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?

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Wandering in Wroclaw

Wroclaw Main Square

Welcome to the city of gnomes, where a wander through one of the most stunning city-squares in Europe will bring you into a world inhabited by adorableness.

I first wanted to visit Wroclaw when I read about it on World of Wanderlust. Despite the seemingly unpronounceable name- I seriously struggled to get my bus ticket there because I couldn’t tell them where I needed to go- Wroclaw (Vro-tz-wav) is one of my new fave places in Europe. It is located in the North-West of the most wondrous Poland, home to glorious architecture, DELICIOUS foodstuffs, incredible sights and great nightlife not to mention being one of the cheapest places in central Europe.

Wroclaw Main Square

Wroclaw Main Square

Wroclaw Main Square

But Wroclaw is a destination unto itself, and I could barely contain my scary-huge smile when I stepped into the main square. Needless to say you could not see my face the entire time I was there because it was behind a camera. I kept thinking THAT is the prettiest building I have ever seen, and oh look an adorable gnome pumping some water, until I turned around and saw an even more impressive testament to pre-war architecture and an even cuter gnome, this time skipping along with other gnomes. The gnomes themselves started appearing in the city as part of a movement of resistance against the communist regime, a tradition that had continued and become a part of the city’s identity. Around 300 unique dwarf statues can be found around the city, and while I spotted quite a few wandering around and on my walking tour, I wish I had time to do one of the dwarf-spotting tours.

Dwarf in the main square

Dwarf in the main square

Dwarf at the site of a fire- you can see the fire-fighters in the background

Dwarf at the site of a fire- you can see the fire-fighters in the background

Dwarf in little italy, complete with vespa, chianti, and pizza

Dwarf in little italy, complete with vespa, chianti, and pizza

Aside from amazingly colourful buildings and gnomeish adorablenosity Wroclaw has yet another rather unique site- an entire island dedicated to religious worship (not to be confused with every island nation ever). The Cathedral Island is a part of the main walking tour as well, and has 3 churches and around 1500 inhabitants, making it a pretty peaceful end to a tour of the city. While it is not technically an island anymore the main access is across the ‘Lover’s Bridge’, filled to the brim with locks (which my tour guild informed us were all about to be removed!).

Cathedral Island, Wroclaw

The locks are about to be removed from the bridge to Cathedral Island, so get in quick if you want to see them

The locks are about to be removed from the bridge to Cathedral Island, so get in quick if you want to see them

Cathedral Island, Wroclaw

While there is a decent nightlife in the city, I did not imbibe as I was still fighting off my death-cold from Budapest. Instead I had an incredible time with me, myself, and Pierogi, in-between wandering the stunning streets and searching for gnomes.

The greatest food on earth- Pierogi

The greatest food on earth- Pierogi

There is so much to enjoy about Poland in general, but I think Wroclaw has to be one of the most unique and interesting places I’ve visited.

Wroclaw Main Square

Have you ever been to Wroclaw? Where is your favourite place in Poland?    

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)

The best festival you’ve never heard of: the almighty Sziget

Sziget festival lights

I first heard of the Sziget music festival while staying at the indescribably, ridiculously awesome Retox hostel in my favourite city in Europe- Budapest. I was living in Europe at the time and had been to Budapest before, thinking that the party haven couldn’t get any better. That was until I heard people talking about the upcoming festival (which I would be gone for). I remember talking to guy who worked as a Roadie, traveling the world with different concerts and festivals, who told me Sziget was the best one he had ever been to. I vowed to one day return for this wondrous event, that the hardest partyers in Europe waited for all year, and this year I finally did.

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Sziget Fireworks

If you’ve never been to Budapest before, it is actually a city divided by the Danube River, with Buda on one side and Pest on the other. On this river there are several Szigets (islands), and one of the biggest is the location of the Sziget Music Festival, a 7 day event held in August every year in which around 80,000 tie-dye and fluro clad individuals head to the ‘island of freedom’ and go absolutely bonkers.

Sziget was everything I expected and everything I had no idea could happen at a festival. It wasn’t just the festival’s location right near the heart of city, meaning we could actually stay at the fabled and most drunkenly joyous Retox Party Hostel every night, and go with new friends from the hostel on a massive party bus to the actual festival.

Retox pres

It wasn’t the line-up either, which was great but nothing special for a European festival. It was everything else that was around it.

There was the beach-

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The Illumiarium-

wpid-received_10153555373626085.jpeg Sziget Illuminarium

*Thanks to my wonderful matey Sigrid (@sigridf123) for her handy phone shots

The different themed party every day at the main stage-

Sziget Colour Party

The Colour Party

The field of wonders with different activities at each station-

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The different performances other than music, including this insane dance-music-bubble spectacular-

Sziget Bubble Show

Why yes, that is two people reaching down from the bubble that encapsulates the audience during the show…

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And yes, that too is a man inside the tube that formed from within the bubble around the audience…what fun

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..and there was even a wall to write down your deepest hopes and desires (don’t ask me what I wrote, I shall never tell)

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There were tea houses and volleyball and debate tents and marriage tents and all the food anyone could imagine and Alice in Wonderland themed bars. There was a full circus section with circus games, fortune telling and puppet shows, there was giant table setting complete with giant crib for people to play out all their weird fantasies. There were so many things to see we didn’t get to everything, and every time we thought we had the festival mapped in our heads we found a new section. There was even an underground labyrinth of tunnels for crying out loud, but we never made it because we kept getting distracted by all the shiny things. Most importantly, there was no judgement, very few dickheads, and not a shirtless, overly muscled butthead guy looking for a fight to be seen. Just a lot of people dancing their faces off, and occasionally rolling around in mud (I did not partake).

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For an Australian, the 5 day pass I went for was about the same cost of a 2 or 3-day festival back home, while drink and food prices were the same as you any place in Pest. In Melbourne, you basically have to give over your first born to buy some crappy vodka pre-mix at a festival, so this left my friends and I pretty shocked (cut to us with 8 mojitos..).

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The music itself was awesome, but my favourites of the festival were pretty unexpected. While I knew Ellie Goulding’s songs before and liked them I was no devout fan, but she put on an awesome show, while her rendition of Your Song by Elton John actually gave me goosebumps. She was just a great performer, and while other acts I expected to really enjoy like Major Lazer and Kings of Leon and Milky Chance, they either performed well but had no stage presence or the other way around. I had an amazing time at all of them, but nothing compared to C2C’s set for absolute boogy-ability. Maybe it was because it was the last day, maybe it was the rain, but I was dancing my tooshy of for every second of their set and absolutely loving it. Yasssss C2C are the besssttttt.

Sziget Lights

Sziget was everything I wanted it to be and everything more. I would go again in a heartbeat/once I have recovered. I miss it already. You should go. Right now. Or, wait until next year…whatever suits you…

A day in London

London is not usually my first choice for Europe, especially when the already high prices soar in the summer months. I had a stopover there for a few days though, and loved every second of it. Aside from my love of tea and cheese being highly sated here, the architecture, markets, shows and museums are enough to keep anyone happy for a few days even on a tight budget.

Cheese at Borough Market

Of course the first place I come across in London is manna from cheese heaven. I was lucky enough to be staying a few minutes walk away from the awesome Borough Market which is full of amazing goodies, but I got a cheese version of highway blindness when I came here and started buying ALL THE CHEESE. Had a very happy next few days eating it all.

Borough Market Bread Ahead, Borough Market

The Borough Market in London is full of all sorts of amazing food, and though it is pricey even for London, the quality of the good like these doughnuts from Bread Ahead is phenomenal.

Bread Ahead Doughnut

I grabbed this salted honeycomb number and from the nearby chocolate emporium and headed to the Thames to enjoy my breakfast of champions. If you’re in London summer or winter, walking along and stopping for a bite along the iconic river is a must.

View of St Paul's Cathedral Thames River London

After walking along the Thames for a while and crossing to the other side, I came across some epic bike ride that seemed to fill every street I went down. I’m still not sure what it was but it was pretty cool to see that side of the city, everyone out and participating in such a huge event.

London

Gotta love the London street names

After that I headed to Soho and Oxford St, where anyone who enjoys good food and better shopping must go in London. Carnaby Street in Soho has amazing boutique shops and places to eat while Oxford and Regent Streets give great shopping for those seeking the larger chain stores such as Primark and H+M. Personally I like both, so luckily they are right next to each other.

Carnaby Street, London

Decorations in a Soho laneway

Crumbs and Doilies, Soho London

Crumbs and Doilies in Soho is a must for anyone with a sweet tooth

Pizza Pilgrims, Soho London

This fried calzone from Pizza Pilgirms in Soho blew my mind

The stores in Carnaby are quite the mixture, from clothing boutiques and food to this place below, ChoccyWoccyDooDah, where all the displays are made entirely of chocolate. I didn’t stop at the cafe because of the massive lines, but they have a stores dowstairs if you want to grab a treat.

ChoccyWoccyDoohDah, Carnaby St

THIS IS ALL MADE FROM CHOCOLATE!!!!!

Carnaby St, London

Some whimiscal foodstuffs from another store in Carnaby. The ‘Brain Jam’ was Raspberry jam. An elderly couple next to me picked up the ‘Dried Earwax’ and despite the language barrier could tell they were shocked that a place would sell earwax… until I explained it was actually fudge. Classic.

London

A stroll in the other direction from Borough Market and London Bridge brings you to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. For those of us on a budget this ended up being really great, as I could walk the bridge and around the ‘Tower’ area and managed to catch a real-life jousting match all for free! Tick that one off the bucket list!

Tower of London

Jousting at the Tower of London!

London Bridge London Bridge London Bridge

I ended my day time in London back in the Carnaby to grab one of the famous cupcakes from Hummingbird Bakery….because cake. Always cake.

Hummingbird Bakey

What are your favourite things to do in London on a budget? Let me know in the comments!

New beginnings and why I need those moments of doubt

Airplane window view

I have a one-way ticket. I have no job, no real plans.

I love it.

This isn’t my first trip, or my first time on a plane, or my first time traveling solo. I’ve done this all before, but that doesn’t mean I don’t get the exact same anxieties every time.

Every single time I go away, I experience the same moment of gut-wrenching anxiety. It is a beat in time, a moment in which I question everything, I ask myself ‘Why on friggin earth am I doing this? Why do I put myself through all this anxiety and the stress of saving and inevitable pains of actual travel, when I could live a nice, comfortable life in Melbourne where I rarely experience the fear of planes crashing or of being robbed on a train??’.

The irrational fear lasts for a beat, but in that short time I question everything. It happens in the same way it does when I am scuba-diving. On the descent, every time, I feel fear and panic that I won’t be able to breathe or that something will go wrong. Until I reach my destination, and then the world shifts. Whether that destination is 30m underwater or the international airport of Santiago or London, I have that moment of sheer panic, and then I see whole new world (que Aladdin music).

I see everything different when I travel, and it’s partly because the world is incredible and varied and wonderous, and partly because when you change your circumstances you allow yourself a new perspective. Sometimes my new perspective is a shipwreck, sometimes it is a new culture or language. Either way, I have come to almost enjoy the panic (almost). It’s because the panic is what comes right before the life-changing moments, stressful saving is what allows me to see the world, and anxiety is my body preparing itself for the unexpected. The moments of fear are worth it, because that’s mostly how I know I am pushing myself, getting outside of my comfort zone, and doing something amazing.

My one-way ticket this time is to South America via Europe. In between I fully intend to swim with pigs and whale sharks, dance my booty off on a Hungarian island, and everything in-between. I’m so excited I may bounce out of my seat (although that might be due to all the ovalteenies I just ate).

Bring on the adventure, and all that comes with it.

xoxox

Where to go and what to do in Phnom Penh

Ask most travellers who have visited, and they’ll tell you Phnom Penh is a hectic city that they remember mostly as the home of the saddening Khmer Rouge museums and memorials. I am here to tell you, this city is so much more than that. Just as all of Cambodia is developing and seeking desperately to move past its horrendous past, its capital is the hub of this forward motion. It is hectic, and chaotic, and messy, but I love it here, and I’ll tell you why. While this ended up being mostly food places because…well, food…it’s also a compilation of all the things you can’t miss in Phnom Penh.

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