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Saturday, December 21, 2013

FIND ME ELSEWHERE - for travel tips and my reviews....

I don't post my reviews, daily thoughts etc on here... so if you'd like to find them, or know more about me, my life and the places I visit you can find me in the following places:

On TripAdvisor I'm rather unexcitingly known as TrionaM_12

My handle on Twitter - for daily banter

I'm also tridxb on instagram. Most photos on my instagram are not on my blog and I also am more regular at posting there.

I look forward to connecting with you!

Monday, December 9, 2013

An introduction to Sri Lanka

The first thing I want to say about Sri Lanka is: Be careful; you will fall in love with this place and you may never leave. Arriving at 4am on a Sunday morning may not immediately make you think this but believe me, after the first 24 hours it will already have surrounded you and made you feel a little better about things. The sunshine, the sea... even if you've managed to get as far as the mountains - there is something special about the place that I was rapt with from early on. 

People have a huge impact - those you're travelling with or those you meet. For me, the first conversation I had was with Indrani, the hostess at the hostel I was staying at - Beach Monkey in Negombo

It was certainly no frills, but Indrani's attitude and friendliness (even at 5am) more than made up for any lack of facilities. She is just a really warm person. I was barely coherent (see - me & airplanes etc) but she quickly sorted out my bed, deposit etc so I could get to sleep. She also said she'd make breakfast whenever I liked. Over a couple of days and a mix of Sinhalese and broken English I discovered she was from Pereniya, near Kandy and her family worked in tea plantations. Her daughter was getting married in December and she would travel back for the wedding. when she discovered that I wasn't as flush with cash as other travellers she got her son to show me to the bus station and we both took the bus to Kandy. She even made me lunch, free of charge, whilst she was making a portion for him. It was just a wonderful welcome by someone - especially since I was travelling alone.

In the hostel you'll get your bed, a mossie net and a good location. The bathroom is outside (but there are lights) and your shower probably won't be too hot but it's an absolute bargain. I stayed out of season and it cost me about 3 euro's a night! 

Most people aren't incredibly impressed by Negombo but for me it was a nice taster for the rest of Sri Lanka, the children all wanted to high-five me, residents all wanted to speak with me for a few minutes - even those who had nothing to sell. There are lots of shops with pretty high quality leather goods for a fraction of what you would pay in Europe. Cows roam the beaches - which is a new one for an Irish lass
It isn't the tidiest of places but there are stretches of quiet seaside, and little cafe's/bars line it so in the afternoon you can have your own slice of unspoiled sea-views with probably no people around. I liked it. I also had lunch at which all the guidebooks recommend. Everywhere is reasonably priced but it is helpful to know that you're getting quality, as places can vary wildly. I had a lovely fluffy omelette and the staff were very nice. I also had my first taste of Sri Lankan tea. I didn't notice a huge difference but I guess knowing it was picked nearby was pretty cool.

In the evening I headed to Lord's, which is worth a visit just to read the owner, Martin's, story. Fascinating.
The food and drinks were tasty too. Here I had my first arrack cocktail - the local spirit, coconut based and pretty tasty (although even two knocked me a little off-balance!). You can have a fish pedicure and look at some art. I particularly appreciated the sax player providing some bluesy numbers whilst I dined.

So don't rush past Negombo; it's a nice introduction to this beautiful island. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sunrise Temple Tour

Rising at 4.15am is not something I do regularly; in fact I usually get into bed around that time. I am a complete night owl and I really like my sleep (when I can get some sleep - but that's another story). However I was excited to go back to Angkor Wat for sunrise as I'd heard it was really spectacular. April, Laura and I were fairly quiet as we got ready and got out, climbing into the tuk-tuk by 4.35am. Travelling through Siem Reap in the dark and cold, we were anticipating a beautiful sunrise.

As I mentioned in another post, we got ripped off for tea and sandwiches (USD6); the first stall open opposite Angkor Wat does a great trade but if you are there early it's probably best to bring your own food or wait til all the stalls are open. We did try to haggle but they were having none of it. When the others opened we could have gotten tea at a third of the price.

Tourists filed in through the gate in the dark and most seemed to take up a place on the right near the lake. We soon saw why this was - Beautiful pink flowers open in the dawn light. I have a photo but it really doesn't show you how amazing watching the petals unfurl is.

I think it may have been the wrong time of the year for sunrise (as it moves around the temple) and honestly I found sunset alot more rewarding. I'm not Hindu but there is an enormous sense of peace about this place, hard to believe in a war-torn land. If nothing else, you have to appreciate the architecture of the place, the craftsmanship  - sure we can build airplanes and fancy buildings, but without machinery - these temples were built. A testament to the men of that time (and women? Who knows?)

Afterwards most people headed back into town; we had booked our tuk-tuk to continue onto the other temples whilst they were quiet. You can walk it, but some are many kilometres apart so you won't get as many covered in a day so even for the fittest hikers I would recommend using a tuk-tuk or bicycle. We had also bought our ticket the evening before for sunset which included the following day (USD20) - and was enough to do the short tour circuit - (our hostel gave us a map - but this is also good)

Guide books tell you to buy your ticket after 5pm but the office closes at 5pm so be there about 4.30!
So we continued forward to Bayon (the gates are extraordinary, I took my time looking at all the different faces, wondering what they were communicating!) We were approached by a little boy in Bayon who offered to show us around. He told us he was five, but he must have been more like ten. I asked why he wasn't at school but he didn't answer me. April indulged him and let him be her guide and of course afterwards he asked for money. He did have alot of facts and he was a darling but this really isn't encouraged - and he asked for more money after she gave him USD5. I'd imagine earning this money encourages them not to be at school so it isn't ideal. Families do live inside the grounds and have to make a living but this isn't the right way.
Some of the temples are more demanding than others  - since restoration work has been completed you can now climb to the top of Baphuon, but be careful and ensure you have excellent footwear - the steps are slippy and narrow (we went in rainy season) and people have been injured (apparently one died!) after falling off them. The only thing to break your fall is more rock - a little disconcerting!

There are other interesting sites within the walls of the city of Angkor Thom, such as the terrace of elephants, which I loved and the Wall of lepers. Also just before these there was a cafe area where we stopped for some pancakes and coconut milk. It was a little more expensive than town but really not too bad relative to Western pricing. The service was great - always with a smile! You can also buy big bottles of water along the way for USD2 (excessive price but handy when you're walking mid-morning in the sun).

There are alot of people selling their wares within Angkor Thom and around the site. Some are extraordinary. I had to travel light but one guy was painting large tile images outside Bayon and his work really was beautiful. He was charging something like USD15 for a piece. We went onward to Ta Keo and Ta Phrom, famous for portrayal in the first Tomb raider movie. It would be interesting to know if the Hollywood bigwigs contributed any money to the restoration of the temples? Much work is ongoing and most is credited to foreign investment, particularly from Japan. It is fascinating to see how the trees have uprooted rocks or grown around them - it brings another quality to the place and I hope they don't remove all of them.
We finished our tour around 12.45 (after arriving around 5am). You could get more done in the day, but it gets pretty hot around midday and we were rather fatigued (and temple-d) out. I'm really glad I did it, and I'll never forget either sunrise or sunset at Angkor Wat. I think sunrise wasn't quite so spectacular for me as I'd seen sunset first, but maybe different times of year bring different effects.

It's definitely worth reading up on the history beforehand, and also the layout so you have an idea of where you're going and what you're doing. It's also definitely worth continuing on after sunrise to beat the crowds, who seem to start arriving around 9am.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Airport Inertia

Airports are not indicative of the nature of a place and it's probably a good thing, given that I usually arrive in them woozy from lack of, or emerging from sleep, sedatives or a couple of glasses of champagne. In fact, the more I land at, the more they seem to blur into one another. This is one part of globalisation I don't like - I understand that logistics may dictate a certain amount in the design of an airport but I really think more flavour can be added to the interior design at least.

Sometimes we're treated to the stunning visual map of a city at night whilst the plane descends into land - I will never forget my arrival into Dubai in 2004 - it felt like landing on the Vegas strip. I had never seen so much neon or so many skyscrapers. Nowadays the plane always seems to come in across the desert so we don't receive the same visual impact. The airport itself is nondescript. White, more white and acres of space. Passport control is generally a nightmare - regardless of the fact that there's about 60 desks in both Terminal's 1 & 3, they are either partly unmanned or just so busy. One of my favourite life-aids comes into use here - E-gate card, which I am lucky enough to own as I have residency in the


Malaga airport at least tries to brighten the mood amongst arrivals - on the way to passport control you pass a number of photographs displaying the wonders that can be reached from the airport - the Andalucian countryside in all it's glory - Cordoba, Seville, Granada and of course Malaga itself (any photos of the Rock of Gibraltar are conspicuously absent!). It's many treasures both architectural and objets d'art are covered in the exhibition. Everytime I enter I smile, because I know I'm already in Spain.


This year, Dublin airport - or the airport I should say closest to home (but I don't even know what home is anymore) - put on an exhibition of it's own - of Ireland's faces. Some are famous and some aren't. I appreciate what they are trying to do and given that we were an almost completely indigenous island until very recently there are certain celtic traits which are clearly visible and perhaps do suggest to one that you've landed in Ireland - but it doesn't inspire any passion in me for being home. The good thing is that if you land in Dublin on a clear day - you have already been treated to some striking scenery flying in from the Irish sea across Howth head, along Portmarnock and can even spy Croke Park Stadium in the distance.

Artwork trumps ad-work every time and for those stuck in endless terminals something to enlighten oneself on a travellator is a nice distraction - and perhaps for some an education.

I'm sure many of you have visited Heathrow, London and JFK, New York so I don't need to mention how soulless they are. I'm not a Heathrow hater though - I've been through it so many times now that I find it easy to manage and I certainly think it has improved in recent years. Security is a nightmare though, which has become a given in any international city (funnily enough I flew from Sharjah International Airport in U.A.E other day - and I didn't even have to remove my laptop or liquids from my case - perhaps not funny at all? Are Budget airlines not a threat?).

What shocks me is that in the increasingly fashion-obsessed world we're living in is that designers haven't gotten their pricey paws on this huge market? I can certainly see a Dior-Dubai Terminal or Burberry-Beirut. What bigger boost to an ego than a Terminal named after your brand? Even the First class lounges are basic, wouldn't they benefit from a Cavalli-esque makeover? Perhaps the wheels are already in motion, it really wouldn't surprise me.

What is less surprising is that aesthetics are being considered in the new airport designs. Renowned architect, Zaha Hadid is onboard to modernise and visualise a new Heathrow Airport after her deisgns for Zagreb airport in Croatia proved winning.
For me - there's still a lack of substance to these new-gen designs - as they don't reflect the surrounding countryside or culture of each place whatsoever. The design for the new Incheon airport in South Korea looks more like an elaborate flyover rather than saying anything about this wonderfully cultural country.

However I am no architect or engineer and perhaps looking for aesthetics in these functional places is superfluous. All I know is that I ensure my visa is complete before entering any of these airports (this includes filling out those blasted pre-landing cards before arrival), that my passport is handy (not buried in hand luggage), that I have shoes I can slip off, comfortable clothing, a bottle of water and a good book on my Kindle for reading on the queue for passport control. But note to those creatures of vision - we spend more time inside these buildings than outside so some attention to form would be appreciated by those who are terminally in terminals.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Temple-ing it up in Siem Riep.

After a long rest in Siem Reap Rooms, I got up to a hearty breakfast and some chats with fellow travellers (the couple beside me were from Northern Ireland - you can't go anywhere, seriously!) I explored Siem Riep on foot for a bit whilst April slept on. It is a seriously lovely town; very different in style to Phnom Penh - there are traces of French colonialism everywhere.
Me on the streets of Siem RiepAfter April had arisen, Phil (the hostel owner) gave us tips on exploring Siem Riep and the surrounding areas. He asked us what we liked and recommended some itineraries for us. We also had a tuk-tuk driver, Charl, on standby to take us wherever we pleased.
Laura arrived just in time for us to set off for sunset at Angkor Wat. If you've ever been, I don't need to explain how absolutely breathtaking the first sight of Angkor Wat is. The trip in the tuk-tuk was fun, watching all the little street stalls set up opposite the lake and the temples themselves. There were crowds streaming towards the entrance (and it wasn't even high season!) which we followed and we walked up to the main temple to watch the sunset. We watched the monks hurry across the pathways for prayer, resplendent in robes of gold/orange. Over the noise of the birds we could hear their chanting carried on the wind. It was very calming and there is something amazingly spiritual about the place. I can't explain it, to be honest so I'll just post some photos.....

People say it's more spectacular when the sun sets over Angkor Wat itself (The sun moves around at different times of year) but I've never seen anything quite so spectacular.

We were all fairly quiet as we toured around, taking in the magnificence of the temple. It's remarkable how much detail is in the carvings from thousands of years ago. I sometimes wonder if we're getting it wrong  - all the new gadgets and fandangled inventions - these people carved epic scenes in stone! It really is a wonder of the world. 

We visited the famous Red Piano for dinner, a popular day and night spot with great views over the bustling market and streets. We didn't sample the Tomb Raider cocktail there (every tenth one sold is free! Alarm bells were going off every second with people winning free drinks) as we were also doing sunrise at Angkor Wat so had a 4am start. The food was tasty, but nothing really beats street noodle soup in Cambodia. 

So after a fulfilling day we crept back to our fabulously comfy beds for dreams of temples and days gone by.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

On sleeping and a rough ride to Siem Reap

Sleep, or lack of, is very important to me, particularly when travelling. I always want to have the energy to do everything on the itinerary but I'm not 20 anymore so I can't go days without sleep. So some notes.....

Never, ever take a sleeping pill to grab 40 winks. You may find out you wake 4 and a half hours later and have missed something great. This happened to me in Phnom Penh, but more on that later. There are lots of corollary's to this however....
Don't ever take a sleeping pill or herbal sleeping aid before a night out, as you will likely be a little dazed and confused throughout the night and alcohol will not help.
Sleeping pills ARE actually super for napping on buses, trains, boats etc...just ensure your baggage is safe.
I also found them good for when you really do need to get some sleep (i.e physically demanding trek next day)
Valerian root is a good herbal alternative. Two of these and you'll be gonzo after about twenty mins... for at least 4 hours, even if you're a dreadful sleeper like me.

A well-travelled friend once told me how herself and friends used to lie perpendicular with their legs against a wall, the blood rushes to the head making it great for a quick nap. Whenever I think about her I can never get this image out of my head (4 girls in a hostel in India, asleep with their legs in the air).

When we left Koh-Rong we wanted to get to Siem Reap in the easiest manner possible. After our usual hour or two sleep, we got up and out of our hut (7am!), had breakfast a little further along the beach and then boarded our boat back to Sihanoukville, a little sorry to be leaving the paradise of the island. From there it was a minibus to town and we thought we might catch a bus to Siem Reap directly. We were wrong, even though it was only noon, it had already left. So hot, bothered and tired we decided to get a taxi. I may have mentioned this before but SERIOUSLY - Agree taxi fares in advance, say you will pay half first and half WHEN YOU REACH YOUR DESTINATION. April and I got nicely ripped off whilst on our way from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. We said we would pay for a taxi the whole way {thinking it would save time and be more comfortable...ah the naivety of the little travelled}. We paid USD 130. This IS a rip-off. When your tired and realise you have probably about 7 hours of travel ahead, it seems a small price to pay. Our first taxi driver was on the phone constantly, he also didn't speak a single word of English. The A/C didn't work, as such I had guzzled 2 litres of water an hour into the trip and we were both soaked with sweat. Opening the window was infinitely worse as most Cambodian roads are dusty, and it was pretty humid outside too. We were unceremoniously dumped on the side of the road in Phnom Penh where another gent picked us up. He was very friendly but he was an absolutely chaotic driver and when it got dark we genuinely weren't sure if we would make it out of that car alive. There are no street lights on these roads, no railings and many places were flooded due to recent rains. We had two seriously near misses where he actually screamed, we landed (Yes, we had been slightly air-bound momentarily!) on the road and he laughed maniacally, telling us that had been close. April and I were actually holding hands at this stage. He also claimed many times that he hadn't been paid but I point blank refused to pay another cent. We had already paid 130USD for one taxi which had turned into two!! Also, rather than just get to Siem Reap we had to stop at a roadside restaurant for he and his friend to eat (oh yes, he also picked up a random friend on the way! Two girls with two men in a taxi in a foreign country at night, we were imagining the headlines). I just wanted to get there. I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep due to the wild driving and also I badly needed the toilet. In Siem Reap he wanted to bring us to another hostel, a usual ploy of taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, but again I stood fast on the place we had booked. I am sure the man thought I was an awful bitch but I hadn't slept properly for 3 nights, hadn't had a proper shower in the same amount of time and we had been travelling from 8am that morning (We reached Siem Reap around 11.15pm). I cannot express our manic delight when we checked into Siem Reap Rooms.
 It was gorgeous. Set down a quiet street, it was pristinely clean, there were sandwiches available even though we had checked in late and the gruff owner Phil was so helpful to us.
I will never forget how April and I were nearly delirious with glee to discover that hot water came out of the fully functioning shower in our lovely, clean, spacious room. We were actually giggling as we washed our feet together and then clambered into huge comfy single beds for hours of interrupted sleep.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Koh-Rong - off the map

Koh-Rong is two hours off the coast of Southern Cambodia, technically somewhere in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand. To anyone else in the world - it's Timbuktoo or Narnia, not many will ever get to go there but believe me it's worth it.

It's basically a like a beachfront village. There is no five-star accomodation here - in fact I think the tree-top hut April and I inhabited for our stay ($15) was about as classy as it gets. The only disconcerting part was that after we'd walked down the wooden quay to the beach (after getting off the boat) we entered Coco's (after removing our flip flops - everyone in the bar is barefoot) and the first thing I hear is a Dublin accent.... Almost 11, 000 km from home...sure where else?
Our hut - Fabulous, although we were convinced there was a polar bear from "Lost" underneath it one night. This may have had something to do with copious amounts of alcohol and some hallucinogenics... we didn't plan on the hallucinogenics by the way.... but on a remote island in South East Asia...well, let's say you're always going to get more than you planned for.

There is very little electricity on the island. Coco's had a generator but all the lights outside the bar go off around 1am. We made our way back to the hut in the dark or by candlelight, we also heard alot of other people falling around the place in the dark late at night.

The few days spent there were passed in a hazy bliss, massages overlooking the sea as the sun went down.... delicious noodle soup served in a shack which had a roof but only two walls (people lived there and dogs and chickens ran all around our feet), snoozing in the sunshine after swimming in crystal clear waters, drinking suspect cocktails at Coco's and dancing to questionable Euro-pop with other backpackers who'd found the island, eating fresh fish that the man went out and caught right in front of us in the ocean - with a spear no less, watching youths learning to become flame-throwers....It was all a little surreal.
My favourite little pup - BBQ!

Sandflies and puppies and Phil, the traveller from Manchester who was completely spaced out, we didn't know if he'd been there 4 days, 4 months or 4 years. I had breakfast with him one morning where we had a long discussion (mostly him - I was still recovering from casting Harry Potter spells in the bar the previous night) about how it would be if we could all read eachother's minds. Phil eventually came to the conclusion that it would be a bad idea. Excerpt as follows:
Phil: It would be bad, really bad....(spaces out for a bit - I'm still looking at him) bad, man, ye know?
Me: Yeah
Phil: Like I'm a nice guy, a bright guy and I know alot of stuff, but sometimes...sometimes I just think - I'd like to kill you, ye know?
Me: Yeah (Note I didn't even argue here, maybe I too was spaced out)
Phil: Not you personally but you know when you meet someone really stupid.....stupid, stupid (pointing at his head)
Me: Yeah
Phil: Well, like that, you're like Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! in your head like, and I wouldn't want people to know that
Me: Yeah, I know what you mean Phil.
And then he lay down on the bench again, staring into space, with one hand up shaped like a claw. He was an interesting guy.

Standards and habits that you have at home need to go by the wayside when you're traveling. April managed to wash her hair each day in the cold water, but I mostly just had a swim in the sea and a sponge down afterwards, my hair was in an interesting condition after three days but my skin was ultra soft! I lived in a bikini and sometimes threw a ti-shirt over it.

All the children on the island are schooled in one room - which has a roof but is otherwise open air. We could hear them learning their colours in English as we passed down the beach. Absolutely charming. These people are poor though and rarely go to the mainland, we would see them washing their clothes in the sea and the clothes lines hung across the trees. They are so friendly though, always smiling. The children would run down the beach after us and giggle shyly if we said hello or waved.

There's wonderful diving and snorkelling off the island. You can even go at night, as the sharks come out then :) We were content just to read and swim and take it all in, the longest walk we managed was about twenty minutes.

There will be gecko's and mice in your room, and possibly other things too, but I thought of a hut on a lake in Thailand two years previously and just decided to go with it. There's no point stressing over these things when you're traveling - you just won't enjoy it as much. Which is not to say that I didn't sleep in with April, and all her luggage, whilst on the island (I found fresh droppings in my bed....when my mossie net had been up...) but then there's more stories in there.

Koh Rong is due for redevelopment soon, which is a real pity. I think they are going to stick some five star resort on it, and you can see why, but they will definitely destroy some of the wonderful magic they have going on there.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Staying in a shack in Sihanoukvile

After a 7 1/2 hour bus ride through the country-side (which is very picturesque by the way, but after that length of time, and mostly in the dark it gets a little tiring) we disembarked in Sihanoukville. The town was larger than we originally thought and since it was by now 9.30pm we knew we weren't getting to the island of Koh Rong that night so we set about finding suitable accommodation. We teamed up with two Swiss guys and got a tuk-tuk down towards the sea, finding a hostel/guesthouse on the corner. We checked out the log cabins and it seemed clean so we booked in for the princely sum of USD12 each.
Our cabin in Sihanoukvile

After a quick bite we decided to explore the little coastal town, first coming across two cows wandering down the main street. I wished I had a camera as it was absolutely hilarious to watch. They walked up to a little bar and a man sitting down nearly jumped out of his seat. We saw many tourists/backpackers like ourselves in the bars dotting the seafront. It was like a really run-down version of the seafronts you see in Majorca or Ibiza. There were little shacks everywhere on the beach with various genres of music blasting out and people in various stages of undress, many holding joints, dancing to the rhythms being pumped out.

We found a place where we could book the boat to Koh Rong and also accomodation in some treetop huts at Coco's. As the boat departed at 8 we decided we should head back and get some sleep for our early rise. Unfortunately sleep was not to be that soon as the lights went off I heard some scratching in my bed. Terrified of bed bugs, I decided I would sleep on the covers, but that didn't work either so I moved over to April's bed. She seemed to be sleeping soundly. Unfortunately her bed was near the window so I could hear our neighbours outside their room partying. I took a panadol night....then half an hour later another......then a Xanax, then another. Eventually I gave up and just read my book. Not a nice feeling. We struggled out of the room around 7am, without showers and made our way by tuk-tuk to the meeting place for the boat....where we were told that the bus had left. He'd mistakenly given us the wrong time (although he maintained that he hadn't). We asked if the tuk tuk driver would take us to the port.... It was a battle against time, we didn't know if the tuk-tuk would make it...we tore along the streets, maneuvering in and out of traffic, animals and people... we pulled up at the port and dashed to our boat just as they were pulling up the anchor. Relieved, we sat quietly in the sun, getting our breath back and watching the boats go by.

Bye Bye Sihanoukvile! We made it!

It was the first time I really realised how far away we were. It was a great feeling but also quite emotional. April and I had been rushing around since we'd met up but the stresses of the previous month (after the break-up) were getting to me and I had a little cry on the boat. It passed quickly - I think I just needed a little release. April was great, she put her arms around me and told me, as great friends do - that it would all be fine. Watching the pretty clouds pass by and the open blue sea ahead, I thought maybe she might have a point.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

They do things differently - tips I wish I'd had prior to my Cambodia trip

I thought rather than bore you with some of the anecdotes that led to these tips, I would just put them down in an easy format for you. Cambodia is a wonderful country but if you're from the Western world you have to accept that things are very different from home.

1. Bring an adaptor. Sure, it seems obvious but you wouldn't believe how many people assume "the hostel" will have one. Some do, but the more off the beaten track you are, they probably won't. We were in a small bar on an island and approx 30 people were trying to charge their ipads, iphones etc with one adapter.
Voltage: 230 V; Plugs A & C* (Some outlets are a combination of type A and C and can accept either type plug. Plug G may be found in some hotels.)

2. Do take your malaria tabs before you go. I've actually heard people bragging about not taking them. Not big and not clever. Be wary that those tabs may affect your mood, so I wouldn't recommend taking them the day before going to S21 or the Killing Fields. You might cry endlessly or decide that you're going to go and destroy Pol Pot's grave. I didn't do either thankfully (my fellow travellers might argue that point!). S21 was pretty emotional anyway.

3. Realise that time is a very loose idea in Cambodia. If someone suggests that a bus trip will take 4 hours, bank on about 7. If they say you're going somewhere in a tuk-tuk about 40 minutes away, it will be at least double. Accept it. This is how it is. Thousands of travellers don't complain and neither should you.

4. If you do have extra cash it is sometimes worth it to take a taxi. Do haggle though and do have an idea of what you think is a fair price prior to doing the haggling. We got completely done travelling from Sihanoukville to Siem Reap. We paid USD130 and later found out USD75 could have covered it.   Also, pay half first and half when you get there, otherwise  - again like us, you could end up having travel arrangements you didn't bargain on (Changing to another taxi with no question - could have been fatal! No A/C etc)

5. Always buy bottled water, use it for brushing your teeth, washing vegetables etc. Dengue is on the rise, and there is no cure. Although it doesn't affect foreigners as much, it is a waterborne disease, one silly mistake and you could find yourself with a very upset tummy indeed (not nice on a 7 hour bus journey!). Maybe I was a little paranoid by keeping my mouth closed in the shower but you never know!

6. About scams and paying too much. Most of the people are very nice and not out to scam you. If you think that something is overpriced or a scam then be polite and walk away. Remember that these people have to make a livelihood too. We were quite upset that we got totally ripped off pre-dawn at Ankor Wat. We paid for tea and bread rolls and thought it was a bit pricey only to find that half an hour later other stalls had opened selling things at half the price. There are alternatives - if your hostel has food available organise that in advance - ours did - it was an amazing hostel with great food and Phil is a super host/owner. You can also get breakfast if you stay on the temple tour after Ankor Wat, really reasonable and anything you want (Pancakes!).

7. Be wary of child prostitution. Everywhere you go you will see signage about hostels not allowing people to enter with minors. This is a real and serious problem in Cambodia, we saw it in Phnom Penh. Please report anything suspicious to the police. People should visit this country for it's beauty and nothing else. Also, in the markets in Phnom Penh I noticed there was normally an older girl who kept an eye on the younger children. If you can't find the police approach these girls, they are really grateful and ever vigilant.
The guys in the next hut definitely didn't obey no.3

8. Be respectful around religious monuments. This is a Buddhist country, take care not to stand with your back to Buddha's when taking photo's etc. Also, remember the whole area of Angkor Wat and the temples is sacred - dress appropriately (knees and shoulders covered).

9. Every guidebook will tell you not to give to beggars. To be honest, it's only encouraging them and keeping them out of employment. Alot of people will offer to be a guide and then expect some form of payment. There are places your money can do good. Check out Friend's Restaurant (and shop, and beauty training school!!) in Phnom Penh. The food is fabulous, unusual and portions are huge so don't order too much. Pop next door then for fabulous handmade gifts and you can get your nails done. We love, love, loved this place.

Overall, just be safe and enjoy. Take much with a grain of salt - this is not your country. Any questions - I'm happy to answer!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Cambodia - Phnom Penh

My oldest friend April planned to travel for a few months at the end of 2012. I was envious and really wanted to join her but could only really take a couple of weeks off so we planned to meet in Cambodia.  I can't go into a day by day blog like other trips but I did take some notes....

Day 1 - First impressions of Phnom Penh was that it was so different to Bangkok - I finally felt I was in "real" Asia. The airport was tiny and the staff/police there were unsmiling. Outside was a different story. My tuk-tuk driver Pauli awaited me and negotiated the crazy streets with ease. I have never, ever seen so many motorcycles. People everywhere smiled, waved and stared (I am incredibly white, even moreso than the average Irish person and this is a source of great interest for non-Caucasians). I noticed that although everyone is fighting for space in traffic there's almost a system. They squeeze in but don't push you out of the way!

The fumes!

I was excited to be on my own to explore for the day but looking forward to April's arrival. Phnom Penh is such a mixture of the modern and the old. It is a city that still bears the hallmarks of the civil war in the '70's. Could it be called a war? It was more like wanton slaughter by a dictator, people didn't really fight back!

Bird of Peace - A bird sculpted out of recovered machine gun parts - a grim reminder of war.

The city also has a lot of greenery, small shop shacks line the streets, walking was a pleasure although people wondered why I hadn't hired a tuk-tuk or motorcycle.

There are beautifully ornate statues everywhere and Buddhist objects. Strange smells and sights assaulted me everywhere on my walk. I was warned about rats down by the river but didn't see any.

April and I stayed in Me Mates place -
It had been recommended by friends and fellow travellers. It ended up being more expensive than everywhere else we stayed but it was clean and we had our own bathroom. Also, having a bar downstairs with internet was nice, and the owners have dogs (I LOVE dogs!). I didn't find any of the others guests particularly friendly before April arrived but the locals on the street were really nice and were showing me their English copybooks and trying to learn off me which was charming. I shared some of my cigarettes with them and whiled away the time until April arrived.

I felt excited about the rest of the trip and it was brilliant to have my best friend by my side again in a brand new country!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Last night in Split

Most of the boys grabbed a quick kip on the bus back to Split whilst Ryan, Lisa and I chatted boobs and bodies. Back onboard Sarah showed me her wares from shopping (including a pretty little friendship bracelet for me) as I lolled on the bed, needing a nap but knowing I had no time. A shower pepped me up and we had a quick vodka before leaving - already late for the restaurant.
We headed to a pretty courtyard in Split where Louise had booked us in for dinner. Even though we were late - once again they hadn't the table ready (did they just not believe 18 of us would turn up?). We all got seated, ordered wine and beer and set about perusing the menu. Lisa and I were both looking for a bit of seafood and after tasting Lucie's delicious octopus salad starter we knew we had made a good decision. As one can probably imagine, being so coastal - seafood everywhere in Croatia is pretty much delicious. They do like to make it in pies and quiches though which isn't really my style. I prefer it on the grill with a bit of garlic and salt - and straight to my plate. More food and wine arrived, laughs were being had around the table. We tried to get Allan and Lisa to wear their new ti-shirts - Allan's was "Nude Lifeguard"! No one was thinking about the fact that it was our last night. We discussed future group activities - a ski/snowboard trip to Lebanon, the boys doing a triathlon, my solo trips to various places next year. The restaurant rustled up a kind of birthday cake (there seemed to be alot of cream or ice cream and not alot of cake) for Allan and it was time to make our way to the end of cruise party at a nearby bar.

Chloe and I after dinner.

I had to bid a sweet goodbye to Lisa as she was ill and flying very early and then Chloe and I went on our own little tour to find the bar, and perhaps a tattoo parlour on the way. We had decided on our first night to get tattoo's together but we couldn't decide on designs etc. There had been some joking at dinner that I would get the line from "Braveheart" - "This is my island" inked somewhere on my body but I thought that might be a future regret! I was contemplating some musical notes, a melody or riff - somewhere inconspicuous but there was no tattoo parlour in sight so we settled on some shots in a side street bar before finally reaching Cocktail Bar Paradiso for the Sail Croatia farewell party. There we hooked up with our super rep Janice and had a few drinks with her before the Jager train to top them all. In our usual tradition, it had to be bigger, better and longer than anyone else's. You'd know we lived in Dubai! I don't know how the number came about - I believe it was something to do with beating other boat's tallies but 62 was decided on. It took an hour and a half to set up (mainly because some muppet stood on the bench where it was being set up and knocked half the red bulls down).
Even in the photo we can spot some of our new friends!
After we'd all had a few and mingled with the strangers, it was time to embarrass Allan (It was difficult to know whether he was embarrassed or not as he was so sunburned! You can see him at the top of the picture there - darker than anyone else). Lauren (my friend in Dubai, dating Allan) had sent gifts from Dubai for Allan to open on the night and Gareth felt it only right to give the birthday boy a snog. I've never seen Allan snog a man before and to be honest I'm not sure it will happen again! I fitted in some time to kiss Sarah (She begged) and have a little dance around. I don't even remember the music. There may not have been music!

We walked back to the boat through picturesque rain-washed streets and decided to get our party on back onboard. Drink was acquired from various places, music was set-up on the top deck and deck-chairs were dragged around. Perfect for more dancing. Our fun didn't last long, the Captain came up and asked us to not to party. A little deflated but aware that he was being perfectly fair (He did have to get up every day and cook for us) Doug mentioned a beach nearby so we decided to bring the party there. Gary even let us borrow his speakers. The beach was a bit of a walk away so many got lost along the way and there was a weird crowd there (outsiders!) when we arrived. After a vodka I decided I would head back to the boat. I was a little disorientated and seemed to have lost alot of people so I thought it would be better to go back and find them.

I met Chloe as I got on deck and we sat down with Katie and Elliot just inside the hallway on a little sofa where they'd perched many nights of the trip. There were people running around the boat and from room to room as dawn broke and all I could think of was how I had to leave so many amazing people in a few hours - including my old (and new friends) from Dubai. I was exhausted, 7 nights of drinking was taking it's toll and I was all too aware that I had to be up in about 3 hours. It wasn't the best feeling.
Suffice to say, it only got worse before I left. I managed to only get about an hours sleep, and ended up packing in the most uncoordinated, horrible mindset I've ever been in. I wasn't quite hungover but I was definitely dehydrated, I wasn't quite sober but not happy drunk. It was dreadful. Meanwhile Sarah was singing around the cabin, still drunk and completely oblivious to the fact that we had to get up and out.
As I sat on a bench beside the boat (and found my pashmina tied around it?!) in the blazing morning sunlight watching Katie spew into the port I was hit by bags of rubbish as some of the crew removed them from the boat. That was pretty much how it felt - from top deck luxury to the gutter - all in a few hours.

It was a strange last night but an amazing trip that I'm sure none of us will ever forget...
Hvala na sjećanjima Hrvatskoj.

Friday, August 16, 2013

A quick aside - some theatre...

For those of you who are interested in my blog - you may also be interested in my theatre work. This will be streaming this evening 8pm GMT

An interesting project involving actors and writers from Ireland and the U.S.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

White-water Rafting - Omis

We were already in motion as breakfast took place on Friday morning. I was in great spirits after a good night sleep and was dancing around our cabin. Sarah was just laughing at me, particularly when I managed to stub my toe off the end of the bed and yowled in pain. I wasn't excited it was the last day but I was definitely going to make the most of it.

After our morning swim we all congregated on deck to chat about our plans for the day and night. Most of us had signed up for white water rafting which we would reach by bus from our next stop in Omis. Some of the girls had opted to stay behind for some shopping and Louise said she would organise dinner and drinks for Allan's birthday that evening.

So we boarded a couple of buses to take us to our start point and I got to catch up with Katie and the goings-on with some of our other passengers and accompanying Sail Croatia boats. It seemed there was no end of scandal and the final night was sure to bring some more! Put it this way, there'd been lots of secrecy about who was with who and as a result some egos had been hurt and others had been doing things as revenge. Possibly a little childish, but what does anyone expect with boatful's of single people?

All of our group couldn't fit in the one boat, which was a little disappointing but we kitted up and got ready to go. I'd never tried it before and was very excited, if a little nervous that I might get flung off over some rocks! Gary and Gareth took up the front, Cahal and Pearce behind them, Lucie and I were opposite eachother with Doug and Lisa beside the instructor(whose name escapes me right now). Doug had chosen to ride with us for some good photo ops.

Our instructor was brilliant and it seemed pretty clear. There was also something very sexy about him in a real rugged, outdoorsy way :)
We could row forward or back and Boomba! meant get your oars flat on the side of the raft as quick as possible and duck! It started off rather gently but we were in hot pursuit of the other boats and enjoyed a bit of splashing them with our oars, particularly one of the other boats who were rowing around in circles. We seemed to get a good rhythm going between us, but I think I may have poked Lisa or Lucie on the knee once or twice with my oar. I'm not hopelessly uncoordinated but nor am I a natural! It was much better fun whenever the instructor shouted "Boomba!" as the trees came in low and we all had to scramble low in the boat. Once I managed to miss this and got walloped by a branch but I thought it was quite funny.

We also rowed hard up against some rocks to get right up and over having a proper splash down and emptying our helmets of water over ourselves and other boats to cool down (It was utterly freezing water) and have some water fights. The scenery was absolutely spectacular. We made our way slowly through these towering rocks (which people have been known to base jump off) and it was like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Once again, Croatia was taking my breath away and I've no idea why it's such an under-rated place for holidays.

We stopped at a little place to climb to our next part as apparently the rafting was too advanced and dangerous in one part of the river. That was a little disappointing but a stroll through the hills in the sunshine was lovely and Lisa tried to convince Phil that a tumble in the jungle might be some fun - unfortunately there was no time for that!

Back in our boats we had some more fun, picking up speed to make the drops more exciting. There was plenty of laughter on our boat and the girls had pushed through the pain barrier (It really hurts your arms at the start then it doesn't seem to matter so much anymore) so we all had a good rhythm going again. We rowed in under a freezing waterfall and got some great photos of Lucie and Gareth enjoying splashing around in a cave (I swear both must have been dogs in a former life - and I mean that in a good way) and then onto a rest stop where the boys took turns in jumping off some of the rocks. Plenty of belly flops there! Cahal seems to have jumping off things down to a fine art as he can back flip and move in mid-air - very graceful!!!

We were sad when it came to an end but it meant celebratory beers and chips after an exhilarating day. I'll definitely be trying that again, absolutely loved it!

Thanks again to Doug for the photos - none of our cameras were waterproof!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Moody in Makarska

Thankfully someone had sorted the music by the time I woke on Thursday morning. I sincerely regretted the latter part of the night before. Well the drinking bit anyway. When will I find an "off" button?

I wasn't in the mood for people really but I headed up on deck and decided to snooze in the sun. This was regularly punctuated by appearances of various people on deck and everyone else slagging them on the night before's antics. Halvor had left, having a stag party to get to in Norway - but I'm not sure whether he'd made his flight on time! By the time it came to lunch I was falling into my bowl of soup with tiredness so I took myself down to one of the quieter decks without so much as a bite of my main course. I tend to lock myself away when I'm feeling moody/hungover but that's not really possible when on a boat. Eventually the solution of a couple of Xanax and back to bed seemed the best possible alternative. Most people were napping the afternoon away but Lucie and Louise headed into the markets to check out the bargains and pirate wear and I believe there's a cool Shell Museum in Makarska too.
Markarska at sunset

Doug had told us that one of the other Sail Croatia boat's was having a pirate party later on that night. Unusually for us, we weren't up for it but I think most people were still nursing their heads and egos from the previous night. I would have gotten into the spirit but was happy to go along with the group.

Lucie and Louise had picked another picturesque spot for us to have dinner on the other side of town. I was rearing to go for a good night out (again!?) and needed some ballast for the drinking ahead.  We reached a beach at the other side of town and witnessed another stunning sunset (honestly only Ankor Wat has beaten Croatia for sunsets) whilst the boys skimmed stones across the sea.

We took our seats, each of us facing the ocean, and ordered the wine. For me, white wine was touch and go in Croatia. I like a dry white and have grown more picky over the years. They only sell Croatian wines and it is rather expensive - you're looking at at least 15euro a bottle and it can go upto E30, which in comparison to 1euro beers and 1.50 vodka's is extortionate. The nicest wine I found was Intrada, in Korcula, but it wasn't always available elsewhere. I usually asked the waiter to advise on a dry white for me, but they weren't always reliable (I suppose it's a personal thing and their tastebuds probably differ).

I had Lisa on one side and Sarah on the other, which I was growing accustomed to. Conversation was difficult in the set-up as you could only really talk to who was on either side and not stretch to either end of the table. Still the meal was pleasant and enjoyable and I tried to ignore conversations going on beyond either side of me. Lisa was still feeling a bit fluey and in need of a good night sleep so she headed back to the boat early and Sarah assured me she'd be back out later but I wasn't confident.

A few people seemed up for a proper night out (Lucie, Dave, myself and ever-dependable Ryan). I really thought Allan and Gareth could be convinced too. I forget Allan has some serious willpower when it comes to NOT drinking. He wanted to enjoy the last day, which was fair enough. So, some of us stayed on at the restaurant drinking cocktails and shots.
Unattractive blowjob drinking (that's the name of the shot!)

We headed back towards the boat and people began to fade. I contemplated joined the pirate party but everyone seemed completely wasted so it was some on deck drinks with Dave, Gareth and Ryan whilst Ivan was still serving. Katie, Liz and Chloe came by to tell us they were going to the club nearby but the Club in a cave which Makarska is famous for wasn't open so I declined. I'd had enough of clubs after the night before.

It seemed like an early night was on the cards and I'd probably be better off for it, so I snuggled in next to Sarah (my instincts had been right about her coming back!) read a bit of my holiday read, and dropped off to sleep around 1.30am.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Korcula - I thought I knew ya....

Finally I made breakfast! Sleepy headed Sarah was baffled when I clambered out of my bed at 8.30am and asked where I was headed but she decided to join me and Lucie at the breakfast table. It was a very continental breakfast - meats, cheese, yoghurts and bread. Not quite enough fruit for my liking but at least we got something into us. On Day 4/5 of the holiday, it felt like an achievement. The weather wasn't looking too great yet so we grabbed another hours nap before our daily jump into the sea to blow the mind and refresh the senses. I tried to jump onto a lilo and completely missed. Doug saw the whole thing and cracked up but luckily didn't catch me with his camera.

Then it was time for some editing on deck (Yes, I brought my first draft!) in the sunshine until we docked in Korcula. Even at first glance it was beautiful and resembled Dubrovnik. We all took off exploring the old town and churches, Lisa and I lighting candles and admiring the art within. Korcula was the home of Marco Polo but also seemed like a setting for Romeo and Juliet. I took more photo's here than anywhere else.
There was a cocktail bar recommended where you could get your cocktails by pulley which we really fancied, but it wasn't open so we stopped at the Fly-In near our port for drinks in the afternoon sunshine. After a few drinks and ice-creams Lisa, Pearse and myself took off to book a place for dinner which we all agreed on (Croatian tapas - sounds good to me!) and a look into some of the shops.  Tipsy shopping can go well or not - I ended up with new flip-flops, new sunnies and a hat! After another afternoon tipple some of us headed back to the boat but the boys continued enjoying their pints in the sunshine.

After the pre-requisite drinks on deck we strolled down one of the pretty alleyways to our restaurant for dinner. It was quite near the photo taken above and they set up our table out on the terrace (as they couldn't fit us inside!). Gary and I decided on a sharing platter to get in as much of the good stuff that we liked (Olives, cheese, meats, bread, anchovies...yum) after an eggplant starter. The wine was good, conversation was flowing and a guitarists melodies drifted over from a bar nearby. We didn't want to leave, however we had a street party to get to and some people were on a mission to score that night so we finally did, after sitting over dinner a few hours. Of course we started the street party with a Jaeger train and Lisa carrying men off down the street as well as a bit of pole dancing (I missed the pole until later when there was some greasy man on it!!). I got involved in shots with some others from our boat - Ashley, Josh etc and Lucie and Halvor joined in. We thought we had a few casualties and early sleepers but it turned out Gareth had broken his flip-flops and they had gotten delayed at another bar!

Pearce had stolen my hat and was being chatted up by men nearby. Katie dragged me over to give Elliot a talking to for misbehaving the previous night. It was all getting very messy by the time we reached the club. Jagers were going down like water, people were being pinned up against bars in suggestive dance moves, all of us were jumping on the couches dancing and singing our heads off. In restrospect it sounds messy. It was, but it was a lot of fun!

After getting involved in one too many love triangles and trying to play Mommy too much I decided to redeem the night and sought out Dave for a few drinks. Dave is always a solid man to have a good time with. He never moans, he'll listen to you have a moan but then he'll get you in the mood for a bit of craic anyway. Thus we ended up wandering the streets of Korcula looking for sustenance around 4.30am. He was missing his lovely wife Linda (who couldn't come with us on the cruise) and drunken texts seemed like a great idea at that moment. As it started to get bright I got tired and headed back to the boat. There was much running around as usual so I took to one of the decks with Katie and Andre to make innings into a bottle of vodka. This wasn't my brightest idea as the sun was coming up and eventually I ended up tearful and maudlin, sitting with Cahal, both of us wishing things were different.

It was a sad way to end Korcula, as it really is a spectacular place but I was sure after a few hours sleep the boat would look very different.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Memories of Mljet

Tuesday afternoon I crawled above deck just prior to docking at Mljet. Everyone was gathered around Lisa who had tales of her "birthday present" and it seemed some people down the other end of the deck were discussing it too ;). After we'd post-mortemed the night (Classified!) and our tour guide advised us all on the afternoon's activities, we disembarked to go swim in the sea nearby.

Mljet is a gorgeous little island off Dubrovnik, with a national park and a small community devoted to conservation. The sea was freezing, as usual, but we had fun playing around in the small pool nearby and the boys took turns in trying to dive through the various rings they had brought. Somehow I managed to hit the bottom of the sea, despite being the smallest, scraping my already banjaxed toes along the bottom. Ryan and Gary had the music going and it was very relaxing. When the wind had blown us dry we picked up and headed back to the boat for some afternoon drinks and to prepare for a cycle around the island.

Sarah and myself's late night chatting caught up with us and we decided on a quick nap but when the boys came to get us for cycling neither of us could move. It looked absolutely spectacular, particularly St. Mary's islet and monastery. After I'd caught an hour or two sleep I went off on a little walk of my own to explore. It was absolutely peaceful and the sounds of nature recharged me as I walked. On my way back I decided I'd choose a restaurant for that nights dinner and spoke to some of the restaurant owners. They were all friendly but I needed a place to cater for the various palates of our group so I settled on one where they had a varied menu. I stocked up on some snacks and drinks at the local shop and returned to the boat - having to cross 5 other boats to reach ours. In the process I lost one of my lovely white flip flops but decided against retrieving it as the depth of the drop between the boats was a little far for me!

Then it was time for drinks in the bar on deck again and everyone was pretty relieved that this definitely wasn't going to be a late night. No hidden clubs in coves here! We headed over to dinner and after a little bit of a wait we were delighted to find that the local food was very nice indeed. Gary said it had been his best meal on the trip so far.

Conversation over dinner at my end of the table centred around jobs in Dubai and us trying to convince Katie, Chloe and Liz that they should go to find work in Dubai. I think we sold it well? (Although after a week with us on a boat maybe not?!). The wind was sweeping in off the ocean making us very chilly but a nice Intrada wine warmed me up.

Dave, Gareth, Doug and myself stayed back at the restaurant to finish the wine, being literally the last to leave the restaurant and then Doug and I got into a conversation about the photography industry - given I had worked in it back in Dubai. We stopped off at the nearest little beach bar to the boats and had a drink with some people who were on other cruises. Back onboard it was time for a little night-cap on the top-deck with most of the girls cosied up under quilts. It was so windy, but the sky was sparkling with stars and we all felt we could have slept out there.

I retired at a reasonable hour - think it was just past two - and delighted that I could probably get a quality night sleep before our trip to Korcula on Wednesday.

(Photos - Doug Harding for the group shot in the pool)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Rainy Day in Dubrovnik

Sarah and I were jolted awake by a strange loud noise....the anchor dropping. It was time to jump off the top deck into the sea to awaken the senses. Some were feeling better than others, some were worshipping the porcelain god. As we sailed towards Dubrovnik the skies darkened and drops of rain could be felt on the top deck. I still wanted to explore this UNESCO Heritage city and see it's historic walls but a few of our group cried off in order to nurse sore heads, tummies and bottoms!
So we headed by bus up to the old city. A tour guide met us to take us around. The city is listed as one of the ten best walled cities in the world and it has some really beautifully preserved buildings. Although the Yugoslav wars affected Dubrovnik as recently as the early '90's and results of damage from shelling can be seen in various places  - alot of restoration work has returned the place to splendour. I personally loved the little side streets and all the steps that looked like they lead to little hideaways. Lucie was snapping away and has over 300 photos of the place!

After some pizza and more exploring everyone decided they wanted to climb the city walls (by steps, not ropes and harnesses!) but after I slipped on the first few steps I decided I couldn't apply myself to the task and really I just wanted to go back to bed! I'm sorry I missed the views but it was lovely to get back to the boat and listen to the rain from the comfort of my bed.

We got up as the sun was setting and everyone was feeling recharged and ready for a night on the town. It was time for drinks on deck again to toast Lisa's actual birthday so we started on the cocktails and the banter was flying. No man or woman was safe tonight with us unleashed on the streets of Dubrovnik.

We had booked a recommended restaurant for dinner, Ragusa 2 (Ragusa is the Croatian word for Dubrovnik) and we ordered some local specialities and a bottle of Prosecco for birthday girl. Unfortunately the food wasn't that impressive - Lisa had to send hers back twice! But we had a few good giggles and got her some chocolate cake. After that it was time for Jagers, Tequilas and BUCKETS of drinks at Skybar. Sarah and I got all serious and emotional for a bit (constant drinking and late nights will do that to you!) but soon loosened up and started dancing in the laneways. I got chatting with Chloe, one of the lovely Kiwi girls from our boat, and we all headed off to Revel nightclub, in the city walls! Ever so cool location! Doug, our brilliant photographer captured us all on our way to Revel.

Chloe and I finished our buckets and hid them near the door of the club as we wanted to bring them back to the boat. Inside was cavernous and very cool with a light show and dominatrix styled dancers. It was Jager time at the bar again (When is it not?) and then we started drinking Vodka with Blueberry red bulls - not bad!!! Lots of dancing, posing and pulling funny faces at Doug as he snapped away. We managed to vandalise a poster and all pose with it. It was just good, clean fun really. After I was sweaty enough I decided to head back to the boat and Chloe said we should we should have a late night swim. In my sweatyness I thought this was a superb idea.

We took a bit of a detour home, not necessarily intentionally and we had to hide behind cars to relieve ourselves - not noticing that in fact there was a road above us where people had a great view of our backsides. Cue more giggling and trying to flag down taxi's to get us away from our viewers. I ended up doing the city wall tour by night in our quest to get to port!! By the time we got back to the boat I wasn't sure about getting in the freezing water and there was also the chance we'd be thrown off the boat and could be fined by Dubrovnik Port Police for swimming at port. A guy and a girl from one of our sister boats came over to chat and have a drink so I sat on the steps chatting to a lovely boy, Blair, as Chloe and Emma swam around the boat. Then there was mucking about at the front of the boat and balancing on the buoys. General mischief.

When Sarah got back I followed her to the room for late night catch-ups and a post-mortem on the night. We ended up chatting until 7am when I had to call time and go asleep!! Then one or the other of us would say one more thing but eventually drifted off at dawn....knowing we'd be awakened by Pitbull blasting in the corridors around 11am.

Friday, July 5, 2013

The sleepy little village of Trstenik - ... until we arrived.

I hadn't planned on making breakfast and I also missed out on practically everyone having a go at jumping off the boat! We were fed healthily again (Well we over-indulged in the first course of spaghetti as we were all starving having missed brekkie) at lunch and Penny, our new rep came onboard to let us know of various activities for the rest of the day and the following day.

We docked in the pretty little seaside village of Trstenik after lunch, where we'd been told to try the wine-tasting. That was music to our hungover ears, no better cure. We high-tailed it off the boat as soon as we docked and headed straight to the local wine cellar. 

It was a quaint little place that barely contained our group as we sampled their local red and white. The owner's son delivered his well rehearsed speech about their vineyards and wines punctuated by wild bursts from his crazy father who was wielding a large knife rather alarmingly (supposedly cutting bread). I didn't dare mention that the white wine wasn't great, but the others thought the red wine was fine. The owner had said that the vineyards were best placed for growing red grapes and he had 30, 000 acres so I'm sure he knew what he was talking about. His son encouraged us to come to the beach party later where he was the DJ and would play us some trance. We weren't sure of this invitation so we scuttled out and decided on a bit of a walk to shake out the cobwebs.

Up a steep hill we found staggering views and the boys ahead of us claimed they'd seen huge fish jumping out of the sea. It was absolutely peaceful, except for us girls sharing stories and occasionally leaping with fright at an empty snakeskin or huge buzzing insect. I managed to keep my cool (those who know of my previous "episodes" with bees/wasps will be pleased to know) and even wanted to explore off the beaten tracks but we were scared off it by other creatures coming out of the trees to investigate.
After our little adventure we thought it was time for drinks and ice-cream sundaes overlooking the tiny harbour. Other people from our boat were splashing around in the water, which looked very inviting. There was plenty of banter and giggles about the night before, particularly how one of the guys from our boat - Andre, had tried to pick Lisa up (literally). Bad move since Lisa has the strength of a lion (She's a kick boxer!) and pretty much ended up carrying him around the bar!

Back on the boat it was time for snoozing in the sunshine
 and showers. We were planning a quiet night and a few drinks on the deck as we knew Monday would be a big one in Dubrovnik. We started on cocktails - Zombies, Sex on the Beach etc and I suggested a game of "I have never". About ten of us were playing and suffice to say that some people should never be allowed around children and others should be closely monitored at work. There were also some painful stories about intimate parts being damaged. Louise and Katherine were very lucky they were asleep through it all!

By 11.30 a trip on a speedboat to a remote cove with trance music sounded like a great idea so we were herded onto a tiny boat, given our token free drink and off to the beach we sped. I ended up with my drink all over me but Sarah gave me hers to compensate. As soon as we were at the beach it was Jager time and I'd spotted a single pole on a table that looked like it needed me hanging off it. First I had a bit of a dizzy spell and Sarah tried to convince us all that our drinks were spiked. Ashley, from our boat, suggested that perhaps it had been the wild ride in the speedboat over? This was far more likely but it took me a little time to recover.

Then it was time for some pole dancing. 

I wanted to climb up it but was wary, as if I fell off it was straight onto concrete and into the water. With my reputation for injuring myself and silly decisions whilst drunk added to the dizzy spell I didn't exactly cut a striking figure on the pole. Lisa, however, really did. She was like a beautiful ballerina on it.

At midnight it had ticked over into Lisa's birthday so she celebrated by snagging me (with my predilection for blonde girls when I've had a few, this wasn't a problem) and carried Gareth off up the beach to show her strength. I believe some boys got kissed in that little bar but I didn't see anything so can't confirm!

Although some of our party had bailed early, a handful of us stayed til the end and giggled all the way home on the speedboat. Then it was time for high jinks in the cabins. Poor Ryan's sleep was interrupted as Allan, Katherine, Louise, Gareth, Lisa and myself bowled in and thought all of us in the bed would be great fun (Nothing kinky, just seemed fun at the time!). This didn't last very long, but for a time Lisa found a pillow on my breasts and we had a little snooze. Eventually we thought we should find Allan and tell him he could sleep in his own room without two lipstick lesbians in the bed beside him so we took off around the boat. It was early morning by the time Lisa and I retired to bed, exhausted from the nights shenanigans and we still had another night of her birthday to go. Onwards to Dubrovnik.

(Thanks to Doug Harding, Lucie Jurenova and myself for the photos!)

Monday, July 1, 2013

Heaven from Hvar - not very far.....

We boarded Futura, very excited; there were hugs, exclamations, running up and down corridors, running on and off the boat and much teenage behavior. I think Allan actually jumped from his door onto the bed in the Master Suite (Of course it was his - it was his birthday cruise!). Spirits were high and happily also being served in the bar. We ran across to the various stalls by the port to pick up hats, sunglasses, beach towels and anything else that had been forgotten or didn't fit into carry-on (in my case!). Then we all took our drinks top deck and started sun-bathing as we set sail towards Hvar.

Lunch was served (3 courses!) and we met our lovely Sail Croatia rep Janice. She was bright, bubbly and exotically pretty. We all adored her on sight. Luckily she was also a fount of great information and told us we were up for a great party night in Hvar. She promised a bottle of Jager at the first bar and we knew we were in for some fun. After a few more drinks in the sunshine people started retiring for snoozes. First to go was Gareth and then Allan so I started getting apprehensive. My plan had been to drink straight through but if these party animals were getting a nap in then maybe I wasn't ready for the mayhem planned. I had another vodka - just to be sure, and then decided a little lie-down wouldn't be the worst thing. There was talk of a hike to the Spanjola when we docked but sure we weren't there yet (and I also had a broken toe to contend with - yes, I managed to break my toe two nights before the trip). Off to our cabins we went.

That evening first stop was to fuel our bodies for the night ahead at the Mizarola Restaurant. The location was in a gorgeous main square and we were seated out on a terrace. I was beside Allan and opposite two girls from our boat who were rooming together but were strangers - Chloe and Laticia. There was much merriment and the food was delicious. The prawn gnochhi was tasty and much lighter than I thought. I got in deep conversation over some lovely chilled white wine, catching up with my Dubai friends until Gareth came tearing back down the street from the first bar, telling us we had to come down for the Jager Train in Nautica.
It was happily received as you can see above. The night got more raucous, with bottles of Jager and vodka and plenty of red bull. I found something high to dance on (always a good thing!) and the girls all got friendly! The tunes were pumping, everyone was sweaty and delirious and really just had all the contents for a brilliant night out.

Every so often I'd pop out for some fresh air and meet interesting people at the tables overlooking the harbour. There were many nationalities there other than Croatian - American, French, English, as well as a multitude of Kiwi's and Aussie's. What brings them so far?

Whilst some ventured off to "Pink Champagne" for dancing, Dave, Gareth and myself chilled out eating pizza on the waterside. We were joined by Katie from our boat and Elliott, who was on another one of the Sail Croatia boats. He was proudly displaying his shark bite from that day. I was skeptical but he did have huge bruised indentations on his thigh which didn't look human. We headed back to the boat for a late night drink on deck and contrary to everyone's expectations we all were in bed before 4am that night.

Hvar ticked many boxes for me - good food, great company and plenty of Jager and dancing. Night no.1 had been an enormous success and we had lazing in the sunshine to look forward to in Trstenik next day.
(Me posing in front of Beyonce's boat - well it might have been!)
Thanks to Doug Harding for these photo's -