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Hungary: Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget

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Ah Budapest! How beautiful you are. I mean talk about epic architecture, scenic rivers and hilly surroundings… this city seems to have a bit of everything.

From the grand Parliament building set on the tranquil Danube River to the historic Castle Hill, there are plenty of places to explore and top-quality sights to see for the city-loving traveller. The ruin bars of the Jewish Quarter transport you to the shabby-chic akin to Berlin’s alt warehouses, and for those that love to party, these bars are open till the early hours every single day. For those of you in need of something a little more relaxing, treat yourself to one of the many thermal spas dotted around the city, or take a trip to Margaret Island to practice mindfulness in nature. There is so much history to be learnt, from the Fascist invasion in World War II, followed by strict communist ruling for the next 40 years, the wounds of Hungary’s past can be felt throughout the city and spotted in the ornate crumbling buildings.

 
Beautiful architecture on the Pest side of the city

Beautiful architecture on the Pest side of the city

 

We loved Budapest, it has definitely made it onto the top of our favourite European cities list. If you are looking for a cheap place to spend a few days, breath-taking architecture and plenty of sights to keep you busy then Budapest sounds like the place for you.

Take a look at our suggested ‘Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget’…..


Get Hungry At The Great Market Hall

This epic hall houses the largest indoor market in Budapest and its expansive neo-Gothic architecture makes for an impressive experience.  The metal framed roof structure is a clear draw, giving the space a light and airy feel whilst imposing its Gothic form over the hall.  Split over 3 floors, you'll find a range of cooked foods such as lángos and goulash, Hungarian souvenirs and fresh groceries including fruit and veg, baked breads and pastries, local cheeses and cured meats... yum!  The cherry strudel is worth a try, as is the pogácsa (Hungarian scone).... we really are suckers for baked goods!  A good time to head there would be for lunch when you can pick up a selection of fresh foods and take them to the Danube for a munch.  Yes it is touristy, but there are also a lot of locals picking up their groceries too.

The market is open Monday to Saturday 6am-6pm but closes early on Mondays at 5pm and 3pm on Saturdays. Address is Budapest, Vámház krt. 1-3, 1093.

www.budapestmarkethall.com

 
The neo-Gothic Great Market Hall

The neo-Gothic Great Market Hall

 

Escape The City On Margaret Island

If you’re looking for green space and an escape from the erratic Hungarian driving then Margaret Island is the place for you.  Positioned in the middle of the Danube river, the island is a hub for sports, leisure activities and leafy spaces, offering tourists and locals a place to connect with fitness and nature.  There is a 5.5km running track which spans the island (make sure you run in the correct direction!), walking routes, cycle routes and plenty of places to hire bikes, tandems and pedalos.  The island also features its own medieval ruins, a lido and national swimming pool, a Japanese garden and some famous musical fountains (although these were being renovated when we visited).  In the summer, the open-air concert venue puts on shows to the public and the green spaces are filled with beer-drinking sun worshipers.  This is one of the most popular parks in Budapest and we would definitely recommend a visit.

The island can be accessed halfway along Margaret Bridge and is open day and night all year round.  Trams 4 and 6 stop just outside on the bridge and bus no. 26 from Nyugati station takes you all the way in. Otherwise it’s a 45 minute walk from the Jewish Quarter.

 
Wintery but still pretty, one of the greens on Margaret Island

Wintery but still pretty, one of the greens on Margaret Island

 


Learn About Hungary’s Tortured Past

A visit to the House of Terror is a must when coming to Budapest as it highlights the atrocities of both the Fascist and Communist rulings of Hungary during the 20th century.  The museum tells a sad story of Budapest, from the Nazi take over towards the end of the Second World War, the result was the mass genocide of thousands of Hungarian (and European) Jews. Those horrors were quickly followed by Soviet communist rule for the next 40 years. The country was brought to it’s knees and an unimaginable number of people lost their lives in horrendous ways at the hands of both regimes.  The museum is set in the former headquarters of the Fascist Arrow Cross party and later State Security services, where it was used as a prison and place of torture for those who were thought to have gone against the government.  Some of the prison area still remains in the basement and forms part of the exhibition, it’s very 1984! Scarily it is not known how far these cells went underground because the tunnels had been filled in with concrete by the time the Soviets had left.  The information is well written and engaging, but most of the memorabilia is not described or translated into English.

Entry is 3000 huf (£8.12) per person and the museum is open 10am-6pm daily, closing on Mondays.

www.terrorhaza.hu

 
The House Of Terror Museum

The House Of Terror Museum

 



Ride The Number 2 Tram

This was recommended to us by a Budapest local who goes out of her way to take this tram every day to work.  Running along the east side of the Danube river, the tram ride is ridiculously scenic, with views of Buda Castle, Liberty Statue on Gellert Hill and the Fisherman’s Bastion on the Buda side of the city.  The tram takes a winding route around Parliament building with spectacular views from 3 sides.  The tram itself is pretty retro, with pairs of window seats facing each other in a rickety-style carriage.  We really enjoyed this trip and for 350huf (95p) a go, it is definitely worth it!

You can catch the number 2 tram northbound from the architecturally award-winning Fovam ter station, all the way up to the entrance of Margaret Island on Margaret Bridge.  We would recommend sitting on the left-hand side for optimum views over the river and Parliament building.

Make sure you punch your ticket in the machine on the tram as they are hot on fines if you get caught!

 
The view from the number 2 tram window of the Parliament building

The view from the number 2 tram window of the Parliament building

 

Marvel At The Parliament Building

Rarely do I go to a city and think that the architecture is more impressive than Londons, but Budapest is definitely one of those cities that would give it a run for its money.  The Hungarian Parliamentary Building is a prime example of this, it’s grand scale makes it the one of the largest buildings in Hungary and it’s Gothic Revival-style architecture gives it an incredibly dramatic form from all angles.  This ginormous building has 20 kilometres of stairs and 691 rooms (I mean what could you possibly need 691 rooms for?!) and is the home of legislature, a workplace for members of parliament and their assistants, and guards the safe keeping of the Hungarian Holy Crown.  It is possible to tour this building costing around 3500huf (£9.47), but we were happy just looking from the outside.  For the optimum view of the Parliament building, head over to the Buda side of the river on the promenade for a full frontal view (cheeky!).

www.parlament.hu

 
The epic Parliament building, as seen from the Buda side of the city

The epic Parliament building, as seen from the Buda side of the city

 


Be Wowed By Szimpla Kert Ruin Bar

Touristy I know, but 100% worth a visit (or maybe even two), this ruin bar is an impressive conversion of a disused factory and now is a cultural centre for music, film, food and nightlife.  The space itself is an awe-inspiring shabby chic mishmash of quirky objects, graffiti, plants and lighting, making it look more like a post-apocolyptic filmset rather than a pub.  You can’t help but be amazed on first entry, the sheer scale and work that’s gone into the decor is pretty overwhelming.  The building contains many sub-rooms and hangout areas throughout, sprawling across 2 floors and an outdoor area, so you can always find a spot to suit your mood.  

Since opening in 2002, Szimpla Kert has had a green and eco outlook; by promoting sustainable urban living, by giving up-and-coming musicians a platform to perform from, and by serving locally grown food produce to its customers.  Every Sunday the venue hosts a farmers market, where locals can pick up good quality sustainable produce at affordable prices.  It also gives the opportunity for the consumer to re-connect with the farmers which is a huge issue that needs to be addressed in our food industry today.  

Overall, this is a lovely place to come down for a coffee or beer on an afternoon, or for a few drinks in the evening with friends.  If you’re lucky enough to be around on a Sunday then the market runs from 9am-2pm, and if you can afford a bottomless brunch for 5000huf (£13.50) then you will be reassured in the knowledge that you are eating some top quality produce and supporting a sustainable food industry.

Open daily 12pm-4am, and 9am-4am on Sundays.

www.szimpla.hu

 
Szimpla Kert by night, palm plants and colourful lighting

Szimpla Kert by night, palm plants and colourful lighting

 


Take A Stroll Up To The Historic Castle Hill

The Castle District on the Buda side of the city is home to a number of key attractions including the ornate Matthias Church, the Disney-like Fisherman’s Bastion, the popular funicular and Buda Castle itself.  This medieval UNESCO World Heritage site offers spanning views over the Danube river and city, and makes for a lovely morning or afternoons exploration along the cobbled streets of the Old Town and leafy hillsides.  The neo-gothic style Fisherman’s Bastion was actually built in the early 20th century specially as a viewing platform and sits next to the colourfully tiled gothic Matthias Church.  You can walk along the old castle walls of Buda Castle for great views out over the city and explore inside the courtyards for free, and for the contemporary architecture-lovers out there, you’ll enjoy the oxidised steel staircases that lead you up to the old castle walls.

The funicular, which takes you from Chain Bridge up to the top of Castle Hill, is the second oldest of its kind in the world and was built 150 years ago.  Amazingly, it functions on a system of weights and counterweights, maintaining its traditional engineering systems.  If you want a quick and novel way of getting up the hill then this is for you but to be honest we were happy with the stroll.

We visited in February and it wasn’t too busy, but this is apparently the most popular tourist attraction in all of Budapest so expect it to be bustling in peak season.  Apparently a good time to visit is just before sunset when most tourists have headed back to the Pest side for the day.

Castle Hill is open all hours of to explore, but if you want to go into specific buildings then standard opening hours will apply.  It’s free to walk around outside so is great for the budget traveller, but you have to pay for entry to any of the attractions.

 
The colourful tiled roof of St Matthias Church on Castle Hill

The colourful tiled roof of St Matthias Church on Castle Hill

 

Enjoy The View At The Citadel

The walk up to the Citadel is a pleasant meander around the leafy hillsides, with many routes and paths leading up to the top.  As you ascend the path, views over the Danube and Pest side of the city unfold before you, until you reach the top of Gellért Hill with its beautiful panoramic views over the city below.  The citadel itself is a 19th century fortress made from stone, still with bullet holes displaying the tragedies of Hungary’s troubled past. Gellért Hill is a nice spot to bring a picnic, with grassy places to sit down and plenty of benches to perch on.  There isn’t loads to do at the Citadel other than to enjoy the view, but this is one of the free things to do in Budapest so it’s worth a trip.

You can get to the Citadel walking paths by crossing either Elisabeth Bridge or Szabadsag Bridge and then walking up.

 
Me and my bump at the top of the Citadel viewing platform

Me and my bump at the top of the Citadel viewing platform

 

Get Inspired At The Ludwig Museum Of Contemporary Art

A walk down the promenade from the Great Market Hall to the Ludwig Museum of Contemporary Art is a must as it’s one of the only car-free sections next to the Danube River.  The gallery itself is the only public collection in the country that houses art from both local and international artists, and therefore is crucial to the contemporary art scene.  The museum was founded by Peter and Irene Ludwig, avid collectors of contemporary art, who owned a whopping collection of 12,000 pieces!  They needed somewhere to store their collection right?! And since 2005 the Ludwig Museum has been located in the architecturally impressive building, Palace of Arts.  Although the collection on display wasn’t my favourite, it still made an enjoyable mornings activity and I would say that the building itself is worth a visit (if you like modern architecture that is).  The museum has a perminant collection of artworks and a temporary exhibition space which changes 8-10 times a year.

Entry is 2,400huf (£6.50) for both the permanent and temporary exhibitions and the gallery is open Tues-Sun 10am-8pm.

www.ludwigmuseum.hu

 
Contemporary architecture at The Ludwig Museum Of Contemporary Art

Contemporary architecture at The Ludwig Museum Of Contemporary Art

 

Soak Up The Vibe At The Jewish Quarter

If you are looking for trendy eateries, cool bars and somewhere to let-lose then the Jewish Quarter is the place for you.  Ruin bars such as Szimpla Kert, Instant and Fogas Ház offer clubbers a place to party until the early hours (any day of the week) in a fun and care-free environment.  The Jewish Quarter is the hub of eating out with a huge array of international cuisines being served from Thai to American-style burgers, and Vietnamese to European dishes.  You can pretty much find any food you want here including very cheap donner kebabs served from a man in a booth!  There are plenty of lovely coffee shops to relax in, independent boutiques such as the inspiring concept store Printa, and small art galleries like The Kahan Art Space to explore.  We spent a lot of our time here, wondering the beautiful streets and stopping off for the odd coffee/beer to relax our legs.  The Jewish Quarter is a great place to base yourself for your trip to Budapest.

 
Inside concept store Printa with its plywood fittings

Inside concept store Printa with its plywood fittings

 

Food

Reading of all the Hungarian foods we wanted to try before our trip, we were super excited at the thought of Lángos (a fried bread smothered in cream cheese), goulash (a beef soupy-stew with spices), Kürtös Kalács (chimney cake which is a tube of sweet bread rolled in sugar) and all the various cheeses, cured meats meat soups and cakes, we were really sad to say that we were disappointed all round and didn’t find any of what we tried that tasty.  We mostly went to étkezdes which are Hungarian home-cooked food style cheap eateries, but each time we found the food a bit underwhelming in flavour and there just wasn’t very much of it! The Lángos was probably the biggest let down, I mean surely you can’t go wrong with bread and cheese right?  But apparently you can and the whole thing was just oily and flavourless despite going to one of the most popular stalls in town, Retró Lángos Büfé.  The best thing we probably ate was a Hungarian desert of walnut dumplings with vanilla sauce (which was a bit like an English bread pudding with custard) but other than that we didn’t feel like there was much to shout about.  Sorry Hungary, did we miss something?!  

 
Believe it or not, this was the best thing we ate!

Believe it or not, this was the best thing we ate!

 

On our last day we spotted a budget cafe in a food hall called Mangalica Heaven which was actually much cheaper than the other étkezdes we had visited, such as Kádár Étkezde and Frici Papa.  You can get 2 courses for around 1200huf (£3.25) and the place was really busy at lunchtime which was a good sign.  For those of you travelling on a budget, be aware that most of the étkezdes are only open in the weekdays for lunch and then are closed in the evenings and weekends.  Perhaps you just need to spend a bit more to get tastier Hungarian food?  I really hope you have better luck with the food than we did!

 
Lángos, it looks the part but just tastes like grease!

Lángos, it looks the part but just tastes like grease!

 

Where We Didn’t Get To….

Our trip was cut a bit short due to Mark getting the flu for 3 days and so there were a couple of activities that we wanted to do but didn’t get round to.  Although they are a bit on the expensive side, we would have liked to have gone to one of the famous spas such as the Gellért or Széchenyi Baths, both known for their thermal waters and healing qualities.  There is Memento Park, a sculpture park on the outskirts of the city displaying all the communist monuments and sculptures that once stood in Budapest during the soviet regime.  If we had visited outside of the winter months when the leaves were on the trees then we would have taken a trip out to the Buda Hills, an expanse of green space in the city where you can find trekking routes and perfect spots for a picnic.  The Hungarian National Museum was being renovated when we visited, but it would have been interesting to see some national artefacts and learn a bit more about the countries history.   If you can spare 16 Euro a ticket (ouch!), then the Dohány Street Synagogue looked like it would have been worth a visit as it’s the largest synagogue in the world outside of Israel.  Other than that, I think we covered most of the main attractions that we were interested in, and mostly it was just interesting to walk around and explore the city.

 
The Dohany Street Synagogue

The Dohany Street Synagogue

 

We hope our article 'Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget’ was helpful for you, feel free to leave any comments in the box below (especially if you have any more suggestions about the food!).

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Top Things To Do In Budapest On A Budget, by Studio Mali
 

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Jordan: A Bedouin Camp In The Wadi Rum Desert

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As I'm sure you well know, we are avid fans of travelling on a budget.  With only £25 between us per day, we usually opt for the cheapest accommodation possible, eat with the locals, and pick and choose our activities carefully.  We started doing this out of necessity, we had saved up enough money for 10 months and needed to stick to the budget carefully or risk going home early!  But after a few months of doing this, we decided that it was our preferred way to travel.  You meet so many more people when you are trying to save money, whether that be through hitchhiking or eating in cafes with the local folk.

 

But when our friends Dom and Elly came to join us in Jordan on a 4 day holiday, it seemed like a great excuse to take a holiday ourselves away from the paired-back travel life we had grown so accustom to.  We booked a cool-looking Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert on Elly's suggestion, and crossed our fingers that it was going to be worth the splash out.  For 25JD (£26) per night, this is what a Bedouin camp in the Wadi Rum desert looks like......

 

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The journey in......

Our host picks us up from the visitor centre in an open-air truck and we bump along the sandy desert floor, marvelling at our first glimpse of Wadi Rum.  There are a few other 4X4's speeding around, trying to find the best spot for sundown.

 

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The camp

We arrive at our camp just before sundown, the shadows are long and the sands are a stunning shade of orange in the low lighting.  We had booked the cheapest double possible with a shared bathroom, but on arrival we were told that we had been upgraded for free into one of their luxury tents with a panoramic desert view.  It really was our lucky day!

 

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Geometric dreams

No curtains.... just this view for the next 14 hours.  We feel as though we've hit the jackpot.  I don't know about you but I've never stayed anywhere quite as epic as this.  The oversized window makes you feel as though there is nothing between you and nature, that the desert sand almost continues onto your bedroom floor.  

 

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A sunset to remember

Before feasting on a Bedouin dinner, we climb up onto the rocks nearby and silently watch the sun go down.  What's better than nature, the sunsetting, and our friends to share it all with.

 

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Morning meditation

The sun comes up and we are keen to make the most of our time in this incredible place.  We head out for a walk to the mountains ahead, and on our return spend the next 15 minutes meditating in front of this stunning view.  No one's around, it's just us and the landscape.

 

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Bedouin hang out

The central focus in the camp is the fire, and everything else works around it.  There is always 3 pots of tea brewing on the flame; lightly sweetened mint tea, sweetened mint tea, and crazily sweetened mint tea.  I opt for the least sweet option, thinking that it's going to be bearable, but it's so disgustingly sweet that my teeth are furry after only a few sips.... I think I'll pass and avoid any future decay!

 

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The happy traveller

Mark's enjoying the comfort of the open-air camp after 9 months worth of slumming it! Goodbye damp dingy rooms, and welcome tribal fun camp.

 

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Quiet time

On the other side of the camp behind a huge rock, is more seating for those looking for a quiet spot to read in.  In the afternoon this will be flooded with sunshine.

 

 
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ethnic textiles

The Bedouin people make up over a third of the population of Jordan, and are known as animal breeders and herders.  Some even adopt a nomadic way of life, moving at various times of the year for the benefit of their livestock.  It is common to see ethnic textiles like this in hotels and camps around Jordan, and these days it is mostly mass-produced.  Traditionally women would have hand-woven textiles in designs similar to this, and they would have been used to make shelter for their families.  Bedouin camps used to be called 'Beit Al-Sha’ar' which means 'house of hair', for the fact that it was all woven from goats hair.  

 

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Eggs and zataar

For those of you that don't know, zataar is a delicious spice mix popular in Jordan and the middle east.  The locals love to eat it on everything, and after visiting Jordan we shared the same love for it.  For our breakfast we got to eat it with eggs, flatbreads and cheese, lucky us!

 

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A quick tour

We book in for a quick tour of the surrounding area, and try to squeeze in as much as possible before getting back to Amman.  2 hours in the 4X4 sets us back 35JD (£35) between the 4 of us and we get taken to some sand dunes, a viewpoint, to see some ancient rock inscriptions and a carving of Lawrence Of Arabia.  It isn't the best tour we've ever been on, but it's pretty fun riding round the desert at high speeds.  

 

What we say....

A trip to the Wadi Rum desert definitely isn't the cheapest thing to do in Jordan, but actually we think it's worth the splash out for spending at least a night there.  The scenery is just unworldly, the camps are very relaxing, and it's one of those experiences that will stick in your mind for a long time afterwards.  This is where they filmed the 60s classic blockbuster 'Lawrence Of Arabia' and the less classic 'The Martian'.  We were half expecting Matt Damon to pop out from behind a rock and shout..... "Matt Damon".

 

costs involved and how to get there

If you are trying to visit on a budget then just bear in mind that there are a few hidden costs involved; dinner is around 10JD (£10) per person at the camp, but you can bring your own if you want to.  A taxi back to Aqaba costs around 35JD (£35) where you can catch a local bus to Amman.  There is no direct bus to Wadi Rum from either Amman or Aqaba, but you may be able to jump out on the main road if your bus is passing.  On leaving Wadi Rum, you could potentially get to the Desert Highway and try to hitchhike to Aqaba or Amman from there.  Tours cost around 35JD (£35) for a 2 hour ride in a 4X4 and that's to see 4 tourist sights.  Breakfast is free at the camp.  

We stayed at one called 'Wadi Rum Dream Camp' but there are many more around that you can find on booking.com.  We had a free upgrade to stay in their luxury double room tent with a bathroom, and it cost us only 25JD (£26) for the night.  We heard about a couple that booked somewhere to stay online and sadly the camp didn't exist, just make sure there are plenty of reviews and ratings before you book somewhere.

If money isn't an issue for you then we would recommend staying for a few nights unless you are one of those people that gets easily bored.  There are plenty of walks to do around there for free, 4X4 tours, camel riding and just generally chilling out at the camp.  We would love to go back and spend some more time in Wadi Rum.  There is something very special about being in the desert and at the mercy of mother nature.  All in all, it's a very invigorating experience.

If you have any questions then just hit us up in the comment box below!

 

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Jordan - A Bedouin Camp In The Wadi Rum Desert, by Studio Mali
 

 

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Jordan: Patterns And Colours Of Petra's Sands

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When you invisage Petra, you will undoubtedly think of the enormous sandstone carvings of the Treasury and the Monastery, those huge structures that we have seen so many times in photographs as one of The World's 7 Wonders.  

Well for those of you that haven't been, Petra isn't just these two monuments.  It's a site the size of a city and is situated on one of the most fascinating geological sites I have ever been to.  It is expected that 20,000 - 30,000 people used to live there 2500 years ago, and the creators of the site had carefully selected this location based on the beautiful layered sandstone that makes up the rock.

Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan sands 12.jpg
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern

Incredibly, this rock was formed up to 540 million years ago by ancient river beds that transported the sand into these layers and patterns.  The colours vary so much due to the chemical break up of minerals in the sand, the reds containing iron and the others with manganese oxides and hydroxide minerals.  I was amazed to see the sands so colourful, the pictures I have seen previously of Petra are really just of tan coloured sand and not much else, so it was such a surprise to see these unique rock formations.  It was honestly like looking at a work of art; an abstract painting with expressive brushstrokes, marbled patterns and layered colours.  I was in my element, exploring the hundreds of caves that make up the site and discovering the natural artworks on nearly every wall.  I probably took about a zillion photos for 'inspiration' which I'm sure Mark wasn't too happy about!

Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan sands 13.jpg
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern

Some of the cave tombs use this patterned rock almost like a mural inside, a display of the richness of the land, it's natural beauty and an important marker for the dead.  These intricate wallpapers are something that have stood the test of time and have remained unchanged for the last 540 million years, or so.

Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern

I am looking at these sandscapes, to me they look like classic asian ink paintings, similar to the wave paintings that we see so much on Japanese scrolls.  The colours however are fierce, beautiful hues of blood red, apricot, mustard, aubergine, nude and then subtly contrasted with grey/blue.  It look so considered, and yet so organic in its form.

Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern

I can't help thinking this would be the perfect inspiration for our next design project.  Perhaps we can incorporate these beautiful patterns and shapes into our furniture somehow, maybe dying wood into these colours, trying to capture some of the organic shapes that make up these naturally-occurring patterns.  

Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern
Jordan, Petra - layered coloured sand pattern

If you do ever get to visit Petra, make sure you allocate enough time to explore the vast geological site and monuments within it.  The locals say that you could spend a week there and see something new every time.  We spent 3 days there in total, and trekked in from Little Petra Siq across the valleys and around the edge of the mountains which was a clear highlight.  The path between Little Petra Siq and Petra is actually part of the Jordan Trail, a trekking route that runs from one length of the country to the other, taking 40 days in total to walk it.  The hike from Little Petra Siq to Petra takes around 3-4 hours and is relatively straight forward, just make sure you take enough water and avoid walking if rain is forecast due to flash flooding.  

 

If you have any questions or need any help on your trip then just let us know and we would be happy to get back to you.

 

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Jordan - Patterns And Colour In Petra's Sands, by Studio Mali
 

 

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Inspirational Quotes Found At A Tea Plantation In Sri Lanka

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We all know that inspiration can spring out of nowhere, and so often it's when you least expect it.  For us, it came as a pleasant surprise on a leisurely 14km stroll though Lipton’s tea plantation in central Sri Lanka. 

Lipton's tea plantation near Hapatule

Lipton's tea plantation near Hapatule

Mark and I were making our way up to Lipton’s Seat near Hapatule, a viewpoint from where Mr Thomas Lipton used to sit and admire his lusciously green tea fields below.  The walk up to the seat is a very scenic one; the path winds up and around hilly fields where thousands of tea plants grow, all pruned and neatly in rows ready to be picked by experienced hands.  Every so often we see a local in traditional dress bent over picking leaves with a basket on their back, smiling as we walk past. Not the kind of place you'd expect to see the words of Gandhi painted into the brickwork.

 
Gandhi - What we are doing to the forests of this world
 

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We make our way up the narrow road and spot a sign pinned to the cobbled brick wall.  It’s a quote.  It says, “If all beasts were gone, men would die from a great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.  All things are connected.  Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth.”  Wow! This is pretty dizzying stuff, and gets our minds racing about life as we amble on. 

Half a kilometre later there’s another one.  This time it reads…. “Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them.  But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.”  That’s so true.  We were only talking the previous day about keeping birds as pets.  However small they are it really does pain me to see them stuck in cages. 

 
Sandra Postel - For many of us, water simply flows from a faucet
 

Every sign we pass we stop to take in, feeding the mind with food for thought.  7km later, we reach the top.  Not quite the view we had in mind due to rolling clouds of mist, but the walk has been extremely pleasant and provoked much thought so it made for an enjoyable experience. We went on a whole trail of conversation, from the environment to childhood memories, all spurred on by these messages, the flow of walking, and that we have plenty of time on our hands.

 
Gautama Buddha - A person writing at night may put out the lamp
 


Hand-crafted pieces, delivered to your door…


Lipton's seat was more than just a view at the top of a mountain for us, but the catalyst for a lot of thought.  Whilst trekking the route we discussed not only these messages but also where we see Studio Mali going in the future.  Although that's not set in stone just yet, and there's still some more work to be done, we do know this: that we want to inspire others to be creative and to find balance in their lifestyle.  We are finding our feet right now as we still have another 2 months left travelling, but whilst on the road we are working on this new focus.  Expect to see from us more creative posts, inspiration, travel advice to help make that break away, and discussions on lifestyle.

 
Bob McLeod - When the earth is sick and polluted
 

We hope you have found some or at least one of these quotes inspiring.  If you have any thoughts or feelings towards the messages let us know in the below comments box, we would love to hear from you.

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Inspirational Quotes Found At A Tea Plantation In Sri Lanka, by Studio Mali
 

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China: Top Things To Do In Xi’an

temple in xi'an on the city walls
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Once the end destination of the Silk Road, Xi’an was a land-mark Chinese city rich in history, culture and trade.  Today it stands as a busy modern city, with many tourists still flocking to see the world famous delights of the Terracotta Army and The Tomb of Emperor Jingdi.  If you look a little closer then it’s possible to get a glimpse of the old Xi’an, in the ancient Ming dynasty city walls that still surround the centre, or in the bustling Muslim quarter where street sellers offer exotic tasting foods that contrast greatly to the Asian cuisine.  Spend some time wondering the streets to get the best experience of this contrasting city.

 

Visit the Terracotta Army Of Warriors

A trip to Xi’an just isn’t complete without a visit to China’s most famous attraction, the Terracotta Army.  Discovered in the 1970's by local peasants digging for a well, the ancient army lay buried for thousands of years after the Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, had the warriors constructed to guard him from evil in the afterlife.  Thousands of life-sized figures of men and horses have been unearthed standing in battle formation in ginormous dug-out pits, that are now on show to the public in huge exhibition halls. 

It is advisable to start at the smaller of the 3 pits (pit 3) first and work your way up to the largest pit (pit 1) for the most impressive of the archeological findings. Several of the terracotta men are on show in glass cases, and it is possible to see the workmanship up close.  The detail on them is next-level extraordinary, the hair, the tread on the soles of the shoes, the hint of coloured paintwork that once brought them to life.  Each face is unique and no two are the same.  This is mastery and skill at its best, and the scale of the creation is at times overwhelming. 

As with all popular Chinese tourist attractions, the groups of crowds can be quite distracting and a lot of tat is being sold on route to the display halls.  It is probably better to visit earlier in the day for a slightly quieter experience, or to head into the halls at lunch time when most of the Chinese are eating.  Putting the annoyances aside, this is one of the rarest discoveries of its kind in the world, and is worth the effort of visiting.  Make sure you take a trip to the internal museum for a quieter view of one of the warriors up close. 

Entry is 150 yuan for access to the 3 pits, museum and cinema showing of how the figures would have been casted (this was closed when we visited). The 306 bus will take you there from outside Xi’an main train station and costs 7 yuan for a 1 hour journey.  Plan for a half day to visit the site.

The terracotta warriors guarding the Emperor

The terracotta warriors guarding the Emperor

 

Cycle The City Walls

Standing strong since 1370 are the old city walls of Xi’an.  Built during the Ming dynasty, the rectangular shaped wall stretches for a lengthy 14km around the oldest part of the city and can be enjoyed all year round by tourists alike.  The elevated walkway on the wall makes a welcome break from the hustle and bustle from the city below, and is surprisingly peaceful with lots of space to stretch your legs and view the contrasting skyline; old vs new sitting side by side.  It is possible to walk the entire circuit in a leisurely 4 hours, or for a funner experience opt for bike hire, either choosing from single bikes or a tandem.  We went for the tandem and had a great time cycling along the cobbled walkway, whizzing past temple-style buildings and up and down speed ramps! For a more magical experience, time your visit just before dusk to see the city by day and night.  Entry to the walls is 55 yuan and opening hours are 8am-10pm.  Tandem hire is a steep 90 yuan and single bikes are 45 yuan, both for 2 hours of rental.  Closest tube stop is YongNing Man station.

A fun couple of hours on a tamdem

A fun couple of hours on a tamdem

 

Soak Up The Muslim Quarter

One of the most exhilarating things to do in Xi’an is to visit the bustling Muslim quarter.  Once the end destination of the Silk Road, Xi’an became a multi-cultural hotpot and a strong Muslim community settled here many centuries ago, sharing their food, culture and religion with the people of China.  The area today is a network of busy market lanes and a hub for some of the best food we have ever tasted, a unique mix of Islamic and Chinese cuisines, creating a taste sensation for even the amateur food-lover. 

The streets are lined with women in decorative head scarfs selling their bites, rawly contrasted by the hanging carcasses of sheep which make the popular meat skewers.  There are hundreds of other interesting street foods to try including a sticky rice cake dipped in syrup, nut and seed brittle (which is being hammered into form right in front of you), slow cooked meat in a bap (which is a bit like the Jewish salt beef bagel), battered squid on a stick, fresh Islamic-style breads, fresh pomegranate juice and even battered banana!

Looking past the market stalls on the main strip, there are numerous restaurants where you can sit in and order a full meal.  If you find somewhere that offers milk soup then order a couple of bowls of the stuff because it’s honestly the most delicious thing you have ever tasted! Around the Muslim quarter is also a famous Mosque, one of the largest of its kind in China.  A trip into the mosque is 40 yuan and is one of the more peaceful places to visit in the city with Chinese style gardens out the front.  We would recommend visiting the Muslim quarter a couple of times during your stay to try a selection of foods, and we found it to be the most interesting place to visit in Xi'an.  Closest tube stop is 

The busy streets of the Muslim quarter

The busy streets of the Muslim quarter

 

Eat Zingy Noodles

Walk into this popular local Chinese noodle shop and you get asked one very important question, “large or small?”. That’s it, no extensive menu to choose from, no frills, no fuss.  Just one stand-out dish that they run all day long for hundreds of noodle-loving diners, for the bargain price of 15 yuan, and it’s even less for a small.  It’s a hearty hug in a bowl with a tiny punch in the mouth from the tongue-zinging Sichuan pepper sauce.  The noodles are home-made and come out varying in width, chunky to slightly less chunky, and are heavy fellas to pick up with chop sticks. Stir in the contents and you will find a secret stash of slow cooked meat, along with fried tofu and a number of tasty vegetables, with a sprinkling of peanuts for some crunchy texture.  On the table sits extra chilli sauce for those wanting an additional kick, and raw garlic cloves which locals munch down by the dozen.  This is a great place to come for a spot of lunch, local style, and this busy joint can be found on Jiqing Lane about half way down.

Those zingy noodles!

Those zingy noodles!

 

Climb One Of The 5 Sacred Taoist Mountains

A trip to the Huashan mountain was a love/hate relationship for us.  On one hand the jaggedly granite peaks covered in fauna are clearly spectacular but on the other there are few clear spots to view them from.  The mountain is known for being a religious Taoist one, but as far as we could tell there is no peace and quiet to be found.  The entrance fee for the day is nearly as steep as the climb up and you frequently get stuck in queues of hundreds of selfie-loving tourists, wondering up and down the steep staircases that run across the site.  When you stop to think about where you are, there’s no denying that the scenery is incredibly impressive and that the steep walking routes demand a sense of achievement after a few hours of struggling in the sun.  However, the authenticity that once was on Huashan mountain doesn’t exist any more, the world famous dangerous trekking routes have long since crumbled and have been concreted over with a network of safe and uninspiring stairs, and the subtle Taoist chants have been drowned out by the sound of sellers flogging tat. 

Perhaps a better way to enjoy the busy Huashan mountain would be to stay over in one of the lodges and to spend time trekking from peak to peak rather than climbing up and down.  Visiting on a weekday would be much more advisable than a weekend.  We will leave this one up to you to decide if you want to take up the challenge!  Entry is an expensive 180 yuan and a one way cable car to the North peak costs 80 yuan.  To get to Huashan, catch a bus from outside Xi’an train station which takes 2 hours and costs 36 yuan. You can get a bus back from the location it dropped you off at on the other side of the road.  A quicker route is to catch the train from Xi’an railway station which takes 35 minutes and costs only slightly more. It is advisable to book trains in advance otherwise you will be bussing it!

The view at the top of Huashan mountain

The view at the top of Huashan mountain

 

Need More Ideas?

There are many other recommended things to do in Xi’an which you will find in most guide books: The Bell and Drum Towers, a trip to the History Museum, The Big Goose Pagoda and Small Wild Goose Pagoda.  If you are looking for more options then why not try one of these first, or grab yourself a bike and explore the city.  There is also an interesting looking Antiques market just inside the East entrance to the wall which might be worth a visit.

 

Where To Stay

We would thoroughly recommend staying at Han Tang House Youth Hostel on Nanchang Xiang.  The rooms are well presented, the hostel has a great atmosphere where many travellers chat to one another and the staff are really helpful and friendly.  They offer a number of affordable day trip tours to attractions in the area and give a wealth of information on transport links and local eateries.  There is a beautiful leafy roof terrace on site where you can sit and relax, and downstairs is a cool woody hang-out bar that offers beer, cocktails, western food and coffee.  After 4 months of being on the road, this was our favourite hostel by far!

On the beautiful roof terrace at Han Tang Youth Hostel

On the beautiful roof terrace at Han Tang Youth Hostel

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Do you have any other recommendations for Xi’an? If so let us know in the comments box below....

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China - Top Things To Do In Xi'an, by Studio Mali
 

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Mongolia: In 10 Epic Photos

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This was a hard choice! We gave ourselves the challenge of selecting our top picks from a total of 165! There were many stunning shots we had to leave out but fear not, our favourites are shown below. We hope you like our photos, if you do please comment, share or pin! Thanks lovelies!

Amarbayasgalant Monastery Mongolia

1. Amarbayasgalant Stupe

Look into the eyes! The watchful gaze of a Buddha on a stupe at sunset. We picked this one because spiritual places always come alive at twilight and we hardly ever capture these moments. Just imagine the tranquil silence as you gaze on.


 
Mongolian Tour Guide Portrait
 

2. Undrakh 

Our beautiful guide Undrakh took our hands and led us across Mongolia. Not strictly a fact but she definitely knew her stuff and was big part of making our tour so memorable. She even taught us how to make Mongolian pasta.


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3. Western Nomads

This is what happens when you dress two westerners as Nomads, put them on horses and then ride up and down a mountain. The result, two gleamingly happy travellers who felt like cowboys by the end of the horse trek.


Sunrise at Khovsgul Lake

4. Sunrise At Khovsgol

So we had to leave our ger at 6am for this one but it was worth it. Trust us when we say there is no image processing on this image. Just the pure, naturally vivid, majesty of mornings dawn.


 
Hand painted woodwork inside a ger Mongolia
 

5. Ger Construction And Detail

A gers value is based not on material but the amount of detail in the paint work. This was the most detailed work we saw on a ger, sublimely detailed brush work photographed in the afternoon sun.


Mongolian nomadic family

6. Our Nomadic Family

Our driver randomly called in with this family who were about to serve mutton dumplings, it’s good luck to arrive for dinner. They fed us, doused us with vodka and allowed us to stay with them on the coldest night of the tour. Mongolian hospitality is unreal, we will never forget our night here.


 
Snowy ger Mongolia
 

7. Let It Snow

Four seasons in a day they said. They weren’t wrong, we awoke one morning to three inches. This only makes the ger and it’s wood burner more cosy and exciting to be in. Like being kids at Christmas.


Driving through the Gobi desert Mongolia

8. The Road To Gobi

We picked this one because there is nothing quite so scary, and so vast, as racing across endless desert on dirt tracks. This snap underpins the raw beauty of the Gobi badlands and respect for those who live in this environment all year.


Flaming cliffs in the Gobi desert Mongolia

9. Flaming Cliffs Of The Gobi

I’m not sure we can think of many better places to see the sun settle. Shafts of stark shadows transform the undulating ripples of ancient sea beds. Just watch out for dinosaur bones under your feet!


Riding camels in the Gobi desert

10. Camel Riding To The Khakorin Sand Dunes

For weeks we knew this moment was coming. Boarding these strange creatures and setting off across the sand was a once in a lifetime experience, we had to get a shot of White Lightening and Choco Pie in the top 10!


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If you liked our 10 Epic Photos Of Mongolia then why not check out our Mongolia Gallery Page....