming and going. Getting the boat from the ferry out through the traffic and people was pretty hair-raising at times, but we managed to find the main road out of town.

We headed up north to the Paklenica National Park, which was a complete change of scenery to the other parks we had seen. The area was completely mountainous, with huge craggy crevices running deep into the mountainside. It was here that we set up for several days to do some mountain-climbing. My sister and her husband are qualified climbers and were able to teach us some new skills. There are a number of places in town to rent equipment from (climbing shoes, harnesses, etc.) and you can buy a pass for 50 Kuna that allowed us re-entry for 3 days.

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View of the mountains

The climbing area was very well-equipped and sometimes it was just amazing to sit and watch some of the more experienced climbers scaling the walls as quick as spiders. Beware of the weather in this part of the country, as it can be unpredictable. We experienced a very strong rain storm with lightning and thunder that lasted for 4-5 hours, before it cleared completely and we were climbing again that same afternoon.

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Martin getting hooked up

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Me in the harness

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Martin scaling the rock face

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Leanne on the descent

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Blue sky day in the mountains

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Rainstorm at the mountain camp site

Camping conclusion

I would thoroughly recommend camping as a source of accommodation in Croatia for the following reasons:

  • It is extremely cheap – we only paid between 11-14 Euro a night to camp for the both of us. My sister and her husband paid up to 5 Euro extra for electric hook up for their campervan, but it still works out to be an amazingly cost-effective way to see a lot of the country.
  • It isn’t as hot as you think! – I was under the impression that we might die of heat exhaustion in our tent in a hot country like Croatia in August. But we were pleasantly surprised with how comfortable we were. You won’t need much more than a thin sheet for cover, but it’s worth taking a sleeping bag in case you experience some adverse weather (like in the Paklenica region).
  • You see so much more! – Not being tied down to a hotel meant we could pack up our car within 20 minutes and be on the road to the next destination. We weren’t made to stay anywhere we didn’t like and could move as the mood took us.
  • Teaches you to travel light! – My favourite topic is how to travel light and not weigh yourself down the unnecessary. You certainly learn this if you are camping abroad, as you have your camping equipment to lug around, without the need to lug extra belongings!

Would you consider camping on holiday? Have you travelled to any of these places in Croatia? 

Missed Oktoberfest 2013? Try for 2014!

Most of my travels involve some kind of cultural appreciation but I must admit that there has been one particular trip organised with the single objective of drinking alcohol – Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. I realise October has almost finished but this is actually the perfect time to contemplate your trip for next year. Hotels get booked up as early as February for the festival, which starts (despite the name) in late September and runs for two weeks (in 2014 it will run from 20th September to 5th October).

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Traditional Bavarian cookie

The festival was originally started in the 1800s and consisted of horse racing and beer drinking. Over the years the beer drinking remained and the horses were replaced by fairground rides – hundreds of them! This playground surrounds up to 14 huge tents that are home to each of the largest Munich breweries. When I say tent, don’t imagine a small marquee – oh no. Each tent is a huge structure that can house around 10,000 people each, sat on benches in long rows. Some tents are traditional and some are more modern, all serving different food options and, of course, beer.

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View from the big wheel

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Oktoberfest rides

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Inside a beer tent

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More rides

I have been lucky enough to go to Oktoberfest in Munich twice – in 2007 and 2012 – both times to celebrate the ‘coming of age’ of a family member. My lucky (or unfortunate) step-cousins saw in both of their 18th birthdays under the influence of German beer. My Dad and Step-mum came on both trips, along with my sister, friends and boyfriend – so the age range was varied, but we all had an amazing experience.

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Family at Oktoberfest

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Me with beer goggles!

I believe the British way of drinking (binge-style, followed by vomiting and fighting) has ruined our impressions of such alcohol-related events – in fact, I have never seen violence at Oktoberfest and most people are incredibly well behaved. It really is a family event, with kids and adults alike on the fairground rides and everyone wearing Bavarian hats. And it’s not just a tourist trap, the locals are fully involved and come out in droves, wearing their traditional Bavarian outfits, some of which are questionable in taste! You will also see many elaborate moustaches!

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Bavarian socks!

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Our lovely beer server

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Catalogues for Bavarian outfits

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Crazy moustache man!

Beers are served in huge steins, which hold approximately a litre of beer. The serving staff, dressed in their traditional wench-style outfits, can carry up to 5 or 6 of these at a time, in one hand! I could barely lift my one stein with both hands! There are many food options available to help soak up the beer. Outside of the tents are hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of Bavarian sausages, pretzels and pastries. Inside the tents you can order plated food, such as traditional potato salad and half a rotisserie chicken – some of the most succulent meat I have ever had! As you walk through the tents you can see hundreds of them rotating on their cookers and the smell is intoxicating (even more so than the beer!)

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Stein of beer

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Huge German pretzels

Now one thing you may not know is that seats in the beer tents are booked in advance and to walk into a tent and get a seat is very rare (unless you are there from first thing in the morning and don’t move all day!). Both times we decided not to book in advance and instead we found seats available in the beer gardens – which are specially designated areas outside of the tents, a bit like pub gardens. The atmosphere in these gardens is just as animated as inside and we ended up squeezed into benches with lovely people from all over the world! You don’t usually have to wait for long and people squeeze to make room for you.

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Beer garden crowd

People at Oktoberfest tend to talk to you, even if they don’t speak your language! On the first trip of ours we were clapping along to traditional bands with local German people and dancing in the aisles with some Swedish men. On the second trip we started in-depth discussions about beer with some Israelis and laughed at some young French men trying to down their steins! Be warned – if you stand on your chair and state that you will down your entire stein, you must be confident that you will do it – you will be booed by the crowd (in a friendly, but very loud way!) if you do not succeed!

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Downing the stein!

So there are plenty of benefits to being out in the beer gardens but there is one down side – rain! The weather in Munich in September is actually pretty nice, with plenty of sun and cool, mild days. But you may hit the odd spot of rain. When that spot hits, try to make the best of it! We bought ponchos from a seller and were determined to stick it out – moving our beers under cover so the rain wouldn’t dilute the beer!

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Under cover but still smiling

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Beer cover!

When the rain cleared and the beer was sitting well, we went out into the fair and took on a few of the rides. Our favourite was the carousel with chain swing seats. The one from our childhoods was only 15-20 feet off the ground – this one was more like 200! I love the memory of seeing my Dad and sister swinging around in the air, waving their arms with no regard for safety!

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Carousel

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Oktoberfest at speed

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Me and my other half on the carousel

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all about drinking alcohol – during the day, once you’ve recovered from your hangover, you can head out into Munich and enjoy the sights. The traditional Bavarian architecture is beautiful and many of the buildings are adorned with hundreds of flowers. There are street markets, performers, and hundreds of pavement cafes and restaurants where you can people watch for hours.

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Munich Town Hall

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Family shot

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Munich city street

So if you’re planning your trips for 2014, consider Munich and Oktoberfest – I promise you won’t regret it!*

Are you game for Oktoberfest? Think you can take on the carousel swing? 

* Your liver may regret it!