Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Travel. Show all posts

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Sian Travels | Cologne

Late November as a Birthday present from my Parents I set off on my 38th flight of the year to Germany. I've been to Germany twice before once to Dusseldorf and once to Frankfurt. I met some lovely Germany friends while travelling Australia earlier in the year who both lived in Cologne and upon hearing wonderful things about their Christmas Markets I knew it was somewhere I needed to tick off my ever growing bucket list. I boarded a flight late on a Thursday night, and was met by my friend Alina's Dad who was wearing a Hard Rock Cafe Dublin T-shirt so I could spot him at arrivals! We drove to Alina's apartment and suddenly the weekend was here! Alina surprised me with a Cologne Advent Calendar and a Phantasialand ticket! We had planned to go on Saturday, but this really escalated my excitement - I'm still very much a big kid!

By the time we caught up and laughed looking back at old photo's from Australia we went to bed to get a good night sleep. Poor Alina remembered how much of a horrible morning person I am, but enticed me out of bed with a gorgeous breakfast spread. The first stop on our German adventure was the Haribo factory, which naturally I loved. I picked up some sweets for my mum, and then obviously filled up a bag for myself too. It lasted me over a week and it cost less than €3! After getting our sugar fix, we went into Bonn and sampled their Christmas Market and I indulged in a Hot Chocolate and a Bratwurst and started really getting into the Christmas Spirit.  (Check out some pics on my Instagram: @Bowfabulous). We then went to Alina's Village Christmas Market (and my favourite market of the trip) for some dinner and I indulged a little bit more - when on holiday's eh? Alina is in a Dance Group and I watched them practice on the Friday night in preparation for their show on Sunday. 
We were both exhausted on Friday and ended and both slept like babies in anticipation for Phantasialand. We arrived nice and early and meet up with our friend Marion who I met in Australia as well. We had an amazing day catching up, eating good food and then with the girls helping me clean sick off my scarf after vomiting on a children's rollercoaster...not one of my finer moments I will admit. Not ever being defeated I ploughed through and went on more rides and we laughed until we cried when we went on the water ride. I have never laughed so much in my entire life. We all got drenched, but we got an amazing keepsake photo. I've really and truly made such wonderful friends this year. Even though I've never been poorer, 2015 have made my life richer in so many ways it's hard to explain. With darkness setting in, we made our way home for a quick costume change as Alina was taking me to a local party that night. German folk love a good costume party, something I can wholly get on board with and rocked my best Kitty Cat impression. It was the start of Carnival and we watched local dance groups, got horrendously drunk on prosecco and I even managed to get the Prince of Carnival's medallion - obviously my Irish charm won him over. All jokes aside It's a great honour and I'll definitely keep it safe. 

After a fantastic night, it was definitely time for me to retire to bed. German hospitality is so generous and it's of course incredibly rude to keep turning down Prosecco ;) so off a Bavarian girl and a  Kitty Cat headed home. Waking up with a sore head, but again Alina gave me a fantastic breakfast feast and I began to feel a little bit more normal. Today was an exciting day for Alina it was her Dance Groups show. It was so wonderful to watch it and to mix with her family and friends. I was really immersed into German culture and was welcomed in with open arms. We were treated to all the cake you could possibly eat as well as a fantastic show. Alina did us all proud! After the show, Alina's friends, her family and I went and had some traditional German food. I opted for the Schnitzel and friends and it was delicious. German food by nature is very heavy, but this meal was well needed and it really hit the spot. It was then back to watch a girly movie, eat our weight in food and then fall asleep ready to see the beautiful Cologne City. 
First things first, the Cologne Landmark -  the Dome, which is the gorgeous Cologne Cathedral. Alina and I climbed 533 steps to the very top. Alina has sworn she's never doing it again and I can see why. Being reasonably fit it was still a challenge, but you do get a pretty nice panoramic view of the city. After climbing the equivalent of Everest (slight exaggeration) we decided our thirst needed quenching and hopped on a cute train tour of the numerous Christmas Markets (Cologne has 4). After falling for a sailor and picking up some Christmas decorations, we hot footed it to one of the many beverage stands of the first Christmas market! Now it's no secret I'm fond of a Hot Chocolate but mix it with Amaretto and MY GOD  you have a good combo. It's what I'll be drinking all Christmas, the only problem is that it does go down a little too easy. After doing some more Shopping we went and meet Marion again for a bite to eat. They  took me to a traditional German restaurant to keep me going for the rest of the day. I had a beef dish that although was rich, it was absolutely delicious. 

German Christmass Markets are truly magical. The Christmas spirit really kicked off for me after Germany. You can't help but feel pleasantly overwhelmed by everything. The twinkling lights, the cute gifts, the abundance of foods and just the atmosphere. We made a pact to go and get a drink in each of the Christmas Markets and soak up the atmosphere in each one. They suggested ice-skating but I hate it with a passion. The only time I'll ever put on a pair of ice skates again is when I finally get to see New York at Christmas and I'm skating at the Rockefeller centre. Alina encouraged me now to try another drink, sceptical because of my newest love affair with hot chocolate and amaretto I was reluctant, but gave in and tried a white hot chocolate and Baileys and Oh My was it good! It's sweeter, but it was delicious. We continued walking around and simply enjoying each others company and laughing over all our mischevious adventures down under! It's so lovely catching up with your travel buddies!
Cologne is such a lovely city - it's really walkable and although it seems excessive to have four Christmas markets in one city, it's easy to get to them all by foot. We were so lucky with the weather and it was dry and sunny for the most part of the day. We all know I'm fond of taking photo's and it's so much easier to capture the place when it's not lashing down rain. I brought along my DSLR Nikon D3100 (which is nearly 3 years old and I still love it dearly!) In terms of travelling it's not really the best as it is heavy and at time when I was on my trip earlier in the year, I opted for my point and shoot camera or my iPhone instead of carrying it around. My next big adventure (South and Central America) I will invest in a camera with fantastic quality that doesn't weigh a tonne! If anyone has any recommendations feel free to shoot them my way! Anyway slightly off topic there - back to Cologne. Cologne is such a charming city. I was instantly sucked in and I knew almost instantaneously that it would be one of many trips to this gorgeous city. 

As the sun began to set, Cologne became more and more magical. We wandered back into the main square in search of food and festivities. The bright lights drew us in and we were soon engulfed into a magical fairy tale land. The Cathedral is absolutely breathtaking at night and while the Christmas markets are undoubtedly lovely during the day when the sun begins to set the lights really take your breath away. I was at the Frankfurt Christmas market a few years ago, and although lovely I have to say the Cologne market definitely has more of an edge. With stalls selling homemade gifts and Christmas decorations for reasonable prices it's not hard to see why. My impressions of Frankfurt were how expensive it was. Granted I was in College, but even still for the crap that they were selling you'd expect the prices to be a lot lower. Cologne, however had wonderful market stalls and I even managed to pick up a few lovely gifts. Food was cheap, drink was cheaper and of course the company was superb.
Phew so there you have it. If you're looking for a wonderful place to go next Christmas for a nice weekend away I couldn't recommend Cologne more. With Flights as low as €20 with Ryanair you'd be mad not to go. I stayed with friends so I can't comment on accommodation prices but sure with the likes of Air BnB you're bound to get a great deal. Prices are definitely cheaper than Dublin so you can eat and drink to your hearts content - isn't that what holidays are for anyway?

Overall I had such a fantastic 4 days. My friend Alina and her family and friends gave me the warmest of welcomes. I was embraced into German culture and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I will 100% be back - perhaps even for Karneval 2016 in February... until then Cologne ;)
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Sunday, 16 August 2015

10 Things Solo Travel Taught Me

#1  It's okay to be fearful
You're entering the unknown on your own, BUT don't let that fear hold you back. Fear is good, it's normal and everyone you met on your adventure has felt the same way. To quote my favourite Tween Movie "A Cinderella Story" -"Don't let the fear of striking out, stop you from playing the game". I was nervous the night before I set out. My bag was being packed over and over again and I felt I was under prepared. When I was dropped off at the Airport my fears had gone. I could not have been readier to start my adventure. I had built up leaving in my head to be something that it wasn't. I wanted to go, I've honestly never wanted or needed something so much in my life. I knew I'd be coming home and I knew that I was more than capable of dealing with whatever this crazy adventure would throw at me. 

#2  Say "YES" is empowering
Saying Yes is extremely freeing. It gives you a sense of accomplishment. I've always been a worrier (still am to a certain extent) my Mum would describe me as "very sensitive" and I suppose I am. I wanted to face my fears above anything else on this trip. In the past, I have often declined offers that were too much outside my comfort zone simply because I wasn't in control and I was scared of the unknown. I decided that I wanted to challenge myself, I wanted to prove to myself that I could do anything I put my mind to. I decided that I was going to challenge my comfort zone and boy did I do that! I jumped out of a plane, I swung from the highest swing in the world, I went white water rafting on grade 4 rapids, I ate crazy food and I have absolutely no regrets. I'm even wondering what's next to push my limits that little bit further (Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro?)
#3  The Kindness of Strangers will restore your faith in humanity
The kindness of strangers is amazing. Nearly everyone I met on the road was incredibly kind. People look out for each other on the road. They too are far from their family and home comforts. You become a little family and you'll have endless laughs and experiences. I have also been blessed to met so many wonderful people in Asia that really looked after me in Australia too. Giving me a place to stay and cooking me an authentic Aussie BBQ. The kindness of people made me realise that there are a lot of genuinely kind people in this world. This goes both ways. If you get the chance to do something kind for someone else - Do it. You don't know how much something as small as someone sharing their chocolate with you means until you're the one who needs it. 

#4  You'll find clarity 
Clarity will come when you least expect it to. With travel as well as experiencing a wonderful new and different country, there is always an element of escapism. Why you're escaping will come to you. It may not be a big profound light bulb moment (Mine certainly wasn't) but you will learn things about yourself you didn't know. You will experience feelings you didn't know you had. You will learn so much about the world and about people. You'll learn and see things you don't neccessarily want to, but ultimately you'll come home with some form of clarity and hopefully a new broader outlook on life. For me, it was on the very top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. It was our last night with my group of friends I met in Australia, and I just kept thinking to myself "I'm finally here" I've dreamt of this moment for so long and I'm standing here, and I'm living in this amazing moment. If I can make it to the other side of the world relatively unscathed, I can achieve everything else I want and the penny finally dropped. 
#5  Trust your Gut
Always trust your gut instinct. Mine rarely steers me wrong. If something doesn't feel right don't do it. If you don't feel comfortable staying somewhere don't. It's definitely better to be safe rather than sorry. There were a few times when I opted to get a taxi instead of walking back to my hostel on my own, as I felt uneasy. Yes, I was trying to save money, but ultimately I wanted to get home safe and for the sake of not having drink or two the next night I opted for a safe taxi. Even in terms of street food, if something looks a bit on the dodgy side go to the next stand. This is definitely a case when your gut will thank you!

#6 Tolerance 
I like to think most of the time I have a high level of tolerance. I'm a definitely a "people" person and I love meeting people from all walks of life. I always find you can learn something from everyone you meet. There isn't a person you can't learn something from. When you're traveling solo you met so many wonderful and weird people. If you're in a hostel or going on a day trip together, you're going to have to get along. Embrace different cultures, embrace the differences and embrace the experience together. You're all there for the same reason and as long as there is mutual respect you'll enjoy each others company! Side note: If you're up early/come in late from a hostel for the love of God respect those still asleep! You may have to get up at 5 am for a flight, but I need a much-needed lie on after living off 5 hours for the last month!
#7 Friends
It's incredibly cliche, but you really do make friends for life. I'm still very much in regular contact with a lot of the people I met while traveling - Like I said I'm a "people" person. There is definitely a mutual interest from the get go. You love traveling and so do they, but it becomes deeper than that. They nearly miss a flight waiting for you because you've got a "dodgy stomach", They laugh with you until you can't breathe over something crazy happening in Asia. They offer to help you shower when you get attacked my monkeys (see next point) and they don't let go when you're both crying saying goodbye. Traveling on my own was daunting as I love company - but I never, ever felt I was alone. You're only alone as much as you want to be. Real friends, will also not laugh at you when you accidentally get burnt from the intense sun. They'll hand you their Aftersun and Spray you periodically so you don't get Heat Stroke! 

# 8 How to make the best out of a bad situation
Okay, this is quite specific but on my way home, I travelled the Thai Islands. I got attacked by two monkeys off Koh Phi Phi (Only me!) It was horrendous and it's something I won't forget for a long time - my scars won't let me! I was so lucky to be in a group that acted so swiftly and brought me to Koh Phi Phi hospital where I got treated. It was scary at the time, but once I found out it wasn't incredibly serious I was fine and saw the funny side- I even went out partying that night much to the amazement of my friends. Yes I was sore and yes I was on all sorts of medication but I grabbed a Diet Coke and I partied as much as I could until my body told me to go to bed! I didn't let anything stop me from enjoying the last few days of my trip. I was going to be sore whether I was in bed or out with friends - so I made the better choice. Life is for living and I had a few long flights home to mope if I wanted to. Before traveling I might have fallen into the "Woe is me" team but I made the most of the bad situation and I thoroughly enjoyed the last few days in paradise albeit on a cocktail of anti-rabies medication!
#9 Negotiating Skills
You definitely learn to fend for yourself and get yourselves out of sticky situations. I could write a book on my experiences traveling and I will continue to blog about my adventure. I was held up through no fault of my own (Slight lie) in Singapore Airport for over an hour in interrogation and I had no one there to help me. No Mammy holding my hand fighting my battles for me, It was hot and I was terrified if I'm entirely honest. With some calm explaining, I was free to go (I should add chief negotiator to my C.V!) I've never been in trouble for anything in my life and I had these flashes to "Banged up Abroad"! Thankfully it was all solved relatively quickly and I was free to continue my journey on to Australia. I also became the best negotiator in Asia by the end of my trip, negotiating everything from Tuk-Tuks to those coveted Elephant pants!

#10 Letting Go
I can be a bit uptight I'll freely admit that. But traveling solo taught me that to fully enjoy yourself you have to let your inhibitions go a little. Don't drop your guard down completely but relax and enjoy the moment! A prime example was in New Zealand after visiting a Maori Village. We enjoying a typical Maori style meal we were all being dropped back to our hostels. The friends I made were on a different bus as they were staying in a hostel on the other side of Rotorua so I was on my own. Every nationality on that bus had to sing a song for a bit of craic on the way home. Normally I'd be mortified, but I had the whole bus singing "It's A Long Way To Tipperary" by the end of it. Sometimes you can feel quite vulnerable on your own, but the whole bus were howling laughing - although that could be my tone deaf singing!
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Sunday, 21 June 2015

Irish Day Tours |The Cliffs of Moher

The great thing about travelling is the people you meet. I met the lovely Mallory (Check out her fantastic travel blog here) in Australia and when she told me she was coming to Ireland, I was excited! We booked a tour to take her to the Cliff's of Moher on Thursday and boy did we have fun. We booked our tour with Irish Day Tours.

I met Mallory at the ungodly hour of 6.30, armed with my backpack and a bag full of Irish snacks to keep us going throughout the day. I felt like a right Irish Mammy. We hopped on the bus and chatted for yonks about our Contiki trip and had a good 'ol laugh! It's great catching up with people who were there and experienced the same thing. Anyway we got settled in on the bus and it left reasonably on time and it was out of the city and into the countryside...
First stop Barack Obama Plaza in Moneygall. I'm already acquainted with this gem as it's about 25km from my Grandparents in Tipperary. We stopped for a quick bathroom break and we stocked up on some snacks for the road! We stopped off in Limerick for about 15 minutes to see views of King Johns Castle and also stopped at the Treaty Stone you can get an insight into the Irish/English battle. Our tour guide Liam was very informative coming into Limerick and kept us alert and engaged telling us some stories of the battles between Ireland and England. It was a brief stop,but it wasn't the main attraction of the tour. It was back onto the bus were me and Mallory got stuck into some snacks and headed towards the beautiful Cliff of Moher. We both dozed off for awhile and were woken up when we got to Doolin. 

We arrived at the cliffs about around 11.30. We wrapped up in layers as it was typically Irish weather. It was windy and a bit cloudy but we made the most of it and headed towards the main attraction. It's jam packed full of tourists but we walked a bit farther afield so we could enjoy the cliffs. Now I can 100% understand why they are a tourist attraction here in Ireland, even when the weather is kind of shite, it's still beautiful, breathtaking actually, but I'll let the photo's do the talking on this one... . 
After an hour and a half, we walked back to the bus and after waiting for a good 20 minutes for the rest of the bus to come back (seriously we were on a bus tour the whole way down Australia and only a handful of times people were late and that was late by like maximum 5 minutes. Although you did have a forfeit if you were late and that was to eat some Vegemite so that may of persuaded folks to be on time!) Anyway we eventually made our way to Doolin for a spot of lunch in Fitzpatricks Pub. Mallory had a beef pie and I went for the roast turkey. After being substantially stuffed we went back on the bus. We again drove for about 15 minutes we stopped off again at the Burren for a few photo opportunities! 

After the Burren we made our way to the 12th Century Corcomroe Abbey. The sun began to shine and our tour guide gave us some interesting facts about the Abbey. Mallory even got a photo of a skull! Corcomroe Abbey is still being used with the last burial only being about 6 weeks ago. It's so old and beautiful, it's hard to believe that it's still being used to this day. We were then free to have a quick look around, got some photo ops and then it was back on the bus. Me and Mallory felt like we were back on Contiki! It was then onto a nice little surprise a chocolate factory. We arrived at Hazel Mountain Chocolate and I was literally like Augustus Gloop! It's an award winning Irish Chocolate factory and after having a little taste I can understand why! 
We then made our way for our last stop of the tour which is the beautiful Dungaire Castle located in Kinvara. We got some lovely photo's and enjoyed the sun that has popped out to say hello again! We had about 20 minutes to have a look around, which was more than enough time to see it and to stretch our legs before the long drive home. We took some funny pictures and then got back on the bus and cuddled up with Mallory's blanket. I brought some Irish snack foods for us to snack on and we both fell into a sugar induced coma, only waking up in Einfield when Liam kindly offered to stop the bus for a few of us that needed to use the bathroom and get some snacks for the last leg home. I want to add that the bus is comfortable and is very nap worthy!

We arrived back in Dublin city centre about 8pm and we were suitably wrecked to say the least. It was a great day, and as a tourist for a day I can't recommend Irish Day Tours enough. Sure I'd of liked to spend longer in places, but if you only have a day to see some of Ireland this tour will give you the general jist of the area and some of the Irish culture! 

Prices are €45 for adults, €40 for students and €22.50 for kids aged between 5 and 15. Under 5 go free. 

If you're interested in booking: 

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