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Lydia

    Camelling Around in Bikaner, India

    After taking part in the #TravelBookChat last Tuesday, which focused on the novel ‘Tracks’ by Robyn Davidson – a story about a woman who trekked across the Australian desert on top a camel (definitely worth a read), it got me thinking about the short but sweet experiences I’ve ever had with these fascinating creatures…

    Whilst volunteering in India, my friends and I decided to take a weekend trip to Bikaner to experience desert life on a camel.

    After wrapping ourselves in protective clothing, scarves and hats, we were introduced to our new friends for the next couple of days. Sitting lazily on the sand awaiting their masters commands, each camel was decorated in vibrant, Indian fabrics and had a traditional, rustic beaded necklace draped around their neck.

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Safari - My Culture Craving

    Once we’d mounted our camels, (which is a lot harder and wobbly than it looks), we set off into the depths of the Thar desert.

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Camel - My Culture Craving

    I’d never ridden a camel before therefore, it took me a little while to get used to the bum wobble dance, which comes with riding these placid creatures. However, once I’d mastered this art, I finally looked up and admired the tranquil, rippling desert, which encompassed us.

    I was so high up, I felt like no one could disturb my desert zen.

    We trekked for a couple of hours through the windswept desert and local villages before taking a well-earned pit-stop for a spot of lunch.

    As our guides prepared our mouth-watering, traditional lunch of fragrant chickpea curry, chapati and dal, we lulled in the shade, absorbing the idyllic scenery, reading and playing games… seclusion at its finest.

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Food Prep - My Culture Craving

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Cute Camels - My Culture Craving

    Once we’d devoured our delicious curry and quizzed our guides on desert life, we hopped back onto our camels and waddled off on the last leg of our journey.

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Camel Shadow - My Culture Craving

    When we arrived at camp, we laid out our blankets and mirrored the camels, as they all collapsed into a mound atop the sand.

    As the warm sun dissolved behind the dusty sand dunes, we tucked into our second scrumptious, ‘desert-made’ curry of the day, glugged down a few refreshing Kingfisher beers and chatted away about our day in the desert, before ‘hitting the hay sand’ under the gleaming stars.

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Dinner - My Culture Craving

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Chapati - My Culture Craving

    We awoke to the sweet smell of chai and chapatti, which roused us from our sand-covered blankets (apparently we’d slept through a sand storm…) and watched as the sun slowly broke its way through the dream-like mirage of dust and heat, which enveloped the desert.

    After relishing a wholesome breakfast, slurping on a mug of aromatic chai tea made with camel’s milk (straight from the camel!) and having our hands and feet beautifully decorated with henna by our lovely guide, we got onto our camels for the last time, and made our way back towards the manic roads of India.

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Sunrise - My Culture Craving

    Camel Safari in Bikaner, India - Henna - My Culture Craving

    Although Bikaner desert is not as scenic as the silky sand dunes of Jaisalmer, it’s a great place to get the ‘camel-safari experience’ without having to trek so far west.

    Similarly to most other camel safari excursions in India, our trip included two days trekking through the Thar desert, an overnight stay sleeping under the stars, traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner, unlimited water and a guide… all for the remarkable price of approx £20 per person.

    We went through a company called Vino Desert Safari, which I would highly recommend.

    Happy Camelling peeps!!

    GALS ON TOUR! Holidaying in Europe…

    Since jetting off on my first group holiday to the notorious party island of Malia in Crete, Europe I’ve been hooked on these girly getaways.

    Sunbathing, drinking, meeting new people, bobbing around the swimming pool, laughing uncontrollably, chilling on the balcony, dancing the night away and inhaling a copious amount of greasy food –  these group holidays are the perfect way to spend some quality time with your gal pals and make some unforgettable (yet, hazy) memories.

    So, if you’re thinking of booking a drunken escape with the girls (which I think you should!), here is my guide to some of the best party destinations in Europe:

    Gals on Tour, Europe - Malia - My Culture Craving

    Malia, Crete

    Malia was my first taste of a girly holiday abroad… and I couldn’t get enough.

    Sunshine, cocktails and independence confirmed my love for travel and allowed me to spend some much-needed, quality time with my bezzies!

    Gals on Tour, Europe - Ayia Napa - My Culture Craving

    Ayia Napa, Cyprus

    Home to sensational weather, divine beaches and  a square of lively bars and clubs, Ayia Napa is a party animal’s paradise. From scandalous beach parties and booze cruises to hilarious silent discos and pool parties, Ayia Napa offers everything you need to feed your inner wild child.

    However, if you’re also looking to get a good ol’ culture fix whilst you’re away, rent a moped or quad bike and get exploring the incredible scenery, which surrounds Ayia Napa’s tourist fueled strip.

    Gals on Tour, Europe - My Culture Craving

    Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

    Offering satin soft sandy beaches, a litre of local beer for £1 and an up-and-coming nightlife, Sunny Beach is a great party destination for any budget conscious travellers.

    However, with the mafia presence still being prominent, you must be extra cautious not to get yourself into any sticky situations when on a night out – something, which is not ideal when you want to drink your inhibitions away.

    If you do decide to take a trip to Sunny Beach, ensure you read up about any potential scams and places to avoid before you set off.

    Hvar, Croatia - My Culture Craving

    Hvar, Croatia

    Hvar’s perfect marriage of luxurious living, breathtaking beauty and vibrant nightlife, makes this glorious slice of the Dalmatian coast a ‘gals on tour’ haven.

    With its glamorous harbour, lined with extravagant, luxury yachts, crystal clear waters, imposing rocky alcoves, fabulous sandstone buildings and quaint, pebble beaches, Hvar is the ultimate party destination with a huge splash of culture and charm.

    Favourite Moments of Travel - Ibiza - My Culture Craving

    Ibiza, Spain

    Ibiza is the party capital of the world. However, due to its painful prices, this party paradise tends to attract an older crowd than places such as, Malia and Ayia Napa. With club entry costing anything from €15 to €100 and drink prices soaring as high as €30 for a vodka mixer in the super clubs (*insert shocked emoji here*), partying here comes at an eye-watering price.

    Nonetheless, once you’ve scraped together enough ‘dollar’ to make the trip, you will be welcomed by some of the best nightclubs in the world, stunning beaches, first-class cuisine and the chance to see some of the best artists in the music industry perform live.

    Trust me, it’s worth the wait!!

    Check out this website to find out the line up of events and performers at each club  as well as to buy any tickets you wish to book before you leave.

    I love backpacking and experiencing culture in other countries however, there’s no shame in trading in your backpack for a wheelie suitcase every once in a while and enjoying a week of well-earned relaxation with your best friends.

    Anyway, sampling the local beer counts as being cultured… doesn’t it?

    Have you ever been on a girly holiday? If you have, where has been your favourite party destination? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Also, please don’t forget to pop over and give my Bloglovin’ page a like :).

    On Top of the World at The Varsity Club, Oxford

    Last weekend, as it was one of the gal’s birthdays, we decided to act like the 23 year old sophisticates we are (hmmm…) and head to a bar in Oxford for a few civilized cocktails and a good ol’ chinwag.

    After hearing rave reviews about The Varsity Club, a four-storey cocktail bar situated in the heart of Oxford, boasting eclectic, quirky decor, scrumptious cocktails and a lavish rooftop bar with impressive views across the city, we were sold and booked ourselves a table.

    When we arrived, we weaved our way up the mountain of stairs (gym sesh at its finest… with vodka at the end of it) and were greeted by a cosy yet, buzzing cocktail lounge.

    With its rustic bare brick walls, mood lighting, vintage-style chairs and tables and atmospheric tea light candles flickering in old jam jars, the bar’s shabby chic furnishings gave it a warming and homely feel.

    The Varsity Club, Oxford - Bar - My Culture Craving

    We couldn’t wait to kick back on one of their plush sofas with a delicious cocktail in hand.

    Serving everything from the traditional martini and mojito to the slightly more riskayyy ‘sour’ (your choice of spirit mixed with egg white and maple syrup… urghhh) and lychee and chilli sling (check out the menu here), each cocktail is carefully mixed and embellished with its own adorable garnish.

    From cute, colourful flower petals and perfume (my friend swears she saw a barman squirt perfume in her drink…) to dainty, pearls of sugar and flaming, seeded passion fruit, each cocktail has its own special finishing touch.

    Despite the cocktails being more than desirable, the rooftop bar is definitely The Varsity Club’s unique selling point! With its pretty, twinkling fairy lights, stylish seating area and fabulous views, it’s the perfect place to sink a few Coronas on a summer’s afternoon as the sun slowly disperses behind the silhouette of Oxford’s stunning historic buildings.

    The Varsity Club, Oxford - My Culture Craving

    The Varsity Club is also home to a coffee shop (downstairs) and a club (first floor). Meaning you can start at the bottom and make your way up as the day goes on… coffee to start the day, Varsity cooler and tequila to finish…

    If you’re a little strapped for cash (cocktails are around £8-12 each), head over and sample the rooftop bar and cocktails during happy hour (Monday – Friday 5pm – 7pm).

    They also serve a wide selection  of food (the menu sounds YUM) and host a ‘pongathon’ every Tuesday (count me in!!).

    If you’ve ever been to The Varsity Club, what was your favourite cocktail? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Also, please don’t forget to pop over and give my Bloglovin’ page a like :).

    Why Do I Love India?

    I first visited India during my gap year and instantly fell in love. After volunteering and travelling on my own through this remarkable country,  I decided that I had to return ASAP.

    By December 2013, I was on a flight back to Delhi. Packing my Mum, a Rough Guide to India and a lot of essay notes (I had to write my dissertation whilst overlooking the Himalayas and the river Ganges… I couldn’t complain), we set off on a 3 week backpacking adventure across Rishikesh, Rajasthan and Kerala.

    I am now in the midst of planning my next trip – the big ol’ gap life, and guess what country is on the top of my list (drum roll pleaseeeee)… you got it, India!!

    Therefore, I thought I would share with you some of the reasons why I love India so much and why I jump at any chance to go back:

    ***Please note, this list is not extensive***

    Why I Love India - Holi - My Culture Craving

    The Colours

    Everywhere you go in India, there is an abundance of beautiful, vibrant colours.

    From the exquisite, intricately embroidered saris, iridescent, sparkling bangles and radiant coloured turbans to the mounds of traditional, scarlet vermilion powder, bowls of multicoloured, fragrant spices and wacky, psychedelic tuk tuks, there is not a single corner of India, which is without a splash of colour.

    You only have to admire the awe-inspiring Holi Festival, which dances its way through the streets of India like a Catherine wheel of colour every year, to understand the importance and allure of colour in this kaleidoscopic country.

    5 Unmissable Sights in Udaipur - My Culture Craving

    The Music

    I LOVE Bollywood music. If I’m ever feeling a bit down in the dumps and need a good pick me up song, I don’t wack on the most recent Taylor Swift tune, I pop on a Bollywood soundtrack and pretend I’m sexy (I’m not) and can dance like the Bollywood stars in the videos (I can’t)… but hey, it always works…

    In India, whether you find yourself in a shop, a rickshaw, a side street, a slum, a tuk tuk or a temple, everywhere is alive with the joyous sound of body bopping, shoulder bouncing, hand jumping, Indian music.

    Don’t let being in public stop you from busting your moves!

    Here is a link to one of my favourite Bollywood film soundtracks (if you don’t mind subtitles, the film is also definitely worth a watch!)

    Why I Love India - Spirituality - My Culture Craving

    The Spirituality

    Whether you are looking to become a full time yogi, a pro at meditation or, you simply want to find your ‘inner self’,  India has a spiritual aura, which will help elevate you to become a more calm, peaceful and focused person.

    Enroll yourself into a yoga and meditation retreat or an ashram and see how India can awaken your inner spiritualist.

    Why I Love India - Locals - My Culture Craving

    The People

    People in India are some of the happiest, kindest, most thoughtful, smiley, grateful and polite people I have ever met (especially the children). Yes, some Indians will try and scam you and others may curiously stare however,  this doesn’t mean that everyone else is the same.

    Spark up a conversation with a tuk tuk driver, hotel receptionist, shop owner or a local on a train and you’ll soon discover how good-natured and warm-hearted the people of India are.

    Why I Love India - Scenery - My Culture Craving

    The Scenery

    From the towering, snow-capped Himalayas and serene, secluded desert to the picturesque, tranquil backwaters and scenic green tea plantations, India has every possible breathtaking scenery you could ever imagine, all under one tropical roof.

    Why I Love India - Food - My Culture Craving

    The Food

    Whether you’re enjoying an extravagant thali of delicious and flavoursome curries, rice and bread or, delving into a crisp, spiced street samosa, food is always a prominent highlight whilst travelling through India.

    Don’t be afraid to try food from the street vendors and to sample strange, new delicacies. It’s all a part of the experience (and ridiculously cheap)!!

    I could go on and on about everything I love about India… If you have ever been, what would you add to this list? Please comment, Tweet or Facebook me to let me know :)! 

    Also, please don’t forget to pop over and give my Bloglovin’ page a like :).

    Tapas O’Clock at Kazbar, Oxford

    As soon as my friend and I stepped into Kazbar on Cowley Road in Oxford, we felt as though we’d been transported into a rustic Moroccan bar… in Spain.

    The glass conservatory, which holds the bar, created the illusion that we were outside.

    Green ivy, foliage and twigs crept their way up the faded-mustard coloured walls and were draped in beads, flickering candle holders, pieces of fabric and random ornaments, which all contributed to the restaurant’s consciously shabby decor.

    Tapas O'Clock at Kazbar, Oxford - Decor - My Culture Craving

    Once we’d stopped ourselves from drooling over the cocktail menu at the bar, we were led through to the restaurant area, where the Moroccan charm waltzed up a gear.

    Tapas O'Clock at Kazbar, Oxford - Lamp - My Culture Craving

    Greeted by intricate, glowing lanterns of all shapes and sizes, which were randomly scattered throughout the restaurant, endearing large Spanish posters plastered tastefully across the ochre walls, strings of twinkling fairy lights dangling in the windows and shabby chic stone benches plumped up with inviting deep red, fluffy cushions. All of which, were topped off with cute, mosaic tables and grand, green potted plants, which both added to the al fresco dining feel of the restaurant.

    Tapas O'Clock at Kazbar, Oxford - Table Setting - My Culture Craving

    Tapas O'Clock at Kazbar, Oxford - Table - My Culture Craving

    Team all of this with the sweet smell of incense sticks and the mellow beat of flamenco music, and you’ve got yourself a Mediterranean haven.

    Tapas O'Clock at Kazbar, Oxford - Table Decor - My Culture Craving

    As I was driving, I couldn’t indulge in one of their mouth-watering cocktails or largeeee refreshing beers however, both the Fig and Vanilla Daiquiri and Marrakesh Express sounded particularly delicious (damn you driving!)

    Nevertheless, as there was no alcohol in the mix, this only meant one thing – we had to make up for it in food… and that, my friends, we did…

    Wanting to sample anything and everything on the menu (looking back, our eyes were definitely being farrrr too greedy for our bellies), we ended up choosing eight tapas dishes and a side of bread between the two of us. Ranging from tasty paella and fragrant beef tagine to succulent, paprika infused octopus and flavoursome gambas pil pil, everything was scrumptious and reasonably priced (approx £3-8).

    We left feeling as plump and round as the comfy cushions we reclined onto after we had finished stuffing our faces.

    Tapas O'Clock at Kazbar, Oxford - Tapas - My Culture Craving

    Whether you are looking for a chilled out bar to slurp on a cocktail or two and enjoy your surroundings or a restaurant to have an evening meal, Kazbar oozes relaxation yet, excites every one of your senses at the same time!

    Pop in and let Kazbar bring the Mediterranean to you… Surely that’s an offer no one can refuse?

    Have you ever been to Kazbar on Cowley Road, Oxford? What was your favourite part of the experience? Please comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know :)!

    Budget your way to Paradise…

    At the beginning of this week, I decided it was about time I whipped up a budget plan for my next travelling trip at the end of the year.

    Like every other traveller, I had an extravagant itinerary mapped out in my head however, I had no idea whether I could actually afford it.

    Queue, my genius (if I don’t say so myself), flexible budget plan…

    If you are planning a trip of a lifetime, then follow these simple steps to ensure that your travel dreams can become a reality… aka.  you can afford the luxuries of food and water whilst you are away…

    Budget your way to Paradise - Hostel - My Culture Craving

    FIRSTLY, what day-to-day essentials do you need to consider?

    Accommodation, food and travel are the three main essentials that you have to take into account whilst travelling.

    Budget your way to Paradise - Fraser Island - My Culture Craving

    SECONDLY, what extras do you need to think about?

    It’s inevitable that there will be a lot of exciting excursions and activities that you’ll want to splash out on whilst you are away. However, these touristy extras tend to come at a hefty price!

    Whilst I was travelling the East Coast of Australia in my gap year, I hadn’t prepared my budget for the cost of the unmissable Fraser Island and Whitsunday trips. Both set me back just under half of my budget for the whole month I was there.

    Other extras may include – bus passes, bungee jumps, diving, wine tasting etc, which will all eat away at your daily budget if you don’t consider them beforehand.

    Budget your way to Paradise - World Map - My Culture Craving

    NEXT, the all important question… where do you want to go?

    You now need to decide, which countries you would like to visit and how long you would like to spend in each.

    If you are planning on travelling spontaneously (kudos!) whilst you’re away and are not sure where you’ll end up and for how long, try narrowing it down by continent. If you know you’ll be travelling around South East Asia but you’re just not sure where, you’ll still be able to get an idea of how much you should budget daily.

    Whereas, if you suddenly decide to jet off to sun yourself in Oz when you’ve budgeted for a hippie lifestyle in India, you’re going to see a ginorrrmoussss increase in your daily spending, which will probably result in you eating out of bins and drinking goon…

    Budget your way to Paradise - Research - My Culture Craving

    Research!

    So, you now have some sort of route mapped out. Next up is research, research, research. How much will hostels/hotels/food/travel cost you in each country?

    Although doing this research can be time-consuming, it is more than worthwhile!

    I started my research by looking on Hostelworld/Hostelbookers to get an idea of how much hostels/hotels will cost in each country. I then wrote down the prices of a few hostels and estimated an average. For example, in Australia the hostel prices varied between £16-£22 therefore, I have budgeted for around £18 a day on accommodation.

    For food and travel, your best bet is doing a Google search. I did a search for daily costs in South America, as this is a continent I have never visited, and to my surprise I discovered that countries such as, Brazil are a lot more expensive to travel in than I’d thought. I now know that I’ll need more money than I’d anticipated when travelling through this continent.

    Consider any pre travel extras

    If you’re anything like me, you’ll want to stock up on all of the cool travel gadgets available before setting off on your trip.

    A state of the art camera, a waterproof camera, an Ipad to blog on, a kindle. All of which will stack up a rather sizable bill… and that’s before you’ve even considered flights, backpack, insurance, jabs, visas, clothes, guide books, travel towels…

    Budget your way to Paradise - Spreadsheet - My Culture Craving

    FINALLY, throw it all into a spreadsheet and add some formulas

    Once you’ve considered these aspects of your travels, wack it all into an Excel spreadsheet!

    Add together your estimated cost of food, accommodation, travel and everyday extras in each country, to work out your average daily budget. For example, in my Excel spreadsheet, the formula =B3 (food) +C3 (accommodation) +D3 (travel) +E3 (everyday extras), worked out my average daily budget in South Africa. I then multiplied it by the number of days I intend to travel in that country and added on any extras such as, wine tasting… VOILA, I had my total budget for my time in SA.

    Once you’ve done this with each country and added on any pre travel extras, you will then have a guestimate of how much your trip is going to cost you overall.

    You can edit your spreadsheet whenever your plans change or you spend less/more than you’d budgeted for. Therefore, if you end up spending less on accommodation in one country than you’d expected, you can change it in your spreadsheet, which will then work out your total costs in that country/overall for you.

    Although it’s always great fun to travel on a whim and be spontaneous, if you only have a limited amount of money whilst travelling, throwing together a budget plan will ensure your trip isn’t cut short due to running out of money.

    How does everyone else budget for their travels? Please comment, Facebook or Tweet me to let me know :)!