Tag Archives: music

A Bit More of Sydney Pt.1

Many years after first visiting Australia an invitation that couldn’t be refused arrived. So an elaborate plan was formed – India, Sydney, Myanmar and back to the UK. Not the simplest route, but one that just about worked out.

Having been to Sydney before, this trip was about pushing out of the normal tourist spots and seeing a little more. With a wonderful local friend/guide and a car it’s amazing the spots you can find, completely off the radar for the average tourist, and invisible to unlucky backpackers. Perhaps the Aussies want to keep some of their beautiful country a secret, a special place for locals and the enthusiastic.

Clovelly, Gordons Bay and Coogee

IMG_20170523_154334Heading straight to the beach after the airport, what better way to get started on an Aussie adventure? But we skipped the typical tourist traps, instead hitting up the adorable Clovelly first, part way between Bondi and Coogee, then started to clamber up and over the headland. The east coast cliffs are a treat to climb, and are a heaven for those ‘candid’ instagram photos, perch yourself on a precarious edge and get a friend to snap away.  From Clovelly it’s an easy stroll along the cliff walk through Gordons bay (with a really cool underwater nature trail) around to Coogee beach. Coogee was pretty quiet as the sun was setting, but is so characteristic of the beach towns, wide streets, green grass and trendy fish and chip shops. It’s easy to understand why so many people move there.

Illawarra Treetop Walk, Belmore Falls and Fitzroy Falls.

IMG_20170524_144438This was a bit of a drive away, down past the Royal Nation Park and up into the hills. The area is packed with waterfalls, trails, walks and forest to explore. Theres a great site that allows to you get above it all though, the treetop walk of Illawarra. It’s a little pricey for a walk, especially as there’s very similar views for free a short drive away. The walkway is impressive though, especially the crows nest which gives dominating views in all directions, all the way down to the coast.

20170524_173145Belmore Falls was the next stop, a view point from afar is easy enough to find, but getting up close was much more spectacular. The top of a waterfall is an interesting lookout, while the bottom offers the more impressive spectacle, but the dense forested valleys block access from the base. Still the views are great, especially around dusk, the colour of the sky slowly shifting as the sun descends. Next on the list was the more touristy Fitzroy Falls, with it’s walkways and viewing platforms, certainly the Australian health and safety had got their hands on this place. But as it was getting seriously dark, perhaps it was a good thing we had the paths to follow.

We stopped off for a cheeky bit of Mexican food in Wollongong before heading home, a decent feed after a day of adventuring.

Wendy’s Secret Garden, Luna Park and Lavender Bay

IMG_20170525_151754Staying a bit closer to the city, some research came up with a couple interesting spots, the main one being the delightful Wendy’s Secret Garden, just a short walk from Luna Park. It’s a private garden that’s open to the public, filled with little seats and tables to stop and enjoy the surroundings, it’s a stones throw from the water, and the city, but with the foliage so thick you could be miles from anywhere. It’s romantic and charming in equal measure, perfect for a picnic with your sweetheart, or a lonely stroll before sitting with a book.

Luna Park was closed as we wandered past, but the boardwalk stays open and a selfie with that giant creepy clown gate is a must. It’s an odd place, but an interesting bit of history for Sydney, Luna Park has been open since 1935, slowly updating and upgrading as it went. Now it’s a modern and exciting theme park, but with no entry fee. Perfect for a short day, rather than trying to cram as much in as possible like many other parks.

Further around is the quiet Lavender Bay, it looks a lot like Mrs Macquaries point, but with no one around. It’s a blissful hiding place away from the tourists, and offers incredible views of the Harbour Bridge, and the Opera House in the distance. It’s a vantage point few people see, and in such serene surroundings as well.

Newtown, Surrey Hills and Alexandria

IMG_20170530_152406A few trips to Newtown during the trip, so we’ll roll them into one. Newtown is still the coolest area in Sydney, with funky alternative shops, rooftop bars and some incredible food choices. From excellent pizza to ice-cream made with nitrous oxide to giant cake like doughnuts which are doing nothing to help all the runners as they go by. The nightlife is probably the most accessible and welcoming, no aggressive bouncers with idiotic door policies or an overdose of testosterone, bar staff that understand your drink orders and music that doesn’t induce a headache after 30 seconds.

Surrey Hills is pretty good too, we didn’t spend a lot of time here though, just a drive through to grab some (more) ice-cream from Messina Gelato, apparently the best ice-cream in Australia

Alexandria of course is home of The Grounds, a collective of restaurants, shops and cafes spaced in amongst a green utopia within the suburbs of Sydney. An easy walk from from the accommodation and a real hipster treat. They probably brew their own beer and definitely roast their own coffee.

Continued in Pt.2

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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Download Festival

I’ve been to plenty of music festivals in my time; Weekenders like Reading, Hevy, Beautiful Days, Buddha Fields and even the tiny Plymouth Festival, plus a load of one-dayers such as Hit the Deck and Slam Dunk, but this was the first time I experienced the biggest specifically Rock and Metal fest in the UK.

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Going with a couple of mates, we drove in each day, staying at an AirBnB nearby rather than paying the same amount for the pleasure of sleeping in a field. While it takes away from the fun festival vibe a bit, as gentlemen of our age it was a lot more comfortable.

IMG_20170610_125558We arrived to join the long queues to get our wristbands on the first day, sadly missing the first band we were hoping to catch. However once in it felt much like the usual festival affair, a fair stages scattered over a couple acres of land, littered with food stands between and the usual mix of hippy or gothic clothing stalls. We were there for the music though, and were quickly watching the bands hit the stages. There was a reasonable distance between each area, but with the RAW wrestling tent in between at least we had something to giggle at as we walked past.

IMG_20170610_190541For me, the smaller Avalanche stage was the best, with a nice variety of heavier metalcore, post-hardcore, pop-punk and new wave emo bands to keep me happy. The main stage obviously hosted the bigger of the bands, with an interesting mix throughout the day, mostly hard rock and straight up metal. The second stage seemed to be more strictly metal bands of various descriptions. It’s always entertaining to find a brutally heavy metal band that are chatty and friendly between songs, the Swedish seem to be pretty good at this, with both In Flames and legendary Opeth cheerfully bantered with the crowd.

IMG_20170610_222439As far as best bands of the weekend a few really stood out. Steel Panther certainly put on the best show visually, with close to a hundred girls on stage to party with them, while their chat between songs was on point. Probably not for everyone, with the crude nature of the jokes, but to raise a laugh from an audience of that size is impressive. Moose Blood put on a great show, as did Basement, a couple of English bands who have revamped the emo/pop-punk/rock scene with a fresh attitude and new approach, a departure from the auto-tune and backing tracks of many scene bands recently. The King Blues put on a good show with a new bunch of musicians, but it was the legendary big bands that really made the biggest impact. Prophets of Rage, System of a Down, Biffy Clyro, A Day To Remember, all smashing their sets on the main stage.

IMG_20170611_181018There were plenty more that were seen, but that missed the mark as far as my tastes went, but what was most interesting was the people there. I’ve always stayed clear of the metal genre, finding it a little trite and contrived to really enjoy, but metalheads, especially those past their teenage years are genuinely very sweet people, there were no fights or issues with anyone, and it was very nice to see everyone there just getting along and enjoying the music. Despite the line-up featuring some pretty un-metal bands, there was no rivalry or animosity between any of the festival goers and the atmosphere was very positive, which I think was helped massively by the pleasant weather.

The line-up each year has always been borderline for my tastes, a few good bands, but not usually enough to make me want to pay the full price to go. However with the Busabout season looming it was the only festival I was likely to get to go to, and I’m glad we decided to go. Overall, not as mind-blowing as some of the other fests (RIP Hevy) but still highly enjoyable overall.

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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Hevy Festival

Yesterday I came home, tired with my ears ringing, head still filled with the songs of bands I’d heard that weekend.

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IMG_20150815_191946Hevy festival in Port Lympne, Kent is a predominantly hardcore and metal festival, with a few exceptions. But it’s not the bands that make this festival such a wonderful event, but the community. It’s so small, with only three stages stretched out in a small field, it takes only a few minutes to cross the entire festival site, so you can see all the bands with no issue, but also you’re likely to see the same people an awful lot, which includes old friends and stalwarts of the music scene. It’s amazing to still visit such a place and see people you’ve known for years still loving the bands and loving the music.

IMG_20150814_122257The whole thing is on the grounds of an animal park, and not far from the nearest town, so a cheeky run into town for some breakfast, or a wander around the wildlife park (included in the price) is just an added bonus, and a hot meal is always welcome mid-fest. The weather held out much better than expected so the usual wellies weren’t necessary, although it’s always nice to see people trying to dance with them on. Hopping from band to band with friends is an excellent way to spend a weekend in the sun.

IMG_20150814_211124If you like heavy, alternative music I can’t think of an event I’d recommend more. And if you’re visiting the UK and want to experience a real alternative community, this is a side of British culture you won’t see anywhere else. The furthest from the loutish football lads you can imagine especially as the average age rises.

I’ll be back next year, until then…

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Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Cambodia Pt4: Sihanoukville Pt1

On to Sihanoukville, another bus, but clearly not a bad one as I remember nothing of it.

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DCIM100GOPROI did leave Jess behind here, but was re-united with Nico who I’d travelled Laos with and a few old good friends. The first place in Sin-Ville, as it’s jokingly known as, we stayed was possibly the cheapest hostel I’d been to, but it was understandably cheap, thin mattresses on big shelves with plenty of other people, no locks if there was even a door, nights spent cuddling your bag and sweating. Still at only $2 a night, it was almost ok to wait an hour for one of the two showers to come free. Don’r recall the name, but it’s right on the inside of the main corner in town.

DCIM100GOPROWe were only there a short while though, quickly heading over to Koh Rong Samloem for a full moon party. Not quite the scale of the Thai version, but the island had a little restaurant and plenty of friendly people on it. It would have been nicer without the lengthy boat ride either way, I did feel bad for all those suffering with hangovers on the way home. Back on the mainland we moved over to Led Zephyr for nicer rooms and a better bar. Much the same as the Thai equivalent Sihanoukville has it’s share of awful bars, promo girls and guys, buckets of dubious quality, hookers and crime. If you stay away from the main beach it’s generally pretty pleasant, but the sea front is pretty nasty. Away from the touristy beach the main town has a nice ex-pat community, often happy to have a chat with some snails (backpackers) the newly-locals share some wisdom and give some good tips on where to go for some incredible western food. The first roast dinner in a long time, and very nice it was.

A few days there and it was time to jump over to Koh Rong, an island of note for three reasons;

  1. Everybody smokes weed, all the time
  2. The whole island runs on one generator, so when it’s out, the island shuts down
  3. One of the most gorgeous beaches I’ve ever seen

DCIM100GOPROThe main strip is a hive of ramshackle bamboo buildings, constantly extended to cater for more and more backpackers. Getting a room is tricky as their booking systems tend to be ‘first come first served’ and as the residents wake up before the boat arrives it can be a nightmare to find the few newly located rooms before anyone else does. Once there though, you can spread out a bit, find a place you really like and either explore, or get high. Unfortunately most of the tourists seems to stick with the latter, but if you’re willing to avoid that and explore, there’s the popular and stunning beach on the other side of the island, but even more than that every section of coast is beautiful and often avoiding the two hotspots mean you’ll find somewhere even nicer. There’s plenty of trails through the forest to check out as well.

To be continued…

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Music Festivals around the world

Music is something that in international, but every country has their own take on it. Whether it be the music they make, the influences they work from or the way it’s played. Music festivals are one of the best places to experience this, as you’ll see a huge range of musical styles, both international and local, as well as seeing how the locals like to enjoy it.

Probably the strangest festival experience was a large festival near Pai, in north Thailand. The music was a good mix, there were ska/reggae cover bands, which are pretty common along with the strong rasta influence in the region, there were a couple Thai rock bands, who played a slightly dated sounding emo-rock, with occaisional top40 covers. There was a DJ stage, which was a nice mix of dubstep and comericial house, which unsurprisingly was where most of the white people were. Finally on the main stage the most popular and certainly the biggest pull were ‘bands’ (essentially DJs and some vocalists) that just covered modern Top40 songs. So the biggest names were those that didn’t play their own songs. But even more strangely than that; nobody pushed to the front, nobody pushed at all. In fact, the whole audience area was littered with tables, which worked hand in hand with the drinks being sold. Multi-packs of mixers, and whole bottles of liquor along with a bucket of ice. Perfect for sharing with friends around the little table you had in the middle of the crowd during the headline set. It’s something I’m sure some of the more mature festivals in the UK could take on with great success, but a very odd compared to the usual crush if you’re within 500 meters of the stage.

Another odd one for a UK festival veteran was Soundwave festival in Sydney. Single day festivals have often got a different vibe (I blame people having phone battery), but the Aussies don’t use the festival vibe as an excuse to be social. Instead I found most people stuck in their groups and the day lacked the community spirit you get at the longer events. The music while mostly American bands, was contemporary, even if a few of the bands would’ve had much bigger, or smaller, crowds in Europe. A case of each band getting a different reception as they spread around the world is never more evident than in Australia, where the styles are a little late, but from the local bands, you can hear the influences a few years behind the UK. The fickle music scene trends also really affect the popularity of a band, so while they can reach great success in one region, they could bomb in another.

UK festivals will probably always be my favourite though, the combination of naff weather, no phones and general drunkenness means you can be friends with anyone, at anytime. No matter who you’re watching, chances are you’re there for the same reasons, (because you love them, or you want to throw something at them) and that’s enough to make you friends. The rain makes them a little less fun, and rain is almost guaranteed at some point, just hope for a touch of drizzle over the epic floods that have been seen in past years. The tents, and the inability to find them along with the new campfire friends you make during the search are often some of the best times to be had at festivals. Something which is completely lacking from single day festivals.

So, in conclusion, the best festivals are multi-day with original bands, and a good mix of styles (without any mad clashes). Just like the ones we have in the UK.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

South Africa Part7 – The South Coast

So the rather unimaginatively named South Coast stretches on from the start of the Kwazulu Natal up until Durban, where it switches again to Zululand.

Oribi Gorge

UmzumbeOnly a couple of stops along this stretch for me, although there’a good few options for Bazbusers. Umzumbe was my first, and unlike the name may suggest, it’s much more westernised than places like Coffee Bay. The hostel I stayed in was charming, and gave me one last chance to catch up with the Swedish girls I’d been chasing since OudtshoornMantis and Moon backpackers lodge is charming and friendly, and really seemed to embrace the lone traveler better than most places. A few trips were available, although not running with so few people, the barman was friendly enough though, and kept me company the first night.

Oribi GorgeIn the morning, I was fortunate enough to meet a nice Dutch couple who were heading off for the Oribi Gorge and let me  jump in their car, along with a German guy as well. Together we explored the impressive canyon, crossing the massively over-hyped rope bridge, and taking a look at the huge canyon swing. A shame it was closed for the day, else I think it would have been a must do for me. They also have SAs longest zipline, although that didn’t look so impressive. After a nice day exploring we headed back to the hostel, and I disappeared off to Durban.

Tekweni BackpackersDurban is well located for the party scene on Florida Road, one of the coolest areas of Durban, according to the hostel staff at least. It sure it’s fair share of western luxuries (McDonalds, KFC and all the rest) alongside a good selection of interesting bars. Exploring the city is a good way to spend the day, just be a little careful where you wander. The beach front is long and flat, perfect for a longboard, or bike if you fancy traveling a bit quicker and getting nice and warm.

ArtSimilar to Cape Town, I got a good sense of culture while in Durban, youth art projects, both black and white influences being nurtured and given a chance, with galleries and projects open to the public. There’s a touch of history here and there, and the incredibly cheap maritime museum was an odd, but entertaining little stop. That evening, through a mistake at the hostel and the World Travel Conference happening in town the next day, I was left without a bed for the night, thankfully my faithful friend Tinder was at hand, and I spent the evening with a wonderful local who took me to some of the hidden spots away from Florida Road. We also saw an art/music minifestival at the nearby Uni campus, lots of alternative types wandering about and some very impressive music being played as well, including a young man playing acoustic guitar like a piano. Not like pressing the keys, but simply playing so many notes it was hard to know how only six strings could make such a sound. And the reaction he got was very good, rather than the UK where something like this would be walked past or complained about as ‘too loud’ the students lapped it up.

Rope Bridge

So after a comfortable night in another bed, I arose early to jump on yet another bus out of Durban and towards the Drakensberg.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel