Tag Archives: zoo

Berlin Pt1

Arriving in Berlin was fun, I had hardly any idea where I was, and I’d forgotten to do any research into where my hostel was, how to get around or basically anything at all. Thankfully the Berlin transport system, and a cheeky bit of roaming data got me to my hostel (after a nice detour to where google maps incorrectly listed my hostels location). Just in time to meet some other travellers for dinner and an early night.


IMG_20151023_102205We’d planned the night before to hit a cycling tour, and as I still had no idea what to do, jumped onto this. Another slight problem meant my phone alarm was slept through but again the efficient German public transport system did me proud and I barely missed a thing. With Berlin being the size it is, I was very glad we did the bike tour, the same distance on foot would have taken well into the evening. In fact the bike tour is a great way to get a feel of the city, and thanks to the routing you don’t see anything more than once. Our guide was a friendly guy from New York, who did a great job educating us as we rode around, and we got to see all of the historic German highlights in a single day. It felt good to tick so many off, even though I ended up walking past many of them again later on the trip. It’s also nice to have had the tour, and actually understand what you’re looking at.

IMG_20151023_162146It was great to see the sites of so many historical events, and it certainly adds a certain realism to the idea that such things happened less than 100 years ago. Places like Checkpoint Charlie, which are now tacky tourist stops are incredible when you realise the transformation of such a significant landmark. As the guide quipped you can see who won the war by looking at the shops around – MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, KFC etc – Capitalism won. Other locations are less spoiled, places like the Reichstag (Government) building, or Bebelplatz the University courtyard that hosted the monumental book burning by the Nazis with it’s thought provoking tribute under the ground.

IMG_20151024_141240We also cycled through Tiergarten, a large park to the west of the city centre, which broke up the tour, and gave us a rare chance to see such a part of Berlin. It’s a little out of the way, but if you’re craving some greenery it’s well worth a look. It’s also host to the Berlin Zoo, which if you’re a fan of Zoos is supposed to be one of the best in Europe.

After the tour we decided to check out the Topography of Terror, a history of the Waffen SS and Military Police used by the Nazis. While an amazing piece of history, it only covers that one specific topic, not deviating into the war in general, and it has a lot to read, which makes it rather dry, and trying to get through it all becomes something of a chore later on. Just read the bigger signs or you’ll be in there for days.

IMG_20151026_114828We joined the bar crawl from our hostel that night, which was interesting as we were pretty much the only folks on it. The guides were nice though, and some of the bars were very cool, although we did start and end in some pretty rubbish venues. The eastern end of Berlin has two districts fighting to be the coolest, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, the bar crawl was in the northern of the two (Friedrichshain) and I was impressed by the alternative style of many of the bars and clubs. Hearing music from NOFX and other punk-rock bands was very cool, as was the friendly and laid back attitude of many of the venues. The live gypsy-folk band in one of the bars was very entertaining as they got the audience bouncing and dancing with some very odd moves. Overall the crawl is not worth it for the drinks, but having a bit of structure and going to a nice variety of bars (and one terrible club) was pretty cool.

Benjamin Duff




Hevy Festival

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


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…


Benjamin Duff


Cambodia Pt3: Phnom Penh

So, another long and uncomfortable bus over to Phnom Penh.


However, this one had to be one of the nicest. The coach had beds in it, admittedly they were slim and you had to share, but thankfully I had someone with me that I didn’t mind sharing with. There was a tiny little TV in there and a power supply, so we could even watch a movie or two. It still wasn’t comfy, but once you’re asleep, you really don’t mind.

We had a really nice hostel (11 Happy Backpackers) in the city, with a very cool rooftop bar, and some great food. I really loved the pumpkin soup, I haven’t had any since that beats it. Phnom Penh isn’t really about the night life though, it’s a much more serious place to visit, as the main attractions are the Tuol Sleng (S-21) Genocide Museum and the Killing Fields. As the capital from which Pol Pot ruled, the city was the site of some incredibly horrific events and places.

DCIM100GOPROTuol Sleng museum was originally a school, but when Pol Pot took over he began to change things, education was not approved of, so many schools closed, often to be re-used for other purposes, in this case as a prison. The treatment of the prisoners here is what is most shocking, and as you explore the site you can see the appalling conditions they were kept in. As you continue through the museum you come across some of the smaller and more cramped cells, knowing that these people were rarely allowed out, often denied food and punished heavily for any misdemeanour. The last part includes some of the devices and techniques that were used on the inmates, things that I will not speak about here. While very sad and upsetting, this shocking example of Cambodias’ history is a must see, to understand what the people have been through, so recently and yet are still smiling and living their lives in such a positive way.

DCIM100GOPROThe Killing Fields, popularised by the movie of the same name is another must see in Phnom Penh, It is an incredibly well kept site, with an excellent audio tour that takes you through the now peaceful site that is grave to countless Cambodians massacred as part of the cultural cleansing. The tour explains the various areas, starting with relatively innocent stops like where the barracks once stop, and the guard houses, until you find yourself at the first mass grave. While there are few bones uncovered, you can see where rags and scraps of clothing have surfaced through the soil, and tourists have tied these to the fences and trees in the area. Wristbands from all around the world are hooped over posts marking out the edges of these graves, and despite the thousands of dedications, it is believed thousands more were murdered.DCIM100GOPROThere is a small lake a little away from the main site that allows tourists to stop and reflect on the horrors that had happened there, although it is hard to comprehend how, especially so recently, something so disturbing could have happened at all. The hardest part is the infant grave, and thinking of how innocent children and babies were taken and killed, more like cattle than people, before being dumped into another mass grave. The final stop of the tour is the Stupa, filled with the skulls of victims, hauntingly beautiful as the architecture and the interior clash. We visited very late in the day, just before closing so it was very quiet, and very peaceful. It seemed almost silent, except for the audio tour that we could pause at any time.

DCIM100GOPROThe next day was rather more cheerful, exploring the markets and finding replacement shoes and just enjoying the city sights. We also took a trip out to the local wildlife park, the Phnom Tamao Wildlife rescue centre. South East Asian zoos do have a bad reputation, but this example was very nice; large open spaces and not a huge amount of tourists, all the animals were rescued from other zoos, or from private collectors, very few were taken from the wild. Certainly the animals looked healthy and happy, and checking out the various Asian bears was impressive, they do miss the Pandas, but when they’re so expensive it’s understandable.

The last thing I did before jumping on the next bus was to have a tooth pulled out. It was cheap, easy and quick (and I got to eat lots of pumpkin soup) so good in fact I went back not long after to get two more out. Goodbye wisdom teeth.


Our next destination was the infamous Sihanoukville.

Benjamin Duff


South Africa Part4 – The Garden Route

Oudtshoorn Pass

The Garden Route stretches along the southern coast of South Africa, from Mossel Bay in the West along to Storms River in the East.

I was using the Basbaz as transport so couldn’t explore every town, but could explore all the ones that are worth exploring. Skipping Mossel Bay I headed straight to Oudtshoorn, which isn’t really part of the route as it’s much further inland, but it doesn’t belong in any other section so it’s here.

Ostrich FarmOudtshoorn has a few bits and pieces to do, the Wildlife Ranch, the Caves and the many Ostrich Farms. Accessing these was a little bit tricky, but thankfully the well run hostel, Backpacker Paradise, offered a variety of trips to allow backpackers to get around and explore. It was the first time I saw a business really taking advantage of the captive market it had in backpackers. So the tours were mostly by bicycle with a man in a van to take you up the hill to start. I chose the high pass bike route, cycling down the long winding road back into the valley from the peak, very impressive views, but it did mean missing out on the caving. Then back in the van I rejoined the main group and were dropped off at the ostrich farm. A peculiar place to visit, but included a chance to sit on and ride an ostrich, an ostrich neck massage and some excellent guiding on why the farms were there and what use ostriches are in Africa. A short ride on was the recommended lunch stop, with swimming pool. A charming location, although the name is well forgotten, so you’ll have to stay at the hostel and ask them. On the route back home we passed the Wildlife Ranch and a few mountain bike trails that I just had to try (not too impressed)

Wildlife RanchThe next day included a visit to the Wildlife Ranch, an impressive collection of animals, and the chance to meet and pet a few of them. This was done with animals born and raised in captivity, used to human contact and with no chance of being released to the wild. The ranch did run a breeding scheme as well, in a separate area of the park inaccesable to visitors ensuring those animals would be capable of surviving in the wild. I certainly felt that the animals were well kept with good enclosures and no cruelty. It was also an amazing experience to pet such gorgeous creatures.

The CaveThe next stop along the route was Wilderness another pleasant little town, looking more European than African in many ways. Wandering along the tracks from The Beach House Backpackers leads to the ‘cave man’ a strange but friendly chap who has built an amazing home in a cave beside the old railway line. He hosts vagrants and refugees from all walks of life, so there’s usually some interesting people hanging around to speak to. Wilderness National ParkThe other side of town (and a long walk) is the Wilderness National Park where it’s possible to rent a canoe, head up river and explore the forest above. Following the path leads up to a nice waterfall area where a splash in the water is mandatory, and very cold! If you ask nicely the hostel can arrange transport for you, otherwise enjoy the stroll.

The HeadsContinuing East is the town of Knysna, a strange place with a newly built gated island community and sparkling new waterfront retail area, while a few blocks back the town is suffering and looks somewhat run down. Try to stay at Island Vibe if you can, Highfields, while nice, was empty and very boring with no activities or options for a sole traveler. The walk to the The Heads was pleasant if a little long, although worth it for the views once there. You can also explore ‘leisure island’ on route, which appears to be the 1960s version of the gated community.

Robberg PeninsulaPlettenberg Bay was the next on the road, another pleasant town, a little more surf orientated than the previous few. Albergo for Backpackers is where I stayed, a lively and fun backpackers. The beach is where most people spend their time, either sunbathing or surfing, but there is the Robberg Nature Reserve which is another long walk away. A cool park to explore, it offers shoe filling sand dunes, cliffs, caves and boardwalks which lead to some very good views along the coast both East and West. I was lucky enough to catch a ride back to the town otherwise that walk would have ruined me.

Wild SpiritA little inland, and into the forested Natures Valley the hippy haven of Wild Spirit Backpackers is a must stop. The hostel offers actual single beds (no bunks!) and is situated on a large area of land, with walks and waterfalls all around. While the weather was pretty bad, so the views were pretty lame, the atmosphere in the hostel was friendly and fun. Lots of music going on, and I got an opportunity to play the Melodica I’d picked up in Oudtshoorn.

BungyThe final point along the Garden Route for us was the Bloukrans Bridge Bungee where it was decided that the highest bungee done so far would have to be done. Overall a very professional experience, none of the sloppy attitudes and techniques that you may fear. At no point was I scared that the equipment would fail or someone would not do their job properly. The only thing I was scared of was jumping off a bridge 216 meters up.

Benjamin Duff


Bloukrans Bungy

New York (Part 2) – Blog from 2009



Today was the first day we really explored Williamsberg. A real haven of arty types, hippys and hipsters. This place is cooler than cool, it’s fuckin’ Ice Cold! Seriously though, the shops here are not like anywhere else I’ve seen, everything is made in some super cool ethically perfect warehouse nearby, it’s all done with a great little attitude. There’s secondhand stores, book shops, and the cutest little places, with the cutest little waitresses and the cutest little cakes! It’s all good there, and a fair bit cheaper than manhattan – good times 🙂

NYC - Scott CliffordIn the evening we headed out to the saosin show – couple of local(ish) supports, but including Inner Party System who do impress, but from our lovely comfy seats we can see the sound guy doing additional vocals and effects – which makes you wonder how much of what’s going on is actually the band… Soasin were the only band I cared about though, and from the get go they were on fire. Tune after tune of awesome guitar licks and just perfect vocals, these guys are pro. An amazing encore is a great ending as well, epic repeated climaxes, finishing on ‘They sit…’ A real rock song that just makes you move. And then the second encore, for some reason the drummer doesn’t re-appear so the bassist switches over as they improvise crazy brutal hardcore and metal shiz then shred their asses off, after a few repeats the singer comes back out to growl and scream like some demented slayer fan. It’s all a bit retarded, but fuck me does it make you feel good to be there with them – it was a real special show!

Back to the local and then off to bed 🙂


  StreetsSo from our lovely barman at the Local, we head of to Coney Island to check out the fairground rides but specifically looking for the freakshow – a collection of screwed up people who can do freaky stuff, just like you’d expect really. It sounded pretty sweet so off we went on the epic metro ride south. About three trains later we come to Coney island – the metro trundles along by the sea front giving a great view of the amusements. It looked a little quiet, but we didn’t expect much for a drizzly day in autumn. But when we get out of the station it tells a different story. Big fences, tarpaulin over all the rides, half dismantled go-carts and parts along with the grim weather and total lack of people makes us feel like horror movie victims. Through the centre of the park, between the abandoned roller-coaster, the stationary big wheel and the deserted dodg’ems we wander… finding a few gems. Live human paintball shooting looks awesome and the old rickety pier is worthy of a quick stroll. Still, the place is somewhat lacking in actual content so we grab a quick (vile) coffee and head towards manhattan.

Stopping off to get directions on the way we head to a fabled Bikini bar. Pretty simple concept, it’s a bar, where the barmaids are all females in bikinis. There’s a stage with a pole at the far end, but it’s hardly made the most of. The girls are friendly enough, or greedy for tips, either way the conversation is a bit awkward, but we discover that all the girls there are eastern european. It’s not long before we’re questioning how much of this place is a front for a brothel. Mmmm eastern european sex slaves, how far we’ve come in the last 100 years!

Streets Finally we’re off to check out shimmys, or chavys, or slippys or something like that. It’s Andrew W.K.s club, a door in a wall and a room with a shouty indy(ish) band. It all looks like they spent a lot of time making it look cool but it mostly looked like the standard rock bar in every city in the world. At least it didn’t try to be be Irish! The band were good, but finished not long after we arrived, and the DJ, and ‘contest’ were a bit pants. It was all pretty quiet thanks to thanksgiving so we’ll forgive it that. We met some cool people there, and ended up getting an uber late night Maccies.

A good day, if a little slower paced than normal – skipped the local, and went to bed.


Hello Kitty - Scott CiffordThanksgiving! Wooo! So we went to see the parade, and saw many giant things floating in the sky! There was a pikachu, and Micky mouse, a Dora the Explorer and some more! It was quite interesting while there, not so great to talk about though! So from Times Square we went north to central park, stopping off in the Time Warner centre which is just a mall, but we bummed out in the samsung experience stealing plays on games and decks and sequencers. We even figured out how to work some of them! Back outside and into central park again, it was a good day for a wander, sunny but still bloody chilly! We looked at the ice rink, and nice as it would’ve been to go, (romantic too) it was a bloody rip-off so we bailed and headed to the Zoo.

Snow Leopard - Scott CliffordThe zoo was pretty awesome, we saw sea-lions dancing, polar bears snoozing and snow-leopards falling down hills. There are many cute animals in zoos, so it’s always worth a quick look. Small, but cheap this zoo seems very New York – focusing on the biggest and best stuff out there. Red Pandas are dead cute little things as well! I still need to see a real panda though. Best bit of it though, you get a free ticket to the kids zoo next door, so in we wandered to see turtles and bunnies, goats and pigs. Lols were had hiding in wooden rabbits and trying to squeeze into a turtle shell. If only we were 10 years younger maybe we wouldn’t have looked so weird!

Red Panda - Scott CliffordWe headed back to the hostel to take advantage of some free thanksgiving food, which was in fact awesome. Not much in the way of veg, so pure turkey it was! We met a lot of people around the table that day, including a few guys from a uni upstate somewhere, One a British guy, and two German girls, a Danish guy doing god knows what everywhere he could, another Brit traveling the world giving out hugs (hug it on/hug it through [Hug it Forward] – something like that – pretty cool concept really, raising money via hugging!), a chap from eastern Europe (I forget where) and a simply gorgeous french girl studying down south who was doing something in NY. After dinner and much talking we make a move down to the local where we discuss many things and bump into a rather delightful Australian chap. After quite a few drinks a few of us, head back to take advantage of the hostel hot-tub. It’s really quite fantastic to be chilling in New York, in a hot tub with friendly people. Even better still when the cute french girl jumps in next to you in her undies!

They say the greatest things in life are free. They’re not wrong! Bed!


Brooklyn Bridge - Scott CliffordBlack friday – the day after Thanksgiving is well known for it’s sales. We’d found this out earlier in the week, and to make the most of this, we saved all our shopping money till then. It’s not the most exciting day, but I enjoyed it a lot! Two pairs of shoes, red/black/white Nike highs and Black/White Reeboks Highs, a pair of Levis, chocolate, cuddly toys, another pair of shoes from a secondhand shop White/lime Nike Highs and a brand new snowboard! At 70% off I really couldn’t say no! I knew I’d have to pay an extra $50 on the flight back, but with all the other stuff I bought I would’ve ended up paying that anyway, it’s a good thing my tee-s all fitted in the box with the board as my bag was full of shoes!

When we got back after an interesting metro ride home we dumped the stuff got some food and met up with the Uni guys from the night before. After a quickie in the local we headed back out to Brooklyn again, Barcade and Crocodile bar and Union Pool were all hit, before heading back to jump in the hot tub again. But oh no! The tub was out of action – so back down to the local to finish the last night of our trip in style and in comfort. Having picked up a few of the others from the hostel, and met more in the bar it was a pretty rowdy night of giggles.

Sandwhich and bed.

DAY 10

ClockOur last day in NY, and we were feeling lazy, so we headed out to brooklyn, checked out a skate shop with a half pipe, and a massive (but too chic for us) secondhand store. Then we grabbed milkshakes and cookies and headed to the river shore again. While it was painfully cold and hard-to-stand windy it was good to say goodbye to Manhattan. It’s an amazing place to be – if you’ve never been I seriously recomend it! Meeting up quickly with the girl from Santos we hit one last secondhand store and got another pair of Nike Highs (all white) then headed back to the hostel to chillax before the flight. Chilling and watching Anchorman – what better way to relax.

And then we went home…

I love NY and will be going back at some point, soon I hope!


Dublin Zoo – An Alternative day out in Dublin – Blog for Isaacshostel.ie

Dublin Zoo provides entertainment for all, and makes a great break from big old stone buildings and pints of Guinness.

A Wold Waits - Versestravel.worpress.com

Using the mini-card discounts available in the hostel reception, the entry price is very reasonable, and getting there is easier enough. Once inside, the layout excellently guides you through and past the animal enclosures, giving you an opportunity to see Tigers, Wolves, Snow Leopards and Orang Utans on one side, with lemurs and other monkeys jumping around on the lakes small islands on the other.


An Orang Utan Thinks - Versestravel.wordpress.com

The African Safari area is very impressive with a great viewing pathway along the edge of a large plain. Giraffes and Zebra impress with their diversity, while the Rhinos dose near the far wall. It sucessfully recreates that African feel, but one better, all the animals are right in front of you. A Hippo Swims - Versestravel.wordpress.comThe Hippo is another good spot, although getting a photo is tricky as he surfaces for only a few seconds at a time as he circles his shady pool.

The Gorillas and Chimpanzees are great fun to watch, climbing and swinging around their enclosures, hunting out food and grooming while the younger apes play fight and chase each other about. There’s also some aquatic animals to check out in Dublin Zoo, sealions and penguins both pulling in crowds as they cruise happily around their pools. Catching a feeding is highly recommended as you’ll get to see them more active.

The Baby Elephant Snoozes - Versestravel.wordpress.com


Finally, the highlight of the tour is the new born Elephant. Bigger than you might expect for less than a month old this baby is still very young and doesn’t do too much. If you’re lucky you’ll see him testing out his legs and taking a little stroll. Imagine new born Bambi, but much heavier!


A Heron Watches - Versestravel.wordpress.com

While the park is very family orientated there is still plenty for those that are young at heart to enjoy. The animals at Dublin Zoo are spectacular regardless of age, although heading over on a week day will help reduce the crowds and give a better view for the feedings.

Benjamin Duff