Tag Archives: visit

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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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

Snow Stereotypes

Here’s a short list of who you’ll be seeing on the mountain, where they reside and how to identify them

1) The Aspen Skier

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Usually found in the nicer resorts, Meribel and Val D’Isere these are hardcore fairweather piste skiers. They’ll be on the blues and reds, competently winding their way down to the next over-priced hot chocolate. They will be wearing mostly black (Men) or white (Women) with plenty of fur, leather and frills, perfect hair and make-up (both genders). No helmets because they never go fast enough to crash, although do will occasionally collide upon which insurance details will appear immediately. Never seen out at night because they’ll be drinking nice win in their chalet. Thankfully easy to avoid as they’re more likely to be talking stocks than skis.

2) The Skiers’ Boyfriend

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Either skier or boarder, this guy has come on his first trip with his skier girlfriend and is not happy. Carrying her skies for her everywhere just to make her move that bit faster, then lapping the blues all day because she’s not up for the reds ‘yet’. It’s a good thing she’s gorgeous because without the sex this guy would be out of there. You might see them out one night, having a good time until her headache kicks in and it’s another early night. Next year he’s going with the boys.

3) The Park Rat

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Filthy, hairy and smelling of Jager, this guy will have the longest hoody known to man and shred absolute. No waterproof clothes, no helmet, because this guy never stacks it (until he makes the obituary page of the local shred rag) He doesn’t talk on the mountain, at least not to anyone who’s not a homie and thanks to the bandana he’s totally unrecognisable in the bars. Likely to be one of the seasonaires hitting on your mates, then bitching about tourists in the queue at the bar.

4) The Back Country King

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Mostly you’ll see this guy speeding along the reds and blues at the end of the day. Amazing gear, ABS backpack, picks, shovels, everything you’d need to make a home in an avalanche for a few days. He hits bits of the mountain most people don’t know existed, but occasionally you’ll see him hiking/rock climbing up to some drop (which no-one will see him do) His Go-Pro footage is so good you’d swear you’ve seen it somewhere before. Not in the bar much, conserving energy to hike Mont Blanc tomorrow.

5) The Park Chick

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Always gorgeous, even when you can’t see their face, this girl shreds so much bigger than you’re both hugely impressed and slightly turned on. Wearing super cool gear (mostly got for free from various sponsors/guys that fancy her) and a board about 8 years old. Her helmet with have a tonne of stickers, but in great condition, as she actually buys a new one after each bail. She’ll be surrounded by all those park rats at the bar trying to have a good night without getting too much drool on her fresh stash.

6) The Clueless Idiot

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First week on the snow and they used to roller-blade (or skateboard) so this will be easy, right? Mostly seen falling off drag lifts, or chair lifts, sometimes seen falling up stairs or out of gondolas. Definitely keen on the apres ski, although it then takes them two hours to get home (that one short blue run). Mostly dressed in recycled stuff from the parents loft and bargains from TK Maxx don’t be surprised to see them wearing swimming goggles a santa hat and a hilarious retro/animal onsie. Often seen being obnoxious at the bar after way too much pre-drinking, arguing over the price of everything. Steer clear of this guy at all times, he’s a danger on the slopes and a nightmare in the bar.

7) The Tech Guy

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Everything he owns is this seasons newest and most technically advanced, it’s a shame he doesn’t ride well enough to make it worth while. Usually mid-forties, successful and single, this is his mid-life crisis. Those goggles with the heads-up display are constantly telling him he’s going about 30kph and the clip in ski pole/glove combo is too necessary when you never crash hard enough to drop them. This guy knows all the stats about the mountain, including the gradient of that black he’s too scared to drop.

8) Everybody Else

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Decent riders, happy wearing newish stash on newish gear. Will drop most things for a challenge and happy in the park for a couple laps. Nothing crazy, but happy to get their round-in!

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Artwork by Kay Kim – veryverykaytv.tumblr.com/

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 Pt3 – Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City, or HCMC, named after the saviour of Vietnam, previously Saigon is the largest city in Vietnam, and you can really feel it. The most commented thing about this city is the traffic, and you can see why.

Bitexco Tower

It’s incredible, even compared to Bangkok, like a river of mopeds, with the occasional tree branch of a car being swept along. The traffic rules are very flexible, and you’ll often find the pavement filled with oncoming traffic as they try to edge themselves closer to the red light that has cause this momentary tailback. Crossing the street is not for the faint hearted, in fact, it’s more like doing a high wire tight-rope than crossing a normal street. Walk straight, slowly and keep moving, that way the the traffic will flow around you. Any sudden movements will leave you at the bottom of a multi-bike pile up. That said, I never saw any accidents in the city, which considering I think I saw more mopeds in the first two minutes than I ever did in any European country in total is a miracle.

Post OfficeWe stayed in Phạm Ngũ Lão Street, the backpacker area, in one of the many alleys that maze their way between the park and the drinking street that are home to the guesthouse and hostels that accommodate the travellers in the city. It’s close to plenty of naff fast food places, including the ‘arriving soon’ McDonalds, the second in Vietnam. Exploring this city was very different to Can Tho, the gentle urbanism replaced by big commercialism and in-your-face advertising boards and the constant need to pay attention. Despite this, from the main backpacker area most tourist attractions are only a short walk away.

Reunification PalaceThe Reunification Palace is open and is an interesting spot to experience, mostly thanks to the rooms in the basement that show what was necessary in order to survive the war. The building was an important symbol during the vietnamese war, and housed several significant events marking the start, and end of the war.

Notre Dame

On our wanderings we also visited the City Post Office and Notre Dame Catherdral, both of which are close to the Palace. In a nearby shopping centre, the food court gave us a chance to experience urban food in Vietnam, somewhat confusing, but we ended up with a good variety of interesting and tasty foods.

War Remnants MuseumThe War Remnants museum (there’s one of these in every city) is very impressive, while it has much less in the way of actual weapons, it still has a display of artillery, tanks and aircraft, inside is dedicated to photo, and art galleries ranging from the effects of napalm, peace posters and historical propaganda. The stories it tells through pictures alone convey so much more than the bad captions and artifacts that other museums rely on. It is both tasteful and poignant in its delivery, and with such a strong and simple message the impact is quite moving. Of all the military museums, this was the best, and of all the attractions in HCMC, this was my favourite.

SkydeckWe finished the day with a trip up the highest building in the city. You can reach the Saigon Skydeck on the 49th floor of the Bitexco tower throughout the day, or you can go a little higher, to the 52nd, and have a drink as well. It works out about the same price, but with seating and a drink, we felt the bar was the better choice. Watching day turn to night across the city was fascinating, especially as the roads changed to rivers of light blurring streaks across the city.

Benjamin Duff

@versestravel

Dublin – City of booze

IMG_20140730_230935 So it’s coming up to 8 weeks in Dublin, I think I know it well enough to give a fair review.

Dublin is cold and wet on the whole – it’s not a place you go to for a summer holiday. It’s also not got a whole load of adventure/adrenalin sports or activities (there’s a couple hidden around, but it’s definitely not a hotspot for it). So what has it got? History and Culture.

CourtsHistory: It’s got this in bucket loads, recent and pretty damn old, there’s museums for the artifacts and quite a few sites of historical importance as well. Dublin castle and Killmainham Gaol which sit pretty central to Dublin are obvious points of interest. The streets as well, are filled with a variety of buildings from different eras, it’s possible to spot where some of the major historical events have affected the designs of the city. Along O’Connell street you can see the buildings which were rebuilt after the battles for independence.

BonesCulture: Well culturally, it’s mostly drinking! Certainly it doesn’t feel very different from the UK (which is understandable) and it’s definitely European. It’s nice that there’s a good amount of buskers and live music in the streets. Although there is a lot of repetition, the groups that play in the commercial areas tend to be boring covers, but hidden away there’s some spots (like Dame Lane) where you’ll hear great bands playing original music. The pub scene is a bit hit n miss, with terrible cliche bars with horrible cliche live music (I’ve never heard so many versions of Country Roads) and plenty of pretty boring bars. If you’re looking though, it’s definitely possible to find something you’ll like. There’s even a few places in town where the drinks aren’t crazy expensive.

Street MusicOverall: I think Dublin is a wonderful stop for two reasons. Firstly those who are looking for history, interested in a country that was one of the first places of western civilization.HedgehogIt’s not as impressive as London, but it certainly has a lot of charm and generally more friendly vibe. Secondly for those who want a good night out or two in a different city. It’s not cheap but it has a lot of options for those who want to party.

Like so many other cities though, it’s impossible to experience it all in a weekend, but a week here would leave you bored. Getting out of the city is highly recommended, there’s plenty of good day tours that while not exciting, show you much more of what Ireland is like outside the ‘big smoke’

So if you’re planning a trip to Ireland, either keep it kinda short, or have a few weeks and go see the rest of it.

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PS: Watch out for terrible pub food, they haven’t realised yet that a packet of crisps and a slice of cheese does make nachos, and they’ll be happy to charge 7 Euros for it. Unless it’s a gastro pub, don’t trust the food!