Monthly Archives: December 2013

First Impressions of China

I have to say that China was not at the top of my travel list. I’m very aware of the mega nation and have many friends who have been to visit and enjoyed themselves greatly. For me, there just wasn’t something drawing me there.

 

Guang Sha Hotel, Guangzhou

Guang Sha Hotel, Guangzhou

This year, 2013, I’ve heard a lot about China especially in regard to Inspired Adventures and their many Great Wall of China Challenges which is something I’d really like to do one day – and it made me investigate more what people were doing when they were visiting.

 

I haven’t got a lot of time to visit but I have set aside 2 days to visit on my way back from Europe this December and my stopover on 21st November 2013 will be my first stay.

 

I found on the China Southern Airlines the staff a little short in temperament and abrupt. Not overly friendly and sort of just going about their job- pleasant enough but not outwardly friendly. This was something I had heard about China from a few close friends. It’s not an active mentality to come across as rude it just seems to be this is the way that people interact.

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The trend continued at the airport when I asked for help – people did help, but they kinda just wanted to give the answer and have me move along. I had a very nice girl sit next to me on the plane, originally from China and now living in Melbourne, so she was assisting me to figure out where to go and what to do. There were also some people trying to get me to go to their hotel and take their taxi, but even when they couldn’t get my business, they still tried to assist. I noticed that the English thing was a bit of a challenge. Totally respect that, I’m in China now and I most certainly do not speak the language over and above “Nihao (hi” and “ Shay Shay “ Thank you” ) so we did our best with sign language.

 

The climate was nice – not too cold as it should be Winter, though the next day was actually very humid. There were lots of trees around the airport and it didn’t seem too polluted. In the morning it did seem quite smoggy and there was a haze all around the airport – apart form being a little flustered, It was a nice temperature and very much an Asian country. The familiar smell and the look of the trees just reminded me a little of arriving in Indonesia or Singapore.

 

I got to the hotel and the rumors were true- No Facebook! Some of my other social media channels were limited too – but, I was able to survive 12 hours without it. Actually it let me focus on other things – good thinking China, increasing productivity! But not so great for me long term as a social media specialist….

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I think my most interesting experience thus far (yes in the short space of time I was there) was in the café in the airport in the morning. I went to the front counter and asked if they take credit card, I seemed to be most inconveniencing them and also not following their café system. I was quickly directed to a table. Ok. Then the wait staff seemed to be talking to the kitchen and other staff across the restaurant, rather loudly… most peculiar. The service wasn’t very friendly and I was definitely just supposed to order eat and go. I managed to crack a smile out of the waitress as I paid my bill and dropped her pen onto my sandwich- go figure!!

 

Oodles of Noodles in my hotel

Oodles of Noodles in my hotel

So overall – I’m intrigued. There seem to be some great systems in place and some innovative ways- I found a few bottlenecks in the airport with perhaps too many cooks, i.e. too many staff, but otherwise it was good. The hotel was comfortable and the area around looked pretty. I look forward to checking out the city. I’ll keep trying to make the individuals I encounter crack a smile and accept that perhaps not everyone is chatty Kathy like we are in Australia,  and that that’s not always helpful!

 

As I walked through the airport, I saw an incredibly beautiful billboard with boats on the water with buildings that appeared to meet the water and snow capped mountains in the background  – it plugged at my heart strings and I think China has A LOT to offer and I’ve not even cracked the ice yet!

 

So – see you in a month China – and hopefully another adventure will be on the cards again soon.

((Written 22nd November 2013)


Sitting next to funny people on planes

Sometimes you luck out on a plane with the people you sit next to and sometimes it’s an absolute disaster! I thought in this case it would be the latter but it turned out to be the opposite and I had a charming woman sitting next to me on my flight from Australia to China.

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When I got to my seat she was already sitting down and I went to put my luggage up top, she was a bit oiky about it and was seeming to tell me to be careful of her stuff… I thought ok lady… you’re kinda in my way! GREAT! 10 hours of this. She also seemed to be muttering to herself a bit or sort of commenting on things. I was a bit tired and felt run down and was really not in the mood.

 

I was watching a movie and she was laughing – I looked over and she’s looking at my screen. She said “I think I’ve seen this before… it’s very funny.” I smiled and nodded and carried on watching. She then continued to watch and laugh at times, she informed me she was reading the sub-titltes in Chinese…..ohhhhhh… OK!!? WHAT!

 

As the flight went on – she would every so often say something or assist me to get a water from the waitress or again laugh at my movie. She was quirky and fun. And she wasn’t at all rude, or oiky, she just had a more forward manner and she spoke quickly. Not bad at all.

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We ended up chatting a little throughout the flight and she was asking me about my trip, my visit to Europe and my stay in China. So I warmed up over time and started to chat to her more and more.

 

As we landed, we were chatting away and I warmed to her very quickly. She was so funny when she was packing up her stuff and getting off the plane, just a real bright spark. She was giving me great advice on my hotel and how to get around in China.

 

We ended up walking through the airport chattering and I even bumped into her once we’d parted and me met out the front. I gave her my card and we exchanged details. She was there just in time as well. I’d called my hotel to book the transfer but I really wasn’t sure if the message had got across or if I had got the right info of where to meet the bus. I ran over to her in the taxi queue and asked if she could speak to the hotel for me and clarify. She kindly took the phone and as they spoke, my ride arrived.

 

This was such a delightful twist to my journey. I love how you meet people in the most random places and planes seems to be one of my common meeting points. Just be open to experiences at any time.


Comparing Santa experiences in Lapland – Rovaniemi, Finland

Santa Claus is coming to town and he’s a very busy man in Finland! Catering to the many Santa needs in this region there are a fair few choices of places to meet the jolly red man. Here are my opinions on a few on offer from what I have experienced.

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Santa Park

Santa Park is located within a short, but expensive, taxi ride from our accommodation the Ounasavaaran Puritit, or the city centre. It’s an underground world of magic which involves all the aspects of Santa’s operations.

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From the cave and lights entrance to elf school, an ice kingdom and Santa’s post office. There is something for all age groups here and the layout is perfect for spreading people between activities. I loved the gingerbread decorating room, calligraphy area where we could sign our elf school graduation certificates and the elf toy making workshop.

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It was 31 euros to get in which was a little steep but we did spend 3-4 hours there and had a really great time. There were only a few extra things to pay for inside but most activities were included. Great fun for ages 2 onwards, we had a 2 year old who loved it.  I am 26 however and feel I enjoyed it more, wearing my “Santa Believes in me” elf hat with pride.

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Santa Village

The Santa Village is an outdoor Santa theme park essentially. There are a whole bunch of areas within the village with activities and things to do. My friends husband and I were not interested in going here initially as we felt we’d had our Santa experience with the Santa Park. She persuaded us it much different and we had time to kill in any case. He and I actually enjoyed it much more than she did. She had spent a lot of time researching everything and so felt the description didn’t live up to what she saw whilst we were pleasantly surprised.

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Activities included a Santa Museum, tobogganing area, giant ice slide, crystal store and restaurant, restaurants and cafes, many gift shops, reindeer sled rides and reindeer interactions. Of course there was the Santa experience which was extremely well done with an elaborate entrance and very anticipating and exciting way to enter Santa’s presence. He was a kind and sweet Santa and we got a video and photos of our experience (purchased of course.)

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The highlight was visiting Santa’s official post office and seeing elves hard at work reading all the letters. We also sent letters off with the official post office stamp from the Arctic circle. And then of course you get to see the official Arctic circle of the North line!

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We had a wonderful evening there and could have spent more time had it not been -30 by the time we left outside. Only disappointment, no reindeer to just visit and see, you had to do a sled ride for 17 euros and these had stopped by 5pm when we reached.

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Santa's Official Post Office

Santa’s Official Post Office

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This is an elf and Santa fantasy land experience. I cannot speak too much about it as I did not attend however my friend did. She read rave reviews and felt this would be the ultimate Santa experience. Unfortunately, again, reading and researching proved to be a bit disappointing. I also think the fact that we had 2 great Santa experiences the two days prior affected her opinion. The bus driver was rude on the way there, the tour felt a bit rushed and again…. No reindeer! She said the elves were great and it was beautiful. But for 160 euros…. She wasn’t sure she’d do it again. I think if you make this your only experience, it would be great. Also it’s more targeted at 6-10 year olds who would find it amazing!! A 2 year old was a bit young to take it and a 26 year old mother probably a bit old to get so wrapped up in the magic.

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Personally, I was very happy with the order in which we did the two locations, Santa Park and Santa Village and I feel they catered well to the magic of Christmas and the Santa experience. I could not justify 160 euros for another Santa experience when I had already done the other two so for me, I would do this over again.

Santa Park

Santa Park

So, wherever you decide is best to go, Rovaniemi certainly brings back the believer in me and the magic of the Christmas spirit to all who visit. Ho, ho, ho- Merry Christmas to you all!

Ice Bar at Santa Park

Ice Bar at Santa Park


Winter Wonderland at Santa Village, Rovaniemi, Finland

The official residence of Santa Claus himself and the line that marks the beginning of the Northern Arctic Circle is Santa Village in Rovaniemi, Finland.

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I must admit, I was hesitant to attend the Santa Village as we had the day before attended Santa Park. As a 26 year old woman, there was only so much excitement I could build about the big man in red and I felt I was in store for a same same experience as the day before. My friend insisted this was SO different as this was all outdoors and there was a lot to do in the area. As we had a lot of time to kill, I was happy to oblige. I was also delighted that there was no entry fee! WAHOO! Something free in Finland.

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I must say I was more than pleasantly surprised. This was one of the highlights of the trip and a fantastic village of entertainment for all ages. It was so beautifully decorated and actually looked better in the darkness with the giant Christmas trees lit up and the dazzling lights sparking in the trees.

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First stop was the “official” post office of Santa Clause. From here, you can post a card which will be stamped with the official and only stamp of Santa Clause and the North Pole, a novelty in itself. We saw the elves hard at work sorting letters, the countries boxes filled with letters from children all over the world and many people dedicated writing letters to Santa and home to family and friends. I of course had to send off my greetings to family, simply as a once in a lifetime souvenir and our little traveler helped me post them.
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We went on to some souvenir shops, of which there were many, and I have to say across the board this was my major disappointment with Lapland and Finland. The souvenirs were generic and not particularly relevant to the area. I expected in such a unique place that they would have some special gift and mementos that mentioned all the experiences. Many of them appeared to be readily available in all shops around Finland and could have come from anywhere in the world. More on this later.

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So it was time to meet Santa again. I must say, the entrance and build up was spectacular. We walked through a cave and ice tunnel to a large room. We went upstairs past a giant clock, counting down to Christmas. We then saw a hall of fame of famous visitors to Santa’s office in prior years. An elf then snuck out and played along, hiding from us, and poking his head around, enticing us to Santa’s meeting room. We went along and were told we would have photos and a VIDEO of our encounter with the big man in red! We entered the room which was filled with presents and wonderful decorations. I felt excited and nervous again and hugged our little traveler as we again tried to coax him to say hello to Santa. He was a kind and jolly man, very aware of Australia and thanking us greatly for coming so far to meet him. He was the perfect embodiment of the Santa we always dreamed of catching at our Christmas tree as he delivered our lovely presents. It was another nice encounter and I felt warm and happy after we left. We purchased our photos and videos and got lots of extra bonuses on our USB, including music and photos of Santa Village.

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We played on the ice slide and my friend missed the memo about the ice and did a wonderful stack! I took the little traveler down the slide and he cried “Wee Wee Wee” all the way down. It’s a pure joy to travel with a little person and see their wonder and amazement at everything. It’s all so new to them and even the simplest things can make them so happy. I hope I can always maintain some of this childlike wonder.

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Another thrill of the village was seeing the blue line that marked the beginning of the Northern Arctic Circle. I climbed a top the globe like structure and imitated sitting on top of the World. I tell you now, it’s not easy to climb on and it’s not recommended to try and plank it. I believe this was not the intention of the structure but it was too much fun to resist!

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One other let down was that we didn’t reach the museum on time as it closed at 5pm. Largely due to me excessive souvenir shopping and hunting for an adequate souvenir for my brother who collects them. There were also no reindeer which my friend had expected to see. We couldn’t visit the reindeers in stalls unless we paid for a sled ride. Again, these finished at 5pm so unfortunately we missed out entirely on meeting Santa’s reindeer in any of the locations we visited. It would be nice if they were more accessible but they are a key moneymaker of the winter season and so are protected in pay only areas.

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Finally we enjoyed a delicious burger, recommended by the staff as the best in Rovaniemi! And we had to agree. A hot chocolate and a burger after a hard days Santa sightseeing was much deserved. Also greatly enjoyed by all of us!!

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This was a wonderful experience and really was the perfect example of the Winter Wonderland. I couldn’t get the song out of my head as we walked around. I’m so glad my friend encouraged me to go and to share this incredible adventure and childhood fantasy with her and her beautiful family.

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Take an adventure in Finland with Safartica

When visiting Rovaniemi in Finland, I highly recommend you enlist the services of Safartica tours for their helpful service and amazing adventures.

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My friend had done quite a lot of research prior to arriving in the Lapland area of Finalnd to make sure we made the most of our 3 day trip there. We were keen to see huskies, ride with reindeers, go on snowmobiles, visit the various Santa attractions and get a glimpse of the Northern Lights. In most of her research, she came across reviews of a company called Lapland Safaris. There were many recommendations on websites such as Tripadvisor etc. and it seemed they were a good one to go with so she started to email them about the 2 year old boy we had travelling with us to best accommodate him.

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When we arrived at our accommodation at Ounasvaaran Pirtit in Rovianiemi, we found a wealth of brochures to give us more information. One of the first ones I pulled out was Safartica and I started to browse to get a better idea of what they were offering. I read out loud the brochure as we compared it with the information that my friend had from her research.

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It turned out that the timing; the pricing and the offerings in the packages were a little better for our group so we called them on Skype to check if we could have a baby with us and confirm details. The man on the phone was helpful, kind and very patient with my terrible line on Skype. We decided to book and as we had booked a few he would give us a 5% discount – and with high prices for some of these tours, every euro counts.

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We went on the Northern Lights safari on our first night and the Husky Park and snowmobiles tour on our second day. We had planned to go to the Huskies on our third day but we found out from our guide there would be no skiing on that day as the weather was to be -26, again! It through a spanner in our plans as they only ran tours on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. He said actually, there was a special tour running on the Monday that he was running for a couple and we could move to the group! How amazing.

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The Northern Lights was a wonderful experience. We were provided with extremely warm clothing from the company and well briefed on our adventure. The group was a nice size and we travelled to an area in 2 separate vehicles. We got a clearing on the sky that night after a foggy day and our experienced guide new to stop earlier than our planned cabin so we could get a chance to see them – and we did! They were amazing. Well done to our guide Aleksi. We then drove into the forest and trekked through the snow in snow shoes, very novel. We had a wood cabin with fire that we could spend time in or we could go out in the snow shoes and trek around. We were made a traditional Finnish light meal and told about the stars. It was such an end to end experience with the highlight of course being the lights in the night sky but also the hospitality, the atmosphere and the service.

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We also went on the snowmobile and husky tour. We again had Aleksi and he was clever to make arrangements with us to keep our equipment and he picked us up and dropped us off, door to door. We had a good rapport and the process was all very easy. They were also wonderful to help as it turned out the sled option for our 2 year old traveller might be very uncomfortable. They arranged for a driver to take one of the parents with him one way, and the other can ho with him on the return journey, this meant that both parents got a ride at the snowmobile! So accommodating. We had a fantastic snowmobile ride that brought us to the Husky Park. We took a ride in a sled drawn by the huskies and got to get up close and personal with them. We had some snacks and a talk by the fire to warm up before heading back to the town on snowmobiles.

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Our guide Aleksi was knowledgeable, helpful and caring. He made an extra effort to make sure all in our groups needs were met and ensured our comfort and enjoyment at all times. The whole team at Safartica were really genuine and made our experience so easy and pleasant.

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I highly recommend this tour company and hope to come back to Rovaniemi in the future to experience more great adventures in this beautiful region.

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Winter Wonderland and Christmas experience in Finland

In December 2013, I visited Finland with my friends Marieka, Jono and Baby Jacob. We had an incredible 5 days in Helsinki and Rovaniemi celebrating the Christmas spirit.

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We met Santa at Santa Park and Santa Village, rode on snowmobiles and went on sled rides with Huskies at the Husky Park with Safartica and stayed at a lovely resort, Ounasavaara Piritit. We also skied at Ounasavaara.

I will definitely be back for another visit!

 


A quick trip to Borneo in Instagram Pictures

This year I was fortunate to visit the jungle of Borneo Island. This was a dream to visit the Orangutans and see them in the wild. It was just the perfect time to get away as well after a busy year, an island getaway was just what we needed.

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We flew to Singapore on Singapore Airlines and then it was just a $240 return flight to Borneo – so we thought… WHY NOT!

 

View from Hyatt Regency

View from Hyatt Regency

We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Kota Kinabalu and it was lovely. On the water and 5 levels up, we had an incredible view. Lovely restaurants to choose from and incredible pool area.

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A great meal just around the corner from our hotel pleased us greatly with the Indo/Malay flavours that are found in Borneo and for so cheap – 30 Ringit or $10 (AUD) for two of us to eat and drink!

Days were spent by the pool – finally a chance to relax.

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One day trip to Sandakhan and off to meet the incredible Orangutans

 

Baby Oranutans seen - tick! Great visit to #sepilok #borneo Got the t-shirt to prove it :)

Baby Oranutans seen – tick! Great visit to #sepilok #borneo Got the t-shirt to prove it 🙂

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre – A must see and once in a lifetime. I remember seeing these beauties when they first arrived at Taronga Zoo in Sydney and they were fascinating, but that’s got nothing on seeing them swinging from the trees in their native jungle. Amazing.

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Sandakhan Memorial Park to remember the Australian and British Prisoners of War who died here. I was moved by this site and this is somewhere I would want to visit again. An important and shocking piece of our history. 2,500 soldiers died here. Lest We Forget.

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Buddhists by the sea. A beautiful temple with incredible view.

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Island visits off Kota Kinabalu – Island hopping is a must here.

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Cocktails and Juices. Tropical drinks were the order of the day on my holiday.

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My dad. My travelling partner in crime. We’ve had some incredible adventures together and I’m so glad we organised this one together and got over there.

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Borneo is a beautiful Country with an interesting past and a questionable future- we all must work to preserve beautiful environments such as this jungle paradise. Visit there and learn more for yourself – http://www.borneo-travel.com/home.htm

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Drummers on Benirras beach

There’s a little known secret in Ibiza that is the drummers on the beach of Benirras. A meeting of like minded people who come together to watch the sunset and make beautiful music.

 

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We were lucky to have a chance meeting with a friend of my friends in the Cala Llenya Markets on the Sunday who informed us that the Benirras drummers were meeting today at the beach. Apparently in summer, this is a huge event and no one can park anywhere near the beach as there are so many people flocking there and people walk for miles to be a part of the action.

 

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It was a much quieter affair whilst we were there. We grabbed some snacks and drinks at the supermercado and headed down to the beach. A group of 30 or so people were met by a closed down restaurant near the beach and the music had already begun. We found a spot and rugged up with coats and scarves and blankets-  the temperature is dropping now it’s December. The sunset didn’t appear to be offering much so instead of sitting on the beach, we perched up near the music.

 

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There didn’t appear to be a leader of the group or a structure. There were a core group who led the main rhythm and then anyone could join in and play along. There were beginners and people with pretty hard core bongos. There was a man dancing around and loving every minute of it – a  child with dreadlocks and a waist-coat frolicking about, people dancing and singing and some flutes and other such instruments.

 

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I walked off alone to check out the beach and caught the beautiful closing colours of the day. Sunsets and the colours of the sky is one of my favourite things in the world. I could watch this everyday and endeavour to do so. I can never take enough photos, I just want to capture every amazing sketch that the clouds and pigments in the air can paint. I felt so calm, happy and at peace as I stood and watched the day fade into night as the sounds of the drums flowed out over the sands.

 

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What a beautiful way to finish a Winters day. Make sure to get along and enjoy the beach culture of Ibiza and perhaps even join in with a bit of your own rhythm.

 

 


If someone offers you a getaway in Ibiza, you take it!

One night in Australia, I was planning out my trip for Europe. Only a week to go and I was contacting some family and friends and firming up some plans. I was trying to leave some dates open and flexible as I tend to over plan but start and end dates and when you’re staying with people, need to be firmed up!

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I called my Grannie dearest and spoke to her about my arrival on 22nd November. She said yes you’re coming soon and when I again mentioned the date she said – oh no! That won’t work. She had made alternate plans and seemingly forgot my arrival – despite prior conversations. I said it was ok and hurried off the phone, but I’m not going to lie- I was devastated. I was fuming and felt like the whole trip was a big waste. I was on Facebook and felt like making a big rant when this poster came up below.

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It was my friend Anne-Marie and she runs a sushi business in Ibiza and was offering classes. I said “Maybe I will” as I hammered the keyboard with my bitter fingers! We took the conversation to a private message and after a short time I decided, actually, an island getaway after the crazy year I had was exactly what I needed! It had been 25 degrees in Winter and the island was quiet and peaceful and beautiful. DONE!

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After looking into flights, I realised it was going to be a touch more expensive then I hoped and started to back away from my impulsive decision and think perhaps.. it’s best I consider my options more carefully. After consultation with a few friends- and my not really liking the other options or feeling up to researching a whole bunch more ideas, I went with it! $500 (AUD) flights is a small price to pay for some paradise!

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This turned out to be the BEST decision I’ve made in yonks!! Check out the photos above and below. Paradise. I woke to sunrise on my first day with a red glow filling my bedroom, I walked onto the terrace to see the glowing ball rising above the land to start the day. We watched drummers on the beach, munched on jamon and sipped on sangria. I learnt to make sushi and did solid workouts on the beach and in the garden, things I’ve not had the chance to do at home for a long time.

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Most of all, I got to relax and enjoy the company of these two beautiful and inspiring people. I knew there was something special about them when I met them in Australia and I’m just so proud and happy to be around people who are choosing to live their dreams and make the most of their life. These guys are running a business in this tropical paradise and finding the true meaning of work/life balance. It made me so happy.

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The only problem now, I’m hooked on this island life! I’m already planning my return visit for 2014 for some more relaxation but also next time, it being peak season in the Summer, a bit of party time!

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If someone invites you into their life for an hour, a day, a week or more- take the opportunity to experience what the grass is like on the other side- here it was pretty green!

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What type of Airport traveler are you?

Why do you choose to line up for 30 minutes when there is a perfectly good seat just minutes away?

 

This is always one of the most baffling things to me in an airport. A gate announcement is made and everyone jumps to attention. Whether it be an international flight from China to UK or a domestic flight from Sydney to Melbourne, people love to queue! I’ve sat in a gate to the point where my name has been called! I’d rather spend less time waiting and more time being productive.

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Do you arrive early to the airport as recommended or do you arrive with 10 minutes to spare?

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For me, it depends on where the flight is going and how new I am to that place.  In Melbourne, I sometimes arrive with 1 minute to spare, but in China I allowed myself 2.5 hours –with no idea how Airport security was.

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I do understand with Ryanair that people want to get a good seat and hence the line up in the photo below – but to my dear fellow travelers, really…. You are all going to the same destination – there is one plane with sufficient seats – you’re gonna make it!

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I shall continue with my more relaxed travel style and sit and watch my fellow travelers as I type my stories and share them all with you.

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What type of traveler are you? Early bird or a persistent procrastinator?


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