B A L I | Travel Guide & Tips


I've been meaning to write this post for quite some time and I finally had a great excuse to get around to it - I'm heading back to Bali for the third time! I've booked a one-way ticket and I'm going with my group of very best friends for a special occasion so I'm super excited.

I absolutely fell in love with Bali the first time I visited. It's a stunningly beautiful island, the culture and people are so lovely, there is so much to do as well as being a perfect place to retreat and relax if that's what you're looking for. Not to mention the shopping, weather and food are all amazing!
It's my absolute pleasure to write this Bali travel guide overview and tips for top things to do and be aware of if you're heading there for the first time.


WHEN TO GO?

The first thing to decide is what time of the year to visit. There is no right or wrong answer for this, but May, June and July are generally considered to be the best months in terms of weather. The dry season is May to October with the wet season being November to April.
July and August tend to be the peak months where prices will usually go up due to the high volume of tourists, therefore April, May, June and September are good months to aim for. However, I went late November once and the wet season hadn't started as it was late, but it was very very humid. The plane tickets during that time though were extremely cheap!



WHERE TO STAY?

Where to stay depends on what type of holiday you are looking for.
The three most popular and main areas to stay in are Seminyak, Kuta and Ubud.

Seminyak, being the more upscale choice of the three, is spilling with high-end boutiques, restaurants, spas and luxury accommodation. This relaxed area is great for couples, families and those wanting to be near the beach, great food and shopping.
I personally enjoy staying at The Breezes - a mid-range 4-star resort and spa, which is a bit more affordable that those dreamy beachfront villas!

Kuta is generally popular for the surfers and younger, party-centric crowd. There are a lot of raging nightclubs and has a noisier party atmosphere. I stayed there the second time and didn’t enjoy that area nearly as much. However, there are still plenty of nice beachside accommodation resorts or cheap hostels if that does happen to be your thing. There's a big waterpark in Kuta if you have kids and the beach is a great spot to catch a wave.

Ubud is for those looking for some real peace and quiet away from the touristy areas and shops, loud drinking people and so on. Ubud is often referred to as the heart of Bali.
Not only a paradise for yogis, vegetarians and vegans, it is also the island’s cultural and spiritual centre- thanks to the movie Eat, Pray, Love. It's a lot quieter and there are less food choices, but there's still plenty to do and it's where most of the amazing artwork is made.

The Breezes Resort & Spa in Seminyak

TRANSPORT

From the airport
How to get around Bali? The only way I would recommend is by the official Bluebird Taxis (Taksi). Even from the airport. Don't do what I did the first time which was book a package that included hotel transfers. The transfers cost over $50 each way... but we had no idea at the time that price was five times more than what we would pay if we just hopped in a taxi at the airport!
It should cost you no more than $10 AUD to Seminyak, which is about a twenty-minute drive away depending on the traffic.

Official Bluebird taxis
Around town
There is no shortage of taxis anywhere in Bali and you will know this from the incessant honking they do to let you know their taxi is available (annoying at times until you actually need one!).
A short trip from one end of town to the other can take up to half an hour in bad traffic, but it will still cost you less than $4. Always ask beforehand if they will run the meter; only hop in if they say yes (most will). Never accept a fixed price or get into a taxi that is unofficial as they will charge you a lot more.

Day trips
You can hire your own personal driver for the day if you want to do a full day trip somewhere. Many taxi drivers will outright ask you if you need one and will offer a fixed price for a certain amount of hours.
I have used this method three times and all have been great experiences. Your driver will pick you up from your hotel and take you wherever you wish to go, and if you're not sure - they know plenty of popular hot spots to go to. You get dropped at each place and they wait for you however long you take and then will drive you on to the next place.
I have done two day trips north to Ubud and a trip south to Uluwatu and it cost between $30-$50 for 7-10 hours which is an extremely good price. We always gave them a very good tip because their service and friendliness have always made that trip all the more special.


TOP 5 THINGS TO DO

1. Visit the temples

There are so many incredible temples to visit and all are unique and beautiful in their own way. Some favourites well worth visiting include:

Uluwatu Temple - an 11th Century cliffside temple in the south where you can watch a traditional 'Kecak and Fire Dance' sunset show.
Entrance fee: 40,000 IDR.
Optional show fee: 100,000 IDR.

Uluwatu

Pura Tirta Empul - a beautiful and sacred water temple in central Bali said to have holy water with healing properties. (Also pictured as the header image).
Entrance fee: 15,000 IDR.

Pura Tirta

Goa Gajah - or 'Elephant Cave' is a 9th Century archaeological site in Ubud of significant historical value that once served as a sanctuary.
Entrance fee: 15,000 IDR.

Goa Gajah

Tanah Lot - is an ancient Hindu shrine and one of Bali's most important landmarks, famed for its unique offshore setting and stunning sunset backdrops.
Entrance fee: 30,000 IDR.

Tanah Lot

2. Take a day trip to Ubud

If you decide not to stay in Ubud, then you at least have to visit for a full day as there is so much to do there and getting away from that main tourist hub will show you a more authentic side of Bali. About an hour's drive away, here are some top places to visit:

Tegalalang Rice Terraces - this is a must-see in Ubud, famous for its beautiful scenes of vibrant green rice paddies and terraced rice fields.
Entrance fee: 10,000 IDR.



Monkey Forest - it's one of those places you have to see once in your lifetime.
A nature reserve and Hindu complex, it is filled with monkeys of all sizes roaming freely.
You can buy bananas there to feed them if you wish and get a picture with them but watch your things because they will try to steal from you!
Entrance fee: 40,000 IDR.



Bali Pulina - there are a number of Luwak coffee plantations you can visit in Bali, but this one is by far my favourite thanks to the incredible scenery of rice paddies you have while you sip on different tea and coffee tastings. The tastings are free but if you are brave enough to try the Luwak coffee itself (also known as cat-poo coffee!) that costs 50,000 IDR.


Tegenungan Waterfall - if hiking through a jungle to a hidden waterfall is your idea of paradise, then this is a beautiful and scenic place to visit and come for a dip.
Entrance fee: 15,000 IDR.



Also, as mentioned above, be sure to visit the Goa Gaja and Pura Tirtha Temples while you're in central Bali!


3. Enjoy the beaches

The beaches all along the coastline are very nice and perfect to relax on a lounger, go surfing or do some fun water activities.

Lounging
Along Seminyak, Legian and Kuta beach you can find loungers and comfy bean bags with umbrellas dotted everywhere. Pay 50,000 IDR to hire one unlimited for the day and you can enjoy swimming and can purchase and be served cold drinks as you please.
You will constantly be hassled by sellers however, so it might not be as relaxing as you’d like it to be and the toilet situation isn't the greatest, but it's still a great activity to watch the surfers as the sun sets.


Watersports
If fun and adrenaline-rush activities are your thing - then get stuck into the watersports on offer in either Kuta or Nusa Dua. You can go banana boating, donuting, jet skiing, parasailing and snorkelling just to name a few.
Balitobali.com is a company that offers packages, for example you can go parasailing, on a banana boat and jet ski all for 300,000 IDR ($30 AUD) which is an excellent price for so much fun!
I haven't been snorkelling myself yet in Bali but here is a good website which shows the best beaches to do that: bali-indonesia.com. I remember looking at snorkelling full day trips and they are still quite pricey- at least $120 USD each.
If you're keen to give surfing a go prosurfschool.com has a great reputation. Open year round, they are located at Kuta Beach and teach anyone of all levels from beginners to pros.

Watersports in Nusa Dua

Beach Clubs
There are some very nice beach clubs along the coast of Seminyak where you can lounge, enjoy infinity pools, delicious cocktails, food, listen to local DJ's and of course watch the epic sunset with a drink in hand!
The most famous in Bali is the Potato Head Beach Club. It's a very popular spot for sunset drinks so arrive early in the afternoon if you want a seat with a good view! Bring your swimwear to enjoy the infinity pool, they have changing rooms and full facilities to use.
Cocktails go for $10+ AUD, so not the cheapest but you're paying really for being in an awesome place- it's great to do at least once.
Other notable sunset venues include Ku De Ta (also a fine-dining restaurant), and Double-Six Rooftop (atop a luxury hotel).



4. Treat yourself

Spas
It's always nice to relax while you're away on holiday, but for me - I tend to still wear myself out as I like to explore everywhere on foot and get out and about every day.
I'm not normally one to get my nails done or get a massage or facial (too expensive), but when I discovered in Bali you can really pamper and treat yourself for such a good price - I am all over that!
There is no shortage of beautiful spas all over Bali, so there is plenty to choose from.
One that I particularly like is Bali Spa, which has stores in both Seminyak and Kuta (both are great). The service is wonderful and the cost even better. A full mani-pedi costs $10 AUD, an hour long facial is also $10 and an hour traditional Balinese massage costs $15, and there is a huge range of treatments and types of massages to choose from. If I were to get all three of these at home it would cost me over $250 - so definitely make the most of it!

Fresh nails done at Bali Spa

Hair & Beauty
If you're in need of a haircut and colour or any beauty services then get it done in Bali!
A place I went to last time and loved is Smart Salon and Spa in Legian/Kuta.
I have been getting blonde foils in my hair for years and I have never had such a good job done on me - I was so pleasantly surprised! The hairdresser was immaculate in his attention to detail and spent so much time on my hair- which turned out perfectly and cost half what I would normally pay ($80 AUD).
They also offer plenty of beauty services including makeup, lashes and brows, massages etc so you could make a full day out of it if you wanted to!

Happy with my new hair
Tattoos
If you are thinking about getting a tattoo - Bali is renowned for it. There is a tattoo parlour on practically every corner, but do, as always be careful which one you select. Do your research and find a parlour with a great reputation and perfect reviews.
One that I can highly recommend is Bali Tattoo Studio which is located in Legian/Kuta.
I got my sixth tattoo done with them last July and it was as good as any other I had gotten from my most trusted tattoo artist back at home (except it was half the price!).
They are global award-winning artists, highly professional, talented and most importantly perfectly hygienic.
As a tip: try to book in for your final day there, as you can't swim with fresh tattoos. You don't want to miss out on the pool in such hot weather!

Loved my tattoo done by Bali Tattoo Studio

5. Food & Shopping

Food
Along the same lines of excellent prices - enjoy the delicious food and the shopping too. There is a large range of food options as well as a price range, but if you mostly stick to traditional Balinese food in local places you can eat like a king for little to nothing!
Local family-owned restaurants are called Warungs and that is where you will find delicious and well-priced meals. I have written a post on Top Places to Eat & Drink near Seminyak, Bali so check that out for more information.
But quickly, one of my favourite places to eat is called Warung Padmasari which always has exceptional local Balinese and you can get a three-course meal and a drink for literally $20 - it's astounding and so yum! I've been there three times for both lunch and dinner.

One of my all-time favourites - nasi goreng and satay skewers

Being quite westernised in Seminyak and Kuta there are a lot of Australian-owned cafes and restaurants as well where you can find any kind of food from Mexican to vegan and there are plenty of Asian food options like Thai and Indian if you get sick of Balinese!

Shopping
There is also a variety of shopping you can do from thrifty markets to high-end fashion stores. There are some really amazing art, antique and homeware shops selling locally made goods that go for a decent price. You can pick up plenty of knockoffs in street shops and stalls if that's your thing, from 'Gucci' handbags to 'Nike' runners. Make sure you barter in the streets and don't accept the first price -  knock it down by at least a third.
If you prefer real labels and designer clothes there are heaps of legit Australian owned surf shops selling Roxy and Billabong for half the price you would pay back in Australia and there are many unique boutique stores in Seminyak that any shopper would love.
You can find really nice souvenirs for yourself or gifts all over the place for very cheap prices.

One of my favourite stores in Seminyak- sold only skull things!

HANDY FACTS & TIPS

  • As of June 2015, 30 more countries were added to the free entry list - New Zealand included. Which means we don't need a visa or to pay the $35 USD fee hooray! (Australia was added in 2016).
  • Your passport must be valid for at least six months from the day you plan on leaving Indonesia.
  • The currency is Indonesian Rupiah - 10,000 IRD is around $1 AUD which is easy to remember.
  • Balinese people are highly religious and practise Balinese Hinduism, which is why there are so many beautiful temples and offerings laid daily on the streets.
  • Only use bottled water, even to brush your teeth. You can pick up large 1.5-litre bottles for around 50 cents so stock up whenever you get the chance and carry around a refillable smaller bottle during the day.
  • Bring or buy a sarong, you’ll need it - even males. Whether it’s covering up for a temple visit, using it as a beach cover-up or as a seat cover.
  • Do stay somewhere with a good pool. It's really hot year round with average temperatures of 32॰C and daily dips are necessary!

Having a place with a pool bar- even better! 

  • You’ll probably experience a case of 'Bali Belly', so bring Imodium. Consider yourself warned! Also be sure to bring panadol, tissues and hand sanitizer.
  • You can find free wifi in most cafes and restaurants.
  • The island of Bali looks like a chicken... just a random fact!
  • You can hire a scooter really cheaply and you don't have to wear a helmet by law - but you'd be mad not to!
  • Beer and drinks such as coke are very cheap from local stores. The local beer is Bintang which are around $1.50 for a large bottle from the stores, so take a bunch back to your hotel room to drink if you have a nice balcony for example. It’s probably a third of the price at least than buying it from your hotel.
  • You are also allowed to drink in public places such as walking in the streets and at the beach.


  • The local people are very friendly but the sellers on the streets and in public places can be very pushy at times. This is their job though so do just ignore them if you aren’t interested and keep walking or just say no thank you.
  • Both the locals (mostly men) and every second tourist smokes because they are dirt cheap in Bali, so you might get a bit of a shock if you're used to smoke-free zones. It's not surprising to see young boys smoking or children selling cigarettes either.
  • Do get as much cash out that you think you'll need before you arrive. There are ATMs available but I personally was the subject of credit card fraud the last time I went (and I only used an ATM machine once in a convenience store). Better not risk it!
  • You're not expected to tip, but it's a nice gesture if you receive a good service. The Balinese people are lowly paid, and yet extremely generous and hospitable.
  • I highly recommend seeing a cultural performance of traditional Balinese dance. It's a very ancient dance tradition that is beautiful and unique, and is closely connected to religious rituals. Many places offer 'dinner and a show' and they are well worth experiencing at least once.

Balinese dance performed at The Breezes in Seminyak 


Once Bali gets under your skin, don't be surprised to find yourself returning again and again. Some Australians holiday there annually; others never return back home (Bali is full of Australian ex-pats). There's something magical, ethereal and beautiful about Bali.
Be sure to get out beyond your hotel to find it!

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Why Thailand should be on your travel itinerary this year



When you’re planning your 2017 travel itinerary, make sure to add Thailand to the list.
This beautiful south-east Asian country is well known for its spectacular beaches, ornate temples, ruins and friendly people. There’s so much on offer all throughout the country and trust me you will never want to leave!
If you’ve got your heart set on a Thailand visit, you’ve come to the right place.
Here are just some of the reasons why you should visit and what you can do during your stay to ensure your experience is one to remember.


Budget-friendly

One of the best things about travelling to Thailand is that it's incredibly budget-friendly- so funds shouldn't be an excuse not to go! Local food and drink are incredibly cheap- you can eat at a local restaurant and have a three-course meal including a cocktail for less than $10!
Accommodation can range depending on what type of establishment you are staying in, but hostels are very cheap and you can stay in a nice hotel in a good location for less than $80 (NZD) a night.
Tours, public transport, massages and beauty services and of course the shopping are all incredibly priced as well so do take advantage of it while you're there!

Night shopping on Kao San Road, Bangkok

The culture

One of my favourite things about Thailand is that it's incredibly rich in culture. The majority of the people are Thai Buddhists, so everywhere you turn is a beautiful shrine or enormous temple to marvel at or visit.
The Grand Palace and Wat Pho temple in Bangkok are so ornately decorated and grand- they are two of my absolute favourites and a must-visit while there.
Elephants are a big part of their culture too and there are now many ethical elephant parks around the country where you can enjoy their company and feed and bathe them.
There are plenty of natural wonders as well including Khao Yai national park and hill tribes you can visit and witness their own distinct cultures, language, dress and lifestyle.
The best way to experience the true culture in any country is to get stuck in! Take time to walk around and see the sites, visit the local markets and soak it all in.

The Grand Palace

The food

Okay, if I'm being honest- my actual favourite thing about Thailand is the food!
It is just so delicious, fresh and spicy. Travel is about trying new things, isn’t it? That’s why you should always make an effort to try the local cuisine and trust me, you won't be disappointed.
If you've ever had Thai dishes or takeaway before and liked it- I promise you it is a thousand times better in Thailand! There’s nothing like eating food in its country of origin. 
Tom Yum (spicy shrimp soup), Pad Thai (rice flat noodles with shrimp), green and red curries, mango sticky rice (absolute fave)- your taste buds are in for a real treat! 
Wash it all down with a 50 cent local beer of Chang or Singha.

Traditional Pad Thai

Contrast of places

In Thailand you can do any kind of travel that suits your wishes. Whether that's a cheap backpacking holiday, a girls shopping trip, a romantic luxurious getaway on one of the beautiful islands, a party gap-year trip, a volunteering holiday or a peaceful and relaxing retreat in the mountains- you can do all of the above.
My first trip to Thailand was in 2013 and my now husband and I went to three places so different from each other, so each was a new and different experience altogether.
Starting in Bangkok we got the craziness of the hectic and busy streets, the shopping, the temples. Then up north in the mountains we visited Chiang Mai where it was beautiful and green in contrast and you could see the sky (Bangkok is smoggy), so it was a breath of fresh air. There we visited elephant nature parks and an ancient hill tribe.
Lastly, we flew to the tropical island of Koh Samui, where we got to relax on the beaches and snorkel in the crystal clear waters. I would highly recommend all three of those places and doing them in that order too- as it was such a fantastic trip and I wish I could do it all over again right now!

Koh Samui

Volunteer

When you travel a lot like me, it’s always nice to give back. To volunteer in Thailand would be a fantastic opportunity to really experience life in a foreign country and get to know the culture and people. There are many great programmes on offer, whether you would like to volunteer with animals such as elephants, teaching English to women and children, working in schools or helping with community centres.
It would be a life-changing experience and something you can look back on and be really proud of. Living and working with locals will take your travel experience to a whole new level! 

The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai


Those are just some of the many reasons why Thailand should be on your travel itinerary this year! I myself am definitely hoping to go back and volunteer in a women's community centre in Bangkok. I simply cannot wait to return to Thailand and hope I have inspired you to visit yourself!
So far I have a post on Bangkok if you would like to read more: Bangkok: My Experience | Guide & Tips. Leave me a comment if you're interested as well or if you have any questions.

Thanks for reading,
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*This post is a collaboration and contains images that are not my own.

10 Stunning Places to visit in Europe


We may be half way through January already, but it's certainly still a new year with the exciting possibilities of adventures ahead!
I absolutely love Europe- with the vast magnitude of places so different from each other, all squeezed in to one epic continent.

I've chosen ten of some of the most stunning places to visit in Europe that I personally loved and would highly recommend to others to inspire your next itinerary.
I didn't want to go for my all-time favourite European cities- which include London, Paris, Berlin and Rome, rather other places that might not necessarily be people's number one place to visit the first time to that country or region.

There's a good mixture of places to match all types of holiday styles- whether you're looking for a tranquil escape, a sunny beach-side town, historical experiences or a big city blowout.
If you haven't yet been to these places- do add them to your bucket list as they are all incredibly stunning and will take your breath away for sure! In no particular order:

1. Santorini, Greece



My ultimate favourite of the Greek Islands- Santorini is incredibly idyllic and absolutely beautiful. The towering cliff-side views are like a painting, the small cobbled alleyways, the quaint shops- there is no other place quite like it!
With fabulous beaches on offer, fresh seafood, history, shopping and the most tranquil sunsets you will ever lay your eyes on- Santorini is a must-visit place for anyone, especially if you're looking for that perfect romantic holiday destination.

2. Bath, England




Bath is a beautiful Roman town in South-West England, most well-known for their famous Roman Baths. People flock from all around the world to experience the healing, relaxing and natural thermal waters discovered by the Celts and Romans over 2000 years ago.
That's not all the city has to offer though- take a walk around the gorgeous scenery of winding canal paths surrounded by rolling hills. 
Bath has a very rich and interesting history, see Jane Austin's house, gorgeous Georgian buildings and marvel at the stunning architectural design of the 7th Century Bath Abbey. A perfect place to visit as a day-trip from London or a short weekend getaway.

3. Florence, Italy




Aah, Florence- one my absolute favourite cities in Italy. You could easily spend a week here in the capital of the Tuscan region and never run out of exciting things to do. 
The city itself is simply stunning- home to world-class masterpieces, Renaissance art and architecture and galleries galore. See Michelangelo's David, the iconic Duomo and medieval streets, bridges and houses. Not to mention the culinary scene- which is sublime
Florence is perfect as a stop to or from Rome for those interested in beautiful cities, art, history and food.

4. Krakow, Poland


It's hard not to love Krakow, steeped in rich history, both glorious and infamous.
It's the place to stop for those wanting to visit Auschwitz, but that is just one of the many sights to see. The city is gorgeous, with quaint streets and historical buildings- walking around is an adventure on its own. It's home to the largest medieval square in the world, the cheapest beer in the world, delicious pierogies and vodka-a-plenty!
You can visit castles and museums, experience roaring nightlife, see the famous Salt Mines, and soak up history and adventure all in the same place.
If you're planning a trip through Eastern Europe- Krakow is not to be missed. Perfect for those seeking budget-friendly travel and history lovers.

5. San Sebastian, Spain


San Sebastian (also known as Donostia) is a beautiful coastal city in Spain's Basque Country. Known for its golden beaches framed by the picturesque bayfront promenade and upscale shopping- it's a wonderful place to unwind for a few days and enjoy some Spanish delights.
There's a multitude of vibrant pintxo bars pairing local wines (or sangria!) with bite-sized regional specialities as well as plenty of world-renowned restaurants to indulge in.
Aside from relaxing on the beach and eating, wander through the cobbled Old Town streets, along the La Concha Beach promenade and climb to the top of Monte Urgull for stunning sea views. The nightlife is energetic and contagious for those wanting a bit of fun as well! Perfect for those wanting a relaxing or romantic beach-getaway somewhere different.

6. Dublin, Ireland




If you need some cheering up- head to Dublin! The people are just so friendly and the city is oh so charming. The Guinness Storehouse is a must-see even if you don't like the drink (but trust me- it tastes like liquid gold in Dublin- there really is something in the water!).
There are beautiful parks and historical buildings, cathedrals and the Dublin castle dating back the the 13th Century, flower-lined streets and welcoming pubs offering hearty meals, local Irish music and generous pints.
Visiting the capital of Ireland is a must and you could easily spend several days here enjoying the atmosphere. Perfect for a fun trip with friends, a city escape and those seeking a great time.

7. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany




One of the most famous castles in the world- Neuschwanstein in Germany is the castle that Walt Disney based his drawings on. Open in 1886 to the public, it is a Romanesque Revival palace atop a hill above the village of Hohenschwangau in South-West Bavaria.
Walking through the castle is like one of those 'pinch-me' moments to make sure you're not dreaming in your own fairytale!
The interior is astoundingly luxurious and the mountainous backdrop of the castle is so picturesque- it's one of the most stunning sights to lay your eyes on.
Perfect as a daytrip from Munich, for those seeking a bit of historical magic and amazing scenery.

8. Saint Jean de Luz, France


Another gorgeous seaside town- Saint Jean de Luz is no exception. Located in the South-West of France near the border of Spain, it is famous for its crescent-shaped bay and the Church of Saint John the Baptist.
What was once the most important fishing port in France and the centre for Basque corsairs in the 17th Century, is now a relaxed beach resort town. It is busy- but not overcrowded, beautiful- but not overly luxurious. The atmosphere is easy-going and the fine sandy beach along with the colourful timbered Basque houses in the Old Town make for a charming and relaxing getaway.
Rue Gambetta offers many stores and cute boutiques selling chocolate and French pastries, local produce, clothes and shoes and the fresh seafood is abundant in the many restaurants.
Perfect for a relaxing family or romantic beach getaway.

9. Edinburgh, Scotland


Edinburgh is one of those exciting capital cities with an enigmatic vibe to it. The compact and hilly city has a medieval Old Town and an elegant Georgian New Town with gardens and neoclassical buildings. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, home to Scotland’s crown jewels and the Stone of Destiny. 
Edinburgh is a joy to explore (even in the rain!) and home to many fascinating historical stories and legends. There are plenty of things to do so come for at least a few days and enjoy the friendliness of the locals, the delightful hearty dishes and the culture and history of Scotland's capital. Perfect for a trip with friends or family for a city escape full of character.

10. Prague, Czech Republic

Last but not least is Prague- another Eastern European gem. The capital city of the Czech Republic is nicknamed 'the City of a Hundred Spires', and is known for its Old Town Square- the heart of its historic core, with colorful baroque buildings, Gothic churches and the medieval Astronomical Clock- which gives an animated hourly show. 
The famous pedestrian Charles Bridge is lined with statues of Catholic saints and leads to the magnificent Prague Castle that dates back to 870 AD.
The city is bursting with astounding history and with the fantastic prices, delicious cuisine and beautiful sights- you could easily spend a week here soaking it all in.
Perfect for those travelling on a budget, history lovers and wanting city-exploring escapes.


That brings us to ten stunning places to visit in Europe!
Which place would you most like to go to?

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My big 2017 Travel goals



I briefly touched on my 2017 goals for my travel blog in my final post of last year, which as a quick overview- were to grow my blog, expand my writing in my new categories and chase opportunities to become a professional travel blogger.

I've spent quite a bit of time thinking about what my actual travel goals are for this year.
For those that may not know- my now husband is in the military and for the last two years he has been deployed to the Gold Coast in Australia as an instructor. I spent most of that first year in Europe on a study scholarship and then travelling.
Last year I joined him in living in Australia and started and worked on my blog all year.
I was lucky enough to travel back to New Zealand to visit my family, around Australia, to Indonesia, the Cook Islands and to Vietnam.

The last two years have been incredible for me and it just got me thinking- what's install for this year?
In a couple of days we are moving to Canberra, which is the capital city of Australia, as Gareth has been offered to do a Masters there. He is going to have one very busy and stressful year.
I, however, am in the fortunate position again to be able to spend the year how I please.

9.01.17  Saying goodbye to the Gold Coast

My ultimate goal is to be a travel blogger as my career. It is a lot of hard work, a lot- I know this. It is a very saturated market- but that's all a part of the challenge- and nothing excites me more. I will be spending my year pursuing my dreams and working hard towards that.

And I also want to travel.

Nothing gets my blood pumping more than travelling! It honestly is what gets me out of bed in the mornings. Travelling is all I have ever wanted to do. 
Why am I in my later twenties with no established career? Because I hadn't yet found my path, I always had no clue what I wanted to do- all I knew is that I wanted to travel.
I was floating through life with one idea after the other, thinking I could do this, I could do that. I have two qualifications and am half way through another that I now no longer wish to pursue... Nothing stuck, I wasn't passionate about anything else.
I thought once I had travelled and seen the world- maybe then I would actually figure out what I will do for the rest of my life...

That didn't happen- all that made me do was want to travel more!
Eventually I came upon the realisation that travel blogging is my calling. I love writing and I am really enjoying blogging- and I would get to do my favourite thing in the whole world- dun dun dun- travel!
Right, that's enough about me and my career aspirations for now- here are my travel goals for the year:


My big 2017 Travel Goals

⬜  See more of Australia in my final year living here: Sydney, Adelaide, Tasmania.

⬜  Join
my best friends in Bali for one of their milestone birthdays!

⬜  Visit at least three new countries I have never been to before.

⬜  Visit a new continent I have never been to before.

⬜  Work and volunteer overseas for one month.


I only have five travel goals- but they are big ones! In fact- they are huge! But I do truly believe I can achieve them all.
They each have sub-goals branching off them which I will keep to myself. But they are along the lines of: doing things out of my comfort zone, growing as a person, have meaningful experiences, give back and help others, make new friends, learn about more cultures and lifestyles, achieve something to be proud of, see more, do more, live.

New year; new opportunities

What an amazing year to look forward to! I am positively quivering with excitement just thinking about it.
I will of course keep updating my blog, so I hope you will join me this year as I try my best to conquer each challenge and goal!
Do you have travel goals of your own for 2017? Let me know in the comments- I'd love to read about them. 

Thanks for reading and here's to a great year!

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Hanoi Travel Diary & Vietnam Reflection


Hanoi, a little summary

Hanoi was a different experience to Ho Chi Minh City. Whether I liked it more or not- I couldn't quite tell, nor put my finger on exactly how the two differed so much.
I think because we were staying in the very centre of town in Hanoi the people were just so condensed into such a small space.
I enjoyed that experience to a degree- witnessing the busy hectic lifestyle, the street markets where people are literally sitting on the sidewalk chopping fish and meat. It was fascinating and I enjoy learning about and seeing such different cultures and lifestyles.

The people are such hard workers. It's hard not to notice that they work all day from the early hours of the morning right up until 11 pm at night.
The many food vendors made a good advantage of the tourists a lot more than in HCMC. There was always someone trying to sell to you and being rather pushy- especially the fried doughnut sellers. I even had a lady randomly place her wooden carry pole (which was painfully heavy- wow they are strong!) on my shoulder and placed her cone hat on my head for a photo for money (of which we politely refused).
Another observation was that the locals literally throw all of their rubbish onto the ground and sweep it into the gutter. A bin truck does come around to collect it in the evenings, but that still didn't really get rid of it all, or the smell.
The large amount of traffic in the small streets mean that scooters ride on the footpaths and also park there- often blocking the whole sidewalk so you have to share the road with the rest of the zooming vehicles. Crossing the road and trying not to get run over was a bit of a nightmare at times. I did witness a van munch a scooter with a person still on it- and that didn't help my nerves!
All of the exhaust from the scooters as well meant that there was quite a bit of air pollution and after walking around for the day you just felt very dirty and grimy. It's no wonder the majority of locals wear masks over their mouths. (This is quite like Bangkok, although you can still see the sky in Hanoi!).

I suppose Hanoi was more 'in my face' because of that, with the traffic, the pushy people and it was a tad more touristy.
It was still a wonderful city and I enjoyed it very much, especially the history of it. I really admired the centuries-old architecture of the historic Old Quarter and the French colonial influence which was also evident in the beautiful buildings, the French bakeries and language. We found the majority of locals to be very friendly, the street food was abundant and delicious, egg coffee was everywhere (my fave!) and the mirror-like green Koan Kiem Lake with the ancient Ngoc Son Temple in central Hanoi was a tranquil place in the middle of its chaotic surroundings.
Overall it was very much a typical bustling South-East Asian city, and the energy at night especially was enigmatic.

This is the second part of three in my Vietnam Travel Diary series. Here is the first one from Ho Chi Minh City if you missed it.
I spent four nights in Hanoi, with two nights in between in Halong Bay- which is why there is a gap between days in the middle.
Here is what I got up to in the capital city of Vietnam:


Day Six - Saturday 10 December

After a two hour flight with Jetstar from HCMC to Hanoi, we got a shuttle van from the airport to our hotel. It cost 200k VND for both of us ($12 AUD) and it took about 40 minutes.
One thing I noticed on the drive there looking out of the window was the dramatic change in clothing- it was Winter up here! It was still around 24 degrees though- so I certainly still found it warm enough to wear shorts or a dress. The locals on scooters however were bundled up in jackets and thick coats!
We stayed at a small hotel called Lele and Frog for the first two nights and it was a very basic and cheap hotel with everything we needed. It cost about $50 AUD a night and included breakfast and wifi.
The room was well made up and clean and my favourite part was the balcony overlooking the street below (of which we immediately purchased a beer to enjoy it with).


The bathroom was rather tiny and as we found out later the street noise at night was horrendous, but it was in a really good location- so you win some, you lose some.
After our 3 pm beers we ventured out to explore Hanoi and planned to stay out until our booked Walking Food Tour which was at 7:30 pm.
Our first stop was a delicious French bakery right around the corner from our hotel. We had a fresh croissant pick-me-up each (just as good as Paris) and browsed through many shops on the way towards the lake.

We became short-term regulars at the bakery

We passed St Joseph's Cathedral which was very magnificent

We walked around the tranquil lake and came to the centre square of the Old Quarter. The roads around as we found out are blocked off on the weekends (brilliant idea) so that people can walk freely and peacefully around the lake.
We had a beer-stop rest at an upstairs bar overlooking the busy streets below which was very fascinating. Afterwards, we ventured through the bustling market streets, just browsing and people-watching really.

Typical whole family on a scooter





After a big walk at about 6 pm we came across a busy corner which we later found out was called 'beer corner,' which had locals eating and drinking beer outside on tiny tables and chairs.
We found a more quiet spot and joined them. The old lady that served us didn't speak English but she was very friendly and even kept telling pushy sellers to shoo away from us!


After a few Tigers, it was time to meet up for the Hanoi Street Food Tour. There were only two other people with us, one from Canada and one from America. 
I don't remember the names of any of the food- but there was a lot of it and they were all delicious! There was a noodle soup, fresh jerky, spring rolls, different kinds of fried savoury 'doughnuts'.
We were taken to many local spots and sat outside on the street tables as well as in shops.
My favourite was the 'pancake' stop, which was more like a rice paper dumpling to me- but we each got to watch the professional and then try to cook it and roll it off the pan ourselves- which was a lot harder than it looked!

The delicious pancakes
Okay, my actual favourite was the dessert- which was Vietnamese ice cream and coconut rice pudding, with coconut shavings on top. It was heavenly! It was almost as good as my ultimate favourite- the Thai mango sticky rice.


Feeling very full there was still one more stop which we ventured through the weekend market and very busy streets to get to (it was a Saturday night so the streets were packed).
We had Bahn Mi and egg coffee, which I had tried before but more than happy to have again!
It was a fantastic food tour- a whole three hours of eating and the guide was very friendly. 
Highly recommended if you're in Hanoi! It cost 20 USD each.
Rather tired after a big day of walking and eating, we ventured back to the hotel (via a cool yellow lantern-lined street) and went straight to bed.



Day Seven - Sunday 11 December

After a rather noisy sleep and a delightful pho for breakfast, we went out for another big exploration. We saw the temple in the middle of the lake and found a beautiful big park with heaps of parents and their children playing as it was a Sunday.

Morning fruit vendors

Gorgeous colonial French architecture

The park with many big displays and locals enjoying the weekend




Gareth with the temple in the middle of the lake behind him

The surrounding streets blocked off was so nice!
We had an iced coffee break at Highlands and browsed through many shops. At about 2 pm we sought out Bahn Mi 25 for lunch which was recommended to us as an excellent place for the traditional Vietnamese baguettes.
There was a bit of a wait as it was a very popular place, but it was nice to sit down and we enjoyed a cold beer while we waited.
We got one each with everything on it- sausage, pate and veg and it was really delicious and the bread was crunchy. Still not as good as the one I had in HCMC- but probably second.


After our late lunch we went back to our hotel for a bit of a rest for an hour or two. Then Gareth was on a mission to get business pants and shirts tailored for him. The second shop we tried was the one and he was measured up and we chose the materials.
Across the road was a Chinese dumpling restaurant so we went there for dinner and got a set menu to share which was pretty good and again so much food, we couldn't eat it all!
The night markets were only on in the weekends so we wanted to check them out. It was very very crowded and huge- we walked through miles and miles of stalls. They had some okay stuff, but I wasn't really interested in anything. I'm sort of over buying useless things I don't need. I did, however want one souvenir from Hanoi so I decided to buy a black Vietnam T-shirt which only cost $3 AUD.
It was another day full of walking (23k steps according to my Fitbit!) so we were again rather exhausted and went back to the hotel to pack our suitcases for an early start tomorrow.

Busy weekend market





Days Eight and Nine - 12-13 December

(Two wonderful nights spent in Halong Bay: post coming soon!)


Day Ten - Wednesday 14 December

We arrived from Halong Bay to our next Hanoi accommodation in the afternoon. We were staying at Golden Sun Suites Hotel and because it was our final two nights in Vietnam, we decided to splash out a bit more than our previous Hanoi hotel (it was still only $95 AUD a night for their best room).
After welcome drinks and fruit we were taken to the 'Honeymoon Suite' and it was made up spectacularly! The biggest surprise was the complimentary bottle of wine and freshly baked cake waiting for us in our room! (Hotel review on the blog coming soon).

Very refreshing



A very nice surprise!

The view from our window
One thing that really surprised me was how dramatically the weather had changed after just two days away- Winter had come! I finally had to wear pants and a sweatshirt that had been hiding at the bottom of my suitcase.
We went out for a late afternoon exploration and ended up coming across and visiting the Hoa Lo Prison. It was first used by the French colonialists for political prisoners and then later by North Vietnam for the U.S Prisoners of War. It was very interesting indeed and we spent a good hour in there going through the old rooms and cells and learning its history.




We sat outside a nice little cafe near St Joseph's cathedral and had a delicious egg coffee (great pick-me-up!) and enjoyed a beer before heading to the tailors to pick up Gareth's two shirts and trousers.
All were very well made and for a very good price. They were called Bambou Silk if you're interested in getting a suit, clothes or dress made.


We asked our hotel for a good local dinner restaurant and they recommended Countryside which wasn't too far away. We had an incredible meal there and I will definitely be mentioning them in my Hanoi: Top Places to Eat blog post also coming soon.
We ordered a savoury Vietnamese stuffed pancake, fresh summer rolls and a meatball soup. All were delicious and it was such a feast! On such a food buzz we even ordered dessert- mango crepes.
All of this including two beers and water came to less than $20 AUD... we gave them a good tip! Tired from our Halong trip we pretty much just went back to the hotel to sleep.




Day Eleven - Thursday 15 December

It was our final day in Hanoi and sadly it was raining. We took a taxi to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum where his embalmed body is preserved in a glass sarcophagus protected by his military honour guard.
We certainly weren't allowed to take photos (we'd probably be hanged!) or even have our hands in our pockets. It was weird seeing his dead body... but it was something Gareth wanted to see. Apparently we have to go see Lenin in Moscow next (if I get to go to Russia then sure!).

The Mausoleum
We walked through the Ho Chi Minh Presidential Palace Historical Site where he used to live. The palace and grounds were grand and we got to see his old cars and into some preserved rooms he used. There were many Vietnamese taking selfies with everything.
It shut for the lunch hour at 12 pm so we had a pho and coffee nearby before walking to the Military History Museum which opened at 1 pm. Thankfully the rain had stopped by then.

The palace which was roped off to visitors

Typical street!
The museum was again more Gareth's thing but it was interesting enough. There was an ancient flag tower, destroyed enemy bombers and plenty of aircraft and tanks to view.






We walked the couple of kilometres back towards our hotel and stopped late afternoon for a bit of a random feast. 'Bun cha' restaurants are very common which have set menus. They usually consist of a grilled pork plate, deep fried spring rolls and noodle soup but we asked to just have a plate of spring rolls as more of a snack. They didn't really speak English so we got two of the three and one each!
So we just had to sit there and try and eat as much as we could. It was a little annoying but we got over it quickly as it tasted too good to really care! We ate less than half of it but it only cost $3.50 AUD each... so who's to complain about that?

Really delicious!
We had a bit of a rest back in our room and then bundled up to head out again as it was getting quite cold. We were planning on just having a few bevvys in the beer corner as we were still very full, but on the way we spotted a bar called Obama's Restaurant which even had a photo of him with a beer! I found this extremely hilarious and such a winning name that we stopped for a couple of Tigers there first.


Next we walked only about 20 metres and came across some people standing outside an old temple trying to sell last minute tickets to a show.
It was for traditional music and we looked at each other and spontaneously said yes.
It was a very unique but blissful hour of a beautiful blend of female vocals and traditional instruments. It was very captivating and I'm glad we went because I just love different cultural experiences.
The government and the group of artists are trying to revive the art of 'Ca Tru' which is the ancient genre of chamber music. We weren't allowed to take photos during the performance but afterwards we were invited to take pictures with the performers so of course I hopped up!


It was about 8:30 pm by then so we decided it was time for dinner. We found the beer corner and chose a place called 'Little Hanoi' and ordered a big mixed hotpot which came with three plates to put in the broth. One with the meat, one with noodles and one with a heap of herbs and vegetables. It was a-maz-ing and a brilliant way to end our time in Vietnam. The huge dinner plus at least four beers only totalled 200k VND ($12 AUD). We ate, we drank, we were merry.




Day Twelve - Friday 16 December

After a final pho for breakfast (sniff) we checked out and headed to the airport.
Upon leaving, the staff- who were always amazingly friendly and brilliant, asked us to fill out a review card for our stay. I filled it out giving them all the best marks and added in the comment section that I'll be mentioning them on my travel blog. I handed it back to them and was almost to the taxi when they rushed out and exclaimed "Are you a travel blogger?" I said yes and I think four members of staff lined up saying "Thank you, thank you" and to wave us off.
I have never before told anyone I was a travel blogger (because I'm still pretty new) but that reaction was unexpected! I think every little bit of help they can get means a lot to them, so I am more than happy to write about them.
From Hanoi we flew back to Ho Chi Minh City, then to Singapore, on to Brisbane, then the Gold Coast.

Vietnam, a reflection

It was an amazing trip. Very exhausting, but amazing. It was good to have walked so much to counter all of the eating (and beer drinking). We saw a lot, we learnt a lot. We both left wishing we didn't have to, and that next time we should spend at least six months here travelling the whole country.
The impact coming home was more than I've felt ever before. It just got me thinking a lot.
Being able to drink fresh water from the taps, having a nice hot shower at home, sleeping in my comfy bed in my big house where I have so many things. I looked around at all of my products, makeup, so many clothes and shoes I have to continually give them away.
I picture the people on the streets, working so hard just so their families can eat. They have nothing in comparison. Sitting on the dirty hard ground or carrying heavy loads or serving 'rich' tourists like us. What do they think of us? Do they envy or despise us? Are they happy? What do they think when they are scrubbing our feet and giving us pedicures? What do they go home to? All of these questions came in a wave as I arrived in my house.
I've been to Indonesia and Thailand before and of course they are also poor countries and we are rich to them, but I came away with the feeling that they are actually genuinely happy. I didn't feel that with the Vietnamese. I know the war is still very fresh and the effects of it are obvious still today.
I have the feeling I would feel the same way if I went to places in Africa or India for example.
I guess I just really felt the unfairness of it all. I heard a lot of the people's stories from their own mouths and their own hardships, as well as seeing it blatantly with my own eyes.
That is just a small reflection. In truth, I can't wait to go back. I would love to visit Hoi An, the mountains in the very North, the Mekong Delta in the South.
But I would really love to visit Thailand again more. It's been five years since I went there- and that was my first real big eye-opening trip and introduction to foreign travel. I loved that trip so so much and I really wish to go back to see if my mindset of the country has changed at all, and maybe to just see it again and reflect on how much I have grown as a person since then. Definite goals for sure.
I have rambled quite enough for one blog post! I promise to make my third one about Halong Bay- a lot shorter!

Thank you so much if you have gotten this far and are still reading- kudos to you!
Hope to see you in my next post,

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Planning Your 2017 Travel Itinerary

It’s a fresh new year with endless possibilities and a new travel itinerary to create and get excited for! It's a great idea to start planning your 2017 travels in advance so you know exactly where you’re going, what and how much you need to save for, and so you’re able to plan around important events.
Ticking off those bucket list dreams and going to the right places at the right time is crucial for helping you have the best experience possible.
Here are some top ideas of places to be from around the world to add to your 2017 travel itinerary:


Holi Festival- India, Nepal, Sri Lanka

Holi is a spring festival of colours celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and others, primarily observed in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
It marks the start of spring and the triumph of good will and is one of the most important festivals celebrated during the year.
The night before- Holi starts with bonfires which are lit right on the city streets.
If you are in Nepal you won’t see this so much but if you happen to be in Mumbai or some cities in India these are quite common and impressive. Over 30,000 fires burn across India lighting up the night sky in anticipation of this event.
The main event is the next day when people who “play” Holi paint each other’s faces and bodies with coloured powder or throw coloured water at each other from buckets and water balloons.
It's all in good fun and almost everyone finds themselves participating one way or the other.
If you want to experience Holi this year, it is held on Monday, March 13th.



St Patrick’s Day in Dublin

St Patrick’s Day is celebrated by many people all around the world, but there’s nowhere quite like Dublin to celebrate it properly. Absolutely everybody gets into the spirit of things here, and you’ll find people decked out in green and the national flag flying from every lamppost and shop you come across.
Thousands of people go to see the parade on the 17th of March. It usually starts in Parnell Square at noon, and you’ll see all kinds of weird and wonderful things there.
You could even plan to do a St Patrick walking tour, to learn everything there is to learn about this patron saint.



Easter in Greece

One of the greatest celebrations of Christianity is Easter, and the faithful Christians all over Greece follow the Holy Week ritual devoutly.
Easter Sunday is celebrated this year on April 16th, and at midnight the most amazing celebration takes place. 
People take unlit candles to churches, and when it is time to return back they light their candles with the church's holy flame. As they walk back through the town, there are celebratory bells, fireworks and lots of different celebrations going on.
It's a unique experience for visitors and one worth adding to the list!



Spring in New Orleans

Going to New Orleans in Spring can be so much fun. During the all-too-brief period just after the madness of Mardi Gras, but before the oppressive summer heat really kicks in: this is when you want to pack in all the outdoor activities you can handle.
Check out the area’s biggest festivals, plus a whole litany of concerts, crawfish boils, fêtes, parades, soirees... you know. All the good stuff.
Between the dates of April 25th-May 4th you can visit the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage festival. There have been some incredible artists play here, from Bruce Springsteen to Robin Thicke. That's just one of many festivals; there’s also St Joseph’s day, Soul Fest, and Earth Fest to name a few.
If you're wanting to experience a real American Spring Break then New Orleans is one of the top places to do just that.



Edinburgh Fringe Festival

For over 50 years Scotland's capital city has seen a unique explosion of creative energy within the Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. 
Held in August annually, this year it runs from 4th-28th August.
In 2015 the event was the largest is had ever been and spanned 25 days and featured 50,459 performances of 3,314 shows in 313 venues.
It is an open access performing arts festival, meaning there is no selection committee, and anyone may participate, with any type of performance.
Edinburgh has spawned many notable original shows and helped establish the careers of many writers and performers, including Rowan Atkinson, Steven Berkoff, Jo Brand, Billy Connolly, Ben Elton, Eddie Izzard to name a few.
With such a creative and electric atmosphere, and shows and entertainment for everyone- it's certainly an event to attend!



Oktoberfest in Munich

Oktoberfest is the world's largest beer festival held yearly in Munich, Bavaria in Germany.
It's a 16-18-day folk festival running from mid-September to the first weekend in October, with more than 6 million people from around the world attending the event every year. 
The Oktoberfest is a very important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810.
In 2017 it is running from September 16th-October 3rd.
If you like beer, German food, or just having a great time- this an event to do at least once in your lifetime. 
Dress up in the traditional Bavarian outfits- lederhosen for guys and dirndl for girls, drink beer (or wine if you prefer), go on carnival rides, enjoy the delicious food and party in the biggest beer halls in the world with like-minded people.
I attended in 2015 and it was one of the greatest times I've ever had!
As a tip, book as early as you can- as accommodation is very expensive and gets booked out quickly, and I would also recommend going in the second or third week, as the first week was extremely busy!



Day of the Dead, Mexico

Day of the Dead is one of the most important cultural events in the Mexican calendar. It is all about honouring the dead with food, colourful flowers, candles, parades, decorative masks, sugar skulls and dancing skeletons.
The holiday focuses on gatherings of family and friends to pray for and remember friends and family members who have died. 
It is particularly celebrated with a carnivalesque remembrance in Mexico, where it is a national holiday. Day of the Dead is celebrated from October 31st-November 2nd.



Christmas/New Years in New York

Doesn’t Christmas and New Years in New York sound like a dream come true? It’s no secret that New York is one of the most beautiful places to go at this time of year.
There are so many pretty lights, an incredible festive atmosphere, and if you’re lucky- it might even snow. New York New Years Eve will be like nothing you’ve ever done before. There are so many festive events and parties to attend and the streets and shops are incredibly decorated.
The big New Years Eve countdown in Times Square is one of the top places in the world to be on 31st December, with the infamous ball drop and the world-class music performances and entertainment throughout the evening.
It would absolutely be a night to remember and a fantastic way to bring in the new year!



There we have some of the top places in the world to head to this year in 2017.
These are some truly incredible events and definitely worth doing at least once in your lifetime! Why not cross a couple of these off this year?
For me, I dream of Christmas and New Years in New York!
What do you dream of and what are you planning for your 2017 travel itinerary?

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*This post is a collaboration and contains images that are not my own

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