San Francisco: 4 Unmissable Sights

San Francisco is one of the USA’s most popular destinations for travellers and this reputation is well deserved as the city is packed with attractions. I had the chance to spend 5 nights in SF last summer and a few of its attractions really stood out to me.

  1. Golden Gate Bridge

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I can’t think of a better way to experience the iconic Golden Gate Bridge than by bicycle. There are bike rental shops all over the city – I rented mine from Blazing Saddles. The round trip over the bridge toward Sausalito was very manageable, even for someone like me who barely cycles. From the charming (if a little touristy) Sausalito you can catch a ferry back to the Fisherman’s Wharf area.

2. The Japanese Gardens at Golden Gate Park

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The serene Japanese Tea Garden was one of my favourite places in the city. The Japanese-style plants, architecture and water features are amazing and you can even buy Japan-themed gifts and drink Japanese tea in the tea house.

3. Alcatraz Island

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Unfortunately, I had an eye infection on the day I visited Alactraz Island so my photography left a lot to be desired. However, I still highly recommend visiting the Island as the audio tour was very engaging and experiencing the prison first-hand is the best way to explore it’s history. My main piece of advice for visiting Alactraz is to BOOK EARLY  as tickets can sell out weeks in advance. Boat tickets can be purchased through the Alcatraz Cruises website.

4. Palace of Fine Arts

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I visited the Palace of Fine Arts on a quiet weekday morning and was so glad I did as it was so calm, peaceful and beautiful. The monument is so much bigger and more impressive in real life than it appears in photos and the reflective pool adds to the spectacle, giving you the chance to get great pictures.

 

These are just a few of San Francisco’s abundance of attractions! Let me know your favourite things to do in SF, I’m already dying to go back!

Heidi

Tips for Stress-Free Travel Planning

Booking any kind of trip can be daunting and sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. Over the years, I’ve found a few tricks and websites that make travel planning a breeze – use these and you’ll be exploring some amazing new place before you know it!

  • Save up!

This is an obvious one but it’s really easier said than done. By making a conscious effort to cut out unnecessary expenses, you’ll be surprised how much you end up saving. To save for my upcoming trip to Australia I quit smoking, didn’t go out drinking more than once a month, stopped buying clothes and make-up that I didn’t need and tried to cut out expensive meals out. I was actually amazed at how quickly I was able to save up my target amount, and now I can relax knowing that anything else I save is a bonus!

  • Choosing your destination

If you’re on a budget, one great way to choose a destination is going onto the Skyscanner website and searching from your nearest airport to “Everywhere”. This will bring up a list of the cheapest flights from your chosen airport within your selected dates. Now you can check out the ones that interest you on the Booking or Hostelworld websites and see where the best accommodation deals are!

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If I wasn’t already going away in a month these could tempt me!
  • Planning an Itinerary  

My  top tip for planning an itinerary for your trip is don’t! In my experience, having a strict plan for a trip will only add a level of stress that you don’t need. Instead, I recommend having a list of things that you want to see and highlight the ones that you definitely don’t want to miss. Be realistic here – sometimes it’s better to miss a few sights than to spend a trip rushing around. Also have a general idea of how close things are to each other so you can organise your days accordingly. My favourite site for finding out what there is to see and do in a certain area is Wikitravel. I also like to check out travel vlogs and blogs before I go so I can learn from other traveler’s experiences.

  • Visas

I prefer to sort out visas as early as I can so I can chill and forget about them in the run-up to my trip. Again, I’m going to recommend Wikitravel for information about visas as they have a “Get In” section on each country’s page with usually detailed visa information.

  • Insurance

Travel insurance is one of the most important things to consider for a stress free trip – if anything does go wrong, it helps a lot to know you’re covered. I always use MoneySuperMarket  to find the best deal. Just keep in mind that the cheapest deal isn’t always the best and pay attention to things like excesses and coverage limits. Luckily, MoneySuperMarket sets all these things out in a table for easy comparison.

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  • Before you go

My final organisational tip to keep your trip easy and relaxed is to print off all the documents you’ll need and keep them in a folder in the order that you’ll need them. When you no longer need them, throw them away so you’re not overloaded with random pieces of paper!

Hope these tips will be as helpful to you as they are for me, happy planning!

Heidi

Best Budget Accomodation in San Francisco: Hostelling International Fisherman’s Wharf

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In San Francisco, really cheap accommodation is basically impossible to find. Even the most basic hostels will charge over £20 (about $25) a night for a dorm bed. Saying that, I was pretty happy with the value for money I got at Hostelling International’s Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel.

Where?

The hostel is located in Fort Mason, a former US army post, so it’s surrounded by national park land. Fisherman’s Wharf is just a short walk away and there are a few bus stops near the hostel. For information on getting there, see here. I used the shuttle service from the airport as I thought $14 was a small price to pay to avoid having to work out public transport after a transatlantic flight.

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Inside Fort Mason

How Much?

Depending on the season, a dorm bed will cost you $40-$55 dollars a night and private rooms start at $110. This might seem steep, but by San Francisco standards it’s at the cheap end of the scale! I would say that it’s worth paying a little extra compared to the cheapest options in San Francisco as the location is amazing.

Why?

  • The facilities: The hostel offers a free breakfast of bagels, fruit and coffee which I really enjoyed. There are also free activities available and all the staff were really friendly and helpful.
  • Cafe Franco: A cafe with reasonably priced, delicious coffee and pastries and absolutely breathtaking views of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz.
  • The setting: The location in Fort Mason allows you a bit of space from the city while still being really central to all of San Francisco’s attractions. It also gives you the chance to do some wildlife spotting – I was lucky to be up early one morning to see an adorable skunk, and I also saw a few racoons. Maybe these animals are pests in America but they were a real novelty to me!
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My skunk photography skills leave a bit to be desired.
  • The views: This is probably the top selling point for HI Fisherman’s Wharf. I woke up early after arriving at the hostel late at night, went outside and was met with the most beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge and Alcatraz Island. Perfect start to my time in San Francisco.

Drawbacks?

From my experience, this wasn’t much of a party hostel and the crowd was a bit quiet and kept to themselves, so it might not be the best place for solo travelers to meet people. However, I only stayed there for 5 nights so I could be mistaken! We also had a bit of a dodgy experience with a slightly unhinged older woman in our dorm room, but that’s the risk of staying in a dorm anywhere I guess.

Overall, the location especially for this hostel is unbeatable, I was lucky enough to be able to see the Golden Gate bridge from my window! I’d highly recommend it to any traveler looking for reasonably priced accommodation in San Francisco. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments!

Heidi

Parisian Memories

Way back in July 2012, I had just finished secondary school and chose Paris as the destination for my first trip without family. Paris is a busy and touristy city in summer, but for good reason as there’s so much to see and do. It would be interesting to go back in Spring or Autumn to experience the magic of Paris minus the crowds. Here are a collection of pictures and memories from my trip:

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View from Centre Pompidou modern art musuem

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At the Palace of Versailles

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View from Montmatre hill

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The number of graveyard photos in my Facebook album is embarrassing

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Basilica of the Sacré-Cœur
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Shakespeare and Company bookshop

For school-leavers, or anyone that’s keen for a city break, Paris is an ideal destination as it’s packed with activities, amazing architecture and parks and unbelievable food. Though  if you’re averse to crowds, I recommend avoiding the busy summer season!

Where was you first travel destination? Comment below!

Heidi

Prague: 5 Activities You Don’t Want to Miss

My December 2016 pre-Christmas trip to Prague was probably the most relaxed and enjoyable trip I’ve taken. The city is so easy to get around on foot and food, drink and accommodation were all very reasonably priced. Prague is the perfect destination to cater to a variety of tastes for a short European city break, whether it’s a romantic getaway, a trip with friends or some solo exploration.

  1. Petrin Hill and Observation Tower

My boyfriend and I ended up here after getting extremely lost on our way to see Prague castle, but it was well worth the extra walking. The area was absolutely gorgeous, and the bare trees added to the park’s unique beauty and atmosphere. The tower, which is a really cool mini Eiffel Tower, cost 60czk to go up, which works out at about £2 and was well worth it for the amazing views of Prague. Definitely a trip highlight for me.

2. John Lennon Wall

Prague’s iconic John Lennon wall was created in the 1980’s as a symbol of non-violent protest against the Soviet regime. People continue to add their own graffiti to the wall, and its juxtaposition with the leafy streets and beautiful buildings in the area makes for a great photo. The busker guy singing average Beatles covers may or may not add to your experience.

3.Old Town Hall

The Old Town Hall is home to the astronomical clock, which is known for being overrated. I think the astronomical clock is worth a look, it’s like a strange kind of puppet show experience. The real attraction though, is the view from the top of the Old Town Hall. This is especially beautiful on a December night when you can take in the lights of the nearby Christmas markets.

4. Sedlec Ossuary

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Heavy metal Jesus

The Sedlec Ossuary is a church that has been decorated with thousands of human bones. It is located in Kutná Hora, about an hour’s train journey from Prague, and tickets work out at about £4 each way. The train journey allows you to see some of the Czech countryside before reaching the uniquely eerie church.

5. The Food and Drink

The food in Prague was a huge highlight for me. On the street, we were able to find cheap and delicious pizza and hotdogs and the sit in restaurants were just as good. One of my favourites was Bagueterie Boulevard, which is perfect for a satisfying and tasty lunch. I had the Sweet Ribs baguette, which was so good that I still think about it six months later. Prague is also a great destination for beer drinkers – depending on how touristy the area is, the average price of a beer is around £1.

I enjoyed Prague so much that I’m already thinking of going back for another visit as soon as I can! If you have suggestions for activities I can do on my next visit, please comment below!

Heidi

Santa Cruz’s Hidden Gem: Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

For me, Santa Cruz itself was somewhat underwhelming. Maybe I made a mistake going mid-week, as the amusement park wasn’t on and the beach wasn’t that busy. The “relaxed hippy vibe” I’d read about just seemed like a slightly dodgy atmosphere. Though I must point out that it had some great book and music stores that are definitely worth a look. That said, my first impressions of Santa Cruz inspired me to check out what the natural surroundings had to offer.

Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is located near Felton, a charming little town that’s a pleasure to walk through to reach the park. It has a few cafes and food shops if you need a snack before or after your walk. It can be reached from Santa Cruz either by a 20 minute drive or an hour-long bus which will only cost you a couple of dollars. The longish bus ride is well worth it, as you can listen to music and enjoy the scenery of the Santa Cruz mountain area.

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I mean … TREES? EVERYWHERE TREES? What is this place?

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I managed to convince myself that this was the bridge from The Lost Boys.

The park is beautiful and has so much to offer in terms of scenery and photo opportunities, from quaint bridges and breathtaking redwood trees to the “Roaring Camp” railroad which offers the opportunity to take an old-fashioned steam engine ride through the Santa Cruz mountains. Additionally, you should be able to spot some wildlife in the park- there are plenty of squirrels around and I was nearly mowed down by two gorgeous fawns! We also met the park ranger who was very friendly and enthusiastic to tell us about the history of the park. Another highlight of this park on a weekday is that it isn’t too busy and once you’re off the beaten path, it’s a really peaceful way to spend a day.

For anyone travelling around the California coast or Santa Cruz area, I really recommend that you explore this park as the amazing scenery really left an impression on me.

Heidi

Obligatory Introduction Post?

After finishing the major stuggles of essay writing time only a few days ago, part of me is already missing having something to write about. Not that I always love the stresses and pressures of essay writing, but I do enjoy the writing process. Starting a blog seemed like a good way to sharpen my writing skills, and also give me something to do in the month before my working holiday other than reblogging pictures of Christian Slater on tumblr.

This blog will mainly be about what I have learnt and experienced in my past travels, and from July onwards I will be documenting my working holiday in Australia. You can also expect plenty of food pictures and posts from me as eating out is probably my favourite hobby.

Excited to start posting and hoping I can come up with some great inspirational travel content!

Heidi