Tag Archives: history

Italy | Museums you don’t want to miss when visiting Florence

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Pic by Toni Rodrigo

Italy is high on everyone’s travelling list – whether it’s for the food, the rich culture and history, or the stunning Amalfi coast. There’s something so irresistible about the combination of pizza, gelato, Roman history and beautiful beaches and countryside. I went to Rome as a teenager and toured all the famous sights – the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Sistine Chapel and many more before eating my way through the city then moving on to tour the Amalfi Coast and Pompeii. It was an amazing trip and one I’ve never forgotten, and although sadly I haven’t yet had the chance to return to this beautiful country it is definitely on the list. Ever since reading Under The Tuscan Sun, I’ve always loved the idea of summering in Tuscany and experiencing all the tastes, sights and sounds described in the narrative. While I may not be getting the opportunity to experience all Tuscany and the wonderful city of Florence has to offer, if you are planning a trip look no further than this post for tips on visiting the best museums and galleries on offer – and where to book your tickets.

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Pic by Gareth Williams

Uffizi Gallery

An absolute must-see when you visit Florence, the Uffizi Gallery is a highlight of this historical city. The unique museum, which was originally constructed in 1560 as a palace for Florentine magistrates, now hosts a huge range of masterpieces. Creating an area to home the art collections of the Medici family, the areas later grew to host masterpieces commissioned by Medici which became what visitors will see today. As one of the world’s most prominent art museums, it provides a home for some of the most important art pieces of the Renaissance including works by Leonardo da Vinci. Other famous works you can spot among the displays include Botticelli’s Primavera and Birth of Venus, and works by the likes of Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Michelangelo.

As visitors plan to make their way through the labyrinth of rooms, they should be aware that this is one of the most-visited museums in the whole of Italy, welcoming over 1.5million visitors each year. This many people does create lines with weekends, Tuesdays and mornings being the busiest times – buy your tickets ahead of time to skip the queues.

Accademia Gallery

Traveler’s simply cannot visit Florence without taking the opportunity to view one of the most famous statues in the world – Michelangelo’s David. The Academia Gallery, an 18th century museum founded by Grand Duke Peter Leopold, was chosen as the new home for the statue in 1873 after it was moved from its original location on the Signoria square. Expressing the genius of the young artist, the statue is known as a symbol of the free Florentine republic of the beginning of the Cinquecento. Later more statues by Michelangelo have been displayed in the same room, transforming in this way the Gallery into a Michelangelo museum: the four unfinished Prisoners, destined to the tomb of Pope Julius II, and never sent to Rome, the unfinished Saint Matthew and the Pietà of Palestrina, attributed to mature Michelangelo. Book skip the line tickets here.30303775721_cf2343537f_z

Palitine and Modern Art Gallery

This extraordinary collection is housed in the winter apartments of the Medici, on the first floor of the Pitti Palace, and features masterpieces of famous artists of the Baroque and Renaissance period. Visitors can see works by the likes of Raffaello, Tiziano, Rubens, Van Dijk, hanging from the walls creating an overwhelming and magnificent effect completed by the luxurious furnishing. In the Modern Art Gallery, a collection founded after the First World War displays the development of Italian art between 1745 and 1945. The heart of the Gallery displays the collection of small pictures, masterpieces by the Macchiaioli, Fattori, Lega, Borrani the revolutionary young artists who used to gather in Florence around the mid 19th century. Book skip the line tickets here.

Bargello Museum

The medieval palace was once where the chief of the military police resided, but it was restored in the second half of the 19th century and became a museum of Renaissance statuary and of minor arts. The museum holds a collection of statues, starting from Quattrocento artworks by Donatello, Ghiberti Luca della Robbia, includes masterpieces by Michelangelo, as the Bacchus and the Brutus, and reaches the end of the 16th century, with Cellini and Giambologna. Also on display are a range of precious items including the outstanding collection of ivories, the Renaissance maiolica from Urbino, jewellery and objects decorated in enamel. Book skip the line tickets here.

Pic by Erik Drost

Pic by Erik Drost


All of the museums offer a range of tours, talks, joint tickets and bookings for larger parties hoping to visit during their stay in Florence. With each of the museums welcoming such a large volume of visitors each year, it is best to book tickets in advance to avoid wasting your trip in queues. All tickets for tours, talks, entrance and more can be found here – book skip the line tickets for museums in Florence.

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Indonesia | Explore Yogyakarta, the soul of Java

imageWhen I travelled to Bali last month, I only planned to stay for a week but I fell in love with the Indonesian culture and the incredible landscape. A month later I only left because of my visa but I know for sure I’ll be back in the future to explore more of Indonesia in the years to come. There are thousands of incredible islands waiting to be explored and each come with their own incredible sights, customs and experiences just waiting to be discovered. From the jungles of Borneo to the beauty of the Gili islands and the wildness of Komodo Island – Indonesia truly captivates the soul. One area I would love to visit is Java, and when the team at Hotel Tentrum Yogyakarta asked me to write about my perfect trip there, I couldn’t resist the chance to share it with you guys. Yogyakarta has long been described as the artistic soul of Java and it’s easy to see why when it has combined the traditional Balinese culture with modern living. Now famed for its arts and culture, the city remains protective over its customs combining the new with the old.imageIf you’re planning a trip to the city, be sure to check out some of the incredible natural sights that lie all around, delve into the history of years gone by and indulge in the foodie highlights around the city. Don’t miss these top sights:

  1. Stand in awe of the magnificent Prambanan Temple, the 9th century Hindu temple is part of the Indonesia UNESCO World Heritage Site, being one of the largest Hindu temple architecture in Southeast Asia. Just 18km outside of Yogyakarta, it can easily be reached by bus and is well worth a visit.
  2. Just a short walk from Prambanan, the eerier Sewu Temple will leave you with chills as you walk around and attempt to uncover the mystery of this captivating temple. Be sure to explore every dark corner to discover some incredible carvings.
  3. Even for those who usually don’t hike or climb, the short hike to Mount Merapi is a sight that will leave you humbled as you walk through the leftovers of homes shattered by the 2010 eruption of the volcano.
  4. For a peek behind-the-scenes into the opulent world of a sultan, visit the Taman Sari Water Castle and explore the huge complex that used to be a former royal garden.
  5. Try Gudeg, the most famous dish in Yogyakarta, this unique Indonesian dish is a stew made from young jackfruit (nangka) with palm sugar, coconut milk, meat, garlic, and spices.
  6. Shop at Jalan Malioboro and Pasar Beringharjo for bargains when it comes to silver jewellery, food and almost anything you can think of. Barter with market stall holders for the full Indonesian experience.
  7. In total contrast to the temples and culture of Yogyakarta, head out for a day trip to Jomblang Cave if you fancy an adventure. Visit the ancient forests, try your hand at vertical caving and lots more. An astonishing natural sight, prepare your camera for some amazing shots.
  8. The cable cars at Timang Beach will give you a day off sightseeing as you travel suspended high across the bay and enjoy the beautiful sights.
  9. Fancy dosing up on a bit more local culture? The Ullen Sentalu Museum showcases a lot of old photographs, paintings, fabrics, old letters and statues that show Javanese culture.

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If that’s whet your appetite for a visit, why not take a look at these Yogyakarta hotel deals and start planning your trip? Have you been to Yogyakarta – what was your highlight? Can you recommend any places to visit?

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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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Travel | Why I love visiting places untouched by time

imageI love Australia. I love it far more than I ever expected to. When I planned to come here, it was mainly because I knew I could work and save a lot of money on my way to New Zealand. Well, plans change and six months later I’m still here with no signs of leaving for another six months, I’m working on getting my regional work signed off for another year in the country and I’ve officially missed my flight to New Zealand. But I have to admit, even though I’m eager to spend another year here working and saving money, travelling to other parts I’ve yet to see, that although the country is stunning and vibrant, with incredible landscapes and people, there is something missing for me. It’s culture, history and heritage. I know Australia has its own culture and history, but the country is just so new compared to so many other places. Growing up in England we’re made aware from the very beginning of the immense history of the country; of years of kings and queens, of politics, of music, arts and literature. We grow up with castles and stately homes in our back gardens, we are raised loving Queen Liz, and Wills and Harry. When I went to Asia, that was one of the biggest draws for me – I loved the culture, the food, the music, the colour, the religion and the language that came with every country I visited.imageOne of my favourite things upon visiting each country was embracing their history and traditions by meeting the locals and spending time with them. Whether that was being adopted by an amazing Thai woman who gave up a weekend to take me on a special tour of one of the country’s greatest historical sites along with introducing me to her friends and a whole range of foods I had never tried before. Or the night I spent playing card games with a bunch of Vietnamese guys as we drank beers and talked about the history and politics of the country. In every single country I have been to, I have experienced the full depth of the country, the welcoming nature of the people and sometimes the less welcome side. There is light and dark to every country, as I found in Cambodia – but even there I managed to see the real side to the country and to find that there are some incredible people there whose kindness far outweighs many I have met at home. Watching a village ceremony take place just outside of Siem Reap was amazing – we had the chance to witness something you don’t get to see in the towns. The humble and pure nature of the ceremony was so beautiful and being welcomed in to join them was even more amazing.imageAll of these experiences have shaped my experience of travelling and it has really fuelled my desire to travel further to other countries that offer yet more of these experiences. More opportunities to learn how other cultures live and how the country’s history has shaped what we see today, that is what keeps me so fascinated by the world around me. Perhaps it is the journalist in me that really wants to know peoples’ stories, wants to know how they got there and how they live. I’m never that interested in the overall view we have of a country from the media, I love the stories of the individuals who live this life every day. I think that because of this, I have developed a list of places really want to go before it is too late to witness them in their raw, mostly untouched beauty. The world is constantly changing and so many places are on the cusp of becoming overdeveloped and taken over by tourism – bringing a McDonald’s on every corner and selfie sticks at every turn – just the kind of places I hate. So where is left to try and experience the land before time? Here’s my shortlist of places I would love to see in their full glory:

Cuba

Right on the edge of becoming commercialised by the U.S., now is the time to visit and see Havana in its full Cuban glory. Ever since reading all about my blogger friend, Mrs Ayla Adventure’s trip to Cuba and seeing her gorgeous pictures, I have been desperate to go and experience the culture first hand. I want to swim in the gorgeous sea and sunbathe on those beautiful beaches, I want to witness the incredible animals and landscapes, I want to show off my salsa dancing skills and eat all of the food, drink all of the rum while walking those historic colonial streets. If you fancy a trip to Cuba – check out the Cuba Holidays website for all you need to know.

Myanmar

Not somewhere that had ever been in my mind when I came travelling, but as I went further around Asia I met more and more people who had been there for were about to go. They told me it was a beautiful country that was relatively untouched by tourism but that now is the time to go, a few more years and it could easily end up like the rest of Asia. I loved the idea of a nation of people who weren’t yet aware of the money they could make from visitors yet – I loved the idea of visiting and just being targeted by a natural curiosity and an innocence I could fall in love with.

Madagascar

Although I’m sure much like Mauritius the main country has become very touristy, there is still so much incredible landscape and so many amazing animals you can see right in their natural habitat. Thinking like this, it’s the same principle for countries like Namibia or Belize.

Eastern Europe

This is a whole area I would love to visit – with a huge history that spans centuries there is so much to learn, so much to see and experience. With stunning castles set against beautiful landscapes, endless national parks and more, I would really love to explore this region and the bonus is that with so many countries in one area, you would easily be able to travel between them much like I did in Asia.

South America

High priority on my list at the moment because I think it will be the one area I get to visit the soonest out of all of my choices. I’m hoping to spend a few months there in 2017 travelling around and visiting countries like Peru, Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, Argentina and Chile. What a way to experience full South American culture and how better than to learn a new language than by immersing myself in it? image

 

Which untouched lands would you love to explore? Have you travelled off the beaten track – which was your favourite destination? 

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Siem Reap | Angkor Wat and the temples | Cambodia

imageThere are some travelling sights that you spend months imagining, planning and waiting for. Cambodia was a place I had waited so long to experience, see and feel – now we’ve established it was a bit of a disappointment, but there’s one thing that really did live up to expectations. I’ve said previously that arriving in the country during low season really impacted on my enjoyment of Cambodia, but when it came to Angkor Wat, this was a time it really paid off. I went along with two girls from my dorm to check out the sunrise, and after rising early at around 4am, we jumped in our tuk tuk and zoomed off towards the temples. Now we’ve all seen the pictures of the sun rising over Angkor Wat and we all know what it looks like, but nothing can quite prepare you for getting to see this incredible sight with your own eyes. My pictures don’t do it justice and I don’t think I have seen any that do – it’s about the feeling of the place. The hushed conversation amongst the travellers, the silence as the sun begins to climb up over the temple, and the gasps as its bursts over the top. I was a lucky girl and the crowds were not packing out the grounds like I have heard they do in high season, there was just a small crowd around the lake and one that could easily be blocked from view and tuned out while I enjoyed the sight of what lay before me.imageimageAfter the sun started rising higher in the sky, I said goodbye to the girls I arrived with as they headed off to catch their flight home, then wandered into Angkor Wat. I was really struck dumb by the incredible structure and the history that lay amongst its walls, it was beautiful and I was glad to be left alone at that point. I really love having time by myself when visiting ruins or such places of history, it was the same when I visited Ayutthaya and Sukhothai in Thailand, I just love seeing them at my own pace and really having a chance to imagine what life was like in these buildings all those years ago. While I wasn’t overawed by Cambodia as a country, I was fascinated by the history of the nation and seeing this history right in front of me was amazing – it showed me something so powerful and strong from the same country I had seen left broken at the Killing Fields and S21. It was so interesting to see another side to the country’s rich history and I loved learning about the architecture and what the different temples were used for – my tuk tuk driver was really helpful at explaining even when we struggled with the language barrier.imageimageI really appreciated the lengths my driver went to in order to help me get as much from the experience as possible. It cost $18 for a tuk tuk driver for the day, but by paying that standard fee, you had your own tour guide included in the package. As you’ll know from previous posts, I wasn’t in the best physical shape at this point – I actually visited the temples two days after my bus crash and could barely walk at this point. But, after hearing what had happened, my driver went far beyond the call of duty to drive me almost into the temples and even help me around himself a few times so that I could really experience them. He was so kind and friendly, a complete change to what I had experienced before and it really helped renew my faith in Cambodians. He knew exactly what I wanted from the day and took me around the main temples and structures, and also stopped off to show me a couple of his favourites along the way, as well as scoring me snacks of fruit and water for next to nothing instead of from the overpriced sellers hanging around outside the temples.imageimageI actually spent around six hours around the temples altogether, finishing at around 10am when the sun was starting to get too hot for all the walking. When visiting, it is definitely better to start as early as possible, especially if you are biking round as I wanted to, because by 10/11 the sun does get very intense and there is little shelter around these structures. You could easily spend all day walking round and I know a few people who actually went back over a couple of days, but personally I felt a morning walking round was well spent and I really felt like I had seen all I needed to. I visited Angkor Wat for sunrise and then my tuk tuk driver wound his way round to Angkor Thom, my personal favourite Bayon, Elephant Terrace and Preah Khan, along with a few smaller ones my driver recommended. I absolutely loved Bayon and actually found it even grander and more impressive than Angkor Wat, all those faces carved into the rock were just mesmerising. I was so impressed with the detail to the structures considering what kind of tools those who built these would have been working with.image imageI won’t whittle on too much, I’ll let you take a look at my pictures instead, but just know that I can completely understand why tourists and travellers flock in their hordes each year to visit these ancient ruins. They are stunning and really leave you with a sense of awe, a respect for what came before us and what they were capable of. It is an absolute must-see in Cambodia and in the whole of Asia, and I can’t recommend enough that you go for the first time at sunrise. The girls I went with had already been round the temples the previous day and had seen Angkor Wat in daylight before watching the sun rise over it and they were definitely slightly less impressed than I was. See the real magic of Angkor Wat when the sun is just peeking over the top and you’ll really understand why it is so talked about. If you are going for a sunrise viewing, make sure you are there from at least 5am at the latest if you want to get a good spot, earlier if in peak season and be sure to check what time the su. Will rise as it will change throughout the year. I would recommend getting your park ticket the day before or leaving plenty of time to queue because even in low season the queue was huge – luckily I stood in the wrong place and ended up getting pushed to the front in double quick time! Above all, enjoy, be silent – don’t spend every single second taking photos – and soak up the splendour of this magical place.imageimageimage

Have you been to Angkor Wat in high season – what was your experience like? What was your favourite of the temples? Can you offer any other advice to those going to see them?

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Phnom Penh | The Killing Fields and S21 | Cambodia

imageIt’s taken me a long time to get round to writing this post and I’m not sure that even almost two months later I’m actually going to have the words to really do it justice, but I’ll give it a shot. I arrived in Cambodia after a long old bus ride with my friend Jade from Ho Chi Minh – we’d been awake for around 36 hours by this point after catching a sleeper bus there the night before and were pretty desperate for our beds. After the best border crossing possible, we spent the first hour in Cambodia waving at all the Cambodians crossing the border after a long day at work in the factories just inside Vietnam – there were so many and they’d been at work for around 14-16 hours but still eagerly waved back at us. We finally arrived at our hostel, we had booked into Mad Monkey after hearing so much about it from other travellers and it certainly lived up to the hype. It was a great hostel and easily the best one I stayed in while in Cambodia, great value for money and really good facilities with a restaurant and a great bar on site. I only stayed two days but I would definitely stay there again if I went back, and it was a great place for meeting people – I actually bumped into a gang of friends I previously met in Pai, Thailand, so we had a great little reunion.imageimageI was in Phnom Penh for one reason – to learn about the terrible history of Cambodia, the events of which seem to have been wiped from our history books. It’s amazing how we can be taught over and over again about world wars that happened around a century ago, and how we have to spend so much time learning about Russian history, the Holocaust or Henry the VIII, yet there are such huge gaps in modern history. I’m talking about more recent wars and persecution that we leave school with no knowledge of despite it happening within our parents’ lifetime. To give you some background, a man named Pol Pot led a movement called the Khmer Rouge which murdered, worked to death, or killed by starvation close to 1.7 million Cambodians in the mid to late 70’s – more than a fifth of the country’s population. Almost an entire generation of Cambodians were wiped out and the country is still rebuilding itself – evidence of this is all around you as you walk the streets. The levels of education are shockingly low and, as I mentioned in my previous post, the extreme poverty is shocking, but there is light in those children I did meet who are eager to learn and are starting to see education as a way of improving their quality of life. There is a long road ahead, but moves are being made to build a future for the people.imageimageI won’t go too far into the history, because I don’t feel I know enough to do the topic justice, instead I’ll share my experiences of visiting these two historic sites and the reasons why it is such an important place for you all to visit. I wasn’t emotionally prepared for how harrowing the visit would be, I don’t think anyone could ever be completely ready for it. But the Killing Fields is an incredible memorial that is devastating in the graphic portrayal of the Khmer Rouge, and yet manages to honour the victims’ memory. Upon entry we were given an audio tour headset which was to be the guide for the whole experience, you are completely cut off from those around you for the visit and have the voices of survivors and those involved played to you. It was, without a shadow of a doubt, the most powerful audio tour I have ever listened to. I was so impressed with how sensitively it was delivered, while still managing to really convey the scale of the attack on Cambodian society. The tape was a mixture of personal recollections, music composed, and statements delivered in court cases that are still ongoing today, with various stops around the site. We expected it to take us around an hour and a half, but we’re actually in there for closer to three hours because there was so much to look at and listen to. There were moments when we just had to sit in silence and take it all in, and it is important to let yourself take those moments to really take it all in.imageimageAs a warning to those who are quite sensitive, there are several horrifying sights around the grounds including several mass graves where hundreds of bodies of women, children and farmhands were found dead and naked. A sign marking where a storeroom containing chemicals used to dissolve bodies, sometimes of those still alive. Bones regularly start coming up out of the soil, especially after heavy rain. There is also the Killing Tree, which guards used t beat children to death against, while another tree was used to hold speakers that played music to drown out the moans of the dying. The memorial in the centre of the grounds is the final point of the tour, it holds hundreds, perhaps even thousands of skulls and pieces of bone belonging to victims who found themselves in the hands of the Khmer Rouge. It’s a lot to take in and it is gory in places for those who are a little squeamish, but what overtakes that is the immense power of what you are learning. The Holocaust is shocking enough because of the scale and the fact that it happened just under 100 years ago. Although Cambodia was on a smaller scale, it was a mass persecution of a country’s own citizens and took place just 40 years ago, only 15 years before I was born. Those who visit will have a chance to visit the small museum onsite, this is something that really stayed with me because of one line that was written on one of the walls. It spoke of educating people about what has happened so that when, not if, it happens again, it can be seen in time. Because it will happen again.”imageimageAfterwards, we went to S21 feeling utterly drained and depressed by the human race, wondering quite how much more we could handle. S21 is a former high school that was take over by the Khmer Rouge and turned it into a torture, interrogation and execution center. Of the 14,000 people known to have entered, only seven survived. When you arrive and walk through the gates, you feel the silence as you walk through the grounds. No one smiles, no one speaks, it is as though the prison has drained us of everything, even our emotions. There’s barbed wire around the buildings, gallows to the side and inside, cells, old torture equipment and a collection of images of the faces of those tortured there. I didn’t know how S21 could possibly be more hard hitting than the sight of bones and skulls lining the Killing Fields, but it was. Especially when I walked out of one of the buildings where I had stood in a cell with the name Chum Mey written on the wall – I went inside and closed the door to see what it would have been like for the man kept in these four tiny walls. I wanted to know what he felt as he sat in this room, what he could hear, see, taste and smell – the journalist in me wanted to know his story. So imagine my shock when I walked outside and found him standing there, selling books containing his story and everything he went through. I spoke to his son-in-law, who translated Chum Mey’s words and told me what had happened to him – he was kept at the prison and tortured for years, even having his fingernails and toenails ripped out. But it was his engineering skills that really saved him from being exterminated like the rest, he was able to fix the machines used there. Now he sells books in hopes of educating people of what happened to prevent it from ever happening again.imageAs I walked into the final building, I realised I was done, I’d seen enough and couldn’t take much more. It had been a lot of information to take in and I don’t think I was in any way prepared for quite how devastating it was – I don’t think you ever could be. I walked out again without seeing the rest of the building but even without seeing that part, I know that day will stay with me for life. It doesn’t matter whether you are interested in history or not, whether you care about Cambodia as a place or not, these two sites are so important to go and visit while you are there. You will learn so much, not just about Cambodia but also about the human race, and it is important for people to know what has happened. Just as it is important to learn about the Holocaust so it will never happen again, it is important to realise what happened in Cambodia, and the extent to which it was all covered up. It makes us realise quite how easily a nationwide extermination could actually happen without other continents even being aware – even in this time. It will shock you and leave you devastated, it will make you lose all hope in the human race and it will give you nightmares – but that’s the only way we will learn and progress past a world where we can kill our own people like this.

Have you been to The Killing Fields or S21 – what was your experience like? Why do you think it is important for people to visit such sites? 

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Hoi An – the prettiest city in Vietnam

imageI was really excited to arrive in Hoi An – all through Thailand and Laos I kept meeting people who had loved it there, who raved about the food, the shopping and were often wearing fabulous clothes they had made there. I was looking forward to exploring the history of the city and to having that perfect combination of historical city, pretty riverside, lively markets and having the beach just a few kilometres down the road. It seemed like Hoi An would offer everything I wanted in one place – what more could a girl want? My friend Matthieu and I arrived after a long bus ride from Hue and set about finding somewhere to stay – we ended up at the Hoi Binh Hotel which charged hostel prices and was very good value considering it had a swimming pool and breakfast included. Plus it was right in the centre of everything which really helped when exploring and walking around the city. I spent the first afternoon exploring and eating some of the fantastic local delicacies including the White Rose wontons, spring rolls and other delicious snacks. Hoi An is well known for having fantastic food and I know a lot of people who did food tours there which they said were amazing but sadly I didn’t have time – I just made sure to eat as much and as often as possible while I had the chance.imageKnowing I was there for just a few days and on a tight schedule – one of my priorities was getting some clothes designed and made for me. Now while many were getting outfits or suits made for work – I was lucky knowing I won’t be back in a desk job anytime soon so I used my money to buy cute outfits I knew I could wear on a daily basis out here in Asia and Australia. I went to see a tailor who comes very highly recommended on Tripadvisor and through other blogs I follow – Miss Forget Me Not – hoping her work would love up to the hype. I was convinced straight away after seeing how busy she was – her and her workers invited me in to look at designs and materials. I explained what I was after and showed pictures I had previously found online of designs I loved – two playsuits and a top – then chose out some lightweight, floaty, summery materials. It took ages to choose – so don’t go there on a tight schedule because it’s a bloody hard decision!imageFinally we worked out the details and designs to suit my body shape and I was measured up for each, it definitely helped that I had taken my own designs but they do also have a collection of their own you can use depending on what you are after. There is also an option for you to provide a material you like if you don’t want one of theirs which definitely helped a few people who were struggling to match a material with their chosen design. My clothes took one full day to make and I was due to return for a fitting the following night and to pick them up the following day – talk about impressive! Everything fit like a glove and only one seam needed altering slightly – they were all so professional and such lovely women. My clothes cost around the equivalent of £40 for two playsuits and a top, all custom-mad to my design and choice of material in less than 48 hours. Pretty bloody amazing if you ask me, especially considering I could, have paid up to £50 for one of these playsuits in the UK. I wish I had more space in my bag to get more made and am already looking forward to returning to Vietnam with more designs!imageThe rest of my time in Hoi An was spent walking the streets, exploring historic houses and markets, talking to locals by the riverside and playing dominoes with them. One highlight was visiting the Tran Duong family home – nestled down one of the quaintest and most beautiful little streets I have ever seen – it has seen four generations of the family and holds a wealth of history about the city. Mr Duong was more than happy to welcome us in and spoke perfect English to tell us all about his family, the history of the house and the wider history of both the city and Vietnam as a whole – it was so interesting to hear about it from someone who was educated enough to speak impartially about the political history of the country. I learned more in an hour and a half spent at the house than I did from any guidebook or website, so I highly recommend you visit as well. Elsewhere you have to pay for a ticket to visit a number of historical sites around the city although many of them you can see without actually entering the sites. I personally preferred to walk around the streets and to see the locals living their day-to-day lives, chatting to them down by the river was lovely. One of my favourite things to do was to spend a few hours catching up on blogging by the river over a delicious Vietnamese ice coffee – heaven!imageAnd I mustn’t forget the beach! Hoi An has a gorgeous beach just three kilometres down the road – a perfect distance for a nice cycle ride with friends, especially when it’s so cheap and easy to hire bikes everywhere. Me and two friends cycled there for a few hours on our last day – one the guys went swimming while me and Paul decided to be completely insane and do a workout on the beach. It was hilarious and really fun – plus it was such a beautiful and empty beach. I really wished I had time to visit the beach again for a day of sunbathing, but sadly not on this trip as there was just so little time and so much to see and do. I would really recommend – if you have enough time on your trip – spending up to a week in the city, perhaps with a few days staying down at the beach and a few within the city to get the history side. When you arrive, make it a priority to get your clothes order in so you can ensure they will be ready in time and the relax, enjoy and explore the city at your own pace. There are lots of walking tours, cycle tours and food tours available, or you can do it all by yourself and have fun getting lost and discovering many of the hidden treasures the city has to offer. One for me was finding a selection of restaurants around that work for the community with all money raised supporting orphanages or helping to educate children or get the, away fro domestic violence or drugs. I love that by doing something as simple as eating out I could be supporting the community and giving something back – plus when the food is that good why not?!image

 

Have you been to Hoi An – what did you think? Any advice you can offer for the historical tours, or for having clothes made? What was your favourite part of Vietnam? 

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Sukhothai – The Land Before Time

imageAfter spending a few days exploring Ayutthaya, I was ready to move on and see how Sukhothai compared in grandeur. I wasn’t disappointed, it had its own beauty that separated sightseers from the main roads and invited then into a beautiful natural park with temples set around a lake. Being much smaller than Ayutthaya, it didn’t take long to get my bearings and after my first night relaxing in the guest house, I headed into the park to grab my bike and a map ready for a day of exploring history. Thanks to the smart woman at the Thai Tourism Agency, who organised this section of my trip, I was staying at a guest house right opposite the entrance to the park which was really helpful as I know that many of them are further away in the newer town. It was really helpful being so close, and I just felt you had a different experience when you slept with that much history on your doorstep.imageI stayed at Vitoon Guest House which has two halves, it has a slightly newer section that offers air conditioned rooms and slightly better facilities or the cheaper rooms I stayed in which to be quite honest were more than adequate for me. I had my own double bed, a fan and ensuite, which although wasn’t luxury served a purpose and was pretty nice for a backpacker who is used to hostels. Those on holiday or travelling as a couple may have been less than impressed, but would also have more to spend on fancy accommodation even if you spend no time in the room. The family who ran it were friendly and helpful, there were a row of restaurants right next door and the guest house rented out better quality bikes than I had used in Aytthyaya. What more could a girl need?imageBy this point I was getting pretty used to cycling everywhere and was loving it, I loved how free you felt cycling around the park by yourself and it was definitely one of those times where I was grateful to be travelling solo just to have some well-deserved time to myself. It was so peaceful exploring the park and I made the smart decision to get up super early and have breakfast as the sun came up so I could be in the park before the crowds arrived. There are about four or five sections to the park and the first one you come to is the middle section, this gets really busy late morning when the buses of tourists pull up and they end up pretty crowded. I hate crowded temples, this is why I like sightseeing by myself, I love to walk around in quiet places and really get a feel for a place – it’s impossible to do this with hundreds of tourists jostling for the best photo opportunity and failing to appreciate the beauty of what they are seeing firsthand.imageIf you’re the same as me, I would recommend heading into the park by 9am at the latest so you have time to enjoy the centre, this way you can move further into the park and explore the other sections around midday and into the afternoon. Make sure you take snacks as out in these sections there is nowhere to buy food or water, I always took peanuts and water which I found were good for an energy boost. It is also worth taking a guide book as well as your map – I had the Lonely Planet Thailand book which gave some really good background on the temples I was visiting and recommended the most spectacular ones. I actually found that the route I had chosen to take around the temples was one that a group from my bus were paying for as a cycling tour so I saved myself a few quid there. They were also pretty impressed I seemed to know more about the temples than they were learning as well – definitely worth a quick trip to the museum before visiting the temples, although you can also find a lot of information online as well – it really helps to contextualise what you are seeing.imageIt depends on what you go there for, but I definitely preferred having three days of exploring completely new sections of the kingdom like I had in Ayutthaya. I still had an amazing time and I can’t recommend visiting enough – I would say that if you have two or three days you should definitely go for Ayutthaya, but if you have just the one day it is better spent at Sukhothai. If you have enough time, please do go to both like I did – trust me, you gain a completely different experience from each. My favourite moment while I was there, had to be when I cycled back into the park at sunset to watch the last rays of the day cast over the still waters of the lakefront Wat Maha That as the sun dipped behind another temple across the lake. I had the whole place to myself but I couldn’t understand why – it was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have seen while travelling. Don’t miss out.image

 

Have you been to Sukhothai – what did you think? What was your highlight of the visit? How did it compare to Ayutthaya? 

Ab Lucy sign off

Flavour combinations that dreams are made of at Marriott’s Warehouse

The South Quay, King's Lynn. Marriotts Warehouse.

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My apologies for the delay, but as you guys have probably seen of late, I have blog posts coming out of my ears! I seem to have all these amazing posts running around my head, barely the time to write them and certainly not enough time to post them. I would post every day on my blog if I had the time to maintain this, but sadly working four jobs does detract from the amount of time I can spend on this. So sometimes there are a few posts that I put on hold, just so I can make sure I do them justice when it comes to writing them up to share with you guys. A few weeks ago, I had a fantastic girl date with one of my best friends and in our usual style, we decided to go all out and treat ourselves. Although we speak pretty much every day, it had been a while since we had the opportunity to really catch up after we had been working lots and away at festivals – we’re both pretty busy bees! But that’s the great thing about our friendship, although we are both always busy as anything, neither one of us ever takes it personally when the other can’t make it along to something. We always know that when we do finally get a chance to catch up, that we will more than make-up for it.

We headed to one of the newer restaurants in King’s Lynn, Marriotts Warehouse, for dinner – a real treat we had both been excitedly awaiting as neither of us had tried it out yet. I had actually been there previously for a Christmas meal with friends, and the food was incredible, but it was a completely different menu to usual, so I considered myself a newbie to the restaurant. As you guys will know by now, I’m a bit of a foodie and I love going out to eat, but in King’s Lynn we are sometimes a bit lacking in different types of restaurants – we have loads of Indian, Chinese and Italian restaurants, but very little else and it was great to go to a real bistro-style restaurant. After all of the local restaurants I have been to, I have yet to find another that serves the same type of food as Marriott’s.photo_1 (2)The restaurant itself is in a fabulous place along the quayside, the old warehouse building overlooks the water and at sunset provides a stunning view. The outside seating area has seen various new additions of more benches, seats and plants which, although a little busy, was a lovely place to sit out in the sunshine with a glass of wine, as Vikki was doing when I arrived. Inside, the building is softly lit and has a cosy feel, with lots of wood panelling, beams and a huge wooden bar. The restaurant has a great atmosphere because although there are plenty of places to sit, it is not over-filled with tables so it is never too loud and voices don’t echo, even when it is busy. They have plenty of staff, perhaps too many considering the volume of tables, but they give a very personal service and are on hand to cater to your every need.The food itself is outstanding. I don’t really know how to describe it beyond that. The flavour combinations are fabulous and in some cases very unusual, they use local produce and it is all presented beautifully.

We shared the Marriott’s Sharing Platter to start, which had a delicious combination of feta stuffed peppers, potato and chorizo salad, jerk chicken skewers, minted yoghurt dip and spicy jerk sauce, goat’s cheese, mushroom and sun-dried tomato bruschetta, chicken liver pate with malted bread. Wow, it may have sounded over-ambitious, but we finished everything and it even shut us up for a few minutes because everything was so tasty. It was the perfect accompaniment to a glass of Pinot Grigio and a great conversation. I always love the sharing platters when out with friends because it is such a lovely tradition to share a meal and I love the mezze-style of eating lots of little bits of bigger dishes – as you can imagine I absolutely love tapas!photo_2 (1)For mains, we actually both went for the same dish because it sounded so tasty! We had the pan-fried duck breast served with chocolate and chilli sauce, potato rosti, braised red cabbage and caramelised oranges, and we ordered some onion rings on the side. I chose the duck because I have never really had duck out in a restaurant and I was dying to try it, my main experiences of duck are having it in pancakes as part of a Chinese. The richness of the meat really appealed to me as a big lover of venison, and I loved the idea of chocolate and chilli sauce with red cabbage. It was absolutely delicious and I struggled to keep chatting because it was so damn tasty. I loved the combination of the flavours, particularly because I would never think to have a chocolate and chilli sauce with meat, or to combine it with oranges – but it really worked and it is making my mouth water even now to remember the dish.

The whole meal was fantastic and I can’t recommend this restaurant enough, the whole venture was a brilliant idea and I’m so pleased it is paying off for the guys behind it all. Particularly after they suffered so much with flooding and even a fire earlier this year. I have heard nothing but good things about Marriotts and I always think that is the mark of a good restaurant, not what you read on websites by people who have had a free meal and rate it, but people like me who just love the food and genuinely want others to share the experience, and those who can’t stop raving about a place. Marriotts is easily one of my favourite restaurants in Lynn and I will definitely be going back again to try more on the menu!

Have you been to Marriott’s Warehouse? What was your favourite dish?

Ab Lucy sign off

An emotional trip to see what had risen from the rubble

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One of the most poignant moments on the trip to New York was our visit to Ground Zero – I had personally been looking forward to seeing the changes made to the site since our last visit had shown one of the the newly erected buildings towering over rubble and the other just beginning to take shape. That visit alone was really something and after feeling so detached from the original attack due to my age and lack of knowledge, I found it a really powerful and emotional experience to walk between the buildings and see this enormous pile of rubble where those majestic buildings once stood. It was horrifying to think what it must have been like for the people in the buildings, nearby or anywhere in the city, knowing what was happening or having no clue and just being petrified.

IMG_4810The museum devastated me. I don’t even know how to explain it to anyone who hasn’t been – it is just the saddest place I have ever been and to hear the last calls made by people in the towers to their loved ones is just beyond anything I have experienced. Looking at pictures of the toppling towers and hearing those desperate and terrified voices as they took those last moments to express their love and fear just tore me apart and I was a mess afterwards. On that trip, it poured with rain as we walked around – quite suiting the mood.

IMG_4812On this trip, the new buildings were glinting with sunlight and rainbows bounced through the water pouring from the fountains. The grounds are now a very odd place to walk around, strangely peaceful but at the same time, still heartbreaking. The work continues and the new museum is yet to open, with a sculpture being created from the remnants of metal taken from the buildings’ original foundations. They ask for donations rather than charging people to visit, and there are maps available to find where different groups of people are remembered.

The names of all of those who were died in the North or South Tower collapse, or trying to save those trapped amongst the rubble, have all been remembered individually with their names engraved on each of the two fountains – the largest man-made waterfalls in North America – that now stand “within the footprints of where the Towers once stood”. As you can see above, their fire crews, ambulance crews or any other affiliation has also been recognised, and every year, on each of their birthdays, a white rose is placed in their name. This was the bit that really caught a lump in my throat. This is the bit that makes us realise this happened to real people and that their memory lives on in the families, children and loved ones who survived – the same ones who received the frantic messages in those last moments.

IMG_4817We arrived at the site just a few hours after midday and in the grounds there was also a sign stating that at lunchtime of that day, three 9/11 volunteers had completed a total of 2,983 hours of service to the memorial – with one hour dedicated to each of the names listed on the memorial. This was just one very small, but important part of the 37,500 hours that the entire 9/11 volunteer corps had amassed since the memorial’s opening on 9/11/11.

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Have you been to the 9/11 memorial? Or to see the rubble that lay before? What was your experience like?