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My last week in London + my 21st birthday!

Back from Spain I had just over one week in London before I was heading home to New Zealand.

I was lucky enough that while I was in town my mum’s cousin Allison who lives in LA was also in London. At Marina’s house, I met her and her daughter as well as another cousin Trudy and her two kids. We went out for dinner and it was awesome being able to meet more of my extended family and share stories from back home in NZ. Not many of the rest of my family had met Allison and it was crazy to see the resemblance that she had with my Aunty Pat. They were all really interested in my travels as well as what my grandma Mammy was up to (their aunty). Back home in NZ we have a small, tight-knit family so it’s been awesome over the year being able to meet more and more relatives.

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On Thursday night (19th September) I was taking Dan, Claire, Marina and Lee out for dinner to say thank you for everything they had done for me that year. Dan, Marina and I met Claire at her work, Topshop HQ, and then headed for a drink. After that we made our way to Reform in Marylebone for dinner where Lee joined us. The food was amazing and we all had such a fantastic night. The four of them surprised me with my birthday present which was a beautiful Marc Jacobs watch which I absolutely love. I got a bit teary at the end of the night at the thought of having to return home and say goodbye to these four who had become my closest family over the last 9 months.

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The next day it was my birthday! I took the train up to Leeds for one final time but this time it was to see Sophie!

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I taxied to the university and met her by the Parkinson steps. Sophie had only been in Leeds a couple of days herself but it was great to see where she was staying and to see that she was already settled in. After meeting a few of her flatmates I wanted to show her the parts of Leeds that I knew so we went for a walk. Through the university we headed down to where my accommodation was and then into town. It was great being able to explain the city and share the tips that I had. We went into town and had a look around the shops for some new outfits for the night. We then went to Trinity (the new shopping mall) and had a drink at Alchemist before dinner at a place called Giraffe. After our catchup we walked to Sainsbury’s to get some vodka (little did I know what a bad decision that would be) and then we headed back to her flat.

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Time flew by as we were drinking and getting ready and then we went across the hall to another flat filled with more exchange students. I had a great time getting to know all of Sophie’s new friends. I hadn’t drunk vodka in quite a while and I thought that my tolerance was a lot higher than it actually was. As it was my 21st I was asked to down quite a few drinks and it ended up that I got a bit emotional and at that point I felt I could have easily spent another semester in Leeds! It reminded me so much of the first few weeks I had had in Leeds when everyone was so excited to meet new people and start a new experience.

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We decided to head off to the union to check out the bars and clubs. The rest of the night is a bit hazy but we went to Terrace for a bit of a dance with all of Sophie’s friends and then Sophie, Jock and I headed down to Fruity. After ordering some tequila shots that did not come with any lime or lemon we danced a fair bit and I then I vaguely remember Jock and Sophie helping me back home.

I woke up the next morning in a shocking state. I asked Sophie what time we got home thinking she would reply with “3/4am” in the morning, but she said that I was asleep by 12.30… very embarrassing. I spent the entire morning being very sick which wasn’t fun at all especially since I had a lot of things that I had wanted to do on my last day in Leeds. None of those came to fruition and then it was time for me to taxi to the train. As I struggled onto the train it was to my dismay that the man sitting across from me was making his way through a whole bottle of wine. I purchased a bag of chips and a coke and I started to feel a little less seedy… After stopping in some random English town to change trains I finally made it to Stratford where I had to battle my way through the shopping mall to meet Dan at the end. Not all the tubes were working that weekend so it was great that he was able to drop me home.

Back at theirs Claire had some friends round and later that night we went to Switch (their local pub) for a few more drinks. The amaretto and cokes weren’t really going down that well and I was exhausted so wasn’t a very late one for me!

My last couple of days in London were filled with me packing and running errands. A few times the tube wasn’t working so I was housebound a bit with Dexter but that was ok! I headed over to Marina’s for some last catchups, Dan and I went to Shoreditch for lunch and a look around and I went to Stratford for the last time and to close my bank account etc. Was so weird to finally be closing everything up after so long.

My last night in London Marina and Lee came over and Claire cooked my favourite meal of hers, lasagne! We had a night in chatting before Marina and Lee headed home – very sad to say goodbye to the family I have grown so close to over the past 9 months.

The next day I said goodbye to Claire in the morning as she went to work and then Dan and I had some brekkie, watched some TV and took Dexter out for a walk. We headed to the airport and I checked in. Said a tearful goodbye to Dan and then went through to security. Managed to use up my last 9pounds in coins to buy a new book and chocolate and then got my last bit of Pret-a-manger (my fave while here in London)!

My flight stopped off in Los Angeles – the one and only time I have been to America and then made my way through to Auckland.

Crazy to think that the trip that I planned for so long is over now. When I first went over I had no return ticket back to Auckland, I knew I was coming back within the year but not sure when. In saying that, I was definitely ready to come home – the combination of no money and missing my friends and family meant that it was the right time however it is also sad to think it’s all over.

I have learnt so much about myself on this trip and have definitely changed in so many positive ways. What I am most proud of is the independence and confidence that I gained. Putting myself in the deep end by moving to a new city all by myself and then soon after travelling solo on my Topdeck tour put me in situations that I would beforehand feel uncomfortable in but by seeing how well I coped I became more confident. After this I gained a love for solo-travelling and between trips with friends I travelled to Scotland, Barcelona, Ireland and Croatia all by myself making great new friends along the way. There were many situations that if I had encountered these back in NZ I would immediately pick up the phone to call Mum or a friend to figure out a solution but with no way to do that on the other side of the world I was forced to make my own decisions illustrating to me how capable I am of doing this and that I should trust my own judgement more.

I’m back in NZ now for a few years to finish my degree and let the funds catchup a bit but I really hope to be back in England and Europe soon to see family again and get back to travelling!

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Reunited with Mum in Spain

I arrived in Madrid and made my way through the metro to the hotel where Mum and Paul were staying. I checked into my room and waited for them to get back from the museum they were at. It was such a great moment finally being able to see mum after such a long time apart. Mum and I set out into the city for a catchup. We looked around a few stores before finding a bar to sit at and have a few drinks. Was crazy to think that mum had just been in NZ only the day before and now we were both in Spain. After another walk around the streets we headed back to the hotel. A quick catchup on the America’s Cup progress and then we headed out to dinner. We found a cute little tapas bar around the corner and filled up on tapas like potatas bravas, anchovies and salads. We headed back to the hotel and got an early night.

View from Mum and Paul's hotel room

View from Mum and Paul’s hotel room

The next morning Mum, Paul and I headed to Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where they wanted to see a few particular artworks. After Mum saw the Caravaggio’s she was interested in we headed to the cafe and bookstore. In the bookstore we seemed to not notice the signs saying ‘Do Not Touch’ and after looking at a bag and then trying to straighten it up when it was back on the ledge I managed to knock over a stand high up making a very loud bang. We thought we had gotten away with it when we saw the security guard go over to the sales girl and she came over and told us off… We purchased the few things we had and then left the museum for some shopping.

Mum with a Caravaggio

Mum with a Caravaggio

First stop was the four storey Zara store where mum and I ended up losing each other. After finally being reunited after about half an hour of mum waiting downstairs at the entrance we managed to try on all our clothes and make a few purchases. Getting back to our favourite hobby of shopping we were very efficient and managed to work through all the stores. Mum treated me to a few items and bought herself a few things, including an awesome Ralph Lauren bag. We stopped off for some seafood paella and then later for some amazing fro-yo, it was such a hot day. After the third Zara store in the space of about 1km we headed back to the hotel for some relaxation. That night we found a busy square with tons of restaurants and ordered another amazing dinner of tapas while we soaked up the Spanish atmosphere around us.

A bit small!

A bit small!

At dinner we were sitting outside the front of the restaurant. While we were eating a beggar came up to many of the tables around us looking for food and money. The patrons seemed to mainly ignore her until the waiter went up to her and got into a fight as he tried to move her away. I haven’t really talked at all in this blog about beggars because over the year they have just become a common occurrence for where I have travelled. In New Zealand the scale of homeless people is nowhere near the same as it is in Europe. Everywhere you look men, women and children are sitting on the side of the road asking for money. I think instinctively I am a sympathetic person and try to help out people wherever possible but on many of my trips, probably mainly my Topdeck where I saw it first, some of the people I was travelling with and locals I met seemed to not be so sympathetic. I was told that some of the beggars are very wealthy gypsys and get a lot of money from begging themselves and sending their kids out to beg and then go home to a house – I’m not sure whether this is actually true… I’m not too sure what point I’m trying to get across but I think at this point I wasn’t shocked when the waiter shooed her away whereas you would never see that scene in Auckland. A very big cultural difference that I seem to have become used to which was kind of scary.

The next day us three were off to Bilbao. By mistake I slept through my alarm and it was a rush as I had to get changed and lead the way to the metro and onto the train towards Bilbao. We were booked into the first-class cabin which ended up being completely empty so we had the whole section to ourselves. The four or five hour trip was a fantastic way to see the Spanish countryside and other little towns going up through the north of Spain.

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We arrived in Bilbao and spent a good 20 minutes outside of the train station trying to figure out what direction to head in to get to our hotel. What a cute, little, quaint town Bilbao is. Obviously not a ‘must-do’ on my own travel checklist I was glad to check out a smaller little city with Mum and Paul. We checked into our hotel which was in the centre of town, directly between the Old Town and New Town. We went for a walk along the river and towards the Guggenheim – the main reason we had come to visit. The Guggenheim is the reason that Bilbao is such a popular tourist centre. Known as the ‘Guggenheim Effect’ before the museum was built Bilbao was relatively unknown with little tourism. Once the Guggenheim Museum opened tourism boomed and Bilbao is a busy, little ‘must-see’ tourist destination for many around the world.

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As we walked up the river the Guggenheim is enormous, with huge art pieces surrounding it. We stopped for a few sandwiches and a drink as we looked onto the museum. Paul decided to go to the maritime museum while mum and I headed into the Old Town to look around. The streets in the Old Town all mesh into each other and it was quite hard initially to work out where we were. We managed to find a square and decided to stop for some beers. At the same time we ordered my new favourite dish of anchovies soaked in vinegar and a little bit of olive oil (sounds disgusting I know but it was amazing!) alongside some chocolate chimichurris. After another break (seems like all we do is sit, drink and eat!) we had a look around. The little alley ways are filled with small stores selling everything from fabrics to goth clothes to a store just for ham. And sometimes when you turned a corner you were greeted with magnificent, huge churches.

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That night we had dinner at a cute tapas bar. We sat outside and ordered inside from the huge number of tapas they had on offer. Was such a great night of catching up, eating, drinking and soaking up the atmosphere.

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The next morning we had breakfast in the attic of the hotel – quite odd! We then headed to Ribera, the largest covered market in Europe which was filled with fresh fruit, fish, meats and much more.

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Mum and Paul decided to join a bus tour around the city to get them to the Guggenheim. It was taking a while to arrive and so I decided to do my own thing. I walked into the new town part and had a look around. I took my time to take everything in whilst popping into a few stores. I stopped off at a tapas bar and enjoyed a great lunch too.

I walked back to the hotel and hopped on the tourist bus that mum and Paul were on. It took us around the city with a history commentary. Paul got off to do his own thing and mum and I continued on to the old quarter. We walked around the sights around the edge of the city which we hadn’t seen the day before. It was amazing to see how much further the the city went. We enjoyed tapas and a beer in a sunny square which reminded me of Placa Reial in Barcelona.

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We headed back to the hotel and after a quick break we went out again for dinner – a really lovely meal! Mum and I had the sea bass. We went back to the hotel to watch one of the America’s Cup races. Mum was falling asleep so I decided to say goodnight and head up to my own room. Wasn’t too sad saying goodbye to mum as was seeing her again in exactly two weeks!

Back in London for a while…

Back in London after my five week trip I was lucky enough to meet up with Sophie again who was back in London. Arriving back at South Woodford, Cam and I met Sophie at the tube station and took her back to Dan and Claire’s place where I was staying. Me and Sophie were spending a few days together which was very exciting! We made dinner together and then Cam headed off to Amie and Simon’s house where he was staying in London for the next two weeks.

The next day we spent the morning lounging around before heading to South Kensington for a free photography exhibition and a look around and then to Notting Hill for the obligatory tourist photos in front of the bookstore and the blue door. That night we headed out to Zizzi’s for a meal together.

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The next day we headed to Victoria Park for a ride on the ‘pedalos’ and then a walk around Bethnal Green. Sophie headed back to see her mum that night and I went over to Marina’s for a family dinner.

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Campbell headed to Switzerland for the rest of the week so I had lots of time to myself to chill out, relax, look around the shops etc. I spent a lot of time in Brick Lane which I loved, such a great place filled with interesting shops and markets.

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On one of the days Sophie’s boyfriend Alex arrived in London and I met up with them for a tour around Shoreditch which was all about the graffiti and street art that is around.

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They headed off to Turkey for a few weeks but Campbell came back from Switzerland so I still had some company! As our bank balances were quite low most of our activities involved free things. We spent a lot of time around Oxford Circus, Leicester Square, most of it was actually standing in line trying to win raffle tickets to the Book of Mormon but we had no luck. We had a few meals out in Soho, ventured to the Science museum and did a walking tour around the city.

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I spent a lot of time staying with Campbell at Simon and Amie’s which was so great, they were so lovely and made us feel right at home. Many days were spent in their flat watching Entourage and chilling out. Their flat is out in Beckenham which is quite a way from where I was staying in South Woodford with Dan and Claire. Weird to think that they’re both in the same city but it took about an hour and a half on the tube and train to get between the two places. Cam’s mate Nick was also in London so we met up with him a few times to get a couple of drinks and one night went to the casino bar for a bit and then had the task of venturing home to Beckenham on the bus at about 2am.

Nick was staying in Notting Hill at a family friend’s flat so he was in the best place for the Notting Hill Carnival. The Carnival is a crazy weekend with parades, lots of jerk chicken, loud music and tonnes of people. After making our way through the crowds to where Nick was staying we were able to experience most of it from the comfort of this amazing flat. We had a good night drinking and heading out into the crowds. As you can see Campbell had a very good night.

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After having a few weeks in London with Campbell he was off again overseas for his Topdeck tour. I had a few more days in London and then I was off again as well, this time to meet up with Mum and Paul in Spain. I was so excited about this trip because I was finally meeting up with Mum again and it was on the other side of the world too!

Summer in Europe Part Four: Budapest (again) and Greece (Athens, Ios and Santorini)

So from Tomorrowland we flew back to Budapest, very pleased to be back at Wombats, one of the best hostels I’ve stayed at! We got a late night meal and a couple of drinks at a bar across the road and then headed to bed.

We decided to have a relaxing day the next day with a trip to the Szechenyi baths. There are so many pools, saunas and steam rooms for you to relax in. I can imagine it would be best in the winter when it would be snowing.

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That night we decided to join in on a pub crawl. Along with the Canadian national dragon boating team and many Australians we made our way to several different bars and then to a nightclub. The group weren’t the most exciting and once we got to the final bar Cam and I realised we had lost everyone else but it was allgud, we just got drunk us two and had a great night!

The next day we went for a walk up to the Castle District over the chain bridge. Taking the cable car up there were great views over the city. We watched the changing of the guard and had a look around. It’s quite a large area up on the hill and it has incredible views of the Danube to the ‘Pest’ side of the city. It was so so hot so we decided to head back after a while. We headed to the movie theatre to see a movie but realised none had english subtitles… That night we went to Szimpla Kert, its one of, if not the, oldest ruin bar in Budapest. We got a few drinks and ended up chatting to two guys from Israel and Brazil. Made for some very interesting conversation and was a great last night in Budapest.

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The next day we were heading to Athens later in the afternoon. In the morning we returned to one of the best Mexican places for lunch and then headed to the airport in a taxi with a crazy driver. We arrived in Athens late at night and had a long, confusing journey to get to our hotel in Piraeus – at the port. Once we finally got there we found a cute little restaurant serving the best Greek food and then headed to bed late.

The next day we had a lazy day in the hotel room for the majority of the day as it was so hot and we were exhausted. When it was cooler in the evening we headed into the Athens city centre to see the Acropolis. Even at 6pm it was still blazing hot, but it was great going at that time as there were no queues at all! We had a good look around everywhere but to be honest we enjoyed the Forum in Rome much more than the Acropolis. The Acropolis seemed to be more about places of worship etc whereas the Forum told stories about how people actually lived in that area so many years ago.

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We headed back to our hotel on the metro and returned to the restaurant from the night before. We ordered lots on the menu because it was so cheap and I think the waiter liked us because he gave us free wine at the end of our meal too. We headed off to bed because we had an early start the next morning on our ferry to Ios.

We picked up our tickets and got on the ferry. It was pretty packed with tourists and Greeks alike, school holiday time meant they were all going away on holiday. We got off at Ios while the ferry continued on to Santorini.

At Ios we were staying at the infamous Far Out Camping. They offer a pickup service from the ferry so we hopped on the van and headed to the accommodation. Ios is pretty small. The main part of the town has lots of little restaurants and shops tucked away but Far Out Camping was a bit further down the road on the beach.

This was probably mine and Cam’s worst accommodation for the time we were away. Being used to the luxury of double rooms with air-con (lifesaver), here in Ios we were in a kind of bed tent thing. Pretty much a canvas tent over steel rods. The bedframe was steel and had the thinnest mattress ever and our tent was right next to another so we heard pretty much everything that happened in there, which wasn’t that great!!

Far Out is a pretty crazy place. Everyday is pretty much the same. Wake up late, get some food and spend the day by one of the pools or head over the road to the beach and lie on the loungers.

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Then at around 5ish the music gets turned up and everyone gets dancing. The first night we were there we bumped into Abby and Sarah which was such a coincidence! We knew they were going to be in Ios around the same time as us but not 100% sure on dates. After drinking lots of strawberry daiquiri we hopped on the bus up to the main town where all the bars and clubs are. We first checked out Abby and Sarah’s amazing accommodation compared to ours and got pretty jealous and then headed to some bars. The first bar was awesome because you could buy straight spirits and mixers there and make your own drinks and then leave your leftover spirit there with your name on it and pick it up or drink it there the next day. The rest of the night was a bit blurry for me, we did go to another bar and then it must have been home after that.

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So yea, the next few days weren’t that eventful at all to be honest! We just lounged around all day everyday. We played some beach volleyball, read some books, did some swimming, sleeping, went out for dinner and lots of drinking! We also found a really cool bar down the road which had shisha, hammocks, pillows, board games, was very weird haha.

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After four nights we were more than ready to head to our next destination, Santorini. On to the boat and only an hour to get to the next island. Santorini has to be one of my favourite places I went on my whole trip overseas.

From the very second we got there the place was stunning, but oh my god, so hot!

We took the bus from the ferry terminal into town. The views were breathtaking, and its amazing how these buses get round the tight corners on this steep hill. Once we were in town we caught a cab to our hotel as it was waaay too hot to figure out where we were or where to go. We were staying at Hotel Anatoli, an amazing place in the middle of Fira, through all these alleyways. It had air-con and a pool so we were set!

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The first day we arrived we set off to get some food. We found a restaurant and sat upstairs overlooking one of the main roads. This road was tiny and there was busload after busload heading down it. Too hot too finish our meals we headed back to the hotel and planned the next three days.

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The next day was probably one of the best on our whole holiday. Santorini is a pretty big place and to see everything you need to rent some form of vehicle. Campbell and I opted for a little Peugeot baby! We started off the day with a traditional Greek breakfast at the hotel and our car arrived just after we had finished. We started off with a trip to Red Beach. Stopped for a beer at a little bar overlooking the sea and then walked up to the lookout over the beach. The beach was packed and we were dying for a swim but decided to save it for the next beach.

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So we headed to Perivolas (the quieter version of the over-touristy black beach Perissa) where we had lunch and a swim.

Then up to the highest point of Santorini and had a lookout over the sea and the islands.

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We also stumbled upon Santos Winery as we came down the hill so we stopped there for a bit of wine tasting and nibbles while overlooking the most incredible view. By this time we were pretty exhausted so we went back to the hotel for a rest and some dinner.

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To make full use of the car we booked ourselves in to the Kamari open air cinema. They play English movies which is great and they decorate the place amazingly. The movie we saw was pretty weird but was such a cool experience watching it outdoors in Greece.

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The next day we had to give back the car 😦 but we had more things planned. We went on a boat tour out to the volcano island and to the hot springs. The walk up the volcano was pretty difficult because it was soooo hot!!! Everyone was dying. Thankfully once we were back on the boat we got to have a swim stop in the hot pools which are full of this mud that’s meant to be great for your skin.

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Back to the port at Fira and we got a ride up the hill from the donkeys and then got some gyros for dinner. Those things are lifesavers, so cheap and such a good meal!

Campbell was pretty tired so he went back to the hotel for a rest and I stayed in town and had a look around all the shops.

That night we took a bus to Oia to see the ‘infamous’ sunset. We had a fabulous meal at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the islands before we made our way down to get a good view. By the time we walked down the place was packed! We finally found a spot but to be honest it wasn’t as fantastic as the hype made it out to be… After it was over we battled our way back through the crowds, got an ice-cream and headed back on the bus to Fira.

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Later on we had to book accommodation for our last night in Athens after Santorini and before we headed back to London. As we checked our bank balances we realised that we had come to the very end of our money. We were very lucky that we had managed to get this far over the past five weeks!

With only a little bit of cash our last full day in Santorini was spent eating 3 euro gyros for lunch and dinner… and just sitting by the pool the whole day. Can’t complain!!

We finally came to the end of our time in Santorini and had to make our way back to Athens. Because we had booked our ferry tickets too late they had run out of seats in economy class and we had to ferry back business class, we weren’t complaining. Unfortunately, because we had booked so late, we were in seats quite far away from each other! And another setback was that one of the three engines had broken down… So what was meant to be a 5 hour ferry ended up stretching out to about 8 hours. With seas quite rough, lots of people were sea sick. We were sooo pleased being in business class because it was a lot less packed and much cooler compared to the economy section.

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Finally in Athens, we had ended up booking our hotel in a bit of a dodgy area just because it was the closest we could get to the airport. We were only there for about 12 hours and for about 18 euros between us it was fine!

The next morning we metro-ed to the airport. Finally got on the flight after what seemed like forever and made our way back to Stansted. With some BK at the airport we got on the bus and headed to my cousins place.

So mine and Cam’s five week trip was over!!! Went so incredibly fast but it was the most amazing time. We did some pretty awesome things and saw some of the most beautiful places. I’m so glad we spent a decent amount of time in each place, really makes a difference.

Summer in Europe Part Three: Tomorrowland

We left Budapest on the 25th of July and flew to Brussels. The plane was full of many excited festival-goers, surprisingly I was only one of about four girls on the entire plane but luckily the ratios did seem to equal out when we got there.

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Arriving into Brussels the whole baggage claim area in the airport was decorated all like Tomorrowland! We lined up for our tickets which we got and then headed to get our bags. However waiting for about 20 minutes or so our bags never turned up… We went to the lost and found and they said they didn’t know where our bag was so we organised to hopefully get it the next day. We hopped on the coach and made our way to Tomorrowland without anything… Getting to Tomorrowland we had pre-bought a tent to pick up at the festival however after looking around for the stand for over an hour and no one working at the festival knowing anything we decided just to buy a tent at the store they had. After waiting for over an hour in the queue we finally got to the front with all our purchases when the power cut out and they were only accepting card… So we had to leave when they said it would be a few hours before the power was up again. So as Cam waited I went to see if I could find the tent place elsewhere. Another hour later I finally found it in the most ridiculous spot. So we finally had a tent, bedding etc and went to find a spot.

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All settled in we went to get some food. I stopped by the medical tent to see if I could get some meds for my migraines as my usual medication was in my lost luggage. They were very helpful and even said they would get it and I could pick it up later on that night. After dinner we were about to go to ‘the gathering’, like a pre-festival party at the Dreamville camping site but I was feeling unwell so went to the medical tent to pick up the meds they had got me. Picked it up but still didnt feel well so sat there for a while and ended up being sick for the rest of the night. They let me lie down, turns out I was extremely dehydrated. They put me on a drip for the night surrounded by all the drunk people who also had drips and were trying to get up with them still in their arms and hands, did not make me feel any better… At about 5am I was feeling a bit better so I made my way back to the tent for a bit more sleep. We woke up at around 9am when the rain started to piss down and our tent started to leak… Cam went to the tent store to see if we could get a new tarpaulin but they were all sold out… So we waited it out.

Our main aim for the day was just to get our luggage and then head to the festival. Once the festival doors opened in the afternoon we made the 45 minute walk in the blazing heat (Belgium weather is mainly just extremes!) to the other end of the festival to the Brussels Airlines desk. Once we got there they said that our luggage was back at the camping site, where we had just come from… I was still feeling very unwell but we walked the whole way back and once at the Tomorrowland gates they said we couldn’t exit before 4pm, at this point it was about 2.30pm. I decided to play the girl card and begged to get through and finally they allowed us to go back to the campsite. So we get back there and they say our luggage isn’t there… I was exhausted by this point. Having had no sleep the last night and we were both in the same clothes since we had left Budapest I said that we just needed to get into town to buy some new clothes and stay somewhere and get a good sleep and make the most of the remaining two days. So we got a hotel in Antwerp and made our way out there. It was about 5pm at this point and we had to get to the shops before they closed at 6pm. We bought some new clothes, toothbrushes etc etc.  Lamely, we couldn’t make it back to the festival in time so we decided just to miss the first day and get a good nights sleep.

The next day we definitely loved being in the hotel as it was pissing down outside… As the festival doesn’t start till the afternoon we had the morning to sleep in and get a good brekkie. Waiting at the buses at about midday to go back to Dreamville and hope that our bag had turned up I still wasn’t feeling 100%. As the festival wasn’t going to be going for a few more hours the movie theatre across the road looked very appealling……. I managed to convince Cam to have a look at what was on and we decided to see World War Z… I know, we were at Tomorrowland but tbh that was the last thing I wanted to do at that point and seeing a movie was so relaxing!! After the movie though we got straight on the bus and to Dreamville. When we got there our bag was there!!! Hooray! Finally got our stuff we took it back to our tent which had flooded a bit and got ready for the festival.

Made our way through the main avenue and got into Tomorrowland. We were so pumped to finally be there!! I was still pretty sick so I decided not to drink but instead look after Cam.  It was so mean walking around the festival and just being there. Sooo many different stages, soo many people (a hell of a lot of Australians!!). The music was insaaane, so loud! and for what Tomorrowland lacked in good staff the setting and the decorations were amazing! We met up with quite a few kiwis and had some good yarns. Avicci was sick, his set was sooo good. The lights show was incredible. We watched quite a few acts, most were random djs i didn’t know who they were but the songs and atmosphere was so mean. After Avicci we wanted to go to Benny Bennassi. It started to rain a bit so we went to our lockers at the festival to get our ponchos. Cam was drunk enough to decide he didnt need a poncho or to stay dry… Bad decision as he got drenched wearing nothing but a singlet and denim shorts… We made our way down to the other end of Tomorrowland to see Benny. A bit early we huddled under a tent crammed full with people as it was now pissing down! Thunder, lightning and everything was going on. After about 10 minutes we walked over to Benny and joined the pretty small crowd (bcoz it was such bad weather!!). Funnily enough the lights, the microphone, the screens,the images, everything was working, apart from the music!! Benny kept trying to get it going but after about 15 minutes we were shivering and it didnt look like it was going to happen so we made our way home. Huge crowds were walking back to Dreamville. Thinking we were smart we decided to leave our phones, wallets, everything in our locker at the festival as we didnt know what state our tent would be in. this later turned out to be a terrible decision. As Cam tried to dance his way home to stay warm, we walked for about 45 minutes or so to get back to our tent. Sooo many tents had been completely flooded. They had huge machines in pumping out water of the camp ground. Luckily our tent was ok. Not completely dry but good enough to sleep in.

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The next morning we woke up and decided that for our last night we were just going to splash out on a hotel, making it easier to get to the airport the next day too. Unfortunately, with no wallets, we had no cards to purchase a hotel online with… With Tomorrowland not being open for a few more hours we were a bit screwed. After trying to see if our credit card details were on our laptops, using the shitty computers they had there we had no success. Also we had no money to buy any more tokens for food. with the three tokens we had we bought some chips… We decided to wait to get into Tomorrowland to get our credit cards. After being told the gates would open at 11.30 we then waited until 1pm to when they fiiinally decided to let us through. Getting to our locker was a tricky situation as their protocol is to not let anyone out again until 4pm (so stupid!) but I sneakily managed to take off my wristband and pretend that I had lost it so had to get my stuff. We finally managed to book a place and decided to hurry and drop our stuff off there before turning to the festival in the afternoon when it got good. As we tried to make our way to Antwerp the heat was getting to us and we neeeeearly got convinced to sell our tickets for the last night, so many people walk around outside asking you for your tickets. Finally getting to the hotel after a craazy taxi ride, we dropped our stuff off, had a feed at Maccas next door and got back to Tomorrowland. Spent the afternoon, evening and night having some drinks, listening to some awesome music and just walking around the place. Sat on the hill watching David Guetta, Afrojack and Nicky Romero all at once. Was the awesomest experience!!!!

At the end of the night we headed back on the buses into Antwerp and got a great nights sleep!! We managed to sleep in the next morning, bus to the airport and got to miss out on being at the airport for about five hours like everyone else who had come from Dreamville. Back on the plane to Budapest. You have no idea how happy we were to be back in Budapest at Wombats – best hostel ever!!

Summer in Europe Part Two: Croatia (Hvar, Split, Novalja) and Budapest

On the 14th of July Cam and I left Rome and flew to Split in Croatia. We bussed into the city, bought some ferry tickets for that afternoon to Hvar and checked our luggage into storage for the afternoon till our ferry. We got lunch at Buffet Fife where I had been on my last night on my Sail Croatia and had loved their food! Got the best seafood risotto and roast vegetables. We then had a look around the town through all the little streets where there were churches, shops and cafes. We headed up to the beach, which isn’t the great to be honest so we just sat at the bar and had some drinks instead. By this time our ferry was near so we headed down to the port, had another drink and got on the ferry.

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Onto the ferry and we arrived in Hvar which I think both Cam and I agree was probably one of the best places of our whole trip, it is sooo beautiful there. We caught a taxi to our accommodation, a little self contained apartment near the beach.

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The next day we spent the day at the beach. There is unfortunately no real sand beaches around here just lots of rocks but we managed to find some sunloungers which were very comfy!

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We spent the night in the town having some drinks, alcohol is so cheap in Croatia! You can even buy 2L bottles of beer for about 3euros.

The next day we were heading back to Split in the evening so we got to spend another day at the beach which was great.

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In the evening we got dinner down in the town and then caught a ferry back to Split. We were staying in a cute hostel with a disco ball in our room which they described was there for the “special moments” haha

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Our free day in Split we decided to go on a catamaran trip. The trip was great as it included lunch and all you could drink alcohol! We stopped off at the islands of Brac and Solta for swims. It was such a great day and we met quite a few people on the boat. At the end of the day some girls had had too much to drink and had a huge fight in front of everybody which resulted in one of them slapping the other over one of the skippers on the boat and then running off as soon as we docked haha.

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The next day we caught a bus north to Novalja. Novalja is on Pag Island and is where you stay for if you want to go to Zrce Beach which is Croatia’s version of Ibiza. The buses in Croatia are better than the trains however at one stop they nearly left without Cam on board!

When we got to Novalja we had a look around the town and then decided to have a swim at the apartments we were staying at.

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The next day we headed to Zrce in the afternoon. Getting our 1L cocktails we relaxed on the beach.IMG_2470

We were planning to stay there into the night however at about 8pm we noticed that the beach was emptying out, apparently everyone goes home and then comes back later to the beach at about midnight or so. So we did the same as others and came back later. We got a few more cocktails at a bar and then headed to the huge outdoor club Aquarius where some DJ called ‘Mario Amarello’ was playing, but he was pretty good and there was quite a big crowd.

The next day we stayed around Novalja, at the pool at our apartment and down at the beach. Was great to have a few days chilling in just one place rather than moving around like we had been recently.

The next day we bussed to Zagreb, the capital of Croatia. We were staying in Zagreb for one night as we had to catch a train to Budapest early in the morning the next day from Zagreb. We went for an amazing lunch at a place called Leonardos in town. We headed back to the hostel because I was meeting my friend Ena who I haven’t seen in a few years. We were only able to have a quick catch up as she had to leave with her mum and aunty to go to their beach house but it was great to see her.

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In the afternoon me and Cam decided to have a look around the city. It’s not a big town and there doesn’t seem to be much to do but it was really pretty, the first place in Croatia we had been to which wasn’t near the beach. After some sightseeing we got dinner and had a few drinks on the main avenue which is filled with lots of bars.

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The next day was one of the hardest on our whole trip – our train ride from Zagreb to Budapest. To start it off the allocated seats we had didn’t actually exist on the train so we had to find our own seats which ended up being two in a small carriage of six. As the train started it got hotter and hotter and the air conditioning wasn’t working for the whole 7 hour train trip. They also seemed to stop the train in random spots and we had our passports checked about 3 times. Cam and I managed to stay in the cafe carriage which was airconditioned for over an hour which was a nice break as all the food we bought had gone bad or melted in the heat… Luckily we met a girl from Budapest who organised a taxi for us to our hostel as if you pick up a taxi on the street you will get extremely ripped off. We were staying in one of the party hostels ‘Retox’. After getting settled into our room we went to get some dinner and then came back and started drinking. We made friends with some Australians and Brazillians. The hostel led everyone to an open mic night which we followed along with but we ended up just drinking there with the people we had met rather than joining in on the singing!

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The next day we were both very hungover so we got a feed and then had a look around the town. We headed up to Heroes Square along Andrassy Avenue and then back to the hostel. We were actually moving to Wombats hostel that day as we wanted somewhere relaxing for the two nights before we went to Tomorrowland. Wombats is sooo amazing, everyone has to stay there at Budapest. Just as cheap as any other hostel but just like a hotel. We chilled out for a bit and then went to join a walking tour. It was really interesting, all about the history of Budapest and took us to all the main sights in the city.

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The next day was the day before Tomorrowland so the whole day was spent running around to buy the things we needed for that like a tent etc. We then packed up and got an early-ish night before flying off to Brussels the next day.

Summer in Europe Part One: Amsterdam, Milan, Rome

On the 4th of July I left Gatwick Airport early and arrived in Amsterdam to finally see Campbell which was awesome 🙂 the first day was mainly us two catching up, getting some food, seeing some other friends and having a walk around. Campbell picked up the bike that he had hired out the day before and as it was too late for me to get one I rode on the back of his all the way back to our hotel on the first night.

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Our second day in Amsterdam was the day of Pitch festival, a festival I had been looking forward to for ages as Fat Freddy’s Drop were playing, had never seen them in NZ so here I was on the other side of the world going to a gig of theirs! In the morning I hired out my own bike to get around the city. It was great that our hotel was actually a little bit out of the centre as it gave us a chance to have a good bike ride around and get used to it. We rode to the festival which was great (no need to worry or think about sober drivers or taxis or anything!). Fat Freddy’s was the first act on the main stage, it was quite weird that the audience wasn’t actually that big, if they were playing in New Zealand it would have been massive. They played such a good gig with loads of songs from their new album. After they finished we headed over to the other tent to see Flume where the crowd was insane, so many people! We had a bit of a break to get some food and more drinks and we actually bumped into Joe from Fat Freddy’s Drop! I went up to talk to him and he was quite friendly although he didn’t seem too impressed that we were from Auckland! We stayed at the festival to watch a few more acts including James Blake who was great and then got to bike home the whole way, wish we had that option in Auckland.

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The rest of our time in Amsterdam was pretty relaxing to be honest, we didn’t get up to too many touristy things. We spent a lot of time in Vondelpark relaxing and also riding around the streets. We had a look round the shops and had many meals out. We did go to the Van Gogh museum which was actually really interesting. We also went to the Heineken Brewery which was pretty average to be honest!

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 On the 9th of July we headed to the airport and on towards Milan. After getting very confused on how to get to where we were staying we finally found our hotel! A quick nap and a shower and then we headed to the Duomo, the cathedral in Milan. It is the oldest Gothic cathedral in the world. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to go in because I was wearing shorts, forgot about that rule… So we had a look around the shops and got some gelato and sat in the sun.

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Milan was only a one night stop as we were heading to Rome the next day to meet up with Sophie, Roddy, Gina and Heidi. We got on the train in Milan and headed down to Rome. Arriving around lunchtime we found Roddy at the train station and taxiied to our accommodation. We had organised an apartment for the 6 of us through Air BnB. Our host, Marina, owned a little cafe on the corner of where we were staying and she made sure we had beers and food constantly! Roddy, Cam and I stayed there and caught up on all the news and then suddenly Sophie and Gina made their way around the corner with their packs on! Was so good to see Sophie again after so long apart! We dropped our bags off and decided to have a look around. We headed up the road and came across the Spanish steps. A few photos, a look around the shops and we headed back to meet up with Heidi and have a bit of a relax.

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That night Heidi’s parents were in Rome too and they invited us all out to dinner for Sophie’s birthday, was such a lovely gesture and we had such a fantastic night!

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The next morning Roddy, Sophie and Gina had booked in for a food tour so Cam, Heidi and I did our own thing. We headed to the neighbourhood of Trastevere, just over the river. It was a lovely area with lots of little streets, churches, cafes and restaurants. We had a few drinks and lunch and then headed back to meet up with the others.

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That afternoon we decided to go and see the Colosseum. I had read in my Lonely Planet book that you could skip the queue and buy your tickets up at Palatine Hill which was only about 500m up from the Colosseum. It was so worth it as the queue at the Colosseum was huuuuge. We got in quickly and had a good look around.

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We were lucky enough to have another night out with parents, this time Roddy’s mum Brownwyn and her partner Michael. It was a very fancy restaurant and we were spoilt with lots of food and wine. Just as we were saying goodbye we noticed that the restaurant where we were having dinner the night before was having a sing-a-long! So we headed over, Michael bought us some more wine and we joined in! Initially it was all Italian songs but we managed to get in a few English ones. The old men seemed to love Sophie and danced with her, a great way to start off her 21st at midnight that night! We saw in her birthday and then were pushed out of the restaurant by the owners. We said goodbye to Brownwyn and Michael and then headed to a bar up the road for a few more drinks before heading home.

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The next day we all split up and did our own things. Campbell and I headed to the Roman Forum which was amazing. The ruins are in great condition considering how old they are and there were signs everywhere explaining what each place used to be used for. We spent a few hours looking around before dying of heat and having to find food. After a great lunch at Macca’s we headed back to our local bar via the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon.

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That afternoon we all chilled at the apartment eating chips and drinking wine. We then headed to the Trevi fountain again for some photos, got some more drinks and then went to a pub to start a pub crawl. They had an hour of all you could drink which we definitely took advantage of. Sophie had been given a birthday tshirt and had a list of tasks she had to achieve through the night. I won’t go into all the details of what they were, at one point Sophie entered a beer skulling competition, she was a bit nervous and just as it started tipped half of it on the floor but dammit she was noticed haha so no win for Soph there. Just as we were leaving for the next bar the leader of the pub crawl dropped his drink and I fell over into the broken glass. Wearing a skirt I managed to cut my arse on all the glass. A bit drunk I didn’t seem too phased when the bartender in front of everyone else put me over the table to make sure no more glass was there and to stop all the bleeding. Finally all cleared up we made our way to the next bar. The rest of the night was a bit of a haze and as Sophie started to fall asleep we decided to head back to the apartment.

The next day everyone left Rome to various other places but Cam and I were there for one more night. We spent the morning at the apartment and then had to pack up our stuff and head to a different accommodation for our last night. We had a relaxing day before an early flight the next morning to Croatia.

End of Leeds, Sail Croatia, Nice, Ireland and London

So I’m finally all finished up at Leeds University! Arrived back in Leeds in the middle of April to 6 weeks of class and exams. Was a weird feeling being back at uni after such a long break, but then again I didn’t have that much class to attend so much of my time was spent watching movies, tv and catching up on sleep! Many people went away for weekends during the last 6 weeks but I decided to stick around in Leeds for the whole time and have a relaxing six weeks. Just on a sidenote, many times when I went out in the last six weeks and met new people, sooo many of them mentioned how I was the first New Zealander they have ever met in their lives! They said they’ve met millions of Ozzies but never a New Zealander haha didn’t know we were so uncommon.

Me outside the Leeds Town Hall

Me outside the Leeds Town Hall

Hawaiian themed Otley Run!

Hawaiian themed Otley Run!

Beers at Bierkeller

Beers at Bierkeller

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Alyssas birthday cakes and cookies!

Alyssas birthday cakes and cookies!

Alyssas 21st

Alyssas 21st

Was a Coyote Ugly themed night at Walkabout on Alyssa’s 21st birthday where she won a wet tshirt competition haha

My Canadian flatmates!!

My Canadian flatmates!

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Sad about leaving Leeds :(

Sad about leaving Leeds 😦

The last week or so at Leeds was a bit of  sad one having to say goodbye to the people I’ve been closest to over the last six months. Many of them live in Australia which is lucky but a few live very far away in the US and Canada 😦 especially my two flatmates Alyssa and Alanna! My Leeds exchange would have been nowhere near as much fun without all these people, all the ‘Tower Rangers’… haha but hopefully I can visit them all at some point soon.

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I finally booked my flight, leaving London the 25th of September and arriving in New Zealand on the 27th of September. That means in total I will have been away from New Zealand for exactly nine months.

I moved out of Leeds on the 6th of June and moved all my stuff down to Dan and Claire’s house in London. Since then I’ve been back and forth to London a few times on different trips. On the 10th of June I headed to Dubrovnik to start a Sail Croatia trip. Before I headed to the boat to check in I spent the day looking around the town.

The best thing to do in Dubrovnik is to walk around the old wall all around the city. It’s a longer walk than it looks but the views are incredible. Its the same place that lots of Game of Thrones is filmed at too which was pretty cool.

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I made my way to the boat where I checked in. Met a few girls who were doing a walking tour around the city so I went and joined them in that. It wasn’t the best tour and it started to rain so as soon as we finished we went back to the boat. On the boat the rest of the new people had arrived. Many many Ozzies on the trip but also a couple of Kiwis to keep me company, and as predicted we had mutual friends, 2 degrees of separation in NZ is very true! We decided to start drinking so bought massive litre bottles of beer and drank outside, love being able to drink in public in Europe! A few beers later and we made our way into the town again for an organised dinner with all the other boats and then on to some bars and a club. I was exhausted because had been up since 3am that morning to get to the airport on time so I headed back to the boat at about 1.30 with a few others.

The next day I woke up to this view outside my cabin 🙂

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After spending the morning on the boat tanning on the deck we docked in Mljet. We headed to the National Park where they had the most amazing lakes.

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After swimming in the lake and some more lying in the sun we headed back to the boat. Watched the sunset that night and later on played a few drinking games on the boat before heading to the small bar on the island.

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The next day on the way to Korcula we stopped off for a swimstop. Jumping off the boat and swimming in the sea was the absolute best part of the trip probably, and definitely the best way to cure a hangover.

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After a few hours we moved on, docked in Korcula and took a walk around the old city.

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After an icecream and a quick swim at the small beach there we headed back to the boat and got ready for dinner. Had a big group dinner at a pizza place and then we bought some big bottles of beer again and had some drinks as we watched the sunset.

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Headed back to the boat for some more drinks, some drinking games and then to the bar for the rest of the night.

The next day we headed off to Makarska. Another swim stop, this time next to a nudist beach! Then off to Makarska. We headed to the beach, was such a hot day.

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That night we had a big group dinner at a great restaurant and once again had some drinks on the beach and then out to another bar that night. I actually bumped into Rob, my Kiwi buddy from Leeds that night too which was awesome.

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On the last day we headed to Split, a much bigger city than any other place we had stopped at. To be honest, it’s probably the place I enjoyed the least. It was so busy and the ‘beach’ they had was terrible. So instead spent most of the afternoon tanning on the boat before the last group dinner and night out.

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Said goodbye to everyone the next morning and flew from Split up to Leeds for the night and then flew from Leeds to Nice the next morning.

Met Alyssa at the airport and we made our way in a packed bus to the city centre. Went past the stop we were meant to get off at and had a long walk back to our hostel. Spent the afternoon walking around the old town and down at the beach.

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The next day we jumped on the bus and headed to Monaco. Before we could do that though we had a bit of a shopping trip around Nice as we didn’t think our plastic bags full of things for the day weren’t going to cut it in Monaco so we bought some cute new bags and some jewellery! Was such a hot day and the beach was so tempting but we hadn’t even thought to take our togs to Monaco. We checked out the amazing casino and all the flashy cars before having some food and some icecream.

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Up to the palace for a walk around and more photos. By about 6pm we were exhausted and decided to head back but unfortunately we didn’t know where we were and had no idea what route the bus took to take us back. So after walking up and down Monaco for an hour we finally got on track and figured out where we were and managed to find the bus to take us back to Nice. That night we bought some drinks and took them down to the beach.

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Alyssa used to live in Antibes, a little town half an hour away from Nice so we headed there the next day. It was so cute and the beach was great. Had a full beach day of just lounging around, having a few swims and a couple of drinks. Had a nice dinner out and then headed back to the train station where luckily the last train back to Nice was delayed, otherwise we would have been stuck in Antibes till 5am… With nothing to do for 40 minutes we made friends with an old English couple who saved us seats on the train 🙂

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My last day in Nice we thought we should try out the beach there. Not the most amazing one I have ever seen, the beach was all pebbles, actually rocks, so it wasn’t the comfiest place to lie down. Also it was a steep incline from the beach to the sea so it was never very graceful getting in and out. With a stop to yet another icecream place on the way home we headed back to the hostel to relax. That night we decided to go out with the others from the hostel. Played a few drinking games and then headed to a karaoke bar which after an hour or so was filled with 16 year old drunk kids. Alyssa and I were craving some crepes so made our way out looking for some. A french man decided he wanted to help us but after we realised he had no idea where a crepe place was we ran away from him and had to settle for some pizza and pasta which was still pretty good.

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Had an early flight the next morning back to London and that night had a family dinner at my aunties. The next day Alyssa got back from Nice and because she was leaving to Canada the next day we went out for dinner. Was a sad goodbye because not sure when we’ll be able to see each other again 😦

The next night we went out for my cousin’s wife Claire’s birthday. Started off with predrinks at their flat with their friends and then headed into Shoreditch to a club called Golden Bee. My cousin Dan drank a bit too much and was not in the best state on the way home, having to stop the taxi a couple of times and then falling asleep on the toilet and cutting his head on the bathroom sink…

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Dan and Claire headed off to Turkey the next day for a week so I had the house to myself. That day, Sunday, Roddy was in town so I went and met up with him and his mate Toby where Roddy was staying. After a catchup we headed down to the city and went on the London Eye. Started pissing down with rain just as we were going on and stopped when we got off, typical English summer… We then headed to Oxford Street and had dinner at a place called Meat Liquor, a dimly lit bar/restaurant which was pretty cool. It was R18 to get in and I got ID’d…

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Headed home and spent the next two days chilling around the house. On Tuesday night I stayed at my aunties and then on Wednesday morning I headed to Ireland. Had a big day of travelling with catching the tube to Victoria, training to Gatwick, flying to Dublin, bussing to the train station and then training to Castlebar. At Castlebar my grandma’s friend Sister Teresa picked me up. We drove back to where she lives with all the other nuns. It was so amazing. Huuuuge rooms with ensuites and little kitchenettes. All the other nuns wanted to meet me but I could see them looking me up and down a lot and I realised that my dress may have been a little short… We had some cups of tea and I had a walk around the town. Spent the night having a big catchup and then I had a great sleep in the best room, was better than a hotel!

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Teresa and I

Teresa and I

The next morning we went out for breakfast to a cute cafe and then my grandma’s other friend from Westport, Breege, came to pick me up. We first headed over the resthome to see some people they knew and then drove to Westport, where my grandmother grew up. We went and bought some flowers and then drove to the resthome where my great grandmother is buried. The last time I was there in 2003 there had been no gravestone and we had only found where she was buried. We arranged for the gravestone to be put in so I was the first family member to see it since it had been put in place. Was a bit of an emotional visit but I’m so glad I got to go.

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Breege drove me back to her place for a cup of tea and then took me to the city centre where I was staying. A couple of hours on the internet catching up on things and then Breege and my grandma’s other friend Jackie picked me up and we headed out for dinner. Was such a lovely meal, and so nice to be in my grandma’s hometown with her friends.

Dinner with my Grandma's friends!

Dinner with my Grandma’s friends!

Breege dropped me back after dinner and I had a few drinks at the pub with a couple of people I met. The next day it was pissing down in Ireland but I bought an umbrella and headed out to take lots of photos of a list of things my grandma and mum had sent me. After a couple of hours walking around I headed back to my room to relax and then headed out for some dinner.

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The next day I trained back to Dublin and had a good few hours there before I had to be at the airport to catch my flight back. I decided to do a walking tour because they’re usually quite good but this one was terrible. So after wasting my time doing that I decided to go and watch the gay pride parade which was on. Had a great time watching that and then headed to the airport and then back to London.

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I’m now in London getting ready for my next big trip. On Thursday morning I head to Amsterdam where I meet up with Campbell. We have a six week trip planned out. Amsterdam, Milan, Rome where we meet up with Soph and Roddy (!!!), Croatia, Budapest, Tomorrowland, Budapest again and then to Ios and Santorini in Greece!

The rest of my Easter break – Scotland and Spain

Completely forgot about this post so posting it now even though it happened two months ago!

 

Once I finished my Topdeck trip I still had two weeks of Easter break to fill up. I went back to London for Easter Weekend and spent that with my family and then on the Wednesday I headed up to Edinburgh. After going on my Topdeck trip I definitely felt a lot more confident travelling by myself and felt that I should continue this travel by myself trend and thought Scotland would be a great place to start. So caught a train up to Edinburgh and spent the afternoon looking around the city.

Edinburgh castle

Edinburgh castle

That night I met up with my mate Eddy who is doing a full year exchange at the University of Edinburgh. We went to a pub and had a few drinks and he introduced me to Scottish whisky! But it wasnt really my thing so Eddy took one for the team and finished it for me 🙂

The next day I went for a walk up Arthurs Seat which had amazing views over all of Scotland. I then went on a walking tour through the city, had some haggis at a pub with some people I met and then went up the Scott Monument, so was a big day of exercise. I got an early night because the next day I was leaving for a 3-day tour of the north of Scotland.

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The next day I made it to the office of Haggis tours. The three day tour I was doing was called the Skye High tour because we went and visited the Isle of Skye.

This picture shows where we went:

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I won’t go into detail about what we did everywhere the picture kind of shows where we went. The tour was great, Haggis is a great tour company but I think I was still so exhausted after my Topdeck tour I wasn’t 100% in the right frame of mind for this one. The tour leaders we had were awesome though, soo funny and ensured we all had a good time. We were really lucky with the weather as well, it was sunny for the first two days which is unheard of in Scotland. The north of Scotland was pretty breathtaking, the scenery was definitely better than I expected. Was a lot like New Zealand, made me want to go home and travel round the country!

The tour finished in Edinburgh and I headed to my hostel. Met a girl from Perth and we got on well so we had some dinner together and spent the night at the bar. The next day I was flying to Barcelona so did a few errands in the morning and then caught my flight.

 

Arrived into Barcelona late at night and with a bit of drama with Ryan Air organised shuttle to my hostel… but finally made it! My first day in Barcelona I was by myself as my mates from Leeds were arriving a few days later. The most amazing thing about Barcelona was the weather because having missed a New Zealand summer I was in much need of some sun! I headed off on a walking tour of the Barri Gotic Quarter from a Barcelonian architecture student.

Placa Reial

Placa Reial

After the walking tour I decided to get some paella and check out the beach, La Barcelonetta. I couldn’t believe how busy it was for beginning of April, was such a beautiful beach!

La Barcelonetta

La Barcelonetta

 

Then took a walk through the city and up through the famous Las Ramblas. Had heard much about this place but was a bit disappointed to be honest. All it was was loads of touristy shops and some unappetising restaurants. Headed into the famous markets though and loved walking through all the food stands!

With a quick walk up and into a few stores I then headed back to the hostel to get changed and then headed back onto Las Ramblas where I met up with my cousin Dan and his wife Claire who were in Barcelona at the same time as me! We headed to Placa Reial for a great dinner with some sangrias.

Claire and I

Claire and I

To another bar for some more drinks and then a quick stop for icecream I said goodbye to Dan and Claire who were heading back to London the next day and returned to the hostel.

The next day my mates from Leeds were arriving. I spent the morning walking around downtown and then returned at lunchtime to meet up with them. Most of them were a bit exhausted from travelling so me and Steph headed into town. We headed to the markets and then made our way down to the beach with a few stops on the way.

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Steph and I headed back to the hostel to meet up with the others and we then made our way to the Sagrada Familia. A tip for anyone visiting Barcelona, go visit the Sagrada Familia in the evening. Lines were so long during the days whereas when we went in at about 5pm there was hardly any line and it doesn’t get dark till late anyway. We all purchased the audio tour and made our way through the church.

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Rob and I

Rob and I

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Sagrada Familia was absolutely stunning. We stayed for about three hours walking through the entire place and learning all about it.

We then headed to the supermarket to pick up some food and then back to the hostel where we made dinner.

I had two more full days in Barcelona and had quite a lot more to see. I decided to buy one of the tourist bus passes, one of those hop on/hop off buses that takes you around the whole city. Steph decided she wanted to do it too so we headed off for our first day.

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Heading back down the hill after visiting the castle on Montjuic hill Steph and I noticed that at least 10 cars on the side of the street had had their car windows smashed in. It had obviously happened in the last hour since we hadn’t noticed on the way up the hill, was pretty sad to see!

We decided to head back to the beach and have a quick nap in the sun. Then onto a famous cemetery and then back to the hostel.

The next day the main thing we had to see was Park Guell.

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The park was sooo busy and it was so hot. We trekked around for a couple of hours taking in the view and the awesome buildings and architecture. After Park Guell we headed to a little garden park place and then made our way through downtown and to another park, so many parks in one day!

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That night Steph and myself headed onto a pub crawl organised by the hostel. They had a man playing live music in the bar which was cool and after a few drinks we headed out in a large group. The organiser said that whoever could learn everybody’s names in the group would get three free drinks. Having already had a few I decided I could complete the task and tried to learn everybody’s names. After 10 minutes it was obvious that no one else was trying so he named me the winner! However I did not need all three drinks and after a while I had to be taken home in a taxi so was a bit of a bummer that I couldn’t experience the Barcelona nightclubs properly, will have to go back. The rest of the night and the next morning were not too fun, and on top of feeling incredibly sick Ryan Air’s shuttle service decided not to pick me up and take me to the airport so had to rush and make my own way there. Never again buying another onboard service from Ryan Air, should’ve known. Made my way back to London which was wet and cold as per usual. Made my way back to my cousins house and went out for Dan’s birthday in London with his mates which was a great night!

Stayed a couple more nights in London and then headed back to Leeds for the second half of my semester.

 

TOPDECK – Winter Spirit

On March 7 my Topdeck trip Winter Spirit started in London. After only a couple of hours sleep I made my way to check in and met the other 30 or so people that would be taking this trip with me as well as our trip leader Dan Kilgore. Surprisingly New Zealanders were the majority in the trip with many Aucklanders as well so felt very at home! There were also many Aussies, some Americans, Koreans, British, Columbians and Canadians. Making our way to Dover we crossed the English channel on the ferry and arrived in Calais where our Topdeck coach was waiting for us. Met our Romanian bus driver Pete and made our way to Paris! Our first night we went out for dinner and then had a driving tour.

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The next day we climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and had a great view over the city right before the weather started to cave in.

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Laura (a fellow Aucklander) and I went on a river cruise up the Seine and then visited the most amazing church I have ever been to. If you are ever in Paris you have to visit Saint Chapelle. The stained glass windows are breathtaking. They pretty much go floor to ceiling around the entire church and are so beautiful.

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On our second night in Paris we had dinner as a big group and then some of us headed to a cabaret show which was great to see.

The next day we headed to Switzerland, one of our longest drives at about 10 hours. Switzerland was absolutely amazing. Definitely one of my favourite places of the whole trip. It reminded me so much of NZ. We stayed in Lauterbrunnen in little cabins in this little valley. The first night we spent in the bar which was decorated with all these coasters with little messages from previous people who’ve stayed there, lots of Topdeck ones!

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Our day in Switzerland was amazing, it was cold but so sunny. 

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In the afternoon a few of us were going on a skydive through the Swiss Alps. I was going up with Duncan and Danni. We flew up in a helicopter to 12,000ft which was so amazing. My tandem partner was a guy from Invercargill which was pretty cool! The feeling of skydiving was so surreal. Was such an amazing view!! Definitely something I want to do again.

Duncan and I

Duncan and I

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After Switzerland we headed into Italy. First stop was Pisa where we were immediately harrassed by all the gypsies trying to sell us umbrellas which continued through the rest of Italy. We did the usual tourist photos and then headed into Florence.

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That night we were celebrating a birthday so we all headed out to a karaoke bar and then to headed to Space club.

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After a big night the next day was not too fun. I managed to drag myself around the walking tour of Florence not being able to concentrate at all and had to head back to the hostel for a bit of a nap. In the afternoon Eric and I went into the city where we had some pizza and a look around the markets. That night a few of us went out to a cute little Italian restaurant for dinner.

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The next day we were off to Rome with a stop in Orvieto on the way. We did a walking tour around Rome (while the rain was pissing down) and then headed back to where we were staying.

Raining in Rome at the Trevi fountain

Raining in Rome at the Trevi fountain

As we were standing in the streets waiting for Pete to pick us up we suddenly saw loads of priests running through the streets, the Pope had been chosen! Was awesome to be in Rome at that very moment so we had to celebrate with a few drinks that night!

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Our free day in Rome started with a tour of the Vatican City where we were lead round by a lady who called herself our ‘mama’. She gave a great overview of the most famous pieces in the Vatican which was great. Unfortunately, because of the Pope only just being chosen the Sistine chapel was still closed so we were unable to go in.

'Mama'

‘Mama’

After our tour we headed to St Peter’s square which was so hectic! So many people and TV crews. We stood in line and managed to get into St. Peter’s basilica.

In St. Peter's square with Laura

In St. Peter’s square with Laura

Inside St. Peter's Basilica

Inside St. Peter’s Basilica

Laura and I spent the rest of our day in Rome eating gelato and wandering through the back streets, was such a great way to get to know the city in a small space of time. Back to the hostel for the most amazing calzone at the hostels restaurant and then it was time to get ready for our toga party. Laura and I had much trouble trying to get our togas to stay in place and not riding up but we eventually joined the others for a big night.

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Toga party

Toga party

The next day we sadly had to say goodbye to a few people on our trip and then made our way to Venice with a stop in Verona (the city that Romeo and Juliet is based on).

Eating gelato in Verona

Eating gelato in Verona

On our free day in Venice we headed into the city and Dan took us on another walking tour followed by lace and glass demonstrations (two things that Venice is famous for). We had a lovely ride in gondolas through the canals and after getting lost in the backstreets of Venice we found a little Italian restaurant for some lunch.

In St Marks square

In St Marks square

Laura and I on the gondola!

Laura and I on the gondola!

Lace store

Lace store

Glass demonstration

Glass demonstration

The rest of the day was spent walking around looking through shops and in the sun along the waterfront.

Venice sunshine!

Venice sunshine!

After a boat ride back to the mainland we headed back to the hostel and had a masquerade party with the Venetian masks we had bought.

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The next day was St. Patty’s day and we headed to Salzburg, Austria!

On the way to Austria

On the way to Austria

A few of us girls went for a walk around the city in the afternoon and then later on had another walking tour with Dan and then headed to dinner. Because it was St Patty’s day we headed to a couple of Irish pubs. All the cider was dyed green which was a bit disconcerting but after a few drinks you didn’t seem to notice the funny taste! It was also Elise’s birthday, so two reasons to celebrate!

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Good form on St Pattys day

Good form on St Pattys day

After a few too many drinks, an amusing walk home from the pub with Dan (my trip leader) and a few others, the receptionist giving Dan a 2L bottle of water for me and Dan putting me to bed twice I woke up fully clothed the next morning and not feeling 100%. But it was the most amazing day in Salzburg so after a bit of a sleep in I headed up to the huge castle on the hill.

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Danni and I at the top of the castle

Danni and I at the top of the castle

The rest of the day I just walked around Salzburg looking through the shops and sitting in cafes. Headed back to the hostel and spent the afternoon doing things like washing, checking emails etc etc.

The next day we headed to Vienna stopping off at the Winter Palace of the Hapsburgs before having a driving tour of the city.

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After a bit of shopping in the afternoon the girls and I were craving Thai food and managed to luckily stumble across a Thai restaurant! After an amazing meal we hung out in the hostel for a while before having an early night.

The next day we were visiting three countries in one day! Starting off in Austria, stopping off in Bratislava, Slovakia for a walking tour and then onto our destination of Budapest, Hungary where we had a driving tour (which consisted of sitting in traffic for aaaaaages).

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After dinner in an Hungarian restaurant we went out to a dive bar. These are old communist buildings that have been turned into amazing bars. These places are huge with soo many rooms. I wish I had taken photos but they had quite a few bars, cocktail rooms, rooms with loads of couches, shisha rooms, little staircases to upstairs, an outside area with loads of fairy lights and stuff. Was really cool, and they also have people that come around and sell carrots…

Our next day in Budapest wasn’t the greatest because it was raining so hard. We went to the House of Terrors museum which outlined the history of Hungary and was really interesting. After that because the weather was so bad we decided to head to the movies and watch Silver Linings Playbook which was in English with Hungarian subtitles. On to an American dinner at TGI Fridays where I had the most amazing quesadilla, had been craving mexican food so much! Was a great day but I’m definitely heading back to Budapest to see the rest of the city.

Lunch at TGI Fridays

Lunch at TGI Fridays

The next day we had a long drive to Krakow, Poland. After dinner in the hotel a few of us went out to a bar. A few tequila shots, a sombrero and dancing on the stage with the girls made for a good night.

Waiting to leave Budapest, so cold!

Waiting to leave Budapest, so cold!

Dan wearing my sombrero

Dan wearing my sombrero

The next day in Krakow we headed to the salt mines. These were pretty incredible, the people who worked in the salt mines lived their lives under there too. There was an incredible church that they had made and as we went down to see it they were having a service at the same which was pretty cool to see. The rest of the day Laura, Eric and I headed to the Jewish Quarter for an amazing lunch and then back into town for some hot chocolates (it was sooo cold!!). Laura and I then looked around the Easter markets and had some dinner. I loved Krakow, it was such a beautiful city! Not sure what you would do there for more than two days, one full day was definitely enough and it was great going in Easter with all the markets and decorations up.

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Lunch in the Jewish Quarter

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The next day we were headed for Prague with a stop at Auschwitz along the way. It was incredibly moving visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau.

When we arrived in Prague we headed out after dinner at the hostel. A walking tour through the city finished at a bar and then we headed to the biggest nightclub in Central Europe, Karlovy Lazne. Was really busy for a Sunday night!

Hannah, me, Danni and Holly in Prague

Hannah, me, Danni and Holly in Prague

Our full day in Prague started with coffee and hot chocolates and then a look round the shops. We then headed up the clock tower for views over the city, was so pretty! A walk around the Easter markets in Prague and then over the bridge to the John Lennon wall. Lots of photos taken and then we headed to Starbucks to warm up.

Hannah and I at top of clock tower

Hannah and I at the top of the clock tower

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From Prague we made our way to Berlin with a stop in Dresden where (Sophie) I got the most amazing fro-yo, sooo good. Our first night in Berlin our group stayed at the hostel and had dinner and drinks at the bar.

Our free day in Berlin started off with a walking tour all about World War Two. After walking around in the cold we ended up once again at Starbucks to warm up. Bought some ‘I heart Berlin’ tshirts for our pub crawl that night, tried some curried sausages and then made our way to the Typography of Terrors Museum. This museum is great, has so much detail about World War II. After touching the Berlin Wall we made our way to the Holocaust memorial and then headed home.

Reichstag

Reichstag

Kyla touching the Berlin Wall

Kyla touching the Berlin Wall

Laura and her sausage!

Laura and her sausage!

This night we were going out on a pub crawl in Berlin. We headed into some bars and with our ‘I heart Berlin’ tshirts we spent a while writing on each other. Then we went to a massive nightclub called Matrix which was really good and it was right outside our hostel which made it easy to get home!

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The next morning we had another long drive, this time to Amsterdam, our final city to visit. Just before we got into Amsterdam we visited a cheese and clog factory where we had demonstrations from a man who has definitely smoked waaay too much weed in his life haha but was very interesting and the cheese was amazing!

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Got to Amsterdam where we had to quickly eat dinner and then head into the city centre for the sex show we were going to see. The sex show was great, definitely a must do if you go to Amsterdam! Many of the boys were made to go up and participate… was hilarious! After a walk through the red light district we ended up at St Christophers at the bar they have there. By sheer coincidence my flatmate from Leeds, Alyssa, and a few other mates from Leeds were all in the same bar! Didn’t even know they were going to be in Amsterdam at the same time as me, so was great to have a quick catch up.

The next morning we had a bike tour around the city which was great yet very scary at the same time. So used to New Zealand where bikes aren’t really the priority at all so cycling alongside cars was a bit nerve-wracking. Had a great lunch with the girls and a relaxing afternoon.

Bike ride in Amsterdam

Bike ride in Amsterdam

Hannah, me and Laura

Hannah, me and Laura

This night was our last as a big group. We headed to an Asian restaurant for dinner and then onto a canal cruise with unlimited alcohol! A couple of hours on the boat and then we headed to a bar.

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Pete our bus driver and Dan our tour leader

Pete our bus driver and Dan our tour leader

 

Was a great last night! Back to the hostel at about 3am but we had very little sleep due to the fact that our next door neighbours in the hostel for some reason couldn’t get into their rooms so decided to be loud and flood the corridor with the fire hydrant…

The next day we had to head back to London. Some people were leaving us in Amsterdam so there were a few goodbyes in the morning! On our way back to the ferry we stopped in Brugge in Belgium for lunch (including waffles) and a quick look round. Back on the bus and to Calais where the ferry was waiting. Had to say goodbye to Pete our bus driver and we got on the ferry. Caught a coach from Dover back to London and then many sad goodbyes in London!

This blog post has ended up being a lot more detailed and long than I had planned!! This trip was probably the best thing I have ever done. I met so many amazing people and we all had such a great 24 days together. I got everything out of this trip that I hoped for, I now know exactly where I want to go back to, I’ve made lots of new friends with many who are staying in England/Europe for the rest of the year and I had an amazing time.