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Girona, Spain

Girona – Game of Thrones day trip from Barcelona

Girona for many years was just a place near Barcelona where cheap flights were landing. Maybe because Jandirk is fascinated with Game of Thrones or maybe simply because we were searching for a nice day trip from Barcelona, we ended up going there AND LOVING IT!

Although it’s possible to visit the main sites in a day, I can imagine we could be walking around those little streets for days. Getting lost in the back alleys and finding our ways to the best restaurants. But well maybe next time. Below all the highlights that can’t be missed.

The Cathedral with its staircase

That’s where our day begun to avoid all the potential crowds and at 9 o’ clock we succeeded.

The Cathedral was built between the 11th and 18th century so as you can imagine it features many styles. Part of it is gothic, some Romanesque and some even baroque. For me the most spectacular part was the staircase leading to the church. The stairs (all 90 of them!) are wide, massive and provide plenty of space and interesting perspectives for beautiful pictures. At the bottom of it there is a charming, little square with cafes and as you climb up there are colorful houses on both sides and some terraces to enjoy the view.

Some of you might recognize the sight from the Game of Thrones TV show. I’ve never watched it but Jandirk reported to me all excited, that it looks pretty much like in the series.

Monastery of Sant Domenec

Another location from GoT. It looks a bit like the Cathedral but in mini-version. It also has a staircase leading to it and the same type of architecture. I absolutely loved the little street going to the left just before the stairs. It’s a perfect hideaway and the first step to explore…

…Girona’s old town’s streets and corners  

The part that we love the most about cities like Girona is that there is an old town where most of the people gather around the main sites and there are plenty of tiny cobblestone streets, archways and passages where you can be all by yourself to soak up the beauty. Even though by the time we started diving into the forgotten alleys it was the late afternoon (read. the sites were packed) we were still alone and managed to find even more GoT locations. Which made JD truly ecstatic.

Don’t forget the bridges!

The old town of Girona is separated from the rest by Onyar River and to cross it there are 5 stunning bridges (in the center, 11 in total). We especially liked the Eiffel Bridge that was built around 1877. You can probably guess from the pictures and the name that it was designed by the same gentleman that created the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

The bridge itself is honestly quite a sight but the views from it are truly one of a kind. On both sides you can see the vivid facades of the riverside homes. The flags hanging from many of them will leave you in no doubt that it’s Catalonia you’re in, not Spain.

Another bridge that we loved was the Princess Bridge. It’s probably the most romantic one of them all and also from this one we got a great view of those colorful houses.

The last one that we would recommend to see is the Stone Bridge. It’s the biggest one and when we were there it had a lovely arts& crafts market. I don’t know if that’s a rule or just a temporary thing though so don’t get your hopes up.

Arabic bath

It’s a really tiny spot but for Game of Thrones’ fans it’s a big joy. Another location! I was not too impressed but JD was over the moon. And that for just 2 euros p.p. More info here.

TIP! Some of the GoT locations didn’t knock me off my feet so I didn’t include them as a must see on here but you can find them here and here.

Walking over the city walls

Passeig de la Muralla as they call it, it’s the best way to get a gorgeous panorama of the city with a backdrop on the distant Pyrenees. It shows you the old and the new harmoniously together. The oldest parts of the walls date back to the Roman times. I was shocked to read that the passage was in pretty good shape until the 19th century when the city started to expand… Thankfully nowadays it’s reconstructed and this 3 km walk is seamless again.

I would recommend to do it in the afternoon, if you come here in the summer, to avoid being exposed to the worst heat.

There are various entrances (all of them free). You can enter through Jardin de la Infancia or Jardines de la Francesa (those are close by the cathedral) or Jardines de John Lennon.

Ice cream time!!

Girona is practically a fine dining capital so to deny yourself at least that top notch ice cream would be a sin! That's what we told ourselves when on our way to Rocambolesc Gelateria.

This tiny shop with a massive queue stretching outside is the baby of Jordi Roca, the dessert chef at the three- star legendary restaurant El Celler de Can Roca… where we wouldn’t be able to eat because of a months of fully booked waiting list and a potentially ruining receipt coming with the experience.

However the ice cream place is a more affordable option to try some wicked flavors… and shapes 🙂

The prices start at 2.5 euro for a “normal looking” sorbet ice cream like bloody mary, gin tonic, mojito or pina colada. The more twisted the shape and flavor the more expensive it gets. Rose water and strawberry ice cream in the shape of a nose costs 4 euro, chocolate, raspberry and yogurt “birthday cake” is 5.50 euro. There is also a Lord Vader, a bear, a hand (GoT 😉 ) and God knows what comes next 🙂

If you don’t get a chance to visit that shop, where it all started, you still can enjoy the same flavors at one of their other shops in Barcelona, Madrid or Alicante.

Sangria or two at the Independence Square

This 19th century square is a perfect place to end your day in Girona. It’s full of life, nice cafes and restaurants. Every building surrounding it has a nice passage with arches and plenty of tables to hide away from the sun.

What to do in the Cameron Highlands? Our guide

The Cameron Highlands are famous for their tea plantations. Coming on the bus we saw nothing of that. To our surprise the closer we got to the area, the more strawberry farms appeared. All adjusted to Asian tourism, with massive strawberry statues and fruit menus. We saw buses unloading in front of so many of them. It was our first disappointment before we even arrived.

Where to stay?

Both of the villages (Brinchang and Tana Rata) are really not that special. Those are not coffee towns of Colombia with charming architecture and certain peace. Here there is a construction site everywhere, all concrete, all future hotels and hostels.

As a traveler you always want to be close to what there is to see, in that case to tea plantations and to be honest none of the villages will place you close to everything. The plantations and anything else that there is to see in Cameron Highlands is pretty widespread so in final end, it doesn´t matter where you stay, you will have to take a tour or a taxi anyway.

We were relieved when it turned out that our little hotel was really friendly and beautiful and Brinchang turned out to be a bit calmer than Tana Rata.

Hotel Flora Plus was situated almost at the outskirts of the village which we didn't mind, since there was little noise and food was still close by. The hotel itself had a really charming lobby filled with plants and comfortable places to sit. We also loved their quiet, spacious sitting area in the back that was just perfect for a chill out or eating your take out meal.

What to see?

Unfortunately exploring the Cameron Highlands we saw way more strawberry farms than tea plantations. It seems that those attract more Asian tourists than tea and at the end of the day, it’s all about business.

We decided to give it a chance and visit Big Strawberry Farm since it was at walking distance from our place. I wouldn’t call it a must-see. I wasn’t impressed by pots and pots of strawberries or their strawberry menu or certainly not by cheesy statues. All the other farms looked pretty much the same… So at least if you see one, you saw them all. The visit doesn’t take more than 30 minutes unless someone is very fond of screaming Chinese tourists than a visit in the café is recommended. On the bright side, entrance to the farm is free.

Tea plantations

Sungai Palas Boh Tea Estate is the most popular choice. The plantation is huge and spread all over the surrounding hills. In the middle of it all there is a building where one can explore the history of the estate and find out a bit more about tea in general. The busiest spot is definitely the terrace and the café where one can try local tea and pastries. The crowds are insane! It takes a fight to find a place and then a lot of patience to stand in the queue. And for what???? Because the tea there is not as good as assam black tea on Taiwan or even earl grey produced on Sri Lanka. To be fair the views from the terrace are spectacular.

I’m a tea lover so one plantation would not be enough. We decided to visit the Cameron Bharat Tea Plantation and this one has stolen our hearts. The tea house was maybe not as pretty as the one from the Boh Estate but the views were just as good, employees were very friendly and their chai tea was really good.

But the best part was that we had the whole estate for ourselves for hours. We could walk around between tea bushes undisturbed. For us that was the winner! 🙂

High tea

There are many places offering a high tea experience in the Cameron Highlands. But some seem not to offer really a “high” type of experience. What’s the point of going for high tea to a shabby café?

We decided to splurge in the Cameron Highlands Resort and it was as luxurious as the name could indicate. The whole hotel was stunning and brought us immediately back to the colonial past.

The tea room was exactly how I imagined a colonial manor. Rattan furniture, massive windows and lots of wood. Surrounded by lovely music we were ready to dig into our delicious scones with strawberry jam. Except for those we got some decadent pastries and lovely, tiny sandwiches. The tea was the same one we had at the Boh tea estate, not impressive but when the food is that good and the atmosphere is so lovely you can overlook that 🙂

p.s. high tea is served between 3-6 pm and costs 55 MYR (so around 11 euro) per person.

Surrounding nature

In our dreams we saw ourselves strolling through tea plantations, sitting on terraces with views on even more tea with a cup in one hand and a book in the other. In reality the tea estates were not as easily accessible as we thought and definitely not as omnipresent as we thought.

We decided to search beyond that and found out that the Cameron Highlands have much more to offer than just plantations. The only problem was that we had to take a tour simply because there are no buses or any other public transportation available. We also didn’t want to rent a taxi.

We decided to take a tour from Hill Top Tours (whole day for 98 MYR around 20 euros). We were both really happy we did that. First of all we saw rafflesias, the largest flowers on earth. I’m sure we wouldn’t be able to find them on our own in the forest even though they can grow up to 1m in diameter. We were actually very lucky, nowadays rafflesias are scarce and the flowers blooms only for few days.

Our guide didn’t know much about nature and actually many things he said were probably a creation of his imagination but I could forgive him that because he took us to a really beautiful mossy forest. We were the only people there and with a bit of mist, the forest looked like a set for Lord of the Rings.

In there I spotted many carnivore plants. Thankfully they stick to small meat like insects. They looked very innocent, hanging in between the branches of the trees.

Except for the “hidden” mossy forest we visited another one that already has the tourism infrastructure. There was a deck there leading through a less impressive, trampled down forest. It was a sad example of “before” and “after” mass tourism…

Except for those the excursion took us for a demonstration of blow pipe hunting. It was a typical touristic circle that we never really enjoy and probably never will. We also passed the Boh Tea plantation.

TIP! Since transportation in the Cameron Highlands is not that easy if you show up without your own car, we really would recommend taking an excursion. Taxi is not such a great option, simply because they tend to be more expensive and you have to pay per hour rather than for a certain route. Also when it's busy taxi drivers are very picky and prefer clients that book them for a whole day rather than an hour or two.

How to get a million dollar view for very little? Our Airbnb in Kuala Lumpur

I’ve always dreamt of sunrises by the pool with views on some vibrant city below. Something that would literally wake me up in the middle of the night with all the energy necessary to get out of bed when the sun is nowhere to be seen yet.

I never thought that this item of my bucket list could be scratched off so fast. Researching options to sleep in Kuala Lumpur I realized how many there were with an infinity pool on the top floor. From the majority you could see the Petronas Towers and the whole capital.

Surprisingly the prices were very affordable and after a short discussion with Jandirk, we decided to splurge for little above 40 dollars (including Airbnb fee and cleaning).

There was no doubt we had to choose an Airbnb simply because hotels with an infinity pool had too many zeros in their prices and so they were above our budget 🙂

The reality behind the fairytale

We rented a small apartment in Regalia Residence with access to jaw-dropping views. We were surprised to discover that our location wasn’t that bad after all. We were not really far from the center and just next door there was a commercial center with a very good supermarket.

The apartment was definitely bigger and better than what we hoped for. We even had a fully equipped kitchen and Netflix.

The building itself was either not finished yet or already run down. The money that was loaded in it was melting the higher we went. When we left our apartment to go to the top floor where the observation deck was, we saw bare concrete, unfinished elevators and balconies that would never be finished.

That said, as long as we didn’t look behind the view in front of us was stunning. Huge swimming pool, marvelous lights of one of the most vivid cities in Asia. Every day we were the first ones out there to enjoy the waking up city views. We stayed peacefully alone for a while before other tourists even woke up.

When the infinity pool was getting hectic and scorching hot we would relocate ourselves to a very peaceful pool in the middle of the building. Thankfully it wasn’t attractive enough to attract crowds… who would want a view of concrete flats, right? We found a certain charm in it and spend lots of time enjoying it and chasing each other around. We loved every bit of this crazy experience of luxury Malaysian style:)

Our favorite street art in George Town

George Town is THE destination for all the street art lovers. The scene is huge, on every corner there is something new and surprising. Old, stunning but neglected houses are a great canvas for artists from all over the world. Many pieces are a bit like mandalas… take hours, days even to be painted and then they disappear in a few months.

There is a certain charm about George Town that made us really love the place. We spent a lot of days walking around the streets there and we could have easily spent weeks.

Here is what we found:

  1. A man with a bowl of cendol

Unfortunately like most of the pieces on the list, we don’t know the author of this one. But it’s my favorite one by far. There is something about the colors, something in the way that that man eats his precious bowl of cendol (popular traditional dessert). Something that made me hungry every time I passed by. Luckily there was always a man selling cendol nearby. Location on our map below.

  1. The black swans

Absolutely stunning piece at the Hin Bus Depot. Beautiful colors and patterns makes it the best piece at the Hin Bus Depot. It’s not the only one though, the spot has quite few epic murals. Not to mention they also have an amazing café, art gallery and weekend market. Heaven to stop by.

  1. More art at Hin Bus Depot

A tiger, a circus boy even a girl exercising. All of these murals are really close to each other.

  1. An old motorbike

This is one of the most famous ones. It was painted by Ernest Zacharevic, the most known of the artists in George Town. He’s based there although he comes from Lithuania and paints all over the world. His art is often very interactive and includes something real in the painting like a chair or a bike or, in that case, a motorcycle.

  1. A kid with a monster

The kid on the motorcycle is running away from a monster that is held by another little boy. JD did his best to help him.

  1. Kids on a swing

Another one of those interactive pieces this time by Louis Gan. Here there are two kids on a swing and another swing just next to them reserved for the daring tourists to join the fun.

  1. The delivery siblings

I assumed that those are brother and sister trying to deliver food from the nearby Chinese restaurant.

  1. Kids on a bike

Ernest Zacharevic painted those kids riding a real bike. There is an extra spot in the back for a wheel-lover like JD.

  1. The rowing man

I have no idea who painted this one but I sure hope it will stay there for years. Stunning mural.

  1. The ballerina

A lot of art in Georgetown is very subtle. You could easily miss it if you’re not careful. Just like this ballerina dancing on a door frame.

  1. Guy with an open mouth

How often can you stand in someone else’s mouth??? Not often, right? So let’s use the chances we have 🙂

  1. The woman with the spices

Vibrant colors and massive size makes this piece truly unmissable. Although it's hidden in the courtyard of the urban spice cafe 🙂

  1. The face of a kid

This one looks sooooo realistic. It’s unbelievable.

The murals above are just a fraction of what there is to see in George Town. But as with art not all of the murals, we loved. There were some we didn’t like that much and with some we were disappointed to see devastated or almost completely fainted away. The ones below are also on our map 🙂

How much does it cost to travel in Singapore? Our budget and tips

Our budget from Singapore is, by far, the most we spent in a country per day. For low budget lovers: it might be tricky to enjoy your time on budget especially if staying in an Airbnb, hostel or hotel. On the other side if you manage to volunteer or stay at someone’s house Singapore will turn out to be actually pretty cheap.

Over 7 days we spent 821 euro for the both of us. That gives us around 59 euros per person per day. I have to mention that it’s a budget packed with tickets, everyday exploring, not much cooking and a bit of a splurge when it comes to accommodation. Let’s go into details.


Where did we travel?

We mostly stayed in the center of Singapore, we made sure our Airbnb was close enough to walk to most of the interesting spots. Except for that we went a bit outside of the center to visit the Chinese Gardens and the Joo Chiat Peranakan Houses.

How did we travel?

We mostly walked. Thankfully that was possible since our apartment was pretty centrally located. Honestly the highlights in Singapore are not far from each other.

The 32 euros mentioned in transportation include two uber rides to the spots that were further and not so easily accessible. The rest we spent on metro.

Where did we stay?

Accommodation was the biggest part of our budget especially since we decided to splurge a bit. We didn’t want to stay somewhere far away and travel to the center for a long time. We decided that since we were coming only for a week we would treat ourselves. We stayed in a nice room in an Airbnb apartment in a very nice art-deco neighborhood. The room itself was really stylish, cosy and with so needed airco. The apartment less so… It was a world apart: hot, dirty, not really well maintained. It's immediately obvious why we only saw the pictures of the room on Airbnb. Anyway we were satisfied. That luxury cost us 462 euros for 7 nights.

TIP! If you want to stay somewhere nice but reasonably priced the only option is an airbnb or  hotel rooms without windows… I saw plenty of those on and honestly it took me a while to notice that they didn’t have a window. The pictures almost fooled me…

When looking for an airbnb make sure you check the location as many cheaper spots will be over the border already in Malaysia or really far from the center.

What did we eat?

We mostly ate local food in omnipresent food markets and food courts. Nothing extravagant but pretty good and for a reasonable price. We chose between thai curries, hainese chicken and any other goodies that they had to offer. Few times we even scored really cheap coffee or tea to accompany our meals. On average we spent 13-20 SGD (around 8-13 euro) per time for both of us. In total we paid 94 euros on eating out.

Everything we spent on ingredients for our lunches and breakfasts, which we prepared at our Airbnb, we included in the food section. Whole 97 euros. This one also contains many liters of water that we had to buy during the running around Singapore. I mention it because water was surprisingly expensive especially considering that in such a climate we drunk insane amounts of it. We always tried to look for a food court where water was cheaper than at any convenience store.

How expensive are museums, tours etc?

Good news is that there is plenty to see for free. There is no entrance fee to see the Gardens by the Bay, stunning shophouses’ facades or the Botanical Gardens.

That said there are quite few unmissable spots that cost a lot. National Gallery entrance depends on the exhibition and if you want to see just one or all of them. We paid 60 SGD for us both (around 38 euros). On the bright side you can explore the building itself and its amazing terrace for free which we didn’t know.

For both conservatories in Gardens by the Bay (since we couldn’t buy just one) we painfully said goodbye to 56 SGD (around 35 euros).

All in all we spent 107 euros on entrance fees.

Where did the rest of our money go?

In the 29 euros in miscellaneous and equipment we included printing boarding passes and contact lenses that we bought for JD.

Money- saving tips and tricks

  1. Pay attention where your hotel/ hostel/ Airbnb is. You really don’t want to stay in Malaysia instead of Singapore! Try to stay centrally to limit the transportation costs.
  2. Check out your credit card deals! For paying with Mastercard we got a free ticket to the OCBC Skywalk.
  3. Eat locally! Food at local food courts and food markets is really affordable, not to mention the coffee. It’s a huge difference compared to even a mediocre restaurant.
  4. Take as much water as possible from your accommodation. If you really need to buy more, try local food courts rather than convenience stores.
  5. Try to volunteer! Accommodation is pretty pricey so try to volunteer to limit the costs. Not to mention the benefits of submerging in the local culture.
  6. Enjoy the free attractions. Many spots in Singapore are free of charge. You can see the whole building of the National Gallery including the terrace for free (except for the exhibitions obviously), same with Gardens by the Bay, light show on Supertrees or Marina Bay Sands Mall. Even the Botanical Garden is free. So if you’re staying for a short period of time and you are on a tight budget than maybe think about exploring the free options first.

Exchange rate used: 1 Euro = 1.6 SGD

Some unmissable spots in Singapore

Many told us Singapore can be seen in 2-3 days. Well we stayed for a whole week and I can’t say we saw everything. We were absolutely enchanted with how modern, futuristic and green this little country is. At the same time it’s also very traditional and vibrant with many different cultures put together on such a small area. I’m sure we will go back at some point to discover more secret spots that Singapore has to offer but for now we want to suggest few absolute musts that no one should skip!

  1. Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay are the most futuristic place I have ever seen in my life. The most prominent part are the SuperTrees that are massive man-made trees with their own ecosystem that creates energy used every evening for the most spectacular light show. Those are not the only attractions. There are plenty of other gardens, parks and even lakes to see there. This Avatar-like area deserved a separate post so read it here.

  1. Marina Bay Sands Skypark observation deck

Marina Bay Sands Mall is a pretty impressive spot for all the shoppers. With our tight budget and eyes set up for remarkable experiences rather than things we didn’t spend much time around there. Regretfully we also didn’t spend any time in their hotel in the same building. But we did go to the observation deck which is absolutely unique. It literally looks like a boat on top of a 50-sth store building. How often would we be able to see something like that, right? Unmissable!

The construction itself is mesmerizing but the views top even that. Coming just before sunset we could enjoy the views on the Gardens by the Bay bathing in stunning light. We could even see their light show from above. Priceless.

Above the observation deck there is a huge 150m infinity pool available for people with a bit of a higher budget… hotel guests.

  1. The Little India

Bollywood music cracking from doubtful quality speakers, smell of spices, omnipresent screaming.. yep it’s Little India. Little chaos among the kingdom of perfect order. That’s why we loved it so much. Obviously it’s still Singapore so you won’t spot much dirt but you won’t get Deli belly either. Except for the food and coconut water we loved the crazy colors of the houses, especially the ones of Tan Teng Niah villa.

  1. The Orchard Library

This little, charming library is everything a book-lover could potentially need. It’s beautiful, peaceful, centrally located, it has comfy sitting space, competent workers and lots of books on many different subjects! You can just walk in and sit back with a book, escaping the buzz of the city and heat!! Yep, it has pretty good airco and that’s a big benefit in a city like Sinapore.

  1. National Gallery Singapore

Except for the obvious fact of having great exhibitions the building itself is a gem!! We especially loved the modern atrium connecting the gallery with the former Supreme Court. Going further to the Supreme Court part of the building we found an amazing terrace with spectacular views on Marina Bay Sands.

  1. Shophouses

Singapore has an incredible collection of shophouses. Although Joo Chiat Perankan Houses are the most popular I wouldn’t say they are a must. They are quite far from downtown and in the center there are so many stunning streets with lots and lots of shophouses in different styles and from different periods. Simple, modest houses along Erskine Road are a stunning example of 1840’ Chinese marchants’ houses. For more ornamented ones you should hit Petain Road and for our favorites Emeral Hill Road. Keep your eyes open, they are everywhere!

  1. Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens in Singapore is where local life starts before the heat of the day begins. It’s where people go for running, yoga, tai chi or zumba. The entrance is free except additional attractions like the Orchid Garden, probably the most beautiful part of the park.

  1. Food markets

Singapore can be very expensive so local food courts are little life savers. We especially loved the Indian food that they served but they also had Malaysian, Chinese and even Middle Eastern cuisines. The most famous one is Telok Ayer Market but keep your eyes open for others! They're everywhere!

  1. Apple store

Not a very common thing to put on a list, I know, but the new Apple store has one of the most heavenly staircases I have ever seen! Besides it’s a popular spot to hang out, the upper floor has a very comfy sitting area for the clients… or anyone with an Iphone.

  1. Former Old Hill Street Police station

Definitely one of the most spectacular buildings in the city. It’s impossible to miss those 927 windows with shutters in all colors of the rainbow. I can’t even imagine how marvelous it had to be to live there as a policeman many years ago. Yep there were many living quarters in there. It’s such a shame you can’t really visit the inside since nowadays it’s the Ministry of Communication and Information as well as the Cultural Ministry. I guess the corridors of this marvelous building will remain a sweet secret reserved for the few working in there.

  1. Vertical gardens

Pretty new concept that is already booming in Singapore. Some buildings have multiple outdoor terraces jammed with trees and plants. More and more are joining in placing enormous vines covering whole walls. The most famous ones are: ParkRoyal and Oasia Hotel.

Although we could only enjoy the view from the outside it was such a surreal sight. It literally makes the city center look like a natural jungle rather than a business center.

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