Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Potential flights for Asia

Return flights to Bangkok £508.44

Route a:
Bangkok to Krabi (not Phuket because timings are better, not so early!) - £27.
Phuket to Koh Samui via ferry for £13
Koh Samui to Krabi via ferry for £13
Krabi to Kuala Lumpur - £21 (cheapest) for a single.
Kuala Lumpur to Bali - £32 (cheapest) for a single.
Bali to Gold Coast - £133

Route b:
Bangkok to Gold Coast - £151

Gold Coast to Sydney - £44.40
Sydney to Bangkok - £145

Route c:
Bali to Bangkok - £50

Route d:
Bangkok to Krabi - £50 for a return.
Bangkok to Burma - £55 for a return
Bangkok to Hanoi - £30 for a single.
HCMC to Bangkok - £25 for a single.

Route a: £17 + £21 + £32 + £133 + £44 + £145 = £392
Route b: £50 (return to krabi from bangkok) + £44 + £151 = £241 (but no Malaysia or Indonesia).
Route c: £17 + £21 + £32 + £50 = £120 (but no Australia).
Route d: £50 + £55 + £30 + £25 = £170
  • Overall flights on route a: £892 - Thailand, Phuket Island, Malaysia, Indonesia & Australia.
  • Overall flights on route b: £741 - Thailand, Phuket Island & Australia.
  • Overall flights on route c: £670 - Thailand, Phuket Island, Malaysia & Indonesia. 
  • Overall flights on route d: £670 - Thailand, Phuket Island, Burma & Vietnam.

Visas: Thailand & Australia free.

NTS: KL to Burma is 22USD whereas Bangkok to Yangon is 30 USD.
KL to Bejiing is 100USD

Brussels and Cologne: Easter 2014 route and budget

Overall for a trip from London to these places and back I spent: £270.

Breakdown of Costs:

Travel Expenses: £78.50
  • Return train tickets from Colchester to London with a Student Travel Card - £17.50
  • Single megabus ticket from London to Cologne - £33.00 as I booked last minute.
  • Single megabus ticket from Cologne to Brussels - £10.00
  • Single megabus ticket from Brussels to London - £18.00
Accommodation Expenses for 4 nights: £64.26
  • Meinnger Cologne City Centre - £10.80 x 2 nights = £21.60
    • The hostel itself was good enough for the price, the staff were very friendly and the area was ok, however it is not a great place for a solo-backpacker during off-peak season. There were few people around. Most people I met were just staying there in hope of finding a permanent accommodation soon as they had just got jobs in Cologne. 
  • 2GO4 hostel in Brussels - £21.33 x 2 nights = £42.66
    • The directions given by the hostel were absolutely awful and made the place very difficult to find, I would have been lost for ages had it not have been for my iphone and having to use credit to use the internet. Some of the hostel staff were not very friendly, and the place was undergoing changes at the time so there was lots of paint everywhere and you weren't allowed into certain areas. However, the social side was great, it had a nice lounge area making it easy to meet people if you're a solo traveller. Also, the bedroom itself, despite how white and plain it was, had the most comfortable beds ever and was felt like a little piece of heaven. There was no bathroom in the room, you had to go to a different room for that, along with the showers. Overall, I was very disappointed for the money that I had paid. Yes it was a central location, but as far as hostels go, I could instead have found a nice hotel room for this price. 
Spending money: £125 = €150

Brussels is a very very expensive place!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Final day in Brussels: Walking Tour & the Sights.

Due to our hangovers, we didn't roll out of bed until 10:30am, it would have been much later if I had things my way, however, I had to check out of the hotel by 11am. At midday Hayley, Mckenzie and I walked to pizza hut and they had a great student deal on so we sat by the street just eating our pizza and watch all the business people in Brussels go about their daily work. 

We then went back to the hostel to chill for a bit and wait for the walking tour to start around 2pm. It is definitely worth going on, it was free (though a donation is advised), and the guy that ran it was wonderful and full of fun and interesting facts. We started off at the Grand Place/ Town Hall and learnt about how it used to be a marketplace.

From here, I went to see the Manneken Pis in all its glory. Rumour has it that it was erected after people attempted to blow up a part of Brussels using dynamite, however, this little boy peed on the fuse, thus saving the day and so they placed the statue in his honour haha.  Nearby is the Tin Tin Mural, I didn't bother going to the Comic Book Strip Centre, but I did see a lot of the murals around the town. It turns out that tin tin was invented there and the guy that designed it, Georges Remi, was expelled from Belgium after being associated with the Nazi's. Also a little fun fact, Karl Marx actually wrote/ published the Communist Manifesto here. Also, I learnt was that 'French fries' were actually invented in Belgium. How could this countries food get any better? Belgium waffles and fries! Woohoooo.

From here we went via 'Les Galeries Saint Hubert', a quaint area now turned into a shopping centre for the very rich with lots of yummy chocolate and expensive restaurant. Afterwards, we visited St Michael & St Gudula Cathedral, it was pretty, but nowhere near as nice as the one in Cologne. We went to the Royal Palace and he explained the layout of the gardens resembled the Freemasonry compass due to the large freemasonry presence in the royal family. 

It appears Belgium had a very rocky relationship with Congo too. Our tour guide claimed that 50% of people were executed by Belgium, however, I feel this might be an exaggeration. True though that their crimes were awful. 

Overall, I'd give the tour a 10 out of 10! The guy was wonderful and was full of interesting knowledge. We then wandered to the Grand Place to get our waffle we'd been craving before sitting in the sunshine and watching the weirdest man ever dance. We can't tell if he was spiritually enlightened or very very high on drugs haha, it was funny nonetheless. 

After wandering back to the hostel, we waited a few hours before joining with another group and going to find food. We settled on a kebab shop and then Mckenzie, Hayley and I went off to go find a pub which was 1 euro for a half-pint. The pint was pretty vile, but the place had live music and a nice atmosphere so I stayed there until I had to walk to the bus station to get the Megabus back to the UK. 

It was a shame that I never got to make it to the Palace d'Justice, but the problem was it was too far out and after getting lost yesterday, I didn't really fancy my chances given I was enjoying sitting with friends anyway.

Brussels was good to me in terms of people I met, but the place was so very expensive and the people themselves were very rude and always in a rush. I wouldn't go back there again anytime soon, but it was nice for a one-off break.


Grand Place

Tin Tin Mural

Manneken Pis - Peeing boy.

Brussels Cathedral 

Royal Palace

My Belgium Waffel

Spiritual guy

Mckenzie and I with our beers.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Day 2 of Brussels, Belgium.

This morning there was a mass protest at the end of my street against austerity measures, people were going crazy and, in the end, water cannons and pepper spray had to be used to disperse the crowds; it was so hectic.

I decided to take a stroll by myself this afternoon... and my God, what a disaster that turned out to be. It started off well, I saw many beautiful sites, there appears to be a beautiful church on almost every corner! The problem though is the environment, nobody is very friendly and quite honestly, when I was very lost, I really thought I was going to be attacked! I couldn't find myself on a map at all, and I turned out to be in an area by the river to the north-west of the city. It was definitely the unsafest I've ever felt on my travels. It was very shady and it was full of men who wouldn't stop staring at me, I was definitely the only tourist and I understood why. I just wanted to get out of there ASAP. Eventually, I found my way back to the hostel and just collapsed into the chair relieved I was home safely! Remind me to get better at map reading.


In the evening I was thinking of going to see the Atomium and Mini-Europe with Josh and Caesar however after seeing that it cost €24 entry... I decided against that! Especially given my tiny budget. 

I met the two most amazing girls today too, I'm so excited. One of them is called Hayley from Australia and the other is called Mckenzie from Canada but being a nanny in Germany, she is 18 years old, it was lovely to have someone my age, most people were around 23.

I really wanted a baguette and had been craving one all day, so Hayley and I went and got some supplies from the shop, again, very expensive, and made our own ham and cheese baguettes in the kitchen provided.

Unfortunately, Hayley was knackered so couldn't come out, but Mckenzie and I went and got a few bottles of vodka from the off-license and got really pretty drunk on the floor in our bedroom of the hostel. Caesar joined in too, it was a great laugh. Played ring of fire and a few of the other classic drinking games. Afterwards, we decided to stroll to the bar Delirium, it has around 4000 beers, and nearly 300 pages on the menu! The bar was great, but it was so busy and rather expensive at around €8 a beer. Unfortunately, I don't like beer enough to pay those sort of prices.

Mckenzie and I had the funniest night just getting trashed and wandering all around Brussels, going on random mini-adventures. I actually just fell in love with her haha, we had such a great time, I forgot basically all that happened but in the morning she kindly reminded me of our antics. I ended up meeting a brain surgeon who helped us find our way back to the hostel as we went in the wrong direction, and he decided because he didn't buy us drinks, the least he could do is buy our drunken food as I was craving cheesy chips - sure enough he did, bless him. I don't remember him at all but apparently, he was really sweet haha.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Welcome to Brussels, Belgium: Day 1.

I was supposed to leave Cologne at 11:15am, but instead the bus was delayed and we didn't leave till 1pm! It was awful, and there was no wifi. So I should have arrived at 2:15pm, but didn't get there until 4pm and then they instructions they gave me on Hostelbookers to find the hostel, were totally awful. I was so stressed out as none of the metro & street names were completely wrong. I ended up having to use my iPhone to direct me there, thank god for technology!

I checked at 2GO4 Quality Hostel, and paid the expensive €22 a night fee along with €2 towel rental and €10 deposit for the sheets. I couldn't decide between a much needed shower, food, or a nap. I decided to just collapse in bed for a while and curl up in the sheets before eventually deciding on food first! I went round the corner to the McDonalds and was totally outraged at the price of Brussels! €7.50 for a double cheeseburger, chips and drink. They charge €0.75 for ketchup too... What. How can even McDonalds be expensive.

I met a really nice guy at my hostel in my bedroom called Josh from NZ, a man in the airforce, woot woot, but he's working at Stansted airport at the moment in the UK. We decided to have a quiet night and just head for a walk to a nearby pub with another guy, he was Mexican, named Caesar. It was a slight problem as he didn't speak much English, but Josh bought us all drinks so we still all had a nice time before heading back and hitting the hay at 1am.

Day 2 of Cologne, Germany.

I didn't wake up until midday then decided to go for a wander. I had seen most of the things I wanted to do, so I thought I'd go find a nice spot in the park and stroll through the shops first and find a good bratwurst.

That's exactly what I did. By foot I looked around a few of the shops, and then found finally a wonderful bratwurst and chips and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and heat. I then went and sat by the riverside on a beautiful park, watched the children play around in the water park, listened to a live band playing in front of a fountain and then sat down to read 'Looking for Alaksa' by John Green.

Whilst reading, I was approached by a group of three males who didn't speak English, French or German, but they kept trying to chat me up, it was frustrating because it made me feel uncomfortable and as if I couldn't sit there and read my book without being stared at the whole time. They tried convincing me to smoke weed with them, but I politely declined and ended up walking off at this point to try and find my hostel. It took me forever, but eventually I made it back.

After resting in bed for a while, I met up with a boy that I met last night for a quick meal, another bratwurst of course! We just chatted for a while, it was nice to see it from somebody who lives here point of view. He is still an exchange student, but has been here for many months.

I met a lovely american couple in my hostel, and we listened to a load of country music, it was perfect. Another guy, I can't remember where he was from, but he's working in Germany, was also in our room and lovely. We all sat downstairs whilst they were waiting for the washing to finish and whilst I drank my vodka. Eventually we went to the shot bar I had visited last night, the guys made us do a disgusting shot that had hot sauce in it, I wanted to vomit after, but the men behind the bar gave us suckers to make our mouths taste better haha. We completely lost track of time and I don't really remember what happened! We just went to another bar down the road and continued to all get very wrecked! I have no idea what time we got home!

Going home seems like a horrible prospect! Can't I just live life on the road? Everybody is so much friendlier. I can approach anyone and become best friends. Good thing I'm great at small talk.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Day 1 of Cologne, Germany!

I forgot how wonderful the buzz feels when you put on your rucksack all geared up and ready to go on what you know will be a great adventure regardless of mishaps or disasters. Everything is an experience, positive or negative it’s something I want to remember!

The saddest thing about travelling alone is not having anyone to get really excited for the trip with! I was stood at the station so happy I wanted to do a little dance and yell about how much I love new places… However, being alone, I figured that was a little too weird, even for my standards!

I’ll be honest, when I got to London it didn’t start off too well! Stupid district and Victoria line… I don’t think I’ve ever got on the wrong tube till now, I therefore ended up in white chapel thus quickly panicked trying to work out how to get to Victoria station to then find the coach station - whoops! I left at 9:30pm and boarded the ferry at 2am, desperately trying to get some sleep! 

Arriving at 9am on some very random street in Cologne, I decided to opt for the random stroll instead of the tram/ train system. There is nothing better than exploring a city by foot! (Even if a backpack is a pain to carry around). I sat on the riverside for a while, watching the early morning rush. Cologne is totally beautiful, there is very little traffic, everybody travels by bicycle. It has a really quaint and beautiful feel to it. It's full of character with a buzzing and welcoming atmosphere.
I walked over to the hostel but got very lost along the way, it took me about an hour and a half to find it after meeting some helpful women along the way who gave me a map to the city. After I checked in at Meininger Hostel, it was €11 a stay, so it was a great value, the staff were wonderful but the atmosphere in the hostel rooms were pretty naff. There was nobody around to talk to or to party with! 

As I wasn't allowed to check in till 3pm, I rented a bicycle for €12 from the front desk. It was fairly difficult to ride at first, but because Cologne is so bicycle friendly it wasn't much of a problem. They have cycle lanes on basically every road so you don't have to worry about crashing into any pedestrians or cars/ going up the wrong side of the road!

I cycled to the Cathedral, known to locals as the 'Dom'. It's a very impressive structure, inside the stain glass windows are beautiful and the ceilings seem to stretch up forever.

Afterwards I decided I'd give the Roman-Germanic Museum a visit, I paid €2.50 entry as a student, then €0.50 to store my bag away (compulsory). I must say, I don't have a lot of positive things to say about this place because I struggled to understand most of it. The only descriptions they had (if any), were tiny one liners that didn't help you to fully understand what you were looking at in the slightest! I ended up rushing round rather quickly with boredom and did the whole place in about 15 minutes. If you can read German, then I suppose the museum would be far better!

From here, I cycled over Hohenzollern Bridge which is also known as 'Lovers lock' bridge. Similar to the Pont des Arts Bridge in Paris, lovers from all over the world places thousands of locks onto the bridge and then throw away the key into the river Rhine to preserve their memories forever. It's a very cute idea and I was amazed by how many there were there!

Just over the river was the Koln Triangle Viewing Platform, it was €3 entry, and basically just a chance for a great photo, but it was beautiful nonetheless. The platform was quiet and the sky was bright, it was around 24 degrees at this time and so it was wonderful weather to capture the perfect photograph.

Since I had my bike, after a quick stop at McDonalds (simply because it was easy to get to and I was in a rush), I decided to make the most of it and visit the Museum El-De Haus where the former HQ of the Nazi secret police (Gestapo) reside. As a student it was €2 entry. I visited the upstairs of the venue first and I was very angered by the museum and was ready to walk out in a strop. I had looked forward to the museum as I am doing a History degree and find it fascinating, however, again, nothing was written in English! The entire 3 upper levels were all in German, not a hint of English, so I left and decided to try my luck on the lower floors. To my surprise, everything here was translated into English properly. They showed the prison cells they kept people in, and you could still see the etchings on the wall of those later murdered by the Gestapo. It was very saddening, as are most places connected to genocide! In the courtyard around 400 people were murdered. It's haunting to know you're standing where several lost their lives often to fabricated claims imposed upon them by the Nazis. I think it was good of the council to allow the place to be opened as it serves to remind people the dangers of tyranny.

I had debated going to the Modern Art Museum, however I decided for €10 entry, it probably wasn't worth it as I'm not awfully interested in modern art. Therefore, after I'd finished at the El-De Haus, I went back to the hostel to check in. My room still wasn't ready which was a pain, however 40 minutes later I could check-in and have a shower (surprisingly good!) and then relax in bed for a bit after a tiring day. I read some of 'Looking for Alaska' which I was instantly hooked to and then went for a stroll to find some food. I ended up walking for 20 minutes and finding a chocolate milkshake instead of food, had that and eventually wound up back at the hostel getting ready for the night out.

[[[Broken photo connection]]]
Central station

Cologne Cathedral, morning view! 

Lovers locks.

My bike ride.

One section of the view from the tower.

'Path to the courtyard where more than 400 inmates were executed in 1944/5'

Inside the Dom Cathedral. 

I began to worry when my hostel seemed dead, I couldn't find any students, and nobody in my room was interested in coming out. However, I wasn't about to have my first night in Cologne spent in bed! I therefore went to where the student nightlife is supposed to be and found two men talking English outside a bar and asked them where the good clubs were. Lucky as I am, they offered to take me to the club they were going to! They were exchange students, one was American (Thomas) and the other was Portuguese (Antonio).

We first went into a bar that sold 300 random shots, but they wouldn't tell you what was in them, you just had to pick off the board. Antonio and I got a Sweet Sour Puss and then a Ghetto booty, the first being delicious and the second being totally vile! From here, we went to Flanagan's, a Irish nightclub where all the exchange students go and we met about another 10 of their friends. It was only 9pm but the queue was ridiculous and some of their friends that had already been inside said it wasn't worth it as it was too hot and crowded inside as it was an underground club. In the end, I got a fanta, poured a hipflask of vodka into it, and then drank it on the tram as we went to an Irish pub by my hostel where the student nightlife is. We just sat round, all chatted and then played a game of darts. I was actually far better than I thought I would be! It was a fun time just getting to know everyone. Eventually, closing time came, and the boys needed to get trams back to their accommodation so they walked me home first, then left.

It was a pleasant night out and I'm pleased by how friendly everyone in Cologne is along with how pretty it is!