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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.


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.



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.




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



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


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 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 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



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.



We found Pansion Villa Cardak on 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.



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.



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 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!



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 It saved us many a time, despite Joel’s skepticism. And it works offline once you have the area downloaded.



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!


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


“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


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.


  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.


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.




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.




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.



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




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.


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.



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.



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.)



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

A cool 5-hour drive to Hume Lake, a quick breeze through Yosemite, pop over to San Francisco for two days of eating fancy toast, drive down the gorgeous California central coast, one last stop in cute little Cambria, and finally back home to Ventura County…is NOT the road trip we did. We had it all planned out, though. We even had some things booked! And then Joel woke with a swollen uvula the day before we were supposed to leave. A SWOLLEN UVULA. Of all things. Ever given much thought to that tiny little tongue dangling above your actual tongue? Well, it turns out it can derail entire road trips.

And here is where I’d like to insert some really corny Western lyrics to the tune of ‘won’t do anything differently / all the mistakes led me to you’ kind of thing (you know those songs) – because  we exchanged our epic long-distance road trip to iconic San Fran and Yosemite, for a more off-the-beaten path, fly-by-the-seed-of-your-pants, short-distance-but-long-days kind of road trip. And honestly, it was probably one of my favourite road trips and long weekends ever.

The ultimate off-the-beaten-track Californian road trip




1. Go with friends. This much is obvious. But, fine print: go with friends you have fun traveling with. One of the reasons this was so much fun was because we were roadtrippin’ with two of our favourite travel buddies. 

2. Take the road less traveled (or instagrammed). An exponential part of the enjoyment came from not having these huge expectations surrounding places like Yosemite or San Francisco. We stopped over in small towns, without much expectation and very little plans, and we were able to just enjoy a place for what it is.

3. Ultimate road trip ≠ longest possible distance by car. This small, cozy central Californian road trip felt so big and so long – with unique accommodations each night, epic ocean cliff views, lazy pool lounges, and incredible food. And we didn’t even venture further than 3 hours and 16 minutes from home.



Rent a car. You don’t have to fall victim to peer pressure and rent the biggest baddest truck or SUV you can find. A small thing with four wheels is perfectly fine.

Open up an Airbnb account if you don’t have one. Use this code for a sweet beginner’s discount on us!

Open up a account! I love using this platform to book accommodation – there’s lot’s of discounts to be had. Use JOEL2495 for a £15 discount off your first booking.


Pin for Later: The ultimate off-the-beaten-track Californian road trip



What then follows is a 3-night, 4-day road trip along the Central Californian coast, stopping at and exploring little towns and staying over at one of a kind motels and Airbnbs. It doesn’t take you super far up and down the coast, but it allows for a sleepy kind of exploring – the road trip version of slow traveling. Doesn’t that sound like a dream? In fact, if you could, it would be even better to do this same route over 5 days, to really slow it down.

You could start at the top, like we did, and drive down to LA. Or you can start at the bottom and work your way up and around. The stops are fairly close to each other, so the order hardly matters.



If you blink you’ll miss it, but the 6000-strong Cambria is an underrated sparkling little jewel on the central Californian coast. It’s the best of all the worlds – surrounded by those dark green Monterey Pine forests, home to the lapping waves of the Pacific ocean on Moonstone Beach, run by friendly locals, and heaving under fressshhhhh seafood. The feeling is ultra-californian – laid-back, active, eco-conscious – but with all the authenticity that the Hollywood-ridden south sometimes struggle with (sorry, honest opinion).

Central Californian road trip: LA to Cambria


Gape at the Elephant Seals

We drove through Cambria in winter once, and stopped to look at the famous elephant seals. We had never seen them before and it was really cool seeing about 50 of them rolling around and being super passive aggressive. But I was shocked – SHOCKED – when we rolled up to the view point to see hundreds (the reactionary in me wants to say thousands) of elephant seals lining the coast like packed sardines.



You won’t believe your eyes. Or your nose (they stink). Do yourself a favour and cruise circa 20 minutes north of Cambria on the 1 and just look at these guys. Watch them roll over each other, watch little fights break out, watch them labour in and out of the waves. And don’t be like that guy who gave it 1 star on trip advisor because ‘no sex or violence’ (LOL. IT’S A REAL REVIEW), just go knowing they don’t do much but you’ll never see so many elephant seals together ever in your life.

Plus, you’re gonna want to drive up that coast anyways (scroll down).

An unbelievable amount of elephant seals in Cambria

elephant seals in Cambria

central Californian road trip: the hidden gems version


The highway along the central Californian coast must be one of the most beautiful drives in the world. You don’t need a plan or an itinerary to appreciate the dramatic views, so just jump in your car and cruise out. We drove up 20 minutes further from the elephant seals just past Ragged Point. The highway was closed from this point on due to construction, but if it’s past 5pm and they’re not working on it, you can park your car and go out on to the highway for a really unique coastal walk.

We didn’t because we were getting hungry, but it seems like a cool thing to do?

Coastal views at Ragged Point


“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, decorated by the eclectic newspaperman William Hearst, who was inspired by every corner of Europe. The result is an encyclopaedic pastiche of architectural and decorative styles consisting of hundreds of rooms, multiple pools, almost 40 fireplaces, and a tennis court.

It’s the only place in between San Francisco and Los Angeles where you will see tourbuses of foreign tourists, and it makes sense: Hearst Castle is one of a kind. It mimics everything and looks like nothing else.

Hearst Castle is a must when you're making a stop along the central Californian coast

Hearst Castle is a must when you're making a stop along the central Californian coast

The views from the eclectic Hearst Castle, CA

The indoor Roman pool at Hearst Castle

It’s expensive ($25 per adult), but I definitely recommend going at least once and doing the classic ‘grand rooms’ tour. The tour itself is just over an hour, and the whole trip will cost you about 3 hours.

Find out everything you need to know before you go to Hearst Castle here. 



Man, if I could teleport myself anywhere right now it would be to a table at the Sea Chest with a bottle of chilled white Californian wine and a plate of oysters on ice and horseradish sauce.

The Sea Chest came highly recommended by our Californian parents and we are SO GLAD we listened to our parents this! (Proof: moms and dads know best). It’s above-average price-wise (think 3 out of 5 dollar signs), but it is a remarkably special little place.

The restaurant was set up over 3 decades ago in a little New England type seaside cottage just across from moonstone beach, and has retained a quirky seaside-theme with locals cooking food behind the bar for other locals, exhibition-style.

The Sea Chest doesn’t accept reservations or credit cards (they have a little ATM inside), so you’ll probably have to wait for a table. You can order some drinks from the bar and play a card or board game while you wait, or sip your wine by the fire pit outside. We went for a little stroll along the board walk and returned to the bar, upon which we were immediately seated at a table. They give tables to whoever is waiting on-site.

Honestly, one of the best seafood meals we’ve ever had. Like top 3.

An unforgettable seafood dinner at the Sea Chest

Try some local seafood freshness at the Sea Chest, Cambria

Californian wine and oysters at the Sea Chest, Cambria

If you’re looking for inspiration: we had the tuna of the day, a plate of oysters, and the scallops over pasta. OMG my mouth is watering right now.



THIS PLACE OUTS OUT A MEANNNNNN SANDWICH! Again, and really I am not exaggerating, one of the best sandwiched we’ve ever had. (Cambria: 2; My Diet: 0).

Bridge Street is just off of Main Street, and the Cafe is just couple meters in. It’s set in a little red house, complete with a white-picket fence and it has a teeny tiny little back yard for some al fresco sandwich scoffing.

We were hungry after Hearst Castle, so we ordered the first thing our eyes met on the scribbled menu behind the counter. Hot pastrami Sandwiches. Oh man. It is GOOD. And it comes with a giant pickle, so that’s a win right there.

And, in true Cambria fashion, the locals who run this place are super friendly. This recommendation was passed on by our Airbnb host and we pass it on to you without any reservation.

Don't miss the mean sandwiches from the Café on Bridge Street!

Disclaimer: the sandwiches are HUGE and totally sharable (but you might not want to share all that flavour!).



Staying in Amy’s garden shed, aka ‘The Pub’, was awesome.

First of all, you’re gonna want to meet Amy, who is the epitome of a great Airbnb host. She is so warm and welcoming and laid-back yet on top of it. She has long wild blonde hair, surfs in her free time, and watched nature documentaries because she cares about this world.

And then there’s The Pub. The little wooden man-cave/artist-shed/sanctuary-from-the-world in her lush back yard. Think English pub with a cozy wooden fireplace, a stack of books, and a comfy bed in the back. Add to that some breakfast bagels and coffee, and that right there is the picture of an extraordinary Airbnb experience. If you’re more concerned about the numbers: The Pub has 5 stars and over 1000 reviews. 

Find The Pub here (and remember to use the discount if you’re new to Airbnb).

An Airbnb like no other: The Pub in Cambria

An Airbnb like no other: The Pub in Cambria

An Airbnb like no other: The Pub in Cambria

An Airbnb like no other: The Pub in Cambria

An Airbnb like no other: The Pub in Cambria

An Airbnb like no other: The Pub in Cambria

Disclaimer: There’s no plumbing in The Pub, but you’ll feel totally at home to use the bathroom in the main house. There’s also a neat outdoor shower.




Central coast Californian road trip: Cambria to San Luis Obispo


Dinosaur Caves at Pismo Beach

There are lots of nice hikes to do in the area, but because this is the definitive lazy road trip, we opted to go check out the Dinosaur Caves at Pismo Beach. I found this spot just by zooming in to Google Maps and checking what’s in the area, and I was surprised to find that none of my southern Californian co-travelers knew about it! Essentially, it is a park on the coast with multiple lookout points to natural caves in the seaside buffs below, and it is GORGEOUS.

I would LOVE to tell you that they found fossilised dinosaur eggs here, but actually it got its name from some guy who decided to build a 50ft concrete dinosaur in the park, which was visible from the highway. He also kitted out some of the caves with kitschy skylights and fake gems. Everyone hated the dinosaur he was busy building, so the county made him stop. The caves collapsed and the dinosaur remained unfinished – headless – for a decade before it was destroyed…maybe by local teenagers who started a fire in its neck? Whose to say.

Anyway, this is kind of more intriguing than real fossils anyways.

Dinosaur Caves at Pismo Beach

Dinosaur Caves at Pismo Beach

Dinosaur Caves at Pismo Beach

Dinosaur Caves at Pismo Beach


Dinner: Novo

Novo is a really popular spot and comes recommended by everyone. They do take reservations, and I would recommend making one. We waited about 30 minutes for a table, but unlike the Sea Chest, the bar area in front is uninspiring.

BUT, this bar area gives way to a beautiful outside seating area (which is totally betrayed by the street facing bar) with soft yellow lights and climbing flora on a deck built around sprawling trees. Not all of our meals were winners in relation to the price point. BUT I did have the Lavender Lamb Chops and I couldn’t BELIEVE how good it was. It was, sincerely, some of the best meat I have ever tasted – and, as a meat-eating South African, I don’t say that lightly.

Erica also won with her order of scallops, which were soft and juicy and buttery and basically everything you want your scallops to be.


Coffee: Scout Coffee

We were led to Scout Coffee by Chris, who has been bragging about this place since forever. Turns out all the praising was on point, because the coffee is good and strong and it the place vibey and cool. 

If you’re looking for the best coffee in town, I’m sure you’ll have to look no further.

If you are repulsed by cool coffee shops, avoid like the plague.



Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn is a landmark central Californian hotel, and it is unlike any other hotel you will ever see.

That is the easy one-liner.

Describing what it is really like is a bit trickier. It is an unashamedly pink and kitschy people’s palace, which has taken lots of its inspiration from nearby Hearst Castle (not surprised). It’s a weirdly harmonious marriage of marble staircases and cherubs, pink and gold dining rooms, extravagant dark wooden detail, enormous blooming pink fake flowers (that light up and rank up the columns and onto the ceilings), pink golf carts, pink street lamps, pink glittering chandeliers, a stable full of horses, and a hot pink tennis court (with pink rackets and pink tennis balls).

And because it’s such a landmark hotel, most guests come dressed for the occasion (pink). So it feels like a sort of Barbie West World, where everyone is in on it.

Yeah, it’s unreal. Surreal. And undeniably fun.

The landmark hotel on the Californian coast: The Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn's hot pink tennis court.

The landmark hotel on the Californian coast: The Madonna Inn

It opened the day before Christmas in 1958 and offered the then 12 rooms onsite totally free to a group of travelers. It now boasts 110 rooms, and each one has a name and is decorated according to its own theme. Some of them are super extravagant, with double stories or stairs climbing into a tower, or waterfall rock showers. Others are more…plainly kitsch, and way more affordable. We stayed in Los Alamos the night before, and decided to lengthen our trip with another night. I had just learnt about the Madonna Inn and suggested it, kind of assuming it will be too expensive. But we actually found and booked a family suite for the 4 of us for something around $70-80, on the Friday that we were gonna stay there. What a deal!

So if you’ve always wanted to go to the Madonna Inn but thought it’s probably way too expensive – we got good news for ya!

We didn’t want to leave the Madonna Inn (you better believe we enquired about staying one more night only to find out is fully booked for a wedding), so instead of leaving after we checked out, we spent hours by the pool drinking, you guessed it, pink drinks.

And before you assume we are the laziest people on the planet, I’ll have you know that we spent an hour or so on the hot pink court before breakfast. How could you not???

Book a room here.

The landmark hotel on the Californian coast: The Madonna Inn

Madonna Inn: the perfect place for pink drinks by the pool

The landmark hotel on the Californian coast: The Madonna Inn


Central Californian Coast road trip: San Luis Obispo to Los Alamos, Ca.

Los Alamos is the coolest one-street town you never knew existed. If you even think about blinking, you’ll miss it. Population is shy of 2000, and the buildings along the main streets are sparsely staggered. The best part of Los Alamos (as a foreigner not used to anything)? It is an old Western town. The millennial in me wants to say it is ‘Western-themed,’ like I arrived in West World or something. But it is just a small Western town that has been standing strong since the 19th-century. Its history is steeped in what seems like Western fantasy – the hills above the Los Alamos ranch having served as a hideout to a real-life bandit leader who terrorised the new American settlers and sought justice for his people. He supposedly inspired the legend of Zorro.

If that’s not enough Western for you, just take one glance at the Union Hotel, where Johnny Cash once performed, and tell me I’m wrong.

The Union Hotel, est. 1880, in Los Alamos

The Union Hotel, est. 1880, in Los Alamos

Los Alamos: the remnants of the Wild West

Los Alamos: the remnants of the Wild West

Los Alamos: the remnants of the Wild West


Go Antiquing in Town

At one end of the town there’s a big shed that is basically the antique depot. It is sectioned off in individual stalls inside, each specialising in its own version of junk and jewels. Spend some time wandering around, and see if you can find something valuable in between the decanters and dentist chairs and old poison bottles and racist posters. And when you get tired, take a seat at the working bar inside and fuel up with a cup of coffee!

Antiquing in Los Alamos is a thing!

Antiquing in Los Alamos is a thing!

Antiquing in Los Alamos is a thing!

Antiquing in Los Alamos is a thing!

The in-house bar at the Antique Depot in Los Alamos

Antiquing in Los Alamos is a thing!

Drink the day away

When I say ‘drink’, I obviously mean ‘wine taste’ because Municipal Winemakers has a tiny little tasting room right on the doorstep of the Alamo Motel. So taste some wines, find one you like, then drink a glass or two or three (at this point you may as well just get a bottle) on the patio chairs under the trees.

And if you want my opinion, go straight for the Grenache, because it is SOMETHING ELSE. Rich and deep and easy-drinking. Yes please.

Muni Wines in Los Alamos: some lazy afternoon wine tasting


Breakfast: Bob’s Well Bread bakery

English muffins, morning buns and coffee at Bob’s Well Bread Bakery. That’s all you need to know.

The muffins are soft, the buns are sweet, and the coffee is good. We don’t know if Bob is moody or grouchy or both, but it doesn’t matter because the focus is clearly on the quality. With an english muffin that scrumptious and a morning bun that good, we really don’t care how friendly the supplier is. Just put it in my belly.

Morning buns and coffee at Bob's

Lunch/Dinner: Full of Life Flatbread

Disclaimer: we haven’t actually been here. But…apparently this place serves incredible flat bread pizzas, so incredible that people travel all the way to Los Alamos just to stand in long lines for it. It’s famously known as a diner destination. Also the owner, Clark Staub used to be a big wig in the music industry in LA, even serving as VP of marketing for Capitol Records. He rebooted his life, moved to the middle of nowhere and opened a pizza shop. That back story right there is almost enough reason to eat at this place.


Lunch/Dinner: Industrial Eats

Located in a refurbished warehouse in Beullton, just a 15-minute drive from Los Alamos, is Industrial Eats. I don’t know what else is in Beullton, but I wouldn’t be surprised if this place is also a diner destination. It is a whole experience.

Go hungry – the food is insanely good. But don’t go starving – we went for Saturday lunch and had to wait for a whole while and I was on the cusp of being super hangry.

The menu is divided into pizzas, sandwiches (the wily and reuben are mouthwatering), and clipboards. The food on the clipboard list is served as small to medium plates, and the trick is to go on flavour preferences. That is, the menu lists the ingredients but little specification of whether it’s a salad, or a whole piece of meat, or something cooked, or grilled, etc. But whatever it is, it’ll be delicious. Add to that giant carafes of Californian wine and you’re good to go.

PRO TIP: wear stretchy pants or a long shirt so you can unbutton that top button without shame.

Central California food jewel: Industrial Eats in Beullton

Central California food jewel: Industrial Eats in Beullton

Drink: The Union Hotel 

Whiskey cocktails in an old Western saloon.

Do I need to say anything else?

Knock back a couple of whiskeys at the Union Hotel



Having had an *interesting* experience staying in a motel on Fresno’s motel row, I was less than eager to try another motel.

But the Alamo Motel is cool. In every sense of the word. It is effortlessly cool, and it knows so. And it integrates seamlessly into its retro Western context. The rooms are fitted out with cow hides and and cool art, and even things like leather bags that you can buy from the front desk if you like the look of it in between all your stuff. Also, we are told that the some of the rooms have bare claw tubs. Their whole look was supposedly inspired by Georgia O’ Keeffe’s New Mexico residence.

We woke up the next morning looking to see if we can book another night, but they were booked out for a wedding. (Which is when we turned our antennas toward the Madonna Inn.)

The Alamo Motel sort of epitomises the feel of Los Alamos – authenticity and creativity abounds. The town only stretches a couples of blocks, but it has become a hub for creatives trying new things with a sort of cowboy flair.

I know I’ve convinced you, so book a room here.

The Alamo Motel: the coolest motel around.

The Alamo Motel: the coolest motel around.

The Alamo Motel: the coolest motel around.

The Alamo Motel: the coolest motel around.

The Alamo Motel: the coolest motel around.


And then you can start your short journey home. This long-weekend-cum-road-trip is slow, and satisfying and if you’re traveling from down south, you’ll barely even leave your backyard. Just follow our guide and you’ll barely even have to lift a finger.


Find The Pub on Airbnb and Madonna Inn and the Alamo Motel on

Any other questions? Comment below or drop us a note!



Pin for Later: The Ultimate off-the-beaten-track Californian road trip

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