TORONTO // TRAVEL DIARY // AUGUST 2017

I was finally able to visit Canada in August 2017, where I stayed with a friend and his family in Toronto. I was travelling from New York to Toronto overnight, having recently visited a friend who lives in Astoria, Queens. I travelled on the Greyhound on the evening of the 20th August at 7:30pm and arrived the following morning in Toronto at 6:00am. I do need to disclose that I literally slept for that whole day, because I found out that I do not sleep on public transport – even when it is overnight and is actually encouraged to do so. I think I just did not want to waste a whole day travelling, but I ended up doing it anyway through sleeping.

The friend I stayed with lives right in the centre of Toronto so if I wanted to go shopping or go out for food, I just had to walk about 15-20 minutes and then I was in the main district. It was so convenient and also meant that I did not have to spend much on public transport.

By staying with someone I knew, I got a lot of free personalised tours, and through walking around Toronto, I noticed the amount of street art, sculptures and unique architecture there was in the city and as I am currently studying for an Art degree I was so fascinated by it all. One place which is interesting to see is the Gooderham/Flatiron Building (pictured above – front and back).

One of the places we walked through which was full of different forms of art was Toronto’s distillery district. If you love industrial-style architecture then this is definitely one of the best places in Toronto for this. The district, as well as being great to just look around, also has various restaurants, bakeries and coffee shops. Furthermore, if you love shopping and culture, there is also a range of clothing and jewellery shops as well as a few art studios and theatres.

Other places in and around Toronto which are well worth a visit include the Casa Loma, an 18th century castle with tours and beautiful gardens, Nathan Phillips Square (pictured right at the top of this post), a public square in front of city hall which turns into an ice skating rink in the winter, the Rogers’ Centre (pictured below), home to the Toronto Blue Jays and the CN Tower (pictured below), a 553-metre landmark with beautiful panoramic views, but maybe rethink it if you don’t like heights!

The main thing I wanted to see whilst I was there was the beautiful Niagara Falls, which I managed to do with the family I was staying with on a lovely day out. A collection of three waterfalls on the Canada-US border, Niagara falls can either be seen in New York State or in Ontario, Canada. The three waterfalls are individually known as the Horseshoe Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and the American Falls and they are unbelievably breathtaking. Reaching more than 165ft with an average annual flow rate of 85,000 cubic feet per second, Niagara Falls is also a important source of hydroelectric power. I was lucky enough to be able to walk behind the waterfall through some tunnels, where it got incredibly loud and wet. My photos definitely do not do this marvel justice, and it is a bucket-list attraction which needs to be visited and seen to really be able to take in its power.

I was so so happy to be able to tick “Niagara Falls” off of my bucket list and it was everything I imagined it would be. I was also really lucky to have the loveliest family to show me around the beautiful city of Toronto and they have my eternal gratitude and thanks.

ARIA 

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CRETE, GREECE // TRAVEL DIARY // JULY 2017

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I went to Crete for my most recent family holiday. The weather was beautiful but incredibly hot. I was really looking forward to this trip because I have a lot of interest in Greek (and Roman) mythology. Crete did not disappoint when it came to historical places of significance that had links to mythology, and I have included some below.

We stayed in Crete for two weeks up in the mountains and hills of the island, in Axos, in a villa which was part of a twin complex called Oros Villas. It was such a beautiful place to stay and was very traditionally designed and decorated. As a family of four we stayed in one of the villas and there was a different family in the one next door. However, you can rent them both if you are visiting Crete with a bigger party. It is also incredibly secluded right on a hilltop with beautiful views and a private shared pool. The villas themselves are close to a local town/big village where there is a church, a few walking routes, restaurants, a supermarket selling typical produce as well as Greek cheeses and meats and a convenience store, where you can buy products for the bathroom and kitchen.

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The Palace of Knossos (pictured below) is the biggest Bronze Age architectural site in Crete. The site contains many original ruins as well as some recreations, and was the site of the first Neolithic settlement in Crete. It was so amazing to walk around the old palace and be able to see the beautiful pieces of art and scenery. All around the site, there are various information boards where you can learn about the different areas. Near the entrance of the site, there are so many little trinket shops where you can buy Grecian themed products and decorations for your home. About a 20 minute drive away, is the Heraklion Archaeological Museum, where you can learn even more about the palace as well as other aspects of Grecian history and culture.

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There are some notable beaches on and around the island which are well worth a visit. These include Balos beach, Elafonisi, Gramvousa, Vai beach and Chrysi beach.

Other places of interest include Lake Kournas (pictured below), which is the only freshwater lake in Crete with bright turquoise waters where you can rent a little pedal boat and glide serenely on the water (avoiding the ducks), as well as various monasteries including the Eastern Orthodox Arkadi Monastery (pictured below), with its gorgeous gardens and nearby restaurant and shop, the Agia Triada Monastery, and the Chrysoskalitissa Monastery, situated on a cliff with gorgeous sea views.

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I absolutely love visiting waterfalls, lakes and places where the water is beautifully turquoise. Two places in particular which are unforgettable are the Kourtaliotiko Gorge, with beautiful views, caves and natural springs, and the Cave of Zeus, named after the Greek God and is said to be his birthplace.

I also found that being up in the hills and mountains was just as good as relaxing on the beach in the hot sun. The views you get looking down on the island through the sunset are some of the best I have ever seen. If you’re lucky, you might also get the chance to see some beautiful birds flying over the hills whilst sitting out and having a drink at a local restaurant. It really helped that our villa was situated in the hills and there were little walks available to various small towns and villages – each one with different restaurants, trinket shops and beautiful terraced houses.

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Crete was a truly stunning island. It had the perfect mix of history, current culture, beaches, cliffs and mountains as well as having enough shops and restaurants and things to do. I missed a few things off my list when I went last year and I do hope to return and tick them off.

It is honestly the most perfect place for any kind of holiday and has lots of different things to do and see to suit everyone.

ARIA

 

 

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Previous blog post: https://ariaesmeralda.com/2018/07/05/travel-diary-lisbon-portual-april-2017/

LISBON, PORTUGAL // TRAVEL DIARY // APRIL 2017

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I visited beautiful Lisbon over the Easter of 2017 with both of my parents. It has everything – culture, beautiful sites and shopping as well as some of the most stunning hilltop views. Even visiting in April, the weather was gorgeous – sunny but cool.

Lisbon is well known for its colourful buildings and some huge hills. However I did not expect it to be as diverse as it was. There are so many parts of Lisbon to explore, including the busy Bairro Alto district filled with bars and nightclubs, the beautiful plaza of Praça de Comércio, one of the biggest plaza squares in Europe lined with little cafes and shops, and even the old São Jorge castle, a Moorish castle built on a hilltop which overlooks the city.

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There are lots of ways to see the city. You can walk, drive, cycle (beware of the fluctuating hills!), go on a moped or catch a tram. The latter was my absolute favourite, and I stayed on the tram for a whole circuit, just taking in the sights, sounds and smells.

Some notable landmarks and sites in Lisbon which are well worth a visit include the Belém Tower (pictured below), also known as the Tower of St Vincent, which is a medieval fortified tower and UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its role in maritime discoveries during the Age of Discoveries era. There is a little café right next door to it which is floating on the Tagus River. Its a lovely place to sit out with a drink and a classic pastel de nata, Portuguese’s famous egg tart pastry.

Other places of significance include the Church of Santa Engrácia (pictured below), a 17th century monument, National Pantheon of Portugal and former church which was so awesome and huge that it did not completely fit in my camera’s shot, the Jerónimos Monastery (within walking distance from the Belém Tower), a world heritage late Gothic-Manueline-style monastery which is also an archaeology and maritime museum, and the Santa Justa lift, an iron elevator with beautiful views over the city.

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Another notable place to visit is Eduardo VII park which is Lisbon’s largest public park. If you head to the top of the park you get some stunning views across the park and over parts of the city. There are also some beautiful stone statues nearby as well as the Pavilhão Carlos Lopes museum (all pictured below).

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In addition to architecture, museums and sculptures, there are also other forms of art all around the city of Lisbon in the form of graffiti. I know that some people can be against graffiti, however I consider these particular pieces to be some inspiring works of art that really add to the diversity of the city. Feel free to judge for yourself and make up your own mind!

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Like all the other places, I would love to return. It will be interesting to see what has changed, and whether new graffiti art has been added. But for now, I am content with relaxing here in England whilst dreaming of the Portuguese delicacy of francesinha (a large ham, sausage and steak sandwich, coupled with a fried egg, melted cheese and a spicy tomato sauce). It is a heart attack waiting to happen, but so so amazingly delicious!

ARIA

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SEVILLE, SPAIN // TRAVEL DIARY // FEBRUARY 2017

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In February 2017, I visited Seville with my mum for a quick girly getaway. I definitely need to go back at some point – the city completely consumed me. Seville is the capital of the Andalusia region of southern Spain and is known as the birthplace of Flamenco dancing. Even in February, the weather was sunny and warm and it is such a “convenient” city to travel round in – the various modes of transportation it provides are so easy and simple to use, including buses, trains, trams and even horse and carriage rides!

We stayed in the gorgeous Hotel San Gil Sevilla and were greeted straight away by friendly and helpful staff. The hotel itself has an outdoor pool, restaurant and bar (I had a mackerel and pesto starter one afternoon and it was so good!).

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The hotel is a relatively short walking distance to one of the many shopping precincts, plus its a really scenic walk where you can take in the local architecture and walk past the various (great-smelling) restaurants. The precinct itself contains many well known stores and chain restaurants, but also a range of nik-nak stores with homemade gifts – I remember walking out of H&M and then walking straight into a little shop which sold different styles of Spanish folding fans for Flamenco dancing.

When it comes to things to see and do, there are a lot of places of interest around the city within walking distance.

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One of the first sites which is definitely worth seeing is Seville Cathedral (pictured above). It is a Roman Catholic cathedral consecrated in 1507 with beautiful Gothic architecture. A phenomenal size, it is the third largest church in the world and in 1987 it was registered a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

Two additional places of interest in Seville are the Plaza de España, a prominent plaza originally built for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929, and the Parque de María Luisa, in which the Plaza de España is set. The Plaza is full of beautiful architecture, contains many fountains and has various pop-up shops and stalls around it for people to buy trinkets and souvenirs. The Parque de María Luisa is Seville’s principal park which runs along the Guadalquivir River and it is breathtaking. Both places are on the “visit list” on the horse and carriage ride tours.

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We also managed to have a tour of the Maestranza (pictured below), a baroque bullring, and were able to visit the Basílica de la Macarena (pictured below), a church famous for housing “The Virgin of Hope” (a jewel encrusted statue). There are many places around Seville which serve delicious tapas and Spanish food. One of my absolute favourites was Iberian ham on toast or in a roll, its like a mildly spicy ham pâté and it is amazing.

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Other places which are well worth a visit include the Alcázar of Seville, a stunning Moorish royal palace with beautiful gardens and architecture, the Giralda (pictured below), a renaissance-style minaret with a Gothic bell tower, the Torre del Oro, a defensive tower with views over the city and Barrio Santa Cruz (pictured below), an area which contains the earlier mentioned cathedral and royal palace and also many shops and restaurants.

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Seville is an absolutely breathtaking city with beautiful architecture, delicious food and super friendly people. I’m definitely going back, but will revisit during the summer when there might be more things happening – five days was not enough time!

ARIA

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VENICE, ITALY // TRAVEL DIARY // OCTOBER 2016

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My trip to Venice was a 21st birthday getaway from my other half, and even though we were only there five days, it was such a gorgeous experience and I am really hoping to return and visit for longer. Even in the middle of October, the weather was still sunny and beautiful, the flights to and from Venice Marco Polo Airport were easy and transport from the airport was simple.

We stayed on the island of Lido, an 11km long sandbar and home to the Venice Film Festival, in the Marea Hotel Petit Palais, right on the beach and took a little boat to the main island each morning. Lido is full of various shops and restaurants, and one we kept returning to was the Pizzeria Ai Do Mati which does amazing mozzarella balls as well as a fries and pepperoni pizza (the fries being a topping on the pizza alongside the pepperoni – trust me, its the best!).

Even though we weren’t in Venice long, we managed to see quite a lot just through walking everywhere (bringing up those steps!). We visited the Piazza San Marco, the main public square in Venice dating back to the 12th century and overlooked by Saint Mark’s Basilica which is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice and connected to Doge’s Palace, a Venetian Gothic palace which was home to the “Doge” or Duke of Venice. We also saw the San Marco Campanile which is the bell tower of Sant Mark’s Basilica at 323ft tall and is one of the most recognisable structures of Venice (pictured below).

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We also managed to see the Grand Canal (pictured below), a major water channel with public boat transport and the Bridge of Sighs, a bridge over the Rio di Palazzo (Palace Channel) and nicknamed after prisoners sighing at their final view of Venice whilst crossing the bridge from the interrogation rooms at the Doge’s Palace to the New Prison.

Finally, we checked off Santa Maria della Salute, which is a phenomenal 16th century baroque-style Roman Catholic church and the San Zaccaria, a 15th century Gothic-Renaissance church filled with beautiful artworks (pictured below).

The main tourist attractions were pretty close together which made it so easy to visit the majority of places just by walking and only needing a short boat ride to and from the various islands.

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This is one of my shortest blogs in the travel diary series as unfortunately we weren’t able to see the more further out places such as Murano, Torcello and the San Giorgio Maggiore, but that will be something to tick off next time.

ARIA

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Places On the List for Next Time: 

 

CALIFORNIA // TRAVEL DIARY // AUGUST 2016

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The final destination on my three month travel trip was California. I split my three weeks into Los Angeles, San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. I arrived at LAX on the 14th of August, and was kindly picked up by my Airbnb host. I was staying in East LA and mainly used yellow cabs to travel from place to place.

It was not my first time going to Los Angeles, but it had been several years since my last holiday there. Due to the fact that I didn’t have a car, I relied a lot on taxi rides and organised tours. The first tour I took was a one which covered places too difficult to reach on foot or too expensive to travel by taxi. The tour was by LA City Tours, and it included the Hollywood sign, Mulholland Drive Road, Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Bel Air and the Sunset Strip. I managed to take lots of photos, and had the opportunity to see places I wouldn’t have been able to through walking.

I took part in a Warner Bros studio tour where I saw all of the sets and studios which were used for some of my favourite films and TV shows. In addition to the various tours, I also visited Burbank, Glendale and the rest of downtown LA. Unfortunately, I didn’t get so visit other places which I was looking forward to visiting such as the Griffith Observatory and other parts of Los Angeles including the various beaches. Hopefully I will be able to return to LA and be able to tick them off my list.

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During the second week of my trip to California, I left Los Angeles on the Greyhound bus to San Francisco. When I arrived, I checked into the HI Hostel San Francisco Downtown, a stunningly decorated, well-located hostel at the centre of everything. I was only in San Francisco for a few days, but I managed to cross off a lot on my list!

I visited Pier 39 and Fisherman’s Wharf, had lunch at In N Out, visited the Japanese Tea Garden and took photos of the Golden Gate Bridge. One of the things I really wanted to do whilst in San Francisco was to visit the Walt Disney Family Museum. It was incredible, and I would really recommend it – particularly if you are a Disney fan, or someone who loves and appreciates art, film and a pioneer’s journey moving from strength to strength. The museum itself covers Walt Disney’s early life, his family and career beginnings to his first successful full-length feature film, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and each film up until his death in 1966, and also includes the more modern films up to present day. One of the things I enjoyed most about the museum was the old film rolls and character doodles – particularly those of Mickey Mouse.

Everybody in San Francisco was so friendly and happy to chat, especially the taxi drivers, the people running the hostel and the staff in the Walt Disney Family Museum gift shop. I will definitely be going back.

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My third and final stop, both of my three month trip and of my time in California, was the beautiful Yosemite National Park. I travelled on the Greyhound bus from San Francisco to Merced, where I then picked up the YARTS (Yosemite’s public transport) to take me to Yosemite Valley. I got of the bus and walked up a hill through cricket sounds, dust and heat, and finally reached the place I was staying at for the next few nights, the Yosemite Bug Lodge. It was a mix of fully equipped cabins for families on holiday, as well as rooms for couples, and other rooms for people like me – hostel style rooms with various bunk beds and shared showering facilities. There was a main restaurant area where they served breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as a laundry room and mini spa, which contained a hot tub, sauna and private baths which could be used alongside botanical treatments which was a definite necessity after spending the day hiking through the forests of Yosemite.

Walking through Yosemite National Park itself was just breathtaking. I have been before, but wasn’t able to appreciate its full beauty due to being quite young and tired of walking. The height of the trees amazed me, and the feeling of standing right at the edge of such high cliffs made me feel like I was on top of the world. If you ever get the chance to go, take it – you will not regret it.

So California rounded off my three month trip travelling solo around the world. But I’ve been to more places since then, which will all be recorded here, along with separate tips and tricks on what I pack in my suitcase, how I prepare for long travels as well as how I handle travelling around the world with a mental health condition.

Stick along for the ride!

ARIA 

 

Places Visited/Mentioned: 

FIJI // TRAVEL DIARY // AUGUST 2016

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The fourth country on my travel list for the Summer of 2016 was Fiji. It was a place which always made me think of sun, white sandy beaches, blue skies and even bluer seas. It did not disappoint. I flew from Auckland, New Zealand to Nadi International Airport in Fiji on the 2nd of August. As soon as I landed, I was greeted with relaxing ukulele music, beautiful leis and lovely people. After leaving the airport I got driven to my accommodation for the night, a backpackers and hotel right on the beach called the Tropic of Capricorn. That night I ate my dinner by the beach and relaxed in a hammock on the shore, watching tiny crabs run under my feet and into the ocean.

The following morning, I was up early with my suitcase and was picked up by my guide, who would be with the travel group and I for the rest of the trip. After meeting my new companions for my time in Fiji, we were driven to a little boat port. We boarded a shikara-style boat and travelled on a river cruise, then across the lagoon to our first island stopover – Robinson Crusoe Island. It is a small island off the coast of Viti Levu (the main island) and has a 3,500 year history. As we pulled up to shore, we were greeted by singing ukulele players who were standing on the beach ready to help us unload and unpack. After exchanging pleasantries, we were then taken to our accommodation which was a large hut 13-bed dorm. It had a shared bathroom with a bucket shower which I was really looking forward to using. The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent relaxing on the white sandy beaches, swimming in the turquoise sea and watching people play volleyball on the shore. As the evening moved into the night, we were given a performance by the island employees which included traditional Fijian dancing, chanting and singing, as well as a fire dance show, all whilst eating the amazing food which was prepared for us.

After Robinson Crusoe Island, we then travelled back to the main island and headed to Uprising Beach Resort where we stayed in a traditional Fijian hut. This resort was absolutely stunning with the friendliest people, a swimming pool to relax near and a bar which served the best cosmopolitan cocktails! Other excursions and activities we partook in around this time included visiting a local village for a traditional kava ceremony with the village chief and bilibili rafting along the river.

A couple of days later we drove along the scenic coast, headed towards the village of Biausevu where we took part in another kava ceremony with the village people and where we also had a chance to buy a variety of different trinkets and souvenirs, made by the local people. After the ceremony we then went on a hike through the near by Coral Coast rain forest, crossing streams and climbing rocks to get to the Sava Nu Mate Laya waterfall.

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After spending time swimming and jumping off of waterfalls, we then travelled to Beachcomber Island where we spent our time relaxing on the beach, eating good food and drinking cocktails with other travellers and gap year students who were also staying on the island. Even though it rained for the majority of the time we stayed on Beachcomber, that did not stop us from enjoying ourselves alongside our new friends.

Our next stop was Mantaray Island which I definitely think was my favourite stop. After travelling there by boat (with occasional seasickness on my part), we were greeted by resort employees who gave us a welcome speech and then sent us to our various dorms. The accommodation was incredible and the island offered lots of activities to entertain us including snorkelling, surfing, manta ray spotting (hence the name of the island), boating and for people who preferred indoor activities – karaoke, movie nights and indoor crab racing! I met new friends on this island and we spent time together taking photographs on the beach (it didn’t matter how many shots were needed for the perfect photo), snorkelling through the reefs and eating together at the island restaurant, chatting and laughing. This resort was definitely aimed at families with young children as well as backpackers which was really lovely to see.

After our island hopping had come to an end, we then travelled back to the main island where we had two nights to do what we wanted and stay where we wanted.  I spent one night at the backpackers where I started the trip at, and one night in a hotel by the beach.

I will definitely be returning to Fiji, it was everything I imagined it would be. How many of us can say that we’ve stayed in a tropical paradise for two weeks?

ARIA

 

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NEW ZEALAND // TRAVEL DIARY // JULY – AUGUST 2016

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Before I begin talking about this beautiful place, I just need to say that I definitely did NOT get enough time here and I will DEFINITELY be going back in the near future!

New Zealand was the third country I visited during my three month trip around the world and it was also the first place I went where I was completely alone and not linked to a travelling group. It initially sounds quite daunting but I felt so much relief when my plane landed in Auckland and I knew that for the next two weeks I would be in a country with a notorious welcoming committee.

On the 17th July I flew into Auckland International Airport and took a taxi to my accommodation. It was quite a relief to walk out to a much milder temperature compared to how hot and humid it was in Sri Lanka. For the first of the two weeks I was staying in a beautiful cultured suburb called Ponsonby, which was full of places to shop, eat and stroll around. This was a huge advantage because the first thing I had to do when I arrived was to buy new clothes which were more suitable to the rainy, cool weather I had been greeted with in New Zealand. I ended up buying a bright red waterproof coat, a pair of jeans and a few jumpers, all from a local charity shop. I didn’t really think about the way I looked mainly because I really just needed to feel comfortable and protected against the rain. However, I must have looked like a tomato walking down the main street to go to the supermarket which was VERY LONG by the way and probably took me around 45 mins to an hour depending on how fast I walked. However, it was lovely to casually walk around picturesque Ponsonby and a lot of the shops were completely unique and were really interesting to check out. There were farm food shops, soap and body cosmetic shops as well as Maori fashion and jewellery shops.

For the second week, I stayed in the Haka Lodge hostel at the top of a long road which then led to downtown Auckland. So far, it has been one of the best places I have ever stayed in. Each member of staff was kind, helpful and supportive and I met some amazing people. The rooms were clean and tidy and they held movie nights for travellers to get to know each other. The staff also arranged excursions out to other parts of New Zealand which would’ve been difficult to access as a lonely traveller. More on that later!

One of the things I was told that I needed to do whilst I was in Auckland was to do the Sky Jump from the top of the Sky Tower. Baring in mind when I booked it I hadn’t actually SEEN how tall it was in person, just on brochures when it looked as tall as my thumb. Obviously this was not the case! The Sky Tower in Auckland is 328 metres or 1,076ft tall. I definitely noticed how tall it was putting on my jumpsuit in the changing rooms on the second floor. I also noticed how tall it was going up in the elevator to the jump point. It didn’t help that there was a glass floor in the elevator and a glass “front” so I literally could not escape going higher and higher. The people who organise the SkyJump set me up with a GoPro on my wrist so I could record myself going down, and I’m not going to lie to you, I was shouting and screaming all the way down to the ground. I’ve jumped out of a plane before at 15,000ft so this shouldn’t have been as scary and daunting as it was, but I believe it had something to do with being able to see a birds-eye-view of the buidlings I was about to jump “into”. I would still definitely go back and do it again, it was an incredible experience!

Whilst I was in Ponsonby, I booked a organised day trip for my second week in New Zealand to go to both Hobbiton and the Waitomo Caves. The company who organised the trip was called Great Sights New Zealand, and they were incredible. We had an amazing tour guide who was both informative and hilarious which helped a lot during the long coach journeys between the sites. We went to Hobbiton first which even in the rainy July New Zealand weather, it was still so incredibly breathtaking and beautiful.

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It was such an immersive experience. We walked around the permanent “set” and some of the hobbit house doors were open so we were able to step inside. We learned some of the secrets about the filming of Lord of The Rings and The Hobbit as well as being able to have a drink in the Green Dragon Inn and have food in the party marquee next door, all of which were included in the price of the tour. Hobbiton is a stunning place and it should definitely be something on everybody’s bucket list – even if you aren’t a fan of Lord of The Rings, it is still worth it to see the incredible artistry put in by everybody involved in the films.

After Hobbiton we then travelled to the Waitomo Caves, a series of underground caves inhabited by glow worms. Google it. It’s gorgeous. However, due to the protection of the glow worms, I was unable to take any photos, but it’s understandable. Just please take my word for it. We walked through the caves which were lit up by lights and then went deeper and lower into the caves until we came to an underground river. We then got into a little boat and drifted on the water, looking up to see the blue glowing canopy above us. There were no words. Everybody was completely silent, just taking it all in. Another one for the bucket list, it is a beautiful experience. I went during New Zealand’s winter, but if you go during the summer, you can wade through the water in addition to going on the boat as it’s a bit warmer which I am sure would be just as amazing!

During the final days of my trip to New Zealand, I went on a Bay of Islands tour which was organised by the Haka Lodge I was staying at. There was only a small group of us with our tour guide and we visited beautiful beaches, Whangarei Falls in Tikipunga (the three photos at the beginning of this post) and saw the Tane Mahuta “The Lord of The Forest” in the Waipoua Forest, which is the largest kauri tree which exists today -and it is huge! We also visited Paihia, Kawakawa and the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

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The Waitangi Treaty Grounds gave me an incredible insight into Maori culture and tradition. I also learned about the historic Treaty of Waitangi between the British Crown and the Maori Chiefs which was signed on the 6th February 1840 and is New Zealand’s founding document.

New Zealand is such a beautiful place, I met some lovely friends for life and I definitely didn’t get to spend enough time there! There is so much more to see and I will 100% be returning. Maybe I’ll bring my partner or friends and family so they can share the gorgeous experience with me.

ARIA

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SRI LANKA // TRAVEL DIARY // JULY 2016

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The second country I visited during my three month trip around the world was Sri Lanka, the land of temples, Buddhism and monkeys . I knew that I wanted to visit Asia, and after doing some reading up about this beautiful country, I decided I wanted to go. Again, I booked my trip through Gap 360 as it was similar to South Africa in that it was a guided group tour experience. I was in Sri Lanka for two weeks.

On the 3rd of July I flew into Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo , met up with the rest of my tour group and then got picked up by the group leader to take us on a long taxi ride to Kandy. It was night time so it was pitch black, but lit up by street lamps and shop lights. When we arrived at the lodge it was pretty late so we went straight to sleep and so I didn’t realise how many other travellers like me were actually staying there. When I went down for breakfast in the morning there were about 40-50 travellers in a range of ages and nationalities – it was pretty overwhelming as most of them seemed to be a bit more experienced than I was considering I had only been away by myself to one country for only two weeks at this point!

The city of Kandy is incredibly busy and extremely loud. We took tuk tuks to get from place to place and there doesn’t seem to be a system in terms of traffic and “right of ways” which was interesting to experience in a tiny car with no doors! There were lovely markets in the main centre selling fruits, clothes and cosmetics and everybody was so friendly and welcoming.

Obviously travelling in a primarily Buddhist country there were a lot of stunning temples to see. The first and second photo I put in this blog is of the giant Avukana Buddha statue near Kekirawa, which is in North Central Sri Lanka. It is over 40 feet tall, built out of stone and is believed to have been built during the 5th century. The following three photos were all taken at The Ruwanwelisaya in Anuradhapura. This structure is a stupa – a hemispherical structure containing relics, and is sacred to many Buddhists around the world who use it as a place of meditation and prayer. It was initially built around 140 B.C. and renovated in the early 20th century.

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Two other places we visited were the breathtaking Golden Temple of Dambulla which I can’t even do justice for and the Isurumuniya Temple which was in Anuradhapura. The Golden Temple is the largest, most well-preserved cave temple site in Sri Lanka and dates back to the first century B.C.. (the first four photos of the second set). The second to last photo was taken standing on the platform above the Isurumuniya Temple with a gorgeous view across Sri Lanka.

My last week in Sri Lanka was a “mind and body” week, where I woke up everyday with the sun to do morning yoga, and then in the afternoon I went into the outskirts of Kandy to visit a man who taught me meditation techniques. The week was both relaxing and challenging and I am trying so hard to be more of a morning person!

ARIA

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SOUTH AFRICA // TRAVEL DIARY // JUNE 2016

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I wanted to begin my Travel Diary series with South Africa, the first country of my biggest adventure to date. I had decided a year prior that I wanted to travel the world by myself, experiencing five different countries and their cultures. I had created a bucket list of about 50 things I want to do or achieve during my life. Included, were the words “go on a safari” and “work with orphans in Africa”. I managed to tick of both in the first week.

I booked my trip through Gap 360 and was in South Africa for two weeks. I landed in Kruger Mpumalanga Airport on the evening of the 20th June and got driven to the game reserve which was about an hour and a half from the airport. As we were driving up to the lodge, we were stopped suddenly to let an elephant cross our path – my first sighting of an African animal in the wild. At the reserve, I greeted the rest of the group, the people who I would call my friends in only 14 days. The following day, we went on our first safari through the African plains, managing to see zebras, giraffes, crocodiles, monkeys, impalas and a large family of elephants who crossed the road only a metre or two behind our truck.

A couple of days later we visited a local orphanage and school where children from small toddlers to late teens with either little or no families are taught and looked after. There was one small open plan building with pictures on the walls and only a few toys for the children to play with. There was one block of toilets, a climbing frame, an open kitchen where the meals are cooked in a large iron pot, and a room with a few computers inside. There was a beautiful piece of text on on of the walls in the computer room which made me cry…these children don’t see themselves as “poorer” or “more unfortunate” compared to others, they see what they have and appreciate everything.

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In the following days we went 4×4 driving through the plains (where I actually took the time to use the indicators despite there being no other vehicles for miles), visited the stunning Sudwala Caves and the beautiful Jane Goodall Chimp Sanctuary which looks after and cares for homeless and sick chimpanzees. On the final day, we visited the amazing Kruger National Park. We were up at 4:30am and we were able to spend the whole day at the park, animal-spotting and taking even more photos. We managed to find leopards, female lions, wildebeests, hippos and rhinos. It was such a phenomenal experience, and I will definitely be bringing my family with me next time!

ARIA

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