Tag Archives: central europe

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.

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Rome Pt.1

So I had another couple of days available, so decided a quick jaunt over to Rome was in order.

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I’ve never been to Italy before, but I’d heard good things about it, mostly about the food. But we all know about the history, at least some of it. The Ancient Romans, the Vatican and so much more, it’s really got a lot of the ‘big ones’ all in one city.

IMG_20151122_115213I took an evening flight over, and as always I was hopeless at finding my hostel on the public transport system. It’s pretty easy to get into town, and worth paying the extra for the direct train to Termini, the others don’t stop in the city centre, so you have to jump onto the metro. That said, buying a metro ticket for the length of your stay is a really easy way to save a lot of walking, valid on metro, trams and buses it means you can hop about all over the city. You can certainly see it all walking, but unless you’re an active walker, it’s easy to get sore feet from the miles you’ll clock up. I arrived at my hostel to find the friendly staff happy to help, and a room full of sleeping people, so I joined them.

The hostel was not IMG_20151122_120137very busy, and I didn’t meet anyone in the morning to explore with, so I set out alone, without any game plan to find somewhere for some food, and see what I could see. I found myself on Via Dei Fori Imperiali the pedestrian road that connects the Colosseum to Piazza Venezia past the Roman Forum. I close to take a right, and explored the area along with the ‘typewriter’ the magnificent Altare della Patria, and the Basilica di Santa Maria in Ara Coeli. I didn’t really know what I was looking at, but I was very impressed by the architecture of the buildings, both old and new, with some stunning designs and iconic views of the city, and back over the Forum. Inside the Basilica you start to understand why the Italian design has done so well, with incredibly delicate and intricate design and craftsmanship of all kinds to decorate the church. Certainly a good starting point, combining the ancient and the religious, two of the strongest influences over Rome, and certainly on the tourist industry.

IMG_20151122_143646From here I started heading toward the infamous Spanish Steps, which were unfortunately closed for renovations, but still quite a marvel to see. The Steps are well known as a meeting place, and at night quite an active spot for some socialising with a drink or two. It’s certainly known by the budget travellers as they can avoid bar prices and pick up some cheeky beers on the road. Again, the architecture of the area is quite remarkable, this time for the classical style, and the way Rome has blended so nicely from ancient to modern. From Spagna, down to the Piazza del Popolo is a short walk through some of the more commercial streets, and although busy it’s easy enough to enjoy the city. I can only imagine the hoards that gather on these streets during the summer months though, and I’m very glad I went at one of the quieter times of year. The Piazza is know for the huge obelisk in the centre and the twin buildings that make up one of the early gates to the city. You can walk up the hill from here to look over the city, and spot several of the famous landmarks dotted along the skyline. following the ridge of the hill leads back to the top of the Spanish steps again, from where there’s plenty to choose from.

IMG_20151122_151036I decided to save the Trevi Fountain for later in the day, and aimed at getting across to Piazza Navona, via a few of the churches and sights along the way. Through my rather improvised route I also stumbled upon the Pantheon, a spectacular temple again showing how ancient and modern worlds sit nicely within Rome. While it feels a little cramped in around the edges, theres enough space to appreciate the building, and getting inside was no bother (although I can only imagine the queues in summer). Inside it’s even more impressive with the high roof stretching up high above, it’s hard to understand how such a place could have been built so long ago.

IMG_20151122_152611Piazza Navona is a hive of tourist restaurants and souvenir shops, but the fountain in the centre makes it worth braving the square. Again Rome impresses with it’s design, and these walks just show sight after sight, with so much to see, and so many fantastic historic buildings along every street it’s hard to appreciate them all. If just one of these were in the centre of a modern city it would be a sight, but when compared to the massive tourist pulls in Rome they pale by comparison, which is something that could only happen in a city as impressive as this. The next stop was Largo Di Torre Argentina, a relatively insignificant section of Roman ruins, but home to a colony of cats who prowl the grounds seeking food and attention. On the way back to the hostel, to rest the worn feet and for a much needed nap I passed the horrendous crowd that was gathered around the Trevi Fountain. Truly a spectacle worth visiting, but not when you can’t relax and enjoy it. I made a note to come back later.

IMG_20151123_011810That evening I ventured to another hostel nearby to find some fellows, and did so. After a few drinks in some odd bars as we dodged the rain, we settled down with some takeaways outside the Colosseum. My first close look at the magnificent building was suitably impressive, and bigger than people had led me to believe, perhaps because they had been disappointed themselves. After a pleasant evening of easy conversation I headed home, back along Via di Forti Imperiali and back to the Trevi Fountain, which was much quieter and more peaceful. I spent some time relaxing and enjoying the incredible fountain built into the side of a building. I’m not sure what they do to make the water so gloriously blue, but it works. Strolling through the city gave me no worries, and despite the reputation for pickpockets I was happy not to have any trouble.

Continued here

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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

Prague Pt2

Part 1 here

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IMG_20151021_115145The next day I decided a walking tour might mean I learnt something about the sights I was seeing, so headed to town to meet the late morning one, only to miss it. From there however I decided to head to another part of the city and check out DOX the modern art gallery that had been recommended to me. The route there meant passing through another hill park, again with some great views of the city, and what I assume to be an abandoned rail-yard.

IMG_20151021_122244DOX itself had a couple of exhibitions, the main being ‘Brave New World‘ featuring art work based upon, and inspired by 1984 – George Orwell, Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury and Brave New World – Aldous Huxley. The general theme being the control of our personal lives by a totalitarian government, and the way we’ve started to slip into this society. From giant statues of Hitler, Stalin and more, to videos of Nazi parades, the pieces worked together to make a statement about modern capitalism and consumerism. A wall of TVs played a loop of adverts, originally designed to sell a product but now used to show us how our lives are lead by these sales pitches, selling lifestyles along with their products. Probably most spectacular was the floating construct, made of sheet plastic and built into tubes that could be crawled through, hung from the ceiling above the gallery.

IMG_20151021_155701From DOX I hopped the trams back into the centre, without much of clue which way I was actually going most of the time I had to jump on and off a fair amount, but it’s easy and you never need to wait long. Back in the city I managed to join the walking tour for a fascinating look around the old town and jewish quarter.IMG_20151020_152619You certainly learn a lot more about what you’re looking at with an experienced guide, and while a lot of people are put off by the free guides, I have always found them excellent, from Dublin to Berlin (see next blog) they work hard to be interesting and entertaining, as they work for tips. With a pre-paid tour they’re working for good reviews, while the free tours are working for their living, so tend to put a bit more effort in. I highly recommend them in whatever city you’re visiting (or even your own, you never know what you might learn)

So after a great little tour of churches, synagogues, clocks and plenty more old buildings it was time for a quick drink with some tour mates, and a semi-traditional Czech meal curtesy of my hosts parents. The next day was a simple choice of bus or train over to Berlin, but given the price difference, and that the bus had airplane style seat back entertainment it was an easy decision. After a few passport control stops I was in Germany, and headed for Berlin.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Prague Pt1

The other day I took my jaunt into Central Europe, visiting Prague in the Czech Republic and Berlin, Germany. With the exception of a couple of snowboarding trip to Austria, I had not explored this part of Europe, so I arrived with open eyes ready to soak in the sights and culture.

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First things, Prague is a stunning city, huge buildings everywhere in the city centre, and an unbelievable amount of history, from Medieval castles and Gothic churches it’s really very impressive. The city wasn’t attacked during the Second World War, so it didn’t suffer the damage that so many other cities did. One thing that is fascinating is that the ground floor of the city, was original the first floor. Due to years of floods the city, deliberately and not, has slowly buried it’s ground floor, so buildings are actually shorter than they would have been when built. This means there plenty of underground cellars, and some go pretty deep where the building was actually built with a cellar. There are a few places where you can see the original street level, and it’s amazing to consider that the ground has literally been raised throughout the city.

IMG_20151020_122054So first day I set about exploring, walking from the place I was staying, my lovely friends apartment in Prague 2, down to the river and towards Petrin Hill where I came across a very strange art gallery. Filled with the fairies and unicorn style paintings, but also modelled to match the artwork the gallery was a work of art in itself. Highly unusual, but fascinating and very cheap, so if you ever come across it (it’s better to find it by accident) you must have a look.IMG_20151020_125929Further up the hill are the walled gardens, another church and the mini Eiffel tower. The tower is well worth heading up, and with a lift up the centre is very accessible, although it’s a bit of a scramble at the top to get photos out of the few open windows. The views are excellent, the whole city stretching away from you in all directions.

IMG_20151020_135733From here it was a short walk on to the castle, past the tourist restaurants and through more original cobbled streets (this city isn’t much good for zimmer frames). The castle is a huge complex, with the Cathedral in the centre being the main attraction. It is almost unbelievable to think that such a grand structure could have been built so long ago. Entry is free into the church, although you need a ticket to go past the entrance area, but just from that you can feel the grandeur that comes with such an impressive building.

IMG_20151020_131659One interesting effect of the raised street level, and the old architecture of the city is that a lot of the buildings feel closed off, and rather intimidating to enter. Unlike the big windows and open doors of more modern cities, Prague has the opposite, and while inside may be warm and friendly, the giant buildings put out a less than welcoming atmosphere. Perhaps this was also due to the cold in the city in November. However that evening I certainly felt very welcome as I visited a bowling alley with my host and a couple friends. The bar across the road was also very friendly, with plenty of people having a good night.

Continued here

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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