Hiking the Calanques in Marseille

Earlier this year, I managed to snag really cheap return flight tickets to Marseille, France which only costed £19.98! Right after two of my most important and difficult examination papers in early May, I embarked on my first solo trip outside of the U.K. to Marseille – the second biggest city in France.

I enjoy outdoor activities and hiking, so when I read about the Parc National des Calanques, I knew I had to go there to see the beautiful coves and crystal-clear waters for myself. There are a number of calanques (map here) in the south of Marseille, but many are not accessible by public transport.

DSC_9694.jpg

Sugiton.

After doing some research, I decided to start my hike at Calanque de Sugiton, as it seemed the easiest to get to by public transport. I used Google Maps to plan my route – I took the Metro to Rond-Point du Prado, then bus 921 to Luminy. The journey took around 40 minutes in total! Luminy is a university town. There is a trail to Sugiton which starts from Luminy and the paths are well-marked.

The weather was incredibly sunny that day, so I hiked from Sugiton, to Morgiou, then to Sormiou. I ended the hike at Sormiou because I knew that there was public transport from Sormiou back to Marseille’s city centre. (But do take note that the nearest bus station is an hour of uphill hike from Sormiou.) It was one of the most beautiful hikes that I have done! The view is truly spectacular, with the steep cliffs and limestone valleys, and blue waters. When you visit Marseille, I would highly recommend that you take a short trip out of the bustling port city centre, and visit the beautiful calanques to see a different side of Marseille!

DSC_9672

Tips:

  • The hike from Luminy to Sugiton is rather manageable. The paths are well-marked and easy to walk on.
DSC_9669

Even doggo could handle the Luminy – Sugiton walk.

  • The hikes from Sugiton to Morgiou, and Morgiou to Sormiou are more challenging. The trails can be steep and rocky, so a certain level of fitness would be required. I personally would not recommend doing the complete Sugiton – Morgiou – Sormiou trail in one go because it was exhausting, even for me, especially when the weather got very hot. Covering all three calanques meant hiking down to sea level, then back up to the top three times. At some points, I had to scramble up and down 80 degree ascends and descends, which was fun!
IMG_5813

This steep and rocky wall was a part of the trail.

  • I hiked alone, but I would recommend hiking with a buddy. Some parts of the trail were completely deserted, perhaps because it was not peak season when I was there. The Sugiton to Morgiou and Morgiou to Sormiou trails are not as well-marked, some areas had edges with sharp drops and the wind can be very strong, so it’s always safer if you have someone else with you.
  • Bring lots of water and enough food.
DSC_9702

Eating my canelé at Sugiton.

  • Bring sun protection – hats, sunglasses, sunscreen. For some reason, I thought that it wouldn’t be that hot in early May, so I didn’t bring a hat or sunglasses, and barely had any sunscreen on. It was horribly foolish of me and I ended up being so sun burnt. There is barely any shade at all, especially when you reach the top of the trails. With the scorching sun shining down on me, I felt like I was in the middle of a dessert by the sea.
IMG_5824

No shade at the top.

  • Access to the calanques is restricted in summer due to the risk of fire, so do check before heading there.

With that being said, I am so happy that I was crazy enough to hike Sugiton – Morgiou – Sormiou alone. The breathtaking views made it all worth it and the adventure made this trip like no other. After all, as Hellen Keller said, ‘life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all’. (;

DSC_9677

Easy and manageable paths to Sugiton.

DSC_9683DSC_9713DSC_9717

DSC_9721

Morgiou.

IMG_5814

Sormiou from afar. 

IMG_5835

Crystal clear waters.

DSC_9705

I’m already craving for another adventure.

Until next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!

My Favourite Food in Paris

I absolutely love French pastries. Every time I head to France, the thing that I am most excited for is stuffing myself silly with French pastries. My favourite carb is bread, and there is nothing like crusty, rustic, fresh French bread. I used to buy a baguette before leaving the country, and finish the whole stick in one or two sittings. I know, I’m crazy.

DSC_7401

Golden, buttery, flaky, crispy palmier as big as the size of my face.

Paris is the city that I visited the most number of times when I was studying in the U.K. I have been there four times now, and I have taken a photo with the Eiffel tower in almost every season. Food in Paris can be a hit or a miss. Based on my experience, popping into random, unknown restaurants more often than not yielded bad meals for me. Nevertheless, I have tasted some amazing food in Paris, so this post is about my favourite places to eat at in the City of Love. In fact, I visited my first Michelin-starred restaurant there, which started my journey of becoming a full-fledged food lover!

Fine Dining

Restaurant David Toutain (1 Michelin Star)

DSC_6173DSC_6190DSC_6201DSC_6212The food presentation was unique and beautiful. For example, I really liked the amuse bouche, which is the smoked/roasted salsify shown in the first photo above. I also found the course shown in the third photo to be very interesting! It looked like pappardelle, but it was actually a type of vegetable (unfortunately, I no longer remember the ingredient) made to look like pasta. Everything was cooked well and the flavour combinations were great. If you could only pick one fine dining restaurant from this list, I would definitely recommend this restaurant!

Restaurant Frenchie

DSC_5742DSC_5748DSC_5767DSC_5778There is only a single option of the 5-course tasting menu. We opted for the ‘surprise menu’, which basically meant that we would only know what we would be served when the dish arrived at our table. It was so exciting! Overall, the food tasted delicious, except for the scallop course which was sadly overcooked. The lemon dessert (fourth photo) was one of the best desserts that I have ever had. It tasted like the most amazing frozen cheesecake, with the perfect balance of sweet and sour, and it was so delightfully fresh! I would go back to the restaurant just to have that dessert again.

Le Chateaubriand (No. 93, World’s 50 Best Restaurants)

DSC_6121DSC_6130DSC_6134DSC_6147This restaurant also only serves a 5-course tasting menu. Once again, we chose to be surprised. It was really fun to wait in anticipation as the servers brought us our food. One of the highlights was the dish shown in the second photo, which looked unassuming and way too green to taste impressive. It was a fish course with lots of vegetables/herbs on top. Surprisingly, we really enjoyed the fresh, light and ‘green’ taste that the dish offered, and it tasted very pleasant on the palate. The star of the night was definitely the candied raw egg yolk on a meringue pictured in the last photo. We popped it into our mouths and the egg yolk burst to coat our tongues with sweet, creamy goodness. Some courses wow-ed more than others (we were baffled as to why they would end the meal with something as mediocre as a slice of nectarine with some liquorice sprinkles), but overall, this restaurant is still worth a visit.

Restaurant Itinéraires (1 Michelin Star)

IMG_0688.jpgThis is the first Michelin-starred restaurant that I have ever visited. Back then, precise food plating and interesting flavour combinations were all very new to me. Throughout this meal, I was so amazed by how much flavour a dish could have and this opened the doors to a whole new world of food for me. In fact, the course that I remember clearly until this day is actually…the amuse bouche. It was a small and simple cucumber starter, but a single bite of it packed sweet, sour, spicy and fresh flavours. I was mind-boggled by how something so small could provide such big flavour explosions. Since then, I discovered a love for a different genre of food and have travelled around the world in search of the best food experiences. (This photo collage was actually taken from my Instagram. The restaurant did not allow photos but I sneakily took some with my phone.)

Classic Parisian Bistros

La Petite Périgourdine

DSC_7445.jpgAs it was cold and rainy in Paris, we huddled away in this neighbourhood bistro for lunch. There is nothing as comforting as perfectly-seared medium rare steak on a bed of aligot (cheesy mashed potatoes) on a dreary day. You know a neighbourhood bistro is legit when they have a ceiling to floor pigeonhole shelf filled with special napkins for the regulars.

Philou

DSC_6357.jpgThis is another neighbourhood bistro with its menu handwritten on a chalkboard. As this quaint restaurant is a little away from the tourist attractions, it seemed to be filled with locals when we were there. If you want a reasonably-priced and classic French bistro experience in Paris, this place is a safe bet.

Modern French

Clown Bar

DSC_7846.jpgClown Bar is the little sister of Michelin-starred Saturne. The restaurant is quirkily decorated with clowns painted on ceramic tiles (don’t worry, they’re not the scary type like Pennywise from IT), and the food is exciting and adventurous (veal brain, anyone?). The pithivier (pictured above) consisted of medium-rare duck and foie gras housed in a thin flaky pastry. The date jam added a fragrant sweetness and the freshness from the yuzu cut through the heaviness of the dish. Even my mum, who is very difficult to be pleased with her Asian palate, agreed that this was a winner.

Bakeries and Desserts

To be honest, I have never had bad pastry or bread from any bakery in France. Even random bakeries had, at the very least, decent baked goods. The pastry that I will always get from boulangeries is éclair!

Du Pain des et Idées

DSC_5792.jpgThis bakery is most famous for their Pain des Amis and escargots. A charming traditional boulangerie, this place is worth crossing the town to get your dose of buttery delicious carbs.

IMG_9775.jpg

Liberté

DSC_7482.jpgThis bakery made it to the list because it is open in August, when most of the bakeries in Paris are closed for their annual summer vacation. You cannot imagine how sad I was when I discovered that boulangeries like Du Pain et des Idées, Blé Sucré and Aux Péchés Normands were all closed. So kudos to Liberté for staying open and satisfying my cravings with delicious sweet treats!

Eric Kayser

DSC_7452DSC_7465.jpgEric Kayser is a chain bakery that you can find all over Paris, but the quality of their products is actually pretty good!

L’éclair de Génie

IMG_9191.jpgThis place makes éclairs in various unique flavours. The éclairs almost look too beautiful to be eaten!

Jacques Genin

DSC_5825.jpgThis chocolatier makes the most luscious hot chocolate. It is not overpoweringly rich and has just the right balance of bittersweet fragrance from the chocolate and creaminess from the milk. As if this pot of hot chocolate is not chocolatey enough, we were also served four pieces of exquisite chocolate to go with it. I have tried the hot chocolate from the popular Café de Flore but this one wins hands down. Jacques Genin is also known for serving one of the best made-to-order millefeuille in Paris.

Pierre Hermé

DSC_5614.jpgDSC_5627.jpgI know you can get Pierre Hermé macarons outside of Paris but it just feels different when I munch on these while walking down the streets of Paris. I always buy a few of these sugary treats whenever I am in town.

Brunch Cafe

Holybelly 5

DSC_7870.jpgWho would have thought that I would find a Melbourne-style cafe that I really liked in Paris? This hipster-ish cafe had nice brunch vibes and there was a long queue forming even though it was an early Sunday morning. The savoury stack was excellent! Fluffy pancakes topped with bacon and sunny side ups, drizzled with Bourbon butter and maple syrup – this is what makes waking up for brunch worth it.

Bonus tips:

If you are going to Paris for a food trip, try to avoid heading there during the French summer holiday period, which starts around the end of July until most of August. The majority of the restaurants and bakeries will be closed during this time.

IMG_9188.jpgI am obsessed with these dinosaur-shaped chocolate biscuits. I have only ever seen them in France, so I always bring boxes of these back to the U.K. with me.

Bonus photos:

DSC_5936DSC_6046DSC_6270

DSC_6296

Chef Adeline Grattard’s famed Stilton Cheese and Amarena cherry bao at Boutique yam’Tcha.

DSC_7396

Look at those flaky layers.

DSC_7656Until next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!

10 Favourites in Porto and Lisbon

This is a list of 10 of my favourite things in Porto and Lisbon during my trip there in July.

1. Viewpoints

A wise man once said, ‘When in Portugal and you see a sign saying miradouro, go for it.’ Okay, I may or may not have made that up. Lisbon and Portugal are peppered with miraduoros or viewpoints, which provide stunning views over the city.

DSC_4692

The view from the Dom Luís I Bridge. [Porto]

DSC_4612

The view from the Clerigos Tower (Torre dos Clerigos). [Porto]

DSC_4665.jpg

The view near the Porto Cathedral (Se do Porto). [Porto]

DSC_5050

The view from the free staircase access from Carmo Convent to the top floors of Elevador de Santa Justa. [Lisbon]

DSC_4955

Sunset at Miraduoro de Santa Catarina. [Lisbon]

DSC_4988.jpg

There was a very chilled vibe at Miraduoro de Santa Catarina with a live band and people just hanging out with a bottle of beer in their hands.

2. Pastéis de Nata [Lisbon]

Portugal is synonymous with pastéis de nata, or Portuguese egg tarts. I love the flaky pastry base and slightly burnt custard filling. The texture of the custard is like crème brûlée. My favourite was the one from Manteigaria because I preferred the richer and more intense taste of its filling. Another famous place is Pastéis de Belém. However, the pastry base of the pastéis de nata that I was served there was rather thick and hard, which I did not fancy. The filling was also lighter compared to Manteigaria’s, which you may prefer if you have less of a sweet tooth. Pastéis de Belém may have some problems with consistency as I have a few friends who had similar issues with the pastry base.

DSC_5540.jpg

Pastéis de nata from Manteigaria.


DSC_5202

Pastéis de nata from Pastéis de Belém.

3. Seafood

Portugal has an abundance of fresh seafood! I grew up eating a lot of seafood because my extended family used to be in the fishing industry. This is why I am very sensitive towards the taste of seafood that is not fresh, especially shellfish.

DSC_4522.jpg

Salt-baked fish.


DSC_4532.jpg

Shellfish bread stew.

Taberna dos Mercadores [Porto] – This restaurant is tiny so do remember to make a reservation. Almost every table ordered the same dishes which the restaurant is popular for – salt-baked fish and shellfish bread stew. I find Portuguese food often a little too heavily seasoned for my preference, so the shellfish bread stew was too much for one person (my mum is allergic to certain types of shellfish so I ended up having to finish most of the stew). It is a good dish for sharing. The salt-baked fish was very fresh.

DSC_5032.jpg

Arroz de Marisco.

Uma [Lisbon] – The arroz de marisco (seafood rice) was the most flavourful that I have ever had and it came with a very generous portion of seafood. We liked it so much that we went there twice. I read some reviews complaining about the apparently rude service at the restaurant, but I experienced none of that. Do try to get there early to avoid waiting in the queue.

DSC_5379.jpg

Grilled giant prawns.


DSC_5372.jpg

Garlic clams.

Cervejaria Ramiro [Lisbon] – This restaurant is very popular, even among locals, so a long queue is expected. The seafood (mostly shellfish) is served by weight and tasted very fresh!

4. Azulejos

DSC_5320.jpgDSC_5365.jpgDSC_5367.jpg

Many of the buildings in Portugal are covered with beautiful and intricately-painted ceramic tiles called Azulejos. We really enjoyed visiting the National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) in Lisbon which had tiles of various designs and colour on display.

5. Fado [Lisbon]

DSC_5191.jpg

Fado is a genre of traditional Portuguese music. It is characterised by mournful tunes and lyrics, which trigger the feeling of melancholy. We spent a night enjoying fado music at a restaurant and the experience made me realise that music truly transcends language. You do not need to understand the lyrics to feel the soul of the song. The restaurant that we visited was Restaurant O Povo, which serves good food at reasonable prices, and does not charge a cover charge for the fado performance.

6. Chocolate Cake

I don’t know what is it with chocolate cakes in Portugal, but the ones that I had were all really good, even those from random bakeries! I like my chocolate cakes to be really rich, moist and decadent.

DSC_5240.jpg

Landeau Chocolate [Lisbon]  – Quite possibly one of my favourite chocolate cakes ever. It was not overly sweet, it had the perfect chocolate intensity, and the mousse layer was light but still flavourful, which complimented the denser cake base beautifully.

7. Port Wine Tasting [Porto]

DSC_4731.jpg

Porto is known for its port wines and a trip to the city would not be complete without a visit to a port wine cellar. We opted to visit only one wine cellar because we are not huge wine drinkers, and we simply wanted to learn about how port wine is produced and taste some different wines.

DSC_4738.jpgDSC_4734.jpg

We visited Graham’s Port Lodge, which is a little more far off on the hill compared to the other wine cellars. Prior reservation is required for the cellar visits and the prices (including tasting) begin from €12.

8. Time Out Market Lisboa [Lisbon]

Some of the best restaurants, bars, and dessert in Lisbon are gathered under one roof at this market.

DSC_5560.jpg

24-hour confit suckling pig from Henrique Sá Pessoa.

Admittedly, the food that we ate there was not the best we have had. Café de São Bento is touted to serve the best steak in Lisbon. The sirloin tasted good, but we felt that it did not justify its steep price. The 24-hour confit suckling pig from Henrique Sá Pessoa failed to impress because the crackling was not crispy, but rather chewy. The burger from Honorato was decent. Alexandre Silva’s Cod with Potatoes and seafood rice tasted okay. Overall, the food from the market may not blow your mind, but it still tastes slightly above average and the convenience of having so many stalls to choose from makes this market worth the visit!

9. Sintra

DSC_5433.jpg

Pena Palace.


DSC_5467.jpg

Moors Castle.

Sintra is perfect for a day trip from Lisbon. The two attractions that cannot be missed are the colourful Pena Palace and the ruinous Moors Castle. Sintra is an extremely popular tourist destination, so getting there as early as possible is vital to avoid the crowds.

10. Gelato

DSC_4431.jpg

Gelato from Santini.

I scream, you scream, we scream, for ice cream! Okay, Portugal is not the most famous for her gelatos, and of course they cannot be compared to the ones in Italy. But name me a better duo than a fiery summer’s day and ice cold gelato. I’ll wait.

DSC_4893.jpg

Gelato from Gelato Davvero.

And some bonus photos!

DSC_4426

Porto.


DSC_4501

Colourful cobblestoned alley in Porto.


DSC_4512.jpg

Porto.


DSC_5012

Rua Augusta Arch, Lisbon.


DSC_5215

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, Lisbon.

Stay hungry and keep exploring! x

8 Amazing Days in Iceland

Iceland had long been on my list of countries to visit and I finally managed to travel there in June. I have heard stories of the breathtaking landscapes in Iceland, and even though I went with high expectations, I was still wow-ed by the beauty that she presented every day.

DSC_3113

Goðafoss

This was one of the most challenging trips to plan for. Firstly, everything was more expensive compared to our trips to other countries in Europe, so we had to try to keep expenses as low as possible. I came very close to calling off the trip after realising how much we would have to spend on car rental and accommodation, but I am so glad that I decided to go ahead in the end. Secondly, planning the itinerary was no easy feat as there are so many attractions in Iceland and we had to make sure that we could complete the journey along the ring road in 8 days.

After many nights of planning, writing down numerous lists, researching on Google and plotting on Google Maps, I managed to come up with an 8-day itinerary that I am very happy with. Our Google Docs itinerary is 17-pages long, so you can imagine how intensive the preparation was (or I might just be an excessive planner).

Hopefully, this post will be helpful to those who are in the process of planning a trip to Iceland, and inspire others to make this beautiful country their next travel destination. This will be a photo and word-heavy post because there is simply too much information to go through. I compiled a list of tips at the end of the post and you can scroll down immediately if you are pressed for time. So grab a snack, sit back, relax, and let me bring you on this virtual journey!

Flights

We travelled by Easyjet and flew from London Luton to Reykjavik. The tickets were bought 2 months before the travel date.

Cost: ~ £100 per person for return tickets.

Accommodation

I highly recommend booking your accommodation as soon as possible, especially if you are travelling there in summer. Ideally, you would want to spend the night at places which fit your itinerary and are cheap if you are on a budget. As we were busy with exams, I only managed to plan our accommodation a month before our travel date. By then, we were left with limited choices. It still worked out well for us in the end, but you may be able to get cheaper and better options if you plan ahead. We stayed in a mixture of places on Airbnb and guesthouses booked through Booking.com.

Cost: ~ £400 per person for 8 nights.

Car Rental

I decided to go with Blue Car Rentals because the company had good reviews online and I wanted the rental to be as fuss-free as possible, without having to worry about hidden costs. The rental price included Collision Damage Waiver, Super Collision Damage Waiver, Gravel Protection and Theft Protection, which is most of the insurance coverage that you would need. You will have to carefully read the terms and conditions for other rental companies as most of them do not include these protections in the rental price. I chose not to pay extra for the optional Sand and Ash Protection. The pick up and drop off process was easy peasy lemon squeezy.

Cost: 79,600 ISK (~ £585.55) for a Toyota Yaris for 8 days, including extra charges for one additional driver.

Navigation

We relied on Google Maps and mobile data on our phones, and it worked out great. We survived and did not drive off into the ocean!

Currency Exchange

I would recommend exchanging most of your money for Icelandic Krona in Iceland, because the rates there are often better. You can check the websites for Icelandic banks beforehand to compare the rates. We exchanged our British Pounds at the bank in the first town that we arrived in. (Note: This suggestion applies for commonly accepted currencies such as British Pounds and Euros. I am not sure if the same applies to other currencies.)

8-day Itinerary

This is an itinerary for 8 full days in Iceland. I really liked this itinerary because I felt that it gave us a relatively complete experience of the country. We managed to cover almost all of the sights that we wanted to visit. We travelled a total of 2651km on this trip, which meant driving an average of around 330km a day. Our schedule was relatively packed, with most of our days beginning at 9 or 10am, and ending at 10pm or later. But it didn’t feel too tiring, because every single day was exciting and interesting. There was always something different to see and experience.

IMG_6585.jpg

Day 1

After arriving at the Keflavik Airport in the morning, we picked up our car and headed to our first stop – a supermarket closest to the airport. A road trip is simply not complete without food.

DSC_1310.jpg

We were greeted by fields of purple flowers lining both sides of the road. These purple flowers reappeared frequently throughout the rest of our trip.

DSC_1440.jpg

Skogafoss was the first waterfall that we visited. We sat at a picnic table, made sandwiches using the ingredients that we just bought from the supermarket, and ate our lunch with a view of the majestic waterfall.

DSC00795.jpg

We were knackered from our early flight, so we decided to drive to our accommodation for the day. The accommodation was so peaceful and lovely, with a cheeky sheep dog, Bala, and Icelandic horses on site.

DSC_1572.jpg

The dining area of our cosy accommodation.

We wound down with a soak in the hot tub outdoors and soon got a taste of the unpredictable Icelandic weather. It suddenly started raining and it was actually really cold even though it was summer. We scrambled indoors, freezing in our bikinis and wet towels, and vowed to be smarter the next time.

Attractions

  • Skogafoss
  • Icelandic horses

Accommodation

Fagrahlíd Guesthouse

Day 2

DSC_1659.jpg

The first stop of the day was Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall was unique because we could pass through behind the waterfall and see the water falling like a heavy curtain in front of us.

DSC_1698

Next, we headed to the famous Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. The scene was like something straight out of an action movie. In order to get to the plane wreck, you will have to walk for around 40 minutes from the car park.

DSC_1789DSC_1819DSC_1825

We’ve seen many photos of the Black Sand Beach and the beautiful basalt columns in Iceland. It was extremely windy when we were there!

DSC_1922.jpg

We made a quick stop at the cute Vik i Myrdal Church.

DSC_1979DSC_1981

DSC_1990.jpg

Doesn’t this remind you of the Windows wallpaper?

Fjaðrárgljúfur is a canyon with a steep drop of around 100 metres.

DSC_2086.jpg

The best thing about road trips is being able to stop at random pretty spots along the way, like this waterfall that was right beside the road.

DSC_2105

Jökulsárlón is a huge blue lake filled with icebergs.

Attractions

  • Seljalandsfoss
  • Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
  • Black Sand Beach
  • Reynishverfisvegur
  • Vik i Myrdal Church
  • Fjaðrárgljúfur
  • Jökulsárlón

Accommodation

Dilksnes Guesthouse

Day 3

We were so excited for Day 3 because we booked to join a glacier hike at the Vatnajökull Glacier, which is the biggest ice cap in Iceland and the third largest glacier in Europe! The tour was run by Glacier Guides and we booked it online in advance. We also rented hiking boots and waterproof trousers from the company. Our tour departed from the Skaftafell National Park.

DSC_2178DSC_2183IMG_6404DSC_2170

Our guide was very friendly and helpful, explained to us the glacier formations and different terrains, and skillfully led us through the white wonderland. I found it very intriguing that the ice appeared blue in colour. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves throughout the 5.5 hour hike and it was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.

DSC_2261

The black basalt columns at the Svartifoss made this a waterfall one-of-a-kind.

DSC_2278

We dropped by Jökulsárlón again on our way back because we were hoping to catch the sunset there, but unfortunately, the clouds were not on our side.

IMG_6473

We decided to splurge for dinner that day and ate at Pakkhús Restaurant in Höfn. They are famous for their langoustines, which were definitely very fresh!

Attractions

  • Glacier hike
  • Vatnajökull Glacier
  • Skaftafell National Park
  • Svartifoss
  • Jökulsárlón
  • Pakkhús Restaurant

Accommodation

Dilksnes Guesthouse

Day 4

DSC_2473DSC_2420

We started off bright and early with a long drive to the Dettifoss, which is the most powerful waterfall in Europe. The waterfall was a sight to behold. Even at some distance away, you could hear its thundering roar and get drenched from the clouds of water spray.

DSC_2483

We also visited the Dettifoss’ little sister – Selfoss.

DSC01374

It soon began to rain, so we decided to head to our accommodation and cook ourselves a hearty dinner. What followed was a mad dash to the supermarket, and thankfully we managed to grab whatever we needed just as it was about to close. Before heading to the supermarket, we checked with our host to confirm that there was oil in the kitchen, but after getting back to the guesthouse, we realised that there was no oil in sight, much to our horror. We had to be as resourceful as we could, and after scavenging around the kitchen, we discovered some butter left in the refrigerator and proceeded to use that. We also just marinated the chicken with whatever seasonings we could find and hoped that the food would not taste too bad. In the end, our dinner actually turned out to be quite delicious! I love being in the kitchen, and I was so happy to be able to cook again. The other guests at the guesthouse were also very friendly and it was really nice to just hang out in the common area and chat with them.

Attractions

  • Dettifoss
  • Selfoss

Accommodation

Guesthouse Sigtun

Day 5

IMG_6532

Before heading out, we treated ourselves to a breakfast buffet at the guesthouse.

DSC_2506

Our accommodation was in Húsavík, which is a town famous for whale-watching.

We spent the day visiting the attractions located around the Myvatn area.

DSC_2575DSC_2604

Namafjall, also known as Hverir – We felt like we were transported to Mars. The bubbling mud pools, hot steam emitted from the fumaroles and yellow soil made the place look like something from another planet.

DSC_2801

Grjótagjá Cave – This was a Game of Thrones filming location! This was where Jon Snow and Ygritte had their secret tryst.

DSC_2932.jpg

Dimmuborgir – Also a Game of Thrones filming location.

DSC_3065

Hverfjall – The hike to the top of the crater was actually quite challenging because the path was steep and rocky. But I have never seen anything like it before so it was definitely worth the effort!

DSC01629

Myvatn Nature Baths – We opted to visit this lagoon instead of the more popular Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik. The admission fee for the Myvatn Nature Baths is cheaper and it is less crowded than the more touristy Blue Lagoon. The water was a lot cooler than we expected because the temperature was between 35 – 40 degrees Celcius. It is a nice place to relax and wind down while enjoying the picturesque view after a long day.

DSC_2723

Just a random pool by the road. The water really is that blue in real life!

DSC01635.jpg

The Dettifoss is known as the Beast, while the Goðafoss is called the Beauty.

DSC01631

We caught this interesting sight on our journey. The sunlight happened to shine through the clouds right above a lake, which acted like a mirror to create this scene.

DSC_3132.jpg

We stopped at Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland, for dinner. We headed to the neighbourhood ice cream parlour, Brynja to satisfy our sweet tooth, but unfortunately, the vanilla soft serve was too watery for our liking.

DSC_3145.jpgIMG_6609.jpgIMG_6612.jpg

As we had to cover so many attractions on this day, we had to drive past midnight to get to our next accommodation. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise because we got to watch the fiery sunset as we drove along the winding mountain roads. Afterall, Iceland is known as the land of the midnight sun. It was an unforgettable experience. When we finally arrived at our cosy cabin by the coast, the sky had tamed to a pretty pink and purple shade. What a beautiful ending to an exciting day.

Attractions

  • Namafjall
  • Grjótagjá Cave
  • Dimmuborgir
  • Hverfjall
  • Myvatn Nature Baths
  • Goðafoss
  • Akureyri

Accommodation

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/8977970

Day 6

DSC_3150

DSC_3154

Our charming little cabin!

IMG_6619

Cooked ourselves lunch! I probably ate more processed meat and packaged pasta on this trip than I have eaten in a whole year.

DSC_3232

Took some quick photos by our accommodation.

The wind was very strong that day and we could feel our car literally being pushed sideways by the wind as we were driving. Our driving skills were really tested that day because we had to drive a fair distance on gravel roads in bad weather conditions.

DSC_3282

But everything is worth it when you are greeted with a sight like this at the Kirkjufell, right?

DSC_3302

Arnastapi – We had the bizarre experience of having salt deposited on our car’s windscreen here.

DSC_3307

A hot tub right outside our cabin which overlooked the ocean.

We were forced to cut our itinerary short for the day because there was a red weather warning, so we wanted to be on the safe side and head to our accommodation before the weather changed for the worse. The weather in Iceland changes drastically so you will have to be flexible and be ready to adapt your plans.

Attractions

  • Kirkjufell
  • Arnastapi

Accommodation

Guesthouse Hof

Day 7

DSC_3478.jpg

The view from the top of the Hallgrímskirkja.

We finally headed back to Reykjavik! We spent the day wandering around the city. I think it was a good choice to visit Reykjavik at the end of our trip. The city centre is relatively small, so there was not much to see in comparison with a bigger city like London. However, as we had spent 6 days in nature and the wilderness, we appreciated the change in scenery and being back in civilisation a little bit more.

DSC_3324.jpg

Our first stop was the famous Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur Icelandic hot dogs! We also tried the hot dogs from Pylsuhusid Hot Dog House. The buns from Hot Dog House were slightly better, but I thought that the hot dog from Bæjarins had better flavour and taste.

DSC_3352.jpg

We love ice cream and could not resist stopping by Valdis for a sweet treat. They have a lot of flavours available, and the Skyr ice cream was especially delicious!

DSC_3393.jpg

Harpa Concert Hall and Concert Centre

DSC_3443.jpg

Hallgrímskirkja

IMG_6678.jpg

Pastel blue eggs from the flea market. We also tried fermented shark, which is really an acquired taste – one which I will never acquire.

DSC_3525.jpg

We had dinner at Sægreifinn, which is famous for their lobster soup and grilled seafood.

Attractions

  • Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur hotdogs
  • Valdis
  • Harpa Concert Hall and Concert Centre
  • Hallgrímskirkja
  • Sægreifinn

Accommodation

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/5109936

Day 8

DSC_3596.jpgDSC_3580.jpg

Brauð & Co. – This place ranks as one of my favourite bakeries of all time. The cinnamon buns were to die for. They had a croissant base, so they were golden, buttery and flakey. The cinnamon sugar was fragrant and perfectly caramelised.

DSC_3616

Geysir (Strokkur) – The Golden Circle, which consists of the Geysir, Gulfoss and Thingvellir National Park, is a popular tourist route, so it would be a good idea to get cracking on your itinerary for the day before the tour buses arrive. An alternative during summer would be to go in the late afternoon instead. Since the sun sets so late, you will still have plenty of daylight to complete the route!

DSC_3687.jpg

Gulfoss – If you are lucky, you may catch a rainbow appearing over the waterfall!

DSC_3713.jpgDSC_3731.jpgDSC_3741.jpgDSC_3766.jpg

For lunch, I would highly recommend that you take a short detour to the Friðheimar Farm, where tomatoes and cucumbers are planted in greenhouses. The bottomless tomato soup was so flavourful – definitely not the dull and watery nonsense. The soup is served with freshly home baked bread and if you know me, you would know that freshly baked bread is my kryptonite. The food tasted very fresh – the tables even had a basil plant each which you can cut and add to your soup.

DSC_3806.jpg

Kerið Crater

DSC_3867.jpg

Efstidalur II – We are definitely the type of people who would make a detour to a farm just for freshly made ice cream.

DSC_3911.jpg

DSC_3930.jpg

Öxarárfoss

DSC_3950.jpg

We arrived at the Thingvellir National Park late in the afternoon and it was relatively quiet by then.

Attractions

  • Brauð & Co.
  • Geysir
  • Gulfoss
  • Friðheimar farm
  • Kerið
  • Efstidalur II farm
  • Thingvellir National Park

Accommodation

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/5109936

Day 9

DSC_3591.jpgWe could not possible leave Iceland before having one last cinnamon bun from Brauð & Co. We went to the bakery at 6am, just as they were removing the freshly baked buns from their moulds, bought our last cinnamon buns, and headed to the airport to catch our flight back to London.

And that concludes our Iceland trip!

Tips

  1. Book your accommodation as soon as possible (definitely more than a month ahead).
  2. Share the driving between at least two people. Driving long distances can get tiring and you will likely have to drive on gravel roads, which requires even more conventration. You definitely do not want to fall asleep while on the wheel!
  3. Make sure that you have enough petrol left in your car’s tank. We always ensured that our car had at least half a tank of petrol because we would sometimes have to drive for hours before reaching the next petrol station.
  4. Get mobile data. We relied completely on Google maps on our phones for navigation and it worked out great.
  5. Exchange Icelandic Krona at the banks in Iceland for better rates. We got ours from Landsbankinn.
  6. Download the Vedur app which gives the most accurate weather forecast in Iceland. The weather there can change drastically within a short period of time, so it is always best to keep yourself well-informed.
  7. Keep your car stocked with food and water. As mentioned earlier, you may have to spend hours on the road before reaching the next petrol station or supermarket.
  8. Bring many layers of clothing. Even though it was summer, we wore our ski jackets most of the time because it was windy and cold. A waterproof jacket is excellent for rainy days. Don’t forget your scarf and gloves! Do not underestimate summer in Iceland. At times, my fingers were so frozen that I did not even have enough strength to turn the key in the car ignition.
  9. Wear comfortable shoes. You will have to walk quite some distance, hike up craters and walk on rocky roads, so you would want to keep your feet as comfortable as possible.
  10. Bring sunglasses. Iceland is one of the rare places where you would wear your sunglasses and winter jacket at the same time. Sunglasses are handy to protect your eyes from the sprays from the waterfalls and any stray sand during a sandstorm.
  11. Bring your bathing suit for the nature baths.
  12. Supermarkets are your best friends. The ones that we frequented were Bonus, Kronan and Netto. Since eating at restaurants in Iceland is very expensive, we made most of our meals from ingredients that we bought from the supermarkets. Our standard stock up would consist of Skyr yogurt for breakfast, fruits for snacking, and bread, ham and salad leaves for lunch.
  13. Tap water in Iceland is safe for drinking and actually tastes delicious.
  14. Be flexible. There is a common saying in Iceland – If you don’t like the weather, just wait 5 minutes. Iceland is unpredictable, so it is important to keep an open mind and just go with the flow.
  15. Book a Glacier Hike in advance. We have never experienced anything like it before and it was definitely the highlight of our trip. The glaciers are rapidly decreasing in size due to global warming and will disappear in the coming years, so visit them while you can!
  16. Curate a kickass roadtrip playlist. A roadtrip is not complete without awesome music. My favourite game (which I am unfortunately horrible at) during roadtrips is the one where you compete to say the song title as fast as possible once the music to the song starts playing.
IMG_6502

I ate so much Skyr yogurt that I have finished trying all the flavours available.

Iceland was one of the best trips of my life. The different landscapes never failed to take our breaths away and every place was as beautiful as a painting. Hopefully, I will have the opportunity to visit the country in winter the next time!

Until my next post, stay hungry and keep exploring!

 

The Ultimate San Sebastián Foodie Guide

San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque) is renowned for being a foodie paradise. This city located on the coast of the Bay of Bisque at the Northern part of Spain boasts the second most number of Michelin stars per square metre in the world, only behind Kyoto, Japan. Food lovers from all over the world throng to the Parte Vieja (Old Town) to hop from one pintxo bar to the next. The cobbled streets are lined with bustling pintxo bars brimming with people holding a pintxo in one hand, and a glass of txakoli (a local sparkling white wine) in the other. It is unsurprising that the town holds the title for having the most number of bars per square metre in the world.

DSC_0025

Pintxos set out on the counter at Bar Zeruko.

As you would know by now, food plays a huge part in my travels, so I was extremely excited to kick off my Summer holidays with a trip to San Sebastián. It was a very laidback holiday and what I did there was literally wake up, eat, nap, chill, eat, sleep, repeat. Unfortunately, it was rather cloudy and it drizzled quite a bit when I was there, so I only did a little bit of sightseeing on my last day. Contrary to what I expected, the city actually experiences overcast conditions for the majority of the year. But that’s okay, because give me good food and I’m good to go!

DSC_1164

Head to the sandy beach, Playa de la Concha when your stomach needs a break from eating.

We hopped through quite a number of pintxo bars, visited a traditional Basque cider house, and dined at two 3-Michelin starred restaurants – Arzak and Akelare. Overall, I think I had a well-balanced experience of the food there! This post will be a rundown on the places that I ate at in San Sebastián, with a focus on the pintxo bars and cider house because I will be reviewing the Michelin-starred restaurants separately. Alright, let’s get into the main course of this post!

How to Get to San Sebastián

I took an Easyjet flight from London Stansted airport to Bilbao airport, and then took a bus from Bilbao to San Sebastián. The buses run quite frequently and tickets can be easily bought from the ticket office on the spot, so it is convenient to get from Bilbao to San Sebastián. I chose to fly in to Bilbao, instead of San Sebastián, because the flight tickets to Bilbao were a lot cheaper, even after taking into account the price of the bus tickets. I actually spent a day in Bilbao, before heading to San Sebastián the next day. I got to visit an extra city, and save on travel costs – killing two birds with one stone!

Bus company: Pesa

Bilbao City – San Sebastián: 12 Euros

Bilbao Airport – San Sebastián: 17 Euros

Travel duration: 1 hour 15 minutes

Where to Stay

I stayed at Pensión San Vicente which was right in the heart of the Parte Vieja. I would highly recommend finding an accommodation which is close to the pintxo bars in the Parte Vieja because there is nothing more convenient than being merely a few steps away from some of the best food in the world. The main ‘touristy’ area of the city is very walkable, and I never had to take public transport, unless the restaurants were located outside of the city.

Where and What to Eat

Pintxo Bars

Pintxos are small bites, traditionally served with a bread slice at the bottom. They are similar to tapas and are commonly priced between 2 to 4 Euros. The bars usually also serve small plates which would cost slightly more. We averaged around 5 to 6 pintxos or small plates per person for each meal. The list below consists of our favourite pintxo bars and what to order at each bar.

Tip:

Each pintxo bar has their own specialties, so if you want to taste the best of the best, you have to be disciplined! After all, there is so much food, but you only have so much stomach space. With the wide array of tempting pintxos displayed on the bar counters, it was really no easy feat to exercise self control and stop ourselves from putting all the pintxos on our plates. So head in, order only the food that they are known to be good for, pair it with a glass of txakoli (at less than 2 Euros per glass, you’re welcome to drink to your heart’s content!), finish up and hop on to the next bar. A word of warning – it can get very busy, especially in the more popular bars, so be prepared to wait to be served. However, there’s nothing that a cheerful mood and delicious food can’t cure!

1. Goiz Argi (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_9987Gambas (Prawn skewers): The prawns were cooked to order perfectly and incredibly fresh.

2. Borda Berri (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0106

Veal cheek: Slowly cooked until it disintegrates in your mouth.

DSC_0111

Pig’s ear: Crunchy and nicely seasoned. Don’t be afraid. It didn’t taste funky at all!

3. Gandarias (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0084

Solomillo (Tenderloin)

4. La Cuchara de San Telmo (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0181

Suckling pig: We did not order this initially, but the kitchen accidentally prepared an extra and the server highly recommended us to try it. It was the best mistake ever! The skin was crispy, the meat was tender and the apple sauce was a beautiful match. Definitely one of the best suckling pigs that I have tasted (only behind Akelare’s)!

DSC_0191

Foie: The foie was cooked and seasoned perfectly so that it didn’t taste sickeningly fat!

DSC_0185

Squid ravioli: The skin of the ravioli was not like conventional pasta, but instead thinner and slippery, almost like wanton skin. It is not something that everybody would fancy, but it is definitely something different and worth a try!

5. La Viña (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0075

Cheesecake: If you prefer lighter cheesecakes, unlike traditional New York cheesecake which is richer, then you would love this cheesecake. The shelves are lined with rows of beautifully caramelised and wobbly cheesecake, with the smell of freshly baked cake wafting through the restaurant. The texture of it is almost like crème brûlée and I really enjoyed the hint of burnt caramel taste. I loved this cheesecake so much that I went there three times!

6. La Cepa (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0520

Fried Milk

7. Zabaleta (Traditional)

What to order:

DSC_0912DSC_0920DSC_0923

Tortilla (Spanish omelette): The tortilla was so yellow that it almost looked golden. Locals frequent this place for breakfast and together with a cup of freshly brewed coffee, this was the perfect way to start my day.

8. Sirimiri (Modern)

Sirimiri was my favourite pintxo bar! It served many of my favourite dishes, and the restaurant had a very chilled vibe which I enjoyed.

DSC_1005

DSC_1027

Dinosaur ribs.

What to order:

DSC_0579

Ibérico pork: Perfectly cooked Ibérico pork with a sweet glaze, hazelnuts and bacon bits. It was so delicious that I went back the next day and ordered it again.

DSC_0571

Octopus: One of my pet peeves is rubbery, overcooked octopus, but this was beautifully grilled. This ranks as one of the best octopus dishes that I have had, and this is coming from someone who orders octopus whenever it is on the menu.

DSC_0563

Salad: This salad is proof that salad does not need to be boring. A delightful mix of fresh leaves, beets for sweetness, nuts and seeds for crunch and texture, fresh goats cheese, tossed in a fresh and tangy dressing. Amongst the heavy meats that we had all day, this was a wonderful relief.

DSC_1083DSC_1091

Burnt cream: The cream on top is torched for a burnt caramel taste. The inside is cold ice cream with a buttery biscuit base.

9. Zeruko (Modern)

What I liked about Zeruko was that everything was plated so beautifully. It is a modern pintxo bar, so the pintxos were served with a twist. I didn’t even know what were the ingredients for some of the pintxos. All I knew was that they tasted great.

DSC_0004

What to order:

DSC_0148

La Hoguera (The bonfire): It was a fun way to eat because we had to smoke the cod for 10 seconds on each side, eat it with the bread slice, and finish with the refreshing shot.

What we also ordered:

DSC_0012

DSC_0030

The two photos above looked like eggs, but they were not!

DSC_0138

DSC_0154

Fried courgette flower stuffed with cheese. This was 10 times better than Barrafina’s (1-Michelin starred Spanish tapas restaurant in London), and at a fraction of the price!

10. Atari (Modern)

What to order:

DSC_0547

63 Degree Egg

Cider House

This region is famous for cider production and local farmhouses have been making cider using the traditional method for centuries. The cider is crisp and dry, and is a perfect accompaniment to wash down a meal. The most exciting part of dining in a cider house is entering the cold cider rooms filled with huge chestnut barrels, and filling your glass with cider flowing directly from the barrels.

DSC_0443

Petritegi has three cider rooms filled with these massive 15,000 litre chestnut barrels.

Cider season runs from January to April, but some cider houses open throughout the year. We decided to visit Sidrería Petritegi because it is open all year round (we visited San Sebastián in June). It took us around 45 minutes to get there by bus, but we had to take a taxi back after dinner as it was past 11pm by then.

We decided on the traditional cider house menu which costs 28.50 Euros per person. For 4 courses and unlimited cider, it was well worth the price! The food did not look fancy, but it was truly one of the most enjoyable meals I have had. There’s something about traditional, humble food which touches your soul and leaves you feeling extremely satisfied.

DSC_0458

Each table had a baguette to be eaten together with the courses. To be honest, it looked like bread from the supermarket, but don’t judge a book by its cover! First, we were served two pieces of chorizo as appetizers. They didn’t look like much, but when eaten together with the bread, they tasted so flavourful and delicious!

DSC_0459

Next, we had the salt cod omelette which was smooth and creamy.

DSC_0473

The following course was the fried salt cod with peppers. The cod was a little bit overcooked, but it was still a delicious dish overall.

DSC_0480

The txuleta was the star of the night. This 700g bone-in rib eye steak had its outside seared crispy. The inside was rare, but not chewy at all. It was melt-in-our-mouths! This was the steak of my life.

DSC_0490

The dessert course was cheese, quince jelly, walnuts, almond ‘tiles’ and ‘cigarettes’. Cracking open walnuts was so addictive that I couldn’t stop even though I was already so full by then.

Final Thoughts

The restaurants in San Sebastián always cook to a very high standard and we never had a bad meal there. It was an amazing destination for a relaxing holiday filled with endless eating, with beautiful beaches as a side. One of my friends remarked that when in San Sebastián, you only have one meal a day because the meal lasts from morning until night. The food in San Sebastián was truly game changing and I don’t think that Spanish cuisine outside of Spain can ever be a real match to the amazing quality of food there!

DSC_0085

A Summer holiday isn’t complete without gelato.

Processed with VSCO with a5 presetDSC_1128DSC_1153DSC_1178Processed with VSCO with a6 presetUntil next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!

How to Plan a Holiday

Studying in the U.K. for the past 4 years has blessed me with opportunities to travel around Europe. Thankfully, I have progressed from being a clueless newbie who barely had any experience planning trips back then, to the more seasoned and confident traveller that I am today. Summer is almost here, which means that it’s time for holidays! I thought I would share some tips on how I plan my travels, and hopefully these will help you as you plan your ultimate getaways too! So let’s get started!

untitled (1 of 1)

Let the planning begin!

1. Where to Visit?

Sometimes you may already have a destination in mind that you want to visit. That’s great! At other times, all that your wanderlust-ing self knows is that you need a break from real life (this has happened too often for me, because #lifeasaLawstudent). Or you may have a clear budget, but you are flexible with the destination. What I do when this happens:

a) Ryanair – Fare Finder 

The first website that I usually check is Ryanair. Ryanair is one of my favourite airlines to travel with because of their more generous cabin baggage allowance – passengers are allowed to bring one cabin-sized bag and one small bag! This is great for people like me, who are incapable of travelling light, but too stingy to pay for check-in luggage. Other airlines like Easyjet have strict one-bag policies, so do remember to check the baggage policy of the airline that you are using before heading to the airport! Furthermore, Ryanair often has cheap tickets to a wide variety of destinations! (This is not sponsored by Ryanair, although I would be more than happy if they are willing to do so.)

After getting to the website, I would click on the ‘Plan’ heading, and select ‘Fare Finder’. This allows me to search for cheap flights all over Europe, and I can filter down the results by adjusting the departure airport, budget, travel dates and even travel duration. This is how I scored my £19.98 return tickets to Marseille, France! This was definitely the most worth-it amount of money that I have spent on travel tickets.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 3.14.39 PM

b) Skyscanner – Explore Map

Skyscanner has a map function which many may not be aware of. Similarly, you can search for potential destinations by setting the departure airport, price, departure month, and travel duration, while navigating around the map.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 3.14.17 PM.png

2. How to Get There?

a) Flight

Use Skyscanner to find the cheapest flight options.

Before booking flight tickets, I would always do a search on Skyscanner first to find the cheapest airline for my preferred departure dates and times. Common low cost carriers include Ryanair, Easyjet, Monarch, Flybe and more. It may be worth using the private browsing feature of your browser (shift+command+n for Macs; shift+ctrl+n for Windows) when searching for tickets, to prevent websites from storing cookies. Occasionally, you may realise that ticket prices increase, if you repeat searches for specific routes and dates. Going incognito prevents that from happening!

Midweek departures (Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays) may be less popular, and thus cheaper!

b) Train

Eurostar is a very convenient (and frequently overlooked) way of travelling if you are looking to visit France or Belgium (they also have routes to the Netherlands and Germany). The train departs from London St Pancras International, which is in the centre of London, and brings you right into the city that you are travelling to. Saves you the hassle and cost of travelling between the city centre and the airport! Immigration and safety checks at the train station are also often a lot faster, so you save time too!

Eurostar snap is a great way to get cheap, last minute tickets to Paris, Brussels and Lille. Perfect for that spontaneous weekend getaway! This is basically how it works: You choose a destination, pick a travel date and whether you want to travel in the morning or afternoon. 48 hours before you travel, you will receive information regarding your train times and booking reference. Prices start from £25 each way, which is such a steal!

c) Bus

Companies like Megabus and National Express offer bus services to destinations in Europe, often at significantly cheaper prices compared to flights and trains. However, I personally would not choose to travel by bus, especially if the journey time is long. I once took a Megabus from Coventry, U.K. to Antwerp, Belgium. The journey time was more than 10 hours, the seats were incredibly uncomfortable and unfortunately, we were seated near noisy passengers. The experience was very unpleasant and we arrived at our destination extremely tired. It was not worth the money saved, in our opinions. Nevertheless, if you are on a tight budget, and do not mind travelling in not-so-comfortable conditions, then taking the bus is an option!

3. Where to Stay?

The main websites I use for travel accommodations are Booking.com and Airbnb. I know that there are many hotel comparison websites, but I find Booking.com to be the easiest to use, and they often have the cheapest rates anyway. Hostelworld is a good site if you are looking for hostel options.

I would always do a Google search to find out the best areas in the city to stay in, before searching on each website and making price comparisons. The location of the accommodation is very important to me and I like to stay where the attractions are. I would rather not waste time and transportation costs, travelling to and from an accommodation that is not placed at a convenient location. Time and money are precious!

DSC_6608.jpg

This cheap Airbnb apartment that we rented in Seville had a rooftop balcony which gave us this beautiful view of the sunset!

4. Where to Eat?

80% of my travel photos are food. I love eating. I plan my itinerary around places that I want to eat at. Eating is my priority. Have I mentioned that I love eating? I do my research by Googling for reviews from food/travel websites, bloggers, YouTube videos, online ratings and more.

IMG_9775

Ready to bury my face in one of Du Pain et Des Idées’s (Paris) famous escargots.

This really depends on personal preference, but the online rating that is most accurate for me is surprisingly Google ratings. Generally:

4.2 – 4.4: Likely to be above average;

4.5 – 4.7: Likely to be quite good;

4.8 – 5.0: Almost definitely pretty darn good.

I like to go to places where the locals go to, because we are totally about immersing ourselves in the local culture and cusine, right? So I tend to stay away from Tripadvisor recommended places which have most of their reviews given by tourists.

DSC_6395

Dinner at La Garet – a traditional bouchon in Lyon, frequented by locals.

Occasionally, if I am able to splurge a little, I make reservations at ‘fine dining’ or Michelin-starred restaurants. These restaurants may be very popular and require bookings weeks or even months in advance. So do remember to plan ahead!

DSC_1810

In order to secure a reservation at Eleven Madison Park (No. 1 restaurant in the world, World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2017), I had to call the booking line the minute it opened for reservations! (Note: They recently changed to a much more convenient online-booking system.)

5. How to Plan My Itinerary?

Tripadvisor gives a convenient list of sights to visit. You can also easily search for recommended itineraries on Google and plan yours according to them. I like starting off from a suggested 2/3/4-day itinerary, and then altering it according to my preferences. This is more convenient because the itineraries often have already mapped out the most efficient route for visiting the sights and attractions, so that there is lesser need to travel between different parts of the city.

I am quite an obsessive planner, so I like to know the list of things that I will be doing for the day and how to get from one place to another. I do this by creating a document with tables for the itinerary and all the essential information that I need. Even if you are the more laidback-type of traveller, I think it is useful to have a prepared list of places, restaurants and experiences, so that you can fully maximise your time there.

Creating a single document containing your itinerary and all the important information ensures that you remain clear and organised.

Screen Shot 2017-06-08 at 2.56.20 PM

All about that tabling.

6. Mapping it Out

I use the app Maps.me on my phone to pin down the places in my itinerary. This map can be used offline, but the mapped area has to be downloaded beforehand. Pinning down the places and colour-coding them gives me a good idea of where they are located in relation to one another, and how to plan my routes.

Google maps also has an offline option. But do take note that only driving directions are available offline. Transit, bicycling and walking directions require a working Internet connection.

7. Google Drive and Spreadsheets

Google Drive is wonderful when travelling with a group of people. Create a shareable folder with your travel buddies and everyone will be able to participate in the planning process. It also ensures that everyone is kept in the loop and has the important travel information. We don’t want anyone getting lost, or worse, missing a flight!

8. Splitwise

If you are travelling with friends, this app makes splitting bills so much more convenient, especially if you are bad with numbers like me. Holiday trippin’ with friends often means a lot of shared expenses like meals, accommodation, transportation costs and more. With this app, you can create a group for your travel companions. Whenever someone pays for something for the group, he or she just has to add it into the group on the app. The app will automatically calculate how much each person has to pay or be paid. This is an easy and stress-free way to clear off your ‘debts’ after the trip!

9. Staying Safe

Big cities like London, Paris, Rome, Barcelona and others are unfortunately notorious for pickpockets. However, you should not let this deter you from visiting these beautiful cities! Read up on some of the common methods that pickpockets use to prey on their victims. Ensure that your bags and pocket zips are always closed. Always keep your bags with you. Refrain from putting valuables in your pockets where they are easily accessible. Look confident and be aware of your surroundings, especially in crowded areas and on public transportations. What is important is to just be alert and stay vigilant!

DSC_5944

Always stay alert, especially when in busy cities.

That is all for now! I hope you found that useful. Regardless of what type of traveller you are, whether you are a rigorous planner or chilled and relaxed, planning well and doing research beforehand can bring you a long way. It’s Summer time, so make full use of the beautiful weather and start planning your next holiday!

DSC_3554

Until next time, stay hungry and keep exploring!