In Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Shrine

The Fushimi Inari Shrine. An incredible place that I had wanted to see for many years and I must say it didn’t disappoint. Sitting at the bottom of the Inari mountain starts the two hour meandering path up the mountain to the main shrine 233 meters above sea level. Inari is seen as the patron of business so the gates are donated by businesses for good luck an fortune in its endeavours. It is said that there are over 5,000 torii (gates) along the path which is incredible. As you walk it you don’t even realise how many there are. I did the entire trail and I thought there were hundreds not thousands! These are just some of 40,000 gates all over japan.phoebegill161024008Although it’s not a particularly strenuous climb the heat makes it more difficult and in Summer months it gets unbearably hot in Japan. In October it was about 24 degrees, which for an Irish girl was hot enough! Bring  water as at the top of the mountain I found that I had none left but there are vending machines at the main shrine so you wont shrivel from dehydration. phoebegill161024144Foxes are seen to be the messengers of the shrine so there are fox statues dotted around the sites. I really feel like this place was a good fit for me because not only are there foxes, my favourite little woodland creature, Inari is the god of rice and I love rice a lot, as in I’d like it for every meal. In all seriousness, this area is beautiful and peaceful, even with the mass of people, it was just so incredible that the first thing I do in Japan is seeing this fantastic site. phoebegill161024192It doesn’t have closing times and is free to explore. Go early and enjoy this incredible place. I noticed on the way down to the exit there were a lot more people so if you want a selfie with a free path you aren’t going to get it at lunch time. Also as the walk takes 2-3 hours in total go early to make the most of your day!

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In Clare: Cliffs of Moher Helicopter Tour

I have wanted to ride in a helicopter for the longest time and just before christmas I saw the Groupon had an offer that I couldn’t pass up! I went with Executive Helicopters. Usually the 15 minute helicopter tour costs €250 euro but the offer was for €99 euro. Now to me that is a good deal. PhoebeGill160306588You could either choose from a Dublin tour or a Cliffs of Moher tour and when I saw this I thought I could kill two birds with one stone and so I made some plans to go across the country to check off something very high on the bucket list! PhoebeGill160306271To get to Spanish Point airfield type in these coordinates into google or your gps: 52°50’52.0″N 9°24’55.2″W. There is a small amount of parking on site just go though the gate and you can park up. Go into the portacabin and you can get a prosecco or soft drink before your flight. The process to get on your flight is almost instantaneous, it’s a very relaxed atmosphere! PhoebeGill160306060-2There are two helicopters and it’s four people in each. Although it can feel quite cramped I loved every second! I would love to go up by myself but I might make it rock side to side as I slosh around trying to look out every window and trying to get the best shots! PhoebeGill160306341The views are just amazing! I chose to do my flight on the Sunday and I went to the Cliffs of Moher the day before so it was wonderful to see the landscape at a different angle! I recommend you do the same, I think it is a much more well rounded trip if you end it in the air. PhoebeGill160306567The flight feels like 5 minutes but it does take 15, it’s almost as if you are going slow but time has sped up, it’s a mad feeling and it’s something I want to experience again and again! The views are just incredible, seeing the coastline and just how green it is, is astonishingly beautiful! I was smiling ear to ear!PhoebeGill160306072I know €99 euro sounds very expensive for 15 minutes but you have to take into consideration that running a helicopter is very very costly. Saying that I don’t think I would pay €250 but I would pay €99 again. I am so so grateful I was able to check off something I have wanted to do for such a long time and do it in a beautiful part of Ireland.

Would you go up in a helicopter? Is it on your list?

Happy Travels!

In Life: My First Solo Travel Experience

Smith & SonsStory Time

I never get stressed before I fly I have been flying for years and I know what to do, it’s all good. This was not the case right before my first solo trip. I didn’t know where my passport was, I was dealing with a suitcase, weight restrictions and no online check-in and I got very angry.

Before I went my wonderful friend Jess, The Gap Year Guru, told me that problem solving was going to be the thing that made all the difference and if a problem did occur, being by yourself is going to be a much bigger challenge. I nodded and didn’t think much more about it. Don’t worry Jess, your words would come to fruition!

Day 1

As in most cases there was no need to be stressed at all. I got to the airport, sent my case away and got on my plane. Had a row to myself, I got to nap. All fine.

So as I stepped off the plane in Iceland, My laces got caught in my hiking boot eyelets and I fell over and grazed my knee, hilarious, if only I could have a gif of my falling over, it would actually make any situation a million times better. I am laughing thinking about it now but yes, I was in a lot of pain but I got my bag and changed my shoes and everything was fine!

I got picked up by my rental company and I got given my camper. I went to the shops and then I drove all day to the glacial lagoon. Wonderful, productive first day. Hurray!

Day 2

What a glorious morning, I wake up, go to the black sand iceberg beach at sunrise, take some photos, get annoyed by an ignorant german guy who kept standing right in front of me when I was taking photos. Swine! I then go back to the glacial lagoon, spot a seal, take some pictures, go for a walk. I then go back to the beach to take more shots. When I get back to my car to go off on my adventures, I can’t find my phone…I lost my black phone on a black sand beach. Well the profanities that were coming from me at this time was unnatural and I started to cry, then I started to problem solve.

I thought to myself, do I have to drive the 6 hours back to Reykjavik to buy a new phone? Do I go to a petrol station and ask to call home? How am I supposed to navigate anywhere? At this point I realised just how handy the damn things are!

Thankfully after two rounds of retracing my steps, two lovely girls held up my phone, I thank them profusely and I then went to hug an iceberg with happiness. Thank you kind strangers, I would have been lost without you!

Day 3 + 4

So these two days were fine, I drove, I explored, I went for walks, ate hotdogs, grand stuff. Apart from cooking, that really did suck. I can’t cook and I gave up pretty quickly. Also I did have to sleep in a petrol station car park because I was exhausted and the campsite in town was closed. Kind of felt like a tramp but gave up feeling anything once I was watching Firefly snuggled up in my sleeping bag.

Day 5

My final day, I had gone over my miles in the car so I decided to stay in Reykjavik and explore more, walk the entire length and breath of the city centre. I get quite weird on my own in a city, I feel like I should rush through things, I have no idea why I do this. It was getting pretty exhausting trying to find things to do and I had eaten everything I could. I now had to find a petrol station close to the airport that I could sleep in.

Luckily my parents rang me and said that they had booked me a cheap hotel room really close to the airport. I cried with happiness because living out of a van and walking/driving all day is extremely tiring. I drove to the hotel, got lost, had a cry, got into my room and at 7pm I fell asleep. Woke up at half 2 in the morning, watched some YouTube, ate some breakfast and left for the airport. Nothing could stop me…

Oh wait, everything can.

Getting to the airport

You see, I wrote an entire blog post about my rental. It sucked and at this point I hated it, like with a fiery passion!

It was really dark on the roads and the road I needed to take to get to the airport was closed, so I cried, I was driving around trying to find an exit and I go down a dead end.

This is where it gets fun; there was a giant patch of water in the middle of the road, that I didn’t see and of course I drive into it, I quickly get out of it and try to turn around but it’s too late. The wheels sort of lock up and I am in a lane behind a Subway and I can’t turn my wheels. I thought, I am 5km away from the airport, how am I going to get there, am I going to have to abandon the camper, there are no taxis anywhere. I cry more and I am just so done with this camper, it is a piece of shit. Thankfully I get out of this situation. Park at the airport. Run far far away from the camper and go stand in line for a hour to get on my flight. Then home.

What I learned:

  1. I am a stress cryer. I don’t mind a good cry to cleanse you of woes but good god I cried a lot! When I was in a tight spot I just started to weep. Damn it tear ducts!
  2. I do things very quickly. When you are with people you saunter places, you stop and chat and take pictures but when you are on your own, there is nothing left to do. I am Speedy Gonzales. In theory I could have driven the entire island in my 5 days but I didn’t know how quickly I could tick stuff off my list.
  3. I don’t need to talk to people. I think some people may have gone insane with the lack of human interaction I found myself in. I think some days I talked to one person. That is ok to me.
  4. Despite all this, I really do want someone or a small group of people who I can travel with. I like being by myself and doing my own thing but I’d like to have the option. I just haven’t found them.
  5. I am very capable. I have always known this but it’s nice to have confirmation. I can book, travel, explore, everything, by myself. Although I do ring home to talk things out, I can do it. It’s a nice feeling.
  6. I have a great relationship with my family. They may drive me mad at times but they get me, I am a product of their madness and it’s always nice to know that I can call and they will listen. Most people see this as a weakness and think that I get home sick because I call them. Thats not the case. It’s because I feel comfortable talking to them, I trust them when I may not be comfortable or trust talking to others.
  7. Taking pictures of yourself is such an ordeal! I know I could have asked people but I don’t like doing that. Also setting up a tripod is annoying. I saw a solo traveller take some photos of herself and I just wanted to give her props for not caring and doing her thing. I am not there yet.
  8. 5 days was a little long for what I had planned. This is something that will always be hit or miss. Maybe I should be the type that doesn’t plan too much and just go off and come back whenever.

Would I solo travel again? Hell yes! I love doing things my way, answering to no one and not worrying what my travel party thinks of me. It’s so refreshing.

Would I drive solo again? Yes! There is nothing better than being independent. I love driving and the freedom it gives. I will happily rent a car all around the globe if I can.

I think if you are like me and are socially capable but just not forward, start small and work your way up. Get comfortable with yourself in solo situations. That does sound strange but what I mean is, I didn’t know I would cry so much, I didn’t know how quickly I would get stuff done. Start small and see what happens, then go on to bigger and better projects.

Or just jump right in, who am I to tell you anything!

If you are taking your first solo trip I wish you all the luck and hope your tear ducts don’t explode like mine!

Happy Travels!

In Iceland: Jökulsárlón and the Iceberg Beach

I tried to drive here in January but it was impossible with the amount of light in Winter and the snow. This time, I was determined to get there, it was the first place on my list. The first place where I was heading.

I arrived at Jökulsárlón at 10pm so it was dark and the only thing I saw were a couple of icebergs illuminated by my headlights. I was knackered so I went to bed and when I woke up I saw the most amazing thing. A huge lagoon full of icebergs. It was amazing.PhoebeGill150916805

This place is incredible. It really is. I can’t wait to go back already! I once again feel like I missed something or I didn’t take enough photos of it. (I’m sure I did but I love going back anywhere in Iceland)PhoebeGill150916986

Top Tip:

When you are standing at the shore of the lagoon, the sun will rise behind you so it will be a bit darker early in the morning until the sun fully rises. For the best pictures I recommend around 10am (in September). Although, sunrise on the iceberg beach next to the lagoon is pretty gorgeous!PhoebeGill150916833There weren’t any icebergs close to the shore for me to get close to and try and get scale but when you see chunks of ice break off and float down stream it shows you the scale of these hunks of ice. Watching an iceberg float out to sea is just amazing! Seeing it rock like a boat and then stop. It is just awesome.PhoebeGill150916596I would love to do a boat tour next time. Going through the lagoon would be immense. It’s been a dream of mine to go to Antarctica like my father so maybe it would be like a teeny tiny version of that.PhoebeGill150916987I am so excited I got to see this incredible place. Definitely worth the wait!

Have you been to Jökulsárlón? Is there any place like this that you have been to? 

Happy Travels!

In Wicklow: Falconry Experience with Falconry Ireland

So I love birds, they are fascinating and beautiful and the more knowledge I can gain about them, the better. I asked for a falconry experience for christmas. Falconry Ireland is where I decided to go. You can often find some great deals on GrouponPhoebeGill150716294How to get there: The easiest way to get there is putting the coordinates 52.801529,-6.255436 into a sat nav. The building is down an unmarked dirt road, off a number of unnamed roads. So definitely use the coordinates as it will get you there directly. 
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I went on the falconry experience for one but you are not alone, there is a large group of you. Whats included is a briefing on the hawks and the day, then a hawk walk, a falcon show and finishes with a showcase of the other birds that live on the property. PhoebeGill150716126First up the Hawk Walk. This is where we walked up to a field and went into a patch of trees and saw the hawks fly. We all got a glove and our guide, Jim, put a small amount of meat onto the glove and Vinny the hawk flew to us. I liked Vinny a lot. He also liked my Langy bag! Also it started to lash rain when we were out there which is why Vinny looks wet. PhoebeGill150716059

Next up the Falcon Show, this is where the guide and owner, Darragh Brennan, showcased the beautiful Lanner Falcon. Unfortunately the weather was not on our side and we only got to see one dive but you could tell that they are incredible hunters! We then got to hold a lanner falcon and they are just stunning up close.PhoebeGill150716161

Lastly was the showcase of the other birds that live on the land. There are lots of owls, it was great to hear information of where they come from, how they hunt, their species quirks and differences. It was really fascinating.
PhoebeGill150716214Hedwig!! There was also a kite that flew around the property, it’s amazing seeing these birds swoop and catch food in the air. How some of them close their eyes when they eat, how inquisitive some species are. It’s great to get so up close with these birds. PhoebeGill150716275I think they had four species of Owls on the property. Eurasian Eagle Owl, Snowy Owl, Burrowing Owl and Barn Owl. All beautiful creatures. PhoebeGill150716184 You can tell the people who work here love and are dedicated to their birds. They are open on Thursdays and Saturdays at 11:15 and are not open to the public because the birds are flown everyday for exercise and natural prey feeding.

Take Note:

  1. The Hawks do not peck or preen but they may land on your head, so maybe bring a hat. It also makes for great photos!
  2. Look like you are interested and Jim will put meat on your glove. People were giving me daggers because I stepped forward, to have Vinny fly to me, many times.
  3. If you get too close to the birds aviaries, they hiss at you, that is their safe space so keep that in mind when you stick a camera through the mesh, they may also bite.
  4. Bring waterproof shoes if it has been raining. The tour is 2 hours and you are walking through a field.
  5. Park your car to the left of the house by the field, don’t park to the right by the wall, a huge tractor came through with hay and couldn’t get pass.

I definitely recommend this experience, you learn a lot, they are incredible birds and it’s wonderful to see them in the open and flying. I really think is a great present to give someone interested in birds of prey. Remember to check out Groupon and get vouchers for you and a friend! Have you had a falconry experience?

Happy Travels!

In Croatia: Plitvice National Park in June

Plitvice National Park has been on my bucket list for a long long time and as happy as I was to see it there was something that was quite disappointing about the whole thing. I hate coming away from a trip and feeling like I have to go back right away. After my day in Plitvice, I am not finished at all. Also I will never go back in June or Summer ever again.

I got the bus from Zadar to Plitvice, buses are really convenient to get around but the morning I was to leave, my bus was late, about an hour late so that was quite annoying, I also sat in something sticky which is just nasty. Always bring travel wipes with you!

PhoebeGill150615276-1I got to the park at about 12:30 which is pretty late if you want to get the park done in a day, which was the only time I could spend there.  I paid 110 kuna (€14.50) to get into the park which is very good value for money. I also got a big map that cost 20 kuna (€2.60) I started at entrance 2, and waited in line to get across the lake to the park itself. The lake is absolutely beautiful. You can hire boats that you can row by yourself and go off and explore, I will be doing that next time.   PhoebeGill150615477-2If you are looking at a map the of the park and are at entrance 2 you will see on the left that there are three loops around the lakes, I only did the lowest loop. I am annoyed I only saw that because I am sure that the rest of the upper lakes are beautiful.
PhoebeGill150615062-3Walking around the park was really nice but also a little unnerving. Massive groups of tourists would clump together and make you feel like you were going to fall into the water. These aren’t the biggest walkways and there are no banisters on the boardwalks also so take note. 

PhoebeGill150615148-4The waterfalls are absolutely beautiful! There are unfortunately no inlets to take pictures so there is always a bit of a pile up if you want to stop. It also makes the experience feel a bit rushed, like you can’t stop because then you are holding up a lot of people. PhoebeGill150615462-5 There are beautiful dragonflies all over the park, such beautiful, beautiful creatures. There are also lots of fish in the lakes and the water is so clear that you can see them really clearly.
PhoebeGill150615379-6 The right side of the map has ‘The Big Waterfall’. I did this route later in the evening when most of the big big tour groups are gone. I took the big boat across the lake from port 2 to port 3 to walk to the big waterfall. I was still following route K but it was closed off on this side which meant I needed to find an alternative route. This part of the park was a lot quieter. Although I didn’t have any pressure from people it was now almost closing time in the park.
PhoebeGill150615466-7The water is just absolutely amazing! It’s a shame you can’t go for a swim or touch it but to preserve it’s beauty is important and shouldn’t be messed with. PhoebeGill150615283-9When I got to the big waterfall it was worth it. I sat down tried to drown out all the selfie sticks and other people and enjoyed my time. It is utterly stunning!

Tips:

  1. Go early or later. If you are going in June this is your best bet to have a little more comfort walking around the park.
  2. Have a nice time but don’t loose all sense of courtesy. Don’t run past people, don’t walk two or three a breast, don’t be rude. It’s very simple.
  3. Use the boats and buses. They are a fantastic way to get around the park and break up a lot of walking.
  4. Stay at the Plitvice Hotel at entrance 2. Great basic hotel and you get breakfast included.
  5. Don’t touch the water or mess with any flora or fauna in the park.

*Note: I know my shots look empty but that is because I am an expert in taking people out of my shots, it was extremely busy!

I wish I listened to my gut and took an extra day here. I think two days is the perfect amount for a visit in Summer. I will be going back, I am already thinking of how I can go back and see more of Croatia and this park. I would definitely recommend going to see this beautiful park but I don’t recommend you go in Summer, this was just the start of the season and if you don’t like crowds it isn’t the time to go, I couldn’t handle it. Despite all this the park is beautiful and I can’t wait to go back. Have you been to Plitvice? What time of year did you go at? 

Happy Travels!