Floating through the Bolivian Jungle (an Amazon photo-tour)

There are a few places that one conjures up in their minds when they think of South America; like Macchu Pichu, the Galapagos Islands, and of course, the Amazon.

Prior to actually setting foot on the continent I didn’t even consider the fact that the Amazon river and jungle actually extend past Brazil. It actually reaches into Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia as well as the famed Brazil, and while not every country boasts the same experience each region has its own unique charm.

Sunset reflection, Pampas, Rurrenabaque, Bolivian Amazon

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My top 10 travel spots from 2015

Happy New Year!

It’s New Year’s a day later (than in Australia) here in Peru, but it was worth the wait! Let’s just say, legal fireworks are as fun as they sound 😉

This past year I was lucky enough to travel through 13 countries, and loved every one. I always have a travel wish list, but as I tick each item off the list it only grows longer. So before I think about my wish list for 2016, I wanted to look back on my favourite places and experiences.

Here’s some 2016 travel inspo for you. Hope you enjoy the list as much as I enjoyed making it!

Sziget Colour Party1. Budapest, Hungary

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Major Bucket List item: Swimming with Whale Sharks in Mexico

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Whale Shark, Cancun, Mexico

I screamed so loudly through my snorkel they could hear me from the boat. I began frantically swimming through the haze of bubbles from the other swimmers, until a huge creature almost the exact same shade of blue as the water came into view. It looked as surprised to see me as I was to see it, and it kept swimming as quickly as my heart was racing. I couldn’t believe it- I had finally done one of the top items on my bucket list- I had seen my first whale shark.

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4 reasons to head to The Bahamas (and two reasons to be wary)

 

Bahamas

The Bahamas is a group of 700 islands and cays (smaller, lower islands) that for most are synonymous with picture-perfect beaches and ideal holidays. It certainly lived up to its standard of beaches, but for me it was a land of contrasts, from incredible natural experiences and new friends to unexpected difficulties. So here are some things I loved, and some things I wish I knew before I went.

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HARRY POTTER WORLD a.k.a Universal Studios Orlando

“Hey Nina where are you headed after Euro-“

“I’M GOING TO HARRY POTTER WORLD!!”

“Oh that sounds cool where is tha-“

“HARRY POTTTERRRRRR WORLLLLLDDDDD!!!!”

-nearly every conversation I had with people in the month preceding my trip to Orlando, Florida

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando

Have you ever experienced something that made you so happy, it actually started to make you feel sad because you would realise it had to end at some point? Well, that’s how I feel every time I read Harry Potter. So you can imagine the unadulterated excitement I felt when my trip to Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was coming up.

Outside the Hogwarts Castle with the Edler Wand in its place on my deathly hallows shirt (ultimate nerdnosity)

Outside the Hogwarts Castle with the Edler Wand in its place on my deathly hallows shirt (ultimate nerdnosity)

Universal Studios in Orlando is one of the biggest theme parks in the world. It consists of two massive theme parks that you can either walk between like some kind of heathen, of purchase the park-to-park pass (total gimmick but also totally worth it, vair confusing I know) so you can RIDE THE HOGWARTS EXPRESS between the Harry Potter worlds in each park.

Hogwarts Express

Hogwarts Express

The Express will take you from ‘London-King’s Cross’ to Hogsmeade Station, and while it is a ride in itself with antimations on the windows to portray the journey, it physically gets you from one location to the other.

Handy Tip– if you do go from ‘London’, keep an eye out for the optical illusion that makes it look like passengers ahead of you are actually passing through platform 9¾. When I was there the lines were pretty short, so we didn’t have to wait and a lot of people missed the illusion. Luckily I am a massive nerd and read about it in blogs so was able to stand at the right spot and point it out to people who could not care less. That’s just the kind of person I am.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potte, Universal Studios, Orlando

It might e hard to see- but this is Hagrid

It might be hard to see- but this is Hagrid

Line for the Hogwarts Express

Line for the Hogwarts Express

The Wizarding World of Harry Potte, Universal Studios, Orlando

Once I stepped off the Hogwarts Express into each world, I had to keep reminding myself it wasn’t real and no, I could not live there forever. But come on- Butterbeer. Diagon Alley. Hogsmeade. An actual fire-breathing dragon. Cauldron cakes. Need I say more? Diagon Alley came complete with performing singers and super creepy Knockturn Alley, while Hogsmeade had a full selection at Honeydukes and an actual wand selection show in Ollivanders. The attention to detail meant that you could actually feel absorbed in the world. This actually happened to me a few times, where I was so entranced by the show they have for the wait for a ride, that I held everyone else up who was waiting to move on (the castle ride had huge castle halls with talking portraits and a mini-show with hologram characters and fake snow. So yeah, can you blame me?). But rather than me blithering on about every aspet of my delirious joy in HP, I thought a photo tour might be less excruciating. So here we go.

Diagon Alley

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Hogsmeade

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Universal Studios is so much more than HP world, and even though I was there for that, I really enjoyed the other parts.

My first corn dog. Loved it.

My first corn dog. Loved it.

Universal Studios, Orlando

Diner from American Graffiti

Diner from American Graffiti

Universal Studios, Orlando

My favourites were Simpons Land-

Universal Studios, Orlando

Moe's

Moe’s

I heart dougnuts

I heart dougnuts

Mmmm, a doughnut the size of my head...

Mmmm, a doughnut the size of my head…

-and Seussville, were I may or may not have purchased a ‘Thing 1’ fleece onesie (thank to my Bro), which will go up there on the hall of fame for ‘most impractical travel purchases’ next to the glass teapot I bought in Spain and the tagine I schlepped back from Morocco (worth it).

Amongst the Truffula Trees

Amongst the Truffula Trees

Dr Seuss really was a genius

Dr Seuss really was a genius

If you are going I definitely recommend going in the shoulder season from August-Novemeber. Your afternoon will be mildly interrupted by rain, but only for an hour or so when you can go grab a butterbeer and head back out once it stops. It will means the longest you wait is 30 minutes as opposed to stanrd 1-2 hour wait during peak season.

Universal Studios, Orlando

Have you been to the Wizarding World of harry Potter? What was your favourite part?

Crystal Chapels in Poland: the Wieliczka Salt Mines

Wieliczka Salt Mine

Before I saw the Wieliczka Salt Mines outside of the Polish city of Krakow, I wasn’t actually that interested in going. But there are two main things to do in the city (other than eat mounds of Pierogi) and Aushcwitz was too emotional to do again. Also, I was coughing up significant portions of my lungs after being at Sziget festival for a week and had heard the salt mines were good for what ailes ya.*** I’m uber glad I gave them a go though, as seeing an entire cathedral made of nothing but salt and being taken back in time to where miners crafted such things for themselves was a wonderful experience. It’s also an easy breezy day trip from Krakow at just 15km from the city.

After a shortish bus trip the tour of the salt mines takes to this fabulous invention, the never-ending staircase. Well, it seems like that when you need to descend more than 50 flights of stairs (350 steps) to begin the tour. I took the classic tourist route, but those with more adventurous plans and more forgiving wallets can also take routes that allow them to be miner for a day or explore much further into the mines.

My tour began with being told that what you will see is only 1-2% of the actual mine, and for that reason shouldn’t wonder off unless you aspire to live a very salty and lost existence. You are lead past sculptures of Poland’s great academics, the famous polish gnomes and tableau’s depicting the legend for which the Chapel, the main attraction of the mines, was named.

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The legend o St Kinga for whom the Chapel was named

The legend of St Kinga for whom the Chapel was named

Wieliczka Salt Mine

You are lead through narrow tunnels made entirely of salt with the exception of wooden support beams, also entirely encrusted in and preserved by the salt and several hundred years old. You will be invited to taste the salt the walls of made if, and differentiate when the floor beneath you in salt or concrete based on its shine.

We were invited to taste the walls. Like a terrible version of Willy Wonka.

We were invited to taste the walls. Like a terrible version of Willy Wonka.

Tunnels in the mine

Tunnels in the mine

The air in the mines is said to help with respiratory ailments and allergies as a result of the unique micro-climate created by the salt. As I was bravely soldiering through my deathly cough at the time, i could be seen taking creepily deep breaths all through my visit, no doubt reminding others in my group of the mouth-breather who sat behind them at school. All in the name of health my friends 🙂 There is actually a dedicated health resort for people to visit, but not on this backpacker’s budget (I can occasionally afford to feed myself).

After venturing through some more tunnels, sliding past a salt lake and tasting some of the salt-water (deep, deep regret) the tour ends with it’s prize gem in the chapel of St. Kinga, where the darker less-pure salt has been carved into an enormous cavern lined with wall etchings an intricately decorated with salt-crystal chandeliers, all at a depth of 101 metres.

All of the crystals in the chandeliers were made of purest salt

All of the crystals in the chandeliers were made of purest salt

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Chapel of St. Kinga

The Chapel of St. Kinga

The mines are truly a unique experience, and have been a UNESCO world heritage site since 1978. While my visit didn’t necessarily cure my cough, it was an unexpected pleasure to see such magnificent scenery carved in such rare circumstances. Add to that the artists were mostly the salt miners themselves and you can truly appreciate the beauty of these mines.

***Ok, maybe I wasn’t quite that sick, but I felt very bloody sick, ok??

Have you ever visited the salt mines? Was some ailment of yours cured? (I was a little crushed to still be sick after…as ill-advised as that may have been)