London | Dining on Dim Sum at Royal China

It’s been a long time since I’ve eaten Chinese food, but anyone who has been following my travels through Asia will know how much I loved the food there. Asia food is one of my absolute favourite cuisines and something I just know I could eat every day for the rest of my life. I love how fresh, light and healthy it is, and I’m a huge fan of their colourful dishes whether Thai, Vietnamese or Cambodian. When it comes to Chinese food, I’ve always been a little put off by memories of greasy Chinese takeaways filled with stodge and feeling really sick after scoffing one. It put me off for years but when I was invited along to try out the special Dim Sum menu at Royal China’s Queensway Restaurant, I figured it was time to give Chinese food another try at one of Royal China’s eight restaurants.royal-china-queensway-restaurantWe were welcomed by the staff as we arrived and were taken to our table – I was astonished by the size of the restaurant, it was huge, but was told that it has recently been extended and yet still has queues out of the door some days. It seems Royal China is a bit of an institution in the area and after being there for 20 years, who can be surprised? You walk in and see a room filled with 85% Asian people and quite frankly you know the food must be good if they’re choosing to dine out here. I was impressed by the decor at the restaurant, instead of the bright and colourful designs of most Chinese restaurants they had gone for a much sleeker and more elegant look that really gave the place a great atmosphere for a dinner. We were just having lunch but already the restaurant was mostly full on a Monday lunchtime, you can understand how busy it must get at peak times.royal-china-queensway-barI really felt the restaurant would be a great place to come with a larger party, the tables are big and could easily seat bigger groups and if you ask me, Asian food is always great for sharing with friends. We ordered several items off the Dim Sum menu including the sesame prawn rolls and the plain Cheung Fun with peanut sauce, seafood pancakes and the roasted duck dumplings, then picked others off the larger menu such as the aromatic duck, the spicy prawn stir fry and the pak choi. The food was delicious and served quickly but goodness me there was a lot of it. It would definitely be a place to go with friends, between the two of us we struggled to eat everything but really enjoyed the flavours. Although I have to admit, I’m still not entirely sure what Cheung Fun is – it was a very strange dish I have never tried before. The service was excellent throughout and the staff kept coming over to check if we needed anything at all, or just to talk to us about the dishes.dim-sum-at-royal-china steamed-prawn-dim-sum-at-royal-chinaOverall I would say the restaurant was lovely, we really enjoyed the meal and the atmosphere of Royal China. But we did find the dishes rather expensive for the size of the meal, perhaps it would have been less noticeable if you were sharing the meal with a group and were sharing lots of dishes but for two people I think it would have been an expensive meal out if you wanted to taste several dishes. However, the food was of a very high standard and very well prepared, it wasn’t at all greasy and had lots of flavour. If you were going to eat Chinese food, this would be the place to do it. For me personally, I don’t think Chinese food is for me, I’m glad I’ve given it another shot but I think I’ll stick to Thai and Vietnamese food from now on. If you fancy trying out Royal China, you’ll find restaurants on Baker Street and in Bayswater, Fulham and Canary Wharf. More information about Royal China available online.steamed-chilli-pork-dumplings

Have you eaten at Royal China – what did you think? What’s your favourite Chinese dish? What other restaurants would you recommend in London?

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Travel | How travel can be the greatest healer for heartbreak

13912473_10153669362822617_8683319907628436864_nFirst of all, I want to thank all my lovely readers for their messages and emails lately. Especially to those who have pushed me to publish this post – it was the hardest one to publish for a very long time. It’s amazing to get feedback on the posts I write and I feel honoured that so many of you come to me for advice on everything from travelling to relationships. It seems incredible to think this blog started out as a hobby and now it brings me close to people all over the world who are going through the same things, and who are inspired to do the same things I have been. One of my most popular posts has been drawing a lot of new readers to my blog lately and I’ve had a lot of requests to write more personal posts, it’s something I’ve shied away from for a while because although I’ve had a lot to write about, sometimes it is difficult to find the words. But one topic that comes up again and again is “how do you cope with heartbreak?” It’s ironic that this keeps coming up so often when I’ve just had a fresh wave of this to deal with, but when better to talk about it?

Having your heart broken hurts. There’s no getting away from it. Even if you try to squash it down and pretend it’s not happening, it always comes back and hits you with a fresh wave of pain. I remember being in such physical pain after I had my heart broken the first time, my heart actually ached and I couldn’t get away from it, I couldn’t get it out of my head. Now after this past week, I’m feeling that pain all over again and I remember how hard it was to cope with the first time. It’s that hopeless feeling when you know there’s nothing more you can do and you can’t help but blame yourself. Last time it was in no way my fault, I had no regrets, but this time I can’t help but feel I could have stopped this happening even though I’m sure that’s not true. Heartbreak makes you question everything you thought you knew, including yourself. I hate that, that feeling that you can’t trust your own decisions, that you should have done something to stop it happening. It hurts more than anything I’ve ever experienced and there isn’t a painkiller strong enough to numb it. So right now, I’m officially worn out. My heart hurts and I’ve lost a lot of my fight and the excitement I had for life. But don’t worry, it’s not permanent – I’ve survived this before I sure as hell will again. I’m never one to mope for long and I’m already planning how I’m going to deal with this – two words, Bali & Australia!14191987_10153748497077617_2176329870460161678_nOne thing I’ve noticed about myself – and I’m not sure what this says about my psychology – is that when things like this happen, when a relationship breaks up or things don’t turn out the way I expect, my first instinct is to leave. When my nine-year relationship broke up and left me broken-hearted, my first thought was “I have to get out of here” and just like that, I booked a flight to the other side of the world. Just like now when I’ve just had my heart broken all over again and it’s pushed me to book those flights and get back out there. It’s an easy decision to head off into the unknown and I’m never scared at the prospect of travelling solo, let’s face it, it couldn’t be more painful than what I’m going through at home. It’s something I still love about being a backpacker, that if things don’t pan out – in relationships, work and life – then there was always the option to pack up and start again somewhere new. Perhaps that makes me sound flighty, or like I give in too easily, but I think actually it’s because I know when things are a lost cause. I know when I’m done.

I’ve come to realise over the years that I have a pretty good gut instinct and that I can always trust it when it comes to making decisions. I know we’re expected to stay and struggle through the hard times, that it will build character and something greater will come out of it in the long-run. Well I’ve done that, I’ve done it at work, in life, and in relationships. And yes, sometimes it is true, but also sometimes things are just lost for good and there is no saving them. The trouble is identifying whether there is anything left to fight for and knowing there is nothing wrong with just letting go. For me, I knew there was nothing left for me in my hometown both work-wise and relationship-wise so it was a no-brainer to start a new life somewhere else – it wasn’t running away, it was the best decision I ever made. Likewise now, I ended up booking my flights to Bali and then back to Australia and have less than a week until I leave, it’s not about escaping, it’s about going back to my real life after this tiny break.14184308_10153755995597617_4288620605281792800_nMy point is, we’re made to feel that running away is wrong and that it is lazy or cowardly to cut ties and leave. But actually, I think it can sometimes be the hardest and strongest decision to make. To be strong enough to cut a toxic friendship or relationship out of your life is hard and you’re brave for doing it. To cut and run from a job that is wearing you down is difficult and scary if you don’t have a back-up, but this is how some of the most successful people have built an empire. To pack up your life into a backpack and move to the other side of the world where you don’t know a single person is incredible. And for me, this was the biggest healer of all. Pushing myself far, far beyond the limits, taking myself out of my comfort zone and jumping in the deep end. Travel well and truly healed my heartbreak – it made me rely entirely on myself, it made me put my own happiness first, it taught me skills and scared me shitless. It brought countless new souls into my life – the kind of people that set my world alight and bring happiness into my world that I never knew existed. It gave me life-changing experiences that turned into stories, into memories that will last a lifetime. It gave me love, a much greater love for myself and for those around me.

Considering how much travel has given me, I don’t see it as running away to be leaving again. I see it as running towards the life I should be living. For those who have contacted me lately to ask how they can know whether they should choose a relationship or travel – I can’t tell you what to do. All I know is that travel has taught me more than any relationship ever has, it has introduced me to a life where I put myself first and where I’m driven by my needs, not empty wants. I may have less stuff than I have ever had, but my heart is fuller than ever and my head is full of thoughts that revolve around my passions, my ideas, my inspirations. Not about boys or worrying about others. It may sound selfish to some but after living for so many years always thinking of others before myself, it’s refreshing to really see the world laying just ahead of me. No baggage. No stress. This is what travel teaches you, this is what healed my heartbreak, realising that you can only live for yourself and not to keep others happy. And realising how short life is, and how huge the world is – that sure puts things in perspective for you.14232413_10153748468992617_6321713972258996034_nSince having my heart broken I’ve traveled solo through 12 countries, covered three continents and am actually about to hit my 30th country. I’ve built a whole new career around a passion, I’ve sacrificed one phone, one camera and a lot of dignity. I’ve had epic wild nights out, long days at work, healed myself both inside and out on multiple occasions, nearly died three times, made so many incredible friends, been extremely badly behaved at times, and helped others through some pretty tough stuff, I even fell in love which I really didn’t think was possible. I’ve been happier than I’ve ever been and discovered what I’m capable of, and what I’m not, and although my favourite word will always be YES, I’ve not been afraid to say no. In fact, I’ve not been afraid of any damn thing because life is for living and I’m doing just that. I’m a completely different person to the girl who went away to Thailand two years ago, and I’ve never been happier or stronger. So don’t you try and tell me that travel isn’t the greatest healer for heartbreak – I know it has changed my world. Let’s just hope this time it will heal my heart as well as it did the last time.

Has travel helped heal your heartbreak? Tell me about your experiences. What are your best cures for a broken heart?

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London | A taste of the AbFab lifestyle at The Mandeville Hotel

imageSo many bloggers focus on one type of travel, but for me that’s just not possible. You see, I like to vary my travelling style as much as I do my clothes. While sometimes I’ll be backpacking on a budget, I still see the importance and the fun in enjoying a slightly more luxury stay whether for a holiday or city break. For me, it’s all about finding that balance between big blowouts and treating yourself, to the times when you’re making every penny stretch. I find you appreciate one so much more when you’ve experienced the other, and you learn a heck of a lot more about money along the way. I was lucky enough to live the Absolutely Fabulous lifestyle of dreams last weekend when I was invited to review The Mandeville Hotel. In a collaboration with Maison Christian Lacroix, the entire fifth floor of this luxury boutique hotel was redesigned with each room telling a different story from the French Riviera, based on Maison Lacroix’s “Belles Rives” Collection. It was perfectly timed as the final weekend I would get to spend in London before I jet back off to the other side of the world, and as a couture treat before I head back to a life of hostels.imageimageSituated just a five minute walk from Bond Street Station, the hotel is perfectly located for a weekend of shopping and sightseeing. Actually, I was so impressed at how close it was to one of the busiest parts of London, and yet the hotel seemed a million miles away from the hustle and bustle. It was actually a lot more peaceful in the streets surrounding the hotel with people sitting out to eat and drink in restaurants. As we walked up to the hotel excited to experience the decadence of Lacroix, we were greeted by the friendly staff who offered to take our bags to the room and organise any restaurants or taxis we might require during or after our stay. As we headed up to our room, we were left to check out the fifth floor makeover. All the rooms have their own individual flair and style, from The Jardin Exotique to Midnight Blue telling the story of the secret midnight bathing society, all telling beautiful stories with inspirations from Lacroix’s upbringing combined with Grace Kelly’s ‘To Catch a Thief’.imageIf you’re like me and have grown up on the antics of Eddie and Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous, you’ll probably have been just as excited as I was when the new movie came out. So to get to stay in a hotel that was every bit as fabulous as the crazy pair was one of my best London experiences yet! You’ll see from the photos the decor was over the top in all the right ways and combined bright, clashing patterns and accessories with sleek designs to ensure maximum comfort. We were staying in The Jewel Box room, which combined Classic Lacroix with whimsical colours and bejeweled designs inspired by Grace Kelly’s stolen Cartier jewels. The lace and mantillas worn by women in The Camargue inspires the Macarena lace wallpaper around the room, balanced with classic Lacroix silver and black striped wallpaper, a true haven for fashion lovers. I was completely taken aback by the room when I walked it, it just screamed Absolutely Fabulous and I was so excited to be staying there. After the long journey, it was nice just to pop on the robes provided and have a coffee from the Nespresso machine in our room (I know where was the Bolly darling?!) and just take in the luxury.  Heading into the gorgeous white marble bathroom, there were a selection of lovely products there to enjoy as I got ready.imageimageThat night, after dinner and cocktails, we headed back to the hotel and I couldn’t wait to get a good night’s sleep. It turned out the room was the perfect place to relax on a Sunday evening, not a single sound from the street outside or the other rooms could be heard while we watched a movie. And when it was time for lights out, the room fell to complete darkness and silence. Combined with that incredible comfy bed and the lovely turndown service that had cleaned the room and organised the pillows for us, I was in heaven. It was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in weeks. I woke up with a big smile on my face and ready to take on the hotel’s breakfast – we’d been booked in for the full English breakfast with continental. Now I never normally order a full English breakfast so I was quite excited to have one for the first time in years – and I was so impressed with the high quality of everything on the plate, including the perfectly poached eggs. Plus over on the continental table there was plenty of fresh yoghurt, juices, fruit and muesli to choose from, as well as platters of croissants and pastries. It was the breakfast of dreams and with checkout not being until 12pm, I took advantage of the opportunity to go back to bed and catch up on even more sleep.imageimageI’d just like to say a huge thank you to all of the staff at the hotel for making our stay there exceptional. I felt so welcome from the second I walked in the door and they really worked hard to make sure every tiny detail was thought of and catered for. It really is a mark of excellence when you don’t have to think of anything the whole way through your stay and come away from a weekend in London feeling rested and content – normally my weekends there leave me feeling exhausted. The Mandeville Hotel is perfect for a luxury treat if you’re visiting London for a special occasion, at £317 a night for the room and full English breakfast, it is expensive but I can assure you it is worth every penny. Staying at the hotel is a whole experience that goes far beyond just a bed for the night, and one I would really recommend to anyone who fancies treating themselves. Find out more or book to stay at the website.

Have you stayed at The Mandeville Hotel – how was your stay? What other luxury hotels would you recommend in London?

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Travel | 5 cruises that will satisfy the adventurer in you

14264056_10153770394817617_8465574241067378914_nCall me a free spirit. Call me crazy if you want. But I’ve always been a spontaneous traveler. I remember the days when I would book a holiday months in advance and wait impatiently for it to creep round for two precious weeks of escapism and there was nothing wrong with that. It was my life for a long time and for many it is the only way to live around a full time job and family. But what really gets me going is spontaneous, unpredictable, exciting, adventurous travel. The thought of picking up and taking off in a heartbeat, waking up in a different city where no-one knows my name or my story. The is why I’ve always preferred travelling independently and not going on organised trips where everything is planned out – they can be great and I have friends who have raved about them. But for me, at this moment in my life, I need crazy wild adventures. I know there are so many out there like me, and I know how important it is to find ways to make travel as adventurous as can be, so when Planet Cruise asked me to write about my dream cruise experiences, I couldn’t resist thinking of ways to incorporate my adventurous side with an organised trip.

Lucky for me, Planet Cruise are a company that really does cater for everyone and they have a huge range of cruises on offer – from the coastline of the UK and the fjords of Norway, to the romance of the Indian Ocean and the sparkle of the Northern Lights. There is sure to be a trip that sets your wanderlust a wandering! For me, I wanted to focus on the cruises that really push boundaries, that would take me to far off climes and exciting new landscapes while giving me the opportunity to see them from a very different vantage point than that of an airplane window or a coach. So what are my top 5 cruises that will satisfy the adventurer in you? Well you’ll have to read on to find out!antarctic-penguins-dive

Antarctica

The ultimate for any traveler – this one is a serious bucket list item. Imagine reaching the ends of the earth where there is nothing but ice and penguins. To see a world almost untouched by man and vastly undiscovered. It looks so magical and really would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m a big nature lover and I think it would be absolutely breathtaking just to see this raw landscape with my own eyes, to see the ice walls, the spiralling snow and the bare land.galapagos-bay

Galapagos

As I said, I’m a serious nature geek and the Galapagos contain some of the most incredible creatures including one of my favourites – giant tortoises! I have a rescue tortoise living in my garden and am pretty attached to him, so the chance to see a giant version of him roaming free on these volcanic islands would be amazing. Plus a chance to explore with experts on the animals and environment would be a fantastic learning experience. A perfect place to step back in time while experiencing all the comforts of the modern age on board a ship.mombasa-kenya

African River

Imagine cruising down the Nile spotting hippos and crocodiles as you weave your way through Ancient Egyptian history. As someone who still remembers so clearly being fascinated by the Egyptians as a child, this would be an incredible experience. Seeing with my own eyes all those famous icons, the pyramids and the Sphinx that previously I had found among the pages of history books. Plus getting to experience an African safari would be the ultimate bucket list item.glacier-bay

Alaska

This breathtaking and captivating landscape sounds like one of the most exciting yet with a whole range of ways to experience this unique part of the world. This time your cruise will take you through glacier walls, allow you to sail alongside whales and experience the midnight sun. In a place where wildlife outnumbers people, there is no better place to see moose grazing on the fresh grass, eagles soaring and humpback whales breaking the water’s surface. With no fewer than 10 national parks to explore, there is no end of amazing sights to witness. And there’s be a huge range of activities available on and off board – you can experience everything from helicopter rides and dog sled rides to whale watching, forest ziplines and much more.santarem-brazil

South American River

A luxury cruise in South America would give travelers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Cusco, Lima and more on a Peruvian river cruise. Along the way there would be amazing sights along the Amazon with pink river dolphins, caiman, giant otters and many more unique local species. Step into Charles Darwin’s shoes by then extending the trip to include the Galapagos cruise experience as well.south-africaNow if that doesn’t get your adventurous taste-buds tingling, I don’t know what will – I know these trips would be enough to get me excited! Any chance to see such amazing creatures as penguins, giant tortoises and pink dolphins in the wild would be beyond my wildest dreams. And getting to explore everything from the icy, barren landscape of Antarctica to the lush, green Amazon and the dry, dusty shores of Africa would be an amazing experience. All these cruises, and many more, are available at Planet Cruise.

Have you been on a cruise – where did you go? How was your experience? Where would be your dream cruise go?

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Slovenia | Exploring the Primostek countryside with Big Berry

imageOne of the highlights of visiting Big Berry is getting a real taste of the Slovenian lifestyle against the incredible backdrop of the untouched countryside that lies just beyond the camp gates. My week was spent there visiting several local producers of beer, gin, oil and chocolate amid visits to viewpoints, hidden lakes and abandoned mills. We took breaks for delicious meals made from local ingredients including some of the best trout and carp I have ever eaten, fresh from the river that runs through the camp itself. I even had the opportunity to take a peek into the past when I visited an old fashioned Slovenian home to see how the people of years gone by would have lived, and the crafts and memories that remain.imageimageIt hit me when I was there, just how hard it is these days to find a landscape that is actually untouched and undamaged by commercialisation. There are few places left in this world you can truly escape the modern world and step back in time into a completely natural landscape where green forests and clear rivers stretch as far as the eye can see, and eagles soar across the sky. It sounds like something out of a movie because we just don’t get a chance to see this very often without a fast food restaurant or some kind of brand getting in the way. But Eastern Europe is a very different matter, the Balkan countries just seem to have escaped the commercialisation that has dominated so many other places in Europe. There are still so many wide open areas you can get lost in and that makes them very precious to the modern day traveler.imageimageWhen it comes to local producers, Primostek and the nearby villages are a wealth of smaller companies that pack a punch with top quality products that kept me fed and watered throughout my stay. Everything from fruit, cheese and bread, to gin, wine and beer. There’s plenty to keep your stomach full and a smile on your face knowing your stay is supporting the local companies, plus you get a chance to see the process behind the products. All of the companies allow for tours to see how their food, drink and even body products are made during your stay, which is a great way to meet the local people and see another side to Slovenia.imageimageMy favourite tours had to be Berryshka – the liqueur and chocolate makers – and Vizir Pivovarna – the beer producers. The owners of both were so welcoming and took the time to talk us through the whole process of creating the products as they took us on a tour of the factory/brewery, before enjoying a tasting of the products. For me, the highlight of Berryshka was tasting the unusual lavender chocolate, a new product, and tasting their liqueurs served in a chocolate cup. Just delicious. Vizir Pivovarna had a great range of beers and were happy to explain the differences to a non-beer drinker, my favourite ones were definitely the dark beer and the stronger 10% beer they produce. Another huge highlight was getting to eat at the home of the delicious apple juice producers, Lamut, where we enjoyed a home cooked feast of fresh carp and trout washed down with apple juice, wine and a lot of Rakea.imageimageDuring the visit we also took the time to walk around local vineyards and taken some stunning views from the mills and local beauty spots. It was great being shown around by the team who knew all the best places to see and best things to do. If you’re staying at Big Berry, I would recommend getting out and exploring the local producers and seeing more than just the camp, get a real taste of this part of Slovenia and you’ll fall for the beautiful location just like I did. I mustn’t forget my favourite activity, on the last day we went rafting down the river and I don’t even have the words to describe how much fun and just how breathtaking the views were.imageimage

Have you been to Slovenia – what was your favourite part? Does the wide open landscape appeal to you? Have you visited local producers on other trips?

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Slovenia | Luxury living at Big Berry lifestyle camp

imageEastern Europe has been on my must-see list for several years, there’s something about it’s wild, untouched beauty that really appeals to me especially when so many places in Europe are so overcrowded with tourists. I’ve long since wanted to travel to Romania but haven’t yet had the opportunity after travel plans changed this summer and I found myself meeting friends in Bulgaria instead – more to come on that in a later post! But when I was invited to Slovenia on my first travel blogger press trip, I was beyond excited to experience the country for myself and at the hands of those who know the local area best. I was invited to stay at Big Berry, a new luxury glamping lifestyle camp on the banks of the river Kolpa in Primostek and the first of its kind in the country. Big Berry embraces the concept of enjoying total luxury for the whole family while getting back to grass roots and really experiencing the Slovenian countryside.imageimageI was lucky enough to be staying in a gorgeous mobile home which has been specially designed to satisfy every need and want – the design was sleek and absolutely beautiful offering complete luxury and the opportunity to enjoy self-catering if wanted. Sleeping six, the cabin gave me plenty of room to myself and I even had my own private jacuzzi – total luxury after staying in hostels for the week beforehand. Waking up in the morning, I could step into a stunning rain shower before heading to the terrace for breakfast which was hand-delivered each morning. Filled with local produce, from fruit and yoghurt to eggs, milk and bread, it was a perfect way to start the day as the sun shone over the Kolpa river. Just across the water was the Croatian border, giving you ample opportunity to swim between the two in the cleanest, purest water you can imagine. If you’re after a complete digital detox, this is the perfect place for you and I relished the chance to get away from a screen and to really experience life in the Slovenian town, but it also provides great communal areas perfect for working online which could be well suited for the digital nomads among us.imageimageMornings would start with a workout to get the blood racing – a former Slovenian boxer led the classes out on the grass overlooking the river, a perfect setting. Then later there was plenty of time to explore and relax in the grounds by swimming in the river or reading a book on the comfy sunbeds scattered around. There’s also volleyball, bikes and canoes available if you fancy something a bit more active. The team behind Big Berry hope to give visitors an authentic experience of the Bela Krajina region by showing them how the locals live, giving them an insight into the Slovenian past and present with visits to historical houses, beauty spots and local producers to try everything from cheese and wine, to oils, beer and chocolates. There’s a packed schedule available to visitors who want to get to know the area and to fully experience local life, or for those who want to just relax and take it in at their own pace, there is total freedom to dine and explore independently.imageimageThe camp, which will be open from May to September from next year, is perfect suited to families who want to get outside with the kids and explore somewhere new – the camp is very safe for young children with plenty of space for them to run around. It would also be perfect for couples who fancy a romantic weekend away in the countryside – trust me there’s nothing more romantic than watching the stars sparkle over the river from the comfort of your own hot tub. At 200 euros a night, it provides you with all the luxury you want while allowing you to get back to basics and to enjoy a simple few days enjoying Slovenia in its purest and most beautiful form. Plus being right on the Croatian border, it gives you a good opportunity to explore two countries in one trip if you’re flying into Zagreb like I did. Check out my upcoming posts for more information about the trips available while staying at Big Berry. You can find more information about Big Berry and planning your trip to Slovenia here.imageimage

Have you been to Slovenia – what did you think? Does the Big Berry concept appeal to you? Tell me about your favourite luxury getaways.

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Santorini | The magic of Oia by day & night | Greece

13895488_10153669362677617_7991328918100532344_nWe’ve had a short break from the Santorini dreaming but I had to return to it to share one of the most magical experiences of all. I don’t think there are many people out there – bloggers especially – who don’t have seeing the Santorini sunset on their bucket list. It had been firmly on my must-see list for several years and showed no signs of budging in the face of longer-haul trips. There’s something rather magical about those pictures of the windmills high on the hill surrounded by a sea of white buildings reflecting the pink glow of a fiery Greek sunset on the Caldera that just gets your heart racing. It’s one of, if not the, most romantic location in the world and I genuinely believe that everyone should experience the magic, and the romance of Oia at least once in their lives. Those who have say they are already desperate to return, which just shows you the power this beautiful place has in capturing your heart.13938527_10153682680427617_8365844026343663042_n13902637_10153669362142617_310879561199431658_nNow I’ll be honest and saw a tiny part of me was worried it wouldn’t live up to the hype – I’m not usually a big fan of overly-touristy places and crowds – I much prefer to experience places like this with space to breathe. Now I will admit there are a lot of people in Santorini and usually you can avoid the crowds but Oia is different, especially in the evening. But at the same time, these crowds don’t spoil the beauty of the sunset, they don’t ruin the perfect romantic moment or the stunning photos you can capture. There’s actually a kind of magic of hearing everyone gasp and exclaim in hushed tones as the sun dips lower on the horizon, or as donkeys jingle their way down the mountain-side towards the ocean. That feeling that so many people there are witnessing this spectacle for the very first time, and that you’ll never have this “first time” again. It’s special and it does take your breath away, I’m sure it still does no matter how many times you visit.imageI visited Oia on two occasions both during the day and at night, I was actually staying on the other side of the island at Perissa which I would recommend a lot more than staying in Oia. My advice is – if you’re there for just a few days, stay in Oia as it has all you want to squeeze into your visit, but for any longer like my two-week holiday, head elsewhere. Oia doesn’t really have a proper beach so you are limited to the swimming pools and it is very touristy, it is great for a luxury stay but if you prefer self-catering like us, you’re better off elsewhere. Oia is beautiful both in the sunlight and sunset, and I would really recommend visiting at both times of day to really appreciate it. I was actually lucky and also went on a boat day trip that ended with a late afternoon cruise around the Caldera so I also got to see Oia from the ocean which is also a great experience.imageOia by day is an intense experience at high season, the sunlight reflects brightly off the white buildings and it does get hot so I would recommend aiming for morning or late afternoon for a visit and avoiding the heat of the day. Although as you’ll notice from my pics it’s very windy there which helps keep you cool! Make sure you walk all the way up to the village from where the buses stop, just follow the crowds up until you reach the village, then enjoy wandering the little alleyways and exploring the tiny shops. If you turn right as you enter the village and continue all the way along, it will take you to what is left of the tower structure. This is the spot where you will get THE Santorini pictures of the windmill on the hill surrounded by white buildings – THIS is where you want to try and get a spot to watch the sunset but you have to arrive EARLY to stand a hope. Our bus was late so we didn’t make it this far but has a much less crowded and spectacular view from lower down. It’s worth bringing along a picnic and some wine for the wait and securing your spot early. In the day-time you’ll get some amazing views across the Caldera that will also get you snap happy!13876593_10153682680092617_4997487180421780562_n13906730_10153682680102617_324564665984752274_nWalking back through the village, double back on yourself along the alleyways until you stumble across Aphrodite Books – a cute and tiny little bookstore I found that is worth a look.Then continue along the strip where you’ll find more glimpses of stunning views and quirky little stores including one filled with old-fashioned puppets that amazed me. Further along you’ll find no end of restaurants overlooking the ocean – perfect for drinks in the afternoon, dinner after sunset or even a relaxed breakfast. We had no problem getting a table for drinks in the afternoon, nor for dinner just after sunset with three of us. It may be worth booking ahead if you have your heart set on a table or restaurant but if you’re flexible you should be okay. Don’t be too intimidated by the price of these ocean-view restaurants – they were a tad more expensive than in Perissa but nowhere near as expensive as we expected so worth it for a treat. Whether you’re there during the day or at night, make sure you stop along the way to capture some of the most Instagram-worthy pics you’ll ever take – those gorgeous white buildings and dreamy ocean views ain’t gonna snap themselves!13902744_10153669362592617_515321982825774059_nJust one thing – for those arriving in Oia by boat or passing through the village – I ask that you do one thing and promise me not to ride the donkeys. The treatment I saw there of these poor creatures forces to work in the midday sun when sick and weak was terrible. I couldn’t bear the sight of them bowed under the weight of tourists as they carried them up endless steps and steep cliffs to the village in the burning heat. And for what? Because we’re too lazy to use our legs? For some stupid tourist trap that is probably overpriced anyway. Use your common sense and realise the pain and suffering these creatures go through, don’t support the trade and it will eventually die out much like elephant tourism in Thailand. You have the power to make a change by not going with the crowd, so do it, trust me it works. I stopped no end of people from riding elephants in Thailand just from explaining why – it doesn’t take much to wake people up to reality.13680637_10153669362982617_5886234302335479895_n13921104_10153669363292617_373082987621663186_n

Have you been to Oia – can you recommend any hotels/restaurants? What was your favourite part? Did the sunset live up to the hype?

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Travel | Absolutely Lucy turns 3 and the end of my Eurotrip!

imageI’ve been back in the country less than 24 hours and it’s safe to say after four weeks of mad, fast, exciting travelling around Europe, of dancing until the sun comes up and  sightseeing for days – I’m glad to be home. I’ve had the most incredible few weeks road tripping across Bulgaria, exploring Berlin, relaxing in the stunning surroundings of Slovenia, diving into the beautiful baths of Budapest and partying it up in Amsterdam. It’s been epic from start to finish and went better than I ever could have hoped, all thanks to all my amazing friends I met up with along the way. The trip was a fantastic excuse to visit some of my friends from trips to Asia and Australia back in their own homes and to catch up on old times, while picking up some awesome new friends along the way. It felt so good to be on the road and completely independent again, travelling solo really is my favourite way to travel, and I feel so refreshed after  a break from working so much. Also a big thanks to everyone who has been following me on Instagram and has offered countless suggestions of place to eat, things to see and do along the way!

So what next? You all know I’m never one to stand still for long so of course I’ve already got lots of plans for the next few weeks and if you’ve been following me on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook, you’ll already know that in just one month I’ll be heading back to Australia for another year! While I was away my second year visa was granted and after waiting months for it to be approved I was beyond ecstatic, I can’t wait to get back there to start a whole new adventure and to see all my loves I have missed so much. With just a month to prepare, you’d think I’d need to take a few days off working to get everything in order, but actually I’ve ended up signing up to full time freelance hours until the date I leave! Plus I’ll be covering a lot of extra blogging events and reviewing a huge range of restaurants and hotels for you guys with all my top tips for weekends away and how to make the most of your time off work. And I’ve got some exciting collaborations with travel brands and opportunities coming up that I can’t wait to share with you.

It’s been lovely to take some time off from the blog over the last couple of weeks just to get some perspective and really appreciate how far I’ve come. This week my blog celebrated it’s third birthday and I actually cannot believe how much it has changed and grown in that time – from the very first blog post I published to the most recent collaborations and going on my first blogging press trip a week ago. I’m so proud of everything I have accomplished with this blog – from working with brands to helping readers plan their trips. I actually received an amazing message from a long-time reader this morning saying she was inspired by this blog post to quit her job and her relationship so she could buy a one-way ticket to Australia. It is just incredible to have any kind of influence on readers, but to have such a huge impact on her life is more than I could have dreamed of when I started Absolutely Lucy.14368820_10153777471112617_1681907711635110597_nWhen you love to write as much as I do, and you love to travel, getting to combine these passions in a way that helps others and helps you build a career is so precious, it is important to appreciate every second. Last week, the 10th edition of industry magazine Blogosphere published with the incredible In The Frow on the cover – one of the bloggers I have followed from the very beginning – and guess who was featured inside? One of my favourite travel bloggers, Vicky Flip Flop, chose to feature Absolutely Lucy among her favourite travel bloggers for the month. I haven’t yet had a chance to see it as I’ve been away, but I’ll be sharing it with you as soon as my copy arrives – I’m so excited to be a part of such a fabulous magazine, and such an incredible industry.14354903_10153777471157617_3487606775261715180_nThese last few weeks have been exactly the tonic I needed to come home feeling super inspired, with a brain and a camera packed full of amazing content that I just can’t wait to share with you. I’m planning on working my ass off at this laptop and bringing you a huge range of new posts on all my adventures and hope to inspire you to plan some of your own. I’m also on a serious health kick – after four weeks of drinking and eating all kinds of rubbish – I’m looking forward to getting in the gym again and eating healthily. It’s time to get this body in shape and to peak fitness before I get back to Australia and living in my bikini every day! I’m so pleased I finally found a gym in my small town that offers a huge range of classes, plus a well-stocked gym and a pool – actually, I’m going to wrap up this post now and head straight down there for a workout! So there you go guys, a little glimpse into a chaotic few weeks that have left me with a big smile on my face.

Have you traveled around Europe – what was your favourite place? Have you been in spired by my posts – tell me about it! What’s your workout regime – got any tips for me?

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Santorini | Volcano, hot springs & cruising the Caldera | Greece

13872705_10153669369437617_2574518093963893625_nThere’s nothing like a good day trip to break up a holiday, whether you go off to visit another nearby island or just another town, it’s a perfect way to experience something totally different during your trip. We were in Santorini for two weeks so we made sure to organise plenty of day trips and activities – like climbing the mountain – to break up our time sunbathing on the beach. One of my absolute highlights of the holiday was a bargain day trip we took from Perissa to explore the nearby active volcano, to swim in natural hot springs and mud baths, and finish the day with a cruise around the Caldera. You’ll see this trip on offer a lot when staying on the island in various different forms, but it can be difficult to ensure you don’t get ripped off when booking without doing a little research. Luckily for you, I’ve done the research for you so you can sit back and enjoy the trip!image

Booking the trip

We booked our trip at a Perissa travel agency after checking out several to compare prices, it’s always worth comparing at least three and seeing if they can offer you a discount for group bookings. A few euros doesn’t sound much, but it makes a huge difference to your pocket if you have a big group of people. We booked our trip with Star Travel, on the main street, who were great – they offered a full day trip with all three attractions for the same price other companies were charging for a half-day experience. At around 20 euros per person, we could be picked up from the agents in the morning and taken to hike up the active volcano, we would swim in the hot springs then break on the nearby island of Therissa where you can enjoy a peaceful lunch before heading home and cruising around Oia and the famous Caldera. A pretty busy day, but one worth experiencing. Not only do you get to tick some pretty amazing sights off your Santorini bucket list, but you also get to do it at a steady and enjoyable pace.13882417_10153669369852617_5295825705394534213_n13882417_10153669369712617_1683611288060951229_n

Climbing the active volcano

An amazing experience to see the volcanic, bare landscape set against a background of ocean and Santorini coastline. Just out in the bay from the island, it’s just a short 5-10 minute boat ride before you land here and prepare to climb the volcano. I wore running shoes but you can easily do it in sturdy sandals, I saw some in flip-flops but I wouldn’t recommend it. You have to pay a few euros each for entrance to the volcano, then it’s off up towards the crater. The hike takes less than half an hour and isn’t too strenuous but it is hot – make sure you have water and sunscreen – and be aware that it is at least five degrees hotter at the top. The walk up is incredible – take a second to appreciate the stark landscape – and when you reach the crater it’s amazing to walk around. Annoyingly you will be surrounded by boat-loads of tourists and plenty of selfie sticks, but it is still worth a visit and it is possible to find a quiet spot. Listen out for your tour guide talking about the history of the volcano, it has an interesting past, and then stroll around the crater taking in the 360 degree panoramic view of ocean and island. Watch out for our pal Walle who sits up there 24/7 monitoring volcanic activity and serving as an early warning for the island to be evacuated in case of emergency.13887038_10153669369867617_7050272482306377329_n

Swimming in hot springs

Back on the boat and we cruise round the volcano and off towards the hot springs which sit in the shadow of a nearby island. As you approach, you’ll see further in where the water changes colour to a deep rusty, brown colour, where the mud carries no end of minerals. The boat stops around 15-20 metres away from where you will be able to touch the ground but you do have to jump off and swim for it – if you’re not a confident swimmer stay on the boat. A short swim across and you can swim/walk across the rocks to enter the hot springs, feeling the water warming your skin. It’s only just above body temperature but you can feel the difference and it’s lovely to sit there in the water. I recommend rubbing the mud all over your skin – everyone thought Mum and I were mad for doing this but it makes your skin incredible soft. I was aiming for five years younger but I don’t know if I quite reached it. We have just half an hour to enjoy the mud baths before heading back to the boat, but it’s the perfect amount of time as we were starving by this point. Swimming back you definitely feel the cold hit you as you leave the hot springs but luckily the clear sea water washes off any remaining mud before you climb back on board.13876508_10153669370047617_6032899850155312868_n

A relaxing lunch on Therissa Island

Next our journey took to to the island of Therissa, a step back in time to the Greece of years ago. You can walk up to the main village but it is a very steep climb and we weren’t sure we would have time to squeeze that in with lunch. Instead we pottered along the shoreline to one of the restaurants and sampled the stuffed vegetables and freshly caught calamari – I’ve become addicted to calamari over the last few weeks. It was a perfect relaxed lunch with a beautiful view of all the boats and the crystal clear waters. All of the restaurants serve the freshest of fish and for roughly the same prices so choose any and enjoy the setting. After we ate, we decided to wander along the shore to the windmill at the other end of the beach so we could check out the views and shops along the way. It was a lovely little walk and with two hours there we had just enough time to see everything we wanted to see before heading back to the boat to get a good spot at the front for our Caldera cruise.13934590_10153669370202617_1448667652268613479_n13880203_10153669370217617_7472480666856025732_n

Oia and Caldera Cruise

How better to finish the day than with a peaceful cruise around Oia – a chance to finally view it from the ocean in all its splendour before making our way along the Caldera by boat. I’ll be posting about my day spent in Oia at a later date – but you must without a doubt experience Oia from the ocean, within the town during the day and of course, at sunset, to get a real feel for the town. It’s spectacular in all its forms and not at all overrated, every time I was in awe of the beauty and the magic of this stunning location. And of course, a boat cruise around the island in the afternoon sunshine is a perfect way to experience Santorini. There’s something so peaceful about being out at sea, perhaps it’s the mermaid in me but it just soothes my soul every time. Clear, endless waters, overlooked by centuries old white windmills – that’s what Santorini is all about and that’s what this trip will give you. All those dreamy island views you’ve been stalking on Instagram in the months leading up to your trip.13934741_10153682680522617_1083166504792679114_n13903378_10153669370362617_1717106529558893240_nI can’t recommend the trip we went on enough – it gave us everything we wanted and more. You get to see a whole different side to the island, a natural and raw side to the landscape that often isn’t associated with the more manicured beauty of Santorini. It’s a perfect way to spend a day during your holiday to the island.

Have you been on this trip – what was your highlight? Do you love boat trips, where was your favourite one?

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Santorini | That day I climbed a mountain and visited an ancient city | Greece

13962682_10153682687712617_3327037275195795263_nHaving two weeks in a place is such a luxury when you travel. Holidays can be so expensive and I know so many who have had to sacrifice a second week this year due to costs. We’re all familiar with that feeling that we never have enough time to squeeze everything in, well I’m definitely guilty of trying to squeeze too much into a break. I can’t help myself, I just want to do, see, eat and experience everything a country has to offer, which doesn’t often leave much time for relaxing! You’ll know from my previous posts that I love keeping fit and active, even when I travel and so I’m sure you’ll know that I’m game for trying any new ways of getting out there and pushing my body. So when I realised the amazing opportunity to try something a bit different that lay waiting in Santorini, I jumped at the chance. If you like to exercise this one is a great way to combine history and working out while taking in a spectacular view of the island.13882088_10153682679712617_2088484874682698811_nIn the south-west of the island lies the biggest mountain of the island, Mesa Vouna. This stunning peak has the town of Perissa nestled against one side, while the town of Kamari can be found on the opposite side. At just 369m, it’s only a baby in the mountain world, but it’s still a worthy climb and well worth it for the experience. We set off at sunrise to try and find the path, which was just a few fields behind my apartments, along the way stumbling across some donkeys preparing for their huge climb over the peak. It was around 5.30am and barely touched by the light, we began our journey – why so early you ask? Well I quite enjoy an early start to the day anyway, and quite frankly it gets so damn hot there that you definitely wouldn’t want to attempt this climb beyond 9am or you would be standing up there in 30 degree heat! With the incredible excavations and discovered ruins of Ancient Thira sitting at the top and just waiting to be explored, I wanted time to appreciate it.13912644_10153682679362617_482515594261268932_nThe walk is around 8km and if you’re relatively fit it’ll be a breeze, you can complete it in an hour or two – more or less depending on whether you stop along the way. We actually saw a couple of guys who were running up and down the mountain several times – so if you fancy a really grueling workout it’s right there waiting for you. I wore running shoes when I took on the climb but my mum and dad managed it fine in sturdy sandals. We took breakfast and plenty of water along with us, you’ll need both as the shop at the top is sometimes closed and you might not be able to buy anything for the climb down. I would really recommend hiking up the mountain from Perissa as you actually get the experience of walking up the rock face rather than a man-made path like the one waiting on the other side. It also means that in the morning you will walk in the shade which is a blessing when you’re faced with bright, burning heat down the other side. Along the way look out for signs marking graves on the hillside and plaques explaining the history, these are worth a read if you’re interested.13892056_10153682679527617_5446372040536266128_nWhen you finally reach the top – just stop and breathe it all in. The view is incredible across Kamari and Perissa with the ocean on either side and the volcano within view. It’s definitely time to stop for a few photos before climbing the next short hill to Ancient Thira – the ruins cost 2 euros to enter and are more than worth it for the stunning views waiting from the top and a glimpse into a city of the past. The site is not open on Mondays and only opens unil 2.30pm on some days so be sure to check ahead of walking. The hilltop was first inhabited by the Dorians, whose leader was Theras, in the 9th century BC. Thira was later occupied in the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine eras, with most buildings surviving today from the Hellenistic era (around 4th century BC). If you like history and visiting ancient ruins, you’ll be in for a treat with remnants of the ancient houses, cemeteries and even a theatre overlooking the ocean waiting for you. It was amazing to what was found by German archaeologists between 1895 and 1902, and then later by N. Zapheiropoulos in 1961-1982. I personally love experiences like this, I love delving into the past and imagining the whole communities that might have lived in ruins such as Pompeii, Angkor Wat and Sukothai.13934695_10153682679652617_4820893897813726839_nWhen you’re walking around it’s worth checking out the boards that are placed around, they’re all written in English and give you lots of information about the different buildings and what once would have laid there. Buildings from different periods are mixed together throughout the site along one main street, which is intersected by smaller streets. Sights worth checking out include the two agoras where you can see the ruins of several Greek temples, and don’t miss out on seeing the Roman baths and stone church of Agios Stefanos. The arc of the theatre was one of my highlights with a panoramic view of the Aegean – to think Greeks long ago sat there watching theatre much like I watched movies at the open-air cinema later in the week was crazy. For a cheeky look into the past, you should check out the view over the site from the large Terrace of Festivals – in times gone by boys would have danced naked there to honour Apollo, and you can still find some nearby phallic graffiti.13935150_10153682687782617_2971241929701860738_nThe climb is a great experience and was one of my highlights of the holiday, all three of us enjoyed it and the early start even meant that by the time we reached Kamari, we still had a whole day to top up our tans on the beach. The ocean at Perissa hides quite a strong current at times so be careful when swimming, Kamari on the other hand is much more sheltered and perfect for a swim or a snorkel. We spent a couple of days on the beach there, exploring the town and eating out at the many restaurants. And after such an early start and the steep walk up the mountain, I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than napping in the sun and swimming out to the nearby rocks. Just what the doctor ordered.13879253_10153682679887617_3364172225929287717_n

Have you climbed a mountain – where? What are your favourite ways to stay active when on holiday? Have you been to Santorini?

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