Cost and Other Useful Information – Maldives

Think the Maldives is all 5 star resorts, water bungalows and butlers on demand, think again. Real people live here too, the Maldives has an estimated population of 300,00 and is made up of 1,196 tiny islands.

Until 2010 it was illegal for foreign tourists to visit locally owned islands which is why, when we think of the Maldives we think of the privately owned fancy resorts in glossy magazines. These only actually make up for around 100 of the islands.

I was completely unaware that the Maldives could actually be a perfect location for budget travel until I read an article on Pinterest. Since the law changed in 2010, more and more BnB’s have been opening on the local islands, making the Maldives a perfect place to budget travellers and backpackers.

We stayed in on 3 islands, each one completely different to the last.

Dress Code: When visiting a local island it is illegal for women to sunbathe in a bikini in the Maldives unless you are on a designated ‘bikini beach’.

Getting Around: travel by boat is an absolute must if your in the Maldives, local boats work in the same way as busses, with timetables and reticular stops, they are also really cheap.

Accommodation: We were in the Maldives for 10 nights and spent an average of £37.20/night staying in basic B&B’s. I booked everything on AirBnB.com.

Visa: UK Passport holders do not currently need a visa to enter the Maldives.

Vaccinations: At the time of writing (Sept 2017) there are no vaccinations required.

Money: The currency in the Maldives is the Maldivian rufiyaa. Exchange rates in July 2017 below:

£1 (GBP) = Rf19.85 (MVR)

$1 (USD) = Rf15.45 (MVR)

€1 (EUR) = Rf17.30 (MVR)

Most islands only have 1 ATM, but they are so small that your never more than a 10 minute walk away. If your staying on an island that’s very far from the beaten path then it’s best to check they have an ATM with your guest house before you arrive. ATM’s were really easy to find on the bigger islands of Male and Hulmale.

Mirissa/Weligama – Sri Lanka 

I'm including Mirissa and Weligama in one post because they are within walking distance to one another. We stayed in the middle and spent 2 days in each town. 

Mirissa:

The beach here is a small crescent that is absolutely picture perfect, there's a small island on one end that you can walk to (you will get wet) which has a seat on the top, a perfect place to watch the sunset, and the other end of the beach is capped with a green cliff face which would look great on any post card. 

There are a few cafes built right onto the sand (like Unawatuna but not as overly developed), and the whole place has a laid back vibe. 

The harbour in Mirissa is colourful and busy, certainly worth a quick detour. 

Mirissa is famous for its whale watching tours, but we visited during low season and were told that there would be no tours during July and August because the sea was too rough. 

Weligama:

A surfers paradise, the beach here goes on forever. We walked about 25 minutes before seeing another human being, there was nothing on the beach other than the odd fishing boat and a few surfboard rental huts. 

Once you leave the Beach and cross the road, Weligama is a bit more developed that Mrissa, with more selection of restaurants and a supermarket. 

There is a small but impressive statue in Weligama, it's alleged to be over 1,500 years old. It's called the Kushtarajagala statue and is just after the railways tracks on Matara road. 

Overall Weligama was our favourite out of the two, the beach was less crowded and we had our best curry in Sri Lanka at Akila Kitchen, it's number 1 position on TripAdvisor is truly deserved. 

Where To Stay: 

We stayed at the Latheena Resort, Weligama was about a 20 minute walk west and Mirissa was about 30 minutes east. The hotel backed onto the beach. 

Breakfast was good and was included in the price. The family who ran the hotel were great and their kids were adorable. We got laundry done for Rs50/item, smaller items were free. 

I would certainly stay here again. 

How To Get There: 

If coming from Galle or Unawatuna, take any bus headed for Matara, and if coming from Matara, take the bus to Galle. A tuk-tuk will cost around Rs1,200. The train services are infrequent. 

One Day in Colombo – Sri Lanka

Most people visiting Sri Lanka will arrive at Bandaranaike Airport and jump on the first bus to Kandy, without even seeing what the capital is all about. But Colombo is certainly worth a day of your itinerary (and 1 day really is enough).

It's hot, it's busy and it's loud, and if it's your first time here, it's a massive culture shock. But underneath all its faults, Colombo certainly has its own charm. 

Pettah market is directly opposite the Colombo Fort Railway Station and caters to tourists as well as locals, from there (keep heading away from the train station) you can get to the Red Masjid. The most interesting building in Colombo. Photo below, need I say more.


Head towards Galle Face for your first glimpse of the Indian Ocean. It's a really nice place to take a break from the hustle and bustle, and escape the city centre heat and is a great place for a spot of people watching too. There were lots of stalls along the sea front selling ice cream, snacks etc., and there were lots of families. 


The Seema Malaka temple is beautiful, located on its own island in the middle of a lake, we only got to see the outside because I was wearing shorts, but I really wish we could have seen the inside too. 

At the time of writing, Colombo was one massive building site, there is so much development work happening, especially along the sea front, most of which will be fancy hotels. I would love to come back in 5 years and see the difference. 

I'm sure there is already much more than this to see in Colombo, but we were majorly jet lagged and just wandered the streets most of the day and had a really early night. 

Where To Eat:

Lunch – the Old Dutch Hospital has been converted into some modern restaurants which have good lunchtime deals, or if you fancy a walk, the Barefoot Cafe is really popular with tourists, but it's only open till 7pm. 

Dinner – you will probably need to take a tuk-tuk depending where you are staying, but the all you can eat buffet at Raja Bojun is amazing. Its traditional Sri Lankan food and perfect if you want to try a little bit of everything. Couldn't recommend this place enough. 

Where To Stay: 

Our hotel was pretty grim, so won't be recommending a hotel in Colombo :) 

Getting there:

Getting there from the Airport is so easy. Come out of the main building and cross over the zebra crossing. The No. 187 bus will be waiting for you. There's almost always one there and it tends to wait until the next one arrives before it leaves. 

It costs Rs125/pp and you may need to buy a seat for your bag depending on its size. (Although we never had too.) Get straight on the bus and take a seat. The conductor will come around collecting money once the bus has left. Get off at the last stop which is Colombo main bus station. The conductor will tell you when. Also, the bus has A/C unlike most Sri Lankan buses. 

There will be plenty of tuk-tuk drivers waiting to take you from the bus station to your hotel. Knowing roughly where it is and how far from the station it is will let you negotiate a fair price. See my "how to haggle" post for more tips. 

Any questions about the bus let me know.

xx

Modern Day Berlin 

Berlin is remembered for its dark history during Hitler’s dictatorship and then during the cold war, but Berlin is now a vibrant city, full of life and welcoming to all walks of life. I still recommend visiting the historical sites, but once you have ticked them off your list, head over to the modern side of the city and experience the culture and atmosphere like no other.

Berlin Fernsehturm (TV tower), located right next to Alexanderplatz station symbolising the modern Berlin. Its €13 to ride the elevator to the top for views over the whole city.

 

There is a free walking tour that meets outside the Starbucks under the TV tower called the ‘Alternative Berlin’ tour. It departs every day at 11am and we booked on http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com the night before, but I think you could just show up and ask to join.

A quick note on the free tours, every tour is different and the tour guides don’t get paid so they rely heavily on tips, please be generous.

Street art is all over Berlin, you either love it or hate it, I absolutely loved it. There will be a lot of stops on your walking tour to point out the work of various famous street artists.

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During the 90’s East Berlin was mostly empty buildings, because when the wall came down everybody moved to the ‘nicer’ West Berlin. The empty buildings attracted artists, musicians, writers etc. who lived in the buildings without paying any rent, (illegally squatting). There are still a handful of buildings where the artists still live rent free, usually by agreement of the local government. One example is Haus Schwarzenberg, visitors are allowed into the courtyard and there is a small museum that you can enter free of charge. There is also Kunstraum Kreuzberg where there is a section open to visitors.

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The colourful east side gallery is the longest stretch of the wall still standing (just under a mile), the government have commissioned street artists to decorate the wall in cheerful colours, it’s really busy all year round but its free and one of the ‘must see’ attractions in Berlin. 

 

 
There’s a Treehouse just behind Baumhaus an der Mauer, where an old Turkish man lives. (I think he’s 96 at the time of writing). The man built his tree house himself with scraps of wood he found on the street, it’s on a tiny patch of land that once backed right onto the wall. When the wall came down, the local government wanted to knock it down to build a road from East Berlin to West Berlin, but the community came together and managed to save the man’s home. he still sits out on the porch waving to people passing by. A symbol of how strong the community in modern day Berlin can be.

Berlin has a buzzing night life and has something for everyone, from bouncing night clubs to high end restaurants to laid back beach bars.  

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I’m much more into the relaxed scene and stay away from clubs as much as possible, but everyone I’ve spoken to says that Berlin has some of the best clubs in the world. 

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We stayed in Friedrichshain which was perfect for a laid back cocktail. It didn’t seem like much was happening until you wander down the little side streets where some of the best places were hidden. If your in the area you must try the Thai restaurant Sala Thai, best red curry I’ve ever tasted. Also, Keyif cocktail bar was superb. 


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Click HERE to read our Essential Information post about Berlin.
 
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Click HERE to read our Historical Berlin post.

Cost and Useful Info – Berlin

Getting There: The flight from Newcastle (UK) is around 1 hour and 35 minutes, EasyJet fly regularly from loads of different cities in the UK. Our flights only cost £55/pp.

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Where To Stay: Arcadia Hotel Berlin, (only £40/night) right next to the Berlin Frankfurter Allee train station where you can take the S9 direct to the airport and opposite the underground, where the U5 is a short 7 minute journey to Alexanderplatz station in the city centre. The Arcadia is located in the Friedrichshain area which is quite and safe with a few nice restaurants and bars close by.

Getting Around: The main airport is SFX, about a 30-45 minute train ride from the city centre depending where you’re staying. A single ticket costs €3.40 or a day ticket which includes all the trams, busses and underground is €7.70. A single ticket for the underground is €2.80 and lasts 90 minutes, you can go as far as you want and change train as many times as you need to, all on the same ticket. They run regularly, cover the whole city and most lines are 24 hours.

Tours etc.: There are lots of ‘Free’ tours in Berlin, a quick google search will bring up a few different companies. I used http://www.freetoursbyfoot.com to book the classic Berlin tour and the alternative Berlin tour. The tours are free but the guides rely on tips to make a living, so be generous. See our ‘Berlin 3 day Itinerary’ for more details on the tours. Click HERE to read.

The river Spree is lined with dozens of boats trying to sell you a 1 hour tip, we chose the one which departed every 30 minutes from Moltkebrucke for €13/pp, but I got the impression that they were all similar prices and all follow the exact same route.

Food & Drink: The first thing I noticed is that water is expensive here, ranging from €1.80 to €3.00 for a normal size bottle. Food on the other hand is quite reasonable, for breakfast there were hundreds of bakeries selling croissants for less than €2.00. For lunch, there is a currywurst stall spread all over the city and you can buy one for less than €5. For dinner, a 2 course Italian meal for 2 people with wine cost us €40.



Visa: UK Passport holders do not currently need a visa to enter Germany.

Vaccinations: At the time of writing (June 2017) there are no vaccinations required.

Currency: The currency in Germany is Euro. It was really easy to find a cashpoint (ATM) and MasterCard is accepted in most places, even at underground (subway) stations.

£1 (GBP) = €1.14 (EUR)

£1 (USD) = €0.93 (EUR)

If you still have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section below:
Thanks for reading

Ashleigh xx

Mini tour of Italy 

I’m heading to Milan with the girls in a few days’ time and it got me thinking about an amazing trip I took to Italy with Sean last year, we saw so much in just 9 days, it was before my blogging days but I still wanted to write a quick summary of our trip.

There isn’t any daily flights from Newcastle to Rome and we couldn’t change our time off work to suit EasyJet’s timetable, which ended up as a blessing, it inspired a mini tour of North West Italy because we had to fly into Pisa and out of Rome.

We were there the first week in May and we were really lucky with the weather. This was our itinerary:

First stop Pisa, landing at lunchtime and leaving the next afternoon, 24 hours really was the perfect amount of time to stay here. We stayed at the Hotel Terminus and Plaza because of how close it was to the train station and it was walking distance to everything else. The taxi to our city centre hotel cost only €8, or if you’re really tight on budget you can take a train.

I pre-booked tickets online to claim to the top of the famous leaning tower (It was really busy so I recommend booking online before you go), we were given a dedicated time slot so didn’t need to wait in line. You do need to leave all bags in a locker at the foot of the tower for security reasons, which we didn’t mind, better safe than sorry!

 

Other than the tower and the main square, we basically wandered from Gelato shop to Gelato shop!

We took a 45 minute train journey to La Spezia, (all train tickets booked on the GoEuro.com app) where we spent 4 nights bed and breakfast at the Affittacamere La Loggia De Banchi hotel. Honestly, I only chose to stay in La Spezia because the hotels in nearby Cinque Terre were so expensive, and I’m so glad we did stay here, it’s the most beautiful place I have ever been, the landscapes aren’t quite as dramatic at its neighbours but it’s the only place I could ever imagine us actually living.


We took two day trips to the Cinque Terre, only about 15 minutes on the train which runs frequently throughout the day. If you haven’t heard of the Cinque Terre before, it’s basically 5 small villages built along the coastline, they are all connected by hiking trails of various lengths and fitness levels. The villages are adorable and traditionally Italian, and the trails offer some of the best scenery in the world. A quick google search will give you hundreds of reviews and more in depth itineraries.


 We also took a day trip to the town of Portovenere, there is an hourly boat from the main harbour at La Spezia, return tickets were €20/pp, and takes around 30-40 minutes. The castle ruins are the perfect place to take photographs and the whole town has a really relaxed feeling. We missed two boats back to La Spezia sitting outside drinking the classic Aperol Spritz.

 

From La Spezia there was a 3 hour train journey to Rome, where we stayed at the Hotel Terminal for 3 nights, we spent the first night getting intentionally lost and people watching. The rest of our time was taken up with all the history stuff, I was in my absolute element learning as much as I could.

 

Sean discovered Suppli (deep fried pasta and tomato with cheese in a breadcrumb coating) for the first time, and ate it every chance we got in Rome, the best was at I Suppli on Via di S. Francesco a Ripa, it was abit out the way but had been recommended to us and was well worth the walk.


We took the train back to the airport and both agreed that Italy was one of our top 5 trips ever!

Thanks for reading xx

PS. More posts with a lot more detail on my upcoming trip to Milan and Venice coming soon.

Christmas Markets in Düsseldorf 

Just a 1 hour and 20 minute flight from Newcastle is Düsseldorf international airport. With regular flights from all over the U.K., it makes a perfect December getaway that’s guaranteed to get you in the Christmas spirit. 

We flew on a Friday afternoon and returned Sunday afternoon, it was a short visit but was just enough to see the best that the city has to offer.

It’s really easy to catch the train from the airport into the city, the S11 train dropped us of about 3 minutes walk away from our hotel.

We stayed in the brand new Holiday Inn Dusseldorf City Toulouser All. The rooms are what you can typically expect from a 3 star hotel in Europe, but the breakfast was one of the best I’ve had in any hotel all year, Sean was over the moon and raved about the breakfast all weekend. 

We spend Saturday morning walking along the river front and admiring the view from the top of the Rheinturm tower, a 240.5 metre high concrete telecommunications tower with a bar/cafe at the top, it cost €8 per person to ride to the top, once you got up there there drinks and snacks are an ok price considering where you are.


It was so cold that the rest of the day was spent jumping from pub to pub then we went back to the hotel for a bath and a warm up. 

If your in Germany during December then visiting a Christmas Markets is a must! We went to quite a few, my favourite was the one next to Jan-Wellem-Platz, it was abit more spread out and didn’t seem as busy. 

The food is fantastic and we tried as much as we could fit in our bellies. (Which is a lot!) We spent Friday night and Saturday night wandering about, stuffing our faces.

We will certainly be returning to Germany but hopefully when it’s abit warmer. 

Ashleigh xx

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HaLong Bay

HaLong Bay – July 2016

Vietnams number 1 tourist attraction, and for good reason! the scenery is absolutely breath taking, and if you can drag yourself out of bed at 5:30AM, sunrise over HaLong Bay is not something you will easily forget.

Prices can be high to cruise HaLong Bay, but usually local pick up / drop off is included as well as all meals and excursions when on board.

We booked onto the Aphrodite Supreme Cruise through bestprice.com and we would fully recommend the service, it was one of the more luxurious of ships and couldn’t be faulted. The staff at bestprice.com organised everything, including our visa’s into Vietnam. Once on board, the food was amongst the best we have ever tasted (and that’s saying something!), and when our flight to DaNang was unexpectedly pulled forward by 2 hours, the staff on board did everything they could to get us to the airport on time, including a private speedboat ride to get us back to shore on time.


Different tour operators offer different excursions, ours included 3 main activities:

  • A guided tour into caves inside one of the islands, we had the option to wander off on our own if we wanted but Mary was really interesting.

  • Kayaking through a cave, which then opened up to a massive private lake. The battery died on our GoPro here so we didn’t get any photos, Typical!
  • A climb to the summit of Ti Top island followed by a swim to cool off, which was defiantly needed after all those steps.

Cons: Being Vietnams number 1 tourist attraction means crowds! There are dozens of ships out in the bay at any one time, and as Vietnams tourism industry grows, HaLong Bay is at risk of becoming completely over run with tourists. Our advice is don’t wait, get there as soon as possible!

I would recommend HaLong bay to anyone visiting Vietnam, it’s not a sight to be missed and is up there as one of my best experiences ever.