Annchen

Posts by this author:

Bright Blue Nusa Lembongan: A Nomad Travel Diary Update

I initially downloaded the Indonesia Meteorological and Climatological app to keep an eye on Tsunami warnings. But a few days before our boat trip to Nusa Lembongan, the island next-door to Bali, I was borderline obsessed with checking the Bali strait swell forecast. After a particularly rough crossing to Cozumel on our honeymoon, we have some light ferry trauma. And the stretch of sea in between Bali and Nusa Lembongan was marked bright red, labeled ‘rough’, with 1 – 4 meter swells. Great.

So two hours after I made us drink what I only later realised was drowsy motion sickness meds (sorry for drugging you, Joel!), we waded into the water and heaved our backpacks onto our fast boat to Nusa Lembongan. A quick thirty minutes of motion-sickness hell and it’ll be over, we figured. Five or six songs max, or half a podcast.

In the end it was totally fine. I got used to the boat slamming after the swells, which weren’t so bad anyways. That’s the secret, I guess: Expect worse, you’ll love it!

PIN FOR LATER

(So if you’re thinking of taking a ferry to Nusa Lembongan from Bali, take the not-so-strategically-named Rocky Fast Cruise boat. It’s better than the name implies.)

Where Bali is overwhelmingly green, Nusa Lembongan is blue blue electric blue. After we checked in to our island hut, we walked over to the Devil’s Tears point (‘tears’ as in sad tears or tears as in a tear in a cliff, I am still not sure), hitting it right at sunset. And here Nusa Lembongan made a startlingly strong impression. Giant waves, pulsing blue even in the fading daylight, crashed up onto the rocky coves, spraying huge clouds of mist into the air. Droplets of sea catching some sun and being tossed aside in the wind. It’s beautiful but alarmingly treacherous-looking. It’s clear why this is the devil’s place (whether he’s being sad or aggressive…who knows).

After dreaming of giant swells and crashing waves (and also passports and visas), I was excited waking up the next morning to see the sights, and more of that blue we had a glimpse of at sunset. We set off on our new scooter with a bit more trepidation than before – the roads coming in on the truck taxi were questionable: tar roads suddenly giving way to bumpy sandy rocky stretches; potholes here and there; quite a few steep slopes. We were off to Nusa Ceningan, yet another island, except this time we could just drive from one island to the next (PTL), over an iconic bright suspension bridge.

Our first stop was the Blue Lagoon, and, spoiler alert, it was BLUE. As in the bluest shades of blue you could imagine. Intense, deep dark blue. Electric neon cyan. Soft milky baby blues. All these blues swirling and frothing and crashing into another stunning cove. You haven’t seen blue until you’ve been to the Blue Lagoon. And watching all these blues ebb and flow made us pretty tired so we rewarded ourselves with some blue-themed lounging at Secret Beach.

And then when it’s not blue, it gets green and dark and whisper-tone quiet back in the mangrove forest where we kayaked around in between large and lazy iguanas.

Lembongan and Ceningan are our first tastes of the ocean on this 5-month journey that should be packed with more ocean hues. It gave us the entire range as a taster to come. Every shade of blue and green; giant waves crashing against water hewn cliffs, to lounging in wooden docked boats rocking gently in two feet of lapping crystal clear bays at high tide between the two islands.

It was only a moment and then it was over – we were waiting around the ‘office’ of the ‘official boat to Nusa Penida’ with our backpacks to continue our trek. We paid 60,000 Rupiah each (about $4), waited until there were enough customers, and hopped on a tiny boat with about 6 other people to make the crossing to Nusa Penida.

Another day, another island.

 

PIN FOR LATER

Share:

Nomad Travel Diary: Ubud, Bali

I was skeptical when our Airbnb host told us to meet her at the big Bintang Supermarket in Ubud before check in. I wanted a quiet, peaceful, typical Ubud experience. Something quasi-spiritual. I didn’t want to stay behind a giant supermarket on a busy main road.

Tria, our host, is a friendly, likeable person who struck up conversation easily. She walked us out of the market’s parking lot, asking as she walked, “do you ride scooter?”

Joel immediately: “Yes, can you help us get one?” 

“Oh yes. This one is mine,” she pointed as we approached. “You can use it,” she said and handed us the key. Done. Okay, we have a scooter now.

We entered a little alleyway right next to the supermarket and it wasn’t long before the sounds of cars and scooters whizzing by faded into the background and then gave way to the buzzing of cicadas and locals singing songs in their courtyards. Tria led us through this urban jungle-scape maze. “A bit like a labyrinth here,” she said. We turned left and right and right and left and then I lost track, looking for visual cues instead. We passed the scents of burning incense and cats peering precariously, butterflies flitting over our heads and small snippets of neighbourhood rice terraces, offerings with flowers and sweets and cigarettes perched on every stone deity and placed at each corner, the occasional used coconut shell or rubbish dump in between. It is like the quiet jungle version of a middle eastern medina. A maze giving way to scents and sights here and there.

Tria unlocked the door, and to my relief, the house was even better than in the pictures on Airbnb, and Tria’s dad gave us the best welcome drink a weary traveler could ask for: a giant coconut with a seemingly bottomless pit filled with fresh coconut water. We jumped in the pool immediately.

PIN FOR LATER

I was so overwhelmed by this quiet beauty that I almost immediately succumbed to a sort of anxiety to see and do everything there is to see and do in Ubud. I wanted to feel with immediate clarity that I was definitely in Ubud. I wanted to live the Ubud life – be still and zen – but I wanted to see everything at once. It took about two days of me kicking Joel out of bed early to snap out of it.

Our first petrol stop in our new whip. If there’s one thing that’ll get Joel out of bed it’s the idea of whipping around an island on a scooter.

And then just as I would settle into the peace that I craved for this leg of our journey, the underworld god of the visa realm would rear its head and unsettle our peace. I had applied for a UK visa in Germany, but it wasn’t processed in time, so we ended up shipping my passport to Berlin from Ubud. And then, as it arrived  it turned out that they (third party visa company) won’t ship it back. And of course organising what seems like two simple sentences means one mealy email a day that starts with “dear valued applicant” and ends with no other way to reach them.

Eventually I managed to not think about it when I wasn’t thinking about it. But it’s not the best feeling being in Indonesia when your passport is somewhere else, especially with the recent earthquakes and volcano eruptions.

Then again, there are worst places to be stuck in the world than Bali. Ubud is unlike any other place we have been to yet. The jungles, the rice fields, the temples, the waterfalls, all of it. I have to admit, it lives up to its reputation. And, as its reputation divulges, it’s a place where tourist and expats abound. As much as we loved Ubud, we hated driving through downtown. Besides the traffic, it’s the Billabong and Ripcurl stores, and, wait for it, giant Starbucks that really irk us. The only time worth driving through downtown Ubud is before sunrise, when the streets are clear of taxis and motorcycles, but packed with locals selling fruit, vegetables, and chickens and things. And, while I am on the topic of sunrise, very importantly, if you have any intention of seeing the Tegellalang rice paddies as you see them on Instagram and elsewhere, you need to get there before sunrise. We did, and it was a beautifully serene, and brilliantly green and gold experience. There were only a handful of other people on site – a couple on a shoot, one very dedicated instagrammer and her instagram bf, and two or three regular backpackers. We’ve heard that not only does it get packed with tourists, hawkers and shopkeepers are especially aggressive in this neck of the rice fields. And today, in Nusa Penida, we heard that a fellow traveler’s least favourite village visited in Bali was Ubud. A shock to the system.

It’s a precarious balance one needs to navigate when visiting Bali. One of the reasons places are nice to visit is because they cater for tourists – there’s a solid infrastructure to make you feel comfortable. Safe roads, medical products you’re used to and actual medical doctors (instead of natural healers), coffee shops with wifi for when you desperately need to say hi to your mom (or the visa office), burgers and pizza when you’re tired of noodles and rice. But this infrastructure can disappoint you – can make you say “it’s too touristic.” I am not a fan of tourists who complain of ‘tourism.’ Is it just me or is it very hypocritical to be frustrated when you come to the realisation that other people love to travel and see the iconic sites too? (Get up earlier and stop asking people to move out of your photo plz).

But then again, we got lucky with Tria’s Airbnb. I didn’t know anything about Ubud and its downtown and the lay of the land. I just booked a good-looking airbnb with some nice reviews. The Ubud we know is a mecca of jungle villas and backyard rice fields, snuggling cats and tropical fruits, wafting incense and friendly local faces, poolside sun and rainy afternoon naps, and a little bit of river rafting adventure with friends in between.

You can find the famed airbnb here, and use this discount if you’re new to the airbnb scene.

 

PIN FOR LATER

Share:

The last few weeks in Berlin has been a wild whirlwind of hosting family and friends, selling whatever we were able to sell, cleaning out closets, packing up and, finally, moving out. Without moving in anywhere else. This was a peculiar feeling. It is August now and the prospect of our next home, or rather base, will be in January in another hemisphere. Instead of moving in anywhere else, we each packed a backpack and boarded a 14-hour flight to Singapore.

Though, not before I had a small meltdown the day before, jumped on my bike, and bought a bigger backpack. Great start. (In my defence, I was trying to squeeze a three-month trip into a 20L fjallraven day backpack.)

I don’t personally, in real life, know another couple who has traveled like we have the past 3 years. We have seen and experienced a lot in an appropriately short amount of time. Traveling has become our priority – our passion and obsession. Living like this, however, inevitably means sacrifice otherwise: we don’t have many, or nice, things; we miss out on deep connections in a local community; we are often unavailable to the friends we have; and, sadly, the benefits of having pets don’t actually outweigh those of seeing the world. We’ve spent every second weekend in a different country, a week here, two weeks there. In one especially blurry week this year I checked in to California, Cape Town, Berlin, and Moscow.

And then I decided on doing my PhD in Cape Town and Joel quit his job, and we decided – why the hell not. Let’s be those people without a home. Let’s just travel without any notion of ‘returning’ anywhere for the next 5 months. That’s right. We are going full throttle with two backpacks.

So, because this feels like a special a time in our lives we will probably never have again, I am switching it up here on our blog. I will write short, more personal, updates on each instalment of our home-less journey. To share with friends and family. But mostly to remember. Because like every traveler we see so much more than we can remember and we remember so much more than we have seen.

Some corny quote I saw somewhere. Most likely Instagram.

 

PIN FOR LATER

SINGAPORE

So fast forward a long flight (+- 13 hours) in an enormous plane later and we disembarked in Singapore. Perfectly timed for dinner. We’ve heard so much about the street food in this city that we immediately headed to the nearest food market to pick up some signature satay.

It might have something to do with the fact that our hotel was right in Little India, but it became clear quite quickly that Singapore does not let itself be defined easily. It is a central hub with all different kinds of people making their homes in Asia’s smallest country, bringing with them all of their cultures, customs, and cuisines, but also keeping to the set of rules that makes this big city so available to everyone. Strolling through Little India, or China Town, or the Arab Quarter, you might easily assume you’re in another shabby Asian downtown, with locals navigating complex individualities in a sort of laissez-faire system where a moral code of conduct supercede practicalities. Except then you realise there is almost no garbage in the gutters, no stray dogs or cats vying for attention and fighting for food, the tap water is entirely drinkable, everybody speaks English, and nobody will cross the road until the traffic lights permit them to do so (my greatest annoyance anywhere in the world) – and we’ve never experienced pedestrian traffic lights that stay red for this long. The taxi driver who picked us up from the airport actually joked and said, “Singapore is called the fare city. You drop a plastic bag, you’ll get fined. You drop a cigarette, you’ll get fined. There are fines for everything.”

These ‘Asian quarters’ intersecting so awkwardly with the skyscraper city actually reminded me of a sort of liveable Dubai. A sort of casino-type las vegas city, except with the possibility of an outdoors life and lots of things to do. And exceedingly well set up for families. I wasn’t shocked to learn later that the city’s rapid expansion in the last 15 years was actually based on Dubai.

I was at once surprised and not at all surprised at how green Singapore is. On our first morning we headed to the Central Catchment Nature Reserve to check out something called a treetop walk. The density and humidity of the forest made complete sense as we stepped into the reserve even when I did not associate this with a potential Singapore visit. This walk (we found out only as we started) is at its shortest about 7kms. It takes you through the reserve on raised boardwalks over ravines and rivers, with butterflies fluttering over your head and monkeys sometimes blocking your way. We hopped over the 250m-long, 25m-high suspension bridge like pros, mostly because we survived the world’s longest suspension bridge at the ungodly height of 113 meters in Austria some two weeks before.

It was a green day with a lot of walking (20,000+ steps).

The Cloud Forest was absolutely incredible. I was nervous about this one. Nervous that I had ruined it for myself by looking at so many pretty pictures of it on Instagram. But it blew me away. We stood in the mist of the 35-meter indoor waterfall and stared with gaping jaws at this manufactured paradise. It’s absolutely surreal. And absolutely…scary…that something man-made like this can be so incomparably beautiful.

And the Super Tree Grove did not disappoint either, despite having to watch the sunset in a long line as we waited to get up to the sky walk. The first daily Garden Rhapsody (light and sound show) started as we still gaped up from the long queue. But we made it up there just in time for the final hurrah. When the music is booming and the lights are flashing, and you can see the city lights and the giant ferris wheel and the sky scrapers from all the way up there, it is suddenly the Singapore I imagined it would be.

People laying down to watch the Garden Rhapsody above

It is always a good day when we get to meet up with old or new friends. We met Piruze over four years ago at a wedding in Tel Aviv and we knew right off the bat that she is a badass lady. The bride and groom actually organised an epic Israeli road trip with whoever wanted to go instead of a honeymoon (so great), and Piruze was one of the 40 or so guests who we got to know over campfires, desert views, and dead sea floating. We didn’t ever get to hang out again, but she did point us to an excellent hospital in Istanbul when I contracted pneumonia, and she works in the same sector as Joel. That is until now! We met up with Piruze and her husband Andreas for the famous Hainanese chicken rice that everybody raved about and reacquainted while we slurped noodles and sipped Tiger beers on the sidewalk. Meeting up with people is not only what makes travel special – it is the lifeblood that keeps any traveler going. Connection on the road – forging new and old bonds like little roots all over the world. Little shining stars of familiarity and warmth to take care of you for a second before you fly away again.

“It is always worth it to meet up with people.”

J. Bronkowski

 

Singapore.

You were unexpected and cool and unpretentious and crazy and easy and abundantly green and beautifully manufactured and very well balanced all at once.

PIN FOR LATER

Share:

Picture sparkling blue lakes surrounded by rising fjords, lined with the ancient walls of medieval castle ruins. Imagine not far from these fairytale inland scapes, a glittering and transparent azure coast, lapping onto white sandy beaches forming bays below the cliffs, kissed by the sun. Think about the smell of freshly caught and grilled prawns, octopus, fish steaks; the sound of ices cubes gently patting the sides of your glass of chilled white wine or an afternoon Spritz. That is not Bosnia. We had just spent  three nights in the charming old city of Kotor, surrounded by the stunning, surreal landscape of Montenegro. But the time has come to pack our bags, check out, and – against all our inner voices pleading us not to – leave this incredible mediterranean jewel behind. All for…Bosnia.

Bosnia? Hmkaayyyyy…interesting choice?, I hear you say-ask.

(If you’ve already decided you’re going – YAY – stay tuned for some useful tips at the end.)

In that moment, leaving behind one of the most beautiful and peaceful corners of the world that is Kotor, Montenegro (and just in time, as a cruise ship the size of the old city docked the morning we left). We weren’t actually sure why we were going to Bosnia in that moment. We had so much fun in Montenegro, we had forgotten all about the past versions of ourselves who somehow had some interest in Bosnia.

Mostar, Bosnia. It's even prettier than the pictures.

And the reason we actually planned this little Bosnia-detour is not very inspiring either. On a previous trip to Croatia, we saw a shabby advertisement outside of a sleepy tourist office in Cavtat. It read ‘day trip to Mostar’ – with a picture of an idyllic old bridge spanning a beautiful emerald river. ‘Woah, where is Mostar?’

‘Bosnia?!’ one of us exclaimed with Google Maps pulled up.

We briefly considered it, decided we’ll go and try to cross the border (I didn’t have a visa and I needed one, supposedly), but then we got distracted by all the Croatian wine and ended up somewhere in between wine lands and oyster bays. Oh well.

We’ll make a mental note of Bosnia & Herzegovina for next time.

PIN FOR LATER

Pin to pinterest! Bosnia: the most underrated destination ever.

 

Instagram has changed us. I mean all of us.

Gone are the days when we paged through books without pictures to plan routes on paper. Heck, we all travel so much that none of us have time or space for libraries filled with Lonely Planet encyclopaedias. And the planet doesn’t feel so lonely anymore.

Instead we get inspired on Instagram: drone footage of turquoise waters and sprawling forests (should we get a drone?). Tents with fresh morning coffee on a Norwegian cliff somewhere (I could rough it in a suspended sleeping bag thing!…?). A pretty tanned girl candidly staring somewhere just outside of the picture frame, which is framing something like a palm tree bending over a Balinese beach, or that infinity pool. Maybe I could be her?

Anyways, we click the geotag, or we swipe up. We want to go where everyone else has been (and also pretend like we’re the only ones there).

And, most of the time, I like being swept away to these foreign places where I haven’t been or even the foreign places where I have. But let’s face it: Instagram favours the strong. In more ways than one. Bali, Paris, Venice, Morocco, the Amalfi coast or Cinque Terre, Iceland – yes.

Malawi, Mozambique, Romania, Cambodia outside of Siem Reap, Andaman and Nicobar islands? Not so much.

I mean, it’s just trends. I get it.

But Bosnia & Herzegovina is just not a country that is likely going to show up in your Instagram feed. 

 

Planning to go to an underrated, or un-rated, places are fun. You get to scour two or three blog posts for every inch of information you can find, you can plan routes that haven’t been planned before, and then you see it all for the first time when you get there.

 

Skip to seeing ‘it’ the first time:

We made a painless border crossing from Montenegro and made our first stop in Stolac, a small town built around a creek with trees planted along it and ducks paddling by. And then, while some parts of the town was pretty (and bare in mind we spent a whole of 10 minutes here), what really caught our eyes was the debris of the ruins of abandoned buildings and shelled apartment blocks. And it’s right there in town, next to the pizza place or opposite the café.

I never know about the Bosnian war. I was born in 91, and it wasn’t part of the history curriculum in South Africa. All I read while researching our trip, was war-torn Mostar this, and war-torn Sarajevo that, but not really much beyond it. But it was startling to see a place who that has recovered from war still living with the debris of it in such an unceremonious way, so matter of factly. I say ‘still,’ but Bosnia has lived in peace for only about two decades – land mines still litter much of the countryside. As a South African who grew up in the wake of apartheid, I know two decades are but a breath, just a moment. But as a foreigner without any knowledge of the history or links to local identities, two decades can be made to feel like a completely different time and place.

We stayed all of 10 minutes in Stolac. We were looking for lunch, and found nothing – just some dark bars and a pizza place that only serves food at 4pm even though it’s open at lunch time.

The ruins of the Bosnian war in Mostar

Ruins from the Bosnian war on the banks of the river in Mostar.

We finally arrived in Mostar, and we were hungry, or should I say hangry, having been disappointed food-wise by Stolac. So we checked in to our perfect little room by the bridge and on the river (more on this later), and headed to the nearest restaurant (next door).

And here we made an important discovery: Bosnian food is INCREDIBLE.

We did NOT see this coming.

I remember sinking my teeth into a grilled lamb chop and it tasted like home. It was (almost) as good as a piece of meat home grilled over the hot coals in South Africa (the famous South African braai). And then eating some grilled Cevapi kebabs that tasted like meat from the other place that have made me felt at home – Turkey. Tomatoes, onions, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers, paprika and some of the tastiest meat I’ve ever had (and clearly I’m a meat buff). Bosnian food is off the charts.

And on the charts – it definitely makes our list of top 5 European countries in terms of food.

The picture perfect setting of Restaurant Hindin Han in Mostar

The picture perfect setting of Restaurant Hindin Han in Mostar

Bosnian food will blow you away!

Bosnian food = Euphoria

 

So then we were fed and the hunger veil slipped from our eyes, and we were able to take in the quaint little place they called Mostar. Up until this point all we’ve seen of Mostar was that one picture of the bridge (you best believe I’m including all our own versions of it here), and pretty bad exterior shots of hotels on booking.com. So – I knew we were gonna see a pretty bridge. But we had no idea how beautiful the medieval old town surrounding it would be, and how huge that pretty little bridge actually is!

It’s 30 meters long, and almost 25 meters high, and it is very important. Mostar is named after the Old Bridge (Stari Most), which was built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, and which stood for almost 430 years before being destroyed by the Croat army during the war.

Mostar, Bosnia.

The view from the bridge in Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia.

Mostar had been a battle ground during the war, even though no one knew about it because the news centred around the battle in Sarajevo. Then the croats targeted it, and more than 60 shells brought it down. The reason the outside world even took notice of the Mostar battle is because someone caught it on camera, and the film was released by new agencies.

It turns out that the guy who filmed it is the owner of the place we stayed at. He traveled underground with the tape to get out of Mostar, then rode across the country on horseback to Sarajevo, in order to get the footage out to the world. That is some badass bravery right there.

And we stayed in his house.

 

The bridge was rebuilt and reopened 11 years later, and most of the town was rebuilt too, though some battle scars mark the memories of not long ago. These pieces of ruin (and, I’ll admit, some plastic trash – the old town isn’t perfect) stick out between the cobblestoned streets, the Turkish taverns, minaret spires (did you know Bosnia is 50% Muslim?) the stone bridges, rushing water the colour of precious gems, all built up the feet of the mountainous valley.

Mostar is a remarkable city.

Mostar, Bosnia

Old town of Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia

An easy 16-minute drive from Mostar is the medieval village of Blagaj. It feeds from the brilliantly emerald water of the Buna river and if you follow its stream you’ll find the Dervish monastery hugging the cliff, with it’s wooden balcony hanging over the crystal liquid.

It is beautiful and brief.

A 20-minute visit, a moment’s detour.

A small house for the modest Dervish cult, pressed up against the orange rock, which towers over that bubbling green.

Underrated, in a word.

The Dervish monastery in Blagaj, Bosnia.

 

Drive a beautiful snaking hour’s drive from the village of Blagaj, and you’ll be hearing the drone of Kravica Falls, just a stone’s throw away from the Croatia-Bosnia border. These falls sneak up on you, tucked down in the valley, showing itself right at the very end. It opens up in a small horseshoe and douses you with its spray. It’s not very big, but it’s very confident.

It was very, very wet when we visited the Balkans. The rivers were full up or flooded (almost half of Plitvice Lakes National Park was closed due to flooding), and Kravica was no different. The water was rushing through with definitive intent, but when it isn’t – in the summer months – the falls are open for business. Literally – entrance fee is 2EUR or something similarly little and you can swim and dip under the falls and let the long summer day go by. It’s free in winter. (Or it was for us).

Kravica falls was our last stop before crossing back over into familiar blogged-about, instagrammed Croatia, and it felt like we were leaving behind a secret.

Kravice falls in Bosnia

So, what is the most underrated place we’ve ever been to?

Definitely, for sure, 100% Bosnia & Herzegovina.

Blagaj, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Kravice Falls, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Blagaj, Bosnia & Herzegovina

TIPS & TRICKS: THE USEFUL STUFF

SLEEP OVER IN MOSTAR

As per the origin of our knowledge of Mostar: it’s in a day trip itinerary from Dubrovnik. But if at all possible, sleep over in Mostar. We did, and, like any day trip destination, it’s amazing when the day trippers clear out. The old town becomes at once cozier and roomier. And getting up early to see a new place before it has waken itself up yet, is like another way of looking.

 

WHERE TO SLEEP OVER?

We found Pansion Villa Cardak on booking.com and it was perfect. The room is large and beautiful, the bathroom was large and clean, it is just a couple of steps from the river in front of the Old Bridge, right next to some great restaurants, and owned basically by regular Bosnian war heroes (read above).

It’s squeezed right in there on the river bank, with a little balcony to peruse the goings-on. When the thunderstorms lit up and doused the little city clean that night, we happily took it all in from the comfort of our balcony. 

It’s got free parking, but it’s tight. Luckily the owners are awesome and will kindly pull in your car from the main road and expertly park it in the tiny little side street.

Book a room here.

 

WHERE TO EAT IN MOSTAR?

Restaurant Hindin Han is where we were served that most amazing meat described above. It is right next to the river, and if you go downstairs there are tables on a little overhanging balcony.

 

KRAVICA FALLS

If you’re going when it’s warm, just remember to take your swim stuff, because I think it would be amazing to take a dip there,  or rent some kayaks. You may or may not be charged a minimal entrance fee.

Kravice Falls, Bosnia & Herzegovina

Kravice Falls, Bosnia & Herzegovina

CROSSING THE BORDERS

Crossing the Bosnian-Montenegrin and Bosnian-Croat borders were quick and painless. The longest wait we had was probably 15 minutes. When you get to the front it’s a quick look in the passport and another stamp for your records – woohoo!

 

WAIT, WHERE IS EVERYTHING?

Google maps really struggled in Bosnia. It will show you the preview for your route, but you won’t actually be able to press ‘go’. I am uncertain wether it was because of poor coverage or of it’s one of those places where it’s disabled, but I would suggest downloading maps.me. It saved us many a time, despite Joel’s skepticism. And it works offline once you have the area downloaded.

 

NOT TRIED AND TESTED

Una National Park sits against the Bosnian border between Spilt and Zagreb. We had to choose between a coastal Croatian drive and an inland Bosnian drive, so we went with the coast, but man I really wanted to go to this place! I fell in a youtube wormhole watching river rafting videos one dark winter afternoon, and it looked amazing. So please go and let me know how it is!

PIN FOR LATER

Take it to pinterest! Bosnia & Herzegovina is the most underrated destination ever.

 

Share:

“Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something,” Hearst wrote to Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect. Almost 30 years later that ‘little something’ turned out to be a mansion of epic proportions, tucked away in what was then referred to as ‘the enchanted hills’ on the central Californian coast.

We stopped at Hearst Castle a few years ago, when we were driving between San Francisco and LA with my family. It was in December – pouring rain – and we had just about enough time to go in and out of the visitor centre before we took off again. I had no idea what it was or even where I was, so what I was missing flew completely over my head. My mom knew (because she’s a teacher and she knows everything, as she duly lets me know), and she seemed really disappointed.

So much so that I kept it on my California bucket list, despite not really knowing what it is.

So when we recently took a little Californian road trip and stopped at Cambria, I made sure to bully Joel into going. And I am so glad I did, because I could never have anticipated how weird and wonderful and just truly impressive Hearst Castle would be.

Hearst Castle: Everything you need to know

WHAT IS HEARST CASTLE?

It’s a mansion in San Simeon, a little coastal Californian town. But it’s not just any old fancy mansion. It is a mansion designed and built by the first woman to receive a certificate from the famed Fine Arts school in Paris, and decorated by newspaperman William Hearst, who was maybe the most eclectic man in America. He was inspired by his trips to Europe, so the mansion is a pastiche of all the Western European styles you can think of. It mimics everything else, yet looks like nothing else.

7 FUN FACTS

  1. It was never called a castle during Hearst’s time. It was deceptively referred to as ‘The Ranch’ even though it looks more like a cathedral.
  2. Hearst would extend invites to celebrities, tennis champions, top politicians (even Winston Churchill paid a visit), anyone who tickled his fancy. The visits would last for weeks, but guests would notice when they started overstaying their welcome, based on the dinner seating chart. The further away you moved from Hearst, the more annoying you’ve become. (Not a bad tactic?)
  3. You’d imagine some wild parties with all these famous, rich people at a secluded mansion right? Except Hearst kept the hard liquor locked in a safe, and he only let people share rooms if they were married.
  4. The dining hall served as a source of inspiration for the Harry Potter film set designers.
  5. Hearst loved serving all-American meals like hamburgers and hotdogs in his medieval dining hall. The guests would then be ushered into the cinema for some home videos on a big screen.
  6. The main house, Casa Grande, has 115 rooms and 30 fireplaces. The 3 guesthouses on site have almost 50 rooms in total.
  7. Tennis prodigy Alice Marble (18-times Grand Slam champion) would not only beat everyone at tennis, but also poker. Except she would have to return her winnings because she wasn’t old enough to gamble.

Hearst Castle and its previous occupants has an interesting story with a lot of unconventional plot twists. Go hear the rest and imagine the splendour for yourself on site. 

Hearst Castle's medieval dining hall set for a hotdog dinner

The medieval dining room, set for a hotdog dinner, complete with ketchup and mustard.

HOW MUCH?

Gorgeous mansion, incredible location, interesting back story, what’s the catch?

Yes. It is…kind of expensive. If Hearst Castle wasn’t so damn spectacular I would say too expensive. But it’s a ticket fee I would suggest paying once in your life, at least.

$25 for adults

$12 for children up to the age of 12.

You can buy tickets online in advance, and the website recommends it, but we would say it really isn’t necessary. Doing this requires a reservation of $8 on top of whatever you’re paying for your tickets. And if you miss your time slot you have to pay $8 per ticket to change the reservation. (Hearst Castle is just coining from sunrise to sunset).

However, you can use the online ticketing system to gage whether a preferred time slot is being sold out (tours depart every 10 minutes). So just keep an eye on that and buy your tickets at the visitor centre without any extra fees.

 

CAN I JUST DRIVE UP AND DO A SELF-GUIDED TOUR?

Nope.

Hearst castle is a sleek money-making capitalist machine.

You can only drive about 4 minutes off the highway until you have to park at the visitor centre. A little shuttle bus will then drive you through the rolling hills up to the mansion entrance (circa 15 minutes’ drive), where a tour guide will receive you.

You can only roam the gardens freely at the end of your tour, and then catch the bus back to the visitor centre whenever you feel like it.

P.S. If you have bad motion sickness, grab the front seats! The road up wind back and forth around the hills.

PIN FOR LATER

 

BUT WHICH TOUR SHOULD I TAKE?

If you take a look at Hearst Castle’s website, you’ll notice that there are multiple tours to choose from.

The Grand Rooms tour is a classic for a reason – it will take you through all the big grand rooms you usually see when you look up Hearst Castle online. (The billiard room, indoor Roman pool, and Gothic grand lounge are my favourite).

It doesn’t, however, lead you through any of the private rooms or the library.

Again, the online ticketing system is super useful here: each tour is mapped out with pictures when you click on it.

 

CAN I TAKE PHOTOS INSIDE?

I know, my biggest concern too. I wasn’t going to spend $25 and not be allowed to take photos. But relax! Hearst Castle encourages recreational photography, so all is good.

The Hearst Castle tour groups are between 35 and 55 strong, so you may not get that catalogue shot you were hoping for.

TOP PHOTOGRAPHY TIP: Not only for Hearst Castle, but for all museum tours. In order to take photos without other tourists in them, you have to be right in front with the guide, but ideally you should position yourself at the back of the tour. This would allow you to hang back for a quick couple of seconds and take those photos.

For example:

Below is a photo of the billiard room mid-tour, and a photo of that magic quiet moment alone because I hung back to be dead last in tow. Don’t hang back so long that the guards have to ask you to leave – that’s rude.

You may miss some tour info, but you’re smart – you’ll figure it out.

Hearst Castle billiard room

Hearst Castle billiard room

 

 

WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT?

The garden is in full bloom in spring and summer, making the castle especially picturesque.

There are also Friday and Saturday evening tours to be had in spring and fall (March – May, October and November), when the houses and gardens are lit up and docents are wearing period dress.

And officially added to my bucket list: Hearst Castle during the Christmas season, when it is DECKED. OUT.

See the official website for seasonal hours.

Also, if you are set on seeing something specific, just give the website a quick glance to make sure it’s up and running. The iconic Neptune Pool was under construction during our visit. 

The iconic Neptune Pool of Hearst Castle under construction

The iconic Neptune Pool, minus that bright blue water.

HOW LONG DOES ALL THIS TAKE?

The website will tell you the tours are an hour. But the tours are run by real people (the guides are excellent, by the way), so it depends on them. Our tour was more or less 75 minutes.

If you add to that the drive up and down the mansion, checking out the tennis courts and pools and gardens by yourself, buying tickets and waiting at the visitor centre, the total time spent at the estate is more in the vicinity of 2h30mins – maybe even 3 hours.

The tickets also include a little documentary at the theatre at the visitor centre, which is about 40 minutes. You can watch this after your tour, but we were SO HUNGRY. So no.

 

FOOD AND DRINK?

So, yes, you’ll also work up an appetite, and the visitor centre is kitted out for this. There are multiple places to source your lunch or coffee or snacks before or after your tour, but it is hella expensive. We suggest you take off and go get the best pastrami sandwich this side of America at Café on Bridge Street in Cambria, just 15 minute’s drive south.

 

IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE TO DO IN THE AREA?

OMG, so glad you asked. This area is STUNNING. There are so many amazing things to do and see. Right next to Hearst Castle is the elephant seal vista point, for starters. Hearst Castle was just one stop of many during our recent road trip in the area. So if you want to spend more time in central California, check out our other post on things to do in the area, super cool places to stay, and incredible diner destination.

 

So is Heart Castle on your bucket list yet?

(Just say yes.)

 

PIN FOR LATER

Hearst Castle's lush garden

Hearst Castle's lush garden

Hearst Castle: view from the top

Hearst Castle: view from the top

Hearst Castle gardens

Hearst Castle choir stalls

Hearst had 15th-century choir stalls from Spain installed in his grand living room

Hearst Castle lavish interior

Hearst Castle lavish interior

Hearst Castle post dinner tea and coffee

Hearst Castle billiard room details

Hearst castle cinema

The tour ends how the dinner party would have ended: with some home videos of Hearst and his guests in the cinema, lit by golden goddesses all along the red velvet walls.

Hearst Castle cinema lighting

Hearst Castle tennis courts

The cinema leads out to the tennis courts that hosted many of Hollywood’s elite and Grand Slam champion, Alice Marble.

The indoor Roman pool at Hearst Castle

The indoor Roman pool is the last stop before you take the shuttle back to the visitor centre.

The indoor Roman pool at Hearst Castle

The indoor Roman pool at Hearst Castle

Share: