Highlights of my trip to Darwin

In mid-May I went for a girls trip to Darwin. It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed Darwin – the warmth, the laid back attitude and of course the activities!

I had never been to Darwin before but a friend had moved up there and created a huge list of things to do while we were there. Here is my list of highlights during that trip that I would recommend other people do and would definitely do again myself.

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Review of QT Hotel Canberra

In December 2015, my work Christmas function was held at a bar contained within the QT Canberra hotel and we had a room to use for getting ready. Whilst I didn’t stay in the actual hotel overnight, I thought it was worth doing a post on the hotel anyway.

I remember when this hotel was the Rydges Lakeside hotel only a few years ago. It was filled with a 70s feel of muted beige, yellows and dark browns. The hallways were dark and clearly needed an update.

The hotel was only taken over by the QT franchise in the last couple of years. They completely revamped and refurbished this hotel. Now, it has come in line with societies wants and needs with modern furnishings and lots of light.

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What to Do in Hong Kong – Night Time Activities

My last Travel Tuesday post focused on some fun things to do in Hong Kong during the day, but Hong Kong is also a vibrant city at night. I did not do as many night time activities as I would have liked, but there is still a selection of fun things to do.

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Karaoke: There are so many karaoke places around and the locals love karaoke, so I would definitely recommend trying it out one night! Most songs are K-Pop and are not in English, though but it still is fun to try!

Ozone Bar and Sky100: the tallest building in Hong Kong is called the International Commerce Centre. Below it has the Ritz Carlton Hotel but you can easily go up the top to the worlds tallest/highest bar called Ozone. You can look out down on the city at Sky100.

Obviously this is something to you do during the day, but I would recommend going up, having dinner and wine, and then looking out over the city at night. This is what we did and it was spectacular! A word of warning though, the bar is not cheap – we spent around AU$400 on wine and three tapas plates. It was definitely worth it though because the wine and tapas were quite delicious.

The View from Ozone Bar

The View from Ozone Bar

Click here for more information on OZONE

Symphony of Lights: At 8pm each night there is a laser show where around 40 buildings display a lightshow of laser beams, search lights and coloured lights. Even when there is cloud cover, you can still see some of the display, which lasts for about 15 minutes. There is also music and narration that goes with the light show, and you can listen to this outside Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

Personally I would suggest the best viewing point is either from Sky100 tower or on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. We were staying on the Kowloon side and went to the top of our hotel to view the laser show the first night we were there – this was definitely the best viewing point. Having said that, seeing the light show from Ozone while we were sipping on expensive wine was also pretty cool!

Where you can hear the Symphony of Lights music

The best place to view the night,y lazed show!

Night time Junk Cruise: a “Junk” is an older styled boat with red sails. There are not many left that do cruises around the harbour, so this is something everyone should try and do. It takes approximately 45 minutes and give you a different perspective on the harbour. There are a few different types of vessels, and the prices and times they leave do vary. If you want to ride the traditional red sail Junk, called th Duk Ling Junk, it operates hourly from 5.30pm to 8.30pm and will cost you around 320HKD.

The Junk Boats are seen cruising the harbour both during the day and at night

Dinner at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant: this gigantic floating tourist attraction was something that I missed out on. From what I know, it has a restaurant and bar, a fine dining restaurant, a cooking school, a Chinese Tea Garden and even a shopping plaza. It has appeared in mobs and many famous people have visited this attraction. The floating restaurant is also impressive at night, where the lights glisten on the water…I definitely want to go to this attraction next time I am in Hong Kong.

Click here for more information on the Floating Restaurant, including their menu. 

Dinner with a view

Happy Valley Racecourse: for something a bit different to do on a Wednesday night, take a tram ride to Happy Valley and experience the night time horse racing. The racing season is from September to July and the first race usually starts around 7pm on Wednesday nights. It costs only HK$10 for public admission for a standing entry, and an extra HK$20 for a seat on the Terrace. Even if you only stay to watch a couple of races, it’s definitely a fun and social night out. If you want a BBQ buffet dinner, you can get a seat down at Stable Bend Terrace, but this will set you back at least HK$550.

 Click here for more information on Happy Valley.
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At the rooftop pool at our hotel – beautiful view of Hong Kong Skyline!

Have you been to Hong Kong? What would you recommend for people to do at night in Hong Kong? Post you thoughts in the comments section of this post!

Bye for now,

Vintage Barbie xoxo

All opinions in this post are my own. Unless otherwise stated, this post has not been sponsored and I have not been paid for this post

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To the Centre of Greece: Meteora and Kalambaka

This time last year I was travelling around Greece and at the start of my whirlwind European adventure. I honestly can’t believe that it’s been a year since I’ve travelled sound Europe. So much has happened since coming back to Australia: getting a great job in a community legal centre, my partner and I getting our first pet together, my sister moving in with us, plenty of weddings, hens nights and baby announcements, family reunions, going back to univeristy to become admitted as a solicitor, and of course – finally confirming my volunteer program in Cambodia for May next year.

But I still reminisce about the amazing time I had overseas. In particular, I remember deciding that I really wanted to go experience a part of a country that not many people see. I chose to do this through Greece.


After my amazing Busabout tour around the Greek Islands, I decided to head to Greece’s second largest city, Thessaloniki. It is located at the top of Greece near the Macedonian border. But first I was going to stop and explore the mountains of Meteora in the middle of Greece.


Background and HistoryThe mountains of Meteora are quite different to the rest of the scenery in Greece. This area of Greece was originally under water millions of years ago. Long story short, after many many millenniums of geographical changes such as earthquakes and rain, these impressive rocks formed.One mountain in particular was given the name of Meteora. From memory this can be translated into “the in heavens” or “the middle of the sky”.

The religious significance of the mountains is evident with the Monestries that are scattered throughout this area. The oldest known inhabitants were the Hermits or Monks. The “hermit/monks” would isolate themselves high up along the side of the rocks. The hermits would use scaffolding wedges in holes alongside the cliff face so they could climb up. They would pray in solitude to reach “Christian perfection” as they believed high up in the mountains that they were closer to God.

 

The hermits would come out of their solitude to pray with other hermits on Sunday’s. This eventually lead to monestaries being built at the top of many rocks. Around 20 monestaries were built, but only 6 remain today.

Apparently a combination of earthquakes and war destroyed many of these monestaries and only a few remain. Some of these remaining monestaries include: The Holy Monastery of the Great Meteoro, Holy Monastery of Varlaam, Holy Monastery of Rousanou, Holy Monastery of Saint Stephen, Holy Monastery of St Nicholas and the Holy Trinity Monastery. These are now protected by UNESCO.

Holy Monastery of Varlaam

The Monastery of Holy Trinity - one of six remain monasteries of Meteora, Greece

The Monastery of Holy Trinity

Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron - one of six remaining monasteries of Meteora, Greece

Holy Monastery of Great Meteoron

Monastery of Saint Stephen - one of six remaining monasteries of Meteora, Greece

Monastery of Saint Stephen

Did you know…

I like learning about the places I see and it’s always interesting to hear a bit of trivia from the places I’ve visited. From what I remember, the Monastery of the Holy Tronity was the backdrop in the James Bond movie “For Your Eyes Only”.

A historical fact: Nazis attacked the Monastery of St Stephen as they believed it was hiding insurgents. It was abandoned for some time until nuns took over and refurbished the Monastery.

Another fun fact: Apparently the Holy Monastery of St Nicholas was the inspiration for Tomb Raider (the computer game).

And lastly: When the hermits/monks lived in the caves and the sides of cliffs, they still needed to transport goods such as food. They created “pully” systems made of ropes and buckets to get these items up and down the mountain cliffs.


Getting to Meteora

So now that you know a bit about this destination, if you’re wantihg to visit this place you’re probably wondering how to get there…

There are two ways for tourists to get from Athens to Thessaloniki: train or plane. There is a bus system, but this can be tricky – websites say avoid this if possible. You can also drive but it has been described as difficult in navigating Athens traffic. Apparently once you have survived Athens, then it is a breeze driving to Kalambaka and the surrounding sights.

I noticed you can catch a train frlm Athens to Kalambaka, then Kalambaka to Thessaloniki. There are trains that go straight to Thessaloniki, departing Athens, but as I had a few days I thought I could take it slow and stop at Kalambaka for a few days. 

Train to Meteora

I booked a train from Athens to Kalambaka and did this online. It is advisable to pre-book these trains during busy periods like holidays or on the weekends.

Now here is something that you need to know about booking but is not easy information to find: you can only book the train ticket a maximum of 10 days in advance. But you should definitely prebook if you need to be somewhere by a specific date.

It’s relatively cheap. I booked a first class seat for around 20 Euros.

When I got on the train I was reminded that Greece is a relatively poor country nowadays, and the “first class” cabin is not necessarily the first class seat that people may come to expect. It is not like the first class seats on TVG or other European rail companies. There were 6 seats in the one cabin. In my 6 person first class cabin there was an American couple, an older Greek man, a middle aged Greek lady and her 5 year old daughter. It was cosy but there was still enough space for everyone and all our luggage.

There were no “meals” included in this ticket but there was a food station in the train. There were mainly sandwiches, pastries and some drinks. No gluten free food, but I didn’t expect there to be.

I made sure I booked a seat by the window and was rewarded with some beautiful scenery. Kalambaka was the end of the line so it was fairly easy to figure out when to get off.

 

Taxis/cabs at Kalambaka

I ended up staying a little further away from the train station at the neighbouring town of Kastraki. Silly me and I did not know how to get a taxi or even how to ask for one in Greek! At first I started freaking out… I’ve heard so many stories about what happens to young females travelling by themselves… But eventually I asked someone in English if they knew where I could get a cab and much to my surprise everyone was very helpful.

Accommodation


I found a hotel on booking.com and I wasn’t too concerned with having too many luxuries – I just wanted somewhere quiet and relaxing after my Busabout tour. I booked 2 nights so I could leisurely take the train from Athens to Thessaloniki, stopping at Kalambaka. It also meant that I had a full day to explore the mountains and Monestries that Kalambaka is famous for.

I booked Hotel Tsikeli thinking it was in the centre of Kalambaka and hence close to Meteora. Turns out that whilst I wasn’t staying in the heart of Kalambaka, I was definitely close to the mountains of Meteora. I was actually amazed at how close the mountains were to the hotel!

It is a fairly old hotel, with the standard small European bathroom. There was a queen bed, dresser, mirror and TV. There were plenty of power sockets for charging all my devices.

Breakfast was included and this was a typical European hotel breakfast: toast, boiled eggs, ham, crossoints, filtered coffee and orange juice.

The breakfast room runs into the lush green courtyard that looks straight up to some of the mountains. It was beautiful sitting in the warm summer sun, skyping back home, writing some blog posts… It was very relaxing!

I believe the hotel is a family run business and they were all so welcoming. It felt like I was staying at a relatives house. I would definitely recommend this play purely based on the warm welcome I experienced throughout my stay.

Local Town

Kastraki is the local town I stayed in and it has a small town feel to it. It is cute and lined with small local businesses. The owners of the businesses appear to live on the storey above and display plenty of colourful flowers which really brighten up the streets.

There is a small mini-mart grocery store with fruits, milk, some deli meets and pantry items. I went here to purchase some “supplies” like snack foods and water.

There was also a little bakehouse down the road which also had deli meets and plenty of delicious smelling bread. I don’t think they had any gluten free bread, but there were plenty of delicious looking treats here!

Food

When I went for a wander down the local town I found this gorgeous little family run business. I definitely wanted to try some traditional Greek food, so I decided to stop in an have a nice meal.

There was a local tavern down the road. I often forget that Greeks like many Europeans, have dinner quite late at night, often around 10 to 11pm. It would be very obvious that I was a tourist when I ordered dinner at 6:30/7pm! (I’m sure my bleach blonde hair would have given it away first).

They were still quite welcoming and happy to accommodate me. They spoke little English but we managed. I guess you can always point to a menu an say the basic please or thank you in the local language!

Lunch

I stopped by this random tavern/restaurant when I was walking along the main road leading up to Meteora. I think it might be called Meteora something… Sorry I can’t be more specific! But it was a cute little placed that seated me quickly and provided me with a delicious lunch.

The only thing was that there were stray kittens everywhere. Not cute ones though – skinny cats and some missing bits of fur. It made me feel really sad.

Sunset Tour

I had read a bit about the mountains, monasteries and tours. I had also seen the pictures and how pretty the scenery was. I decided that it would be good to go along for a tour and ge some local history on the area. I booked a tour through the Visit Meteora website. This website has plenty of information and is the best place to start when researching Meteora as a travel destination. 

I decided that this would be a good idea because I could do my own thing during the day. Then, at the best time for photos, someone would be driving me around and giving me a commentary on the impressive natural wonders.

 

The tour is a total of 4 hours, starting at 4.30pm in summer. It was 35 Euros which I thought was reasonable considering the time of the tour and the distance covered. Plus I was willing to part with that money for the experience.

It was definitely worth the money. It was a small group of seven people from memory, plus the driver and the tour leader. The bus was fairly new, comfortable and air conditioned which was very nice considering it was a hot summers day!

We got to stop for plenty of photo opportunities – I just wish I had my DSLR on me for these photos.

The tour leader was knowledgeable, friendly and made a few jokes here and there. I made sure that I gave the tour leader and driver a generous tip as well, as it was a truly a great experience that I would recommend to anyone travelling through Greece.

Vintage Barbie’s Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

As the year that was 2014 comes to a close, we all seem to reflect on the previous 12 months: What was good, what was bad, what we learnt and what we appreciate. This year was all about travel for me. I had planned this trip for over a year and dreamed about a big Europe summer trip for many years. It’s a little sad to know that it’s all over now. But nonetheless, in my reflective state, I thought this would be a great time to recap the year in travel moments.

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

THE WORST

Every person has their share of travel nightmares. Most of the time, these end up turning into great stories that travellers share with family and friends when they return, or laugh about in future years with otherlike-minded travellers. Here is what I would consider the worst travel experiences I had during 2014:

Inconsiderate Hostel Guests

I was pretty excited about Yatch Week in Croatia. Whilst I was not going to be on an official Yatch Week boat, I knew that everyone in Split was here for the same thing – to set off sailing over the next week indulging in alcoholic beverages and getting a serious tan. It’s been something I’ve wanted to do for at least 8 years, so I was pretty damn excited to be doing a Contiki Croatian Sail during Yatch Week.

I got into Split a few days before my friends. I decided to get a small private room at a hostel so I could properly sleep before the big sailing experience began. The room was part of an apartment style set up: there were three rooms, each with a desk and TV, a communal bathroom, then there was a common area for the kitchen and lounge. It was a nice and cosy little set up.

The day before my sailing tour I met a couple of people staying in the other rooms. Being fellow Aussies we began chatting and I realised they too were doing a sailing tour for Yatch week. They asked if I wanted to join them for some clubbing that night but I decided I wanted to have an early night.

At about 4am I could hear this tapping. Someone was knocking at the door. I definitely was not getting out of bed to answer the door. Firstly, I would need to get dressed. Secondly, I didn’t know who it was and I didn’t want to accidentally let anyone in to the rooms if they weren’t staying in here. (I hadn’t met the other two roommates). I figured that if they were staying with the other people that their friends would let them in.

The knocking stopped and I tried to go back to sleep. Then it began again about thirty minutes later. I decided I should properly just answer the door and see what is going on. Luckily, the person that they were after came back to room. I could hear them arguing about having to wait on the door step for this person etc etc. They came inside and one person went to bed, the other went to the kitchen. This person in the kitchen appeared to be the girl I talked to earlier today, and it seemed like she brought home a new “friend”.

That’s when the noises started. It was disgusting. So I turned on the TV in my room, sort of passive-aggressively indicating that I could hear what was going on, and if they could please keep it down so I could get back to sleep. Obviously it didn’t do anything. They got louder. So the TV was turned up louder. It was like a war of noises. Eventually her friend yelled out at her and told her to shut up. Thank god.

The noise subsided and I thought I could go back to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep.

Then at 6am the knocker started again with the incessant consistent knocking. I had had enough. I quickly put on some clothes, and answer the door asking what the hell is going on? I had a few words with the poor guy, letting out my frustration on him. His friend came out of the room to let him in and also apologise to me and I stormed back to my room. I decided I may as well get up.

My friends had just got the overnight ferry from Italy so I decided to go meet up with them. We got some brekkie and I told them about the unfortunate noises I heard during the night. We returned to my accommodation to get something and I noticed that the inconsiderate hostel person was sleeping in the kitchen. I decided I would now be loud in moving around my room (as it was next to the kitchen and away from the other rooms).

When I went to the kitchen to get a drink I noticed an ugly sight – she was not just sleeping, but she was passed out, sprawled across the couch with her vagina out for the world to see. I think I may have vomited a little bit in my mouth. After that discovery we swiftly left the hostel.

Yep, pretty disgusting. That’s why it’s up there with the worst travel experiences of 2014!

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

Carrying around 25kgs of luggage in a broken suitcase is definitely not a good experience…

Loosing my phone and camera

You would think that having your camera stolen on the 3rd night of your trip would tell you to be more careful with your belongings. But sometimes alcohol makes you forget about those important things…

My camera was stolen out of my handbag when I was in a Mykonos nightclub. Pretty devasting as it was a birthday present earlier that year. My partner bought it for me because it was shockproof, waterproof and had plenty of great camera features. I just tried to look on the bright side that it wasn’t all the photos from my trip on there.

When I left Greece I bought a cheap camera at the airport. This would get me by for the next 2 months. I’d also been using my iphone to take photos and considering the picture quality of iphone 5 is pretty good, I was ok with using it instead of a “real” camera.

Fast forward almost 7 weeks later. I’m waking up after a night of too many buckets of cocktails on my last night with my Topdeck tour. My handbag is missing. My phone, camera, keycard and my friends wallet was in there. Oh no…

After balling out my eyes at breakfast, it appears that the tour leader spoke to security and found my bag. Fortunately my friends wallet was in there, as well as my keycard. However the phone and camera were gone.

It was horrible knowing I couldn’t easily contact people back home. I’d also lost ALL photos from my trip as I used both my camera and my phone to take various pictures. I lost all the contact info from the amazing people I had met on my trip. And the worst part was that I already had my camera stolen earlier in the trip – how could I left this happen again?

I now know what to do to avoid these things happening again, but dear hindsight, why couldn’t I have just avoided this happening at all?

Read about the mistakes I learnt while travelling.

THE BEST

They say you can only appreciate the good when you have the bad. And when it comes to travelling, most of the time it’s the good experiences you will remember. For me, I had so many fantastic experiences when I travelled this year, so it’s hard to narrow it down to only two favourites. There’s the London Jungle night time visit, sunset at Santorini, exploring the mountains of Greece, visiting the windmills in Holland, walking the city walls of Dubrovnik, Ultra Music Festival in Croatia, my entire Topdeck tour… It’s definitely hard picking the best of the best, but I have to say there were two definite stand outs:

Paros Boat Trip

I absolutely loved my Busabout Greek Islands tour. The people in the group, the activities and the sights made it a fantastic experience. I had a fantastic and fun time on this trip and would most definitely do it again.

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

One of the highlights of the trip was the day tour around the adjoining Islands of Paros. Paros is small, less well known and one of the quieter Islands of the Greek Islands. The island follows a strict siesta between 2pm and 5pm, but the shops reopen around 5-6pm and stay open until about 1am. It’s not a party island like Mykonos or Ios, but it was still a fun and beautiful place to visit.

As part of my Greek Island tour with Busabout, we were offered an optional extra activity of the Paros Boat Tour. I had read lots of good things about it so I was definitely keen to do this activity. I decided that €45 would be worth it.

Our day trip started relatively early as we had to get down to the port to board our boat. The boat reminded me a bit of a sailors boat out of a cartoon, so I instantly liked it’s kitsch look.

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

We boarded the boat and started off into the sea. We all just sat back and took in the beauty of the water. It was truly amazing how blue the water looked! Then we stopped for a swim and the water was… Well, salty. I have never swum in saltier water! It was definitely something different!

After the first swim spot, we again moved on to see more beautiful hidden gems of the Greek Islands. When lunchtime came, we headed off to another secret spot to have a Greek BBQ lunch. We also had some homemade Greek wine and Ouzo. I quite enjoyed the Ouzo… Maybe a little too much! I think the rest of the group enjoyed the alcohol as well!

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

After lunch we set off for another swim spot and this is where I saw the worlds best ocean water. Even after all that wine and Ouzo, I still remember how crystal blue the water looked. I was truly blown away.

If anyone I know does the Busabout Greek Islands tour, I always tell them that they have to do the Paros Boat Trip. It was so much fun, and set the mood for the rest of the holiday to be a fun filled adventure!

Climbing the Eiffel Tower

I don’t care how clichéd it is – it has always been on my bucket list to climb the Eiffel Tower. The first time I went to Paris I didn’t get a chance to climb it – the people who said the lines would be too long if I didn’t get there first thing in the morning were right…

This time was my second time in Paris, and I once again didn’t get up early enough. So instead I explored the beautiful city and decided a picnic beside the iconic structure would do just fine. After my dinner and taking lots of photos with the sun setting behind the tower, I decided to have a peak at the length of the lines.

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

I wanted to climb it myself, rather than take the elevator, so I had a look at the line on the stairs entrance, and to my suprise, it was pretty much empty! I didn’t understand how in peak season, at sunset, there weren’t more people experiencing the climb. I decided that this is the best opportunity I would ever get to climb it, so I joined the small line, waited about 10 minutes and before I knew it I was climbing the Eiffel Tower!

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

A standard travel selfie

I reached the first floor and I’m sure the smile on my face was clear to see – I was actually here! I wandered around the tower, looking through the glass floor in the middle of the tower to see how far up I had climbed. Although, my fear of heights prevented me from stepping too far onto the glass…

Vintage Barbie's Best and Worst Travel Experiences of 2014

I then took the stairs on the Sienne River side of the tower to continue up to Level 2. I felt a sense of accomplishment from climbing up the stairs. I shook my head at those who lazily took the elevators. Did they realise what kind of experience they were missing out on?

I took well over a hundred photos. The sun was still setting and the sky seem to glisten. The whole time I was by myself but had a great time: I saw amazing sights and completed a long time dream. Cliched or not, this will always be one of my favourite travel moments.

What were your top travel moments of 2014? Or do you have some horror travel stories to tell? Let me know in the comments below!