Discovering New Zealand : Travel Time & Day 1

After 3 flights, 21 hours of actual travel, 4 hours of sleep and arrival about 30 hours later I can honestly say it was not as bad as I expected even though Thai Airways entertainment was not very entertaining. I did try to ask to upgrade to business class for the last leg which would have cost €1300 when my whole flight cost €1000. I just laughed.

Laws about what food or diseases you could possibly bring into the country are very strict upon arrival in NZ. So you need to have cleaned your trekking boots and almost no food is welcome. They are nice about it if you declare it on the arrival form not so nice if you don’t.

After a few hours drive along the West Coast Beaches where I was greeted by stunning views, waterfalls and cute wild pigs and piglets I arrived at Casa Aquila Boutique B&B in Whitianga to be greeted by the very friendly owners, Paula and John, who welcomed me into their gorgeous home with very refreshing NZ wine, cheese a beautiful sunset and a hot tub to relax in after.

4 days in Singapore – Day 1

After a 12 hour flight with no sleep it was always going to be a difficult first day but I think I managed it quite well, despite the heat and humidity. Staying in an Airbnb in Chinatown I thought I’d have a wonder around here for the first day. The streets were quite quiet not sure if that’s normal but it was easy enough to see what I wanted to see without being in the midst of crowds of people. Can’t quite figure if I liked it or not as it was a bit too kitschy for my liking. 

My first stop was to visit the oldest Hindu (in Chinatown ??) temple in Singapore dating back from 1843, Sri Mariamman which from the outside what you see is its colourfully animated tower. It’s free to go in and look around and there are more of the beautiful colourful sculptures inside, around the courtyard too. 

I then visited the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many Buddhas in one place at the same time. There was some sort of ceremony going on which was interesting to watch but I never made it upstairs to see the tooth!

After this I felt it was time for lunch so I stepped into Chinatown Complex which is one of the many hawker (street food off the street) food places around, found the place with the longest queue and stood in line. Had no idea what I was choosing when I got the front of the line as nothing had a description on it so ended up with rice, chicken, tofu (yuk) and some kind of crispy something which I think was pork. Very tasty and served with a side soup all for the price of $4. I then headed into the visitors centre nearby and bought the tickets for what I want to see in the coming days. 

After this I could feel my tiredness was setting in as I felt like I was drunk, stumbling around so I thought a stop for a local beer on the very pretty Ann Siang Road would do the trick. Not sure if it helped but sitting down for an hour helped a little. However I did head back to my room for an hour to have a nap. 

Early evening I set out for a walk to Gardens by the Bay. The views down by the sea are very modern with lots of high rise buildings, smart restaurants and of course the stunningly high shiplike Marina Bay Sands hotel. I loved Gardens by the Bay, just walking around the Gardens was so peaceful. The supertrees are so tall and so beautiful. Watching the light show was quite enchanting and it was a Christmas theme even though it is only early November. Getting into the Gardens is free and I would definitely recommend seeing it as it is special and different and worth it. However I had bought tickets for the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest so I went into them but had I’d known I wouldn’t have bothered as they were nothing as great as the garden itself. 

After that I headed to Satay by the Bay which is another hawker in the area for some satay of course, which was truly delicious.  The views of the bay at night were spectacular!

Alone at last

For a long time, I have been wanting to travel alone. Everyone says it is easy and you will meet so many people that you will probably never actually be alone. I don’t mind my own company, so being alone would not bother me as long as I feel safe. I’ve been single for some time and I love to travel. I have often travelled alone, but joined a group, which has worked out fine and I have been very lucky with the person I’ve shared a room with. I also have a few single friends with whom I’ve travelled, mostly that has worked out well too, but I really wanted to experience doing it alone. And now I have and I may never go back to travelling  with anyone again. Haha no, that’s a joke. I love my friends and I’m happy to travel with the easy going ones any time.

So my first attempt of going it alone, and since I live in Europe, was a long weekend to a European capital. I didn’t want to venture too far, just in case I hated it. The plan was to travel to a place where I had never been and where I didn’t know anyone. I love to research the place I’m visiting, so I did this and prepared my itinerary in detail, just because I love doing this, not because I am a stickler for detail, but I like to be organised and I don’t want to miss out on any of the must see sights.

However, my plan went to pot, as on the plane, in the same row as me, there was a friend of mine also travelling to the same destination, alone!.  So we did a few things together but did our own separate things too. I met someone on a local tour I joined and then together we visited a sight and then had lunch together, which I believe felt like the authentic part of travelling alone. I also originally thought I would not know anyone, because the only person I sort of knew (whom I’d only met once before), was not supposed to be in town, but he was. So I met him for coffee on one day and then a very long lazy lunch on another day.

But, the hardest feat I had to accomplish was dinner on my own in a a nice restaurant. And I have. And it feels so liberating. I know for many people it is really no big deal but I have always felt really uncomfortable dining on my own for dinner. Lunch has never been a problem, as I can read a book, but feel weird doing that in a nice restaurant in the evening. So I went to a restaurant that was recommended and ordered a glass of champagne to start with, then I ordered food with a glass of wine and just ate slowly and savoured every bite and watched what was going on around me and even ordered a dessert after, to prolong the evening as I was really enjoying myself and never once did I feel uncomfortable. So that mission is accomplished and I look forward to my next trip alone and also to trying it out in the city I live in, to hopefully be able to feel the same way at home too.

My first visit to the Baltics: Vilnius

Upon arriving in Vilnius on a Friday evening in June the sun was shining although it was a little chilly. I find that the sunshine always makes such a difference when visiting anywhere for the first time.

My b&b, Real House B&B, was in the old town, a Unesco World Heritage site, so a great location and close to most sights. I headed out for a walk around the old town to get my bearings. I immediately liked what I saw, beautiful architecture, a mix of gothic, neoclassical, renaissance and baroque. There are many restaurants and bars all within close proximity and all along pretty cobblestoned streets. Dinner at a recommended restaurant called Forto Dvaras which served local dishes, did not disappoint, good food, and friendly service. The staples of local food are meat, potatoes and bread, slightly on the heavy side but very tasty.

The next day, another sunny one, I joined Vilnius with Locals for a 2hr free walking tour of the old city. The guide was friendly and informative without boring us with too many details, while showing us many interesting and beautiful sights. We visited the neighbourhood of Užupis, where they have their own constitution. A very pretty, arty locality. We passed by the beautiful gothic St Anne’s Church, and many more beautiful sights. After it was a steep walk up to Gediminas Castle Tower for a spectacular view of the city.

In the afternoon I joined Vilnius with Locals again for a food tour. We were taken to 5 different venues where we tried various local delicious dishes, mushroom soup in bread, deep fried bread with a delicious creamy sauce, various cheeses and local beers. Our guide was very informative about the origins of the food we were eating, which made it very interesting.

In the evening, again with Vilnius with Locals I joined a pub crawl with about 30 other tourists from various countries. We were taken to 4 different bars where drinks were discounted for us and free shots were given. Eventually they were taken to a club but I didn’t make it to that, I was too tired unfortunately but by then, it was 2am.

Sunday morning, another sunny one, I headed for a lazy brunch at Cozy. A great spot for people watching and since there was the marathon on, I could watch the runners go past and cheer them on. I tried to visit the KGB museum and the Grand Dukes Palace but both were closed. Apparently 4 June is a public holiday! The Cathedral Basilica was open so I went into that, really beautiful neoclassical architecture, worth a visit. I then wandered around the streets, admiring the various buildings with different architectures and popped my head into a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, very elaborately decorated. Since the sun was still shining, I then headed to sit at a bar by the river.

For dinner I headed to a smart, romantic restaurant, Lokys, recommended by a local friend, which did not disappoint. They mostly serve game dishes like boar, venison, beaver, quail, etc. I had the boar which was delicious, washed down with a good glass of red wine. Dessert was a chocolate salted caramel cake, slightly sweet but very good.

My last day was cloudy and drizzling so I took it easy. All museums are closed on Monday as in many cities. So I met a friend for a long lazy lunch at a restaurant called Kitchen which serves world cuisine. A trendy, modern restaurant with delicious food and good service.

Since I didn’t manage to see a couple of things and as I quite liked Vilnius I think I’ll be back some day to discover more of it.