Convenient Parking

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Ok so there’s a lot of catching up to do (roughly two years) but Dad’s requested an update on current travel situation. This will be my first ever post entirely by phone and in the sad absence of a proper camera.  Expect typos, poor grammar etc, the usual. All photos will be straight from my Samsung phone without any editing so you’ll get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the poor saturation. In fact the internet’s the worst it’s been since PNG so I’ll be delighted if they load at all.
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We arrived into Ohrid, Macedonia, the night before last and headed out to a local restaurant for food. My large pizza cost less than two pounds :s Everything costs around half the price of what you’d expect elsewhere in Europe – judge for yourself from the photos but I definitely think this city is an untapped resource: Stunning scenery, lovely weather, incredibly friendly people and rock bottom prices.
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IMG_8477The one slightly odd thing is the bizarre way in which the term ‘road’ is used. We were directed down roads in our little hire car where there was less than an inch gap between the side of the car and the houses either side of the crumbly cobbled streets, made worse by the fact that locals had parked willy-nilly along the precipices and stray dogs, poles and rocks popped up in unexpected places. We eventually had to reverse out of the town at 4mph and walk back with our suitcases. No wonder the man at the hire car stall had gone over the car with a magnifying glass to note down every minor scratch.
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Although it’s always fun to complain, that’s about as far as it goes with Ohrid. Just beautiful.
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And the flag’s fun too!

This Easter morning we had the rather more challenging feat of driving across the border to the coast of Albania.
We stopped off en route at St. Naum monastery, another idyllic spot. What made St. Naum particularly special were the fresh water springs surrounding it which feed into the lake.
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IMG_8480IMG_8478Across the border you noticed an immediate difference in terms of road quality and the quantity of half built, abandonned constructions. My favourite new addition to the landscape was the frequent appearance of a man on the roadside, poised as if he’s trying to hitch-hike, but on closer inspection he’s brandishing a large trout. They’d effectively just plucked fish from the water and were wiggling them about in front of drivers in an attempt to scrape a living. Very entertaining, if nothing else. We must have passed about 20 of them.
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Although Google maps is the best improvement to life since air con, it really has absolutely no idea what the hell’s  going on with the roads in Albania. Like a slavic bermuda triangle. We ended up on some ridiculous ‘scenic’ routes with potholes formed in the wake of some sort of nuclear apocalypse. We eventually decided to ignore it and emerged onto the Albanian ‘Riviera’.
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Pretty, but so far it appears that ‘off season’ roughly translates as ‘everything within a 40 mile radius is shut until June’. I’ve given up trying to upload photos now as it’s just too slow. Update on our cashless, foodless situation tomorrow.

Tiptoe Through The Tulips/ Trampled Underfoot

Tulips Keukenhof

Unfortunately I’ve dropped the ball in terms of keeping up to date – this trip to Holland to celebrate mum’s birthday took place in the middle of April. I’ve let exams (and further trips) keep me weighed down so there’s a fair bit of catching up to do! Also, as I’ve previously mentioned, it is far more difficult to keep up to date when I’m in (good) company! I’ve been fortunate enough to head out on three little adventures since my last post which all merit attention but, first things first, Holland in tulip season.

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We arranged to stay in yet another Airbnb apartment. This one, however, was a little different! The five of us (the family together with the exception of my little brother) headed out to the outskirts of Amsterdam where a beautiful barge was waiting for us. The stay definitely expanded my ‘Airbnb’ horizons as I’d not considered that such ‘alternative’ options would be so readily available. After acclimatising to the gentle rocking it was a fantastically exciting place to stay, with swans popping up at the windows in the evenings and friendly ducks resting on our decking in the morning.

Mallard

Amsterdam itself seemed to me like a hybrid of Copenhagen and Berlin. Beautiful canals and those iconic narrow buildings yet slightly more dampened, in terms of the colour pallet, when compared directly to Copenhagen. Those looking for the famous ‘cafés’ would not be disappointed – the smell of Cannabis seems just around every corner. The red light district similarly lives up to its ‘no holds barred’ reputation! Wouldn’t recommend for families with small children but for anyone who is remotely curious – I’ve never seen anything like it! For slightly less risqué adventures – try exploring the quaint delft shops dotted about the city. There are also many notable museums and art galleries – My highlight was the tragic but fascinating Van Gogh museum.

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Now, the main reason we had opted for Holland at this time of year was, of course, the tulips. We arranged a trip to the world famous Keukenhof gardens and were completely taken aback by the ridiculous queues to get onto the public transport. By ‘ridiculous’ I mean a lady working there told us the queue we were looking at couldn’t possibly be for Keukenhof as the buses went from round the corner of the next building. 100 additions to the queue later we established that it was, indeed, our queue. It was over an hour shuffling, penguin fashion, before we caught sight of these gold-dust buses.

And that was just the beginning.

The gardens themselves were quite possibly the busiest tourist attraction I have been to in my life. The only experience that comes close is being cow-herded through the Vatican. I tried my best to capture pictures of the stunning gardens with as few people in as possible but this was only achievable if you were within 20cm of the actual flowers. Luckily it did quieten down a little later in the evening as it drew towards closing time.

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The tulip fields surrounding the gardens, in my opinion, were equally stunning. Yet unfortunately the crowds had begun to spill out into them as well!

The tulip fields surrounding the gardens, in my opinion, were equally stunning. Yet unfortunately the crowds had begun to spill out into them as well!

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The magical moment when the crowds had dissipated before closing time.

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Overall, yes the gardens were unquestionably beautiful, but do not go imagining the gardens to be the idyllic peaceful masterpieces you see in the brochures. I’d definitely recommend timing your visit to as close towards closing time as possible!

City Of Black & White

Museum Island

Museum Island

Bubble blower

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We were a little taken aback, on arriving into Germany for the first time, to find the most inefficient train station I’ve seen in quite a while. No clear signs or indication of which train is on which platform at all! Heading into central Berlin, things didn’t immediately improve as there seemed to be nobody there. Perhaps this due to the fact that at 10/11 in the morning the tourists and party-lovers are either still out or are crashing… anyway, having got up at 3 to catch a cheap early flight a little ‘crash’ was a necessary detour before heading out. Airbnb in Mitte – again very easy and very good value.

First stop – the nearest shop in sight to get warmer clothes inc. hat/gloves which I had ridiculously left behind.

Take two – now layered up like the Michelin man it felt safe to venture out into the city.

Brandenburg Gate

Brandenburg Gate

Reichstag Building - historical edifice built for the Imperial Diet of the German Empire.

Reichstag Building – historical edifice built for the Imperial Diet of the German Empire.

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In the wake of a snowy winter, all the colour seems to have been sapped from the City. This is particularly evident in the striking Holocaust memorial below.

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It does get a little brighter, however, when it comes to the street art. The East Side Gallery in particular is a must-see! (section of the remaining Berlin Wall covered in ‘grafitti’)

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Topography of Terror - on the site of the old Gestop base you can find a fantastic little summary of Nazi Germany in this small museum.

Topography of Terror – on the site of the old Gestop base you can find a fantastic little summary of Nazi Germany in this small museum.

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Berliner Dom (Cathedral)

Berliner Dom (Cathedral)

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Apple Strudel!

Apple Strudel!

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Overall, I apologize in advance for offending anybody, it was not particularly my cup of tea. Very bleak, stark and sombre. Fascinating in terms of historical content – the scars of past wars are clearly visible and it hosts a phenomenal range of museums. You may consider visiting in the summer, however I felt the stories held by the city seemed to strike even harder in the bitter cold, making it a memorable but fairly solemn experience.

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Sugar Town

Nyhavn Copenhagen

“Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch.”
― Hans Christian Andersen

It’s always intimidating to arrive at a hostel in the late evening: the large groups of ‘well-oiled’ young adults from all corners of the globe make you feel like you’ve wandered into some exclusive bar by yourself in the middle of the night.

First impressions of Copenhagen: The air coming off the plane from London seemed ridiculously fresh and clean. It appeared pretty small and manageable, with very picturesque canals and cobbled streets scattered with hundreds of bicycles.

Nyhavn Copenhagen

Nyhavn Copenhagen

Nyhavn Copenhagen

I was a little wobbly with the road system at first: I was wondering why the road was so wide before realising that half of it was a ‘bike road’ which sort of disguises itself as a very wide pavement, a misunderstanding which led to a few close shaves. On the first morning I wandered out to Nyhavn, a famous ‘heritage harbour’ canal waterfront packed with brightly coloured 17th/18th Century town houses which now act as cafés and restaurants. From here I meandered to the little mermaid statue, inspired of course by Hans Christian Anderson’s tale of the mermaid who gives up her aquatic life to gain the love of a prince and a human soul (dying tragically in the original tale, unlike the disney-tainted version which most people are now more familiar with). I’d been advised to not expect much, or even to avoid the site altogether due to the absurd number of tourists who flock to see it. As expected, it was absolutely crammed with people of all origins literally clambering all over it. However, having studied Hans Christian Anderson’s tale this year at university I couldn’t help but love it. In fact I think it depends a lot on the timing. I headed back for the evening light later in the day to see a fraction of the crowds that were there before.

The Little Mermaid Copenhagen

The Little Mermaid Copenhagen

The gardens, fountains and churches dotted about the city are beautifully maintained, seeming almost regimented and square. There are also these bizarre lines of bright orange identical buildings dotted about the place which I assume are for housing.

Rosenburg Castle

Rosenburg Castle

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I was incredibly lucky with the weather – absolutely spotless blue skies. I actually made the mistake of sunbathing in the park on the second day and managed to burn my entire body. I tried out one of the ‘soft ice’ ice creams which apparently is a local favourite, although found it far too sweet and creamy – no way near as good as the similar ones from ‘The Eskimo Hut’ in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

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The food and, well, everything really, is incredibly expensive. Far more so than London, Paris or Tokyo even. Just as an indicator a small bottled juice cost the equivalent of around £5. I splurged on some expensive pastries though which, although undoubtedly fantastic, were again a little too sweet for my tastes.

Bakery Copenhagen

To compensate for the expense of the food (which I lowered by bringing food from home in my luggage) I stuck to free city activities, such as checking out the ‘Statens Museum for Kunst’ (national art gallery) and the national museum which had a fascinating exhibition on ancient Nordic history. The art gallery had a great selection of Matisse and Picasso, and some interesting local Danish art but didn’t take overly long to get through, say in comparison to the national gallery here in London.

Matisse self portrait

Matisse self portrait

Sculpture of Hans Christian Anderson's haunting 'Story of the Mother'. Here death is taking away the young child.

Sculpture of Hans Christian Anderson’s haunting ‘Story of the Mother’. Here death is taking away the young child.

Botanical gardens

Botanical gardens

Strøget - the centre of the shopping district.

Strøget – the centre of the shopping district.

The only site I expended a few Kroner for was the ’round tower’, with a bizarre curving brick walk way leading up to a beautiful view over the city.

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It’s Been A While/ Scenes From An Italian Restaurant

It’s actually been three and a half months since I last posted. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s amazing how it feels more like a year since Central America. Arriving home was pretty surreal at first but after a few short days I was quickly back into the swing of home life. Cornwall was on fine form – I dove straight into the early summer. In place of my usual complaints of the overwhelming “grey and green” there was a chance to appreciate the county at its best, definitely clarifying in my mind why so many view Cornwall as a holiday destination in itself.

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I didn’t have too long to dwell on this however as I was swiftly scooped up on a family trip to Northern Italy via windswept Edinburgh to celebrate my sister’s medical graduation. We were staying behind a little town on the Italian Riviera called San Remo in a house that epitomised ‘Italian rustic’. By that, I mean it seemed virtually decrepit with very poor electricity, no internet, water that needed ‘switching on’ and the permanent appearance of not having been cleaned for centuries. The ‘sleeps six’ advertisement appeared to be a vast exaggeration – there was one bedroom. The rest of us had to fight it out over sofas and mattresses. What’s more the lane providing access to the house was clearly not big enough to safely drive down, with steep vertical drops off the edge. Locals, however, did not seem to find this a problem, whizzing past at impossible speeds, barely pausing to acknowledge the large family splatted against the wall to avoid the speeding vehicle. Other local specialties along the road were ludicrous amounts of dog waste, amateur graffiti, more mopeds than seem physically possible to fit into a small town and an array of ‘interesting’ smells.

Not a great first impression.

Italian Cottage San Remo

Despite my complaining, it was pretty beautiful from the outside – complete with grapevines, mulberry, plum and fig trees – yum!

However one of the main advantages of this location was its proximity to Monaco which we explored frequently, initially by the coastal route through bundles of beautiful classic terracotta-roofed towns. Monaco itself was very impressive, in a sort of flashy, glamorous and slightly pretentious way: Rolls Royce, Porsches, Bentleys, Aston Martins and Ferraris replaced your standard Fords and Toyotas. The ports were particularly outstanding in their display of obscene wealth in the form of super yachts! There was a surprisingly large amount to do without bankrupting yourself including botanical and Japanese gardens, port-side walking paths, museums, the castle etc. There’s also the beach, but like the majority of the beaches along this stretch of coast it was crammed full of people/sun loungers and with dusty rocks in lieu of sand.

Menton

Menton – just on the french side of the border.

Monte Carlo Harbour

The Cathedral, in ‘Monaco-Ville’ a raised area which drops off into cliffs on all sides on which you can also find the castle and the renowned musée oceanographique.

One of the highlights was Monte Carlo Casino which was disappointingly small but more than made up for it through it’s lavish decor. It’s also worth a minute stopping at the ‘Café de Paris’ for an overpriced drink to enjoy the display of wealth parading in the ‘place du casino’ largely in the form of flashy cars. One thing worth taking from this if you’re considering a visit: YOU NEED PASSPORT/DRIVING LICENCE TO ENTER THE CASINO. Needless to say we were not aware of this, leading to a highly frustrating first attempt.

Monte Carlo Casino Fountain

Monte Carlo Casino Mirror

The next stage of my journey involved separating from the family and investigating the Italian rail system – travelling down on a 9 hour journey to Umbria to meet my friends staying on the border of Tuscany. Although the internet coverage of the train system is poor, don’t be disheartened as its actually incredibly straight forward from the stations – just remember to validate your tickets with the little machines on the platforms! Umbria was as you’d expect – beautiful sprawling Italian countryside dotted with vineyards and picturesque hilltop villages.

Our day trip into Rome was at the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The absurdly high level of crowds severely diminished the otherwise spectacular sights. Combined with the heat this makes the summer a very inadvisable time to visit! The Vatican City in particular was like being herded through a cattle ranch.

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I’m now frantically sorting out last minute bits and bobs for my next trip – starting with a rather intimidating journey to Yangon Myanmar TOMORROW via Delhi and Bangkok!! My mind is currently overflowing with medicine kits, antimalarials, maps, currency, confirmations, clothes etc etc- I’d better crack on.