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Rhodes, Island of Castles Pt.2

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

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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.

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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

Festival Season Pt.1 – San Fermin

San Fermin – often mistakenly called the Running of Bulls – is a week long celebration of a local saint the town of Pamplona in Northern Spain. It’s a lot more than Aussies running away, bullfights and sangria, so here’s how to make the most of it.

IMG_20160704_123832072_HDRThere’s two main parties of the festival, the opening and closing ceremonies – the closing is a rather more sombre affair, with candles and quiet respect before getting drunk, while the opening ceremony has an early start with short presentation from the town mayor, followed by an impressive sangria fight. The fruity wine concoction is thrown everywhere dying those fresh white clothes a delightful shade of pink. This is followed by a full day of music, dancing and celebration by all those attending. The town is half boarded up by this point, with many businesses closed up for the entire festival and others making the most of their location to sell cheap but tasty bocodillas (sandwiches) and hundreds of bottles of Sangria.

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There’s no bull run on the first day, just the opening, and a full day of parties, although it’s highly recommended to take a siesta at some point, the 8am kick off makes it quite a challenge to go through till late. There’s plenty of streets where the party is outside, but also a few specific bars that work well, NZ bar is a favourite certainly.

Once opening day is done and dusted, it’s on to the bulk of the festival. Each day 6 Bulls and 6 Steers (the floppy bulls) are released at the end of the corridor, comprised of city streets and wooden fences, to run to the bull fighting stadium. Most of the runners wait outside the town hall, ready to flee from the beasts. The start is marked by three fireworks, the first letting people know the gates have opened, the second meaning the first bulls have left the corral, and the last for the last bull out. It’s considered cowardly to run on the first rocket, so the crowd wait until they hear the hooves on the stone streets before running. From then on it’s a matter of survival – many people get injured each year, broken bones, bruises and scrapes are very common, with the occasional goring from a bull. It’s not uncommon for people to be killed. If you want to run, you need to get down very early, Busabout ships you in with plenty of time to spare. If you want to watch, you can pay for access to a locals balcony, which ranges from 20EUR up to several hundred, cram yourself into the streets and watch over the double layered fences or my recommendation is to head to the arena and watch it on the big screens. With cameras all along the course you’ll see the best of the action (and slow-mo replays) along with a couple thousand other fans.

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Once the bulls have chased those brave/stupid enough to run into the ring and left themselves, one of the most entertaining sections comes next. The crowd is allowed to leave the arena floor, but six more bulls are released, although much younger and with covered horns, to charge around the stage giving everyone another opportunity to risk live and limb for the adrenalin rush. After just a couple minutes the floppy bull is released to collect the young one. The floppy bulls aren’t dangerous, although the do have big horns, they more like the pace car at car races, keeping everyone moving along.

The run and arena fun is all early morning, from 8am, so afterwards it’s best to head to breakfast and back to bed again. If you’re on the camp site, you will have been woken up at 4.30am (and were probably still drinking at 1) so midday nap is not a bad idea at all. Then once evening rolls around you can watch a professional bullfight or hit the bars and work on tomorrows hangover. I personally don’t recommend the bullfight, while the running is certainly questionable as far as animal cruelty goes, there is no arguing about the fight itself. The bull is slowly injured and weakened before being killed by the matadors, there’s a lot of tradition with it all, but personally I would not want to pay money to support the fights.

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2016 was the last year that Busabout ran it’s San Fermin package, which provided camping, hostel and hotel options for it’s passengers. From 2017 onwards they will continue with their Hop on Hop off network, which goes through Pamplona, allowing people to make their own arrangements for the festival.

Berlin Pt2

Continued from here 

IMG_20151023_134700On my second day in Berlin I had a nice brunch near the hostel then decided to take a wander through the city, I came across the sad and now empty bear pit, where the cities mascot bears had lived until the last one was put down recently. The conditions didn’t seem very nice for them, so perhaps it is better that there is now nothing living in the enclosure. Exploring Berlin on foot lead to quite a few fascinating discoveries, and a chance to get a bit closer to some of the sights I’d seen on the bike tour. It’s a pleasant city to be in, and while touristy in some places, is spacious enough, and getting away from the main attractions mean the streets are quiet and calm.

IMG_20151026_141709Heading back to the hostel I joined the free tour up to the Sunday Flea Market at Mauerpark, the tour was fairly quick, just a quick intro before being left to our own devices to explore, shop and enjoy the goings on. The market is actually very nice, and with only a couple tacky tourist stalls there’s plenty more to find. Lego figures, car parts, furniture and home printed clothing seemed to occur quite often, along with plenty more curious items making the browsing a fascinating experience. The food strip in the centre is also very impressive, and with the wide range of options actually picking something to eat was a real challenge, from vegan and vegetarian through to freshly barbecued meats, and all different styles of world cuisine.

IMG_20151025_175951In the park next to the park, we were lucky to catch the very last Bear Pit Karaoke an amazing display of brave tourists and talented locals singing songs from all around the world. I was rather upset with the British entry from a couple of girls singing S-Club 7, especially after a couple of Americans managed to ruin Spice Girls just as badly, but with a much more positive audience reaction. The music ranged from the cliche, to the abstract and the talent ranged even more so. Some stand out numbers were the old local guy crooning ‘My Way’ in German, and the South Americans mumbling the whole way through ‘la Bamba’ A nightcap in one of the many bars near the hostel finished off the night nicely, and meant meeting even more Americans, who would have thought they’d be so many in Germany in November.

IMG_20151026_130152My last day was spent doing yet another free walking tour, this time the ‘alternative’ option. This was probably my favourite tour of the trip, with our amusing local guide coming out with some brilliant quips and really helping us to enjoy the surroundings. We saw pockets of Berlin’s recent history, and proof of the quick development of the city. A little back alley off a normal commercial street is filled with incredible street art of so many different styles, specific commissioned and planned pieces along one wall, while the others are littered with so many little pieces, it’s hard to tell them apart in places. There’s a couple of installations there as well, along with a couple little bars and an excellent book shop of the darker side of Berlin in the last couple of decades.

IMG_20151026_113950Exploring Kreuzburg we are shown famous pieces, and various examples of unusual styles of graffiti, including using a fire extinguisher, filled with paint to spray your name high onto a wall, Not always with the best results. There is a lot of cool little things in Berlin, many very small, but it’s incredible when you notice them, such creativity on almost every street. It’s also got a very positive attitude, with many people seeming happy just to in the city. A great example of this positive attitude is how the city dealt with the annual workers day riots, the solution was to organise a street party instead. Closing down the areas that usually suffered from rioting and introducing stages of various musical styles, allowing people to enjoy the city as they liked, and all for free.

IMG_20151026_151310Finishing in the Caribbean collective beach bar on the river, we tucked into some jerk chicken and other treats, it was a short walk over to the East Side Gallery, the largest section of the Berlin Wall still standing and home of many of the iconic street art images that Berlin is known for. The Gallery is actually huge, stretching over 1.3km, with artwork on both sides, there’s a lot to see, and while some isn’t amazing, there’s a lot of pieces that really can make an impact and a statement. It’s a shame that the wall gets such abuse from taggers and tourists, scribbling their names wherever they can. It would seem that the wall is due another overhaul soon, but it’s a shame that anyone would think it’s appropriate to deface these works of art. Certainly if they add new artwork or create something new then that should be encouraged, however when it’s simply another tourist scrawling their name over the art, then something should be done.

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From here it was only a short stroll back to the hostel, and then onto the airport to return home. Berlin certainly left an impression, and it’s a city I would highly recommend visiting, and one that I am looking forward to returning to soon.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Where Next?

I have some holiday time coming up from my new job, I should be able to get away for 9/10 days depending on how nice my boss is, so I’m thinking about Central/Eastern Europe

While I feel like I’ve done a decent amount of traveling, I certainly haven’t done loads (especially compared to some people) and one huge gap on my map is Europe. So, along with my aversion on spending £100s on flight tickets if I don’t have a lot of time, Europe seems to be the best choice.

I have a friend in Prague, who is willing to let me stop over for a night or two, so that’s on the list. But where else should I go? It’s tempting to try to head down to Croatia and check out the beaches, which will hopefully still be warm in October. Train seems to be the best way to get around over there, either with single tickets, or using an inter-rail pass, and then staying a hostels again, in typical backpacker fashion.

I need to do a lot more research on what there is to see and do in that part of Europe, and finding out which are the best airports to fly into and out of to keep costs down, while letting me see plenty while I’m there. I’m a pretty big adrenalin kinda guy, so it would be nice to get some action sports, or extreme adventure type activities in while I’m over there. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of European history, and a little more of the culture that has grown in that region of Europe. The UK is rather separated from all that, so it’ll certainly be an experience.

So, the plan: Find the things I want to see most, find the cheapest airports, find the cheapest route to see them all, find some hostels and get booking! Fun times ahead

If you guys have any helpful hints or suggestions I’d love to hear them.

EDIT: I have decided on flying into Berlin, and out from either Vienna or Budapest, either way I’ll see Berlin, Prague, Vienna and Budapest, in about 10 days. It would be nice to have a little longer, but I’m assuming this is all I’ll get, may have to cut one of them out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt6: Kampot Pt2

Continued from here

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DCIM100GOPROThe casino, the only part of the Chinese plan that seems to have been built, sits on it’s own looking rather weather worn and dated. It’s the only place that we found that sold food, so we had a little bite and marvelled at the bad interior design. The next is a part built hotel, a concrete shell that never saw any fixtures or fittings, rather ugly, but good fun to explore, and the views down to the sea are even better than from the Buddha. After finishing off the concreting so well, it’s so strange to have just left it there. There’s some more roads that head around the mountain top, open and quiet, so good for a little burn about, even on the little scooter I had. Finally there is a waterfall in a little dip, along with typical touristy gift shop. It was very dry while we were there, but judging by the size of it, a good amount of water would be flowing over the rocks when raining. Riding back down we got to enjoy the view all the way down, and with the engine off it was remarkably peaceful.

DSCN6712The last day in Kampot was spent with a Belgian guy and a British family climbing some of the Karst cliffs not far from the town. I highly recommend checking this out if you’re staying in Kampot, Climbodia was a great day out, and one of the best activities we did in the country Following the directions was good fun, but we did find the place (definitely got lost on the way home though). David, our lead guide was excellent, with some impressive knowledge both of the local area and the mountain we were climbing. Along with the rest of the Climbodia guides we had the complete package, with lunch, snacks and drinks included. The day starts with a nice easy climb leading to the Via Ferrata (assisted climbing) then an awesome abseil through a hole and down into a chute of rock.

DSCN6723The tour then heads right inside the hill, through some of the more picturesque sections, winding through tunnels and caves before working our way way up again. A cool section allows you to crawl through a tight gap then peer over the edge into a 100m deep chasm. After seeing that, wiggling away again was something of a relief. The final part after lunch allowed us to climb as we wished, taking on some of the traditional style climbing options, some that were pretty normal, although still challenging, and one up through the chute we had abseiled earlier which meant bracing your back against one wall then walking up the opposite, then juggling up and so on, certainly a new challenge and one that defeated us.

DCIM100GOPROKampot was a very cool place to visit and a great surprise. It would have been easy to spend more time there if only we hadn’t got to get into Vietnam before our Visas ran out.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Hevy Festival

Yesterday I came home, tired with my ears ringing, head still filled with the songs of bands I’d heard that weekend.

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IMG_20150815_191946Hevy festival in Port Lympne, Kent is a predominantly hardcore and metal festival, with a few exceptions. But it’s not the bands that make this festival such a wonderful event, but the community. It’s so small, with only three stages stretched out in a small field, it takes only a few minutes to cross the entire festival site, so you can see all the bands with no issue, but also you’re likely to see the same people an awful lot, which includes old friends and stalwarts of the music scene. It’s amazing to still visit such a place and see people you’ve known for years still loving the bands and loving the music.

IMG_20150814_122257The whole thing is on the grounds of an animal park, and not far from the nearest town, so a cheeky run into town for some breakfast, or a wander around the wildlife park (included in the price) is just an added bonus, and a hot meal is always welcome mid-fest. The weather held out much better than expected so the usual wellies weren’t necessary, although it’s always nice to see people trying to dance with them on. Hopping from band to band with friends is an excellent way to spend a weekend in the sun.

IMG_20150814_211124If you like heavy, alternative music I can’t think of an event I’d recommend more. And if you’re visiting the UK and want to experience a real alternative community, this is a side of British culture you won’t see anywhere else. The furthest from the loutish football lads you can imagine especially as the average age rises.

I’ll be back next year, until then…

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt2

Continued from here.

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Wanting a little less smoke in the air, I headed back to the mainland again, but this time wanted to stay down with some new friends in Otres beach, a couple of kilometres south of Sihanoukville. At first I was worried there would be little to do, but the community along the beach was incredible with groups clustering at the nicer bars, everyone friendly and welcoming. Most of the day was spent in and out of the water, enjoying food and drinks from the bars. I did get a little sick again, but alas no pumpkin soup to sooth me here. There were some awesome bars just back from the beach that would have live music, and the room I ended up in was above such a bar, a couple of times I spent the evening chilling watching the water listening to some odd music or spoken word.

DCIM100GOPRODuring my stay there one of the Sin-Ville bars put on an indie music festival, and as it was something to do, of course we headed down to check it out. Two stages, one more electronic and one mostly indie-rock, both kicking out plenty of noise meant there was a great vibe. It was mostly tourists out, so I imagine the beach bars were looking pretty quiet that night. Better music than usual and plenty of old favourites reminded me of old uni parties and nights out in the UK, and it certainly seemed to be doing a good job with the crowd, lots of happy people dancing away.
The last night in Otres was spent enjoying the monthly market/festival open evening event. It’s a large hall and courtyard filled with all the various little stalls from town, plus plenty more cool stuff, along with some live music and even some art installations (although quite different from a gallery) it’s partly a community event and partly for the tourists as it brings people together to celebrate the surroundings and indulge a little in the comfort of familiar people. It was very homely, with both locals and fresh ex-pats welcoming you to enjoy the atmosphere and experience what was on offer. Check out this cool article for more on Otres

DCIM100GOPROOverall Sihanoukville doesn’t offer too much as far as culture goes, but it’s got some great beaches and cool nightlife all for a pretty decent price. It’s the backpackers alternative to the overpriced southern Thai resorts. In fact you could compare it with the beach breaks so infamous in Europe, only much cheaper, much nicer, and a lot less kids. You might not get the luxury, but it’s still a damn nice place to spend a week or so. Otres is one of the few places I could imagine heading back to, the general atmosphere there is so much cooler than most, it could be a home, rather than just a place to party for a few nights until you’ve seen the sights and move on.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

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DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Where am I?

So a little personal update for you all.

I’m currently in London visiting friends and exploring a little more, I will soon be heading up North to Leeds for a week with Pre-Fit, then down to Bath/Bristol to see friends, then another week of fittings. After that, I’ll visit Cardif and Bristol again before I fly off to Tignes in the French Alps with Wasteland. I should be out there for at least three weeks hopefully four, before returning back to the UK.

I’m hoping to relocate more permanently to London, finding somewhere of my own to live and finding some kind of job to keep me in the black. I’m planning to save as much as I can, in order to travel some more soon, so first off I’ll be looking for bar work. But looking a little more long term it’ll be work within the Tourism industry, hopefully for cool independent company, but anywhere with a good attitude towards youth and adventure tourism will work well.

Eventually, I would like to start my own company ideally in South Africa, doing a similar thing to the company I worked for in Australia and New Zealand, however, until I save a lot of money, or find a very generous investor, that’ll be on the back-burner.

For now though, just happy to be able to keep travelling, and get some more snow time in

Benjamin Duff

@Versestravel

Update: Pre-Fit Delivery and Wasteland Ski

So you may know that I’m now working with both Pre-Fit Delivery and Wasteland Ski.

PFD is a company that works closely with Wasteland, fitting ski and board boots to the customers before they head out to resort, meaning that on arrival they’ll be able to pick up their boots in seconds rather than waiting ages in the cold and trying to find the right boots after a hellish long bus journey.

I started on Monday in Loughborough and since then have visited Sutton Bonington (near Nottingham) York and am now in Manchester to meet a colleague who will be driving us down to London for the Wasteland Head Rep training day. After that is the Wasteland 20th Anniversary party, which is on a boat on the Thames, followed by an afterparty up in Shoreditch. After a day off in London I’ll be heading all the way up to Glasgow to do the Scottish Unis for a week (Glasgow and Dundee at least) then to Edinburgh to catch up with some family before heading back down to London again for an interview with a promising company (I’m keeping that one a secret for now) And then another day off before I hit Bath for 5 days straight, so we’re expecting some parties and maybe even a bit of chilling there as well. As soon as I finish there, I’ll be flying out to France to work my first week for Wasteland Ski, in Val Thoren, one of my favourite resorts.

So, an exciting period of time for me ahead, and if the last few days are anything to judge by, it’ll be a lot of fun! I’m very happy to working with these people as well, a lot of friendly fun people and easy going too. I hope next year follows the same sort of pattern.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel