Getting Stuck in Vegas (or, Adventures at the Tod Motor Motel)

After staying for three days at The Excalibur, which FYI is a gigantic and fantastically tacky castle-themed hotel and casino at one end of the South Las Vegas Boulevard, the plan was to venture in the vague direction of the Grand Canyon and continue from there, moving onwards across America in a joyous semi-pioneering fashion. What we didn’t plan for is suddenly having access to our money stopped (owing to simultaneous problems with our cards), giving us no option but to stay in Vegas indefinitely, and no longer in the giant fake castle, but instead at an equally cool-looking but potentially cockroach-infested motel. This, my friends, is the harsh reality of long-term travel: it doesn’t always go to plan and it definitely isn’t what it always seems on instagram. No way, José. Continue reading

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One Day in Porto

It was quite a surprise to be in Porto, I’ll tell you that for free. I was supposed to have left for home a few days earlier so when our ship docked at the port of Leixões, I made my way as early as possible to the closest tram station to enjoy a grand day out in a city I knew hardly anything about. When I say I knew hardly anything I mean: basically NOTHING AT ALL. I didn’t even know how to buy a tram ticket to be honest, so spent a good five minutes holding up the queue fumbling with all my change and trying to work out which ticket I needed (not even knowing the direction the city is in is, let’s face it, a poor start). But you guys, I only went and bloody made it there didn’t I!? And what a beautiful city it is, too. Located in Northern Portugal, Porto is Lisbon’s sleepier sister, still filled with nooks and crannies but with a slightly less urban feel. Despite my prior lack of knowledge about this beautiful city, I’m proud to say that with limited time I still managed to learn some stories and get a taste of what awesomeness Portugal’s second city has to offer.  Continue reading

Getting to Know…Geiranger

The first time we sailed into Geirangerfjord, it was the end of April. I awoke pretty darn tootin’ early, threw on what I considered to be warm clothes, and made my way up to the bow of the ship (that’s the front, pals) in order to witness the marvel of the mountains. It truly was marvellous. There was an eerie mist surrounding us- very Pirates of the Caribbean, you know the opening scene with the little girl singing?- with the surrounding mountains just visible beneath, looming up to the sky on either side of us. They were still covered in snow, giving the whole experience a tinge of being in a mildly sinister yet epic black and white film from decades ago, with the ship calmly cutting through the calm dark water below us. Crazy. We passed the Seven Sisters waterfall; seven icy cascades of water plunging down from the top of the snow-capped peak…it was pretty full on AWESOME. Also pretty full on cold, so I needed to retreat and reappear with several more layers. As we rounded a bend in the fjord, the shroud of mist lifted slightly and we could see the tiny village of Geiranger at the dead end full steam ahead. Over the next few months we returned to the village every ten days, seeing it slowly change as the snow almost entirely melted, blossom appeared on the trees, and then the full bloom of Summer, before it started to retreat into Autumn again. So here, in all its glory, is what I have to say (or write,even) about Geiranger. Continue reading

How to Live it Up in Vegas (Even If You’re Not a High-Roller) 

Las Vegas is both hilarious and insanely amazing…GOOD. LORD!  If I had to write a tag line for this city it would be ‘like Disneyland for gamblers and alcoholics.’ And although I wouldn’t describe myself as either of those it was to my own astonishment that I was fully in my element when we arrived by airplane one March morning. After leaving the cool air of San Francisco we flew over mountains and desert, finally coming in to land over the bizarre turrets of our castle-shaped hotel- The Excalibur- and he Luxor’s pyramid and Sphinx.  I never thought about how surreal the idea of all these massive Disneyland-esque buildings in the middle of the desert really is.  One of the most surreal sights I’ve ever seen, actually.  I’m still laughing. Nothing but rock for miles and miles, then suddenly- BAM- here’s a giant castle, the Statue of Liberty, and the Eiffel Tower smack bang in the middle of No-Man’s Land.  WHAT. A. LAUGH. There’s something about Vegas that just makes you want to throw all your money in the air and have a party in it wearing an outfit made entirely of feathers and diamonds. But, what if you do not have a pile of cold hard cash and a tacky outfit to prance about in!? Fear not, pals. I’m here to help.  Continue reading

The Beginners Guide to Trondheim

Let’s just get down to it straightaway: Trondheim is a proper old city, with strong Viking roots and Medieval heritage galore. Dating back to 997AD (you see- PROPER OLD), the City Formerly Known As Nidaros is Norway’s ex-capital and where the country’s kings have been crowned for centuries now. The fact that the majority of the city was once made of wood meant that unfortunately the whole place has burned to the ground many many times (awkward to say the least), but nowadays although there are many beaut wooden warehouses lining the river, the streets have been redesigned with wide open boulevards to prevent those fires spreading so darn tooting quickly. A wise move, I’d say. My time in Trondheim spanned several months in Summer, although in all honesty the weather was most similar to a rainy day in March on most of the days that I visited the city. Maybe this is a silly thing to note- it is in Norway, after all- but so many people have been taken aback by this information that I feel it’s worthy of a mention.  Continue reading

What to do in Funchal, Madeira

My pre-conceived idea of Madeira was that although in pictures it seems very beautiful, it’s also an island for mostly rich, retired people who want somewhere warm to hang out but also somewhere classier than your usual island getaway. (I.e. The Lanzarotes and Tenerifes of this area). Turns out, there is so much more to Madeira than I once thought!! (Although in terms of classiness, this definitely isn’t your Brits-Abroad, fry-ups and no integration with the locals type situation) This Portuguese island is to the West of the coast of Africa and slightly North of the Spanish Canary Islands, and it’s capital, Funchal, is where we docked every seven days. Although the rest of the island is packed full of things to do and places to see, I stuck to the city of Funchal (so called after the abundance of wild fennel that was growing there many years ago when settlers first arrived on the island) for the duration of my time, so here are the most awesome things that I found to do whilst there.  Continue reading

Climbing Preikestolen 

Right you guys…I was pretty lucky the other day, and I’ll tell you why. We’ve now been in Norway for around two months, it’s the height of Summer, and despite that we’ve mainly had two months of solid freezing cold and/or drizzle. It gets a bit miserable after a while, you know!? But the other day as we docked in Stavanger- a city in the South East of the country- the clouds cleared and the sun was blaring down like there was no tomorrow. I WAS LOVING LIFE AT LAST! A series of amazing events meant that we didn’t have to work that evening on the ship, so it was clearly destiny that that was the day we should VENTURE TO PREIKESTOLEN. For those not in the know about Norway’s natural sights galore, Preikestolen is basically a massive cliff which looms majestically over the Lysefjorden, and is currently one of the country’s most-visited natural tourist attractions (as we were just about to discover).  Continue reading

Exploring Normandy…a day trip to Étretat

We docked in Le Havre in Normandy every seven days, but under normal circumstances got no further than the city’s pebbly beach, stopping here and there for either coffee or crepes, and one particularly adventurous day for real live snails. (Actually, they weren’t alive, they were cooked in garlic butter but, you get what I’m saying!? REAL LIVE SNAILS!!) Le Havre is a nice enough place; France’s second biggest port, with some really beaut parks and gardens but also a whole lot of concrete architecture which sprang up after the Second World War, when almost the entire city was destroyed. It’s a confusing mixture of prettiness and concrete blocks if I’m honest, however this modern architecture put Le Havre on the map and it’s now recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage sight. Anyway, my actual point here is that we’d heard great things about Normandy’s countryside and were determined to get out of the city and explore further afield; so that, pals, is what we did!!

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Seven Days in San Francisco (Budget Edition) 

Having spent two weeks gallivanting around the glitz of LA and the surfers paradise of San Diego, it was a strange old feeling coming into San Francisco in the middle of the night after an all-day train journey to Oakland and then a bus ride from there into the city centre. In comparison to our first two stops on the trip, San Francisco seemed almost European!? This was partly due to the higgledy-piggledyness of the streets and partly to the fact that there seemed to be a very clear city centre which is easily navigable on your own two feet. And I’m proud to say that even though it was dark and scary outside, we managed to find the HI San Francisco Downtown quite easily as I had become a dab hand at copying maps off of hostel computers, in record timing might I add. (Our trip was so budget that Internet was only available in wifi hotspots or at pay-per-minute hostel computers, so you’ll understand now why this is the Budget Edition of things to see in San Francisco)

So…here we go pals. In no particular order, for those who are interested, these are my recommendations for how to explore San Francisco on a strict budget. (It’s totally 100% possible, trust)

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The Beginners Guide to La Palma  (Secret of The Canaries) 

Oh my goodness you guys. My incredibly pessimistic view on life is that if you have little to no expectations of people/places/things, you will rarely be disappointed (it may be pessimistic, but it also means I’m pretty much always having an awesome time by default). The island of La Palma is a PRIME EXAMPLE of this philosophy. Probably the lesser known island out of all the Canaries, it’s main industry is actually growing and selling bananas as opposed to tourism like the rest of the surrounding islands. There are few hotels there and not a massive number of international flights in and out, so the general atmosphere that I experienced there was far more laid back and natural-feeling than somewhere like Lanzarote or Tenerife. And although the island is volcanic, it is also incredibly fertile leading to tropical plants galore, bright colours all around, and obviously an abundance of bananas. (Miniature bananas at that)  Continue reading