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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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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Berlin

People keep telling me that I always choose the worst time to go to Berlin. And they are probably right. I’ve been there twice and always in winter, missing all the crazy summer parties. But I don’t mind too much – I always go there to see my friend and you don’t need summer to have fun.

The first time I got to Berlin I was surprised what a mess it was. It’s hard to describe, anyone’s who got to visit a city will probably understand what I mean. But the more time I spent there, the more I started liking it. It actually has everything – some decent clubs and bars, loads of art, music, plenty of green spaces and crazy people. There are loads of hidden beautiful places all around the city and discovering them is especially exciting.

I was lucky or unlucky to celebrate my New Years in Berlin. Well, it’s not the best place to be if you’re scared of fireworks or people shooting them at you. New Years in Berlin feels like a party in a proper war zone and you either enjoy it or not. A good house party is always a better option, I think.

The first time I visited Berlin was in January 2015 and I was in a proper party mood – had to get all the negative energy out of me. I went to Kater Blau, which is clearly hated on Trip Advisor, even though I don’t think it deserves it. It was a proper fun place and the music there was definitely good. I also went to Tresor, which is a well-known underground techno club and I had no problems in getting in. It is a different world and not everyone will appreciate the atmosphere. I’m not sure if I did, to be completely honest. Don’t go there sober though.

Also, the second time when I was visiting Berlin (a week ago), couple of days after New Year we tried to get to Sisyphos club. Well, going out in -12 was not the best idea, especially because we had to wait for the trains forever and then we missed your stop. And even when we got to the right station it took us another half an hour to walk there just to find out that there was a queue and people been standing there for over an hour. Well, I probably won’t surprise you with the fact that after two hours in a cold we gave up. Sometimes even the best club can’t win against cosy evening at home with the pizza and film.

Well, I have to mention that there is a lot of Jazz in Berlin. Yorckschlösschen bar has some good music nights, but you will probably have to stand in a packed bar and pay whatever euros for the band otherwise you will not be able to buy a drink (fair enough, but check the price in advance – we didn’t want to pay 8 euros each). There are some good jam sessions in Gorlitzer park (Edelweiss Bar) on Tuesdays, totally worth a visit, but the place is packed as well. And if you want some good cocktails, I can recommend Schloss Neuschweinsteiger. In fact, there are loads of places I went to, but I don’t remember them that well now and I guess that’s the most exciting thing about Berlin – you can discover so many different places.

I am not a big fan of museums, as I always think that there are too many things there. It feels like every object is screaming its own story and you kind of feel that you need to know a lot of history to truly appreciate it. But I love galleries and I love photography. Both times in Berlin I visited C/O Berlin and I both times they had really good photography there (the second tie there was Anton Corbijn’s exhibition).

I did one proper touristy thing as well. I stood in the queue for an hour and a half just to get the famous Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebap. If not the cold (-4 degreec Celcius), I’d say it was totally worth it.

Anyway, when in Berlin, don’t be lazy and go for a walk. Walk as much as you can, (don’t miss Kreuzberg & East Side Gallery) and I’m sure you’ll love discovering things there. Also, visit some markets and don’t be scared to bargain. There are plenty of them, mostly on the weekend although I thinh the one in Mauerpark is the best. Also, don’t miss Tempelhof – it’s a perfect place to clear your mind.

I’ll go back there in summer one day. I’m sure I’ll see a completely different face of the city 🙂

Xi’an

My three main goals in Xi’an probably were not that different from any other travelers: to visit Terracotta army, to climb mountain Hua and eat a lot of food.

The food was probably my favourite thing about Xi’an. Muslim quarter was full of food stalls and the variety of the delicious things on every corner. Two of my favourites were the sandwich lady and the frozen yoghurt man. A must try!

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(By the way, does anyone know if those two people are still there?)

A few more moments from Muslin Quarter:

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20140727_180208 A man painting with his finger

I stayed in the Ancient City Youth Hostel, which was in a perfect location and it was a pretty cool hostel. Even there I was spoiled for food. One day some guy brought me some really nice dumplings and the little boy gave me a piece of cake as it was his birthday.

DSC_0380A nice piece of cake (it was hard to find nice cake in China)

Anyway, enough talking about food. My mission in Xi’an was also to visit Terracotta Army and Hua Shan, which I successfully accomplished. Yay!

My friend Davy, with whom I did the same exchange course at the university in Nanjing arrived to Xi’an the day later and we decided to travel together for a bit.

One morning we got a bus for Terracotta army. We made a mistake and started going through the rooms in a wrong order, but then I guess our impatience was growing and we were really excited when we got to see the “real thing”. There were crowds of people in this big warehouse type of building and the soldiers seemed so far away.

DSC_0332  DSC_0333  First two rooms

DSC_0339  DSC_0346 DSC_0347  DSC_0363 The Army

We didn’t stay for long. Went back to Xi’an and spent afternoon riding bikes on the city wall (my third city wall in China!). We spent the rest of the day eating street food, wandering around and Davy even got a haircut, as he really needed one.

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Next day we left hostel really early and caught a bus to Hua Shan. It is a stunning place and I wish you could properly see that from the photos. I caught my mind wandering around on the mountain peaks most of the  time and even the amount of people on the mountain didn’t bother me.

I kind of had another exciting toilet experience there as well. I was in a queue when I found out that there were only one door for two squat toilets next to each other and if one person finished earlier, the entire queue could see what the other one was up to. I decided that me using the toilet would be too much of an entertainment for the crowd (oh no, so self-obsessed..) and had to wait until I’d stumble across another one.

Some moments from the mountain:

DSC_0381   DSC_0386  Pretty steep steps

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DSC_0418 Smile you’re on camera

What also attracted me to this mountain was a plank walk. I always wanted to do it and I thought if I dared I would be so proud of myself, as I’m scared of heights. And hey, I did it. I was terrified at first, but then it just got so fun. I think the trickiest part was to pass people when they were moving to a different direction. Anyway, that was fun and nobody stole our kind of unattended luggage (wooohooo).

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We also had some of the Baiju (very strong Chinese liquor) on the top of one of the peaks (West Peak if I remember it right, 2,086.6m) and some of the Chinese people seemed terrified of this idea.

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It took us ages to find the way down (not because of Baiju!) and while trying to go back to the bus we spend couple of hours talking about Western food that we missed. I remember I was badly craving for a cheese toasty at that point of my trip.

Next day Davy left and I spent a day by myself, just wandering around Xi’an and taking photos. I got a haircut as well. I think Chinese woman was quite entertained and had fun cutting my long hair. I think I spent there four days and that was definitely enough for Xi’an (that is especially true if you don’t want to get fat).

Some moments from last day:

DSC_0316 Bell Tower

DSC_0318   DSC_0319 Hidden Garden

DSC_0461   DSC_0467 DSC_0493  Giant Wild Goose Pagoda & Music Fountains

I also went to Shaanxi History Museum, which was definitely worth a visit.I liked the Terracotta Warriors there, as you could examine the from so much closer than in that massive warehouse museum.

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20140727_125943 Toffee Apple man outside the museum