Akureyri is a quiet little town in the North of Iceland, (to be fair even the country’s capital city is a place I would describe as a ‘quiet little town’), which sits on a very picturesque and tranquil fjord surrounded by mountains and a whole load of very fresh (and nippy) air; and from here it’s the perfect base from which to reach all manner of outstanding natural spectacles. When we arrived in June it was a cold and drizzly day, but despite this rather drab welcome into the area we knew exactly what we wanted to find and how to make the most of the mere day we had to explore. Obviously the majority of visitors will probably have a whole lot more time than I did to see the area surrounding Akureyri, but considering my time here was limited I still managed to see so much of the natural beauty this part of the world has to offer and managed to fall in love with the other-worldly beauty of Iceland even more than I already had done.
Guys. My left shoulder is in serious pain- I can barely lift my arm above a 30 degree angle to my body- and this is mainly due to the fact that I just got back from zip-lining through the treetops of the Costa Rican rainforest, during which I clung on so tight for dear life that I almost dislocated an arm in the process. I am also completely mud-spattered and bedraggled from the rain. BUT. And this is a big but. Doing that zip lining course was the most fun I’ve had in full on ages, I’ll tell you that for free. After docking in Puerto Limón, a port city on the East coast of Costa Rica, a big old bunch of us headed to Brisas de la Jungla (that’s Jungle Breeze to you non-Spanish-speaking folk), to get a bit closer to some good old fashioned nature whilst simultaneously being very very very much higher off the ground than normal. The fact that it was raining didn’t matter one bit (I mean, it is rainforest territory after all, so what do you expect?), although I’m going to be honest here and admit that I was quite concerned that the quantity of water on the zip lines would seriously affect the speed with which we zipped from one treetop platform to the next. Turns out, just like every other time I’m massively afraid of something but decide to go for it anyway, I had nothing to fear whatsoever! (Sort of)
After a few days alone in Santorini, the tiny town of Monemvasia was the first stop on our Grecian road trip for me and my pal Rachel. Located in the South East of the Pelopponese, the large rock that the town feels like it’s carved from is now joined to the mainland by a long causeway just above sea level, with the houses and castle nestled into one side and hidden from view of the mainland. Back in the day this was all part of a clever strategy to hide the townspeople from potential attacks from those pesky mainlanders, but these days it all just adds to the magic of the place and makes you feel like you’ve really discovered a true hidden gem where you seem to step back in time as soon as you enter the stone archway into the tiny cobbled alleyways that lie in secret behind it. Monemvasia has changed hands many times during its extremely long history- from the Spartans to the Turkish to the Venetians and back again, and amazingly it’s actually the only castle in Europe to have been continuously inhabited since it was first built…parts of the area date as far back as to the 6th Century, so basically- it’s really full on old, you guys. After a mildly hair-raising drive up the side of the rock to the castle’s entrance, both me and Rachel were full on enchanted by this beautiful little town; of all the places I have visited in my life, this is definitely one of the most spellbinding.
Isla Saona is a tiny island located off the South-Eastern end of the Dominican Republic; and not just any old island my friends, oh no! The island’s actual name used to be Adamanay, however you know what those crazy Europeans of yesteryear were like when they went around the world claiming to discover new places; they felt an overwhelming and mildly arrogant urge to give each place a special new name of their own. I say ‘claiming’ because obv in the vast majority of cases these new lands were already very much inhabited by a local bunch of people who had always been quite aware of the place they live in. In this case the indigenous folk were called Taíno, and when Christopher Columbus arrived in the late 1400s he told them and the rest of the world that actually the name of this island was Saona, in homage to his good pal Michele da Cuneo who was from Savona in Italy. Not only is it a full on stunning place, with serene white sand beaches and palm trees swaying in the breeze, nowadays it’s a government-protected Nature Reserve due to its crazy abundance of beaut nature- both on land and in the shallow blue waters that surround it. This is definitely the closest place to paradise that I have ever stepped foot on, and understandably this is a massive draw for the tourists that arrive in boats every day from the mainland.
When we first came up with the idea of heading to Greece for a few weeks, we weren’t altogether exactly sure of where we should head to, and how we should go about heading there. We didn’t even know a lot about the country, aside from that I had a pal who lived in the Pelopponese (an area which I had never actually heard of but definitely wanted to visit), and that someone we worked with had three keys- to a boat, a car, and a house- somewhere in the region of Mykonos. Mykonos somehow magically changed overnight to ‘The three keys are in Lefkada, don’t go to Mykonos!’ Much like Jason’s Argonauts, the mythological Three Keys of Lefkada are still very much mythological, but we did saunter up to the area anyway just on the off chance that the quest for the three keys would be fruitful. Alas. But anyway. Here, for your reading pleasure, are the ins and outs of how we got from A to B, to C and back again.
Although I’d arrived in Santorini by aeroplane, as I had the time to spare and it seemed like a good thing to experience in the grander scheme of life, I decided to return to Athens at the end of my stay via the medium of FERRY. Oooh, ferries! Despite the fact that I spend a great portion of my life living on a ship, I’m not an experienced ferry traveller and do get quite seasick from time to time, so wasn’t sure exactly what to expect in the way of comfort and nausea levels. But luck was on my side that day in September: the water was calm and the journey was smooth. I was overjoyed.
I’m a bit late to the party here pals given that we’re almost one month into the new year, but at this particular moment in time I appear to be stuck in a hotel in Hamburg with not a whole lot to do; so what better way to fill the time than a casual reflection on the year just gone!? I mean, I thought I might as well, for a laugh. If anything I always find that it helps you to feel grateful for the experiences you’ve had, the lessons you’ve learnt and the people you’ve met, and at this point in time (the point in time where I couldn’t board a flight to the Dominican Republic due to a sick bug and am hanging out in Hamburg for a week instead), I feel like this could really help me, know what I’m saying!? Continue reading
The first time I stepped foot on Norwegian soil was in this little tiny city at the gateway to some of the world’s most beautiful fjords; it happened to be Norwegian Independence Day, so the streets were chockablock full of young folk dressed up to the nines in all manner of traditional costumes, hair braided and skirts bustling. It was uncharacteristically warm, fairground rides were flashing and whirring and the smells of fish, cinnamon and donuts all competed for airspace in the hubbub of people. It was all a bit olde worlde weird and wonderful, and perhaps ironically on this busy day of celebrating Norway in all its glory, I stumbled upon an Englishman from Cornwall selling pasties out of a van (called Pastyworld) and decided that as much as I appreciated Bergen and being in a new country, I was feeling rather homesick and a pasty was a perfect solution.
Moving swiftly on from the inclusion of a Cornish pasty in a post about Bergen, I spent approximately three and a half months visiting Norway’s second city on a regular basis, and although it’s on the small side managed to find a selection of hotspots to keep me entertained during that time.
The Château de Versailles is, let’s face it, one of my most favourite places that I’ve ever visited. In my naivety I’d imagined that visiting it would be a bit like visiting a National Trust house back at home, and in a way it is…it is a rather large royal residence after all. But this Palace is off the scale of splendiferous, so large and ornate and full of stories that I was blown away and could not get enough of it. I spent a day there in August, and despite the fact that we were there for a good seven hours, I felt like we can’t have seen even half of what there is to explore.
Up until we reached Arizona, our time in the United States had seemed like a rather touristy affair. We’d spent three weeks in LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas, and even San Diego with its more laid-back attitude to life had a bit of a polished sheen to it. Knowing that we wanted to reach New Orleans at some point in the future, we decided the best route to take would be a fairly straightforward one; ie travelling by as direct a route as possible instead of criss-crossing back and forth via aeroplane all across the country. And so, somehow on our Great American Roadtrip-Without-a-Car, we ended up in Tucson, Arizona. Within the US this is a rather well-known city, but personally I had never once heard it mentioned until I opened our Rough Guides book and did some light reading; most visitors to North America will naturally go to the big cities on the East or West Coast (basically LA and New York with a few others thrown in for luck), so I was none the wiser about this intriguing location my friends, and let me tell you not knowing anything about a place can really lead you to being pleasantly surprised and downright happy to have found it.