Romanian Train Trip!

In September (2017), my girlfriend and I went to Romania for 10 days, travelling to 4 different cities and towns, trying to get a feel for as much of the country as we could. Despite some people warning us that trains wouldn’t be comfortable, we took the train to each city or town (they were all absolutely fine!), and used the local trains or buses for day trips. The trains were pretty cheap, and so were Airbnbs.

For anyone planning to see Romania, I think our route was pretty good, and didn’t take too long, yet we still saw lots of different places!

Here’s a brief overview of what we did:

  • Brasov, including a trip to Bran Castle
  • Sibiu, including a trip to the Ocna Sibiliu salt lakes
  • Sighisoara
  • Bucharest

Brasov:

We flew into Bucharest and took the train directly to Brasov. This did take longer than expected: we missed the train we intended to get, but the journey wasn’t bad (around 2 1/2 to 3 hours).

While in Brasov, we took a day trip to Bran Castle, the only castle in Transylvania that fits Bram Stoker’s description in Dracula, and so famous for these connotations. The castle was really interesting to see, and the local area around it had some market stalls that were fun to visit.

Bran Castle was a bit difficult to get to and from: we did struggle a little finding the bus, and getting on a bus back to Brasov we realised there was only one an hour, and so we had to wait a bit. The buses run directly to Brasov however, so once you are on a bus nothing is complicated!

At Bran Castle!

The free walking tour in Brasov was also very good, and while on this we saw the Black Church, the Citadel Walls, Rope Street (supposedly one of the narrowest streets in Europe!), another beautiful church and Ecatarina’s Gate (part of the old defences of Brasov).

We also visited the White Tower, a number of Bastions, and the Sinagoga Neologa which was stunning.

While we saw a lot of the things to see in Brasov, we didn’t have time to do the cablecar which goes up Tampa mountain, which we would have liked to.

Brasov!

Sibiu:

Sibiu was lovely, and had so many ice cream places!!

While there we saw a number of towers and bastions, and the Holy Trinity Cathedral which has beautiful paintings inside. We also saw Sibiu Synagogue where, despite it no longer being an active place of worship, we were told the story of the synagogue in great detail and it’s beautiful inside.

Sibiu is also full of museums, the Bridge of Lies is essential to cross and to learn about, and it’s parks are lovely to wander.

Sibiu Coloured Houses!

We also did a day trip to the salt lakes (Ocna Sibiliu), which were super cool and fun. We took the train there from Sibiu train station, along with many other locals. There were lakes so salty you just float (!) and black mud you could smear all over yourself, as well as public-use sunbeds, drinks stalls and showers, so it was a really nice experience!

At the lakes!

Sighisoara:

Sighisoara was really interesting to visit, as it’s much smaller than the other places we went to. The coloured houses and various towers are really pretty, and getting around is pretty simple as it’s quite small! Going up through the middle of the Clock tower and Council tower was interesting, as both had amazing views and the Council Tower had an art installation inside

The Scara Acoperita (covered stairway) up to the Church on the Hill is cool to go up, and the graveyard behind the Church on the Hill was perfect for a peaceful walk. We saw a couple of other churches (the Holy Trinity Church is very pretty), and visited quite a few towers, as well as making use of local tourist shops.

While there we also discovered Kaufland (a huge supermarket) which was exciting as these don’t exist in England, so we stocked up on intriguing snacks and the like.

3 days in Sighisoara gave us more than enough time to do everything we wanted to, and so it was a nice rest period. We probably should have done 2 days here and one more in Brasov instead, but hadn’t realised this until we were there!

Sighisoara!

Bucharest:

Bucharest was our last stop, and differed immensely to Sighisoara as it’s the capital and the big roads were often 4 or 5 lanes wide!

Here we saw lots of churches, monasteries and synagogues, all of which were really interesting and beautiful.

These included: Templul Coral (this synagogue is beautiful outside!), the Great Synagogue, Antim Monastery, Kretzulescu Church (really interesting & also quite small and surrounded by the city), and Stravopolos Monastery

Cotroceni Palace was a little confusing to visit as there was only a museum open and not the palace which we hadn’t realised at first- but the museum was interesting still, and full of history.

Revolution Square and the Carol I statue gave us more insight into Romania’s history, both modern and earlier. The many parks and Botanical Gardens were also lovely to walk through, espeically as the weather was pretty warm.

Our view in Bucharest

Overall visiting Romania was a wonderful experience, and far more enjoyable than I had for some reason expected. Romania had seemed perhaps a strange choice for us to visit on holiday, and not a conventional destination, however I loved it and would love to go back and explore more.

Happy travelling! – Charlotte x

 

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Rome in 4 Days!

This Christmas (December 2017), my family and I took a trip to Rome for 4 days. We managed to see most of the main attractions, and by buying some tickets online beforehand managed to skip some queues and prevent some hassle.

Our itineray is below for inspiration should anyone else want to do Rome in a few days!

Day 1: Travelling/local area:

A large part of this day was spent travelling and checking in, however we found a lovely restaurant to eat dinner in and wandered around the area local to us – it was nice to get a feel for Rome on a weekday evening without having much of a purpose.

Day 2: Papal Audience, Spanish Steps, St Peter’s Square, Vatican museums and Sistine Chapel, St Peter’s Basilica:

Most Wednesday mornings the Pope gives a Papal audience, which my mum and sister went to see – tickets have to be picked up beforehand on the Tuesday afternoon and queues can get lengthy on the Wednesday morning, however they assured me it was 100% worth the wait and a magical experience, especially as they are religous.

On the way to St Peter’s Square we saw the Spanish Steps, which provide some of a view over Rome and are nice to wander around.

Most of this day was spent going around the extensive Vatican Museums and St Peter’s Basilica. The Museums also include the Sistine Chapel, which, although was less impressive to me than I had expected, I wouldn’t have missed going to see. The tombs underneath the Basilica are also worth having a look at if they are open, and contain lots of former popes’ tombs.

Day 3: Colosseum, Roman Forum, Baths of Caracalla

The Colosseum was lovely in the morning and not too busy at first – I was truly impressed by it and it was easy to imagine events as they had been held there years ago.  We bought our tickets online which was relatively hassle-free, and the queue wasn’t bad at all.

Near the Coloseum there is also the Roman Forum which is interesting. It’s fairly large so takes a while to walk around, but I found it really cool to have such old buildings and monuments in the middle of the city – it was an odd feeling.

We also did the baths of Caracalla, which are well worth a look. They do close fairly early in the afternoon (as we found on day 2), but do not take too long to look around and are quite extensive.

Day 4: Catacombs, Trevi Fountain, Pantheon

This day we went to see the catacombs of St Calixtus, which was one of the highlights of the trip for me as it was really interesting to learn more about some of the lesser known history of Rome, and seeing where people were once buried was definitely an eerie thought. The tour guides that take all visitors around the catacombs were also super knowledgable and friendlt, which really enhanced the whole experience.

We also visited the Trevi Fountain, which is one of the largest in Rome and truly stunning. Not only is it beautiful to go and see, it marks one of the aquaducts from Ancient Rome and so (much like everything in Rome) has some interesting history behind it. Definitely worth a wander past!

Near the fountain is also the Pantheon, which is a dome-shaped church (once a temple) which is very impressive just because of its sheer size. The inside is also decorated nicely, and I am glad we looked in as it is particularly well preserved for it’s age.

In front of the Trevi Fountain!

Overall Rome is a lovely city and pretty easy to navigate on foot/some public transport. If we had had longer I would have liked to see some of the other catacombs perhaps, and spent more time just wandering. 4 days however I feel was a perfect amount of time to get a feel for the city and enjoy some great pizza places!

Charlotte x

 

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The Gambia (in brief)

This Easter (April 2017) I went with my girlfriend’s family to the Gambia for a week, where they sponsor 2 boys for their education and help to support their families.

While out there I got to see so many different things and meet so many lovely people – a week just really didn’t feel enough. It was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before and despite not being there for long, I feel it was somewhere I truly fell in love with.

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Sri Lanka Trip

Back in October (2016) I was lucky enough to travel to Sri Lanka to volunteer for 2 weeks on a programme with the company Projects Abroad. Our group was based in Kolonnowa, Colombo, in the west of Sri Lanka.

During this time, we volunteered predominantly in primary schools, and focused on teaching them about their community, highlighting the roles of doctors, fire fighters, the police and so on. We were also around to more generally help the teachers with their own planned activities, like arts and crafts, or to help at breakfast time, which with 3 and 4 year olds could get a bit messy! We also painted an alphabet mural for one of the primary schools so that the children could walk along it following a painted ladder along the ground, hopefully having fun while trying to learn it!

The alphabet mural we painted
The alphabet mural we painted

On some of the weekdays we also volunteered at a secondary school and a local community centre teaching English to a wide range of ages, often making up games and teaching songs to try and help with memory and pronunciation of English words.

While volunteering and teaching was really fun and so different to anything I’ve ever experienced, I did find it challenging at times, especially not being the loudest of speakers. However by the end of the trip I’d become much more confident and felt so inspired seeing all of the children’s progress.

As well as the volunteering, on the weekends and a couple of weekday evenings we also had trips to see Sri Lanka more and explore the country’s culture and heritage.

Some of the sights we saw:

Temples: On one of the weekends we travelled to Kandy, where we visited the Temple of the Tooth. This houses the hugely important relic of tooth of the Buddha and is super extensive – even with a couple of hours we didn’t even have time to go around it all. Near to here we also saw some traditional Kandyan dances, such as the famous ves dance. We also saw a couple of temples in Colombo, as well as one pagoda, which were beautiful and really interesting.

Inside one of the temples, and part of the pagoda
Inside one of the temples, and part of the pagoda

Tea factory: we also went to a tea factory, and learned that green and black tea essentially come from the same kind of plant! It was really interesting to learn about the different collecting, drying and sorting processes that occur within the factory. During this trip I also must have drunk my entire weight in Ceylon black tea, and brought some back as well as some lychee black tea, both of which I’m such a fan.

Elephant Sanctuary/Paper factory: At the Millenium Elephant Foundation, we got to see and actually wash the elephants!! which was just surreal and amazing. We also ‘adopted’ 4 of these elephants for a year, contributing to the work the sanctuary does in caring for the old and sick elephants. Alongside the sanctuary there is also a paper factory which uses the elephant dung to make paper, even feeding the elephants leaves and bananas to get naturally green and yellow paper. You can buy products and find out more about the processes here

Feeding an elephant!
Feeding an elephant!

Turtles! On our first weekend we travelled to Galle and visited a turtle hatchery in Bentota. Here we saw tiny baby turtles as well as some truly huge ones, and the centre explained how they care for the turtles and release them into the wild when it’s safe, also helping out when new turtle hatchlings are trying to get to the sea. The beach this was situated on was also beautiful, so we took loadssss of pictures here too :)

Holding a turtle!
Holding a turtle!

We also went to a couple of beaches in Galle, more specifically in Hikkaduwa and Unawatuna. These were really pretty, and Unawatuna isn’t far from Galle fort, which is interesting to see.

Almost-sunset on one of the beaches
An almost-sunset on one of the beaches

On our first night it was also a festival, so we were lucky enough to see a procession all the way down the road, wreaking even more havoc than normal Sri Lankan roads can appear to be in…
Drinking from King coconuts (which are orange!) were also a new experience, and going around various markets was really fun and we managed to buy some cool things, such as traditional batiks, elephant statues and even more tea!

Food:
I absolutely loved all of the food, in particualar egg hoppers are really good and were something I’d never heard of, but are a bit like basket-shaped pancakes with an egg in the middle. String hoppers were also a new and enjoyable experience, and are a kind of noodle. We were also lucky enough to have best pancakes I’ve ever had which were kindly made by the parents of the children we were teaching. These I think are called pani pol (or pol pani, I’ve seen both :// )and were very sweet, with coconut and jaggery (a type of sugar) in them.

While having some truly amazing experiences, we were also often reminded of the effects of the 2004 tsunami. Visiting a local museum with some truly devastating images of just what happened really shocked me and showed that how even more than 12 years later the country is still trying to repair itself, something I wasn’t half as aware of previously.

Charlotte x

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Copenhagen Trip!

Copenhagen
Last summer (2016) I spent 5 days in Copenhagen with my girlfriend, and loved every minute of it.
We got ourselves a fairly tiny airbnb in Amager Vest, south of the centre of Copenhagen. This was perfect as from here we could travel around Copenhagen without much difficulty and it wasn’t too expensive either :))

What we saw:

Christiana
I found going here really interesting, and doesn’t take long to go around at all. Christiana is it’s own neighbourhood in the middle of Copenhagen, with its colourful murals everywhere as well as it’s atmosphere of autonomy and liberation making it really stand out from the rest of the city. The green house mural was one of my favourites.

Christiania mural
Christiania mural

Copenhagen’s Aquarium, Den Bla Planet
Like the zoo, this was something I was really excited about. The aquarium is also divided into zones around the world so I felt not only was I seeing cool fish but I was learning a little about the geography of them too :)) Particular highlights for me were the sea otters, the shark tank/tunnel and the turtles! The aquarium also has a rainforest bit with other animals like birds which was fun too (the colourful pigeons walking around were super cool)

Museums
We only went to 2 museums in Copenhagen, however these had so many cool things and interesting exhibitions (we even managed to get lost in one it was so huge…).

The first museum we went to was the National Museum of Denmark (free for U18s) This had a huge collection on Danish history from the prehistoric ages up until the 1950s as well as a smaller exhibition on people around the world and a more recent exhibition on manga and cosplay. Definitely worth looking around however it did take us quite a few hours looking at it all!

A reindeer in the museum
A reindeer in the museum

The second museum we went to was the Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteket, (free for U18s and on Tuesdays). This has a focus on art and objects that are Danish, Mediterranean and French, and includes collections from Egypt, Greece and the Roman period right up to the 19th century.

It was particularly interesting to see specifically Danish art and artefacts in these museums as I hadn’t previously seen a lot of this elsewhere.

The Botanical Gardens

These were really pretty to walk around and super interesting with thousands of different plants, some outside and some inside in glass hothouses. One of these also had a walkway around the top of it, giving a view over the trees inside which was interesting. Definitely worth a stop at especially as it’s free and is also linked to the Natural History Museum of Denmark which may be worth a stop at too.

Copenhagen Zoo
This really excited me as I have little memory of going to a zoo before this. The zoo took us a good four hours or so, however could be done quicker as we stopped to see everything! A few highlights for me were the see through butterflies, the huge elephant house and seeing tiny baby flamingos!!! The churros sold inside the zoo were also really good :)

See-though butterfly!
See-though butterfly!

Canal/Streets in general
Copenhagen is also a lovely city to walk around without having too much of an aim, the more touristy (at least in summer) canals are really pretty and we came across a number of quieter streets with some smaller shops like secondhand/vintage ones which were fun to explore.

Along the canal
Along the canal

Food!
We didn’t have a huge amount of traditionally Danish food as we bought much of our breakfasts/dinners from the supermarkets (noodles every night!!!), however Danish beer from the supermarket, copious amounts of liquorice and hot dog sausages were definitely different to what we usually might have. Waffles in a small cafe near Christiana were also a highlight as were the blue and pink slushies found in the many 7/11s and ice cream from Paradis further into the city. Copenhagen’s small Chinese scene was also fun to explore, the Chinese restaurant we ate at one evening was super good.

Would I go again?

Definitely! Although small enough to get a good feel for the city and enjoy much of it in 5 days (and potentially less), Copenhagen always seems to have something on and there are hundreds of places to visit, both more touristy and not. While I’m always looking to explore places I haven’t yet been to, I’d love to come and see Copenhagen again, perhaps during a different time of year like winter, and to explore the parts we didn’t get to see this time round.

Charlotte x

The view from a park we found :)
The view from a park we found :)
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