Tag Archives: church

Delphi and Meteora

With the time off I get in Athens, it gives me a lot of chances to see more of Greece, so I decided to do an actual tour. I wanted to see some of the real history of the country, so Delphi and Meteora were a must do. Epic scenery and some great stories as well

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I booked through a website called GetYourGuide.com which was pretty good, their price was about 30EUR less than if I’d booked direct, and the company I went with was called Key Tours. It’s a two day tour, and the price included a stay in Kalambaka at the base of the Meteora cliffs.

img_20160816_093201012I was picked up, transferred, fussed around and faffed about until eventually I was on a coach heading up to Delphi for our first stop. The guide was an impressively knowledgable lady called Anastasia, talking almost constantly all the way out of Athens, and then from Athens the whole way to Delphi. Honestly it was very hard to listen to her talk for such a long time, there was just too much chatter that didn’t interest me, so I fell asleep. The service breaks were depressing tourist traps full of over-priced tat and rubbish food, but we didn’t get much choice.

img_20160815_122408611_hdrOnce we got to Delphi there was a little more fussing, then the group followed our guide on a rather uninspiring tour of a hugely inspiring location. The site itself is incredible, ruins of treasuries, a huge temple, a stadium and so much more, all built around the Oracle, on the side of a mountain. The views in all directions were wonderful, the valley spreading below us and the mountain peaks above, while the ruins showed how the ancient holy location functioned. The story goes that Zeus released two crows who would meet at the centre of the world, then hurled a rock down in that location to mark it for mankind. There is a fissure in the rock there, where sulphuric gasses rise from the depths of the planet, and they found that breathing this gas caused strong hallucinations. They would use a virgin, who sit atop the fissure, breathing the air and explaining what she saw (or just mumbling nonsense) and priests would translate this into advise and prophesy for the leaders of the various city-states. The most well known of the prophecies is the story of Croesus who was told that he would destroy an army if he went to war. He went to war, and his own army was destroyed.

img_20160815_123438774It was a holy location, so nobody lived there, meaning there are no remains of homes, just the main temple of Apollo and various treasuries, or gold supplies for the city-states. The location at Delphi meant it was close to the coast and accessible relatively easily by all. The formed a council of elders, and it was at this location they could make decisions for the entire nation. The Oracle features in several movies, including 300, which depict it as a truly mystical place – It’s unlikely to have been quite to fantastical, but the Ancient Greeks certainly believed in the power of Oracle.

img_20160815_162113848We missed the museum, which contained many of the statues and more delicate artefacts in order to get going towards Meteora. We did get a brief stop at the monument to the Spartans who died Thermopylae. A mighty spartan warrior stands atop a wall, with a carved depiction of the battle of the 300 against the immense Persian army. Since the water level has lowered the narrow passage shown in the movie is now much much wider, and would be impossible to defend with so few men.

img_20160816_085842672We switched out guide when we left Delphi, and I had been hoping that our new guy would make the journey a little better, with shorter talks about the most important sights, however he also decided to expel every nugget of information he could about the regions we travelled through, including a wonderful 20 minutes on a special cheese, 40 minutes of the plains of mid-greece and plenty more that I was more than happy to sleep through. I expect I missed a lot of the interesting and relevant information, but trying to concentrate was just impossible. We arrived at Kalambaka tired and drowse, but a reasonable feed and a stroll around cleared my head before bed.

img_20160816_090721228An early start meant we were on the cliffs before most of the tourists, and actually had a chance to view some of the very impressive sights of Meteora. The place is famous not only for the high cliffs rising out of the plains below, but also the monasteries and nunneries built upon them. Built by religious hermits who had been residing in the caves, the cliffs gave the monks the solitude to worship and act according to Gods will. Nowadays there are roads up there, and tourist crawling all over the churches and holy areas, so I imagine the solitude is less effective, but the idea of constructing entire buildings on rock outcrops and effectively inaccessible cliffs, back in the 11th Century is just unimaginable.

img_20160816_114643010_hdrWe visited two of the main complexes, and viewed one from the outside (it’s closed on Tuesdays) and each had it’s own charm, and was an impressive structure when you consider the challenge of building on the pure rocks. The views were possibly the most spectacular, although our guide insisted on teaching us about every mural in each chapel, which took up most of the time inside. I decided to skip out of tour to enjoy the location without being surrounded by other tourists, and there’s something about musty church air that makes me feel pretty bad (I must be a sinner).

img_20160816_094120506The trip home was long an uneventful, I tried to sleep as much as I could, I had certainly had enough of the guide. At least the ride was smooth and there was minimal faffing around.

I’d absolutely recommend the sites, they’re excellent, and good value for entry, but if you can find a way to see them without doing a tour do so. Greek guides have to go to school to qualify, and the school teaches them to talk as much as they can, for as long as they can, and it’s exhausting to listen to. I’m surprised they can still talk at all.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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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

Bath, Historical Town

Bath, down in the South-west of England is great town for those looking for a little more history, and the feel of a real English town

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Split into two main areas: the first is Southgate, a relatively newly built commercial zone with the usual suspects of high street stores, fast food and chain restaurants. It doesn’t have much to offer that any other town in the UK doesn’t with the exception of a couple nice little coffee shops and trendy bars, the rest of the town, further North is the real heart of the city. The old streets with charming little stores and cafes mixed in with the huge Abbey and Roman Baths, along with the Georgian architecture make for a very pleasant experience strolling through the area.

IMG_20150202_134029Bath has a lot to offer tourists who visit, from the obvious choices of the Abbey and Baths, to the luxurious Spa and the historical streets it also has several museums including the excellent Holburne Museum and the Jane Austen centre (even though she famously said she didn’t care much for the city herself). It’s worth taking a stroll up to visit the Royal Crescent and the Circus, with it’s impressive buildings (and another little museum) overlooking the park and the city below it’s a fantastic place to check out.

IMG_20150202_135859The Abbey is open all day during the week, but only at selected times at the weekend, but with a small donation you are welcomed in. It’s centre very impressive inside, with an incredibly high ceiling and huge stain-glass windows depicting the usual religious scenes. There statues inside add even more to the sense of grandeur, although the plaques on the wall brought the whole place to a much more real level, honouring those buried below the floors, and bringing a strange sense of community to the building.

The Roman Baths tend to get very busy during the summer, and at weekends, as this is one of the main reasons people come to Bath. If you’re lucky you’ll visit at a quieter time and be able to experience the Baths a little more privately. Although perhaps with hordes of tourists you may get a better sense of what it would have been like when they were first built. Not too expensive and worth a visit if you’re a history fan.

IMG_20150202_140131It’s not these attractions that really make Bath shine though, it’s the original old streets and parks that really shine out. With so much of the UK being diluted it’s wonderful to still find a town that feels so genuine. Of course with it being the South-west you can’t complete a day here without stopping for a Cream Tea, an English tradition. It’s simply English Breakfast Tea (we call it Tea) and a scone with jam and clotted cream. Make sure to put the jam and cream on in the right order, there’s some long running debates on this.

IMG_20150201_134814There’s not much in the way of clubbing here, but there’s plenty of nice old pubs, and more modern bars to keep you warm at night. The student population help keep some of the youthfulness around, although it’s fairly common for them to run of to nearby Bristol for a big night out. If you’re into music or theatre there’s usually something going on as well.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt11 – Hanoi

So on to the biggest city in the north of Vietnam, Hanoi. The second largest in the country, and the capital while the country was divided during the war.

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There’s two little areas within the city that have a few hostels in each, the first is home to the Infamous Hanoi Backpackers, and Central Hanoi Backpackers while the other hosts the Hanoi Backpackers Downtown; a fancy new build with impressive bar, the starting point of the notorious bar crawl that sucks in pretty much all western tourists under 30. The two areas are a little way apart, but definitely within walking distance although getting from the last bar of the bar crawl back to the first area is a bit of trek.

LeninI stayed at the Central Backpackers, but if you’re a bit of a party animal I’d recommend either of the others mentioned above. Both are run by the same people, are very western friendly and good places to meet other people. They constant run games and have fun little events for theitr guests, they also run their own tours, the Buffalo Run, which takes those that don’t know the real cost of things via a few stops down to Hoi An over seven days, and the much discussed Ha Long Bay Castaway Tour. This tour was something I’d heard about since Thailand, and the reviews are unbelievably mixed, from pure love to spiteful hatred. It’s the perfect trip for those that love to get very drunk and enjoy drinking games along with a bit of daytime adventure activities. I’ve heard horror stories that include the drinking of vomit, 6am shotgun beers, and forced drinking on those that could not handle it. I also heard girls complain that they were constantly sexually harassed by staff members. However, I have also heard people say it was the best weekend of their lives, so it’s a very divisive tour as far as opinions go. I choose not to go with them for two reasons; drinking to excess doesn’t appeal at all (as I’m straight edge I wouldn’t be drinking at all but being on a boat with those people would not be pleasant) and it’s at least two times more expensive than most other options. I have written up my Ha Long Bay Tour here (coming soon).

EntranceWe had arrived in Hanoi with a little bit of extra time because I wanted to apply for my Chinese Visa while in the city, you can read my article on how not to get your visa here (coming soon).

While in Hanoi I had a very pleasant surprise; bumping into a friend of mine that I had lived with in Melbourne for some time. Simply walking past a restaurant around the corner from my hostel I heard a call, and was very happy to see Andy. This made our evenings out very entertaining, as we have one main thing in common, and that’s the meeting and chasing of girls.

Hanoi has a few little bits and pieces to visit, so over the course of a couple days we visited several of them. The first is the large lake between the two backpacker areas which is also used as a giant roundabout. On one side there is a bridge to an island on which there is a quaint little pagoda. While not spectacular it is a very popular stop and is worth a quick look. The city is also home to many churches as well as small temples, so a tour of this is possible if that’s what you’re into.Ho Chi MinhThe Tomb of Ho Chi Minh is probably one of the biggest tourist draws I’ve been to, although we arrived too late to visit his body (something completely against his wishing when he died) the monument is very impressive. It’s something I wish I had seen properly and visited his body as well, although I’ve heard it’s rather disappointing an experience.

War MemorialThere is of course the obligatory War Museum, although this is more of a tribute than a complete museum and features just a few of the larger pieces in the courtyard of a small citadel style fort. Across the road from this is a statue of Lenin, a man who didn’t do too much for Vietnam directly, but apparently their love of communism was enough to erect the dedication. Finally is the old prison, which famously hosted John McCain the US Presidential Candidate.Hanoi Hilton Hao Lo Prison, popularly nicknamed the Hanoi Hilton is a very peculiar place to visit, and shows the way the Vietnamese will try to change history by showing us a rather false view of the Prison. The first part shows the horrific condition that the Vietnamese were kept in by the French Colonists, while the second displays the lovely conditions that the Vietnamese wish to show that American prisoners were kept in. This includes a rather basic but pleasant dorm room and lots of photos of US soldiers sharing happy times including having Christmas dinner and playing basketball. The Museum claims that the nickname Hanoi Hilton was because the conditions were so good. It is general knowledge that this is all propaganda and in fact the conditions for the Americans were similar to those of the Vietnamese during the French rule. Accounts of torture, and terrible conditions are rife amongst ‘guests’.

One Pillar Pagoda

The city has plenty of great walking streets with market stalls and shopping littering the sidewalks, so shopping is easy and often tempting, and you can get pretty much anything you could want there. Overall it’s a pleasant city to spend a couple days in, although it gets a little dull if you’re there as long as we were.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Religious Remains – Irish Religion; St Patricks, St Valentines & Christchurch – Blog for Jacobsinn.com

If the history of Irish religion is something you’re interested in, then Dublin surely is the best place for you.

St Valentines' Remains - Versestravel.wordpress.comAlong with the famous sight of Christchurch Cathedral, there’s hundreds of other little spots that can hold your fascination. The first of these is the resting place of St Valentines remains, the Carmelite Whitefriars Street Church. This is an impressive church in itself, as big as some of the cathedrals in Ireland. From the outside however it is somewhat more humble in appearance. Inside it offers an impressive and decorative hall, more modern than others but still a good photo opportunity. Part way down the hall is an alcove, which contains the remain of the romantic Saint in a humble display, a simple box contains the actual remains, which is held within an alter, above which is a statue of the man. There is a book in which you can write a prayer to the Saint. Asking any of the clergy about St Valentine will reward you with an impassioned talk on the history of his life and achievements.

St Patricks' Cathedral - Versestravel.wordpress.comSt Patricks’ Cathedral is not a far walk from Whitefriar Street Church, and with the park adjacent is a wonderful stop for lunch. It also allows you to get some good snaps of the Cathedral in more picturesque surroundings. It is a small charge of €5.50 for entrance but this allows you full access of the interior, and plenty more opportunities to get those snaps for the photo album. Again, the clergy and curators are incredibly knowledgeable and will jump at the chance to discuss their favourite subject. Depending on who you ask, you can get a full history of Dublin along with the story of the development of religion in the country.

 

Marshe's Library - Versestravel.wordpress.comJust around the corner from St Patricks is the Archbishop Marsh Library, a small but lovely little library containing many religious texts. With a cheap entry price, this is a quick and easy stop on the tour. The rooms that hold the books are stunning, lined with shelves, reminiscent of the long room in Trinity college. However this library is much smaller, and attracts much smaller crowds meaning a trip here feels like uncovering a hidden gem in the bustling city. The intimate surroundings and old wood finish gives it an almost imposing sense of gravitas and austerity.

Christchurch Cathedral - Versestravel.wordpress.comFinally is the ever popular Christchurch Cathedral, the most expensive at €8 and also the most touristy, but with access to the catacombs beneath the main hall, this is money well spent. The cathedral is one of the most impressive in Europe and one of the most important in terms of Irish Religion, with large stained windows and a lot of statues and shrines around the edge of the room. Then the catacombs add a significant amount of intricate history and interest to the trip. The guided tours are an excellent choice as you’ll learn a lot about the cathedral, and this sight in particular has a lot of history specific to it. It has ties to nearly all of the events that have shaped Dublin city as it is today.

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This is a wonderful tour you can do easily from Jacobs Hostel in a single day and even if you’re not so keen on Irish religion the sights are impressive and you will pass plenty other points of interest on route.

Benjamin Duff

Versestravel