All posts by kristymuir

Singapore during the monsoon season

Why did my travel agent never mention the fact without a doubt it was going to rain in Singapore. Maybe then we would have decided to stay in Dubai longer or have more than one day to rest before going back to work.
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It turns out there is no clear-cut wet or dry season and rain is experienced every single month, usually in the afternoons and early evenings. However, there are two main monsoon seasons in Singapore: the Northeast Monsoon Season which runs from December-March) and the Southwest Monsoon Season which runs from June-September. The latter is the one we experienced and it was not fun.
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My old school friend recommended our hotel and it was a good spot. It was a bit older but far cheaper than the newer and more ritzy hotels. We enjoyed being in another hotel after so many hostels. As it pretty much continually rained while we were in Singapore we stayed in our hotel a lot of the time. Ordering room service was a treat and it was nice to just hang out in the room together.
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The Southwest Monsoon Season meant there were showers and thunderstorm activity between predawn to midday. However, thunderstorms usually only lasted for less than 30 minutes. ‘Sumatra squalls’ are common during this period. These are a line of thunderstorms that develop at night over Sumatra, move to the west coast of Peninsula of Malaysia and hit Singapore during the early morning hours.
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Despite the rain we took a sight seeing bus tour and briefly we were able to sit in the open deck area of the bus and enjoy Singapore. However, this was short lived when a crazy thunderstorm passed overhead and sent all is tourists running for cover downstairs. All of a sudden two levels of tourists were piled into the underneath section. Needless to say Lion and I waited the storm out on the bus and got off to explore once the storm had passed.

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We discovered Singapore has a rich ethnic, cultural and historical heritage through the sights and sounds of the bustling ethnic enclaves, and the streets of China Town, Kampong Glam and Little India, where religious monuments nestle amidst quaint shophouses. Contrasting with the modern shopping malls and skyscrapers.

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We eventually jumped off the tour for good near Marina Bay Sands and went to the shops below it to explore as it was raining, yet again. And unfortunately the rain turned into a crazy electrical storm and we were unable check out the iconic infinity pool at the top of the building.
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Once again the sun briefly came out so we hightailed it to Singapore’s official committee-designed symbol the Merlion, half-lion, half-fish, which stares purposefully out at tourists snapping away from the observation deck just opposite. We joined them and were treated to a stunning view of the Central Business District’s skyscrapers.
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After taking more selfies than probably necessary we went to get a cab home and finally snagged one at a hotel. We got home and decided we had had enough of sightseeing. It was almost two months of touring 13 places. And it was the best experience but we were tired and wanted our own home and own bed. And Lion had an infected toe from Dubai, so he needed to see a doctor and get antibiotics.

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How can there be snow in the desert?

The night we flew into Dubai, it was still 35 degrees Celsius at a couple of minutes to midnight. We were jet lagged as hell and got a mini bus to the Jumierah district and the driver said your hotel is just up there. That was true but it was still a 15 minute walk with our heavy backpacks in the ridiculous heat.

Throughout our time in Dubai the only time we were ever cool was in our hotel, at the shops or at Ski Dubai. Who would have guessed there would be snow in the middle of the desert. And penguins.

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Of all the places I visited during my two visits to Dubai, Ski Dubai was my favourite and of course that was largely because we got to kiss and cuddle real penguins. We met gentoo penguins and king penguins. They are incredible creatures and the king penguin I got to kiss, funnily had a ‘thing for blondes’ so it was a little bit of a risk going in for a peck on the cheek, I hoped it wouldn’t be literally. Lion had never seen snow. And even though it was man-made it was pretty realistic.
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Dubai is no doubt the decadence capital of the world. But with this comes tight rules and regulations, which sometimes catch foreigners out. However, it was never clearer than it was the day I touched down in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, that people fear what they do not understand or know. For years, I operated under the misconception that for a young, single, white female, Dubai was not safe. I don’t know who started the rumour that led to such a massive blunder but in all honesty, I felt safer walking around this Arabic city than I do walking around any city in Australia.

The tight rules and regulations can be daunting for any traveller, but at the end of the day you just need to be mindful of the cultural and religious differences and respect them – and don’t break the law. The only change I made was to cover up a little more than usual, and quite frankly in 36 degree-plus heat it was a blessing (I didn’t get sunburnt at all).

Most of my time in the sandy city was spent in the air-conditioned comfort of my hotel, the mall, restaurants or on the tour bus. But on the occasions I did step out into the sun, the heat was bearable.

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During the day, it is a dry heat and by night it is humid, but the weather does guarantee you will have beautiful blue skies on your vacation. The two times I have visited Dubai, has unfortunately been in the middle of Ramadan. Which is only slightly inconvenient, when you are out in the boiling heat, unable to drink water or have food. But you manage.

My trip with lion had so many highlights but the one that stands out was my visit to Ski Dubai and the desert. But on my first trip three years earlier my highlights were a little different. I took a short boat ride on an abra, a traditional wooden boat, across Dubai Creek. The body of water which was more a harbour than a creek links the old and new town and made for fantastic photo opportunities.

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It is incredible to think that in just over three decades, Dubai has gone from a humble fishing village to a modern bustling metropolis.

The old town was unlike anything I had ever seen before – a bustling market filled with locals and tourists, all out to get the best bargain. I have to admit I was not a very savvy shopper. My tour guide said I should barter with the merchants but it all seemed like a bit too much trouble. The prices were reasonable and I had no intention of ripping off someone who was just trying to feed his family. So I paid full price but it was cheaper than shopping at home.I bought herbs and spices, jewellery, pashmina and lots of souvenirs for my friends and family.

I think the only time I felt a little uncomfortable in this city was in the market place. A few too many eyes were on me, but in no way did I feel unsafe.
Another highlight I had in Dubai was in the new town, and it involved a trip to the 124th level of the world tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa.
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If you are scared of heights, I suggest you don’t go out to the outdoor observation section of the level, but if you are fine with it, then there is no better view in Dubai. Looking down on the strip of what I now call low-rises is amazing, but looking up to the sun is one of the most incredible feelings.

I have never been that close to the sun in a stationary position. The experience is well worth the cost of admission, and when it comes to souvenirs of this architectural masterpiece you can’t go past a Lego model. Although the model was a little pricey, it was well worth it.

You can tack the Burj Khalifa on to your trip to the Dubai Mall – the entry to the building is located on the ground level. I have to admit the mall is the most incredible shopping centre I have ever seen. Not only does it have more than 1200 stores, it also has an indoor aquarium, 160 food outlets and an ice rink. Other options for shopping are the Ibn Battuta Mall, Deira Gold Souk or The Walk at Jumeirah Beach Residence. But I didn’t have enough time to visit them too. Actually, it was more the money I was lacking than anything. And when the money was gone and I was exhausted from gallivanting around the city, I lazed by the pool soaking up the rays and being served delicious drinks.

What a life …
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THINGS TO DO

Desert Safari
Shop ’til you drop at one of the malls
Old and new town tour
Dine at a traditional Arabic restaurant
Take a boat ride on Dubai Creek
Visit Dubai Museum
Hot air balloon flight
Laze by the pool
Hit the ski slope in the Mall of Emirates
The Observatory at Burj Khalifa
Afternoon tea at the Burj Al Arab
Helicopter ride or skydiving
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A brief (ancient) history in Athens

IT is often said you can’t explore a city in 24 hours. Maybe this is true for some cities but it is my personal opinion that this does not apply to Athens. I first visited this decaying city in 2007. I had planned to stay a week but only after a few hours being in the city, I was keen to move on. So i jumped a plane to Santorini with my dear friend and travel companion Daniel Bibby. I did however, during my time in Athens, see its acclaimed and historic site, including the Acropolis.

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This time round I knew only to spend minimal time there, during my stopover between Santorini and my long-haul flight to Dubai. So, I booked a hotel near the Acropolis for the night. Lion and I rested and repacked for our journey towards Australia the night we arrived and got up early to do some sightseeing. Most of the shops were closed on the way to the Acropolis and after a short wait, we started the climb in the ridiculous heat, it was summer, so the temperature was climbing towards 40 degrees Celsius.
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There is no denying the amazing history or the beautiful view from the top of the ancient site. But I don’t believe you should have to be an archaeologist to find the beauty and charm of a city. Athens’ beauty is definitely there, but it is hidden beneath dirty, graffiti-covered and not maintained streets. The ‘touristy’ spot of Athens isn’t what you would expect from a famous city. But by all means don’t take my word for it, I would love to be proved wrong.
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Postcard perfect in every way

When I first decided to go travelling, I vowed to myself to never visit the same place twice as there were so many new and interesting towns, cities and countries to explore. And while, for the most part I have stayed true to that, there have been some exceptions. At the top of the list: Santorini. I cannot get enough of this place and at every chance I get, I will return there.

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My first visit to Santorini was in 2007 with a mate from the Gold Coast. We had about 24 hours there, not nearly enough time, but we made the most of every second. We hired a quad bike and rode around the island, stopping off for a swim at every beautiful spot, and i managed to pretty much get third degree burns from the sun. It was definitely the best 24 hours of my three month solo backpacking trip. We also managed to find a gorgeous villa in Fira to stay at, owned by a beautiful Greek woman Maria.

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Fast-forward to 2014 and I contacted Maria and asked her if we could stay in the Villa during our visit. Fortunately, she remembered me and even gave us a discount. While at the villa she also went above and beyond to help us and also got us a massive discount on a rental car, from a friend of hers. It was a magical few days with my boyfriend there.
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We drove around the island, petted donkeys, took a thrilling cable car ride down and back up the cliffs of Fira and wandered the cobbled streets of Oia. We also saw every sunset from the cliffs at Fira and rode on a quad bike.

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We would have rented quads to ride around the island during this stay, but having seven years more life experience, I realised that would be taking an unnecessary risk that wouldn’t be covered by our travel insurance. But believe me, driving in a hatchback around the island was enough of an experience for us. It caused some serious tension between us as it was so stressful. Buses and cars would come around the corners on our side of the road and people would overtake you on blind corners. It was truly a horrifying experience. Needless to say, when we could leave our car at the villa, we did .

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Santorini really is postcard perfect wherever you look, and no matter how many times you visit, it will never be enough.

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Just the right amount of creepy

The Church of Bones in Kutna Hora, just outside of Prague, was definitely the most amazing church I have ever visited! It was eerily beautiful and was so thought provoking. I first heard of this place after watching the Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor documentary The Long Way Down and the Long Way Round. I can’t remember which one it featured on but I was recommended the books and DVDs from an old friend while travelling around the United Kingdom. I think they had either just left or finished the trip when I was over there. Either way, it inspired me to go there.
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Getting to and from Kutna Hora was an adventure all on its own. As Prague is an eastern European city, and hasn’t always been a place tourists flocked, it lacks the signs which say the Czech word and English word together. So, getting around the train station and trying to get tickets (via non-English speaking staff) was quite an experience. Then we had to make sure we got on the right train and off at the right station. Fortunately we met a tour guide on the 1-2 hour train trip, who explained you must get off the train and then onto the local train. God only knows how we would have found the church if not for this man. So, after a short and might I add beautiful walk through the town of Kutna Hora, we finally made it. Lion and I spent a lot of time walking around the ossuary, reading about the bones and also photographing the creative works of art.
Then came the trickiest part of our journey, getting home. We made it onto the right train after almost getting on the wrong ones a couple of times. Then got to the main train station to find out the train that was to pick us up would not go all the way back to Prague. So, we had to get off the train where no one spoke any English and swap trains. However, we had the choice of two and after speaking to a number of people trying to work out which one was which we jumped on one and prayed it was the right one. Fortunately for us, it was.
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#justtherightamountofcreepy

Prague, don’t let the bed bugs bite

While the city of Prague is beautiful,
with its Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque era architecture, quirky eateries and a seemingly never-ending array of street performers and artists. However, what I will always think of first when I think of this Czech Republic city is Lion saying ‘Take me to the Hilton’ after a bed bug situation at our perfectly located and reasonably priced hostel.

10527721_10152296896097198_7217385069675313538_n It was the first time I had encountered this nuisance creature and hopefully the last. While they were disgusting, it was the earwig which can crawl into your ear and then lay eggs on your brain, which eventually hatch and drive you mental, until you die. Although the bugs weren’t on our bed, but that of our bunk mate from the US, we opted to get our money back and leave. Lion was so distraught that I just said to him ‘where do you want to go?’ And he replied: ‘Take me to the Hilton’.10367747_10152302729807198_4546055273448909541_nA few minutes later I had a bookings.com reservation and we were in a taxi, paid by the hostel, to our new accommodation. Only problem was, it was a long way from where we wanted to explore and had no nearby laundromats. This was only an issue because after you come into contact with bedbugs you are meant to wash everything you own. That would have been easy, if we were in a hostel, near a laundromat or the hotel didn’t want to charge us more than $1000 to wash our clothes. So I turned out 5-star luxury room into a Chinese laundry. The housekeepers must have thought we were nuts. But I did it. I washed everything in the sink and dried it all without a washing line.10556318_10152296923497198_6150883351308092857_n
Prague Castle was at the top of our sightseeing list, and unfortunately at the top of a massive hill. But we walked up there and the views from the castle and of the castle were worth it. We watched the sun set, then found a cute little restaurant nearby and ate there. The cobblestone alleyways were a constant source of photographic inspiration to us and meant it took a long time to get through this particular old area. We also found a super skinny alleyway that actually had a traffic lights. We saw one similar to this in Stockholm with Peter.

Prague was the cheapest European city we visited but definitely one of the best.
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From Paris with love

The city of love can be appreciated whether you are single or in a relationship. I have enjoyed it both ways and although I definitely got more out of it this time round, I do not pity the lonely hearts that wander the city, more so envy them. Exploring a city alone is one of the most wonderful things you can do in life and it definitely trumps compromising at every corner with a travel buddy or loved one that would rather stay in the hotel than climb the Eiffel Tower or visit the Louvre.

10382455_10152289005027198_2246714324800422423_nFortunately, I visited Paris with my darling boyfriend, and we both enjoy similar activities and want the same things out of our adventures. We knew what photos we wanted to take and had the equipment to achieve them, even though it made our daypacks heavier than other travellers and our memory cards definitely filled up faster than our fellow snappers.

During our time in Paris we played the tourist more than we ever had in any other city, despite facing some truly lengthy waits at the major attractions. You just can’t go to Paris and not see all the iconic buildings, paintings and architectural marvels! We even went to Disneyland and it was just as I had imagined it. I transformed from a laid-back 27-year-old to a kid, running around with the biggest smile on my face. We got pics with some of the Disney characters and after finding out Minnie had gone home for the day, we decided to line up to see Mickey, not knowing it would take almost three painful and very hot hours to see Mickey Mouse. 1653594_10152291133762198_9170372831604118486_nThankfully he definitely didn’t disappoint. However, to really get the most out of the time it takes to get to Disneyland Paris and the money you spend there, you really need to go for at least a full day or get a return pass for the next day. We unfortunately missed out on seeing the late night fireworks that light up the iconic sleeping beauty castle as we had an early flight the next day. But one day I will return for a few days and not feel one ounce of guilt that I use up that time to rekindle my affinity with Disney.

10351020_10152289023482198_1280549928798702517_nThis trip to Paris I ticked off a number of Bucket List items including Disneyland and the famous lock bridge. It wasn’t until I left Paris in 2007 that I realised the bridge was actually there. So, I packed a couple of extra padlocks in my bag ready for this occasion. Funny thing was I actually left them in my Montmartre hostel, that looked up to Sacre Coeur. So, Lion and I stopped at a market stall on the river and paid a hefty price for the lock, which we engraved, with the knowledge it would eventually be cut off the bridge by the local government. I remember watching a news story about how every few weeks or so they come and cut them all off because the bridge was apparently too heavy and bending in the wrong places. Regardless, Lion and I wrote our initials, and locked it among the thousands of similar padlocks. We then threw the key over the bridge and onto the water below for eternal love. And of course numerous selfies were taken throughout the whole process.

10533753_10152291117022198_783098763649602770_nOne of the other reasons for visiting Paris was to catch up with my gorgeous friend, Sarah. We met in 2009 when our mutual friend asked if Sarah could stay with me while she worked and lived on the Gold Coast as part of her gap year. I of course said ‘yes’ thus sparking a year where I had four and sometimes five Germans living with me at a time in a three bedroom duplex in Labrador.

10533550_10152293260872198_2212262677472749474_nSarah was studying in the south of France and she came up for a couple of days around Bastille Day. I remember seeing her for the first time in almost five years and how happy it made me. It was like no time had passed at all. We met at the bottom of Sacre Coeur and went for brekkie in the cutest little cafe. The staff however were typically French and refused to speak to Lion and I in English and made my friend translate for us. The final straw was when my boyfriend asked the waiter if there was a toilet. To which the man replied: ‘no, you must go in the corner’. Lion called his bluff and walked over there, seemingly unphased by the public restroom. The waiter them laughed and said to use the one downstairs.

281922_10152296287132198_5624814450098553475_nThis sort of blatant rudeness also happened when we went out for dinner to an Italian restaurant in Paris. Yes, I know, we are despicable for not going to a French cuisine restaurant but we are pretty plain eaters. Regardless, in the middle of Montmart, they did not even have an English menu, or they refused to give it to us. So we just tried to read and speak French, which we always tried to do in Paris.

Our highlights in Paris were definitely the Eiffel Tower, having a photo shoot at the Trocadero, finding Sarah on Bastille Day in the park under the Eiffel Tower after not being able to reach her on phone or at the location we had arranged, almost three hours after said time.

The lowlight was Lion nearly getting arrested when he shoulder charged an arsehole right in front of a policeman. The victim went over to police to report it and the cop just dismissed him.