Travel Diary – Tunisia Part Two

Tunis is one of North Africa’s most cosmopolitan cities – bustling and brash but friendly and laid-back at the same time, it is a city of contradictions.

The city’s 8th Century Arab Medina (Old Town) is an exotic labyrinth of twisting streets and alleyways. The 19th century French Colonial new city with its sprawling palm lined boulevards, cafes and trams, is orderly and calm in comparison, and both equally have their charm.

Here are some of my favourite things to do in Tunisia’s capital and the surrounding area.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Visit Carthage – Take the train from Tunis Marine TGM Station to Carthage, Hannibal Station to visit the ruins of ancient Carthage. Although the ruins are quite scarce in comparison with some sites I’ve visited they are still well worth a visit, with their seafront location and stunning views over the area. The on-site Carthage Museum houses many of the finds from the excavation of the site.

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000028The ruins are located in an idyllic spot, overlooking the seaTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Explore the ancient Medina – In the centre of Tunis the 8th century Medina is a fascinating place to spend a day exploring. With its tangled alleyways it is easy to get lost, but you will always find your way back to the Great Mosque – Djemma ez Zaitouna (Olive Tree Mosque).

Shop for souvenirs including colourful carpets, spices and leather goods in the bustling Souq, and don’t forget to bargain. Whilst Arabic and French are the main languages, English is also widely spoken and understood.

The Medina is also home to enormous key-lock shaped doors, inquisitive cats, and restaurants serving traditional Tunisian dishes.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogGiant key-lock shaped  doors are a dominant feature throughout MedinaTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogColourful souvenirs on offer in the SouqTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Djemma ez Zaitouna (Olive Tree Mosque) – While non-Muslims are not permitted to enter the prayer hall of the Medina’s great mosque, you are able to visit the exterior courtyard. Organised tours are also available.

The rooftop of a nearby shop offers stunning views over the mosque and the Medina below.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogIntricate tiles on the rooftop of a nearby shop frame the Great Mosque Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogColourful carpets provide contrast to the whitewashed walls of the Medina Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Spending a day exploring the charming seaside village of Sidi Bou Said – just 20 minutes from Tunis, the seaside village of Sidi Bou Said is easy to reach by train, or as part of a day tour.

Perched on cliff tops above the Mediterranean, this pretty blue and white village is home to many local artists and is also a favourite getaway for city-dwellers over the weekend. Read more about Sidi Bou Said in last weeks post here.

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogBougainvillea draped buildings are characteristic of the blue and white village of Sidi Bou Said 

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogColourful studded doors line the streets of the village Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part Two|Gypsy Rova Blog

Follow in the footsteps of the stars and visit Fella Boutique – Grace Kelly, Sophia Loren and Greta Garbo have all shopped in Fella Boutique at some point. Run by world renowned designer, Samia Bin Khalifa since the 1960’s, this small boutique in Tunis is a treasure trove of intricate handmade Tunisian dresses, colourful kaftans and jewellery.

Location: 9 bis Place Pasteur, Tunis Belvédère 1002

Travel Diary - Tunisia Part 2 |Gypsy Rova BlogThe Cathedral of St. Vincent de Paul on Avenue Habib Bourguiba

Have you visited Tunisia? I’d love to hear about your experiences and favourite spots in the comments below!

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Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said

Located in the north of Tunisia, about 20 minutes from the bustling capital of Tunis, is the charming seaside town of Sidi Bou Said. Known as the “Artist’s Village’ it is easy to see why Sidi Bou Said has been a popular bohemian getaway since the late 19th century.

With its winding cobblestoned streets, hidden courtyards and gardens and endless alleyways, Sidi Bou Said is the perfect place to spend the day exploring and taking in the views from the cliffs out to the Mediterranean below.

It is also a great base from which to explore the surrounding area. The ruins of ancient Carthage are nearby, and it is an easy trip into town to explore the sprawling maze of the Souq lined Medina in Tunis.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Blog

Getting there: from Tunis take the TGM Metro (known locally as the “Blue Train”) which departs every 20 minutes or so. There are also several day tours running from Tunis to the village. Cars are banned in the village centre.

Where to stay: La Villa Bleue – A beautiful boutique style hotel overlooking the Mediterranean. Hotel Dar Said – Set in a traditional merchants house Hotel Dar Said is an authentic and relaxing small hotel.

Where to eat and drink: Au Bon Vieux Temps – French, Mediterranean. With stunning views overlooking the Mediterranean this is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down while enjoying your meal. Restaurant Dar Zarrouk  – Tunisian. With plenty of tables both inside and out and views over the Marina, this is another great option for evening dining. Cafe des Nattes This iconic traditional cafe perched above the village, is a great spot to people watch while enjoying the traditional sweet mint tea, or local coffee.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova BlogRestaurant Dar Zarrouk

Shopping: Sidi Bou Said is a great place to pick up souvenirs of your trip to Tunisia. Carpets, colourful pottery, leather goods, and jewellery are amongst some of the things on offer.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Blog

Street vendors sell sweetly scented Jasmine flowers.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Blog

The maze of narrow cobblestoned streets provide much needed shade from the heat of the day.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Blog

In the late afternoon the village shimmers in the sunlight. It is a good time to take advantage of one of the villages courtyard cafes. Relax in the shade and enjoy a glass of the local sweet mint tea.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Blog

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Travels

Everywhere you look in the village you’ll find elaborate iron latticework, and colourful studded doors.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Travels

Archways give glimpses of the glistening Mediterranean below.

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Travels

In the balmy afternoon air, music floats out onto the streets from behind the doors of iron gated villas. This was one of my favourites. I can definitely see myself living here!

Travel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary: Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia | Gypsy Rova Blog

Read more about Tunis and Sidi Bou Said in my next post here.

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Female Travellers: 20 Safety Tips

Safety can be a big concern for female travellers, especially when you’re travelling alone. When my sister and I first started to travel overseas, we would get a lot of advice from well meaning friends and relatives that we used to refer to at the time as ‘scaremongers’.

While I think you can take many of the nightmare travel stories you hear with a grain of salt, there are some precautions you can take which will make you feel more prepared for any situation and in control of your safety.

After many years of working as a travel agent and flight attendant, I have done more than my share of solo travel. These are some of the tips and tricks that I’ve picked up along the way.

20 Travel Safety Tips For Female Travellers | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

1. Don’t advertise your room number  – whether you’re arranging to meet friends later, or charging something back to your room in the hotel restaurant, be careful who is within earshot when you’re giving out your room number or the name of your hotel.

2. Use your do not disturb sign – if you have valuables in your room, leave the do not disturb sign on the door when you’re heading out to help prevent theft. Lock laptops, cameras and any other valuables in the hotel safe or your suitcase.

3. Be social media savvy – in a world where our private lives have become very public its a good idea to be cautious about sharing your travel plans online. If you’re posting on Instagram or Facebook turn location services off and don’t advertise your plans for the next few days.

4. Blend in nothing screams ‘I’m a tourist’ like a backpack, belt bag and a map. Try to blend in with the locals and dress as you would if you lived there to avoid unwanted attention. As convenient as a day pack is, they are easier for an opportunistic pick pocket to access when you’re distracted.  Instead, opt for a cross body bag which will still fit everything you need, but can be worn towards the front so you can keep a good eye on it when you’re walking around or on public transport.

5. Check in with family or friends at home – it’s always a good idea to leave a rough itinerary with a friend or family member at home. If you’re travelling alone arrange to check in daily with someone – a quick text message or email to a friend or family member is all  it takes to keep them up to date with your movements.

6. Use trusted taxi companies only – when you’re running late to get to the airport or you’re tired and just want to get back to your hotel it can be tempting to jump into any taxi that’s available. Always check which are the reputable taxi companies in your destination and use their cars only. It can also be a good idea to make a habit of noting the licence plate of the taxi you’re in, in case you leave any of your belongings in the taxi.

7. Respect local customs – do your research on local customs before you travel. Abide by local dress codes and respect their values to avoid causing unnecessary offence and confrontation.

8. Always take out travel insurance – insurance can be one of those things that seems like just another expense, especially if you are travelling on a budget, but with medical costs being so high for non-citizens in many countries, it really is essential. Most travel insurance will also cover you against loss or theft of your belongings.

9. Language barriers – in a country where you don’t speak the language, it is always a good idea to get one of the hotel staff to write the name and address of your hotel in the local language on a piece of paper for you to pass to taxi drivers in case you have trouble communicating.

10. Trust your intuition – if your gut says no, don’t do it. When a friend and I were visiting the pyramids in Egypt a man offered to show us a spot where you could get the best view. At the time it didn’t feel right and we didn’t go. We later heard that it is a popular scam to lead you away from the main tourist area and rob you. Nine times out of ten your intuition will be right, so listen to it.

11. Research scams – ok so it’s not the most exciting thing to research before you travel abroad, but as they say forewarned is forearmed. Just do a quick google search for common tourist scams in your destination so you know what to watch out for. Chances are you won’t come across them, but it’s a good feeling to be prepared.

12. Wear a fake wedding ring – I wouldn’t suggest that you need to do this all the time, however, if you’re travelling to an area where you feel that you may stand out and attract a lot of unwanted attention from the opposite sex, a fake wedding ring can help to avoid the problem. In saying that, the mention of a fiancé or boyfriend may well have the same effect.

13. Carry only what cash you need with you – work out roughly what cash you will need for the day and leave the rest in your hotel safe. Keep a separate coin purse for tipping and making small purchases so you’re not having to get your wallet out more than necessary. Keep some spare cash and a credit card hidden somewhere in your suitcase for emergencies.

14. Check the location of the nearest fire exit from your room – when you check into your hotel room, memorise which direction the nearest fire exit is and how many doors that you need to pass to get to it in case visibility is limited. I once woke up to a fire alarm in a hotel in the middle of the night, and was so disorientated that I struggled to remember which city I was in, let alone where the exit was. Luckily it was a minor fire, however, had it been serious I would have struggled to find my way out.

15. Don’t wear expensive jewellery or carry designer handbags – it can be tempting to want to look as good as possible, especially in fashionable destinations like Milan or Rome. You can still look great, but avoid the temptation to draw attention to yourself by showing off your best designer gear and jewellery.

16. Get your bearings – whenever I’m in a new city I tend to do some sort of city tour on my first day to get my bearings and give me a feel for the areas that are safe and others that are perhaps best to avoid. The hop on hop off tours are great as you generally get a 48 hour ticket, which allows you to spend more time visiting any of the sights that you didn’t have time to visit on the first day.

17. Make friends with other female travellers –  day trips are a great way to meet other travellers and make friends. When I was visiting Los Angeles alone, I met two lovely ladies on a day tour and ended up meeting up with them for dinner that evening. I always find dinner time to be quite lonely when I’m travelling alone, so if you can find other ladies in the same situation it can really make a difference.

18. Drinking – I have been unlucky enough to have had my drink spiked while in a bar in Melbourne and it was not a pleasant experience at all! Thankfully, I was with a group of girls who soon realised what had happened when I collapsed. If you’re out in bars try to order bottled drinks that are opened in front of you, and never leave your drink unattended. It sounds like an obvious one, but when you’re travelling it can be so easy to get caught up in the excitement of the moment and let your guard down after a couple of drinks.

19. Budget extra – when you’re planning your trip budget a little extra to allow you to change accommodation at the last minute if you feel unsafe, or hail a taxi rather than walking alone at night.

20. Register with your governments, relevant travel safety authority – 

UK Citizens: follow the Foreign Office on Twitter: https://twitter.com/foreignoffice

US Citizens: register with U.S. Department of State

NZ Citizens: register with Safe Travel

Australian Citizens: register with Smarttraveller

Canadian Citizens: register with Registration of Canadians abroad

I’d love to hear any of your top travel safety tips in the comments below.

Safe travels!

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15 Travel Photography Tips

You’re about to set off on the trip of a lifetime and want to make sure that you capture your adventure and create treasured memories for years to come.

Here are some of my top travel photography tips which I’ve tried and tested over the years!

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova Blog

1. Research – before you set off, do some research on your destination and make a list of the types of images you’d like to take. Use Pinterest and instagram for inspiration. The list of possible subjects is endless:

Landscapes
Weather and skyscrapers
People
Wildlife
Activities and sports
Details and close-ups
Transport
Architecture
Street scenes
Festivals and events
Markets
Culture (food, arts, traditions)

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova BlogPhoto taken at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Thailand

2. Be organised – always pack spare memory cards and battery packs. There is nothing worse than having your camera battery suddenly go flat when you’re on the Great Wall of China, (believe me I speak from experience!). Carry a portable tripod if you have one and if not improvise and use walls, fences and trees to steady your camera. Have a waterproof bag of some sort easily accessible to protect your camera from the elements.

3. Make the most of the weather – if the weather isn’t great don’t be defeated. Dark stormy skies, foreboding clouds, mist and fog can all make for some really atmospheric shots so use them to your advantage.

4. Always be prepared – when you’re on the road amazing photo opportunities can pop up at any time. Have your camera where it is easily accessible rather than in a backpack. If you’re concerned about the safety of having your expensive camera visible, have your phone or smaller camera on hand for on the go shots that you need to capture quickly.

5.  Beat the crowds – it can be really hard to get shots of famous landmarks when they are swarmed with people. Travel out of season, or get up early to beat the crowds. Trust me – it’s worth it!

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova BlogPhoto taken in Santorini, Greece during golden hour

6. Plan for the light – avoid shooting in the middle of the day. Wait for golden hour – usually during the first two hours of morning light and the last two of the afternoon when the light is soft and warm. This is especially great for landscapes.

7. Leading the eye – ask yourself what is the point of interest in the photo. What do you want to viewer to look at? Use paths, roads, fences, tracks, or rows of buildings to create a straight path to the point of interest. An example would be a path leading to an archway.

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova Blog            Photo taken in Wellington, New Zealand

8. Frame your subject – take advantage of doorways, gates, arches, windows, trees and fences to frame your subject. This adds interest and depth to an image.

9. Detail – don’t forget to take photos of the small details that you love about a destination. They help to provide a sense of place and tell the full story of your trip in years to come when you look back.

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova BlogPhoto taken at Alhambra Palace, Granada 

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova BlogPhoto taken in Beijing, China

10. Change your viewpoint – we’ve all seen the same old shots of the Eiffel Tower and other famous landmarks. For a fresh take on a subject change your viewpoint. Get down low and shoot upwards or find a high viewpoint for a different point of view.

11. Foreground interest – colourful flowers, plants, shells and pebbles can all create interest in what could otherwise be quite a dull scene.

12. Protect your equipment – pack your gear well and if at all possible carry it in your carry on case to prevent damage or loss. Invest in a travel insurance policy that covers your camera and any lenses or other expensive equipment.

13. Do a walking tour – exploring a destination on foot allows you to get up close and take your time. You’ll see things you would never experience from a tour bus and will have some great photo opportunities.

14. People – Including people in your photos adds interest. If you want to take close ups always make sure you ask first. If you’re too shy to approach people include people from a distance, for example someone cycling past.

15 Travel Photography Tips | Gypsy Rova BlogPhoto taken in Old Stone Town, Zanzibar

15. Book a room with a view – if you can afford it splash out and book a room with a view. In a city it will provide a great vantage point for photos and if you’re by the beach, just think of the sunsets you can capture from your balcony!

You can follow along with me and my personal travels on instagram @gypsyrova

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Travel Diary – Lake Como

 

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Lake Como, or Lago di Como in the North of Italy, had always been somewhere I’d wanted to visit, so given a spare day in Milan I took the opportunity to jump on a train and explore the area.

Arriving in Como, I decided to take the 2 hour ferry trip to Bellagio passing the pretty towns lining Lake Como along the way. You can buy a whole day ‘hop on and off’ ticket allowing you to explore the various towns around the Lake.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

With its flower lined promenade, stately hotels, and historic villas its easy to see why Bellagio has been a popular spot amongst artists and writers over the years.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

The deep blue shores of Lake Como are truly stunning on a summer day and a walk in the afternoon breeze is a great way to cool off from the hot Italian sun.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Exploring the cobbled streets and alleyways of Bellagio is intriguing. Around every corner there is something new to find.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Private gardens and tree filled courtyards are hidden behind iron doors and gates, evoking the feeling of having stumbled across a secret garden.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog000010

With galleries, antique stores, boutiques and delicatessens brimming with local produce, there is something for everyone.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Local artisans showcase their wares from silk scarves and ties, to leather goods and colourful ceramics.

000012Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

Stop and relax in one of the cute cafes lining the backstreets. Gelato anyone?

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova BlogTravel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

The views back out to the Lake are dreamy in the late afternoon sun.

Travel Diary - Lake Como | Gypsy Rova Blog

My day of exploring Lake Como came to an end, as all good things do, but if you’d like to visit the area, here’s what you need to know.

Getting there: Como is easy to reach from Milan by car or train. Trains depart regularly from Milan’s Stazione Centrale and Stazione Porta Garibaldi, and arrive at San Giovanni, Como’s main station. The journey is approximately 40 minutes.

Getting to Bellagio: There are frequent boat services from Como to Lenno, Mennagio, Bellagio and Varenna, including a car ferry. There is also a less frequent but faster boat which travels the full length of the Lake from Como.

Como City: This is definitely the liveliest of the towns around Lake Como. It would be a good base if you have longer to explore the area. There are a variety of restaurants,shops and boutiques, as well as a good choice of accommodation. In the day time you can visit the Cathedral, stroll around the town and explore its historical squares, or enjoy a walk or a boat trip along the Lake. There is also a Funicular which runs up the mountains to the small town of Brunate, offering breathtaking views over Lake Como and out to the Alps.

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The hills sweep upward from the shore, With villas scattered one by one
Upon their wooded spurs, and lower
Bellagio blazing in the sun
I ask myself: Is this a dream
Will it all vanish into air
Is there a land of such supreme
And perfect beauty anywhere?
H.W.Longfellow

15 Things I Can’t Travel Without

So you’re finally ready to go on that overseas trip that you’ve worked so hard to save up for, and now it’s time to decide what to pack. After many years spent living out of a suitcase, I’ve come up with a list of essential travel items that make my life much easier and more pleasant on the road. Enjoy!

 

15 Things I Can't Travel Without | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

1. Pashmina or scarf – I always have a pashmina in my carry on bag as an extra layer for those long chilly flights. They’re also great as a cover up for your shoulders when visiting temples and other religious sites, and for those cooler evenings.

2. Portable charger – There is nothing worse than having your phone battery die on you when you’re out and about and need to use the camera, get directions or check your emails, so I always carry a portable charger for battery emergencies.

3. Tiger balm – This little jar of goodness has so many uses. Apart from treating any muscle aches and pains, its a great insect repellant and also helps stop itching if you do get bitten. I rub it on my temples to relieve headaches and it can be used as a chest rub if you’re coming down with the dreaded cold. I recommend the Tiger Balm White formula which won’t stain your clothes or sheets.

4. Argan oil – I don’t know about you, but when I travel anywhere humid, my hair instantly becomes an uncontrollable frizzy mess! Moroccan Argan Oil is definitely a lifesaver – it smells great and a tiny bit goes a long way. It can be used on wet or dry hair to tame those fly-away strands, and it also comes in a 25ml size which is great for travelling.

 

5. Face wipes – Make-up wipes are great for those long-haul flights when you feel worse for wear, and all you want to do is wash your face and freshen up.

6. Body Shop Vitamin C Energising Face Spritz – I also carry a refreshing face spray in my carry on, to spray in-flight. For those hot holiday destinations pop some in the fridge to cool you down by the pool – bliss! I love this inexpensive citrus scented Body Shop Vitamin C version.

15 Things I Can't Travel Without | Gypsy Rova Blog

7. Camera  – When I’m exploring somewhere new, you’ll rarely see me without a camera of some description in front of my face. I always carry my Canon EOS SLR, an extra battery pack, (I’ve been caught out too many times), an extra memory card and a wireless remote. I also pack my GoPro and GorillaPod for those ‘on the go’ situations.

15 Things I Can't Travel Without | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

 

8. Kindle – I must admit I’ve always been a book lover and when kindles first came out I was a bit snobbish about them. That was until I actually took one on holiday and realised how convenient it was to have so many great reads at my fingertips without the added weight to my luggage.

9. Electronics organiser – The last time I was on holiday with my husband, we were constantly digging around in our bags trying to find chargers for our various phones, cameras, etc. With so many electronic devices to pack, I was very excited when I discovered this Cordito Cord & Plug Rollup from This is Ground – definitely on my wish list!

15 Things I Can't Travel Without | Gypsy Rova Blog10. Lip balm – Dry chapped lips can definitely be a problem between dehydrating flights and days spent in the sun, so I always have some on hand when I’m travelling.

11. Sun hat – Apart from providing much needed shade, a sun hat is a must for those bad hair days. When packing, stuff the crown of your hat with small soft items like sarongs, bathing suits and socks. Lay the brim flat and pack small items around it to maintain its shape.

12. Coin purse – There’s nothing worse than a heavy purse full of unused, small change at the end of a holiday. Carry a small separate coin purse for easy access while you’re travelling. It’s great for buying small items like bottles of water, postcards and for tipping.

13. Noise cancelling headphones – Ear buds are fine for short-haul flights, but on longer trips they can become really uncomfortable. It’s definitely worth investing in some noise cancelling headsets, which are not only more comfortable, but are great for blocking out unwanted aircraft noise – particularly if you’re seated near the galley. They don’t have to break the bank either – these AERO 7 Active Noise Cancelling Headphones are reasonably priced and come with an aeroplane kit and a handy travel case.

14. Hand Sanitiser – I’m a bit of a germophobe at the best of times, and even more so when travelling. Between aircraft toilets, public transport and less than sanitary public bathrooms it can be hard to keep your hands clean on the go, and who wants to eat with germy hands. I love Bath and Body Works PocketBac hand sanitisers, which come in a range of amazing scents.

15. Journal or notebook – While apps like Evernote are great for making notes on the go, I still like to carry a notebook or journal for when inspiration strikes. It’s nice to record your travels, and have a memento to look back on. I love this gorgeous ‘Swept Away By Wanderlust’ travel journal from Axel & Ash.

What are some of your travel essentials? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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15 Things I Can't Travel Without | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

 

 

Sneak Peak – New ‘Drifting Away’ Collection

New Drifting Away Collection Coming Soon | Gypsy Rova Shop

I’m currently busy getting ready to launch ‘Drifting Away’ – a collection of images captured on a road trip around the stunning New Zealand coastline a few years ago.

A selection of prints and products will be available to purchase here soon. Here’s a sneak peak in the meantime.

Enjoy!
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Drifting Away Collection | Gypsy Rova

Drifting Away Collection | Gypsy Rova

Drifting Away Collection | Gypsy Rova

A week in Corfu

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 


“Gradually the magic of the island settled over us as gently and clingingly as pollen.” Gerald Durrell

Having already visited the Greek Islands of Santorini, Mykonos and Ios I really wasn’t sure what to expect from the Ionian island of Corfu. I had heard varying reports of a lush green island with stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, and fishing villages as well as tacky beach resorts, and a less charming side. As always I decided to try to set those aside and form my own opinion when I got there – which I am so glad I did.
We visited in May right at the start of the season, which meant long sunny days without the scorching heat of summer, and cool breezy evenings. Without the full onslaught of tourists, it still had that laid back ‘island paced’ feel and the locals were relaxed and friendly. We based ourselves in the North of the island on the outskirts of the village of Sidari – about 45km from the airport. Truth be told, if it had been peak season we would have stayed elsewhere, but we were concerned about having enough facilities open for business in some of the less frequented villages at that time of year.

In the interest of transparency I will say that our first impression of Sidari was mixed – it seemed to be a little run down in parts. It was evident that the tough economic climate had hit hard, however there was a steely determination amongst the locals that it certainly wouldn’t stop them and they would pick back up. Putting all of that to one side our location on the outskirts of the village was quiet and peaceful yet a short ten minute stroll had us on the main strip with a huge choice of tavernas, cafes, bars and restaurants, along with various shops and travel booking offices.

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

Most of the beach side tavernas offer a great breakfast selection, and sitting in the sunshine, overlooking the sea every morning we really did have to pinch ourselves. A stroll through town past the famous Canal d’Amour and into the countryside was the perfect way to work off breakfast and blow away the cobwebs – especially if you’d overindulged in the widely available 3 euro cocktails the night before. Walking down the rural lanes you really see the traditional Corfiot way of life – farmers with sun lined faces and toothy grins full of character would wave as we passed, and women sat gathered in the shade of olive trees going about their morning chores. Farm houses – their terraces draped with bougainvillea, fragrant orange and lemon groves, peaceful country tavernas and endless blue skies all worked their magic and the distant pressures of home soon seemed to fade away. On the way back into town there are several sandy paths winding their way down towards the limestone cliffs which drop into the turquoise waters of the Ionian sea. Steep trails take you down to small secluded coves which are perfect for a refreshing dip as the heat of the day starts to settle in.

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog
 
A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

If like me, you’re not content to sit by a pool for your entire holiday there are plenty of excursions which are well worth doing and offer really good value for money. A day trip into charming Corfu Town is in my humble opinion a must do. Also know as Kerkyra, UNESCO world heritage listed Corfu Town is enchanting with its Old Fortress, historic cobbled streets lined with faded pastel Venetian mansions, old churches and sun-dappled squares. There are plenty of shops selling ceramics, leather goods, clothing, jewellery, local crafts and produce. If shopping isn’t your thing relax in the gardens of the Esplanade (Spianada Square), or visit one of the many cafes in the Parisian influenced Liston building with its arched terraces – a great spot for people watching. With a huge variety of restaurants to choose from you can easily spend the evening here and enjoy the cosmopolitan atmosphere as the sun starts to dip.

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

Also a must do is the idyllic village of Paleokastritsa. Start with a visit to the 13th century Byzantine Monastery, perched high on the hills above the village. With a beautiful bell tower, stunning ocean views and tranquil terraced gardens complete with sunbathing cats, it is well worth the effort. In the village itself there are several turquoise bays to cool off in, boat trips out to explore the caves along the coastline and plenty of options for lunch and refreshments. About 4km from Paleokastritsa is the traditional mountain village of Lakones. Its narrow roads are lined with 18th and 19th century stone houses, and if you are travelling through by bus you will find yourself involuntarily holding your breath while the driver navigates the road. From the vantage point of Bella Vista, a little further along, there are endless views down to the bays of Paleokastritsa and out across the Ionian Sea. For me standing there soaking up the views in the afternoon sunshine with Greek accordion music gently wafting on the breeze will be one of those memories that stays with me forever.

 

A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog

 

In summing up Corfu, like most destinations is what you make of it. Yes, it is true, times are tough in Greece and you can see this in areas. However, for me the positives far out-weighed any negatives. With only a week to explore we barely scratched the surface of what the island has to offer. The true test is always ‘would you go back’ and for me the answer is ‘in a heartbeat’.

 

TOP TIPS

Talk to the locals – the Corfiots are genuinely some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. If you need advice on what to do and see, how to get there, where to eat, etc. they are happy to help. Their warmth, sense of humour and generosity of spirit made our trip and we left feeling as though we had friends in Corfu.

Eating out – there are a huge variety of places to eat with something to suit everyone. Family run Greek Tavernas are well priced and I have to say serve some of my favourite food on the planet. Greek salads, tzatziki, saganaki, calamari, kebabs, moussaka, fresh seafood – I could go on forever. My personal favourite, and a first for me was the ‘baked feta’ which I will try to replicate on the blog in the future. If, however Greek food isn’t your thing there are plenty of other options from steakhouses and American style diners to Mexican and Italian restaurants.

Self catering – Most accommodation also has limited self catering facilities – great for lighter meals and snacks on a budget. The local stores sell a wide variety of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables, freshly baked bread and pastries, yoghurt, deli meats, olives, sun-dried tomatoes,  and of course feta cheese all of which are great to have on hand.

Vegetarians – As a vegetarian, I sometimes struggle when eating out abroad. However, in Corfu there were plenty of options and I felt spoilt for choice.

Visit out of peak season – I would highly recommend visiting in May, or late September to October if you can. From June – August it can be very crowded and the temperatures also soar. If you are visiting in Spring or Autumn pack some warmer items for the evening as it does get chilly, especially by the sea. A light waterproof jacket and decent walking shoes are also a good idea.

Departing Corfu – when leaving Corfu the queues to pass through customs can actually get so long they go outside of the terminal itself. This can mean long periods of standing in the sun waiting, so make sure you apply sunscreen before you go and take water with you. You will thank yourself for it believe me. Apart from a small stall across the road from the terminal, there are limited places to eat until you get through customs, so it pays to have a small snack in your bag to keep you going as well.

Sunset or Logas Beach – if you are staying in the Sidari area it is definitely worth a visit to Panorama Restaurant/7th Heaven Bar in Logas Beach on a clear evening to watch the sunset. A taxi from Sidari will cost you around 10 euro. Try to arrive a bit early to get a seat with a view in the bar/restaurant. It is a bit pricier than some other places but the views and chill out music are worth the premium. When you’re ready to return to Sidari the bar staff will call you a taxi.

Day trips – at the time of our visit a day trip to Corfu Town was around 10 euro per person. Paleokastritsa and Bella Vista was around 15 euro per person. There are a large selection of other trips on offer, including a day trip to Albania, water parks, horse riding and various cruises.

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A week in Corfu | Gypsy Rova Blog