Happy New Year! I can’t quite believe it’s already 2018 – I always feel like the last couple of months of the year come around so quickly and before we know it, it’s the start of a new year.

2017 was a big year for my travel bucket list. It wasn’t my busiest travel year by any stretch, but it was the year I finally visited a number of countries that have been sitting at the very top of my bucket list for a long, long, time.  Six countries (or 7 if you count a few hours in Istanbul!), two EPIC road trips, 12+ cities and countless incredible experiences – I couldn’t be more grateful!

Here’s a little look back at my 2017 in travel :

We kicked off our travels in 2017 with a trip to Amsterdam in January.

come fly with b, amsterdam, chalkboard

Amsterdam is one of those cities I’ve wanted to see forever and it didn’t disappoint! Despite us visiting at the coldest and bleakest time of the year, we had a lot of fun. Amsterdam is such a cool, laid-back city, full of amazing architecture, food and things to do. Oh, and can we talk about the amazing branding/art everywhere?!

Amsterdam(they look like gingerbread!)

After Amsterdam we were pretty much stuck in the UK all Winter/Spring – with lots of boring real-life things that needed to be taken care of!

In May we ticked off another country firmly sat at the top of my bucket list, Bosnia!


We flew to Sarajevo where we spent a few days learning about the city’s not-so-distant dark history. We toured the underground tunnel used to smuggle supplies into the city during the siege in the early 90’s, walked part of the length of the Olympic Bobsleigh tracks, overdosed on Cevapi and had coffee in a tree house! Sarajevo really surprised us, we didn’t expect it to be the highlight of our trip to Bosnia, but it was.

Next, we headed to the pretty fairytale city of Mostar which offered breathtaking views like this…

stari most, mostar, mostar bridge, bosnia
Mostar was beautiful (but crowded!) and there wasn’t very much to do. After a day spent exploring, we headed to the neighbouring village of Blagaj for a stop at this beautiful Sufi monastery nestled at the base of a cliff. What a serene place it was!

blagaj tekke, mostar, bosnia

From Mostar, we caught a coach to Croatia – where we began our first ever road trip!

Come Fly With B In Dubrovnik
We explored Dubrovnik, Split, Sibenik and Zadar. We found hidden beaches surrounded by pine trees, explored ancient cities built from marble. We walked on planks of wood set between trees and waterfalls at the KRKA national park, ate amazing pizza and overdosed on Gnocchi, we hiked through the breathtaking Plitvice National park (before a thunderstorm came and soaked us), we trecked the length of the ancient walls surrounding the old town of Dubrovnik, and explored an entire bay of abandoned hotels (another one of my life-long dreams!)

Come Fly With B Plitvice Croatia

Croatia was AMAZING – without a doubt, one of the most incredible countries I have ever visited. Croatia truly has something for everyone.

split, croatia, come fly with b,

After a few months back at work, we booked our tickets to finally live out another one of my dreams; seeing fall in beautiful New England!

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. After lots of planning and excitement, our ESTA/Visa’s were revoked just hours before our flight and we were no longer authorised to travel to the US – this was a huge blow, considering everything was booked and we’d been planning our visit for months – but more on that another time!

In November we went to Rome!

Rome Come Fly With B

We managed to catch a spot of sun on our first day, we visited most of the important sights, ate a ton of gelato (eventually in the pouring rain!), we found a cat shelter set in Roman ruins in the middle of the city and we walked a lot!

On our last day, we visited the Vatican which was breathtakingly beautiful and definitely the highlight of our visit, check out the amazing map room:

vatican rome map room room of maps rome italy
If I’m honest, Rome was a bit underwhelming, and we agreed is one city we have no interest in revisiting. Even the food was sadly very, very disappointing 🙁

Remember those tickets to America that we had to redirect?

We decided to redirect them to Oman – which turned out to be our favourite country this year!

Oman, Come Fy With B
Oman has been sitting at the top of my bucket list for longer than I can even remember. We’ve been trying to arrange a trip to Oman for years, but budgeting for it has always been difficult (the Omani currency is really strong!).

Oman’s tourism industry isn’t very well established, meaning fewer hotels to choose from, and more planning needed to figure out logistics.

Oman muscat

From the moment we landed, we were in LOVE with this beautiful country.

We flew into Muscat where we spent a couple of days before we picked up our hire car and started our road trip. We drove up the mountains of Jabal Akhdar where we stayed in a beautiful 5* resort nestled on the edge of the cliffs, we visited abandoned cities nestled in the mountains and walked through castles in the ancient city of Nizwa.

Jabal Akhdar, Oman, Anantara Jabal Akhdar, Oman Mountains

We spent a night in the desert and climbed sand dunes in the morning, we hiked in an Oasis and visited a sea-water filled crater (allegedly) caused by a falling star, we hung out on cliffs surrounded by sea and watch the sun-set over the beautiful scenic mountains.

Oman, wadi shab,

Oman was a dream. I still can’t quite find the words to articulate it; except that this beautiful country has become one of my favourite countries in the world. I hope and pray, I will be blessed enough to return and witness its beauty once again.

And that was it for our travels in 2017!

Not the busiest year at just 9 flights, but a very rewarding one. All the places we were lucky enough to see this year (except Rome!) were sitting at the top of my bucket list for years on end, and it’s nice knowing they lived up to (or exceeded) my expectations.

Here’s to many more travels in 2018 (inshallah) *runs off to finalise 2018 bucket list*

Whats on your bucket list for 2018?

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If you’re exploring the world solo or an unseasoned traveller and are not sure where to start exploring South East Asia from, this ones for you!

Visiting a new region or continent so far removed from everything you know can be both very exciting and very intimidating, but it shouldn’t stop you from visiting the places you long to go. Travelling through different cultures is such an enriching experience, and for me personally, it helped me understand so much about humanity and myself.

Singapore was one of the first countries I visited when I started travelling. I had always been intimidated by flying somewhere so far and so different, but when one of my siblings relocated to there, I took it as my cue to experience the wonders of South East Asia for the first time!

Growing up, it was always Malaysia and Thailand that made my bucket list – I didn’t know anything about Singapore, but soon after arriving, I realised what an absolute gem it was. I’ve returned two more times since then, and I hope I’ll be able to return many, many more times in the future.

 

Here’s why you should start exploring South East Asia from Singapore :

The official language is English!

Yup, the official language of Singapore is English – meaning it’s pretty difficult to get lost in Singapore. You’ll be able to communicate with people, find your way around easily, and never have to rely on a phrasebook or Google translate! Singaporeans even have their own version of English called “Singlish” – English spoken a way you’ll only hear in Singapore.

Singapore Marina Bay Cloud Forest
Singapore has one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

I know for myself, and many of my friends, safety can be a deciding factor in the countries we choose to visit. Singapore has such a low crime rate that newspapers often sensationalise things that are considered “normal” in other cities – i.e graffiti!

I have never felt safer anywhere in the world than I do in Singapore. You’ll be free to roam without fear of someone stealing your precious camera or passport, you’ll never have to look over your shoulder for pickpockets, and you’ll never have a bout of panic when you entrust a random passerby with your camera so they can snap a photo of you.

One of the things that surprised me the most on my first visit to SG was seeing MacBooks and iPhones left unattended on tables in McDonalds as people went to make their orders!

It’s well connected to the rest of South East Asia

Just a 30 minute drive away from Malaysia, Singapore is also a short flight away from a number of interesting countries including Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

Budget airlines mean tickets between the countries can be super cheap. If you’re flying from Europe and you’ve already spent 13+ hours getting to Singapore – don’t pass up an opportunity to visit other countries in the region! Flying from Malaysia may work out cheaper than flying from Singapore, so factor that into your searches too.

Oh, and don’t forget to make time to explore Changi airport (voted World’s Best Airport for 5 years running)!

Singapore Supertree Grove Gardens By The Bay
There’s so much to see and do!

I remember researching things to do in Singapore before my first visit, and 90% of the stuff I found online was “Singapore is boring” “Alcohol is so expensive” “chewing gum is illegal” (priorties right 🙄). I embarked on my flight thinking I may have wasted a lot of hard-earned money, but I quickly realised what a valuable investment I had made! Every time I’ve returned to Singapore since then, I’ve marvelled at the latest openings and how quick this incredible country is developing.

There’s so much to see and do in Singapore, from the wonderous Supertree Grove and the incredible surrounding Gardens By The Bay (complete with an indoor Flower Dome and Cloud Forest!), to the botanical gardens, the worlds first Night Safari, Sentosa island resort (home to the super fun Universal Studios) and exploring the ethnic quarters of Little India, China Town and Geylang.

Singapore
It’s really easy (and cheap!) to get around

Singapore’s public transport network is amazing. Not only is it spotless, easy to use and efficient, it’s very, very affordable too. Singapore’s public underground service is called the MRT and it stretches across the country getting you where you need to go without hassle. It’s the best public transport I’ve used in my life – you’ll be wondering why people are so obsessed with the (filthy & temperamental) London Underground!

The bus network in Singapore is reliable and easy to use, public taxies are affordable and reliable. You can also use Uber and South East Asia’s competing app, Grab Car, for inexpensive taxi journeys.

Singapore
It’s a super-modern high-tech city

If you’re seeking a rural retreat in nature, Singapore may not be the place for you, but if technology excites you, or the prospect of having access to technology to help you on your travels motivates you to travel – go to Singapore. You won’t regret it.

Technology and innovation are a big deal in Singapore. The tiny city-state has embraced the world of tech with open arms, and it’s using it to create a forward-thinking, state of the art, efficient country (with amazing architecture may I add!)

Fast internet, access to apps you probably already use if you live in a major European city (Citymapper anyone?) and a whole host of technological advances (such as free mobile phones laden with apps provided with your hotel rooms!) will make your travels easier. You’ll always have signal on your mobile while you’re underground, and when you ask someone to take a photo for you – chances are they’ll be a semi-professional photographer (they take their tech and gadgets very seriously)!

Singapore Light Show
Creature comforts and logical everything!

I’m not going to lie, I do love my creature comforts when I travel. I love when people queue, when they wait their turn, I love quiet places, I love clean cities, I love things being organised and straightforward, I love clear signposting and things working on the first try – and Singapore is all of those things. It’s like Apple – things just make sense. People are aware of other people, being rowdy in public is frowned upon, theres a system for queining for taxis and busses, things are so organised it’s virtually impossible to get lost! Taxi drivers won’t try to cheat you and people won’t try to overcharge you because you’re a tourist.

Singapore has a unique story

I love Singapore, and one of the things I love most about it is its story. Just 52 years ago, this tiny little island was ejected from Malaysia and forced to declare itself an independent state, Lee Kwan Yew, the PM at the time declared it “a moment of anguish” as he cried on a televised broadcast announcing the separation. Singapore was steeped in poverty, with no natural resources of its own and a tiny population. The ejection from Malaysia forced it to fight for survival, and that’s exactly what it did.

Today, Singapore is the 4th richest country in the world, the number one maritime capital in the world, it has the highest rate of home-ownership in the world (with 90% of its residents owning their own homes), the Singaporean passport is ranked the first (most powerful) passport alongside the German passport in the Global passport index. I could go on and on about Singapore’s incredible achievements. But above them all, is the sense of unity this country has created between nationalities and religions.

Chinese, Malay and Indian cultures make up Singapore’s unique culture. The three ethnicities, with their numerous religions, have joined forces almost seamlessly to create a country based on mutual respect, unity and a love for Singapore. It’s such an incredibly humbling experience to witness this, particularly in this era of division and hate we are currently living through.


So, what are you waiting for? South East Asia awaits!

P.S: Muslim traveller? Singapore is super-Muslim friendly – the President even wears hijab! There are plenty of amazing mosques and halal eateries to keep you entertained, and no funny looks at hijabis here!

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Sarajevo, the city that drifted in and out of the headlines on our TV screens for years on end during the early 90’s, always reminding us that somewhere, not so far away, something terrible was happening. Reminding us that children just like us (at the time), were suffering immeasurable pain and growing up amidst devastation. The images of empty streets with makeshift barricades, families desperately scurrying across the main street in Sarajevo under sniper fire, and the burning remains of the Council building remain imprinted on my mind so vividly, even now, some twenty something years later.

We landed on the tarmac at Sarajevo airport early in the morning and were instantly struck by an air of calm. The stunning backdrop of mountains in the distance, coupled with a lucky bright blue cloudless-sky greeted us. As we journeyed our way towards the hotel in the old city, we were struck by the many contrasts of this city.

Small traditional houses with terracotta rooftops nestled amidst lush green mountains in the distance, modern sky scrapers standing next to abandoned buildings bearing the scars of sniper fire, grand Hungarian-inspired buildings, set against a backdrop of traditional Ottoman architecture, with minarets towering in the sky . Through a single road, Sarajevo will tell you it’s history, all you need to do, is to look out for it.

We ventured into the old town of Baščaršija as coffee shops and stalls opened their doors for their first customers. For the next hour, we sipped on Bosnian coffee and watched the old town go about it’s day. There was an Istanbul-esque vibe about it, the Ottoman mosques dotted about, always reminding you of the city’s Ottoman ancestors. But Baščaršija was far calmer, even by mid-day, when tour groups arrived, walking tours commenced, and locals went about their day picking up bread from local bakeries and catching sips of coffee on their way; there was a calmness. A calmness we loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s hard to forget what this city has endured, not so long ago. After the fall of Yugoslavia and a Bosnian independence referendum, Sarajevo was besieged by the Yugoslavian People’s Army. The siege lasted a total of 1425 days, up until February 1996. The city was encircled, snipers nestled themselves on vantage points on the outskirts of the city, shelling and fighting bought chaos to the city. Streets became war zones. Starvation was rife, with no proper way in or out of the city, the population were trapped with no supplies. Many who attempted to cross the makeshift borders into neighbouring towns were killed instantly.

The not-so-distant bloody history of Sarajevo is still very visible today, from burnt-out buildings to bullet-ridden walls. I could not help but wonder how the siege had affected all those we conversed with. Those my age were just growing children at the time, today, many are heads of households.


[The Kovaci cemetery is home to some of the victims of the war, alongside the grave of Bosnia’s first president Alija Izetbegovic, who died in 2003]

There are so many signs of recovery here. The modern part of the city connects itself so seamlessly with the old town. As the cobblestones give way to pavements, you’ll find streets lined with shops, glossy malls, and young Sarajevans hanging out in hip cafes – a sight almost unimaginable some 20 years ago. The Olympic bob-sleigh/luge tracks built for the ’84 Olympics are finding new life and becoming a canvas for the local art scene. International brands have set up shop and international investors have set sights on the city, the tourism industry is steadily growing, mainly through support of investors from Gulf countries. Outside the national Library sits a replica of a Cable Car compartment – part of a new cable car service due to arrive in Sarajevo in the near future. It will bring the cable car back to Sarajevo (another piece of history destroyed by the war), transporting passengers to the top of Mount Trebvić.

There is no rush to forget what happened here, Sarajevans are preserving their history, still determined for the world to know their story. The “Tunnel Of Hope” – the only lifeline for this city under siege still stands today, you can walk through part of the original underground tunnel to understand it’s role in the cities survival. Through an assortment of Museums and Galleries, Sarajevo’s recent war history is being told.

There’s something so special about Sarajevo, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I know so many other people feel the same way. Perhaps it’s an air of simplicity? The kindness of it’s people? The untouched natural beauty spanning miles and miles in the distance? Or perhaps it the knowledge of what this city has been through in it’s lifetime? Power struggles, a mixed identity, independence, war and ultimately recovery? An endless journey to pick up the pieces.

We fell in love with the city, so much more than we thought we would. I was so much more excited about Mostar when we set out for our trip, but after just a few hours in Sarajevo, I never wanted to leave. We said goodbye with a heavy heart and a vow to return to the beautiful city once again. Hopefully soon.

Here’s our traditional travelling chalkboard shot:

Some tips if you’re visiting Sarajevo :

  •  Bring comfortable shoes! I can’t stress this enough. There are plenty of hills/steep climbs/cobbled streets that make for a challenging walk. We lived in trainers and our feet thanked us for it!
  • If you are travelling with someone with mobility issues/children, stay in a hotel that is not on a hill (check on TripAdvisor). We stayed in the wonderful Hotel Aziza but it was set on a steep hill.
  • Sarajevo is safe! There’s a strange misconception that the city is still at war – it’s not. The city is safe, just exercise the usual caution you would anywhere in the world and you’ll be fine!
  • There is no Uber in Sarajevo but there is a number you can call for a taxi. Red taxis (with font on the bonnet) have meters. You can also get around by tram.
  • We found it very difficult to find a Sim card in Sarajevo – we found one shop near the Gazi Husarev Mosque in the old town that sold them.
  • Halal food : Bosnia is a majority Muslim country and Halal food is easy to find. You can confirm Halal status with restaurant owners.
  • If like us you make a pilgrimage to the land of Golden Arches every time you step foot in a Muslim country, rejoice, McDees is Halal in Bosnia (according to staff at our hotel)

    Don’t forget to check out my post on 10 things to do in Sarajevo!

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