Tag Archives: backpakcer

Download Festival

I’ve been to plenty of music festivals in my time; Weekenders like Reading, Hevy, Beautiful Days, Buddha Fields and even the tiny Plymouth Festival, plus a load of one-dayers such as Hit the Deck and Slam Dunk, but this was the first time I experienced the biggest specifically Rock and Metal fest in the UK.

IMG_20170609_191453

Going with a couple of mates, we drove in each day, staying at an AirBnB nearby rather than paying the same amount for the pleasure of sleeping in a field. While it takes away from the fun festival vibe a bit, as gentlemen of our age it was a lot more comfortable.

IMG_20170610_125558We arrived to join the long queues to get our wristbands on the first day, sadly missing the first band we were hoping to catch. However once in it felt much like the usual festival affair, a fair stages scattered over a couple acres of land, littered with food stands between and the usual mix of hippy or gothic clothing stalls. We were there for the music though, and were quickly watching the bands hit the stages. There was a reasonable distance between each area, but with the RAW wrestling tent in between at least we had something to giggle at as we walked past.

IMG_20170610_190541For me, the smaller Avalanche stage was the best, with a nice variety of heavier metalcore, post-hardcore, pop-punk and new wave emo bands to keep me happy. The main stage obviously hosted the bigger of the bands, with an interesting mix throughout the day, mostly hard rock and straight up metal. The second stage seemed to be more strictly metal bands of various descriptions. It’s always entertaining to find a brutally heavy metal band that are chatty and friendly between songs, the Swedish seem to be pretty good at this, with both In Flames and legendary Opeth cheerfully bantered with the crowd.

IMG_20170610_222439As far as best bands of the weekend a few really stood out. Steel Panther certainly put on the best show visually, with close to a hundred girls on stage to party with them, while their chat between songs was on point. Probably not for everyone, with the crude nature of the jokes, but to raise a laugh from an audience of that size is impressive. Moose Blood put on a great show, as did Basement, a couple of English bands who have revamped the emo/pop-punk/rock scene with a fresh attitude and new approach, a departure from the auto-tune and backing tracks of many scene bands recently. The King Blues put on a good show with a new bunch of musicians, but it was the legendary big bands that really made the biggest impact. Prophets of Rage, System of a Down, Biffy Clyro, A Day To Remember, all smashing their sets on the main stage.

IMG_20170611_181018There were plenty more that were seen, but that missed the mark as far as my tastes went, but what was most interesting was the people there. I’ve always stayed clear of the metal genre, finding it a little trite and contrived to really enjoy, but metalheads, especially those past their teenage years are genuinely very sweet people, there were no fights or issues with anyone, and it was very nice to see everyone there just getting along and enjoying the music. Despite the line-up featuring some pretty un-metal bands, there was no rivalry or animosity between any of the festival goers and the atmosphere was very positive, which I think was helped massively by the pleasant weather.

The line-up each year has always been borderline for my tastes, a few good bands, but not usually enough to make me want to pay the full price to go. However with the Busabout season looming it was the only festival I was likely to get to go to, and I’m glad we decided to go. Overall, not as mind-blowing as some of the other fests (RIP Hevy) but still highly enjoyable overall.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Rhodes, Island of Castles Pt.2

So after a couple hectic days in Rhodes, I was ready for a couple more.

img_20160829_121028910

img_20160829_114812380My hotel was definitely average, but nice and cheap, and provided a pretty decent breakfast. Enough to get me back on my quad and on the road again, this time heading south to the very end of the island. Prasonisi is an island connected by a huge sand bridge, which doubled as a huge beach area, popular with many water sports. The opposing directions of the two shore lines meant that one side was much choppier than the other, giving the myriad of kite surfers and windsurfers a nice progression on their door step. The island is bare except for a small lighthouse on the far side. The main path across is pretty busy with tourists, but it’s easy enough to stray around the outer paths and find some tranquility.

img_20160829_135549918_hdrAnother castle was next on the list, again free and pretty cool to explore. There’s no information, no security and no cleaning, so expect it rough and ready. Asklipeiou castle sits on a hill a few miles inland and commands an impressive view over the countryside. You can really get a feel of what it might have been like in the times it was built, with the Lords controlling the landscape from their fort, either protecting, or dominating the locals.

img_20160829_135631677_hdrRain stopped play when it came to exploring Vouno Kalathos, along with the complete lack of signs and infrastructure. It seemed like the kind of place you’d need to go with a local who can show you how to get down to the lake without too much diffeculty. Certainly google maps wasn’t going to suffice and the rain inland while riding a quad didn’t go so well. Heading back to the coast (and the sun) the southern peninsula was navigated to get around to Lindos.

img_20160829_161236896Lindos is the end of the tourist strip that stretches from Rhodes town along the south coast, and it shows. The prices for most things are almost double and every building is either a shop or a reastaurant, all cashing in on the locations popularity. A popularity derived entirely from the grand castle on the cliff. It’s an impressive building, far larger than the others but also the first to charge entry. Some serious reading up later we discovered that the inside was a recreation and had very little original on display, that along with the 12EUR price tag was enough to make it a no thanks.img_20160829_150012390The cliff path around the outside of the castle is one for those of sure footing only, and even then not recommended, steep drops and loose rocks made it very dangerous – although if you are going to adventure around, take your camera. The beaches nearby are crowded, but very picturesque, especially Agios Pavlos nestled into a secluded little bay, well protected from the sea, and ideal for swimming.

img_20160829_173428210With plenty more driving to do, the next target was the castle in the town with our accommodation, Archangelos. Again this castle was free, but un-cared for, and compared to the others was really unspectacular, just a simple fort not special. The town was split into two, the main part on the hill overlooking the coast, and the other at the bottom actually on the beach. The beach side was nicer than the touristy areas surrounding it, but still had a vibe of tackyness, there to make money out of the summer trade rather than a real town. Archangelos main town was the exact opposite, only ever driven through by tourists, and even then rarely. Which made food options a rather interesting choice. The room was basic but comfortable, and with the limited Wi-Fi the only restaurant nearby was Mamas Pizza. It turned out to be pretty good, and seriously good value as well.

img_20160829_173615165

The last day involved a very early morning, the journey back to Rhodes Town, leaving at 6am to make it to the port for an 8.30am ferry to Kos. Driving along the bypasses of the party beaches, seeing the odd straggler still drunkenly fumbling their way home was a delightful distraction from the road, and it made us very glad to have not been spending any time on those tourist traps.

Overall Rhodes was very impressive, so many castles and interesting and beautiful sights to see if only you take the time to explore. If you’re there for a flop and drop beach holiday I can highly recommend renting a car (much more comfortable than a quad) for a day or two and having an adventure. Especially to Monolithos – that place is something truly sensational.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Busabout

Well I’ve been rather busy lately.

IMG_20160405_183455776_HDR

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.

IMG_20160424_125941492_HDR

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.

IMG_20160429_141209142_HDR

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.

IMG_20160427_185555264

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.

Vietnam Pt12: Ha Long Bay

Ha Long Bay is one of the big draws to Vietnam, for all types of tourist, from the cheapo backpackers through to rich Russians on private boats.

Ha Long Bay

There are an unbelievable amount of options to choose from, and a thousand different places to book them all. Each shop works with different boats, and trip suppliers. What confused me from the start was that the agent would show you a boat, tell you that you’ll be on that boat, and then tell you it leaves everyday – for a 2 day trip. It’s all just awful, and the corruption and bullshit is worse than anywhere, even Bangkok.

The crewSo after wandering around trying different agents for a while we picked a guy we kinda liked, and booked as a group – there were about 7 of us in total – to get a big discount. Although I have come to suspect that a big discount is not a discount at all, they’re simply selling you a cheaper package, possibly at a higher than usual price. There’s no way to know where this money is going, or that you’re getting what you paid for.

BusySo we get picked up, along with a whole load more backpackers for the bus down to Ha Long town, and meet some cool guys on the trip (which would have been so much worse without them) and assume we must be on the same boat – we’ve paid about the same and are doing the same length trip. We arrive at the Port, and are left standing in the bus park for at least an hour, after a little while our new friends are called away and put on one boat, and a bit longer after that we are taken to our new home. It’s not amazing, to say the least. The rooms are all doubles, so I’m sharing with Nico again, and the facilities are pretty standard cheap Asian. However, we weren’t expecting luxury (even if the pictures were a lot nicer!) Upstairs is the dining room, and on the roof a sun deck with some broken loungers and umbrellas.

cavesThe weather wasn’t great, so the sights were a little spoilt, but the caves were very cool, although that was an extra charge we hadn’t been told about. Not as spectacular as some of the caves I’d visited previously, but still worth a look. I also enjoyed the Kayaking, although a guide around the village would have been appreciated, we were just pointed in the direction of some cool rocky bits, and left to it.

The ViewsThere was also a lot of travel time, sitting on a slow boat heading out to the part of the bay that is so nice. Surprisingly we didn’t see any of the nice sail boats that are always used in the adverts for Ha Long Bay. I can only assume they start closer and spend the nights in the nicer parts of the National Park.

The best part was playing drinking games in the cabin in the evening, and then after a sneaky bribe to their captain the boys from the bus joined us for a bit of a party. More drinking games and some drum n bass kept us going pretty late until their captain insisted on returning to their anchorage. Speaking to the boys it seemed as though they’d done the same as us that day, and their boat was pretty much the same as far as standards.

Our troubles really began on the second day when we realised that quite a few things had been stolen. A pair of real Nike trainers and several amounts of cash had been taken from bags on deck. There were only a few crew members and the travel company rep on board during the thefts, so we tried to insist that the crew compartments were searched, but with no luck. The crew mostly hid away and the captain was belligerent in his refusal. On speaking with the rep, he explained that the crew and boat are hired, basically on a first come first serve basis, using whichever boat is ready at the time, so they have no responsibility for the actions of the crew, or if the boat is horrible.

It makes me think that the whole area is run as a total scam, overcharging for ‘upgrades’ that mean nothing and treating guests like cash machines. The customer service was terrible, the food was disappointing and overall the trip was a waste.

However on route back we bumped into some people that had gone out for the three day trip, who told us they had had no troubles at all, and that the food and service was excellent. They had paid a lot more than us, but in hindsight it may have been worth it just to get a meal that didn’t leave me hungry.

Booking Ha Long Bay is a minefield, I’d suggest booking through an agent at home, but you’d likely end up spending four or five times as much money and potentially ending up with the same thing. At least that way you can complain and get a refund. With the local agents you have no chance of that happening.

Cave

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel