Tag Archives: explore

Rhodes, Island of Castles Pt.2

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

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img_20160829_114812380My hotel was definitely average, but nice and cheap, and provided a pretty decent breakfast. Enough to get me back on my quad and on the road again, this time heading south to the very end of the island. Prasonisi is an island connected by a huge sand bridge, which doubled as a huge beach area, popular with many water sports. The opposing directions of the two shore lines meant that one side was much choppier than the other, giving the myriad of kite surfers and windsurfers a nice progression on their door step. The island is bare except for a small lighthouse on the far side. The main path across is pretty busy with tourists, but it’s easy enough to stray around the outer paths and find some tranquility.

img_20160829_135549918_hdrAnother castle was next on the list, again free and pretty cool to explore. There’s no information, no security and no cleaning, so expect it rough and ready. Asklipeiou castle sits on a hill a few miles inland and commands an impressive view over the countryside. You can really get a feel of what it might have been like in the times it was built, with the Lords controlling the landscape from their fort, either protecting, or dominating the locals.

img_20160829_135631677_hdrRain stopped play when it came to exploring Vouno Kalathos, along with the complete lack of signs and infrastructure. It seemed like the kind of place you’d need to go with a local who can show you how to get down to the lake without too much diffeculty. Certainly google maps wasn’t going to suffice and the rain inland while riding a quad didn’t go so well. Heading back to the coast (and the sun) the southern peninsula was navigated to get around to Lindos.

img_20160829_161236896Lindos is the end of the tourist strip that stretches from Rhodes town along the south coast, and it shows. The prices for most things are almost double and every building is either a shop or a reastaurant, all cashing in on the locations popularity. A popularity derived entirely from the grand castle on the cliff. It’s an impressive building, far larger than the others but also the first to charge entry. Some serious reading up later we discovered that the inside was a recreation and had very little original on display, that along with the 12EUR price tag was enough to make it a no thanks.img_20160829_150012390The cliff path around the outside of the castle is one for those of sure footing only, and even then not recommended, steep drops and loose rocks made it very dangerous – although if you are going to adventure around, take your camera. The beaches nearby are crowded, but very picturesque, especially Agios Pavlos nestled into a secluded little bay, well protected from the sea, and ideal for swimming.

img_20160829_173428210With plenty more driving to do, the next target was the castle in the town with our accommodation, Archangelos. Again this castle was free, but un-cared for, and compared to the others was really unspectacular, just a simple fort not special. The town was split into two, the main part on the hill overlooking the coast, and the other at the bottom actually on the beach. The beach side was nicer than the touristy areas surrounding it, but still had a vibe of tackyness, there to make money out of the summer trade rather than a real town. Archangelos main town was the exact opposite, only ever driven through by tourists, and even then rarely. Which made food options a rather interesting choice. The room was basic but comfortable, and with the limited Wi-Fi the only restaurant nearby was Mamas Pizza. It turned out to be pretty good, and seriously good value as well.

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The last day involved a very early morning, the journey back to Rhodes Town, leaving at 6am to make it to the port for an 8.30am ferry to Kos. Driving along the bypasses of the party beaches, seeing the odd straggler still drunkenly fumbling their way home was a delightful distraction from the road, and it made us very glad to have not been spending any time on those tourist traps.

Overall Rhodes was very impressive, so many castles and interesting and beautiful sights to see if only you take the time to explore. If you’re there for a flop and drop beach holiday I can highly recommend renting a car (much more comfortable than a quad) for a day or two and having an adventure. Especially to Monolithos – that place is something truly sensational.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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.2 Music Festivals in Spain – BBK and Benicassim

It’s a bit lazy of me to roll both these in together, but for every difference, there’s a similarity. While BBK is in the town of Bilbao in the north of Spain, and Benicassim (or FIB as it’s known officially and by locals) is in Benicassim on the south coast both run with a similar attitude of easy going enjoyment of music, a relaxed atmosphere and late nights.

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img_20160707_222802619I’m not talking late nights like British or Australian festivals where the headliner will wrap up around midnight or 1am, after which the noise curfew kicks in and it all goes quiet, I’m talking headliners starting after 2am, and the music going through until 6. It actually makes for an interestingly diverse event, with more of the bands playing before midnight and the DJs on afterwards, so while the headliners are the peak, it doesn’t drop off instantly leaving several thousand pumped up (and drunk) festival goers with nowhere to go. Instead those that have reached their limit can head to bed, while those who are just getting started have plenty of time to blow off their steam.

img_20160708_213713054_hdrBBK, up in the hills above Bilbao focuses more on the indie rock for it’s main headliners, and this year hosted some great acts including, Foals, The Pixies, Editors, Aussie favourites Tame Impala, New Order and plenty more. Quite a small arena with two main stages which alternated acts meant it was easy to catch all the big names, while a third ‘band’ stage had a few more obscure acts and the forest hosted trance DJs late into the wee hours. The setting is very cool, the top of the hill, overlooking the city, with rocky outcrops and patches of woodlandOver the course of three days I saw a good few bands, highlights certainly were Foals, and the newly popular punk band Slaves, impressive performances from The Pixies, Hot Chip and Arcade Fire as well.

img_20160716_244919273Bilbao town has one major attraction, the Guggenheim museum. A spectacle from inside and out, it is a masterpiece of modern architecture, covered in shiny titanium tiles it gleams in the sun. The collection of artwork inside is very impressive as well, having been made available to view for the public by Peggy Guggenheim, the heiress that had received the vast collection, so much artwork there are several Guggenheim museums around the world. That’s not all there is though, a fascinating old building has been converted to contain three, free standing modern buildings on pillars, but that’s not all, there’s a swimming pool on the roof, with a glass bottom. So while you’re wandering through the main hall you may notice some odd shaded shadows drifting by. The old city offers some lovely walks, and probably the best food in the city, with pintxos on offer in every other building. There’s a great park there as well, on the side of the hill, a good climb, although I wouldn’t recommend it at the peak of the midday heat. The city has just enough to keep you interested during the day, if you’re not too busy sleeping off the previous nights fun.

img_20160714_200223343Benicassim, a lot warmer, and in tents rather than the comfort of a hostel, meant this felt more like the kind of festival I was used to. The hard dusty ground made me very grateful for Busabouts air mattresses, if only there was a way to install A/C in a tent. The festival was a full 4 days and I had arrived a couple days early to set up and prepare, so I knew the area reasonably well. The old town provided us with excellent tapas restaurants, while a waterpark and the beach nearby meant there was plenty to do during the day. The arena was about twice the size of BBK, but it was nice to see some of the same food trucks there, Spain certainly does good festival food, with a range of options, including asian, mexican and argentinian cuisine, there was even an Aussie place, for all those odd things that Australians never actually eat.

img_20160716_124643118_hdrThe layout of stages meant there was no noise pollution and it was never more than a few minutes to where you needed to be. Some big names performed, the biggest was of course Muse on the Saturday night. For them the crowd was huge, with the arena completely sold out, and plenty people around the outskirts, outside the fence listening in as well. There were plenty more though, Kendrick Lamar, Biffy Clyro, Massive Attack to name a few. It was some of the smaller acts that really impressed me though, the surf/punk/rock FIDLAR really appealed to me giving me the kick I love about music, Rat Boy from the UK were highly entertaining, with a very drunk frontman rap/rambling his way through lively indie rock tunes, but it was Reykjavikurdaetur who put on the most memorable set.img_20160717_201025974With completely incomprehensible songs (my Icelandic is lacking), supposedly about heartbreak, love and feminist freedom the 15 member strong, all female rap troupe ruled the stage with quirky hip-hop tunes and a healthy sprinkling of nudity.

Both festivals were amazing experiences, similar, but different as I said before. If you’re a fan of music and want to experience something truly cultural, you wouldn’t be far wrong from heading to these festivals, especially when Busabout makes it so easy for you.

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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.

Tignes (again) with Wasteland Ski winter 15/16

So I was fortunate to get sent back over to Tignes this December to Head Rep for Wasteland Ski

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IMG_20151210_143850After 3 weeks in the resort last year, Tignes became one of my favourite resorts in Europe, I got to know the parks, the runs, the bars and even a couple of secret spots ‘off piste’, so when I got my request to work the resort for a week this winter I was very happy. I’ve got a lot less free time this year, so to be heading to one of the largest ski areas was something to look forward to.

It was also to be my first time as a proper Head Rep. I’d done it for SCUK (Snowboard Club UK) a group of 100+ adults or various ages, but they stayed in a nice hotel, and didn’t need supervision every night, so once they were all there, it was a very simple week indeed. I’d also been Zone Manager for BUSC Main Event in Tignes, but with so many support staff, I found the week pretty simple, and didn’t have too much hassle at all. So heading out with a good friend, and one of the great new BUSC team to be the ‘bosses’ for a team of 7 reps and about 250 students, I certainly anticipated a bit more of a challenge.

IMG_20151215_130101And a challenge was an understatement! Within less than 12 hours we’d lost a rep and had to send him home, which meant all the preparations we’d done were for nothing as we rushed to prepare for arrivals. But prepared we were, and within 12 hours of the students arriving we had two more missing people, some minor injuries, a couple of rooms with no water and a handful of other complaints and issues. Certainly it looked like we wouldn’t be getting much sleep that week! I think the earliest night was 3am, and the latest lie-in 9am, although I blame myself for the early starts, most mornings anyway. I had come to the mountains to ride, and ride I would do.

IMG_20151215_130136Most days I’d complete a couple of laps before joining with the reps to explore the mountains, get the typical selfies and group photos. We even had a sprinkling of powder, so to make the most of that one of our crew let her snowboard lose, and we got to adventure into the unknown to find it. Some lovely slash turns and rock hopping and even a cheeky little cliff drop to get out of some tight spots made the riding varied and exciting. I got plenty of time to ride through both the Tignes and Val D’isere parks, both of which while incomplete were big enough for me. I certainly got more comfortable riding the mid-line and might have tidied my ugly 3’s up a little. Grab for the week was the Stalefish. I think what I really like about the rideable area in Tignes is the pure variety, and the options from every point on the piste map. There’s always a couple of choices if not more from the main chairs, and whether you want something fun and easy, or to beat your speed record there chance is right there.

Weather wise it felt more like spring riding than December, with warm days and blue skies for most of the week. A little cloud which brought us just enough snow to freshen the runs didn’t cause a white-out. Not great for the resort for the rest of the season, but for us there that week we couldn’t ask for better conditions.

IMG_20151216_111558The nightlife is still great fun, although a little limited for options compared to somewhere like Val Thorens. The usual favourite Saloon and old faithful Dropzone provide different vibes but good fun until it’s time to head to the clubs – which I find hard to differentiate really, it’s club tunes and house, it’s dark and a bit smelly but get the right group in and before you know it, you’re raving with a lot of semi-naked people.

The student groups, (with a couple exceptions) were great fun, and the committees certainly helped throughout the week, there’s plenty of opportunities for them to be a huge time sink for the head reps, but on the whole they were pretty chilled out and happy with the week. I’d be happy to work with them again, if they’d have me!

Benjamin Duff

@Versestravel

Rome Pt.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continued here

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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.

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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

Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination

Cambodia is an amazing country surrounded by amazing countries. But what makes it our favourite?

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Simply, it’s the balance of tourism, temples, history, beaches, exploration and pure unspoiled natural beauty.

DCIM100GOPROIt has something to offer for a lot of people, with Siem Reap and Phnom Penh drawing in huge crowds for the epic temples and incredible history, the southern beaches offering late nights and lazy days for the party crowd and islands, mountains, rivers and more to be explored, the variety satisfies all tastes and allows longer term visitors enough variation to stay interested. Continue reading Why Cambodia is our Favourite SE Asia destination