Tag Archives: south

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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Monaco – making a day of it

Recently I had a little time off in Nice on the Cote D’Azur in the south of France. While Nice is a beautiful town with lots to do, I was drawn away to explore Monaco the tiny country only a short bus ride away

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Monaco is the second smallest country in the world, only 2 square Km, ruled by the longest standing monarchal house in Europe, the Grimaldi family, and is home to some of the richest people in the world. It has an impressive residency policy, with applications costing $100 million US dollars, and the final vote coming direct from King Albert himself. Many celebs have tried and failed to gain citizenship including 1/2 of U2, Tina Turner and many more. Successful candidates included James Bond actor Roger Moore, British F1 driver Jenson Button (along with plenty other drivers) and various Tennis stars notably Rafael Nadal.

Getting to the country is as easy as going to the shops, simple hop on the train or the bus. The bus 100 heads all the way to Menton via Monaco, and is just 1.50EUR for a single ticket. Take the bus through Monaco, past all the sights until place de le Moulin (just remember where the castle stop is) and then you can head back through town to catch the bus back without doubling up.

IMG_20160620_161846564The city is not as expensive as is thought, it was only 1.20EUR for a croissant in the little bakery we found, and although there’s plenty of opportunities to spend, it’s easy enough to avoid. So grab a bite and wander along and down towards the sea. There’s a good few car showrooms around, so depending on your route you may find Maserati, Ferrari, Rolls Royce and more. At the bottom you’ll find the Grimaldi Forum, and next to it the Promenade of Champions, and the beautiful Japanese Gardens, along from here you can walk up to the famous Monte Carlo casino, or through the tunnel, well known to fans of the Formula 1. If you want to see both, it’s definitely better to go through the tunnel, then take the subway near the far end which has elevators up to the Casino above.

The square in front of the Casino is grand enough itself, with enough fancy cars and luxury suits to satisfy most playboy fantasies, but when you step inside the casino foyer itself you’ll understand what the fuss is all about. While it is banned for the citizens of Monaco (known as Monegasque) to gamble, the casino pulls in thousands of visitors a day, many of whom are the high rollers we all wish we were too. The country actually built much of its success on the strength of the casino, and it’s used to raise funds for the government in place of taxes. You can enter the lobby for free with no clothing restrictions, however if you wish to gamble, you’ll need a collared shirt and to pay the 10EUR entry. This is just the common people area though, and to get through to the real luxury you’ll need to be dolling out a lot of cash.

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There are a few shops nearby to nose through, all of the high end fashion labels, and a few high street stores have set up camp, but don’t worry about those, as the view as you continue along the main strip is far more impressive than any handbag. Overlooking the marina you can spot those poor people who can only afford a super yacht. These days mega (over 65m) and giga (over 100m) yachts are the real deal and have pride of place in the central port. Walking around the marina will lead you to the path up the hill to the palace, where you’ll find the traditional guard standing to attention and another epic view. Also at the top is the marine biology centre, which features an impressive public aquarium and the church where Hollywood starlet Grace Kelly married Prince Rainer III. It also happens to be where they are buried, and often mourned by the locals.

If you fancied extending your day, heading down the Menton, or jumping off at Eze en route would be good options. Otherwise, enjoy the oppulence and relax.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Bath, Historical Town

Bath, down in the South-west of England is great town for those looking for a little more history, and the feel of a real English town

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Split into two main areas: the first is Southgate, a relatively newly built commercial zone with the usual suspects of high street stores, fast food and chain restaurants. It doesn’t have much to offer that any other town in the UK doesn’t with the exception of a couple nice little coffee shops and trendy bars, the rest of the town, further North is the real heart of the city. The old streets with charming little stores and cafes mixed in with the huge Abbey and Roman Baths, along with the Georgian architecture make for a very pleasant experience strolling through the area.

IMG_20150202_134029Bath has a lot to offer tourists who visit, from the obvious choices of the Abbey and Baths, to the luxurious Spa and the historical streets it also has several museums including the excellent Holburne Museum and the Jane Austen centre (even though she famously said she didn’t care much for the city herself). It’s worth taking a stroll up to visit the Royal Crescent and the Circus, with it’s impressive buildings (and another little museum) overlooking the park and the city below it’s a fantastic place to check out.

IMG_20150202_135859The Abbey is open all day during the week, but only at selected times at the weekend, but with a small donation you are welcomed in. It’s centre very impressive inside, with an incredibly high ceiling and huge stain-glass windows depicting the usual religious scenes. There statues inside add even more to the sense of grandeur, although the plaques on the wall brought the whole place to a much more real level, honouring those buried below the floors, and bringing a strange sense of community to the building.

The Roman Baths tend to get very busy during the summer, and at weekends, as this is one of the main reasons people come to Bath. If you’re lucky you’ll visit at a quieter time and be able to experience the Baths a little more privately. Although perhaps with hordes of tourists you may get a better sense of what it would have been like when they were first built. Not too expensive and worth a visit if you’re a history fan.

IMG_20150202_140131It’s not these attractions that really make Bath shine though, it’s the original old streets and parks that really shine out. With so much of the UK being diluted it’s wonderful to still find a town that feels so genuine. Of course with it being the South-west you can’t complete a day here without stopping for a Cream Tea, an English tradition. It’s simply English Breakfast Tea (we call it Tea) and a scone with jam and clotted cream. Make sure to put the jam and cream on in the right order, there’s some long running debates on this.

IMG_20150201_134814There’s not much in the way of clubbing here, but there’s plenty of nice old pubs, and more modern bars to keep you warm at night. The student population help keep some of the youthfulness around, although it’s fairly common for them to run of to nearby Bristol for a big night out. If you’re into music or theatre there’s usually something going on as well.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Vietnam Pt6 – Da Lat

After the somewhat disappointing Mui Ne, we were looking forward to Da Lat, with it’s unique Swiss Alps reputation.

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ParkAnd it’s a reputation it deserves, while still un-mistakingly Asian, it’s really possible to get that alpine feel with the wide open but winding roads that weave and knot across the towns hills and suburbs. It’s got a lot of charm, with occasional European style bakeries, and some nice local food stops as well. We enjoyed a meal one night in (one of the many) Art Cafe, which features paper tablecloths and crayons, meaning you can draw yourself a picture before your food arrives. Functional accommodation at a decent price wasn’t hard to find which is always nice as well. The town has a pretty decent night market in the centre, ranging happily from the usual touristy fair through to more authentic basics, including some of the best thrift store style sale rails I’ve ever seen. It was be possible to stock up on fancy dress gear (especially 70s and 80s) for the next decade for less than a tenner.

Crazy HouseJumping on the mopeds again, we did a tour of the sights within the city which included the Crazy House, Palace, Cablecar and the steam train. Starting at the top, the crazy house is an Alice in Wonderland inspired piece of ridiculous architecture, fanciful staircases and archways span the gaps between castles and trees and towers. Imagine the Disney castle on acid and you’re about there. The Palace was an odd stop, not particularly exciting itself, as a holiday getaway for the Royal family, and not as impressive, either architecturally, or significantly as the Reunification Palace in HCMC,Palacebut they do allow visitors to try on some royal robes and pose for photos, which we did, and the results are quite hilarious.

The cablecar goes from the top of one hill near Da Lat, to another, a little further away, which gives you access to a very nice Temple and Gardens, which lead down to a lake. The temple building were nice, not overly impressive, but fitting for the location, and the garden was wonderfully taken care of. The ride in the gondola was quite pretty, with some nice views over the nearby hills and farmland. Finally, we hopped on the steam train, as it was leaving shortly after we had arrived to visit the station.TrainWhile the station was fairly pretty, the train ride lead through some more authentic (ugly) parts of the towns suburbs, more urban than the rural we had seen from the cablecar though. We arrived at the far end, with an hour to kill and no clue what to see, but thankfully the train staff were on hand to direct us to a big temple area, with several huge shrines and statues, along with a big statue manufacturer with plenty on display. Up in the towers, the views offered some impressive vistas both over more countryside, and across the temple grounds. Certainly no gardens with this one, but some interesting building structures, and highly ornate decorations. On our return home, we passed the ‘love garden’ a park filled with so many more of the giant tacky concrete sculptures that the area seemed to have in abundance. We didn’t venture too far in the dark, but having seen enough love heart benches and other overtly cheesy romantic features, we didn’t feel the need to go much further.

WaterfallThe next day saw us exploring a little further afield, checking out some of the local water features AKA waterfalls. The first was a touristy feature, with a strange little luge ride, another cablecar and shrines all over the place. While the waterfalls themselves were impressive the features somewhat ruined the area. The bottom waterfall is the bigger and more impressive as well as quieter, but you have to pay to take the elevator down to reach it. Once there though, it’s a much nicer part to spend time in, and a quick swim in the pool is very refreshing. Jumping into each waterfall seems to be a habit of mine. The luge was a peculiar event, as it’s on rails the only control you have is the speed, and it would seem that about 20% of the people on these rides like to go very slow, and with no overtaking lane, this means everyone ends up going very slow. So, really, I don’t recommend the luge, it’s just really annoying!

Elephant waterfallThe second waterfall is much further out and takes a bit of skill to get past the roadworks going on. Make sure your driver knows what they’re doing, it’s really not for beginners. That said, when you finally make it out there it is worth it; the waterfall is huge, and has plenty of climbing opportunities around to get different angles. The fallen rocks create quite a challenge to climbing, and getting as close as possible really is an adventure. There’s also a good pool to have a swim in, which is a must in my book. At the top there is another temple, this time featuring a massive Buddha, although this is the fat Buddha, rather than the skinny ones you find in Thailand.

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I don’t remember exactly where or what the waterfalls were called, although I believe the second was the ‘elephant waterfall’. The wikitravel page for Dalat was quite invaluable for this stop.

So after a good few swims, and plenty of moped adventure it was time to hop on the bus again heading overnight for Nha Trang.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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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.

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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