Category: Travel

South Africa

My Trip To South Africa - The Best Trip Of My Life

The summer after my GCSEs I went on a school trip to South Africa. It was, hands down, the best trip I’ve ever taken. We spend two and a half weeks exploring four areas of South Africa; seeing countless animals and experiencing the Zulu culture.

Looking back now, I'm really not sure why I signed up, it didn't sound like my kind of thing at that age. I'd never done DofE or even camped outside before. My parents were convinced they were going to get a call home, two days in, with me crying about how I'd seen a spider. Luckily that wasn't the case. Fifteen year old me packed her bags and set off to South Africa without a care in the world.

We landed in Durban and stayed overnight in a camp before we split off into groups of six and meeting our guides Douwe and Sicelo. Our first stop was the St Lucia Wetlands.

St Lucia Wetlands

We spent three days in the wetlands and all got to know each other pretty well. I went along knowing my two friends but came back bonded with our whole group - we went through everything together, experiencing a rainbow of emotions as we went along. As we trekked through the wetlands Sicelo and Douwe told us about the animals we spotted. We saw hippos, rhinos and kudu (a type of antelope). 

 South Africa

We carried everything we needed on our backs, including all our food, so you can imagine I was quite happy when we got to our ‘home’ for the night and dropped everything off. Home wasn’t quite as you would expect - it was a cluster of trees. Our sleeping arrangements were simple: a sleeping bag under the stars. We stayed safe from any inquisitive animals by doing 'night watch' which was where we each took turns to stay awake for an hour to keep the fire going and shine a touch around our clearing. I thought getting up for an hour each night would be difficult but as the trip went on, I appreciated the hour to myself. I kept a diary throughout the trip and it’s been amazing to look back on every few years and recall some of the serious and not so serious memories.

 South Africa

Imfolozi

Next stop was Imfolozi. This was a big game park where we spent four days. To get there we all piled into a safari jeep and sung countless amounts of Disney songs along the way (YAY!). On our way into the park we spotted zebras, kudus, rhinos and a few giraffes.

South Africa

We made our way to home for the night and crossed a big winding river which looked like something out of the Lion King. You need to be careful when crossing the rivers there as there could be crocodiles lurking in the depths. We had to stick to the shallow sections just in case and keep an eye out. When we woke up one morning the section of the river we had crossed the evening before had a croc lounging on the banks!

South Africa

Speaking of which, night watch was suddenly more dangerous. One night we were camped out by a cliff and next to the river. Seeing leopards or lions etc. on the other side of the river was fine but if we heard splashing, we were in trouble! The Imfolozi was possibly my favourite section of the trip. I loved that we fell asleep to the sound of lions and baboons and that we bathed in the river every day. We also walked for hours around the plains learning more about the history of the area and the animals.

South Africa

Drakensberg Mountiains

After the Imfolozi it was onto the Drakensberg mountains. There weren’t as many animals there, although we saw a lot of baboons on one of the days. The views were I-N-C-R-E-D-I-B-L-E!

South Africa

Our home whilst in the Drakensbergs was underneath a giant rock near the top of one of the mountains. On our first day we decided to walk up to what we though looked like a rock in the shape of a bear. We also climbed inside a waterfall and spotted bushmen paintings inside rocks. After missing my daily dips in the river I decided to jump into one of the pools on top of the mountains. As you’d expect, it was freezing, refreshing but freezing!

South Africa

On our last night in the mountains something happened. One of the rules of the trip was that you leave no trace. This includes setting fire to any toilet paper you use. As one of the girls burnt hers she accidentally dropped it and the dry grass immediately ignited. We all ran out to try and stop the fire. We’d seen areas of the mountains which had been set alight under controlled circumstances so as not to cause a wild fire. We knew the importance of putting that fire out, quickly. We battled it by pouring the little water we had on it and hitting it with our jumpers, finally managing to direct it towards a rock and extinguish. If we hadn’t acted so fast we would have been in a lot of trouble. One tiny accident could have been a catastrophe. We worked as a team to fight it off and I can remember sitting in our cave that evening with everyone coughing and spluttering but happy we had all worked together and beat the fire.

South Africa

Zulu Village

Our final stop was a Zulu village. I don’t remember where this was exactly and I can’t seem to track it down online but it was this little community we stayed with for a few nights. During the day, we visited a nearby school where we fixed up and painted the classrooms and taught the children. I can remember on our first night a little girl taught us a song. You say “I love my teddybear” twice then “I polish your shoe” as you pretend to polish someones shoe, give them a hug and then both skip around the circle whilst everyone claps.

South Africa

As I’ve been writing this post, I’ve been looking back at the diary I kept and reading all the messages from my group. One of the things that everyone commented on was how much they enjoyed everyone else’s company and how much fun we were all having together. Words can’t describe what the trip meant to me. A trip like that is something you need to experience yourself to understand. Being out in the wilderness for so long has such a calming effect. I spent my days laughing, smiling and jumping about being silly. Half of my memories were so personal to our group that they would never make it into this post. It was the best trip of my life made great by my group and our amazing guides Douwe and Sicelo. 

“The wilderness on the outside is a reflection of the wilderness on the inside” Douwe Van Der Zee, 2007. RIP.

South Africa

Berlin

Four days in Berlin

Our most recent city break was to Berlin for four days. I’d found the flights earlier in the year and for £100 return for the both of us I couldn’t really say no. We both kind of forgot about the trip until the week before when we had the “oh yeah, we’re in Berlin next weekend’ realisation. We set off at stupid o'clock on Friday morning and flew back at an even stupider time on Tuesday morning. Despite feeling tired from the flights I think these are my ideal timings. It means you get a full day on both sides of the holiday. 

Day one

We landed in Schönefeld and jumped on the train to our Airbnb in Mitte. The trains were pretty simple to work out. You can either get a ticket for one journey, one day or a week. The week ticket was €30 which worked out best for us as a day ticket was €7 each and we needed five days. After dropping off our bags we headed to Alexandraplatz to find somewhere for lunch. A random guy overheard our conversation and pointed us in the direction of a few typical German restaurants. We ordered the Berlin sausage platter and the currywurst which we shared. As well a few beers of course! 

Afterwards, we headed towards the German Christmas markets in the centre. They were nice to walk around but not great for shopping. I think we were spoilt by the markets in Munich and Nuremberg last year. We'd planned a few things to do over lunch so we jumped back on the train and headed east to Warschauer Straße. The area was like the Shoreditch of Berlin. There was a lot more street art, a lot less tourists and it felt more like true Berlin. We walked for what felt like miles (don't let Charlie be in charge of directions!) and through a pretty dodgy feeling park where I'm pretty sure you could have picked up all sorts of magical substances from the guys milling about in it. Finally, we got to where we were going.... a shopping centre. Our friend Hannah had directed us to a bar at the top which was pretty tricky to find. It's not sign posted that well and we ended up at the library on the fifth floor before we found our way through the carpark and up a ramp to Klunkerkranich. The bar was my favourite in Berlin. It had a view over the whole city (well duh, it was on top of a multi story building) and a really fun vibe to it. We grabbed a few beers and settled down in some of the seats at the back. People seemed to be having a casual evening drink or even just a cup of coffee.There was also a DJ playing some relaxing tunes too. I loved the whole atmosphere and it was exactly what I needed after a day of travelling. 

BerlinOur evenings entertainment was improv. Charlie had looked up to see what the scene was like in Berlin and found a show nearby. After finishing a few drinks at Klunkerkranich, we grabbed a quick (and very cheap) dinner at a nearby pizza place called Enzos before heading to the Berlin Comedy Club. The improv was a different format to what I've seen before with loads of short form games and two teams competing against each other. The improvisers were either America, Australian or German which was fun too. I think most of the improvisers I see in London are all English so it was good to experience different senses of humour. 

Day two

We wanted to tick a few more Christmas markets off the list so headed to Gendarmenmarkt. On the way we stopped off at this little place for breakfast and I had bacon with cheese and scrambled eggs - YUM! It was just the right amount for breakfast and the coffee was delicious.

BerlinThe market was fun to walk around. You have to pay a euro to get in but it’s worth it as there’s a whole bunch of stalls, more than the other markets and they also have a live band.

It was getting closer to 1pm and we'd booked ourselves onto the alternative walking tour. I would highly recommend this if you ever visit Berlin. It’s free and takes you to some of the boroughs and explains about the street art and some of the history - without making you feel like a ridiculous tourist. We learnt about the difference between using paint or pasting printed images up - there's also a big difference in the fines you'll get if the police catch you. We also learnt a lot about gentrification throughout the tour and it was sad to see these squads or artist studios being moved on because the area was getting too expensive. 

BerlinAlthough they tour starts in Alexandraplatz, we headed East to Ostbahnhof district where there’s more street art. We saw work by the Berlin Kidz and street art that had been made by abseiling down a building. I'd always wondered how the do it! Another technique of creating the street art is to fill a fire extinguisher with paint and use that to spray the high areas of the building. Berlin

We walked through the district and learnt more about the area. It covers two sides of the river and when the wall was up it was unsure who owned the bridge which connected them. Each year the citizens come out and have a massive food fight on the bridge. They throw rotten fruit and vegetables and even occasionally dirty nappies. Whoever retreats first loses the bridge for the year but the winner has to clean it all up. 

I’d never looked into the reasons behind street art before, I had assumed that they were mainly due to spread a message or even because someone was just bored. There’s a lot of political messaging in the street art around Ostbahnhof but other Berlin artists create their work simply because they can. One guy paints 6 and 7's around the place for that very reason. Another, takes photos of people dancing in clubs and pastes them up on the wall surrounded by confetti in his series ‘Time to Dance’.

There are also rules about painting over each other's street art. There's been various frauds and fights when someone has gone over the top of someone's work. Street art is only semi permanent, what I saw on the tour might not be there next week. Work disappears because it’s been either been painted over by the government or by another street artists. One of the rules of painting over someone's work is that you need to take into consideration the time and money they spent on it. The higher value it is, the less acceptable it is to paint over it.Berlin

The tour lasted three hours and I feel like I’ve only touched the surface of street art knowledge. As the tour finished up in Ostbahnhof we asked our guide where she’d recommend for dinner. Funnily enough it was near to Warschauer Straße where we’d gotten off the day before. We jumped on the train for one stop over and found a place off a road called Simon-Dach-Straße. I think we were still pretty exhausted from all the travelling and walking we did so had a fairly relaxed dinner and headed back to our Airbnb to catch up on our ZZZ’s.

Day three

We woke up to rain - yuck. Feeling refreshed after a big sleep, I was ready to hit the ground running and tour Berlin like never before. Except for the rain. We tried not to let it bring us down so grabbed breakfast and walked along to the Brandenburg gate and the Holocaust memorial. As we arrived at each place I pulled up some of the travel guides and read out the history of them. The scale of the Holocaust memorial was incredible. It was designed by Peter Eisenman and the blocks are meant to create an uneasy and confusing atmosphere - it did exactly that.

BerlinWe had another walk around the Christmas markets before being defeated by the rain. Charlie’s favourite place in Munich is the Hufbrauhaus and seeing as there was one in Berlin, it seemed rude not to pop in. And by pop in I mean we were in there for about five hours. Opps. I love the atmosphere in beerhalls. It seemed like a lot of locals headed there with their families for Sunday lunch. The place was packed when we entered with elderly couples and children spinning around on the dance floor. As our Steins arrived the band started playing the Viki song which literally went “oh Viki, Viki, Viki Viki’ - errrr hello?!

BerlinAfter a long time in a beerhall we thought it was a good idea to do a pub crawl. I don’t usually like pub crawls. They’re full of rowdy men looking to sink pints and move on. As well as the walking tour the alternative group offered a pub crawl which showed some of the more unique Berlin hangouts. We started off in a little bar called Yesterdays before going to a craft beer bar called the Monterey Bar. I picked the Berliner Berg and Charlie chose the Nogine O. both were really nice although at 10% I think I preferred the Nogine O.

Feeling a little merry from the copious amounts of drinks, we went to an underground ping pong club. In true Berlin style it was through a door with no sign post and was full of graffiti. There was a game of about ten people playing ping pong, each walking around the table until it was their turn to hit it. If you were out, you were out and if you made it to the final two, things got pretty intense. The beer here was from their own micro-brewery so we grabbed a few bottles and settled down to watch the games. This was the best place we went to I think as it seemed like you were chilling in someones games room, rather than a bar.

BerlinNext stop was an absinthe bar where they had a ridiculous amount of different types of it from all over the world. Our last stop was a club which was very very quiet for Berlin. It was a Sunday night though and having been drinking for hours I wasn’t in the mood for something too energetic. The pub crawl was fun to try out but I wouldn’t recommend it - you’d be able to look up similar bars and clubs yourself and save the €12.

Day four

We were feeling extremely tired from the previous night but I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything out. We went out for the perfect hangover cure - pizza, then made our way across to see the East Side Gallery.

This is a big expanse of the Berlin wall which has been decorated by artists. There was various political messages as well as paintings which simply aimed to be pretty. We walked along the wall for a while before doubling back. It’s quite a nice walk and really shows the size of the wall. There were quite a few tourists around though so be prepared to dodge them taking photos.

After we went to RAW-Gelände which I really wanted to see during the day. At night it’s a place with bars and clubs but there’s a really feel of artist community there. Not to mention I love abandoned and run-down buildings - I’m strange, I know.Berlin

My last Berlin activity was to go and see the Reichstag Building. I know a few people that have been up it but I wasn’t too worried about going inside. You need to get a ticket from a place across the road and when I got there the only tickets were for the next day. Not being too worried, I walked all the way around the outside instead before heading back home.

I feel like we managed to fit quite a lot into our four days in Berlin. We weren’t too worried about going to the museums or the tourist hotspots and instead just wanted to experience the culture and learn more about the current city. It has an amazing feel to it whether you go for tourists reasons or to experience their insane nightlife.

Barcelona

A long weekend in Barcelona

Barcelona feels like one of those places everyone's been to. It certainly felt like I should have been there before  Everyone has nice things to say about it so I was very excited to see what was in store.

As I was in charge of booking our flights I ensured we had the longest time possible on holiday. We caught a flight out of London on Thursday evening and landed back again in time for work on Monday. Perfect. We stayed with our friend, Ray who had helpfully left a to do list for us to work through.

Friday 

After a light breakfast we headed out to tick off the most touristy thing in Barcelona, Sagrada Familia. As expected, it was stunning. Knowing that this was first started in 1882 and it's still being worked on is crazy. Imagine how many people have helped construct this in one way or another? What we thought was the front (we later found out it's due to be the side) was eye catching.

The back contrasted it slightly and seemed more traditional. The whole thing is due to be finished in 2026 and is set to be the highest building in Barcelona and the tallest religious building in Europe.

Sagrada Familia

We jumped onto the metro and headed off to the port. The metro was a really convenient way to get around Barcelona with one ride working out to be a euro. After a walk around the port we stopped off at a random restaurant for tapas - when in Spain!

Tapas Barcelona

We spend the afternoon paddling our feet in the sea and walking along the beach. Then it was time to meet Ray for dinner. He took us to his favourite restaurant, Llamber. We had tapas again but this time it was on a whole different level. It was the best tapas I've ever had. It's not the cheapest of places but if you ever go to Barcelona you have to go.

Llamber Barcelona

Then it was time for a surprise. After a stop off to pick up some cava, we jumped in a taxi and Ray muttered something in Spanish to the driver. Next thing I knew, we were them zooming off through the city and up into the hills. We got closer and saw loads of people gathering around. After showing some tickets to the gate man, Ray ushered us in. We were at a giant open cinema setting, overlooking Barcelona. They put these on throughout the summer and this was the last. No one knew what the film would be other than it was in English. The music stated and gasps spread through the crowd. It was the Godfather 2. Not the easiest film to pay attention to when you're a couple of bottles down but we made do by playing drinking games as we watched- much more fun than keeping up with the plot!

Saturday 

We were up and out early, on our way to the Park Güell, another item on our list. We didn't know what to expect but we had a fair idea when we got out of the metro and started walking up hill. Park Güell overlooks the whole of Barcelona so the views were pretty insane.

Barcelona

Park Güell

Afterwards we walked down via the Passeig De Gràcia where there are a couple of Gauldi buildings including Casa Batlló. The style is so unique to anything I've seen and they're a must see.

It was approaching lunchtime so we went to the Mercado de La Boqueria to tick another thing off Ray's to do list. The market was split into different sections and had big stalls of meats, fresh (and even alive) fish and lots of smoothies and sweets. We had to get a meat cone whilst we walked around and I think it's be best cold meats I've ever had; so delicious! We picked out a little stall on the edge of the market for lunch and had a fish platter.

Mercado de La Boqueria

Then it was time to hit the beach! We avoided the tourists on main beach and instead walked along to Nova beach. I paddled in the sea whilst Charlie guarded our belongings - that's the only annoying this about going on holiday with just two of you; you can't just leave your stuff on the beach and go in the sea together.

After getting cleaned up at home we headed to Pax 49- a cocktail bar Ray had recommended. We took prime seats at the bar and sampled a few of their cocktails. I chose an expresso martini to begin as I was tired - that's pretty much the same as having a coffee right?!

Pax 49

We got so wrapped up in conversation we didn't realise how late it was and we hadn't eaten. On the recommendation of the bartenders, who we got to know whilst sipping numerous cocktails, we went to Napoli - a tiny pizza place just around the corner. I would much rather go somewhere on the recommendation of a local, you get a much better feel for a place which is one of the reasons Barcelona was so good - everyone kept recommending places for us!

Sunday

The next day was our last so we took another look at our to do list and decided to tick off nudist beach. I've never been to one before so I though it would be a bit of a errr... experience? I'd expected to see a sea of naked bodies but actually only about a third of the people were naked. The rest were at least partially wearing bikinis or shorts. The beach was a lot less busy than the tourist beaches so I can see the appeal!

We did a little sunbathing and I had a few dips in the sea before we walked back along to the more popular beach where there was food stands. It was our last day so we couldn't avoid having paella. We sat down in the sunshine overlooking the beach and the waves .... perfect!

Paella

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful between sunbathing and a last catch up with Ray in the evening. We caught a stupidly early flight home from next morning in time to get back to work. I think we left a lot of things unexplored but we managed to fit in a lot for our long weekend without it being too stressful.

Barcelona

Bruges

Europe Trip

As well as going to Latitude to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, we also planned a trip around some of Europe. A few of our friends were heading to a festival in Amsterdam so instead of jumping on a plane and going straight there we decided to stop off at a few places along the way, fitting in five different places in seven days.

Lille

On Tuesday we jumped on the Eurostar and headed to Lille. We booked the tickets about three weeks before and found that the premium class was actually cheaper than standard - one to watch out for. We arrived in Lille at about 3pm and our Airbnb host, Frank, was waiting to greet us. After a quick stop off at the flat we headed to the city centre armed with a map and a few scribbled suggestions. We'd done some last minute research about Lille on the train but Frank had mentioned that the buildings were far prettier outside than in and to simply walk around the Grand Place - the main square.

We saw the Notre Dame de la Treille and wondered the back streets before settling down at a little restaurant for dinner.

Lille food

The next day we headed out for breakfast and ended up walking around the Parc Zoologique. It was a fairly small zoo but we made the most of it and even ended up catching a few Pokemon on the way! Then we picked up our bags and caught the train to the next destination on our Europe tour….

Lille zoo

Ghent

We arrived in Ghent around 3 and walked straight to our next Airbnb. This was one of my favourites in terms of decorations as there was so much memorabilia and music instruments having from the walls. After dropping our bags our host directed us to the city centre towards Gentse Feesten - Ghent's annual street festival. Around 2 million people attend the festival each year making it one of the biggest in Europe. The first stop on our festival tour was a the Saint Nicholas Church which had a bar inside. Who could say no to sampling a few Belgium beers in a church?!

Gentse Feesten

Sticking to Belgium culture we next headed off for mussels and chips, with a few more beers of course. Then we took a walk around each of the stages listening to tribute bands, local pop acts and a DJ in a mardi gras tent.Gentse FeestenGentse Feesten

We couldn’t get over how beautiful all the building were and how juxtaposed they were behind the stages that had been set up.Gentse Feesten

Bruges

The next day we packed up and caught an early train to Bruges. Another city, another Airbnb, this one was the whole house to ourselves and it was SO CUTE! After an explore we grabbed some lunch at De Middenstand which was a recommendation by our host. After running around Lille and Ghent it was quite a contrast and felt quite fancy. They even brought us a few taster dishes which were so tasty.

De MiddenstandDe Middenstand

Then Richard arrived. For absolutely no reason he had decided to cycle to Amsterdam so we were meeting up with him for each of his stops. This was his first stop from London so we were there to cheer him on and hand him a beer as he arrived. We wanted to make the most of our afternoon so took a boat tour around the canals to see all of Bruges. It’s quite a small city so this was the best way to see everything at once and learn a little about it.Bruges canal Bruges

We set off early again the next morning this time for Rotterdam. If you’re planning a visit to Bruges, I’d recommend 2 days so you can explore but it’s quite small so you don’t need too long.Bruges

Rotterdam

After a bit of a delay in Antwerp because our train got cancelled we finally arrived in Rotterdam to see Catriona. After three nights in random homes it was really lovely to be chilling in her parents house. I went to Rotterdam last year to visit and her family are always super welcoming.

Rotterdam

As I’d done most of the tourist things last year we decided to take it easy and cycle around the city centre to have a few beers. We raced back home to be there for when Richard arrived after his 9 hour cycle from Bruges. He still had a smile on his face so we decided to all cycle for a tapas dinner around Kralingse Bos (the big park and lake).Rotterdam

Amsterdam

Our final stop of our Europe tour. We made it! Matt and Rob were waiting for us our last Airbnb just outside of the city centre. We spent two nights here so made the most of seeing the city and catching up over yet more beers on the first day before heading out to Liquidity festival on the Sunday.Liquicity

The whole holiday had built up to the festival. Liquicity is an online drum and bass music community which started off as a YouTube channel. This was the second year of the festival so although it is still quite small I was excited to see what was there and how I’d handle a full day of drum and bass!

Liquicity

LiquicityI had so much fun though, from quite a sleepy beginning we all found energy to jump about to the music. We weren’t the only ones making some strange movements, if you were sat on the floor you could see the ground rippling with the bass from the DJs. It looked mesmerising and also quite scary. My favourite part of the day was the Pendulum DJ set which headlined the main stage. Richard and I bounced about like crazy and covered each other in glitter.Liquicity

A quick dash around Europe was so much fun. I’d never thought about making going to a festival so much of a holiday but it’s something I’d love to repeat again with another festival. It contrasted so much to the beginning of the holiday which was so chilled. That’s another few cities ticked off my bucket list!