Tag Archives: city

Rhodes, Islands of Castles Pt.1

Using a bit of time off from the Busabout Greek Island Hopper I visited Rhodes, one of the largest of the Greek islands, closer to the Turkish mainland than Greece but only a short (and cheap) flight away from Athens.

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I arrived in the morning, and immediately jumped on the bus into Rhodos, or Rhodes town. Not much to see out the windows but fairly average looking beaches, but once I hit the town thinks started to look up, it’s not hard to find the incredible old town here, it encompasses about 50% of the area. My hostel was only a short walk from the bus stop, but I got distracted by the nearby sights and started exploring.

img_20160827_111807627The old town is surrounded by Byzantine city walls, two layers of thick brick structure used to defend the town throughout various periods, through the Christian Crusades and Turkish Invasion as well as during the time it was built. Inside the walls is a maze of alleyways, blissfully free of cars and surprisingly few nagging salesmen desperate to have you look at their wares. It’s clean and tidy, while still holding it’s ancient stylings. The Road of Knights is a popular stop, the curving street that arcs gently up to the Grand Masters Palace.img_20160827_114452347_hdr My highlight inside was the Roloi Tower, for 5EUR you can climb inside, and you get a drink included as well, I think it’s a rather hopeful attempt to encourage people to use their bar, but it’s not a bad place at all, and the tower offers some great views of the city.

img_20160827_124425180Surrounding the central section, between the two walls is the Tavros, the moat that attackers would have had to climb into before reaching the main castle walls. It’s impossible to imagine the loss of life in that huge manmade canyon, but taking a walk through is both poignant and beautiful. It’s possible to walk the entire length, or just parts of it, and it’s well worth doing. Surprisingly quiet despite between sandwiched between the two parts of the city.

img_20160827_161144616Mandraki Port is worth walking through, further fortifications can be found here and explored for free, but also the port entrance has some nice statues framing it which make for a good snap. From there you can explore around the sea front to the beaches. While I was there I found that the wind was blowing from the north, making the southern beaches much more pleasant. On the North-Eastern tip of the island is the Aquarium, fairly highly rated, but not on my list of things to do.

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After dropping my bags at the very pleasant STAY hostel, I decided to make the trip up to the acropolis. It’s clear when you get there why it’s not as famous as the one in Athens.img_20160827_170444189The stadium is impressive, but the temple is all but gone, with just four pillars remaining along with a lot of scaffolding. Perhaps in a couple years when whatever work they’re doing is complete it’ll look a little better, but for now it’s not worth the walk up the hill.

I enjoyed a nice evening at the hostel, they hosted a Greek night, which was a little redundant for me having been in Greece for the last couple of months, but it was good to meet some fellow travellers and experience the whole backpacker vibe again properly. The hosts certainly did a good job and provided plenty of food.

img_20160828_104718076Day two involved jumping on my rented quad and heading out for the first of my many pinpoints along the North coast of the island. Filerimos was the first stop, a monastery at the top of a hill overlooking the coastline, and plenty of the inland as well. A huge cross was accessible for free, and making an impressive photo point, but was also placed at a great lookout.img_20160828_105055829_hdrWorth the drive up for that alone, but for only 6EUR I entered the Monastery site as well. Relatively small, and clearly not used any more the Monastery was pretty, but not overwhelming, however on the far side was another Byzantine remnant, a small fort built up on one of the higher cliff faces. Again, great views from here, and some interesting architecture but nothing that would blow your mind.

img_20160828_135002542Next location was a little more inland, and as it was through a valley I decided to take the scenic route, heading further south and nipping up to it. The Valley of Butterflies can be entered from a couple of places, I would recommend starting at the bottom so it’s downhill on the way home, of course I started at the top and had a long climb to get back to my vehicle. The Valley was 5EUR entry, but is very peaceful once you enter, the path winds it’s way down through the lush forest, although it may take a little while to realise why it has it’s name. There’s only the one type of butterfly in there, however once you spot one, you’ll recognise it’s camouflage and start to see them everywhere. They rest on the floor and on trees, and blend in so well with the dirt and bark.

img_20160828_134807389It creates quite a lovely atmosphere with so many of them flying past here and there, and the occasion mass movement from a hideyhole where they explode like a slow-mo party popper. There are some spots which were really overwhelmed with the creatures, trees and rocks covered so thickly that you couldn’t see what the bugs were sitting on. There is a little stream that flows through the valley as well, and in a couple spots where it was more rock than mud, you can spot some fresh water crabs, standing is still as possible, clearly waiting for the chance to snatch a butterfly from the air. I watched for a little while, but of the five crabs I could see, not one even moved, let alone caught some food.img_20160828_141436419_hdrAt the main entrance is a little cafe and info booth, although there’s really not much info there at all, and if you continue further down it’s much of the same, with less people. The walkways are well built and family friendly, although I wouldn’t trust someone too old to make the walk back up.

img_20160828_153804383Kameiros was everything that I had wanted from the acropolis but hadn’t got. The site was large, well presented and showed a settlement of impressive size that provided remarkable facilities to it’s residents considering the age of the place. Fresh running water was provided to all homes, and a clear hierarchy within the town is still visible, with the larger richer houses along what would have been the main roads, while others were tucked behind.img_20160828_155216443_hdrIt’s fascinating to walk through homes so old and to really begin to understand the lives of these people. The remains of the temple at the bottom of the hill was a centre point for the town, while a second at the top added another altar. It’s possible to note the era that certain parts were built, and to explore the baths that used to running water, along with a surprisingly technical series of pipes to provide hot water and steam to cleanse the locals.

img_20160828_170751927_hdrNext up was the first of the little castles I was due to visit over the next few days. With a pleasant cafe, and a well kept path leading in, Kritinia was one of the more complete structures. Most of the main walls were standing, but a few collapses had been tidied up and made safe, without any major reconstruction work spoiling the aesthetic. The views from here were amazing, many an instagram photo to boost the likes and gain a few extra follows as you gaze out over the winding coastline and the distant islands fading into the mists.

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img_20160828_184758730_hdrThe last stop for the day, after dropping my bag and quad off at the hotel was the castle of Monolithos. Not much of a castle, but it makes up for it with it’s location, perched on a cliff with sheer drops on three sides. Only accessible through a short path up from the road, which locals and tourists alike have decorated with hundreds of small cairns, piles of rocks built from the loose stone all around. Makes for a rather pretty walk through, and then on reaching the pinnacle there were many many more. The location reminded me stronger of the monasteries at Meteora, although this just had a small church and some fortified walls which were well crumbled away. The best thing about it, as the point on the north west of the island, was the sunset. I reached there with about half an hour to spare so had enough time to explore and snap away, then as the sun actually set just sit and appreciate the pure beauty of it all. The colours in the sky, and the fact that the sun was setting over pure ocean (something that Santorini can’t claim) along with the incredible setting made it an excellent end to a busy day.

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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

Berlin Pt1

Arriving in Berlin was fun, I had hardly any idea where I was, and I’d forgotten to do any research into where my hostel was, how to get around or basically anything at all. Thankfully the Berlin transport system, and a cheeky bit of roaming data got me to my hostel (after a nice detour to where google maps incorrectly listed my hostels location). Just in time to meet some other travellers for dinner and an early night.

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IMG_20151023_102205We’d planned the night before to hit a cycling tour, and as I still had no idea what to do, jumped onto this. Another slight problem meant my phone alarm was slept through but again the efficient German public transport system did me proud and I barely missed a thing. With Berlin being the size it is, I was very glad we did the bike tour, the same distance on foot would have taken well into the evening. In fact the bike tour is a great way to get a feel of the city, and thanks to the routing you don’t see anything more than once. Our guide was a friendly guy from New York, who did a great job educating us as we rode around, and we got to see all of the historic German highlights in a single day. It felt good to tick so many off, even though I ended up walking past many of them again later on the trip. It’s also nice to have had the tour, and actually understand what you’re looking at.

IMG_20151023_162146It was great to see the sites of so many historical events, and it certainly adds a certain realism to the idea that such things happened less than 100 years ago. Places like Checkpoint Charlie, which are now tacky tourist stops are incredible when you realise the transformation of such a significant landmark. As the guide quipped you can see who won the war by looking at the shops around – MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC etc – Capitalism won. Other locations are less spoiled, places like the Reichstag (Government) building, or Bebelplatz the University courtyard that hosted the monumental book burning by the Nazis with it’s thought provoking tribute under the ground.

IMG_20151024_141240We also cycled through Tiergarten, a large park to the west of the city centre, which broke up the tour, and gave us a rare chance to see such a part of Berlin. It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re craving some greenery it’s well worth a look. It’s also host to the Berlin Zoo, which if you’re a fan of Zoos is supposed to be one of the best in Europe.

After the tour we decided to check out the Topography of Terror, a history of the Waffen SS and Military Police used by the Nazis. While an amazing piece of history, it only covers that one specific topic, not deviating into the war in general, and it has a lot to read, which makes it rather dry, and trying to get through it all becomes something of a chore later on. Just read the bigger signs or you’ll be in there for days.

IMG_20151026_114828We joined the bar crawl from our hostel that night, which was interesting as we were pretty much the only folks on it. The guides were nice though, and some of the bars were very cool, although we did start and end in some pretty rubbish venues. The eastern end of Berlin has two districts fighting to be the coolest, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the bar crawl was in the northern of the two (Friedrichshain) and I was impressed by the alternative style of many of the bars and clubs. Hearing music from NOFX and other punk-rock bands was very cool, as was the friendly and laid back attitude of many of the venues. The live gypsy-folk band in one of the bars was very entertaining as they got the audience bouncing and dancing with some very odd moves. Overall the crawl is not worth it for the drinks, but having a bit of structure and going to a nice variety of bars (and one terrible club) was pretty cool.

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

Laos Pt1: Luang Prabang

I left Thailand from Pai, taking the slow boat into Laos, a popular way to across into the northern end of the country. You’ve got to get lucky with this boat, as the people you meet are likely to be your friends for the next couple of weeks.

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DCIM100GOPROSo getting the bus and boat over and into Laos is ok, don’t expect luxury, and don’t expect much fun, it’s all very basic and the ‘slow’ part is correct. The bus over to the border is pretty standard, after which you do all the visa stuff before shipping down river to the town to sleep your first night in Laos before the second half of the boat ride. Don’t get duped into spending any extra money on the hotel at Pakbeng, they are desperate to eek every penny from you, and don’t care about what happens to you down the line. Those that paid the extra wasted money on rooms hardly any nicer, even if the one I slept in ranks in the bottom 5 of rooms I’ve stayed in. It’s an early start the next day, but the little town you stay in is not nice, and I was glad to see the back of it.

DCIM100GOPROIt’s a good thing you’re going down river otherwise the boat would hardly move at all. The views are pretty good as you go, but it’s not enough to keep you from getting bored for 5 hours. Find somewhere to sit, near some people the same age and that speak the same language and prepare to learn everything there is to know about them. Thankfully my crew were lovely, and we bonded quite nicely, mostly English with a couple of exceptions. With the hard seats and no chance to nap, we were all grateful to reach Luang Prabang and head to our hostel – Lemon Lao/Spicy Lao. The hostel was supposedly started by the same guy that ran the ‘spicy’ hostels in Thailand, it was rather clear why he’d given up on this one (if he really had anything to do with it). While the staff was lovely, and most of the place was pretty chilled out a friendly, it was freezing cold. There were only a few rooms with windows and doors, and those that did were loose or broken, which wouldn’t have been a problem if it wasn’t winter and very cold at night.

DCIM100GOPROLuang Prabang was actually a great little city, with some lovely French Colonial architecture and the whole town had a strangely European feel to it. Excellent markets and some some great bars made it a nice place to spend a bit of time, just be a little careful of the table football sharks, they’ll let you win a game, then start betting and win so easily.

DCIM100GOPROThe best bit of the town is the waterfalls nearby, the first day we checked out a complex which has plenty of falls and one area that has featured in a thousand Facebook profile pics. Kuang Si Falls has a beautiful green water pool, and a great waterfall flowing in that makes it just perfect for posing in swim wear. There’s also a rope swing that has plenty of people queuing to use it, but it’s all very friendly, and there’s lots of people having fun, so the ‘Oooohs’ from the crowd when someone belly flops in is quite impressive. Of course there’s a few trying flips and things, but mostly everyone is just happy to be there. Thankfully the sun warms the water nicely, and the cold of night is long gone. This site also had a little bear sanctuary, and being a big fan of bears I found this rather pleasant. Of the zoo style places I’ve seen this seemed to be one of the nicer, with no metal cages and plenty of space for the animals. Apparently all of the bears here have been rescued from farms or zoos, so support the charity and help some of these awesome creatures

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was a another waterfall network, Tat Sae Waterfalls, not so great for swimming and diving, but we still found plenty of spots. The most fun at this one was finding the highest place we could jump from. Certainly lots of adrenalin pumping as we clamber up platforms and over rocks to the high perch, only to plummet straight back down into the water. You need to be careful where you land though, the depth isn’t obvious and I’m sure it would be very easy to hurt yourself if you mis-placed your jump.

DCIM100GOPROOne of the most interesting things about Laos is that they have a curfew, everybody must be home by midnight, so everything shuts at 11.30. There is one exception, which was the bowling alley. The tuk-tuks line up outside the  bars in town ready to take westerners out of town to the mythical bowling alley, which continues serving until the last people leave. There’s not much music, and absolutely no atmosphere, but the venue serves it’s purpose – allowing tourists to keep drinking. After a couple of games the novelty wears off, and people start drifting home, only the hardcore and the desperate stayed very late here.

The food here has a outstanding mix of French and Laotian influences, so it’s possible to find crepes and croisants along with noodle and rice dishes, just be aware that if it looks too nice, the price may be too much. Some good views from the town across the Meekong make this a much nicer introduction into the country than the previous stop.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

DCIM100GOPRO

Copenhagen Pt:2

Continued from here

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IMG_20150920_134521Day two we woke late and decided to get the tourist bus around the city. It’s a great way to get around, and the snippets of commentary offer a little more insight into what you’re seeing. Riding around past the ‘black diamond‘ and plenty of palaces we hopped of at the eastern end of town to explore the royal docks, and the residence of the royals Amalienborg. On the way back to the Kastellet, we ventured into the design museum and got a good sense of why Scandinavians are so good at making cool looking chairs, the ones on display certainly looked cool, but I don’t think they were all that comfy. Some cool exhibits on display made it a good stop, and worth a quick look, especially with the CPH Card.
IMG_20150920_140808The Kastellet was home to a ‘walkathon’ that day, with a mini festival going on inside, and despite the fascinating shape of the moat and fortifications, there’s not too much to see there. So again we wandered along the waters edge, and through some of the excellent parks that are dotted about the city. Certainly it’s hard to go long without either seeing some water or greenery, which is something I really appreciate in a city. We walked all the way around to the Rosenborg Castle, which is home of the Crown Jewels, but arrived just before closing time, just enough time for a quiet drink and to meet up with a good friend.

IMG_20150921_142518Dinner that night was on the other side of town at Copenhagen Street Food, the imaginatively titled home of pop up stalls and authentic street food vendors. Similar to efforts in other cities the venue offers a huge range of cuisines and all of it looking fantastic, between us we had mexican, texan and asian, all of which was excellent. The location on the south side of the main river gives some excellent views and opportunity to enjoy the last of the evening sun. Before dark came in though, we headed back into Christiania to get a bit more of a feel for the area after our fleeting visit. Actually sitting and having a drink there lead to some interesting experiences, and the chance to see some of the locals in the home. Definitely not somewhere to take your Nan.

IMG_20150921_140839Our last stop for the night was the Meat Packing District, which over the weekend offers some excellent restaurants, and then morphs into a massive party area, with bars and clubs spilling out into the open central area. We were there on a quiet Sunday night, so just a few bar snacks and a couple more drinks before bed. I would like to come back again, just to experience this area properly, it came across so cool, even when mostly shut down.

The last day was spent doing a little more of the bus tour, mostly because we were too lazy to walk to the start of the boat tour. The trip around the canals was excellent, and as a tourist activity one of the best, giving a new view of many of the sights we’d seen walking through town. The tour guide was excellent, and the whole experience very pleasant, although I wouldn’t to do it in the rain. After hopping back onto the bus we headed back around the Kastellet to see the Little Mermaid that we’d missed the day before. Actually a lot bigger than I had expected, as so many people had told us how small it was.

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IMG_20150920_151448Then back to Rosenborg castle to actually see the Crown Jewels. This is a must see, while the ‘castle’ is more or a small manor, the building is beautiful inside and out, with some much history and artwork lined on every wall. The upper levels were preserved in traditional style while the cellar contained the truly valuable possessions of the royal family including the truly exquisite crown jewels. When compared to the UK, these are as impressive physically, but with the low cost of entry (free for us) and the tranquil, un-crowded setting make them a much more enjoyable experience.

IMG_20150920_132530A stroll around the trendy Norrebro was next on the list, checking out the independent stores that are the backbone of CPHs hippest neighbourhood. A coffee was in order here, and with highly rated coffee house dotted along the main strip it wasn’t hard to find. A trip through Assistens cemetery lead us back into the city for a little retail therapy before we headed home, happy and tired.

The city was not as expensive as we had worried, although it depends somewhat on how much drinking you want to do, and where. Food was good value, and with the Card we got a lot of good deals on the attractions we did. The bus tour is a great option, valid for 72 hours which makes it useful free transport around the city centre. I spent around £100 in total for the three nights there, plus another £100 for flights and hotel, making it a very cheap getaway. There’s no issues with language as Danes learn English from a young age, and it’s used as a common language for all tourists, the quality of English spoken there is better than most of London. I haven’t visited a lot of European cities yet, but it might be tricky to top CPH.

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Copenhagen Pt:1

So having settled (at least for now) in Brighton with a full time job, I have an excellent opportunity to explore Europe city by city. I have Prague and Berlin booked up for next month, and another trip in December of undecided destination. But my first trip was to Copenhagen, mostly because the flights were very cheap.

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IMG_20150919_115426I went with a good friend of mine, and we stayed in a nice little Hotel/Hostel combo near the main station. An early Saturday flight was cheaper than the Friday night, so we arrived into CPH around 10 in the morning. The train over from the airport was nice and easy to catch (and accidentally not pay for) and the hotel was a short walk from there. The Annex hostel was clean and functional, with nice sized rooms and very friendly staff. Helpful hints and the usual city maps to help the tourists out. My phone contract also allows me to use data abroad, which made finding our way around very easy, so rarely used the map. I’m a big fan of 3 thanks to their roaming offer.

IMG_20150919_120730After leaving our bags, we decided to walk into town and headed past the station and down the main shopping street. Filled with the usual fare of European shops, but along pretty streets, the street is lively and friendly without being overly busy. It’s a long road as well, with shops all along until you reach the other side of the city centre. From there we headed south towards the infamous Christiania, crossing the pretty canals and past plenty of massive and fascinating buildings. CPH seems to be full of churches, statues, squares, palaces and more, and while a lot of them are not as old as you might think, perhaps only 17th or 18th century, there’s so much history in those streets its impossible to ignore.

IMG_20150919_115710We spotted a spiral spire on the horizon, and as it was en route to Christiania decided to see what it was, turns out it’s Vor Frelsers Kirke (Our Saviours Church) and the spire is accessible, so up we climbed, and got some awesome views over the city. The only tall buildings in Copenhagen are the church towers, so don’t expect a view like New York, instead you can see for miles around, even as far as the bridge to Sweden. With the Copenhagen Card that we’d got from the tourist office on the way into town we got free entry, the first good use of the card. We could see our next destination from the top, so guided ourselves to Christiania, an enclave created by hippies in the 70s that has been allow continue by the Danish government. So it’s full of hairy, dreadlocked types, and lots and lots of weed. There’s a very free vibe as you enter, people happily sprawled out in the sun relaxing with a spliff. Be careful with your camera though, they don’t take kindly to photos, and as you wander along ‘pusher street‘ you’ll see stands selling drugs, but draped in camo nets to hide the proprietor, who usually hid behind shades and bandanas as well. Down towards the waters edge, the scenery opens up again and the canal-side path is a lovely place for a stroll.

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IMG_20150919_142449Heading back into the city we stop for a traditional Smørrebrød and sit on a bridge watching the city buzz around us. Back to the hotel for a nap after our early flight leads us through the city again, seeing more of the sights but without a clue of exactly what we’re seeing, just stunning old buildings, and stunning new ones as well. We found a very strange stop on our wanders home, a statue museum, display some originals and some copies of the best statues around CPH, almost creepy, the amount of statues was overwhelming, and the art work very impressive. Some of mounted figures were so huge they reached the roof of the huge cavernous rooms that house them.

IMG_20150919_141552After our break, the next stop was another accidental find, Huset KBH, a little courtyard surrounded by little bars, and the bastard cafe – dedicated to board games. We happened across a Q&A with some people, though we have no idea who they were, or what they did, as our Danish is a little non-existent. We enjoyed some nice drinks, and free pancakes too before heading over to Nyhavn for dinner. Although we’d heard the warnings about this tourist trap, we still enjoyed good food that wasn’t overly expensive and the vibes were friendly enough. Exploring more of the streets on the way home we saw a little of the nightlife, mostly just funky bars and little pubs in the city centre, no hassle or aggression though, like some cities.

Continued here

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