Berlin, Berlin!

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After 5 months of zero travel, it felt strange packing my bags and heading to the airport for February half term to the German capital. A week away was refreshing, and I had missed that sense of adventure, discovering a new city and all it had to offer.

In this post I am going to give an overview of my trip, sharing the best of accommodation, transport, the costs and the wonderful food. Next post: the best places to visit in Berlin.

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Meeting me at the other end was one of my closest friends who I hadn’t seen since our Graduation last July, and also my boyfriend who arrived on a separate flight.

She has been studying in Berlin for the last six months, learning German and exploring Berlin, which I think is very exciting. We were lucky enough to visit restaurants, bars and sites we would never have found had we been traveling on our own – even with our beloved TripAdvisor app.

Accommodation

My boyfriend and I booked an Airbnb apartment for the trip and we were both thrilled with it. At £30 each a night, we had our own flat with full amenities, steps from the tram, in the hip area of Prenzauer Berg in what was part of ‘East Berlin’. We booked this accommodation ourselves but fate happened that we were staying on the very same street as my friend! Albeit, it was a very long street and she was 5 stops away on the tram. Still, this was great as we could co-ordinate meeting up much easier than if we were staying on the other side of the city.

Berlin is not a beautiful city;

it is intriguing, has a profoundly interesting and distressing history, it carries a sense of being liberal and slightly rebellious. It is a city of contrasts and its streets are museums in their own right.

6 days in the city gave us enough time to ‘see’ the sights and also to begin to get a feel for the place. At the start of the week, I decided that Berlin was not for me; grimy, so hipster at times that I couldn’t cope, it even reminded me a bit of Budapest which I enjoyed but was not my favourite city. After a few days it really grew on me though. It is a very livable city.

There are three aspects which we enjoyed most about Berlin; its very affordable, the public transport system is great and possibly the most important thing – the food was so good.

It’s an an affordable city

Aside from the cost of flights, accommodation and a 42€ Berlin transport pass, six days in Berlin only cost 100€ for all food, drink and entry to sites. We were not very thrifty as we ate out every lunchtime and evening. I came back with quite a few euros to spare which hardly ever happens.

Transport

We paid the 42$ for a 6-dy transport pass for all tram, bus, U-Bahn and S-Bahn travel in Berlin. This I would highly recommend as we relied heavily on public transport to get around. The transport was always punctual and even had services which run through the night. Moreover, there are no ticket barriers or staff checking passengers for valid tickets. So different to what I know in the UK. There is a sense of trust that people do not abuse the system, however I am sure that there are those that do. Of course, I could have got away with buying no ticket for the entire trip as I never had to show mine, but it is not worth it as you can be charged a heavy fine. Also, as the transport is of such good quality, its worth buying to ensure that this continues.

Delicious food and drink

The three of us agreed that we did not eat one bad meal all week. We discovered wonderful homemade pizzas for 3.90€ that were so good, we went back to the Pizzeria for more on our final night. We discovered a chic cocktail bar in West Berlin, where you have to ring a doorbell to be let in. Berlin does excellent burgers, as we found at Shisho. Beat the queue and spend an hour at the Monkey Bar in the early afternoon and have a birds-eye view over the Berlin Zoo. Or for a more affordable option, visit Bikini Berlins rooftop view next door for a free showing.

In my next post I will share the highlights of what we did during our stay.

See you next time!

2017 Travels Update

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2016 was an incredible year. Not only did I have the opportunity to spend a week in Brussels and Amsterdam, a month backpacking across South East Asia, and also a week in Italy, but it was also the year that I graduated from university and embarked upon a new career; I started training to be a qualified Modern Languages Teacher.

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Hoi An, Vietnam

Since plunging head-first into the world of teaching, I have not had much time to look back. Days are spent planning, teaching, reflecting, going to meetings, training sessions and at night I toss and turn, making lists in my head of what photocopying I need to do in the morning at 8am. A life centered around work does feel very sad, as I don’t have much else in my life right now. Still, if I were not 100% motivated to teach and work with young people, it would be almost impossible to get anything done.

Reassuringly, experienced teachers tell me that this is the most difficult year of teaching. I spend more time planning for each lesson that I do to deliver it, but this won’t be the case forever. Luckily I have a supportive network of other trainees on my course and great mentors and colleagues to get me to the end of the academic year in one piece.

Despite the lack of a social life this year, fortunately to keep me somewhat sane, I have plenty of trips abroad to look forward to.

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Amsterdam

One of the best thing about this profession, of course, is the long holidays! In 4 weeks time I am spending the February half term in Berlin with my boyfriend, to visit one of my old housemates from uni who decided to move far, far away to Germany for the year. 7 months apart is a very long time! Not only did she move abroad, but so did the majority of my uni friends (the problem with befriending people who love languages and travel!). This gave me the great excuse, however, to also book flights to Tokyo for Easter to see my other old uni housemate who is living and studying there now.

The travel does not stop there; in August, my boyfriend and I are planning 3 weeks in Peru, Chile and Bolivia. It will be his first time in South America, and my second time to Peru. This trip is proving to be much more complicated than South East Asia with regards to getting from place to place as it is just so massive! It’s also quite a bit more expensive. Luckily, our budgets are a little less constrained in comparison to our student trips in previous years and flights from A to B are not too expensive, and much more welcoming than the alternative – 24 hour bus journeys! I’m really looking forward to returning to the continent and being able to converse with the locals in Spanish, maybe having a go at some Chilean slang too. So far, the highlights are looking to be: the Atacama desert, the Salar de Uyuni salt flats, and Machu Picchu (second time!).

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Graduation day

I wish I could update this blog as regularly as I used to, but the daily grind leaves me with very little energy on evenings and weekends. More posts will be added slowly but surely and I do still enjoy reading many of your blogs even though I am not myself writing my own as often.

Robyn

 

Angkor Temples, Cambodia: photos

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The Angkor Temples are a must for any visit to Cambodia. This is a photo post, but first, I would like to share two tips I would have liked to have been given before I went:

1.Wear sturdy shoes!

For some ridiculous reason, I chose to wear flip flops. Climbing up steep stone steps in monsoon rain + flip flops = bad idea. Trainers on the second day was much better.

2. Spend at least two days visiting the temples

It is not just Angkor Wat. Each temple is unique. We did two days, but would have done them differently in hindsight. Instead of getting a tuk tuk to see the main sights, hire a bike – it is much cheaper! Hire a tuk tuk to allow you to see many of the temples more further afield that are just as impressive.

We cycled the larger route instead (30km) which was long and painful. Whenever people in the tuk tuks raced past, they looking back at us in horror. We were mad! The heat, humidity, monsoon and cheap and uncomfortable bikes all made it for an unpleasant experience. We sank into chairs at the first restaurant we spotted on return to Siem Reap and devoured the best burgers we had ever eaten.

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Phnom Penh, Cambodia

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Cambodia: we see it as the land of impressive Angkor temples, a turbulent history and the tuk-tuk (the most we had seen in our entire trip!).

It is such a beautiful country but undoubtedly more impoverished compared to neighboring Vietnam and Thailand. We arrived in Phnom Penh, the capital, with low expectations.

Immediately the air pollution and dust hit us – it was the worst we experienced during our trip. We took a short tuk-tuk ride to the hotel. We had booked a 5* hotel for our stay – only 18$ a night, and at that price, I am so glad we did it! It turned out we were staying in a more up-and-coming residential area of the city, near good restaurants too.

After checking in, we immediately set off for some food and a walk around the city. We could see a lot of new development taking place and we were excited to see that Phnom Penh was so much more than what we had previously thought. As Cambodia uses the US$, we did notice that it was much more expensive in comparison to Vietnam which had been dirt cheap. The monsoon hit when we turned back into the hotel’s road. We returned, soaked, flip flops barely staying on our feet!

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We visited the S20 Prison and the Killing Fields – this is the main reason travelers come to the city in order to get some context for Cambodia’s history. Although it was unpleasant, these sites really are key if you intend to get some scope of what Cambodia has faced and the consequences which are still on-going. We booked a tuk-tuk driver for the day through our hotel for 15$, who took us to the Killing Fields, to S20 and back to our hotel. Unfortunately, the tuk-tuk broke down along the way. Luckily we broke down next to a garage – what are the odds?! In 10 minutes, the driver fixed the tuk-tuk with a mechanic while we were in it (James and I looking at each other a bit worried and weighing up whether we should escape or not). It was not long until we were back on the road.

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We only spent two days in Phnom Penh and actually, it was not enough! Other than walking around, taking the tour to S20 and the Killing Fields and eating at some lovely restaurants, we didn’t do anything else. I would recommend at least 3 days in order to fully appreciate the city. We did not manage to see the Royal Palace which was a real shame. The monsoon hit every afternoon so it was impossible to do sightseeing for several hours as the downpour was so heavy! A good excuse for an afternoon nap.

All in all, a brilliant start to our travels in Cambodia.

Hotel: Balconitel Boutique Hotel

Must visit: S20 Prison and Killing Fields

Robyn

South East Asia: 5 Reasons Why Vietnam was THE best

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Today I did something that I have been putting off since I came back from backpacking around South East Asia last month. I loaded up my camera and plugged the USB cable into my laptop, to find that I had 230 pictures to upload. Normally I am quite prompt with uploading photos from trips, but this time it didn’t come so easy; by resisting going through my photos, I managed for some time to shake off the feeling of nostalgia that always comes when I am in the UK for any lengthy period of time, away from the thrill of travelling.

Although I enjoyed my time immensely in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, each one of the three countries was so unique and diverse, with its own cultural norms and views towards backpackers. Truthfully, I was not expecting my experience to be so different each time I stepped across a border, but it made the trip all the more eye-opening. Without further ado, let me explain why Vietnam was my favourite part of the trip, and why you have to go!

1. The chaos. If you can cross a road in Hanoi or Saigon, you can cross a road anywhere in the world – fact. Every time you step off the pavement, there is always that worry of whether you will get to the other side. When you do make it though, it is a triumphant feeling, as you have lived to see another day, well, until the next road crossing that is… There is definitely a knack to crossing the road in Vietnam, and you can read countless articles and watch videos online to prepare before your trip – yes, this is a thing and I would recommend it! Not only is crossing the road exhilerating, but seeing a family of 5 or 6 sitting on a scooter made for two, with perhaps a large bag on there too. Seeing the ladies ride side-saddle when wearing dresses or skirts, one on each side of the scooter maybe. Seeing the kids hold onto the handle bars while standing, while their parents sit behind. It is a whole other world on the streets of Vietnam. Why pay thousands (or in Vietnamese Dong, millions) for a car to carry four when you can have a scooter that can do the same job, right?!

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Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)

2. The pavements. These are reserved for: parking millions of scooters, driving scooters, pop-up shops and street-food vendors, sitting to eat your pho noodles, anything and everything, all except walking. More often than not, you have to walk in the street – no escape from the chaos that is the scooters.

3. The food. How could I talk about Vietnam without mentioning the food? Personally, the food here was the best of the trip, albeit quite (read: very) limiting for me as they eat so much pork, which I avoid. Yet it is so cheap, so you will never go hungry, whereas in Cambodia the local food lacks flavour and Western food hurts your wallet. In Thailand, be ready for spice as even when you ask for it to ‘not be too spicy,’ you will still have a generous helping of chillis on your plate, and if you’re anything like me, you may suffer a bit! On the first night in Hanoi, we were recommended to eat at a small restaurant. When we arrived, it was packed with locals but no travellers. We ordered our pho bo (beef noodle soup) for the equivelant f £1 and Coca Cola bottles for 20p and slurped up the best pho I have ever eaten, while sitting on the tiniest, most uncomfortable plastic stools you can possibly imagine.

4. The scenery. Get out of the bustling cities and see some of Vietnam’s spectacular natural beauty. With only two weeks in the country, it was not possible to go everywhere. We will defintely have to go back to see more. The major highlight for us was surprisingly not Ha Long Bay which is raved about online, but a day-trip to nearby Ninh Binh (a 2-hour drive south of Hanoi). Ninh Binh receives fewer tourists and therefore it gives you the sensation that you are going slightly off the beaten track. We caught a little slice of paradise while taking a leisurely boat-ride down the river to marvel at the rock formations, and cycling past the lush paddy fields.

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Ninh Binh

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Ha Long Bay

5. The locals. The Vietnamese are friendly and a smile and a few words in Vietnamese can go a long way. When we took the overnight trains between Hanoi-Da Nang and Da Nang-Ho Chi Minh City, the locals we met in our berth and along the train loved nothing more than to let us join in their coversations (albeit with difficulty), celebrations or meals, as it was quite rare for Westerners to walk up to the restaurant-car for dinner and pass the second and third-class carriages.

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Yet like with any trip, there were issues. We had so many people trying to scam us, to donate money to false causes, to harrassment with people trying to selling us things. Although we didn’t fall into any of their traps, and most of the time we laughed it off, the encounters remained unpleasant. The amount of locals and Chinese tourists who invited James to have group photos with their children, to the people doing selfies trying to get a glimpse of him in the background, just because he has red hair, was uncomfortable. Still, it is a reflection of the many tourists that take photos of local people without permission. The important thing is to remain aware, don’t make any rushed decisions and don’t take any photos of locals or they may just follow you down the road demanding money. It was painful watching tourists getting scammed that way.

Vietnam does not use tuk tuks like Cambodia or Thailand, but the question ‘tuk-tuk?  tuk-tuk?  tuk-tuk?  tuk-tuk?’ when we walked along the road every 5 or so meters, in places like Phom Penh, Siem Reap and Bangkok, does begin to have an annoying effect. Nevertheless, you have to bear in mind that this may be this person’s main source of income, which puts the situation into perspective.

Our overall experience of Vietnam was that it was very affordable for backpackers on a budget, the food was delicious, the country is welcoming to respectful travellers and that it is such a diverse country. With so many opportunities for things to do from North to South; golden beaches, to lush mountanous regions and huge bustling cities.

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Hoi An (Japanese Bridge)

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Summer Update

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All has been quiet on the blogging front over the last few months since my break to Amsterdam and Brussels, but reality has been far from it. This is just a short post to let you know what’s been happening, and for what to expect in the upcoming posts!

In the last few months, I:

  • took my final university assignments, 10 exams and 4 essays in total, which added up to about 50% of my final degree mark – so glad that’s over! There wasn’t much (read: any) travel/fun during that time.
  • escaped very quickly after exams to South East Asia for 4 weeks. We travelled North to South Vietnam, across to Cambodia and finally into Thailand. Got some much needed Vitamin D along with some unforgettable memories and strange but hilarious stories to share.
  • came back to a 2:1 in my degree (!). Graduation was the most incredible day I have had in recent years that I can remember; it was so special to celebrate 4 years of hard work with my friends, family and coursemates.
  • left my beloved Sheffield, my university city. Said goodbye to friends who all seem to be moving abroad for the foreseeable future. I moved an hour away to a new area, where I don’t know anybody, which disappointingly has very few PokéStops… but what it does have going for it, is it does have a Sainsbury’s, so at least I won’t starve.
  • have been preparing for my new life as a MFL Trainee Teacher starting in September. Mostly by trying to make my wardrobe sophisticated enough so that I will be able to convince the kids I am old enough (young face problems)!

 

I am so looking forward to sharing my South East Asia Series on the blog with you. There is also a trip to Italy at the end of August that I am squeezing in before my course starts, so I only have three weeks of anticipation before I jet off again. In the meantime, I am hoping to see more of Yorkshire now that I have a car; English heritage sites and trips to the coast are on the cards!

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Trip to Hathersage/Peak District on my last day in Sheffield!

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Sunday Snapshot: Keukenhof Gardens

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Photography taken during my visit to The Netherlands, 24/03/16. The Keukenhof Gardens in Lisse is one of the largest flower gardens of Europe, with over seven million flower bulbs planted there each year.

Our visit was on the opening day of the 2016 season, and thus the tulip fields were not in full bloom. Still, the indoor exhibits were fascinatingly beautiful, especially the Orchid area. I had to drag myself away from buyign one of the most grogeous blue orchid plants which were flying off the shelves from other visitors. If you are coming to Amsterdam in the Spring (March-June), consider spending an afternoon away from the city, admiring nature in this gem of a place.

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