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Thursday, 16 January 2020

Jammin' in Jamaica

I know, I know, once again I've been off the radar. Apologies to you all, life has gotten in the way and I still have loads of content to finish in my draft folder, but in the spirit of new year, new me, in 2020 The Basic Traveller is going to be one of my number on priorities.

I'm definitely not doing these posts in order - I owe you all one on South Africa, Iceland, DC and Bologna from 2019, so keep your eyes peeled in the next few weeks as I get myself back on track, and then open it up to you guys as well as some more travel tips and tricks and looking ahead to what 2020 might have in store. So, let's dive straight in...Jamaica 🇯🇲

Let me just say as a disclaimer, this was a family holiday so I'm not going to mention budget and prices but share the highs and lows of the island over new years of 2019.

While many people might instantly think of Kingston (and yeh...something else too) when first thinking of Jamaica, there is actually so much more to this island, and flying into Montego Bay on the north-west, just a 9hr flight from Gatwick, it is much bigger than first expected.
Our hotel, the Jamaica Inn, was a 2hr drive in Ocho Rios towards the north-east. This all-inclusive family-run resort was to be our home for the next week and the place where we would first see in 2020. This hotel has been home to some of the super famous back in the day; Winston Churchill, Marlyn Monroe, Kathryn Hepburn and Ian Fleming, just to name a few, and on our trip we weren't disappointed, catching a glimpse of ex-Prime Minister John Major the last before we left, to my father's delight.

With rooms on the beach, breakfast overlooking the sea and a spa that was the pure definition of tranquillity, as you can guess I barely left the hotel, but still somehow managed to catch a cold that I am battling over a week later.

However, when I was eventually dragged off the beach into Ochos Rios and out onto the island, specifically to Noel Coward's house Firefly, I wasn't disappointed. The views from Firefly were incredible, and I completely understand why Sir Noel built his own house about half a mile from his guest house!

Amongst the other places we visited, the Seville Great House was another standout moment, learning Jamaican Patios from our guide, you have to be aware and remember the dark slave-trade history that runs through Jamaica and is ever-present in the remaining Great (Plantation) Houses.

Back on the beach, however, 5 hours behind the UK we saw in 2020 in Great Gatsby style with the most incredible buffet and party on the beach.

Jamaica is not a place for doing things, although there is plenty available if you want to, but is a place for just being, relaxing, and enjoying the wonderfully chilled pace of life.

Have a good week my loves!

Kate xxx

Saturday, 26 October 2019

Sleeping in South Korea and Jet-Set in Japan

Today's post is a 2-4-1 and comes express from Japan as I landed back in London less than 24 hours ago! This trip was my second solo trip this year (See Sri Lanka) and has reinvigorated my love for solo travel even more.

Using my coveted Avios points to book the flights with BA and their partner Cathay Pacific (transit through Hong Kong) meant that along with my flight from Seoul to Tokyo with AirSeoul (10/10 airline by the way) came to around £450 which is not bad considering I coincidentally ended up in Japan at the same time as the Rugby World Cup.

As I was doing this solo but still on a bit of a budget, while in Seoul I stayed at Hostel Haru (contact me for discount code) in the Insa-dong area of Seoul which made getting around the city really easy as it was right in the centre but also next to the Jonggak metro station and the tranquil Cheonggyecheon urban river. Although I had two full days in Seoul as my flight landed at 07:35, the 8-hour ahead jet lag made the first day a complete right off.

Seoul, South Korea

However, day 2 was more eventful as I had booked a tour to go to the DMZ - De-Militarised Zone, the buffer zone between the South Korean and North Korean. Just my luck meant that due to African swine fever fears the actual tours to the DMZ were cancelled but I persevered on an 'alternative DMZ' tour and at least got to visit an observatory from which I could see North Korea and learned about the troubles that still exist there as well as going to the Korean war memorial museum. As I knew next to nothing about the Korean war (as shameful as that is) I really relished the opportunity to learn - as well as try as many Koran sweet buns with red bean paste as possible!

North Korea!

(Note: Korea is not a veggie or vegan-friendly place so you will have limited options, but much cheaper than expected)

Hopping over to Japan, I flew into Tokyo and spent two days in the bright lights of the city at the beginning of my tour, visiting Shinjuku crossing, Harajuku, Asaka with its temple and markets along with a hedgehog cafe. Yes, apparently animal cafes (as well as maid cafes - google it) are a big thing in Japan.
I also made sure to catch the England vs OZ and Ireland vs NZ game whilst I was there at a British pub (typical) but what an atmosphere!

Bullet train to Takayama, a small town in the mountains of central Japan, unlocked the traditional side of the country as we stayed in a traditional Japanese inn, sampled ramen and visited an onsen (traditional hot spring baths...naked). I had never considered visiting this part of Japan before but it held so much history and beautiful scenery I would highly recommend it.

Last stop (again via bullet train) was to the old capital, Kyoto. Unlike Tokyo with its mad modern-ness, Kyoto is the capital with culture. Here I got to try spending a few nights in a capsule hotel (pretty good except for the lack of windows so you have no idea what time of day it is), visited Nijo-Castle, the Silver Pavillion (which is not actually silver), a bamboo forest and had a sushi lesson from a sensai.  Three days in Kyoto could have easily been 3 weeks as there is so much to do there!

The long flight back via Hong Kong was totally worth it too - Japan is in its heyday for tourism with the Rugby World Cup/Olympics and South Korea has so much to offer I'll just have to go back. I had no idea what to expect visiting these countries and unlike me did very little planning beforehand so I went in pretty blind but was blown away at how great these places are and I would completely recommend your next trip to be to Japan and South Korea!

Catch you next week for a post on South Africa (due from March!)

Have a good week my lovelies!

Lots of Love, Kate xxx

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Serenity in Sri Lanka

So, I know I promised to start writing again probably about 2 months ago but - as always - life has gotten in the way! Back by no demand whatsoever, here is a very delayed post (which should have been done in January) all about Sri Lanka.

**Disclaimer: This trip was taken before the terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka of Easter 2019**

Landing in Colombo after a 14-hour flight with a brief stopover in Qatar (Qatar Airways 5* airline, by the way, 10/10 would recommend),  and leaving the freezing cold January blues behind in rainy old England, the heat hit me like a wall.

For my exploration of the Lonely Planet's top place to visit in 2019, I was spending just over 10 days starting with one night in Colombo, then to Siguria with it's famous rock fortress and Dambulla cave temple and opportunity to do a jungle safari and see elephants (!) then all the way through the centre of Sri Lanka's hilly tea plantation region down to the coast at Hikkaduwa.

Temple of the Tooth, Kandy

Being in this wonderful country you could certainly feel that it was in its element and was on the cusp of exploding with tourists (unfortunately I think this will have been affected by the horrific terrorist attacks this year). Having mostly recovered from the civil war that raged on with the Tamil Tigers until 2009 and rebuilt its coastline after the devastating boxing day tsunami in 2004, Sri Lanka has been due its day and for good reason, I think the Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest I have ever met.

After a couple of days of relaxing in the countryside of Siguria, I moved on to Kandy - Sri Lanka's cultural capital - to the Temple of the Tooth which, as legend says, is the site of the last tooth of Buddha and brings hundreds of thousands of visitors every year. This place was beautifully calm and crazily busy with the number of people coming to worship at the same time. Be sure to get there at just before the time of the prayer ceremony to get a glimpse of the tooth!

The next stop was one of the most beautiful places on earth, the homestay at Tamarind Farm Gardens, a working farm that has many wonderful initiatives to support the local village to give the women a place to work away from the local dolomite mine. This beautiful place is incredibly peaceful and sits on the side of the hills, away from the madness of the city and is run by a Sri Lankan couple who returned to Sri Lanka from the UK and developed the land into a farm and enterprise.

Tamarind Farm Gardens, Digana

After this, I continued into the tea plantation hills of Nuwara Eliya which strangely might have been one of my favourite places (only partly due to the huge change in temperature, mainly because of the tea) but it is a town that time seems to have forgotten as very little has structurally changed since its colonial occupation with its original 1930s post office still in working order.

Ella Station, Ella
Moving on to Ella, I took the infamous train 🚂 that leaves when it likes and takes as long as it likes to get to this hilly town, not before pulling across the picture-postcard nine arch bridge. Here you can take a hike or a scramble up Little Adam's Peak or enjoy a cooking class to learn to make some traditional Sri Lankan curries - you can guess what I picked to do!

Train from Nuwara Eilyah to Ella

The last place on my visit was down to Galle/Hikkaduwa (via a stop at an elephant orphanage to see them at feeding time) to see the Dutch colonial town of Galle that has rebuilt itself after the tsunami and it's old town was the only part of the town that survived the force of the water due to its fortified walls.
As well as the colonial history and story of destruction, Sri Lanka's southern coast also has some of the most glorious beaches and opportunities for diving (although don't forget the suncream like I did!).

Mamas, Hikkaduwa Beach
All in all, a wonderful, amazing trip to one of my new favourite places in the world. I'm sure the attacks at Easter of this year will have had an effect on the number of visitors to Sri Lanka this year, but if you are considering a holiday don't cross this small but incredible islands off your list.

So that's it! I'm officially back - I'm not making any promises but I know I owe you all some more posts very soon - and next week I'm off to South Korea and Japan so I will be sure to keep you all updated.

Have a good week my lovelies!

Lots of Love, Kate xxx

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Back again!!!

Welcome back, friends!

I know it has been nearly a year since I wrote my last post with no indication that I was going to stop writing because really I had no idea that I was going to stop writing and take such a long break. I have no exact or dramatic reason why I stopped writing last November, except that I think I just needed a break and not dedicated myself to being online as much - but now I'm back with many new and exciting travel posts to catch you up on for 2019.

The biggest news in my life, after living in London for almost a year now, I have recently started a new job. In July I left The British Red Cross (BRC) after being there for a just over a year in my role as Technical Team Assistant in the International Directorate to join the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as their new Programme Officer for the Human Mobility Initiative which is their migration programme. You can see my profile and what they are all about here. ODI is the biggest think tank in Europe and my boss is Marta Foresti, one of the leading experts in refugee and migration issues, which I think was one of the biggest draw points to leaving BRC, listening to her knowledge is incredible for anyone who is interested in migration like me. Anyway, it has been a month so far and I think I'm very slowly getting to grips with things, but I'll try to keep you all updated! It is only an 18-month contract at the moment, and while it might get extended, I think I am going to try and get my PhD in Eastern European Nationalism and Migration at the University of Reading, which I was planning to do this year before I took the job at ODI.

Travel-wise, since I last wrote about being in Edinburgh, I was in Sri Lanka in January, South Africa in March, Bologna in Italy in May, Iceland and Washington D.C. in June and I have booked trips to South Korea and Japan in October and Jamacia in December over New Year's Eve and I think there may be one trip with work to Geneva possibly. So it's not been too bad really haha! I will be writing more detailed posts on all of these trips over the coming weeks with photos included.

I am also planning to re-start the London series of posts that I promised last year, so let me know if there is anything you want me to write about or investigate in London!

Lastly, The Basic Traveller boutique travel service is open for business so if you need any travel advice or would like to book a holiday with me, do get in touch with your budget, destination and dates and I can provide you with student-friendly options as required.

See you next week for a post on Sri Lanka,

Have a good week my loves!

Lots of Love, Kate xxx

Monday, 5 November 2018

Edinburgh on the map

Right, last week I had my first whole week off since....since I can't actually remember the last time I had a full week off...maybe it was when I just moved back from Paris, I think it was. Anyway, I digress, as I was saying, last week I finally had a full week off, coinciding with a lot of half terms so my housemate and very good friend Emma could go away for a few days as cheaply as possible as we were both feeling painfully skint. So, after much haggling and lowering of expectations, we both realised that as much as we had travelled globally, we hadn't really explored our own backyard that much, and thus we settled on a 3 day trip to Edinburgh, Scotland.

The Royal Mile

Scotland is somewhere I've had on my bucket list for aaaaggessss, partly due to my obsession with Outlander, partly because I love the Scottish accent, and partly because everyone who goes there always comes back with tales about how great it was, and as it is so close, I knew I had to go and see it for myself.

We had it all booked, a cheap Ryanair (boo) early morning flight from Stanstead to Edinburgh, returning two days later and staying in a budget Airbnb room, all costing about £80 each...not bad for a city break. Unfortunately, it wasn't to be, no romantic reasoning except the fact that Emma seems to actually enjoy working with children who manage to make her ill at the most inconvenient times, so she actually didn't make it up to the highlands with me. In the end, I called on my mother who jumped on the train and came to join me.

Staying in our Airbnb on Albany Street meant that we were within walking distance to most of the sights of Edinburgh.

Wandering down the Royal Mile, past the sound of bagpipes and further into the heart of the city to the George IV bright, in true tourist fashion, we headed to The Elephant House Cafe for breakfast - this cafe was supposedly the place where JK Rowling first wrote Harry Potter - whether this tale is true or not is neither here nor there, but one thing about The Elephant House is its breathtaking view of Edinburgh Castle.

From here, we headed to the Dovecot Gallery, an old swimming baths-turned-gallery, which is currently housing an exhibition of Liberty fabrics - very niche for those who like fashion and textiles, but even a complete novice like me can appreciate the beautifully patterned fabrics and dresses from 1920/30s all the way through to modern-day.

Following this, no touristy visit to Edinburgh could be complete without a trip to the castle, so braving the biting winds, up to the castle we went. Seeing the Scottish Crown jewels were cool enough, but the best part was definitely the Victoria sponge cake and royal tea in the tea rooms - 10/10 would eat again!

View from Edinburgh Castle

For those on a budget, a great place to go in Edinburgh that I ended up in twice was the Scottish National Gallery, free to enter, it has some pretty cool paintings, and for someone like me who struggles to enjoy galleries to say it, means it must be good.

Great restaurants to check out in Edinburgh that we tried were:

- Chaophraya: a Thai restaurant on George Street, averagely priced, good portions, busy so worth booking - even on a Wednesday night in October, but the selling point of this place is deffo the city views over Edinburgh, and on a good day you can see all the way to Fife!

 - The Magnum: serving traditional Scottish food with a modern uplift, located on Albany Street, I would recommend the Fish and Chips, and the Cullen Skink - classic Scottish creamy fish chowder.

 - The White Witch; an Italian/Scottish Bistro on Broughton Street, this place seems to be open all hours, the lunch and dinner menu looked mouthwatering, but I had the veggie breakfast, served with fresh tomatoes and classic Italian balsamic vinegar which was utterly delicious!

If you do decide to take a city break in Edinburgh, the Edinburgh Playhouse is worth checking out as they have some great off-London performances for half the price, especially for under-25s midweek. We saw a great rendition of Saturday Night Fever that had me singing all the way home!

What's your favourite part of Edinburgh? Let me know?!

Have a good week my loves!

Lots of Love, Kate xxx

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