Category: Europe

Cyprus 1.

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It was Christmas time again, and I’d decided that Cyprus looked like an ace destination.

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I’d been to Cyprus earlier that year with Dan and Glenn.

With the pressure on at work, I hadn’t properly planned the trip properly.

We’d gone for 2 and a half days, it takes 4 hours to fly there. I worked out the UK/Cyprus time wrong so got everyone off too the beach at 5am, the list goes on.

Despite this, we still had a pretty good time and I saw enough on that trip to know I’d return to Cyprus.

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This time I was a bit more organised.

We arrived at Larnaca airport and collected our rental car (we had accommodation booked at the 5 places we’d be visiting through the 8 days that we were there).

The flight was fairly late so we went straight to our hotel, got cleaned up and head straight out for the evening.

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It was a Saturday night and there was a really good vibe.

We had dinner outside listening to a live band and had an amazing evening.

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In the morning we wake up full of life, and as the sun is shining, we go for a walk on the beach.

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We briefly visit St Lazarus church.

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We return to the car park to collect our rental car and head for our next destination, the capital Nicosia.

Money can be hard to come by in Cyprus, so they have even resorted to using cats as a replacement for security guards.

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We arrive in Nicosia.

The capital is packed. We end up driving around in circles for ages to find somewhere to park.

We reach an area with loads of empty bays. I take this picture of the sign and we walk a mile back to our hotel.

I show it to the girl in reception and ask her what it says ?.

She smiles and explains that the sign says “coaches only”. We leave our bags, go back to the car and spend another half hour finding a parking spot.

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In the middle of the day, the city was pretty quiet, but after lunch it was heaving (but then it would be, it was the last Saturday before Christmas !).

With no clear itinerary for the afternoon/evening we just wander around, relax and have something nice to eat and drink.

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The next day we have breakfast at a streetside cafe and then go out exploring.

Its the day before Christmas eve. As we enter The national struggle museum, the staff there seem startled and delighted that someone has come to see it.

Moreover, since most of artefacts and information are about horrible acts committed by the British and how they were killed by the Cypriots, they seem surprised we’re so interested.

Although we were the only people there, the stuff inside was fascinating and we spent a full 2 hours looking around and reading the articles.

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Wandering into town, we pass the Liberty monument.

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One of the Venetian walls around Nicosia town centre.

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In 1974 the Turkish invaded Cyprus and annexed 8% of the country. The border  runs for 180 kilometres right across Cyprus.

The Green line (as the border is known) runs right through Nicosia and splits it into North and South.

A visit to the North was one of the things I really wanted to do. Nikki cautioned that it was occupied territory and there were ethical issues to be considered.

After a brief discussion, we decide that an hour spent there and a cup of coffee is ok considering its Europe’s last divided city.

We present our passports and are invited in with a smile.

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Once in the northern part of Nicosia, everything is much cheaper.

The main problem the authorities have, is nock off sportswear (which was everywhere).

We had a look around, but as so often happens in situations like this, there wasn’t that much to see.

This compound was the most interesting thing we could find, we had coffee and returned to the Green line.

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Following day, its Christmas eve and were back in our rented car heading for the Troodos mountains.

It was fantastic to be really warm, yet there was loads of snow on the ground.

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When Nikki and I arrived, they were very welcoming, but they looked at us a bit strange.

Later I realised why. Everyone else staying at the hotel was there with children, parents and grandparents.

They had very friendly staff and a nice bar. My kind of Christmas eve.

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In the morning, all the staff were dressed as Father Christmas and children were opening presents and stuff like that.

We had our walking boots on and we were off to spend Christmas day on the hill doing the Artemis trail.

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Trekking through a snow covered forest.

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We could see from the snow drifts, we were the first people to walk here since the last snow.

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This incredible view from the top of one of the hills.

We got back in time for Christmas dinner and a few drinks.

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The following day we tried to walk up Mount Olympus.

Unfortunately, the very top is a Radar station, so we couldn’t “bag” the peak (the golfball thing you can see at the top of this picture is the Radar dome).

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As we leave the Troodos mountains, we stop at Kykkos monastery for lunch.

It looked like some UN staff had taken a day off to visit the monastery as well.

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From the outside, the Monastery is in a familiar format.

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Inside, the monastery has amazing paintings.

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We continue along, flanked by cedar trees.

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Some other people have the same idea as us, as we park up the car and go for a walk in the Paphos forest.

Cyprus 2.

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Our next destination is Polis and I stayed at the Mariela hotel as I had previously with Dan and Glenn.

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As we check in, the owner recognises me as a previous guest. Put our bags in our room and head for the beach.

It was quite melancholy to see the beach which had been in blazing sunshine the last time I’d seen it be overcast.

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Worse the friendly bar where we all had beers at 9am in the morning was closed.

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We spend another afternoon and evening relaxing around Polis (and its important to do that, or you can come back from a holiday more tired then when you went away 🙂

Polis is right near the Akamas peninsula which has some spectacular walking that I’m really looking forward to.

The next day, we drive out and at the car park, I see this donkey. I remember that during the war for independence, the Donkey was the symbol of the resistance (and now the symbol of Cyprus itself).

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We set off on the Aphrodite trail.

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Rocky shrubland underfoot, but the weather is nice and bright, yet cool enough for a hard day of walking.

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We cover about 12 miles, passing through thorny forests like this one and we later meet up with a Russian walker out with his family who we help with directions.

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As the route goes higher, we get this view back to Polis. The route is said to follow the path taken by Aphrodite and and Adonis.

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The route is circular, but this iconic shot is taken at the “top” of the route.

The view there was one of the very best I think I’ve seen on a coastal walk.

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As we head back down, we see this mountain goat.

I know how well they can climb, but I’ve honestly no idea how it got up there.

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The walk begins/ends at the Baths of Aphrodite.

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The place where the epitome of beauty would bath, wasn’t very inspiring to my eyes.

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After a good nights sleep, we head for our final destination Paphos.

The harbour was pretty quiet and we had a cup of tea and a look around.

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We had a walk around inside Paphos castle on the waterfront.

It was rebuilt in the 1300’s.

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Inspired by the castle and with not much going on in the town (turns out the beach is actually a bus ride up the coast) we decide to explore some of the older sites in Paphos.

Paphos archaeological park covered a massive area and had loads of interesting things to see.

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Paphos Mosaics was located on the site and showed how they had recovered and restored many of the Mosaics there.

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Obviously, the Mosaics were stored indoors.

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Further around, and amphitheatre (which I’ve always loved) and a lighthouse in the background.

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In the evening, town is pretty dead.

We walk around for an hour, until we find a really nice Italian, that’s full of locals.

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Next day we decide to drive out to the beach.

On the way we stop off at the Tomb of the Kings.

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I always like exploring under ground and I was in my element (although annoyingly, I’d forgotten my headtorch).

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A peaceful spot where I sit down and contemplate life (and disappointingly realise that I’m going home very shortly).

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We arrive at the beach.

It’s interesting, as there seems to be a series of large resorts, which are all closed.

So much so after walking along the beach for 2 hours, there was literally now where to get a drink.

We headed inland and found a sort of Cowboy themed bar, where I had a steak and a couple of beers.

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Another quiet night, and then were off back to Larnaca for the final evening of our trip.

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On the way, we stop off at an enormous ancient site, called Kourion.

Much of the area was covered, which worked out well, as shortly after we arrived, the heavens opened.

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We’d seen a lot of archaelogical stuff in the previous days, so were feeling a bit “party’d” out.

Just at the right moment, another amphitheatre.

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Its lunchtime by now, and I actually convince Nikki to have lunch at Macdonalds.

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Our next stop is Aphrodite’s rock, where she is said to have been born.

A strange sort of arrangement, as you turn off the main coastal road see to drive in the wrong direction towards a car park.

There are cafes and souvenir shops here. I wander around, I find there is a tunnel that leads down and underneath the road.

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The view above, on the left, showing the “doorway” that lead from the car park to the beach.

Apparently, this was created as lots of unnecessary accidents had occurred with people crossing the road on foot.

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Aphrodite’s rock on the right.

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And with that, the trip ends as it began.

Back in Larnaca, we check back into our hotel and head out for the evening.

An early flight will be taking us back to the UK in the morning.

But for now I’m enjoying life’s simple pleasures, good company, cold beer and an amazing travel destination.

Malta & Gozo 1.

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We quite like to go away at Christmas, and this time we decided to visit Malta and Gozo.

Above I’m pictured in front of the Azure window as featured in Game of Thrones.

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A few (quite a few) years ago, me and my friends decided to go on holiday together.

Opinion was divided amongst the group. Some of us wanted a “summer holiday”, others wanted to visit the Alps (you can probably guess which camp I was in).

As it was Julie, Mac and Caz went to Malta and had a really good time, while Lee and I went to the Alps and went Interailing around Europe.

I remember hearing all about Malta and always wondered what it was like. Now I was going to find out.

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We’d be spending 8 days over Christmas touring the Island with short stop off’s and 2 night breaks.

We fly into Malta international airport. The only airport in fact, since the Island is actually 16 miles long.

We get a taxi to our first destination Marsaxlokk, A traditional fishing village with 3.5 thousand inhabitants.

It was late in the evening, so we found somewhere local for dinner then had drinks in a few bars before retiring to bed.

In the morning, our hotel had a rooftop bar where we had breakfast (which luckily had a roof, as the weather was terrible).

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So, not a perfect start to our trip, but as usual we’ve got a contingency.

Travelling via the capital Valletta we head for a fortified medieval city called Mdina.

We used the bus service extensively throughout out trip and found it to be very comfortable and reliable.

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And Mdina certainly was fortified, it had the massive walls all around it.

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It was an interesting place to visit and an ideal “rain” destination.

Which was good, as the rain was getting worse.

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Inside the walls, a small bar where we shelter from the rain.

Very atmospheric and the wine and beer were really nice. We spent about 2 hours in here, as we’d seen everything by now and it was tipping down outside.

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We wander back through the alleyways and head home.

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Back at Marsaxlokk to get cleaned up, then were out for the evening.

La Nostra Padrona is recommended by our hotel and my steak was delicious.

One thing to note about Malta, is that most meals come with a sort of pre-starter, and if you dont know this and your hungry, you order a pretty big starter and then can’t finish your main.

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In the morning we go out for a walk before breakfast, and the weather has changed completely.

Marsaxlokk is known for its special kind of boats which are painted in local colours and a bit “boxy”.

We wander further to see the Parish church before heading back for our breakfast.

With a walking trip planned later that morning I eat plenty as I’ll need the calories.

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We wander along the coast then head inland along a farm track.

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Short while afterwards, we cross the island and wander along a coastal path.

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And then we reach St Peter’s Pool.

A lovely quiet cove where we enjoyed the sunshine and had a swim.

There seemed to be a sort of abandoned hotel here.

Its a shame, as it would have made a superb destination for weekend breaks (and would have allowed us to buy some cold drinks).

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With cold drinks on our mind, we wander back to the village and relax by the ocean.The waterside cafe in Marsaxlokk.

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With our 2 days complete, were off to our next destination Xlendi, on Malta’s sister Island, Gozo.

Gozo can only be reached by ferry, so we get another bus to Cirkewwa.

The journey is quite short (30 mins).

We got some drinks and while Nikki looked out at the Mediterranean ocean, I wandered around the shop (they had an extensive selection of English books and magazines).

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Between Malta and Gozo is an Island called Camino which features a beautiful swimming spot called the Blue Lagoon.

I’d wanted to see it, but its only 500m across and only has 1 hotel which was closed. With no resources on the Island, the ferry’s weren’t sailing there.

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We get a tax to Xlendi and check into the Hotel San Andrea.

The view of the bay from our balcony window is one of my favourite memories of the trip.

Since its late afternoon, we wander around the town and explore (I find a nice pub and Nikki a respectable Italian restaurant).

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In the evening, we out out at Zafiro and I try the local Risotto.

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We’ve earmarked two incredible coastal walks while on Gozo, so the next morning its an early breakfast and out.

The road’s out of town have these amazing countryside valleys in between them.

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We head up a farm track and I pause for this picture.

A discussion about whether a path is privately owned, puts us off balance.

After another discussion and reviewing the “picture” which the tourist board describes as a map, we find an alternative route and were re back on track.

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We stop at this pool which has all sorts of wildlife and birds.

It’s also a nice spot to stop for some rest and a drink.

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We reach the Dwejra bay and are rewarded with these amazing pictures.

The Fungus rock above is home to many unique plants and animals and although people dive and fish around here, they aren’t allowed on the rock.

It takes its name from the Fungus Cynomorium coccineum which the Knights discovered had medicinal properties.

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Continuing along the sandy coastal path.

Five different species of Gekko live here, of which 2 are unique in the entire world.

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There are many forts on the coast. Dwejfra fort was built in the 1700’s and later used by the coastguard.

Its been restored to superb condition and had a museum inside with a historical video.

You could also go onto the top battlement.

Anther half mile and we reach the thing we really wanted to see. The Azure window.

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That’s me standing on top of it, to give some idea of its size.

Its not recommended to stand on top, but it was a once in a lifetime thing. Nikki took this picture from the cost.

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This is a close up off me.

As you can see, there are cracks forming in the rock. Although I felt safe, if I’d walked 3 feet forward I would have been in the water !.

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There were some souvenir shops, but we got the bus to the capital of Gozo, Victoria and did some sight seeing.

At one point, we were in a bar, and someone who worked there, and bought an Angel to go on top of his tree.

He had dropped it, and it didn’t light up. I used my headtorch for additional lighting and with my penknife started fixing it.

And after all the buildup, I coulnt fix it. Instead, we gave him a tip of the price of the Angel so all was well.

Some nice Tappa’s for dinner, and then bus back to Xlendi.

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A different route this morning, heading out of the bay.

Looking back, we could see our hotel.

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Starting off at a lower level, it follows the coast.

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After a while, it heads inland across rough tracks, and we see some people out on mountain bikes.

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The walk PDF’s we got off the internet were enthusiastically written, but not recently researched.

The walk along the cliff edge (yes, its about 4 feet away from a 350 foot drop) come to an end as someone has built a wall.

We circumnavigate and rejoin the path.

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Back next to the ocean, the surroundings have changed once again.

We continue, heading for the port town of Mgarr.

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Just outside town we arrive at Fort Chambray.

This place was amazing, an old fort on the outside, had been converted into modern flats and apartments on the inside.

I would have loved to live there.

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Just before we reach Mgarr harbour, we get this view of Camino island.

Malta & Gozo 2.

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With Christmas day around the corner its time to move again, this time to a more central town (so we’ll actually be able to get something to eat on Christmas day and everywhere wont be shut).

Time now for a bit of luxury, we stay at the Seashells resort in Qawra near St John’s bay.

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It’s Christmas eve, so we wander into the main town to explore.

Just after lunchtime on Christmas eve, I’m disappointed at the number of drunken “balloons” around so we head back to the peace and quiet of our hotel.

We sit by the Ocean and have some nice drinks. I cant remember a Christmas eve lunchtime like this before.

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We’ve not booked anywhere for Christmas eve dinner and I’m starting to get concerned. No matter we’ll sort something out.

Our first stop, is the hotel itself, as a reception is being held for all guests by the hotel management. We popped in and joined them for a drink (they were really nice, and it wasn’t the “sales promotion” kind of thing I’d expected.

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As we head around the hotel, we find a quiet bar called the Blue Dolphin (so quiet, that Nikki and I were the only guests).

I’m not religious, but Christmas is always a special time for me and I’m having a nice time.

But what are we going to do about dinner (my contingency plan of the breakfast bars I have in my rucsack just wont fly with Nikki 🙂

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We ask the bar if they can recommend anywhere and they have an attached restaurant.

Result, the food is lovely and the wine selection extensive.

When we first sit down its pretty quiet, but a few minutes later, several family’s arrive. One group is so big it fills the entire table in the centre of the room.

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With food eaten, toasts given, hands shaken and Happy Christmas said to everyone, we head home.

We decide to have a list drink in a bar nearby. The end of Christmas eve, was a special time.

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It being Christmas day, what can we do but head out walking.

A bus takes us too Ghadira and we walk a road up to Slugs bay.

From here, we follow a track along the coast with views like the one above.

There were loads of recreational boats moored here,  and I presume people come here at weekends to go sailing and boating.

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One of the beaches has a public bathroom.

I loved this sign, that says please don’t wash your feet !.

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We wander passed Ramla bay resort.

I’m not a “summer holiday” type, but this place looked like it had everything.

Only thing was, it appeared derelict and closed down. Since returning home, I’ve realised its still open, it does a full shutdown at certain times of the year. I really liked it and I’m going to go back there.

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It even has a diving school, and this map shows a number of wrecks nearby that you can dive too.

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Continuing, we cross a rocky outcrop.

There’s an enormous cave (so big that some people are camping in there and as we pass are rock climbing inside the cave with ropes.

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A place a found really exciting was an abandoned army base, used during the 2nd world war and finally closed in 1967.

I reminded me a lot of the sort of thing you used to see on the xFiles, but Nikki didn’t really enjoy it as much as me.

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Near the end of our walk, and we arrive at St Agatha’s tower built in 1649 and instantly recognizable by its red colour.

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Nearby is a nature reserve with lots of birds.

I find these abandoned buildings (I quite like abandoned buildings).

It looked like it used to be either a hotel or a very wealthy persons house.

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Whatever it was, it was derelict now, but the vandals had at least painted nice murals all over it.

We wander back to the bus stop and while waiting had a drink at the Maxima bar.

Relaxing the rest of the day and evening, we set of the next morning for our final destination, the capital of Malta, Valletta.

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We stay in hotel Fortina which is really nice.

They’ve mad a mistake and we dont have a sea view.

To compensate were given us a massive room. We found out when we went for breakfast that several hundred people are staying at the same hotel and they are all British, at least 60 and wearing sportswear from a different era :).

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The capital is a funny sort of place, as its made up a of a few different peninsula’s. As were staying on Sliema, we have to get a ferry (or walk a long way) to get to Valletta, Paola or Birgu.

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Stepping off the ferry, we walk up this steps to reach the main street of Valletta.

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Its a vibrant thriving place so we immediately start exploring.

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The South-east side of Republic square.

A library today, it was originally used to store records and contracts used by the Knights of Saint John.

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The Knights of Saint John, occupied and ruled Malta.

There symbol, the Maltese cross is today used by the St John’s Ambulance society.

The 8 points on the cross represent the 8 languages spoken by the Knights (they were a multinational organisation) and the 8 rules/principles they were bound by.

Above is the Grandmasters palace of the order of St John.

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Inside, the usual red carpet room thing.

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And this corridor with amazing art work on the ceiling.

They had an extensive armoury which I found fascinating, and Nikki found rather dull.

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We discovered one really cool thing about this Medieval town.

We had drinks in a place called Malata bar across from the Grandmasters palace.

A street along was City lounge where we’d decided to have dinner. I mentioned this to the barman, who showed us a “secret passage” at the back of the bar.

Down some dark steps and were actually in the main restaurant of the City lounge !.

And after such “Indiana Jones” excitement, what else but a lovely piece of steak, with Cafe de Paris sauce.

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St John’s Cathedral.

They were doing restoration work, its always disappointing when a facade is put up, but I suppose its necessary.

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We visited the Lascaris war rooms, deep underground.

Malta had played a significant role during the war, as it was strategically placed once the African front opened up.

It was frequently bombed from Italy.

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Radar was used to track flights from Italy, so they knew when to be ready.

Worst of all, was when a British war ship HMS Havock was docked in the Grand harbour for repairs.

The enemy were determined to sink it in harbour and Spitfires were scrambled from Malta several times each day.

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The Island itself suffered heavy casualties but life still went on.

Our guide in the war rooms said simply, we are Roman catholic on this Island, we produce people the way other society’s produce potatoes.

Hardly politically correct, but I think it reflected the personality of the people there, who I’d grown to love.

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Another “historical” event that took place in Valletta, Malta was at this pub (which is simply called “The Pub”).

It’s here that Oliver Reed passed away after a night of heavy drinking (while making Gladiator, the producers had to use some animated material to complete the film).

It was loud and brash and not somewhere I’d want to go. So exactly the kind of place Oliver Reed would like 🙂

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Instead, we had a few drinks in D Office Bistro, a much more calm and relaxing environment.

Its such a nice evening, that instead of getting the boat back, we decide to walk.

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Next morning we head back to Valletta.

The arches and fountain of upper Barakka gardens.

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From the battlements nearby, we can see across to the Forti Sant Anglu in the centre of the Grand Harbour.

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We travel over and visit the fort. After several hours, we leave and have a drink at Cargo bar and dine.

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We have a look around Malta Maritime museum (obviously ships and boating are important if you live on an Island).

It’s located in a former Naval bakery. They are hosting a wedding there that evening, so there are flowers everywhere.

On one floor, they have constructed an entire engine room from a frigate sent for scrap.

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Afterwards, we “charter” a small boat back to Valletta.

He asks for 5 Euro’s but we give him 10.

Lovely and peaceful sailing back to port with all the ships lit up.

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We wander up onto the battlements, so I can get a better look at this ship (one of many massive boats in the harbour, but the one I liked the most).

An enormous thing with swimming pool and helicopter landing pad.

As I passed it, I did a wifi scan. They had crew_recreation_ 1 & 2 which gives some idea of how elaborate things must be on that boat.

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Near the lower Barakka gardens, the Siege Bell memorial.

A final memory of the trip, its time to head back to the hotel, as were flying home in the morning.

I love this place.

My thoughts go back to all those years ago. I’m glad I went to the Alps but part of me wishes I’d come here as well.

Long weekend in Basel.

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Our trip to the Black Forest complete, we’d arranged to spend the last 2 days of our holiday in Basel.

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Inside the train station, there are lots of murals of Alpine scenes from the turn of the century.

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As we wandered towards our hotel, we got to see some of the modern architecture there.

We’d originally flown into Basel at the start of our trip and I was fascinated by what I’d read.

Basel is a Swiss city, that is located at the tri-point of Switzerland, France and Germany.

This means that some of its suburbs are actually in different countries. Its to do a “pub crawl” across 3 countries in 2 hours 🙂

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We arrive at our hotel, the EastWest riverside.

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Sitting on the patio outside with a drink, we had this amazing view across the Rhine river and the Mittler Brucke bridge.

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The hotel was ultra modern.

The tv in our room could show films streamed from a mobile phone (each room had its own independent WiFi network).

I was lying back on my bad when I took this photo of the tv, so you can see my toes.

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To save a bit of money, we opted for a room at the back of the hotel rather than one facing the river.

There was a nice street with a few bars on it. At one point in the night there was some shouting, but I just closed the window.

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After a quick bite to eat in the hotel we head out to see the sights.

First off, is Basel Minster.

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On the other side of the square, a few old buildings in a beautiful square.

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After more exploring and wandering around, we go out for dinner.

This restaurant was expensive (but what in Switzerland wasn’t) but the food and wine were some of the best I’ve drank and tasted anywhere in the world.

You cant see from this picture but its right next to a really nice park.

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Alas, we’d been away for 10 days so were quite jaded.

After a drink or 2 we just sat by the river and relaxed before heading back to the hotel.

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Next day, we headed into the centre of the town.

The bright trams contrast the old buildings in the main square.

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In the main street, was this surreal scene.

A crane had been positioned in the middle of the walkway, so they had mounted it on a sort of arch, so you could walk under it.

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The Rathaus (Town hall in Basel) 500 years old, in the Market square.

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Inside the Rathaus is this small forecourt.

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Wandering around the back streets, considering its a major international city, were these nice houses.

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Constructed in 1977, by Jean Tinguely, the water sculpture.

Made up of 9 “machines” that rotate, spray water and various other things.

The installation is on the site of the old theatre, and the machines are meant to emulate the actors who had worked there.

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Having sold one of my kidneys to pay for dinner, we plan an interesting project for the following day and then retire to bed.

Up early, and we have breakfast. We can see the other bank across the river.

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Wandering across the Mittlere bridge we get a view up the Rhine.

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On the other bank, we set of walking.

We are overtaken, but some people who have taken a break from work and gone out for a jog.

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The runners are from Roche pharmaceuticals and we can see their main building back across the river.

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Further along, we leave the bank and head inland.

Basel wall, first constructed in 1080.

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As we reach Wetstein Brucke.

Someone has helpfully put a sign saying that dogs shouldn’t walk down the stairs.

We continue on to Schwarzwald Brucke and cross the bridge back to our original side and walk back along the river bank towards our hotel.

robot

On our original side of the river, we wander next to the Roche building.

I was really impressed that they had about 20 of these robot lawn mowers.

lunch

Were due to fly home that evening, so we find a really nice Tapas restaurant and relax for the afternoon.

bill

Again, excellent food and wine, we were in there for two and a half hours and the bill was £140. We were used to it by now.

bus

We get the bus from the train station which takes is to the airport.

art

At the airport we relax and wait for our flight.

There is another sculpture by Jean Tinguely. Called the Luminator, its a motorised thing and when you press a button, this enormous machine bursts into life.

The complexity’s of the sculpture, remind me of the complexity’s of normal life. The life I’m about to return to now that my holiday’s over. A fitting end to an amazing adventure.

Evening & Morning in Frieburg.

me_train1

I’ve always loved hill walking and my happiest times are always wandering through trails on hillsides and in forests (with perhaps the odd stop off for a pint).

Nikki and I had heard of a company called Inn Travel who do luxury walking holidays and theyd just launched a new trip in the Black Forest.

I’d always wanted to go trekking there, so off we went.

airport

We flew Easyjet from Manchester.

basel_map

The nearest airport was called Basel-Mullhouse, which is right on the border between Germany, France and Switzerland.

bus

A nice glass of wine at the airport as we sit in the sunshine and wait 20 minutes for the airport bus to take us to Frieburg.

It was air conditioned and very comfortable.

hotel_view

We stayed at the InterCity hotel.

It was run with usual German efficiency, the staff were charming and we had this amazing view.

tapas

Although a German town, I found it to be relatively laid back.

La Pepa, a Tapas restaurant I’d found online, was really quirky and mellow.

They had no website, and I had to book using their Facebook page.

Lovely food and wine, and some nice German beer. A cracking start to the trip.

fri_univ_lib

Most of the buildings in Frieburg were old but the University library was modern and I’d been told to visit it at night.

A few more drinks around the town and then back to our hotel.

street

We were travelling into the Black Forest late afternoon, so that gave us some time to explore the town.

9am on Sunday morning, the streets were pretty quiet but the sun was out.

ca

I saw this C&A shop.

A constant fixture of my youth, they completely withdrew from the UK market in 2000.

fmunster1

Frieburg Minster, built in the 1200’s in the Gothic style.

square3

Inside Minster square, a whole row of old buildings.

The red one, is the historical merchants hall.

square1

Frieburg’s new Town Hall.

square2

We found a nice cafe in the square by a souvineer shop.

The chap serving spoke practically no English, so we were unable to order breakfast, and instead just had coffee.

Was really nice to sit out in the square and relax.

fmunster2

But we couldn’t relax for long, as I really wanted to see the place and we were running out of time.

One last photo of the Minster and were off exploring.

red

The Whale house, Frieburg tourist information.

oldstreet

Konviktstrasse.

Had lovely old buildings and antique shops.

wolf

Along the way, the Wolfshole restaurant, the best in the city and fully booked months in advance.

canal_bar

Some bars next to the Canal.

Still unable to find breakfast, we just waited a while and then had Pizza for lunch.

canal_statue

The stone Crocodile statue in the Industriekanal.

It weighs 400kg and somehow some of the 30,000 students there managed to turn it around to face the other way as a prank (its since been turned back).

gateway

Martinstor, the gateway to the black forest.

nikki_bus

Out of time, but in high spirits we jump onto the bus to Feldberg and the Black Forest adventure begins.

Day in Bern.

im3

One of my favourite scenes in Iron Man 3, is where he’s re-united with Dr Ho Yinnsen from the original film.

The whole scene takes place in Bern, Switzerland. Bern had never been on my radar before but as I looked it up, I realised it was pretty cool and I wanted to go there.

As we were on a walking tour of the Black Forest, Bern was just a short train journey away, with some advice from Lyndsay Lomax and a day to spare, off I went.

train

We were staying in Basel, so decided to get the train.

Swiss trains are legendary around the world.

It ran on time, was spotlessly clean and comfortable, and everyone had a seat.

arch

Unfortunately, the weather was appalling.

Luckily, we found this walkway, so we could get around the city without getting completely soaked.

aehouse1

Our intention was to find some coffee and plan our route around the town.

Before that could happen we find ourselves right next to one of Lyndsay’s must see places, so we went “ad hoc”.

Einstein’s house.

aehouse2

You pay to go in, and just like a normal town house, its 3 stories high.

On the first floor is the sitting room, which is exactly as it would have been when he lived there with his family.

aehouse3

On the floor above, were various boards about Einstein’s time at school, his family life and his scientific work.

One thing that jumped out at me, was he had failed and failed time and again in his life and each time just carried on.

aehouse4

A 30 min video in a nearby room, discussed Einstein, friends he made, associations he’d joined, qualifications and honours he’d received and all sorts of stuff like that.

map

A coffee shop right next door provides us with a venue for our plans.

The superb complimentary map privileged by Bern tourist information came into use.

zyt

The Zytglogge clock tower

Built in the 13th century its a main meeting place in the city.

mainstreet

Wandering further around the town, its has a really authentic.

kaf

Kafigturm medieval tower, with modern trams next to it.

ord_street

Back through the side streets. Spotlessly clean.

nydeg

Nydeggkirche, a reformation church.

townhall

Town hall.

A stereotypical Swiss building.

fugu_thai

We stop for lunch at this amazing Thai restaurant on the main street, Fugu Thai.

Shared tables, amazingly atmospheric. We eat out well most of the time, but this was an unusually cool dining experience.

Nikki had a glass of wine, I had 2 pints and we had a main course each. The cost £70 !.

Truth is things are done properly in Switzerland, but it isn’t cheap.

bears

The Barengraben or Bear pitt.

Home to 3 brown bears, the symbol of Bern.

sbear

Bears not always so highly regarded.

In an antique shop I passed nearby, an awful picture of a bear hanging in a butchers shop !.

hist_mus1

Across a bridge, the Bern historical museum.

hist_mus3

Permanent Einstein exhibit at Bern historical museum.

Had a massive amount of information about Einstein’s life, and a series of video’s that tried to simply explain his theories (which I still couldn’t understand).

hist_mus2

A desktop map of Bern as it existed 500 years ago.

hist_mus4

All kinds of other historical facts about Switzerland, including mention that the very first Bond girl, Ursula Andress was Swiss !.

bridgeview

View across the river from the museum bridge.

fed_pal_arches

Around the federal palace forecourt.

fed_pal

The Federal Palace where the Swiss government sit.

cath

View of the river Aar from Federal Palace grounds.

A really interesting place to visit, I only wish the weather had been better.

5 days in Dubrovnik.

intro

I’d had my eye on Dubrovnik for a while, but the cost always seemed outrageously expensive.

Having saved up for a couple of months, I decided I could afford it, so got everything booked.

ent

Dubrovnik is part of Croatia, has an average temperature of 29oc and is featured extensively in game of thrones (if you were expecting a more traditional summary of the country, you should remember your at johnsunter.com 🙂

accom1

We had some difficulties finding accommodation initially.

On hostel world there were rooms but didn’t seem to be an address of a specific hostel. We eventually found somewhere.

Determined not to waste a minute of the trip, we jumped out of our taxi and headed for our accommodation.

We wandered around an alleyway, pressed the doorbell and nothing happened. We continued walking and a guy about 25 introduced himself and asked us to follow him.

He took us to a small studio flat and said we’d be staying here for our first night and somewhere else for the rest of the trip.

We put our bags down and headed out for the evening.

citatnight
The Citadel at night. There are few places in the modern world that capture the atmosphere of a medieval town so well.

The Strada is the main walkway through the town.

citpub

It’s a lot quieter than I expected, and as we explore the back streets, we find this nice pub where we have a couple of drinks.

Then off home for a good nights rest.

Onofrio-StSaviours
Up first thing, and some nice breakfast at a cafe near our accommodation.

Sightseeing in the daylight this time, we come up on the Onofria fountain.

fam2

Dubrovnik Cathedral.

fam1

And the town hall, which now contains a museum.

dubharb
On the other end of the town, is the harbour.

We wandered around for a bit more, as the weather was fantastic.

drinks

After wandering around and orienting ourselves to our new home, we stopped for a few drinks in the shade.

Ok so we’ve got 3 more nights and 4 days here, time to plan out our adventure in more detail.

We assembled our guidebooks, various leaflets and notebook, and set about planning our itinerary.

We’d spend the rest of Friday exploring, and that evening attend a walking tour about the siege of Dubrovnik and the war

Saturday we’d do the 3 Islands tour, Sunday go to Mostar, Monday visit Montenegro and on Tuesday see anything we’d missed, before flying home.

Altogether, 3 pints of lager put to excellent use.

wartalk
That evening we attended the war stories walking tour, which had been advertised all over the city.

I’ll be honest. I thought the walking tour would have things like “in this doorway…”.

Instead, a girl (who I think was called Naomi, but Glenn and I can’t remember for sure) met us at the arranged spot, with a few other people, and walked us around the city.

I have to say, that the tour was all about the politics of how the war started, which didn’t interest me (I can find that out, on the internet).

Let me say, straight away, that I’m not coy or clever about war (the things I’ve seen while travelling around the world have shocked me, and I’ve never gotten used to them even after repeated exposure).

That said, I wanted to hear first hand, what it was like to live in Dubrovnik during the siege. What did people eat ?, did they have to put blankets over the windows while the room was lit with a candle ?

Instead, none of that, but a fairly biased account (but then in that region, it would be a challenge to find one that wasn’t biased) from someone who had been 5 years old during the war, and had been sent away by her relatives !.

It ended with a visit to the memorial to people who had died in the war. It was a very moving experience, and a video presentation (one of many I’d see during my trip) told the story of the war.

One thing that I distinctly remembered, was our guide talking about relations with neighbouring countries, and on 2 occasions, people who were passers by in the museum, coming over and challenging her on it, based on their experiences.

meglenndrinks

I’d heard enough, so headed out for some refreshment. Glenn has more patience than me, so stayed to the end, and we met up in the Gaff Irish bar and listened to an Irish band (who were actually from Switzerland, but really good anyway).

3islandtour

The next day, were up, picked up by mini bus and taken to the harbour to begin our 3 Islands tour.

The Elaphite Islands we’d visit were Kolocep, Sipan and lopud.

boat
Our boat was quite comfortable and had cooking facilities onboard for our complimentary lunch, to come later.

boatp

We all boarded and got comfortable.

glennwater
I want to say loads of exciting things about the trip, but the reality was we sat relaxing in the sunshine on a really comfortable boat. Just the antidote for what had recently been quite difficult and stressful times.

fish
The ocean was crystal clear and you could see the fish just by looking over the side.

golf

We arrive at an Island called Lopud.

The Sun bay is located on the other side of the Island. We could walk, but hey, were on holiday so we hire a golf cart and driver to take us.

beach

A few people I’ve read reviews of, said the beaches were boring.

I felt the complete the opposite. Because it was quiet, because nobody went there, they were beautiful and peaceful

beach_drinks

More Island and complimentary lunch, which didn’t blow me away.

At one point, we found this beautiful ocean side restaurant and had a couple of nice beers.

Then we set sail for home.

room2

In our new accommodation, it was obviously the home of an elderly couple.

Glenn had the bedroom and I was in the living room which had a bed in it.

I found out later, that in the summer, a lot of local residents move in with family members outside the city. In 6 weeks, they can make enough money to manage for the year.

rocks_fort

Ok, so now to the fun part.

One evening, were walking back to our accommodation.

right near where were staying are these cliffs near the Lovrijenac.

Glenn suggest wander around the shallow edge of the water, and sitting in the doorway, while he takes a picture of me.

I decided not to, but something felt strangely familiar about the whole place.

rocks_got

Back home in the UK and I review various episodes of Game of Thrones.

Episode 2, Season 2, the search for the kings bastards.

The scene happens in exactly the same spot near we were standing (I could tell from the unique shape of the doorway).

intro2

We went on 2 day tours to Mostar and Montenegro.

An interesting thing happened on the Montenegro tour. The guy sat in front of Glenn was chatting about an amazing luxury hotel from the communist era that had been abandoned. It was just outside Dubrovnik and you could wander around it.

Glenn was hooked. I wasn’t sure, but it sounded too interesting not to give it a try. After getting directions from a few locals, it was 2 miles out of town (and turned out to be the highlight of the trip for me).

Glenn standing in the entrance to the Belvadere hotel.

pool
During the war, officers had been stationed here and it had suffered sustained bombing.

But you can see from this picture of the pool just how luxurious it must have been.

hot_os

Wandering around, its hard to capture with a few photo’s just how big the site was.

It featured its own beach, is own harbour, tennis courts and just about everything you’d expect to find in a Los Vegas hotel.

inside3

Wandering around inside was like a modern day Indiana Jones experience.

outside

Exploring the accommodation.

You could see how big the private balcony/forecourt was for just one room.

roland

Inside one of the many derelict bars and restaurants.

coat

I found a menu typed on a typewriter with a individual date of 1985.

Looking around further I found this insignia jacket one of the waiters would have worn.

baths

Obviously people were trying to get some scrap value from the place.

Glenn described this as the place where baths go to die 🙂

hot5

Finally, this area, a five aside football stadium with terraces.

With the help of a bit of CGI, this is where the duel between the Mountain and Oberon took place in Game of Thrones.

walls

Just a few hour left now, so we explore the city walls.

walls2

I live in Chester, so city’s with wall’s aren’t new to me.

What was amazing was the size and scale.

We walked around the entire wall (I was a bit surprised that you had to pay) then Glenn and I went back to the Irish bar for a quick drink, picked up our bags and then headed for the taxi to take us home.

Another fab trip over with some really surprising highlights.

Bruges and Euro-rail.

Virgin

I’d wanted to visit Bruges for some time (it has the resources of a City, and the atmosphere of a village) and I’d always wanted to travel on the Euro-rail.

I was due to go on the Euro-rail about 18 years ago to Paris with my friend Frank.

A fire prevented it, so we went on a coach and got the ferry.

It stayed with me, and I’ve always been determined to travel at 200 miles an house under the English channel.

Obviously, the first leg of the trip involved the virgin train from Chester to London Euston.

Great thing about it, was unlike airports, there’s no messing about with Taxi’s as I live walking distance to Chester station.

panc

Arriving at London Euston, its about half a mile to the beautifully refurbished St Pancras station.

The “check in” is fully automated then you have to show your credentials to French passport control.

A bit of continental breakfast and nice coffee, and then its time to board.

train

It’s hard to believe that the Euro-rail has been running for nearly 20 years (remember when it featured in the first Mission Impossible film, or the Saint).

More expensive than comparative budget airlines but once in a while its ice to travel with a bit of style.

mechamp

A quiet carriage with loads of room, we’d upgraded to bigger seats and complimentary drinks and food.

I’d stocked up on magazines for the journey (Viz and FHM, with Nikki saying “your such a child” again).

One thing I’d always wanted to do, was travel at 100 mph, under the English channel, while drinking champagne.

I pour out the Champagne Nikki has bought me just before we disappears into the tunnel and under the sea.

firstsight

Our train arrives in Brussels, and from here, its an easy trip by train (90 mins) from Brussels to Bruge.

A short walk into the town, and above, our first sight of the Markt (main square).

Also in the photo are some bicycles which are everywhere in Bruges. Most people there dont put on cycling clothes, nor have special bikes.

It was common to see someone peddle into town for dinner, on a 50 year old bike, wearing a jacket, slacks and polished shoes.

Part of me thinks, that’s how cycling should be done.

To quote the now discredited Lance Armstrong, in a different context: Its not about the bike !.

hotel

First thing, get to our 15th century hotel, Ter Brughe and drop off our bags.

While there we see our beautiful hotel room for the first time (not much in Bruges was cheap, but practically everything was lovely).

But were not here to sit around in hotels, we head straight out to explore (and the weather is fantastic).

A nice bar in Bruge that was closed

We find a nice spot in the sun and have a few drinks while we review our guidebook and decide where to go next.

Superb quality Belgian beer as expected.

art

We have lunch in a nice cafe outside the art gallery.

This art installation entitled “Undercurrent” looks like a power pylon has collapsed into the river.

There was a real arts culture to Bruges.

skycolour

Standing in the Markt (main square).

On the left of the photo is the Historium. Its an interactive museum of the history of Bruges.

It uses live video as you “walk through” a love story of a student of Jan Van Eyck, who goes to pick up Anna and a green bird from the docks…

anna

We had to put on headset, and watch/listen to set peice events as the story unfolded.

After each set piece, a door would open and we could continue to the next.

I honestly found it fascinating and a brilliant way to tell the story. Much better that a “normal” tourist centre with just pictures a written exhibits.

Above picture shows all the characters. At this point, I hadn’t realised the significance.

At the end of the interactive stuff, there was a more traditional museum, and the picture above.

beer1

The exhibition finishes with a nice bar and a terrace with spectacular views across the Markt.

They serve amazing Belgium beer and a chalk board showing how to classically pour the beer for optimum taste.

closedmuseum

The first bit of bad news on the trip.

The Gruuthuse museum showing all kinds of artefacts from between the 15th – 19th century was closed for a refit and wouldn’t open for 9 months.

boat

We decide to go on a boat tour of the city.

It gives the best possible view of the Church of our Lady and everyone photographed it.

realanna

The Groeningemuseum (not to be confused with the guy who does the Simpsons, although he’s pretty good at art as well 🙂

It has loads of amazing pictures especially by the Flemish masters.

When I saw this picture, I realised that the characters from the Historium, were all taken from this original Jan Van Eyck picture Madonna with the Canon van der Paele. One of the most famous pictures in the world 🙂

 byron

This picture interested me.

It shows Lord Byron on his death bed.

gallery1

Another museum, this time Sint Jans hospitall or old st John’s hospital.

Built in the 1100’s its one of the oldest surviving hospital buildings in the world.

It was filled with fascinating art and sculptures.

rightbeforeIdie

Upstairs was more contemporary art.

In quite austere surroundings, the exhibition: Right, before I die.

It showed photographs of about 40 people in a hospice about to die. They were interviewed, and each asked a similar set of questions like have you ever been in love ?.

Quite thought provoking, considering I’d entered the bulding expecting to see classic old paintings.

viewfromtower

The queue for the belfry is ridiculously long, so the next day we got there first thing.

The view from the top is worth the money (and the effort of walking all the way up there).

The bell tower

Some of the timbers have been replaced, but the Bell’s are original.

A rotating wheel with holes in it, is used to “program” the different tunes to be played.

Outside, I’d been looking for a souvenir of Brussels since we arrived.

Eddy Merckx is a famous cyclist and synonymous with Brussels, so I bought a small model of him cycling.

dinner

The archaeological museum was a bit tame to be honest.

The one part I thought was really interesting was the display above which shows how dinner was layed out in the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s.

I think the place was mainly aimed at Children, as there were boxes with dressing up clothes and stuff like that.

We were the only people there and the woman selling tickets seemed delighted someone had visited.

beer2

We finished off with a tour of De Halve Maan a 500 year old brewery.

We were shown how the grain and hops are selected, given a tour of the vats and how the beer is fermented and even given a talk on the history of the family that runs the brewery.

There were balconies showing amazing view of the city, and our guide explained that the water for the beer did not come from the river, but delivered in tankers.

A crowd-fund project had been set up, to have pipes constructed underground so water cold be pumped there directly :).

The tour came with a ticket to get a drink at the end in a really atmospheric bar.We got some lunch and head back to the station, our trip over.

Madrid in winter.

intro

Dan had moved out of Chester a while before and we were due a catch up.

Its late in the year and starting to get cold in the UK, so Dan and I decide to head of to “sunnier climes”.

Madrid’s a place I’ve not been too before, and since is “Spain” we reason that it will be really warm.

madap

Easyjet lay on a plane for us, and were away (Eating pringles and drinking a third of a pint cans of beer for £3).

Madrid airport is really impressive. I’m almost sorry we’ll be passing through it so quickly.

The Bus is really cheap, but we decide on a taxi. It takes 15 minutes and costs less than a tenner.

hr1

We arrive at our accommodation.

Hostel Rober, is a suit of rooms in what would have been a rented office.

Mum, dad & 20 something daughter live here, and have some extra rooms which they let out.

Spotlessly clean, on suit bathroom, tv and balcony. Everything I needed and more for £23 per room per night.

A bargain.

hr2

Not just that, but the location was fab too (this is the view from my balcony).

Right next too the Puerta del sol and 5 mins walk from the Royal Palace.

prado1

Madrid is a renowned centre for the arts and has many museums and gallerys.

Dan comments, that he’s only prepared to visit one (and its his trip as well, so why not).

Above is a picture of the world famous Prado

meam

Since it’s a one shot thing, and just to be different, we decide to visit theThyssen Bornemisza museum.

Not as famous, but its got loads of cool contemporary art that I wanted to see (and they did nice coffee at a reasonable price for Dan).

prado2

Inside, its the usual sort of art gallery stuff.

Contemplative.

prado3

The picture I’d heard about and really wanted to see was this one, The Hotel Room.

Painted by Edward Hopper in 1931 it shows a person in their hotel, with bags packed.

But it implies a sort of fear of the unknown, about to embark on an adventure, an implied fear of what might happen.

And inevitably, a yearning for security and comfort. To just stay where you are.

I’m not an art critic but I know all of these feelings and emotions, as I’ve experienced them all while travelling.

I bought a copy of it, and it hangs in a nice frame in my living room (although its a bit smaller than the real thing :).

monument_of_fallen

Were not just interested in big buildings.

Monument of the fallen is built on the place where General Murat ordered teh execution of numerous Spaniards after the 1808 uprising. Since then, its been re-inaugurated as a moment to all those who have given their lives for Spain.

An gas flame burns on the front of the monument.

pub2

We’ve been walking around for a while now, and we find a nice Irish bar called Ulysses.

Its quiet (its 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon) but has a good atmosphere.

pub3

It gives us a chance to catch up (at one time we would see each other every night in the Frog & Nightingale, today were lucky if we meet up 4 times a year).

puerto_del_sol1

Couple of pints later, we head back out exploring.

The Puerta del sol is the main area of Madrid. All the shops are here and its where everything happens.

Behind dan is the famous Statue of the bear and strawberry tree the symbol of Madrid.

puerto_del_sol2

It Means gate of the sun and originated as one of the gates of the city from the 15th century when walls surrounded it.

Although it was sunny, it was also very cold.

square

Nearby, the Plaza major, the main square of Madrid and right near our hotel.

spy_shop

The Spy Shop.

Nothing much to do with Madrid, but they had some really cool gadgets in here.

In the windows, they had a dummy made up as a private eye, and inside had pens with recorders and clocks with cameras in them.

cybele_palace

Cybele palace named after the Roman goddess of nature.

It had previously been the headquarters for all of Madrid’s telecommunications.

From a professional perspective, its the nicest data-warehouse I’ve ever seen.

montaditos1

Louise from Phonak really liked Madrid, and had recommended some places to see.

I’d printed a map from google, and she’d circled a place called Montaditos.

It was no OS map, but we managed to find the place all the same.

montaditos2

Inside it had a distinct Spanish feel with Tapas and stuff like that.

We weren’t hungry so had a couple of pints of San Miguel.

msm

Speaking of which, Louise had also mentioned a really modern food market.

Just around the corner it was actually called San Miguel market.

Spend some time soaking up the atmosphere of the market, then back to our hotel to get cleaned up and out for the evening.

braz_steak_house

Dan suggested, since we both like steak that we should try a Brazilian steak house.

As I’d done all the organising of the trip, he bought dinner, which I thought was a really nice gesture.

I had a couple of beers, but when the steak hit the table I switched to a Chilea’n Merlot.

googletran

The place wasn’t too posh, but really nice and the food, drink and service were superb.

Just for fun, I used google to translate its name “En La Vaca”.

The result was quite suprising.

alcala_gate

Next day, wandering around, we come upon the Acala gate.

alf_monument

The boating lake on Buen Retiro Park.

In the background you can see the monument to King Alfonso XII.

buen_retiro

We wandered around the park.

You can see from Dan’s face, that the sunshine we’d come here to see wasn’t happening and it was really cold.

crystal_palace1

Elsewhere inside the park, the Palacio de Cristal or Crystal Palace.

Built in the shape of a Greek cross, it was designed so it could be dismantled and re-put up.

This actually happened to its “sister” in the UK, but this one has remained here ever since.

Its no longer used as a greenhouse and now used for art exhibitions.

cuesta_de_claudio_moyano

Next to the park, Cuesta de Claudio Moyano, popular for its many book stalls.

kb_cashmachine

On a more contemporary note and just for fun, I loved this cash machine, which even had a keyboard so you could send letters to the bank.

We saw a more direct approach from some pensioners who arrived just as a bank was opening and standing just outside the door blew whistles all at the same time. A hundred people can make some serious noise like this (its was a protest about reduced pension payments).

nocuts

Speaking of cuts, we passed this hospital building.

Whilst I sympathise with their cause, I think the person concerned should stick to the field of healthcare, and never again attempt to draw scissors.

royal_palace2

On our last morning, since were so close (and since its raining) we head for the Royal Palace.

Hard to take a picture which captures it, I decide on thsi shot from the plasa del a la almeria.

insiderp

Inside were the sort of thing you’d expect to see in a palace.

They also had an armoury, and there was just 1 security guard and us, and he kept looking at us as if we were going to steal one of the suits of armour (he obviously had no idea how much it costs to check in baggage on Easyjet if we want to get it home).

You dont hear much about the Spanish royal family. Although they conduct official ceremonies here, they live in much more modest accommodation in the outskirts of Madrid.

Well, that’s it.

We go back to our hotel, pick up our bags, get in a taxi and off we go to our “loser class” seats on Easyjet.