Tag Archive | travel blog

Salut! Mon premier post de blog en francais

Salut! Je m’appelle Sophie, l’autor de cette blog. J’habite a Sydney, Australie et ma langue maternelle c’est anglais (plus ou moins- une autre blog post peut-etre). En Australie, parceque le distance de l’autre pays, apprendre la langue extranger ce n’est pas une importance dans la societe et a l’ecole. Je pense que c’est un gaspillage (je suis sur ce n’est pas correcte!)- c’est une grande monde et beaucoup de gens ne parle pas l’anglais. Evidemment, l’anglais n’est pas autant l’indicatif et c’est une chose que je trouve tres difficile.

Finalement, j’ai decidee ecrire une poste pour practiquer mon français. Bien sur, le sujet que plus facile est a propos de moi et mon l’adventure de français. Mais, je suis hesitant parceque il y a un ans depuis je regularment practiquer et “etude” le français. Je sais qu’il y a beaucoup des erreurs et les phrases dans cette poste! L’annee dernier, j’ai passe mon premier l’examen depuis l’univeriste! Le DELF examen B1!

J’ai commence apprendre le francais il y a plusiers l’annees- a l’ecole. Pour nous, c’etait obligatoire a choissir une lange et donc j’ai choisi le francais parceque j’aime le son. Facile! C’est tres sophistique et j’ai tombe amoreux de Paris (par des images). Je suivivais quatre l’annee et j’arretais parceque je perdais- beaucoup des vocabulaires et les regles grammaires!

Apres, a l’universite j’ai decidee a commencer encore. Je souvenais beaucoup des mots mais la grammaire, non!. J’ai etude un diplome de science (psychologue) et apres mon doctorate en neuroscience. Je suis allee la classe francaise apres la classe science! A la meme temps, j’ai utilise ‘conversation exchange’ d’ici et j’ai recontre deux amis que je parle avec aujourd’hui. Quand, je faisait mon doctorate j’ai arrete encore. Mon cerveau etait plein! J’ai attendu une conference en l’Europe pendent ce temps et je suis allee a Paris pour le premier temp! C’etait mon reve depuis j’etais petite! J’etais tellement tres heureuse!

Pour le troisieme fois, j’ai commence apprendre le francais ENCORE quand j’ai commence a travailler. Le meme situation, apres le travail je suis allee a la classe francaise. Finalement, j’ai cherche une prof prive pour la preparation de DELF. Je suis tres stresse avant et pendant l’examen. C’etait tres vite et j’avais beacoup de l’adrenaline. Il y a un ans et maintenant je regarde et lire le journal francais et regarde peppa pig en francais. Je trouve certains vloggers en francais que je regarde aussi.

Donc, c’est mon voyage a aujhourd’hui. Je sais, c’est un voyage toute la vie et peut-etre je serai courant une jour!

Preserving travel memories

I’ve come to learn and research quite abit around memory in my science life (neuroscientist by training here!). I know how unreliable and fleeting memories can be which I think is just a guarantee of life- that you will not have your memories forever. To try and capture my own memories, I’ve been on a continual journal of trying to document my travels. Certainly, the appearance of social media has helped us to use different mediums to document our travels eg. blogging or visual documentation aka Instagram and Facebook albums.

I have journaled on most of my travels. Booking a new trip for me actually also means finding a new notebook just for that trip. I’ve found that the Muji notebooks are actually really great as they are thin (which means that I have a good chance of finishing it- who else hates unfinished notebooks?!), come in a variety of sizes and they are light. I have an entry for every single day of my trip and sometimes they are written all at once after 3 days on the trip due to time! What I did, where I went, what I ate and my general running thoughts that day.

Ticket stubs: I also collect some ticket stubs, flight stubs, cool looking cards/papers and even soap wrappers that I will stick into the journal after the trip and writing part is all done. Call me old fashioned but I love looking back at all of these and how cool are ticket stubs in a different language?

Souvenirs: I’m not so much of a souvenir “collector” but am always on the lookout for something that might catch my desires. I have been on many trips where I have come back empty handed but that’s ok! I’ve come to the stage in my life where I only want amazing pieces that I love and not just heaps of knick-knacks that I will have to store.

Pictures: This is an area of improvement for me. I need to get out of the habit of taking pictures on my phone and use my camera instead. I have files sitting on a usb or hard-drive (somewhere) and need to do more justice to them! I have a photo album where I print the “highlights” but have not updated that album for the past 2 or so years. I would love to frame some one day when I have my home.

Anniversary: A group of friends and I had for 10 years post trip (every year) come together for a dinner to rekindle those memories. The restaurant was also the same cuisine (but we tried a new one each time). Since then, life has gotten in the way but that was such a great way to keep the trip alive while we had the chance!

What are some ways that you keep your memories alive? Do you have any great anniversary celebrations? Do you also journal? How do you display your photos? I’d love to know.

Trying a croissant class in Paris, France

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You may know the age old adage, the more butter the better it tastes. This is certainly true for the croissant. Crispy on the outside and a healthy layering taste of butter on the inside makes the perfect accompaniment to coffee.
I have to admit, I never really truly tasted a proper croissant until I went to Paris. Growing up, we just had supermarket ones which are not even a 1/10th as good as the real deal. Since then, I have become somewhat of a self proclaimed croissant connoisseur eager to try wherever I am.

So what better way to appreciate this fine crescent pastry than to try out a croissant baking class in Paris and learn from some professionals. I chose Patisserie a la Class. It was a small class of about 6 people which was great to be able to get some help. A whole block of butter went into the making of 8 croissants and pain au chocolat.

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There was a lot of rolling and incorporating the butter into the dough which then needed to rest overnight. Luckily, they had pre-prepared for us (maybe from yesterdays class) an already chilled dough mixture ready for us to roll out and roll on into our viennoiseries.

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We rolled out the dough and then cut triangles for the croissants and squares for the pain au chocolat. The croissants were so alluring already in their unbaked form- look how symmetrical it is!

With a brush of egg mix over the top, they were ready to go into the oven to be baked. The smell of them cooking as we waiting was heavenly. The smell of baking good and freshly baked bread just makes me drool!

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They were of course, delicious! It was such a fun and I learnt so much about the art of croissant making. I had infact tried to recreate this back in Sydney but I don’t think we had quite the same flour and yeast. Perhaps it was too hot but the butter was melting out of the dough so something was not quite right!

Whether you like them plain, with jam or modernised with matcha powder or loaded with chocolate, there is no denying that there is a fine art to making these! Any other croissant fans out there? Have you successfully made them during this lockdown? Let me know!

Staying home and travel post pandemic

Hi everyone,

I hope you are all keeping well. I think I’ve revelled in all the current changes long enough and now to put finger to keyboard.

I’ve been wondering now what life will look like after this pandemic is over. Whenever that will be. I know of many people who are without work or have been asked to work less which has a significant impact on day to day life, life plans and wellbeing. Businesses are struggling and millions of people across the globe are wondering whether they will have jobs into the future.

And in particular, I am wondering what the world of travel will look like once this is over. With most countries closing their borders, I wonder if travel will actually become more difficult and become a lengthy process. Will the citizens of towns and cities even be open to accepting foreigners?
Will there be choices of small business cafes, boutique hotels and local resturants as there once were?
Can we all find the motivation and will to create art? Happiness? And all the beautiful things that we have had for so long?

I did have my period of time of complete distraction and wanting to find out every minute what was happening across the world. But I have stopped and tried to focus on staying well and healthy. I think it is what many people have now come to realise after being forced to remain at home.

I have been lucky enough to still have work and be able to work from home. This has brought on its own challenges but I’ve created a new routine of waking up early, doing some yoga and going for a walk before my working day begins. I’m also making sure that I enjoy the silence every morning and night.

I like how quiet it has become on the streets and how clean the air feels. I like that more people are outside walking and riding bikes.

What do you think will happen in the travel industry?

What new things have you added to your routine?

How to catch public transport in Sydney, Australia

One of the challenges whilst travelling is having to learn how to navigate another town’s public transport system. Some are quite easy (eg. Singapore, Barcelona or even Paris) whilst others are abit harder (eg buses!). As a local and public transport catcher in Sydney for most of my life, I’ve seen the city change from having to have a different ticket for buses and trains to now, a revamped public transport system where you only need 1 card to take any of the public transport options. Long gone also are the tin can trains and buses with no air-con (all those memories of 35C+ days in those trains).

I hope these tips will be handy for your next visit here.

Opal Card
The whole city transport network now accepts the Opal Card. This card works alittle like a savings card- you load it up with money and then tap on and off when getting on and off public transport. The card readers are at all the gates of train and ferry stations, immediately inside the buses and at the station on the trams.

As of 01 Mar 2020, you can now also use your debit or credit cards to tap on and off. If you’re an overseas visiter, check with your bank as transaction or conversion fees will apply.

If you are arriving at Sydney International Airport, you can get a card at any of the WHS retailers inside or at the Sydney International Airport train station. As of the 01 Mar 2020, the card is free if you top up with a minimum of $20 for an adult card (or $10 on a concessional card). You can top up your card at any train station from an automatic machine, most newsagencies or online.

For more information, the Transport NSW website here has more.

Sydney International Airport to City
The Sydney International and Domestic Airport stations are privately owned so the cost of using these stations is alot higher than every other station. At the time of writing, for an adult it is $14.87 aud (one way) and $13.18 aud for a child (also one way) if you are coming or going to the city centre. If you’re travelling alone or couple, this would be the cheapest option to get into the city centre compared to an uber or taxi especially during peak hour traffic.

Train
Sydney has a huge rail network that spans about 60km across the Sydney area. The rail line goes beyond and can take you to the Blue Mountains, interstate to Canberra or even to the otherside of the state to Broken Hill. There are some major hub stations (eg Town Hall, Central, Wynyard, Strathfield of Parramatta) but most of the stations will just have 2 platforms for each direction.

I think the trains are the easiest to catch. Most of the trains now have signs within the carriage to tell you what stops are coming up and what the current stop is. All train platforms will also list when the next train is arriving and all the stations it will be stopping at. You just need to know where you want to go and the rest is ok!

Train doors open and close automatically here, are all air-coned and the direction that seats are facing can be moved. We have double decker trains here! Beware, trains heading into the city at peak hour are often packed (standing room only) so I would avoid unless an absolute must. If travelling late at night or early morning, the guard carriage in the middle of the train is popular for safety reasons.

Click here for a map of the network.

Buses
Cards are tapped on and off inside the bus. You will not be able to top up in the bus or at bus stops so be sure you have enough. By far the hardest to navigate, buses are tricky in Sydney.
There are no indications inside the bus what stops there are (or even where the stops are) so this will require more homework than the trains. Our buses are coded by numbers to signify a certain route and by knowing this, will greatly help you in trying to figure out where the bus stops are.

A great free app the use is TripView Lite. You can enter in where you want to go and from and it will bring up the train timetable, bus routes and timetable and even show you the bus stops along the route.

Make sure you wave a bus down for it to stop and press the buzzer inside prior to the stop you want to get off at!

Please note that the seats at the front of the bus are priority seats for prams and the elderly. If there is standing room only, please ensure you move to the back of the bus.

Pick any form of transport in the app
This is a bus route in the app with stops listed

Ferry
The ferry network is quite small due it only operating within Sydney Harbour and is also easy to navigate. For a map click here. Circular Quay is the major ferry hub- you will likely be here during your trip if you are visiting Sydney. Ferries to and from Manly and Taronga Zoo run from here.

You tap on when you get onto the wharf (no need to tap off). Please note that if the weather is bad, the ferries can get cancelled and you will need to seek an alternative form of transport.

These have the best seats (and views) of all the transport options as there are outside seats!

Trams
Sydney has had 1 tram line operating for years and in 2019 has just welcomed another tram line. There are currently 2 tram routes with a 3rd opening later this month.

– Central to Lilyfield
– Circular Quay to Randwick
– Circular Quay to Kingsford (05 Apr 20: now open).

Tap on at the tram stops before boarding or after alighting. The trams indicate what stations are coming up and what stops there are on the line. The Circular Quay to Randwick tram runs along George St in the city centre and is also a good option instead of walking!

Let me know what you think/thought about the public transport system in Sydney and if you would like to find out anything more.

How to save money while travelling

You’ve saved enough money for your airfares and are now trip planning on where you will stay, what you will see and what you will eat. We all like to save (more money to travel with!) so here are my learnt tips and tricks on how to save money while travelling.

Airbnb made breakfast
  1. Buy your breakfast from the grocery store
    Breakfasts are not cheap when eating out and in some cities, can be more expensive than lunch. Obviously, if you want to eat out at a cafe, by all means, but if you want to do half and half to save some extra cash, I find that this is super easy. Some yogurt, muesli, fruit or bread with a spread will cost you next to nothing and are also healthy choices.

  2. Buy your snacks at the supermarket too
    It is likely that you will be on your feet for most of the day and burning quickly through your breakfast and lunches so it’s always handy to have sometime in your bag. It’s cheaper than on street kiosks and specialty stores. Plus, you can bring some home to all your family and friends!

  3. Stay somewhere that has a kitchen
    Related to the point above, you can think about preparing more of your own meals if you have access to a kitchen where you can prepare hot meals and utilise a fridge to store food. This also increases what you can eat! Porridge, sandwiches, pasta dishes etc. At a minimum, I usually want to have a fridge to use. These accommodation choices can be a hostal, hotel, B&Bs or airbnb.

  4. Make the most of free walking tours
    I love having a look at the available free walking tours in the cities that I will be visiting. I have found these very informative and great to get your bearings in a new city. Some of these tours are themed and will take you perhaps to suburbs or districts of a city that you would not have otherwise gone to- more things to see!. These are typically long so bring a good pair of walking shoes, water and snacks.

  5. Use shared transport options
    Transport to and from the airport is usually costly so I always try to find shared options if possible. In some cities, there will be public trains or buses whilst in others, these might not be available or they will not take you to where you are staying. There are usually private bus companies that you can book where you share with other travellers and the prices are alot cheaper than taking a taxi or uber. I have used these before and have found them to be reliable and safe. This does require some homework when trip planning! A good place to start is by looking on Viator.

6. Research your activities
Many museums and tourist attractions will have free entry once a month or on certain days. Have a look at the websites of where you want to go incase there are free days or evenings. These days will be popular so plan ahead what time you will go!

Chill out time in the park listening to music

7. Schedule in some chill out time
Something that I am now trying to do more often- schedule in some free time where you can just walk around town or sit in a park- anything that doesn’t cost money. I know we get so caught up in having to see everything when we go on holidays but there is some peace about enjoying and taking in our surroundings when abroad. Find a place with a great view or a great people watching spot and observe life.

Do you have any other ways you save money while travelling? Let me know in the comments!

Spending 36 hours in the Peruvian Amazon

The Amazon has always made me ponder what it would be like there. This interest must have stemmed from childhood and all the projects we did on the Amazon. Back then, it was a world away from my classroom! I think it is also the vastness, the infinite and sometimes odd animals that call it home and the mysterious natives that still reside there.

I have been fortunate enough to be able to see a cinch of the Amazon in my travels around Peru albeit only 36 hours but it was enough to leave me wondering what the depths of the Amazon hold.

The canopy above us
  • Day 1
    When picking which tour to take in Peru, I knew that I wanted one that went to the Amazon. We flew from Lima to the town of Puerto Maldonado in eastern Peru. Lima was quite cool in October, I even needed 2 jackets! Once we stepped off the plane in Puerto Maldonado though, we felt the humidity slap us in the face. We were brought by bus to the nearby office of the lodge company that we would be staying at. Here, we were each given a duffel bag to pack the belongings that we would need for the next 3 days. You may be wondering why we needed to pack our things into only a duffel bag, our trip to the lodge would be by a small boat!

    Must haves:
  • Insect repellent
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat and sunglasses
  • Long sleeve shirt (I brought a linen shirt which worked perfectly)
  • Long pants and socks (for exploring!)
  • Binoculars (something I didn’t take)
  • Shorts and tshirts for hanging around the lodge
  • Reuseable drink bottle
  • Wet wipes
  • Camera
  • Torch and batteries
Getting into our boat

After driving for 30 mins through rural streets and through forest by bus convoy, we arrived at the river where out boat was waiting. During the boat ride we met our guides who would be with us over the next few days and got our serving of fried rice (chaufa) wrapped in banana leaf. We spotted cabybaras on the way! We arrived at our beautiful lodge 30 mins later. There was a main dining area for all our main meals (which were delicious!) and lounge area. It was an eco-lodge (woohoo!) where all the running water came from rain tanks and solar energy was being used to power the lights at the lodge. Everything has to be brought to the lodge via boat (and rubbish back to town).

Our rooms were beautiful! House in a wooden structure, our common walls didn’t touch the ceiling meaning that we could hear all our neighbours! Each room had an ensuite bathroom and our rooms had 1 side of the room that didn’t have a wall and looked into the rainforest. My room was the last one in our block so I had 2 sides of the room that looked into the rainforest. I was so ready for my immersive night experience!

After we settled in, our group gathered for an afternoon walk through the rainforest. We were given gumboots to wear for all our rainforest walking adventures. The walking path we took was around our lodge so was already cleared which left me wondering why gum boots were needed (anything they weren’t telline us about?!?). We didn’t see many animals but could hear them. Our local guide explained some of the plants along the way and their traditional medicine uses and also gave us some general information about the rainforest.

My room

The part of the rainforest that we were walking through wasn’t as dense as I would imagine other interior parts of the rainforest would be. The trees which were hundreds of years old, branched out above us and their trunk also branched out around us. As night started to fall, fireflies started lighting up around us and the sounds of the night animals and insects started. And so the night shift animals begin.

Once it was completely dark, our guide got us to play a game! We each had to stand 2km apart from one another along the path and switch off our lights. The group was dropped along the path and so started out 10 mins standing alone in the dark. I could hear branches cracking around me and obviously immediately thought it would be a jaguar. It was here, I also decided that the human eyes are rubbish at seeing in the dark. The canopy scattered the moons light around us playing tricks on my eyes when i thought i could see something. Reality was, i could not see anything.
Our group members from the front then started picking everyone else along the way back to our guide and back for dinner!

After dinner, our guide told us that we would now try and spot some tarantulas! Our group were not so calm when our guide showed us all these burrowns on either side of the path that we were on where the tarantulas might be. He managed to coax one out of its nest for us to see- my gosh, it was huge! All of a sudden, standing in the rainforest with nothing but our torches didn’t feel so safe after all. We were glad to be heading back to our lodge.

After our creepy crawly session, I wasn’t so keen on sleeping closest to the rainforest anymore! Nevertheless, I went to bed listening to the cacophony of nature around me with a smile on my face and was so thankful to be there.

Main dining area
  • Day 2
    We were up nice and early- breakfast at 5am so that we could leave our lodge at 5:30am! It was also my birthday today! We headed onto the boat for a short ride through the misty and cool morning and got off for a 30 mins walk to a catamaran. This morning, we were going prehistoric bird, macaw and giant otter spotting. Lucky for us, we were able to see all this morning! The rainforest is definitely more alive in the morning. Our guides also fished a piranha for us to see- no-one was going to be sticking any body parts into the water anytime soon. As we headed towards 10am, the sun was really turning up the heat! We were all sweating so much that butterflies started landing on some of us. We were told that alot of the birds (and butterflies) supplement their diet by eating clay for the salt so I guess we were just salty deliciousness for them.

    We went back to the lodge for lunch and then hung out until mid afternoon. During this time, I was sitting in my room when heard some commotion in the trees. With my camera ready, I was able to capture the little monkeys moving past my room in the trees!
    We headed out again for a food plant tour and tried some local beverages. Once night fell, we piled into our boats again to go caiman spotting. We did see some little ones and I was amazed at how our guides would see them from our boat in the middle of the river!

    Back at the lodge for dinner, I was surprised with a birthday crown made out of leaves and cake! Not a birthday that I will be forgetting anytime soon.

    Exhausted, we all headed to bed quite early as we were in for another early morning wake up call the next day. The weather had cooled down enough to doze off for another night to the sounds of the wild.
Mushrooms growing out of a log
  • Day 3
    Today was our last day in the Amazon. Another early morning exploration session, we set off at 5:30am after breakfast, this time to catch the morning feeding from the birds. The most magnificant coloured macaws, parrots and toucans were spotted this morning. The brighest and most beautiful colours and colour combinations flying through the sky and trees! I love the colours of nature.

    We headed back at 9:30am to get our duffel bags and loaded up our boat to head back towards Puerto Maldonado where we collected our suitcases and repacked. We said a tearful goodbye to our guides at the airport- who were such a wealth of knowledge and welcomed us to their part of the world with open arms and warmth.
    Thank you Rafa and Darwin!

    Have you been in the Amazon? Do you want to go? What did you love most about your experience?

    Peru Tour: Intrepid Travel
    Amazon experience: Baawaja Expeditions

Day trip to Valparaiso from Santiago, Chile

Streets of Concepcion Hill

When figuring out how many days I would spend in Santiago, I was advised by friends that I should also visit Valparaiso- the bohemian art town 1.5 hrs north from Santiago. So, I booked myself into a one day tour that would take me there but also stop along the way for some wine tasting and a quick stop in Vina del Mar (not long enough for a beach stop but also it was still super cold!).

Picked up at 8am in the morning in a minivan, I met my new tour group which was a mix of an array of international travellers. After driving our of the bustling city centre, we hit the dry mountains just outside of Santiago. If you had forgotten about how hilly Santiago was, this was a great reminder. The motorway takes you into tunnels that go through the mountains and on the otherside, so. much. more. greenery. The hills were now filled with vineyards. We stopped for a coffee and bathroom break (complete with llamas) before piling back into the bus bound for Vina del Mar.

When we were just outside of Vina del Mar we were able to get sweeping views at Valparaiso- houses scaling up the mountainside and not a spare patch of land to be seen. The houses in Vina del Mar were fabulous- so grand and beautifully designed. Our first stop was the flower clock- functional clock on a bed of flowers. Can’t say it was very overly exciting but pretty and colourful and the only time I have seen such a clock.

Next, we took a short drive to the local fish market and then got to see some sea lions out the back where the pier was! Gosh, they were huge and so nimble in the water. I’d never seen any before so what an experience to get so close to them!

Next, driving to Valparaiso!

Valparaiso is a hilly city and famous for its furniculars around the town which are a fabulous idea for increased mobility around town. The town is also famous for its street art and houses the Chilean legislative congress and navy. From the images I saw on Google before the trip, I couldn’t wait to be surrounded by colour and let the inner artist (or lack of) revel in the street art.

Originally a port city, Valparaiso’s coloured houses were a way for fisherman to find their own way home. At it’s roots, this town was born from hard workers

Iglesia Luterana de La Santa Cruz de Valparaiso

The area of Concepcion Hill is the main tourist attraction and seems to be more developed and happening compared to other parts of the town (and even Santiago). It would have been nice to have spent some time closer to the water where more of the Governmental buildings are. The down town area is more grungy and less polished but there appears to be some nice architectural buildings to see as well.

Back in Concepcion Hill, there were houses with their front facade completely painted, block colours and older buidlings that had some artistical charm. I liked the contrast between place to place which I think adds to the feeling of different puzzle pieces fitted together to make this Hill. There were some stores with local handicrafts and also sellers on the paths around the town. I was surprised that there weren’t more stores, cafes and restaurants. I became aware of the disparities in society in Chile on my trip but don’t know enough to write anything further. Perhaps this is related? Or maybe it’s left like this so as not to disturb the bohemian life?

In total, we spent about 2 hours walking around Concepcion Hill but I really would have liked to spend a day further wondering the streets and hanging somewhere looking out over the water.

We had a lovely lunch break overlooking the water. Obviously seafood was my choice! After lunch, we started our drive back to Santiago and stopped in Casablanca Valley for some wine tasting.

To be completly honest, I’m not a very big wine tasting fan. I’d been on local wine tasing tours but have never been wowed into buying any wines. This hard critic, is not easily pleased!

It was quite a long day so I was happy to be dropped back where I could quickly have some dinner and go to bed. It was nice to see so many different things but I think if I were to go back, I would actually skip Santiago and stay out on the coast instead!

Is there anything else you would recommened to do in Valparaiso? Let me know in the comments.

Octopus and spinach raviolo

8 things to do in Mexico City, Mexico

There is just no shortage of things to do in Mexico City. The range of different architecture in the city is impressive and exciting not knowing what kind of building you will see next. When planning my trip, I had zero knowledge of what there was and once I started researching, the list grew so long I knew I wouldn’t be seeing everything. I’ve been told that you need at least 1 week to even get through half the things there are to do and they were right! Even after 4 days, I had not even brushed the surface of this dynamic and great city. Here are just 8 things that you can do in Mexico city.

Zocalo
  1. Zocalo
    The Zocalo is the main square in Mexico City and right in the middle is a giant Mexican flag which is raised and taken down every day. When it is raised and taken down by military personnel, it is accompanied with a brass and percussion band. This square is bordered by the cathedral, presidential palace and city Government offices. Often, this square also has festivals and markets. It’s such a big square and if you can find one of the surrounding cafe/bars, you can have a whole view of the square.
Monument to the Ninos Heroes 

2. Chapultepec Park and Castle
Chapultepec Park is a short metro ride away from Mexico City. Immediately, you will notice how many families and kids are passing their time in this lovely park. There are stalls selling snacks and small good lining the paths. The site of Chapultepec Castle was a sacred space for the Aztecs and the castle built ontop has served as a gun powder store, meteorology centre and residence of previous Emperors- now it is the National Museum of History.
The park is a great place for a run, picnic or Sunday stroll and is definitely a great green space if you feel like a scenery change.

3. Museum of Anthropology
Also located in Chapultepec Park, is the Museum of Anthropology. It is the largest and most visited Museum in Mexico. Over 2 stories, the museum follows the history of Mexico and houses archeological and anthropological artefacts. This museum is HUGE! I was in there for 2.5 hours and had only seen the bottom level of the museum. I like the chronological order that the museum is presented in and it is nicely spaced. It also has a great gift shop for all the Sun Stone souvenirs you could want.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

4. Palacio de Bellas Artes
The beautiful Palacio is unlike any building I’ve seen. If you’re after a dance performance, this will be the venue where you will see it. There is free entry into the foyer if you want to have a look at the grand interiors. Personally, I think the exterior is more impressive. If you’re there during the day, why not stroll into the park alongside the Palacio. Alameda Central is bustling at any time of the day. Street performers, playground equipment and water fountains means there’s something for anyone. When I was there, there was a huge book fair which I enjoyed browsing to see if there were any spanish books for my (beginner) level of Spanish.

Palacio de Correros de Mexico

5. Free walking tour
With many starting outside the Cathedral at the Zocolo, the free walking tour was great to see the sites and walk the streets with information. We got to see where all the main sites were, which was VERY helpful as some of these museums are on smaller streets. We walked the streets of stores selling quinceanera dresses (coming of age 15 year old party) and then suits. So organised! On this tour, we were taken to the Palacio de Correros de Mexico- the most beautiful post office you will ever see. Gold plated and a mish-mash of architectural styles, it will leave you in awe.

Courtyard of Casa de los Azulejos

6. Casa de los Azulejos
If you’re walking from Zocalo to Bellas Artes, you will probably notice the House of Tiles (covered in actual tiles from Puebla). Formally a private residence, it is now a Sanborns restaurant. The interiors are just as grand as the exterior. Our group ended up eating here and I found the food and service really good.

7. Frida Kahlo Museum
One of the famous Mexican artists, Frida’s old residence is now a museum. Make sure you book tickets in advance! Tickets are timed and are in hot demand. Being her old residence, this museum is on a quiet street in the very nice suburb of Coyoacán. The area is very hip, green and young. When you arrive, you will have to line up (even with your prebooked ticket) although the staff will call out for people with certain tickets. Inside, the house is not that big when taking into account how many tourists there are and it was cramped. The museum is one way and you just had to look and move on due to the lack of space. I like the ‘feel’ that the museum gives off- authentic and some air of Frida. I didn’t find her whole life story there but enjoyed snippets of what was presented. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures as you need to pay extra for this and I was also quite sick.

8. Tacos, churros and mezcal
A trip to Mexico city is not complete without eating! Here, there are plenty of places to choose from for Tacos which are filling and delicious. The most highly rated and popular churros place is El Moro. You will need to wait if you want to dine in but luckily, you can also take away your churros and hot chocolate. I tried out a mezcal tasting session as well (mezcal’s newest fan) and tried for the first time (sadly) chapulines (grasshoppers)! Can I say, why aren’t chapulines more popular! Salty and topped with lime flavours, I quickly fell in love with the combo of mezcal and chapulines!

Gosh, still so many more things to do and see- stay tuned for my next Mexico City related post to come!

A few days in Krakow, Poland

St Mary’s Basilica and the Main Square

I feel like Krakow has something to suit everyone. In our case, it was the history. Compared to Wroclaw, Krakow was bustling and more touristy. We caught the train from Wroclaw to Krakow (1 missed train and a 3hr delay later)- we arrived in the evening and luckily we had booked a place to stay within walking distance to the train station. The hotel was outside of the walled old town but only about 10 mins walk away.

The Main Square is the biggest Medieval plaza in Europe and boy is it big. Decked out with restaurants/cafes on all sides and at the time we went, an outdoor market as well as the usual indoor market. It’s so big that the New Years Eve celebrations were done from here. You can easily spend half the day just in this Square. The St Mary’s Basilica which towers over the Main Square houses a fabulous gold covered alter. You can enter for free however you won’t get very close to the alter. Every hour, a trumpet call plays from one of the towers of the Basilica and abruptly finishes. Legends has it that this is said to be in memory of the trumpeter who use to play to warn the town of that Krakow was about to be attacked. The abrupt ending signifies the moment an arrow is said to have killed the trumpeter. If you’re spending as much time in the Square as we did, you will surely hear it.

As always, a free walking tour was the first planned activity to catch the bearings of the city. This tour took us around the Old Town and Kazimierz. We saw much street art along the way and alot more outdoor eateries and cafes/restaurants.

Right in the middle of the square, is Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) which was once upon a time a market. Today, it is still a market selling knick knacks. Above this market is a lesser known museum but filled with Polish Art. It’s a small museum but houses some of the greatest works from Polish artists.

On the far end of the Old Town is the Wawel Royal Castle overlooking the Vistula river. Here, one of the main attractions is the Wawel Cathedral which is the burial place of Polish monarchs. It’s such a lovely site to just walk around as you can see the sunset, there is the path along the river below and you are just being surrounded by such grand buildings.

Auschwitz

One of the darkest but well known site in Krakow is Auschwitz Birkenau. Again, being quite a popular site- book in advance and go early. We booked with the hotel in advance to being in Poland and got picked up from the hotel. The trip from Krakow takes about 1.5 hrs. I was surprised- this site is located in what seems the middle of suburbs whereas I thought it wouldn’t be surrounded by anything.

The first thing that I noticed upon arriving at the Birkenau site is how big it is. I had never imagined the site to be so vast. It is huge and I’m left with a horrid taste in my mouth and a feeling of disgust that such horrible crimes were even imaginable let alone be carried out to millions. With our guide, we were shown around with tales of the atrocities that have occurred here. The mood of the site was a solemn one and eerie. I did see some tourists taking selfies (why?!) which I thought was disrepectful and I know somewhat of a problem at the site. Alot of the buildings at the site are showing signs of age so many of the interiors cannot be viewed. I don’t even think this is necessary to imagine some of the things that had occurred here.

The next half of the day was at Auschwitz where there are permanent exhibitions of all the collected items from prisoners are on display. Compared to Birkenau, Auschwitz is more of a museum and memorial site. There is a lot of information inside and we were actually quite rushed being on the tour. It would’ve been nice to spend more time in the exhibit and read all the information available.
I would suggest to bring lunch and snacks for the whole day as there were not many places to get food nearby to these sites and there is alot of walking due to the size of both places.

On a seperate day, we took a day trip to the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This salt mine is no longer active in supplying salt. We had again booked with a company that our hotel and well in advance. We got hotel pick up so didn’t have to navigate our way via bus to get there. The lines at the salt mine were insane! I think the staff were so use to the increasing numbers- the mine was actually really well run and the guides fantastic. You will need to pay for a special pass if you want to take any pictures and we didn’t so sadly, there are no pictures to share of this. The chambers inside were huge!

This salt mine was first started in the 13th century I was so impressed with all the sculptures, chapels and rooms. You can even get married in there! The church is even open for mass although I’m not sure when as there seems to be a constant flow of visitors everyday. Inside, our guided group tour was wedged between other groups and I think this is what it’s like all day- just group after group.

For the art fans, Krakow is one of the 6 places in world that houses a Leonardo Da Vinci painting. The Lady with an Ermine can be found within the walls of the Old Town. The Czartoryski Museum is THE oldest museum in Poland dating back to 1801 and originated as a private collection from Princess Izabela Czartoryski. This museum is another site where you will need to book in advance as every other visitor also has this on their list.

Krakow has been one of my favourite cities that I have visited and I don’t even think I’ve scratched the surface. There are many more WWII tours and places of interest that you can go to although time was not on our side. Alternatively, it is the perfect place to people watch in the Old Town or relax by the river watching the sunset.

Let me know what you like about Krakow and what other things/places that you would recommend here.