Tag Archives: flight

Kos and Bodrum – places to pass through

After my trip around Rhodes, I tasked myself with finding my way into Turkey. I was very keen to see Istanbul but thought it would be nice to take the scenic route. This meant taking a couple of ferries, one to Kos, and the next along to Bodrum.

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Leaving my trusty quad outside the shop I’d rented it from in the early hours I made my way to the port, and found it easy enough to find the right boat, buy a ticket on the quay and jump on board. Several hours and one nap later I arrived at the island of Kos. Quite striking on arrival thanks to the impressive fort built on the harbour side. It also had a wonderful greenness to it that was missing from Rhodes. Even a famous tree, supposedly the tree under which Hippocrates taught students medicine.

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I wasted no time and paid the reasonable price for entry into the castle. It’s probably more impressive from the outside, but still nice to have a look around especially as I had time to fill. There’s nothing in there other than walls, but having a clamber around is entertaining enough. It was easily the highlight of Kos town though, and it would’ve been nice to spend a little more time in there.

IMG_20160830_134507569After leaving I strolled through the town, plenty of tacky looking party bars offering various drinks offers, and lots of restaurants well stocked with English food. Have to admit was a surprise at first, but as the town was explore, more and more English accents were heard. There’s a small Roman amphitheatre out the back side of town, small but in excellent condition and free to have a look at. Worth the walk out if you have some time. A couple other little sights, temples, gates and walls make the town a little more interesting, but only a couple hours after arriving I was ready to head on. I got a tasty breakfast and prepared to wait for the next ferry.

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IMG_20160830_123922437_HDRBodrum also has a castle on the harbour side, but with a much higher price tag I decided to skip it. How different can another fort be? Winding my way through the packed market streets and long lanes of tourist shops hammered home that this was not an authentic Turkish town at all, but a tourist coastal resort. My hotel was hiding on the hill up behind the main strip, quiet but surprisingly big, the rooms were comfortable and it worked well as a base for the couple days I was there.

That evening I strolled down to the waterfront, the over-priced restaurants crowding the edge of marina, but if you head back just one street, the view isn’t so fancy, but the food and the service more than make up for it, not to mention the price. A couple of shops caught the eye, not all the usual tourist affairs, but there’s more than enough places to get lame souvenirs and knock off high street brands. One shop was an agent, selling the local activities, and after collecting some brochures I committed to a boat cruise and a Turkish bath experience, far cheaper than I thought possible, to good to be true?

IMG_20160831_105354743_HDRI’d seen a few cheesy pirate themed party boats, and I made sure to check that I wasn’t on one of those, but promises in Turkey don’t always work out, and after boarding the Barbossa I found a nice seat away from the pumping dance anthems and had a nice read. The boat stopped frequently to let us take a swim, although each stop was very much like the other. Lunch was served and was perfectly reasonable, but the return journey was the most interesting, a stop at a cave, said to be the bathing spot for Cleopatra with cleansing mud.IMG_20160831_161327505_HDRSo pay a little extra and swim inside the dark cave, rocks and mud and plenty other people to trip over as well, smear yourself with some mud and feel the healing effects. Not a life changing experience, but quite amusing. There’s a trough outside filled with the mud, making it nice and easy to cover your whole body, and of course get some selfies as it dries. We were blasted with the hose before we could get back onboard and then the big surprise happened.

IMG_20160831_165850381The dragons head mascot on the top deck starts spewing foam from it’s mouth, almost covering the whole boat. The music is pumped and the boat is now a foam party. A surreal experience and certainly a surprise.

Once off the boat I had my transfer to the Turkish bath, where I bath, got scrubbed roughly by a big Turk and felt pretty good about it afterwards. The whole thing took maybe 30 minutes, and is something that’s well worth experiencing. Perhaps a more expensive and fancy facility would have felt a little slicker, but I do feel as though I can tick that experience off my bucketlist.

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Overall I found both Kos and Bodrum far too touristy for my liking, neither town had anything to offer other than pricey restaurants and souvenir shops. The weather is good though, and I can imagine British people enjoying a week of sun and sand in either easy enough though, but I was glad to be heading to the airport to fly over to Istanbul. The upside though, I got to try my first genuinely Turkish Turkish kebab.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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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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

Val Thorens with Wasteland Ski – Part 1

So my first trip out to the Alps in nearly 5 years was as a rep for Wasteland Ski. A company that specialises in student group snow tours, and a company I had been a customer of several times.

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IMG_20141211_084237I was flown from Gatwick to Geneva (my first time in Switzerland) to meet the transfer up to Val Thorens. I met several other reps on the flight and as like minded people enthused about a week on the snow we all chatted and got along pretty well, after only a few minutes. I already knew Andy from Pre-Fit and had communicated with other via the various social media networks and the training weekend.

On arrival in resort we were allocated rooms, mostly with reps we had only just met and told to await instruction. This led to a couple days of exploring and adventuring in the town, as well as a little work and a bit of play. The bars in Val T are much like many others in the alps, playing a variety of euro-house or commercial pop and serving expensive drinks in impractical glasses. The staff are friendly and fun though, often not French which can be confusing at first but easy to work out, often encouraging the reps or dishing out shooters to be delivered to the students.

IMG_20141214_001954On arrivals day it’s all hands on deck to get everyone into resort and geared up before the first day on the snow. With over 1500 arriving in one day, and so much for them to collect and sort out it was quite a mission. Even with Pre-fit we still had queues outside the rental stores as people picked up their hire gear, although the midnight waits in the snow are a thing of the past now. We also had some fun with coaches arriving early, so room keys were not yet ready. But with crowd management and some smart ideas the day went smoothly. I was posted at the coach arrival park, telling drivers where to go in the town and where to park up for the week. It was a long day out in the cold, but everything went well enough.

IMG_20141214_162231That night was the first of our room rounds; knocking on the doors of customers to let them know all the things they need to know about that evening, and the next days’ events. It was nice to get to know the people over the course of the week, and they were friendly folks. Thankfully mostly quite tame as far as the parties went, which meant I didn’t have to nag them to keep clean or tidy throughout the week. Some free food also went down very nicely.

Day 1 of the actual trip meant taking beginners to lessons and sorting out problems with rental gear. After eventually getting (nearly) everyone off with their lessons in the right groups and helping those with problematic rental gear we were allowed to pick up our own rentals and hit the hill.

I was originally given a 161cm Saloman board, which while in reasonable condition was much longer than I like and a very plain board, classic camber and edges de-tuned to make it an easy beginner board. I swapped this later the same day to a brand new 151cm Yes board with a nice amount of flex and a much lighter construction. While this was shorter than I’d usually ride it felt very nice on my feet. Much more responsive and although it was naff in the more powdery stuff it was a great fun board to mess around on. Lots of flex made butters super easy while it still had enough pop to bounce off the odd kicker or rock.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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The Best (and Worst) Ways to get around the world

There’s a lot of different methods of public transport in the world, each one has it’s benefits and problems, so here’s a little of my favourite. If you’re got any transport horror stories, or favourites that I missed, let me know – if I get a lot, I’ll turn them into another post.

  • Trains

One of my favourites, they’re simple, they’re hard to get wrong, and generally pretty quick. If you’re lucky, you’ll be on a nice quiet coach with a few seats to yourself able to lie down and get some shut eye. The Sydney area double-decker trains are cool, although uncomfortable, and most British ones are passable. The Overnighters in Thailand are a little odd though, not uncomfortable until you need to go to the bathroom.

  • Buses and Coaches

I don’t think these are anyones favourite, but as far as cheap transport goes, these are the bomb. From the Greyhound and Premier buses that cart loads of backpackers from stop to stop, with the occasional riot/party on board, and some of the worst nights sleep imaginable to the Thai VIP buses with complementary food and water, big comfy chairs and plenty of stops. Then there’s the coaches in other parts of SE Asia, where it’s goodbye to any idea of luxury, and you’re lucky if you’re not sat on a stool in the aisle. Dangerous overcrowding, awfully maintained seats, sitting with your bags, it’s not good.

  • Mini-buses

Proabably the worst form of transport I’ve ever experienced, and rarely are they any good (outside of a western country that is). I’ve shared mini-buses with chickens, pigs, motorbikes, twice the amount of people the bus was designed for and so much more. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a real seat, not a wooden one, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll get it all to yourself. Sharing with your bag is not unusual, but makes it tricky to go to the bathroom. Often there’s no choice but if you can, avoid these death-traps!

  • Tuk-Tuks

They change depending on the country, but the typical Bangkok tuk-tuk is what most people think of. Named after the noise they make, these are little trikes that usually fit no more than three passengers, are cheap, and a great way to get around in the citys. Often confused with Song Thaws, which are more like pick-up trucks (or backies/utes in Africa/Australia) Tuk-Tuks are more common, and much smaller. Cambodian tuk-tuks tend to be a motorbike, with a carriage attached, while in Loas you’re looking for miniature minibuses. Always check what your journey should cost before you go, so you know you’re getting a good deal, but these should always be good value.

  • Airplanes

The best way to go to a long way, and sometimes the only way into some countries, but if you can avoid the short haul flights, please do. They really aren’t even close to being sustainable, even with the £1 carbon offset donation. I love them, because they take you a long way fast, but I hate waiting in airports. I think my favourite thing about them is watching all the movies during the flight, and not having to worry about food for a good few hours.

  • Metro/Tube Systems

Love them, I don’t care how confusing they are, how many people are squished in, there’s nothing better than zipping around a city via a network or tunnels or above the streets on tracks. I am have done three laps of Kuala Lumpur city centre before I got where I needed, but hell, it was fun. Singapore has a nice system, as does Dubai, just be aware that you may need to push to get off, they’re not as polite as the British.

  • Trams

Better than the metro/tube lines because you can see where you are easily so can hop on and off exactly where you need, or at least, where you think you need. But best of all of course, you rarely need to pay for these, especially as a foreigner. For 6 months in Melbourne I got away with playing dumb on the rare occasions I got caught. The same in Dublin, where the moment they heard a non-irish accent they just kicked you off to buy a ticket.

There’s a few I missed, local buses tend to be useful, but never popular, boats, which are really just very damp coaches, and I’m sure there’s some odd ones out there I’ve missed totally.

Have fun, and as my Dad always told me, ‘Mind the Trams’

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel