Tag Archives: daytrip

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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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

Cambodia Pt6: Kampot Pt2

Continued from here

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

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

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

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

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt1: Siem Reap

As always, the bus through from 4000 Islands in Laos down through half of Cambodia is pretty horrendous, definitely in the top ten of worst trips. We won’t bore you with the details, it’s always the same story. But arriving was a rather more pleasant experience. Continue reading Cambodia Pt1: Siem Reap

Constantine and Treyarnon Bay

Cornwall is full of pretty little beaches and coves, Constantine and Treyarnon offer some nice walks for those not wanting too much.

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IMG_20150206_151951There’s a little place to park around at Constantine, a beach which is popular with surfers throughout the county (on the days when the waves are rolling in the right way of course) and one that avoids the big crowds in summer, mostly due to a total lack of parking. It’s a good sized beach with plenty of sand, although the rocks further out make learning to surf, or venturing out if you’re not too confident a bad idea. In winter the sand is deserted, while the sea has just a couple brave souls risking the chill to find some good swell.

IMG_20150206_153101Heading around the headland to the West you can reach Treyarnon bay, a narrower beach, but one more popular with the tourists. The walk along the headland is not challenging or high, making it suitable for all family members, but it does offer plenty of rocks down at the waters edge for the younger generations to clamber over. Treyarnon offers more in the way of services in the summer, drawing many more tourists in, although at this time of year there isn’t much sign of life. The local YHA offers some good winter deals, and is a great spot to stay in for anyone looking for a cheaper, more sociable option, and it’s proximity to the beach is a definite plus.

IMG_20150206_152505There’s a lot of walks to choose in Cornwall, and you can’t go too wrong with any of them. This short walk is a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon in the county getting a taste of that sea air everyone says is so good for you.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cornwall – Treen to Penberth to Porthcurno ft: The Minack Theatre

A somewhat more challenging walk than the previous excursion is the loop from the hamlet of Treen on the hill between two valleys and the beaches at the bottom of those valleys: Penberth and Porthcurno

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IMG_20150208_120602The walk starts off across typical hilly Cornish countryside down into the valley, then alongside the stream that leads out to the small fishing town of Penberth. A pretty town, where the newer houses have been kept in keeping with the style of the older original buildings. The beach is pretty but somewhat rocky, not good for a swim, but the slipway opens the transition between land a sea, with an old winch still used to pull the fishing boats ashore. There’s still a healthy trade going from this village, with line caught mackerel being the most popular catch, and fetching a good price for it’s ecological benefits along with the prestige of Cornish fishing.
IMG_20150208_124650The walk up the cliffs from here is a bit steep, but is the hardest section of the day, and looking back into the cove offers some lovely views of the uniquely rocky cliffs and the town nestled between them. Along the top of the cliffs the views out to sea are impressive. In places along this route there are areas grazed by dartmoor wild ponies which can be fun to spot. It’s important not to feed these animals as they’ve been introduced to help the environment recover. They are friendly creatures, but try not to pet them, as they are wild and may not be completely safe.

IMG_20150208_121215As you work towards Porthcurno you’ll pass the headland which is home to Logan Rock. The story is that two sailors decided to push this loose rock off the cliff, only to be caught and forced to take it back up. If you climb up to where the rock is sat you can see the holes they made to insert wooden bars to help them lift the stone back into position. The climb up there is not part of the walk, but is a great little detour that doesn’t take too long although the rocky bit can be a challenge to climb up.

IMG_20150208_122942From the headland you can see down into Pedn Vounder, a stunning bay with huge stretches of sand. The way the cliffs and sand banks lie mean that at high-tide the water is still very shallow, turning the deep blue ocean to a gorgeous turquoise to rival the Mediterranean. This beach is usually quite quiet for a couple reasons, the walk to it is fairly steep and tricky, certainly not suitable for young kids and due to the lie of the sand it’s easy to get trapped by an incoming tide. Thanks to this it’s made the beach a bit of an unofficial nudist hotspot. While it’s easy to see down into the bay access is tricky enough to put off most, and the distance between the cliff tops and the beach is enough to prevent any embarrassment. There weren’t any naked people out when I walked past, but given the cold February air, I wasn’t surprised. it also meant my photos were unspoilt by anyone in the bay at all.

IMG_20150208_125134From there it’s a short walk around the next head and down into Porthcurno. Another small town, but one with a lot more significance than most in Cornwall for two reasons. Porthcurno is the beach where the telegraph cables arrived in the UK. The telegraph network allowed messages to be sent trans-continentally within just a few days, rather than the weeks it took previously. The old method was simple mail, sent across on ships, but these cables stretched across the atlantic to improve communication between the colonies and London. There is a Museum a little further up the valley, but by the beach is the hut into which the cables ran, you can still look inside and see the various sources of the communications, some direct, and others via relay stations in friendly nations.

IMG_20150208_140322The second is the world famous Minack Theatre, a spectacular stage and auditorium built into the cliffs, just visible from the beach. With the Atlantic as it’s backdrop, plays held here are impressive affairs, and while there are risks of numb bums and some rather damp shows (weather depending) the show will go on. The season starts in mid-Spring, through into Autumn, to make the most use of the daylight hours. With the brisk air, you’d have to be a very enthusiastic fan to want to sit in the freezing cold of winter with the wind across those cliffs. It’s an amazing place, even just for a visit, and the matinee shows are as popular as the evening as fans enjoy the summer sun.

IMG_20150208_141205The town has a bit more to offer than just the Museum and Theatre, with a few good restaurants, boasting some excellent local fish dishes. It’s a pretty village as well, and a walk through is not unpleasant, however it does get rather busy in summer as the holiday lets and hotels fill up, and even more people come down to check out the sand.

Our walk took us up the cliffs beside the Minack and onto the headland, from where we walked inland and across the flatter land. Farmers fields and backcountry roads led the way back to Treen and home.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Where Does The DART Go? Blog for Jacobsinn.com

Seconds away from Jacobs Inn is Connolly Station, with the DART line – but where does the DART go?

Well simply enough, it heads along the east coast, both north and south of the city.

SOUTH

Heading South on the DART - Versestravel.wordpress.comHeading out of Dublin south will treat you some incredible coastal views. Once you get through the sprawl of the city, the railway follows the line of the coasts, cutting it’s way through headlands and over cliffs. The views are simply amazing as you head along

Bray - Versestravel.wordpress.comHeading down to Bray or Greystones is a good recommendation, both are pleasant little towns that will give you a nice walk and a great bite to eat. In fact Bray is home to the Harbour Bar, voted the best pub in the world in 2010 by the Lonely Planet guidebooks. It may have lost the title, but it hasn’t lost the charm or the quality. Heading in here will never be a mistake, the delightful decor and friendly staff will welcome you like it’s their home, and if the weather has turned less pleasant this is a wonderfully homely place to call home for a couple hours.

NORTH

Malahide - Versestravel.wordpress.comTo the north is the terminus of Malahide, another seaside town. While the ride up isn’t so impressive the town makes up for it. You can buy yourself a nice picnic lunch and go sit on the grass down by the pontoons. Watching the boats and birds bobbing in the bay with some good food will put you in an excellent mood for a stroll.

Malahide Castle - Versestravel.wordpress.comIf you head back past the station you can find the lovely Malahide castle, set in the large grounds and gardens. There’s a small charge to see the inner gardens, but the castle and grounds are free to explore. Wandering through here is a peaceful and easy way to spend a sunny afternoon. Away from the bustle of the city, it’s possible to lose the sound of all traffic and hide away somewhere quiet, until you lose track of all time and the sun has set.

The last location is the sweet little peninsular of Howth a small peninsular perfectly suited for a good stroll. Up across the centre will take you to the top of the hill, known as the Summit, where a pub awaits your arrival to fuel you on the rest of the walk. On the far side the lighthouse is sitting pretty, the focal point of many a photograph. Following the cliff walk back around will offer a variety of great views over the sea that divides Ireland from the United Kingdom. Back in the town, there’s some excellent pubs many of which offer live music, and best of all – cheap beer! At least a lot cheaper than Dublin.

Dublin sunset from the DART - Versestravel.wordpress.comSo now you know where the DART goes – time to go have a look!

Benjamin Duff – Versestravel