Bulgaria: Snowboarding, Raki shots & Unicorns

Borovets

Last month I embarked on my first ever winter sports holiday – something I always thought I didn’t fancy doing. To me, it always seemed like an overly-expensive holiday, and I was worried I’d get bored doing the same thing every day. However, someone dropped out of the trip my friends had planned, and so a month before, I decided to join. As we were going at the end of the ski season in Bulgaria, the price was actually a lot cheaper than I expected, and I figured as so many people choose to go skiing/snowboarding again, there had to be something to it!

As we arrived in Borovets quite late in the evening, we headed straight out for food and drinks, and with it being the end of the season, everyone was keen to get us in their bars, offering free drinks left, right and centre. We barely walked a few meters when we ended up in Sunny’s Bar drinking his homemade Raki concoction – I knew I was in for some heavy nights and even heavier hangovers!

I was both excited and nervous for my first day of snowboarding, as although I’d skateboarded a bit when I was younger, snowboarding was like nothing I’d ever done before, and I’d already been warned that it was tricky to get the hang of. I definitely spent the first half of the day just trying to stand up on the board and not going flying off everywhere. It’s safe to say, I spent a lot of time on my bum that day! After lunch, we went on our first run, and although I fell over a lot and had to keep ‘leafing’ to control myself, the views were breathtaking and I really did start to feel the thrill when I went a bit faster down the slopes.

It was the first night out after snowboarding that we discovered DJ’s, which became our favourite place to dance every evening, especially with all the free shots! However nothing prepared me for the aches and pain I’d feel the next day – in both my limbs and my head! I’m certainly impressed that people can drink so much every evening and then still get up early to start skiing again the next day!

Having said that, I felt a lot more confident the second day for snowboarding, as I was finally comfortable to just get up and down on the board and stop myself when I needed to. So we started trying to practise turning on the board, as I’d been leafing in order to turn myself around and slow myself down so far. I still found turning quite tricky to get my head around even by the last day, as my nerves just kept getting the better of me as I started going too quickly. On our last day of snowboarding, we decked unicorn onesies for the day, and we certainly got a lot of attention that day!

We only had four days snowboarding in the end, and although my aching body was probably ready to rest, I was a bit gutted as it was by the last day that I was starting to get my head around turning. Hopefully this means if I go again though, I’ll feel much more confident on the board!

Sofia

For our last night in Bulgaria, we headed to Sofia ready to celebrate my friend Stacey’s birthday. Sofia is a lot prettier than I expected it to be; there are so many beautiful parks around and it’s very up-and-coming with all of its trendy bars and cafés. We were lucky to get some really nice sunny weather when we were there, so we spent a full day exploring the city.

Of course, we had to head to the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral; probably the most popular tourist attraction in Sofia. The architecture both inside and outside of the cathedral is really stunning, as expected. There are many smaller cathedrals and churches dotted about this area in Sofia, many from different religions which is really interesting. Another one I particularly liked is the Russian Church.

Another highlight in Sofia has to be the Monument to the Soviet Army, which is situated in a lovely park. There are a few war memorials dotted about Sofia, but I felt this one was particularly poignant, just for its size alone!

In the evening, we celebrated my friend’s birthday with some drinks, and found a little Irish tavern with live music – not very Bulgarian I know, but fun all the same!

All in all, I’d say my snowboarding holiday was a success, and I can definitely see why people return year after year. I think I’m keen to see what I’ll be like next time I get on a snowboard!

 

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10 Things I’ve Learnt In 2018

I know we all say every year that we can’t believe how fast the year has gone, but it really doesn’t feel that long ago since I wrote my last end-of-year blog post! This time last year, I had just moved back to Sheffield to start my new job and everything felt a bit overwhelming, yet exciting. Now, one year on and feeling much more settled, I thought I would reflect on ten things I’ve learnt this year.

1. You are of value at work

I think many twenty-somethings like myself worry about their place at work, and often don’t realise how much value they can bring to a company. As I went through a lot of job rejections last year and then was temporarily made redundant at my current company earlier this year, it can make you feel pretty worthless. However, since getting kept on at my current role, taking on more responsibility and receiving good feedback, I am finally starting to believe that I can be an asset to a company and that I have a lot more useful skills than I realise.

2. You need to let yourself be happy too

All my life I’ve been a serious people-pleaser, and I’ve always worried about people not liking me or not being happy. This falls into my relationships too, where I let myself feel unhappy because I’m so worried about hurting the other person. However, as tough as upsetting someone is, I’ve learnt that you need to be honest with yourself and other people so that you can all move on and be happy.

3. You never stop making new friends

One thing I’ve loved most about this year is how many new people I’ve met and become close with. The great thing about starting a new job and moving into a house with new people is making new friendships, and I’ve been so lucky to become close friends already with my housemates and colleagues. It’s mad to thing that the people I spend the most time with these days are people I’ve only known for one year!

4. Veganism is amazing for your mind and body (and the environment!)

One of my New Year’s resolutions last year was to complete Veganuary. Not only did I go vegan for January, but I’ve actually carried on for the entire year. Now, I can’t imagine ever going back, as I’ve enjoyed it so much and I truly feel better knowing that I’m helping the environment and the welfare of animals through just the one simple change. Another huge factor that made me carry on the vegan lifestyle is the fantastic health benefits: my skin is clearer, I’ve got tons more energy, and it’s helped me lose a lot of fat!

5. My goals (however small) are achievable

As well as completing Veganuary, I set myself a few other New Year’s resolutions last year. I’m pleased to say that I’ve achieved them all, which is a great feeling! They included learning to do 1-5 pull-ups (I can now do a couple of sets of  3 at a time), being on my phone less (I’ve certainly been trying to stick to this) and visiting two countries (I ended up visiting 3!) I know a lot of people joke about people never sticking to New Year’s resolutions, but I think the key is to set small, achievable goals which you can measure easily. So for this year, I’ve chosen another health related month-long resolution of taking part in Dry January and another fitness-related resolution of learning to do pistol squats. 

6. It’s okay to hang out with yourself

This is quite an important one for me as growing up, I was always terrified of going to things by myself, even to the point that I would be nervous to pick a certain subject at school because I didn’t want to be in a class without a friend. Of course this has gotten better throughout the years since going away to university by myself, and flying to and from Thailand by myself last year, however I still think it’s something I’m working on. I’m certainly starting to get comfortable being by myself, and I am learning that it’s okay to go to the cinema or to a gig alone, or to even enjoy a meal on your own in public.

7. Everyone else goes through shit too

With everyone’s lives looking so perfect on social media, we forget that everyone else is going through stuff too. I’m  guilty of comparing my life to others and sometimes feeling a bit sorry for myself when me and my family are struggling, but we need to remember that we never know what’s going on behind closed doors. I’ve comforted many friends this year through relationship and job problems, to dealing with the death of loved ones, and it makes you realise that sadly we all go through problems. However, it’s important to turn that around and focus on the friends and family you are still to have around.

8. Exercise and hard work really does pay off

I’ve been documenting my physical journey throughout the year and it’s awesome seeing the progress I’ve made along the way. I’ve had down days where I’ve felt like I’m not seeing much difference in my physique, and then bam, another day you’ll be looking in the mirror and noticing all sorts of changes. It’s pleasing to see that hard work and dedication really does pay off, and I’m excited to continue getting stronger in the new year.

9. There’s no such thing as too many holidays

Of course, money dependent, there probably can be such a thing as too many holidays, but what I mean is that time spent travelling is invaluable experience. I ended up taking three holidays this year to Amsterdam, Malta and Germany, and although it’s stopped me saving as much money as I would have liked to this year, it was money and time well spent. With the cold weather continuing to creep in, I’m already starting to think where I could head to in 2019…

10. 2019 will be a good year

Okay, this isn’t something I’ve learnt, but it’s something I’m positive about. After quite a tough start last year losing my grandad, I’m confident that 2019 will hold good things. I’m finally in a more stable position in life, and I’m excited to see what will happen next. Happy New Year!

Germany: Oktoberfest, Beer Tasting, Castles & Surfing

Having already visited Germany a couple of times, I was really excited to head back to visit Munich and Nuremberg; two cities I hadn’t explored yet. Our main reason for visiting at the end of September was of course, Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival (known as Volkfest).

Oktoberfest

A few of my friends I was travelling with had been to Oktoberfest before, but the closest I’d ever come to it was dancing on a table in Sheffield’s Bierkeller with a stein, so I was very excited to finally experience the real deal!

The main Oktoberfest festival site is in the centre of Munich, and it’s definitely worth going to if you want the full Oktoberfest experience. With several beer halls to choose from, food stalls and fairground rides, it’s easy to spend all day there. On the weekend days, you have to arrive pretty earlier to bag yourself a table (some people spend lots of money reserving them too, but we were happy to just turn up and join someone else’s table). The festival itself shuts about 10pm each night too, so it’s definitely worth getting up early and making a day of it.

Walking into the first big beer hall was certainly a sight to behold as I hadn’t envisioned quite how many people they could fit; in total, there were around 6,000 people! Inside there are rows of benches, a Bavarian band and thousands of steins clinking together. The best part of these halls is how sociable they are, as you join other people on the benches. We met people from all over the world, and it’s the best atmosphere getting to celebrate together. The highlight of this for me is the tradition of someone having to down their stein if they stand up on the table. While they do this, everyone hurls food at them and chants. I felt like I was stood watching a medieval play or something seeing radishes fly threw the air!

Outfits are another huge part of Oktoberfest, and I was glad we’d purchased lederhosen and dirndls in advance. We bought these for quite cheap online, but many of the locals had beautiful, traditional versions which were certainly something to show off.

My favourite hall inside Oktoberfest had to be Hacker, as the beer is particularly tasty and the rowdy atmosphere was perfect for my friend’s birthday. And yes, he had to down his stein on the table!

Munich

As Saturday was looking to be the busiest day for Oktoberfest, we decided to head explore the centre of Munich for the day. The architecture in Munich is absolutely stunning, and even though a lot of attractions were closed during the festival, it was still enjoyable to explore the city. We visited the Oktoberfest Museum to find out more about the history of Munich’s breweries, before taking part in a beer tasting in the museum’s cellar of all the festival’s featured beers.

If you want to get a good view of the city, the Englischer Garten is a must. The garden itself is huge with a beautiful lake,  a Chinese Tower and a viewing stand on top of the hill. We enjoyed some great street food, steins and Bavarian music in the garden’s marketplace, before heading to the surfing wave. Known as the Eisbach, this river in Munich features a man-made wave which permanently flows throughout Munich. This spot is popular all year round with surfers practising their moves,  and tourists watching in awe.

While I got a great feel for the city, I’m keen to head back to Munich outside of Oktoberfest to explore the museums and other tourist attractions.

Nuremberg

As we were flying back from Nuremberg, we opted to leave Munich on the Sunday morning and head straight to Nuremberg to explore the city. We had an Airbnb apartment booked for the Sunday night, much to our relief after four nights of camping!

Nuremberg felt wonderfully calm and peaceful after the bustle of Munich and Oktoberfest. Like Munich, the architecture is beautiful, and the city looks like a traditional Bavarian town. We walked along the castle walls, enjoying the stunning views of the city and the pretty gardens near the top of the castle. As it was a Sunday and renovation work was taking place, we couldn’t go all the way to the top of the castle, but the views were still great just the same.

We spent the rest of Sunday afternoon grabbing tasty food from Nuremberg’s food market and enjoying yet more steins in some of the bars and beer halls. The permanent beer halls in Munich and Nuremberg are still great options for drinking if you’re wanting a more chilled atmosphere than that of the main Oktoberfest site.

A must-see in Nuremberg has to be the Ehekarussell fountain, which features disturbing statues depicting the poem Bitter-Sweet Married Life by Hans Sachs.  It’s certainly not like anything you will have seen before!

Similarly to Munich, I would like to visit Nuremberg again to visit the numerous museums and cultural attractions it has to offer. All in all, it was fantastic to visit Germany again, although I I think I’ve had enough steins and pretzels  to last me a while!

Malta: Forts, Cathedrals & the Silent City

Admittedly, the island of Malta has never been at the top of my bucket list for travel destinations, and I knew next to nothing about its history, people or culture. This made it evermore exciting to visit however, as I got to travel there with little to no expectations of what to expect. Sometimes this can be a refreshing alternative to planning an itinerary or checklist of what you want to do or explore.

As it’s quite a small island, although not as small as its sister island Gozo, it’s very easy to get around Malta and visit several cities on the island. For just €2 on the bus, you can get around on a budget, whilst taking in the beautiful scenery of the harbours, coastlines and vineyards. However, these buses can get very cramped and do not always show up on time!

St Paul’s Bay / Buġibba

We stayed in St Paul’s Bay, which is a short walk away from the city centre of Buġibba, one of the most popular tourist towns on the island. I’m really happy we stayed here, as you’ve got ample choice of restaurants, bars and cafés to choose from, yet it’s a quieter area for when you want a good night’s sleep. If you’re wanting somewhere more lively, then St Julians/Paceville seems to be the most popular choice. We got the bus to Paceville for a night out on one of the nights, and although it was fun for a night of dancing, I probably wouldn’t choose to stop there!

There’s a nice coast line and rocky beach in Buġibba, which in the evening, looks very beautiful alongside the lit-up restaurants and bars along the seafront. We were told that the best beaches in Malta were in the north, a bit further up from where we were staying, and in particular, the best beaches were Paradise Bay and Golden Bay. So we opted to visit Golden Bay for the day, and I was thrilled to be back in the sea at last! With it being mid-August, the beach was very busy as you’d expect, so I imagine it would be much nicer to visit these beaches during the quieter months.

I was hesitant about finding vegan eating options in Malta, but I was pleasantly surprised to find many restaurants not only having dishes that were accidentally vegan, but actually having vegan listed on the menu. Personal favourites for me in St Paul’s Bay/Buġibba have to be The Chef’s Table, Mezzaluna Pizzeria and SALT Kitchen & Lounge.

Valletta

No trip to Malta would be complete without visiting the capital city of Valletta, where most of the historical tourist attractions are found. Upon arrival, it was clear to see why Valletta gets compared to Italy, with its stunning architecture and narrow streets.

We visited Fort Saint Elmo and the National War Museum, which is a fantastic way to learn about Maltese history, including the Order of St John and Malta’s Independence. You can walk around the fort which still has cannons and giant anchors intact.

If you really want to see some stunning architecture, St John’s Co-Cathedral is an absolute must. We ended up visiting here an hour before closing so it was very busy inside, however, it was worth it to see the beautiful baroque art and architecture inside, including paintings from acclaimed artists such as Caravaggio. I don’t think my picture below does the cathedral justice! With your entry ticket, you’re given a free audio guide which gives you very detailed information about the history behind the paintings and features.

We finished our sightseeing with a trip to the Upper Barrakka Gardens, which overlook the Grand Harbour. The garden itself is quite small, centred around a beautiful fountain, and features a café/bar and some war rooms, which we didn’t pay to visit in the end. The panoramic views from the gardens are breathtaking; you can practically see the whole of Valletta from up there. I’m surprised how quiet the garden was, and it was nice to enjoy an Aperol Spritz while taking in the views of the city.

Valletta is also a great choice for an evening out; there are plenty of restaurants to choose from and lots of bars and cafés offering happy hours. Although the city appeared to quieten down later on,  there are still some great options for evening entertainment, although we didn’t stay late enough to explore these fully.

Mdina

Known as the Silent City, Mdina is a medieval walled city with many of its historical buildings and features still intact. On quieter days, I imagine it feels as though you’ve stepped completely back in time. The city is quite small, and doesn’t take long to look around, and as it’s up on a hilltop, you can enjoy lovely views from various tearooms within the city. It features a few museums, two of which we looked around; the Museum of Torture, which informs you of the many grisly forms of torture that took place throughout history, and the Cathedral Museum, which connects to St Paul’s Cathedral and displays artifacts such as coins, paintings and religious relics. Like St John’s Co-Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral features baroque architecture, but I found this cathedral to be much quieter and more pleasant to look round.

My highlight in Mdina has to be the Palazzo Falson Historic House Museum. The house looks as though it has been frozen in time, with all the rooms and artifacts displayed in their original form. The most recent owner of the Palazzo was Captain Olof Frederick Gollcher, who was a proud collector of art and antiques. The visit includes an audio guide which is very interesting and informative as you explore each room in the large house. The house has been restored and maintained very well, and I particularly liked the pretty outside courtyard pictured below.

There really is something for everyone to do in Malta, whether you’re looking for sandy beaches to lie on, or historic towns to look around, it’s an ideal location for a combined cultural and relaxation holiday. I love how the size of the island allows you to visit so many cities, and I’m definitely keen to come back and explore the even smaller island of Gozo.

Amsterdam: Bicycles, Coffee Shops & Brass Bands

I’d heard so much about Amsterdam that I felt as though I’d already been there and could already picture the bike-cladded streets winding around the canals. For years I’d been desperate to see the city for myself, so me and a few friends decided to head there for a long weekend to celebrate my birthday.

Amsterdam has an amazing transport system – car, bike, boat, tram, train or bus – you can take your pick! Even though we were staying a while out of the city centre, our weekend public transport passes were a fantastic way of getting around the city.

As we arrived quite late on the Thursday night, we grabbed some food for breakfast and a couple of beers and relaxed in our hotel apartment.

Friday

In the morning we headed off to the the museum quarter with pre-booked tickets for the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. Having studied art at school, I was really keen to see his work in person and learn a bit more about his back story. One thing to note with attractions like this and the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, is that most places require you to book tickets and a time slot in advance.

Having a time slot worked well with the Van Gogh museum and the floors feel very spacious, giving you lots of time to explore each section and read the information about each piece. I’ve been to a few big art galleries in the past, but this is the first gallery I’ve been to which focuses entirely on one artist’s work. And you can truly see why Van Gogh holds such fascination for many people. I was already familiar with his post-impressionist style of painting, but it was interesting to see the other art styles he experimented with over the years, such as pencil drawings and peasant character studies. I also particularly enjoyed the self-portrait section, as I feel as though it’s unusual for an artist, who you’d usually expect to distance themselves from the subject of study, become that study themselves.

We spent the afternoon exploring the city by foot, which I could honestly spend hours doing! The architecture is so beautiful in Amsterdam (reminding me very much of Paris at times) and there are so many cute cafés and shops to look around. We ended up venturing into one of Amsterdam’s infamous ‘coffee shops’, where you can enjoy legal marijuana. We picked one with a cat called Bowie who is pretty popular with tourists!

In the evening, we ventured out to De Pijp, a popular strip full of bars. As it struck midnight, we celebrated my birthday with some shots and sparklers before heading to a Jazz Bar called Bourbon Street Music Club. This is a fantastic venue if you want to get away from the busy, touristy bars and we joined a few locals dancing to an awesome Blues band.

Saturday

Despite being a bit hungover from the night before, we left the apartment bright and early to visit the Anne Frank House, as we’d already booked an early time slot. I knew that this visit would be tough, but I’d heard very good things about it. The museum didn’t look how I expected to from the outside, as I didn’t realise that they had built it around the original annex. The tour takes about an hour and you are provided with a free audio guide, which I found very informative and moving. There is no furniture left in the annex, but you do get a feel for the enclosed space that the Frank family shared with the van Pels and Fritz Pfeffer during their two years in hiding. At the end, you hear some accounts from Otto Frank and others survivors who had been close with Anne. It’s a sad but very moving experience, so I’d definitely recommend it. Upon recommendation of a friend, we then stopped by the pancake house outside the Anne Frank house to enjoy some traditional dutch pancakes, which were really delicious!

Then it was time to head home for a quick nap, before heading back out into the city centre. We took a little ferry from the train station to the A’DAM Lookout, a tall building with a panoramic view of the city. The cost to go up the  tower is quite expensive and you do have to pay extra to go on the swing. I didn’t realise that the swing slots also book up in advance, and as there was a two-hour wait, I decided not to do it. However, the view from the tower is stunning, and we enjoyed the rooftop bar and music in the sunshine.

Me and two other friends bought a bundle ticket for the tower and a canal boat ride afterwards. However, we spent 45 minutes queuing in the heat and as it was getting on a bit in the evening, we decided to head back to the apartment instead. It was a shame to waste the money, but I think you’re better off paying for a smaller, independent boat company, rather than going for one of the big ones. The smaller boats themselves also looked much nicer to ride on when it’s sunny, as the big ones we were waiting for all had roofs on.

In the evening we headed back to De Pijp for a Mastino Pizza, which we had read rave reviews about. I had a really tasty vegan pizza with vegan-style brie! As it was a lovely day and the restaurant is quite small, we took our pizzas to a nearby park and enjoyed them with a few bottles of wine. Later on, we explored the infamous red light district. I’d heard lots of stories about it, yet I still found myself feeling surprised and disturbed. We had a few drinks in one of the bars around there, but soon decided to head out of the district! We finished the night in a really fun club called Club NYX, which had a drag queen show on. The music and atmosphere was great in this club, but don’t be put off by people dancing right next to urinals on the second floor!

Sunday

On Sunday we decided to explore the city by bicycle and make the most of the hot weather. We cycled to Vondelpark, which has beautiful lakes and fountains. In the park, we also stumbled upon a Dutch brass band called Gallowstreet. They were so much fun and really got the crowd dancing. As well as being extremely skilled with their instruments, one member even used four different seashells to play music! The atmosphere was amazing and this was easily the highlight of my trip.

We enjoyed a pleasant cycle home before getting ready to head back out for the evening. After a few drinks in the flat, we got an Uber straight to a club that sounded like it had a good night on. However, once we paid loads to get inside, we found it to be completely dead and playing terrible music. I think that’s the quickest I’ve ever gone in and out of a club! We headed back to the apartment instead to take some ‘magic’ truffles, which you can buy from various shops in Amsterdam. I think they truly rounded off the Amsterdam experience!

I was sad to leave Amsterdam on Monday morning but I definitely intend to return in the future. While it’s close enough to travel to just for a weekend, there’s so much to do there that I think you’ll end up wanting to stay longer!

Another year gone

Every year it seems that almost everyone I know is ready to leave behind the year and begin the new one. They start reeling off the usual resolutions and promises to themselves to eat healthier, join a gym and stop drinking so much. While I’m looking forward to what 2018 has to bring, for the first time ever, I don’t feel quite ready to let go of 2017.

It feels strange thinking that this time last year I was getting ready to embark on what was to be the best four months of my life, backpacking around South East Asia with my friends. And while I feel sad that I’ve got nothing as exciting planned for 2018, it’s fantastic to look back at the year I’ve had. It’s unbelievable how fast the year has gone, but as it turns out, time really does fly when you’re having fun!

As well as it being a fun year, I also feel as though I’ve learnt a lot in 2017, so I thought I’d round up a few.

The unfamiliar world really isn’t as scary as you think

Before getting on that plane, I was absolutely terrified of flying by myself to an unfamiliar country where not everyone speaks my language, and I remember worrying that everyone around me was going to try and mug me. Of course, a few days in I soon realised that this was not the case at all and that in general, most people are good and want to help! This goes for lots of countries of course, and it’s sad that the news is constantly making us feel as though the world is out to get us. And while there is still a lot of bad in this world, there’s always a lot more good outweighing it.

But you still need to be careful

When I first got back to England, I felt pretty confident and safe being back in familiar territory, surrounded by friends and family. Yet it’s easy to become naive and forget that danger is still out there. I recently moved back to Sheffield, where I hold fond memories of university life and the city has always felt like a second home to me. However, I recently experienced a pretty scary incident with a strange man, who catcalled and chased me through one of the underpasses. I’ve never ran so fast in my life and it’s safe to say that the incident left me pretty shook up after. Luckily, I happened to run past a van full of police right around the corner, who were so helpful in helping me to file a report. They even drove me around the area to try and find the man, before dropping me off all the way to the door of the pub where I was meeting my friends. It upsets me how much this has knocked my newly gained confidence and has made me realise how vulnerable I still am. However, it’s really reassuring to know that the police force are really understanding and keen to help.

No one’s life compares to yours, so you shouldn’t compare yours to theirs

I feel like this is something I have to continually tell myself every year, yet it’s something many of us are often guilty of. With apps like Instagram constantly showing us pictures of our tanned friends travelling the world, it’s easy to wish your life was like theirs. Even when I had the privilege of travelling for a few months, I ended up being envious of my friends who were travelling for a over a year. It was hard to come back to reality and know that they were still out there experiencing incredible places. Yet I’ve also had friends tell me how jealous they’ve been of my travels, and so I keep stopping myself to think about how lucky I’ve been to experience a few months.

You will always find a job, even if it feels as though no company wants you

As expected, I had some pretty bad holiday blues once I was back in England and I soon got pretty down when I was job hunting and struggling to find work. Eventually I secured a temp job at Nottingham Trent University, which I really enjoyed. Sadly it came to an end though, and I was back to job hunting. At first I felt quite positive, as I secured several interviews after months of applying. When I didn’t get job offers after the interviews however, it really knocked my confidence. As anyone who’s been in that situation can tell you, every rejection really hits you hard, especially after you’ve put so much effort into an application and interview. You start to wonder if you’re really good enough and you take it very personally. However, as I was down to my last two interviews, one of them offered me a job back in Sheffield where I was keen to move back to. Suddenly I had a hectic couple of weeks finding somewhere to live and  getting ready for the new job, but that just made it ever more exciting! Now, I’ve moved in with some lovely housemates and have found a job I really enjoy going to each day, so it’s important to remember that you will get there in the end.

Setting goals for 2018

So after an awesome year (despite a few lows), I’m welcoming 2018 with open arms. I think I’ve learnt to like myself more throughout 2017, so I won’t be adopting the ethos of ‘new year, new me’. Instead, I’ve just set a few personal resolutions, which I fully intend on achieving!

  1. Complete Veganuary (and see where it takes me) – As you may have seen in one of my previous posts, I went vegan for a week in summer. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy I found it and so I’ve decided to try a bit longer this time and go vegan for the whole of January.
  2. Learn to do 1-5 pull-ups – I’ve been a regular gym-goer with a keen interest in weight training for a couple of years now, yet I’ve still never been able to do a single pull-up without the help of an assisted machine. So I’ve set myself this goal to see if I can finally achieve one.
  3. Be on my phone less – This one is slightly harder to measure objectively like the other two, but it’s something I’m keen to try and keep up. When I was travelling, I enjoyed the freedom of not being on my phone all the time and when I came back, I continued to not be on it very much. Yet after a few weeks of settling back into my old lifestyle, I found myself on my phone more and more. So I’d like to try and take this back a notch.
  4. Visit two countries – Of course the temptation of further travel is constantly niggling away at me, yet I want to stick with a job for a little while yet and save up some money. However, I’m keen to plan two trips away in 2018, whether it’s a long weekend or an action-packed two weeks.

Happy New Year!

 

South Thailand: Scuba Diving, Songkran & Full Moon Parties

It felt strange to be back in the hot streets of Bangkok where we’d began our journey. Although this time around, I arrived feeling at ease and like a more experienced traveller than I once before. It felt odd to be the one dishing out tips to tourists who had just arrived at our hostel, rather than being the one receiving them!

But we were only back for the night, and we soon met up with our friends Stacey and Joel again to book a bus to Krabi. I was excited to move away from the cities and enjoy some time with the sea and sand.

Ton Sai & Railay Beach

Instead of exploring Krabi Town, we hopped on a tiny motorboat to Ton Sai Beach where we’d booked two bungalows on stilts to stay in. It truly felt like we’d finally arrived on a remote island as we carried our huge rucksacks over our heads and waded our way through the sea.

While a lot of people choose to stay at Railay Beach, (which is about a 20 minute walk from Ton Sai), we opted to go for the latter, as it’s cheaper and less busy. The island is so small that there are just a few places to eat and stay, and all the electricity gets turned off at about 10pm. But that just makes it the perfect place to relax and it was nice to enjoy a few days completely disconnected.

While Ton Sai has some great rock climbing opportunities, there isn’t a great deal more to do, as you can imagine for most islands! So we enjoyed a nice hike to a viewpoint before cooling off in the beautiful sea. You can tell that Ton Sai is a haven for travellers, and we almost felt like we were back in Pai when we spotted the hammock-clad bars adorned with psychedelic mushrooms on the walls.

On our last day we took a walk over to Railay Beach, which is great for snorkeling around the rock pools when the tide is out. Drinks are pretty pricey there though, as we’d expected!

While everyone raves about Railay Beach, I think my personal favourite has to be Phra Nang Beach, as it’s a bit less busy, yet the sea is beautiful and there are awesome rocks overhanging the sea.

Phra Nang Beach is also home to a very unusual Penis Cave – yep, you heard me – a cave full entirely of wooden penises. Apparently this is because, “It is believed by the villagers that the spirit of Phranang (Princess Goddess) resides in the cave. Fishermen, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. With their wishes fulfilled, votive offerings would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually, the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams.” 

If you fancy a challenging hike, there’s a fantastic hidden blue lagoon right by Phra Nang and Railay Beach. Completely secluded by rocks and accessible only by a steep hike, the natural lagoon is simply breathtaking. Although we made it back covered in mud, it was certainly a highlight for me.

Phi Phi

If there was one island I’d heard about the most in Thailand it was Phi Phi. Although I’d heard wonderful things about it, we’d also heard about how expensive the island is (including the ‘clean up’ entry fee you have to pay to even step on the island)!

As soon as we stepped off the boat, we were hounded by salesmen trying to sell us accommodation. We spent a good hour asking around the hostels to find the best price, before settling on the cheapest one we could find – which despite being the most expensive bed we’d paid for yet on the trip, didn’t even supply bedding.

However we didn’t let that stop us – as we had cause to celebrate! It was Stacey’s birthday that night, and so we soon headed to the beach to start drinking before carrying on into the night. And there’s no doubt that the nightlife in Phi Phi is fantastic – there are so many drink deals, which certainly made up for the accommodation.

Like many people I know, I was set on going to Phi Phi so I could visit the infamous Maya Bay, which was featured in Danny Boyle’s The Beach. However, after some research, we found out that the location has sadly been spoiled by tourism, with tons of boats cramming their way into the bays and tourists having to fork out extortionate prices just to go there for a few hours. So we decided to give it a miss, as we’d already seen our fair share of dazzling beaches.

Koh Lanta

On the boat to Koh Lanta we were approached by a couple of men selling accommodation. We realised that this is something we’d probably have to get used to now that we were visiting all the touristy Thai islands, so we agreed what we thought was a good deal for a 4 person flat with one of the salesman. Although Joel was a bit suspicious over the good price, we couldn’t think of a reason why anything would go wrong.

The room had air con and a TV, and as we’d been hit with torrential rain the last couple of days, we enjoyed a cosy night in watching films. The next day, we made the most of what looked like a sunny day and rented some motorbikes from the hotel next door to head out for the day. We enjoyed a short trek to a waterfall before stopping off for a drink at a viewpoint overlooking one of the beaches.

However, it’s once we returned to the room where Edd soon discovered something was wrong. After both frantically searching our money belts, we found all of our Thai currency gone. Everything else of value in the room (like iPods, cameras etc.) were still there, it was just the money that was missing. As the whole flat was locked by key, we knew that it had to be the owners who were behind the robbery. After confronting them, it was clear that they were crooks and they’d already tipped off the police before we went there. We did some research and found that sadly it’s quite commonplace for tourists to get tricked into staying in these cheap rooms before getting robbed in Koh Lanta and some of the other Thai islands. As angry as we were about falling for the scam, we filed a police report anyway, packed up our stuff and got out of there as soon as we could. We booked a hostel at the other end of the island for the night, before making sure we booked another boat out of there the next day!

We knew that we couldn’t let something like this ruin our time in Koh Lanta, so before getting our boat we got a taxi to Koh Lanta Animal Welfare, a nonprofit charity for dogs and cats. The sanctuary aims to re-home the stray animals on the islands, and all the staff members and volunteers are fantastic at what they do. We got a guided tour round the sanctuary and got to play with the cats and dogs. Being massive animal lovers, this was the best way of cheering ourselves up!

From what I saw of Koh Lanta, I still definitely recommend visiting there. Just steer clear of anyone selling cheap accommodation on the boats and do your research beforehand.

Krabi Town

As we were leaving Koh Lanta a day or two early, we decided to head back to Krabi Town as we hadn’t actually explored the town properly before. On the weekends in Krabi, there’s a huge night market selling all sorts of food, drinks and souvenirs. So we enjoyed some beers and delicious veggie curry while watching some live music.

The best thing to visit in Krabi Town has to be Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea). Located atop a whooping 1,237 steps, it’s no surprise that the view is utterly fantastic. And while the walk up there is exhausting in the heat, it’s completely worth it.

A friend of Joel and Stacey’s was staying just down the road in Ao Nang, so I joined them to go pay their friend a visit. While Krabi Town feels a lot more like a traditional Thai town, Ao Nang is a lot more expensive and touristy. But it’s the place to go if you want some nightlife! We enjoyed a few rounds of beer pong at their friend’s hostel before finishing with some drinks on the beach.

Koh Tao

Originally we planned to go to Koh Samui next, however we found a cheap overnight boat straight to Koh Tao, where me and Stacey planned to do our PADI Open Water scuba dive course. So we enjoyed a pleasantly nice boat ride being rocked to sleep by the waves before arriving bright and early in Koh Tao.

As soon as the dive schools opened, me and Stacey paid them a visit, before deciding on Crystal Dive, whose PADI course involves one day diving in the swimming pool and two days diving in the sea.Me and Stacey were both excited and terrified about scuba diving. Stacey had had one bad experience with it on holiday a few years ago and I had never tried it before, so I had no idea what to expect.

They say that you’ll never forget your first breath underwater, and it’s safe to say that’s true (although I don’t think my memory will be a good one)! My breaths instantly became shorter and quicker and I felt completely out of control. But as soon as I calmed down and took deeper breaths, I started to get used to the feeling.

One thing me and Stacey never got used to do however was taking off our masks underwater! It just made us feel so vulnerable but luckily our scuba diving instructors were so patient and reassuring that we managed to do it.

And it was all totally worth it! Words cannot describe your first experience scuba diving in the sea. I’ve snorkeled in some amazing locations before (including the Caribbean), and seen some amazing sea life, but it simply doesn’t compare to swimming alongside them. Although we didn’t see any turtles or whale sharks during our course, we did see some bluespotted stingrays and amazing fish.

Koh Phangan

Now we were fully qualified PADI divers, it was time to head to Koh Phangan for the infamous Full Moon Party! We stayed in an awesome hostel called West Side Story where we met fellow traveller Dan who joined us on a hike to a viewpoint before chilling at the beach.

We then headed out to the night market to buy some fluorescent Full Moon Party tops for the following night!

The Full Moon Party is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. I’ve never seen so many people on one beach, and everywhere you look there are fire performers, water slides and cocktail buckets. Our friend Edd stayed out so long he ended up missing the boat to Phuket the next day! If you know what you’re going in for (expensive drinks, packed crowds and deafening music until the sun comes up), then you simply have to experience the Full Moon Party at least once!

Phuket

We decided to squeeze in a trip to Phuket for Songkran (the Thai New Year festival). During Songkran, the locals take part in 3 day water fight to celebrate the new year and bring in good luck.

We headed to a local 7/11 to buy the biggest water guns we could find, and as soon as we ascended upon the streets we were attacked left, right and centre by excited locals with water guns and buckets of water.

Instead of spending Songkran in the touristy part of Phuket, we spent it in the local area and it was the best decision we could have made. Aside from a few other tourists, we got to spend so much time with the locals and they took extra delight in soaking us with freezing cold water and covering our faces with coloured paste for good luck. The atmosphere during Songkran is truly unique and my cheeks genuinely hurt by the end of the festival from all the laughing!

Once Songkran was over, me Edd and Raquel explored the more touristy side of Phuket and visited the main town to buy some souvenirs. We also met Jori in our hostel who joined us for a relaxing evening on the beach and for some drinks in the evening. I felt sad knowing that this was the last time on my trip that I was going to see the sea!

Back to Bangkok

So after an amazing time exploring the Thai islands, it was time to head back to Bangkok for the third and final time. We had an extra two nights booked in Bangkok before flying home, so we stuffed our faces full of pad thai and bought some gifts to take home to our families.

And of course we couldn’t leave Bangkok without one last night out on Khao San Road, so we joined others dancing in the street before heading back for our final sleep before the flight.


Looking back at this trip as I’m writing the last post makes me feel so grateful that I got to experience so many extraordinary moments on the trip of a lifetime with my friends. From feeding elephants to spending the night in a jungle, to riding a motorbike through the beautiful Vietnamese landscape, to scuba diving among stingrays, it’s been quite the adventure.

I’ve seen the most beautiful sunsets, swam in the clearest waters and met some of the friendliest local people in the world.

Until the next trip!