Istanbul: A Bazaar Weekend

One of the best things about Istanbul is just how many cultures are visually impacting the city at any given time. Bridging the gap between Europe and Asia, the city is situated on the banks of the strategically important Bosphorus strait, known historically as a meeting point for much of the Old World’s trade. Founded in 330 AD as Constantinople, Istanbul is now a modern day gateway to experiencing a mix of religion, culture and history. One of the main reasons why I wanted to visit Istanbul for so long was due to the geographical split between Europe and Asia. The cultural riches of Europe and Asia being carefully blended with Turkish and Arabic just made the ancient city incredibly exciting to visit.

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From a traveller’s perspective, a great thing about Istanbul is that it’s ridiculously cheap. Despite only stopping in the city for 72 hours, we managed to see most of the main attractions, experience traditional Turkish activities, order more Turkish food than we could finish and try the different Turkish beers (which for an Islamic country where alcohol is against the cultural norm, were surprisingly good). However, on average we spent £170 each due to it being so cheap overall that we didn’t really care about being “proper traveller” and looking for the cheaper places only.

One important tip for travelling to Istanbul is taking steps to ensure you don’t get ripped off. A major part of this is definitely downloading the taxi app “BiTaksi”. If you want to save money then this app offers the perfect platform to do so. For example, some taxis were quoting 50 Lira when you called them off the street compared to 12 Lira when you used the app. However, you could be waiting up to 20minutes+ just to get a taxi because how Istanbul is laid out is really frustrating (not least as it’s essentially three cities built directly over each other as the centuries have progressed). As mentioned earlier, Istanbul was founded millennia ago, and the city feels like it’s just been built upon over the last 2000 years instead of properly planned out. Therefore, if you have less than 72hours in Istanbul I would recommend just spending a little bit more money on calling down a taxi and haggling with them. The key thing is you can see how much the fare would be on the app and use that to haggle a price. (Note: £1 = 7.7 Lira as of 31/5/19) A heads up on the toll road going under the Bosphorus that you take to get over to the Asian side. The toll is 23 Lira, however, taxi drivers argue so much with you that in the end, the wasted time isn’t worth the Lira you save. We got 3 taxis that took the toll and paid 40, 23 and 32.

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When we first arrived in Istanbul we decided to get a taxi from the airport to the Besiktas area. Following a recommendation from a friend, we ate breakfast at a hotel restaurant near the Bosphorus river. The restaurant, Ortakoy Hotel, served a delicious Turkish breakfast which in reality we had no idea what we were getting ourselves in for. Omletes, cheese, fresh salads, olives, breads just kept coming to our table and before we knew it we couldn’t finish it. The people were so welcoming and hospitable, allowing us to try free Turkish coffee and tea which as someone that doesn’t like either was surprising really nice!

From here, we left to go to the Hagia Sofia which was located about a 5-minute walk away from our hotel that we were staying at. Our hotel, found on AirBnB, was around £30 each for 2 nights and was in an amazing location. Our place was called “The Heart of Sultanahmet & Family Apartment III” – if you’re looking for a budget place with a great location then this is the place for you.

What I will say about both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque directly opposite, the architecture of both buildings is absolutely stunning. Truly standing the test of time, you can only stare and marvel that these buildings which were built many centuries ago stand in such perfect condition. The entry to the Hagia Sofia is 60 Lira (You can pay by cash or card). Although, annoyingly at the time of our visit, inside there was some scaffolding though this doesn’t take away from the architecture and the chandeliers inside which were really impressive. We spent some time here taking some pictures and walking around the different parts of the old church-mosque. We eventually left the Hagia Sofia before walking across the park to the Blue Mosque. Although we went into the Mosques garden outside, we didn’t actually end up going in. With it being an active mosque, we found that you need to go at the right time as when prayers are on you cannot enter.

To put our stay in Istanbul into some perspective, we landed at 5.30am in the morning and couldn’t check in until 2 pm so we did spend a lot of time in the Hagia Sofia area as we were so close to our hotel, exploring the local markets which only prepared us for what was to come. When we did eventually check in to our accommodation, however, we quickly left to head to the Grand Bazaar. It is believed to be the first shopping mall in the world, with some 5,000 venders along 60 different indoor and outdoor streets. In 2014, it was the most visited attraction in the world with over 91m visitors. As you can imagine attracting that amount of people makes for the whole experience to be “Bizarre”. It’s one of the craziest places I have ever visited, and probably one of my favourite things I have done whilst travelling. Until you go, it’s hard to imagine being surrounded by thousands of people, crammed together with people shouting you over to buy from them. But the thrill you get from haggling and experiencing the hospitality of the locals is second to none. If you only had time to do one thing in Istanbul I would 100% recommend doing this before anything else. You can also eat local cuisines as well as relax and enjoy a drink within the Bazaar as well.

Upon leaving the craziness of the Bazaar we headed over to the Galata Tower, to hopefully watch the sunset and get something to eat at its 360 view restaurant. Unfortunately, the tower had a line about a mile long all the way to the restaurants in the vicinity, so we decided to just eat elsewhere and then later go to a bar. One of the rooftop bars we went to was called “Snog” which we liked so much so we re-visited the next day. It has a really good view of the European and Asian parts of the city, whilst also giving you a great view of the tower. Although we were very tempted to enjoy the nightlife, we got home around 2ish as were we exhausted having not slept the night before. Nevertheless, the bars we did go to were actually really good! If you’re thinking of going out in Istanbul, the reviews online are all really good, and there is a pub crawl you can sign up to.

The next day we woke up relatively early and ate at one of the restaurants around where we were staying. Usually, I would get the name of the restaurant, but genuinely in the area, we were staying they were all pretty much similar to each other. Again, we enjoyed a delicious Turkish breakfast before going over to a traditional Turkish Bathhouse. The bathhouse we went to was called Cagaloglu Hamami. You can opt for a range of packages of what you want to do. We opted for the bath experiences + the face mask which was £25 each. To some, this may sound quite expensive, but I can honestly say I have never felt so relaxed during or after an activity. Laying down inside the steam room was so relaxing and allowed you to just rest and enjoy where you were. We were tempted to get the Turkish massage as well, but as we didn’t know how long it would take we opted against it.

Since we hadn’t spent much time over in the Asian part of the city, we decided to get a taxi via the app to the Fenerbahce area where we headed over to the marina and got a drink. We wanted to take some canoes out on the Bosphorus river, however, after some walking, we just couldn’t find the place where maps said it was located. That’s one thing you should just come to accept about Istanbul, taxis and maps can be very, very frustrating. Nevertheless, the marina area was really nice and due to it being such a nice day was the perfect place to stop and get a drink and a cheesecake.

When we were back in the European part, we headed over the Cistern Basilica, which had been supplying water to the city from the 6th century when the Byzantine Romans had built it. The entry fee is only 20 Lira but to be honest it was really an underwhelming place. Although I am not sure what I expected from the place, the lack of water and just the large number of people didn’t make for the place I thought it would have been….. However…

We then came across a little “photo op” area where there were professional cameras and outfits people were trying on. We decided to pay the 40 Lira to dress up and get our photo taken, and the next 15 minutes were so random that it made for such a great experience. We got dressed up in traditional Ottoman outfits, and after you can pay for the CD of your photo shoot (or just pay for hard copies of four select photos). Let me know what you think of our outfits below…

After we got changed back into our regular clothes, we headed back over to the Galata Tower area where we ate again at one of the many restaurants in the area. What I liked about this area so much was the range of food available, especially Turkish food. The good thing about Turkey is that you can tell its a very proud nation, namely from the abundance of flags and images of national figures virtually everywhere, meaning that it hasn’t just become a Western tourist trap and that its food is available everywhere.

Like the previous night, we headed over to Snog bar to catch a glimpse of the sunset and have a couple of drinks and relax on our last night. Before we headed to our hotel, we went and smoked some shisha, as when you go to Turkey it’s one of the things that the locals keep telling you to try.

On our last day in Istanbul, we only had a few things left to tick off our list. The first of them was the Galata Tower which I had wanted to go up since the first day we arrived. The entry was 35 Lira which, considering the view, is pretty reasonable. One of the reasons I really wanted to visit so much was because of the 360 degree view of the city at the top. The view was actually so good! You got to see all the major landmarks, and I do wish we had the chance to see the sunset from up here. The drinks are also reasonably priced in the tower, as coke and freshly pressed lemonade were just 7 Lira.

Finally, we ended our trip in Istanbul back at the Grand Bazaar where we just walked around, hunting for deals, and enjoying the experiences. I will repeat again, the Grand Bazaar is definitely one of the best places I have visited anywhere in the world, so if you get the chance to visit Istanbul do not miss it!

I would like to end this article by just explaining how amazing Istanbul is as a city. It can be quite frustrating, especially when you want to get from one place to another. However, the food is just sublime and the people are so friendly and welcoming. In terms of the religious, cultural and historical importance, there is truly no better place than Istanbul.


View the rest of our Istanbul pictures here.

Dog Sledding: Tromso Villmarkssenter

Back in January 2018, my friends and I travelled the length of Norway where we ended our trip visiting Villmarkssenter in Tromso. Here we experienced one of our best travel moments since starting travelling. As a big dog lover, getting the chance to dog sled in the Arctic circle and spend hours with the dogs was amazing!

However, since writing about my experiences in my Norway Part 2 post, I have had some comments and emails from readers who were worried that dog sledding is cruel to the dogs. Some other readers also commented that it was no different than elephant riding. This was when I decided to look more into Villmarkssenter to show people there was a huge difference between dog sledding and elephant riding.

Firstly, my friends and I have all volunteered to work with elephants that are now in sanctuaries, where we cleaned and fed them. Having the chance to spend our money helping elephants, instead of spending it riding and abusing elephants meant a great deal to us.

Secondly, we try as much as we can to always research into the companies we use so we don’t contribute to animal abuse.

Therefore, I decided to contact Tromso Villmarkssenter for an interview on how they treat their dogs and how their centre puts the dog’s welfare at the forefront at anything they do.

Interview:

  1. If it wasn’t for Tromso Villmarkssenter then what would happen to these dogs? And Could you explain where the dogs come from and why they come to Tromso Villmarkssenter?

Our kennel is not really meant to house rescue dogs. We are partly a racing kennel, around 40 of our dogs are in the “A-team”, the racing team – the rest is mainly running in the guest tours. We are therefore actively breeding dogs for racing, most of them live from the start until the end of their lives at our center! Since Tove bought her first Huskies in 1984, we have slowly built up our kennel by breeding and buying from other mushers.

But of course, we have also taken in dogs from people who couldn’t take care of them anymore, mostly from Norway and Finland.

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  1. Does dog sleding involve any violence to the animals?

We are mushers and dog sled racers, our Alaskan Huskies are at the same time our closest coworkers, our most important resource and biggest capital investment. Our whole company depends on their health, happiness and willingness to work with us. Our whole life revolves around them!

Any kind of abuse against dogs before or during a race means immediate disqualification and suspension from any race in the world. But it goes deeper than that because every musher depends on the willingness of their dogs to run long distances and pull our sled through harsh weather and icy temperatures. And my dogs only give everything to me, because they know I will give everything for them. We have to be like family, to support each other in good times and bad times.

  1. What kind of care does the Tromso Villmarkssenter provide for the dogs?

That our lives revolve around the dogs is not a joke. Every day of the year we keep track of their condition, from appetite to digestion, feed them (during winter 2 meals a day + 2-3 high-energy snacks like fat or salmon, depending on how they run), clean the yard, train them and administer medical care.

Our kennel is divided into 5 pools, each housing between 40-50 dogs, overseen by 6-10 mushers and a pool leader. Mushers know “their” dogs really well, strengths as well as weaknesses and how they get along with their neighbours. They know who is not friendly towards other males/females and who must be housed apart from whom to avoid fights. Alaskan huskies are very intelligent dogs with strong personalities – and sometimes they clash. In this case, every musher insight will drop what they are doing and rush in to break up the fight. Then all dogs are checked thoroughly and if they are hurt, receive all necessary medical care. Our staff can clean and dress wounds and our veterinarian is on call at all hours of the night!

Twice a day before feeding, we check the weight of each dog to ensure they get an appropriate amount of food. And during feeding, we make sure each only eats their own portion! The mushers also know the age of all Huskies and make sure young and elderly dogs only run as much as is good for them. The responsibilities of a pool leader include filing a weekly HMS report to Mattilsynet (health and animal welfare agency of the Norwegian state) to document how much each dog is working.

And whenever we interact with the dogs, we watch the way they move, so we no not miss any early signs of injuries to muscles or joints. Our huskies are by all standards top athletes and, just as humans, can get hurt if they push themselves too much. Since our dogs stay with us into old age and often all their life, we have many dogs with different health issues. Some need daily eye or heart medication, skin or paw treatment and our mushers provide this care as well.

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As part of the care for the adult dogs, another daily task is the education of the puppies born in our kennel. The first weeks they stay separated with their mothers and later with their siblings in the puppy enclosure. Aside from giving them all necessary medical care (vaccinating, de-worming etc), we also spend a lot of time socializing them. Regular interactions with our mushers as well as guests give them tons of positive experience with humans. They love visitors because when humans visit there is either food, cuddles or play time. And for the rest of their lives, these dogs will be comfortable with being surrounded by strangers and children, an absolute necessity for a kennel accessible to the public!

It is also important to stimulate their brain from an early age on through playful training and interactions with both humans and huskies. Intelligence, responsiveness and the will to work as part of a team are basic requirements for becoming a good sled dog!

All of this is only a small part of our tasks, not even including the work that goes into the actual sledding. I hope I have given you a quick insight into the in-depth care our dogs receive in every aspect of their lives.

  1. Can people volunteer at the Villmarkssenter?

To provide all the care for the dogs as well as take good care of all our guests, our staff needs to be very well trained.  All of them go through a 2-week training program before they start working independently. This is why we generally stopped having volunteers, but we often open internships for local schools and work with students.

That being said, during summer everybody is welcome to swing by and cuddle the dogs. Every day, from June until autumn, the kennel and the Husky Café is open to the public, no entrance fee or need to book a tour.

  1. What kind of interaction can people have with the dogs if they choose to book through Tromso Villmarkssenter?

Guest can have as much contact with dogs as they want! If you’d like to sit down and have your face licked, you are welcome to do that. Many huskies are jumpy and energetic, but our calmer dogs really appreciate a good long belly rub. You can also visit our hospitalized dogs and give them an extra portion of love – all of them are friendly and really looking forward to meeting you.

  1. Through the money people spend on dog sledding, how does this go to help the dogs?

A lot of our income goes to dog food (salmon, cow, pork, lamb and chicken – only the best for our top athletes!) and a working equipment for dogs. We are also constantly maintaining and improving the facilities for the dogs. Last year we spend around 1.5 million NOK on renovations in the dog yard alone, in addition to maintaining and renewing the hospital, indoor and outdoor cages and the puppy yard. And of course, we use the income to pay for their medical care, examinations, operations and medications.

I hope after this interview this has given you a deeper insight into the level of care the dogs all get, as well as the preparation and thought that goes into that care.

If you have any more questions for me, feel free to email me from my contact page or comment down below!

If you would like to contact Villmarkssenter for any more questions or want to book any tours with them their website is below:

https://villmarkssenter.no/about-us/

Ayutthaya: A Day Trip

Back in March 2018, I visited Bangkok for my fourth time in the last 7 months. Having pretty much exhausted most of the main tourist attractions, I wanted to visit other places that I hadn’t previously been to. My girlfriend, Sita, suggested going to visit the ancient capital city of Thailand, Ayutthaya. She explained how the Burmese burnt the city leaving now ancient ruins. As someone who loves history, this got me very excited to visit!

Ayutthaya is a place that you will find fun to explore if you’re interested in learning more about Thai culture and its history. However, I know some of you won’t be interested in history, temples and ruins, and so I thought I would pre-warn you!

Modern-day Ayutthaya has been built on top of the ancient ruins left by the Burmese attack. It’s quite strange to be able to walk around an ancient city that has all the amenities of a modern day city. The two intertwined so much that it does make for a great experience to be able to compare two completely different eras at the same time.

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In this post, I won’t go into every temple that we saw in Ayutthaya, as we visited most of them and there isn’t that much to say about each and every temple! However, I will sum up the best temples, and give some tips on how we got there and how we got around the city.

Starting our trip in Bangkok, we took a minibus from Bangkok Mo Chit Bus Station which took about 2.5hours to reach Ayutthaya where we got off at the final stop. (The minibus costs 60TBH for a single ticket).

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After getting off the bus, we walked around the city a little bit before hiring push bikes for the day. Originally we were going to hire a motorbike, but decided that as everything in the city is so close together, it would be fun to cycle. The bikes cost 50TBH for the day (Until 7pm). They also give you a map which clearly shows you where all the attractions are, making it nice and easy to locate your way around the city.

Soon after getting our bikes, we set off on our temple hopping tour and started at Ayutthaya’s Historical Park, which has most of the city’s ruins. If my memory serves me correctly, it costs 50TBH per temple for non-Thai citizens and 10TBH for Thai citizens. The Historical Park is probably the main attraction of Ayutthaya. As a bit of a history nerd, learning about the history and culture of the Ayutthaya Kingdom was so interesting! The site also has a model located at the front of the park which shows you what the Kingdom used to look like before being burnt down by the Burmese.

After we had finished walking around the Historical Park, we set off on our bikes again and visited Wat Phra Sri Sanphat. This was the holiest of the temples in the Kingdom of Ayutthaya. Personally, this was one of my favourites, as the architecture was just awesome. Unfortunately, like most of Ayutthaya, the temple has succumbed to the destruction of the Burmese and has taken substantial damage. Nevertheless, the damage adds to the historical importance of the building as it is where the 35 Kings of the Kingdom would come and use for royal ceremonies.

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Without a doubt, the temple that I found most interesting has to be Wat Mathathat! Its location near the Grand Palace made it one of the most important temples throughout the Kingdom. Why I find this temple so interesting is how most of the Buddha’s heads are chopped off all the statues. So when you’re walking around it’s quite a weird experience to just go past statue after statue of Buddha with no head! Another interesting point to make about this temple is that there is a Buddha head in the roots of the sacred tree. This is where most of the tourists head first so it can get quite packed. Whilst there I noticed many tourists only came to see the Buddha head in the tree and leave the site soon after. However, I would advise walking around the whole site as it makes for a really nice walk. Also, the unusual sight of headless statues makes for a thought-provoking walk on why the Burmese did this.

 

Although I was told that the Burmese were the ones that chopped off the heads as they believed gold where inside. It seems that after doing some research, it was actually looters that had cut the heads off and sold most of them to collectors in Europe and the United States. Unfortunately for Thailand, after asking for part of their heritage back they were declined as they form part of many modern-day museums.

Before we headed back to Bangkok, we decided that we should go and get some food from one of the restaurants just outside the Historical Park. The food is really good and incredibly cheap! I got a Pad Thai for only 35TBH!

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Most of the people that travel to Thailand skip out Ayutthaya as it isn’t really a place that many people have heard of before. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my day trip to see all the ruins and I am glad I delved deeper into learning about Thailand’s history.

After the fall of Ayutthaya, Thailand decided to move its capital city to Bangkok which was designed in such a way to keep out foreign invaders. For centuries Thailand had been at war with its neighbours, especially the Burmese. By moving their capital to Bangkok, they had hoped that due to the defence of the capital being a lot stronger, this would put off future invasions of the Kingdom. 

Although I am a bit of a history nerd and thoroughly enjoyed my time in Ayutthaya,  I wouldn’t recommend going for more than one day, as all the ruins can be seen if you arrive early enough. The city doesn’t really have that much more to offer bar the ruins and temples and there are better places to spend more of your time in Thailand!

Unfortunately, as I broke my phone, the only pictures I have left of my trip are saved from what I put on Snapchat so I apologise for the lack of pictures!

Check out the rest of our Ayutthaya pictures here.

The Pros and Cons of Group Travel

This blog post will be a little different to ones that you’re used to reading here on 3TravelBug! I am excited to announce that this will be a collaboration article with Nina Clapperton and her blog, Nina Out and About. I will be exploring the pros and cons and of group travel. Whereas, Nina will be explaining the pros and cons of solo travelling.

So let’s begin!

I usually travel with my friend Max and on occasion, some of my other friends. Racking up 31 different countries with a number of people has been an amazing experience and adventure. It would be strange to imagine those trips now without those people, as they’re one of the reasons those trips were so memorable.

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After travelling so many times within a group, I think I can confidently talk about the pros and cons of this type of travel.

Pros of Group Travelling

Friends

My favourite bit about travelling with a group is definitely the sense of always having someone to do something with. Whether that be just going for a meal or doing an activity together, it’s always nice to have that company! Some of the things I have done and seen have been made better because of the people I did them with! For example: climbing Fuji, diving with sharks, dog sledding and seeing the northern lights in Iceland were all amazing experiences. But ones that were made even better because I got to share those experiences with my friends.

It can also help you be more comfortable and confident in a culture you might be unfamiliar with. Being with my friends for the majority of my travelling experiences has allowed me to be more confident meeting new people as well! During our travels we have met so many people from all around the world, I definitely think being together has helped that process. Although solo travelling makes you talk to new people, sometimes being in a small group helps you bond with other groups!

Saving Money

Another benefit of travelling as a group is you save money! When I travelled to Iceland and Norway I saved so much by travelling in a group. In Norway, we shared the cost of the car, tolls, petrol and insurance four-ways. We still spent a lot of money on these things, but the money saved is unimaginable!

However, we have also saved money on small things such as toothpaste, shower gel, sun cream etc. Although these aren’t big expensive things when travelling on long trips every little helps! Not buying a bottle of sun cream could buy you two or three meals in South East Asia.

Safety in Numbers

Now this one might sound cliche… And yes it is, but I have been in situations travelling where I have felt unsafe, but so glad I was travelling with my friends! When I was travelling India, I was involved in getting scammed and basically been forced to leave Delhi and go to Agra. The whole situation was quite dangerous as after looking on google, people had been mugged for not paying these thugs. Although I still got scammed, being with my friends did calm me a lot as I had safety in numbers. Maybe if I was a solo traveller, things may have been very different!

Organisation

Although when we travel we only have a basic plan. This basic plan goes a long way! It allows us to know what we want to do, how we can do it and where we need to go to see it. But still allows us to have the freedom to do these things whenever we want to.
It is rare that if you travel in a group, no one knows anything about the place or things they want to do. I do like this kind of organisation and planning. Being able to rely on other people to have a suggestion and/or planning is really useful!

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Motivation

I think we have all been there, especially when on a long trip. You’re tired and just want to sleep or relax, even if that means missing out on something. However, when you’re with a group that rarely happens as you always have someone who tells you to get up because we have things to do! One example of this was when I was in Thailand, Krabi with my friends. Haydn wanted to sleep, before Max and I dragged him out of bed and got him downstairs drinking buckets of alcohol! I think there would have been many times where I would have slept longer, or just relaxed more and missed out on things if I wasn’t with my friends!

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Cons of Group Travelling

Less Freedom

Obviously, you have less freedom when travelling in a group. Decisions have to go through the group and not just yourself. My girlfriend is a solo traveller and she prefers to travel solo than in a group as she likes to do her own thing. The key thing about this is sometimes you have to prioritise what you can do rather than what you want to do, because you’re having to balance out everyone’s itinerary. Although I must say I haven’t really had this issue that much as I have always done what I wanted to do, as we do try and give ourselves time to see everything we want to see!

Meeting People

Now I know what you’re thinking… “Wait a minute, earlier he said it helped him meet people?” Well yes, I did say that. However, there is no pressure to meet new people if you’re in a big group. For example, when I went to Lisbon in a group of 6 we didn’t meet many people as we didn’t try or needed to. When I went to Krakow with a group of 7 the same applied. Obviously, when you solo travel, you have the freedom to do whatever you want. I have met many solo travellers who ask if they can sit down for a drink with us, or go on that tour with us, as they want the company! Solo travelling makes you meet people.

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Arguments

Although arguments with my friends are rare whilst travelling, when you’re that close with someone for near 100 days, disagreements are bound to happen. Little things start annoying you (like Haydn takes so long to do anything!!!). I know of people who have arguments who have then cut the trip short and came back because they argued so badly and ended relationships/friendships.

Own Space

Something I do really cherish and enjoy is my own space. That might seem weird as I travel with my friends… A LOT. However, a pro of solo travelling means you can choose when to engage with people and when you want to just relax and be by yourself. I remember coming back from my Asia trip it was a weird feeling not having two people with me all the time. Although I did appreciate having my own room and my own space!

Comfort Zone

We all have our comfort zone and the reasons why we stick in it. Group travelling can exacerbate this as there is no need to get out of our comfort zones. The people we made friends with from home are now with us in a different country, continent and culture, so it is easy to stay within your comfort zone. I know a lot of people who say they go to Asia and only eat western food, or they wouldn’t want to climb a mountain because they’re afraid of heights. Nevertheless, travelling solo means you learn a lot more about yourself as you routinely come out of your comfort zone. It gives you a better chance to do things you may never have done before, or thought of doing!

If you’re interested in learning more about the pros and cons of solo travelling then click on the link below to read Nina’s article! Nina is an expert solo traveller, and currently is living and travelling solo in New Zealand!

https://ninaoutandabout.ca/the-pros-and-cons-of-solo-travel

Riga: A Birthday Weekend Away

Back in 2016, I wanted to go travelling for my birthday. Although we had previously done a trip to Europe in 2015, it wasn’t really what we expected. However, we wanted to give travelling another go! Luckily, we gave travelling another shot as the rest is history..

I had heard many good things about the nightlife in Eastern Europe, mainly from travellers youtube videos. Also, we had been to Prague in 2015 and the night life was crazy! I remember at the time, people were quite surprised we had decided to spend my birthday in Riga, but honestly it was one of the best weekends of my life. We met a huge group of crazy people and had chances to do things that most people don’t ever do!

When we first arrived in Riga we checked into our hostel (Riga Old Town Hostel & Backpackers Pub). Honestly, this hostel is great! What I really liked about the hostel was it allowed you to meet some awesome people and have an awesome night! Unless the rules have changed, the bar stays open until 3am so you can carry on the party very late into the night! (After checking on hostel world, the bar still closes at 3am). Also between the hours of 5pm-7pm there is happy hour – which means 30% off all tap beers!

The hostel has a sister hostel round the corner, The Naughty Squirrel. This is where the pub crawl starts if you are interested in having a mad night! However, this hostel is a bit run down and personally I am really glad we stayed out Old Town. Another quirky thing about Old Town is that it has a campervan as the reception and bar area within the hostel!

On arrival, we accepted a free welcome beer (always the sign of a good hostel) and we were give a free map guide where the hostel staff told us what they key attractions were. They also explained about the tours and activities which they can arrange.

As we landed in Riga at night time, we decided to just have a quick walk around the local area and see some of the historical monuments around the city. However, with it being -5C and our hostel having a bar and a pub crawl, we decided to get ready and sign up for the crawl.

After signing up, we went to the sister hostel (Naughty Squirrel) where we played party games and met loads of people from all around the world. This was the travelling that excited us, the idea of meeting lots of cool people. Unfortunately, we didn’t really do that during our first Europe trip. We also tried a new drink, Riga Black Balsam, which although not many people seemed to like, I really did! However, having 4 or 5 of these drinks can quickly escalate your night! The amount of free shots and drinks that you get on this pub crawl, and the cheapness of the drinks means that you soon become incredibly drunk! Which for a birthday weekend is perfect!

After visiting many bars we ended up at one of the biggest clubs I have ever been in. Unfortunately I cannot remember the name, but if you sign up to the pub crawl you’ll visit for sure! Downstairs in the first room, is a takeaway shop, where you can buy pizza slices and burgers! The second room had a huge cloak room to put any coats and bags, before another room having loads of pool tables. The other remaining rooms have several bars and the final room downstairs is the club area. It is incredibly easy to get lost here, however such an awesome place!

The next day after waking up ridiculously early to say we returned about 4am, we got our free breakfast beer. Yes, that’s right! Beer for breakfast! Although as you can imagine these were going down really slowly. During the day time we walked around Rigas old town as well as walking to do some escape rooms! We ended up getting carried away and trying to complete 3 escape rooms. Unfortunately, we wasn’t very good. One of the escape rooms, was called casino and 5 people is usually the recommended number of people for this room. However, with just the 2 of us we so nearly completed it!

After spending the day walking around Riga, we went back to the hostel where we decided to try a beer tasting tray. You get 14 beers to try and some were very good beers! Others… my word were they bad! However, I would still recommend doing the beer tasting because you get to try locally brewed beers from Riga. After we finished the last of the beer tasting, we signed up for the pub crawl again and met up with everyone we saw the day before. The night went pretty much the same way as we spent the last, having a great time and consuming a lot of alcohol!

The next day was going to be our best day yet! Through the hostel we booked to go winter bobsledding! This was an amazing chance to do something really unique. We had gone with some people we had met at our hostel which made the whole experience really fun. The whole tour was a really good package. The hostel provide transportation to and from the hostel which makes your life a lot easier.

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What I loved about bobsledding is that you had the chance to do something that not many people have done! Being able to travel at speeds of 110kmh as well as experience 4G’s was such an unreal feeling. What I can say, during the run it feels a lot faster than 110kmh! The constant turning of the sleigh, and feeling every bump on the track made the experience come to life. I remember when the driver started running down the slope of the track, I was wondering if I had made a mistake as the driver had warned us that people had died before due to the drivers being poor and overturning the sleigh. However, as soon as the run was over (which it ended so quickly!) I just wanted to go and do the whole experience again. The adrenaline rush was immense!

After having done one of the most unique experiences of our lives, we were all in such a good mood on the way back to the hostel. As soon as we got back, we got some beers in and just talked about how crazy the day had been! As like the other nights, we signed up to the pub crawl again and had an awesome night! Apparently.. It was a bit too awesome as we woke up with only 1.5hours left before our flight was scheduled to depart. Now this might not sound bad, but we still had to check out, and get to the airport which was a 20 minute drive away. By the time we had got to the boarding stage, we were on last call, but thankfully made the flight home! We learned a valuable lesson, don’t get home 1 hour before you have to leave for the airport, because you will fall asleep! Not that we have stuck to this lesson..

For those of you who hadn’t thought about Riga, or maybe even heard of the place before this article, honestly look into it! Riga is a fantastic getaway city, and if you stay in the right hostel like us, you’ll meet some awesome people who just want to have a good time! If you’re an adrenaline junky, then go try out the bobsledding as it is truly an immense experience!

View the rest of our Riga pictures here.

My Best Travel Moments (2015-18)

This post was inspired by one of my latest blog posts, (Top 5 Countries That I have Travelled 15-18). As this post did so well and had so much positive feedback, I decided to write a blog post on my best moments whilst travelling. However, just like the last article, being able to narrow my list of awesome travel moments down was extremely difficult. Nevertheless, after much thought here are my top 5!

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Climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan is number 5 on my best travel moments! Climbing Mt. Fuji was part of my Asia trip with Max and Haydn, so being able to experience the climb with them only made the experience better! We also met someone called Andrew at our hostel who we also did the climb with.

Although the last couple of hours back to the hostel were extremely painful as I had injured my knee running a half-marathon a couple of months before. The whole experience was incredible and looking back something I am so glad I did. One of the best decisions was definitely not taking the bus to 5th station and actually walking the entire way from the hostel. However, what this meant was an 11km walk to station 0!

 

Nevertheless, station 0-5 was a pretty easy climb and I got to see some spectacular views along the way. Being above the clouds really made for an impressive view! Another benefit of walking meant that by the time I reached 5th station, the sun was setting and the sunset was just surreal. However, at station 6, I started wrapping up and putting on as many layers that I had. Being above 2,500m and with the sun setting, it got really cold, fast.

 

 This was the part of the climb that seemed to go on for a long time as the stations started going up in halves now instead of 5-6, 6-7. The cold also started to become a big factor. I remember stopping at the side of the walkaway and laying down for a while and just shivering so much as my body temperature plummeted. The other issues were that the climb started to get a lot steeper and this meant that any slow people ahead of you made you slow down which meant that you were getting cold again!

In spite of the cold, walking in pitch black and the steep climb to the summit, I finally got to the top at around 2 am which meant that I had been walking for a total of 14 hours so far. However, the issue I had now was that the temperature was well below 0c and I had to just find a place to keep warm until the sunrise. Initially, Max and I found a bench that we laid down and drifted off to sleep. But, within minutes our bodies woke us up shivering! That’s when I saw that they let people into a restaurant type area where they charged a ridiculous amount for food and drink just because they knew people were desperate to be allowed inside.

 

After finally getting in and warming up, the sun started to rise! Rushing outside to get some pictures of the sunset as well as our climbing group, it made the whole experience more than worthwhile. The sunrise was just incredible. The different colours that bounced off the skyline and the surrounding mountains were just out of this world! I really cannot describe what a unique experience it was being able to see a sunset this good.

 

After the sun had rose it was then time for the descent back to the hostel. The climb down didn’t take as long but by the time I made it to the hostel I had been climbing for over 24 hours! However, this didn’t take away from what an incredible experience it was and actually made the whole trip more rewarding.

 

Even though I only spent around 4 days in Fuji, it quickly became one of my favourite places. It has great lakes, great mountains, gives you the chance to climb a 3,800m mountain and offers great Japanese food!

4.

Sunset Point in Uluwatu is a moment that I cannot stop thinking about. Every time I look back at my pictures from my trip to Bali, this is always one that stands out the most. Every trip always has a couple of moments that become your highlight, and this sunset is definitely that!

Sunset Point is located on the coast which has a small bar where hundreds of travellers come to watch the sunset. They bar has a swimming pool, a rooftop seating area, as well as bean bags placed everywhere. Luckily, Sita and I managed to get right to the front where we just chilled with a beer, listening to music and watching the sunset.

 

As you can see by the pictures below, the tranquillity of the place is unreal! Why this makes my top 5 best travel moments, is just because when I was there watching the waves come in and the sun setting, I just thought how amazing my life was and how lucky I am to experience these kind of moments

 

For anyone who is visiting Bali, then make sure you visit Uluwatu and in particularly Sunset Point. Personally, what I enjoyed about the area so much was that it was just full of travellers who all came to relax, have a drink and just watch the sunset. This gave the place a great atmosphere and a really nice place to chill. The sunsets that I saw in Bali, but in particular the sunset I saw in Uluwatu, was probably the best sunset I have ever seen!

3.

For those of you who read the article that inspired this one (Top 5 Countries That I Have Travelled 2015-18) then you’ll know how much I love Guatemala. As I said in that post, Guatemala was a place where we were given many warnings prior to arriving. But, as this all turned out to be hearsay and incorrect, it made the whole trip so much better.

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Climbing and camping on an active Volcano – Acatenango, is as you can imagine, a fantastic experience. One of the major reasons why I enjoyed this so much was because we met such an awesome group of people that were all liked minded. As we got to know each other, we all shared stories of our past or current trips which were really interesting to listen to, as it made you want to go to the places that they have visited.

 

One of my favourite memories of climbing Acatenango was just being around the campfire with our group just drinking some beers and watching Fuego, another of Guatemala’s volcanoes blowing smoke. (Fuego had erupted about three weeks before we had arrived). The rest of the day was spent eating, drinking and sharing more travel stories, before watching the sunset.

Again like our climb on Mt. Fuji, as darkness fell, so did the temperature. Although this time, we had a tent and sleeping bags which were actually warm. The only issue was that if you wanted to go to the toilet in the middle of the night, which I did, it was absolutely freezing! We woke up around 3.30 am to set about climbing the final 1000m so that we could see the sunrise. The climb up the final 1000m was harder than the climb up Fuji, but nevertheless we made it to the summit in time.

 

When we were at the summit our tour guide gave us some volcanic rock to hold which warmed up our hands no problem. It was just a reminder that, wow, we are actually standing on an active volcano. As the sun started to rise the whole skyline kept changing colours and you could see an entire mountain range silhouetting in the distance. I personally found the sunrise at Acatenango better than the one at Fuji just because of the whole experience of being able to camp on an active volcano.

2.

At number 2 of my best travel moments has to be dog sledging whilst in Tromso, Norway. Up until this point, my time in Norway  had just been immense. So good in fact, I rated it as my number one country to visit!

 

One of the reasons why I rated Norway my best trip to date, was definitely because we got the chance to dog sledge. What made the experience so good was that we got to spend around 3 hours with the dogs, where we got educated on where the dogs had come from and how they are looked after. Also the sled drivers were from all over the world. The driver of my sled was from Northern Italy and he shared his stories of why he came to Norway and where else he had been.

 

The main highlight of course was actually sledging! The sledging lasted about 45 minutes, however it felt a lot shorter than that. With Tromso being in the Arctic circle and us being there in late January, we were lucky enough to have apparently, the first sunrise of the year whilst sledging! Our Italian driver said it was the first time they had any sun for the last 3 months. The sunrise was simply mesmerising as the sunlight bounced of the snow and surrounding mountains.  

 

The whole day’s experience with the dogs was just so enjoyable and they give you plenty of time to interact and play with the dogs. As well as letting you see some new puppies! We also enjoyed Reindeer stew for our lunch after sledging which to my surprise was really nice. One of the reasons why dog sledging ranks number 2 for me is because I haven’t done anything like this before. It made for such a unique and cool experience that I don’t think I’ll ever forget!

1.

Without any doubt, seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is by far the best travel moment that I have experienced. Just being able to see the Aurora is unique in itself and took a lot of patience and driving around to see it. However, the moment when I saw the Northern Lights, it was such relief and I felt so much excitement that it definitely has to rank number 1. 

 

We spent several days driving around Iceland to find the best place. We usually went near Pingvellir National Park which is about 40 minutes away from our hostel. As it turns out, hundreds of people go to the lighthouse just outside of Reykjavik to see them. So if you’re in Reykjavik and want a place where someone has spotted them, then try the lighthouse!

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Another special thing about being able to see the Northern Lights is that when they dance around it is such a spectacle to watch. I remember us just laying down on a freezing concrete path, just watching them swirl around in the sky and thinking how amazing nature and the world is.

 

What made my sighting of the Northern Lights so special to me, is that this was the third night of waiting hours in the freezing cold just hoping that I would finally see the Aurora. The night that I did see them, was my last night in Iceland, so being able to see them was just such a relief. What makes this experience even more important, is that when I was in Tromso, I didn’t end up seeing the Lights. So luckily, I got to see them whilst I was in Iceland!

 

Sunshine Blogger Award

I am thrilled to have been nominated by Prerana from Inside Travellers Shoes for the Sunshine Blogger Award! It is an incredible honour to be nominated for awards by other bloggers that appreciate your work! Within the last 12 months, 3TravelBug has now received 3 different awards and I am so thankful to everyone who has helped the blog grow so much over a small amount of time!

WHAT IS THE SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD?

The Sunshine Blogger Award is given to bloggers who are creative, inspiring and hard working in their niche. It is awarded by bloggers, to other bloggers, who recognise their development in blogging and offer them much needed support! It is also a great way to know more about the person.

The Award is mainly given to new bloggers or bloggers who have made massive strides in developing their blog. As the award title probably gives it away, it’s about bringing a new fresh approach to blogging and helping others in the process.

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THE RULES OF SUNSHINE BLOGGER AWARD

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you in the blog post and link back to their blog.
  • Answer the 11 questions the bloggers asked you.
  • Nominate up to 11 new blogs to receive the award and write them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award logo in your post and/or on your blog.

These are the questions I was asked by Prerana

  1. What have you learned about yourself from travelling or life in general?

Definitely to be a lot more independent. Sounds cliche, but when you’re travelling if you struggle to be independent then it can make the whole trip a lot harder to enjoy. Also I am a lot more care free now than I was before!

    2. What’s the best advice you’ve received in your life?

The best advice I have received is to work hard and appreciate what you have. I think this is really important in all aspects of your life, whether it be a full-time job, being a student or a blogger!

  1.  What’s the first stamp you got on your very first passport? And why did you go there?

The first stamp I got was when I visited Malaysia last year! Malaysia was part of my 3.5 month Asia trip and the second stop on my tour. My first stop was in Hong Kong but I got a visa card and not a stamp!

  1. What type of traveller do you believe you are?

Hard question to answer! I agree that there are different types of travellers, I always make the big distinction between being a traveller and being a tourist, but I know the word “Traveller” means something different to different people. In terms of my definition, I am more a traveller than a tourist. I like to go out of my comfort zone, try new cultures and foods, and go to a place open-minded!

  1. Despite all our differences, what according to you is that “One Thing” that unites every person on this planet?

Probably food! Although I have only been to 3 of the 7 continents, nearly every country that I have visited prides themselves on the food that they offer. Food is something that crosses boundaries of culture that is hard for many other things to cross.

  1. Which language or culture (excluding your own) do you admire and why?

Probably a little bias as I have Thai girlfriend, but I’d probably have to pick Thailand! The Thai language is so tonal and complicated that I find it so interesting to listen to. I also love the culture and everything that comes with the culture, like it’s awesome food, and its Buddhist temples.

  1. Name one materialistic desire/object you can’t give up?

Definitely my phone! I use it for contacting my friends, blogging, my entertainment. I’d be pretty lost without my phone. Although saying that, I did break my phone when I was in Central America and coped pretty fine without it then!

MY NOMINEES

  1. Karl from KHL, lifestyle and travel blogger
  2. Yukti from Travel With Me 24×7, travel blogger
  3. Mahima from Yahoo2info, A self-proclaimed “Jack of all trades.”
  4. Jeryn from Da Jay Way, shoe blogger
  5. Ivana from Red Riding Hood, travel blogger

QUESTIONS FOR MY NOMINEES

  • What is your favourite country that you have visited?
  • What’s the number one thing you have learned about blogging?
  • Are you an adventurous with your food choices? Name the most unusual thing you’ve consumed and name something you won’t eat.
  • If you could do any job in the world what would it be?
  • Where was the first country you visited?
  • If you had unlimited money what would you do with it?
  • If you could live in one country (other than the one you currently live in) where would it be, and why?
  • Wheres the number one place you haven’t visited yet?
  • If there is one thing that you could change about your blog what would it be?
  • Have you made any real friendships out of blogging?
  • What’s the worst experience you have ever had?

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