Yesterday marked an official milestone ahead of my travels. My resignation was finally officially passed over to the big bosses (I handed it in a month early to help give them time to replace me before Christmas) - so that means there's really no going back now. Not that there was even a chance of me cancelling. My leaving party is on the horizon, I'm planning in lots of visits to see people before I go and I'm making sure I fill my boots with all those yummy Christmas foods in case I'm not back by next Christmas. It's all starting to become a bit real now and I can't quite believe how little time I have left at work - by the time you read this I will have just four Mondays left on the job! Everyone in the office is really excited for me, they're all counting down for me as well. It's such an amazing feeling to know how hard I've worked and for how long, and to now finally see that light at the end of the tunnel - that tropical sunlight beaming down at me. I've got just one more round of jabs left and everything else is finally falling into place, my plans are made and I've even started organising my travel wardrobe. So I thought it was about time I gave you guys an update on my plans for travelling:
My trip kicks off on January 6 when I fly out to Bangkok. After a couple of days sightseeing, shopping and eating in the city, I will head to the beaches and islands off south Thailand. Of course I'll be taking in the standard backpacker route via Ko Pha-Ngan, Ko Samui, Krabi and Ko Phi-Phi. I'm looking forward to a lot of time spent snorkelling, swimming and pretending to be a mermaid. I'm meeting some friends when I arrive, so I'm sure there will be a lot of partying and fun to be had - the perfect way to start the new year if you ask me, and I'm looking forward to starting my trip with a bang. I'll be spending a month and a half covering this ground, then for a complete change of pace, and to get my visa renewed, I'll be heading to Vietnam for two weeks where I plan to travel as much of the country as possible - a LOT of food will be consumed here and I'm looking forward to visiting Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. Halong Bay looks beautiful and I would love to go on one of the river tours.
When I head back to Thailand, I'm heading straight to Chiang Mai in the North, where the experience of a lifetime awaits me. I have booked to spend a week volunteering at an elephant sanctuary where I will be caring for, feeding and bathing elephants for the week. It is a dream come true to get to do this and I am beyond excited. I've not even set out yet and already I know this will be a highlight of the trip for me! My week there will be followed by another week or two in Chiang Mai, followed by a trip further north to Pai. I'm really looking forward to Pai - I know already from everything I have read and seen of the place that it is definitely somewhere I will be wanting to stay for a while. The next leg of my journey will be to visit Laos for a week or two spent relaxing, taking in the scenery, visiting temples and dolphin spotting. After Laos, I'll be heading to central Thailand, particularly the national parks and Sukhothai Historical Park. And then I might give myself some more time in Bangkok before heading to Cambodia for a few weeks for another huge highlight of my trip. I'm planning on staying at a yoga, meditation and health retreat for 10 days where I will be trying out a vegan diet, will be visiting the Cambodian temples, spending a bit of time just looking after myself and treating myself to a few massages. I'm really looking forward to this part of the trip and I'm pleased that there will be opportunities for me to explore the country further. I'll have to head back to Thailand to catch my flight to Oz for the next leg of my journey - at the moment I plan for this to be around May but that is open to change.
Australia is very unplanned at the moment, but I know I have a lot of friends to meet and catch up with - plus I have several people coming out to meet me for stages of my trip here so it's going to be a busy few months! I'm planning to travel around as much of the country as possible, and I'm hoping my friends will be quite scattered so I can use them as a guide for my travels. I'm really looking forward to checking out the surfing - my goal is to learn to stand up on a surfboard without help. I'm also looking forward to spending some time in the cities, particularly Melbourne, and of course the beaches - Bondi looks amazing! And I do have a little dream in the back of my mind of doing a bit of a Golden Coast road trip, but I'll definitely need some friends to keep me company. I haven't decided yet if I will need to work while I am in Oz - I will assess my funds along the way and will see if I want to pick up some more cash. I had planned for three months there, but I already know I'll be extending it to at least four months.
In New Zealand, I will again be visiting a few people, old family friends, but I'm also looking forward to having some time to myself to explore. I haven't got a plan yet, but I've definitely got a few things I really want to do - like visiting the glow-worm caves, whale and dolphin spotting, I would love to see the Southern Lights, I fancy a lot of outdoor activities, so more surfing, walking and climbing would be good. While I'm in NZ, I've also decided that I simply have to get a flight and go to Fiji, no matter how much it costs me. It just looks like paradise and I think I need a little taste of heaven. I have an idea in my head that if I can find a job in Oz or NZ to raise some more cash - I would love to raise enough to stay the full year and to fly back to Australia for new year to watch the fireworks at Sydney Harbour before catching my flights back to the UK via Dubai on January 6. Whew. Quite a trip huh?
I'm still researching places and working out my exact route, so if you have any suggestions or advice, please do leave a comment!
PS. I'd love if you would vote for me in the UK Blog Awards by clicking here and here.
I'm finally getting round to writing up my posts on my trip to Ireland - it took a little longer this time, partly because things have been so busy at chez moi since getting back and partly because I already had a lot of posts I wanted to share with you first. I've got a couple of posts lined up for you guys all about different parts of the holiday and this first one is all about the stunning island we stayed on in the centre of Waterford, where Waterford Castle can be found. After arriving in Dublin, we drove to Waterford and on to the ferry over to the island. It's a beautiful place, just a small island in the middle of the River Suir and covered in trees, with a huge golf course and sports club, lots of lodges to stay in and of course, the amazing Waterford Castle. Naturally, I took lots of photos as I explored the island and here I wanted to share them with you all, but I'll save the best for last.We were staying in the lodges, which were lovely and really decked out with everything you could need in a three-bedroom self-catering house. Three double bedrooms with two en suites and another two bathrooms, plus a nice kitchen and great living space which was perfect for us as there was a lot of other members of my boyfriend's family staying in the other lodges for the wedding, which was to take place in the castle over the weekend. The lodges were a short walk from the castle and the golf club, both took you along the same road which was lined with old-fashioned street lamps lighting the way under a dense canopy of huge trees. It was the perfect romantic setting for a wedding, and the weather was lovely for a couple of days which meant we were able to really enjoy the island in all its splendour.The island was teeming with wildlife, with rabbits running everywhere and deer - tamer than any I have seen - just chilling out on the driving range. They let us get so close to take photos and didn't even seem spooked, they just carried on munching away. Later, a couple of us spotted lots of them just stood out in the open on the golf course after the golfers had gone, it was so strange to me to see them away from the trees like that and just showed how peaceful the island is. We spent a bit of time with family over in the golf club, which was a cosy little bar with food and plenty of places to sit - a must with the Broderick family. When the call is made for a wedding, they come in droves and there needs to be enough room for them all to catch up - it gets pretty loud and Irish, and I love it! The afternoon of the day before the wedding, a couple of us decided to head out for a wander around the island, and we discovered a tiny path marked "the scenic route". We couldn't resist checking it out and we were so glad we did - on what had been a fairly dull but dry day, the sun suddenly burst out from behind the clouds as it was lowering in the sky. We made our way along the path, brushing aside branches and nettles, stumbling over tree roots and rustling through autumn leaves. Then the trees started to thin and we spotted the water, we were right at the edge of the island and the water was lapping against the rocks that lined the shore. The sun was beaming down on us as we walked along and we had to stop and take in the view. The rest of the path led us around the edge of the island, giving a great view of the castle and across the golf course where the groom and some of the wedding party were off playing a New Zealand vs Ireland game.The path took us back through the woods, where we stumbled across a deserted ramshackle building covered in moss, a secret garden with a gate draped with flowers and more cute little pathways to explore. We climbed the steps back up to the castle and stood in it's shadow as we tried to work out where the lodges were, while admiring the view back across the lawns towards the river where we had just walked. It was so beautiful and the sun coming out really showed us the island in all its glory. The whole walk we never bumped into a single person and that feeling of solitude and peacefulness was just perfect, it was so tranquil there. Just what we needed before the madness of a big Irish wedding!Okay, I've teased you all enough - here it is, the stunning Waterford Castle. I amazingly later discovered the personal family history of this place - my boyfriend's grandfather and his wife ran away to be together years ago, they made there way to the island in Waterford where they lived and he worked on the island as a labourer. The family extended and grew within Waterford, which is where many of them still live today. Picturesque and enchanting, the island is said to have been home to monks between the sixth and eighth centuries, as the carving of the monk's head over the main entrance suggests. In 1978 the island was rented to Roger Shipsey, a Waterford Pedigree Dairy Farmer, who later bought the island outright. Eddie Kearns, who bought the island in 1987, both preserved its past and secured its future by opening the beauty of the Castle and the Island to all visitors by developing it into a luxurious Hotel and Country Club, which now is one of the most impressive Castle Hotels in Ireland.
Just one look at the stone walls, the old fashioned turrets and the gorgeous red leaves spread across the front of the building. I'm sure you understand exactly why I was over the moon to have a chance to not only stay on the island, but to get the opportunity to attend a wedding in this amazing setting. Definitely one of those times you have to release your inner princess, especially when you are half expecting Rapunzel to lean out a window and let her hair tumble down. Check out my other upcoming posts to see more of the wedding and some exploring around Ireland.
Have you been to Waterford Castle before? Have you ever had the opportunity to live out a princess dream?
As you read this, I'm packing and getting ready to go to the airport for a wedding in Ireland with the boyfriend's family. I'm so unbelievably excited about this wedding, there has been one every autumn for the last few years, but this is the last one for a while and it's a very special one. This wedding is taking us to a tiny island in the centre of Waterford, where the wedding will take place in a castle! I visited the castle last September and it was just beautiful, like something out of a fairytale, and covered in trailing red flowers. Looking at it, I half expected Rapunzel to lean out of the turrets and pour down her golden hair. We're actually staying on the island in lodges as well so we won't have far to stumble back to bed after the wedding, but in true Irish style, the celebrations will continue for three days of partying, drinking, eating and being very merry. So, this post is all about celebrating the 10 things I love the most about Ireland, and what has kept me going back every autumn for the last few years.
Everyone I have met in Ireland has been friendly, welcoming and has gone out of their way to make you feel at home. I wouldn't want to generalise but if you walk down the street in England, you will be met with more frowns and grumpy faces than you can cope with, but in Ireland, everyone has always been happy to see me and chat. Everyone I have ever met on my visits has been warm and kind, plus quick to help if you are lots of need a recommendation. Plus, THAT accent gets me every time.
Ireland is a beautiful country with everything to offer, inland there are rolling hills and lush green fields full of cows and sheep. On the coast there are stunning beaches, cute seaside towns and choppy waves. So many towns look like time forgot them and they still hold that quaint appeal in the tiny churches and hole-in-the-wall pubs with warm fires and great music.THE FOOD
You guys know by now, I love my food and anywhere that can promise me a good meal is going high up in my estimations. Well Ireland certainly delivers, and particularly at last year's wedding where we had some amazing freshly caught seafood in the coastal town where we were staying, and had the gorgeous prime Irish beef as the main wedding meal. Yum. Looking forward to seeing what food we'll get this time!
Every single time we go to an Irish wedding it is a pretty legendary night - the last one saw us partying with the bride to an epic soundtrack she had picked herself and downing beers until the sun came up - the bride and groom actually carried on and yet still beat us to breakfast! Another one we went to was pretty manic and ended up with me locked out of the hotel room and having to bunk in with some cousins! These events always involve a lot of booze, dancing and fun so I'm sure I'll have some tales to tell after this one! THE FAMILY
I really love getting to spend time with the boyfriend's extended family - my family, although big, are spread across the globe and we don't often see each other. When we do, we are not particularly close, so it is lovely to spend time with a family who make such an effort to get together and to celebrate even the tiniest occasions. It is a lovely thing to be a part of and they do make me a big part of it. At this wedding, a member of the family will be travelling from South Africa to ordain the ceremony, and there are lots of others travelling from America.
As you guys know, I've been working constantly for a long time now and have been saving hard for backpacking in a few months, I haven't really had a proper break because all my holiday time has been spent at festivals which are just as crazy! So this will be a nice relaxing break as well, a chance to regroup and get away from work for a bit. I have long needed a break - that's for sure! Ireland is the perfect place for a break because although you feel a million miles away from home, it is super convenient to get to.THE ACTIVITIES
Every time I've visited Ireland, we've had no end of fun things to do, see and try. Previously we've had big family meals, gone walking around the coast, watched family take part in a 10k run, taken the kids to the funfair, visited a monastery and family graves, and even gone to the races! This time, there is a big golfing game to join in and, obviously the wedding, but we also have a huge family do the day after at a well-known pub, which will give us lots of time to spend together. There's so much to do!
Have you been to Ireland? What did you think of the country and what has made it a special place for you?