Travel

A Few Days in Paris

As I slowly work through what is an enormous bucket list of travel destinations and tourist sites, Paris became clear as one such adventure that could be quickly organised and raced around over the course of a long weekend. My french was rusty but my ambitions were clear: See it all. I took the Eurostar from London because the return was less than £60, which was a bit of a bargain. I stayed in an AirBnB studio flat (in the central 2nd arrondissement) for around the same price each night. Adding food, drinks and entry to all of the sites I still managed to do three days away for less than £400, all in. Not bad at all for a city known to be expensive. Day One No sooner had I arranged and checked into my accommodation than I was on to the very affordable and easy-to-use metro/underground. I took the train out to the Eiffel Tower to see one of the world's most famous landmarks. I spent hours there, taking photos from all angles and enjoying the black night sky and lights of the tower as my canvas. What struck me most was how tall the tower was. I mean, I know that sounds obvious but when you take into account the fact it was built for an exhibition and not intended to be up all the time, you have to consider how rigid and sizeable it is. I'd put off climbing the tower for a until the next day but this was a great way to start the trip! Day Two I decided to start my first full day by going north. La Basilique du Sacré Cœur is in the 18th arrondissement of Paris, better known as Montmartre, and it's the highest point of the city. The views across to the horizon are tremendous, but turning your back to those for a moment, the Sacré Cœur is extremely pretty as well. Walking back from Montmartre to the city centre, aiming for the Siene, picking up some fruit and water on the way, was a fantastic 45 minute walk, breathing in some of Paris' prettier neighbouroods. I made my way to Musée du Louvre simply to take some photos, again planning to go in later at night when it was likely to be quieter. After an hour of photos and a small chillout by the glass pyramids, I decided to being my cultural experiences at the Musée d'Orsay. Friends had pointed out d'Orsay would be manageable, and it is, it's tiny compared to the Louvre, but still takes several hours to make your way around. Unlike the Louvre, which has classical art, the d'Orsay is full of the city's modern art (pieces range from 1848 to 1914). Housed in an old train station, it's a stunning place to sit amongst Van Gogh, Renoir and Monet. What I enjoyed most about it was the countless number of students who were drawing the statues and other pieces of art. It was a wonderful…
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November 6, 2016
Travel

North Coast 500 Road Trip (and a little bit of Orkney)

The North Coast 500 (NC500 for short) is Scotland's latest and greatest travel innovation. Despite only being presented in this format for around about eighteen months, the road trip is already considered amongst the world's best driving routes. Designed to compete with the likes of America's legendary Route 66, the Scottish equivalent is a five-hundred mile route around the north of Scotland. Starting from Inverness you can complete the road trip in a clockwise or anti-clockwise fashion. We opted for clockwise because our excitement to see the the wonderful west coast was palpable. The sites include incredible white sand and turquoise beaches, a hill-walker's paradise of mountain tops which beckon you to explore them, delicious food and drinks from independent and award-winning local suppliers, caves, ancient treasures such as castle ruins and steps carved from rocks which lead you to secluded bays, the most northerly part of mainland UK, ferocious waves for surfers, a great chance to spot the Aurora Borealis and much more. Our route, starting in Inverness, going west, then north, east and back south via the east coast Day One: Inverness to Gairloch The route from Inverness to Applecross, which is a morning's drive across the width of the country, is largely unremarkable, certainly in contrast to what is to come, but having stopped in Dingwall for provisions we made another quick stop at the Rogie Falls to take in some waterfalls. Beyond that there's not much to see except pretty scenery along twisting roads until you reach the foot of the Applecross Pass (historically known as Bealach na Bà), a beautiful road up the mountains which sit on this peninsula in Wester Ross. Similar to alpine roads in Europe, this road twists and turns and has one particular hairpin turn which offers incredible views back down the mountain. This mountain pass is one of the most fantastic roads to drive along the route but, sadly for us, we faced some truly awful rain and decided to continue down to the village of Applecross, on the other side, and specifically to the Applecross Inn, for restbite. Happily, this was the very worst of the weather we faced on the trip. Two minute video of our road trip Departing Applecross we began to find the nice weather that would largely stay with us over the next five days. Winding our way along the roads which hug the west coast of this wonderful landscape we passed Loch Torridon, which was truly stunning, and made our way through the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve to Gairloch, where we camped for the night. It's well worth your time pulling over and exploring Torridon on your way past because the local area is phenomenal. Day Two: Gairloch to Lochinver Day two was always billed as a little bit of a beach day, owing to the fact we were passing some of Scotland's finest. These wouldn't be the only beaches of the trip, indeed some of the best, as you'll read later, were in the very north…
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July 19, 2016
Travel

Backpacking Italy and Greece

I highly recommend backpacking with your close friends or significant other. It's not expensive and you see so much more than you would on a more fixed holiday. In June 2015, Sam and I visited eight Italian towns/cities in under two weeks, with a sprinkling of Athens thrown in at the end (the lure of a free ferry was more than enough to encourage us to visit Greece, but more on that later). We made big savings my booking cheap flights to and from Manchester and by booking our trains a few weeks in advance online via ItaliaRail. What savings we made on travel we then used to fund private dorm rooms (rather than big, noisy hostel dorms) and on eating out and sampling all of the local food and drink. Part of the fun with this was going to places that were recommended by a travel food book we ha, which recommended the best places in each city, depending on cuisine or cost. This was an essential travel companion to us. Our route, from Venice to Athens Before we get into the meat and bones of this, time to pull back the curtain a little and expose how this trip came about. Sam and I were at a BBQ about six weeks before leaving, boozily agreed to interrail together based on the fact we both needed to get away, and a week later we booked some flights to Venice and back from Athens. The rest was a case of fill in the blanks using what we knew about Italy (very little) and TripAdvisor's list of best cities to visit 2015. How Rimini came to be on that list I'll never know, but more on that later. We also had one rule: If we were recommended anything, or invited to anything, whether by locals, other tourists or by friends who had sent us their tips, we made sure we did it. My overall thoughts, upon returning, are that you could spend months in Italy and not scratch the surface. We didn't go to Rome because Sam had already been. We didn't go to Pisa, Cinque Terre, Milan, Siena, Lucca, Lecce, Puglia, Amalfi, Capri or Sicily. They are all places I'm certain are worth a visit. All the same, we went where we wanted to go most while still keeping our travels in the form of a backpacking trip. And here's how it begun: Venice Landing at Venice's airport is normal enough. It's only when you leave the airport that you start to notice that your day is going to be quite other-worldly. Although other options exist, we took the water-bus from the airport to the main lagoon island of Venice, in the dark. And this trip simply doesn't prepare you for the city which is surrounded, often right up to the doorsteps, by lapping water. We stayed on the island of Lido rather than the main island. I'd recommend this for two reasons. One: It's cheaper by far. Two: You'll sign yourself up to a…
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August 12, 2015