Category Archives:Reviews

Contiki Europe: What it’s really like

It’s pretty much an Australian rite of passage that at some point in your 20’s you will jump on a Contiki tour bus, see way more countries than thought possible in a short amount of time, drink copious amounts of alcohol all while claiming to your friends and family back home that you are ‘finding yourself’.

contiki europe review

In 2014, 6 months after I had just turned 18, I headed off on my first big trip away from home and as scary as it was, I felt comfort that I was part of an organised tour and did not have to worry about where  was going to sleep each night.

The Contiki tour I went on was called European Contrasts and it saw us travel to 13 countries over 29 days.

I won’t lie and say I wasn’t tired or sick or hungover pretty much every day but contrary to belief, you actually do a lot more than drink! I had the best experience of my life in Europe and if you’re thinking of doing a Contiki tour soon, here’s my favourite things about these famous tours!

It’s not just all Aussies!

A big misconception is that you’ll be put on a tour with 50 other Australian’s which will feel like you never left home.

Although there is a big chance over a third of the tour will be from Australia, Contiki is also very popular with Americans, Canadians and Kiwi’s as well as people from the UK and even other European countries.

The range is normally quite diverse which is cool because then you get to make friends all over the world and you’ll never know when you’ll find yourself needing a bed to crash on in the future.

Everything is organised for you but the freedom is still there!

contiki europe review

When you book a tour, you get the advantage of knowing everything is booked and paid for and you can then focus instead on deciding if you’ll have pizza or pasta for dinner in Italy (the answer is always both btw) rather than how you’re gonna get from London to Paris.

However, each day you have the opportunity to choose what you want to do with extra optional activities that are provided or not provided.

You want to go paragliding in Austria, go ahead! If that’s not your thing, no problems! Our tour guide kept telling us, ‘it’s your holiday, you decide what you want to do’!

The themed parties.

Toga, tight white and bright, P party, just to name a few! Because Contiki own a lot of their accommodation around Europe, there is often plenty of time for themed parties! These are the best fun because where else in Europe could you seriously dress completely different and head to a club? Nowhere!

At the Contiki accommodation, there are often multiple tours staying here at the same time giving you a chance to party with new people every night in hilarious costumes!contiki europe review toga party

AMAZING SIGHTS with express entries!

Ever visited somewhere and been overwhelmed with what to do and where to go while you’re there? I know I always want to make the most of my time and have trouble fitting everything in.

On Contiki, you always get to see the best and most incredible sights and attractions of each city. This means you won’t have to choose between Vatican City and the Colosseum because it’s a definite you will get to experience both!

Also, because you are on a tour, this often means express entry. Say goodbye to waiting in lines for hours (let’s be honest, ain’t nobody got time for that) and say hello to more time eating gelato!

Lastly, Contiki is the perfect taste of Europe!

Basically, you have 1-2 full days in a city then the next day will be a travel day with stops along the way. This is the perfect way to see all the major sites and discover the countries you want to explore further on your next trip.

contiki europe review

You also learn the places you don’t want to go back to in future (Liechtenstein I’m looking at you).

Some people don’t like the idea of being rushed so if this is you, maybe look at tours that don’t stop in so many countries however I felt most cities we has adequate enough time to see and do everything (apart from Paris that is, you can never have enough time in Paris!) For those first timers to Europe, Contiki is the way to go!

If you are thinking of doing a Contiki tour and have any questions, please comment below! Or have you done a Contiki and think I’ve missed something, would love to hear from you too!

Flying Jetstar Melbourne to Honolulu

It was almost a year ago that I bought $350 return flights to Honolulu as part of Jetstar’s promotion of its new direct Melbourne to Honolulu route (a steal, I know!). After adding on luggage (I needed lots for all the shopping I had planned!), this price neared $500, but I’m still not complaining.

After two sunny, shopping-filled weeks exploring the Hawaiian islands, I write this blog post as I’m returning home. Reluctantly, I might add. I’ll go into greater detail about my trip in later blog posts, but for now I’ll just give you a quick review of my Jetstar experience.

Despite such cheap flights (typically you can fly Melbourne to Honolulu for around $1,000 on Jetstar), I have no complaints about any part of my journey. The planes left on time both ways and there were no issues checking in.

Jetstar Jump
My 100th attempt at a Jetstar jump….

One thing that amazed me though, was when we arrived at Melbourne airport my boyfriend and I were one of only a handful of people who had checked in online prior to leaving home. The queue for web check-in took around 5-10 minutes to get through, whereas the main queue was as long as airport queues come (and any frequent flyer will know how long that is!). So, bear this in mind next time you fly.

The most unexpected part of the trip was getting aboard the flight and having USB ports and in-seat TV screens. I’m used to seeing these on airlines such as Singapore, QANTAS etc., but didn’t expect it on a budget airline. Big brownie points from me! Although unfortunately I didn’t know about this option beforehand, otherwise I would have loaded up on movies on my iPad or USB drive; you can even open documents, photos and videos on the in-seat screen at no charge.

For $20 you can purchase inflight entertainment, which isn’t badly priced considering it offers a whole range of the latest movies, TV shows, music albums and plenty of games to play – especially ideal for restless kids.

We refrained from buying the entertainment, but did briefly amuse ourselves with the free seat-to-seat chat function. The novelty wore off quite quickly though!

The flight was just over 10.5 hours heading there, and 11 hours on the way back. The flight back, however, didn’t have the in-seat TV units – but you could still hire iPads loaded with the same entertainment options.

Personally, I think that where you sit on a plane is crucial to how good or downright bloody awful your flight can be (think people kicking your chair, screaming kids and being wedged between two strangers), so I didn’t hesitate to pay the $7 or so each way that Jetstar charges to choose your seats (premium seats, such as emergency exits are more expensive). Get in fast though, because you won’t be the only one with that idea.

My preference? Back row, window seats. You might be last off, but you eliminate the risk of having bad ‘seat-buddies’ behind you, there’s easy access to the toilets (essential if you enjoy a sneaky pre-holiday beverage) and it’s just that little bit more cosy 🙂

So ‘mahalo’ Jetstar for making the first and last part of my holiday a breeze! I even did my own cliche Jetstar jump in recognition 😉

Melbourne’s Fiesta in your Mouth – Los Hermanos Taqueria

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs the sun makes its daily westward pilgrimage, a warm breeze plays in the dusky streets inspiring leaves to dance freely through the air. Brick buildings toss out their lengthy end of day shadows with ease. Exuberant notes from a distant accordion bounce alongside subtle vibrations plucked from a lonely guitar, gently beckoning the weary traveller. Intriguing aromas levitate the senses, luring you to a fiesta of flavour deep in the heart of Melbourne’s nightlife hot-spot known as Brunswick. Specializing in authentic Mexican cuisine, with a focus on simple yet addictive tacos, Los Hermanos will transport you halfway around the world one dish at a time.

In a city known for its culinary diversity, it can be overwhelming to pick a place to dine while on holiday. Los Hermanos stands apart from the crowd with its ingenious and unique recipes that restaurateur Bruno Carreto searched far and wide across the Mexican countryside for. Born in Mexico City, Carreto shares with Melbourne a genuine taste of his homeland. Once through the doors the friendly and warm atmosphere will envelope you and with single plate dishes it’s easy to enjoy an evening out trying a bit of everything, or pop in for a quick snack that won’t hurt the wallet.

Cactus Salad
Cactus Salad

Begin your journey with the Ensalada de Nopales, strips of cactus cooked in lime juice and topped with crumbled feta, diced tomato, grilled onion, and fresh coriander. Continue along with a plate of Flautas de Pollo, three rolled crispy tacos filled with chicken, drizzled with sour cream and covered with shredded lettuce. Try Las Gorditas, a maize flour pocket stuffed with refried beans and a blend of ricotta and mozzarella cheese. Or give Los Sopes a taste, a maize flour base under refried beans, cheese, home-made salsa and lettuce

with your choice of Chicken, Mushroom or Zucchini. If you’re feeling adventurous, don’t be afraid to add a bit of hot sauce, each table had 3 different fiery sauces to choose from.

Next, take some time to peruse the assortment mouth-watering soon-to-be-famous tacos on the menu. For meat lovers; Tacos ‘de Pescado’ (Fish), ‘de Barbacoa’ (Lamb), ‘de Pollo’ (Chicken), and ‘de Res’ (Slow cooked Beef – a personal favourite; the meat has been twice cooked and is chocked full of flavour). Vegetarians have quite a few choices as well; try the Tacos ‘de Ejotes Papita y Huevo’ (Green Beans, Potato and Egg), ‘de Calabazita’ (Zucchini) or ‘de Hongos’ (Mushroom). There are also some tantalizing vegan options available, just ask the staff.

Authentic Mojitos
Authentic Mojitos

 

As for drinks, the Mojito is a real treasure with the perfect balance of mint and lime, or try the spicy Michelada; a mix of beer, chili, and lime on ice. Margaritas are always a treat and the home-made, not-to-be-missed, easy-to-drink, Sangria is sold by the jug and you’ll understand why when you try it.

If you’re looking for something stronger, have a shot of tequila with their home-made Tequila chaser. It’s a lovely shade of green, and surprisingly one of the most delicious liquids ever invented. With a long list of cerveza, wines, spirits and cocktails, you’re sure to find the right thing to wet your pallet. If you don’t feel like drinking alcohol, have a crack at a Jarritos, a popular Mexican soda available in a wide variety of refreshing fruity flavours.

Los Hermanos is perfect for small functions, with outdoor and indoor seating available. Call for reservations for parties of 6 or more. It’s super easy to get to, just a few steps down the street from the Brunswick Railway Station; however there is currently no signage on the building so keep an eye out for the street numbers. Limited street parking is available. Don’t miss out on Melbourne’s best Mexican eatery, spice up your holiday and head to Los Hermanos today!

339 Victoria St
Brunswick, VIC
3056

(03) 9939 3661

M-Sat 6pm-10pm

Closed Sunday

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Los-Hermanos-Mexican-Taqueria/124943380962858

Click here to read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

A Lush Oasis in a Concrete Jungle: Phra Pradaeng, Bangkok

Looking for something different to do in Bangkok? Tired of the hustle and bustle of the city streets? Then take a trip to Phra Pradaeng, a small peninsula situated on the southern side of Bangkok in the Samut Prakan district. Phra Pradaeng offers visitors a relaxing escape into another world filled with all sorts of exotic flora and fauna. This community has one of the lowest population densities in Bangkok and gives us a glimpse at a more rural lifestyle without having to travel far. A construction ban was placed on the area in 1977 in order to preserve its natural beauty, which means it is the only district in Bangkok where you won’t find any high-rise buildings. Here, you can enjoy a break from the hectic day-to-day life that the City of Angels is so well known for.

Phra Pradaeng Jungle
Phra Pradaeng Jungle

There are a few ways to get to this verdant jungle paradise, but I highly recommend taking a taxi to the Chao Praya Port in Klong Toey. From there you can purchase inexpensive tickets on a small wooden boat that whisks you across the river to the pier at Phra Pradaeng called Tha Bangkrachao. The ride is an exciting way to distance yourself from urban Bangkok and a perfect start to your adventure, with fantastic views of the city.

Riding a push bike is the best way to get around once you have arrived in Phra Pradaeng. The peninsula is criss-crossed with a labyrinth of narrow concrete passageways elevated over the klongs and swamps, which allow you a chance to explore places that you can’t reach via car. A few steps from the boat terminal you can hire your own

push bikes for the day at a very reasonable price of about $100 BHT / day. (Make sure to check the brakes, gears and tyres before you take off). There are also several push bike companies that advertise full day-trips with a knowledgeable guide, brand new bikes and meals included for around $5000 BHT.

Phra Pradaeng View from Bangkok
Phra Pradaeng View from Bangkok

Visiting Phra Pradaeng is akin to travelling back in time, to an era when Teak houses built on stilts dominated the landscape of Bangkok. There are also several attractions to hunt down as you cycle along, such as the Siamese Fighting Fish Gallery. This building has two different sections that are filled with a diverse range of fighting fish on display, and the gardens surrounding the gallery are absolutely filled with flowers and butterflies. It’s a great place to catch your breath and take in the scenery. Or why not enjoy a picnic at Pom Phlaeng Faifa Fort, built in 1815. Once a military stronghold, now it’s an enchanting place to spend the day, with gorgeous gardens surrounding ruins of the fort. The facilities are open 7 days a week, from 8am-5pm.

PhraPradaengMarket
Phra Pradaeng Market

Every weekend there is a lovely market where locals come to sell their products to passers-by. A famous lunch to be enjoyed here is Kuai-tiao Ruea , also known as “boat noodles”. There are a handful of longboats in the main Klong that serve Kuai-tiao Ruea, which is not to be missed. It’s a simple soup with rice noodles, broth, spices and assorted meats, a tasty delicacy that will win your praise instantly. Take some time to browse through the stalls at the market and marvel at the traditional handmade crafts. You can even improve your karmic disposition by making merits at the nearby Wat. For a few Baht you purchase small caged birds, or snakes, fish, eels or turtles, and release them back into the wild thus improving your karma, so they say.

Depending on what time of year your stay in Bangkok happens, there are a couple festivals that are spectacular to view from Phra Pradaeng. The area was originally settled by the Mon tribe and, to this day, it is one of the only places that celebrate Songkran (the Thai New Year’s water festival in mid-April), in the traditional Mon way. At the end of the calendar year, Thai’s celebrate Loi Krathong, the festival of light. The tradition is to float an offering down the river on a vessel made of banana leaves carrying candles and other objects in order to give thanks

Phra Pradaeng Spirit House
Phra Pradaeng Spirit House

to the river and all of its life-giving attributes. Phra Pradaeng is a great place to avoid the major crowds and enjoy the spectacle with the locals.

If one day isn’t enough for you, there are a few options for overnight stays. For a luxurious experience, consider the Bangkok Tree House with stunning architecture and views combined with a nature-centric atmosphere. For those of us on a tighter budget, there’s a more affordable option available at the Phuengnang Homestay, a lovely guesthouse equipped with a variety of amenities. Whichever you decide be sure to bring your camera and some mosquito repellent. You can rest assured that your time on Phra Pradaeng will not soon be forgotten!

Read more about Tina’s adventures on her blog.

Click on the images below to see them in full size.

Melbourne Airport Hotel Among World’s Best

When you’re flying into a new and exciting destination the last thing you want to do is sleep at the airport. Most airports are surrounded by freeways, drive-thrus and vast expanses of deserted land, which isn’t really the experience you travelled there for.

However, sometimes you have no choice but to stay at an airport hotel (other than to try catch a few winks in the departure lounge). And if it has to be done, you might as well do it right!

Melbourne’s Park Royal Hotel, situated at the Tullamarine Airport, was named Best Airport Hotel Australia/Pacific for the second year running at the 2013 World Airport Awards.

The best airport hotel award, based on nominations by 1.35 million airport hotel guests worldwide, evaluates 16 key performance indicators including comfort and cleanliness, food and beverages, and ease of transfer.

The overall winner of Best Airport came as no surprise. Singapore’s city-in-itself Changi Airport took out the top prize, followed by Incheon International Airport (last year’s winner).

For more awards visit www.worldairportawards.com – the perfect tool to help you decide where to make a stopover on your next trip!

What’s the best airport hotel you’ve ever stayed at?