Along the Caldera- Day Two in Santorini

I woke up on my second day in Santorini not feeling very well. But I am no quitter. So in spite of pain and discomfort, I got up and went to get some breakfast and had decided I’d catch an early bus over to Fira for the day.

I unfortunately knew I needed to print my plane ticket for the next day, as Ryanair is picky about you having one before arriving at the airport, so I had to ask the hotel lady if I could. She let me, but she charged me five euros for the one page. I was pretty irritated by that, but I just gritted my teeth and rolled with it.

After a filling breakfast of bread and coffee and yogurt and fruit, I headed off to catch the bus.

Santorini has a super easy bus system. They get enough tourists, that they’ve made it pretty effective to use, though it is still a bit confusing the first time.

Basically you don’t need a ticket to get on, you pay when you board the bus.They have change and everything, just hop on and grab a seat if one is open, it’s basically more of a tour bus than a city bus format. The ticket salesman will come and sell you a ticket which you keep until you leave.

I arrived in Fira and decided to head out to see some of the city. I was already feeling pretty tired, but I didn’t care, I wanted to explore. So I decided I was going to do the hike I’d heard was amazing, from Fira all the way to the city of Oia on the far tip of the island. The hike was about ten kilometers, and although I was a bit nervous about my state, I decided I would do it nonetheless.

It was one of the most gorgeous hikes I’ve ever been on in my life. That’s coming from a Pacific Northwest girl who has been on more hikes than she can count.

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It was sunny with little shade, but the walk along the caldera was stunning, and I have rarely been so in awe of nature as I was at this time.

I know I’ve done posts on solo travel, but truly, walking the edge of this island, staring out at the sea… I mean it’s something life changing. Going through a journey like that by yourself, getting to experience and enjoy and reflect, that’s truly beautiful.

I arrived in Oia a sweaty exhausted, but very happy mess. I quickly bought some water and then walked around the city taking photographs.

I had a very splurgy lunch in this cute restaurant with spectacular views. I had a pina colada, and a piece of pork with a delicious sauce stuffed with various ingredients. I finished with some Baklava feeling very satisfied.

I headed back to catch a bus back to Fira rather than walking back. I’d decided that was my reward for accomplishing my hike even exhausted and not feeling my best.

I had wanted to see the sunset in Oia, but I was nervous about trying to get a bus back to Fira and then another to Perissa. It just seemed like too much to manage, and besides, I was worn out.

I went and took another swim and got to bed early. My time in Santorini was almost up. I wished I could have stayed longer, but it was a spectacular trip while it lasted.

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Journey to Santorini

When I asked for advice of where to go in Greece, this was the one island that seemed to pop up again and again. Every website of “top twenty things in Greece”, every other English assistant I asked, it kept coming up. So I knew I had to go.

Besides, Santorini looked like the perfect place to really get the ideal relaxing vacation experience, which I have rarely ever had in my life.

Oh I know, poor me, getting to go on fun family vacations all the time and never doing a resort. I’m so incredibly deprived.

But sarcasm aside, it is funny that my family tends to make vacations these exhausting events that leave us getting home more tired than we were at the start. The only time we ever attempted a relaxing beach vacation was a two day stay in Zihautanejo, Mexico, which ended with the entire family getting food poisoning (or… water poisoning rather), my back getting so sunburned I couldn’t wear a bra, and a hurricane rolling in as we were flying out. I’ve always kind of assumed we were cursed.

So Santorini it was, to finally get my fun beach vacation.

I’d opted to take the ferry, although even in May it was quite booked up so I ended up having to pay more for a “premium” seat type deal, which really didn’t turn out to be too fancy.

Nonetheless I took the bus early in the morning back to Heraklion where I managed to board my boat without trouble.

Unlike most ferries I’ve seen, it had assigned seats, but for some reason the crew were just shoving people towards the areas that were open. So I got scolded by a couple for trying to “steal” their seats. I found mine in the middle of the boat and settled in for a long ride.

I was up and down a lot. I went outside some to admire the views of the water, especially as we pulled away from Crete. After that it was pretty dull so I settled in to rest up until I arrived.

The boat pulled in after a few hours at sea. I was immediately greeted by the rocky cliffs of Santorini, the long winding road going up up up to the main part of the island.

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I was told by my hostel I’d have transportation from the port. I went to the sign they indicated, but unfortunately the man there told me I’d have to pay. I was very confused, so I tried calling my hostel. The lady who picked up the phone didn’t really understand what I was saying. Clearly she didn’t speak good English. Just as I was getting frustrated, thinking I’d have to pay for a ride, a lady came up and told me it was fine and the man had been mistaken.

I let out a sigh of relief and got into a shuttle that was going to take me to my hostel.

Now, on Santorini it was a tough choice of where to stay. But I admittedly was feeling in the mood for some beaches, which meant I picked a bit cheaper place outside of the cities over on the far side of the island near Perissa.

The driver dropped me off in front of this lovely little hostel. The lady I’d spoken with on the phone was waiting for me. She led me to a room, though it ended up being the wrong one, which she did correct fairly quickly. I was then led to the right room. It was cute and clean. My only issue is that there was only one key… so in order to leave the room open for my roommates, I had to leave it at the desk when I went out. I have to say, this place did not function well as a hostel as a result.

I changed into my suit with a light skirt and top over, and then I headed down towards the beach for the day.

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I initially settled in a public area, resting beneath a small umbrella at a place that wasn’t open for the season yet. It was nice, but I did want to explore, and I was nervous about leaving my stuff for too long while I went swimming. So I took off down the beach.

I looked at various different restaurants, realizing this was probably the best option. I could find a good place to get some drinks, and maybe some food, and then I could leave my stuff a little bit more secure while I enjoyed the water and the sun.

This worked fairly well. I spent most of my day at a restaurant called Saffron, ordering some drinks and enjoying the water and comfy beach loungers. I people watched and simply relaxed. It was really needed after so many long weeks of teaching in rainy gray northern France.

After a full day a the beach I went back to my hostel and spent a little time at the pool.

I read and relaxed as the sunset, before heading back to my room where my roommate had showed up. She was from Argentina, and she was not at all pleased with where our hostel was in relation to everything on the island. I told her it was maybe a ten minute walk to the beach, and she said that was too far. I laughed a bit as she went to go order delivery food and sit by the pool.IMG_7805 (2)

I got to bed early, because in spite of doing a relaxing beach vacation for one day, I was determined to do some serious travel the next.

Exploring Crete

I woke up in my lovely studio on the island of Crete and felt like I’d stepped into some kind of dream. Greece itself has always seemed like some kind of fantasy land to me, but to actually be there, waking up and looking out my window to see the sun shining on the sea, illuminating the mountains and the fields, it was exhilarating.

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I had breakfast on my balcony and sunscreened up before heading downstairs. I had opted to wear shorts, even though I knew this made me clearly stand out as a tourist. It was just too hot and I knew i was going to be outside for much of the day.

I’d opted to spend my morning going to explore the ancient city of Knossos.

It was one of the things that had drawn me to Crete in the first place. When planning my Greece trip I’d googled recommendations of the best places to see, and Crete was featured on quite a few lists, so I knew I had to get there.

So Knossos was a top priority to see as it was supposed to be one of the most important places on the island.

If you’re there in the summer there is a bus directly from Amoudara to Knossos, but in the off season it required a ride into Heraklion and a transfer from there. Thankfully it wasn’t too hard to figure out.

After arriving I headed into the gates. There was quite a line, but I wasn’t deterred. It wasn’t cheap, and as I wasn’t sure I was going to the archaeology museum I didn’t bother to buy a joint ticket (this ended up being a good choice).

The palace ruins stretched out before me. There were guides hovering offering tours for extra money, but I opted to walk around and read signs.

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I soon found out Knossos was not quite as exciting as I’d anticipated.

Much of what there was to see was reconstruction, and it was reconstruction done in an early period when there wasn’t a lot of research done to see how accurate the reproductions might or might not be.

It was also just really crowded. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like in full tourist season.

Anyhow, to any planning on going I recommend good walking shoes, plenty of sunscreen, and willingness to use your elbows.

After finishing wandering the various parts of the palace, I headed back out and went to the bus. I took it back to Heraklion where I decided to find some place for lunch.

I ended up at a place right near the harbor. It was obvious I shouldn’t have gone in. The waiter was far too eager to get me through the door, but I didn’t really care. I had a pretty greasy and not very good gyro, but it was at least filling.

After finishing my meal I headed down to the harbor to walk around. I was feeling a little poor after going to Knossos, so I opted to just look at the outside of the Phoenician fort instead of paying to go in. I then walked back up the hill to the walls surrounding the city where I took a nice long walk. It had beautiful views and I really enjoyed myself.

I spent a little longer in the city before boarding a bus back towards my hostel.

I changed into my suit back in my room and headed down to the beach. It was less than a five minute walk down to the sand. I found a free spot to lay my towel, and I sat and looked out at the water.

I did wade a little, but it was too cool to really enjoy swimming.

After lounging for a bit I went back to the pool where I dipped in for a bit, but again was too cold to really last. Besides, I couldn’t shake my old swimming lessons as a child where the first rule was “never swim alone.” Hard to do as a solo traveler.

I went upstairs and showered before throwing on a skirt and top and heading to dinner. I’d seen good trip advisor reviews about a tavern down the road, so I walked down to find this quaint little place with a lovely porch. It was the perfect setting for an evening meal. I had meatballs in a sauce with rice.

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I was given a free dessert again, but I was still slightly hungry walking back, so I picked up an ice cream cone at a shop on the way and took it back to eat on my balcony as I watched the sunset. I couldn’t have asked for anything more perfect.

I had a roommate that evening, she was from Denmark and we exchanged advice about traveling.

And then I headed to bed, because I had an early morning coming to get to Santorini the next day.

From Thessaloniki to Crete

So I’d decided to stay in Thessaloniki only a day and then fly down to the island of Crete from there. However, the best plane deal I could find was either extremely early in the morning, or in the early evening. I opted to go for the evening and give myself a few more hours to enjoy Thessaloniki before I left.

This turned out to be a pretty good decision with the holiday the day before, as that meant I wasn’t able to see any museums or monuments from the inside.

The morning of my last day I woke up and had some breakfast at my hostel before leavign my bags and heading down the hill into the main part of the city. I decided to start with the Rotunda for my explorations.

One of the things Thessaloniki is famed for is it’s very beautiful early Christian art. Indeed, as I stepped into the rotunda I could understand why.

The structure was built in Roman times but was then taken over to become a Christian church. Later it was converted into a mosque and the beautiful mosaics were covered over. Thankfully the plaster wasn’t damaging, and today most of it has been chipped away to reveal the beauty underneath.

It was truly beautiful, not a really time consuming site by any means, but definitely one worth seeing.

After leaving the Rotunda I headed down the hill towards the archaeological museum.

I decided to go ahead and purchase a pass that would get me into multiple other locations in the city, hoping it would be worth my while.

The museum itself had quite a few nice artifacts. I really enjoyed my time there. However, it was not laid out very well and I was scolded my staff once or twice for going in a wrong way. Could use better signage.

After the archaeology museum I headed to the museum of Byzantine culture, also on my pass. The museum was in a lovely modern building that curved around up the levels to allow you to see everything. The only problem was it was completely empty. I know it was lunchtime, but still… there were no other tourists. Which made me feel very self-conscious let me tell you.

Once I’d finished awkwardly perusing I headed over to the White Tower. I had a pass to go up it as well and since I still had plenty of time I opted to do that.

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I took an audioguide, but it ended up taking forever since ALL of the signs were in Greek and the audioguide simply translated. I’m a pretty fast reader so it was a pain to stand there and listen when I could have just skimmed on my own. Regardless the tower was still fun, and it had very nice views of the surrounding areas which I enjoyed seeing.

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Down at the bottom I decided to start heading back to my hostel to grab my bags. I was worried about being late for my flight, so I opted to leave early.

I walked back up the hill and had the staff call me a taxi so I could save some time and not have to worry about a foreign bus I didn’t know how to use.

I climbed in and my taxi driver had to navigate the confusing maze of streets on the hill. He nearly got stuck three or four times. Definitely was some swearing in Greek I’m pretty sure. Anyhow, after a little bit of frustration we did get off and head on the way to the airport.

I arrived and went in, deciding I’d just head straight through security to save myself any worries. I soon found this was a poor decision.

The waiting room for all the gates had a small amount of seats, some bathrooms, one tiny coffee shop, and a little convenience store. There was no wifi. And there were no power outlets anywhere to be found. For such a major city I was shocked. But I forget of course that I come from a wealthier country, and this was one time I simply had to accept that things aren’t always the same in other places.

Finally I was on my flight. It was filled with a bunch of noisy teenagers who kept bumping my seat, but thankfully it wasn’t all that long. And there were complimentary beverages which I always appreciate (especially on the cheapy European flights that I’m not as used to).

I arrived in Crete in the early evening. I exited the airport and went to find the bus to get to my hostel. Thankfully I found it and there was even a man there who spoke some English and was able to tell me which bus I needed to take.

I found Crete’s bus system (at least in Heraklion) was pretty good overall. They had ticket machines at a lot of stops, so it was easy to purchase a ticket, and then you just stepped on and handed the driver it and pulled it so it ripped. The buses also usually announced stops, both in Greek and English, though this wasn’t always working. I took a seat and waited the long thirty minute ride out to Amoudara, a beach area in Crete slightly outside of Heraklion.

I’d debated about where to stay in the city. I’d considered just doing an AirBnB but those were much more expensive than a hostel. Unfortunately the only hostel in Heraklion didn’t have stellar reviews, so I opted instead to go to a place outside the city center and risk wasting time on transport. Besides, it had a pool and was close to the beach, so what more could I want?

I arrived at Manos Studios and was greeted by a very friendly man who ran the place. He told me since it was the off season I was going to have a room all to myself (normally reserved for six girls). I was delighted. I also found as it wasn’t a “hostel” persay it had a full kitchen attached. Needless to say I was very pleased.

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I then went off to find dinner. There was a restaurant right across the street and I was told they had decent fare. Sure enough I ordered a plate of a variety of Greek specialties to try. It was huge, but I was very hungry (having not eaten since breakfast) so I wolfed it down while sipping at a fresh squeezed orange juice.

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After enjoying my meal I went over to the little supermarket next door and purchased things for breakfast the next morning and then went back to my room. I lounged by the pool for a bit, but it was too cool to swim. I decided I’d try that the next morning.

I went to bed early and enjoyed not having to deal with noisy roommates. It was a lovely change.

Off to Thessaloniki

So I woke early to get going out of my hostel. I had breakfast first, a surprisingly filling fare for an included meal. Waffles and scrambled eggs, meats, cheeses, olives, fruits, bread, spreads, coffee, hot chocolate, tea, juice, and water. My word what a feast! I ate my fill before checking out.

I debated calling a cab to get to the bus station. Honestly, it wouldn’t have been very expensive, but I had overestimated my time so I had a good hour left until my bus was leaving, so I opted to walk.

I used thirty minutes to get to the station. I was already a little confused stepping in. A  lot of the signs were only in the cyrillic script of Bulgarian. So I thankfully found the desk of the bus company I booked and asked them where I should be.

They spoke enough English to help and got me to my platform in time to hop on my bus.

While it was a bit confusing and not a lot of directions were given in English, the bus itself was quite nice. Decently comfy seats, chargers, and even wifi (though you had to ask for directions on that…and I really didn’t care that much as T-Mobile was still providing me with cell service), plus screens to watch tv in Bulgarian if you desired. And then even more surprisingly the driver came through with snacks and drinks that were apparently all included. Yay for that.

We had one stop in the middle to use toilets (aka holes in the ground) and buy snacks if we wanted before getting back on the bus.

The only other stop we made was at the border. I was a bit scared because the border guard just took my passport from me and left the bus. He was going to get it stamped, but for a moment I was afraid I wasn’t going to get it back since I was one of the few non EU people on the bus.

Thankfully he did bring it back with a new stamp making it clear that I’d been to Greece! Yay for more passport stamps.

Now the last part is the confusing one. I’m pretty sure I got off at the wrong stop.

The bus did stop a few places to pick up passengers, but the driver never said anything.

In Thessaloniki (yes I could see on the map on my phone) the driver turned and said something. Since I could see we were in the town, albeit about fifteen minutes early I climbed off, even though most passengers appeared to still be sitting there.

Well, the bus station that I’d googled prior to arriving was maybe a 3 kilometer walk from my hostel. That wasn’t ideal but was doable. With the holiday I knew it was unlikely I’d be able to get a bus. The station I was at was much further, so not possibly walkable, or at least not if I wanted time and energy to see the city.

Thankfully I had a list of directions for a taxi driver, so they were able to understand where I needed to go. So I opted to just grab a cab.

It wasn’t exorbitant and saved me time so I was glad I’d done it when the driver dropped me at the bottom of the road my hostel was on.

 

I climbed up the steps to Little Big House, the most adorable hostel I’ve ever stayed in. It was perched up in this quiet little neighborhood on a hill overlooking the city. When I went inside it got even better. One of the women running it greeted me. She made me a coffee on the house (iced after my long climb) and then walked me through all there was to see in the city before taking me up to my room.

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I sunscreened and changed into a skirt to be a little cooler. In Greece most women don’t wear shorts, but you see plenty of tourists doing it anyways. But for my first few days there I did try to be authentic and dress more modestly. Makes it easier if you want to go into any churches too.

Ready for the sun and heat I set out to walk further up the hill to the Trigonian Tower, a part of ramparts surrounding the city. I admired the views and walked over to a church that was supposedly founded by the Apostle Paul. It wasn’t open, but I enjoyed walking around the outside.

Since it was a holiday, most things were closed, but the fun thing was there were a lot of people out and about. There was music and just a variety of things going on in the city. I enjoyed seeing some of that along the walls and down at Pasha’s Gardens, which weren’t all that pretty but did have nice atmosphere with lots of people gathering. I snapped some photos and walked down the hill towards the city center.

There was a free tour leaving from the rotunda, so I opted to join that. There were only a few other people there, and I soon discovered why. It’s probably the worst free tour I’ve ever had. Not really all that interesting, kind of mundane all in all. I knew it was bad when most people just skipped out at the end instead of leaving a tip.

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Still it did show me some of the major parts of the city that weren’t open at the time anyways. So that was good.

Afterwards I headed back up the hill to a place where I remembered my hostel had said was good food. On top of having really good cuisine, they also had a lovely view of the city. As the sun was going down I was able to watch and then see the lights go on for the city walls.

A cat came to join me for dinner, they are all over Greece, so I soon became used to them, but I thought it was amusing at the time.

I had stuffed grape leaves for an appetizer, and then a plate of meatballs and potatoes with a yogurt sauce. And they even brought me a small dessert free of charge at the end (apparently this is common in a lot of restaurants… or at least the ones I visited). All in all I was quite pleased.

I headed back to my hostel to relax for the rest of the evening. Had some good conversations with two of my roommates from Germany and Belgium. It’s always awesome to meet fellow travelers from all over the place.

A Stay in Sofia

So what do you do when flights to Greece are ridiculously expensive? You fly to Sofia and take the bus. Already mentioned that of course, but thought I’d say it again. I love Google Flights, gives good info on cheaper options in other cities nearby. And in Europe, it’s not too hard to get from place to place.

Anyhow, my night was restless. The hostel I was in mistakenly booked me in a mixed room even though I’d requested an all female one. Not a big deal for me in the long run, but somehow I managed to be paired with this guy who had the loudest and noisiest sleep I have ever heard in all my life. And I had earplugs in. As I always do in hostels today.

It was like something between and a moan and a yell and a scream. Good lord, just such a ridiculous noise that made it very hard to sleep. And made my awakening in the morning all the worse when I had to get up at 5:15.

I threw on clothes as quietly as I could and grabbed my stuff. Headed out of the hostel and down to the train station where I caught my shuttle to the Brussels Charleroi Airport.

After 45 minutes we got there, I headed in praying that my bag would be small enough.

I was flying Wizz Air. And while they had cheap airline prices, their baggage prices were disturbing. Basically you can take something that fits under the seat for free, and otherwise you have to pay. So I packed a backpack, praying that no one would question it. Honestly, some days it’s hit or miss with the airport.

I watched the lady behind the desk force people to jam their baggage into the sizers and worried that I was going to have to pay…probably more now that I was at the airport itself.

Thankfully the lady who checked me in didn’t glance twice at my clearly a little too big backpack. She wrapped a checked sticker around it and sent me through the gate.

I had an overpriced coffee and some breakfast items before I headed over to go through passport control. And then it was just waiting. Waiting in the seating area. Waiting in the line. Waiting to get on the plane. Waiting for everyone to be seated. My word, got to love flying.

I arrived at Sofia around 12:30. I figured that would give me plenty of time to enjoy the city for a day. I always forget that I hate flying for a reason.

Sure…in the long run you might spend an hour on a plane versus 5 hours on a train or a bus. However, you have to get to the airport (minus an hour), you need time to go through security (minus at least 2 hours) and then the flight time, and then when you arrive you might get to do customs again (minus an hour), figure out new transportation systems (minus 30 minutes) and then get into the city itself (since airports on the fringe… minus 30 minutes).

So yup I wasted a lot of my time flying sadly. Hence why I arrived in Sofia around 2 after going through the long passport control lines, searching vainly for a working ATM, trying to figure out where to buy bus tickets only to give up and take a shuttle over to the other airport terminal so I could take the metro.

I will say, Sofia Terminal 1 is a disaster. Messy and old and gross. The second terminal seems more cleaned up and it also does have a metro line attached making for easy transfers to the city (honestly I avoid buses if I can…they’re just too confusing sometimes!).

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I arrived at my hostel called Hostel Mostel around 2 and checked in. They were super welcoming, offering me tea and coffee and then sitting me down to walk me through the things to do and see in the city, what times breakfast and dinner were, the free tours and pub crawls, and restaurant recommendations. Super sweet and helpful, especially after a long and tiring morning.

 

After a little bit of relaxing I headed out to see a bit more of the city. I had initially wanted to do the Boyana Church, a UNESCO site slightly outside of the city center. With a little more time I also would have loved to get up to the Rila Monastery, another famous place located a ways outside of Sofia.

However, with the limited time I had, especially thanks to the long transfers from the airport, I ended up having to cut down on my list of things I wanted to do even more than I initially had thought I would.

So I set out to just walk around a bit. I knew I probably would have time to make it to museums, but honestly I was just weary and worried I wouldn’t pay that much attention anyways. So I walked over to the large parks and the theatre that were very pretty with flowers and fountains and some memorials to those killed under communism and such.

 

It began raining shortly after that, so I ducked into a grocery store to buy some snacks. I ate some of those walking back to my hostel where I spent a little time hiding from the rain.

After that I headed over to the palace of justice where I knew a free tour would take off from. I’m not plugging these for the millionth time, so if you’re curious just read earlier posts and you’ll know my opinion on these.

Our local Bulgarian guide led us around some of the main parts of the old town, showing us the ancient ruins of Serdica, and the old churches and monuments. Even where locals still get water from the natural hot springs, and walked us right past the presidency during the changing of the guard! All in all I was pretty pleased and felt like I had a nice overview of the city in a short time.

 

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After the tour finished I asked for a restaurant recommendation. It was almost eight, so I was hoping restaurants would begin clearing out a bit after the busy times and I could easily get a table.

He pointed me in the direction of something he liked and I headed towards it.

I am not sure exactly what happened, but the place I found that matched his directions looked…empty? Like I followed the signs to the “restaurant” and went in a back door of a building but couldn’t find anything there? And no sign of a menu posted either, so I abandoned that pursuit.

Anyhow, I followed my hostels directions to another place that was supposed to be good for their Bulgarian cuisine. The waitress who greeted me told me that they were full until after 10. As I had no desire to wait that long I thanked her and was on my way.

The only other Bulgarian place the hostel had recommended me was a mile walk, and I was worried they’d be full too.

See I’d forgotten something about the weekend. It was the day before May 1st.

Now Americans are likely scratching their heads and going “May Day”?

No, labor day. Well the European one at least. Meaning lots of people have the day off work and are free to travel, especially since it fell on a weekend (well three day weekend) this year.

So restaurants were crowded. I walked down Vitosha Boulevard, a famous main street looking at the restaurants. Most weren’t even Bulgarian food, but most looked crowded and again there weren’t menus to check for options and prices.

I checked another Bulgarian place and they told me they were full completely for the night. The couple ahead of me made a reservation for the next day. Just completely insane.

So in desperation to get a warm meal I ended up peaking into an Italian place that didn’t look overly crowded.

I had a Bulgarian beer and a bowl of mushroom risotto. It wasn’t anything fancy or special, but sometimes you just have to eat.

I left around 9:30 and headed back to my hostel for the night.

A Brief Stay in Brussels

What’s up! So if you read my previous post you have some idea of my itinerary but for any who didn’t I’m making my way down to Greece with a few detours on the way. Brussels was the first of my detours.

I’ve covered this in other posts but I’ll say it again. The good news is in Europe if your local airport has no cheap or convenient flight options it’s not that hard or expensive to get transport to another nearby city and fly out of there! Which is why rather than just flying out of Lille I opted to head to Brussels.

Now normally when I fly from this city I just take the shuttle directly from Lille to the airport. Quite easy all in all.

However in order to make my flight which was at 9 in the morning… I would have to either stay in Lille or find another flight. Because there aren’t trains from my town down to Lille so early in the morning, especially on Sunday.

So since I had lived on the Belgian border for a year and had still not been to see Brussels (other than the airport) I opted to go a day early and stay the night there so I could easily make my flight.

Now I opted to leave my stuff in the boarding school I was living in. After all, it would have been expensive not to mention annoying having to drag a year’s worth of stuff all over Europe.

With a backpack in hand I set out by train to Brussels.

I arrived to find it sunny and beautiful. I checked into my hostel a bit early before heading out.

I’d opted to stay in BRXXL5 a modern hostel close to the station. It was a bit over my normal budget, but I figured it was worth a little extra sleep. All in all the place was nice. Clean and modern. You could buy breakfast but I was leaving too early. My only issue is that they put me in a mixed room instead of an all female one like I paid for, but by the time I’d realized the mistake I had already left.

Anyhow after leaving my things I took off for the museums I wanted to see.

I started with the fine arts museum. It is essentially a collection of four different periods all in one giant building. You can pick one in particular or you can buy a joint ticket and see all four. I opted for the joint, especially since it was only 3 euros for people under 25!!!

All in all it was a pretty impressive collection, a maze of different rooms to wander through including 8 basement floors filled with works from the 18 and 1900s.

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After spending almost 2 hours there I opted to cut out and head over to the Musical Instrument Museum a block away.

The museum was quite fun. There weren’t a lot of signs in English but mostly it was just interesting to see the instruments themselves and also listen! They provided audio guides that would play music for you when you wanted to know what a particular instrument sounded like!

It was a very interesting collection and housed in a gorgeous building too. Definitely worth checking out.

 

I walked over to the palace and the large park beside it. Snapped a few photos before going over to the Mont des Arts and then walking down the hill towards the Grand Place.

 

It’s a UNESCO heritage sight so I figured it might be worth checking out on my trip. I didn’t plan to spend a long time, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to do a little bit of typical tourist sightseeing.

I dropped by and snapped a few photos before heading off towards another equally famous sight. The Manneken Pis, the ridiculous statue that has ended up becoming a symbol of the city.

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Oh my goodness it was so absurdly crowded around the statue it wasn’t even funny. I snapped my photo and ran, not wanting anything to do with such awful crowds.

I headed back to my hostel to ask for a dinner recommendation. Now I will clarify I did ask for something close, and being a hostel sometimes they do tend to assume it should be something budget. So I was recommended a group of fastfood places a few blocks from the hostel.

One was a Thai place called Thai Wok. And as I was pretty hungry and didn’t mind something cheap, I figured I’d go there. Honestly, from what I’ve seen Belgium doesn’t seem to have a huge sense of their own cuisine, so yes most times when I’m there I’ve had Asian food. Now yes, I bet there are fantastic Belgian restaurants in Brussels if you’re looking, but honestly I just needed food.

So yup settled for cheap Asian. It was decent, nothing special, and definitely lacking the flavor of most American Asian dishes.

I walked a bit more, grabbed a waffle for fun (even though my Belgian friend assures me they are tourist food only) and then headed back to my hostel for an early night. After all, I had a really early morning coming so I wanted sleep.

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So that was it for me! My great Brussels adventure! Maybe someday I’ll come back to see more, but for a day I felt like I saw some highlights and enjoyed the beauty and history and culture the city had to offer.

The Greek- Or Not So Greek- Adventure

Technically my Inspirock lists my trip as 13 days in “Europe” since it can’t quite seem to figure out what region I’m really going to, so it is possible Greek Adventure isn’t the best title for this collection, but I really don’t care. There’s not much more I can think to add. The Odyssey? To be honest, I am headed home after a long time away so that might be more accurate.

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Yes, my year in Europe has drawn to a close, so this is sort of a last hurrah before I head off. Sad to say I only have a little less than two weeks. I wish I’d given myself more, but when I booked the ticket I wasn’t sure how much time or motivation I’d have to travel. Today I’m much less afraid than I used to be. So if I had been given more time to travel I would have taken it.

Nonetheless, here is a little about what you can expect in the upcoming posts.

So, to begin with even though I’ve lived right beside Belgium for most of the year, I have not visited Belgium’s capital. So I decided to begin the journey in Brussels! Well, that was part of the decision…it was also that my flight that morning left at 9 AM, which wasn’t ideal for coming from Lille. So instead it would be easier to just stay the night there before flying out.

Now in terms of flying down to Greece, it really just became a price game. And the cheapest flight down there… Sofia.

Which isn’t Greece… it’s Bulgaria.

So yes, I’m going to spend a night in Bulgaria as well to help cut the costs a bit and see a bit more of Europe.

From there I take a bus down to Thessaloniki for a night to see a little of Greece’s second biggest city.

And then I’ll fly out to what I was told I had to see in Greece, which was the islands.

Now yes, there are ferries to and from the islands. However, I never found any that were reasonably priced, and from reading online it sounds like those that are maybe take quite a bit of time. Again, something to look into if you’re going to Greece.

So for me the smartest, and actually cheapest option was to fly. Sounds a bit unbelievable but it is true.

So a flight down to Crete where I would spend two nights and then a ferry (yes a splurge) over to Santorini for two nights before flying to Athens for two nights. Then I would fly back to Brussels, catch a train over to Lille to grab my stuff and spend one final night in the Internat (boarding school) before I headed off to Paris where I’d spend one night before my flight. So yes, you can see why this trip is “13 days in Europe” instead of the neat Greek Adventure I wanted.

It’s going to be a bit crazy but with some luck everything should be great and I’ll have a fantastic time!

(To avoid feeling deceptive I’ll admit this post was written months ago and I ran out of time to post before I left…so yes all of these adventures have already happened even if they are written in a way that sounds in the moment).

A Final Night in London

“Every traveler has a home of his own, and he learns to appreciate it the more from his wandering.”
Charles Dickens

So it was my last day in Bath…technically my last in England actually. I had a little bit of time before my train so I decided to head out to see one last thing before I left. That being the place that is so me I cannot even possibly express it…

The fashion museum.

Friends of mine might laugh since they know I’m not usually overly invested in clothes. However, this was a highly rated museum in Bath, and since I had some time to kill I figured it couldn’t hurt to check out what the place had to offer.

So I headed over at ten thirty to go in.

It’s a little pricey, but once you get in you at least get a free audioguide that walks you through over a hundred articles of clothing! The audioguide gives you 100 different summaries of the various pieces of clothing, starting from the sixteen hundreds up until the modern era. Anything not covered has signs.

 

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However, my favorite part of the museum was the section where you could try on some costumes of your own! I admit I’m a sucker for things like this.

I tried putting one on myself but was stopped by a sweet museum worker who offered to tie me up so the dress would look right and then even took some photos of me, even though he clearly had no idea how to work an iphone.

After deleting the 120 extra photos he’d taken due to holding the button, I was left with a few cute options of me in the dress, feeling very Jane Austen.

Speaking of Austen, for any lovers of this classic writer, there is a museum in town about her. However, I am not a super fan by any means, and I’d also heard that it’s more tourist trap than anything. However, I’ll still throw a mention out for any readers looking to plan a trip to Bath.

Once I was done at the fashion museum I headed back to my hostel to pick up my bags before heading to the train station.

I took a train to London. It was less than 20 pounds and faster than a bus would have been (about an hour and a half) so a good deal in my opinion. Again, you can find a variety of options if you’re looking.

I arrived in Paddington Station where I took the tube over to King’s Cross.

As a bit of Harry Potter fan I stopped over at Platform 9 and ¾ just to see it. The last time I’d been in King’s Cross I was only nine…which means the “platform” hadn’t been built yet.

Sadly the line to do a photo and the price (10 pounds for one) was what kept me from going ahead and getting myself a Potterhead souvenir.

I glanced around before heading down to my hostel.

I’d decided to stay at Clink78. It had good reviews, was close to St. Pancras and King’s Cross (making for easy tube access and even easier train access for my morning train), and as a Dickens fan I was delighted to learn it had been a courthouse where he had worked at one point.

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All in all I’d give the place a pretty good rating. It had nice facilities, a fun location, was very safe, and clean for the most part. Needed more chargers in the rooms, but in an old building that’s understandable. Nonetheless great character for a hostel and a decent location!

I didn’t have much time so I had one thing I knew I wanted to hit up before I left London.

Many of you might list the typical London tourist attractions. Honestly, I considered doing the V & A, but it was a bit too far from my hostel for the time limit I had. And I’ve seen most of the other major monuments.

So that left something a bit more exotic. Something perfect for a little English nerd like myself.

The Charles Dickens museum.

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I fell in love with Dickens when I was fifteen and read A Tale of Two Cities. Well actually, that’s foolish because I know the first time I read A Tale of Two Cities I quickly realized how challenging Dickens could be. I mean…the first “paragraph” is actually a single sentence. So, you quickly learn that Dickens can be a bit wordy and a bit hard to work through at times. But nonetheless I find his stories wonderful and his characters entertaining and his prose delightful.

So if I was looking for something near my hostel, that I hadn’t done before, that I thought might be quick and easy the Dickens museum was just that.

It’s set in one of his old houses over on Doughty Street. There the staff have set up the rooms with largely original furnishings and a pamphlet that walks you through the rooms explaining the items that are displayed and talking about Dickens life. I learned a lot that I hadn’t known before, about his ten children, his separation with his wife, his sister in law’s death, his father’s time in debtors prison. He was a very interesting man and led a life that in many ways makes sense when you read his stories.

 

I was notably impressed to learn that he’d championed for writer’s rights in trying to establish copyright. Very interesting that, especially from a writer’s perspective.

After spending maybe an hour tops at the museum, (it is quite small) I headed back to my hostel to shower and change. After all, I had a very special engagement.

I had tickets to the theatre.

Yes, again this is a section where I stress that while I could write on budget travel, these aren’t really your posts. I was quite splurgy this trip, and this was no exception.

Now, at a time that’s not really busy, especially on a week night, especially for a less popular production, it is possible that you could try to wait to get discounted tickets the night of. My family did this for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when I was a child, and then again for Mary Poppins when I was fourteen. However, on a Friday night during spring vacation I knew that the best possible plan to get the tickets I wanted was to book in advance, and likely have to suffer staring at my credit card bill with a bit of dread later in the month (use credit responsibly readers… I promise I have enough in my bank account to cover it).

So, I’d searched all over London to try to get a ticket to a Shakespeare production. Sadly the only one I could find was the one playing at the Globe, which was sold out for the night I wanted. Otherwise, the city appeared to be Shakespeare free for the month of April. Anything I might have wanted to see was either ending before I arrived or starting after I left. So I had to abandon the thought of seeing more of my favorite play write and turned to musicals instead.

Which is how I ended up with a ticket to Les Mis.

Not very British of course, but nonetheless I figured it would be spectacular to see on stage and it is one of my favorites. Plus the tickets while not cheap were at least for an “unblocked” seat unlike some of the other plays I surveyed the tickets for.

So yes, I showered and dressed up a bit (not compulsory for the theatre today mind you but something I still enjoy) and headed off to King’s Cross where I caught a train down to Leicester Square.

Now, I knew the area would probably be busy. Friday night, in a theatre district… well that was just asking for trouble.

As a lone person usually I don’t have too much trouble finding a table somewhere, especially when I’m not being picky, so I wasn’t too worried.

However, arriving around six (later than I had anticipated) I found that every single restaurant I passed looked incredibly full.

In a bit of a desperate state I wandered a few streets until I saw a place that listed takeaway. It sounded like it might be a quick option, and if nothing else I figured maybe I could take food with me and eat at the square or something.

I glanced in and noticed it had a few tables open.

First mistake.

I walked in and asked to be seated. As I was hungry and running out of time, I decided to ignore warning signs about the place.

For any wanting to be warned off of a restaurant here is my advice. Firstly, never go into a place that is mostly empty when everywhere else is full. Secondly, never go to La Roche in London. It’s terrible.

Well I ordered fish and chips and a lemonade (described as fresh squeezed). I figured even if it wasn’t good at least it would be filling, and the prices certainly weren’t abhorrent.

As I sat there the rest of the tables filled up, likely with other theatre people looking to find a quick bite to eat.

My lemonade came. It had a layer of foam on the top.

Now… as someone who makes lemonade in the summer I have some idea what it’s supposed to look and taste like. Seeing foam on the top of a non-carbonated beverage is disturbing to say the least. There was a swirl of green inside, and I realized they’d put mint into the beverage.

Now mint isn’t really a problem in lemonade. It can be quite refreshing actually. But these were tiny little bits of mint that hadn’t been advertised and were impossible to avoid giving the drink a weird texture. On top of that the drink was seriously watered down, just kind of a hint of lemony pulp floating in water with no sugar.

I didn’t finish my drink. A rarity for someone like me who usually isn’t overly picky.

Well again, I bit my lip and decided to deal with it.

However, about twenty minutes later there was still no sign of my food. I was willing to be patient, but I did need to make sure I didn’t miss my show.

And then to my shock the couple who had sat down and ordered after me were served their meal.

A sinking feeling started in my stomach, and I suddenly was worried that the waitress hadn’t heard my order.

I called her over and clarified and she said she had heard it, and I motioned to the couple and explained that I was confused then why they had been served before me even though I’d arrived first. (to clarify they had fish and chips as well…which made no sense).

Thankfully the waitress was somewhat helpful and went and asked the chef. But still it was quite frustrating, especially when I was in a rush.

Tasteless fish and really oily bland fries appeared for me which I wolfed down. I was definitely not pleased and left a rather nasty review on tripadvisor.

Notes to others- give yourself time to find a meal before going to the theatre, or eat in another neighborhood, or make reservations, or just never go into a restaurant that looks deserted.

Well, in spite of all that disappointment I managed to head off to the theatre, my excitement coming back as I got closer.

I retrieved my tickets and headed up up up to the final level in the last row (besides the standing room only one behind it). So yes, nothing fancy, but still a seat and one where I could see a majority of the stage.

After taking a few photos of the theatre I settled into my seat. As the curtains came up I was launched into the performance of Les Mis I could have only dreamed about.

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I could rant about the performance for hours, but I won’t. I’ll simply say that it had a rotating stage which was used very cleverly to produce a sense of time passing and to show other things happening in other places. Showing Valjean walking into the world to try to find a job and people passing him by, or having the barricade turned around so you could see the other side and watch as Gavroche died trying to pickpocket some of the men (oh…spoilers…sorry). Very cleverly done. The barricades were brilliant because they took a set that had already been built for the café ABC and tipped it over, still making it useable and functional due to how it had been built. And then the acting and singing were lovely as well of course. But again, you don’t need a lengthy rant.

After the performance finished up I took the tube back over to King’s Cross. The area was still pretty lively even at 10 in the evening. So I noted that Five Guys Burger and Fries was open! Now, I love Five Guys food and haven’t had it since I left the US. I also was still kind of hungry after the abysmal meal and thought it might be nice to get something to eat. So I picked up a cherry shake (like a proper firm ice cream shake…not the watery nonsense that the continent calls shakes) and then headed back to my hostel.

I drank the shake sitting in the old courtroom that had been renovated into a social area. Really cool to see! I peeked in at the other places, especially the “jail cells” that are apparently now rooms?!?

Afterwards it was up to bed for the night.

I’ll leave my account of the adventures here with a short tag below about the journey home. I don’t think that’s really exciting enough to merit it’s own post but I will mention it so you know what happened and get another traveler warning.

I set out pretty early to catch my train home. I dumped my remaining pound coins into a homeless man’s cup (because they were no use to me anymore anyways) and grabbed some coffee.

Now I travel on trains on continental Europe all the time, but I didn’t really know a lot about taking them between England and the rest of Europe. So I went and looked at the screen that was supposed to list my train platform, assuming I would need to wait for that as I usually did.

DO NOT make my mistake. If you are traveling between England and the rest of Europe, go to the check in area of St. Pancras before your gate is even posted. As long as your train is listed on the screens there you can go through the security process.

Not as strict as the airport, but you still have to run things through the scanners and go through the metal detectors and then of course hand over your passport for inspection.

I just was annoyed because I’d bought coffee not thinking about this issue of having to go through security so suddenly I had to chug it before tossing it in the garbage, and I couldn’t find a garbage can anywhere! It’s likely a security measure or something, but it still seems ridiculous to me that in a public area with food vendors they don’t have waste bins.

I got in line and went through but was concerned because my train was leaving shortly.

I was lucky and managed to not miss my train. I think I freaked some of the train staff out because I ran up to the platform and demanded to know which carriage I was in. However, I did make it and climbed into my seat.

Sadly the train I was on didn’t have wifi or chargers (as opposed to the really cheap one I’d taken from Bath to London).

Well I sat back and relaxed for an hour and a half and then before I knew it I was in Lille, stepping out into the station and heading off to catch a train back to Armentieres.

Traveling to these places was wonderful, and I’m so glad I had the chance to. I will say they didn’t soften the ache I have for home still. Sure, English, tap water, and American chains are all lovely things that I miss. But there is more familiarity still in the place I’ve lived most of my life.

Being able to travel is truly remarkable. It gives you new perspectives on yourself, on the world, on others. But I do appreciate how great it can be to get home after a long time away and simply appreciate it all the more.

Exploring Ancient Mysteries- A Trip to Stonehenge

“The world was to me a secret which I desired to devine.”
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley

My morning in Bath was actually interrupted by a day trip to another famous site. You see, one of the most famous of the U.K.’s memorials was something I hadn’t yet seen. And I was eager to check it off my to do list.

Stonehenge.

Now, to get to Stonehenge without your own car is apparently a bit tricky. You have to get a train down to Salisbury, the nearest town, and then some kind of a shuttle to the sight. I honestly read a few reviews about getting there and someone suggested that a bus tour was often just the easiest and most time efficient way to do it.

So for any looking for advice, let me say that there is transport there but I don’t know how to go about it, because in my opinion sometimes a little money is worth it to save yourself time. After all, time is money doubly so when you’re traveling.

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I used Scarper Tours. It had good reviews and was one leaving from Bath. Obviously there are others you could do from London as well since it’s between the two cities.

Regardless the small bus took me and a group of about a dozen people through the winding countryside, with the driver pointing out sights along the way. We reached Stonehenge in a little under an hour and our guide went to grab our tickets and audioguides, which took maybe five minutes tops, probably less. So all in all quite convenient and efficient.

Now, from the visitor’s center there are buses going out to the stones, although you can walk as well. I should point out that for anyone who doesn’t want to spend a long time looking at the stones you could simply rent a car and drive out to them and park a good distance away and still see them. My family did a similar thing when visiting Pont du Gard in France many years ago.

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To be honest, they keep you back quite a distance from the stones anyways. It’s understandable as this is an archaeological site that is highly visited, and as a result has begun to deteriorate. So yes, you cannot walk up to them, but still can get decent photos and the like.

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Honestly, I’ve seen a few ancient rock formations. I mentioned the ones I’d seen outside of Evora in a previous blog. I have also seen quite a few around Carnac in France, which has way more stones even if they’re not quite as big and not carved or set a top like they are in Stonehenge.

I’m not saying it’s not worth visiting. It is a very interesting place, and indeed is quite fascinating in its unknown origins and the like. However, I think there are other sites that can give you a sense of the same idea without charging an exorbitant rate, and forcing you to stand at a large distance with a crowd of other people.

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Unfortunately my audioguide stopped working partway through, but honestly I didn’t care all that much. I considered walking back to the visitor’s center instead of taking the shuttle, but as I had a time limit to be back to my bus, I didn’t want to take too long.

I then went in the visitor’s center, which was much smaller than I would have expected given what a popular landmark this is. I suppose they just don’t have enough information to fill it, but it was a bit underwhelming all in all.

I’m glad I can say I’ve been to Stonehenge, but I’d say of the things I saw on my trip it was probably one of the least impressive. Honestly Bath or the beautiful city of Edinburgh are much more interesting in my mind.

From there I headed back to Bath, again about an hour drive. The driver dropped us off and I rushed off to get tea! Yes, I do love tea so I wanted to have some that afternoon.

And where better to go than the oldest house in Bath, the Sally Lunn house that still sells her famous buns.

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Basically these are just delicious rolls that are the size of a saucer.

I settled on having the high tea. It was fairly reasonably priced as you had both tea, a dessert bun, and a savory one as well. Sadly you didn’t get to choose your flavor for the combo…so I was stuck with the smoked salmon. I’ll just go ahead and admit I’m not a big fish person, especially when the fish is more…raw in texture?

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The bun was delicious and the tea was lovely, but I admit I regretted my choice on the salmon. So yes, don’t be an idiot like me and make sure you order something you know you’ll like.

The dessert one with jam and clotted cream was even more delicious. I wolfed it down and then enjoyed my tea.

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My phone was dying so I decided to peak into the museum downstairs before heading off to my hostel to recharge.

The museum is quite small, so I wouldn’t advise going out of your way to see it, even if it is free. However, again the eatery is quite fun so if you’re up for it it’s not a bad place to stop in for a quick bite and some tea.

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After charging my phone it was getting a little bit later. I was worried most of the museums would be closing up, so I decided to do something open to the public instead. I headed to one of the parks in town and notably the Royal Crescent.

So I mentioned the Circus in a post previously. The Crescent is similar in being a rounded series of Georgian homes, with very beautiful architecture.

However, at the end of the crescent there is also a museum known as Number One Royal Crescent.

It’s essentially just supposed to show what the wealthy lived like in Georgian England, and as Bath is famous for its wealthy visitors (think Jane Austen’s descriptions of high society), it seemed an appropriate thing to do.

I checked in to see how late it was open. The lady at the front desk was a little short with me, and I almost turned away, but it was open for another hour so I decided to pay and go in. If you’re in Bath for a while it would be worth investigating saver tickets to get into multiple places. As I wasn’t sure how much I would be doing, I didn’t purchase these but it would be a nice deal if you’re looking to do more than one museum.

Inside the house the hosts showed me around the different rooms. Sadly none of the furniture or fixings are really original, so if you’re looking for that authenticity you won’t find it in this house. They did do good research on what the house would have looked like back in the day though, so it all is quite authentic, even if it lacks the true historic preservation.

You wander through the various rooms of the house and different staff members clue you in on interesting things in the room and can answer questions if need be. They also provide little pamphlets that give you  more information about the rooms use and the various furnishings.

All in all I had a good time and enjoyed it. I’d say if you’re looking for something to do in Bath this is well worth it.

With the time I had left I decided to head over to the Botanical Garden and see if it was open to the public (and hopefully free).

Just my luck it was open to six and didn’t charge! It’s a quite small garden, but very pretty and tranquil. If you’re looking to just relax for a bit and enjoy nature, it’s a good place to see! And again, free so you can make up for splurging on the spa.

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After wandering for a bit I headed back towards town to get some food.

I settled at a place called Bills that had really reasonable 3 course meal setup for the early evening. I decided to go with that, treating myself to a cocktail and then having some meat skewers, fish, and to finish off a plate of donuts!

After finishing dinner I headed back to my hostel for the night.