The Marvel of Marvão

I pulled the car into a parking space with a jolt. Laid out before me was the most magnificent view: a patchwork of green hills, dusky mountains meeting a cheerful blue sky, the afternoon sun illuminating vineyards and whitewashed houses with a flattering golden hue. Somewhere lay the invisible border, dividing this harmonious landscape into part-Portugal, part-Spain.  It was the kind of view to be savoured, gasped over, truly and deeply appreciated. But I couldn’t really process it; not at that precise moment. My only thought was: ‘I can’t drive through that!’ ‘That’ was a set of quaintly narrow archways set into the medieval stone walls which encircled the town of Marvão. My car was on the small side, and I had just watched two cars emerge from the town, unscathed. It’s just that my nerves were a little shot after being tailgated around hairpin bends by an impatient idiot, and I knew all too well what small town Portuguese roads were like – impractically if attractively cobbled, and as narrow as they could possibly be. After a moment or two of taking deep breaths, I fired up the engine and crawled through the arches, feeling more like I was steering a ship through a tight harbour than simply driving a car. I was relieved to find that my hotel, and the town’s main car park, were only one tiny street away, and I was able to relax. This is a long way of saying that Marvão is a town which far pre-dates cars. There are several of these medieval fortified towns dotted around Portuguese hillsides, but Marvão was...

The Truth of Solo Travel

Telling people I spent four months travelling solo in South America prompted a range of reactions and quite a few misconceptions. But what surprised and even saddened me was the number of people who said: “Oh, I could never do that. I wouldn’t be brave enough.” This genuinely seems to be holding people back from embarking on solo travel – they miss out on amazing travel opportunities because they are frightened of going alone. Now, solo travel is by no means an obligation, but neither should it be feared. So, here’s the truth of solo travel, at least the way I see it. “You must be so brave” Not really. Stubborn, yes. Determined that I wouldn’t miss out on a great experience just because it meant going solo, yes. But the truth is, I was terrified in the few days before I left the country. I wondered what the hell I was doing, whether I would cope and whether I would actually enjoy it. But I had a volunteer placement set up, so my trip began in a family home, with a job to do and people all around me. I was still a little nervous about hitting the road by myself and actually ‘travelling’, but once I flew the safety of my Peruvian nest, I realised it wan’t so bad. I went from day to day, learning how this new life worked. It’s no different in this sense to any new experience: the unknown is always a bit frightening and we all have to deal with it at various points in our lives. Once you adapt to being...

Spontaneity and dessert – my travel indulgences

This post is part of the TravelBelles´ Across the Cafe Table feature! Visit the TravelBelles site to see more. For me, a new place means a chance to do things I wouldn´t normally do. When I´m travelling, I feel free. Nobody knows me, I´m thousands of miles from home, and I want to make every travel experience incredible. So I do things I wouldn´t normally do, I eat things I deny myself at home, I go with my instincts, I´m spontaneous. After all, what´s stopping me? OK, so that dessert may be more calories than is really necessary, but I know that tomorrow I´ll be outside, walking the streets of a city, hiking in the mountains, maybe even paragliding or kayaking, so I´m sure to burn them off. I allow myself the time to really explore a place, to really look, to appreciate what is beautiful and wonderful, rather than just rushing around to get all the sites in the guidebook ticked off. I take a lot of photos and go at my own pace. Ok, so I may not see everything, but I bet I see more than those people who try to. I don´t mind roughing it when travelling; the budget constraints mean that I don´t always have a choice. But on a long trip of several months, there will be times where I treat myself and book into a nice hotel where I can have some peace and quiet, my own bathroom, an undisturbed sleep. Sometimes you need your own space and a bit of comfort, even a bit of luxury. Of course I travel to explore different cultures and experience...

Paddington Bear goes Home

So this is it, my last day in England. Tomorrow, I’m going to Peru, and a certain little bear is coming with me.He’s been living in London for over 50 years, but apparently he’s bored of the expat life, so I made a trip to Paddington Station, picked him up and I’m taking him home. Paddington is known for getting up to all kinds of mischief, so who knows what adventures we will have together?! Our first stop, just for a night, is Lima, where we will recover from our jetlag before boarding an overnight bus to Huaraz. Here, we’re going to live the local life, I hope Paddington can teach me a bit about the customs and culture. We’ll live with a family and every day Paddington will help me teach English at a primary school. He’s pretty fluent nowadays. It’s taken all day to pack – Paddington only has a tiny suitcase so he was ok, but as a first-time backpacker, I had a bit more trouble. I after my first (over)estimation of how many outfits my backpack could hold, I reduced and reduced until the bag would close and my room looked like the floor of Primark. But it’s finally done and I feel quite proud of myself (if a little disconcerted) about the amount of clothes I’m leaving behind. OK, so the backpack is full, but a good percentage of that is books for the children and my hiking boots. So we’re finally ready and tomorrow the adventure begins. We’re both feeling a bit nervous, but mostly excited. It’s going to be one incredible journey....

Planning the adventure of a lifetime

…with very little time and on a shoestring budget! You’re probably sick of me banging on about it, but in four weeks’ time, I will be starting a four-month adventure in South America. Although I have been wanting to go for a long time, I only started planning this trip last month. Compared to a week ago (Preparations of a Novice Backpacker) I am feeling remarkably Zen about it all. I understand that doing everything at the last minute might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s not always a choice, and I can show you that it is at least possible! So here, in my view, are the things that are important to sort out in advance, and those which you don’t need to worry about. 1. Work/Volunteer Placements If you plan to combine your travel with work or volunteering, if it’s more than casual work, get this sorted first. I especially feel strongly that volunteering placements should be carefully researched to make sure that they are really benefitting the local community – and also that you are going to have a positive experience and not be ripped off. I was researching volunteer options for a few months before I planned anything else about the trip and my first priority was making contact with the organisation. Everything else has taken shape around this. I’ve also kept up a dialogue with the co-ordinator, asking loads of questions and I’ve even started preparing some teaching resources at last! The point is, you need to make sure that the placement is right for you, right for the community and that all...
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