An Immersive History Lesson: Touring the Globe

Photo by Federico Scarionati on Unsplash

Travelling should not just be about a tan or memories, it should also be integral to your educational journey as you learn about the world’s history and culture. Everyone loves a beach holiday, lazing about in the sun, grabbing a beer or cocktail from the bar, but it’s important to register where you’re holidaying and recognise its rich, diverse heritage and lifestyle, whilst you reap its benefits. It’s easy to fall into the bias of educational travel as something you did on a school trip as you reminisce back on that wet and soggy trip to Ypres or the Berlin war memorial. Although, the vital thing to remember is that educational travel isn’t just about those traditional locations, but also about the culturally diverse corners of South America, Asia, Africa and Europe. There is more to learn from the societal developments across the world than anyone could comprehend or realise, whether it’s learning about an ancient tribe or a large array of incomprehensible animals. These lessons are vital to allow ourselves to grow and widen our knowledge of the world. However, it is of course still very important to take a trip to more educational sites such as Auschwitz or Chernobyl as they have the power to stir up an emotional response and realisation that is impossible when learning about the events in a classroom or detached environment.

The Menin Gate in Ypres Photo by Zieben VH on Unsplash

Visiting Ypres was one of my most memorable high school trips that we undertook when learning about the First World War. Referred to as “Wipers” by British troops, it was home to several battles between British, Canadian, French and German soldiers, including the well-known Battle of Passchendaele. Walking amongst the trenches and bomb craters provided a much more rich and full education of the First World War as it allowed me and my fellow classmates to truly appreciate the gravity of the situation as we came to terms with its reality. The Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing offered an insight into the numerical value of lives lost. I believe that the sea of uniform white graves provided the best and most pertinent history lesson of the magnitude of the World War.

Pripyat, a city associated with the worst nuclear disaster in history, is rapidly becoming a top tourist destination. Located in northern Ukraine, it was home to the Chernobyl disaster, caused by a nuclear accident in 1986 and resulting in an exclusion zone of around 2,600 km2. There are many reasons why you should visit Chernobyl and its educational benefits range from learning about the risks of nuclear power to experiencing a culture that no longer exists. You can walk through a town frozen in time from the Soviet era, witnessing the architecture and getting a sense of the lifestyle that was led in these forgotten times. It is deemed safe to visit despite the historical radiation and you can pay $100 – $500 for guided tours which give you a historical and informative insight. If you’re into dark and educational tourism, this is definitely one for you.

Machu Picchu Photo by Federico Scarionati on Unsplash

On a more cultural context, the Inca trail to Machu Picchu can teach a traveller a lot about the 15th century Inca civilisation. The citadel is located in Southern Peru and remained unknown to modern society until 1911 when discovered by Hiram Bingham. The Inca trail normally takes about four or five days to complete and a tour guide will be able to educate you on the history of the Incas and their lifestyle and architecture. It’s important to visit sites such as these in order to preserve the history and learn about the grounds in which the modern day is based. Similar to the Ancient Egyptians and their Great Pyramids, Machu Picchu depicts the excellence of those that came before us and all that was achieved in their respective civilisations.

Booby Birds on the Galapagos Islands Photo by Andy Brunner on Unsplash

Conversely, places such as the Galapagos Islands allow an education on flora and fauna that is completely unique. Distributed on either side of the equator in the Pacific Ocean, the islands are known for their tortoises, iguanas, lizards, penguins and their 56 species of bird. The wildlife here was made famous by Darwin and his theories of evolution. When visiting you can learn about his theories whilst experiencing the environment in which they were born. Not only is the Galapagos incredible for learning about nature and evolution, the islands are filled with geological features, such as volcanoes, which offers a whole new educational aspect. The limited population of the islands means that the vast majority of the natural elements remain untouched, resulting in the Galapagos being the perfect place to educate yourself on nature and Darwinism.

Whilst all these locations and holiday destinations offer educational benefits in a multitude of areas, you can also weave a lot of fun into your trips. Of course, both the Galapagos and Peru’s Machu Picchu can offer sea and sun, whilst Belgium and Eastern Europe are filled with vibrant cities and nightlife. You can drink and party to your hearts content just about anywhere on the planet, but it’s important to brush up on their unique and individual cultural backgrounds to get a well-rounded and full experience!

The Mallorcan covid holiday experience – part 2

Port Andratx offered everything I could want and more. Stunning views were supplied everywhere you looked, and the endless restaurants did not stop providing gorgeous food and drink.

The location proved to be perfect. At the top of the hill, I was treated to 180 degrees of uninterrupted views of the sea and beautiful mountainous terrain. This was perfect for a Covid holiday as it meant you could enjoy the surroundings and Mallorcan lifestyle away from the crowds. Many more amazing benefits of the location came from the amazing spots to view the sunset just a short walk down the other side of the hill. We spent many cheap evenings lazing down the side of the hill in an orange hue with a bottle of wine and a disposable barbeque watching the sun disappear behind the sea. I also enjoyed exploring the hills during the day and we found many amazing viewpoints and spots that felt a million miles away from civilisation.

Amongst all the incredible restaurants, my favourite was one that we visited on my third day in Mallorca. It’s called Verico. Located at the bottom of the hill with beautiful views of the Port, they offered a dining experience that was first class. Attentive waiters, delicious food and drinks to die for, the Italian restaurant had offered the perfect start to our holiday. I would recommend it to anyone who visited the Port, and, although it’s a big treat, it’s definitely worth it!

The coastal road from Port Andratx to Soller is regarded as one of the most beautiful in Mallorca and it didn’t disappoint. The bendy roads wrapped their way around the side of the mountain, traversing through beautifully scenic villages such as Valldemossa and Banyalbufar. The scenery almost overwhelmed me at parts as my viewpoint was contrasted between the extremities of a severe drop into the ocean and the dominating mountain on the other side. When we reached Soller we took the tram down to the port, which was beautiful. Quite different to that of Andratx, the port was wide, with beaches and lots of swimmers. It was distinctly less busy which offered a welcome change from the bustling life of Port Andratx.

Everyone in Mallorca was wearing masks and there was talk of a fine if you were caught not wearing one. It was hot, sweaty, extremely uncomfortable but very necessary in order to keep yourselves and others healthy. The news of the two-week quarantine came out on the 25th July and it hit hard. I wasn’t due to come home until the 5th August, so I was faced with the fact that I was going to be stuck inside for two weeks when I got home. This was the reality of a covid holiday. But, overall, although it wasn’t quite as glamorous as normal, it was an amazing experience, and we were still able to do everything we wanted. I wouldn’t have changed any of it!

The Mallorcan Covid holiday experience – Part 1

After endless months of being trapped inside and tied to my hometown, I was eager to get back to travelling the world. Like many others, my plans to travel far had been shot down. I had set my sights on South East Asia and Sri Lanka, but this trip would have to be postponed. However, despite the restrictions on travel, I was lucky enough to be able to visit my boyfriend at his home in the Mallorcan port of Port Andratx. I was able to say hello to sun and sea along with a firm goodbye to the British rain and fields!

As I entered the airport through their temperature measuring facility, I was worried that I would be turned away. I didn’t possess any symptoms, but I couldn’t help but feel intimidated by this dystopian procedure. However, I sailed through and made my way up towards security. The airport was nearly empty due to the number of flights having been immensely cut down and I got through security in a record time. Off – duty was closed along with any pub or restaurant which gave off an eerie vibe as it felt like I was wondering the corridors of an abandoned, shut up building. As this was early July, mask wearing had not yet been made mandatory in British shops, so this was the first time I had to wear one for a long period of time and it was definitely taking some getting used to.

The plane itself was a lot fuller than I expected. Everyone was clearly eager to get back to their holiday making and the Spanish regions were offering the best deal. There had been no lockdown restrictions put in place (yet) so the British public were clearly ready to get their warm weather fix.

As I stepped off the plane in Mallorca that evening I was hit by a wall of heat. It was so refreshing to finally be able to feel proper sun once more. I had landed at around 8pm local time which was perfect to watch the sunset as we drove from Palma airport to Port Andratx. We went straight out for a quick dinner as soon as we got there, and I had my first taste of the Mallorcan Covid experience. Masks were required to be worn as you walked around the town, which, coming from Britain, was an alien experience for me. All restaurant staff had to wear masks and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for them. It was an average of 30 degrees Celsius in the daytime and they were constantly moving around on their feet so it must have been a real struggle for them.

Port Andratx itself blew me away. Located on the coastal stretch of a sprawling mountainous region, the port sits in between two large, green hills speckled with villas and apartments. Restaurants line the promenade, allowing a gorgeous view of the scintillating ocean as you tuck into your lunch. I was so excited for the weeks to follow! Sun, sea and the perfect company. What more could you want?

My Mallorcan foodie experience

Adapted from my article for Quench student mag

After months of reminiscing of beach days and gorgeous holiday food, my opportunity finally came with a perfectly timed trip to Mallorca. Daydreams of paella and tapas would soon become a reality as I soak up the gorgeous Mallorcan sun whilst sipping on a glass of sangria. However, my family are really into their cooking, so I had not been short changed when it came to consistently stunning meals and this begged the question; do you really need to visit these places to be able to indulge in the foreign culinary experience? My mum’s paella is nothing short of mouth-watering and my brother’s ability to whip up a few tapas dishes is unrivalled. Will the Mallorcan food be worth the price tag? In light of this profound question, my holiday goal was swiftly hit with a reverse from relaxation, to work. I was forced to sample as much of the local cuisine as I possibly could… in the name of journalism.

It didn’t take me long to realise how good the food was in Port Andratx. I had been craving fresh fish and the plentiful supply did not disappoint. Delectable sea bass, turbot, scallops and mussels were in abundance and the taste was divine. After spending months in a land locked county, the island paradise proves the importance of the Mediterranean coastline when it comes to the pescatarian experience. I absolutely love fish so this was one point to Mallorca and nil to home cooking.

The tapas experience was equally exciting. Although I can create my own patatas bravas and locate a Padron pepper, it does not compare to the grandeur of a tapas metre filled with tiny bites of loveliness. Furthermore, the food combinations were unique and paid a compliment to the abilities of a truly talented Spanish chef. Perhaps I won’t be able to satisfy my pallet with my botch jobs anymore… On the other hand, although we had beautiful tapas in Port Andratx, a lesser, more disappointing experience was had at a more touristy hotspot in Palma. The quality of the food was incomparable and, after indulging in so many great meals, a real low point in my foodie journey. I was then faced with questions concerning the whole concept of eating abroad. Overall, I don’t believe one bad experience should taint the whole holiday or be grouped together with all the other amazing meals. The beautiful tapas metre we had was good enough to pardon the Palma tapas and I would be reluctant to give this point to home cooking. The moral of the story would simply be: read a few reviews before you rush into the closest restaurant.

 After three weeks of solid and thorough research, the most obvious benefit and win to the entire experience of eating abroad was, the atmosphere. The waves of fresh, salty air as it rolled in from the sea coupled with the vibrant bustle of a carefree town felt so unique after spending months isolated in my sleepy, landlocked town. The novelty of eating your lunch with an ice-cold beer whilst facing the sea would be difficult to turn down; the sound of the water splashing against the rocks and the gentle cry of seagulls whilst you eat is definitely a defining holiday moment.

Equally, if you’re a true sunbird like me, those reliable rays and the ability to consistently eat outside during all waking hours of the day is irreplaceable. Although it’s true that you can enjoy a nice seaside meal in England, the unreliable weather forces you to plan your meal inside, away from the views and relaxing ambiance. You may get lucky on the odd occasion and get the opportunity to eat al fresco, but this often comes paired with a thick jumper, a strong wind, or even a brief downpour. The ability to eat outside in the warmth allows you to immerse yourself with a whole hoard of sociable benefits. You can witness hundreds of happy, smiling faces as they make their way along the streets in preparation for their meal as you comfortably indulge in your own. The solidarity created between diners from several different restaurants all eating in the same square or along the same street is unbeatable, especially for those who love to people watch.

Equally, the benefits of such a multi-cultural destination become readily apparent in this environment as you listen to the waiting staff switch between languages as they accommodate different tables. This level of diversity and easy adjustment is completely absent in British dining and adds a whole new dimension to the restaurant experience. I love to feel connected to the world around me, so this factor really puts the icing on the cake for me. Another point for Mallorca.

 The question was; is it worth it? The answer? Absolutely. Yes, home cooking can be amazing, but when it comes to the whole experience, there are so many more factors to consider. The atmosphere and cultural benefits absolutely sold me, but the quality and freshness of the food was too good to compare. Will you catch me on the next plane back out there? Without a doubt!!

Brazil part 3, Foz do Iguaçu

The bus journey, although long, offered some amazing views. I love to look out of the window, so this gave me the perfect opportunity to experience as much of the country as possible as it sped through my line of sight. The seats were extremely comfortable and had the ability to be extended far back to an almost vertical position. You’d never get a coach seat like that in the UK!

After skirting the edges of the Iguazu national park, we arrived in the early evening and checked into our hostel. There were many benefits to travelling Brazil during their winter, but one of the negatives was that the sun set early, at around 5pm, so we lost a lot of light during the evenings. We planned to get an early night so we could get down to the falls with plenty of time to explore and enjoy the experience as much as we could. After consulting with the man who had checked us in the night before, we caught the bus from a terminal down the road and we were on our way.

I will never forget that first glimpse of the falls.

It was utterly stunning; I’d never laid my eyes on anything like it. The network of cascading water appeared never ending, with falls of varying size intertwining with each other. The different layers gave the impression of a snakes and ladders board, where you could keep climbing up the torrents of water before sliding back down into the mist. From our initial perspective, it appeared as though those layers could stretch forever and we were eager to continue along the trail to get some better views. We were greeted with a whole heard of Coatis, a species of diurnal mammal that were present in abundant numbers around the falls. Although they appeared harmless, it was wise to keep our food to ourselves in order to not get swarmed by them!

The timing of our trip was perfect, it was winter and a Monday which meant that the number of visitors were at a low. We didn’t have to queue or miss out on seeing anything due to volumes of people. The skies were blue, the heat was perfect, the waters flowed softly, this was clearly the best time to visit.

As we continued along the route, the glimpses caught from between the trees were the most exciting. I knew what was to come when we reached a clearing or a viewpoint and the anticipation was almost as good as the result. That thick Atlantic forest was spectacular, green and gorgeous. The smell was fresh and earthy; you could almost feel those ancient explorers that first came across this land and the awe that must have radiated between them. You could almost feel the land rumbling beneath you as it made way for those roaring and unforgiving waters. The energy created by the Iguazu river cutting through the earth and spilling over the cliff’s edge on that prehistoric day had continued to radiate through the forest for millennia. Events like those can successfully place your mind into such great perspective that allow you to truly respect the things that deserve the most respect. Water, trees and all things nature are what really rule the world. A site like that at the Iguazu falls is an example that adds such extreme weight to this ideology. How could you question such power?

Undoubtedly the best part was when we were able to follow the bridge coming out underneath one of the waterfalls. The sound of the water was almost deafening and the spray created from the impact offered a refuge from the heat. Walking to the end of the bridge felt like walking to the end of the world… luckily, we were able to turn back around and return safely to dry land. I regretted not spending the extra time and money to visit the Argentinian side, but I guess that’s what the rest of my life is for!

This is a spot I will definitely be returning to.

Brazil part 2, Florianopolis to Curitiba

Santa Catarina’s metropolis, Florianopolis, was the city that just kept giving. Its aerial view produced sights of splendour and excitement as the variety of landscape appeared from below the plane window. The island lying parallel to the mainland, once divided by deep blue ocean, was connected by the impressive Pedro Ivo Campos Bridge in 1991. Mountains and hills clad with Atlantic forest were interlinked with large lagoons, residential areas and lined with stretching white beaches. This island paradise was bound to be the perfect way to dip my toe into Brazil and commence the weeks to come.

Staying in an Air BnB in Porto da Lagoa, we were able to get a feel for residential life. The owner was lovely and despite her claim that she spoke no English, compared to our Portuguese, it was amazing! The Air BnB gave us access to a private route to Joaquina Beach which offered stunning views and perspective on the island. The route was shrouded in mystery and included sections across loosely joined boards, preventing you from having to wade across wetlands. The dunes rolled along at an immense height and depth, creating an impenetrable barrier between the island and the unforgiving Atlantic. Joaquina itself was a spectacle. Renowned for its immense waves, the world surfing championship has been held there several times which had opened the island paradise up to a whole hoard of tourists. Several restaurants reside at the North end, offering somewhere to replenish your energy after a long day of surfing and sunbathing… a necessity for such a popular sight!

After a few days, we decided we couldn’t leave Florianopolis yet and wanted to explore the metropolitan hub of the island. Splashing out, we checked in to the Majestic palace hotel which provided the best breakfast buffet of my entire life. Eager to explore this part of the island, I’d heard about the trilha e Cachoeira do Poção in which we could hike to and find a little waterfall. The walk was beautiful and so was the cascata that resided at the top. It was well worth the sweat and effort it had taken to get there!

After a few days, we took a Catarinense bus to Curitiba. The cosmopolitan and impressive city provided a whole new experience of Brazil. The sustainable aspects of the city, including the integrated transport system allowed a whole new outlook on what Brazil has to offer. In the 1980’s it was one of the first cities to market itself as ‘green’ and acted as a pioneer for others to do the same. Another enjoyable aspect was the street art that was plastered across many of the walls. Vibrant colours and shapes helped bring Curitiba to life, along with the melodic busking and general bustle of smiling and happy people. We were able to indulge in some traditional Brazilian cuisine such as pão de queijo and Coxinha as we explored, two snacks that I certainly plan to try to recreate! The Botanical garden also proved to be well worth a visit as it was only a thirty-minute walk from our accommodation and offered a spectacular array of plants and trees from around the world.

Curitiba was amazing, but it was time to endure the 10-hour coach journey to Foz do Iguaçu to bask in the mist of those incredible falls.

Brazil, June 2019 – The arrival

Having never flown alone before, the idea of that 11-hour journey from Gatwick to Rio was…formidable…to say the least. As soon as my mum waved me off at the airport, I was alone. Fully equipped with my backpack, bum bag and brave face, I was ready for the flight and I was ready for Brazil. Blessed to be sat in the back row with a space between me and another woman, I was able to stretch out and enjoy the journey without having to remain aware of the proximity of my elbow to my next-door neighbours. (This wasn’t the case for the flight home, and I feel like I didn’t appreciate this journey as much as I should have done!)

As the end drew nearer, an impending sense of doom was beginning to occupy my mind with the realisation that, as soon as this plane lands, I’ll be in Rio… on my own. It was my first time being abroad alone and it was also night-time, which isn’t the most optimistic time to arrive. However, it was important to remember that the likelihood of anything bad happening on the first day of my trip was slim to none. The first step off the plane, despite being nearly 10pm BRT and winter, came accompanied with an intense wall of heat and humidity. There was no denying that I had arrived.

Departures was overwhelmed with taxi drivers and companies shouting for business. Of course, many would think that a confused looking 18 year old girl would be easy prey to scam… and I was. After paying about double what I should have, I was happy to be sat in my hostel without having encountered any danger. Everyone I met at the hostel was lovely and welcoming, but I was leaving at 5am to travel down to Florianopolis, so I spent those few hours in that hostel sleeping… or at least trying to.

Ilha Grande

The two flights I took from Rio to Florianopolis that morning were the most amazing flights I’d ever taken. After arriving in Rio in the dark, I was able to view the city in all it’s glory. The initial sighting of Christ the Redeemer protruding from Corcovado mountain and overlooking the city was unforgettable. The land rich with greenery and bubbling with mountains meeting the scintillating blue ocean was truly a sight to behold. Yet, I was letting it go as I travelled further and further away. I would have to wait patiently for my month-long journey to collide with Rio once again.

Restinga da Marambaia

As the plane progressed further south, my eyes were met with the most amazing aerial view of the landscape that I could ever imagine. Due to the plane only being a third full, I had been able to secure a whole row to myself. With my eyes firmly fixated out of the window, and my mind distanced from the Portuguese conversation around me, I fell in love. The tempting silhouettes of Ilha Grande, Restinga da Marambaia and the islands scattered along the green coast, the white beaches, the winding mountains, the flowing rivers and the vast miles of human-free, untouched space supplied unimaginable enchantment. I could never have asked for a greater spectacle to be greeted with.

The beauty of the journey may well have been endorsed by the comfort I felt due to the knowledge that once I landed in Florianopolis, I would be in good company and would lose the title of solo female traveller. A rollercoaster of emotions to begin my trip, but I couldn’t have been more excited to experience everything yet to come.