Relaxing at the Fitzilliam Hotel in Dublin

Fitzwilliam Hotel Lobby
Photo courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Hotel

I recently took an impromptu trip to Dublin, where I spent an exciting 72 hours trying to experience as much as I possibly could in the beautiful city. After two action-packed days, I was in much need of some luxury and relaxation, and the Fitzwilliam Hotel delivered just that. Here’s what I loved about The Fitzwilliam Hotel in Dublin:

Location:

Situated at the base of Grafton Street, just across from the city’s beautiful landscapes of St. Stephen’s Green, the Fitzwilliam’s location provides the perfect balance between its proximity to both the bustling city centre and peaceful outskirts of town.

Lined with shops, street-side performers, and popular pubs, Grafton Street is the gateway to all of the main tourist attractions that Dublin has to offer. Using St. Stephen’s Green as a base, I was able to stroll down Grafton Street and be minutes away from key places like Trinity College and Temple Bar. When I needed a break from the action, I wandered over to St. Stephen’s Green, which is the perfect dose of greenery that every city needs. I felt a sudden calmness descend upon me as I walked through the park gates – the car horns and loud voices faded, leaving me with the sweet sounds of birds chirping and trees blowing in the wind.

Using these two landmarks, I was able to navigate my way around the city with ease.

 

Fitzwilliam Hotel Dublin
Photo courtesy of the Fitzwilliam Hotel

The Rooms:

Characterized by it’s unique vibrant colour scheme, the guest rooms come to life and seem to brighten up what can be otherwiseFitzwilliam Hotel Dublin

dreary day in the city. My room was equipped with all the bells and whistles: a plush bathrobe hanging in my spacious Victorian-style bathroom, a beautiful garden view terrace where I enjoyed a nice glass of wine after dinner, followed by a delightful sleep on my four-post bed…it was like sleeping on a cloud! In the morning, I was able to satisfy my tea addiction and make myself a cup of tea using my full tea set, which I enjoyed on the terrace while reading my freshly delivered newspaper. After I was nice and alert, I strolled down to the Citron Restaurant to indulge (as if I hadn’t indulged enough already) in a traditional Irish breakfast.

 

 

 

The Service:

The service I received was the cherry on top of what was already a fantastic stay. The Fitzwilliam isn’t your average luxury hotel, as they go above and beyond to build their brand with their superb customer service. Each and every staff member greeted me with a smile, and where possible addressed me by name. It goes without saying that the staff have all mastered the customer service basics, but what I was most impressed with were the little details. I checked in quite early in the morning and my room wasn’t ready. Rather than loitering around the lobby for a couple of hours, I decided to stow my luggage and squeeze in some more sightseeing. I returned to the hotel several hours later, exhausted after a full day of zipping around the city. As I stood in the lobby rummaging for my baggage tags to claim my luggage, the Concierge escorted me to the elevator and explained that my luggage had already been taken up to my room. Small gestures like this can make any hotel stand out – it’s certainly something that I’m going to remember!

 

Although my three days in Dublin were slightly chaotic, I returned home feeling well-rested and relaxed thanks to the Fitzwilliam Hotel.

 

Special thanks to the Fitzwilliam Hotel for hosting me. Of course, the views and opinions presented in this post are my own. 

 

 

Life as a Broke Backpacker

Life as a Broke Backpacker

Broke Backpacker

In my early days as a solo traveller, there was a lot of buzz around the notion of being a “broke backpacker”- that is, travelling so extensively that you don’t have a dime to your name, but are nevertheless happy because you’re living like a vagabond on the beach in a land far, far away. For some, that would seem daunting and very unappealing, but for Wanderlusters like me, it’s alluring – or so I thought it was.

It wasn’t until 2012, after several years of solo travel, that I realized I still hadn’t experienced life of a broke backpacker – something that was almost like a rite of passage for young travellers. And so, like many others, I decided to aimlessly wander off to Southeast Asia and Australia.

I got off to a great start by gallivanting through Vietnam, Thailand, and Cambodia, where I spent a quite a bit of time living the good life: swinging from vines in the jungle, eating mysterious street food, meditating in temples, paddling through floating villages, and the list goes on… I was having the time of my life and my cash flow seemed endless. What I had yet to learn, however, was that Australia was one of the most expensive countries in the world to visit, and it just so happened to be my next stop and the longest leg of my travels.

Fortunately, I had already secured a Working Holiday Visa. But to my surprise, it was quite difficult to find suitable work, and the few jobs that I did land were only short-term assignments. The cost of renting an apartment on my own in Sydney was astronomical, and food was about 2-3 times the cost of what I was accustomed to in Asia. It goes without saying that I therefore raced through the “honeymoon phase” of life Down Under and was abruptly met with a very harsh reality: the funds remaining in my travel bank were only enough to get me to the end of the week!

 

Luck was on my side that week, because I was somehow able to secure my first long-term job and apartment, but I still had to undergo a major lifestyle change if I wanted to see another week in Australia:

  • My weekly grocery list could be at max $15 and would consist of: Ramen, frozen spinach or broccoli, 2 apples, bread and eggs. Fun Fact: I learned that you could actually purchase an entire loaf of bread for $1.00!
  • My social life would have to be put on hold because one pint at a bar would equal half my weekly grocery allowance
  • Instead of using public transport, I would walk (or run) everywhere. On the plus side, I was in the best shape of my life!
  • Shopping for clothes was completely out of the question, so a solid outfit rotation was essential.

 

Needless to say, it was quite a difficult adjustment, but it was a great learning experience.

Here are 4 Things I Learned from my Life as a Broke Backpacker:

 

  1. The value of a dollar, literally: It’s so important to understand how far your money will take you on your travels relative to the local cost of living. I clearly didn’t consider this major factor prior to arriving in Australia.
  2. Material goods really aren’t important: When you’re struggling to find somewhere to live or yearning for something better than Ramen noodles, outfits and gadgets suddenly have no meaning or importance.
  3. You can’t travel without money: That vagabond lifestyle that I once found alluring is so unrealistic (at least for me it is). Even though I somehow squeezed by on a low-budget vegetarian diet and a shoebox of an apartment, I found that there was so much that I was unable to see because I didn’t have enough money. Travel is about the experience: seeing the sights, tasting the food, and exploring – all of which will cost you, even if it is on a budget.
  4. If you’re going to be a broke backpacker, do it in the right place – it’s all about planning: I know I just said you can’t really travel without money, but if you find yourself running low on funds while you’re globetrotting, it’s better to be situated somewhere other than a thriving metropolis like Sydney, for example. Be smart about where you’re going and think about how far you can stretch your currency. In retrospect, I could’ve had I gone to Australia at the beginning of my trip when I had more money, I would have had a totally different experience. 

 

It was tough, but I am still so grateful for the experiences I had during my time in Australia.

Essential Items to Protect Your Camera

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Everyone wants to avoid their camera breaking, if you don’t then you clearly don’t value your camera a lot! They are expensive pieces of equipment that we often form special bonds with, learning the ins and outs of the machine, attaching us to it. We want to avoid any damage so that we don’t have to get upset and spend a lot of money on a new one. Damage is unavoidable on a camera, but thankfully there are a few things you can buy to help reduce it.

 

Filters

Filters are like an attachment for your camera that sit neatly just in front of your lens. In actual fact they clip onto the side of your lens and provide protection and a better shot. Lens filters will always be able to protect your lens from dust and thumbs prints as they cover it completely, but are a “one use” form of protection against anything else. Lens filters are designed to break but not shatter when something hard hits it, meaning that it saves your real lens from getting broken as the shape of the filter stays the same. But due to the filter still breaking, it means that you cannot use it again. You can buy these here and are an excellent way to ensure that your camera lens stays safe! It also enhances your shots too, as if you needed another reason to get one.

 

Water Covers

Firstly, if you’re not going to be around water with your camera then don’t bother! It’s designed specifically for water protection, and if you’re not going to be around it then there is no point in owning one, however a lot of photographers do go to the water to take photos so listen up! These simple covers strap to your lens casing and then unfurl around the rest of your camera. People often don’t realize that water damage comes from water being exposed to the camera body itself as opposed to the lens, majority of the electrical parts are in the camera and lenses are replaceable, so by covering up your camera any kind of splash that come your way will be nullified! Check out FujiUser for some good advice on which one to get, the all vary in sizes and thickness so you must get one that suits your purpose otherwise you’ll be hindered by it!

 

Lens Hoods

Lens hoods are similar to filters in the sense that they clip onto your lens, but the similarities end there. Lens hoods offer protection from harsh angles, like straight down or up onto your lens. They give your lens a hood to prevent anything from bumping into it and possibly causing damage. They also provide a little bit of shade for your lens too which is always helpful! You can buy them from companies like Canon, just be careful when deciding which size because if it’s too big, just like the water cover, it will hinder you instead of help.

Getting all of these things is highly recommended if you’re going to be doing any kind of work that would be putting your camera in danger. If your camera breaks, not only will you have to buy a new one but you’ll have to stop the job you’re doing which is bad for business. If you’re looking for some different examples of photos taken with different lenses, go here and have a look!

The Wild West: Australia’s Biggest And Best State

The Wild West: Australia’s Biggest And Best State

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For most travellers, Australia tops the bucket list. Adventures Down Under are synonymous with road trips up Australia’s beautiful east coast, centered around stops at the big five: Cairns, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sydney, and Melbourne. It’s almost like a rite of passage – that, or they stick to what they know because they think the rest of this incredible country is nothing but orange rock, desert, and wild animals. What many travellers don’t realize is that Western Australia is the largest state in terms of geography and the richest in terms of things to do and things to see.

So, it’s only fitting that I highly recommend a trip to Western Australia. After all, there is so much to do on this side of the country that at least one of the following will make it into your top ten travel moments:

 

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  1. Pull on some goggles, a pair of fins and start breathing through a snorkel to explore the Ningaloo Reef in all of its glory. Chances are, you’ll swim with a few incredible whale sharks, while a tour of humpback whales is now being trialed too.
  2. Gorge on the banquet of staggering gorges in the north of Western Australia. The best of the best in our eyes are Geikie Gorge and Emma Gorge, both of which you can explore from kayaks. Of course, if this isn’t your thing, a good old hike is easy to do too.

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  1. Save some money by heading to the cheapest car hire company in Perth and then drive ninety minutes north to what is called The Pinnacles of Cervantes. Here you will set your eyes on one of the most breathtaking and alien-looking landscapes you will have ever seen. To get the most of this experience, we suggest you go on a clear night when the stars are out.
  2. The world heritage site of Purnululu National Park, which is a sea of some of the most astounding natural rock formations. You’ll see a ton of orange and black beehive domes that will have you wondering just how amazing nature is.

 

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  1. You can’t go to Western Australia and not visit its most famous landmark, Cable Beach. It is in a place called Broome and it is spectacular. Turquoise waters stretch out as far as you can sea, the white sand curving along the shoreline. Think you’ve seen beautiful sunsets before? Well, you’ve seen nothing yet.
  2. If mountain biking is your thing, then you have got to check out the Mundi Biddi trail that starts at Mundaring and continues for about a 1000km, finishing up at Albany. It is world famous amongst all those that adore pedal power and is celebrated as one of the best cycling trails in all of Aus.
  3. Forget Ayers Rock. If you want to see – and climb – a big rock then you need to make your way to the Gascoyne and tackle Mount Augustus. This is because it is two and a half times more massive than that puny Ayers Rock that everyone flocks to.

 

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  1. Finally, you have to visit Kalbarri. There is just so much to do here, whether it is exploring their bright red cliffs, fishing along this staggering coastline, or just kicking your sandals off and relaxing in the cozy town. Not to mention the brand new skywalk that has just opened its gates along the Murchison River.

How to Sleep Cheap When Travelling

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Accommodation can be one of the biggest costs when travelling, especially if you’re backpacking or going on a road trip without booking hotels ahead. Fortunately, there are many tips and tricks that can keep you travelling on a shoestring. Here are just a few tips when finding somewhere to sleep.

 

Time your travels right

There are popular times throughout the year to visit certain places, which are often also the most expensive times. For example, if you’re visiting China during Chinese New Year, you can expect hotel prices to be much greater. Similarly, cities may have individual festivals throughout the year – visiting during these time could be more pricy. Christmas and the height of summer are almost always more expensive. October to November and March to May are often the quietest and cheapest times to travel and find accommodation.

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Avoid City Centres

Accommodation will also be more expensive in the centre of a city where all the attractions are. If you’re stopping off in a city, consider staying on the outskirts. You’ll have to get public transport into the centre which may add up costs depending on where you’re visiting. Some cities may also have shuttle services from campsites and popular hotels outside the city.

Staying on the outskirts in particularly worthwhile if you’re driving as parking will be very pricey in any city centre. The further out you go, the more likely you may be able to find free parking (supermarket car parks are worth keeping an eye out for).

 

Sharing is Sparing

You can save a lot of money from sharing a room. If you’re travelling with other people, you may be able to save money on double rooms. You may be able to get a single room and sneak in another guest with a sleeping bag. Hostels are a great place to stay if you’re travelling alone. You can save a lot by sharing a room with other travellers. Some hostels may have several bunks per room – you won’t get much privacy but it’s somewhere to rest your head and it’s a great place to make new friends and travel buddies along the way.

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Go Camping

If you’re not afraid to stay in a tent you can often save a lot of money by checking into a campsite as opposed to a hotel. Wild camping meanwhile is a free option that is ideal for hiking trips in warmer climates (not always so good in cold climates). You can take a sleeping bag or even try sleeping in a hammock. This rugged lifestyle isn’t suited to everyone and some may prefer to check into hostels and hotels.

 

Compare Costs Online

When reaching a new city, there’s nothing more soul-destroying than trudging from hostel to hostel late at night in search of a bed. Searching beforehand online can help you find hotels that aren’t fully booked as well as helping you to locate the cheapest rate. There are lots of hotel comparison sites – most of which allow you to book ahead on them. You should note that you’re not always guaranteed better prices from booking ahead online as sometimes you may also be paying a booking fee on top to pay for the listing.

Because you may not want to turn your data on in a foreign country, you’re best off searching online somewhere that has Wi-Fi. A good strategy is to search the night before using that accommodation’s Wi-Fi. This way, whenever you arrive at your next destination, you’ll know straight away where to go and not have to trudge around.

Paperback guides such as Lonely Planet are also useful for finding a cheap bed and can allow you to travel offline. These guides also provide reviews, which gives you some idea of the quality of the accommodation.

You may be able to save even more money by using a site such as Homestay, which allows you to stay with a local family in their home. This allows you to see how a local lives and you may be able to get a more rich sense of the culture. Families may be willing to transport you around locally, saving you money on transport, and may cook meals for you to. Their local knowledge may also allow you to see some sights in the area that aren’t in the travel books. The disadvantage of using this service is that you’ll need to book ahead as it’s unlikely a family will take you in at a last minute’s notice.

Destinations with Altitude

Some of the most magical places to visit in the world are those that are perched atop mountains at high altitude. In fact, throughout history, high up on a mountain top is where many sacred and special things were meant to have happened through the ages. So it makes complete sense that there are many people living in these areas, as well as plenty of visitors to the areas. But where are some of the best mountains in the world to visit? Here are just a few of the most breathtaking vertical wonders and the cities and town that they have close by to them. Have you ever been to any of them?

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Mont Blanc, France

In the area of Chamonix in France, you will find the mountain of Mont Blanc. It is actually situated in the Alps, and is the highest mountain in the area, standing at over 4000 ft above sea level. It is also the tallest in Europe, west of some of Russia’s mountains anyway. The mountain itself is really popular for snowboarding, winter sports, and skiing. So if you’re looking for a ski chalet in France, then this area will be one of the best areas for skiing in France. There are several towns nearby, all stunning in their own way. Chamonix, as has already been mentioned, was the site of the first Winter Olympics. See, special things do happen on mountains!

 

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La Paz, Bolivia

This extraordinary city is one of a kind as it clings to the sides of a small and narrow canyon, with a range of gondolas and cable cars going up and down alongside it. There is a museum up on top of the mountain which is one of the most popular things to do (once you’ve got your breath back from being up over 3000 meters high). There is also a market selling lots of natural and herbal medicines, several of which are all meant to ward off any evil spirits. The town is one of a kind, and the mountain is so beautiful. So when are you going to be planning a trip?

 

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La Chaux-De-Fonds, Switzerland

This city is a top of the Jura Mountains in Switzerland. And as such, it often gets missed by most tourists unless they are really looking for it. But being one of the highest peaks in Europe, it needs to be seen to be believed and experienced. The architecture of the buildings in the area is amazing, as well as a famous watchmaking museum (it is the home of the country’s watchmaking business after all). So there are a few things to see and do. There is also a lakeside town of Neuchatel not far away from La Chaux-De-Fonds. It has some great nightlife, cafes, and restaurants, and buildings so are certainly worth a look too.

 

Have you been to any mountains or high altitude towns that you just love and would add to this list? I’d love to hear from you!

Mountains, Migrations And Maji Maji In Kenya

What is it that makes a truly great vacation spot? For some people, it’s the chance to catch some rays on the beach. For others, it’s a world-class hotel with all the little extras you could wish for. But for many, it’s about finding a trip that you simply won’t be able to replicate elsewhere in the world. It’s finding the gems of the world, whether it’s the temples of Thailand or the Grand Canyon. If you want something that can’t be replicated, then perhaps the best place to visit is Kenya, and here’s why:

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The Mountains

There are two mountains in particular that dominate the skyline of Kenya. In the north, the plains stretch for miles, but the horizon is overshadowed by Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. The second-biggest isn’t all that far off, either. Mt. Kenya attracts loads of visitors and not just because you can climb it if you’re daring enough. The Mt. Kenya national park surrounding is full of caves, waterfalls, and dirt trails that can take you from one wildly varying landscape to the next. Glaciers, mineral springs, slopes that take on an astral beauty just as the sunrise creates a sky of breathtaking hues. 

The Migrations

When you think of a trip to Africa, you obviously have to consider the wildlife that you simply can’t see anywhere else. Seeing a wild lion on the hunt doesn’t compare to seeing them in a zoo. Similarly, seeing a single wildebeest doesn’t compare to the annual drama that plays out on a Masai Mara safari. A natural event as old as the land itself, you can see thousands at them in certain points of the year, with over 1.5 million completing the journey annually. Even if you catch it a little late, you can see many of the migrating herd hanging out with the stragglers that live on the plain all year round.

The Maji Maji

If you’re visiting Kenya, you might want a little trip out of the wilds as well. Nairobi is a sprawling metropolis with a rich culture of its own. Uhuru Park is easily one of the most beautiful city parks in the world, but it’s well worth a trip to the village market to get all the buzz of the city. Just be vigilant with how much you spend as there are Maasai markets everywhere, with vendors who are quick to charge a fortune. But one of the best reasons to stick to the city is some of the food, including the delicious maji maji grilling of Roadhouse, where you can eat nyama choma, the unofficial national dish consisting of little more than some lovingly prepared meats, including ostrich, crocodile, and camel.

It’s an entirely different kind of life in Kenya. It’s a life where astounding natural beauty is rarely more than a day’s trip away, where wild beasts still rule many parts of the land, and where you can get some fine eats surrounded by friendly locals.

How to Prepare for Hiking/Camping in Ontario

Many people have probably tried hiking or camping in various spots around the world. Not all, however, have had the chance to experience these activities across the peaceful lakes and rugged wilderness of Ontario.

Hiking and camping are beloved pastimes in Canada due to its nature-rich surroundings. Ontario is the country’s second largest province by area next to Quebec, which means that it’s full of trails and campsites where you can enjoy an exciting camping vacation. Summer is the peak season though, so this also means that these destinations can get filled with tourists. To avoid the crowds and other hassles in your outdoor escape, read on to find out how you can prepare thoroughly.

The Great Outdoors of Ontario

It’s no secret that Ontario is a hotspot for tourists, especially in its urban areas where one can find several Easy Weekend Getaways. Since Ontario  is also known for its hiking trails and campgrounds that attract outdoor enthusiasts from all over the world, there’s no better way to experience the beautiful province then to plan a camping trip.

First things first, you need to do a little bit of research in order to choose one of the thousands of campgrounds and trails in Ontario. Our Ontario camping resource,  Parks Blogger, shared some great tips on how to book a campsite in Ontario, and it was advised to have at least three choices in case your first choice is already fully booked. The province limits the number of tourists as an effort to maintain the pristine condition of parks. Once you’ve settled on a list of selected campsites, you can register via phone or online through Ontario Parks, which is the governing body behind the protected sites.

Once registered, it’s time to pack your gear. Mountain Equipment Cooperative has a great guide about the essential gear for summer camping in Ontario. For clothing, the best way to prepare is to take a set for each type of weather. Avoid apparel that retains moisture so you won’t be soaked in perspiration while hiking under the sun. But even though it’s summer, it was also mentioned that rain showers can hit Ontario at anytime. Your best bet is to include a rain jacket in your luggage as well.

A sleeping bag is also vital given that nights may be cold, especially if the park you chose is located in the northern part of the province. As for your main shelter, pick a lightweight tent if you plan to do a fair bit of hiking. If it’s mostly camping on level or low ground on the other hand, you can bring a bigger, heavier tent. Renting a trailer is also a good option, more so if you’re camping with a large group.

In terms of other equipment, a flask should always be carried so you can rehydrate at anytime. Avoid coffee, as tempting as a hot cup might sound, because it dehydrates the body faster and that’s a big no-no in hot weather. Water is still the best option, but you can have tea or herbal drink as well.

For additional tips, Scouts Canada published a piece which listed ways on how to stay safe while summer camping in the country.

For Overseas Travellers:

Tourists coming from other continents have additional things to consider, first of which is the time zone. The registration system opens at 7am local time, so factor that into account before making an overseas call.

If you have camping equipment, bringing or renting a car is a viable option to easily haul your gear. You may need to arrange parking options beforehand to avoid any hassle or extra costs, especially at hectic locations like airports. To make the process easier, there are comparison engines utilised by the busiest airports like Toronto Pearson, Hartsfield-Jackson or London Heathrow to help passengers find the best options. London Heathrow, for example, is used by over 90 airlines and according to Heathrow parking experts Parking4Less, the airport opened additional car parks and deployed a user-friendly comparison system in order to accommodate the vehicles which come and go every day.

Remember that some camping items are prohibited by security so it’s best to leave them at home to avoid the extra baggage weight. Such items include sharp and pointed objects, portable stoves and other flammable materials. If you need these tools, ask your guide or a Scout for assistance once you’re in Ontario before heading out to the campsite.

Happy Camping!

 

Photo Credit: [camping]

Solo Traveller’s Survival Guide for an All-Inclusive Resort

Solo Traveller’s Survival Guide for an All-Inclusive Resort

Varadero Beach, Cuba

Generally speaking, all-inclusive resorts aren’t my travel style of choice. Over the 15 years that I’ve been travelling, I’ve stayed at an all-inclusive resort twice, and that’s including my recent trip to Cuba. As a serial solo traveller, I crave the type of travel that challenges me and I enjoy the fear of the unknown, which has enabled me to develop several skills to ensure that I never actually feel lonely when I travel. I thought it would be an interesting experiment to test said skills at an all-inclusive resort, which is typically a place where people travel together as couples, families, or groups of friends.

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How to see Tuscany without a Car

How to see Tuscany without a Car

Greve in Chianti vineyardThey say that the best way to see Tuscany is by renting your own car to cruise through the endless hills of the countryside. But if you’re like me and don’t feel like shifting gears to maneuver around narrow cliff-hugging roads, then there is an alternative that doesn’t include booking a group tour, and that is public transport.

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