So the four months of planned travel with my sister have come to an end. What to do next? Ah, how convenient (and how fortunate) – Mum and Dad are renting a little ‘casa’ with a spare bedroom in the Andalusian Hills of Southern Spain. It’s the perfect opportunity for some quality time with the parentals, knocking off a tonne of laundry (it’s ridiculous how excited you get about using a decent washing machine when you’re backpacking), munching a bunch of healthy home-cooked meals, a mini fitness bootcamp (oh so desperately needed after all those irresistible Italian carbs), a moment to assess the remaining travel funds (eeeek), and of course the chance to explore this gorgeous region of Spain…

You can check out andalucia.com for a comprehensive guide of locations in Andalucia and Southern Spain but, for now, here’s my own little blurb on the spots we checked out:

Cútar

Cútar is an adorable little village of Moorish origin nestled in the Andalusian Hills. It’s low white-washed houses sparkle among the greens and browns of the beautiful surrounding hillside landscape which is covered in olive trees, vineyards and mango plantations. Our little rental house, ‘Casa La Loma‘ was situated about a 10-minute walk down the hill from Cútar and had a fantastic salt-water swimming pool. It also came with the sweetest little black and white kitten nicknamed ‘Peanut’ who quickly became a part of the family. To be honest, most of our stay was spent chilling out poolside at the casa, but Cútar made for a lovely spot to take an evening stroll and was an eye-catching feature of the phenomenal view we were so lucky to have.

Cútar

Cútar

Peanut and I at 'Casa la Loma'

Peanut and I at ‘Casa la Loma’

Poolside at 'Casa la Loma'

Poolside at ‘Casa la Loma’

Mani-Pedi fun in the Spanish sun

Mani-Pedi fun in the Spanish sun

Yay for healthy home-made lunches

Yay for healthy home-made lunches

Torre Del Mar

Torre del Mar is a beach resort located on the coast of the ‘Costa del Sol’ region in Andalucia. It took around 20-30 minutes for us to drive from ‘Casa la Loma’ down to the beach at Torre del Mar, which is a superb four kilometre-long stretch of sand lined with fantastic little beach shacks. Many an afternoon during the fortnight we stayed in Cútar was spent soaking up rays from the Spanish sun laying on Torre del Mar beach. We particularly enjoyed the fact that, as we were there in September, we missed the busy summer crowds, leaving plenty of space between our little beach set-up and the next persons. No visit to Torre del Mar was complete without stopping in at any one of the beach shacks for a big plate of absolutely scrumptious calamari rings drenched in garlic aoli and freshly squeezed lemon juice! For Dad’s birthday dinner we made a visit to a beach restaurant named ‘Rompeolas‘ where a lovely big ‘Pargo’ or Red Snapper fish was cooked for us over an open fire right on the sand, then served covered in olive oil, sea salt and garlic and accompanied with potato and zucchini fries drizzled with honey balsamic – deeeeeelicious!!

Calamari & Aoli at Torre del Mar

Calamari & Aoli at Torre del Mar

Pargos cooking on an open fire at Torre del Mar

Pargo cooking on an open fire at Torre del Mar

Pargos is served at 'Rompeolas' restaurant at Torre del Mar

Pargo is served! – ‘Rompeolas’ restaurant at Torre del Mar

San José

For a fun family day out, we decided to drive approximately three and a half hours from Cútar to a truly stunning spot called San José which is a small fishing village located in the ‘Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata‘. The Mediterranean Sea here was just so incredibly clear and WARM – absolute bliss to float about in all afternoon long – and the sand is more golden and clean than that at Torre del Mar. There are two very nice beaches right in the village which have easy access to a good selection of cafés, restaurants and tapas bars, and then there are a few beaches outside of the village also, all within walking distance.

La Playa at San José

La Playa at San José

My happy place in the Mediterranean Ocean

My happy place in the Mediterranean Ocean

I is for IOS – the number one PARTY ISLAND in Greece!

Arrive – We arrived relaxed, rested and ready to P.A.R.T.Y on a ferry from Paros that took around 2 hours.

Welcome to Ios Party People!

Welcome to Ios Party People!

Stay – A few of my friends had recommended we stay at a hostel called ‘Francesco’s’ so we decided to take their advice and booked in for 3 nights – and were glad we did! We were met at the Ios ferry terminal by ‘Alex’, a super friendly and informative rep from Francesco’s who drove us up to the hostel and installed us in a lovely, clean, modern and new private double room with ensuite for €18 ppn/night. Francesco’s boasts a fantastic view down towards the port and is the perfect spot to watch the beautiful sunsets over the Aegean Sea. The hostel pool is pretty fabulous and a great place to go and be social, or just relax and get your tan on! One of the best things about staying at Francesco’s is their ‘Welcome Drinks‘ at 10pm down on the outdoor terrace by the reception. Here you get to meet and mingle with all the other party-goers staying there, play drinking games, and take advantage of the cheap cocktails from the hostel bar before making your way out into the maze of bars as a big group for the hostel’s pub crawl, first stop – the ‘Blue Note Bar‘.

The Phenomenal View from 'Francesco's'

The Phenomenal View from ‘Francesco’s’

Do – Before you get caught up in the never-ending party that is Ios, take a day, or at least an afternoon, to explore the island a little bit. There are 2 pretty churches that are worth a visit – one up on the hill above all the bars in the main village or ‘Chora‘ (look out for the big palm tree right next to it) from where you can see a gorgeous view of the island down to the ocean, and a second out on a point down by the port area which also has stunning views. Take a walk over the hill from Chora to Mylopotas Beach and while away the day (or what’s left of it if you wake up late after a big night out on the razz) basking in the golden sand or swimming in the beautiful waters of the Aegean Sea. If you are up for it, there are plenty of water sports and diving trips available at Mylopotas Beach and we heard that in high season (we visited a a bit before), ‘Far Out Beach Club’, located at the end of this beach, puts on lots of day parties and events. If you fancy taking a boat trip out in the day, these are advertised along and leave from the port area (well duh, that’s where all the boats are!).

The Ocean Waters of Mylotopas Beach are the Best Hangover Cure!

The Clear Waters of Mylopotas Beach are the Best Hangover Cure!

Party – First things first, make sure you grab a couple of big bottles of water or Powerade from the little local supermarket down on the main square and put them by your bed for the morning – you can thank me later 😉

For a pretty tiny town, there is an impressive number of bars and clubs in Ios town! It feels as though almost every building along the narrow white-washed alleys of Chora is a bar or club with dance music blasting out. A crazy throng of revellers stumble around the streets and in and out of the numerous establishments from around 11pm pretty much until the sun comes up. The best places we went to (that I can recall the names of) were the Blue Note Bar, Slammer Bar, Flames, Astra, and Disco 69 but there are just so many to choose from (and I’m sure the popular places change from season to season). There are guys, mostly cocky Aussie blokes, on a majority of the entry doors who all try and entice you into their bar with various cheap drink deals or cheesy lines. These same guys can also be found lurking on the beaches during the day, promoting their clubs and insisting you come for shots later on (can you just leave me alone, can’t you see I have a splitting headache and just want to lay here in peace?!). Then, there are the ‘floor whores’ – attractive girls employed by the bars and clubs to dance and flirt with guys in the aim of getting them to buy lots of drinks (so don’t be sucked in lads)! Also, watch out for the €1 shots.. apparently these are not good stuff and will potentially land you in hospital, eeek! If you’re anything like my sister and I, you’ll have the best time partying it up in Ios and come home at the end of of each night (we could only manage 3 in a row) with a tonne of hilarious (if somewhat blurry) memories, a bunch of new friends, and be covered in stickers, face paint and glow bands!

The Ios Nightlife got the Best of Us!

The Ios Nightlife got the Best of Us!

Eat – If you’re a little over Greek food and wanting a fun and relatively cheap dinner out before a night out on the tiles, line your stomach with some tasty Thai dishes at ‘Thai Smile‘ in Chora – the staff were really sweet and gave us free shots and dessert, gotta love that!

For me, hands down the best place to eat on the Island has got to be ‘Harmony – a fun Mexican restaurant located up on the hillside as you come down to Mylopotas Beach from Chora. To find it, look up on the hillside to the right if you’re sitting on Mylopotas Beach facing the ocean and you’ll see a big sign painted on the side of the building. The vibe at this joint is just so chill – such a great spot to relax from the late afternoon into the evening, sipping on frozen strawberry and mango daquiris or slugging down giant bottles of ‘Mythos’ beer! The food is probably a little pricey for what it is to be honest but the staff are friendly and the view is unreal!

The Fajita Plate from 'Harmony' is Perfect to Share

The Fajita Plate from ‘Harmony’ is Perfect to Share

For a drunken pig-out before you crash into bed, we found the gyros at fast-food/takeaway joint ‘Porkies‘ to be very satisfying, but the best find was the little bakery at the base of Chora, just back from the main square under the bar area (just follow your nose, ah the aroma of sweet baked goodness!) – the giant slices of mouth-watering pizza, the melt-in-your-mouth chocolate bread and the delicious mince pies from here were all freaking amazing (and yes, I did have one of each)!

P is for PAROS – the extremely pretty and super relaxed second Greek Island on our ‘hit list’, also part of the Cylades Island group located in the Aegean Sea.

Arrive – only a one hour ferry ride over from Mykonos! Paros is the perfect post-Mykonos and pre-Ios location as the vibe is way less party and way more chill than both of these drink and dance-heavy islands. The ideal stopover where you can detox, get a few good nights sleep, and actually do some proper sightseeing!

Beautiful Cycladic-style Dwelling on Paros

Beautiful Cycladic-style Dwelling on Paros

Stay – We opted to stay just outside of the picture-perfect little fishing township of Naoussa at ‘Villa Gallini‘ which can be found only 200m along the road from the Naoussa Bus Station and then 70m up quite a steep hill (a bit of a b**ch to lug your suitcase up in the Greek summer sun – luckily there was a very sweet lady waiting at check-in with icy cold glasses of water!). The host was a delightfully friendly old Greek guy who was eager to impart a tonne of handy hints and suggestions of what to see around the island and how to go about seeing it. We stayed in a basic but lovely double room with ensuite for €10ppn a night here and were delighted by the gorgeous little private patio dotted with pots of vibrant pink and red geraniums, complete with breakfast table.

Our Patio at Villa Gallini

Our Patio at Villa Gallini

Do – Explore the characteristically greek white-washed and blue-accented streets and cobbled alleyways of the port town of ‘Parikia‘. Take a ferry from Naoussa Port over to ‘Kolimbithres‘ – an absolutely stunning beach with the most fabulously clear warm water.

'Kiss-Me' - Our Ferry to Kolimbithres

‘Kiss-Me’ – Our Ferry to Kolimbithres

Blissed Out on Kolimbithres Beach

Blissed Out on Kolimbithres Beach

Hire a buggy from ‘Spanopolous‘ and take a day to drive around the entire island. From Naoussa, head NW up to ‘Ampelas’ and ‘Santa Maria’, then come down the East Coast and inland to the hillside villages of ‘Leftkes’ (stop in and visit the beautiful old church here), ‘Marmara’ and ‘Marpissa’. Perhaps after a morning tea picnic in the hills (grab a couple of hot buns in the morning from Naoussa Bakery), carry on down the coast past ‘Pounta’, ‘Golden’ and ‘Lolantoni’ beaches to the oceanside town of ‘Alyiki’ in the South of the island. You may fancy a cheeky snack of hot potato fries with tzatziki at one of the waterfront restaurants in Alyiki, after which you should make your way up the West Coast via ‘Pounta’, ‘Parikia’, ‘Kamares’, and past ‘Kolimbithres’ to ‘Monastiri Beach’ at the NW tip of the island. While away what is left of the sunshine hours laying on Monastiri Beach and then make sure you have your rented buggy back to ‘Spanopolous’ at the pre-arranged time.

Explore the Island in a Rented Buggy

Exploring the Island in a Rented Buggy

Take a small ferry from ‘Pounta’ across to ‘Antiparos Island‘ and rent some push bikes to cycle around the island’s ocean road. If you’re feeling fit then make the uphill slog to the famous cave on the island (it didn’t seem to be named anything in particular, just ‘the cave’). The cave is very beautiful and mysterious as well as extensive, extending down several levels which can be reached by staircase. Some fascinating historical facts about the cave are blasted out in several languages at the entrance from a loudspeaker. Make sure to take something warm as the temperature drops several degrees in the depths of the cave (and feels practically freezing if you’ve just sweated your way up the hill in the blazing sun on a push bike) and €5 for the entrance fee. Well worth a visit – I was enchanted!

Cycling around Antiparos Island

Cycling around Antiparos Island

The Enchanting and Mysterious Cave of Antiparos

The Enchanting and Mysterious Cave of Antiparos

Eat – Our absolute favourite place to eat in Naoussa was a sweet and cheap little restaurant right on the water called ‘Kous-Kous‘. Their chicken souvlaki plate was just so divine, even if it didn’t look like much, the ingredients were lovely and fresh and the flavour of the tzatziki was superb! They had lots of tasty traditional greek options on the menu – the fried zucchini fritters and ‘chickpeas in a clay pot’ I would definitely recommend.

Delicious Chicken Souvlaki & 'Chickpeas in a Clay Pot' from 'Kous-Kous'

The Delicious Chicken Souvlaki Plate & ‘Chickpeas in a Clay Pot’ from ‘Kous-Kous’

For a really fabulous location, stop in and sit outside at all-white-errrthang café ‘Fosit‘, also right on the water in Naoussa, but more beachfront than port side like at ‘Kous-Kous’ – the perfect spot for a refreshing late-afternoon cocktail!

Sitting at Fosit Café in Naoussa

Taking it Easy at Fosit Café in Naoussa

M is for MYKONOS – the first Greek Island paradise we set out to explore, found in the heart of the Cyclades. 

Arrive – a €34 Blue Star Ferry ticket, booked on the day, got us from Piraeus Port in Athens to Mykonos in 6.5 hours. 

Mykonos - A White-washed Paradise

Mykonos – A White-washed Paradise

Stay – we pre-booked at Paraga Beach Hostel via hostelbookers.com. On our arrival at the port, we were met by a representative from the hostel who provided us with a free minivan transfer across the island, via some very narrow, windy, hilly roads, to Paraga Beach.  For €13 a night we were installed in a 2-man canvas ‘cabin’ (think army barracks style) with use of a communal shower/toilet area. The hostel (which could really be better described as a camping ground) boasted a fabulous outdoor pool and bar area with tunes pumping from the early afternoon until well into the night. The location was tops – literally right on Paraga Beach (watch out for the nudies down the far end!!) which is a glorious wee stretch of sand lined with several beach bars and restaurants.  

Poolside at Paraga Beach Hostel

Poolside at Paraga Beach Hostel

Do – Get lost in the narrow white-washed maze of streets in old Mykonos town*, or ‘Chora‘, perusing both tacky tourist shops and gorgeous high-end boutiques along the way. Walk from the old windmills up on the hill, past ‘Little Venice‘ (a picturesque row of old fishing houses with their balconies overhanging the ocean) around to both the old and new ports. Sun-bake on one of the many stunning beaches around the island and swim in the crystal-clear waters of the Aegean Sea. 

* public buses depart regularly from Paraga Beach into Mykonos Town, and vice versa, and tickets (purchased onboard) cost next to nothing.

Picture Perfect 'Little Venice'

Picture Perfect ‘Little Venice’

Hijinks on Paraga Beach

Hijinks on Paraga Beach

Party – Drinking games started on the pool terrace at the hostel from mid-evening, with young people from all over the globe getting involved. Once the sun disappeared, the crowd made their way down to the poolside dance floor where a live DJ was posted up, spinning some excellent summer party tracks. From around midnight, groups started peeling off to make the trek (a clumsy clamber around the seriously rocky coastline, peppered with nasty prickle bushes at every turn, in the pitch-black darkness after several cocktails) over to Paradise Beach, where you can dance your heart out at any number of the several beach clubs located there. The summer club scene hadn’t really kicked off yet, given it was early June when we visited, but when it gets cranking Mykonos is known as the ‘Ibiza of Greece’.

Eat – You simply have to indulge in a natural Greek frozen yoghurt drizzled in real Greek honey and sprinkled with fruits and nuts in Mykonos Town. Try a big bowl of fried calamari drenched in freshly squeezed lemon juice and served with a tomato-onion-cucumber salad from a waterfront restaurant with a view of the old windmills. Sip a cocktail from one of the bars near ‘Little Venice’ and watch the sun go down over the water.

Greek Frozen Yoghurts are the Best!

Greek Frozen Yoghurts are the Best!

A View of the Old Windmills

A View of the Old Windmills

Athens

Highlights:

Hiking up Lycabettus Hill to see fantastic 360° views of Athens and the sweet little ‘Saint-Georges’ chapel perched on the top. Running a cheeky lap, standing on the podium and holding a real Olympic Torch at the Panathenaic Stadium. Strolling the suburbs of AnofiatikaPlaka and Monastiraki. Discovering Dionysus’ Theatre and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theatre on the Southern Slope of the Acropolis, and the Parthenon and Temple of Athena Nike at the summit. Exploring the Ancient Agora, the Temple of Hephaistos and Hadrian’s Library. Perusing the Monastiraki Flea Markets – you’ll find both treasures and trash here. Sipping a ‘Parthenon Pash’ cocktail at the rooftop bar of our hostel with a gorgeous view of the sunset behind the beautifully lit-up Acropolis. 

Travel Tips:

I would recommend hiking Lycabettus Hill as the first activity on your to do list in Athens. From the top you get a really good idea of the lay out of the city and can make out the locations of all of the major archaeological sites that you may want to visit. It only takes a maximum of 20 minutes to get from the base to the top of the hill so it’s not even a major hike, and the views from the top are so worth it.

If you decide to go to the Panathenaic Stadium (recommended), then definitely grab yourself an audio tape to tour around with. It’s a total bargain at 3 euro for entry AND audio tape and the commentary makes sure you don’t miss out on any of the interesting (and sometimes not so obvious) features of the stadium. Interestingly, the Olympic Torch that travels to the city hosting the Olympic Games every 4 years is lit at the Panathenaic Stadium.

To visit all of incredible archaeological sites in the central Athens area you’d be a fool not to get the 12 euro ‘special package ticket’ produced by the Ministry of Culture. This ticket allows you entry into the Acropolis (which is a 12 euro entry fee on its own anyway) plus 6 other archaeological sites, including; the Northern and Southern Slopes of the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora, Hadrian’s Library, the Roman Agora, Kerameikos (ancient cemetary), and the Olympieon (where you’ll find the colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus). You can buy the ticket at any of the entrances to the 7 participating sites and it is valid for 4 days – easy peasy!

When visiting the Acropolis, go as early in the morning as you can to beat the heat and the throngs of tourists.

Curious Cuisine:

If you’re after a tasty snack on the go in Greece, your go-to meal is a ‘Gyros‘ – a traditional Greek sandwich made with slices of spiced meat cooked on a spit, served with salad in pita bread. They’re usually the cheapest thing on the menu which is a bonus and are served up super quick with a slathering of scrummy sauces. Apparently a lot of the world is already familiar with gyros, but little old me, from little old New Zealand, had never heard of them before and I absolutely butchered the pronunciation making my first order for one. So, just in case you didn’t know, like me, it’s pronounced ‘hear-oss’, NOT ‘jai-rose’ (doh!).

Another popular and traditional Greek fast food is ‘Souvlaki‘ – a meal of small tender cuts of meat, most often served on a skewer (sometimes with vegetables) for eating with your hands, or in a pita bread sandwich with garnishes and sauces (so pretty much a gyros), or with fried potatoes on a dinner plate. A tasty and inexpensive lunch or dinner option.

Apparently the specialty dish of the region is goat (or kid really) meat served with potatoes fried in olive oil and sprinkled in sea salt, all drizzled in a zesty lemon sauce – I can’t tell you if it’s true, but I can tell you that it’s delicious!!

Archaeology in Abundance

Archaeology in Abundance

Monastiraki Flea Market Treasures

Monastiraki Flea Market Treasures

Dionysus' Theatre on the Southern Slopes of the Acropolis

Dionysus’ Theatre on the Southern Slopes of the Acropolis

Ancient Beauty in Athens

Ancient Beauty in Athens

Greek Flag at the Summit of Lycabettus Hill

Greek Flag at the Summit of Lycabettus Hill

The Parthenon atop the Acroplis

The Parthenon atop the Acroplis

Feeling Sporty at the Panathenaic Stadium

Feeling Sporty at the Panathenaic Stadium

Fab Views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Fab Views of Athens from Lycabettus Hill

Paris

Highlights:

Roaming the streets and stalls of Montmartre and being awed by the beauty of the white-domed Sacré-Cœur Basilica perched on its summit – think flickering candlelight reflecting off stunning gold-painted alcoves and arches. Looking out over the superb symmetry of the Champs de Mars from the second level of the city’s global cultural icon – La Tour Eiffel a.k.a the Eiffel Tower (even if I was terrified being over 600 steps up from the ground)! Strolling from the Arc de Triomphe in the Place Charles de Gaulle, down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, to the Obelisk of Luxor in the Place de la Concorde, eyeing up all the theatres, cafés and luxury shops along the way. People-watching in the Place des Vosges, a sweet little town square lined with gorgeous old french buildings complete with red flowers cascading from every window box, located in the lovely Marais district. Rambling around around the Latin Quarter, the Luxembourg Gardens and along the River Seine. Listening to the bells and marveling at the stained-glass windows of Notre Dame Cathedral. Visiting the masterpieces of van Gogh, Degas, Manet, Monet, Gauguin and others at the Musée d’Orsay. Taking a snap outside the iconic red windmill of the ‘Moulin Rouge’ cabaret house (see a show if you can). Finding my padlock (Cara and Bobo forever) from 2013 on the ‘Love-Lock Bridge’ – a truly romantic spot in the city of Love!

Lowlights:

In a lot of the touristy areas of Paris, I was approached by illegal street sellers, beggars and people waving petitions in my face. Of course you always want to help people if you can, but there are literally hundreds of these individuals, not just in Paris, but all over Europe, and you just can’t help them all. Also, sadly, many of these people have fairly harassing or sometimes even aggressive tactics and/or are professional pick-pockets. It really is best to just stay clear and use a firm ‘No, merci!’ if approached.

Travel Tips:

Ok so maybe this sounds like an obvious one but anyway… always have a really warm jacket packed in your suitcase – no matter the country you’re traveling to, no matter the season you’re traveling in. I never imagined I’d need a puffer jacket in Paris in May but I ended up wearing mine every single day I was there. You just never know when out-of-season weather may strike and it pays to be prepared. My black Macpac puffer jacket is fantastic for traveling as it’s super warm, doesn’t show the dirt, and squeezes down into a tiny pouch that hardly takes up any room in my case at all.

This also may seem fairly obvious but i’ll say this one anyways too… learn a few key phrases in the language of the country you are traveling to – even a couple of basic words/sentences (hello, goodbye, please, thank you, where is the bathroom?, can I have the bill?, how much does this cost?, etc.) will really help you out in a foreign country. I’ve found that people, especially the French, are much more friendly and obliging if you at least try to communicate with them in their mother tongue. Even if you just start off in French and then have to swap to English, you’ll probably have better luck than if you use none at all.

Interior Inspirations:

A 20-minute ride away from Paris on the local RER* C line I located my ULTIMATE DREAM HOME – the Palace of Versailles. This royal chateau is one seriously pimped out crib! The opulence is breathtaking. If it’s not gold, it’s gold-trimmed. King Louis XVI and his infamous wife, Marie Antoinette used to kick it here and they were certainly spoiled for choice when it came to fab spots to hang out around the property! I mean, the palace itself has over 700 luxuriously decorated rooms.  Then there’s the acres and acres of gardens dotted with grand fountains, quaint ponds, splendid sculptures, manicured mazes and even a huge cross-shaped canal (where you can hire a row boat if you so wish). Not to mention the Grand Trianon (a gorgeous collection of buildings including an adorable pink marble and porphyry palace), the Queen’s Hamlet (a group of thatched-roof houses encircling a pond and surrounded by farmland), and Marie Antoinette’s Estate (I would have died to attend one of her lavish tea or dinner parties here). I really love how each  room of importance (i.e., practically every room in the whole place) was decorated with a different bold and beautiful colour, adorned with copious amounts of gold, and finished off with a gigantic sparkling chandelier. I think if I had been resident at the palace, you would have been most likely to find me in either the ‘Queen’s Bedroom’ or the ‘Hall of Mirrors’ – truly truly magnificent spaces.

* RER trains are similar to metro trains, but travel longer distances outside the Paris city limits. To get to Versailles, take the train headed towards ‘Versailles-Rive Gauche’ — this is the stop to jump off at and also, conveniently,  the last stop on this line so you won’t need to worry about missing it.  The palace is only about a 5 minute walk from the train station and when you exit the train you will soon see signs pointing you in the right direction.

To get the official low-down on all the fabulous aspects and features of this UNESCO World Heritage Listed Site you can visit:  http://www.chateauversailles.fr

Curious Cuisine:

To be perfectly honest with you I was disappointed by the French cuisine that I sampled in Paris –  most probably because I had such high expectations (I mean, ‘cuisine’ is a French word for pete’s sake)! Of course you can always get a delicious ‘petit dejeuner‘ (breakfast) anywhere in France – just grab a hot ‘croissant’ or ‘pain au chocolat’ with a ‘café au lait’ or ‘chocolat chaud’ – but as for lunch and dinner, well, it was all overly cheesy (and not even the good cheese) baguettes made with rock-hard bread, overpriced salads or chunky cut chips (not the skinny FRENCH fries that you’re assume you’re getting). At least the waiters were always very charming and entertaining (insert winky-face). Disappointed by the traditional local fare, I opted to eat at non-french restaurants, and here I was pleasantly surprised. I ate a mountain of tasty tempura vegetables with beautiful fresh salmon and tuna sushimi at a lovely little ‘Restaurant Japonais’, which I unfortunately didn’t jot down the name of, and a simply scrumptious serving of of garlic naan dunked in a creamy chicken tikka masala curry (my standard order) at a colourful and warm ‘Restaurant Indien’ named ‘Kastoori‘. Both of these eateries were located a couple of minutes walk around the corner from the Saint-Georges metro station.

Heights really aren't my thing

Heights really aren’t my thing

'Love-Lock' Bridge

‘Love-Lock’ Bridge

Des Jolies Fleurs

Des Jolies Fleurs

Gorgeous Cafés Galore

Gorgeous Cafés Galore

Marie Antoinette's Field of Daisies

Marie Antoinette’s Field of Daisies

Luxurious Lemon Interiors. Palace of Versailles.

Luxurious Lemon Interiors. Palace of Versailles.

Pink Interior Perfection. Palace of Versailles.

Pink Interior Perfection. Palace of Versailles.

Palace of Versailles Golden Gates

Golden Gates. Palace of Versailles.

Le Tour Eiffel avec ma Petite Sœur

Le Tour Eiffel avec ma Petite Sœur

Paris from Le Tour Eiffel

Paris from Le Tour Eiffel

Sensational Symmetry in the City of Love

Sensational Symmetry in the City of Love

London

Highlights:

Admiring the masterpieces housed in the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. Geeking out over animals, rocks and dinosaurs galore at the Natural History Museum. Being enthralled by the fabulous vintage fashions and stage costumes at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Oogling the famous exhibition windows and luxurious homeware and clothing of department store Harrods. Monkeying around at infamous Kiwi/Aussie backpacker sunday session institution ‘The Church‘. Strolling through bustling Trafalgar Square and beautiful St. James’s Park. Having a laugh at the giant dancing M&Ms at M&M World (where you can find every type of M&M merchandise imaginable). Touring the Tower of London guided by a very entertaining and informative real-life Beefeater (well worth paying the extra pounds on top of the entry ticket price for the Beefeater tour) and checking out probably the world’s most insane bling collection, i.e., the Crown Jewels, housed inside – think heavily bejeweled crowns, swords, orbs, scepters and solid gold feasting utensils! Applauding a fantastic performance of the Billy Elliot Musical at the Victoria Theatre. Finding my inner child through the wonder of toys at Hamleys – ‘the Finest Toy Shop in the World’.

Lowlights:

Talk about raining on my parade! I was so excited about going to see the ‘Changing the Guard’ ceremony at Buckingham Palace, but unfortunately Mother Nature had other ideas – it rained cats and dogs and the event was canceled (booooo!). A ‘wet change’ was undertaken however, so at least I was still able to see the guards march past in their fabulous tall black fluffy bearskin hats and catch a glimpse of their scarlet uniforms from underneath their raincoats.

Travel Tips:

For riding the tube, DLR, London Overground and most National Rail services in London you are going to need an ‘Oyster Card‘ – a smart card which holds pay-as-you-go credit to pay for your travel on these transport services. I was able to purchase a £40 Oyster Card that gave me unlimited travel for 7 days (even though I was only there for 5). The best idea is to ask an attendant at one of the tube station information desks when you arrive – they will advise you of the best option for your needs, or you can visit www.tfl.gov.uk for all the info before your trip.

Always have an umbrella or ‘brolly’ handy when exploring London!

A Passion for Fashion:

It was such a delight getting to feast my eyes on the most beautiful collection of fashions and styles from different eras at the Victoria and Albert Museuman absolute must-visit for anyone interested in art and design.  A selection of famous stage costumes and make-up was being exhibited when I visited, including an entire recreation of one of Kylie Minogue‘s dressing rooms – amazing! Until March 2015 there is also a special exhibit at the V&C showcasing the development of the ‘wedding dress’ and it’s take by various big name designers (think Vivienne Westwood, Vera Wang, etc.) – gorgeous! Visit http://www.vam.ac.uk for all the details on current and upcoming exhibitions.

If you’re a fan of Italian design powerhouse PRADA then my goodness you are in for a treat on the fourth floor of department store Harrods, as here you will find yourself in the PRADASPHERE – an incredibly exuberant exhibition of the fashion house’s historic collections and special collaborations and projects, a.k.a PRADA heaven!!

Curious Cuisine:

For a fun and trendy dining experience head on down to Brixton Village – a funky set of covered arcades lined with a great selection of rave-reviewed eateries in Brixton, South London. Here you will find cafes and restaurants pumping out flavours to tantalize your tastebuds from every corner of the globe – Europe, India, Asia, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

I chowed down on some seriously delicious Chinese food at ‘Dumplings Legend‘ in the heart of London’s Chinatown. Crispy-skin chicken, chicken stir fry with chinese broccoli, and pork and vege dumplings washed down with traditional Chinese tea was the order of the day, and my oh my did it go down a treat!

Ok, Ok, Ok, so I know that it’s French, but there is the most beautiful Ladurée tea salon in Covent Garden’s iconic Market Building where I treated myself to a simply scrumptious serving of rose hip and strawberry gelato, four of the store’s signature macarons, and the most divine fruit tea named ‘Marie Antoinette’. I would just sit among all those pastel tones and gold trimmed edges scoffing their delicious desserts forever if I could!

Billy Elliot the Musical

Billy Elliot the Musical

St. Jame's Park Cottage

St. James’s Park Cottage

A Wet Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace

A Wet Change of Guard at Buckingham Palace

PRADASPHERE Exhibition Case

PRADASPHERE Exhibition Case

Playing with Giant Puppies at Hamleys Toystore

Playing with Giant Puppies at Hamleys Toystore

Oh just your regular homeware from Harrods

Oh just your regular homeware from Harrods

Trafalgar Square Lion

Trafalgar Square Lion

M&M World

M&M World

A Real-life Tower of London Beefeater

A Real-life Tower of London Beefeater

Hong Kong

Highlights:

Riding the Peak Tram to see views of the city from Victoria Peak. Perusing the Ladies Markets on Tung Choi Street. Strolling down the ‘Avenue of the Stars’ promenade along the harbour front. Taking the Star Ferry from Kowloon Peninsula over to Central in the evening, timed with the ‘Symphony of Lights‘ skyscraper light show. Admiring astonishing sea creatures in the huge aquarium, doing a trillion loop-the-loops on crazy roller-coasters, and riding the gondola overlooking a beautiful coastline at Ocean Park theme park. Lighting a candle at the Man Mo Temple and finding antique gems on Hollywood Road. Learning about fascinating Chinese medical histories and advances at the Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences in Sheung Wan Province.

Lowlights:

The travel money card that I had pre-loaded with Hong Kong Dollars ($HK) just would not work at any of the many ATMs I tried. Remember to always have a second option when it comes to travel finances.. you never want to find yourself strapped for cash overseas! Luckily, I had a credit card for back up (recommended!).

Travel Tips:

You need need need to grab yourself an ‘Octopus Card‘ for riding on Hong Kong’s public transport networks. I purchased a card for $HK150 that came with $HK100 free credit and received $HK50 back as a refundable deposit – if that’s not a bargain I don’t know what is! And that initial amount saw me all around the city on the MTR over 4 days -Bonus! (They can also be loaded with cash for use at convenience stores and supermarkets, etc.).

When exploring any big city, more than likely, you are going to end up pounding a bunch of pavement and for this you are 100% going to need comfortable footwear. For any big day on the feet I just can’t live without my NIKE trainers – with a huge election of fun colours available these sporty shoes will have your tootsies feeling and looking fab all day long (and you don’t always have to pair them with sports clothes either)! THE place for all your big name brand sports gear at pretty good prices in Hong Kong is Fa Yuen Street.

If you’re planning on exploring all the fantastic shops in the ginormous very clean and very sparkly shopping malls (such as Hysan Place, the Times Square Mall, and the IFC Malls), make sure to take a warm top with you as they seriously crank the air-conditioning in these joints. The extreme temperature differences between the hot and sticky streets and the cool interiors of the malls could leave you with a chill or cold if you’re not careful!

A Passion for Fashion:

There was a truly fantastic selection of fake or rip-off brand sunglasses to be found at the Temple Street Night Markets – I’m a firm believer that one can never have too many sunglasses (I may or may not have 11 pair stashed in my suitcase) and priced at between $HK69-89 a pair of these snazzy sunnies will have you looking fabulous without breaking the budget!

Girls – have some fun and easy up do’s ready for exploring Hong Kong. Cute top knots or high ponies are the go here – with high humidity and temperatures above 30°C, backs and necks get super sweaty, super fast, and you don’t want long hair anywhere near them, trust me!

Curious Cuisine:

Believe it or not I actually struggled to find eateries serving cheap authentic Chinese cuisine! There was western food to be found everywhere I looked. One place I would recommend however was a rooftop restaurant called ‘The Glasshouse‘ on the top level of the IFC Mall. There I gorged on small plates of delectable small fried fish, marinated chicken thighs and tempura prawns topped off with a sensational peach juice-based mocktail presented in a fun little glass jug.

Enjoying my Glasshouse Mocktail

Enjoying my Glasshouse Mocktail

Shoes for bound feet at the Museum of Medical Sciences

Shoes for bound feet at the Museum of Medical Sciences

Offerings at Man Mo Temple

Offerings at Man Mo Temple

Symphony of Lights

Symphony of Lights Show on the Harbour

Avenue of Stars Plaque

Avenue of Stars Plaque

Riding the Gondola at Ocean Park

Riding the Gondola at Ocean Park

Hong Kong Mini Tram

Hong Kong Mini Tram

View from Victoria Peak

View from Victoria Peak

Ocean Park

Ocean Park

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