30/11/2016

November Summary 2016

November reflections 2016





































I wrote a post about my slightly late November goals so I thought I'd follow this up with a reflections post. Basically somewhere to summarise the month and tell you whether I reached my goals or failed miserably!

November was my first full month at home since getting back from my Interrail trip (post coming soon!). It was also the month I decided to get my shit together and find myself a job. Luckily, I managed to get a job pretty quickly at a local cafe. The cafe also does the BEST hot chocolate ever so it's win win.

I also redecorated my room, started doing some online marketing courses and signed up to TEFL so I can start completing my online teaching course! All in all November has been a pretty productive month (if I do say so myself!). I feel like I finally have some kind of life plan. Ok maybe not quite but I have a plan for the next year which is a start. 

Now onto the goals I set myself for November and whether I achieved them!

1. Finish my book

This was completed only a couple of days after I published my post. I also achieved the second part of this goal which was to start a new book (Margaret Atwood's Cat's Eye) although I am only nine pages in. But it still counts!

2. Start the 30 Day Shred

Well this never happened...
In my defence my room was an absolute tip because all the furniture had to be rearranged so I could paint the walls. This left no room to exercise. However, I could have just exercised in another room so I can't really use that as an excuse. The bottom line is that I'm lazy and motivating myself to actually do exercise takes a VERY long time. Maybe next month... 

3. Reach 350 Twitter followers 

I'm so close to this but every time I get close my follower count drop back down. It's been between 40 and 45 all week. Sigh. Hopefully this will be reached at the start of December. 

4. Comment on more blogs 

This is the goal where I am seriously slacking. I have commented on a few blogs but I usually read blogs on my phone so find it more hassle to leave a comment. I need to start looking at my Bloglovin feed on my laptop so it's super easy to leave a comment.

___________

I'd say reaching my goals wasn't a complete success this month. Goal one was achieved, goal two is a complete and utter write off and goals three and four are in progress. I'll be setting myself some new goals for December in a post soon so make sure you check them out.

Did you set yourself any goals for November? Did you do better than me in achieving these?

Sophie


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23/11/2016

A Guide to visiting the Taj Mahal

Seven Wonders, the Taj Mahal
My visit to the Taj Mahal started incredibly early. I got up at 4.30am, stumbled around the hostel room trying not to wake anyone up, then headed to one of the places I'd most been looking forward to on my trip.

The Taj Mahal was definitely a place I won't forget quickly; it was one of the highlights of my trip to India. I was worried that it would be overrated because it's so famous but boy was I wrong! I thought I'd put together a post with information and tips for visiting the greatest declaration of love in history.


Planning your trip to the Taj Mahal


To visit the Taj Mahal you'll have to travel to Agra, either for a night or as a day trip. I would personally not recommend staying in Agra for more than one night; the city itself is not that nice. There are other places to see whilst in Agra but they're all pretty missable in my opinion. 

I stayed for one night so we could get to the Taj Mahal as early as possible. We purposely chose a hostel which was within walking distance so we could have a slight lie in (and by slight I mean getting up at 4.30 rather than 4am). In fact, it only took us five minutes to walk to the ticket office and that was a slow walk because my body still thought it was lying in bed. The hostel we stayed at was the Budweiser's Backpacker Hostel . The hostel was basic but for less than £4 a night for a four bed dorm you can't complain! The staff were helpful and there was an option for dinner at an additional cost. There was a laundry service and common room with really good air con; which is something we definitely needed. There are plenty of hostels (and hotels) to choose from in Agra.

If you choose to do a day trip you'll most likely be arriving at peak time along with all the other busses. However, there are options for private taxis or getting the train which would give you more freedom to choose when you arrive. If you want to beat the crowds it's best to get there as early as possible. The saying 'the early bird catches the worm' definitely applies to visiting the Taj Mahal. If you get there for opening time you'll get more chances to get a good photograph and explore the gardens and inside of the palace without being squished. I imagine it's extra squishy inside the palace at peak times so I'm glad we avoided that.


Taj Mahal archway


Arriving at the Taj Mahal 


The Taj Mahal opens at 6am. We ended up getting to the ticket office before it was even open!  I think the office opened at 5am because my ticket has a time stamp of 5:04. Tickets cost Rs 1000. You receive a free bottle of water and some shoes covers (these must be worn when you go inside the Taj Mahal) with your ticket. 

There are three entrances: the West, East and South gates. We entered from the Eastern gate and bought our ticket from the Eastern ticket office. A quick google maps will tell you the one closest to your accommodation. Motor vehicles are not allowed within 500 metres of the complex so if you're getting dropped there by car/bus they will drop you at the ticket office rather than the entrance. It is also worth noting that different entrances have different opening times. The East and West gates have the same opening time but the South opens later.

Once you've got your ticket you're off! But you have to get to the actual entrance first. The Eastern ticket office was not that close to the entrance to the palace. It was around a further ten to fifteen minute walk to get there. However, being extremely tired we ended up paying a man to pedal us on a cycle rickshaw (I had to google what these were called as I had no idea!) to the entrance. This was after he asked us about a hundred times and warned us that it was a very long walk. We paid 50Rs (about 50p) for him to take us to the entrance. The walk is not bad at all and is very manageable but at 5am the option of idea someone pedalling me there was much more appealing. 


There are also electric buses that will take you to the entrance but I didn't see any of these. I'm not sure if this was because it was so early or just because I didn't look in the right place (read: I didn't actually look for them at all because I was half asleep and forget they existed). 

Once you get to the entrance they'll be a ticket man. Show him your ticket, he'll scan it for you and off you go to security. We ended up being early for this too so waited in line until it was time to be let in. The bonus of being lazy and taking the cycle rickshaw was that the we overtook the other people who had been at the ticket office and were first in line! 


The line soon built up so getting there at least half an hour before opening is recommended, you still have to wait around but you'll get through security and into the grounds ahead of everyone else. 

Taj Mahal at sunrise

What to take with you 


Security is split into male and female tourists and male and female locals. You go through a metal detector and are briefly searched. Once you've done this your bag (if you have one) is searched. 

We were first in the security line and it was going smoothly until the women examined my go pro and told me that I couldn't take the handle it's attached to in with me (it had a tripod inside it). This meant I had to be taken to a shop where my tripod would be stored (safely and for free) until I'd finished my visit. I was very sceptical about both those points; I didn't feel like my tripod would be save and I was worried I'd get back and be charged. But it was absolutely fine, the man in the shop did try and get me to look around which I did and then kindly said I was not interested in buying anything. For once I wasn't asked another 100 times to look around!


After doing this I was no longer ahead of everyone else as I had to go through security all over again. The moral of the story: know what you can and cannot take in with you.

And I actually did do this! I googled the question and looked at forums to see what people had said and on the official Taj Mahal site. I'd even seen that it said tripods are not allowed but completely forgot that there was one hiding in my go pro handle! 


There were a number of other people who got caught out, most because their bags were too big. This was one thing I had known so I was surprised at how many people didn't.  A man behind me had a small outbreak because 'it was ridiculous that he couldn't take his bag in' and 'he had not seen this anyway online'. However, if you google the question it does say. 

So here's what you can and can't take with you (excluding the obvious weapons etc): 


1. Mobile phones are allowed but should remain switched off (we chose not to take ours as we had a camera for pictures and had no need for a mobile if it was off). It should also be noted that mobile phones are not allowed at all for night viewings.
2. Electric goods, apart from cameras, are banned. 
3. Tripods are also banned (including ones you may forget about because they're hidden!) 
4. Headphones are also not allowed
5. Food should not be taken in

The official website states only that you should avoid big bags but I would recommend not taking the risk. Leave rucksacks (unless they're tiny) at home and bring a small bag instead. The hassle of having to take everything out of your rucksack and into a plastic bag is not worth it. 

For a full list check out the official website


Additional information 


There will be a lot of 'photographers' pestering you. They'll offer you a good price for a photo in a prime spot but you can easily do these yourself. We did end up having one of the ticket officers sons take us around the grounds and take photos along the way, however, this happened accidentally. We kind of ended up being taken around because the son had taken me to the shop and then back into the grounds to help me find Kate. In all honesty, it was very useful having the boy (who probably was only 13) take us around because we were able to get group photos without having to pester other tourists. We also got pictures at all the prime spots, some of which I would have completely missed otherwise. 

We actually weren't able to give the boy much money at all because we'd only bought enough with us for our ticket and a snack for the walk back. I think he wanted around $5 for taking us around which in is perfectly reasonable. But as I said above if you do your research before hand you can avoid paying someone.

Where to get the best photos 


Seeing as I've just told you that you can get the best photos without any guides I thought I'd share the locations of some these so you know where to head on your visit. 

Taj Mahal Princess Diana bench

Here's a picture of me looking half asleep. This is probably one of the most popular pictures to snap when you visit. By getting there early I was able to get the picture without a million people in the background. It also meant I didn't feel like I had an audience when I was taking the picture. To get to the benches you need to head down the main path and up a tiny flight of stairs. 

Looking up at the Taj Mahal

This is a picture I wouldn't of even thought about taking myself but its pretty good huh? Although the bush in the centre does annoy me! To get this picture you'll have to crawl under one of the other benches (the one of the right hand side) of the pond in the previous photo. 

Jumping in front of the Taj Mahal

If you'd like to get a photo just like this fabulously awful one then you need to head down the main path towards the Taj Mahal then veer of to the right. There's a path up to the outer area of the palace and that's where you can get your jumping photo. I look truly awful but no trip to the Taj Mahal is complete without a set of cheesy photos. 

Those are the main areas for photos. Of course there are plenty other spots but if I showed you all of those this post would be super long and there would be a lot more embarrassing photos of me that should not be made public. After we had had enough of taking pictures we headed inside the palace. You're not allowed to take photos inside and must wear the foot covers you are given. Thankfully, when we went inside it was practically empty so we could enjoy the architecture at our own pace. 

We stopped for coffee on the way back to our hostel. There were quite a few small shops with snacks and drinks and also some restaurants. We chose a very small shop with a nice local family who seemed very pleased we'd chosen their shop to stop at. The coffee was about 10p and was lovely! It was spiced which I'd never tried before but was very yummy! We got back to our hostel before 8 and got straight back into bed! 

In Conclusion 


Here are the key points to take away from this post: 

  • Have a game plan: how you're getting there, what time you're going to arrive and allow time to get from the ticket office to the entrance.
  • DON'T take a big bag
  • Make sure you know what you can and cannot take in with you 
  • The earlier the better 
  • Don't get ripped off: either agree on a good price for someone to take you around or research and take your own photos 
___________

Hopefully this post is useful for anyone planning a visit! Have you ever visited the Taj Mahal? I'd love to hear about your visit!

Sophie 

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19/11/2016

November Goals 2016

November Goals 2016
Technically, we're already 19 days into November (well not technically we definitely are). But that still gives me 11 days to tick off my goals. I decided I'd put a post together, even though it's late, to help me focus on the goals I want to achieve. Hopefully documenting them will make me more likely for me to achieve them! 

I think the goals for the rest of November are quite manageable. I wanted to start my monthly goals quite small rather than ones that would end up being unrealistic; especially with only 11 days left. So here they are:


1. Finish reading my book 


Since returning from my interrail trip I've been seriously lacking in the reading department. In fact even on the trip I was slacking, I didn't finish one single book in the five and a half weeks! Compare this to reading eight books on my three week trip to Mexico and there's a big difference. This may be due to the interrail trip being more on the go but anyway I'm digressing, back to the goal.

The book I'm currently reading is a charity shop find (anyone else love a good mooch in a charity shop?!). It's a Stephen King book called Joyland and I'm really enjoying it. I'm already half way through so this goal should be very achievable. I'm also hoping to start reading another book before the end of the month.

2. Start the 30 day shred


I've been in denial since I've returned from my summer travels about weight gain. But it's a fact. One which was reaffirmed today when I put my pyjama bottoms on to find that they were tight. Well they must have shrunk in the wash. That's fine. I'll just wear some others. Nope these are also too tight. It's me not the bottoms. *goes to eat a cupcake to make self feel better about realisation*.True story. 

I need some sort of exercise routine to help me get back to the weight I was before the summer and this seems like the perfect one. I also do zero exercise at the moment (apart from walking up and down the stairs, does that even count?) so I need something that will be fairly manageable. 

I'm not just doing this to lose weight I also want to improve my fitness. Because it's embarrassing always being the one at the back of a hike and having to pretend your taking a picture of the landscape to hide the fact that you can no longer breath. True story also. 

3. Buy my own domain

Now I'm back blogging I really want to get rid of the blogspot from my URL. At the moment I'm researching the best place to buy my domain from so any advice would be appreciated! I'm also looking into getting a new layout because mines a mess! 

4. Create a blog schedule 

Now I'm blogging again I really want to get organised. I know some people don't like scheduling but for someone who's very good at procrastinating (*raises hand*) a schedule will help me stay focused so I can blog more consistently. 

5. Reach 350 Twitter followers

I've started using twitter more and more. It's great interacting with other bloggers. I'm currently at 318 followers so I think this is quite a reasonable goal. I know it's not all about followers but I like having something to work towards.

6. Comment on more blogs 

I feel I need to share the love a bit more. I always forget to leave a comment on blogs even ones that I've really enjoyed reading. I'm going to commit more time to commenting to let people know that I've enjoyed their post. 

Six goals for 11 days. Let's see how I get on! What are your goals for the rest of November?

Sophie 


03/11/2016

24 hours in Hallstatt

falling in love with Hallstatt

As part of my interrail trip I spent a day in the beautiful town of Hallstatt. Initially it wasn't in our route because we did not know it existed! I stumbled upon a picture of Hallstatt on Instagram one day and after a quick google to see if it was viable to visit it was added to our route.

Getting there and where to stay:


To get to Hallstatt there are various options. If you're travelling straight to Hallstatt then you'll most likely be driving or going by train. From Salzburg it takes around an hour and 15 minutes by car and two hours and 15 minutes by train. We travelled from Salzburg to Obertraun. The train involved one change and took around two hours. We travelled here rather than Hallstatt as we were staying here for our visit to Hallstatt. Obertraun is on the other side of the lake to Hallstatt and is around a ten minute drive. The reason for staying in Obertraun was price. It was a lot cheaper than Hallstatt; for the same apartment it was over half the price to stay in Obertraun! It was still rather pricey compared to other accommodation we'd been staying in but this was to be expected as nearly all the others were hostels.  I don't regret staying in Obertraun as it meant we were not surrounded by tourists the whole time. Instead we were able to escape to our cute apartment. The apartment looked out onto the mountains. The pictures below show the view from the apartment balcony. Even though it was a little chilly I made the most of the balcony and had my breakfast out there both mornings! 

If you're like us and decide to stay outside of Hallstatt there are various ways to reach it. Firstly, there's a bus running between Hallstatt and Obertraun (as well as various other places). The bus times can be found here. You can also get a leaflet with the times from the tourist information office in Hallstatt. But be careful to check which buses go to your stop as we nearly got caught out and stranded in Hallstatt. Although the last bus from Hallstatt wasn't until around 6pm the last one for our stop was at 4.41 meaning we had to do a mad dash to the supermarket to buy supplies for dinner and then a mad dash to the bus stop!


mountain views in Obertraun
view from balcony in Obertraun


What to do: 

1. Get that Instagram pic! 



I always try and get a good balance between taking pictures and appreciating the view. Hallstatt is beautiful and while I enjoyed taking in the view I also enjoyed taking pictures of it! I may have enjoyed the photo taking a bit too much and ended up with about fifty pictures of the same view (that may be a slight exaggeration). 


enjoying the Hallstatter See
view of Hallstatt from across the lake

2. Go for a wander 


I found going for a wander one of the best ways to see a new place. You may not have a direct route to follow or know where your walking but you'll discover places along the way. We were dropped off near the bus station and walked all the way through to the main square area and then up to the church and cemetery. We did get slightly lost as a lot of the small side streets look similar but that's all part of the fun when you're exploring!


houses in Hallstatt
viewpoint in Hallstatt
a cat exploring Hallstatt
view from church in Hallstatt



3. Visit the church and cemetery 


The church and cemetery are just past the main square. You have to walk up through the houses to get there. There are various stairs leading up allowing you to go up one way and down another. The views from outside the church are great so even if you don't want to go into the church (we didn't) it's worth walking up there for different viewpoint of the town (and some more pictures to Instagram). 

Hallstatt cemetery

4. Visit the Bone House 

The Bone house (or Beinhaus) is located right next to the church cemetery in St Michael's Chapel. The bone house, as the name suggests, is home to bones, specifically skulls. Yep, real skulls! Hallstatt is home to the largest collection of skulls in the world. There is a reason for the collection of skulls but I'll let you research that or find out when you visit. You are given an information sheet when you go in which tells you all of the information. The entrance fee is only €1.50 and while it is very small it is well worth the money. Unfortunately the Bone House is only open until October 30th but reopens in May. This was one of my favourite things I did in Hallstatt because it was so different to anything I'd ever seen before! 

Bone House Hallstatt

5. Get a bite to eat 

Seehotel Hallstatt
Lunch with a view Hallstatt Austria

We were quite extravagant and had lunch at the See hotel so we could enjoy the view of the lake and eat nice food (but mostly for that view). In all honesty while the food was yummy I didn't think it was worth the price. I paid €18 for my main which is probably the most I spent on any dish the whole trip. If you don't want to pay that much for food you can still enjoy the view and just get a drink. I'd recommend this option as your not spending half your budget on food but still get to take in the view. There's plenty of choices for places to eat that are cheaper and offer more traditional food. We were a bit sick of this though so wanted something less traditional. I have to say I found most of the food in Hallstatt quite overpriced, including the cheaper options but I guess that's what you get in a very touristy area. 

6. Hire a boat

Boat on the Hallstatter See

This was something I personally didn't do. It was on our to do list until we spent too long wandering around and had to skip it out (this was a reoccurring problem on the trip). There are various boats you can hire including rowing boats, electric boats and even swan pedal boats! Prices start at €8 for half an hour in a rowing boat and go up to €18 for an hour in an electric one. Like the Bone House this activity is shut in the winter but reopens on the 1st of April. 

There are various other things you can do whilst in Hallstatt such as go for a hike and go up the cable cart. I didn't add the either of these to the list because I didn't do them myself. We were told the cable cart was a bit pricey for what it was so I guess it depends whether you want to see Hallstatt from a birds eye view. We decided, because we only had a day, that we would rather see Hallstatt from the ground and save a bit of money.

Rathaus Hallstatt
Lake views in Hallstatt
Church viewpoint in Hallstatt

How long to stay:

Although Hallstatt is a small town (you can see from the list above) there is plenty to do. We only spent a day there so were limited with how much we could do.  I don't feel like I missed out on seeing too much, however, if I were to go back in time and redo the trip I'd give myself two full days so I could fit in a hike. If you have the time spend two days here but if you're tight on time a day or even a day trip from a city will be enough for the main attractions. 

Hopefully this post is useful for those who are either going or thinking about visiting Hallstatt. Have you been to Hallstatt? What did you get up to on your trip?

Sophie

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