Vietnam: Climbing The Mountains of Sapa

After returning from Ha Long Bay to Hanoi for the night, we woke up again at 6.30am to leave to Sapa. A six-hour bus journey into the mountains takes you to a hotel for a one-night stay. However, the bus was incredibly cramped as we were stuck right at the back where its almost like mattress. If you are going to take a bus to Sapa from Hanoi make sure you are one of the first ones on so you can guarantee yourself a comfy seat in a normal sleeper seat.  The hotel we stayed at was amazing and for us very luxurious. Staying in a 6 bed room where only the three of us stayed, meant that we had lots of space to just chill out and have a good nights sleep. The hotel offered a motorbike rental scheme, which we decided to take advantage of and visit some waterfalls, as well as Sapa’s breath-taking mountain range views. Note if you are renting bikes in Vietnam (or most countries in South-East Asia), please be careful when riding as the roads are crazy and the rules most Westerners have grown up with do not apply. One of us was forced to fall off a bike when a lorry decided he didn’t want to wait any longer to pull out in front of us, but luckily escaped with no injuries. It was a shame we couldn’t say the same about the bike!

The next day a local guide came to our hotel and took us to the starting place of our two-day expedition through the mountains. The treks last most of the day but we did have some free time to swim in the river and grab a bite to eat. The trek is phenomenal and give you the opportunity to see Sapa in its true glory. Some of the sights were memorising, and quite frankly out of this world. There aren’t any hotels or hostels in the mountain ranges of Sapa, so your only chance of a bed for the night is a homestay, provided by the locals who live there. After finally reaching our home stay late in the day we got food and got to know the people we trekked with better. The locals who host you are really friendly and make you feel very welcome. They serve some western food but mainly Asian cuisine. They also offer rice wine, which if anyone has ever tasted before it is something to miss.  I would recommend getting an early night however, as you will be trekking again all day until you come back out of the mountains and get another six-hour bus journey back to Hanoi.

After trekking for 6hours, mainly up steep hills and then back down steep slopes, we eventually arrived at our tour guides home where his family served us dinner before we left for our coach back to Hanoi. The hospitality of the guide and the locals were more than we could ask for and really added to the whole experience. By the time we got back to Hanoi, it was late at night and as we had to get up early to leave for the Buffalo Run we decided to get an early night and go to bed.

View the rest of our Vietnam pictures here.

India: A Roller Coaster Experience

As the title probably explains, India is a crazy experience with so much happening at once. India for the three of us was like a roller coaster of highs and lows, one minute you just wanted to go back to Southeast Asia and the next, you never wanted to leave. The main problem we had in India happened straight away, by getting scammed in New Delhi. However, we tried to be as open minded as possible and tried to enjoy the rest of our stay.

Arriving from Tokyo in the early hours of the morning, like most travellers, we just wanted to get to our hostel and sleep. However, the next couple of hours were the most unexpected and most annoying of our travelling lives. As were in our taxi to our hostel, we came across some police barriers where a guy told our taxi driver that we could not pass due to the riots. He continued to explain, that he should take us to a tourist information centre, where they would help us out and find us a new hostel. However, what did happen was a (seemingly) nice and helpful Indian man scammed the three of us out of £60 each. He did this by saying that we needed to leave the city as there were no point in staying in Delhi as the riots meant most of the city was closed. He also encouraged us to phone other hotels up, where he would dial the number and the person down the line would quote us hundreds of pounds per night. What we later found out, was that it was just a person in the other room and that there were many people in on the scam. In the end we ended up paying £60 each for a taxi to Agra, which obviously really frustrated us. Nevertheless, we found out that many people who chose not to pay, later were mugged of all their belongings, so we were glad that we only paid £60. It seems many people are falling for this scam all across India, and our only advice would be if this happens to you just get out at the point where you’re not “allowed” to cross, before you’re too far in.

After being scammed and being really annoyed, we decided to enjoy our time in India and make Agra our first proper stop. We started our day by hiring a day’s long tuc-tuc so we could tour the city. Our tuc-tuc driver recommended a lot of different places that we should visit. Firstly, we visited Akbar’s Tomb which personally we didn’t think was that good. As the name says it was just a tomb, and not something we would recommend going out of your way to see. However, as it was part of our tuc-tuc tour we didn’t mind doing it. Afterwards, we visited Mariam’s tomb, but only from the outside gate as Vickie, our tuc-tuc driver, said it was not worth paying to get in as there was nothing inside. One of our favourite parts of the day was going to a Sikh temple and meeting some of the nicest people we will probably ever meet. Vickie told us that we could get a free meal here, but as we didn’t know what to expect we walked in to look where to pay. As soon as we went inside, people came up to us giving us free food, and water. Without even asking, they kept refilling our trays until we didn’t want anymore. We all agree that the Dal we eat was one of the best meals that we have ever had (although very spicy). It’s not compulsory, but we did leave a donation as we enjoyed the hospitality we received. We finished the day by going to Mehtab Bagh gardens opposite the Taj Mahal for the sunset. The friendliness and hospitality we received from different people was really what we needed after being scammed.

The next day we again chose to do a day tour with Vickie where we would go and visit the big attractions in Agra. We began by visiting Agra Fort which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Costing 550 Rupees, about £6, I have to say was really good value for money. Agra Fort was one of the best attractions we visited in India. After spending nearly 2 hours walking around the Fort and its surrounding gardens, we set off to visit the Baby-Taj. As the name suggests it’s literally just a smaller version of the Taj Mahal, but it was actually really cool to visit and again like the Fort, walk round the surrounding gardens. Here we also met some Indians who were jumping into the Yamuna river, where it was absolutely filthy. Vickie found our reaction funny as he said most people bathed and washed their clothes in this river. Our last stop on our day tour was at Chini-Ka-Rauzah, which is older than the Taj Mahal. We really did like this place as it was filled with spectacular gardens, walkways and history. Everything that we did during our second day in Agra we would fully recommend for anyone to do.

During our last day in Agra, we woke up early so we could visit the Taj Mahal for sunrise. As we had already visited the gardens opposite for sunset, we decided that it would be better to see the sunrise so we could see them both. However, unlike the gardens, the entrance fee into the Taj Mahal is 1000 rupees for foreign visitors. We expected that when we got inside we would never be able to look at it properly, or take a good picture, as there would be so many tourists. Surprisingly, this was not the case, and it was actually really enjoyable to see the views of the city and of the Taj itself. We must have spent around 3 hours at the Taj Mahal, seeing what can only be described as the perfect sunrise. Seeing the sunrise at the Taj Mahal was truly an incredible experience, and we can fully appreciate why the Taj is a World Wonder. As we were leaving Agra that day to catch a train to Jaipur, we stayed at one of our favourite local restaurants playing games and trying to eat as much Indian food as possible. The restaurant is called “Good Vibes Cafe”, and we would recommend this restaurant to anyone, as the food is good and cheap, and the the owner is very friendly.

We had already pre-booked our train from Agra to Jaipur, and this is an important thing to remember as Indian trains get booked up months in advance. The only problem with this is, that when there is a delay all you can do is wait. Annoyingly, our train was delayed for 8 hours and meaning we didn’t get the train until 2.30am. As you can imagine, by this time we were knackered due to waking up extremely early to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Arriving in Jaipur in the early morning, we decided to just sleep as soon as we got to the hostel. Before sleeping we had arranged a tuc-tuc tour of the Amber Fort and Jal Mahal as we only had one day in Jaipur. Due to this, we wanted to prioritise the main attractions from our original plan. Although we really enjoyed the short time we had in Jaipur, we really do wish we could have spent more time here and is somewhere that we would like to return too.

Flying to Goa the next morning, meant we had to try and arrange a taxi in the early hours. The problem with this is we struggled badly trying to organise anything. The hostel said it booked several taxis all for them to cancel our booking. This meant that we were cutting it really close with missing out flight. But luckily, we managed to find in the end. Some advice would be, if you need to get a taxi early in the morning make sure you give plenty of time so you don’t miss a flight or bus etc. When we got to Goa we had a really strange experience where during our taxi ride, our taxi driver got out off the taxi and started arguing loudly with another driver. We were told that the South was much more chill than the North but at first this did not seem the case. However, during our stay in Goa where we stayed at a beach resort to just unwind before ending our 13 week Asia trip, it was one of the most chill places we have been. Even though we really didn’t do much in Goa as we just wanted to relax on the beach, it was exactly what we needed.

During our trip to Goa, we also decided to take a 10 hour ride to Hampi. What we can say is about Hampi, is it is a MUST DO! Hampi was beyond incredible, from all its different temples and it’s Palace, to all its different random rock formations, Hampi was a traveller’s paradise. Hampi, like Fuji and Pai really felt like a proper travelling place and not just a tourist destination. This is why Hampi was such an incredible place, because not everyone goes to Hampi, which means the things you do and see aren’t setup for tourists, and also aren’t overpriced.

India is a place which for us is filled with many different emotions and feelings. During our stay, it was a place that gave us a lot of frustrations, such as being scammed and our train being delayed 8 hours. However, seeing the Taj Mahal and being able to experience places like Hampi, Goa and Agra were incredible. Many different we met during our trip kept telling us that you cannot prepare yourself for India, which may not be useful information. But when it comes to India it really is a roller coaster experience because you never know what is going to happen next. What we can say is visiting India really makes you appreciate so many different aspects of your life, giving us a better understanding of extreme poverty (although it really isn’t all poor), as well as different cultures and just helping us become better travellers in general.

View the rest of our India pictures here.

 

 

 

Siem Reap: Cambodia’s Gem

After a 6hour bus trip from Phnom Penh, the three of us finally arrived in Siem Reap. Unfortunately, one of us was ill during our last day in Phnom Penh so as we arrived we chilled in the hostel, appropriately called the Siem Reap Hostel. We would recommend this hostel for anyone who wants to chill but also meet people! The hostel is really big, has its own happy hour deal and a big pool. Additionally, the hostel offers many tours which are easy to sign up to and transport to other places around Southeast Asia.

After chilling and settling into our new place, we finally met up with our friend that had already been in Cambodia volunteering for 5 weeks. During the night we hit Pub Street which is the go-to place for anyone wanting to have a great night. Pub Street has many bars, clubs and restaurants and the drinks are super cheap! During our first night, we visited Temple Bar which had its own live music and bean bag sitting area on the open air top floor. Beers were about US$1, which is actually at the upper end of the price range! This was really chill and enjoyable, and it set the tone for the rest of our travels in Siem Reap. There’s also a night market pretty close to pub street and the hostel which is worth checking out.

The next day we wanted to try something different than just looking at temples or what we have experienced on our trip so far. Max and his volunteering group asked us if we wanted to join them driving quadbikes around Siem Reap. We didn’t hesitate to accept! Although this may not be for everyone, we absolutely loved it. What made it even better was it started pouring down with rain which meant that it was more slippy which made it more fun! During our quad bike adventure, we mainly stuck to the rural parts of Siem Reap, which were stunning. Staying in the rural areas also meant that many times we got the opportunity to really go full throttle, allowing the whole experience to be more enjoyable.

Quads

Something that we really wanted to do and were incredibly excited about was a Cambodian cooking class. As we previously mentioned in our Phnom Penh post, Cambodian food was incredible. This cooking class only proved to us how amazing the food was. The cooking class was split up into different sections. You originally get picked up at your hostel and drive to a local village where you give them food as an offering, and in return, they show you around their home, and how they grow and cook their own food. The money you spent on your cooking class goes into the local villages who provide the school with the food in the first place. This was one of the reasons why we were so happy to do the cooking class, as we were helping the local village as well as educating ourselves on how to cook local Cambodian food. We got to cook minced fish sticks, a Cambodian yellow curry, and a rice desert referred to as a cake to locals, but I would say it was more of a cross between a pancake and a waffle. We even were given a cookbook to keep the recipes we just followed and more. It’s safe to say that this is something we recommend any food lover to give it a go.

We also visited the Siem Reap circus, which again the money goes into educating the people who perform in the circus. Cambodia has many schemes like this where the money you pay directly goes back into educating people. Although at first, the circus seemed quite expensive, around $20. It was totally worth it, as for over an hour and a half you were constantly entertained and we really could not recommend this enough. I think we laughed for the whole time, and it was such an enjoyable activity.

We were recommended to visit Phnom Kulen Mountain by our friend Max who had already visited. However, even though we enjoyed our visit here, we had already pre-booked our tour before visiting. Although we got to visit some temples along the way as well as getting our food included, this was very expensive, and I would suggest not to pre-book a tour beforehand, something we have spoken about numerous times in our past articles.  The recommendation from Max was good and if we had just booked a tour to get there through our hostel we would have saved a lot of money. Our tour was about £90 each when we booked, and although we got a private car, tour guide (who was very good), and $10 back to spend on lunch, we could have probably got a tour for less than a third of this price. Nevertheless, Kulen Mountain is definitely worth a visit. The waterfall is stunning, and you can also take a swim! Just don’t repeat our mistake of trying to swim underneath the waterfall itself, there’s a lot of water and it feels like you’re being slapped! Phnom Kulen is considered a sacred mountain, as shown by the huge Buddha at the top, so obviously be respectful.

One of if not the biggest reason for visiting Siem Reap is to see Angkor Wat, and even if this isn’t the purpose of your visit you really must give it a day. Built in the early 12th Century, Angkor Wat is the biggest religious structure in the world, earning its title as one of the world wonders, and truly makes for a spectacular visit. Many people think that Angkor Wat is a Buddhist temple due to Cambodia being a predominantly Buddhist nation. However, although some of the smaller surrounding temples are Buddhist, Angkor Wat is a Hindu temple. Usually, people go for sunset or sunrise as it makes for a fantastic view and picture opportunity. We decided to go for sunrise, but unfortunately, the weather let us down and it was very cloudy, somewhat degrading the experience. Nevertheless, it was still incredible to see Angkor Wat in the dark and slowly being lit up. Another plus is that when its dusk, it’s easier to get a picture without capturing many people in your pictures, as there are so many people who go and visit Angkor Wat. Whilst visiting Angkor Wat we also saw the other Angkor Temples, known as for example, Bayon, Baphuon, the Terrace of Elephants and Ta Prohm.  After Angkor Wat, our favourite was Ta Prohm. Given the nickname the ‘Tomb Raider Temple’ after Angelina Jolie visited to film for the 2001 movie, Ta Prohm is hidden in the jungle, somewhat isolated from most of the other Angkor Temples. What made this temple really stand out from the rest was how it had aged over the centuries. Huge trees have grown up through the temple, and though some people might argue that the ‘damage’ has ruined the temple, it really added to the authenticity for us. Although it was an incredible experience visiting all these temples, it does get repetitive later in the day. After spending hours and hours visiting these temples we did decide to call it a day as we didn’t want to ruin our experience. This is something we would say to look out for as some people have said they found it a little ‘boring’ after making the effort to see all of the temples. The guidebook we had, said it recommended devoting at least 3 days to the temples, but if you get up for the sunrise like we did, I think one is sufficient unless you really would like to see all of them.

On our last day in Siem Reap, we took a motorbike tour around the city and its rural areas, so we could experience and understand Cambodian culture better. During our tour, we visited a local school, where our money was going to provide the school with teachers, textbooks and equipment. Like the cooking class, this was one of the reasons why we were happy to pay for the tour. We also visited local rice fields, cattle farms as well as other local Cambodian agriculture in order to understand why Cambodia is a farming nation and the development that is taking place within Siem Reap. At the end of our tour, we were asked to donate a sum of money that we thought was adequate for the tour, as well as going to help the school develop. Minimum donations are $50 which may sound expensive. However, we did have an entire day motorbike tour, free food, and the money goes to a great cause! As you know from our other posts, if something is not worth it, or overpriced we aren’t scared to say it. Nevertheless, this tour was genuinely worth at least $50!

To end our stay in Siem Reap, we again hit pub street with Max and his friends from his volunteering course. This time we went to the club area of Temple Bar, which was incredible and something we just didn’t expect from Cambodia. The nightlife down Pub Street is genuinely amazing and if you haven’t visited, or don’t plan on going then you’re missing out on a great aspect Siem Reap offers. Siem Reap was my favourite place in Cambodia, and one of my favourite places in Southeast Asia. If we hadn’t pre-booked our flights to Vietnam beforehand, we would have definitely stayed a little longer. Siem Reap is a great mix of chilled, friendly and crazy. Personally, I don’t think there’s anything more you could ask for!

View the rest of our Cambodia pictures here

Thailand: Islands and Krabi – Adventure Hard Party Hard

After having one of the best times of our lives in Vietnam for 17 days, (Vietnam: Home of Adventure) we finally left for Thailand. Initially, we were going to give ourselves a couple of days in Phuket but decided against this and headed straight to the islands. Arriving in Phuket late at night from Ho Chi Minh City, we went straight to bed so we would wake up early(ish) before getting a ferry over to Koh Phi Phi. The next morning, we checked out some markets in Phuket before heading over to the ferry point. Disclaimer: Before we set off on our travels, we had researched how to get from one island to another. We found very confusing information that made it sound very difficult and hard work. However, we got 6 ferries in total to all the islands and back to the mainland, and never experienced any issues and problems at all!

After arriving in Koh Phi Phi after a two-hour ferry journey, we headed over to our hostel. We had originally just booked a one-night stay at a hostel that I would not recommend. After we had checked in to our hostel, we decided to spend the rest of the day at the beach and just drink a few beers. This is one of the reasons that makes Phi Phi such a wonderful place to visit. In the daytime, you can just relax by the beach and then have a crazy night out.

The next day we checked into our new hostel where we would spend the next couple of days. I would definitely recommend Blanco Beach Bar hostel. This hostel offers trips, tips and a mad night every single night. From its fire dance shows, limbo competitions and its infamous hand grenade challenge, there’s no chance that you will not have a great night. As soon as we arrived, we signed up for their boat party. There are two prices you can pay either 1300Baht or 2000Baht. Obviously, we went for the 2000Baht, which included 10 free drinks after the boat party, a Blanco boat party tank top and a barbeque. Whilst on the boat party you can jump off the boat, snorkel and kayak, as well as meeting a load of new people that you’ll be spending the rest of the night with. It’s safe to say that the boat party is worth its money as you get drunk on the boat, as well as being able to “cash” in your 10 free drinks when you get back to the hostel.

After the boat party finished, we met up with one of our girlfriends and her friend, and one of our friends we had met in Cambodia. We’d like to say that we remembered the night. However, as you can imagine, the amount of drinking that is involved staying at Blanco’s means that night becomes hazy. What we know for sure is that there were a lot of drinks, party games and competitions. Even in our drunken state, we managed to come runners-up in the beer pong tournament. Our third and final day in Phi Phi started with a lay-in before walking around some of the shops. Later we headed to the beach where we relaxed all day, before “crashing” a pool party at the hostel next door. However, this wasn’t the best so we headed back to our hostel to get prepared to go to the viewpoint in the evening. To get to the viewpoint you have to climb hundreds of steps before finally getting there. Nevertheless, the view overlooking the island with the sun setting is phenomenal and definitely worth the climb!

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Back at the hostel, we decided as it was our last night, that we would attempt the Blanco’s infamous hand grenade challenge. For 600baht, you have to do shots of tequila, amaretto, jaeger, vodka and some even mixed with beer.  Safe to say we were all hammered after this. The good thing about staying at Blanco’s, is that the limbo competition means every time you do the limbo, you get a free shot (however it is watered down). Nonetheless, after you’ve been doing this for a long time it still gets you really drunk.

After a second crazy night out in Phi Phi, the five of us decided to get a ferry to Krabi and stay at Slumber Party Hostel. Known for being the best party hostel in Thailand, you can imagine what happened here. There’s only one word to describe Slumber Party – MAD. Free food at 8pm every night, quickly leads to getting people downstairs before free shots are dished out by the reps. A funny story was when one of us was showering, they came into the bathroom and poured a free shot into our mouth whilst we were showering. In other words, stay at this hostel if you want to party hard! The pub crawl here is immense. Paying onto the pub crawl gets you: Slumber Party tank top as well as a bucket of alcohol. (The bucket is literally just alcohol, or might as well be). The pub crawl leads you to several bars where the party doesn’t end and continues all night. The nights out that we experienced at Slumber Party were some of the best of our trip.

The second day at Krabi, we decided to do the hostels “Island Awesomeness” tour where you visit Krabi’s top beaches and go snorkelling. The first thing you do when you get off the boat at the beach is a shotgun at 10am. Safe to say many people struggled with this. Nevertheless, the day was packed with awesome stuff, from seeing the best beaches, going through caves to a secret swimming point and snorkelling. The cool thing we were shown when we were snorkelling, was to take some rice with us and squeeze it and all the fish would come. The only problem with this is, as we ran out of rice the fish started to bite us!! When we arrived back there was no time to relax, as we were forced to go on the pub crawl for the second night and enter the beer pong tournament. Unfortunately, we lost in the first round but we met loads of people so was worth it anyway. The second night we all got split up with one going home with a girl, one going home with his girlfriend and another “enjoying” his time with a lady boy…

 

The next day we took a flight from Krabi over to Koh Samui where we stayed at a hostel called Casa Luna. The hostel was very nice and the receptionist was ever so helpful. He recommended us to rent some bikes and explore some of the island. We only planned one night in Koh Samui as we had heard that it was overpriced and not worth it. However, if we had more time in Thailand we would have stayed for at least one more day as after a week of hard partying it was nice to just relax. During our stay in Koh Samui we drove to some waterfalls and trekked up the mountain to Na Muang Waterfall 2. This was awesome as we saw an amazing sunset with a stunning view. However, we would like to point out that when you get there, there is an option to take a truck to the waterfall. The people their claim its 30minutes away. But this is not the case!! They charge you 100baht to take you 2minutes down the road and then you have to climb for 30minutes. Do not fall for this scam! After we had finished watching an amazing sunset, we decided to head to a sports bar and watch some football before leaving for Koh Tao the next day.

Arriving in Koh Tao by ferry at early evening, we checked into our hostel, Taco Shack 1 and headed out for some food! We can recommend a fantastic restaurant called Seafood by Pawn. We enjoyed it so much we went back three times over the course of our stay in Koh Tao. The restaurant is usually really busy (a testament to how good it is) but the service is also really good! They serve excellent fish dishes as well as any Thai curry you could want. When you go to Koh Tao you can’t really come without trying diving. Our hostel was advertising trying some fun dives and this really interested us. One of us had already got their open water in Cambodia earlier in the trip and recommended it to us. If you book with Taco Shack 1, in the morning you are collected and driven over to the sister hostel Taco Shack 2 (The diving hostel). Here, we decided that we would go for two fun dives to see if we liked it or not. At the beginning, you learn the basics of scuba diving before heading out to a max depth of 12m. We enjoyed it so much two of us wanted to get our open water and one of us our advanced. However, the problem was we were leaving Koh Tao to head over to the half-moon party in Koh Pha Ngan the next day. Nevertheless, we decided to come back to Koh Tao after the half-moon party and take a diving course.

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Arriving in Koh Pha Ngan and staying at another Slumber Party Hostel, we quickly saw that we had made a huge mistake. Remember us telling you we wanted to go to the half-moon party? Well.. the half-moon party happened the day before we arrived. “Luckily” one of us was quite ill meaning that we would have missed it anyway as we always like to stick together. Nevertheless, it was an annoying mistake as we booked our stay at our hostel in Koh Tao in another two nights. As the island was pretty much dead, we decided to go and take on “The Challenge”. Like the total wipeout course you have probably seen on TV, there are obstacles that you must complete to get to the next level. We spent the entire day here and enjoyed it so much. The only problem is because it’s all upper body exercises, after spending five hours here we were dead. Still, when we got back to the hostel we headed out with some friends that we met and enjoyed a good night with the hostel!

After spending two nights in Koh Pha Ngan, we headed back to Koh Tao to start our diving course! The next couple of days in Koh Tao was spent with the two of us learning our open water courses, and the other, learning his advanced. Just a top tip, after saying in both Taco Shack hostels, I can honestly say that the Taco Shack 2 is a lot better. Although further away from the pier, it offers a great pub crawl and offers diving courses as well! The next three days were some of the best of the entire trip as diving is such a cool and incredible experience. We were all glad that we decided to head back to Koh Tao, even if it did leave us being skint. At Taco Shack 2 we met loads of people and got a good group together, where we went out and enjoyed the pub crawl! Passing our diving courses on our final day in Koh Tao was such a fantastic way to end our island experience. All three of us agree that Koh Tao was our favourite island and diving only added to that! Now we were leaving Koh Tao it was time to head to Bangkok and see the rest of Thailand.

View the rest of our Thailand pictures Here.

 

 

Madrid: A Special City

Madrid is such a wonderful city and is one of my favourite places to visit. Not only because it’s like a second home to me, but I love the chilled atmosphere of the city. There’s nothing quite as relaxing as sitting in a Spanish restaurant at night with a few beers. But Madrid is still a city with a great buzz about it. The city offers travellers so much and has a different feel from other European capitals. Madrid is a city that offers a true Spanish experience, with the seemingly infinite variety of different foods and its cultural history.

Paella

When we visit new places we try our best to try different foods and take part in different cultures. In Madrid one of our favourites things to do is just eat all things Spanish, whether that be tapas, paella or a Spanish omelette. If the best places that offers great Spanish food is the ‘Mercado De San Miguel’. The market has a wide range of traditional food as well as drinks for you to try. We have visited the market so many times and can really recommend this place for its food and atmosphere. Its a great place if you want to just chill, have some great food and have a drink or two. The market has a real Spanish feel too it and is really chill.

Mercado De San Miguel

What makes Madrid such a good city is that it is rich with culture and history. This means that there are so many different things you can do! You can choose to partake in flamenco dancing, a Spanish cooking class or enlightening yourself in its many art galleries. However, as we wanted to embrace Spain’s culture and history in one, we decided to visit the ‘Plaza Toros las Ventas’ – Bull Ring. Even if you do not like the idea of bull fighting, the tour was very educational and gave you a great idea of how the stadium was built and how the sport plays out. The tour is quite long so make sure you have plenty of time to spare if you want the full experience. The tour allows you to walk around the bull ring at your own pace whilst listening to an audio headset. Personally, we enjoyed the tour as it gave us a greater insight on how bull fights work, as well learning about the history of the sport and what it means for Spain.

Another must see sight in Madrid is the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is quite simply mind blowing. Whether you’re interested in the history, the art or the architecture, by the end you will be fascinated by all three. If you do visit the Palace, make sure you do not miss the armoury as it is made up of Spanish weapons from its past colonial empire. Each room in the Palace is decorated superbly and you really can see why it was the former Palace of the Monarchy. Unfortunately, you will not be rubbing shoulders with any Spanish royalty, as it is now used for ceremonies only. Again, if you want to truly appreciate just how good the Palace is, we would recommend giving yourself a couple of hours so you don’t have to rush anything. We spent a few hours here, even though some of us had been before. There is a lot to see, especially if you want to fully engage with the tour.

Royal Palace

You can’t mention Madrid without mentioning football. Real Madrid is not only the biggest club in Spain, but the biggest in Europe. With its recent domination of European football visiting the stadium is a must! If you’re a fan of football and/or basketball, then the Santiago Bernabeu is a paradise. The stadium tour allows you to see the stadium at your own pace and does not require a tour guide. This is very rare for football stadiums and makes the experience a lot more enjoyable. Having access to indulge in the history of one of the greatest footballing sides was a wonderful experience. The tour is very interactive and not a bore like some other stadium tours are. This is something that we would highly recommend visiting the stadium as it is so iconic to the city and Spanish history in general. The tour gives you a chance to take a picture of their 11 (now 12) European trophies all in one. However, as someone who does support Real, then I could be quite biased.

During our stay, we took a short-day trip to Toledo via the train, a small Spanish city close to Madrid. Whilst in Toledo we ate at more Spanish restaurants as well as visiting its castle. The castle is a bit of a walk away from the train station (it doesn’t help that we got lost) but is certainly worth the effort. The castle grants the opportunity to take pictures of some stunning views that are a must see! We really enjoyed visiting Toledo as it was something completely different from what we have done whilst visiting a capital city. Toledo also has a magnificently designed cathedral that you should visit if you have the time. As someone who has now studied the Spanish Civil War at University, learning about the history of the Toledo during this period was an eye opener for me looking back at my time spent there. Toledo is historically an interesting city and is definitely worth checking out!

Toledo

As someone who has visited Madrid many times the amazing atmosphere and buzz you get from the city never disappoints. However, this was the first time that I had gone with my friends and not my family, and I was finally old enough to drink. What surprised us was that Madrid has an incredible nightlife. It was such a pleasant surprise as we were not expecting just how good It would be. Like a lot of other cities and if you will know if you have read some of our other blog posts, we would recommend signing up to a bar crawl online or at your hostel for the best exposure to what a night in Madrid has to offer. The pub crawl took us to some of the best bars and clubs in the city and made the night out one to remember.

 Madrid is such a wonderful city and we would recommend anyone to go over a lot of other cities. Whether it be for a weekend or more, you will not run out of things to do. Madrid is a city that can give you whatever you want. If you like the chilled atmosphere, then Madrid can give you that. Most restaurants, squares and markets are some of the most relaxed places we have visited. However, if you like a city that is on the move, upbeat and eccentric then Madrid can give you that!

View the rest of our Madrid pictures here.

 

Amsterdam: A Capital on A High

Well known for its canals, bikes and coffee shops, home to the famous red-light district and amazing art galleries, Amsterdam is a city with a lot to offer. Having been to Amsterdam twice, we can say that for us Amsterdam is rather different to other European cities that we have visited. However, if we do have a criticism of Amsterdam, is that it can be over priced and sometimes over hyped.

Canal
Canal

Nevertheless, Amsterdam is still a great city if you’re looking for a weekend getaway. If you have the money, then Amsterdam really isn’t a bad place to spend it. One of the most enjoyable activity that we did whilst in Amsterdam is renting bikes. Cycling is a fantastic way to explore the city whilst soaking up those summer rays. We rented bikes for 24hours and spent most of the day riding from attraction to attraction, while seeing a lot of what Amsterdam has to offer. Bikes are reasonably cheap and make the city so accessible. Amsterdam has got lots of cycle lanes which make it a lot safer than cycling through the busy streets.  However, do be careful whilst on your bike as one of us rode into a local for being in the wrong cycle lane. For anyone from the UK, remember Europe drive/cycle on the other side of the road!

Bikes
Bikes

Amsterdam is well know for its night life and for people wanting to party. And if that’s what draws you to Amsterdam over its art galleries then perhaps stay in a party hostel. Why party hostels are so good is that you’re surrounded by people from all over the world who share your passion for travel, meeting new people and drinking. Amsterdam is full of travellers and there isn’t that many places in Europe better for meeting new people. Another reason why we stayed in a party hostel is that they usually have a night club or at least a bar, as well as organising their own pub crawls. This just makes your life so much easier as you don’t have to worry about finding the best bars or clubs, as the hostel just does that for you.

If you enjoy drinking Heineken, then there is no better place to go then the Heineken Experience. After walking around the brewery and learning how Heineken is made, you get given two Heineken beers at the end of your visit. Answer the questions you get asked and be rewarded with more free beer! You can spend as much time as you like in the brewery, and there are many side exhibitions such as having a photo of you taken virtually winning the Champions League trophy as well as playing FIFA against your friends. If you’re a big beer and football fan, then the Heineken Experience should be high up on your priority list. This was probably our favourite activity that we did in Amsterdam. As all of us are mad football fans and love to drink beer, both combined made for a pretty good day!

Heineken Experience
Heineken Experience

Another great alcoholic experience is the Ice Bar. The Ice Bar brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘A cold one’. The Ice Bar is a unique experience where you’re given the chance to stand, drink and get your picture taken in minus 9°C temperatures. After you have finished your drink smash your ice glasses together and enjoy any drink of your choice back in the warmth. Warm coats and trousers are provided for your visit so don’t worry about getting too cold! Unfortunately, one of us accidentally spilled the others drink all over them, and at 10+euros a drink, they’re not that cheap to replace. Luckily, it was a free drink.

Turning back to football now, Amsterdam is home to one of the great European clubs. Ajax are four time champions of Europe and their Amsterdam Arena is not too far away from the city centre. The Amsterdam Arena was a great chance to learn about Ajax and its history in the Netherlands and in Europe. However, we did think that the tour was quite long but that isn’t necessarily a criticism. After the tour, you have the chance to buy any Ajax memorabilia that you would like to take home or just continue to browse around the arena.

Our experience of the nightlife in Amsterdam is a bit of a mixed bag. In other European cities, we have regularly signed up to the pub crawls as they really have made our nights amazing. However, the one we signed up to at our hostel was a little disappointing. One of the reasons for this was because we were so hyped due to how good Lisbon was, that we thought Amsterdam would live up to the hype. Unfortunately, this was not the case as it only took us to really small bars and you didn’t get many free drinks for the money you paid like other cities. Nevertheless, the pub crawl did attract many people and offered a great chance to get to mingle with people from around the world. With all being said, we did have some great time in Amsterdam, and depending on what you’re wanting from your night, Amsterdam can be a great night out.

Let’s be honest one of the reasons many people go to Amsterdam is to smoke weed, see the red-light district and the night life. If you’re reading this and thinking “Yes, that’s me!” then you’ll be happy to know that coffee shops are all over the city. No matter where you are you’re always close to a coffee shop. If you just want to have a chilled-out day, then visiting one or a few of these is a way to accomplish that.

Amsterdam Central Station
Central Station

Finally, Amsterdam’s escape rooms are something a little different that you might want to try. If you’ve never heard of an escape room, it’s a room where you have to complete a series of tasks to get out. After first completing our first one in Riga, we got quite addicted to trying them. The Amsterdam one was great fun (We won’t go into detail to avoid spoilers should you want to try it), and we would recommend trying one! Although they can be a little pricey, if you have an hour to burn then it’s a great away of passing the time and testing your knowledge with your friends.

Although a bit on the expensive side, Amsterdam can offer you a different type of experience to other capital cities in Europe, with many different opportunities for you to explore. If you’re looking for a short weekend getaway then Amsterdam can certainly be a great one!

View the rest of our Amsterdam pictures here.

Lisbon: A Capital With It All

Lisbon has everything travellers could want from a place. There are so many different aspects of the city for you to explore. For us, what made this city so unique was how they all play such an integral part in making Lisbon one of the best places we have visited. We don’t say this lightly, as we have been to some amazing places around the world. But Lisbon has that spark that some places just don’t have.

Beach fun
Lisbon Beach

What’s great about Lisbon is that it’s a capital city with beaches very close by. As we all like the beach, it just gave us another reason to choose to come to Lisbon. Originally, we wasn’t going to come to Lisbon. However, we had a couple of friends who said that we should definitely go to Lisbon as its such a great city. A couple of weeks later, we were experiencing for our selves just how amazing Lisbon is. If you do want to go to the beach then just take a short trip to the nearest beach via Lisbon’s metro network; I’d recommend Cascais. Lisbon has many incredible beaches nearby with some great beach bars but after visiting some of them, Cascais stood out as the best.

On our way to the beach, we decided to buy a small beach ball to play football and water sports. As you usually do at a beach, we used the time to relax, go for walks and get a tan. If you’re feeling hungry there’s a large selection of top quality beach bars and restaurants that you can visit. As surprising as it may sound, we had one of the best Lasagnes whilst on the beach in Lisbon!

Famous Lasagne
Famous Lisbon Beach Lasagne

If you have adequate time, we would highly recommend spending some of it looking at other cities that are near Lisbon. We decided to visit Estoril but there are many other great Portuguese cities that you could visit. Why we wanted to visit Estoril is because it is just a short train ride from Lisbon. When you get off the train the first thing you will see is the famous Hotel Palacio that inspired Ian Fleming to write Casino Royale – for any Bond fans out there. Whilst in Estoril there are many beaches that you can choose from to relax. Like Lisbon, you have a large variety of bars and restaurants on the beach to choose from should you get peckish. We would have visited Estoril again if we had more time as it was such a fantastic place to relax.

Estoril
Estoril

Back in Lisbon, you have many activities to choose from. Personally, Lisbon castle was one of the best that we have ever gone to. However, saying that we must be honest and admit that we haven’t gone to that many. But that being said, from talking to other people it is highly talked about. Although you have to climb a lot of stairs to get there, and we mean a LOT of stairs, when you finally get to the summit the view is worth the effort. Entry to the castle is €10 (with student discount) but it is worth the price. The castle offers magnificent views of the city and offers an interesting walk around the castle grounds. If you go in the summer, there’s also an ice cream van within in the castle walls that we can thoroughly recommend. After climbing 100’s of steps in the boiling heat, sitting down and looking at the spectacular view always goes down well with an ice cream. After the trip to the castle, we would recommend going to Bairro Alto to get a beer. Bairro Alto is a neighbourhood near the castle with lots of pubs and bars which is definitely worth a visit.

Another wonderful place you can choose to visit whilst in Lisbon is the Jeronimos Monastery. The Jeronimos Monastery is an incredible piece of architecture. Just one stop away from Lisbon, the monastery can easily be accessed via train, tram or bus. If you appreciate architecture or religion then the Jeronimos Monastery will appeal to you. The grounds are very big and the Monastery itself is very informative. If you’re a student you get student discount on your entry fee.

If you’re a football fan then you might want to visit Benfica’s stadium – Estadio da Luz. Benfica’s stadium was designed by the same architects that built Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium. Benfica is one of the biggest clubs in Portugal and as former European Champions the stadium tour allows you to experience the stature of the club. Whether you’re a fan of Benfica or just of football in general, the stadium tour was very interesting and it allowed you to sit in the stands as well as the dugout. After paying for a lot of stadium tours around Europe, we have to say this was one of our favourites.

We are the first to admit that we were surprised by Lisbon’s nightlife. It was amazing! Many people might sneer at this suggestion, but if you decide to go to Lisbon, you will see that there isn’t anything to sneer about. If you like signing up to pub crawls whilst you’re away, we would recommend: “http://lisbonpubcrawl.com/”. For just 15 euros you can get free entry into pubs, clubs and an hour unlimited beer or sangria. We’d highly recommend the free beer if you’re stuck on what to choose. This pub crawl really is epic. It attracts hundreds of people every night and is very well organised. We met so many people that we even met a friend for life that eventually moved over to the UK! The reps who organise the crawl are interested in one thing: getting you as drunk as possible. In fact, we enjoyed it so much we went back 3 nights in a row (to different pubs and clubs each night). The great thing about Lisbon is you can drink on the streets. This mean you don’t have to finish or waste your drink.  We wanted to go on their party boat adventure the next day, but unfortunately that was the day we were leaving for Amsterdam. It takes a lot when people are sad for leaving for Amsterdam.  What we can say about this pub crawl is if you like cheap booze and meeting new people then we would highly recommend it.

Overall, Lisbon is an amazing city and somewhere that we would re-visit in a heartbeat. We thoroughly enjoyed the day time activities with the beach, the sun and experiencing the true feel for Lisbon through its history. The nightlife only added to the euphoria of the place. It’s another place everyone should visit.

View the rest of our Lisbon pictures here.