TRAVEL DIARY // CALIFORNIA // 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: 

TRAVEL DIARY // FIJI // 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

 

Places Visited/Mentioned: 

TRAVEL DIARY // NEW ZEALAND // 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

Places visited/mentioned:

TRAVEL DIARY // SRI LANKA // 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

Places visited/mentioned:

TRAVEL DIARY // SOUTH AFRICA // JUNE 2016

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I wanted to begin my Travel Diary series with 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. The first country which came to my mind was South Africa. 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.

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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Places mentioned which accept donations:

 

Saying Hello To The Autumn Days

 

To me, there was no better time to begin this blogging journey of mine than during this vibrant, colourful, leafy season. Living in a quaint village in the south-east of England means that I am lucky enough to be surrounded by an abundance of forests and fields which are great for dog-walking! This past weekend myself and my partner were looking after his family’s pet dog, Teddy. He is a black Labrador Retriever who is always happy to see us so it was lovely spending the whole weekend together, just the three of us.

This photo was taken in a complete spur of the moment on Saturday morning in a little village just outside of Cambridge. I was focusing on making sure Teddy’s poop was picked up and trying not to fall over in my heeled boots on the uneven grass. We walked through these colour-changing trees, over a little bridge and came to a small, secluded clearing with only a bench and a picnic table. I stopped to take in what was around me as I often forget to appreciate what I’m doing during the moment, and decided to take a photo of my other half and Teddy the dog.

Autumn is definitely my favourite time of the year. My birthday, Halloween, the build up to Christmas and it being completely socially acceptable to put the diet to bed until the New Year. Hot chocolate, woolly jumpers, bonfires and evenings spent by the fire with family and friends is what Autumn means to me.

– ARIA