The North Island

I’ve spent the past couple of weeks travelling the North Island with a friend from Australia. She’s returned home and I’ve come down to Wellington.

Exhibition in the Te Papa Museum, figures of the soldiers made by Weta Workshop
Toasted marshmallows at Haikai

We started off in Wellington; visiting the Weta Studios, the Te Papa Museum and Zealandia Ecosanctuary. We also found a Wellington Craft Beer map in the first pub we headed to, which kept us busy. There’s the show ‘The Final Table’ on Netflix, showcasing chefs from around the world. One of the contestants runs the restaurant Haikai, focusing more on indigenous ingredients. We had the ten course menu there which was amongst the best food I’ve ever eaten.

Following Wellington, we stopped off at Napier for a night. It wasn’t really anywhere too exciting, just a nice little town, then off to Taupo. The main stop was the 19.4km Tongariro Crossing, where the scenes for Mt. Doom were filmed in Lord of the Rings.

It’s actually quite possibly a really dangerous walk, starting with what’s called ‘the Devil’s Staircase.’ Living up to both the Names ‘Devil’s Staircase,’ and ‘Mt. Doom.’ I suggested the rule for first person to fall over had to buy the first beer afterwards, and I fell over. Three times. By the time we thought we had ten or so minutes or so left, we saw a sign saying that we in fact had 45. It’s by far the hardest hike I’ve done, and apparently in the world’s top five most challenging day hikes – according to the fitbit, it was the equivalent of 330-odd flights of stairs at 25,000 steps. I can’t find any trustworthy information ranking it, but I’m hoping it’s more like #2 or #3, rather than #5.

Looks like I’m looking out into the distance. Actually looking for the next lot of toilets on the map.
Fall #2

Following Taupo was Rotorua, where we went to the Glowworm caves. We chose a package that included two tours; the first was excellent with a really enthusiastic guide, but the second wasn’t too great. It was a boatride with a kind of tour through a cave, but you couldn’t hear the guide as there were too many people and children. Hiking Mt. Doom left us both sore for days, but conveniently the area is well known for having geothermal mineral springs.

From Rouorua we also went to Hobbiton, the filmset of the Shire in Lord of the Rings which was brilliant. We could see the layout to make the hobbits appear a lot smaller than Gandalf in the movies, and had the location of parts of the movies pointed out to us. They also provided a beer at the end, which was needed as it was so hot. The only downside is that we didn’t see the resident cat.

At Bag End, Bilbo’s house

Our last stop was Auckland. We took the ferry to Waiheke Island for a wine tasting which was great, though a bit pissed by the end of it. We stopped off at three different vineyards and an olive oil tasting place.

On Sunday I returned to Wellington and have a busy week with interviews, trials and flat viewings, as well as all the fun stuff like setting up a bank account, filing for a tax number etc.

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Kaikoura

Most of the previous couple of weeks I’d booked and planned whilst back in the UK in December. It left me with a few days in the Christchurch area before either flying or getting the bus up to the North Island, probably via a detour.

When I first landed and spent the day there I didn’t think much of Christchurch in terms of things to do. It’s still quite clearly recovering from the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake. Nothing really appealed to me in the area apart from going to the Antarctic Center next to the airport. I wanted a day off my feet so I caffeinated myself up and watched Mary Queen of Scots at the cinema.

The hostel I was staying at was affected by the Earthquake, but was hoping to be fully refurbished by 2016. The ceiling was starting to fall apart and the room was branded as a “Flashpacker Dorm” – the only thing flash about it was the speed I would expect someone to fall through the ceiling at.

The main reason I went to Kaikoura was to go kayaking around the seal colonies; there’s also the option to go swimming there. For me I’d rather give the seals an option of whether or not to approach, plus I can’t swim. Originally I’d booked for a sunset tour though it was cancelled due to weather – the company, Levi’s Seal Kayaking, were kind enough to re-arrange around the bus timetable to allow me to join.

The tour was great, probably the highlight of the South Island. We had a blue penguin chill next to us on the water and some dolphins jumped up from under one of the kayaks which was great to see. Our guides didn’t think the penguin was injured, but they took pictures to send to a blue penguin research center. We also saw seals getting in/out of the water and chilling on the rocks. The kayaks we were travelling on were controlled by pedals, which was a lot easier on the body.

Yesterday morning I managed to book a ticket to go whale watching during the evening. I wasn’t expecting to go on the tour as the evening kayaking was cancelled, but Kaikoura is supposedly the best place in the country to do so. The morning tour managed to see Orcas, but the evening tour did get cancelled. I could’ve gone first thing this morning but it would be cutting it fine with being able to get up to Wellington tonight. With that said, I think Kaikoura is a place that I would like to spend a few more days in. In a few weeks time I’ll have to commit to grown up responsibilities by getting a job, but it’s easy to get in and out of.

Tomorrow I’m meeting up with a friend to travel the North Island with for a couple of weeks. I probably won’t post that much. We’re starting in Wellington for a few nights and will end up in Auckland. I’ll be spending tonight finding some food and either binge-watching the Peep Show on Netflix or reading Lord of the Rings.

Hokitika

After the heli hike on Fox Glacier was cancelled I drove up to Hokitika, stopping off at the Gorge. For most of the drive it had rained, but stopped whilst at the Gorge. There’ a lot of hype around it, but I think it’s just a nice Instagram photo.

Moving on, I checked into my own private room in the hostel. It’s so great to close the door, press the lock and not deal with people. Even better with a double bed. The sunset in Hokitika is supposed to be great, but you couldn’t see down the road, yet alone a sunset, so I starfished on the double bed.

Yesterday morning I drove to the Pancake Rocks. The weather was still terrible, but I hadn’t gone to the other side of the world and paid for a hire car to lay in bed. I could’ve gone there from Greymouth, my next stop, but I had a mix up of the dates for the car. It stopped raining whilst I was there and started again after my coffee before leaving. During the evening I made it to the beach for the sunset.

There isn’t much to do in Hokitika. It’s an area where you can find the Jade stone washed up on the beach. It has connections to the Indigenous culture and a lot of shops aimed at the tourists.  I went for a walk along the beach, then off to the animal sanctuary. There were tuataras which are reptiles, snake neck turtles, fish and kiwis. On the internet I’ve seen a video of a chicken running around wearing trousers, which the kiwis reminded me of hopping around their enclosure.

I left Hokitika this morning early to give the rental car back, and haven’t done a lot. I’m soon off to Christchurch, then up towards the North Island, arriving there on Saturday.

Fox Glacier

On the way to Fox Glacier I stopped off at the Blue Pools walk and a waterfall that I forgot the name of, but looked like something out of Lord of the Rings.

It was late afternoon by the time I arrived in Fox Glacier so I went for a walk as I’d been sat down driving for a few hours, but did nothing special. There was a glowworm forest nearby that lights up when it’s dark outside. When getting to the forest and realising that it’s next to the highway filled with people and no lighting allowed, it does feel pretty sketchy, so I went back to the hostel. In a couple of weeks I’ll be visiting glowworm caves so I don’t feel as though I missed out.

Bunk graffiti

I’d booked up to go for a heli hike on the glaciers yesterday which ended up getting cancelled because of the weather. Obviously safety is the main priority so I walked there instead, taking about an hour through the forest to get to the start of the trail, then 45 minutes to the glacier.

More graffiti

The tour of the glaciers that I rebooked for this morning was cancelled too, so I continued the journey going north.

Te Anau and Doubtful Sound

The drive from Dunedin to Te Anau turned out to be around four hours in the car. There’s nowhere really worth stopping at besides designated rest stops, though I did stop off at the bird sanctuary on the way to the hostel.

Here, it usually rains so was stuck inside on Sunday – I have clothes for rain but it wasn’t worth me going out in. Yesterday, I had the hostel organise for me to go to Doubtful Sound in the Fiordland. The more famous, and therefore more popular fiords here are Milford Sound so with me being me, I went for the one with less people.

After being picked up by the bus, it was a drive to the lake, a boat ride across the lake, then back in a bus for half hour, then onto another boat to go around Doubtful Sound. The scenery was awesome, with temporary waterfalls from the recent rain – when it stops raining, most of the waterfalls stop. I’d been expecting a bit more wildlife than seeing just one seal, having heard that there’s penguins and seals in the area.

This morning I set off early to drive some of the road up to Milford Sound. I wanted to go hiking, but also there’s the Mirror Lakes on the way to the Key Summit, which is a 3 hour long hike. The Mirror Lakes are best viewed on a clear, sunny day which it usually isn’t, but were still nice nonetheless.

NZ traffic
Mirror Lakes

Along the Key Summit

Arriving in New Zealand, Dunedin and the Otago Peninsular

Before coming to New Zealand I went to Melbourne mainly for a catch up, but also to enjoy the hot weather. I very much felt I deserved it after enduring around a months worth of winter since July. We saw some of the Australian Open, went out for wine and cheese, adulted, and stayed in because it was 36 degrees outside.

The journey to Australia had a layover in China. 22 hours in the air in total, and I was looking to have a proper Chinese meal in China to get me through it. By now, I’ve had my fair share of airport layovers and normally you just simply transfer. But no. Landing in Chongqing, the 40 or so of us continuing to Australia were directed to a desk to check in, then we spent around four hours waiting, sat on the floor of the arrivals corridor, for someone to come into a security booth and check our passports, stamp them, then go through security again. With an hour to spare and no real choice of food, the Chinese I was rather looking forward to ended up being a small portion of Starbucks cashew nuts.

Arriving in Christchurch, I’d had about an hour and a halfs worth of sleep and was allowed to check in straight away. My intentions were to do a little more research on the first half of the next month of travel, to nap, and to get a phone to replace the one I smashed then smashed even more. As I arrived early I did try to go out and see the city, but I’ll be back soon anyway – thought I’d save it for a day where I’m a bit less pooped.

My intention was to start the trip properly in Dunedin – six hours on a bus. I’d caught an early one so didn’t really want to book anything for the afternoon as I have no first hand experience of what New Zealand traffic is like. Google Maps stated that my journey from the bus stop to hostel would be 15 minutes walking, and it looked more like 10. Uber wouldn’t work so I thought I’d walk. It turns out Dunedin is extremely vertical, and I’m glad I have a hire car now which I picked up yesterday morning.

Never in my life have I been refused to purchase alcohol (my first drink, anyway) and whilst in the supermarket I put a beer in my basket. I know New Zealand are strict about ID’ing people and they ID you if you look under 25. My driving license was refused as ID and was not allowed to buy the beer. In Australia you just argue a little with the person behind the till and they let you buy it on the condition that you “bring your passport next time.” The farmers market was over the road so I just bought one there instead.

Yesterday the weather was pretty poor. Here, there are plenty of murals to help prevent the city from being so badly vandalised. As I didn’t really fancy being out in the rain all day, I went past the ones I’d seen, but didn’t majorly go out of my way to see any of them.

During the afternoon I went with Elm Wildlife Tours to see some animals, some are very endangered. I’d seen a lot of great things online about them. I knew that the tour was on private property but didn’t know that the property was privately owned by the tour company, who are building the landscape as it would be in a native, untouched by humans, environment, to help the penguins thrive, with small additions such as nest cameras, and safe lookout spots.

First stop was to see some seals on rocks, where there were smaller ones learning how to swim, which was super cute. We then went to the beach where there’s penguins and sea lions, and on the way down we bumped into a couple of them, causing us to go back and through to the beach a different way. We sat in a few lookout spots on the beach just watching the animals. I took a few pictures, but ultimately I just wanted to watch them. The penguins share the beach with sea lions who eat them; no one can really do anything to “save the penguins” as the sea lions are also endangered.

Afterwards, we went to an albatross centre for a bit of bird watching, which isn’t really my thing, but still a nice area nonetheless. We were only there for a short period of time, and then back to Dunedin.

When I went to Africa, it was great to see the animals, but the animals have adapted to being near roads. Some lions have learnt that giraffes can’t run on tarmac roads, so they chase the giraffes onto the roads so they fall over. We also did a night tour where we shined lights onto the animals, which seemed very unfair. Whilst it was great seeing the animals in the safari environment, I probably at that time should’ve looked into how what I was paying for was helping to conserve the wildlife. Yesterday on this tour I could see how some of the £60 or so I paid was helping the wildlife in the area, which I’m super happy about..

A Week in the Netherlands

After spending the last week and a half of 2018 in England, I flew out to spend my last week in the Northern Hemisphere for a while in Holland.

My first stop was Amsterdam. I chose a womens only hostel 20 minutes outside of the city, as this is a place where I expect crazy, and I’m trying to avoid it as I’d prefer to sleep. By the time I arrived at the hostel it was 7pm – as I’ve been here a couple of times before, I didn’t really feel the need to go exploring. Whilst booking up this trip I hadn’t been intending to stay here for longer than a night, but I don’t want this week to feel too rushed.

In Amsterdam I just walked in the city, stopping off at the cheese shops, trying the free samples when there were some, as well as a couple of cafes to read my book. The following day I was off to The Hague, where I just expected a small, Dutch city and it’s pretty hard to go wrong with those expectations.

After being in England, I was under the impression that Holland would be mild for this time of year. I was wrong. I walked around, went to the Escher Museum, which was crowded with it being a weekend, but still good, had a lot of coffee and finished the first Lord of the Rings book. There is other things to see and do around the area, but for me it’s cold.

Following The Hague, I went to Rotterdam. My intentions were to chill on the Sunday then go out touristing on the Monday, but upon Googling it, most places were shut on Monday. Instead, I first stopped off at the photography museum, celebrating Dutch photographers. It was decent, but the entrance fee was pretty steep. Next, as I was going to be getting hangry soon, I went to the Fenix Food factory, which essentially is a fancy food court, where I opted for a cheese platter.

Before heading back to the hostel for the evening, I stopped off at the Pinball Museum. They use the word ‘Museum’ very lightly; just a room of pinball machines that you can use at your will after paying the entry fee. The ‘museum’ part fits in as some of them were from the 1950s. My highest scores were on the Guardians of the Galaxy machine, but there were some Dinosaur, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, Guns n Roses, Elvis, Iron Maiden and Deadpool ones, to name a few.

Yesterday, I went to the Cube Houses with my camera. They’re quite interesting to take pictures of, so I spent around 45 minutes there. As everything was shut, I searched ‘#VisitRotterdam’ on Instagram which led me to Delfshaven. It started to rain and I didn’t really see much worth doing there, so headed back to the hostel.

Part of the reason why I came to the Netherlands, apart from its close proximity to the UK to catch a flight to Australia, was to see parts of the country that aren’t Amsterdam. I’ve been there previously with a friend with the sole purpose to be able to go away for a piss up, in a place that isn’t somewhere like Magaluf, and it was great. But now when I hear of people coming to this country, it’s always that they’re going to Amsterdam, not the Netherlands.

The past week I’ve enjoyed, not getting up to much in Amsterdam, then moving onto the Hague which was nice, just not too exciting. Rotterdam was my favourite though; if everything wasn’t shut yesterday I could’ve balanced sleeping in, touristing and chilling really easily. The only real issue I’ve had is the weather – to put it simply it’s cold and shit and I can’t wait to almost melt in Australia. Had it been later in the year, I could’ve gone out to see the tulip fields, or just wanted to be outside a bit more.

I get into London later on tonight and tomorrow have part one of the two longest flights I’ve ever taken in one go. It’s just over 22 hours in the air, with a six hour layover in Asia.

Back to England

I’m at the airport in Malaga to fly back to London; it’s quite ironic how I’m going from the same airport that I took the first leg of my travels from. It’s not for that reason, it’s just because Ryanair were advertising £8 per seat, and the cheeky buggers charged an extra £40 for me to take my backpack – that’s the same as five seats.

I’ve never experienced so many high and low points in such a short space of time over the past five and a half months, even with my prior jobs. Some of the things I’ve seen and done have been amazing, yet there’s been a few places that have been disappointing.

When I was in South Africa, four of us walked in Johannesburg whilst it was dark – 8pm or so. Someone came up to us, harassing us for money. When it’s dark I’m not getting my purse out on the street and absolutely no chance of doing that in South Africa, even if I am paying someone to piss off. Upon refusal, which took him about ten minutes to give up asking, he told us that “Jesus will punish you (us).” Sometimes I think back to that moment and wonder if I spared £1, would anything have been different, in particular, hostels. With that said I still enjoyed a lot of the past few months.

Looking back, what sticks out most was starting in Africa – I think I would’ve gotten a lot more out of the tour if I did one that incorporated the Okavango Delta. Still, it was great, and awesome to trek rhinos on foot, see animals in their natural environment and watch a herd of elephants pass our safari jeep. The Great Wall was great, India was really eye-opening to see how they really live in poor countries.

Spending three days in Cambodia pleasantly surprised me with the temples in Siem Reap and the food is great (also found the Australian sweets, Party Mix in the supermarket, cheaper than in Australia.) Technically went into North Korea for a few minutes, and hopefully one day soon, the North and South will resolve their differences. Getting around via tuk tuk was pretty cool and getting hopelessly lost in the Tokyo metro system was to be expected. Egypt for sure was the highlight – absolutely mindblowing. And I got to see some baby pandas in China – they were really cute.

North Korea in the background
Finally won on a claw machine in Japan
Cat shrine in Tokyo
Angkor Wat at 5am
Mr Sim, my tuk tuk driver for the day

What I felt let down by was majorly Vietnam – I’d heard some amazing things and I didn’t want to get on a moped (ended up doing it anyway). I went through the cities, trying to do day trips such as Ha Long Bay, going south as I didn’t want to overdo it on the travel days (ended up doing it anyway). The food was amazing, probably the place I ate best, but other than that I couldn’t help but feel as though it was very gentrified towards the tourists.

Good food & cheap booze

Beer costs around 50p there, and going down a street in Ho Chi Minh, I had countless people try and get me into their bars advertising Happy Hour, discounts I can imagine to be not very much for a westerner. For me, I think I said previously, it’s a shame that they have so much to show off in terms of food and things that they can access locally, but it’s easier to get money out of tourists by enticing them with cheap booze. Since then, I’ve spoken to people about it and some have recommend just sticking to the north instead for the outdoors. I don’t really feel as though I need to go to Vietnam again, though I am gutted I didn’t get to get a tailor-made dressing gown there.

I’ve also noticed that half the world seem to be behind a phone screen. It’s something that I may not have noticed enough to comment on it whilst travelling through Europe and Australia, but going through Vietnam and through markets in Cambodia, a lot of people had their eyes glued to their screen, only looking up to try and get you to spend your money. In India some of the guides for the sites would have their phone ring and they’d pause, sort it out, and continue with no apology for being rude. Now it’s something that I make an effort not to do so much and opt to read on my kindle instead, saving browsing Instagram for cat pictures for when I want people in hostels to not talk to me. I guess the kindle is still a screen, but I get a lot more out of it.

Also, I’ve been in shared accommodation for the best part of three years now. For every week I’m in a hostel, I must get woken up by someone at least five days, and I’m sick of everyones shit. I was at the point when flying into Asia, thinking that I’d seen everything and I soon realised that I hadn’t, and nothing really surprises me anymore.

Moving forwards, I’m in the process of getting a visa for New Zealand, valid for 23 months, after I hopefully prove tomorrow during a medical that I’m not dying of TB. I have my first two weeks planned out, travelling solo. I’ll book everything this coming week instead of booking whilst I travel so that it’s not something to worry about.

In terms of getting around, to get the most out of it I’ll be driving. It’s not really too difficult to wind me up, but hopefully the only thing that’ll be out to annoy me is the fact that I can’t park very well, instead of getting annoyed by people. I wrote up a plan and quickly decided that I wanted to stay out of the cities and instead embrace the nature and wildlife. The plan is to spend a day in Christchurch, then getting the bus down to Dunedin to a peninsular and going on a tour through there. Afterwards, I’ll hire a car and have a long drive to Milford Sound, driving into the center(ish) of the Southern Island via Queenstown, only stopping for a Fergburger. I figure staying there and sharing space with people who’ve jumped out of airplanes and dangled from bridges by elastic will annoy me, so just the burger will do. Then I’l stick to the West Coast, do the glaciers and get the Ferry to the North Island.

In the North Island I’m joining a friend, where we’re camping for most of it, and remains unplanned until I go to Australia in January. I can’t wait to visit the Shire from the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies, amongst more of the places the films were set. After that, I’ll need to get a job as this is by far the most expensive country I’ve been to, not taking the flights into consideration, and I’ve not even stepped foot there yet.

I still need to figure out where to go between New Years and Australia. I was thinking Greece, but I think Egypt has ruined everything historical for me for quite some time, plus the flights are expensive. Flights to Iceland look better, but I know it’s an expensive country and it’s cold. I want to stick somewhere close to the UK without flying over France in case the French go on strike. Belgium, Luxembourg and Andorra are the only places in Western Europe I’ve not travelled through alone, and I would quite like to see what Holland has to offer, without being surrounded by tourists (mainly Brits) off their faces. I’ll work it out soon, but I’m thinking return flights to Holland and pop to Brussels, returning to London for a flight to Melbourne.

Jordan

Going on from Egypt, four of us from the group went onto Jordan, to meet up with the new group that evening. We went out to dinner and then to the bottle-o, as we were going to Wadi Rum desert the next morning.

The only reason why I knew of Wadi Rum was because it was where the film ‘The Martian’ was filmed, where the character Matt Damon plays gets stranded on Mars. It was a four hour drive before getting to the camp, watching the sunset and having dinner cooked for us. It was cooked in a traditional Bedouin way, buried underground with coals, though every time the guide mentioned Bedouins, I thought he was saying penguins and I was trying to work out why penguins were in the desert.

Desert hummus

In the desert we went on what was branded as a 14km trek, and there were a couple of people in the group I was thinking would crack the shits. As it was mainly flat, it wasn’t too bad apart from one uphill bit back to the camp.

The following day we moved onto Petra, and was told that the site was a two minute walk from the hotel. The two minute walk was to the entrance then a further 20 minutes from the treasury, with horses in carriages running up and down, proving to be very dangerous. I had quite possibly the best view with a lunch that I’ve had, in front of the treasury then had a guided tour around the whole site. For dinner we went to a lady’s house to have a homecooked meal.

The Monastery

After that, we had one full day to ourselves in Petra, where the group woke up early to hike up to the monastery with some cats and dogs following at times. People actually opt to ride donkeys to the top which is something like at least 900 uphill steps, a journey which took me around an hour. I think it’s incredibly cruel that these animals are used in this way, as though they are a price tag and not a living creature. I tried to make space for two people on donkeys, side by side on a narrow path on the edge of the cliff. Bearing in mind that health and safety here isn’t like back home, and had one of the people on a donkey saying “beep beep get out of our way” whilst I was stood on the side of a cliff. I did give a shitty reply, but I wish I asked them if they wanted me to beep beep out of their way off the side of a cliff.

I think we ended up walking 16km during the day, with a choice as to whether or not to go and see the Petra by Night. Most people could not be arsed to do the walk back up again, and therefore few people went, but by the sounds of it I’m glad I didn’t go. That night we went out for dinner, where for some reason our food came up on these big gold box platters, which were like a smaller version of King Tut’s tomb.

Following this, we went to Madaba, to stop in the Dead Sea. For me, it was something that I just could not be arsed to do, and I didn’t really feel the need to smother myself in mud that hundreds of other people have used to do the same prior, and then lay in water and get bored after not even five minutes. I just didn’t feel the need to do it. Instead, I had a coffee with someone else in the group and placed bets on who we thought would be first and last up.

Mosaic on the church floor
Sunset over the borders of Jordan, Palestine and Israel

During the evening we went to the Moses Memorial – perhaps a bit wasted on me considering my grade G in my GCSE RE exam, but is quite a nice site regardless of how into religion you are, and we had a really nice sunset. The next day we went to Jerash, with the largest intact Roman city outside of Rome, which is quite something.

For me, after Egypt, I felt as though Jordan didn’t really compare to it, and our Jordanian guide was not great. The history in Egypt is so interesting and so much more in depth – perhaps if we had another guide for this leg of the trip I’d think differently, I wasn’t too fond of the food, and the best things I ate were a falafel sandwich and a maccas at the airport. I’m glad I went, and chose to go straight after Egypt, and the group was great, but I think I’ll be satisfied going just the once.

Egypt

Just a warning that this is a very long post.

Leaving Romania, I had a long travel day ahead of me. Whilst looking on Skyscanner most of the flights were around the same price and the options weren’t great; they all required a layover or bank loan for a direct flight. After a bit of thinking, I chose Turkish Airlines as they offer a free tour of Istanbul if your layover is longer than six hours.

I just about made it to the tour I wanted to get on as opposed to a later one. The customs queue was a shitfight, as well as the queue to register for the tour, which I signed up for with literally a minute to spare. We went through a palace, I forgot the name, for an hour and a half, then to the Blue Mosque – just the outside as the queue was over an hour long, a market, free dinner and a walk around the city. I’d definitely recommend doing it during a layover if it doesn’t make the flight that much more expensive as it gives you a feel for the city, but you can’t do a whole lot there.

After I killed five hours in Ataturk Airport and slept through the flight to Cairo, I got in a taxi and went to the hotel. They let me check in at 5am.

I didn’t plan on doing much after waking up, then thought it’d be a waste to be in Cairo and not do something, so I went to the Egyptian Museum. There’s over 130,000 artefacts inside, and a lot of it is older than the religion of Christianity – nowadays it’s hard to buy a pen that lasts longer than a month without it going missing, but 2000+ years ago, things were made to last. I’m really glad that I took the time to spend a few hours here; it’s the type of place you can spend all day at.

The next day the tour group met, went to a market which was pretty generic then off to dinner. There’s a speciality here of macaroni, spaghetti, chickpeas, lentils, fried onions and rice tossed together with tomato sauce which is oddly satisfying – there’s restaurants that sell just that. The following day we were up to go to and see the Pyramids – the third wonder of the world that I’ve seen so far.

You start to wonder not just how they built the pyramids, but how they got all the resources together too, with the bricks weighing tons each and being transported hundreds of miles to Giza, built really high. We had the option to go into the Great Pyramid or the smaller one, I went into just the smaller one as it seemed the most worthwhile choice and you spend less time crouched down. It’s really cool to go inside, hoping that you haven’t timed it for when the Pyramids collapse after thousands of years.

We had a camel ride after, but I just felt bad for the camels – they go on the floor, a tourist hops on them, then they walk a bit and walk back, to repeat, and I don’t think the people guiding the camels are that friendly towards the animals – they seem to just be after tips. It’s at the area where you get a panoramic view of the pyramids and it’s just great to see. After, as a group we went to the Egyptian Museum, this time I went inside the Mummy room and saw King Tut’s mask with the relics that were in the tomb, as well as the information behind some of the pieces there as we had our guide.

That evening we had a 13 hour sleeper train to Aswan; we’re paired up to share rooms so on the train I volunteered to be on the top bunk as I’m sure I’ve been in worse bunks in hostels. It was pretty ok besides having not much space and nothing to prevent falling out of the bed, with a toilet that you had to hold the lid up to use. Upon arriving, we had a short ride to get a boat to the Temple of Philae, also known as the Temple of Isis, which is just amazing. There’s carvings everywhere, even on the ceiling, and it’s somewhere to go rather than read about how I describe it. We chilled for the afternoon, then had a 4am start.

We got up early to go to Abu Simbel Temple, which turned out to be a 7.5, almost 8 hour round trip. It’s been relocated due to the lake near it flooding, but you couldn’t tell and probably looked just as good as the original. We spent an hour and a half in the temples there before heading back to the hotel. We weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple, but there’s some on Google.

After Aswan came Luxor, taking us 26 hours to get to – 22 hours on a boat, and then a four hour bus ride to finish the journey. After a couple of hours in the hotel we went to Karnak Temple which was just nuts in terms of the size of the place and how well preserved it is, not to mention the work that went into it. There were indicators to tell that it was an unfinished temple. I had been expecting to get templed out at some point on this trip, but every one of them has a unique touch to them, so we were still looking up in awe. We had a nice dinner that night on a rooftop bar, where I had an Egyptian styled pizza – the next day we were getting an overnight train so I did not want to risk eating something dodgy.

Our last place to visit was Valley of the Kings, for me I think this was the best stop. The site is hills and mountains where ancient kings had tombs made for them, a lot of them still undiscovered. The details and colours of the carvings on the wall, as well as the tombs, how the Egyptians managed to not only build them, but get the lids on top is insane. I also chose to pay a bit extra and go into King Tut’s tomb – it’s the smallest and underwhelming compared to the others – he died unexpectedly so the Egyptians had little time to build a tomb, and most of the treasures and tomb we saw in Cairo Museum. Inside there was his mummy on display. To take photos there was a charge and I just wanted to put my camera down and enjoy it, though the guards didn’t care if anyone took pictures, regardless of having a pass or not. During the evening before getting on the night train back up to Cairo I managed a quick trip to Luxor Museum.

What did I think about Egypt? Quite possibly the highlight of my travels. It was unique in the sense that you see how people live when you travel, but here you see how people lived 3000 years ago and it’s right there in front of you, untouched besides the preservation work. I am so glad that I booked this tour, with the group that I was with, and was definitely worth what I paid for. I’ve left Egypt wanting to learn more about the ancient Egyptians, and when I’ve got my Netflix membership back I’ll definitely be watching a few docos after I’ve finished watching Brooklyn 99.