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Why We Should All Visit Places of Political Importance Abroad

Hiroshima peace park

When you travel to a new destination, what do you want to see? Nature at its finest, incredible cityscapes, traditional ways of living, maybe some local art? Travel makes me happy and experiencing the unknown is always where I'd rather be, but what about experiencing the cold hard truth about the history of the country you're in? To be a well-behaved tourist and an ethical global citizen, I believe it is my responsibility to know the background of where I am, even if it makes for an uncomfortable visit.

View of table mountain from Robben Island

The thing is, not everywhere you go will be OK with sharing their history with you. It's often still raw and could put them in a bad light, so they skirt around the edges. China, of course, is not entirely forthcoming with their recent history, but will very much talk about Anglo-French invasions in the early 1900s, or the ancient dynasties that built some of their most famous monuments.

Robben Island entrance

One of my 'must-see' places on my Cape Town to-do list was Robben Island, most well-known for the incarceration of Nelson Mandela for 18 years. It sees scores of tourist take the boat over from the mainland to see his cell and the quarry he did his hard labour in, but in all honesty, it was disappointing. We met a previous prisoner who had clearly been briefed on what he couldn't say, and we were herded from place to place with very little information given.

Robben Island prisoner

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robben Island

There was nothing to read on Robben Island, the only history I found out was what had been rehearsed and repeated to me by guides. Compare this to the heartbreaking Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg which was so perfectly laid out (you are given a black or white ticket and have to go through that designated entrance, inevitably then being split from the person or people you're visiting with), and which told such brutal truths in shattering honesty that I had to walk away because I was sobbing huge great I-can't-catch-my-breath tears.

Robben Island entrance

I don't want to be upset, but why sugar coat something awful? As it proclaims on a wall inside Auschwitz, 'The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.' After visiting the infamous Polish concentration camp in 2006, I was adamant that it should be a compulsory trip for all schools. To see cases of human hair and piles of wedding rings torn from their owners made me feel physically sick and so much more interested in politics and my own country's history.

Rail track towards Auschwitz

Huts in Auschwitz

Turning history into something beautiful is how Japan chooses to remember the horrific events that hit Hiroshima in 1945. The area the bomb devastated is now a Peace Park with tasteful memorials and artwork throughout where you can learn more about the exact area you're stood. The Hall of Remembrance provides a place for quiet contemplation and the remains of the A-Bomb Dome are a brutal reminder of the impact such weapons have on a community.

Hiroshima peace park

A Bomb Dome, Hiroshima

We must remember these events. We must make an effort to learn and understand so that we can be empathetic humans who always choose good over evil. You don't have to take a huge amount of time out of a trip to do these things, but it will open your eyes to new cultures even more by showing you literally what has shaped and created them.

An Afternoon at The British Library for Harry Potter: A History of Magic

Outside The British Library for Harry Potter: A History of Magic

It's hard to believe that Harry Potter has been a part of my life for 20 years; my love of the series has spanned a time longer than most of my non-familial relationships, and conjures memories of late-night binge-reading under-the-duvet way past my bedtime and being OBSESSED when the next volume was due to be published.

A Solo Traveller's Guide to Taking Selfies

Montane Mansions, Hong Kong

It's all well and good to have photos of the places you've visited, but sometimes it's nice to appear in them yourself. I like having photographic proof of my presence somewhere, especially when I've travelled half way across the world to see something spectacular. It's not just for Instagram (although I won't lie, I obviously want it for that too), but I want to send it to my mum and say, 'Look where I am!', or to have it put in a frame for memories. Travelling solo means you might not always get a great photo of yourself, but here's how I manage it:

Visiting the Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima, Japan

Floating Torii Gate of Miyajima, Japan

Prior to visiting Japan, I didn't know the name of the island that is home to the famous floating shrine. Rather like my visit to Himeji Castle, I knew the emoji symbol and the fact it looked pretty in photos, but it was only with some research that I realised it would be feasible to visit it on a day trip from Osaka, and that the island it lives on is called Itsukushima, but is commonly known as Miyajima.

Just Go

Just go

If the topic of my three-month solo travel adventure ever crops up (or rather, if you can stop me from talking about it), there's a few routes that the conversation could go down. There are people who simply have no interest in travel, and especially not the long-term type, so they'll ask why I'd even want to embark on something so alien to them. I had my reasons, as I've written about before, but for the most part, the responses are more positive, and they go something along these lines:

How to Spend 24 Hours in Osaka, Japan

Neon running man sign, Dotonbori, Osaka

Before heading to Japan, I was told by everyone who'd been before me that Osaka was their least favourite city, but within moments of being there myself, I knew I'd disagree with them all. OK, it's not the huge bustling, modern metropolis that Tokyo is, or has the history of Kyoto, but it is vibrant, friendly, and it's wonderfully easy to lose yourself in its warren-like streets.

Three Ways to Eat Dim Sum in Hong Kong

Yum Cha dim sum, Hong Kong

Dim sum was my first foray into Chinese food, way back when I was still a fussy eater (can you believe I was ever anything but a never-ending stomach?!). It's bite-sized food filled with all sorts of delicious things; it's canap├ęs that have been souped up and they are generally more plentiful than the food you'd be served up on a silver platter, too.

It was the first traditional food I ate there during my first trip back in 2014, but each time I've been back, I go in for so much more. No matter what your budget or palate, there's a way for you to enjoy dim sum in Hong Kong:

Seven Things British Transport Could Learn From Japan Rail

Shinkansen N700 bullet train

When my friends and I were planning our trip to Japan, we knew we wanted to cram in as many places as possible within our two-week itinerary. Bullet trains are synonymous with the Land of the Rising Sun, and it was the obvious way to travel so that we could see as much of the country whizzing by as possible as well as tell people how fast they are (my ears popped and I felt dizzy on our first one, so BIG TICK there!).

How to Pack for a Multi-Destination Trip

How to Pack for a Multi-Destination Trip

Packing for a holiday when you know you'll be staying in the same accommodation for the whole trip is easy-peasy. You can unpack, hide your suitcase under the bed and not see it again until you're frantically re-packing an hour before your airport transfer arrives to take you home. With a multi-destination trip, there's no such luxury. Organisation is absolutely key, and the type of luggage you carry around with you will make or break your sanity.

Here's some questions to ask yourself when you're packing for a multi-destination trip:

Eating Kobe Beef in Japan at Wakkoqu, Kobe

Kobe beef being cooked

As much as a country may be well known for certain dishes, if you dig a little deeper, you'll always find regional specialities that locals are super proud of. Here in the UK we have exactly that, from Yorkshire puddings to Cornish pasties, but the legend of Kobe beef was a whole new foodie step for me. I'm a street food hunter; a dingy side-alley-restaurant-with-questionable-hygiene dweller. I've been known to dress up and splash out, of course, but this is the first time I've allocated a chunk of my holiday budget to a specific meal.

A Day at Himeji Castle, Japan

Himeji Castle, Japan

Himeji Castle has a lot to answer for. Its iconic structure and shape has been the blueprint for literally hundreds of imitation buildings across Japan and the world. You might not know it by name, but I bet that as soon as you see it, you know it. Or at least have referred to the emoji it's influenced as 'that Japanese castle'. And to be honest, if it's famous enough to have its own emoji, well, consider me in. I realised it was only an hour away from Osaka, my first stop in Japan, and as I had a day to kill before the rest of my travel buddies arrived, it became cemented into my itinerary.

The Fastest City Zip Wire in the World at Zip World London

The Fastest City Zip Wire in the World at Zip World London

When I was told there was a birthday surprise in store for me, but that before going, I'd have to sign a waiver, my brain went into meltdown. Waivers mean 'dangerous', right? What could I be doing?! I'd been on the world's biggest swing in New Zealand, so began to think that my boyfriend had planned something similar and convinced myself I'd be heading up the ArcelorMittal Orbit slide in Stratford.

Six Awesome Photography Tricks I Learnt on a Photo Walk With Jessops

Two people taking photographs

I've owned my precious little Olympus Pen E-L7 for almost two years now. I did the ultimate blogger cliche of purchasing a 45mm lens last year, and as an early birthday treat for 2017, I've nabbed myself a 25mm lens too. I read up on photography tips online, quiz professionals (two of my best mates happen to be married to photographers), and just test and learn as I go, and I feel like my pictures really are improving.

A Distressing Visit to Rila Monastery, Bulgaria

Fresco at Rila Monastery

I've started thinking bigger when it comes to city breaks. After a successful trip to Vianden Castle from Luxembourg City, and regretting not making it to Transylvania when in Bucharest, I did my research before going to Sofia and the internet was united screaming the words RILA MONASTERY my way.

Why I Love Using Guide Books to Plan My Trips

Collection of travel guide books

Back in February 2014, I was excitedly preparing for my first trip to Australia. I was working there for a few weeks, followed by a trip to Hong Kong on my way home, and in anticipation, I bought a couple of guide books. Flipping through them at my desk, a colleague leant over, took a look at them and said, 'Guide books? That's very....analogue of you.'

How to Spend a Day in Bath, Somerset

Umbrella Street installation, Bath

Let me just start by saying that the way to spend a day in Bath is by booking the correct train tickets, so that you don't have to depart London at 6am like I did. On the plus side, it meant we arrived before the crowds did, but also meant that by about 4pm we were so tired, we had to go and have a nap in our hotel in a nearby town.

Hiking the Incredible Franz Josef Glacier, New Zealand

Inside a crevasse on Franz Josef glacier

There's something beautiful about seeing mountains in winter, when the snow is fresh and thick, the skies are blue but the air has a bite. The cold seasons in New Zealand, and especially on the South Island, transform the rolling green landscapes we all know from those films into icing sugar-dusted peaks instead. I was told that 60% of hikes going up onto Franz Josef Glacier are cancelled due to poor weather, so as we drove to the area, my eyes were firmly on the skies.

Six Tips For Eating Well When Backpacking

Travel blogger with rucksack

Travelling for a long period of time is exhausting. Lugging a rucksack from place to place, on every mode of transport you can imagine and then eventually hitching up at a hostel where there's zero food to chow down on. It's so easy to end up snacking on convenience food and getting takeaways, but really, if you're on a multi-month, multi-country trip, that is NOT the way to be saving money. Eating well on the road is easy, cheap and healthy with just a bit of preparation. Here's how I managed it on my trip from Malaysia to New Zealand:

The Beginner's Guide of Where to Shop in London's West End

How to Spend a Day in London's West End

I know the streets of the West End pretty well after almost seven years of living in London; so it is super rare that I actually spend a day in the area, rather than powering through it with my earphones in whilst I snarl at tourists. But as I've said so many times before, you don't have to go off the beaten track to have a great travel experience, so I set out to explore my own city, embracing the West End's 'London is Open' message, and had a full day of hitting actual shops rather than just adding to my never-ending ASOS order. 

If it's your first time to this area, here's where you should head to:

An Indulgent Brunch at Angelina, Paris

Mont Blanc patisserie

Finding the place to eat the famous foods of Paris is like finding a needle in a haystack. There's baguettes and macaroons and red wine on every corner, but that obviously doesn't mean it's good, which is why I insisted on returning to Angelina during my most recent visit to France.
As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review