Life

instax mini 90 NEO CLASSIC

For Christmas I was lucky enough to be gifted the amazing Fujifilm Instax mini 90 Neo Classic (bit of a mouthful!) from my extremely thoughtful better half. I have a thing for real life photos that you keep and display and aren’t just dumped onto Facebook which brings me to my second pet peeve – quantity over quality: I don’t want to see a photograph of a bridge that you can get on google images, take one good photo for every 10 generic ones! Anyway..camera

You may have seen the Instax Mini 8 around quite a lot, they remind me a bit of eggs in cute pastel colours, you get me? Great. So the main reason Tim got me the Mini 90 Neo Classic is because of my love for retro things but it also has a lot of great features that the older Mini 8 does not have. Its not only a lot lighter and easier to shoot with but you have options such as macro, brightness control and double exposure. 5

I am still getting used to it which is difficult when you don’t want to ‘waste’ a film on a photo that may not look so good, and even though I followed the guides on the Fujifilm website, I still feel like my photos don’t turn out as clear or vibrant as I’ve seen online.. 4

From my experience so far, I’ve realised that it doesn’t work so well in the sunshine, I have started to use the darker setting when photographing outside on a sunny day. I also think that the brightness should be adjusted when using the macro setting. 2

I think that all of my photographs come out with a sort of 70s haze over them, which I’m perfectly happy with but will continue to experiment with different settings combinations to achieve different results. I’m also hoping that this particular camera adds 20 pounds and my arms aren’t actually as chunky as they are above!! (I love food).3

One of the things I love about the Mini series is that they take an instax film that produces credit card sized photos, this a lot more versatile than the square photos that Polaroid uses as you can keep them in your wallet, in your phone case, in your bra or wherever takes your fancy with a lot more ease. 1

At the moment I really like displaying the photos I’ve taken in albums with washi tape around the bottom to mark which place or period of time they were taken in and I can also write on top of it without permanently marking the photograph (This s the only area of my life that is painfully organised). I bought the most adorable photo albums for mini instax photos on the Wish app. If you don’t know what Wish is, you’re seriously missing out! Its like shopping roulette. Everything is from Asia and its a gamble if it turns up looking like the photos or if it turns up at all!

I’m looking forward to getting to grips with this camera a bit more in the future, follow me on instagram to see my progress! Have any of you got this camera? Or another instant camera that you want to shed some light on?! Comment below!

Thanks for reading! Yasmin x

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Travel

Weekend in Italy: Venice, Verona & Lake Garda!

 

In the first week of May, Tims Parents booked to come out and visit us for a week. As we were working, they decided to rent a car and go down to Venice on the Wednesday. Stupidly on our part we didn’t realise that the Thursday was a Public holiday in Switzerland and we actually had the day off! So we begged and pleaded for the Friday off too and by some miracle on Wednesday night we were heading down to Venice! We didn’t leave work until late so we stayed in a hotel somewhere outside of Milan, planning to head on to Venice early the next morning. Feeling groggy but determined, we battled through the early morning commuters onto the morning waterbus and headed to our boat hotel to change our clothes that we’d been in for 24 hours (the hotel wasn’t the nicest!) and to meet up with Debs and DL. As we had all been to Venice before, there was no rush to head off to all the tourist attractions and boats rides, instead, we strolled along the quieter streets looking at the beautiful houses and searching for a place for a 10.30am beer. I don’t know if it was our English accents but the beers he presented us with were 2 litres! But none the less, went down a treat!

Feeling a little beer buzz, we walked along the waterfront when a man accosted us and offered us a *free* boat ride to Murano. I probably would have politely declined and continued about my business (nothing in this world is free kids) but we were feeling wild so we hopped on board to see what was good. The Murano glass factory was beautiful, we were shuttled into a little viewing room (which was hotter than hell!) Where some men performed their daily glass sculpting tricks and then of course we exited through the gift shop. Unfortunately, their wares were a little out of my budget and we hopped back on the boat empty handed and thinking about the man on the waterfront who will most likely get a scolding for sending paupers over!

After all that excitement we decided to spend the rest of the day relaxing, strolling and drinking. My three favourite things! The next day we were heading to Lake Garda so, Tim & I decided to get up early and pop into Verona for the day to have a look about. We didn’t find the balcony but we had a great time looking around the historic town, seeing the Arena Di Verona and having some yummy pizzas. For the drive to Lake Garda we decided to go through the small towns and mug off the motorways. It was so hot and the little towns were so beautiful it was well worth it. When we tipped up at Lake Garda, we found our holiday apartment and hit the swimming pool! That evening we popped down to the town to have some food, as you can see in the video, Salò is a super chilled place, there were some tourists but so many and it was so nice sitting by the lake drinking beers and eating a 6 six cheese calzone (I regret nothing!) Around the corner from the restaurant we found an amazing little ice cream parlour which had my absolute favourite Kinder Bueno Ice cream! Exhausted and stuffed we headed back to the apartment for a good sleep before the drive back to Switzerland the next day.

Weekend trips around Europe are my absolute favourite at the moment, especially in my new hot rod, Swiss Min! swissmin

 

Have you guys got any short breaks planned? Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading! Yasmin x

 

P.S I shot this video using an iPhone app called 8mm, you can see it here!

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Travel

Titisee-Neustadt, Black Forest, Germany!

So one of my New Years Resolutions was to go on more weekends away. Living in the centre of Europe means you can pretty much get anywhere very easily, yet its easy to settle into a routine of working all week and slouching around at home on the weekends.

For our anniversary I booked a surprise weekend at Lake Titisee. I’ve always wanted to go to the Black Forest (I heard rumours there was gateaux there!) so the week before I booked us a hotel for two nights. A lot of the hotels were already booked up or quite pricey but I managed to find a guesthouse (see here) which was in the perfect location. We rocked up on the Friday night after battling through the commuter traffic and were greeted by the owner, who, I can only describe as the happiest man alive!

Friday night at Lake Titisee in March was quiet, deserted and cold! We soldiered on and stumbled upon an Indian Restaurant. The decor didn’t big itself up enough for how delicious the food was!curry

After a few kingfishers and some very strong mango schnapps we were ready to hit the town again! The next place being the bar in the ‘Romantik Hotel’, which although offered a wide and very welcome selection of gin, had an extremely questionable piano player, who, with his samba backing beat and shaky vocals made for a very amusing evening!

The next morning, after a very tasty breakfast we decided to have a look around Freiburg. The town was so incredibly beautiful, full of little quirks such as the water running around the entire town (well it amazed us!)freiburg2

freiburg4How beautiful is this street? I’m dying to come back in the Summer when the vines are fully leaved!freiburg1

FREIBURG3My dream front door! We walked around for a few hours, marvelling at the scenery, purchased the obligatory bratwurst and decided to head back to Titisee to walk around the lake and relax a little. titisee2titisee1

We had already decided to go to the ‘Badeparadies’ (click here) that evening. A massive swimming pool split into 3 sections: Galaxy (waterpark), PalmOasis (poolbar) and Wellness Oasis (massage and spa but mandatory nudity!). Needless to say, we spent most of the evening in the PalmOasis, upon entry you’re given a wristband which you can then scan and pay for drinks and food. It was amazing! The pool also had a revolving door so you could swim outside and underwater loungers with jacuzzi jets so you could watch the stars whilst relaxing – heaven!

On Sunday morning I was super sad to leave, the weekend had gone so quickly! We decided to take the scenic route back and visited Todtnau Waterfalltodtnau1

The weather was amazing and we practically had the whole place to ourselves as we climbed up to the left of the waterfall, across and back down the other side. todtnau2

It had such a lovely, mystical feeling about it. Hopping from stones across small rivers and ducking under low edges in the mountain was so much fun and definitely a little bit romantic! todtnau3

We had an incredible time in the Black Forest and can’t wait to get back there again soon. But for now, I have my souvenirs and instax photos to display! titisee3

Where would you like to go for a weekend getaway?

Thanks for reading! Yasmin x

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Life, Switzerland

Finding a home in switzerland

During our time Switzerland we’ve had a new apartment each year, and in March, we’ll be moving into our fourth! Its not ideal moving every year but when you’re living in a country that you’re not 100% familiar with you don’t know which areas/towns suit you best until you’ve tried them out! Also, when you have no particular ties to an area such as family or schools, you’re more inclined to take job offers and move to areas further away. The reason we’re moving this time is due to work, my current commute takes about an hour and 15 minutes, so I’d be pretty stoked to minimise the 2 1/2 hours I spend in the car everyday! The only thing I’m not stoked on is starting the whole hunting process again, it seems a little more complicated here than it does in the UK so I decided to create a little guide to help you guys when you find yourself looking for somewhere to live in Switzerland! keys1

1. Where to look:

Part of what makes house hunting in a foreign country more difficult is not knowing where to look, especially if you’ve just arrived. The two main websites I use are ImmoScout and Homegate. They’ve just become my two go to websites over the years. There are of course other sites you can choose but these are the two that I have tried, tested and been satisfied with. If you know the location you want to be living, a good place to look is in the local stores: the corner shops, Coop, Migros, Denner etc all have noticeboards with adverts for that particular town. The only downside to that is that they don’t always have photographs and you might have to telephone the contact number and speak Swiss german! You can also sign up to expat groups and buy/sell/swap groups on facebook, often some people that need to leave the country or move sooner than their tenancy expires will search for someone to take over their contract for them.

2. Know what you want and what your budget is:

Renting in Switzerland is more expensive than it is in England, and you don’t tend to get a lot more for your money. Firstly, in most rental prices, the Nebenkosten is included, this pays for water and heating so the only additional bills you must pay are electricity/gas, internet etc. You often need to pay additional fees for parking spaces and garages which, if you’re a couple with two cars, can add up to quite a bit extra per month. Then figure out how much space you need: room numbers and living space size; They have a weird way of describing the amount of rooms in an apartment, you will often see 1.5, 2, 2.5 etc. Its pretty much open to interpretation as many people have differing opinions but basically it is assumed that every place has a bathroom and a kitchen so then the numbers apply to the other rooms, if its 0.5 that means one of the rooms is pretty small so for example, you could have a 2.5 apartment and that would be a bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, living space and then a smaller space maybe a large hallway or a storage room. Confusing right? For our fourth apartment I was setting a basic budget of 1500 a month including parking, a minimum of 2.5 rooms, I didn’t want to live in a block of flats, I wanted a view/balcony/garden and I didn’t want to have a communal washing room (some places have one room with a washing machine, tumbler etc and each tenant has a day allocated to them that they can use it on), and although that seems picky, I found a lot of places to view!rainbow

3. Deposits

Be aware that every apartment/house requires a deposit (Kaution) and it is *usually* two months rent (minus nebenkosten) For example, if you see and apartment that is advertised for 1500chf a month and then it might say underneath that the Net rent is 1350chf a month and the Nebenkosten is 150chf, so you can expect to pay 2700chf for the deposit, add that to the first months rent and you can expect a pretty expensive first month of living! Always question this when you go the viewing because sometimes they will make their own price i.e a flat price of 2000chf.

4. Viewing/Applying

When you’ve found an apartment that you love, then you can contact the owner/agency for a viewing! If its being advertised through an agency, its perfectly acceptable to ring them or visit their office and ask if they can speak English or if you can have the viewing with an English speaking agent. If its a private person I wouldn’t be so inclined to do this, maybe you could start by emailing them in their language (google translate is your friend!) explaining that you’re learning Swiss German/French/Italian and apologising for any mistakes and ask to arrange a viewing, if you’re lucky, they’ll speak English, if not, you can always ask someone from your work to accompany you and to translate. For our first apartment we had our Boss with us which not only helped us with the language barrier but also gave the owners a little more confidence in us as we were being supported and almost promoted by somebody here, it showed that we were trustworthy and legitimate! (Don’t be surprised or offended if they don’t want to rent to an Ausländer!) Another thing to keep in mind, its not unusual for an ‘open viewing’, meaning that a butt load of potential tenants will show up and you’ll almost have to compete if you want the place! Always get there 5 minutes early, look sharp and try your best to give a good impression!

Questions that you should keep in mind is asking about the deposit, what the nebenkosten includes, who lives above/below, parking, pets, do you get a good wifi/phone signal etc write all your questions down beforehand and have them on you so you don’t forget!

5. Application

This was probably the thing that bothered me the most about renting in Switzerland. In England, you view an apartment and if you like it, you take it. Here, you apply and the owner chooses who they want the most. So, be prepared for a slightly invasive application form and list of required documents. Things that they might have on the application form is the basic details about yourself, nationality, permit status, civil status, salary, whether you have insurance (contents and rental property) pets (which mostly likely aren’t allowed) and who else will be living there. One of the most important documents you need to produce is a Betreibungsauszug which you get from the Gemeinde and it basically states whether you have any debts or not. It costs about 10chf minus postage. You can also order it online, visit this page  to find out where your local office is. After you’ve submitted everything (minus blood samples!) all you can do is wait and see!driveyway

6. Moving in!

Congratulations on finding a home! The first thing you want to do whilst its empty is to photograph anything that is damaged or marked, put it all in a document with dates and that and maybe even ask your landlord to review it and sign it, so you don’t get the blame for anybody elses damage! If you don’t have a car/van to move in with theres loads of places you can rent them, for example, Europcar (little tip: buy the ‘funway’ card, its about 35chf,  lasts for 2 years and can get you up to 30% off rentals) There is also Ottos which I haven’t actually used but the prices seem quite reasonable! And don’t forget, if you’re starting off with no furniture: Ikea delivers!

 

I hope this has been some help to any of you that are looking for a place out here! Feel free to leave questions or comments below!

Thanks for reading! Yasmin x

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Life, Travel

Why Wine tasting isn’t scary

In September my parents moved from their home of 15 years in France to the Province of Cuneo in the Italian region Piedmont; luckily for me, they are now just over 4 hours away from where I live (ask me in a year if I still feel lucky!) On one of our more recent visits we decided to do a tasting of some of the wines that this region is so famous for. In the past I always thought that wine tasting was a little intimidating, maybe a bit boring.. I kind of had this stereotypical impression of bigwigs tasting expensive wines and spitting it out into a bucket, but thats really not the case.

I mean, think about how many different vineyards there are in the world, and then how many different wines each vineyard produces, its pretty much impossible to experience every wine, and you might never discover your favourite, on the other hand, the vineyards need to showcase their product to as many people as possible otherwise no one will buy it and no one will know how good it is!  I friggin love wine, my previous favourite being a 2.79chf bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Lidl (not even a little bit ashamed!)

In October We decided to book a tour of the winery and former home of Luigi Einaudi, (click here!) who was actually the president of the Italian Republic between 1948 and 1955. The building is absolutely beautiful (the perfect location for a wedding! Whilst waiting for others to arrive for the tour, we took a look around..1 2 3

Our tour started and we were shown down to a creepy cellar full of barrels of wine, you learn that the wine starts fermenting in tanks of steel with a computer controlled pump, it then matures in barrels made from French oak and then the ageing is completed in bottles. We learnt that the cellar is kept dark and cold to reduce the visual and heat impact on the wine, allowing it to do its thing naturally.4

5 6After the cellar we checked out the bottling room where they had all sorts of big machines that cleaned, labelled and filled the bottles. There was stacks of packaged wine in the corner ready for delivery, addressed to countries all over the world! 8 9

Its actually really interesting to see how much goes into making the wine, I would definitely recommend doing a tour of the vineyard as well as a tasting for your first time!13

We tried three wines in total, based on the experts recommendations and then you can buy whichever you like. I even bought a box of 6 wine glasses because they were so nice!10

The second tasting we booked was at the Abbona Winery in Dogliani (www.abbona.com/en/).We’d had some of their wine at a restaurant so we decided to buy some bottles for Christmas and of course, taste some others! This time we were greeted by the granddaughter of Celso Abbona, who, with his father Marziano Abbona worked hard to cultivate their vineyards and create delicious Dolcetto wines. My new favourite red wine is the Papa Celso from this winery, its so fruity and full bodied! We bought a case of Papa Celso, San Luigi and  their incredible Metodo Classico Brut – because everybody needs a glass of sparkly! abonna

Both of these experiences have been so interesting and inspiring that I will definitely keep going to wine tastings and discovering new wines. Each vineyard has its own story and its so magical to be able to use all of your senses to discover the journey of the wines and the families and hard work behind them.

Thanks for reading! Yasmin x

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Recipes, Switzerland

what is spätzli?!

I’m ashamed to admit but sometimes for me, trying new foods is a little scary. I remember a couple of years ago Tim and I were in a restaurant for our work Christmas meal. Sat at a table with 10 Swiss men who were looking at the menu with no confusion or fear reminded me how much of a foreigner I was! The menu was a special ‘Wildsaison’, which is basically autumn on a plate usually accompanied by Bambi’s mother. I could work out some of the other ingredients like vegetables but one thing stuck out and I ended up having to ask, What is Spätzli?! (or was ist spätzli?! in my quiet and swiss dialect-free accent). It turned out to be this super tasty pasta/noodle hybrid that looked like soggy Nik Naks and tasted like.. well… Spätzli I guess..! Its pretty much my favourite thing ever so I thought I would share some tips and a little recipe to anyone that wants to try it but needs a little extra push!01

So here it is, (do you get the soggy nik nak reference now?!) Traditionally, its home made, probably by some kind of Swiss version of Mary Berry who lives in a beautiful wooden house, has a pet cow and spends her days wearing Dirndls and cooking (pretty much the woman I aspire to be when I retire!) For the most part I’ve been buying this semi-fresh version, maybe I’ll attempt it myself one day, but for now, this tickles my tastebuds enough. As for the ingredients, I believe its mostly egg, flour and salt, and maybe some preservatives for the store bought version. So lets move on, how the flange do we cook it?! (note: you can also get a dried spätzli which will need to be boiled before following this steps).So, to start melt a big old lump of butter in a frying pan (I never said it was healthy!) Get the pan super hot and start frying up the spätzli! Add in some Aromat (or salt) and pepper and let it sizzle and fry up until its crispy.12You want it hella crispy because the insides are quite heavy and doughy so its better to have a crispy outter and soft inside! Usually what I do is cook it all up then put it in an oven dish and put the oven on about 100 degrees celsius to keep it hot while I cook the other stuff. I have to do this because my apartment has an induction hob and I’m not about to buy 2 induction frying pans when I have no intention of ever seeing one of these hobs in my life after I move out! (rant over, I like to cook and induction is not cooking!) Anyway, the good thing is that they keep nice and moist but still crispy if you decide to keep them in the oven for a bit. See?! not so difficult is it?! So what do we eat this with? I hear you ask! As I mentioned before, the wildsaison deer/boar etc thing is pretty big here but I like to cook it as a simple week day meal with some chicken or beef. My usual easy ‘go-to’ meal is creamy chicken with spätzli. I call it easy because, it is and I’m lazy so I like that kind of recipe.4These little guys are my saviours, I usually buy a couple when we go shopping because theyre pretty cheap, when unopened they last a real long time, and you can get different versions, this is the regular one, I usually get 7% fat (because lets face it, I’ve just smothered the spätzli in butter so the least I could do is cut back a smidge!) I think you can also get a pepper flavoured one, which I haven’t actually tried but maybe I’ll give it a whirl next time! So, for dinner for Tim and I, I cut up an onion and sweat it, then I add two sliced chicken breasts, season them with salt and pepper and cook them a little (just until the outsides go white) then I add the Rama cooking cream. I do this so that the chicken doesn’t go dry, I don’t know why but some people are totally adverse to cooking their chicken in the sauce, which is just crazy to me, do not fry the chicken first, it goes dry and stringy and crusty! Cook it in the sauce, slowly and it’ll be moist and yummy, if its the ever present threat of food poisoning that scares you, take a big piece of chicken out and cut it in half to see if its cooked. Word.5Anyway, so the chicken is cooking in the cream, this is when I’d add some chopped mushrooms or something like that to cook up with the chicken, then when the chicken is cooked I add a butt load of pepper, paprika, chilli flakes, aromat and a bit of parmesan. Paprika, parmesan and chilli?! Yes, its delicious. try it and let me know how much you loved it!

Thanks for reading! Yasmin x

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Travel

how to book the trans-siberian train! (part 1)

When Tim and I discovered that each other had always dreamt of taking the Trans-Siberian we were both super excited, none of my friends at the time were that keen, opting for gap years in Australia which didn’t interest me in the slightest, Russia interested me, for a million different reasons which I’m not going to list because thats not the title of this post!

Anyway. At the time, I had just moved to Switzerland and was working with Tim, the job was seasonal which meant that we had the whole winter off, from November until March, we realised that we might not be in this position again with so much free time at our disposal and that this would be the perfect time to travel.

So I have decided to create a little guide for you based on our experience, what we learnt and what we would recommend, this will span across 3 parts, the first being how to book the Trans-Siberian train journey, the second being the planning and packing and the third will be some of our photos and details of our trip! I hope you enjoy it!

Booking

We were glued to our laptops every break time and evening, researching the route, visas, how we would get there, how we would get out, did we want to go anywhere else? how do you book train tickets if you want to get off at stops? It was quite complicated, and the thought of getting off at the wrong train station with a ticket departing from a station 1000km away was not appealing! This is when we started researching into tours. We didn’t want to be herded around like sheep with a group of strangers, but we wanted the security of having an experts organisational skills as well as a contact in case it all went to shit! After even more research, beers and stressing, we decided to use STA Travel  to book our trip with, I was familiar with the company, they have offices all over the world and they mostly cater for students and young people. It wasn’t possible to book the trip on their website but as we were going back to England for a quick visit we decided to book an appointment at the branch in Exeter.

At our appointment it was explained to us that the trip was something that was new to STA Travel and that they were selling it through another company called ‘Vodkatrain’. Which was okay for us really, we were confident that they wouldn’t be dealing with anyone that would take our money and abandon us in Siberia! They gave us a brochure listing all the different journeys that the company provided.vodkatrainmap

(image source here)

The routes really are endless! You can view the list provided on the STA Travel website . In the end, the route we chose was called, ‘The Ruski Huski’, I’m not going say it was the name that made me choose it, but it definitely helped! The price was £2850 for the both of us, a price I will happily shell out for a once in a lifetime experience! (Please note that now the route names, details and prices have changed slightly since we booked).

This journey started in Moscow (29/11)  and ended in Beijing (15/12) and included stops in Lake Baikal, Siberia and Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. During these stops we were assigned a ‘honcho’ (city guide) who arranged activities we were interested in doing and showed us around. The accommodation was also arranged for these stops and the Honcho would have our tickets for the next train which was a weight off our minds!

Our STA agent (a lovely guy called Andy!) liaised with us throughout the booking process, supplying us with the documentation and answering any questions we had.

Transport Before & After

This is something you can book with STA Travel  or you can arrange it yourself to see if you can get a better deal. You need to arrange this before you apply for your Visas as they embassy will need to know the date of your entry and exit and also if you exit later than your tour ends you will have to supply additional information on your whereabouts (I’ll get to that in a bit!)

I opted to book our own flights after lisasing with STA Travel as I found a cheaper deal by using the website skyscanner.net

I use sky scanner  all the time to book our flights as it finds the cheapest or most direct flight based on your requirements. I did an example search above to show you, to fly from Geneva to Moscow on 17/11/2015 it will be cheaper to stop in Ukraine or Athens than to fly directly. When we booked our flights it offered me a stopover in London which was perfect for us as our trip had to begin in the UK for our travel insurance to be valid.transsiberianpart1skyscanner

I also used Budget Air  which turned out to be super cheap to fly from Shanghai to Tokyo and was only £147.20 per person.

Additional Hotels/Accommodation

This goes under the same umbrella as the flights, you will need to have proof of your reservations when you’re applying for your visa, if you’re staying somewhere in Russia before the tour begins, the hotel/hostel etc can supply you with an additional visa support letter.

To find great hotels and hostels I used:

Booking.com  – The website is extremely easy to use and you can customise all the settings to your specific needs, this is my go to website for hotels, it will also send you discounts based on your recent travels and habits which is very useful!

HostelWorld  – When travelling abroad for more than a couple of days or with a larger group of friends I will always look on Hostelworld, I’ll admit it, I’m not a big fan of hostels unless I can get a private room or share a room only with my friends, when we were planning our trip to Japan I used Hostel world a lot and found some great places which is something I will be writing about very soon!

TripAdvisor – TripAdvisor seems to be the most popular website at the moment, it does have a great database but Booking.com is my favourite for now!

Laterooms  – Is probably one of the less popular websites but I will always check it out when comparing prices from the other sites, we used late rooms in Tokyo and the experience was really good.

My favourite place we stayed was one that I actually booked myself using HostelWorld and that was 365 Inn  in Beijing. It was so great that the rest of our friends checked out early of their hostels and moved over to ours! The Hostel is in a really colourful and busy part of Beijing, it has a great bar that serves yummy food, the rooms are super clean and the facilities are good and the staff are really friendly and speak English, what more can you want?! I even wrote a reminder to myself in my journal:

Visas

We were arranging the visas ourselves as we needed them on us for trips to France and didn’t want to use a Visa handling service because the thought of handing my passport over to somebody that doesn’t work in an embassy or border control is makes me shake my head and say ‘nope’ a lot. Anyway, it wasn’t an entirely daunting task but, the rules were a little different and we had to pay slightly more as we were applying in a different country that our passports were issued in. Always check the website of the embassy you are visiting before you go!

1. Mongolia – The Mongolia Embassy experience was a truly bazaar experience! We had emailed beforehand and explained we were coming down to get a visa (we had gone a couple of days before and they were closed despite their website stating they’d be open everyday)

We thought the Mongolian system would be pretty simple and it was the only one in Geneva (the other two were closer to us in Bern) so we decided to get it over and done with. They required a form with had to be printed and filled in, a passport photo, an invitation from our travel operator and a valid passport with space for the Visa. It cost 80 swiss francs for the visa and then an additional 10 francs as a service charge.

When we located the embassy it was all gated off so we rang a bell for ages, not willing to be turned away again. They buzzed us in, and we made our way through the garden, complete with massive Ger and found our way into the building, there was no one around, so we had to look for someone, we walked into an office and about 10 guys were all crowded around a document on the table, when they heard us they all jumped up and shooed us out of the office and questioned us on why we were there, we were like.. “you buzzed us in, we just want visas..” which seemed to confuse them even more.. But after they went through our documentation (in the hallway) they told us to come back in a couple of hours and it would be done – and we didn’t even have to pay the express charge, result!mongoliavisa

2. Russia – They demand quite a lot of documentation and information before issuing a visa, I heard they can be a little strict and pretty expensive but so I wasn’t excited to visit them. First thing they required was an ‘invitation’ (visa support letter which confirms you are being hosted as a tourist by a Russian tour operator) This was supplied to us from STA via Vodkatrain so that was no problem.

The second document they required a visa questionnaire completed on the website, printed and signed. On this questionnaire we also had to write in where we were staying and where we would be at all times.

Third was a passport (duh!) A foreign passport, which must contain at least 2 blank pages for visas and migration cards, and it must be valid for a period of 6 months after the visa expires.

Fourth, a colour passport photograph.

Fifth,  A medical travel insurance policy, valid in Russia and covering the entire duration of the visa, I actually fucked up on this, I already had travel insurance with my bank so I put Tim on the policy and then called them up to extend it to cover us for our entire trip. During the phone call I told the guy exactly where we were going and what we were doing (dog sledding in Siberia) and everything was fine so we sealed the deal and I continued planning our trip, the embassy took our insurance policy and we got our visas and everything was fine, until we were on the train and somebody mentioned that we had passed the ‘Ural Mountains’, I remembered that I skim read something about the Ural mountains in the insurance documents so I dug them out and it turned out we had no cover in Russia if we travelled East of those bloody Ural mountains!! The Ural mountains are 2000km to the east of Moscow, and we were headed to Irkutsk which is over 5000km to the east of Moscow! Needless to say, we were pretty careful walking around on the ice!! So whats the lesson here? Learn a little more geography about the places you visit? Or don’t trust embassy’s and Travel insurance sellers to tell you that you won’t be covered in Siberia!

And lastly, as we were applying in Switzerland with a British passport, we had to supply  a valid Swiss residence permit.

The visa took about 3/4 days and cost about 90 swiss francs so it was actually pretty easy and pretty cheap!russianvisa

3. China – The Chinese visa was the one that pissed me off the most! The Chinese embassy in Bern is seriously sketchy, it has 15 foot high barbed wire fences all around it, metal bars on the windows and the biggest satellites I’ve ever seen in my life! After locating the visa centre around the back of the building we were greeted with a massive queue which took forever to get through and when we finally made it to the front they told us that the online form we had filled  in (which we got from THEIR website) was last years and we had to fill in a new one, which meant getting out of the queue, filling in a new form and queueing up again. I was ready to just not go to China by the time we reached the front, and then they proceeded to ask us the strangest questions. Be prepared.

The documents they required were the same as Russia (not surprisingly) and the visa fee was 80 swiss francs. I think it took a couple of days, and they weren’t so great at contact so basically they were just super annoying!

With all of the logistical details booked and the headache over; it was time to plan, shop and pack! Come back tomorrow to read part 2 and find out what you need to survive this trip!

Thanks for reading, Yasmin x

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Travel

Das Labor bar – Munich

Guten Tag!  A couple of weeks ago, Tim and I decided to take a kleine ferien to Munich, well sort of.. we didn’t actually mean to end up in Munich, we actually intended to visit Castle Neuschwanstein but we overslept and got there really late, the waiting time to actually get into the castle was 5 hours which would have been after it closed so we decided to cut our loses and spend the evening in Munich with some beers.

For some reason the city was absolutely rammed – we still don’t know why that was but anyway, after hopping from beer garden to beer garden we were seriously starved, we were wandering around for a bit when we stumbled upon a Chinese restaurant (yeah not very German but its practically none existent in Switzerland so we seized the opportunity!) Anyway, after filling up on beef fried noodles we ventured back outside and noticed this little glowing sign simply saying ‘Das Labor’ and a flight of stairs leading down, to an underground, neon lit lounge bar.14

Upon entering I felt that I had wandered into a Gaspar Noe installation but once your eyes adjust and you move away from the large, intimidating, leather inspection chair complete with ankle stirrups… You start to enjoy the aesthetic! Our first round was a Gin & Tonic, amusingly served in a conical flask and glowing bright blue! All of the bartenders wear lab coats, mix the drinks in beakers and add the spirits with syringes, it is one of the best novelty bars I have ever stumbled into!3This is a page out of their shot menu, written up like lab notes in an exercise book! There were pages and pages of different concoctions! We may or may not have indulged! Around 8-9pm it gradually got busier and a DJ started playing, a lot of the tables were reserved and it seemed like the kind of place that is frequented later on in the evening, the crowd was extremely varied – perfect for people watching! I would definitely recommend dropping in when you’re in Munich, the exterior reminded me of the kinds of bars in Japan, down a flight of stairs and no indication of what to expect, I wouldn’t have ventured down if i hadn’t been feeling adventurous! So cheers to new experiences!2

Next time you’re exploring a new city, explore somewhere you normally wouldn’t (safe places obviously.. not alleyways or ship docks!) because it will either be an amazing story , an average story that you’ll keep to yourself or so bad you will laugh about it for years!

Thank you for reading! Yasmin x

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