Monthly Archives: June 2016

Monaco – making a day of it

Recently I had a little time off in Nice on the Cote D’Azur in the south of France. While Nice is a beautiful town with lots to do, I was drawn away to explore Monaco the tiny country only a short bus ride away

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Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, only 2 square Km, ruled by the longest standing monarchal house in Europe, the Grimaldi family, and is home to some of the richest people in the world. It has an impressive residency policy, with applications costing $100 million US dollars, and the final vote coming direct from King Albert himself. Many celebs have tried and failed to gain citizenship including 1/2 of U2, Tina Turner and many more. Successful candidates included James Bond actor Roger Moore, British F1 driver Jenson Button (along with plenty other drivers) and various Tennis stars notably Rafael Nadal.

Getting to the country is as easy as going to the shops, simple hop on the train or the bus. The bus 100 heads all the way to Menton via Monaco, and is just 1.50EUR for a single ticket. Take the bus through Monaco, past all the sights until place de le Moulin (just remember where the castle stop is) and then you can head back through town to catch the bus back without doubling up.

IMG_20160620_161846564The city is not as expensive as is thought, it was only 1.20EUR for a croissant in the little bakery we found, and although there’s plenty of opportunities to spend, it’s easy enough to avoid. So grab a bite and wander along and down towards the sea. There’s a good few car showrooms around, so depending on your route you may find Maserati, Ferrari, Rolls Royce and more. At the bottom you’ll find the Grimaldi Forum, and next to it the Promenade of Champions, and the beautiful Japanese Gardens, along from here you can walk up to the famous Monte Carlo casino, or through the tunnel, well known to fans of the Formula 1. If you want to see both, it’s definitely better to go through the tunnel, then take the subway near the far end which has elevators up to the Casino above.

The square in front of the Casino is grand enough itself, with enough fancy cars and luxury suits to satisfy most playboy fantasies, but when you step inside the casino foyer itself you’ll understand what the fuss is all about. While it is banned for the citizens of Monaco (known as Monegasque) to gamble, the casino pulls in thousands of visitors a day, many of whom are the high rollers we all wish we were too. The country actually built much of its success on the strength of the casino, and it’s used to raise funds for the government in place of taxes. You can enter the lobby for free with no clothing restrictions, however if you wish to gamble, you’ll need a collared shirt and to pay the 10EUR entry. This is just the common people area though, and to get through to the real luxury you’ll need to be dolling out a lot of cash.

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There are a few shops nearby to nose through, all of the high end fashion labels, and a few high street stores have set up camp, but don’t worry about those, as the view as you continue along the main strip is far more impressive than any handbag. Overlooking the marina you can spot those poor people who can only afford a super yacht. These days mega (over 65m) and giga (over 100m) yachts are the real deal and have pride of place in the central port. Walking around the marina will lead you to the path up the hill to the palace, where you’ll find the traditional guard standing to attention and another epic view. Also at the top is the marine biology centre, which features an impressive public aquarium and the church where Hollywood starlet Grace Kelly married Prince Rainer III. It also happens to be where they are buried, and often mourned by the locals.

If you fancied extending your day, heading down the Menton, or jumping off at Eze en route would be good options. Otherwise, enjoy the oppulence and relax.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Bled, Slovenia

IMG_20160525_135358522Why Bled?

A little pre-season time off gave me a chance to explore one of the new East Loop daystops, something I’m very glad to have done.

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Staying with Jani and his family at Jazz Bled Hostel is an absolute pleasure, they are so welcoming and friendly it makes you feel right at home from the moment you arrive. The hostel is clean and tidy with an excellent kitchen and even a playstation if the weather turns sour. Luckily for me though, we had gorgeous sun for the whole of the trip.

IMG_20160524_120839125The first day we took a trip over to Vintgar Gorge, a beautiful canyon cut through the hills by centuries of water flowing from the Julian alps. It’s only 4EUR entry, and it’s easy to get a shuttle from the town, so well worth the trip. The path winds through the gorge on wooden walkways, which don’t spoil the view at all, in fact they provide some pretty cool photo opportunities, there’s chances to get down to water level as well, and taste the fresh mountain water. The river itself is a series of pools, waterfalls and rapids, each turn providing a fresh view, and another unmissable snap. On the way back you can head through the gorge again, or venture along some of the lesser tracked paths through the triglav national park. Navigation isn’t so simple, but all paths lead back home

Back in Bled the lake has plenty to explore, you can take a boat over to the church on the island for 14EUR per person. This is no motor boat, but one of the locals rowing the traditional boats across, which is quite a distance depending which end you jump on at. The church is an extra 6EUR to enter, but isn’t that special, however the bell tower is included in the price, and the views from the top are pretty spectacular. Don’t feel like you’re missing out if you don’t climb it though, the view from the island in every direction is awesome.

IMG_20160524_175213186_HDRLastly we chose to climb up to the castle, a good uphill walk of about 15-20mins depending on how fit you are. The views from inside are again great, but if you want avoid the 10EUR charge (the castle itself won’t blow your mind – but the view from the cafe might) head around to the right of the building. There’s an iron fence here that you can follow until you see a path on your left – climbing this will give you the best views that I found of the lake and the island. If you climb a little higher you’ll find the old secret entrance, although these days it’s locked tight – no sneaking in. You must be careful if you do decide to try this out though, once you leave the iron fence there’s no protection so watch your footing.

Day two we decided to explore the rest of the Triglav National Park – the 3glav Adventures tour wasn’t running, but we used their itinerary and built our own trip – although to add canyoning and rafting into our day would have really made it incredible.

IMG_20160525_111841305_HDRStarting the day we drove around to the north side of the park, entering from Kranjska Gora and starting the winding road up to the pass. Soon after was the first stop Jasna lake, not huge, but the calm water meant you could get an excellent photo with a reflection of the snow capped mountains in the distance.IMG_20160525_115412501From here the road winds alpine style up the pass, and with each corner another jaw dropping view. Stop 2 had a little more history, a wooden church built in a russian style – dedicated to the Russian prisoners of war who built the road, and died in the process. While it’s only small, it’s a poignant reminder of how the road came to be, and the life style of the people in the region before they were connected. On the way up there are plenty more places to stop and take a photo, or have some lunch, little restaurants are dotted about, or you can take a picnic. If you’re doing it with 3glav, then lunch is sorted for you.

IMG_20160525_142200704The top of the Vrsic pass offers even more views, down into the valley on both side of the saddle. and from there it’s back to the alpine road, hairpin corners and all. The next and possibly my favourite stop was nearing the bottom of the valley, the source of the Soca river. it’s a 15min rocky climb up to the waterfall which is pretty impressive by itself, but dare to climb the via ferata (be careful if you do), you will be rewarded with where the river simply appears from under a rock. A sheer rock face, with a glowing green pool at the bottom, which quickly flows down to the waterfall just below. The water here is sweet with minerals, and having a taste is a must, but really all you’ll want to do (once you’ve got your snaps) is just sit on the side and relax, marvelling at how awesome nature can be.

IMG_20160525_153847477_HDRFrom here the road chills out a bit, running along the bottom of the valley, next to the turquoise grey Soca river, there’s still plenty of chances for pics here especially at the Boka falls – another short rocky climb up the side of the valley, this time however it’s not possible to get close to the source as this waterfall is over 100m high, coming from an underground network and straight out of the side of a cliff. The viewing platform is enough however, providing a wonderful view of the intense waterfall.

IMG_20160525_170039578Our penultimate stop is another contender for my favourite, the Kozjak Waterfall is an easy and relatively flat walk, about 20mins from the carpark. There are sections of walkway that have been built to provide access to the final grotto, a dark and brooding place filled with the spray coming off the powerful falls. It is here I decided that going for a swim would be a good idea… after wading through the river to the pool my feet were already numb with cold and I was shivering, but after some ‘encouragement’ from my fellow travellers I had the quickest dip of my life. My breath was short, my muscles tense and every part of my brain was telling that this was a bad idea. Thankfully the warm slovenia sun soon dried me off and warmed me up. I’d recommend it only to the brave (or stupid).

IMG_20160525_164614955_HDRThe last stop of the day was another lake; Bohinj. Larger than Bled, and equally as pleasant to the eye, the town has plenty to do, but we stuck with dinner, enjoying some proper Slovenia schnitzel and chevapchichi before heading home to get a well earned rest.

Busabout

Well I’ve been rather busy lately.

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I decided a while ago to apply for a few positions as a guide as I wasn’t overly satisfied with my work at Flight Centre. I wanted to get back to the source of the travel, to be truly involved in making peoples holidays, talking to the people having fun, not just booking their flights. Of all of the positions I applied for, it was Busabout that I wanted most (although a position in Africa was pretty tempting as well). The Hop-on Hop-off style is how I would want to travel Europe, with a guide to help out, but no restrictions time wise. With so many cities visited in so many countries, it allows you see the best of Europe, and gives you the tools to see the rest of it as well. Plus the coach gives people a chance to meet new friends, much more sociable than the trains.

I got through the interview process with a hastily written presentation on Barcelona FC, and wowed them with my one on one, which meant I got invited to join the 7 week training trip – visiting every city on their loops, through 14 countries in Europe. So I handed in my notice, packed up all my things and hit the road again.

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It was a gruelling 7 weeks of coaches almost every day, rushing around cities to find out as much as we could, bike tours, pub crawls, cooking classes, boat trips and much much more. There were some late nights, some stressful situations but I felt it was all manageable, they tested me, but I never felt like I would fail. Once I got into a routine of having everything prepared a day before, I could hop up and give a talk on cities and countries I’d never even been to. It was a lot of fun in fact, meeting so many like minded people, learning huge amounts about European history and every city on our network. Now I’m sure all my friends will complain about the constant barrage of facts.

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Then as the end was in sight, they told me I’d be flying off to Greece for an extra 10 days of training on the Greek Island Hopper adventure product. While I was craving some rest, I jumped at the chance to educate myself in Greek gods, mythology, and how to avoid sun burn when it’s 40+ everyday. As we experienced the product I learnt how much fun it would be, parties every other night and some beautiful islands to explore.

I am now happy to say that I am employed by Busabout as a European Guide, and have started with my first sector just two days ago – Munich to Paris with just 10 passengers. Tomorrow I will be hitting the road with many more, heading to Amsterdam. Time to brush up on my Dutch history.

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I have to thank all of the trainers who helped me prepare for this, pushing me to my limits, making sure I’m ready for silly questions, difficult questions, and everything else they can throw at me. Here’s to a wonderful summer in Europe.