Rocking solo in London Town 

Ok so last weekend saw my solo visit to London to view The Killers in Hyde Park. I’m a massive fan and as they hadn’t toured in four years I booked my ticket once presale started. I booked my BA flight into Heathrow after much deliberation. I thought I would get it cheaper but in the end prices for flights to Standsted, Gatwick and Luton weren’t enticing me enough once you factor in having to take a train then the tube. 

Landed on a beautiful day to 28 degree heat. Got my tube alright and luckily enough the picadilly line went straight to the station I needed. I booked a hostel in Kensington beside the park. The only thing was the gig ended up being the exact opposite side to where I was staying. 

My flight was slightly delayed and the tube takes approx 60 minutes to get to Kensington. I then had to walk fast and follow googles directions to my hostel as quickly as I could due to a booking for a tour that was to begin quite soon. 

Kensington just screams money. Everywhere I looked Landrovers decorated the streets, white pillared residences gleamed and children with bonnets happily walked with their parents. I was shocked that a hostel would be in this area but it was. It was a good one too!

Astor Hyde Park was a great choice. Not only was it close to the park, the staff were friendly, the dorm was bright and airy and security was important. I checked in ok but as my room wasn’t ready I locked my bag pack away in a luggage room before racing to catch my tube to Covent Garden. 

I looked online at free walking tours and settled on Sandemans as it got good reviews. I later discovered a friend used them in Paris and was quite pleased with them. I made my 1pm booking with a minute to spare. Though in the end we ended up waiting a few minutes before we began. The large group was split into two and introduced to our guide. His name was Angus and he is Australian. He had studied Shakespearean theatre and this stood well to him as our guide. There was never an issue with hearing him and he had an entertaining way of telling us the history of the places we stopped. As I said it was a beautiful hot day so the walk at times was sweltering, at any chance we could we took shade. It was a royal tour so we visited St James Palace, Prince Charles residence, Buckingham Palace and Westminster. The walk took about 2/2.5 hours and my feet were very sore at the end. However I thoroughly enjoyed it. Though it is free a tip is welcome. After the tour I realised I hadn’t eaten for about 8 hours so I grabbed food and cider in a pub Angus took us to. 

Afterward I made my way to Oxford Street as I had to pick up a gift for a nephew. On my other occasions of visiting London I purely went to shop so I had been on that street a lot. However I never noticed its proximity to Hyde Park before. Don’t get me wrong it’s at the very bottom of the street, but still only ten minutes walk. I decided to walk there as it was so nice out and get my bearings for the gig the next night. On my way I passed Selfridges which had a different meaning to me after watching the tv show! 

The park was full of bars and activities thanks to BST who were hosting the festivities over the couple of weeks. Only for my feet were blistered from walking and I was exhausted I would have spent more time there on Friday evening. Instead I decided to walk back to the hostel to get an idea of the walk for the next night. 

Back at the hostel I made friends with girls in my room and went to a nearby pub for a drink. The hostel was hosting a charity night in aid of Grenfell tower with live music which I thought was a nice touch. Was also a good way for people to mix.

The next morning after breakfast I was indecisive about what I wanted to do. I ended up walking to Kensington Palace and queuing to get in. A tip though would be to book ahead and skip the queue as even though I was very early there was still a thirty minute wait. I spent about ninety minutes wandering about the exhibitions. I enjoyed the Diana one the most. Some of the talks gave a good insight into the history of the palace. I left the palace and looked around the gardens which were beautiful. 

I then decided to spend the afternoon doing nothing! The weather was gorgeous and I was tired, so I lay on the grass reading. There’s so much going on in the park though, I recommend a visit. 

After grabbing food and beverages in the local newsagents I went back to my hostel to clean up for the concert and meet one of the girls. We walked with the crowds to the concert. The park was set up well for an outdoor gig. The bars were a long wait as usual. I am not a fan of being too close to the stage as I always get stuck behind tall people! We got a good spot near the merchandise at the back. The Killers as always put on a great show. My only complaint is that it went by too quickly! 

The next day I checked out of the hostel and started walking with my bag pack. I decided to walk towards Harrods as I had never before seen the famous store. As it was a Sunday morning it wasn’t open but I felt like it was a box ticked. I still had time before making my way to the airport so I decided to fit in St Paul’s Cathedral. I didn’t mind the fact that I wouldn’t have time to go inside and explore. The main thing I wanted to see was the steps, as these were the storyline for the homeless lady in Mary Poppins selling pigeon food for “tuppence a bag”. After walking the circumference and marvelling at the detail in the architecture I noticed a fancy bridge down the street. A geeky part of me really enjoys architecture and engineering so I ventured towards it. I’m glad I did as the bridge went over the Thames river towards the Tate museums. From there I got to see Tower Bridge in the distance. Another box ticked off my tourist list. 

On the bridge I took a moment to enjoy the moment and to be proud of myself for another solo trip that I greatly enjoyed! I made my way back to the tube and to reality unfortunately. Though I always look forward to getting home to Izzie!


Phuket; The first stop on my Thailand Vacation

Ok so flying solo wasn’t too bad, I just didn’t dwell on the fact that I was alone. I watched movies & dozed off when possible. After customs in Bangkok I grabbed my luggage & headed upstairs to check in for my flight to Phuket. (By booking separately I saved time & money) I had booked a later flight in case there were any delays so I was expecting a 4 hour stopover, however the airline asked if I would like to check in for the earlier flight so that was a bonus. The one thing I noticed was how there were signs with power banks everywhere. You have to carry these in your hand luggage & not in your check in. They are strict about this.

I didn’t prearrange transport to the hostel & though I did look at ways to save money on getting there, I ended up getting a cab. It cost 800 baht but after nearly 20 hour travelling & the humidity enveloping me from every direction I didn’t mind paying it. It took about 40 minutes to get to the hostel.

On the drive I was amazed at two things;

  1. The electric wires running from post to post & the quantity of them grouped together
  2. The scooters, multiple passengers facing all directions with no helmets to be seen

Safety obviously not an aspect in this country.

The driver had to ring the hostel for directions. I had booked Bearpacker Hostel due to the reviews on Hostelworld & the proximity to Bangla Road & the beach. I also wanted a private room which they could offer for approx. €20 a night. The reception is bright & airy but before you step in you have to remove your shoes & be buzzed inside. Security is a big thing in this hostel. There are signs everywhere warning of penalties to any guest sneaking a non-guest inside. Check in was easy & I was shown to my “room”. Each floor is named after bears & come equipped with male & female bathrooms. The floors also have washing machines beside the bathrooms. My “room” was more like a pod at the front of the dorms. I am small (5’2) so it wasn’t much of an issue for me, though it could be claustrophobic at times. However if you are over 5’6 I recommend the dorms. I have to say the aircon was very good & effective compared to others I encountered, also the locker provided was large. After getting changed into a bikini & shorts, I made my way upstairs to the pool. There is a lady serving food from the kitchen in the common area up there, beers in the fridge & a sofa in front of a tv. Outside there were tables and chairs, the pool and bean bags on the decking. There was nobody there so I decided to explore. 

I headed down the street, past the various women offering massages, fast food restaurants and made my way to the beach. I found a place on the sand and took in my surroundings. The weather was overcast but the beach was still busy, many traders offering goods or refreshments, however once you say no thank you they move on. I like this as I hate being rude to people. I stayed about an hour before moving along. The beach wasn’t spectacular at all, nothing I haven’t seen before in Spain. This is most likely due to tourism taking over.

I was quite tired after traveling so I headed back to the hostel. Though there was people in the pool this time there was no effort at making conversation. They all seemed to be in groups. Though I tried initiating conversation, I was politely answered and that was that. I got some food of the lady in the hostel, it was nice and also only about €2 for dinner. I then headed to my room to FaceTime home (wifi was good here) then fell asleep early enough. 

The next day was similar. I spent a few hours at the beach, walked up Bangla Road and grabbed a cider, then went back to the hostel. Again failing to get proper conversation out of other guests! I gave up and spent my time reading and texting home. I had a nap before getting changed and heading back to Bangla for dinner and to watch Manchester United play terrible football. I went to the Aussie sports bar and I have to say the chow mein was lovely. Though I wasn’t finding Thailand as cheap as what people made it out to be by any means. For example most bars that served wine were charging €5 per glass. Cider (if served) was €2/3. Your best bet is beer if you can drink it.

I headed home wondering if I would ever make friends, also looking forward to the day ahead where I was being picked up early for a trip to the Elephant Sanctuary. I had to email them to confirm booking as luckily enough I had looked online where they mentioned they were having issues. I would recommend doing this if you booked well in advance. 

I was collected early and I was the first. By the time we got to the sanctuary we had an Australian family of 4, a solo young English girl, an English guy and his Polish girlfriend. For the first time in days I had conversations with people!! It was already a good start. They even shared mosquito spray with me. We had an introduction about the sanctuary and where our fees were going (€70 approx). We then were asked to help prepare the sugar and bananas before we went to meet the elephants. There were a few babies and they were very cute, but at the same time when one runs toward you get out of their way!! We got to feed them, pet them then bathe them. They were never tied up. We got a small lunch, a group photo then headed on our way. A good experience I have to say. 

After I returned from the sanctuary I headed up to the bean bags to chill out. After a while I started conversation with two Swedish girls and one engaged properly with me thank god. We had a few drinks when more people came up and when the two girls left I got to join them. They invited me on their night out and I gladly accepted. Everyone was ten years younger but when talking about travel and experiences age doesn’t seem to matter. We went to Bangla road and tried a few bars. It is an experience, very commercial and full of drunk tourists! I was so happy though to be mixing with people and having fun.

The next day, some were hungover so they remained in bed. Some of us went to the pool and spent the day chatting. I went off for a while to book my accommodation in Phi Phi which took forever as most hostels seemed to be party hostels which I’m too old for and the hotels weren’t getting great reviews either. Finally chose one and booked my transport at reception for the following morning. That evening I joined others for a meal on the beach which was nice then had a walk whilst paddling my feet. We got a few drinks and headed back to the roof for an hour before saying our goodbyes.

Overall I have to say it was tough at the beginning and Phuket wasn’t what I imagined Thailand to be like. Very touristy and commercial, not like paradise at all. However I was warned and some people like that. Everyone has different opinions.I didn’t  rent any bikes during my trip and maybe if I had I would have seen more amazing places. The hostel was lovely and would stay in it again. If like me you have a hard time getting people to engage, keep trying with different people. It isn’t you! Some people just rather keep to their own groups.

Cusco: before and after Machu Picchu 

We arrived in Cusco on a rainy cold Thursday evening. Peru Hop organised taxi’s to take us to our hostels. We had a private ensuite room booked in Millhouse Hostel and they booked us in quickly, setting up a tab for the room. The room was damp but we hadn’t expected luxury. After sorting through our bags we headed upstairs to the bar for food and drinks. It was freezing up there! Food was good though and drinks were two for one. 

After a while we grabbed a cab to Wildrover Hostel as we were told the hill was quite steep and didn’t fancy the walk. The bar in there was warm and welcoming, though we were stuck for a bit as they don’t accept dollars in there which is unusual for Cusco. We got our money exchanged in Loki down the road and headed back to Wildrover. We made friends with two guys from Liverpool, spent the night laughing and dancing on the bar. 

I got back to my room about 2am and that’s when things went wrong for me in Cusco. I became very sick and it wasn’t from alcohol. I didn’t get a bit of sleep and spent the next day in bed. I couldn’t face leaving it. I couldn’t really eat but forced myself to eat bananas and water. I got chills and hot flushes. Wasn’t the way I expected my first day in Cusco to be.

The next morning after very little sleep again I decided to call a Doctor. My chest was tight and with the trek to Machu Picchu the next day I didn’t want to take a chance. The doctor arrived within 30 minutes and told me that I had caught a parasite. My heart was beating fast to make up for being sick but everything else was ok. She said I was good for my trek and gave me a prescription for antibiotics. 

With no sleep and no fuel in my system I struggled to the pharmacy for my prescription. That was about all I did that day! My time in Cusco was spent in Millhouse courtyard or my room. Not the way I wanted it to go.

After the trek (that will be another blog) we returned to Millhouse in the early hours of the morning. We were given a different room which was actually a 4 bed dorm so it was nicer than our last. We heard that Jacks Place was a good cafe for breakfast so we headed there. The portion was huge. At this stage my appetite was returning however I couldn’t finish it. Great food though and orange juice was amazing. We returned the next two days for breakfast in fact. 

Four of us headed to get a massage which are offered everywhere, prices vary. We ended up picking one of the more expensive so bartered them down to 50 sol which is still very little! Later on we headed to Papacho’s just at the square. It reminded me of TGI’s. I got a burger with onion rings on the side. My god I hadn’t had a burger that nice in soooo long!! Still unable to finish it but I really wanted to. 

The next day, we headed off to a horseriding trip that we had booked. My energy levels were still low and I could have skipped it. We were collected at the hostel and took a 15 min drive to the ranch. At the start I was frightened about the horses as I saw some horses with their ribs showing. Luckily they weren’t part of the ranch we booked. A beautiful puppy greeted us and after a short play with him we got introduced to our horses.  We were taken through the countryside and got to take in some beautiful views of the Andes. Our tour guide had great English and was extremely patient with us as we had little experience. We spent a little bit of time looking at Devils Balcony which was beautiful with the different colours running through it. Our guide ran through the history of Peru in great detail with us. We really enjoyed every minute of our tour. You would know by the horses how well they are treated. He explained how they take longer to train them as they don’t use violence. They follow instructions very well as a result. 

The cold had set into us on our trek so when we got dropped back we asked about a nice cafe. He recommended La Bondiet and dropped us off there. This cafe was a great recommendation. The cakes on display looked amazing and all very tempting. I don’t drink coffee so I chose a hot chocolate as unfortunately they do not offer Lyons tea outside of Ireland! I also picked a luscious chocolate cake which I couldn’t finish. It was a cosey atmosphere and made me excited to get back home to winter!

My stay in Cusco wasn’t what I imagined at all due to the parasite that I caught. It zapped all my energy levels, took any enthusiasm I had to tour the city and I became emotional as a result. The sickness ended up returning the morning I was to travel nearly 30 hours to get home. So for the first time ever I was looking forward to going home. 

I apologise for the content in this blog as it doesn’t give a proper insight into what I am sure is a marvellous city. I wish I could have explored it more!

Day 2 of Peru Hop

I woke up very early the next morning in Paracas and while texting home I found the sound of the waves calling me outside. It was 6am and I was in South America looking out at the waves, drinking it all in. I was proud of myself for going through with my plans even if they weren’t solo. I stayed for a little while until I spotted a man walking up the beach alone. I didn’t feel unsafe however common sense kicked in. I made my way back into the hostel for tea n bread with jam. 

A little while later our group met for the optional tour to Ballestas Islands. We boarded the speed boat and I swear I had the biggest smile on my face. Three days into the trip and it was everything I wanted. Our first stop was to show us the imprint of a candelabra in one of the islands. 

We then made our way to the other islands where we were filled in on all the wildlife that inhabits it. So many different types of birds. We had the pleasure of seeing some penguins and as the tour continued we got to see some sea lions up close. It was a great tour that I would recommend. My only issue was my motion sickness kicked in after a while so my smile faded to me becoming very quiet trying not to get sick!! 😷

After we got back on shore I got myself back to normal in time for our trip to the national reserve. It’s not far from Paracas and it was included in the tour. It was beautiful to see and I’m glad I went. 

We went back and grabbed our bags from Kokopelli and boarded the bus to Huacachina. It wasn’t too long a drive. I was very tired so I didn’t take in much of the scenery along the way. Huacachina is an oasis in the middle of the desert and I was excited to go there. We checked into Bananas Hostel and got shown to our 3 bed dorm that we shared with a lovely Canadian called Jason. Bananas has a pool so the outdoor area was packed and a great place to chat to new people. We got some food from the bar and we both thought it was pretty good. We met up with the rest of the group for our sand boarding tour. For $15 it was a bargain. our group was a good one and we got told our driver was one of the bests he definitely didn’t disappoint! The buggy was exhilarating, like being on a rollercoaster in the sand! I did a similar tour in Dubai for €100 and it didn’t even compare to how much I enjoyed this one. 

Before sandboarding we stopped to take photos with the sand dunes. One of our group wanted to do a pyramid so she gathered a few of us to attempt it. I felt so sorry for the guy underneath me!!

We were taken to our first sand dune to board down. The drivers gave us wax to rub over our boards and talked us through how to go down safely on it. He gave me a push and I loved it! It was only a short ride but it was fun. We had four more to do and I couldn’t wait!

The first three were the easy ones with the last two becoming steeper! What I loved about this tour was everyone bonded together. When anyone needed a physical push down the dune we helped each other. We encouraged everyone to try it even if they were scared. The last dune was pretty scarey so that took a lot of guts. When I got myself ready on the board I knew I wasn’t 100% comfortable but I asked Carol to push me anyway. As the board made its way down, the nuts attached to the straps tore into my hand. By the time I made it to the bottom my hand was bloody and throbbing! However I can’t stress how much I LOVED it!!

After sunset we headed to a barbecue, arranged by Maurice. I was so tired and my hand was really sore so I didn’t stay long. The food wasn’t great anyway but I tried to stay as long as possible as I really enjoyed the company of our tour group. 

The next morning it was really hot and as we didnt have to leave until lunch I took myself out to the bar to grab breakie and some rays!! My roommate was kind and organised our breakfast as I have not got a bit of Spanish. I love chatting to new people and hearing stories about their travels and their lives. After a while I grabbed a sunbed and took in the sunshine! 

I didn’t want to leave but we had to join the tour for our overnight trip where we eventually would arrive in Cusco. I was a little disappointed to find the bus we boarded wasn’t as nice as the one we enjoyed the previous two days. 

It wasn’t too bad a journey as we stopped to view the Nazca lines (I wasn’t a fan) and later for dinner. Once we got settled on board I took a sleeping tablet to help with the overnight journey! I was soon conked out so it worked 😊. I woke about 4 am however we were to stop at 5 to let people off in Arequipa and pick up new members. We were sad to see people go as in the two days we got close to some! 

There’s not a lot to write about the rest of the journey. We travelled through beautiful countryside and stopped for meals. We chatted to new people at lunch and then we all parted ways once we got to rainy Cusco! And that’s a story for another blog…

Peru hopping 

On the second day of our trip we were given a time of collection by Peru Hop and they were on time. I chose this way of travelling as a lady advised it as a safe way of travelling on tripadvisor. I chose the get to Cusco quick option as it only required 3 days minimum travel and I could choose to stay longer if I wanted.

When we boarded the bus the other travellers were resting in their seats as it was still early morning. I was extremely impressed by the coach itself. Big leather reclining seats with leg rests, TVs dotted around and plenty of rooms for luggage. 

Once all passengers were onboard we went through a roll call and then the rules of the bus were talked through. Basically just respect the other passengers, clean up after yourselves etc.

We were then given a newsletter from the owners of the business Will & Connor. This is the point I learned that they were Irish! They had a very good manifesto and spoke as if they were having a chat with you directly. I respected that as it didn’t come along like a marketing strategy, more of a heads up. 

Upon leaving Lima we had the first of our free tourist stops. We went to see one of the white Jesus that are in Peru. We also got a brief history of the war between Chile, Bolivia and Peru. 

We continued on our way to Paracas from Lima taking a quick stop for breakfast. I had filled up in the hotel so I decided to spend my time getting to know some of my fellow bus mates instead. I got speaking to an Australian man in his fifties who thought nothing of travelling around on his own for a few months. His next stop being Cuba. He was full of sarcasm which me and my travel companion appreciated. We were then joined by a US army guy from Texas who spoke to us about the upcoming election. When we boarded the bus we made friends with a Boston girl who was on a two week vacation solo. 

This is how I wanted my trip to be. Getting to know strangers, seeing different sides to Peru most people on a two week holiday don’t see. On board the bus I got to see countryside, local roadside shops, take in views. I couldn’t stop smiling!

Our next stop was an old stately mansion where slave tunnels run throughout. This was an extra bonus. The mansion was now an expensive boutique hotel but still retained the decor of days past. It was beautiful. Colourful flowers dotted the gardens, large wooden beams in the ceiling, hammocks and a pool in the back garden. Our tour guide Maurice brought us through the tunnels which were tight, dark and hard to believe that people were kept down there. He explained the history well and lead us toward a place where the shackles were still attached to show us how they were treated. Hard stuff to take in. We ended our tour in a beautiful church on site. 

By 3pm we arrived in Paracas. We had plenty of options of places to stay. I chose Kokopelli hostel and I wasn’t disappointed. For my first night in a hostel I was in a 6 bed dorm, with only one other occupant. Plenty of locker space, bright and airy with a curtain for privacy. 

I made my way to the bar which was beside the beach and had some wine with my fellow travellers. I ventured to the beach but only waded into the Pacific for a few minutes. We decided to check out Paracas so we went for some food and to test Pisco Sours (local cocktails). We got to witness a beautiful sunset.

Maurice had organised a dinner for any of the travellers who wanted to attend. We made our way to the restaurant where there were plenty in attendance. The food was good and the pisco sours were free. To say I got tipsy is a bit of an understatement. I was in my element getting to know my fellow bus mates and having a laugh. So much so I didn’t even realise when a candle synged my hair! 

We decided to take the party back to the hostel where I danced and chatted and thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of hostel life. I put myself to bed and let the party continue. The next day we were travelling to Huacachina 😊