I love arriving in a new place whether it’s a bustling city, a beachside resort or a mountain top town and feeling my senses tingling. I love that first sense you get of a new place, the first smells, sights and sounds that hit you, the warmth or the freshness of the air. It’s these moments that make a place real, that make it special to you, and that stay with you long after you have moved on to pastures new. I still remember the first time I set foot in Bangkok - the hot air pressed against my skin, the noise of the streets and the vendors, the smells of spices and street food mingled in the air. Ella in Sri Lanka was different, with fresh mountain air, fluffy clouds dotted along the skies and a sense of peace I had yet to find elsewhere in the country. Each place leaves a lasting impression, and those first few hours, or even first few days can really make or break how you feel about a place.
I was inspired to write this post because I’ve spent the last two days in Kandy, Sri Lanka, and it is the first place in a long time that I have felt an instant dislike to. After being high up in the mountains with fresh air and peace, Kandy has been an assault on the senses with too much traffic, too much noise and too much pollution. I’ve felt smothered here and can’t wait to leave today, to get back out into nature - back to exploring the jungle. However, I know that some of the reason I really don’t like Kandy is actually because I arrived here in a bad mood, exhausted and grumpy from travel, with a bad tummy and to a bad accommodation. The first few hours I spent here were feeling ill and wandering the streets trying to find somewhere to eat and giving up in the end. It just shows how much those first few hours or days can really shadow your impression of a place and that’s why I normally try to take control of the situation and to give myself the best opportunity to fall in love with every place I visit.
Well it’s all about making sure you throw yourself in at the deep end - whether you’re traveling by yourself or with friends or a partner, you have to get out exploring the first chance you get. By not sitting around feeling a bit lost, getting out and seeing the sights, meeting new people and really experiencing the city.
My favourite way, and one I use in every new place, is to spend the first day just walking. Especially in a new city, I love to just spend the day exploring on foot either with or without a map, this way I can get lost and find all the really cool stuff hidden away. Plus I end up learning my way around pretty quick from getting lost. I also find I talk to more random strangers and meet some great people along the way as well as getting to see the sights. I had a great day walking the length and breadth of Budapest - it was a great city for exploring on foot and I managed to see all the sights and make some new friends in a few hours.
Love running? Why not do like I sometimes do and explore a city in your running gear? I did this in Perth and had a fun day keeping fit and running around the city. Be creative with your sightseeing - I’ve spent a day exploring places on a bike or even on a segway - it’s a different way to see the city. I have a friend who really loves skateboarding and she always travels with her board, so she loves to explore every new city by skateboarding around and usually makes some friends along the way. Fancy trying it out? You can pick up skateboarding decks here.
Sometimes, especially if you are traveling solo or are pressed for time, it can be great to meet up with a traveling friend or even a new friend to be shown around a new place. When I visited Amsterdam and Berlin, I met up with old friends there from when I was living both in the UK and Australia - both friends took me under their wing and were excited to show me around their city. I had a place to stay and a tour guide, plus a great chance to catch up with friends and to see a new place. Don’t have a friend where you are going - why not try one of the many groups on Facebook to find someone who might want to host you? I’m part of a Girls Love Travel Facebook group which has almost forty thousand women from all over the world who live or are travelling all across the globe - they are always on hand for advice when travelling to a new place, keen to meet up for a drink, to show you round or even host you!
A good way to see the sights and explore a new city, if you don’t know where to begin why not join the professional tour guides? When travelling around Europe, I started using Sandemans NEW Europe Tours - they offer FREE walking tours around 18 European cities with fantastic guides who have endless knowledge and enthusiasm for their city. The tours are free but the guides work for tips and you are welcome to give as little or as much as you want - the tours were always so good that I happily 10-20 euros after my tours in Berlin and Amsterdam.
If you’re backpacking or staying in a hostel - why not take a look at the activities board and see what your hostel might be offering? Not only is it a great way to meet people and get to see the city, but it is often a lot cheaper or even free! When I was in Sydney, Australia, my hostel was fantastic for this and organised events daily including walking tours and wine and cheese nights, further down in Tasmania my hostel organised visits to the nearby mountain and museums for much cheaper than the usual price.
Not staying in hostels? Be smart about your accommodation and make it part of the experience! Renting out a house or apartment for your trip is a different way to experience the destination. Rental companies are making that option easier and safer, from AirBNB to CasaGo, you're sure to find somewhere that is perfect for you, and will give you a taste of the local culture.
How else do you like to explore a new city? Where will you be exploring next?
I'm not much of a city girl, being born and raised out in the English countryside seems to swing you one way or the other. My sister is the ultimate city girl living in London and working in the fashion industry, but while I've loved the crazy hustle and bustle of visiting cities like Bangkok, Siem Reap and Hanoi, I'm always glad to escape again to the coast, countryside or mountains. I crave space, open fields, endless ocean or the fresh mountain air, too long spent breathing in the fumes of the city, dealing with traffic and so many people drives me crazy. Living in Melbourne was the longest I have ever lived in the middle of a city other than Sydney, and I know the old rivalry between the two is still strong for good reason. Both are amazing cities but Melbourne is where my heart is, even before I left the UK I knew it would be and everything I experienced while I lived there for four months only further cemented my love for the city. Melbourne is a fantastic city to live in if you don't really like cities - despite my apartment being in the most central part of the city I never felt trapped the way I do in London. The beach was just a short tram ride away and on either side of my apartment you would find beautiful Albert Park and the Botanic Gardens with running tracks, endless open space and huge lakes. It was perfect for me, but even with all of this natural beauty surrounding me, it did sometimes get a bit too much living directly in the city. I'd still feel the need to escape and get away.
Now I hadn't even heard of Lysterfield Park, nor had many of my friends who had lived in Melbourne for a lot longer than I had, but it turned out to be the perfect pace to cycle away a hangover one Sunday. Around 30km out of the city, the park was created following the decommissioning of the reservoir that sits behind us in the photo above, which has left a beautiful woodland set against the banks of the lake. It was the venue for mountain biking events of the 2006 Commonwealth Games and features a wide array of trails suitable for beginners like myself or the more experienced rider. I was definitely feeling a little less enthusiastic at the thought of mountain biking on a hangover than Evan, but it turned out to be a really lovely day and perfect weather for escaping the city. We rode around the park and I attempted the mountain bike trails while he showed off. Wandering around the lake the banks were filled with families who had come well prepared with barbecues and all sorts of goodies. It was beautiful standing there as the sun was setting. We headed back into the woods to find the car and spotted some of the biggest kangaroos I've seen in the whole of Australia as we rode along the path towards the car park.
We ended up having a rather entertaining drive home as the car decided to pack in and leave us stranded until we could get a lift, but it didn't take the shine off what was a rather perfect day. It was just the death of fresh air I needed before heading back to work the following day - when you're working 12 hour days six days a week, it becomes even more important to really make the most of your days off. It was really nice to have the opportunity to see another part of the city that I hadn't yet explored. For anyone who hasn't heard of Lysterfield, I would really recommend you head out there one weekend - whether you like biking, running or just fancy a nice stroll around beautiful park, it's a lovely day out and well worth a visit. While you're at it, why not check to some of the other stunning walks and parks scattered around Melbourne - check out my blog posts on Great Ocean Road, Cape Otway National Park and Grampians National Park. I can't wait to visit the Wilson's Promontory, Dandenong Ranges National Park and Philip Island when I return to Melbourne in a few months.
Do you crave city life, or you prefer a country escape? Where are your favourite places to go to escape the hustle and bustle of the city?
The most liveable city in the world has been my home for the past four months and I don’t think I’ve ever been happier living in a city than I have been since I moved here. From the second you get off the plane you can feel the city is alive and buzzing with excitement at the arrival of yet another new face eager to unlock its hidden treasures. From bars hidden behind bookcases and acoustic performers lining the streets, to the regular festival takeovers and the incredible street art that lines alleyways across the city. Melbourne is a city of life and excitement with amazing discoveries hiding around every corner - even after four months I still have so much to learn about this city and feel like I have barely scratched the surface.With just three weeks left here I guess I’m getting a bit emotional at the thought of leaving the place that has become home to me, the first home I’ve had in 18 months. I’ve loved every second of my life here and that’s exactly what it has been. I have built a life here over the past four months, more than just meeting friends before hitting the road again, this is a place where I have friends, family, a career and a home. I’ve met so many amazing people who have set my soul alight and I know that even when I fly to the other side of the globe, I’ll be leaving a big piece of my heart here. You all know who you are, every single one of you amazing people have made this one of the best experiences of my life and it’s you that makes the thought of leaving seem incomprehensible.But if you know anything about me by now, you’ll know that I’m never one to dwell on the sad times, instead I have a series of posts lined up to celebrate Melbourne and all that has made this city incredible for me. All the reasons I’ll be returning in just a few short months, all the things that have made me live every single day with a smile on my face. And what better to start with than the amazing graffiti that lines the streets of Melbourne? I love art - walking around the city to see bold, colourful statements that reflect the consciousness of a passionate, exciting and creative city is one of my favourite parts of Melbourne. From the political and the poignant, to the current and the comic - there’s a piece for all tastes and the constant fluctuation of work is what keeps it exciting. You never know what will spring up next and what will disappear, this change is what keeps the walls of Melbourne alive in a way that other cities just cannot keep up with.Much as you often find you stumble across incredibly relatable and poignant posts across social media that seem to be written especially for you and your emotions at that moment. Melbourne city walks are like a live feed of passion and emotion spread right across your eyes - it’s amazing what you will stumble across if you just take a second to look up from your phone as you wander the cobbled walkways. Of course, if you’re planning on exploring the city anytime soon you’ll need to know the best places to start so here’s the best places to venture if you fancy seeing some of the most awe-inspiring pieces on show. Start out at the famous Hosier and Rutledge Lanes, just off Federation Square, before heading to Caledonian Lane, off Little Bourke Street, then check out Union Lane, off Bourke Street Mall.If that’s not enough for you, head for the rear of 280 Queen Street in Finlay Avenue, 21 Degraves Street, or the corner of Flinders Lane and Cocker Alley. Over towards Carlton there’s some amazing artwork at 122 Palmerston Street, and don’t forget Centre Place between Collins Street and Flinders Lane. All of these areas feature some of the best street art I have seen, and it’s so wonderful to see them displayed in a place where it is valued and considered art - Melbourne is such a modern city and I love the attitude that appreciates the art instead of squashing these amazing talents like in many cities. Another great area for checking out the art is Brunswick Street and the rest of Fitzroy where you’ll find some pretty spectacular scenes hidden amongst the streets.
What do you think about street art in cities - is it just graffiti or something much more? Where are your favourite places in Melbourne to spot the latest and best street art?
Two of the most iconic images we hold of Australia are the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge, the third? Ayers Rock, which I still have yet to see but am making my way towards slowly. Within five hours of my flight arriving in Sydney I had seen both of these and it was a pretty strange sight after a nine hour flight and no sleep. I couldn't believe I was finally standing there staring at two of these incredible landmarks that I had only ever seen on TV before now, but what a welcome to the city. I was lucky enough to see them on my first day both bathed in glorious sunlight which really made it special. I felt sorry for friends who I later saw had posted photos of the two on an overcast, cloudy day which just didn't have the same effect. I'm sorry to say that the Opera House just looks like a lump of concrete to me when it's not sunny, and the bridge is just a load of metal on a miserable day. They just look so much less impressive without sunlight glinting off them.
I was very lucky while I was in Sydney and picked up some good weather despite it being a bit chilly on some days. So a lot of my days there were spent walking miles and miles around the city - at one point I was using an app which told me I was walking an average of 10k a day as I made my way round the city running errands and sightseeing. One of my favourite walks was down through the CBD until I reached the harbour, then walking either towards the bridge and across The Rocks, or heading the opposite way towards the Opera House and Royal Botanical Gardens. Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know that I spent quite a lot of time in the gardens, reading, contemplating my travels and making plans for the next few months in Australia. I have now been to botanical gardens all over the world and I can definitely say that I have never seen any as beautiful, well-maintained and idyllic as those in Sydney. They were a natural haven on the edge of the city - often it caught me by surprise as I lay on the grass facing the water to turn around and see skyscrapers not far from where I lay.The gardens are filled with walks that take you around the lakes and through smaller sections of the beautiful layout. I would recommend to anyone who finds themselves with spare and sunny day to make their way to the gardens with a picnic, a book and time to walk to their hearts content. I found my favourite spot in the gardens pretty early on and it was somewhere I headed back to again and again to enjoy. I was even lucky enough to share it with someone special when Mark came out to join me travelling for two months and we had a sunny day of travel planning ahead of us. Our East Coast trip was actually the result of a day spent at my favourite spot and pouring over books and websites for the best possible trip. I think perhaps this is one of the things that made me love Sydney so much - the fact that it had so much green and natural space as well as the shiny buildings and concrete - it never felt stifling because you were always need open space and water.I've noticed since being in Australia that every Australian, and most travellers, seem to have a strict preference for either Sydney or Melbourne. It's one of the first things they state and one of the first things they question me on when they realise I have been to both, but they are always baffled by my answer. I went to Melbourne for a few days with a friend at the end of May for my birthday and absolutely loved the city - I had already planned to move there in January when the weather improves but going there confirmed for me even more that I would live living there. But Sydney well and truly provided me with an amazing home I still miss even though I'm all the way up the East Coast - it's such a great city and I completely fell in love with it but for totally different reasons. I can understand why many people seem to prefer one city over the other. But I just can't see why people don't seem to I've both, like I do, for different reasons. Both cities are fabulous and have so much to offer - I've been describing them to people back at home and my only way of comparing them is to say that Sydney is very much the mainstream, international sister of quirky Melbourne which has so much character is reminds me of Camden at home. Both offer a totally different experience but one that every traveller should experience for themselves.
Have you visited the Royal Botanical Gardens? What do you prefer - Melbourne or Sydney - and why?