European bus experience

So I’m in Europe now and are taking a lot of buses between cities. Why? Its cheap! Well, its cheaper than trains and I have time so why not give it a try, eh?

Before I decided to give it a try, mainly for financial reasons, I hated buses. There’s not enough room and you are kinda forced to sit for the entire duration of the ride. If the ride is a short one, then you are lucky, but in Europe, distances can be greater and this can lead to frustration in a bus.

So far (as of 13 Aug 2017), I’ve done a few trips:

  • Prague to Vienna – 6 hours (with a 45 min additional delay due to road works) with RegioJet
  • Vienna to Bratislava – 2 hours with Flix Bus
  • Bratislava to Budapest – 3 hours with RegioJet
  • Budapest to Zagreb – 5.5 hours (with border control) with Bus Croatia
  • London to Bath – 3 hours with National Express
  • Barcelona to Andorra – 3 hours with AndBus
  • Andorra to Toulouse – 3 hours with AndBus

RegioJet

I think they provide the best service out of all so far. Buses include toilet, free coffee/tea, entertainment (yes!), free headphones for your entertainment, power sockets (important)

Flix bus

Least favorite so far but can be annoying at times. When I tried to look for the bus from Vienna to Bratislava, guy at the counter said I booked the wrong bus (well, how am I suppose to know its for people from Germany! duh) and was refunded some amount of money and issued a ticket for a bus that leaves in 3 mins. That was a saviour but not great. After than, ride was smooth and I don’t have much to complain other that I the driver didn’t really say if it was the central bus station of somewhere else so I actually got off early but closer to my accommodation.

Bus Croatia (aka Crnja Tours)

So far so good. No english spoken by the driver, no toilets on board (we did have a toilet break and another when crossing the border). Was dropped off at the right station and no issues. Great!

AndBus

Small company which runs services between Andorra, France and Spain. Unlike other bus operators, their buses are smaller shuttles which I think is great. Service is great and leaves right on time. I did miss my bus from Barcelona but they do allow your ticket to be used for later buses too without the hassle. What a saviour! Both rides were without issues.

Notes: Post will be updates as and when new rides are completed.

National Express

A larger bus operator within the UK and has more connections to almost everywhere you can go. Easy to book a ticket but the main bus station can be a bit tricky if you are first time user. Please ask at the counters to make sure the gate. Gates can be pretty hectic as there’s no clear separation between them. Service is good, runs on time. Wifi and toilets onboard.

 

Bratislava: 1, 2 or 3 days?

I happen to be in Bratislava recently and I must admit, its a nice city. A small city, but nice. When I started looking into how many days I should give myself to explore, I kept googling ‘how many days in bratislava?’. Funny enough, almost all posts or articles say you only need 1 day. Just one!

Having plotted all interesting places, I decided I can’t do everything in one day so I gave myself a couple of days (that’s 2) plus an additional so I pace myself and take the time to see the city. See and experience the city, not see the city as a tourist! (Yes, there is a difference!)

Along the way, I’ve met people whom either have visited the city or are visiting the city. Ironically everyone said you just need a day! I am surprised how one could cram to see everything in just one day, but I guess a ‘tourist’ can always do it in 4 hours as the people from tour boats sailing around Danube does it.

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Generally  I start my first days by joining a free walking tour. I think they are excellent value for money as they operate on a tips basis which you tip at the end of the tour based on your estimated value of their time and info provided. They show you the most important places and/or monuments of the city and range from around 2-3 hours. Once done with the tour, I always go back to see the places that I am more interested in and take some nice photos as souvenirs.

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Fort the sake of keeping to the point of this article, places I had mapped were:

  • Bratislava castle
  • Status of Pavol Hviezdoslav
  • Old town hall
  • Blue church
  • Michael’s gate
  • Synagogue
  • Presidential palace and gardens *
  • Slavin war memorial *
  • St Martins cathedral
  • Primatial palace
  • Devin castle *

By walking around the city, I get to take in a lot more than just taking a tour bus. You see different aspects of the city which are normally hidden or tucked away such as the coronation path – a path marked with crowns along the way from the castle to the coronation church.

Taking the walking tour, I managed to cover all above except that are marked in asterisks. Bratislava castle in general can be visited for free as you can get to the main court yard which includes the well and the baroque gardens which are lovely! Almost all of the castle is new and not the old castle anymore and you can only get to a few rooms through the museums, and its not like visiting the state rooms of castles around Europe. I was a bit disappointed, but I got to see up close.

If this is my morning view…

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Old town hall building is located in a nicer square and the Primatial palace is also next to it. If you have the time, go up the tower of old town hall (costs only 2.5 euro) and the Prima palace to see their private chapel and the mirror hall (costs only 3 euro!). You can be sneaky enough here and get very close to the furnishings but I advice be considerate.

Blue church is a must see if you are in town. Do not miss it! (It is free)

Blue on blue

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As I love old things, visiting Devin castle was a highlight for me. If you are coming from Vienna you see this place. It is a mere 20 min bus ride from the city and a wold away from the city life. Located next to Danube, Austria is across the water and also involves tragic history of communism (hint: Iron curtain). Views from the top of the castle is amazing and on a clear day photos are worth a million bucks. Entrance is only 8 euro. If you are feeling adventurous (or romantic) and have the time, why not take the boat back to city (costs 8 euro one way).

Notes: Boat from the city to Devin castle takes 1.5 hours up stream while back to city is only 30 mins downstream. Closed on Mondays.

Considering you do cover most of the sights within the city in the morning (meaning you see them, but not go in the castle, old town hall, primatial palace) and also try and visit Devin castle in the afternoon, it is possible to see all of the above in one day. However, this only involves as I mentioned earlier ‘looking’, and does not involve experiencing what each has to offer in full. For example, you can spend 2 hours at the castle, walking around the precinct and enjoying the expansive views down to the city as well as their new baroque gardens. You can also spend 1-1.5 hours at Devin castle admiring the views and learning about its history, But if you only have 1 day you can visit these places in 15 mins looking at them from outside and clicking away.

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Also, do not miss the opportunity to have some local food which are awesome! My favourite was the Bryndzove pirohy…

Quite a mouthful to pronounce this, Bryndzove pirohy

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As of now I have all the time in the world so I decided to spend 3 days here taking it very slow and see all the places and take in all what this small city has to offer. Be a traveller, not a tourist. Choice is yours.

Oslo for the budget conscious

How to save when in Oslo

Norway, a country blessed with so much natural beauty doesn’t come free. It spans a wider region in up to north pole and covers a variety of vegetation. It isn’t cheap to do stuff in Norway by general standards but coming from Australia I have noticed some prices in Noway are comparable to Australian pricing. Below is a general guide of how you can save money when visiting Oslo in particular.

Doing the touristy things

Hey, if you are visiting anywhere I always do the touristy things. After all, its how you get to know a city and the country. Oslo in particular has a lot to offer in terms of natural beauty and museums.

Following is a list of places I visited in Oslo free of charge:

  • Akershus fortress
  • Viking ship museum
  • Holmenkollen
  • Fram museum
  • City hall
  • Munch museum
  • Interculture museum

Akershus fortress and Military museum

This is the first of my list partly because I love visiting historic places especially castles and fortifications. It tells one so much about the history of the city, its struggles and how it survived.

Entrance to the military museum is free and has a variety of exhibits ranging from viking age to current military involvements. I specially liked learning about the viking era and the battles that took place. Exhibit information is also available in english which made it much more user friendly.

Fortress is located in one end of the town and I can see why its built there. Its an amazing piece of architecture and loved walking up and down the cobblestone walkways. Once you are at the highest points (there are 2 sides) and you have lovely views of the city and water. Unfortunately during my visit one can only admire the beauty of the fortress from outside as it was still in winter schedule. It is however free to walk outside but would cost to get in if the inside is open. 

Viking ship museum

Wow, I felt like a kid again! I was truly impressed with the 3 ships thats housed inside this smaller museum. The video documentary is truly awesome and I felt I was part of it. If you have to skip something, let this not be the one. A visit here is a must.

Entrance is NOK 100. Read below to see how you can visit for free.

Fram museum

Having visited Vasa museum in Stockholm I find this to be very similar to it. Fram is a specially built ship for arctic exploration. After much deliberation and drama, they have somehow got the ship together. You can read about its history and how it came about at the museum.

Unlike Vasa, what’s great about Fram is that you can actually get onboard the ship and touch and feel it. I loved the experience so much that I wanted to stay here for longer. 

If you are around Bigdoy area, please visit Fram as its an amazing ship!

Entrance is NOK 100. Read below to see how you can visit for free.

National Gallery

I love art and always take timeout to see the local art culture specially an art museum. Modern or old, both fascinates me and can probably spend a day there of course with multiple breaks. 

As I was on a day pass, I had to rush this a bit but I have covered almost all rooms within 1.5 hours. Its not very big but there’s a lot of art so if you’d like to take it slow and absorb all in, please do so. I know I would if I had the time.

Entrance is NOK 100. Read below to see how you can visit for free.

Holmenkollen

What a beauty this is. Curves are amazing and I see why this has become such a hot spot. 

Blessed with blue skies to enjoy the curves

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You can get glimpses of Holmenkollen from the city but it is when you are there that you truly get to admire the fantastic steel structure. I love beautiful architecture and this is something that I will never forget.

Entrance includes the visit to the top of the tower and the museum. Loved going up the angular lift and is a first  for me. Once you are at the top, you have 360 degree views of Oslo. On one side is the city and the other side is where the agricultural farms are and what a contrast it is!

Entrance is NOK 130. Visited with 24 hour Oslo pass.

Parliament of Norway

I can imagine how centrally located this is. Very close to Stortiget station, it not only beautiful but is very accessible. You can get up close to the main entrant and the whole building.

Unfortunately due to a mixup I couldn’t visit this lovely building but on Saturdays they offer free guided tours which should not be missed (in winter its on saturdays, but in summer its on all weekdays). Please check in advance if you’d like to visit

Entrance is free!

Oslo City Museum

Located very close to Vigeland sculpture park, this small but intimate museum offers historical views of Oslo. Details are fascinating which includes items from the past. Loved the old pieces on display.

As I mentioned, its a small museum so you don’t need much time. If you are in the area, I’d recommend a visit specially since its free. They have wifi and a cafe which is great 🙂

Entrance is free!

Interculture museum

Another small and intimate museum which offers exhibitions ranging from small artists to themes around immigration and civil rights. When I visited, they had 2 amazing exhibitions which opened my eyes and learn that some refugees lived in refugee camps for more than 50 years which is sad.

Entrance is free.

Munch museum

Munch museum is supposed to be extraordinary place which is dedicated to Edvard Munch and his lifes’ work. This is one place I had high hopes for but when I visited, they were busy preparing for a new exhibition. Therefore most of his work has been taken away and only less that 20 paintings were on show. Entrance was free due to this fact which is quite disappointing specially since I have purchased an Oslo card to cover the entry fee.

They are re-opening a new exhibition as of 6th May.

Visiting the museums for free?

Well, it is possible. When I visited the tourist information centre on a Sunday, they had a special day pass which was free. Most of the Oslo attractions are included in this pass and best of all transport is included. So if you plan on doing some sightseeing, please plan ahead. And if you are here on a Sunday, please check at the tourist information centre and ask if they have a free pass for the day. They open late on Sunday and so are the museums 🙂

I visited Viking ship museum, Fram museum and National gallery on a Sunday with my free pass.

I will cover the next set of items in my next post. 

Lofoten Islands

Should you bother? Yes, you should!

My experience was certainly mixed and by the end of it, I would highly recommend taking a trip to Lofoten islands.

Landscapes are magical and none that I have encountered anywhere else before. I would say its a mix between Swiss mountains and New Zealand scenery so it is very beautiful and majestic.

Main reason to get here is for hiking. There isn’t much info available when in town so be prepared and plan well ahead!

How to get there

Best and only way to get to Loften islands is to take a ferry. I have taken the Moskenes ferry from Bodo. Lofoten ferries are operated by Torghatten Nord. Timetable varies between summer and winter, and by each day. It is highly recommended you check the ferry times before taking the plunge.

Ferry times are certainly odd and none that can be taken to suit a day tripper easily. My ferry departed at 0015 hours and arrived at 0330 hours at Moskenes. 

Accommodation

If you arrive in the wee hours of the morning just like me, I highly recommend you book a place for to crash for a couple of hours. I didn’t take the trip seriously and had nothing booked which meant I was outdoors in the freezing cold arctic temperatures from 0330 in the morning. My fingers were frozen and I realise I had done a big mistake. I could have been dead by the time anything opened!

Having learnt my lesson, I would definitely book something well ahead even if its a day just so you don’t have to freeze outside. 

Googling places to stay in town doesn’t come up with much but there are certainly a number of places available certainly around Å town. There were at least 5 places and if you look in Google maps, you can see most of these places. So please do take in some time and book a place to get some much needed rest before you explore.

What to see

Landscape in Lofoten islands are dramatic. They rise high above the seas and is always snow covered giving them them a majestic look. Just look at them…

Picture perfect

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There are a number of small villages, rather towns, scattered along the pointy edge of the archipelago Å being the final village at the pointy edge. Å generally has more accommodation than other areas from what I have seen but I could be wrong :). 

There are 2 museums in the village. As a result of my early arrival in the town and being exhausted, I skipped them in search of more memorable landscapes. Past the car park area, there is a small trail to the right to go up a mountain and I would definitely recommend this hike to anyone. This is an easy hike for everyone and provides great views of the town. Further up, you can get close to the water with even more beautiful views.

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Sørvågen has more options around shops (for quick stop grocery shops) and a restaurant Maren Anna which I had the opportunity to have lunch. If you have the time I highly recommend going there for a meal as I had the best soup in my life! 

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There is always interesting architecture around. I especially like the houses both small and big and always had something interesting about them.

Further up, Moskenes area doesn’t really have much to offer but you can admire the port and the small lighthouses. It is always beautiful coming down from Sørvågen area. Coming down the mountain, you can also see where the seagulls nest which I think everyone misses as they drive.

On the other side of Moskenes is the gorgeous town of Reine which I found impressive against the sleepy snow capped giants. I envy those live around here for having such natural in their back garden! Walk up to Reine passes 2 vehicle tunnels where the pedestrians have a separate path, a scenic path outside of the tunnel with amazing expansive views. 

As I was hiking most of the day, Reine had been the last town I visited and I am glad that was the last as I now carry great moments thanks for Reine and its sleepy giants. 

Planning

If anyone is plan on visiting, I strongly advise that you plan ahead whether its a day trip or couple of days. It also depends on whether you want to get close to nature with hiking or just walk around. 

Most important thing is to check the ferry times. This is not meant to help tourists, especially day trippers as they have weird arrival and departure times. As mentioned earlier. times vary by day and getting there at 0330 hours does not help anyone, so book some accommodation and get some much needed sleep before anything.

Plan where you want to start your trip and whether you want to walk everywhere or get in by car. Hiring a car would be the most practical approach and easy to get around. I don’t recommend walking but of course you can just like I did 🙂

Happy travels!

 

Experience Maldive village life

Maldives is an absolutely stunning country in the Indian ocean. It is made up of thousands of tiny coral islands which creates gorgeous sandy beaches and is the main attraction.

I grew up in Sri Lanka (Maldives closest neighbor), but getting to Maldives never crossed my mind. General itinerary with Maldives is that you book an expensive resort, stay for a number of days. But this isn’t why I wanted to get there. I wanted to see the real Maldives. One that doesn’t exist to the outside world.

While researching, I came across a new guesthouse located in a ‘village island’, meaning where the locals live (compared to islands that only consist of a resort) and is located in island of Dhiffushi, north of Male’.

Why stay in a village island?

Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted the ‘authentic’ Maldivian experience, plus I didn’t want to pay big bucks to get away from the capital and see it all in its rustic and natural setting. Price you pay to stay in a village setting is cheap as chips compared to a resort but the experience is unforgettable…

Where is it and how to get there?

Dhiffushi is about 2.5 hours by local ferry and I highly recommend you take this slow but more relaxed mode of transportation to experience how the locals do it, and if you want to save the cost of an expensive speed boat ride which can be pretty taxing.

Local ferry departs from Villingili Ferry terminal on the eastern side of the Male’ island. Ferry cost about 20 rufiya which is great and leaves in the afternoon around 2-2.30pm.

Tip: No one in the main airport ferry terminal knows about the ferry to Dhiffushi so asking them will be a waste of time. I’d recommend get to Villingili ferry terminal early, purchase your ticket and then sit in one of the many chairs available in the reception hall under a fan to cool down.

Accommodation

Happy Life Maldives Guesthouse is not a resort, but a smaller lodge style accommodation located in a picturesque corner of the island. They have direct access to the beach where even the local congregate in the evenings.

Lodge is a short stroll from where the ferry arrives and a staff member was there to pick me up. It is a nice small place and has coral sand in the main restaurant area (lovely). Reception area is quite open so you don’t really feel the heat. Nonetheless the fans will help anyone during the day!

Rooms were impeccable, given that I was the only one to enjoy the very big room which usually accommodates 3 people. It was fun! Bathroom was spotless and I admired the whole room setting. Only downside to the room was the tiny staircase which is quite steep and the lack of views from the 3 windows (yes 3!). Room was air conditioned and is great to avoid the day time heat.

Hapy Life is very close to the beach, although you cannot consider it as a beach-front property. Price I paid included meals and was well worth it. Food prepared by staff was tasty and I certainly did like the authentic and rustic meals. If you need more, you can always head to the numerous local cafes and have some hedhikka like I did (I had more than enough). I even bought some local dried fish and ‘mas mirus’ (a local chillie paste equivalent) to take home. Yum!

Hedhikka, Maldivian Short-eats
Hedhikka, Maldivian Short-eats
Hedhikka, Maldivian Short-eats
Hedhikka, Maldivian Short-eats
Hedhikka, Maldivian Short-eats
Hedhikka, Maldivian Short-eats

Beach nearest to the lodge is excellent with crystal clear waters and you can just lay in the beach and admire the view. It is great for snorkeling too if you can as you can see some small fish around. I was able to see baby shark very close to the beach.

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Views out to sea
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Views to Meeru Island resort
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Relaxing…
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Sunset

You can also borrow the kayak and go around the Island or close to Meeru Island resort.

Local women usually hang around the beach during the evening and clean it so its always clean.

The Island

Once you’re in the island, you have the same rights as a local and are free to walk around this island. You can see people going about their daily routines whether it be fishing or boat repairs or even lazing about doing nothing.

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Island architecture and sandy streets
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Coral buildings

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Things to do

Hassan, the local manager at Happy Life is awesome. He was more than happy to arrange anything I wanted to do in the island like fishing, kayaking, snorkelling, etc. Unfortunately I was too scared to go fishing at night so I had to give it a miss which I regret to this day… If I can go back in time, I’d do it in the blink of an eye.

If you prefer to go back to Male’ by a speed boat, ask Hassan about the Sun Island resort speed boat service which would be cheaper. I decided to take this option as leaving around 5am in the morning by local ferry that takes 2.5hours is not worth it. (especially if you did it once!)

Room Tip: Upstairs rooms are best for a view

Hotel: Happy Life Maldives Guesthouse

Where: Dhiffushi, Maldives

Room Type: Standard Double

When: December, 2012

Booked direct with the hotel

Glow Worm Tunnel, Newnes, Wollemi National Park

Glow Worm Tunnel located in Wollemi National Park, NSW is a disused railway tunnel used in early 1900’s. Since abandoning, it has been taken over by tiny worms which produces a bio-luminescent light.

Following is a short article on how best to get there and what to expect.

Location

Located in Newnes within Wollemi national park its located in the middle of nowhere!

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How to get there

There are a number of ways you can get to the tunnel. From my experience, the best way to get there is from Lithgow, driving to the starting point of tunnel with 1 km hike from the start.

Road from Clarence to the tunnel is long and rugged. If you don’t have a 4 wheel drive, trip can feel long and hard with a lot of pot holes on the way. It took 1.5 hours for us to drive from the main turn off point in Clarence to the tunnel entrance driving through the unsealed road.

Road to Glow Worm Tunnel from Clarence
Road to Glow Worm Tunnel from Clarence

Although rugged, its very scenic!

Road to Glow Worm Tunnel from Clarence
Road to Glow Worm Tunnel from Clarence

Best way to approach the glow worm tunnel

Best route to take to the tunnel (if you’re driving) is to take the road from Lithgow.

Why? This road has the least amount of unsealed road. Therefore, the drive up to the tunnel will be a much comfortable drive if you’ve got kids. Will be better for adults too!

From Lithgow, its a 1 hr drive (one way) compared to the longer drive from Clarence (because the road is bad).

Starting point
Starting point

How much time do you need

This place needs more of your attention. Walk up to the cave is beautiful and you will pass a water pool (not sure how to actually get there), a small bridge and stairs. Return trip to the tunnel and back will take about 1.5 hours return (taking it slow and absorbing the whole experience).

Bridge crossing on the way to the tunnel
Bridge crossing on the way to the tunnel
Stairs
Stairs
Water pool
Water pool

What’s there?

Well, what else are you here for? You have reached your destination, the glow worm tunnel!

South entrance to the tunnel
South entrance to the tunnel

(Photo below is from the north entrance)

North entrance to the tunnel
North entrance to the tunnel

When you are there, please take extra time to let your eyes adjust to the minimal light conditions. Doing so will ensure you get to see the amazing experience you are here for, the glow worms!

You will not see them immediately. But having your eyes adjust to the lighting, you will start to see more and more of them with increasing frequency. From my experience, you see more on the way back to the start of the south entrance of the cave than walking to the north entrance.

When you are there…

Please take extra precautions if you have kids. Always carry a torch (per person) as there are no lights within the tunnel. Don’t scream or should which increases the experience for you and for others around you. Hiking boots are recommended if you have them as the road to and inside the tunnel can be slippery.

Other resources: http://www.infobluemountains.net.au/rail/upper/glow_worm.htm