Stop overs in London

After my 10 day stint in Croatia I headed over to London, England, to spend a few, more relaxing, days with my aunt and uncle (who I had never met and were kind enough to put me up and show me around!). Navigating Gatwick Airport and the train station were easier than expected, especially considering everyone spoke English (first English speaking country in 5.5 months!)! I successfully ended up on my uncle’s doorstep, only getting lost once along the way. Safe to say I was pretty stoked about this. My first impression of London was that it was basically everything I thought it would be. There were houses with cute little gardens and coloured doors, and just a lovely atmosphere (keep in mind I was out in a residential area). My uncle’s house was in a little estate and was small and homey. One of the most fascinating things about living and travelling abroad is seeing how people’s lifestyles differ from mine back home.

 

Just casually sitting on the glass floor of the Tower Bridge!
He was also afraid of heights so the fact that he took this
photo was really kind of him!
My first day in London was essentially an admin day where I got all my stuff sorted after the previous 10 days. The next day, however, I got shown around London! We caught the river ferry from Greenwich to the Tower of London and took some pictures from outside the wall (the line to get in was massive). We then opted to climb the Tower Bridge which gave us some awesome views of London, and allowed my uncle to point out some of the places we would be visiting throughout the day. We walked past the Horseguards and I got one of those awesome I’m-actually-terrified-of-horses-but-I’m-still-going-to-get-a-photograph-with-one type touristy photographs. It was pretty successful, no horses got hurt and neither did I, and I scored a half-terrified looking photograph of me in London!
We strolled to Buckingham Palace, which looked pretty much exactly as it does on every TV program that shows it, but it was strange to be there in person. Of course I saw Big Ben and Westminster Abbey, walked round Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus. London was much calmer than I expected and seemed very normal in an abnormal way. Coming from Canberra, which only celebrated it 100 year anniversary in 2013, I still amazed me how people can live and work in a city with so much history. Plus there are so many palaces around the place, how cool is that. There are palaces too, like royalty just build palaces because they could, I don’t think we even have palaces in Australia.

 

 

The next day we took a bike ride along the riverside path up to the Thames Barrier and back. The Thames Barrier looked like some space ship from Return of the Jedi or something. It was awesome and kind of creepy at the same time. It was actually a really nice ride and my uncle told me a whole lot about the area. Later that afternoon we took a stroll through Greenwich Park and up to the Observatory. The park was the classic European park, green grass, and SQUIRRELS!!! I got to see grey squirrels, and got to make a complete fool of myself running down the path screaming ‘Squirrels’ and looking like a complete tourist. They were so cute though, even if they are ‘tree rats’.

 

So that’s a brief recollection of my trip to London (the squirrels so weren’t the highlight… really)!

 

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Contiki in Croatia

So I was so busy for the last few weeks of my time overseas that I was unable to actually write up any blog posts on the places I had visited! I’ll be posting about London, Ireland, Warsaw/Krakow (with mum), and Paris soon. I’ll also probably do some posts on things I’ve learned, a list of hostels I stayed in with reviews etc. at some point too.
*pictures to come as soon as my hard drive stops playing hard to get*
 
View from the fortress in Dubrovnik
At the beginning of this trip I said that I was not interest in doing any type of tour as I didn’t think I would a) enjoy it b) get the most out of which ever country I happened to do it in. Well that changed relatively quickly when I discovered that I had 10 extra days that I needed to travel for before getting to meet up with my beautiful mother in Dublin on the 16thJuly. I was also under the impression at the time that I would need to leave the Schengen zone as my national visa expired on the 10th July. Turns out this wasn’t entirely necessary as I only needed to leave Poland and get a stamp saying I left Poland. Though considering the difficulty I’d previously had getting stamps within the Schengen zone it was probably a good thing that I decided to leave it!
I had been interested in spending some time in Croatia for a while and looked into ways that I could travel there not on a tour. However, I soon realised that I would prefer be with people and I was sick of organising my own itinerary so decided to do an 8 day Contiki! And boy was it worth it! My Contiki started off in Split on the 4th July, however I chose to arrive 2 days earlier so that I could spend some time exploring by myself. Plus I finished placement on the 25th June and had nothing much left to do in Poland. I stayed in a cute little hostel called ‘Hostel Split Mediterranean House’ which was about a 5-10 minute walk from all the central attractions. It was more like a house than a hostel but I can’t fault it aside from being a little bit hard to find (with this said it’s in pretty much the perfect location: central and quiet). Kate and Elda, the two ladies running the place, where both very helpful and friendly.
The contrast between mountains and beaches was spectacular.
Quite a few of us remarked that it looked like the view had
been Photoshopped together.
Tourism wise I spent some time wandering around the Split port and admiring the view as well as exploring the Diocletian’s Palace and swimming at the beach. The Palace is absolutely breathtaking, basically I just wandered around on my own taking which ever street I wanted to at the time. Some streets could fit a car whereas others barely fit me! It was also super interesting watching how the locals actually lived within this palace, it was a functioning part of their city- I even found myself in a fish market by accident!
Some of the sail crew and I eating some really tasty Gelato
in Makaska in front of the surreal mountains.
The beach was about a 15 minute walk from the centre of town and was the perfect way to finish off the day. I was a bit shocked to begin with as the beach was pebbles and concrete, not sure how Europeans do it as my feet certainly did not like it! The water was, however, beautiful! It was clear and warm, with very little movement making it the perfect place to float and relax- you did have to walk out a fair way before it was deep enough but this meant you were out of the way of all the ball players and children splashing in the shallows! I was also introduced to my first ever ‘pizza sandwich’ which was essentially a rolled up pizza (well at this place anyway) and was absolutely delicious!
The giant floating jumping castle which turned us all into
children again. It was so much fun and we definitely got
longer then the 30 minutes we had paid for!
My Contiki ran from 4 July to 11 July, and included 7 nights’ accommodation on the boat as well as some meals and extra activities. We docked in Pucascia, Makaska, Bol, Wild Bay, Hvar, Korcula, and Dubrovnik. Each city/town was different to the others. Pucascia was a quaint little place, seemingly untouched by tourism, and famous for its stone mansionary (the White House was build using stone from here). It was a beautiful place to spend our first night. There was a particularly cute little beach where we spent some time swimming. Makaska was a much larger, much more tourism orientated place and this was evident by the large amount of water sports and activities available. We spent some time climbing around on one of those floating jumping castle things which was a great group bonding experience, as well as a whole body work out!
The beautiful clear, still, blue waters of Wild Bay,. The little
slice of paradise we got to experience during out overnight
moored at sea.
A few of us then went and tried our hand at jet skiing! Ahhh this was so much fun! I cannot believe I have never tried it before. Speeding through the water and jumping over waves was so much fun. I only almost capsized twice, but hey got to keep the adrenaline flowing somehow, right! They have a really fun club here called ‘Cave Bar’ which is essentially a bar in a cave. Good music, lots of people! Next was Bol, another town similar to Makaska. Nice bays, lots of opportunities for water sports. We then had our ‘special’ overnight stay at wild bay; a picturesque bay with clear, blue water. We spent a large proportion of the day just chilling on the boat and swimming around the bay. It was absolutely beautiful! I can vividly remember watching the sunset and wishing it to never end!
After a long, hot wall up the mountain we finally got to see this
view of the famous town of Hvar.
Day 5 took us on to Hvar, the heart of the tourist world! It is very easy to imagine that the rich and famous would really feel at home here. Essentially it was a giant resort. Even though it was something like 38 degree we persevered and climbed up to a fortress which gave awesome views of the entire bay. Alex and I opted to go into the fortress museum thing and got to see the inside of the fortress, even the old dungeon! I think this was made especially worthwhile considering the dungeons were a) super awesome and creepy and b) the temperature was much cooler underground! Hvar had a great night life too, can’t remember that bars we went to but they were certainly good fun!
Lets put it this way, stairs were not hard to come by but
certainly made you wish you had done some form of
exercise before visiting Croatia!
The following day our boat of hangovers arrived in Korcula, the town famous for being the birthplace of Marco Polo.It was a cute little town, and had so many lovely little streets that you could get lost in. We wandered around the bay eating gelato and looking at the many stores that bordered each street. I also climbed the bell tower with a few of the girls. The steps were so worn down and I quickly regretted my decision to wear thongs! But the views were spectacular, you could see the whole city, up the river/inlet thing, and out to sea all at once.
View of the beautiful, walled city of Dubrovnik. Very hard to
forget this spectacular sight!
Then came our last stop of the sail: Dubrovnik. Here we did a walking tour around this beautiful walled city, and got to see and understand so much more about it compared to the other places we had been. The walls surrounding the city have really created this type of separation from the word and given a very unique feel to the city. The walking tour told us all sorts of information including why certain things were as they were. For instance in one place there was this staircase where, in the past, the creepy men would go to perve on women as when the women went up the stairs they lifted their dresses and the men could see their ankles. When this was discovered the council, or whoever, redid the handrails so to block the view of ankles! Finding out little things like this really brings life to a city.
Kayaking around Dubrovnik was both rewarding and terrifying!
Our Contiki also offered an optional kayaking tour which gave us the opportunity to see Dubrovnik from outside the walls. It started out as a beautiful day, a bit windy but nothing too rough, and it was quite a pleasant paddle out to the cave/swim spot. We were able to chill for a bit, have a swim, and if you were crazy enough you could jump off the rocks. The paddle back was slightly harder, and by slightly I mean very much. The wind had picked up significantly and the water was very rough. I was in a kayak by myself as our group had odd number, and I was proudly informed by our guide that the kayak I was in was nicknamed ‘the bathtub’ which made tackling the waves, which essentially required you to paddle up hill, quite challenging. I remember at one stage towards the end I looked too my left to see a wall of water coming for me and thinking ‘Oh sh*t’. It was all good fun!
After the Contiki finished I stayed in Dubrovnik for one more night. I stayed at Hostel Marker Dubrovnik which was good enough for one night. A few of the girls on my contiki had booked a private room in the same place which worked out well as we hung out together. We chose to visit the fortress on top of the hill. You take a cable care up there and get a fantastic view of the city, well worth the 100kuna or so that it cost. Croatia was an incredible place to visit, and the Contiki was perfect for giving me a taste of what the country has to offer. Definitely will be going back!