Paros and Naxos

I went to Greece for a week with my brother and parents and we visited the islands of Paros and Naxos.  We spent most of our time on the beaches, but also visited the caves on Naxos and a few old churches.  I attempted to windsurf but spent most of the time in the water.

Snowboarding in the Lower Tatras

168916_10150382048575220_2950371_nWe took the train from Bratislava to Liptovsky Mikulas (€15, 3 hours), a tiny village at the foot of the Lower Tatras mountains which, despite the name, are actually very high! We stuffed all our snowboards and gear into the back of a €10 taxi and took a quick 20 minute drive up into the mountains to the ski resort.


We checked into our relatively nice accommodation which consisted of a shared apartment although we seemed to have it all for ourselves. I thought it came with a 179326_10150382048925220_6681186_nkitchen but actually only had a kettle. Not a problem though as the nearby restaurant was very cheap, as we soon found out as by now it was dinner time. As is common with Eastern European countries the fare consisted mainly of meat and potatoes, which is great since it was freezing and it’s the perfect food for winter. We were also happily introduced to a lovely dark beer called Zlaty Bazant, which we proceeded to imbibe in large quantity for the rest of the weekend since it cost only €1.50.


The next morning we awoke early and get ready for some serious snow action – it was coming down fairly hard but luckily all the lifts seemed to be open and visibility wasn’t too bad. We spent the morning getting accustomed to the lay of the land and the different runs. Luckily the resort is quite small and wasn’t very busy, so we had most of it to ourselves. The snow was so thick that I accidentally road my board straight over a fence that was completely covered, cutting a deep gash into the bottom!  Luckily the onsite snow shop was able to repair it that evening for only €30.

After a successful day on the slopes practising some jumps and doing mad tree runs we headed out to find the other side of town to see if it was less dead than our side, since we were literally the only people on our side. We found a hotel with a bar and a few people but it was still very quite.  Anyway, we proceeded to get very drunk and then very lost in a snowstorm on the walk back. For awhile it was touch-and-go…. I was pretty sure we were goners, but it turned out we were actually just a few hundred metres from the resort. Luckily the booze kept us warm!

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We hadn’t ventured right to the top of the mountain yet so the next day we decided it was time – only to find that the snow was too thick and the top ski lift was closed! No problem, we’ll just hike up! I don’t know who’s crazy idea this was but we spent the next two hours walking up the mountain in a sideways blizzard in -20 degree temperatures carrying our boards! I thought we would never make it but eventually, like Hillary peaking Everest we reached the top! No wonder the lift was closed – it was completely frozen over, like something out of the North Pole!!

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Fortunately over the crest of the mountain the blizzard had stopped and the sun was shining, so we had quite a nice session boarding down that side, and even more fortunately the lift back up was working so we had a way back.

Once the weather cleared we spent some time in the snowpark doing jumps under the guidance of a French guy we met there. The jumps were a fair bit bigger than what we had done before but we managed to clear them all fine and got some excellent shots on the GoPro.

Watch the video here: Snowboarding Slovakia

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Bratislava

I visited Bratislava in 2009 with two friends for a snowboarding trip in the lower tatra mountains, near the small village of Liptovsky Mikulas. We flew into Vienna in Austria because it was cheaper than flying into Bratislava and only a short train ride across the border.


168056_10150379953275220_3087209_nOnce arriving in Bratislava we walked the short distance to hostel Pollonium, which – bizarrely – is themed after the movie Hostel which was set in Slovakia (although apparently filmed elsewhere). As a result of this movie and a general perception of eastern europe as being dangerous, tourism to countries like Slovakia hasn’t flourished – which is not only a complete misconception, but is also great because I would hate to have to fight through the kind of crowds you find at the Eiffel Tower while exploring the beautiful city of Bratislava.


167342_10150379950140220_2140217_nIt was the middle of winter so everything was covered in a blanket of snow as we wondered about exploring beautiful old buildings, riversides and deserted streets. As evening descended we popped into a welcoming looking bar which was completely empty and quickly made friends with the staff. In between games of pool they introduced us to real 166391_10150379949840220_1554538_nSlovakian absinthe (not the fake stuff) and after a few shots and a couple of pints they told us (through admittedly slurry and broken English) about a party that was happening that night in an abandoned World War II bunker! Since we had no other plans we followed them through the dark streets to a hill on the riverside and true to their word we discovered a bunker carved deep into the hillside with pumping music and lights emanating from inside!

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Once inside we were greeted with one of the best underground venues I’ve ever seen – super old vaulted ceilings with bars and chill areas hidden down dark passages, graffiti and various artworks adorning the walls, lights and UV everywhere and a huge mainstage decked out with an incredible soundsystem! We drank, chatted and danced for a few hours to a pumping electro band with a beautiful Slovakian girl singing in, well, presumably Slovak. 165652_10150379956045220_6554956_nAround about 3am I was exhausted and told the guys I was going to head home, which luckily I somehow managed to do alone in my inebriated state. I believe they followed soon after.


The next day unfortunately we had to head off early to our snowboarding trip, so we didn’t get to see much of Bratislava, but if that experience is anything to go by I will definitely be back!

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Ozora Festival

I went to Ozora Festival in 2010 with a huge group of friends from South Africa and London. It’s a week long psy-trance festival in a beautiful valley near Budapest.

I flew into Budapest and took the train to the festival with my friend Leigh.  Upon arrival we found our friends and setup our campsite.  On the first night I got a bit too wasted, lost the group and the campsite and wandered around alone until morning before I found it again.

The remainder of the party was a bit more controlled, with us all enjoying the dance floor, chill area, sunflower maze and various other activities.

After five days at the festival we returned to Budapest and spent a day and night there exploring the Danube river and impressive architecture.

Croatia: Split, Hvar and Plitvice


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In July 2010 six friends and I decided to go to Croatia for two weeks – exploring Hvar, Split, Plitvice and ending up at a music festival called ‘Stop Making Sense’.


Split

Some of us flew into Split together on Easyjet and met some of the others there. The first night we just had dinner, explored the small town and hung out by the ocean side – drinking and messing around in some old forts and railroad tracks.


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Hvar

In the morning we had to get up fairly early and get a ferry to the island of Hvar where we were camping for the night. The ferry took about 2 hours, during which time we relaxed on the deck tanning and drinking beer. We arrived and took a taxi to the far end of the island where we found our campsite.

One couple had booked a pre-made tent with beds, electrical point and even a fridge. The rest of set up some tents that we had brought with, although I didn’t even have a tent so I just slept in the foyer area of the others pre-made tent.


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That evening we got a taxi to the main Hvar town and had the most amazing seafood, and when I came back from the toilet everyone played a trick on me saying we had ordered shots of some crazy strong Croatian alcohol which I was scared to drink, but it turned out it was just a shot of water!


The following day we went swimming in the nearby bay and explored the island around the campsite. It was strangely very quiet around where we were, with not many people around, which was odd for high season.

Bol and Brac

The town of Bol on the nearby island of Brac was our next destination and found our apartment that we had rented for the night. Then the few of us that had licenses hired some scooters and drove around the island for a bit, before coming back and taking some of the others out on the back of the scooters.


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We chilled on Zlatni Rat beach for a bit before getting another ferry back to the mainland, where we spent the night before hiring a car in the morning and starting the drive up to Plitvice National park.

Plitvice

It was a bit further than I thought and took us most of the morning and past lunch, so, unfortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time to see the park which is huge! We rushed through and took as many photos as we could of the beautiful turquoise waterfalls. It really does look like something out of the garden of Eden!

Festival

Around 6 pm we had to leave and did the short one hour drive to Petrcane where the festival was, and then dropped the hire car off at Zadar airport. We all had booked into the hotel that also served as the site for the festival, except one other couple that had their own small apartment nearby.

I don’t remember exact details of the festival but we had some amazing sunset boat parties with DJ’s like Robodello, and at one point I went swimming at midnight which was freezing but fun.

 

 

Venice

Getting There

Venice is a small island city just off the northeastern coast of Italy.  It’s easily accessible from almost anywhere in the world as it has it’s own international airport on the mainland which is connected by a road bridge to the island, as well as a railway station that connects to most neighbouring European countries.  There is a small car park at the end of the road bridge for buses and taxis to drop off visitors, but otherwise, the island is entirely traffic free.

Venice is tiny and so requires only a few days to enjoy all the main attractions. It is supported by a number of low-cost airlines including Ryanair and Easyjet, making it an excellent, affordable option for a cheap weekend getaway if you live in Europe.


Accommodation

Venice is not hugely popular as a backpacker destination (being more tailored as a romantic destination for couples), but it does have a smattering of hostels including Generator, We Crociferi and the excellent Silk Road which all offer dorm beds for £30 – £40 a night in high season.

Hotel rooms are generally very expensive but during the off-season, you can get some excellent discounts – I visited in April and found a decent room for £20 a night.  During summer it becomes very packed and is difficult to move around the tiny streets, so I would advise visiting in Spring or Autumn when the weather is cooler but still mild enough to walk the streets comfortably.

Carnival

Every year during the first two weeks of February is Venice Carnival, during which time all accommodation is very expensive and usually fully booked out months before.  The carnival is famous for it’s beautiful, ornate masks – made even more famous recently by the Stanley Kubrick movie “Eye’s Wide Shut”.  All year round masks are displayed in a number of shop windows, including even the original masks used in the movie!

While it does boast a number of museums, galleries and ancient churches, the most enticing thing about Venice is simply wondering its tiny back alleys and exploring its various canals. Gondola rides are prohibitively expensive but there are many cheap motorised water taxi’s you can ride to get a feel for the traditional Venetian way of travelling by canal.

Bridges and Canals

Travelling along the canals you will see many beautiful bridges, the most famous of which is the Ponte de Rialto – possibly the most photographed bridge in the world.

Another bridge that you won’t see via water taxi but can be visited on foot is the ‘Bridge of Sighs’, a beautiful white-stone, enclosed bridge near St Mark’s Basilica.  Also nearby is the popular St Mark’s (or San Marco) square, a busy tourist spot and great place to meet other travellers, grab a coffee or simply watch the millions of pigeons stealing chips and ice creams out of the unsuspecting hands of children.

The Grand Canal

Nearby is a fish market selling buffet plates of fresh sushi, calamari and various fish which can be enjoyed alfresco on the pier-side with a glass of cold white wine, or Campari orange like the locals do.   It’s a great way to pass the afternoon sitting in the sun, and we sure made the most of it!

Near St Mark’s square is an excellent seafood market

The Glassblowing Island of Murano

Other than the island of Venice there are a number of smaller surrounding islands worth visiting if you have time. The best of these is without a doubt the glass-blowing island of Murano, a short ten-minute water taxi away.

This island has been responsible for blowing some of the most beautiful glass sculptures the world has ever seen for hundreds of years. The skill and tradition of glassblowing have been passed down from family to family over generations, and you can visit a workshop on the island where you can watch the entire process as it’s been done, unchanged, since 1291 AD.

When we visited it was raining and the entire island was shrouded in mist and almost completely deserted, giving it a quiet, eerie feeling which I loved.  There is even an old graveyard on the island with beautiful crumbling headstones, some of which date back almost 8 centuries!

Murano Glass
Lido

Venice Beach

East of Venice main island you will find a thin island called Lido which boasts a long beachfront and protects the other islands from large tides and rough ocean weather. It isn’t the most beautiful beach in the world but can be a lovely place to relax on a summers day if the sun is out, and is accessible by water taxi from the main island.

There is also a number of accommodations and restaurants on the island, and even a domestic airport. We rented a two-seater bicycle-carriage-type vehicle and had a hilarious time trying to navigate the tiny streets without running over any local children or pets.  They are only available for rent on Lido, not the main island, and I highly recommend making the journey across to try them out!

Check out the video below of my Venice adventure:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pit_FYO-UMw

Brussels

1929745_39362230219_6716_nI went to Brussels on my own for a weekend via bus from London. It was an overnight bus leaving Friday night, so I arrived in the Belgian capital early Saturday morning, feeling a bit groggy from the sleeping pills I had taken.


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Atomium

I walked around exploring the parks and canals all morning and then eventually found my way to the Atomium, a bizarre atom-shaped building built in 1958 for the World’s Fair. It’s now a museum and has escalators inside that you can take from room to room, exploring displays about various scientific discoveries over the years.


Afterward, I grabbed some lunch a nearby food stall and took some pictures of mini-Europe – a small scale attraction of famous European landmarks. I then got on the train to Mechelen where I was supposed to meet a friend to go to a party that night, however, his lift fell through and I wasn’t sure how to get there myself.  I was very tired anyway so to be honest I was happy to just get an early night in my hostel.


The next day I explored the small town of Mechelen before heading back to Brussels for some chocolate and beer before getting the bus back to London.

Barcelona, Majorca and Valencia

Barcelona

I visited Spain in December 2007 for Christmas and New Years Eve with my brother and a friend, Francois. The first night we checked into a small hostel in the port called Equity Point and then headed out for dinner. On the way home, some guys pretended to want to show us a Spanish dance but ended up trying to pick-pocket us. I put my hands in my two pockets with my phone and wallet because I knew something was odd, but they still stole my glasses from my third pocket, which was really annoying since they were no use to them and left me blind for 2 weeks! Anyway, luckily my eyesight wasn’t too bad. Early the next morning we caught a ferry to Majorca.

Marjorca

It was off season so Majorca was bizarrely empty, but it was still warm enough to visit a few beaches. We hired a car and drove around the island exploring various parts of it, although to be honest there isn’t much to it other than the beaches and clubs, both of which were dead. In the center of port town where we arrived is a beautiful, gothic church that presides over the city.

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Valencia

Then we caught another ferry to Valencia and spent two days there photographing the interesting architecture and ancient bullfighting stadiums. There is this huge, modern monument that looks like a futuristic space-age swimming pool complex. I believe it was built during the Olympic games.

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We returned by train to Barcelona the day before New Year’s Eve and stayed in another hostel near the Olympic stadium called Be Sound. For new years eve, we joined the party on the Rambla’s and then followed some people we met to a kind of underground squat techno party in a very run-down section of Barcelona. We partied all night there until sun-rise and then climbed on to the roof and lay in the sun for a bit before heading back to the hostel.

Oh also Francois’ expensive DSLR camera got stolen while we were on the beach in Barcelona – so keep an eye on your stuff while there!