Author: Dark flash photography

TOP TEN PRAGUE CZECH REPUBLIC

I recently travelled for 3 and a half weeks within Europe. The purpose of my trip was mostly to visit friends in Holland, Belgium and France then to see anything new, but hey when in Rome!

Next thing I knew I travelled to Prague the capital of the Czech Republic from Paris with Transavia a low cost Dutch carrier owned by Air France-KLM. Although Transavia is low cost they haven’t followed suit with Ryanair allowing one checked back plus one personal bag. In short you can only strictly have one carry on item with you and purses count. 

Let’s just say I was furiously trying to stuff  the contents of my purse into my backpack. Yes I knew the rules in advance, but I guess my brain just couldn’t compute that I wouldn’t be allowed to have my purse with me. 

My nerves started to kick in on the flight, arriving to a country where I didn’t speak the language in the middle of the night wasn’t ideal, but in this case that’s just the way it crumbled.

I exchanged my Euros at the counter at the airport which cost me 10€, so my suggestion would be to simply just take it out of the ATM.  Czech Republic is in Czech Krona 1€ = 27Kč and 1CAD = 18Kč.

Although using the ticket machine to get on the bus proved confusing since It was all in Czech I managed to figure it out and then make my way to the subway and followed the stops. Finding my hostel wasn’t too bad, although I took a longer than necessary route google maps led me to the door correctly. Sometimes I wonder how I ever use to travel without google maps! It’s the best thing that ever happened to me travel wise, I feel more confident and secure that I don’t have to worry about getting lost and asking strangers for directions. 

I stayed at the old Prague hostel which is in old town, aka tourist mecca. The hostel was modern (except for horrible wifi)  with a mix of residents and backpackers just above a bar. 

Here are my tips for the top 10 in Prague ( In no order ) :

  1. Do the free walking tour of the old town and check out the Astrological clock. 
  2. Eat crepes, have some Czech dumplings and a Pivo in the old  town square.
  3. Do the pub crawl, there are usually 100 people or more and they take you to the biggest club in all of central europe Karlovy Lazne. The pub crawl costs 400Kč and you get free drinks along the way, I think it’s well worth it considering it costs 200Kč to get into Karlovy Lazne alone.
  4. Visit the Charles bridge and cross over to less town and see the John Lennon wall.
  5. Check out Prague Castle, I recommend the tour so you can learn more about the history. It’s very entertaining and interesting. If you go at night make sure to bundle up as it does get cold.
  6. Visit the dancing houses also known as Fred and Ginger and admire the architecture. Don’t forget to visit the top of the building. If you get a coffee or tea at the cafe you can enjoy the wonderful view for free. 
  7. Go to a Toast Masters event! I friend of mine who is living in Prague invited me to go and it was a great way to connect with locals and other expats.
  8. Wander around the Jewish town, the former Jewish Ghetto and learn about the history. It’s in the old town and belongs to Praha 1.
  9.  Go up the Petrin or the TV tower for great views of the city. ( You can also enjoy nice views for free from Prague Castle)
  10.  Visit the Kafka museum and learn about this very influential and ‘out there’ Czech author. 

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TOP TEN CHIANG MAI, THAILAND

My second time in Thailand and I really wanted to adventure to the North instead of the South. I had heard from friends that I had met on travels that Chiang Mai was an absolute must do and it didn’t disappoint.

I boarded a flight with Nok air from Bangkok for about $75 CAD. It definitely beat the 10 hour bus or train ride. The flights leave from Don Muang airport. There are plenty of shuttle services around bangkok/Khao san road area that will take you right to the door for the bargain of 100-150BAHT. If time and patience is on your side you can take the public bus from Mo Chit for around 10BAHT.

When you arrive in Chiang Mai, you can take a pre paid taxi into the city or go out to the main road and hail a famous red mini bus called a Songthaew (the red trucks with bench seats) for less than half the cost.

  1. Chiang Mai is the land of temples, you can spend days going from temple to temple by feet, the city is easily walkable.  I highly recommend going to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, you can easily take a mini bus from University to get up there. Keep in mind the bus doesn’t get moving until it has at least 10 passengers, so it can be a long wait in the sun.
  2. Monk Chat at Wat Chedi Luang. This was an unbelievable experience. We got to talk to a monk for nearly 3 hours and he answered every question we had to ask. I highly recommend it if you would like to learn more about buddhism.
  3. Get a massage at on the street or one of the temples. Apparently the cheapest in all of Thailand, think 150baht (6 CAD) for 1 hour.
  4. Visit the 3d art museum and get some amazing pictures. I didn’t get to do this but I saw some pictures from friends and really regretted not making it there.
  5. I highly recommend Deejai’s hostel for a fun party atmosphere filled with activities, they also serve amazin food although you pay more for the convenience.  Make sure not to pronounce it DJ like I did, the locals don’t understand what that means.
  6. Go to the night bazaar, shop and eat till you drop in the very busy Mueang Chiang Mai District.
  7. Go to a lady boy show, it’s inside the night bazaar and it’s an unforgettable experience. It costs 200baht and you get a free drink included with your cover. I have to say this is the best drag show I have ever seen, they are so talented.
  8. Eat Khao Soi it’s noodles topped with fried noodles in coconut milk curry.
  9. Do activities in the surrounding areas such as visiting an elephant sanctuary, Tiger kingdom (Some people are opposed to this but do your research), Doi Inthaon, the Golden triangle (Border of Myanmar, Thailand and Laos)  and white temple in Chiang Rai.
  10. Take a cooking class at some of the many locations in Chiang Mai so you can impress your friends when you get home with your new skills!

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GETTING THE BEST FLIGHT PRICES

Most of us are looking for the best price we can get when trying to book flights. This topic came to my mind because I am currently planning a trip to Europe. Having studied tourism and travel and currently working in the industry I’ve definitely managed to gather some tips along the way. Although ultimately getting the best price mostly rests on location and time of the year. Here are some things I’ve learned throughout the years:

  1. Best time to book and still have great weather is during shoulder season. In Europe that would be towards the end of spring and the beginning of fall, think April-May / Sept-Oct. This can differ in places such as Australia (South of the Equator) where the prices tend to drop around the winter months June-August. 
  2. Check multiple websites, my go to is usually Skyscanner.net as it allows you to get a months view and set up price alerts.
  3. Once you’ve done your preliminary research, call or go to the travel agent. See what they can come up with, and compare. They might have access to special deals that are not available online.
  4. After you’ve checked online and gone to the travel agent, call the airline yourself for another comparison.
  5. Check for low cost airlines in the area in which you are travelling to. In Europe Easyjet and Ryanair rule and are generally cheaper than train travel. It’s important to keep in mind that they tend to leave you at airports that are outside of the city and have strict baggage restriction rules. For example if I wanted to go to Europe, I would book the cheapest ticket I could get there and then take a low cost airline to my destination. In Asia there are great low cost airlines like Nok Air, Air Asia etc…
  6. Collect your points and use your airmiles. If you are getting a credit card, try to get one which allows you to collect points that you can put towards your future travels. 
  7. Follow all the baggage and check in rules with low cost carriers, unfortunately that’s how they seem to get those extra coins out of you. I once was charged 40€ on Ryanair for not printing my boarding pass.
  8. The earlier you book the better, the later you wait the higher the chances of the cheaper seats being sold out. 
  9. Try to see if you can get a free or inexpensive stopover. On my way back from Australia I once got a free stopover in Fiji. I ended up staying for 5 amazing days. I realize a lot of people like to fly direct, but I always jump at the opportunity to experience something new, when it comes at very little cost. 
  10. When you are using a third party website or travel agent to book your flights be aware of the booking and processing fees. Booking directly with the airline is usually the cheaper option. 

And a bonus tip, I’m a fan of Airtreks.com for bookig around the world tickets, I once travelled the globe all the way to Ausralia for 2600 CAD. 

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TRAVELLING ALONE WHILE FEMALE

Throughout the years a lot of people ask me how I managed to travel around the world on my own.  There is no formula, except to plan ahead, but not over think your fears at the same time. I feel sometimes when we over think our fears we tend to subconsciously bring them into our reality, therefore bringing some sort of justification towards them.

The key for me was starting off in places where I felt comfortable and familiar and slowly building up my confidence to exit my comfort zone. The first time I was left on my own was not by choice and came as a total surprise. It was my first trip abroad to Belgium an France. My friend had brought her mother along on our trip, and to my surprise and they took off and went to Germany together while leaving me at a hostel in Paris. The first few days I just slept in my bed, then I started taking walks around my area then I managed to get the courage to tackle the Parisian metro. And to my surprise I didn’t get horribly forever lost, and this was before google maps. Needless to say my confidence grew, it was my first time staying in a hostel and I had made all these new friends.  By the time my friend came by to pick me up, I didn’t want to leave my new found independence or environment. I went from that to picking up and moving to Australia, going to Morocco on my own and doing a solo European backpacking trip. Soon I was going to Central America and Asia without too much worry. 

Here are my top 10 tips, in no particular order:

  1. Stay in a hostel, be social on those long bus and train rides and make friends. I find that I actually don’t end up spending too much time on my own, there is always someone to meet, or maybe you’ll even find someone to continue part of your journey with.
  2. Never arrive anywhere after dark, it’s not safe anywhere, especially when you don’t know where you are going and you are carrying a big bag on your back. You may as well be a flashing neon sign for trouble. I try to book alot of my train and plane journeys overnight so that I arrive early the next morning. The benefit is that it also saves you on accommodation.
  3. Don’t get wasted with people you don’t know. You may have met these lovely people in a hostel and suddenly you feel relieved to have someone who speaks your language and that you can relate to but at the end of the day you don’t know them and you are on your own. I’ve been stuck in sticky situations before and felt completely unsafe in the middle of the night while wandering unknown streets, it’s not pleasant.  
  4. Take triple care of your belongings, forget being a female traveller, you are a solo traveller. I never put all my things together in one place. That way if I get one bag stolen I still have options.Try to have as many option as possible, two debit cards, two credit cards…split up your cash etc. If your going to sleep on those long bus rides in Central or South America, put your passport and money in your bra or somewhere unreachable. People have been known to wake up from their slumber finding their day bags have been taken. 
  5. Dress accordingly. If your don’t want to be a moving target it’s important to respect the cultures of the places in which you are visiting, especially if you are not travelling with a man. Do your research and ask around, and if your still unsure just cover up and play it safe.
  6. Pre book your hostel. I’ve found that there is this mentally that it’s cool to kind of wander around looking for a place to sleep, but for me there has been nothing like feeling good knowing that i’ve already sorted that out especially as a SFT. Of course I have taken my chances every now and then, however there are some things to keep in mind the size of the town or city (Do they have a lot of options?), the time of the year (Is there an event going on where space is limited?) and the location, do you want to be close to everything? Or end up having to stay in the outskirts because your area is booked up?
  7. Google maps is your friend, always preload your maps once your have some kind of internet access which usualy isn’t a problem in major train stations or airports. In case that would fail, I always take pictures of my direction so that I have them on my phone in case i need to show it to a cab driver. 
  8. Respect all warnings. I’ve hard of girls going off and wandering into areas we were clearly told not to visit and come back with all their belongings taken. Why risk your amazing adventure over something like that. If the locals tell you not to do something, then most likely it’s not just a cautionary tail 
  9. Practice or know some basic self defence, such as how to get out of zip lock ties. There is an amazing video on Youtube on how to do this, click here
  10. Smile, relax and take it all in. Sometimes there is nothing like being alone surrounded by majestic scenery. I live for those moments.  

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I’M OUT OF BREATH IN SAN FRANCISCO

Uphill, downhill and all the famous San Francisco views.

If your like me you’ve been obsessed with San Francisco since Full House or maybe it’s history as being the stage for many large movements in America. I spent years hearing so much about San Francisco, “Go there” they all said. And go I finally did. I first arrived the evening of my friend’s birthday who so generously donated his couch to my cause.  Needless to say I definitely would not recommended arriving after a long flight the evening of anybody’s birthday. I was welcomed by alcohol infused hippie party goers, it almost felt like being back in time or another planet. Was I in the movie Milk? This is San Francisco apparently, 70/60s style, hippie massage circles, group sing alongs and free love. I was soaking it all in before I felt myself drifting away in a peaceful sleep mid party. I woke up the next morning on the couch confused by my surroundings seemingly in the same position I had fallen asleep in. The cool San Francisco breeze greeted me by the open back door, I felt it, it was time to explore.

My top 10 San Francisco (In no order) :

  1. Golden gate bridge / Crissy fields
  2. Tile Steps – A lot of fun exploring this neighbourhood and seeing the suburbs of San Francisco. And you are rewarded with amazing views.
  3. Haight and Ashbury
  4. Mission district
  5. Eating, anywhere and everywhere.
  6. Sourdough bread at Bourdini
  7. Lombard street / Cable car ride
  8. Twin Peaks
  9. Alcatraz
  10. Visit Yellowstone or and Sausalito day trip

If you’re feeling a bit more touristy, here are some honorable mentions: Fisherman’s wharf, The painted ladies, Union Square and Chinatown.

TIPS FOR AN ENJOYABLE EXPERIENCE AT SALAR DE UYUNI

I’ve literally been dreaming of this place for years. It’s freezing cold and there is believe it or not snow on the ground, but I don’t mind, this place looks like heaven.

When you arrive in Uyuni you are instantly accosted by everyone and anyone trying to sell you a tour. You don’t know who you are going to end up with on your tour and what kind of driver you’re going to have. You’re basically playing a game of luck and unfortunately for us, the recommended company didn’t have any space left so we had to roll the dice. We ended up getting stuck with a driver who didn’t speak english, was constantly in a rush and by passing many of the things we wanted to see. It was almost like a game of which tour could keep up with the other. The Finnish girl I was travelling with became ill and our driver got angry when we asked him to stop for medicine, which really didn’t get things off to a good start. Although the views were mind blowing, the experience certainly wasn’t what I was dreaming of.I had decided I needed to do this trip again, and with more careful planning. Learn from my mistakes!

Here are my top 10 Uyuni recommendations.

  1. Book with Red planet expedition 
  2. Choose the season which you want to go in, the reflective photos are taken in the rainy season
  3. If your going for photography like me, research on how to take the photos beforehand and bring props (the bigger the better, think shoe, sunglasses, hat or water bottle)
  4. We were fed quite well on the tour, maybe pack a few light snacks for the road
  5. Pack warm clothes! If you go in the winter, you will absolutely freeze especially in the ‘salt hotel’. There is electricity only for a few hours and you have to pay for the only ‘hot’ shower which is shared with everyone.
  6. Bring power bank sticks and an extra camera battery. There is only electricity for a few hours in the salt hotel and one power bar for everyone staying there.
  7. Bring a small game, whenever I travel I always bring Spot it. It’s always a crowd pleaser and brings everyone together.
  8. No matter which tour you book they nearly all go in the same direction and to the same places. So if you don’t care if your driver speaks english or not or your fellow companions or the condition of your car just go for the best price. 
  9. You will be getting up early everyday, but when it’s dark  and there is no electricity going to sleep isn’t much for a problem
  10. If you are going to continue to Chile your driver can let you off at the San Pedro border so you can continue your journey.

As for the overnight bus  ride from LaPaz, the bus was quite comfortable by Bolivian standards, there is wifi onboard but it didn’t work 90% of the time as we were in the middle of no where. I recommend taking something to fall asleep on the bus because your tour will most likely start within a couple of hours of your arrival. I would recommend spending a night to relax in Uyuni and shop around for tours beforehand. I was pressed for time so unfortunately I didn’t have that luxury.

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