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Delphi and Meteora

With the time off I get in Athens, it gives me a lot of chances to see more of Greece, so I decided to do an actual tour. I wanted to see some of the real history of the country, so Delphi and Meteora were a must do. Epic scenery and some great stories as well

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I booked through a website called GetYourGuide.com which was pretty good, their price was about 30EUR less than if I’d booked direct, and the company I went with was called Key Tours. It’s a two day tour, and the price included a stay in Kalambaka at the base of the Meteora cliffs.

img_20160816_093201012I was picked up, transferred, fussed around and faffed about until eventually I was on a coach heading up to Delphi for our first stop. The guide was an impressively knowledgable lady called Anastasia, talking almost constantly all the way out of Athens, and then from Athens the whole way to Delphi. Honestly it was very hard to listen to her talk for such a long time, there was just too much chatter that didn’t interest me, so I fell asleep. The service breaks were depressing tourist traps full of over-priced tat and rubbish food, but we didn’t get much choice.

img_20160815_122408611_hdrOnce we got to Delphi there was a little more fussing, then the group followed our guide on a rather uninspiring tour of a hugely inspiring location. The site itself is incredible, ruins of treasuries, a huge temple, a stadium and so much more, all built around the Oracle, on the side of a mountain. The views in all directions were wonderful, the valley spreading below us and the mountain peaks above, while the ruins showed how the ancient holy location functioned. The story goes that Zeus released two crows who would meet at the centre of the world, then hurled a rock down in that location to mark it for mankind. There is a fissure in the rock there, where sulphuric gasses rise from the depths of the planet, and they found that breathing this gas caused strong hallucinations. They would use a virgin, who sit atop the fissure, breathing the air and explaining what she saw (or just mumbling nonsense) and priests would translate this into advise and prophesy for the leaders of the various city-states. The most well known of the prophecies is the story of Croesus who was told that he would destroy an army if he went to war. He went to war, and his own army was destroyed.

img_20160815_123438774It was a holy location, so nobody lived there, meaning there are no remains of homes, just the main temple of Apollo and various treasuries, or gold supplies for the city-states. The location at Delphi meant it was close to the coast and accessible relatively easily by all. The formed a council of elders, and it was at this location they could make decisions for the entire nation. The Oracle features in several movies, including 300, which depict it as a truly mystical place – It’s unlikely to have been quite to fantastical, but the Ancient Greeks certainly believed in the power of Oracle.

img_20160815_162113848We missed the museum, which contained many of the statues and more delicate artefacts in order to get going towards Meteora. We did get a brief stop at the monument to the Spartans who died Thermopylae. A mighty spartan warrior stands atop a wall, with a carved depiction of the battle of the 300 against the immense Persian army. Since the water level has lowered the narrow passage shown in the movie is now much much wider, and would be impossible to defend with so few men.

img_20160816_085842672We switched out guide when we left Delphi, and I had been hoping that our new guy would make the journey a little better, with shorter talks about the most important sights, however he also decided to expel every nugget of information he could about the regions we travelled through, including a wonderful 20 minutes on a special cheese, 40 minutes of the plains of mid-greece and plenty more that I was more than happy to sleep through. I expect I missed a lot of the interesting and relevant information, but trying to concentrate was just impossible. We arrived at Kalambaka tired and drowse, but a reasonable feed and a stroll around cleared my head before bed.

img_20160816_090721228An early start meant we were on the cliffs before most of the tourists, and actually had a chance to view some of the very impressive sights of Meteora. The place is famous not only for the high cliffs rising out of the plains below, but also the monasteries and nunneries built upon them. Built by religious hermits who had been residing in the caves, the cliffs gave the monks the solitude to worship and act according to Gods will. Nowadays there are roads up there, and tourist crawling all over the churches and holy areas, so I imagine the solitude is less effective, but the idea of constructing entire buildings on rock outcrops and effectively inaccessible cliffs, back in the 11th Century is just unimaginable.

img_20160816_114643010_hdrWe visited two of the main complexes, and viewed one from the outside (it’s closed on Tuesdays) and each had it’s own charm, and was an impressive structure when you consider the challenge of building on the pure rocks. The views were possibly the most spectacular, although our guide insisted on teaching us about every mural in each chapel, which took up most of the time inside. I decided to skip out of tour to enjoy the location without being surrounded by other tourists, and there’s something about musty church air that makes me feel pretty bad (I must be a sinner).

img_20160816_094120506The trip home was long an uneventful, I tried to sleep as much as I could, I had certainly had enough of the guide. At least the ride was smooth and there was minimal faffing around.

I’d absolutely recommend the sites, they’re excellent, and good value for entry, but if you can find a way to see them without doing a tour do so. Greek guides have to go to school to qualify, and the school teaches them to talk as much as they can, for as long as they can, and it’s exhausting to listen to. I’m surprised they can still talk at all.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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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

Where am I?

So a little personal update for you all.

I’m currently in London visiting friends and exploring a little more, I will soon be heading up North to Leeds for a week with Pre-Fit, then down to Bath/Bristol to see friends, then another week of fittings. After that, I’ll visit Cardif and Bristol again before I fly off to Tignes in the French Alps with Wasteland. I should be out there for at least three weeks hopefully four, before returning back to the UK.

I’m hoping to relocate more permanently to London, finding somewhere of my own to live and finding some kind of job to keep me in the black. I’m planning to save as much as I can, in order to travel some more soon, so first off I’ll be looking for bar work. But looking a little more long term it’ll be work within the Tourism industry, hopefully for cool independent company, but anywhere with a good attitude towards youth and adventure tourism will work well.

Eventually, I would like to start my own company ideally in South Africa, doing a similar thing to the company I worked for in Australia and New Zealand, however, until I save a lot of money, or find a very generous investor, that’ll be on the back-burner.

For now though, just happy to be able to keep travelling, and get some more snow time in

Benjamin Duff

@Versestravel

Constantine and Treyarnon Bay

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

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

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

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

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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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

Les Arcs with Wasteland Ski – Part 1

I was very fortunate to spend two weeks in Les Arcs, first with Snowboard Club UK, and the second looking after Bath Uni.

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IMG_20150122_094003The resort area is actually split between about 5 smaller towns and villages that make up Les Arcs. Each town has it’s own character and clientele, appealing in different ways to the various stereotypes that populate the slopes. Arc 2000 and 1950 are for the richer folks, more family orientated and little more luxurious. It tends to be a little more French orientated as well. Arc 1600 is a bit cheaper, just a standard resort town but without a huge draw. Arc 1800 is where Bath Uni were based and has a larger English presence, especially in the bars. The larger hotels can cater for groups and budgets more suited to students. Vallandry and Peisey are both smaller and more family friendly, while offering a range of nicer hotels and catered chalets, this is where the SCUK crew were located. IMG_20150118_105819Over in Arc 1800 the nightlife was much better, with several bars happy to accommodate a huge amount of students. While the amount we had meant splitting them between bars on some nights, Red Hot Saloon did well to cater for as many as they did almost every night, although they did share the load with my favourite, Bar King Mad. The two clubs in town Club 73 and Le Carre (previously Apocalypse) hosted some of the best late parties of the season. The mostly English bars helped the students to spend, while the worst drink in existence was consumed in high volume thanks to the bar staff in Red Hot. A Glass Case (Cage?) consists of Gin and red wine served like a Jagerbomb, resulting in some very messy nights.
IMG_20150127_120900So the first week in Peisey continued with the lack of snow, a light dusting here and there didn’t do much to improve the riding, although pistes were mostly open and well covered. The snow also brought the temperature down, and for the first time during the season I felt the need to wrap up a little more. Clear skies later in week meant some great photo ops, and the old snow meant park laps were frequent and popular. Peisey is well placed for the Vanoise Express, a huge double-decker gondola that takes pass holders across to La Plagne. This opens up another resort of equal size, making the total skiable area massive.
IMG_20150122_125308Les Arcs ski area is easily split into three main sections; The glacier and the Arc 2000 bowl, Arc 1800 with the snowpark and the Vallandry side, with tree runs galore. The glacier and the 2000 bowl offer some great runs, the main bowl is mostly open blues, but for the more adventurous there’s plenty of ‘Natur’ un-pisted black and red runs to explore. There’s some long runs down into Villaroger, although the slow chairs back out make this a long detour. In good conditions the amount of off-piste available in this bowl is impressive, although finding some fresh lines will be very tricky as the accessibility of it all means the locals will be building moguls before you can even strap in.
IMG_20150121_101550Arc 1800 again offers plenty of blues but dotted with reds. There’s a couple blacks to hit, but it’s mostly on the easier side while the blues are mostly just access routes across the hill. This was the first park that felt finished, even though the pro-line was still under construction. Rather than conforming to the straight line set up of most parks this was more open, with jumps and rails offset against each other, allowing riders to change up their lines and hit a greater variety of features in a single run. Also offering some excellent mid difficulty hits that would not normally be found in the mid park a lot of fun to be had in this park. Arc 1800 is also home to the new ‘Mille 8‘ area, a short gondola ride up through the trees to a floodlit green run, with alongside boarder-cross and tobogan track.
IMG_20150127_160422Finally, the Vallandry side has straight reds between big patches of forest, with winding blues linking each run to the next. The forest areas are perfect for tree runs, with a bit of fresh powder these offer some excellent fun for those willing to risk their limbs (and base). The reds are basic motorway pistes, wide and fast, while the blues offer some peaceful, picturesque and easy runs for beginners, just be aware at junctions.
Continued here

Benjamin Duff
@versestravel

Cornwall – St Agnes

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IMG_20141227_144702St Anges is a hidden little treat of Cornwall. It hides away just 20 minutes from Truro, mostly eclipsed by it’s neighbour Perranporth, which leaves it naturally developed and beautiful and feeling like a true Cornish town, and not a tourist retreat.

As with many of these special little town, the cost of seclusion is not cheap, and house prices are reflected in the cars parked in driveways. But regardless of costs and socio-economic background, the locals are friendly and welcoming, as I found in all the pubs I visited.

IMG_20141227_150133The first time I visited I stopped off at a tiny little beach one bay west of St Agnes. Barely even a cove, this beach is tricky to find and get to, but worth it. It looks out westwards, the way of the setting sun the I was there, and watching it slowly descend as the handful of other people on the beach was a calming and very pleasant experience. Followed by food and drinks at one of the pubs in town. The locals ebbed and flowed in and out of the bar, very few didn’t say hello, and many introduced themselves to investigate who we might be. The barman was a treat, as the only people inside for quite a while he chatted about life hidden in these Cornish valleys and all sorts more.

IMG_20141227_144649The second time I visited with my brother and his young son, so we wandered through the town again, and down to the main beach. A larger, but not big beach, with a few people dotted about. Again, it was a peaceful and welcoming place. Folk said hello as they passed, and the dogs on the beach made it good fun to run around. The chill winter air gave it a rather desolate feel, but inside our jackets we were happy to be there, enjoying another dose of what makes Cornwall so special.

If you’re looking for a jaunt out of Truro, you could do a lot worse than a trip to St Agnes, any time of year.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

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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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Update: Pre-Fit Delivery and Wasteland Ski

So you may know that I’m now working with both Pre-Fit Delivery and Wasteland Ski.

PFD is a company that works closely with Wasteland, fitting ski and board boots to the customers before they head out to resort, meaning that on arrival they’ll be able to pick up their boots in seconds rather than waiting ages in the cold and trying to find the right boots after a hellish long bus journey.

I started on Monday in Loughborough and since then have visited Sutton Bonington (near Nottingham) York and am now in Manchester to meet a colleague who will be driving us down to London for the Wasteland Head Rep training day. After that is the Wasteland 20th Anniversary party, which is on a boat on the Thames, followed by an afterparty up in Shoreditch. After a day off in London I’ll be heading all the way up to Glasgow to do the Scottish Unis for a week (Glasgow and Dundee at least) then to Edinburgh to catch up with some family before heading back down to London again for an interview with a promising company (I’m keeping that one a secret for now) And then another day off before I hit Bath for 5 days straight, so we’re expecting some parties and maybe even a bit of chilling there as well. As soon as I finish there, I’ll be flying out to France to work my first week for Wasteland Ski, in Val Thoren, one of my favourite resorts.

So, an exciting period of time for me ahead, and if the last few days are anything to judge by, it’ll be a lot of fun! I’m very happy to working with these people as well, a lot of friendly fun people and easy going too. I hope next year follows the same sort of pattern.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel