Welcome to Warner Brothers Studio in London where the world of Harry Potter truly comes alive! JK Rowling began writing the children's fantasy series in 1990. The first book was published in 1997 and has since then sold over 450 million copies! In 2000 production began bringing JK Rowling's 7 book series to cinemas worldwide. Harry Potter's story has since then captured the hearts of myself and nations alike.
When you visit Warner Brothers Studio you loose your bearings for a moment as you enter the world of Hogwarts Witchcraft and Wizardry. Begin your studio tour by entering into Hogwarts Great Hall where fantasy becomes reality. Marvel at the original set and be sure to take a selfie with your favourite house's banner... Go Gryffindor!
Continue your studio tour through the Harry Potter museum where you can view Snake's potion room, Dumbledore's office and the Gryffindor common room.
Half way through your tour you will arrive at the backlot section where you can sample the famous Butterbeer! It is frothy, delicious and unfortunately non alcoholic. Enjoy your iconic beverage while exploring the outdoor area. Have your photo taken in the Enchanted Car from 'The Chamber of Secrets' or climb aboard the Knight Bus from 'The Prisoner of Azkaban'. Oh and who could pass up a Kodak moment in front of Harry Potter's very own home, Privet Drive!
Finish your tour marvelling at the detailed handmade props used to bring Dobby the house elf, Augurey the irish phoenix and all your other favourite characters to the screens! Wander down Diagon Alley and finally exit your tour through Ollivander's Wand Shop.
Make sure to book your tickets at least a week in advance for your Harry Potter Tour at Warner Brothers Studio London. For Harry Potter fans this studio tour simply can not be missed!
While saying in London consult my guide for tips on how to survive London on a budget!
If you have any tips on how you kick the home sickness blues I'd love to hear from you!
There are no words to perfectly describe Venice. This incredibly enchanting city is a labyrinth of canals with an abundance of bridges linking the city together. Boats and Gondolas sail down the blue waters and the canals are filled with upmarket hotels and bright colourful houses.
What first struck me during my visit was the lack of smell. I assumed and had heard due to pollution the canal waters were dirty and littered with discarded rubbish. I was pleasantly surprised to discover this wasn't the case at all. I definitely wouldn't want to fall in the water but there was nothing to detract from the beauty that surrounded me.
Getting lost in Venice is inevitable. Luckily for me Venice is by far my favourite city to get lost in! Each street is uniquely different and no matter how far you wonder you always seem to find your way back. Have fun exploring this maze on foot! You'll find trendy cafes, stunning architecture and Venetian mask stalls all in the most unexpected places.
Once you've explored the floating city by foot, be sure to discover it from within. Top of my bucket list, for good reason, was taking a ride on one of the the iconic Gondolas. Gliding through the canals is a breathtaking romantic moment that makes you fall madly in love with Italy! Drift under bridges and weave between quaint canals to discover a side of Venice that can only be experienced by water.
For some incredible sites spend your afternoon strolling through St Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco). The history and architecture date back to the 9th century and is an integral meeting place for citizens and tourists as it is the largest open space in Venice. Make sure to watch out for Pigeons who flock the area in substancial numbers! I was treated to unexpected flooding during my time in St Mark's Square last September. If it's raining don't forget your gumboots or you'll soon find yourself knee deep in water! Incredibly the water actually rises through the pavements.
Slowly but surely it's important to remember that this incredible city is sinking an estimated 2 cms per year. Be sure to discover the old-fashioned charm of Venice before it disappears before your eyes.
After years of reading travel blogs, day dreaming over travel brochures and hearing stories from friends I finally decided to bite the bullet and trade in my corporate lifestyle for the chance to travel the world. It was the best decision I have ever made! I spent a little under 8 months exploring 4 continents covering a total of 34 countries. When I left I knew that my world would be changed by I didn’t fully appreciate how. Besides from the obvious changes such as extra freckles courtesy of the African sun, most of the changes are hidden just beneath the surface. After returning to Australia this week I can now for the first time take a moment to reflect on my time away.
I DISCOVERED WHAT TRUE INDEPENDENCE IS
After a 28 hour flight from Australia to England all I wanted to do was shower, sleep and Facebook home to let my family know that I arrived safe. What I got instead was the dreaded task of trying to navigate the London Tube and find my hostel in the rain. Suddenly it dawned on me that I was over 16,000 kms from home, I had no map and I had no working cell phone. All my reservations and fears about leaving home to explore the world on my own came flooding to the surface and I was close to tears. What had I done? What had I gotten myself into? I sat down and took a moment to pull myself together. I was in London! After lusting about seeing the places I had always dreamed of visiting I was finally here! Now I won’t say that was the only time I felt overwhelmed or craved home but it was the last time I doubted myself to not only get through this trip but enjoy ever minute of it. Since then I have missed flights and hauled up in McDonalds for hours in London trying to find a hostel that wouldn’t break the bank. I have also found myself somewhere to sleep every night in over 34 countries, navigated through countless cities and even given directions to fellow travellers in foreign countries. All this I did on my own! I didn’t have anyone to fall back on if things got hard. All I had was myself and now I know more then ever that myself is all I need!
I’VE OPENED MY EYES TO THE WORLD
Keeping up with world events and reading up on history has always been a top priority for me. However when you experience these things first hand it truly opens your eyes to the world and I realised how sheltered my life in Australia once was. I’ve seen poverty up close in Africa and I’ve travelled through Egypt where the threat of bombings are a regular occurrence. I’ve witnessed the true horrors of WWII at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland, experienced racism first hand in South Africa and I’ve had to adapt my western style clothing to respect cultural differences in several countries. All of these are first hand experiences that couldn’t possibly be taught in books and all of which have opened my eyes to a world I didn’t fully appreciate or understand before.
MY PRIORITIES HAVE CHANGED
Things that I thought were important before my travels now suddenly don’t seem so important. Where before I thought a new pair of shoes were a necessity, I am now grateful for a roof over my head, running water and food daily. The things that I undervalued are now the things I can’t value more highly - family, friendships and experiences. Why it took me to travel the world to realise I had my priorities wrong I don’t know. I am glad I did finally realise them though! Life is short. Sure it is the longest thing you will ever do but in an instant it can all be over. What matters to you? For me the important lesson I discovered was realising that I didn’t want a life where I lived to work. I want a life where I work to live. I want to climb Machu Picchu, I want to cruise through the Middle East but most of all I want someone to share these adventures with. I want a partner in life and I want to build a family one day. I want to enjoy quality time with my family and I realised trading in my corporate lifestyle for the experience to travel the world was the best choice I’ve ever made.
I’VE MATURED BEYOND MY YEARS
Your 20’s are an integral time for self discovery and I truly feel there is no better way to grow emotionally then through travel. After experiencing the culture and history first hand that I’d only read about in books how could it not change me? I’m more aware of the world. I’ve grown into myself to a point I am completely content with who I am. I have taken the time to discover what I want out of life and I have a vision for my future. Every experience in life changes you. When you travel it simply speeds up the process!
I’VE NEVER BEEN MORE PROUD TO BE AUSTRALIAN
Travelling the world I have never been more thankful or proud to be Australian then I am now. I was no longer in countries where clean water, free healthcare and suitable living conditions were an expectation opposed to a dream. In Australia I took for granted being able to walk around cities alone because the threat of kidnappings and racial killings was a one in a million chance of occurrence instead of daily normality. I am proud to be Australian! I am proud of the country we have built where everyone is tolerated and welcomed regardless of race, religion or political differences. I am proud to live in a country where the threat of internal and external terrorism is minimal and I am proud to live in a country where we have sound infrastructure, education and employment opportunities. Most of all I’m thankful to live in a country where I feel safe. Aussie, Aussie, Aussie... Oi, Oi, Oi!
Bonjour! Welcome to the city of incredible architecture, history, cuisine and sexy Parisian accents. Paris has always been in the spot light for a 'must see' Europe destination. It wasn’t until I visited this breathtaking city myself that I could really comprehend why!
Due to time constraints I had only 24 hours to explore this vibrant, cosmopolitan city. Where to start! I opted with an early morning visit to the internationally recognised Eiffel Tower! Standing 320 m tall this once oversized radio tower is the icon of France. If you like adventure you can choose to climb all 1,710 steps of this iron beauty. Don’t worry, if you are lazy like me there is a lift available to take you to the viewing platform. Either way you choose you will be lost for words once discovering a 360 degree birds eye view of the city!
Paris has a rich culture and history so next up I ventured to the Louvre to appreciate several historical unique pieces of art. The building itself is impressive to say the least. Once inside uncover an extensive collection of sculptures and artwork. If crowds don’t bother you be sure to take a selfie with Leonardo Da Vinci's most popular piece, the Mona Lisa! I was personally shocked at how small it was and much preferred the remaining collection in that particular gallery.
One of the highlights during my whirlwind Paris adventure was the Catacombs. Venture down a seeming never ending tunnel to discover an underground cemetery. Floor to ceiling you’ll walk past the remains, bones and skulls of an estimated 6 million people. Dating back to the 18th century, the Paris Catacombs is a truly unique experience.
After completing your Catacombs tour I would recommend a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral. Rumoured to have been built in 1163, Notre Dame Cathedral is incredible and every inch of the structure is covered with gothic inspired detail. As for the stain glass windows? Purely stunning!
Spend your evening discovering Paris by night. Every hour on the hour the Effiel Tower lights up in a stunning sparkling display. Explore the Arch of Triumph or simply lay down a picnic rug under the stars with a bottle of champagne to soak in the beauty.
As for cuisine? A trip to Paris wouldn’t be complete without indulging in frogs legs (which reminds me of bland chicken), escargot and pastries. It really is easy to understand why most travellers leave Europe a few kilograms heavier!
24 hours in a city is only ever enough to scratch the surface. If time permits I would suggest exploring the city by bike or cruising down the Seine River. France is also renowned for it’s Cabaret shows so be sure to book your tickets in advance if you are wanting to experience one.
For other European destinations check out my Top 5 Underrated European Cities
Besides from incredible comedy clubs, shops and restaurants, Toronto city has copious unique and cultural attractions to explore. Check out my below guide to navigate your trip in this dynamic city.
ONTARIO SCIENCE CENTRE
Ontario Science Centre is an interactive and educational hands on Science and Technology Museum. Roll up your sleeves and prepare to get your hands dirty with interactive displays, workshops and activities. With an abundance of exhibitions, films and programs there really is something to please everyone.
Hands down my experience at Medieval Times was one of the highlights during my time in Toronto. From the moment you arrive you are transported back in time to the Middle Ages. Expect to be greeted by medieval princesses and knights. Keep your head low as there is a Raven circling the entrance and arena. Enjoy a four-course dinner with your hands only and cheer on knights during the jousting tournament!
HOCKEY HALL OF FAME
As an Australian I didn't grow up with Ice Hockey so needless to say my knowledge was fairly dismal! However, this attraction was included in my Toronto City Pass so I figured I had nothing to loose exploring. I was pleasantly surprised! The Hockey Hall of Fame is both an extremely informative Museum and a Hall of Fame. For avid hockey supporters you won't be able to resist brushing up on your player knowledge, checking out the memorabilia and getting your photo taken with the Stanley Cup!
ROYAL ONTARIO MUSEUM
The Royal Ontario Museum is not only impressive on the outside, it is remarkably incredible inside. Featuring everything from Canadian history to world artifacts, this museum is home to over an estimated 6 million items. Besides from their impressive collection of art and photography, look out for my personal favourite - Middle Eastern artifacts. To truly appreciate your visit here ensure you allow yourself a full day to explore!
After playing hide and seek with this stunning house I finally set eyes on it and was not disappointed! This magnificent home has over 98 rooms, hidden passage ways and stables as it was the largest private residence in Canada during the early 1900's. Be sure to purchase an audio guide which provides considerable insight as you explore. My recommendations are to soak up the sunshine in Casa Loma's pristine gardens and appreciate the incredible stain glass windows in the conservatory.
To save some pennies you can't go past the Toronto City Pass. I used this pass while in Toronto in April 2012 and enjoyed a $47 saving across 5 included attractions as mentioned above; CN Tower, Royal Ontario Museum, Casa Loma, Toronto Zoo and Ontario Science Centre.
When it comes to backpacks, the design you choose is vital. One of the main reasons I invested in my Katmandu 70L backpack was for the simple reason that is opens via the front as well as the top. There is nothing more annoying then having to dig through your backpack from the top several times a day when you are in search of one item! Another important point to consider when choosing a backpack is compartment space. My Katmandu backpack is broken up into 3 separate compartments. The bottom is used for storing shoes. This is a clever design as the mud and smell stays trapped down one end. The main section is for all of your personal items and clothing. The last is the lid which has a small compartment on top which I use to store regularly accessed items such as adapters, chargers, medication and pyjamas.
This has to be your main point of focus when choosing which backpack is right for you. When lugging anywhere between 10 - 20 kgs on your back it is vital you have a backpack that supports your back instead of damaging it. Thick straps and waist support were the two main features I looked for when choosing mine. The waist support makes a significant difference when distributing the weight of your backpack when walking. The straps should be preferably thick for added back and shoulder support and I would recommend getting them adjusted to your body when purchasing your new backpack.
Whether you are hiking or using your daypack to explore a new city by day it is important you choose one to suit your own preference. Thankfully my backpack came with a 15L daypack which was basic in design with one main zipper. It was great for not only day use but for extra packing space when necessary. The basic design meant everything was insight when needed and can be packed in a hurry. It also conveniently connected to my backpack. I wouldn’t recommend anything larger as I easily fit my 13 inch Mac, Passport, Travel documents, Wallet and Camera in this pack.
Now you've chosen your backpack it is time to pack your bags and get exploring!
Last week I had the pleasure of exploring Cape Town, South Africa's capital city. One word sums up this incredibly vibrant city.. sensational! Cape Town was one of the only places I found myself awake before my alarm clock due to building anticipation. Trust me, this is a rare occurrence! 72 hours in Cape Town will allow you only to scratch the surface of this incredible city so where possible allow for a few extra days! Below I’ve provided you with a compact guide to cover the main highlights and give you a head start if like me you are under time restraints!
DAY 1 - CULTURE & HISTORY
Rise and shine bright and early! Cape Town is waiting for you. My favourite way to explore a city is on foot. Cape Town however is vastly spread out so I opted to join the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour to ensure I got the most out of my morning. The company currently operates in over 100 cities world wide and so far I have joined their tours in Sydney, Dublin and Cape Town. How it works? The bus stops at main attractions around the city where you have the leisure of getting on and off at your own pace. Buses generally come every 15 minutes so it is a much cheaper alternative to taxis and you get the added bonus of commentary along the way. Start your tour at 'Stop 5 - Ticket Office' in Long Street so you can enjoy the abundance of cafes and boutique shops. Once onboard my top recommendations are to hop off at both Table Mountain and the Botanical Gardens. Table Mountain, officially named as one of the new ‘7 Natural Wonders of the World’, is breathtakingly beautiful. If weather permits take the cable car to the summit for 360 degree views from city to bay! The Botanical Gardens offers the unique Tree-Top Canopy Walkway which treats you to stunning views over both the gardens and Cape Town Harbor. Daily ticket prices for the Hop-on Hop-off Bus Tour start from R170 per person. Next up on your cultural day is a visit to the iconic Robben Island. Formally a prison until 1996, Robben Island was home to former South African ANC Leader and President Nelson Mandela for 18 of his 27 years in prison. Mandela was a well loved political figure in Africa and he can still be spotted on the South African Rand notes. Be sure to book your tickets online in advance as this is an extremely popular attraction. To make your way to Robben Island simply catch the Hop-on Hop-off bus to stop number 2 and make your way to the Mandela Museum, 30 minutes prior to your selected time slot, to board your ferry. Unfortunately for me my selected time slot was cancelled due to the weather forecast. There is always next time!
DAY 2 - EXPLORE THE REGION
A trip to Cape Town is not complete without fully appreciating the beauty of the Atlantic Coast. For R750 you can join Cape to Addo Safaris on a full day peninsula tour to explore with one of their many dedicated local guides. Start your morning with a drive to Cape Point. The scenic 1.5 hour drive allows you the opportunity to spot pods of dolphins as you cruise along the coastline. Pass through small seaside townships which offer further spectacular views. Marvel at one of the World’s 6 Floral Kingdom’s as you pass through the National Park. Keep a look out for the once endangered Bontebok and Baboons! Once you arrive at Cape of Good Hope you will officially be at the most south westerly point of Africa! The day tour then heads to Boulder’s Beach which in my opinion is the highlight of this tour. Discover a hidden cove with pristine waters. Climb over, under and between boulders to get up close to the African penguins who call Boulder’s Bay home. In winter be sure to bring your bathers as these penguins are known for swimming with tourists. For lunch head to neighbouring area Simon's Town to Kalky’s for the best fish and chips in town. Wander down along the harbor for your chance to feed fish to the local Sea Lion. As if all that isn’t enough, spend your afternoon wine tasting in the world’s oldest wine region excluding France. I was spoilt with a visit to Groot Constantia - Napolean’s favourite wine producer. A perfect end to a fantastic day!
DAY 3 - SOAK UP THE SUN
If you’re like me and hate early mornings, rest assured climbing Table Mountain is all the motivation you need to get you out of bed. Sure you’ve most likely taken a ride on the cable car but why not take the scenic route and explore the mountain by foot? A 2.5 hour hike will see you reach the peak of Table Mountain. The climb is suitable for all levels of fitness. Don’t forget to pack plenty of water and sunscreen as the African sun is quite unforgiving. After you’ve finished your morning hike head down to Camp’s Bay, known locally as the ‘Miami’ of Cape Town. This is a top vacation location for celebrities such as Leonardo Dicaprio. The scenic backdrop also makes for a great movie set so don't be surprised if you see crew filming. Soak up the sun, hire a lounge chair on the beach and indulge yourself at the local ice cream parlours. A tip to first timers - The waters in Africa are typically warmer during winter opposed to summer so before you head for the waves brace yourself! Spend your afternoon strolling Cape Town’s Wharf which was inspired by Sydney Harbour and San Francisco. If you are after a bite to eat I would highly recommend exploring the food markets for an affordable and divine culinary experience. The Wharf Harbor is also home to an extravagant shopping mall with over 450 retailers and international brands such as my favourite Forever New. If you’re on a family vacation stop into the Aquarium for a fun afternoon. The kids will love the interactive rock pools and thrill seekers can swim with the sharks for as little as R600. Please note this is only available to qualified divers.
If you are lucky enough to have an extended stay in Cape Town don’t pass up the opportunity to explore the Garden Route or spot the BIG 5 in Kruger National Park.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO KNOW
Currency - South African Rand (Estimated conversion rate of 9.2 Rand per 1 Australian Dollar)
Language - Zulu, Xhosa, English and Afrikaans are widely spoken. However there are over 11 official languages!
Cost - I would budget around R3,000 for 3 days. This included 3 nights hostel accommodation, transport, food, activities and light souvenir shopping
Safety - Always travel in a group where possible. For solo travellers stick to the main tourist areas or catch a taxi through residential areas. I wouldn’t suggest travelling alone at night under any circumstances
Pack your bags and head to South Africa! What are you waiting for?
Welcome to Australian Abroad! This website was created to share my love of travelling with fellow nomads.