Tag Archives: Travel

Sydney to Jervis Bay: weekend roadtrip

SNAPSHOT:

Drive Down: Scarborough Hotel (brunch) –> Hyams Beach –> Chinamans Beach

Drive Up: Cambewarra Lookout –> Kangaroo Valley –> Fitzroy Falls –> Berry –> Kiama Blowhole

IF I COULD DO IT OVER:

Drive Down: Scarborough Hotel (brunch) –> Kiama Blowhole  –> Hyams Beach

Drive Up: Cambewarra Lookout –> Kangaroo Valley –> Fitzroy Falls –> Berry –> Sublime Point Lookout

MY IDEAL JERVIS BAY TRIP: 

Day 1: Scarborough Hotel (brunch) –> Kiama Blowhole  –> Hyams Beach

Day 2: Mollymook –>  Bendalong Point –> Washerwomans Beach, Conjurong Point –> Narrawallee

Day 3: Fitzroy Falls –> Kangaroo Valley –> Cambewarra Lookout –> Wineries

Day 4: Chinamans Beach –> Berry –> Kiama Blowhole  –> Sublime Point Lookout

Recently, my sister and I have been quite adamant to see every last bit of gorgeous coastline here in NSW because well, it’s so damn beautiful. Every chance we get- that our wallet allows- we’ll be off again, onto the next adventure.

In my years living in Europe, I’ve become really used to working with public transport. Mostly you can get around by bus, if not a train. If things got really tough you could fly or call an Uber but that was usually a last resort that wasn’t always completely necessary. Everything ‘just aroundt he corner’! But in Australia, it’s completely different. Man, if you don’t have a car, you won’t get to experience some of that absolutely-f*cking gorgeousness that is the rugged coast of NSW (and Victoria might I add). It’s absolutely breathtaking. There is just so much space, so much sky. You feel insignificant, significant, all at once. You feel the power of nature and you learn to respect it. The landscape here actually brings back memories of Yorkshire– just more tropical and coastal with more blue sky. OK, so it’s not like Yorkshire. Heh.

One weekend before Christmas, slightly on a whim, my sister and I found a great deal on a motel near Jervis Bay and decided to just head down- it was now or never. Besides, we wanted to see the whitest sand in the world and to catch some rays. Spring had not been kind to Sydney proper.

We booked a car the day of and headed off. We left at around 9am and we probably could have done with leaving earlier. Hindsight 20/20 and all that. As anyone that has experienced driving in Sydney will know, it’s not the most riveting experience driving out. But heading South rather than heading West is an easier drive. Before you know it you hit the Royal National Park and its easy, long winding highways. It takes about an hour and a half to get to the Scarborough Hotel, which is a good 20 minute detour off the main highway. Having said that, the views are definitely worth it. The food? Not super exciting. I don’t even think I took a photo of it, and as a Taiwanese person I love food photos.

The views are great though, and according to the friendly staff, during peak whale watching season you can see lots of ’em! So this is definitely worth a stop then! If you want to make sure you get a spot, do book ahead to call. Most of the tables with the best views had RESERVED signs on them, particularly for the popular brunch/lunch hours.

We decided to opt for maximum beach time after our little stop so headed straight for the holy grail: Hyams Beach. It’s where everyone says you should go! It was a hefty little drive from Scarborough Hotel, but we made it through. With some good tunes on (make sure you download the playlist as radio tunage can be rough) it makes the ride totally worthwhile.

We were lucky– the sun was out, there was barely a cloud in the blue blue sky, and the waves were gently crashing against the beach. Hyams Beach is actually set in suburbia (they all are outside of the big cities), so you have to park along a residential street. The street itself is quite long so you know, go for it. Find a spot! Despite it being a sunny weekend it took us under 10 minutes to find a parking spot.

We parked ourselves on the beach for the better part of the afternoon. It did get busier and busier on the beach, with lots of families coming out to play in the shallow water. I don’t know if it was because we were so inexperienced with Antarctic waters or because HOLY HELL IT WAS COLD. We only managed to literally dip in and out a few times. The longest we stayed in the water was probably 5 minutes?

We got a little tired of the screaming toddlers (big shout out to mums and dads here, you are absolute heroes) so we decided to head over to Chinamans Beach. We didn’t even need to move our car, it’s literally 300 meters up the road from Hyams Beach. You can go straight down the stairs once you reach the end of Cyrus St or you can head straight into the bush. The walk is less than 10 minutes and then you come out at the other end of Chinamans Beach where it’s guaranteed less busy and touristy. If you fancy, you can also head up the stairs and do a nice little coastal walk and find even more secluded beaches. The sand is EVEN sqeakier here because it’s not half as busy as Hyams Beach.

We decided to have a super early night so that we could catch the sunrise at Hyams Beach the next day. Obviously, what else are you going to do if you’re on the East Coast of Australia?! So after a really quick boring dinner we headed off to sleep in our motel with Harry Potter playing on TV. God love the Christmas season.

The next morning, it was looking a bit cloudy. Unfortunately for us, it meant that one or two sunrise photos later, it was already too bright and we didn’t actually catch any sun rising. Damn. But it was now not even 6am and we had the whole day ahead of us! What do do… Kangaroo Valley of course!

Now, I definitely recommend spending a good few days in this area because there is so much to do. Apart from great beaches there are also wineries and lots of great walks too.

As pictured above, you can do the Cambewarra Lookout (experienced drivers needed for this one. Lots of hairpin turns to get up this mountain). You can’t really tell from the clouds, but that bay-like thing far ahead? That’s Jervis Bay! You can (almost) see the gorgeous half-moon bend of Hyams Beach. When the sun did pop out for a second I swear I got sand glare. Here, you can have a cup of coffee or brekkie at the cafe or you can also just head straight to Kangaroo Valley and explore the funky little shops, cafes, and restaurants.

From Kangaroo Valley, another windy drive up a mountain will get you to Fitzroy Falls. Beware, when you’re coming from Kangaroo Valley, the Fitzroy Falls entrance is on the right and can be easily missed if you’re not looking out for it!

Fitzroy Falls is great for several reasons. You can do a short walk of just 800m or you can do a longer walk of up to 3/4km. It’s definitely worth your while as views are rather spectacular and quite reminiscent of the Blue Mountains! Parking for a regular car is $4 and that’s it, no other entrance fees. There’s also a cafe and visitor’s centre here so if you wanted to refresh before/after your walk it’s definitely doable.

From here, sis and I were starting to get hungry so we decided to get back in the car and get some more driving in before it hit brunch time. Destination: Berry Sourdough Cafe.

It is literally famous FOR MILES. People go up from Jervis Bay to eat there, like it’s a really big deal. And having had their sourdough now, I understand why. It is SO YUMMY! My sister and I bought a loaf of bread each that’s how good it is. And also had a pain au chocolat because that was also RIVETING.

Sis had a hummus dish with poached egg and avo salad, and I had a spicy chorizo omelette. Both were absolutely outstanding although there was a little too much hummus on the plate.

 

After this, we went for a little walk around town (one main road), taking in the charm of village life. There are plenty of ice cream shops to choose from and a pharmacy to save you with some bug spray (trust us it comes in handy).

We then headed to Kiama Blowhole, which was about a 45 minute drive Northward. The Blowhole is a rather popular stop but you have to be lucky. The wind and wave conditions have to be right to see awesome water sprays coming up from the rock formation along the coast. Instead, we opted for a lovely little dip in the ocean pool.

The rain started really pouring down so the trip was a little bit over for us. The clouds kept threatening rain and delivered. Gah. So off home we drove from here. There were quite a few stops that we missed out on that we definitely would have done had the weather been a bit more forgiving. Ah well, gives us an excuse to go again next time!!

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Glamping?…I think not

Have you ever gone glamping? When you think of glamping in your head, what do you see? I’ll tell you what I see, because when I booked it, I was looking at the company’s Instagram page getting really excited!

 

One of my besties and I booked a few months in advance. We were really quite excited because, well, wouldn’t you be? We would be able to get into the mountains, do some fun hiking… why not? Lovely little girlie weekend away in a super cool tent, and if the weather was going to be warm enough, maybe even a dip in the lake!

So off we go, Friday afternoon. Slightly behind schedule due to the bad traffic headed out of Sydney but ok, we were still going to make it before the 8pm cut-off for check-in.

It’s a pretty long drive on the Western Highway, with quite a few traffic lights too. But no matter, we’re going to do amazing camping! We had a picnic basket, cheese in the eski’s, and 10L of water freshly purchased from Woolie’s.

The instructions on IG, were, in all fairness, very clear. We managed to find the place OK, except… well, it was REALLY dark. There was no light really, and we couldn’t even see the tents! They didn’t even ask us for our name, and just showed us to a tent with a few torches. I had to pull out my iPhone to make sure I didn’t trip or fall.

We get into the tent and….

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THIS is what we were expecting…

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So… not super great. Then we were told, “We weren’t expecting the moon to play hide and seek, so we will have more lights tomorrow.” (UMM EXCUSE ME IT’S A CRESCENT MOON HOW DO YOU NOT CHECK THAT WHEN RUNNING A CAMP?)

Putting disappointment and the chill in the air aside, we quickly change into warmer clothes and head into the tiny town of Lithgow to have dinner at the Blue Fox. We didn’t take pictures of the food (soz) because we were really quite hungry and just really wanted the wine. We eat ourselves into a food coma (it’s good there, btw), and head back to our tent. It is FREEZING. We decide that if it’s too cold after 10 minutes we’ll go steal a blanket (read: doona) from the empty tent next door. 10 minutes and brushing our teeth with our heads sticking out of the tent later, we had to go and get the duvet because I couldn’t even feel my nose! We fall asleep on the really cheap and crappy pillows (read: I had to fold two over to make it feel like some semblance of a pillow) and await tomorrow with excitement. It will be better tomorrow, we told ourselves. 100%, we will make the best of whatever comes our way. We wanted to bond, right?

So the next day we are up EARLY. The birds were chirping the sun was starting to shine. It was still cold AF but the promise of a warm day was there! We get a chance to look around, and we see port-a-loos, port-a-showers, and a marquee with ‘Bavarian-style seating’ (think October fest with plastic chairs). Okay… um… where is that plush seating area? I don’t see it. Oh and the promise ‘fully furnished tents’ was starting to get annoying now.

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4 port-a-loos for 20 tents… that’s 10 people per loo.

We work up the courage to make our breakfast (banana pancakes thank you very much) in the wind, and it was quite unpleasant!! We had to use the covers of the BBQ to protect the gas from the wind in order to actually cook… gahhh!!

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my friend trying to heat up water in the wind… it took like 25 minutes for the water to get warm enough for tea (yes we should have brought a lid I know)

OK, OK, fine. We can deal with this. It’ll be fine. We’ve got a great day planned with a bushwalk, a farm visit, and lunch in a popular cafe in Lithgow. We would go kayaking in the afternoon and to end the perfect day we would have a BBQ with locally bought produce and drink to our heart’s content by our fire in the evening.

So… most of that came true. The bushwalk was good, the farm was cute, and lunch was so good we went to lie by the lake instead of going kayaking while we got over our food coma. But then… the wind really started picking up. Like, REALLY picking up. So much so that when we got back to our tent at like 2.30pm, a few of the spikey things had come out and the marquee had completely blown over. Before 4pm, the 3 staff members walking around taking care of things had made sure the tents were secured and got into their car to leave. We asked about the marquee, they said, “it’s too dangerous to put up now so we’ll do it first thing in the morning, see ya.” Oh… okay…

I went to take a shower at 4pm, right after my friend had gone first. According to her, at least the shower was nice. She felt like a new person. I went and tried 3 of the 4 showers, and there was absolutely no water coming out of any of them. Either she had finished a tank of 5,000L of water, or… I don’t know. Anyway, we emailed them, and they were like ‘but are you sure?’. We kind of gave up, I said I’d shower tomorrow even though I felt gross. It was getting cold again and I was too tired of things going wrong. I was disappointed that this luxury-experience didn’t come with above-and-beyond customer service that you would even find at a hostel. Another point deducted for lack of interest in guest well-being.

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Like the total troopers we are, we started getting ready for our BBQ… except… the wind was going REALLY strong now and they had taken away all the BBQ lids… we had to fashion some kind of shelter for the BBQ or else we would never be able to eat! We pulled some tables out from under the carnage of the marquee and propped them up on fire pits. At least we could eat now. The sun set really quickly and by the time we started eating, other campers had come to try out the BBQ. They all had to use our sheltered BBQ because otherwise it was impossible. We were all grateful the camp wasn’t at full capacity this evening because otherwise there would have been a long-ass queue for the BBQ too (I think, due to the wind, that most people went to the Blue Fox to eat). Can you imagine the camp at full capacity? 3 BBQ’s for 20 tents, that’s … 13.3 people per BBQ. Joy.

Thank god for prosecco. We would not have made it without. The wind kept howling and we built our fire… which went out really quickly due to said wind. We finished off a couple bottles of wine and the rain started falling. That was it, we decided to pack it in. No more use trying to make this a glamping experience when you’re huddled over a fire praying for the embers not to fly into your face.

We packed it all in, and went to hide in our tents. It was probably one of the worst nights of sleep in my life EVER. I was pretty sure we were going to be found in the morning unconscious because the tent pole had fallen down and hit us hard. The flapping was truly, truly unbearable. By about 3am the wind died down enough for us to get a few hours’ sleep… and by the time we got up again, it started picking up.

We decided we would keep trooping! So we made breakfast. But you know what? Breakfast was still so damn windy, we decided to give up. At 9am, the staff finally came rolling into the campsite and started pulling the marquee together, tidying it up (it was SUCH a hazard I can’t even tell you). It felt like they had given up too. Rain started falling again, and that was game over for us. By 10 am, we were packed up and ready to go. One last coffee stop, Spotify on the phone (make sure you download a playlist or two, bad reception in the mountains), and it was time to say goodbye.

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One sheltered breakfast…

Overall, I had a great weekend with my bezzie because we bonded big time. But what we got, facilities-wise, was definitely NOT worth the $150AUD a night we spent. There are cottages in the area that sleep 4 with actual toilet and shower facilities worth the same. Most campsites in Australia will have running water, which we didn’t have. There would have been plenty of other facilities, and the campsite would have been in a sheltered area, not in a bare field that wind just whipped over.

The saddest part is that we emailed them to ask for a partial refund, and also to offer some advice for future weekends (especially with the long weekend coming up), and we haven’t heard back. We emailed Sunday morning before we left Lithgow, and still nothing. Why? There didn’t seem to be an issue in responding when we needed stuff done on site, but now nothing? We tried messaging them on FB, and nothing, either. Very, very sad. We will have to take this up further with some authority or another, because a) it was not as advertised, and b) service was seriously, seriously below par of what was promised. We waited until now to write a review, because wanted a chance to settle things without having to tell the whole world, but alas… is this the only way things can be done today? Airing dirty laundry publicly?

It’s too bad it has ended this way. As a business-owner myself, I know that customers aren’t always right, and things are not always within your control (who can control 70kmp winds?!). But there is such a thing as basic decency and also upholding promises made. Big fluffly cushioned seating areas vs marquees with plastic chairs is a far cry from upholding promises. Leaving said marquee in a state of disarray was extremely dangerous, especially in the crazy winds. We hope to solve this somehow.

6 Things No One Tells You About Sydney

Sun’s out, guns out!

I’m settling into adventure and it’s right here in Sydney, Australia. The place to see and be seen, it really is a one-of-a-kind city. When I was working for STA, I constantly sold the Australian dream (because I’m sorry but the American dream has all but shattered for most). I thought it was finally time to try it out after having talked it up for years and years. I’ve only been here a mere 5 months, but I love it here. There’s so many beautiful places around, nature is not far away, and there’s water everywhere. People are nicer (even though a lot of people say Sydney-siders are not known for their kindness, I have met amazing people here). I never realized this before I came here, but being able to see the water on a daily basis, seeing big open spaces, it really calms my heart, so I’ll definitely be sticking around! 

But, as with every new place you go to, there are some things that baffle you, and with Sydney, there were definitely a few things on the list! 

1- Liquor Shops

Liquor shops. Like, for real. In Australia, they legit don’t sell alcohol at supermarkets. The only supermarket you can go to for alcohol is Aldi (and it ain’t too shabby either may I add). You should also save receipts from supermarkets so that you can go to the affiliated liquor shop to get a discount on certain types of drinks (check the bottom of the supermarket receipts for T&C’s). It’s something you just get used to, though. I don’t really know what the reason is behind it but it’s just part of life here. I’ve lived in enough places to know that it’s a quirk. But when it’s your first few days in Sydney and all you want is a bottle of wine… this is the first thing you need to know! 

2- The Hills

How god-damned hilly is Sydney?!?! I don’t know about you, but most world capital cities I’ve experienced in my life (and there have been a few) have been relatively flat. Even ‘way back when’ people took time to decide and to make land easier to get around, because undoubtedly quite a few people will be milling around… you know, travelling in their horse and carriage and that. But no no no… let’s find the hilliest freaking place and just build houses there. Better get those legs in shape because if you want to walk around Sydney, you’re going to need to be ready for steep hills. Have I gotten used to them, you ask? No, I haven’t. But I’ve gotten pretty good at dodging them.

3 – The Weather

March is the crappiest month weather-wise, so avoid it at all costs. I thought it would be lovely to arrive in autumn and what I got was torrential rain instead that eventually turned into a flood in the basement of my house. Winter isn’t too bad. It still does get cold and I was very happy to have my European-style winter coat for that one week it got really cold, but other than that it’s actually quite mild. I thought it was going to be a lot worse and it really wasn’t. Besides, the heating helped! 

4 – It’s a bit out-dated…

A lot of things need updating… like, a lot!! Not everywhere will have fibre-optic Internet… not even Bondi! It’s quite crazy how this kind of stuff is still ‘in the making’ for a country so young. I thought Australia, especially Sydney, would be more on top of it… but not yet. They’re working on it, though, I promise.

5- Get Online

Get 4G on your phone! I know it’s a staple for most travel nowadays anyway, but this is not a sales tactic or whatever. Sydney’s easiest mode of transport is definitely by bus, and there are so many going in every which way, having Google Maps is going to save you time and effort! I still use it regularly. Soon Google Maps are also going to have buses running on real time so that’s going to make travelling around even EASIER.

6- Takeaway is expensive, but for good reason

Best Italian I’ve had in Sydney so far? From a take-away. Favourite Korean restaurant? Does take-away. I can chow down on kimchi fried rice while I re-watch GoT for the third time this week and I LOVE IT. Coming from the UK, I’m used to crappy take-aways for not a lot of money… and sure, I may be paying a little bit more here but boy do I get value for money! No wonder people don’t cook as much… food you buy out is just so tasty!

This probably sounds a little like I’m complaining, and yes, I’ll admit, the good comes with the bad. Despite it’s slight short-comings, or should I say, the little things that get glossed over by sweeping vistas, noodle festivals, chocolate festivals, tea fairs… yeah these seemingly small things are easy to overlook because the overall picture is still pretty damn nice. As soon as I got here, I fell in love with the place. The quick pulse of the CBD (during the week), the more chilled attitude of Bondi, and everything in between you can find here in Sydney. There is really something for everybody. Oh, and yes, the tourists are going to get swarmy in the particularly touristy areas, but that’s true of most big cities anyway. You get used to them and learn how to avoid them where possible. It’s all good, just go grab a drink in an atmospheric basement cocktail bar with a pricey menu and suddenly the world looks like a much better place 🙂

Sintra, Lisbon, Portugal Review

OK, so confessions first, facts later. I didn’t prepare for this trip to Portugal in the slightest. I was excited about seeing another Mediterranean country, thought I would get by on my Spanish, and that was about it. I was super busy leading up to the holiday, and by then, I just wanted to chill with my girlfriends drinking wine in the sun. That did kind of happen, and so did a few surprises along the way 😀

We spent a couple of nights in Lisbon itself and then we img_7165went out to Costa do Caparica for a few nights. We met a few people and decided to go for a day trip out to Sintra with them. Sintra is a town about a 40 minute train ride outside of Lisbon. It’s almost like a well-preserved medieval town with four big castles up -almost hidden- in the hills. They all cost money to go in, and you pay for each separate palace/castle/fort. You can buy a bus ticket that takes you on a route of all the castles and back to town for about 5 euro. Again, our unpreparedness kind of caught us off guard a couple of times, so do your research before you go as to which castles you want to see!

 

We only went into one fort because we’re tight and we were hungover, and of course I’m going to say it was the best one. No, really! It’s called Castle of the Moors. It’s old, like really old. Built in the 8th or 9th century if I remember correctly. And it was built during the Muslim empire days, so its architecture really stands out compared to the other castles, and of course more ‘modern’ old buildings, if you will. The castle offers fantastic views across sprawling towns nestled in lush green patches of nature. It’s really rather wonderful.

It takes you a while to get around the Castle, it’s so big! It even looks a bit like the Great Wall of China! (Hohum… was this before the great wall or after? Who inspired whom?) img_7214There are great little nooks and crannies to chill out in. Seeing as it was the day after my birthday we went, when we were all a bit hanging, it seemed only appropriate that some of the leftover wine (yes there was leftover wine. When it comes at 1 euro 50 a bottle, yes there is leftover wine) was consumed perched on some rocks in the shade, hiding from the heat of the afternoon sun. It was absolutely dreamy.

 

I img_6991kind of wish that we had spent more time in Sintra because it looked absolutely fabulous. The little medieval town had a few windy streets filled with trinkets and restaurants. Granted, it can feel very touristy but that also brings part of its charm. We had so many ginjas it’s hard to count. What are they? Oh, they’re just Portuguese cherry liqueur shots in chocolate cups. The whole atmosphere of the town is very friendly and relaxed, which makes for a lovely afternoon of hanging around. It also would have been great to see the place come alive at night, as nightlife in Portugal can be quite lively, too! Definitely try it out! There seemed to be plenty of hostels and hotels around to find a decent room in your price range.

 

Top 3 Things To Do in Amsterdam

From one expat Dutchie to you, here are my 3 must-do’s in Amsterdam.

I’m not only an expat Dutchie, I’m like a full-time expat Dutchie. If you don’t already know, I grew up in Asia. My Dutch life consists of summers in Holland, odd weekend trips here and there while living in Europe, and a weekly phone call with my grandma. Yes, it’s a wonder I speak Dutch, albeit a bit broken at times.

This is exactly why you should ask me for top tips for Amsterdam because I see it through a tourist’s eyes and I’ve been enough times to also have a more seasoned, perhaps less hazy, view of it too 😉  First and foremost, I’m going to tell you loud and clear, I do not know anything about coffee shops in Amsterdam. While I’m not against it, I just don’t have much interest in it, and never bothered with it. What I do know, weed is still the main attraction it seems, especially for younger folk from across the Sea, so it’s very easy to find. Just walking around Dam you will get propositioned if you fit in that young tourist demographic.

1. Canal Boat Tour

Right so first things first: the Canal Boat Tour. There are several different companies, and I’m sure there’s not much difference between them. I went with City Sightseeing twice and both times I wasn’t let down; especially if you’ve only got a couple days to make the most of it.  It can feel a bit steep when you’re paying up for the 24h pass, but your legs will thank me for it. I’ve done Amsterdam by foot as well and that was just tiresome. A Canal Boat Tour will give you an audio-tour as you go along, and there are several stops you can stop off at, walk around, and catch the next boat. You know, the typical hop-on-hop-off. Cos if you’re like me, and you like hearing about history, but don’t want to get caught up in it, this is really ideal. You hear a few good stories about the important bits, and you get to hop off the boat and explore! And also, on a rainy day, this is literally a saviour. You get to sit in the (relative) warmth of the boat, with a clear roof over your head, while still taking in city sights. Oh, and City Sightseeing let you have a free tour of one of the most established diamond workshops/museums in Amsterdam. Ladies, feast your eyes. Gentlemen, hold your breath and pray she doesn’t find ‘the one’.

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2. Get lost in the Red Light District

The first few times I went to Amsterdam, the prude in me was very reluctant to go to the Red Light District at all. I was like, ‘yeah, great, so prostitution is legal here and women are safeguarded, good for them’, and I never really bothered to properly walk around. Last time I went, I not only walked around, but got lost, did circles, had a few drinks, and stayed later into the night. After dinner, the whole area kind of comes to life. Bars start filling up, fairy lights along the canals give you a cheery mood lighting, and the sheer amount of people is amazing. Walking around, you find yourself not just watching all the entertainment there is available to you (apparently there’s a liquid you can drink to get rid of your hangover? Yeah, right), the other tourists are also great entertainment! When I look back on that night, I just remember being very entertained by everything around me. It was like carnival except with drugs, sex and everything in between on display! There were so many cute (and scary) little sex shops everywhere. The way people reacted (and probably the way I reacted) was also comical. Everything was accepted here in this heathen’s paradise, just smile and be good to everyone around you.

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Yes it’s an Instagram filter. No, I’m not ashamed.

3. Heineken Experience 

Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. But Amsterdam is all about the tourist traps and making it your own, so go with it! Book online and get a couple of euros off the ticket price (and avoid the long queue to buy tickets once there). The museum starts off mostly self-guided in the beginning. See a bit of its history (ugh yay…?), and then you go through to the brewing process, which is done really well! Heineken have definitely made the best of modern technologies and worked with different sorts of videos, touch-screen stuff, img_7796sensors, etc to make it interactive and genuinely quite interesting. After you go through that bit, you get to see some horses that work for Heineken (promo horse drawn carriages is still a thing), whose grandparents also worked for Heineken! Very cool. Then you start getting corralled.If I’m honest, it’s a pure genius move from Heineken. A bit of crowd control about halfway through the museum is a great way to make sure that things are running smoothly and avoids clog-ups at the free drinks rooftop bar. And in return for being corralled, you also get a very fun surprise (I’m not going to ruin it here) as well as a super crisp, fresh Heineken drink at the demo of how to actually drink beer (seriously, I never knew so much science went into it).

After that, you get to go through the sponsored stuff. There’s a chill out room playing all the latest hits because Heineken sponsors lots of concerts and festivals. And of course, sports!! There are lots of fun interactive sports stuff to do. Kick an invisible rugby ball, play foosball, and a lot of stuff I don’t remember, etc. Among other things, you can get your picture taken with a green screen, pick a Heineken museum background, and see the result! If you don’t want to pay for the printed version, you can ask for it to be sent to your email (again, SO SMOOTH!). Then, after a few rounds of losing miserably at pulling a pint with a ‘virtual’ pint glass thing, we finally get to the lift to head up to the rooftop bar for our two free Heineken beers! The day was gorgeous so I could say we were lucky. A great, leafy view of Amsterdam with a cold Heineken in hand. Ahh. I do have to say, Heineken never tasted as good, and never will taste as good as it did there. Definitely go!img_7809

One More Thing…

Before I sign off, I wanted to recommend one more thing. My dates and times unfortunately didn’t match with their tour times, so I didn’t get to try it myself. But I heard about it on Al Jazeera I think, and I was just so impressed by the efforts and the programme that I want to take a moment to shout about it. Rederij Lampedusa, the canal boat tour is called. It’s an initiative to bring attention to refugees living in the Netherlands and the plight of refugees trying to come to Europe right now. The boat is actually a boat that crossed the Mediterranean, and refugees volunteer as tour guides. Definitely worth looking into and asking about! Check them out here.

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Advertising in Amsterdam. Classic.

Kaohsiung Fo Guang Shan Review

Doing cultural things is really normal in Taiwan, even with the locals. Maybe it was in England, but I was too poor and too car-less to be able to go far and wide at my leisure. Here in Taiwan, a day off is really rather precious so people take full advantage of it and try and so as much stuff as possible.

One such touristy spot is Fo Guang Shan. As my friend exclaimed when he checked it out on Tripadvisor, “That’s one big-ass Buddha!” It’s not actually very far from where I live out in the Kaohsiung countryside, so it wasn’t a total trek to get there. If you’re an old-timer in Taiwan and remember going years ago, it might be worth revisiting again now. But make sure you give yourself a few good hours to do so, and also time to do both old Fo Guang Shan and the new one.

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This is the old FGS, with the Big Gold Buddha.

We started at the old one, and I would recommend others to do the same. It’s relative peace and calm is really nice (especially if you come from the city). You’ll have a bit more time to peruse and read all the different plaques and signs. Make sure you take into account the “this is a place of worship not for sightseeing”. Be respectful of that while you walk around. With no ill will meant, but old FGS feels a bit like a Disney Park for Buddhism. There are shrines tucked in corners and on top of hills. A tea shop is hidden behind the Main Shrine. There’s the super well-kept Lumbini Garden with happy little Buddha statues lining the path as you walk along. There’s plenty to see and take in. Don’t forget to go to the Pure Land Cave, either. There’s also the cafeteria you can go to for lunch, made by the monks. We didn’t go this time (we just weren’t hungry), but be sure to ask around. Monks walking around are usually more than happy to help and offer directions.

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Main Shrine

Once you’re done here, you can go get back in your car and drive 200m down to the next parking lot (your legs will thank you later I promise). Now, the new FGS. If you want to better understand the history of the place, then I suggest that once you reach the plaza with all the pagodas, go into the ‘8th’ one and ask to watch a short, 10 minute introductory video about it (in English). In short, the new FGS was built because one of the three teeth left from the original Buddha was given to the monastery to protect. You’ll hear all about its journey and how the new FGS was built.  It really does give you more appreciation of the scale, size and just how well-finished it is.

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View from the Main Hall second floor, looking down the Eight Pagodas down to Front Hall, and some mountains beyond.

When you get to the Main Hall, make sure you run up the stairs to see the big Buddha. But there’s quite a shrine or two downstairs, too, so make sure you take a look at that. If you want to see Buddha’s tooth, you will have to pay for a guided tour that takes half an hour (it’s usually in Chinese, they didn’t tell us about any English options unfortunately). It’s called the Jade Shrine Tour, I believe.

The new FGS can feel a bit… I don’t know… huge? A bit over the top if you ask me. And the Front Hall is stuffed with shops and trinkets it doesn’t feel like people come here to worship or even admire anymore at all, but rather come here for the shopping. There’s even a Starbucks! There can also be hordes of people if you come in tourist season or at the weekend, which isn’t ideal for a peaceful feel. For that you’ll need to go to the old FGS, the ones tourists usually skip out on.

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The Big Buddha with a Four Noble Truths Pagoda/Tower.

All in all, I would say one can’t really go without the other to get a full picture of what FGS means and to understand its past and present. Buddhism is clearly making its way into the 21st century with their head held high, and I have to say, for that, I applaud FGS.

You’ll Find Me in the Water @Xiao Liuchiu

They say that the water of Xiao Liuchiu is super clear, and that the difference is stark between mainland Taiwan and this beautiful coral island. Boy, they weren’t wrong. We couldn’t really get excited about the prospect of spending the next 24 hours on the island as we disembarked because… well… it was raining. We were met by an old lady from our B&B who showed us to our bikes, and then led us into the small city centre of Xiao Liuchiu, where, in one of the back alleys, we were shown a courtyard to park our bikes.

After checking in and deciding we didn’t want the discounted ticket for all the caves and hikes, booking our all-you-can-eat BBQ dinner, and being told if the weather was good at night we’d go stargazing, we headed out on our motorbikes anyway because well… we’re in Xiao Liuchiu. So what if it was raining? We weren’t going to sit inside all day. In hindsight we probably should have gone to the caves… it would have been dry inside at least. But oh well.

We took our time riding around the island. We stopped several times to take in the view that the island had to offer, despite being shrouded in cloud and rain. Finally, I couldn’t take it any longer, and asked my friend to stop by a small, natural bay. There were people swimming in the sea despite the rain, and I couldn’t help myself. It’d been ages since I’d been in the ocean and as soon as my feet reached the water, I was sold. The water was beautiful. I mean, the Med was going to have to work hard to top it. The water felt warm and cool to the touch. We wouldn’t get cold if we stayed motionless, but it wasn’t exactly warm either. We must have stayed by the sea for an hour before donning our 30NT raincoats again, this time completing a circle around the island and heading back to the B&B for a shower.

 

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Our BBQ, round 1. I stopped counting after round 3.

The only pictures I took of the first day were of the BBQ. Taiwanese people love a BBQ, and my friends and I were no exception. We were so excited about this BBQ, in fact, that we were the first ones to arrive (a small backstory: my friend Teresa and I didn’t even have a BBQ for the mid-Autumn Festival so we definitely felt ‘due’ a BBQ).

After dinner we headed out to a few bars that the island had to offer, but unfortunately it wasn’t very busy, especially considering it was Saturday night. In each of the two we visited, we were one of two sets of customers there. And when we were about to head into the third, we saw no one in there, so abandoned ship for the night. We got some fried chicken and vegetables instead, and took it back to our room to eat it instead.

 

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Breakfast out in the traditional courtyard of our B&B!

Early morning, because when traveling in Taiwan you start early and finish late. Breakfast was ready for us in a little basket, and we got to eat it al fresco as the sun was finally shining! Hooray! After a quick breakfast we snorkeled… you can read all about it here. It deserved its own post.

 

 

 

After the snorkeling, one of my friends took us to her ‘secret hiding place’ which essentially is a tiny beach hidden among massive coral rocks, where we could swim and take selfies to our hearts’ content. We must have been there for a good couple of hours, (me) taking in the sun, (us) bathing in the crystal-clear, warm water and taking photos.

By the time 11 o’clock came round, it started getting really hot. We were also getting a bit peckish, so decided to head off back into town to grab a bite to eat. But then, on the way back, we passed Venice Beach, which is the one of the few beaches on the island that has actual sand rather than small coral rocks… so… well, we had to stop and at least take a look. Besides, there were some Bao-a’s left from breakfast we could snack on in the meantime. So we headed on down and got to take in a pretty cool beach. The great thing about the island is that due to all the coral, the beach is shallow as, and so you can go in quite far and still only have water up to your knees. It’s really great for warming up that water and just soaking in the ocean.

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Me and ma girlz!!
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OK we had already eaten a lot of the food… but you get the idea…

Eventually we got hungry so we had to head back into town for some food. We went to one of the most famous seafood restaurants on the island (of course), where you ordered meals by the number of dishes you wanted, and it all came in quick succession. It was pretty darn good. I mean, I could have lived without the sushi because it wasn’t very fresh and badly cut, but the rest of the food was awesome. One of my friends also got us snails as a treat which was yum!

 

After lunch we went and had a late check out from the hostel, and washed up changing into summery clothes. The day was still hot and the sun was glorious. I lathered myself in sunscreen for the third time that day. We had some time before the boat took us back to Kaohsiung so we went for another little ride around the island, looking for vistas of sweeping oceans and the famed Xiao Liuchiu sea turtles. We did end up finding some down some country road that brought us to a campsite on a cliff, with the sea turtles swimming in the vast sea below us. It was absolutely gorgeous. My camera and photo skills are nowhere good enough for it so you’ll have to go to see it for yourself.

All in all, I would go back to Xiao Liuchiu but definitely not to go snorkeling. I wish that we’d had the time to do the caves because of the Dutch/Taiwanese history of the Black Dwarf Cave (a.k.a. Black Devil Cave…), and just to see what all the fuss is about. The island is tiny and takes about half an hour to get all around, which is really ideal for just zipping here and there exploring different corners and harbors.

And the water… oh… it was so beautiful. I could have laid in either the secret hiding place or Venice beach all day and had food brought to me. Seriously so gorgeous. I would go back just to chill by the beaches and really take in the island rhythm.

You can easily do Xiao Liuchiu in two days one night, but if you want some time to chill by the ocean and not worry about catching a boat, I would stay two nights. You might find that nightlife is a bit meh on the island, which is isn’t really an issue. If you really want a drink you can still go to one of the bars on the island, just don’t expect to have a wild night out. And if you get really bored you can always take a hiking trail as well.

TOP TIP: If you have water shoes bring them because the coral starts feeling like an intensive foot massage after a while of exploring beaches.

Here are a couple more shots of the day: