Heart of Hollywood tour – London O2

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A friend took me to see the Heart of Hollywood that is currently on tour in London until 17th July.  It’s part of a world tour that will cover 60 cities.  I didn’t know what to expect, but it was pretty awesome!  It is a collection of memorabilia from Hollywood, including the original letter ‘H’ from the Hollywood sign, iconic art and some original costumes from movies including Superman.

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The highlight was definitely the one-hour dancing and singing outdoor performance at dusk as the sun set over London.  The performers were really amazing and it was such a lively and eclectic selection of songs.

This was a really awesome and ‘different’ thing to do in London.  It’s located in North Greenwich by the O2 arena so there is easy access and plenty of restaurants nearby.  You can find out more and buy tickets here:

https://www.theo2.co.uk/events/detail/the-heart-of-hollywood-tour

http://www.heartofhollywoodtour.com

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Hawaii inspirational speech

For me, travel makes me feel alive. There’s so much to see and do, and it’s important to enjoy the beauty around you.

I came across a motivational video with scenes of Hawaii. I loved the combination of travel and a reminder to enjoy life.

Here is the video:

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How to travel on a budget

There are times when you have oodles of money to spend on a luxury trip.  Those are always great!

But there are also times when you really want to go somewhere, even though you feel like you can’t really afford it.  Fear not.  Where there’s a will, there’s a way!  From my experience, travelling on a budget is still worth the experience.  You might not be eating caviar everyday (who wants to do that anyway?) but you still get to visit somewhere interesting and build some great new memories.

The biggest costs for travelling tend to be for transport and accommodation, so if you want to save money, try to focus on these areas first.  Other costs like eating out do add up, but you can always try to find a balance of paying for nice meals and eating on the cheap.  This applies for touristy things to do as well.

Here are some tips to get you thinking:

  • Book early

From my experience, booking earlier has nearly always worked out cheaper.  From flights to hotels, it’s easier to snag a deal in advance.  I’d say at least three months in advance.  Also, there is maximum holiday anticipation by booking early!  It’s always nice to have a trip to look forward to.

  • Low cost airlines

These are great.  The purpose is to get you from one place to another.  There’s generally not much point in paying extra for that.  Low cost airlines are good for travelling within Europe, and also intra-country like in the US.  You can save a lot of money by travelling with Ryanair or Easyjet instead of British Airways.

You can save money on flights around the world with airlines like JetBlue Airways in the US and AirAsia in Asia.  You can view other airlines in this article about low-cost airlines.

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  • Shop around for flights

Sometimes there is no low-cost option when you’re making a big trip, like from London to Thailand.  But you might find some cheaper options if you’re willing to make a stop-over (these tend to be cheaper than direct flights) or be flexible with your dates.

If you’re making a big trip abroad that requires a stop-over, it can work out cheaper if you buy the two parts of the flight separately.  For example, a friend of mine travelled from the US to Amsterdam with American Airlines, which required a stop in London.  It worked out cheaper to buy the US-London ticket with AA + a separate ticket from London-Amsterdam with British Airways, compared to booking the whole US-London-Amsterdam combination directly through American Airlines.  So she saved money by booking the two parts of her trip separately, without even looking at the low-cost airlines.

You may need to fly with a big airline to get you to the first country, then look for cheap flights on the shorter parts of your journey.

The best way to shop around like this is using a website like Sky Scanner that does the hard work for you.  Try changing some of the dates around, and make sure you check the time in between flights.  And make sure the agent they suggest is legitimate.  I’ve seen what looked like a bargain but had never heard of the agent and their reviews weren’t good – so I chose a more expensive but safe option.

You can also use websites like Kayak and the regular online agents like Opodo, Expedia and Lastminute.com to shop around for flights.  And the actual airline’s website!

Make sure you get the timings right if you book parts of your flight separately.  You will need to allow extra time to collect your baggage and possibly go through security or check-in again.  To avoid this hassle, see the next point…

  • Travel lightly – hand luggage only

There are lots of benefits to travelling lightly.  You carry less stuff around, you’re forced to be minimalist and you don’t have to pay extra on some flights for checking luggage in.  Low-cost airlines are notorious for charging extra if you want to check in luggage.  Ryanair charges £25/€25 for adding a checked bag, which goes up to £40/€40 if you add it after booking your flight/at the airport.

No checked luggage is especially useful if you have booked more than one flight through different airlines – you won’t need to wait around at the baggage carousel to pick up your baggage before going to your next flight.

Even if you don’t have another flight lined up, not carrying a suitcase around on foreign public transport is like a breath of fresh air.  Now, I can easily go away for up to five days with just a small rucksack – I used to take a suitcase with me!

And, if you are going to make maximum use of your hand luggage allowance on a flight, make sure your cabin bag is the right size.  Sometimes the maximum size varies from airline to airline, and you might be forced to pay to check in your case if it is too big.

See Ryanair’s new hand luggage allowance rules here.

  • If you fly a lot, remember to collect and use miles

So using airline miles isn’t my strength, but it’s something I keep meaning to make use of more!  Many airlines have their own miles system and are associated with other airlines too.  So you can have an account with American Airlines and still collect points when you travel with British Airways.

I have used my miles to buy a flight from Costa Rica to New York for about $40, and I have also managed to lose about 20,000 points because I didn’t make use of them in time.  Oops.

  • You don’t have to fly

Depending on how big a trip you are planning, you may want to consider other options like coach, train or even ferry.  In Europe, there are options to take Eurostar between the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.  Returns can be as low as £60 (around US$80).

And remember, you don’t even have to go abroad to travel.

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There’s probably a whole bunch of stuff you haven’t seen in your own country, so if you’re on a real budget, consider a trip to a city you haven’t visited before.  Coaches can be really cheap in the US and in Europe.  I’ve booked Megabus tickets for £1 before from London to Manchester, you can’t go wrong for that price!

  • Accommodation

Comparison sites: I recommend Trivago as a first stop to find accommodation.  It’s a hotel comparison site that compares hundreds of venues across different agents for the best price.  Mid-week stays tend to be cheaper.

Hostels: I’ve only stayed in hostels a few times – mainly when I was travelling alone and really couldn’t justify the cost of a hotel room.  Especially when it was literally for just a place to sleep as I planned to be out all day.  It can be a good way to meet people – make sure you have your ‘friendly hat’ on and be prepared to expect the unexpected!  I would recommend you check the reviews and the photos to make sure it is something you are happy with.

I’ve had a couple of great hostel stays including in Boston and Costa Rica.  And they were much cheaper than hotels.  There are often facilities to cook, saving you money when it comes to not having to eat out every day.

You can search for hostels at Hostel World, and sometimes they come up in the results on sites like Booking.com.

Airbnb: I’ve heard mixed reviews about Airbnb although all of my experiences have been pretty good.  It is generally cheaper than a hotel, but make sure you do some comparisons.  It can be good if there’s a group of you as there are options to have an apartment where you can hang out and eat together in a homely setting.  You also have the option of cooking.

My favourite Airbnb was staying on a houseboat in Amsterdam years ago.  It was much more fun than staying in a generic hotel room!

No frills hotels:  I’m a really big fan of ‘budget hotels’ that are part of a chain.  They tend to be simple, clean and you know what you’ll get!  In the UK, I really like Travelodge and in Spain I found Ibis to be great.

  • Things to do

It can be easy to spend lots of money on fun things to do when you’re exploring somewhere new.  I usually pick my favourites of the paid options, like shows or big tourist attractions, then make an effort to find free things.  There are plenty of options, like visiting free museums, looking at markets and even free tours.

I’m a big fan of the Sandeman free walking tours.  These usually last 2-3 hours and you pay a tip of your choice at the end.  This usually works out cheaper than any fixed-price tour.  They currently cover 19 cities around the world.  So far I’ve been to the tours in London, Dublin, Berlin and Amsterdam.

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  • Eating

I LOVE eating out.  Especially when on holiday!  But when you’re on a budget, it helps to plan out those meals a little bit.  Instead of pigging out at the expensive hotel buffet every morning, think about going to a local supermarket to buy some croissants, biscuits or fruits to have for breakfast.  If you have access to a fridge, then you can add milk and cereal to that list.  This will go nicely with the tea and coffee that you (hopefully) already have in your room.  And if there’s a kettle for that tea and coffee, then you might as well buy some pot noodles for the occasional meal or snack.

For lunches and dinners, I find it works to pick out a couple of places you really want to eat at (this should include national dishes/local food), then find cheap alternatives for the other meals.  This includes cafe style restaurants and, god forbid, fast food.  There’s nothing as exciting as having McDonalds in a different country!  (FYI the McFlurry in Morocco is the best I’ve tried so far)

If you have cooking facilities where you’re staying, like in most hostels or Airbnb, then make the most of the opportunity to buy some ingredients from a supermarket and cook some meals.

I’m not saying eat like a pauper for the whole trip, just mix it up a little bit.  Try the whole array from street food to top notch.  You’ll save a lot of money compared to eating in ‘proper restaurants’ each time, and sometimes street food is the best.

You can also look at my travel tips by clicking here.

I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to travel on a budget.  Good luck with your travel plans!

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Visiting Amsterdam

I went to Amsterdam a number of years ago and I always intended to go back.  I was glad when the opportunity came up to go again with a few friends.

Airport to city

It was quite simple to get into the city from Amsterdam airport.  We took a €6 train into Centraal, then took a taxi to our accommodation, which cost about €35 in total.  The other option would be to take the tram from Centraal that costs about €3 per person.

Stayed in Airbnb

For this trip, we decided to stay in an Airbnb property.  There were four of us travelling for four nights, so we stayed in a 2 bedroom apartment close to the centre.  It was great to have a kitchen, dining table and shared living room for us to hang out in.

Things to do

So much to do in Amsterdam!

Canal ride

High on the to-do list was a canal tour.  Amsterdam has loads of pretty and picturesque canals, so we joined the Blue Boat Canal Cruise for €18.  We were able to buy tickets on the day.  It lasts about 75 minutes and everyone got headphones to listen to the pre-recorded tour information in their chosen language.  It was also fully covered and heated, so no need to worry about the weather.

Rijks Museum

As we purchased our tickets for the Rijks Museum from the canal cruise company, we got to pay €15 rather than the usual €17.50 per ticket.  I was really impressed with this museum, there was such a huge range of things to see – from Rembrandt paintings to pocket snuff boxes!

 

Walking tour

I’m a big fan of the Sandemans free walking tours.  I booked us spots for a morning tour that started near the Royal Palace.  It was a good way to check out the city on foot and learn about Amsterdam’s history.  We covered the National Monument, the red light district, Anne Frank’s house and more.  As with all of these free tours, you leave a tip at the end for your guide – however much you feel is reasonable.

Anne Frank’s House

I’d already visited Anne Frank’s house on my last trip.  My friends hadn’t been before, but unfortunately they weren’t able to get tickets!  Tickets were temporarily available online only at that time, and it was already fully booked.  If you’re interested in going, definitely look into booking tickets online as soon as you can.

Places to eat

Food in Amsterdam was really amazing.  There’s a lot of Asian influences and international food is available everywhere.  Here are some of my favourite places that we went to.

Food Hall – Vietnamese

Luckily this Food Hall was just around the corner from where we were staying.  There was a lot of variety in the food available.  I went for the Vietnamese noodles, which was really tasty.  Here is the Trip advisor page.

Asian Kitchen

This is a very low key cafe style restaurant with great food and even greater food portions!  It was on the cheap and cheerful side, and we were all satisfied with our meal. There was a flower market just across the road too, which we investigated after lunch.  Here is the Trip advisor page.

Blauwe Hollander

This restaurant was recommended to us by our Airbnb contact for actual Dutch food, since we were enjoying so much Asian food!  It’s a nice restaurant near the central area.  Turns out Dutch food is quite hearty!  My pea and bacon soup was really nice and we all had some version of ‘stamppot’ that includes mashed potato and meat.  It was really good.  Here is the Trip advisor page.

De Vier bakery

I’m really sad I didn’t make it to this restaurant because it looks amazing.  Fortunately, my friend did bring me some Dutch pancakes (poffertjes) with Nutella and strawberries for me to eat.  They were so yummy.  Dutch pancakes are like little mini pancakes, that are delicious with Nutella!  Here is the Trip advisor page.

Pancake Bakery

This was a recommendation from the tour guide, and I have to say it was a disappointment after the De Vier pancakes.  The restaurant itself is small and cosy, the disappointment was that the ‘chocolate sauce’ was not Nutella.  It was some generic dark chocolate sauce, which just didn’t taste as good!  I’d recommend the De Vier bakery if you get a choice, unless you don’t care for Nutella.  Here is the Trip advisor page.

Holiday conclusion

I had a really great time in Amsterdam.  There’s something very chilled out about it, people are very friendly, it’s easy to get around by tram and the food is great.  In fact, I think I’ll go back again one day.

 

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A trip to Bangladesh: Sylhet and Dhaka

After ten long years, the opportunity arose for me to visit Bangladesh again.  Even though I’d visited many times as a child, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect this time.  Turns out I had nothing to worry about.  I love the hustle and bustle of Bangladesh.  There is something very beautiful, real and raw about this country.

I noticed that there was a lot of construction and development going on everywhere.  Bangladesh is the kind of place where you still buy your fresh fish and chicken from the markets, or from a man passing through the residential areas.  This is one of the things I always appreciated since I was young – seeing a live animal being killed and knowing where the meat on my plate came from.  This might seem cruel or gross, but in the Western world it is easy to forget our chicken wings came from a live animal.  It is a reality that I wish more people could witness to understand and appreciate that there is a life before our plates.

I went on a day trip to a beautiful place called ‘Rattar Gul’.  It’s a river area that was about 1-2 hours drive from Sylhet.  We rode on a little wooden canoe through the mangroves with two boys paddling.  It was scenic and beautiful.  We stopped at a watch tower and took the steps to the top to see the wonderful views.

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For me, the food in Bangladesh is amazing.  There is a dish called ‘poochka’ or ‘pani puri’ which is little hollow round crisp shells filled with chickpeas and tamarind sauce is added on top.  Lovely.  And for some reason, Chinese food in Bangladesh is phenomenal.  Foreign food in restaurants everywhere is often catered to the local customers, so the Chinese food in Bangladesh often has extra spices added to it and it tastes delicious.  I even found a Pizza Hut in Dhaka that was tastier than Pizza Hut in the UK!

Dhaka is the capital and notorious for its bad traffic nowadays, but it’s not really the end of the world.  I visited Jamuna Future Park, which is a HUGE modern shopping mall and also where I found Pizza Hut.  It’s so big that I couldn’t cover it all in a couple of trips and it would be easy to get lost.  It is good for people who fancy some modern shopping with fixed price tags instead of haggling at markets.

I visited some of the University campuses just to have a look around and ate at some great restaurants.  That always makes me happy!  Bangladesh is a great place to explore and there are some other areas like Chittagong and Cox’s Bazaar that I would have liked to see as well.  That may need to be saved for another trip.

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Ryanair has changed its hand luggage rules

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Previously on Ryanair flights, you could take a small bag (35cm x 20cm x 20cm no weight limit) AND a large bag (55cm x 40cm x 20cm with 10kg weight limit) with you into the cabin for free.

The new rules for Ryanair hand luggage from 15th January 2018 are as follows:

  • Without priority boarding: 
    You can take a small bag into the cabin for free, and
    You can take a large bag that will be placed into the hold at the boarding gate for free
  • With priority boarding:
    You can take a small bag AND large bag into the cabin for free

In a nutshell, you can still take a small bag and a large bag on Ryanair for free, but the large bag will be placed into the hold if you haven’t paid for priority boarding, which costs £5 or £6.

If you don’t want to pay for the privilege of having your large bag near you during the flight, make sure you close it with a padlock before you kiss it goodbye at the boarding gate!

Further information on Ryanair changing its hand luggage allowance is available by clicking here.

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The mind-growing effect of living abroad

I’ve lived abroad a few times in my life.  The first time was when I was 21 years old and worked in New York for a year as an intern.  The second time, I went to live in Agadir, Morocco, for three months.  And the most recent time was in Costa Rica for six months.

The locations and experiences were very different, but there was one thing they all had in common.  The level of personal growth I experienced was phenomenal.  I changed and grew in so many ways that I never would have experienced if I stayed settled and working in the UK.  I’m grateful for all of these experiences that in some way shaped the person I am today.

Having lived in London already, the transition to New York was quite easy.  Especially because everyone spoke English.  Looking back, I realise the largest part of why this experience was so much fun was having a large group of intern friends who were just as curious and eager to explore and enjoy NY as I was.  Having friends to share adventures with is a wonderful thing.  I loved the buzz of life, and knowing my time was limited meant I made the effort to do as much as I could as quickly as possible.  Having to start a new life in another country somehow made me very assertive.  I wasn’t so worried about what others thought of me as before.

Morocco was a completely different experience.  It felt very ‘foreign’.  I didn’t understand any Arabic and I was forced to make use of my school French and develop my language skills.  I enjoyed the hustle and bustle of a less modern world, like buying all of your fresh fruit and veg from a market stall, and appreciated how everyone took the time to relax.  Agadir is based by the beach, a beautiful place, and it’s where I learned the importance of enjoying life, remembering to take things slowly once in a while and enjoy the beautiful views.

Costa Rica is a very beautiful country, and the experience of living there was nothing like what I expected.  Funnily enough, it’s where I learned to enjoy relaxing at the beach properly with friends.  I used to find sitting at the beach quite boring before, but I finally understood the joy of spending hours in and near the sea.  I loved living in Quepos, a little village near Manuel Antonio on the coast, for six weeks.  I adored being surrounded by tropical forests, humming birds and I even had a tear in my eye when I saw a flock of wild scarlet macaws near my home.  It makes me feel so awful when I think of how these beautiful red parrots are only seen in cages around the world.  Being immersed in nature was an amazing experience, as were the horrific thunderstorms I witnessed (from the balcony) in rainy season.  Truly magnificent!

Moving to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, made me appreciate all the things I’d taken for granted about living in London.  I kind of assumed that all capitals across the world were similar to London – international, full of work opportunities and great restaurants!  It turns out that’s not the case.  I found the language barrier to be a barrier in getting to know the locals, another reason to improve my Spanish skills.  I also enjoyed the opportunity to visit rainforests, waterfalls, beaches and volcanoes around Costa Rica.  One of the highlights was visiting Tortuguero and going kayaking for the first time… by myself… with a random dog that insisted on joining me!  It was amazing and I loved ‘adventure dog’, he was awesome.

I learned a lot from my time living abroad.  Living somewhere is completely different to just visiting a place for a weekend or a week.  You get a different feel for the place and understanding of the culture.  I learned that people are kind and helpful, but most of all, I learned that I can rely on myself.  That gave me a lot of confidence in myself – knowing that in a foreign situation you can and will always find a solution for what you need.

I also learned and realised that sometimes you can’t control everything.  Things happen in life, and you just have to go with the flow.  I learned to let go of a lot of my life expectations, and sometimes the distance from ‘home’ also helped me to accept and let go of the past.  Making the effort to step away from your everyday life helps you to see life from a different perspective.  Somehow, travelling and living abroad really helped me to grow spiritually and accept everyone and everything more than before.

Going to new places makes your senses come to life as you have to pay attention to everything around you.  It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and experience different ways of living.

I’m grateful that I’ve had these opportunities to experience personal growth, and I’m aware that this kind of growth would have been very limited if I hadn’t travelled and lived abroad.

I realise that living abroad is usually a huge step, but I highly recommend it to anyone who is considering it.  Most people actively manage their career growth, but I think personal growth is just as important in life, if not more.

 

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