Greece

Some of my favourite pictures from a recent trip to Greece. Yamas!

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece
The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

 

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece
The Temple of Olympian Zeus, Athens, Greece

 

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki, Greece
Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki, Greece

 

Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki
Aristotelous Square, Thessaloniki

 

Thessaloniki, Greece
Thessaloniki, Greece

 

View from the White Tower, Thessaloniki, Greece
View from the White Tower, Thessaloniki, Greece

Netherlands

For many the Netherlands is somewhat of a Mecca and is often high on the ‘to do’ list when travelling Europe. Arriving at Centraal Station, Amsterdam your intertwining feelings sit somewhere between ‘waking up on Christmas morning’ and stepping off the platform to go bungee jumping. Crossing you cross the birdge over Open Havenfront the city unfolds before you, showing that Santa Claus has indeed delivered what you wished for. Now, try not to overindulge.

The entrance to Amsterdam's red light district
The entrance to Amsterdam’s red light district

As you make the short walk from Centraal to The Flying Pig Downtown Hostel you pass coffee shops, sex shops, tourist shops and cafés that actually do sell coffee. After checking in and getting acquianted with your surroundings it’s understandable if you pass on the hostel bar for the moment in favour of something a little more mellow, the Blues Brothers Coffee store over the road will cater to those needs. After making your obligatory purchase of several grams of weed you can now begin to take in Amsterdam in a much more relaxed fashion, and as you discover the city offers a lot more than initially expected.

A short tram ride from the city centre Vondelpark offers 120 acres of beautiful parkland to cotch in and take in some sun. For those in a chemically altered state of mind the park is ideal as the surrounding waterways, flowers and quaint bridges provide a beautiful environment in which to wander about and ponder your purpose in life. Central Library (Openbare Bibliotheek) is also worth spending some time in as the locally produced art, best described as an eclectic mix, allows you to see many more styles and mediums than just those made famous by post-Impressionalist painter Vincent van Gogh. As an added highlight the view from the library’s balcony is one of the best cityscapes you are likely to see of Amsterdam.

Vondelpark is the perfect place to relax
Vondelpark is the perfect place to relax

At night the city shifts from cultural to carnal as the notorious red light district comes to life. For those with unmet needs some of the most beautiful women you will ever see are available from any of the eight hundred or so red windows across the district, from sunrise to sunset. For everyone else who would rather not indulge in this attraction, including yours truly, these windows can still provide an enjoyable and somewhat interesting experience of a different type. Pulling up a comfy lounge chair or stool in front of a window and an adjacent pub allows you to spend an evening eating and drinking with good company while you watch the working girls go about their evenings soliciting company from passers by. Just be sure to respect the unwritten rule of no photographing the girls, no matter how much you want to share your experience.

While Moulin Rouge Amsterdam may share a name with its famous French counterpart the shows performed at each venue are vastly different. The French burlesque themed song and dance spectacular is non existent in Amsterdam, replaced instead with a seedy sex show similar to Bangkok’s famous ‘ping pong’ shows. For those who are unacquainted with these shows it is best to avoid getting too drunk or obnoxious as there is every chance you will be dragged on stage as an assistant of sorts. How much of Amsterdam you choose to experience is entirely up to you.

One of Amsterdam's many canals.

Canals make for some beautiful urban scenery

Do:

* Read the pamphlets before taking any hallucinogens. They provide an excellent insight into what you will experience, when you can expect to experience it and most importantly, how to bring yourself down if things start getting a bit uneasy.

* Arrive in the day time. Amsterdam has hundreds of small, winding streets and it’s very easy to get lost if you’ve only just arrived.

Don’t:

* Lounge around the whole time. There’s several weeks worth of things to do and most likely you’ll only be there for a few days. Get out and explore!

* Budget the bare minimum. There’s plenty of things to spend your cash on in Amsterdam so budget that little bit extra to ensure you can enjoy yourself without the guilt of overspending.

Costs:

Direct flights from London to Amsterdam are available from (£50) (€60) return.

Beer: €3.5 for a locally brewed Heineken leaves very little reason to complain.

Admission to Moulin Rouge Amsterdam: €25 per person for a one hour show

Accommodation: €20-30) per night at either of the two Flying Pig hostels. While there are many places to stay in Amsterdam it is much more fun if you’re a piggy.

Last visited: November 2013

Australia

Australia is a country everyone knows but few know much about. Sure Australians play some odd sports, speak with a horribly nasal accent and have some of the most deadly animals on Earth but outside these elements most would struggle to hold a conversation of any real substance about the great brown land. While much of Australia’s initial influence was inherited from England, two hundred years of being one of the most isolated countries on earth and a struggle to find its own identity has cultivated a culture compiled of sporting passion, alcohol consumption, travel and an over the top fascination with coffee.

Sydney is perhaps the very representation of what Australia is perceived to be. Golden sandy beaches filled with sun-loving locals and visitors alike adorn the coves and bay areas, while ‘must see’ landmarks dot your tourist map in a most gluttonous fashion. Expensive bars, nightclubs and restaurants fight for shop-front with views overlooking Darling Harbour while boats packed with tourists cruise up and down the narrow waterways, providing the perfect photo opportunity of the Sydney cityscape. Indeed comparisons to Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour are entirely substantiated, the two boast impressive night-time views, overpriced beer and a certain prestigious feeling that other cities fail to capture. Unlike Hong Kong however Sydney remains relatively pollution free, no doubt due to the spacious urban sprawl of suburbs and lower density than its counterpart.

Bondi Beach, Sydney
Bondi Beach, Sydney

For those who crave a more European feel and enjoy exploring cities rather than being shuttled around them then Melbourne is the place to be. Melbourne’s famous CBD alleyway culture means that some of the most enjoyable bars, cafés and restaurants are readily accessible yet still maintain a local feel despite their central location. While the Docklands area may under-deliver after receiving much hype in the last few years other readily accessible locations, such as St. Kilda which make your Melbourne experience a memorable one. Board a 96 tram anywhere in the city and twenty minutes later you are cruising down St. Kilda esplanade, complete with beachfront, backpacker bars and Luna Park, Australia’s oldest amusement park. For those a little too old for amusement parks live music venues, such as the Palais Theatre and the Esplanade Hotel offer live music and comedy most nights of the week.

Crown Casino Melbourne
Crown Casino, Melbourne

For the more cultured traveller who fancy seeing a different side to Melbourne, Footscray and Richmond are well worth exploring on a free afternoon. The Footscray market, open Tuesday to Saturday offers a host of cheap clothing, home-wares and delicious Vietnamese, Afghan and Indian food owing to the large migrant populations who settled in and around the Footscray area. Likewise Victoria street in Richmond is a host of Thai restaurants and Vietnamese bakeries offering delicious food for only a few dollars. Richmond also plays host to a mishmash of topless bars, nightclubs, live music venues and sporting grounds including the Melbourne Cricket Ground. While the MCG caters to a variety of sports including cricket, football and Australian Rules Football the stadium itself contains a wealth of Australian sporting history from a variety of sports, including Olympic and World Cup memorabilia. Fully guided tours of the MCG are available almost every day of the year and are highly recommended.

The Melbourne Cricket Ground
The Melbourne Cricket Ground

Do:

* Attend an AFL game in Melbourne: Australian Rules Football is a unique Australian sport with a passionate following. Games are played at both the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Etihad Stadium. If big crowds are your thing then look for games featuring either Essendon, Carlton, Collingwood or Richmond.

* Fly between cities when possible: Domestic air travel in Australia is incredibly cheap flights between major cities can be obtained for as little as €20 if booked in advanced. Budget airlines to consider include Jetstar, Virgin Australia and Tiger Air. On a similar note  take the ‘Skybus’ from Melbourne Airport as it is much cheaper than a taxi and will drop you in the city centre for only $15 (€11) one way.

Don’t:

* Take offence: Australians are depreciative by nature and often say things in a well-meaning manner that could be considered offensive in most parts of the world. Unless it’s upset you greatly try to let it slide, Australian people seldom say things maliciously.

* Swim outside the red and yellow flags at a beach: If you’re lucky enough to have warm weather and the opportunity to go swimming at the beach be sure to stay inside the red and yellow flags which denote the safe areas to swim. Failure to do so exposes you to underwater currents, boats and other undesirable elements.

Costs:

Flights from Sydney to Melbourne are €40-€75 one way

Beer: €4.5 for a pint of local beer. €5 for a pint of locally brewed ‘import’ beer

Admission to an Australian Rules Game: Tickets from €16 Euro for smaller games

Accommodation: Ranges from €14-18 per night in a hostel

Last visited: February 2013

The Bondi Beach picture was sourced from Accomodationnear.com as I was unable to get a good picture of Bondi on the day due to poor weather.

What are your thoughts on Australia? Share them in the comments section down below!

Singapore

Arriving in Singapore at night is one of the most beautiful contrasts between man and nature you’re ever going to see. A cluster of lights seemingly almost swallowed whole by the mighty Pacific Ocean, Singapore first comes into view on the not too distant horizon as your plane descends below the clouds, glowing like the beacon of a lighthouse used to warn sailors of the dangerous coast nearby. Approaching the city it seems to rise up out of the darkness and, like a mosquito drawn to a bug zapper, you get closer and closer until you feel the inevitably hard bump as the landing gear of the plane connects with the tarmac. Stepping off the plane you are met by a muggy, damp temperature that feels like a stifling outdoor sauna. With an average temperature of 30 degrees celsius all year round Singapore has no concept of winter, scarves or gas heating.

Like the emergency department of a large hospital the so-called Lion City is sterile, clean and full of rules. Orderly queues form for almost everything, perhaps a remnant of their heavily influenced British past, and the ebb and flow of crowds is civil, disciplined and courteous. If all this sounds rather drab and conformist, you’re the sort of person who would rather a large dose of partying and consuming alcohol by the bucket, then Singapore, with its zero tolerance approach to illicit drugs of any kind, is probably better avoided. For those with a more refined taste and a penchant for good food and better company then you’ve come to the right place.

Built in 1887 the iconic Raffles Hotel offers a unique experience no other bar or restaurant in the country can match. The tropical garden, courtyard, museum and theatre may highlight just how large and how grand this establishment is however it is the two-story bar area that defines your Raffles experience. Bowls of nuts adorn each table and Raffles tradition dictates that the shells of these nuts be thrown on the floor after consumption, a peculiar custom as littering is banned in Singapore. For those with a nut allergy then Raffles also offers a tasty, albeit somewhat price menu and of offers you the chance to sip a Singapore Sling out on the balcony. The Singapore Sling was invented in 1915 at, you guessed it, Raffles hotel by a bartender named Ngiam Tong Boon. While Tong Boon never envisioned how popular the drink would become having a Sling at Raffles is akin to enjoying mojitos in Cuba or Black Russians at Hotel Metropole in Brussels.

Those who explore Singapore by foot are rewarded with little oddities that you rarely see elsewhere. Koi ponds are scattered throughout walkways between buildings and, for a couple of dollars, you can feed the fish from ready-made bags of fish food. Large food courts full of cheap and delicious local and international food are found in and around the CBD while a walk along Marina bay provides a stunning view of Singapore across the water. By night the pubs, bars and restaurants alongside the waterside offer live music, plenty of comfortable outdoor seating and a wide variety of beers to keep both locals and expats happy.

For those with a more touristic outlook the Singapore Zoo offers a variety of wonderful experiences including Elephant and educational conservation shows which run several times daily. Feeding opportunities and even the chance to get your photo taken with the orangutans are also avaliable. By night the Singapore flyer offers spectacular views of the city and Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which is worth a visit in its own right if only to take in the sights from the viewing platform and nearby bar. While Singapore may be viewed by some as a layover in between flights for those who are willing to invest the time the Lion City offers much, much more.

Do:

* Try the local food: Singapore has a wonderful mix of food available from many different cultures and almost of it is cooked in the traditional way. Try one of the many street stalls for a cheap eat or head to the underground food courts housed below many of the CBD office buildings.

* Pack appropriately: Singapore is warm, sticky and humid so you can leave the heavy coat and fluffy socks at home. Buy an umbrella as showers are common and often arrive with as little as ten minutes notice.

Don’t:

* Do drugs: With a zero tolerance approach to any kind of illicit drug Singapore is not a place you want to party hard. Be smart and go elsewhere if this is your thing.

* Stay on the mainland: Singapore has a number of day trips available to surrounding islands which are not only more peaceful but the also provide a chance for you to enjoy a boat cruise and see a variety of wildlife along the way.

Costs:

Local busses from Singapore to Malaysia are available several times a week from S$15 (€8.90) one way.

Beer: S$11+ (€6.5+) for a pint of Tiger on tap. Prices are generally cheaper further away from the bay you are.

Admission to Singapore Flyer: Adults S$29.70 (€17.6) Children S$18.90 (€11.20) tickets are best purchased online

Accommodation: Ranges from S$25-30 (€15-18) per night in a hostel

Last visited: November 2010

 

What are your thoughts on Singapore? Share them in the comments section down below!

7 countries, 7 pictures

A friend and I recently embarked on a 16 day whirlwind trip around Western Europe. Below are my seven favourite photos taken from our seven country trip.

The entrance to Amsterdam's red light district
Amsterdam,  Netherlands
Zurich, Switzerland
Zurich, Switzerland
Zuirch, Switzerland
Zuirch, Switzerland
Paris, France
Paris, France
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Poland

If you were to think of Poland as a person it would be your grandmother. Traditional, endearing and with a slight tendency to drink at any time throughout the day Poland is full of history and intent on preserving it for future generations. While often overlooked by travellers in favour of neighbouring countries such as Germany and the Czech Republic, it’s worth scheduling an extra couple of days to explore Poland’s major cities, which are filled with a surprisingly diverse variety of arts, food and live music.

When Warsaw was almost entirely razed by the occupying German forces during World War 2 its citizens had a rare opportunity, the chance to redesign the city centre from scratch and to do it just way they wanted. In true Polish fashion this was done swiftly and using exactly the same city layout as before. Consequently the narrow cobbled streets of the ‘old town’ area are not overly different to that of every other old town you’ve visited, and while it’s worth a visit to the Uprising Museum as well, it is the lesser known destinations, that ones that the locals frequent, that give Warsaw its charm.

Entertainment alongside the Wisla River
Entertainment alongside the Wisla River

Cafeterias, known as ‘Bar Mleczny’ or ‘Milk Bars’, serve piping hot means, some of the cheapest in Europe and with plenty of delicious traditional Polish food on offer. If Russian dumplings aren’t your thing (they’re Polish dumplings in Russia) then consider a visit to Praga instead. While the suburb is notorious for its high crime rate it also houses a large percentage of the cities artists and musicians and their counterculture style makes for an enjoyable experience.  The old red-brick building that once housed the Koneser Vodka Distillery has been closed for quite some time now but the building that once dealt in nothing but vodka now houses some the best bars and restaurants in Warsaw, as well as an open air cinema during the warmer months.

Much like the capital Krakow is intent on preserving the past and boasts a surprising amount of history, even by lofty European standards. If time is brief and you’ve only got a couple of hours to go sightseeing then head to Wawel Castle. The thirteenth century stone castle is romantically tucked up next to the Wisla river and even features a former dragons lair, once home to the evil Wawel Dragon who was out witted by a quick thinking cobbler in an amusing fairytale about greed and lateral thinking. In true fairytale style Wawel Castle  is also home to the crypts of former Polish Kings, each with their own plaque outlining Polish history during their respective reigns. On top of all that the castle also plays host Wawel Cathedral, an intricate and beautifully designed cathedral that is revered by Poles everywhere, so much so that Pope John Paul II wanted to be buried within the cathedral’s walls until papal tradition decided otherwise.

Krakow street art
Krakow street art

If you are lucky enough to have a full day for sightseeing in Krakow then rent a bike and spend the day exploring in a more hands on fashion. Krakus mound, one of several mounds in Krakow built by Pagan worshippers for ritual purposes in the early second century, sits adjacent to the Liban quarry, of Schindler’s list fame. The quarry, which acted as a forced work camp for Poles during World War 2, is also the site of the former Plaszow Concentration Camp, although this was dismantled by German soldiers and as such is now an empty area with a small memorial.

Both sites are easily accessible by climbing through the fence next to the Krakus mound and proceeding along the cliff face. You can also, preseumably, take a guided tour if you’re that way inclined. Likewise Lake Zakrzówek is best viewed on foot, follow the walking tracks uphill along the eastern side of the lake and climb through the fence and onto the narrow cliff for a stunning view out across the lake. On exit make sure to follow the track further uphill where you can savour the majestic sights of Krakow from an angle few ever see.

From Krakow hourly trains run to Oswiecim, home of the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp. Suffice to say this an absolute must to visit and is one of the most moving experiences you’ll ever encounter. To see just how big the camp is and the crematoriums where six million people were killed is an experience that will stay with you for the rest of your life. Auschwitz, along with the Krakow and Warsaw demonstrate that while Poland might not have the glamour of other Schengen countries it is well worth spending a week or two in one of the most historically rich countries in Europe, just keep an eye out for dragons.

Lake Zakrzówek as viewed from the Eastern side
Lake Zakrzówek as viewed from the Eastern side

Do:

* Spend an evening at the beach: Sitting adjacent to the banks of the Wisla river near the National Stadium is a large beach area where anything goes. Grab a few drinks, take a picnic rug and head down to enjoy an evening with friends.

* Attend a football game: Poland has some of the most passionate active supporters in the world and the crowd is often just as entertaining as the game itself. Make sure you take ID and get there very early, you’ll need to register for a ‘fan card’ as you cannot buy a ticket to a game without one.

Don’t:

* Spend excess money on guided tours: Like most European countries Poland is easy to navigate, even if you don’t speak the local language. Avoid paying upwards of 30 Euro to visit Auschwitz or the Wieliczka salt mines and instead catch the train which will set you back 3 Euro instead.

* Pass on the local cuisine: While the Milk Bars are the go to in Warsaw it’s all about zapiekanki in Krakow. A delicious local dish that can best be described as a cross between a baguette and a pizza, zapiekanki comes with your choice of delicious toppings. It’s warm, tasty and cheap, prices range from 1-3 Euro per zapiekanki.

Costs:

Sofia to Warsaw is €70 one with buses leaving 2-3 times a week

Beer: €2.5 for a pint of locally brewed ‘import’ beer

Admission to Auschwitz: Free

Accommodation: Ranges from €12-16 per night in a hostel

Travel date: August 2013

What are your thoughts on Poland? Share them in the comments section down below!