What’s in My Carry On

By Kate Arnold

I’m off everyone! Today I’m leaving for Peru! I love the ‘What’s in My Bag’ tag that’s been going around the internet for years so this is my variation on it. Here’s everything in my carry on that I’m taking to Peru:

  1. Laptop – I don’t usually travel with my laptop but I’ll need it for teaching and since I’m gone for such a long time I’m hoping to get a lot of work done while I’m away and I’ll need it for that.
  2. Phone – no surprise here. I like to send my family messages when I can get free wifi at airports to let them know I’m okay. Plus I’ll have it loaded with music, audiobooks and podcasts to keep me entertained throughout the looong journey.
  3. Headphones – for listening to said music, audiobooks and podcasts
  4. Chargers – my phone battery sucks. Most planes have USB ports that mean I can use my phone through the whole flight if I want and not worry about depleting the battery.
  5. Portable phone charger – again, my phone battery sucks. Not having to worry about my phone dying while I’m alone in a foreign country is a huge weight off my mind.
  6. Documents, records of vaccines, photocopies of passport and birth certificate – even the thought of losing my passport gives me heart palpitations. I want to make sure I have all the documentation I need to get another one if needed.
  7. Boarding pass, flight information and itinerary – pretty standard. I won’t get far without them.
  8. Tavel wallet and passport – Can’t go anywhere without these
  9. Change of clothes – it’s going to take around 30 hours to get from Melbourne to Lima, having a change of clothes will make me feel human are wearing the same thing for more than a day. This is also handy to have incase my luggage gets lost and takes some time to get back to me.
  10. Socks – I always get cold on planes. Always.
  11. 500/S – this is the equivalent of about $200 AUD in the Peruvian Sol. I don’t know where I’ll be able to get money out when I arrive and how many places will take card. Having cash will be handy for getting a taxi to my hostel when I arrive and for getting some food when I get off the plane.
  12. A book and my kindle – I’m undecided on what the physical book will be yet but I like to have something I can read wherever I go.
  13. Toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturiser, etc. – all the toiletries I need to make me feel (and smell) human after travelling for so long.
  14. Malaria tablets – I need to start taking these tablets two days before I leave and everyday while I’m there.
  15. Glasses and sunglasses – need them to see.
  16. Empty drink bottle – I can’t have a full bottle of water when I go through security but I fill it up before I board.

Have I missed something essential that you always take on your carry on? Let me know in the comments and don’t forget to check out Laura’s five essential items for her carry on here.

Our Time at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Diagon Alley in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios, Orlando.

By Laura Jemetta

Are you heading to Orlando? Excited to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Then you don’t want to miss this series – read about our Wizarding World itinerary, our planning strategy and tips and tricks for budgeting at the parks.

We spent three days at Universal Studios Orlando, which meant that we essentially spent three days at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Wizarding World is one of my favourite places in the world after those three days, and I learnt that like Disney World, a little bit of planning goes a long way on a trip to Universal.

Universal Explained

For those who don’t know, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is a land inside Universal Studios Orlando. Universal Studios is split into two parks, (not including the water park), and the Wizarding World itself is split into two as well, with one half in each of the parks: Hogsmeade is in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Diagon Alley is in Universal Studios proper.

Okay, there’s good news and bad news about this set-up. The bad news is that if you want to visit both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, you will need to buy a separate tickets to each of the two parks. I know that sounds kind of sucky, right? If you don’t want to get just half an experience, you’re forced to pay twice, essentially. But the good new I have for you is this: the two separate parts of the Wizarding World are connected by the Hogwarts Express, so you can easily travel between them if you have your two tickets.

So, do you recommend getting a ticket to both parks? I guess there’s no simple answer to that question, but if you want to get the full Wizarding World experience, and you can afford it, yes. Seeing Diagon Alley without Hogsmeade will mean that you won’t get to ride the Forbidden Journey, or see the Hogwarts Castle. And only going to Hogsmeade means you won’t get to experience the unique magic of Diagon Alley, or go to the Leaky Cauldron. Also, you will not be able to ride the Hogwarts Express without a ticket to both parks, so if you don’t want to miss out on that experience, then buying a park-hopper ticket (allowing you entry into both parks), would be something to consider.


Getting Your Planning Started

You have a few decisions to make once you know you’re going to Universal Studios:

  • How many days you want to spend at the Parks
  • How many of the Parks you want to visit
  • Whether you want to add Express Passes onto your tickets

We booked our tickets when we were still back home in Australia, and that worked out great for us. Like I said, we decided on three days at Universal because we wanted to have ample time to see both sides of the Wizarding World, as well as to explore the rest of the parks. That ended up being a perfect amount of time for us to ride every ride we wanted to, multiple times!

Should I buy Express Passes? In a word? No. I really believe that you don’t need to pay for Express Passes to skip the queues, because there is a way to do it for free! Check out my post about Universal’s Best Kept Secret to read all about the Single Rider Line – the free way to skip the queues at Universal Studios. In short, if you don’t mind not sitting directly next to your friend or family member on the rides themselves, then you can queue in the much shorter Single Rider line, for free. On our first day at Universal, we inquired about Express Passes, but just couldn’t justify the extra cost (approximately $100 USD). When we realised that most of the rides we were most excited about had a single rider line anyway. we were so glad we didn’t pay that extra money. It was like getting those Express Passes for free – and you can too by using the Single Rider line instead!

Our Itinerary:

We started out at Universal Studios proper on Day one at the parks. We were so excited to be there, so our plan was pretty simple: make a beeline for the Wizarding World. We took one of the earliest shuttles available from our hotel, and were at the park early.

TIP: It’s a longer walk than you think from the buses, and through the City Walk to the park entry, so add on a bit of extra time (roughly 15-20 minutes) to your travel time if you’re trying to be at the parks at a certain time.

Once we’d queued up and had our tickets scanned, we headed straight for ‘London’, where the entry to Diagon Alley is. We took a wrong turn, and ended up walking the longest way there, but we finally made it across the bridge and into London.

A cool detail about the Wizarding World is that, like in the books, the entry to Diagon Alley is non-descript. It’s as if you could walk right past it if you didn’t know what you were looking for (which is kind of the point for us Muggles, right?)

Like in the Philosophers Stone, the entry to Diagon Alley is behind a brick wall, and once you make it through, you’re greeted with the Diagon Alley from both your imagination, and the films. Pair that with the stirring Harry Potter score wafting through the air, and you have a real tear-jerker moment. (For me anyway!)

As you enter, the first thing you notice will probably be the giant dragon on top of Gringotts – especially if you catch it breathing fire! You’ll recognise familiar sights everywhere – from the shops from the books to the cobblestones – everything feels like coming home. Once we had arrived and taken it all in, we headed straight for Escape from Gringotts – all the tips I’d read prior to arriving said to get straight in line for rides because wait times can get astronomical as the day goes on.

Escape to Gringotts takes place inside the aforementioned dragon-topped Gringotts Bank. To queue for the ride, you actually wind through Gringotts, including a walk through the hall with the goblin bank tellers. Even at that early time of the morning, the wait was pretty substantial, but I think Gringotts is my favourite Wizarding World ride, and the waiting is worth it (even if you’re not using the Single Rider Line!)

After the ride, we spent quite a bit of time wandering in and out of the shops in Diagon Alley – (just a warning, some of the ‘shops’ in Diagon Alley are just shop-fronts). But you can actually walk inside so many of the shops you’ve read about, like:

  • Madam Malkan’s
  • Magical Menagerie
  • Ollivander’s
  • Florean Fortescues
  • The Leaky Cauldron! – My favourite

To me, the shops in Diagon Alley are more than just shops – even if you’re not going to buy anything, (which you don’t need to in order to enjoy the Wizarding World), I highly recommend taking a leisurely walk through the shops – it’s magical. Try to pick up on all the little details from the books and films – and there are a lot of them – that show just how much thought went into the design of the park.

By the time we’d been in and out of the shops, we decided it was time to do something at the top of the list for the Wizarding World – (for me at least!) – try Butterbeer. This was honestly one of my favourite things about the Wizarding World – it’s one of the tastiest and most tangible things that was brought to life from the books, and I loved it. We decided to get our first Butterbeer at the Leaky Cauldron, which I thought was a pretty damn cool place.

TIP: There is almost always going to be a queue for the Leaky Cauldron, even really early in the day, because they serve breakfast! But it’s worth the wait at least once for the decor and atmosphere alone. It’s one of the coolest places in the Wizarding World, serving traditional English fare, or you can just order a Butterbeer like we did on our first day.

Next, we decided to move on to Hogsmeade, so we went to board the Hogwarts Express. The whole queue for the train is so well done – it’s designed to be like a real London train station, (Kings Cross, to be exact). ‘Station Attendants’ scan your park ticket again (to make sure you have a park-hopper ticket), so you will need to have that at the ready. Then you wind your way through the station, through an English convenience stand, (where you can purchase real British lollies and snacks), and then through the wall to Platform 9 and 3/4.

TIP: There is a really cool detail as you go through to Platform 9 and 3/4, and it’s a great photo opportunity. If you’re travelling with someone, get them to stand back back around the corner as you walk through the arch, because mirrors create an illusion that makes it appear that you are actually disappear through a brick wall. Take a look at the photos below to see what I mean!

Platform 9 and 3/4's at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios, Orlando

Next, it was time to board the Hogwarts Express. Now, we found that there was always quite a hefty wait for the train, but it’s worth it! Not only is the Hogwarts Express a convenient way to get between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, (and a great chance to sit down for a while!), it’s also an immersive Harry Potter experience in itself.

The Hogwarts Express at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios, Orlando

Once you get to the front of the queue, you board the train, you get to sit in a real train compartment and enjoy the ride from Universal Studios Florida to Islands of Adventure. It’s a short ride, but there are special effects that make it feel like a real train journey, (I’ll leave those as a surprise for you to experience yourself!)

TIP: Make sure you ride the Hogwarts Express at least twice – once from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, and once back the other way. You get a different train experience in each direction!

Hogsmeade is pretty magical – the first thing I noticed was the ‘snow’ topped buildings, which is quite the juxtaposition when you’re sweltering in the Floridian heat! Again, the sweeping music as you enter really pulls at your heartstrings, and Hogsmeade feel a bit like home.

Honeydukes lolly shop in Hogsmeade. Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Universal Studios, Orlando.

So, Diagon Alley is probably my favourite part of the Wizarding World, but Hogsmeade has Honeydukes, which is my favourite shop to visit. Candy-coloured and candy-filled, it is the lolly shop of dreams. I got a little carried away with the chocolate frogs and Bertie Botts, but it was just so cool to be able to purchase those sweets from the books!

Undoubtedly the best part of Hogsmeade though, is the Forbidden Journey, which was Kate’s favourite ride. It always has an astronomical queue, but it’s one of the best rides in the whole park.

TIP: Of course, I’m going to remind you to take the Single Rider Line whenever you can for the Forbidden Journey, but make sure that you use the regular line at least once, because you will get to wind your way through Hogwarts if you do. See the Herbology Greenhouses, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledores office, and more while you wait in line. It’s something you have to experience at least once!

After the Forbidden Journey, we explored Hogsmeade which, along with Honeydukes, features The Three Broomsticks, the Flight of the Hippogriff, and plenty of Butterbeer stands. To be honest, there is more to see and do in Diagon Alley, but Hogsmeade can sometimes be a nice break from the business of Diagon Alley. We found it was generally a little quieter in Hogsmeade, (except for around Hogwarts and the Forbidden Journey!)

We spent the next two days at Universal Studios doing two things:

Number 12 Grimmauld Place at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Universal Studios Orlando
  1. Going back and forth between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade: We explored everything – and I mean everything – that the Wizarding World has to offer. We had a lovely meal at the Leaky Cauldron. We had a butterbeer in the Three Broomsticks. We wandered in and out of every shop, perusing everything and carefully deciding on the souvenirs we wanted to buy. We watched the shows in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We got an ice-cream from Florean Fortescue’s (butterbeer for me!) We hung out in London too – we got pictures in front of Number 12 Grimmauld Place, and got connected to the Ministry of Magic in the London phone booth! And we rode the rides. Over and over again. The Wizarding World rides are some of the best I’ve ever been on, and I didn’t get sick of them, even when we were going on them repeatedly. We did everything there is to do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and I still want to go back someday soon. If that doesn’t indicate how great a place it is for a Harry Potter lover like me, I don’t know what will.
  2. We explored the rest of Universal Studios: This is important – we’d paid for tickets to Universal Studios as a whole, so of course we were going to get the most for our money and explore the rest of the parks. Three days there allowed us to see all of the Wizarding World, and see the rest of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. Universal has a lot of offer – from themed worlds from some of your favourite films, to some of the best and most thrilling rides you’ll find. I highly recommend the Hulk roller coaster, the Rip Ride and Rock It roller coaster, and the Mummy Ride to name a few.

There you have it – the third, (and most comprehensive!), part of my Universal Series.

Please let me know in the comments below what your thoughts are about my Universal Studios Series – did you get any good tips or inspiration? I certainly hope so!

Thanks for reading, whether you’re an old or new reader! We appreciate your support so much!

How to Save Money at Universal Studios

Hogwarts!

By Laura Jemetta

Okay, here’s Part 2 of my Universal Studios Series! How did you like Part 1? Let me know below if you plan to use any of my tips when you go to Universal Studios and the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Today’s post is all about saving money at Universal Studios – you know we’re all about budgeting here at Xen, and you know that theme parks are damn expensive. So I’ve put together a list of specific ways that you can spend money at Universal Studios Orlando.

Don’t Pay for Water:

You can stay hydrated for free at Universal Studios, simply by asking for a cup of water. Drinking plenty of water is the best way to protect against heat stroke, and you don’t have to pay for bottled water to to do. Alternatively, you could take a reusable water bottle with you, and refill it at the parks as you need.

Skip the Express Pass:

Okay, you’re probably sick of me going on about the Single Rider Line. You can read about it in depth in my post about it here, but just know that you can get most of what the Express Pass offers you – for free – just by using the Single Rider Line.

Snack Throughout the Day:

We took this approach when we were at the parks: instead of paying for two to three full, sit down meals each day, we would fill up on a big hotel breakfast, and then snack for the rest of the day. We packed muesli bars to take with us, and then bought popcorn here, or an ice-cream there when we were hungry. There are so many snacks at the park to choose from, and if you combine these with fruit or a sandwich from home, it makes for an all-round cheaper day at the parks.

Think Carefully about Your Souvenirs:

Some of my favourite things I bought at the Wizarding World are pins – one of the most inexpensive things you can buy at theme parks. There is so much on offer at the shops in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade, but take the time to think about what you’re really going to use and enjoy once you’re at home. I know the wands are tempting, but will you actually have a use for it in your real life? Probably not. I went a little bit mad with the souvenirs from the Wizarding World, but I have to be honest and let you know that I haven’t yet worn the pair of Gryffindor socks I bought.

Remember that you don’t NEED to buy things: 

You don’t actually need to buy anything to enjoy the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; it’s a place all about experiences – the experience of riding the Hogwarts Express or of riding through Gringotts in an escaped carriage or of sipping a frosty butterbeer while sitting in a shady corner of Hogsmeade. (I realise the Butterbeer one will require you to spend money, but everyone should have the Butterbeer experience at least once!) Think about only buying the things that will sustain the memory of those experiences for you, (or maybe nothing at all?); things that will take you back to the time and place and give you the same feeling of magic. One way to do this without spending money is to take some photos of yourself in the park, and then display them when you get home – then you can look at them every day and be reminded of those memories.

Which Vaccines do you Need to Visit Peru?

By Kate Arnold

Which vaccinations do you need to go to Peru?

As part of my preparations to go to Peru I have been getting all of the vaccines I need, and there are A LOT. Here’s all the jabs you need if you are staying in Peru for an extended period and planning on doing any hiking:

  1. Typhoid/Hepatitis A – You can get theses two vaccines in one combo jab (what a bonus). Together they’ll cost you around $130. You should get a Hepatitis A top up six months after this jab and you’ll be immunised for life.
  2. Malaria – This one isn’t an injection, instead you have to take tablets. You start taking them two days before you leave, then one everyday while you are in the zone where malaria is a risk and then one everyday for a week after you leave the zone. For six months worth of tablets this cost me $65, just over $10 per month.
  3. Rabies – You only have to get the rabies jab if you are going to be in Peru for an extended period or if you are going to be going into any places of nature such as the Amazon or hiking Macchu Picchu. You have to get three rounds of this injection. After you get the first round you have to wait seven days to get the second round. You have to wait 14 days after the second round to get the third jab. All of these cost just under $300!
  4. Yellow Fever – The average chemist doesn’t stock the Yellow Fever vaccine and they can’t order it in either. I went to City Vaccine in Melbourne CBD for the jab. They specialise in travel vaccines and I didn’t have to get a prescription for it either. This vaccine costs $130 and the appointment was another $40 odd on top of that.

All up I’ve spend approximately $665, which is about $265 more than I was expecting to pay. Don’t forget to get records of each of your vaccines from the nurse to show at arrival at the airport if you are requested. You may also be required to show proof of vaccinations if you want to go on guided hikes or tour to places like the Machu Picchu or the Amazon.

Read more about my up coming trip to Peru here.

Which places have you been to that needed multiple vaccinations? Let me know in the comments!

The Ultimate List of Tips for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Honeydukes, the lolly shop at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Lolly-Shop of dreams – Honeydukes

By Laura Jemetta

You probably know by now that I’m a massive Harry Potter fan. One day I might do a post about why, and what Harry Potter means to me, but for now, just know that it’s been a staple in my life for over 16 years. That’s a lot of life (for a 24 year old). With that in mind, you can see how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter would be one of my favourite places in the world.

That’s why this post is the first in a series about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter! (And more broadly Universal Studios)

Like you might have read in my posts about Disney World, the key to a visit to any theme park is planning. Don’t worry though! I did all the preparation for my trip in 2017, so you don’t have to – just grab a snack, sit back and read on.

  1. Take a small bag or backpack: This is my most important tip for visiting Universal Studios, and it’s crucial because in order to go on 90% of the rides at the parks, you are required to store your belongings in a locker. As in, you cannot take anything onto the rides with you: not your bag, not your phone, not your sunglasses. Nothing. It’s a rule that’s in place for safety reasons, and so Universal provides free lockers for you to use while you’re on the rides. They’re quite small though, so it’s important not to come to the parks with a backpack or handbag that’s not going to fit in the lockers.
  2. Book your tickets in advance: We booked our tickets online when we were still at home in Australia, and it worked out really well for us. It meant that we didn’t have to wait in the queue to buy tickets at the gate – which was really long – and we could just line up for a short time to have our pre-purchased tickets scanned.
  3. Choose your Hotel wisely: There are heaps of hotels you can stay at in Orlando, but my number one tip for accommodation is to choose a hotel that offers a free shuttle service to the parks. This will save you a lot of money, time and effort every day in figuring out how to get to the parks. Another thing to research is whether staying at a Universal Hotel will be beneficial or not. They are lovely hotels, (so I’ve heard), they are either situated within walking distance to the parks, or they offer a free shuttle, and there are often other benefits like extended opening hours. But they seem to be quite a bit pricier than other options in Orlando, so it’s worth weighing up your options before making a decision.
  4. Sunscreen. Sunscreen. Sunscreen: Put it on in the morning. Put it on at the parks. Get as much shade as you can during the day. You won’t regret it when you don’t end up terribly sunburned at the end of the day.
  5. Don’t buy Express Passes! It’s just not worth the price. I’ve written about my love for the Single Rider Line here and here, but in short, it’s a free way to skip ahead of the massive queues for the rides at Universal, (including the Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts!) -Universal will try and sell you Express Passes, which are upwards of $100 USD, but if you take anything away from this post, it’s that the Single Rider Line is a free way to get the same thing! Take a look at my post explaining the Single Rider Line, and see how easy it is to save yourself the expense!
  6. Stop to Notice all the Details: There are so many little details that make the Wizarding World what it is, so try and slow down to notice them. If you’re rushing about, you’ll miss so many magical details, so take it slowly, take notice, and stay in the magic.
  7. Catch the Wand-Choosing Ceremony at Ollivanders: This is one of those cool details – you can line up for a wand ceremony at Ollivanders. It takes place in the back room of the wand shop, (which you can only go into for the ceremony), and you will witness someone from your group (normally a kid), get their wand. Special effects make it appear that the wand really does ‘choose the wizard’, and it’s a fun little feature of Diagon Alley that I think everyone should see at least once!
  8. Skip the Flight of the Hippogriff: (Unless you’re travelling with kids, or you prefer tame rides). Probably an unpopular opinion, but I was thoroughly disappointed with the Flight of the Hippogriff. There is no single rider line, so the queue was massive, and I swear the ride itself is about 30 seconds. It was the only ride in the whole of Universal Studios that I didn’t think was worth the wait. Like I said above though, it is a nice, gentle rollercoaster for children, or for those who don’t really like thrill rides, so it might be a ride you’d like to try depending on your circumstances
  9. Don’t forget to step outside of the Wizarding World: As much as I love the Wizarding World, Universal is not a cheap place to visit. Make sure to get the most out of your money by exploring the rest of Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, as well as Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. There is a lot to see and do in the parks, including themed worlds from some of your favourite films, and some really great rollercoasters. You won’t regret stepping out of the Harry Potter magic for a while and seeing what the rest of Universal has to offer.
  10. Try the Butterbeer: If there’s one thing you do in the Wizarding World, it has to be trying the Butterbeer. Is it expensive? I think so. But it’s so worth it. It’s literally the perfect drink to have in the heat of the day at the parks, and to me, it puts you right in the world of Harry Potter; that’s why I love it. Give it a go, just once, and be transported straight to Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley.

There you have it: leave me a comment if you made it to the end of this long post! Let me know if you’ve found any of these tips useful!

As always, don’t forget to like and follow the blog – we’re really grateful for your support!

A Day at Highgate Cemetery

By Kate Arnold

Highgate Cemetery London

One of my favourite days I spent in London was taking a day out to visit Highgate Cemetery, a beautiful, quiet place, where I spend hours wandering around, looking at old graves that have been overtaken by nature. Many of the plants and wildflowers have been planted and grown without human intervention, creating an environment overrun by nature, which is incredibly soothing, especially after experiencing the hustle and bustle of London.

highgate cemetery London
Gaves overtaken by nature

How to Get There

The easiest way to get to the cemetery from London by tube. Get on the Northern Line heading towards High Barnet and get off at the Archway stop. Don’t go to the Highgate stop, it’s a much longer walk. From Archway Station exit towards Highgate Hill. From there you can either walk over Highgate Hill to Waterlow Park or alternatively take the bus (210, 143 or 271) two stops to Waterlow Park and cross the park to get to the Highgate Cemetery Gates. For more information about how to use the tube check out my article Your Guide to the London Underground.

East Cemetery

Highgate cemetery London
Two headstones collapsing against one another

The East Cemetery is known for containing the tomb of Karl Marx, which has been listed as a Grade I site for historical importance. You’ll also find the graves of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author George Eliot (whose grave says Mary Ann Cross), anatomist and surgeon Henry Grey, who authored the compendium Grey’s Anatomy and Academy Award nominee Diane Cilento, who was an Australian actress and author.

You can either wander around the East Cemetery at your leisure or you can join a guided tour run by one of the cemetery’s volunteers. Tickets cost £8 for adults and £4 for members and children. General admission to the East Cemetery is £4 for adults and free for children under 18.

Fireman’s Corner

You’ll also find Fireman’s Corner in the East Cemetery, which is where 97 members of London’s Fire Brigade have been laid to rest. This memorial to these service men and women was erected by the widows and orphans of London’s firemen and is cared for by the Brigade’s Welfare Section.

West Cemetery

The West Cemetery is only admissible via a guided tour, which runs for around 70 minutes and costs £12 for adults and £6 for children aged 8 – 17. No children under the age of 8 will be admitted. A ticket to this tour will also allow you general admission into the East Cemetery. Bookings are essential for tours Monday to Friday, which run twice a day, commencing at 11 am and again at 1.45 pm. Weekend tours are sold on a first come first serve basis and run every 30 minutes from 10.30 am to 3 pm. Tours will still run in light rain and the paths can get muddy and slippery and are steep in some parts, choose your footwear accordingly.

Egyptian Avenue

The West Cemetery is also home to the Egyptian Avenue, which is also a Grade I listing for historical importance is so called because of the Egyptian style architecture. This avenue of tombs leads to the Circle of Lebanon.

Circle of Lebanon

An ancient and enormous cedar tree stands at the heart of the Circle of Lebanon, it is so old that it long predates the cemetery that has risen around it. Tombs surround the base of this giant tree, which is still a focal point of the cemetery’s landscape.

Terrace Catacombs

Inside the Terrace Catacombs is a hall stretching over 80 yards, which is lined with 825 recesses in the walls, each tall enough to accommodate a coffin standing on its end.

What You Should Know

We all know how rainy it can get in the UK and the paths can get muddy underfoot, I recommend you break out your wellies or another waterproof, closed toe boot. Don’t let the rain deter you from going though, the cemetery looks even more beautiful during light rain.

George Micheal was buried at Highgate Cemetery in 2017, however his grave is in the private section on the cemetery an cannot be view by the public. But don’t worry, there are plenty of other interesting people buried in the cemetery and there is a memorial garden dedicated to George Micheal outside his home in Highgate, which is tended to by his fans.

Have you been to Highgate Cemetery? If you have or you’ve been to any other amazing cemeteries around the world, let us know in the comments.

My Favourite Places in Melbourne for Food and Coffee

Cappuccino in a Melbourne coffee shop

Mebourne is the food and coffee capital of Australia – don’t let Sydney tell you otherwise! I think that’s my favourite thing about living here, but it’s made me a bit of a coffee snob, because I’ve not been anywhere (yet!) where the coffee rivals that of Melbourne.

The food in Melbourne is heavily influenced by our multicultural society – you can find amazing Vietnamese, authentic Mexican, traditional Italian and great burgers, all within two streets of each other.

We love food here, and we do it really well, so I’ve rounded up a list of some of my favourite places for coffee or a meal.

Poncho:

Poncho is the first cafe that I called ‘mine’ – you know how everyone has a cafe that’s ‘theirs’? One that they go to regularly enough that the Barista knows their order as well as their name? Well, mine is Poncho. It’s just up the street from me, so it is seriously local, and in the days before I could drive, I would walk up there to get my coffee. Nowadays, I do a lot of my work for Xen there, with a great coffee by my side. I don’t mind the cafe noise while I’m working, in fact, the grinding of the beans and the steaming of milk is a nice kind of white noise. Check out Poncho for fantastic coffee by Inglewood, and my favourite scrambled eggs on toast!

Good Times Milkbar:

Good Times is about five minutes away from me, which is dangerously close because of how much I love their potato gems. It serves some of the best food in the Bentleigh area, including breakfast, burgers, and milkshakes. One of my favourite things about Good Times is that I actually remember when the building used to be a corner milkbar – hence it’s name. It also features a puppy-friendly courtyard, with seating for the humans, and some of the brightest, loveliest pastel decor going around. Head to Good Times for cafe food done really, really, really well, and great coffee by Small Batch Roasting Co.

Fonda:

I know this isn’t very sophisticated of me, but I do love Fonda. It’s a chain of restaurants serving ‘mexican street food’, (that part is in quotation marks because I don’t know how authentic Fonda’s ‘street food’ is). But I love their chipotle chips and the quesadillas and of course the frozen margaritas! There is a Fonda in the shopping center where I work, and it’s a nice place to go after work for a quick dinner or drink.

Grand Trailer Park Taverna:

This is a restaurant that I think of as quintessentially Melbournian. It’s burgers, done really, really well as well as awesome drinks and desserts. It’s themed around a trailer park, with fairy lights strung everywhere, and booths made from caravan parts. Situated in the middle of the theatre district of Melbourne, the Grand Trailer Park is a great place to grab a meal before or after a show, or to enjoy a cocktail as the sun goes down, they even have a terrace!)

Winkel:

Not technically local to me, Winkel is more than worth the travel time. Serving great coffee, and the most amazing breakfast burger you’ll get anywhere, Winkel is the perfect place in Richmond to grab a bite, or get some work done. Amazing food paired with bright and airy decor and friendly staff? Perfect combination.

Leave me a comment if you’ve been to any of my favourite places!

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Xen. Is Having A Giveaway!

To celebrate hitting over 100 followers on both Instagram and Twitter, we are having our very first giveaway!

Giveaway prizes!

What are we giving away? 

  1. Travel Memory Box: This box is for all your travel mementos – ticket stubs, brochures, photos, playbills and anything else you want to save from your travels. Inside is a mini-photo-album (perfect for Polaroids and Instagram’s), photo cards, sticker sheets and a gel pen.
  2. Travel Diary: We’ve selected the perfect travel diary for you, (the style that Laura always takes with her when she travels). Made of a mist grey PU leather, with 240 lined pages and a press-stud closure, it’s the perfect place to record all your travel adventures in.
  3. Ballpoint Pen: We’ve also included our favourite pen from Kikki K – it writes perfectly and won’t bleed through the pages of your diary!

All products are from Kikki K – one of our favourite places in Australia to get travel-related stationary – though this giveaway is not sponsored.

To enter all you have to do is:

  1. Follow Xen. on WordPress, Twitter and Instagram
  2. Like this post
  3. Comment below and tell us where you would travel if you could get on a plane right now

We are pleased to say that the Giveaway is open internationally and closes on Sunday 20th January at 11.59pm AEST (Australian Eastern Standard Time)

Good Luck and don’t forget to enter soon so you don’t miss out!

-Laura and Kate, the Xen Team

The 5 Best and Worst Hostels I’ve Stayed At

By Kate Arnold

I’ve stayed in a few hostels in my time travelling and some are winners and sometimes, well, you get what you pay for and as we all know, whether you are on a top or bottom bunk can make or break the experience of a hostel. Here are five best and five worst hostels I’ve stayed at:

The Best

  1. The Freehand | Chicago, US – This hostel is lovely. I stayed in a four bed dorm, which had an ensuite bathroom attached. The beds were comfortable and big bunks built into the wall, with curtains for privacy, personal lights and power points. Everything I want in a bunk bed. The Freehand is conveniently located in Chicago, I was able to walk everywhere I wanted to go, including the Navy Pier, Millennium Park, the Bean and theatre district. There is a communal kitchen where breakfast of cereal or toast is free.
  2. St. Christophers Inn | Paris, FR – I stayed in an eight bed dorm at the St. Christopher’s Inn in Paris, which also had similar bunk beds to the Freehand, with curtains, personal light and power points. The hostel has an attached restaurant/bar call Belushi’s, which makes a killer burger, just what was needed after a rather rough day in Paris. Walking distance to Notre Dame and Shakespeare and Co and the train station Gare Du Nord, which will get you everywhere else you want to go in Paris.
  3. Broadway Hotel n Hostel | New York, US – This hostel didn’t have great bunks like the above mentioned, in fact the room was tiny and only contained one bunk bed, a sink and locker. The reason it’s on the best list is because of the price. For New York it is very reasonably priced and located close to a subway station on the 1, 2 and 3 lines, which go through Times Square and all the way down to South Ferry near Trinity Church, the 9/11 memorial and the Staten Island Ferry. Read about finding budget-friendly accommodation in New York here and the Hamilton-lover’s guide to New York here.
  4. St. Christopher’s Inn | Edinburgh, UK – Though not a great as the St. Christopher’s in Paris, the Edinburgh location definitely make the best list. As with the Paris location (and all St. Christopher’s as far as I know) there is an attached Belushi’s. The dorms just had normal plebeian bunks but they were more comfortable than most.
  5. International Budget Hostel | Amsterdam, NL – The International Budget Hostel wasn’t as budget as the name might imply but that’s because EVERYWHERE books out in Amsterdam durning the summer. The stairs to get up to the reception are pretty perilous and the wifi only worked in the reception. But this hostel is well placed in Amsterdam, I walked everywhere I went, very close to the Anne Frank House and the Red Light District. Read about 10 hidden gems of Amsterdam here.

The Worst

  1. Wild Zebra Backpackers | Wellington, NZ – This is by far the worst hostel I’ve stayed. The door to my dorm room didn’t open properly and the staff just told me it was fine. There was damage from the earthquake, which is hardly their fault, but still undesirable. The dorm room wasn’t very clean I had to find a communal room just to charge my phone because there weren’t enough in the dorm.
  2. Haka Lodge | Taupo, NZ – I only stayed in Taupo for one night and admittedly I didn’t spend much time at the Haka Lodge but the bed was so hard to get into because of an awkwardly placed ladder. If I’d had a bottom bunk I’d probably feel differently about this place.
  3. The Backyard Inn | Rotorua NZ – What sticks out about the Backyard Inn was that it was an uncommonly hot day in New Zealand and none of the rooms had air conditioning. On the plus side they had a pool but when I jumped in to get some relief from the heat I realised it was a thermal pool at it was hotter in than it was out. It would be great for colder days though. Also I had to pay for wifi, which is a no-no for me.
  4. Fat Cod Backpackers | Picton NZ – The Fat Cod doesn’t foster great memories in my mind because of the staff. They were generally unhelpful and abrasive. They wouldn’t let me use a phone or even tell me where I could use one. The dorms were okay, there were no bunks just six single beds. The hostel was close to the beach and some walking trails, which had lovely views that were worth the visit to Picton.
  5. Banana Bungalow Hollywood | Los Angeles US – For a hostel in the middle of Hollywood The Banana Bungalow sure should have air conditioning. The dorms were fine but not great and the area didn’t have that much that I was interested in. On the plus side the offered cereal and toast breakfast for free and shuttles to places like Santa Monica. Read about our short stay in Santa Monica here.

Let me know about the best hostels you’ve stayed in below! I’m always looking for recommendations.

14 Things to do when you’re Bored in Economy

Photo out of airplane window and night
Blurry airplane-window photo

By Laura Jemetta

Okay, I’ve got a list for you today. Now you might know by now that as much as I love travel, I’m not the best flyer. In fact, I’ve written about it in detail in my post about how I get through long haul flights. Long Haul flights can be really boring – and when you live in Australia, it’s a long haul flight to get just about anywhere! So below is a comprehensive list of things you can do during a flight to keep yourself occupied.

  1. Write in a travel diary: This is something I do on every flight that I take; after the meal service, I take out my travel diary and write my first entry of the trip. It’s usually short, and mainly describes the what the airport experience was like and how excited I am for the trip. Also, if I’m really bored, sometimes I’ll just write about how bored I am.
  2. Watch a Film: one that you’ve always meant to see, a new release that you’re excited to watch, or an old favourite of yours, that you already know you love. Even if you only watch one movie, that’s about two hours taken up already.
  3. Do a Crossword: I really enjoy crosswords – I always have. So sometimes when I’m in the airport, I buy myself a crossword book to start on the plane. Of course, a more cost effective option is just to bring one from home, but ether way, crosswords will keep your mind occupied, hopefully for a good stretch of time.
  4. Start a TV show: Okay, so this might not deserve a it’s own entry, but you can also start a new show on the flight, which I actually find preferable to watching films. I don’t know why, but something about watching multiple, ,shorter episodes of something gives me the illusion that time is passing faster. My favourite thing to do is to start something fun and a little bit trashy – when I came back from the US, I started watching Riverdale, (which I can’t seem to stop watching even now, no matter how outrageous it gets!)
  5. Answer my Travel Journal Prompts: which you can find here. I really enjoy more structured writing tasks when I’m journalling, (as well as freewriting), so I developed a list of prompts that you can answer pre-trip, during your trip, and post-trip. Don’t forget to check them out!
  6. Read a great book: In the past, I’ve overloaded myself with books when travelling – I used to take both a fiction and non-fiction title, ‘just in case’. But now I think all you need when travelling is a book that you really love, and haven’t re-read in a little while. That way you know you’re going to enjoy what you’re reading, and there’s no disappointment.
  7. Budget for your trip: I’m assuming most people will already have done this before leaving, but the plane could be a good time to work out how much you want to spend each day and where you’re going to spend your money and where you’re not. You can also start tracking your spending now, if you spent any money in the airport.
  8. Explore the Lonely Planet app for the city/cities you’re going to: I love this app! Now, the guides on there aren’t the complete guide that you’ll get if you buy the hard-copy book, but they are full of information about places to eat, accommodation, and the best things to see in that city. Why not explore the app and get even more excited for your destination?
  9. Make a list of all the places you want to eat/see/go: (If you haven’t already). I’m a list person, so I’ve usually done this weeks before departure, but if you haven’t you can use the info from the Lonely Planet app to make a list of all the places you want to visit.
  10. Play a Game: I love board game, and there are quite a few that you’ll be able to play in the confines of Economy. You could play solitaire, or another card game with your seat-mate, scattergories, a modified version of pictionary, or some sort of trivia game, (there are lots of free trivia apps so that you can pretty much play trivial pursuit without all the pieces and cards).
  11. Get some sleep
  12. Write something: You know I’m a writer, so I like to spend a great deal of my spare time doing some form of writing. I’m trying to write a novel, so a flight is a good stretch of uninterrupted time to get some writing done, but you could also write a letter, (to yourself or someone else), poetry, (write an ode to travel-boredom), or some non-fiction, (start a memoir?). Whatever floats your boat.
  13. Do some colouring in: My mum is a huge fan of colouring books – she finds it a soothing and relaxing hobby. Personally, I’m not a huge fan, (severe lack of patience), but creating something with your hands can be a really nice, mindful thing to do. Pack a colouring book and a small pack of pencils/markers, and you’ve got another activity to do.
  14. Listen to something: Music, a podcast, an audio-book. I sometimes put my headphones in and try to fall asleep to my music – it blocks out the noise of the cabin, and makes it a little easier to sleep.

Leave me a comment if you made it to the end of this post – tell me if you have, or plan to use any of these tips on your next flight!

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