Porto

I remember sitting in a metro heading from Porto Francisco Sá Carneir airport to the city centre, listening to a strange language and thinking of how this beautiful mix of sounds came together. Probably due to my lack of history knowledge, I didn’t expect Portuguese to sound anything like what I was hearing, but that was a great incentive to do more research about Portugal during my trip. It was only one of the surprises that the country kept throwing at me while I was there.

I got out of the metro on a Friday night, with streets full of people and restaurants still busy serving evening meals. I spotted this lonely dog in the car, staring at the beautiful pieces of meat hanging inside the restaurant and people enjoying each others company. When you are a dog, you don’t have a freedom of choice, you can’t get your wallet out and buy a piece of ham. Appreciate your freedom, humans!

The next day I opened the curtains of my hotel room and decided it was time to go out and enjoy life.

I also took a photo of the same window from outside just to remind myself there are always two sides of everything and you can never tell which one is more beautiful until you see them both.

Once I got outside, an engineer in me took some time to admire the city’s bridges. The most famous one is Dom Luís I bridge which crosses Rio Douro in order to take you to Vila Nova de Gaia with loads of beautiful port wine cellars.

Another amazing thing you can do in Porto is a tour of the arch of Arrábida Bridge, which is the only bridge arch you are allowed to climb legally in Europe. You will get a harness and a great guide if you google Porto Bridge Climb and book their tour. Recommended!

Right, if bridges are not your thing and you prefer looking at buildings, you will be spoilt for choice in Porto. I was slightly surprised that so many of the buildings were looking a bit forgotten and screaming for some renovation work, but one of the locals suggested I should have seen the place before ryanair started flying to Porto. I guess cheap flights to this beautiful place will hugely change the city’s face.

If you want to admire Portuguese azulejos (various ceramic tiles that turned city into a piece of artwork in my opinion), Porto is perfect for that. You can head to Sao Bento station that loads of tourists do or wonder around the city and wait to be surprised. You won’t be disappointed!

Another beautiful thing about Portugal is it’s amazing food and I won’t keep taking about it, but some of the seafood I tried was absolutely amazing. Also, I remember one night my friend was telling me about this amazing white wine sangria he tried in one of the restaurants and we absolutely had to have it. Being a bit tipsy, we showed up at the place not realising they were closing and asked for the best sangria in town. Even if they were closed, not only they made us the drink, but also gave it to us for free. Portuguese hospitality at its best.

What else can I say, Porto is an amazing place that didn’t yet feel ruined with tourists. It’s got plenty of character and will keep your senses exposed to plenty it’s got to offer.

Adventures in Iceland

Two hours after I landed in Iceland I was swimming in the Blue Lagoon not able to believe how amazing the place was. I never imagined that anything like that existed in real life.OK I’ve seen the photos before, but it still felt so surreal to be there. Swimming outdoors in -5C and not feeling cold was awesome.

Once we got out of the blue lagoon, there was still quite a few miles to cover to get to our hotel in Selfoss and we were rushing to make it before check in closed. We were sitting in the car and talking about the northern lights when some weird ‘clouds’ appeared. We stopped the car and couldn’t believe how lucky we were to spot the aurora! The northern lights weren’t extremely bright, but they were there. It was my first time seeing them and I was jumping around like a little girl from all the excitement. Didn’t take very good photos but that doesn’t matter anyway!

The next day we got up early and went to do a Golden Circle. The first stop was Kerið crater lake that did look quite interesting but nothing too exciting for the money we had to pay.

Then we got to Geysir which is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. The land all over the place was steaming and the actual geyser was so mesmerising that I watched it going several times before I agreed to leave. So much power!

The next stop was Gulfoss which is one of the greatest waterfalls I’ve ever been to. No matter how cold it was, watching and listening to that waterfall was an absolutely amazing experience. It’s so relaxing and beautiful even if you can’t see all of that in the photo.

There was a lot of driving involved that day and we eventually got to Þingvellir National Park which would probably be your first stop if you did the Golden Circle from Reykjavik. This national park is Iceland’s first of the three and also a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s situated directly between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates which makes the place really special.

When we got back to Selfoss, northern lights hunt continued. Driving around and looking for northern lights kind of became a habit every night which was also great for another reason – kept alcohol costs to zero.

My favourite thing in Iceland was Reykjadalur hot springs. You have to drive to Hveragerði and then hike for about an hour through the hills until you see the steam coming out from the ground. You have to continue further down until the river appears and you can pick a spot you like to chill for the next few hours or so.

The hardest bit is taking your clothes off and jumping in. Would also advise to leave your stuff further away from the river since all the steam gets your clothes wet! Also trying to dress yourself after chilling in the river is quite a challenge since the river banks are muddy and if you try to stand in the snow you get cold quickly. But it’s totally worth it!

The next day we were heading to see one of the glaciers (won’t even try to spell it) in the south of Iceland. We stopped to look at Skogafoss waterfall which is extremely cool with all the rainbows, but quite touristy due to the fact it’s so close to the road.

The walk on the glacier was cool, we had ice grippers and didn’t go too far so that was safe enough to do it without a guide and save loads of money. It was extremely windy so there was loads of volcanic ash in the air (black stuff in the photos below).

After the glacier we headed towards the beautiful Reynisfjara black sand beach and if you are crazy about geology, there are some really cool basalt columns to check out in that part of the world. I love contrasts and Reynisfjara in March was a perfect place for seeing contracts in nature.

Our hotel that night was close to Seljavallalaug swimming pool, which is probably awesome in summer but a bit too cold for March. It was fun to check it out anyway.

On the final day we headed to Reykjavik and stopped at Seljalandsfoss waterfall which is also extremely accessible.

Once we reached Reykjavik, I enjoyed walking around, exploring little streets, beautiful Harpa building and the famous church. I even tried the whale steak even if I know a lot of people would disapprove this. It was delicious by the way.

Iceland will always be a place where I want to go back and I’m sure I will return one day to do some hiking.

Budapest

Life is short and you need to make the most of it. That’s what people often say, but they forget to add that you also need to go to Budapest. It’s definitely my favourite European capital at the moment and I cannot wait to go back one day.

I got there at the end of September when the weather was still nice and I was unemployed. Oh wait, the latter is not that relevant… Anyway, I arrived by train from Bratislava and had very little expectations for the place. Just thought I would check it out since one of my closest friends (Emma) was from there. I was not disappointed! The place was full of beautiful buildings, amazing outdoor and ruin bars, great food places and colours around every corner.

I spent my first evening wandering around and admiring Fisherman’s bastion that looked like a castle from a fairy tale. You could also get a fab view of the parliament from there.

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Fisherman’s Bastion

As I mentioned, Budapest is famous for its ruin bars and there are loads of them, so it didn’t take me long to step to one of them. I met up with Emma and we went on a wee catch up adventure around some of the more random ones. You can never know what to expect from the ruin bars, but it’s always a nice surprise when you find something unusual.

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In summer, loads of places will offer you an option to chill outside – like the whole place just being the outdoor bar with hammocks or they open the windows and add couple of benches outside, so you don’t feel like a random hanging out on the street.

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I am not a big fan of taking food photos but some of the things had to be photographed. I fell in love with hungarian “pizza” langos, which is a deep fried dough topped up with cheese etc. Far from healthy but it tastes amazing!

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They also had loads of nice restaurants and I was worried that I forgot the name of the place that blew my mind, but I then found it in one of the photos – it’s called Mandragora. The restaurant has a really relaxed outdoor seating and amazing food, I would recommend it to anyone.

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I also have to mention that Budapest is famous for its baths, it’s got loads of them, with one of the more famous being Széchenyi Thermal Baths. Pick any one of them and spend a day relaxing and you will be ruined forever. Thermal baths should exists in every city!

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As I said earlier, Budapest is full of colours and random features and it’s nice to walk around and explore what it’s got to offer. We accidentally wandered to one of the parks and were surprised by an amazing fountain dancing to a variety of songs.

It’s also got a lot of markets where you can buy fresh or home made produce or just wander around and feel like a part of this amazing city. Budapest’s got everything, you just need to let it to surprise you.

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Go to Budapest and you will love it. Just open up your mind and enjoy it 🙂

Bratislava

It was my first day of unemployment and I was heading to Bratislava. Having finished a yearlong internship I decided that it was time to relax and that I would worry about getting a new job once I came back from my holiday.

Bratislava wasn’t my final destination, more of a stopover on the way to Budapest. There is a convenient train connection between the cities so I thought I would make the most of it.

I got an extremely early ryanair flight, so I am blaming it for Bratislava being a bit of a blur in my memory. However, I remember the first thought I had once I got there – this is a lot like Lithuania! Having lived in Scotland for several years, it was nice to find a place that felt a bit like home. I loved the vibe in the city and I almost wished I stayed a bit longer.

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There was so much good food (although extremely carb rich), with my favourite being halusky and I tried a few different varieties of them. They also had really awesome garlic soup that was conveniently served in a bread bowl.

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I loved that there were loads of colours in the city, especially the old town. Not going to lie, I did not have any energy for any cultural stuff since I was really tired after a sleepless night, but it was nice to wander around.

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I had to have a nap in the afternoon since I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore, but got to enjoy the city at night. It felt really lively and with plenty of character!

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Perhaps I will visit the city again, I know loads of people say that it’s worth seeing more of Slovakia than just Bratislava and I’m sure they are right!

The post turned out more of a photo essay rather than anything else, but I just felt like sharing these photos 🙂

Istanbul

Every time I go to a place like Istanbul I just wish I paid more attention in history lessons… Nevertheless, even without any decent history knowledge it’s impossible not to appreciate this breathtaking city.

I just remembered how dirty I felt once I arrived to Istanbul. It was a 24 hour stopover on the back to Scotland from Nepal. I spent 7 weeks wondering in the clouds of dust and getting my boots dirty and then over the sudden I was in this pristine place (at least it felt like it). My dirty (kind of) tshirts and shorts really felt awkward, although judging from all the attention I got from local guys, nobody even noticed my clothes.

I really didn’t have much time to see Istanbul. I made it to the Blue Mosque which was one the most beautiful places I have ever visited. It’s hard to show the beauty in the photos, but I heard people saying that if their church looked like this mosque they would spend every day there. Not being religious, I almost agreed.

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I then met some local volunteers who recommended visiting Topkapi Palace, a former residence of Ottoman Sultans. It’s an absolutely stunning place with loads of colours, patterns and beautiful items (like jewelry) and it was a proper history overload for my tired from traveling brains.

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The place kept me entertained for a few hours and I didn’t realise I missed the closing time of the Basilica Cistern – a largest of the cisterns in Istanbul, able to hold 80,000 cubic metres (or accoring to my calcs 32 Olympic swimming pools) of water. I am a bit of a water engineering freak so I was gutted to miss the place.

For some reason everyone kept telling me how chaotic transport was in Istanbul, I kept replying that they should see Nepal… 🙂 just to be clear, not just for the chaotic transport but also for its beauty!

I spent an evening catching up with my ex classmate. She was studying in Istanbul so it was a good occasion to meet up. She dragged me back to Asia, which I thought I escaped earlier that morning. No regrets, because on the Asian side of Istanbul I got introduced to a Turkish pizza, Lahmacun, which I’m still dreaming about and cannot find it anywhere is Scotland… ideas anyone?

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The next day I got up early thanks to jet lag. Had a wee wonder around the empty streets and headed back to the airport. It was time to come back to Scotland. I know one day I will return to Turkey, do my history research beforehand and eat Lahmacun for breakfast, lunch and dinner (maybe)!

See you again, Nepal

I wanted to write my last post about Nepal and summarise my experience there, but I couldn’t. All the beautiful memories are circulating in my head and none of them seem to be less worth mentioning. I think with my all my previous posts I managed to paint a decent picture of the country, people and culture so this post will be about saying goodbye.

Before I left Nepal, I went back to Kavresthali to see my family there for the final time. I got one last ride in the crazy mini bus heading to the village. I will never forget these absolutely packed buses, where I always felt like a giant human. I remember one time the mini bus was so full that the poor lady spent half of the ride with her head in my boobs… The drivers always played loud but cool music, which made the ride a bit more pleasant.

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It was mid July and the monsoon season was full on. The road to the house was in even worse condition than when I left it two weeks ago. You were lucky to be able to use it for walking and getting your boots all muddy was inevitable.

I turned out that I missed a wedding in the village just by couple of days. The weddings are definitely not being planned for several months in advance, probably a week at the most. You don’t really need to know the person you’re marrying either, it’s something your parents will arrange for you (most of the time). Quite convenient and avoids all the tinder frustration etc. when you think about it!

When I arrived, the house was full of random people and the ladies were wearing their best clothes. I quickly remembered it was a year since one of the aunts died, so it was a big celebration. I mentioned in one of the previous posts that the death of the relative was being remembered every month for a year, with loads of ceremonies, offerings to gods etc. This last one was the big one and lasted for couple of days. Seems that everyone from the village was in the house, chatting, eating and laughing.

It was hard to say goodbye, but I know I am going to see them all again. I will come back to Kavresthali one day and sit on the roof where I spent so much time. I will be counting fireflies and minutes until the light wizzard would switch on the electricity for our village and then wait until a plate of dhal bhat would be served. Hope I won’t forget how to eat with my hand by then.

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Chitwan National Park

Nepal never really associated to me with elephants, rhinos, crocodiles but I got to see them all there! The south of the country is very different from the north and that was completely unexpected to me (you can even get malaria there!).

A bus ride to Chitwan National park from Kathmandu was one of the most unpleasant I got to experience in Nepal. The park is about 170km away from Kathmandu, however it will take you at least 5 hours to get there, depending on the traffic and luck. I think it took us about 7, but I know someone who was stuck in the bus for about 11 hours. The closer you get to Chitwan the hotter it gets and even the open windows don’t do anything when the traffic is moving slow. Actually, it’s even worse to have the windows open – the roads are in such a poor condition that there is always a cloud of dust in the air.

So after several hours in the bus I arrived in Chitwan all covered in layers of dust, unable to handle the scorching heat and having to deal with the super annoying taxi drivers who jumped on us with their offers as soon as we got out of the bus. We found a place to stay and ordered some food (pizzas) there, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Every weekend, after spending all week eating vegan curries, we were craving for something meaty or cheesy or both. Even in Kathmandu it’s easy to get a food poisoning, but we didn’t realise Chitwan was the hell for it. I have mentioned in my previous posts that the power is only supplied for several hours a day, so loads of places have their own generators. Ours didn’t, but I realised that too late.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the village and arranged a two hour canoe trip followed by three hour jungle walk for the next day. The village was peaceful and we even got to see a rhino and couple of elephants that evening.

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The bacteria from a cheesy pizza showed all the power at very early hours of the morning. The morning felt like an eternity and I really didn’t feel like going anywhere. Imagine my fear of getting into a canoe while being unsure whether my body can contain its own fluids…

I decided to be brave and got to the riverside. Four of us and two guides got into the wee wooden really unstable canoe and starting going down the river full of crocodiles. However, I didn’t have time to think about the dangers of doing it, since I had my stomach to worry about.

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Otherwise, the canoe ride was extremely peaceful – we started just before the sunrise, so there weren’t anyone around, it was so quiet and beautiful. There were loads of birds around and I enjoyed spotting loads of Kingfishers .

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I survived the canoe trip and then the jungle walk started. It was the rainy season so the grass was about 5m high. We were expecting some wild animals to jump out any moment, but nothing like it happened. It was starting to get hot and we had three hours of walking left… I started feeling better from my food poisoning, so that lifted up my mood a bit.

It was a cool walk. The thrill was always there and you could never know what might appear from around the corner. We spotted some rhinos, deer and wild elephants.

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I found a photo that really made me laugh… completely forgot that I went on a jungle walk in this fancy footwear 😀

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At the and of the walk we were exhausted. The heat was terrible and I never knew I could sweat so much! After the walk we got back and downed litres of water. No amount seemed to be enough.

Later on that day we got offered to go on an elephant ride and agreed to it. That was a mistake and I will never ever ride an elephant again. I didn’t do my research beforehand and never realised the problems related to this activity. The elephants were poorly treated and they were hit every time they didn’t want to do something. It really seemed like a cruel way to make money, but loads of people didn’t seem to have problem with it. I am just going to leave this photo here as a reminder than not everything that sounds exotic and cool is fair and the animals shouldn’t be mistreated for the sake of tourism and making money.

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We left the next morning to get back to Kavresthali. I didn’t enjoy Chitwan too much but I guess it was mostly due to the food poisoning and I didn’t really have too much time to explore the park. Maybe that’s why I kept delaying writing about this place…

Bhaktapur

I would had liked to see Bhaktapur before the earthquake hit Nepal in 2015. It’s an ancient city, full of beautiful historical buildings, temples, art and colours. However, my previously mentioned earthquake had a tremendous impact on this magical place and when visited it in summer 2016 the damage could still be clearly seen.

I spent a day there wandering around, for me it was all about the atmosphere, colours ad people.  I would recommend visiting to anyone (although please don’t try to sneak in without paying, the place really needs all the support it can get). It was really hard to take some photos that would give the real sense of this place, but I’m sharing my best attempts.

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I love the photo bellow. Can’t believe this goat climbed up the steep steps to admire the view. Who’s the boss?SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Colours, crafts and people.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Completely destroyed house…

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The people are lovely and kids are keen to pose for the photos. It’s very likely they will ask for money afterwards, but I wouldn’t recommend giving anything to them. Might sound harsh, but when I was trekking my guide said that foreigners turned Nepali children into beggars… knowing that they can get money from foreigners often keep the kids on the streets. Something to think about. SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

Pottery making is huge in Bhaktapur and you can visit the pottery square to learn more about it.SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

It’s been a while since I visited Bhaktapur, so I hope this ancient capital is recovering and rebuilding itself and the life is slowly getting back to normal there.

The Last Resort

No this post is not about the Eagles song. It’s about the 10th highest bungee jump in the world. Can you guess where this place is?

OK, I will tell you, it’s in Nepal!

It is located near the Tibetan border, around three hour drive from Kathmandu. I hope I won’t spoil everything by saying that the drive there is probably much more dangerous than any of the things you can do in the Last Resort.

I decided to to a bungee jump in Nepal as soon as I heard about it. I am scared of heights – something I am working on, but ohhh dear, it’s a slow progress.

With some other volunteers we booked a weekend trip – one day for getting there and a bungee and a day for canyoning and the trip back. You can do other stuff there as well – canyon swing and white water rafting if I remember that correctly. Ohh and they’ve got really cool tents (with beds) where you can stay overnight.

So we left really early on Saturday morning (after a night out, probably not the best idea) and got to the Last Resort late morning. I said earlier that the roads were scary – below is an example for you with an oncoming vehicle…

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Once you get to the Last Resort, you have to walk over the bridge from which you will be jumping later… OMG even walking there frightened me to death, I didn’t even know how I would jump! My hands were shaking so much that I wasn’t even brave enough to take out my phone for a photo.

All the technical stuff was explained to us and I spent the rest of the morning being mega nervous, waiting for my turn to jump. That was probably the worst bit. The jump was easy and went really quick. So quick that I was even a bit disappointed. You get something silly like 1.5s of free fall. I have done skydiving in the past so bungee jump was nothing like it. But still, it was money well spent, I proved myself I could overcome my fear and do it.

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The photo above doesn’t even give you an idea how far below you fall. We got to see the scale the next day when doing some canyoning. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me as canyoning was supposed to be a “wet” experience but it really wasn’t. Nae water. But I had another chance to challenge my fear of heights and to be honest I found this activity to be much scarier than bungee jumping. But it was fun!

I didn’t take many photos that weekend, even though these were awesome couple of days away and I would recommend going there to anyone. Just going to finish with a photo of the cool tent I mentioned earlier in the post 🙂

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Kathmandu

Kathmandu is a hot mess. A beautiful chaotic place full of unexpected things. I loved it some days and other days I just wanted to be out of there. I spent quite a bit of time exploring the city while I was doing some volunteering in Kavresthali near Kathmandu. Everytime I would go back to Kavresthali I would feel like I came back to a wee paradise and I would always come back a little bit different.

I have never seen capitals like this before. It felt like it was a labyrinth, with loads going on around every corner. The streets were crowded and every time I had to go somewhere it felt like a mission. It was never easy to get from A to B, having constantly to watch out for scooters, people, cows and trying not to get lost. It was almost like a game and I would be extremely proud of myself if I managed to do something what would normally take 10min in 20min.

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The chaos scared me at first but with time I grew more and more confident and started exploring the city a wee bit more. One day I left Thamel (the main tourist area) and walked to Swayambhunath which is also called a monkey temple.

It’s one of my favourite places in Kathmandu, with a huge stupa at the top, loads of colours and amazing views of the city. I am not a big fan of monkeys and they do scare me a bit, but I kept away from them and survived.

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The other place I really enjoyed was the Pashupatinath Temple. It’s dedicated to Shiva and is one of the most sacred places in Nepal. If I was Nepali and I died, I would want my body to be burnt there.

I think I wrote about death in Nepali culture in one of my previous post, so I won’t say much about it here. I loved the atmosphere in Pashupatinath, it felt like it was a mix of traditions, respect, sadness and celebration of life and death. I got a guide there who told me even more about the traditions than I knew before and that also added to the whole experience.

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Traditions are everywhere in Nepal. I really liked being exposed to this rich culture just by wondering around the streets. Once, I ended up in Durbar Square with loads of beautiful (although very much affected by the earthquake) temples. I couldn’t believe, but there were so many interesting people around – Sadhus (the holy men), a lady who was painting her body green, loads of various people who came to pay their respect to the gods. I loved the colours, the smells, the atmosphere…

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I know I will be back to Nepal one day. I think I appreciate my trip now when I am writing about it even more than when I was there. Being back to a “normal” country has its advantages – no more chaos, no more constantly upset stomach, no monkeys, no more of getting lost or being annoyed at the traffic, the air and the streets are clean…but at the same time, I’m missing the colours, the element of never knowing of what to expect and oh well, I do actually miss getting lost 🙂

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