Skip the lines at David and Duomo in Florence!Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

Did you really go to Florence if you didn’t see Micheangelo’s David and climb the Duomo? Because they’re the most sought-out attractions in this iconic Renaissance city, you can imagine how crowded these sites get. Why not avoid crowds and skip lines with the best tour in Florence?

Read more: Where to stay in Florence

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

VIP David & Duomo Tour – Best tour in Florence

We signed up for the VIP David & Duomo Tour with Walks of Italy, highly recommended especially for first time visitors. Small groups of no more than 15 people are led with an expert local guide who will whisk you back to the Renaissance era. The headset allows you to hear your guide even if you stray a little from your group.

What will you see?

  • Accademia Gallery
  • Baptistery
  • Duomo Museum
  • Duomo
  • Duomo Terraces
  • Dome of the Duomo

Tip: Make sure you keep your ticket stub so you can climb Giotto’s Campanile on your own time

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceKollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

What does the 3hr tour look like?

  • Meet with your guide and the rest of your group at 7:45am
  • Skip the line and enter the Accademia Gallery by 8am
  • Tour the Gallery and see Michelangelo’s ‘David’ in relative peace
  • Skip the line at the Baptistery and Duomo Museum
  • Skip the line at the Duomo
  • Get exclusive access to the Duomo terraces
  • Bypass all other tourists and climb the Duomo
  • Say goodbye to your guide and enjoy free time on the dome

Ishmael was our guide and he was fantastic. He painted history with such depth and passion, chaining each story and masterpiece with a great narrative arc. Each tile in the mosaic ceiling, each stroke in paintings, each curve in sculptures- they were all brought to life with his explanations. If only we had him as our history teacher back in school we would’ve aced the class!

The coolest part was being on the Duomo Terrace with no one else! We had incredible views of Florence and far into Tuscany without elbows jabbing us or selfie sticks poking our eyes. This is where we got an up-close view of Brunelleschi’s humongous brick dome (the largest in the world!).

We visited in early June, the beginning of the peak season. Lines snaked and wrapped around each attraction. Unlike AS I have 0 patience. I don’t know about you but I wouldn’t want to wait for extended periods of time under the blistering sun- or anywhere, really! It felt sooooo good to cross multiple velvet ropes throughout the day, bypassing massive crowds.

Read more: How to see Rome in 3 days

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceKollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in Florence

How much does it cost and how do I book?

You can book online. Prices start at $145.79CAD per person for adults, $141.18CAD for students (ages 13-22), and $136.58CAD for children (ages 4-12). Kids under 4 don’t have to pay! The meticulous timing, special access, and knowledgeable guides that make this the best tour in Florence.

About Walks of Italy

Walks of Italy offers tours not only in Florence, but also Rome, Venice, and Paris. For more information and current promotions, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - best tour in FlorenceDisclaimer: Many thanks to Walks of Italy for hosting our VIP David & Duomo Tour in Florence.  All opinions and experiences are honest and our own; we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

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Day trip to Predjama Castle and Postojna CaveKollecting Koordinates - Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Have you ever seen the ‘human fish’ or explored a cave castle? We checked both off our list during our time in one of our favourite countries: Slovenia. Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle are two historic sites not to be missed!

About Postojna

Located on the Pivka River, Postojna is a town in southwestern Slovenia that was once a part of the Holy Roman Empire. Today, it is home to two world famous sites brimming with history: Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle. Their cave systems are where the first research on karst topography took place, which are characterized by eroded limestone structures and underground streams.

Read more: Stay in Hotel Jama at Postojna Cave Park

Getting there

By train: The Vienna-Venice line runs through Postojna, with connections to Zagreb, Rijeka, Salzburg, and Koper.

By car: You can reach Postojna in less than an hour from Ljubljana, Koper, or Trieste. Allow 2 hours for Venice and Zagreb.

By bus: Intercity buses from Ljubljana, Koper, Rijeka and Nova Gorica will take you to the bus station in front of Postojna Cave. Check the current bus schedule for exact connections and times.

Note: Visitors with combined tickets can use the free shuttle transfer between Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle from July to September. 

Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Postojna Cave

Coined ‘The Queen of All Caves’, Postojna Cave was first discovered in 1818. It receives 5-7,500 visitors per day, reaching more than 37 million visitors over the past 2 centuries. While visitors can only explore the first 5km, the entire cave system stretches more than 24km.

An electric train transports you along a railway that has been around since 1872 for the first 2km. Continue your visit on foot through paths, tunnels, and bridges that are decorated with stalactites and stalagmites. Postojna Cave is the only underground landscape in the world that can be explored using an electric train!

At the end of the journey you’ll find an aquarium containing the proteus anguinus, also known as the olm or ‘human fish’. This blind creature is the largest cave-dwelling vertebrate in Europe, growing up to 40cm long. Its heart beats twice a minute and it can live up to 100 years old. With a diet consisting of small snails and crabs, the olm can go 10 years without eating.

Note: Please listen to the guide and TURN OFF FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY!! Some people just don’t care- I wish there was a way to fine these scums.

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Predjama Castle

Located 9km from Postojna Cave is the Predjama Castle. As the largest cave castle in the world according to the Guinness World Records, it has been perched up in the middle of a 123m cliff for more than 800 years. 

Half cave and half castle, Predjam Castle was home to Erazem Lueger, a Robin Hood-like knight in the 15th century. His castle was besieged but through a secret passage Erazem was still able to get fresh food and continue his daring deeds. Erazem’s fate was finally sealed when one of his servants betrayed him, revealing the castle’s only weak spot: Erazem’s washroom. A cannonball struck Erazem while he was on the toilet- what a shitty way to die, eh?

Live the life of Erazem as you walk through his bedroom, dining room, knight room, soldiers’ and servants’ quarters, dungeon, and torture chamber. A self-guided tour can easily be done with the informative audio guide that’s included in your ticket.

Tip: Allow 60-90 minutes to explore Predjama Castle.

Kollecting Koordinates - Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Image courtesy of Postojnska Jama

Useful tips & info

  • Prices vary depending on activities and attractions, check current prices and packages here.
  • You can visit both Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle in one day.
  • Make sure you’re the first group in Postojna Cave; it only gets busier as the day goes by.
  • Wear comfortable shoes and bring layers. It gets chilly inside the caves!
  • I can’t stress this enough- do NOT use flash photography as this damages the caves.
  • For more information and current promos, visit their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Disclaimer: Many thanks to the Slovenia Tourist Board and Postojnska Jama for hosting us. All opinions and experiences are honest and our own- we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

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Kollecting Koordinates - Postojna Cave and Predjama Castle

Exploring the City of Mozart with the Salzburg Card

So you’re planning your Salzburg adventure and want to make the most of out of your visit given only a few days. You might be wondering the same thing we did, “is the Salzburg Card worth it?” The short answer is- YES!

Salzburg, or “salt castle”, was once a powerful, independent country in the Roman Age. It was once referred to as the “Rome of the North”, given its wealth and affluence from the salt trade. Today, this baroque city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site characterized by its art and culture, historic center, and scenic surroundings.

Is the Salzburg Card worth it?

What is the Salzburg Card?

This card is your key to the City of Mozart. Available for 24, 48, or 72 hours, card holders receive free admission to every city tourist attraction and museum. You can also ride all public transportation for free! This includes the Festungsbahn furnicular, Monchsberg lift, Untersbergbahn lift, and Salzach River Tour. Additional discounts on cultural events, concerts, and a handful of excursions also apply.

Which card should I get? 

Because most attractions are open around 9 or 10am and close by 5 or 6pm , we recommend getting the 72hr card so you can see as much as possible. We were only able to tick off 9 of 29 freebies with a 48-hour window. The validity of your card begins with the first time it is used (i.e. 11am until 10:59am the the next day for the 24hr card).

Tip: You’ll get a handy brochure that details everything about the Salzburg Card at the time of purchase. Check the hours of operation and plan your routes and visiting times ahead!

Where can I get the Salzburg Card?

You can obtain the card from all hotels in Salzburg, tourist information offices in the vicinity, as well as the airport and HBF (main railway/bus station). Booking online doesn’t save you any money so just wait until you’re actually there.

READ MORE: Which hotel to stay in Salzburg

What are the must-see’s and must-do’s?

1. DomQuartier Salzburg: Due to its Roman Catholic influence, Salzburg was ruled by prince archbishops instead of kings. History comes alive at the former center of the prince-archbishops’ secular power, where you can tour the Cathedral and Residenz with a comprehensive audio guide.

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2. Mönchsberg Lift: The elevator takes you straight up Mönchsberg to a terrace offering the most beautiful panoramic view of Salzburg. This is a great vantage point to see Kapuzinerberg, Hohensalzburg Fortress, and Salzach (Salzburg River) altogether. There’s a also path through the forest that’ll take you to the fortress.

3. Hohensalzburg Fortress: You can either take the furnicular up (included in the Salzburg Card) or walk here from the Mönchsberg terrace. Apart from the stunning views, highlights include a fortress museum and medieval chambers, where you can get a glimpse of the courtly lifestyle of prince-archbishops. This 900-year old fortress also hosts the famous Salzburg Fortress concerts.

4 & 5: Mozart’s Birthplace and Mozart’s Residence: We’re usually not big on museums but Mozart’s Birthplace was meaningful to AS and I because of our background in classical piano (how our relationship blossomed in the first place!). The Mozart family lived here for 26 years from 1747 to 1773, when they moved to what we know today as the Mozart Residence in Makartplatz Square.

You’ll see a collection of portraits, original certificates and letters, sheet music, and items of everyday life from the 18th century. Mozart’s own violin and clavichord are also on display. The exhibition transports you back to the days of this child prodigy- it’s a must for all music and history buffs!

Note: No photography is allowed in the museum!

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6. Salzburg City Cruise: Hop on a speed boat and check out Salzburg from the river. Starting from the Makart Bridge, cruise down the river for 8km before you arrive at Hellbrunn landing. Once there, a shuttle will take you to Hellbrunn Palace within 4 minutes.

7. Hellbrunn Palace and Trick Fountains: Marvel at the summer residence of Salzburg prince-archbishops, get soaked by the trick fountains, and snap a photo at the famous gazebo from the Sound of Music. The palace courtyard and old driveway turn into a festive Advent market during the Christmas holidays!

8. Stiegl-Brauwelt: Check out Austria’s biggest private brewery, learn how Stiegl beers are made, and pick up fascinating tidbits about the world of beer. At the end of the tour, you’ll get to sample 3 different beers and walk away with a goodie bag (a canned beer, crackers, and a Stiegl beer mug).

Tip: Come just before lunch or dinner and enjoy your complimentary tasting flight with their delicious food!

Kollecting Koordinates - is the Salzburg Card worth it 17Disclaimer: Many thanks to Tourism Salzburg for providing us with Salzburg Cards and a city tour with Salzburg Experience. Our experiences are opinions are honest and our own- we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

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Viewing London from 800ft above the groundKollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 11

With fewer than 24 hours to spare, we were on the hunt for the best view of London. We saw a few of London’s famous sites from the ground level the last time we were there. This time we kicked it up a notch and saw London from the 72nd floor!

The Best View of London: The View from the Shard

At 800ft above the ground, The Shard is Western Europe’s tallest building. It’s the only place where you’ll be able to enjoy 360-degree panoramic views of London, all at once. These views stretch for a whopping 40 miles! The View from the Shard is London’s twist on ‘Where’s Waldo’, where visitors find and spot London’s most iconic sites including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Tower of London, London Eye, and Buckingham Palace.

There are two bars, allowing you to enjoy London’s stunning skyline over a drink or two. A glass of Champagne Lanson is included in your entrance fee when you purchase the Champagne Experience. Whether you’re visiting from abroad or a local looking for a fancy night out, there’s no better place to see the best view of London. The Shard even offers a private proposal service!

Our visit to The Shard was graced with clear skies and amazing visibility for great photo ops. It felt like the platform was swaying at times but it was probably my mind playing tricks on me since I’m terrified of heights. Anything for the ‘gram, though, right?

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changing elevators at level 33

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bar on the open-air skydeck

free audio & visual guides available in different languages on level 69

Tips on getting the best view of London

  • Use a polarizing filter to help suppress glare and reflections.
  • Take advantage of the free audio and visual guides; you can find these on the 69th floor.
  • It can get chilly on the open-air sky deck. Layer up if you’re not visiting in the summer time.
  • The ‘Day & Night Experience’ dual entry lets visitors experience London’s skyline both during the day and at night.
  • Book in advance to save money!
  • Don’t miss the washroom on the 68th floor- toilet views don’t get any better than this!

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 9

Other tips and info

  • Tickets are £15.95+ per adult and £9.95+ for children if booked in advance, or £20.95+ per adult and £14.95+ for children if booked on the day
  • The nearest tube station is London Bridge
  • Summer hours of operations are from 10AM – 10PM all week. Winter hours are from 10AM-7PM (Sunday to Wednesday), and 10AM-10PM (Thursday to Saturday).
  • For more information and upcoming special events, check out their official website, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages.

Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London 11
Disclaimer: AS and I received complimentary media passes for our visit. However, all opinions and experiences are honest and our own, and we wouldn’t recommend something if we didn’t love it ourselves!

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Kollecting Koordinates - Best view of London

Plitvice Lakes National ParkKollecting Koordinates - Plitvice Lakes

Croatia’s largest national park is also one of the oldest national parks in Southeast Europe. Whenever I see photography of Plitvice Lakes, I think to myself: “Okay this has GOT to be photoshopped. There’s no way a place can actually look like that in real life.” Boy, was I wrong!

Our original plan was to enter the park as soon as it opens the following morning to beat the rush. When we checked the weather forecast after checking in at our Airbnb in Plitvice, it wasn’t looking pretty for the next day. It was supposed to rain! Our other option was to go right away. We looked at the time- 4pm. The sun was going to set in just over 2 hours, but the trail we wanted to do requires 3-4 hours to complete. That meant we had to somehow complete the circuit double-time. Feeling ambitious (and dreading the rain), we quickly changed and ran to the ticketing office at entrance 1.

Plitvice Lakes

View from entrance 1

It actually turned out to be a really good time to visit the lakes as tour busses and day trippers were just about to leave. Even though we visited in August (high season), we didn’t experience any over crowdedness that we’ve read about in other people’s blogs. This was a huge relief because some parts of the trail are pretty narrow. I can’t imagine how claustrophobic I’d feel if they were packed with people!

Plitvice Lakes National Park is truly a magical place- straight from a fairytale. We picked Route B, which starts at Entrance 1, through the lower lakes, and across lake Kozjak on a ferry. A shuttle then took us back to Entrance 1.

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Plitvice Lakes

You can see the moon!

The sun had just set when we exited the park and we were starving. We stopped by Licka Kuca on the way back to our Airbnb for dinner. The service was subpar with mediocre food, but they had live music which was a nice touch. (It was also the only restaurant on our walk back so it’s not like we had other options)

Even though our afternoon was a bit rushed, it was still an amazing experience. We’ve never seen anything this beautiful before; it was a little hard to believe that the park is real. Do stay the night when you visit Plitvice Lakes National Park. The little residential areas around here are very lovely. There is no light pollution and you can see stars shining brightly on a clear night!

Plitvice Lakes

Beautiful waterfalls at dusk

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Kollecting Koordinates - Plitvice Lakes

Bai Tu Long Bay cruise with Indochina JunkKollecting Koordinates - Bai Tu Long Bay

We originally wanted to sign up for the 3d2n cruise around Halong Bay. Unfortunately the sail schedule didn’t work with our dates. Instead, we did the Bai Tu Long Bay cruise on a newer, more luxurious boat: the Dragon Legend. Out of all the cruise companies, we chose Indochina Junk based on their reviews. It’s slightly more expensive but you get what you pay for.

It was cold and gloomy when we visited in December. While we didn’t get to swim in the bay, we got to see this beautiful UNESCO site in another light. The limestone formations were extra serene against the  breeze and drizzle.

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the itinerary

Day 1: pickup from hotel – embark and check in at Hon Gai harbor – set menu lunch on board – cruise to Vung Dang / Cong Dam area – kayak (it was too cold to swim in December) – dinner – relax

Day 2: Tai Chi on the sun-deck – breakfast – explore Thien Canh Son Cave – kayak – check out – lunch – disembark – puppet show at Yen Duc village (we slept on the van) – arrive in Hanoi

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Approaching the Dragon Legend from the smaller boat

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Set-menu lunch with a view

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Beautiful cabins with a in-suite jacuzzi tub

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Delicious set-menu dinner

pho with squid we caught ourselves

Pho for breakfast of course! With squid we caught the previous night!

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the verdict

the not-so-good:

  • our driver on the way there wasn’t very friendly
  • WiFi wasn’t working in our van on the way there (the cruise manager made an effort to correct this and put us on a van that does have working wifi on the way back, so kudos!)
  • the shower drain doesn’t really drain. Water collects at the opposite end and makes a little flood outside because there’s barely an edge. We had to turn the water off every few minutes (mid shower so it’s freezing!) to kick the water over to the side with the drain. That really didn’t do anything because it’d start to flood as soon as we turned the shower back on.

the good:

  • There were literally no other boats in sight on our route along Bai Tu Long Bay. This made the whole experience extra special and intimate
  • I hate long drives, but the 3hr ride to the port and back wasn’t even bad! Their luxury vans are very comfortable and are equipped with WiFi
  • Excellent service by all the crew members!
  • The cabins on the Dragon Legend are massive and beautiful, there’s even an in-suite jacuzzi tub
  • Wide variety of delicious food and drinks; everything is super fresh
  • Squid fishing wasn’t included in the itinerary but our crew invited us to do this at night. This was so much fun!

The 2d1n cruise on Indochina Junk’s Dragon Legend was an unforgettable experience. Bai Tu Long Bay is much quieter; we recommend it over the more well-known and popular Ha Long Bay. Hopefully they’ve fixed the shower drain problem by now!

Bai Tu Long Bay

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post; these are my own honest opinions:)

 

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Kollecting Koordinates - Bai Tu Long Bay

 

Thoughts: Tiger Temple and Muang Si Elephant Village

We hired a guide to drive us out to Kanchanaburi as a day trip. This is where the Bridge over River Kwai, Tiger Temple, and many elephant camps are.

Disclaimer: We were uneducated about these so-called animal sanctuaries before signing up for this. Sure, we had our doubts, but the Youtube videos we watched that were shot from foreign volunteers’ perspectives about the Tiger Temple made it seem pretty legit. We also didn’t know that there are multiple sanctuaries in the same area. Had we known, we would’ve have gone to Muang Si. Wanting to have close encounters with these animals and help with the conservation of them at the same time, we decided to go with it.

bridge over river kwai

After a 3hr car ride we arrived at the Bridge over River Kwai that sits along the infamous Thai-Burma railway. The construction of this railway took the lives of over 100,000 Asian civilians and Allied prisoners of war in WW2, giving it the name Death Railway. Today, the train still runs on the tracks (with pedastrians walking right beside it!). We were short on time but if you get a chance, do take a train ride and take in the tragic beauty of this place.

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tiger temple

As we drove up to Tiger Temple I started feeling uneasy. I didn’t like the giant statues they had at the entrance. Why were these useless structures built when the funds can be used towards caring for the animals?

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We were led into a cage to play and bottle feed the cubs. These guys were only a few weeks old- they were so adorable!

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At this point we relaxed a bit because the foreign volunteers seemed like they genuinely care about the animals. If this place was shady, why would they spend months, or even years here? (So we thought, anyway)

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I was too scared to be anywhere near anything bigger than the size of my dog so I stayed back while AS played with older cubs in another caged area. He said that even though they were considered as babies, they were extremely strong so it still hurt when they pawed and pounced on him.

Before leaving, we passed by a valley where the fully-grown tigers were. This was when the guilt kicked in. Staff led tourists one by one to the tigers for photo ops. Every one of these tigers was chained and obviously drugged up. They just lied there, motionless. I wanted to leave immediately. It was too sad.

muang si elephant village

The first 30min where we went for a ride through the “jungle” felt really odd. It wasn’t even really a jungle, plus the metal hook our mahout used looked really sharp! He never once stabbed the elephant but it must’ve been used extensively in taming or breaking these giants. While I didn’t know how much the riding seat weighed, I can’t imagine how having that strapped around you with 2 human beings on top can be comfortable. My dog doesn’t even like wearing clothes!

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The second part we really enjoyed. We went on a bareback ride where we got to splash around in the river and give our elephant a good scrub.

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The best part was feeding her bananas in the end. DSC06397

I really liked this picture but after carefully studying it, is our mahout doing something to the elephant’s ear?

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thoughts

There’s a lot of talk about how we should avoid these animal sanctuaries at all costs. It’s true that there are a lot of horrible camps that abuse these creatures, but for every shady place, there are others that genuinely care and are ethical. All of these places preach about conservation and preservation of these animals; some animals may not be able to survive in the wild on their own. They, and their animals included, would suffer without financial and social aid from the tourism industry.

While all the tigers looked healthy at the Tiger Temple, they were clearly sedated. If the adult tigers at the Tiger Temple were able to roam around freely in that valley, it would be a better place. If Muang Si removed elephant riding, and instead just have bathing and feeding sessions, it would also be a better place. Both places need to have info sessions where volunteers and staff educate visitors about these animals.

Like many people, we wanted to have close encounters with these animals. However, we made a mistake of not doing our homework before signing up for these activities. It wasn’t until after we returned from our trip that we dug into how these places are run and how elephants are ‘broken’ or tamed (which is extremely cruel, by the way). Don’t let those hardcore activists stop you from visiting these places, but do you research beforehand. Don’t make the same mistake we did. If you aren’t happy with the standards when you get there, leave and spread the word so others know.