Visiting Auschwitz, the Nazi horror camps

This week I finally ticked off another one of my Erasmus’ goals, visiting Auschwitz!

If you are expecting something extremely depressing (though that would be just really odd), I highly recommend you to visit these camps during Winter, as in Spring most likely only the museum and stories will shock you. To be honest, I felt like the place is a bit too “tourist oriented“. All trees are perfectly shaped, the grass is perfectly cut and everything looks in great condition. I even saw people eating on the grass like if they were having a picnic… Very disrespectful from my point of view though…

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How I had five amazing days in Istanbul

After a few tries, I finally ended up visiting Istanbul! A few misadventures prior to that and unforeseen changes of plans that lead to cancel the trip once, this time I flew alone and I ended up having a memorable time in this ancient city! So memorable that I decided to split this article by days.

First Day

Going to the airport…, hop into the bus early at 6 in the morning, and queueing to check-in…, again… Once at the check-in desk, the lady asks how to pronounce my surname – Sousa – which made me laugh immediately, and I say it out loud “It is Sousa, not Susa“. The lady from the next desk starts laughing uncontrollably once I say that. In greek, lowercase “Y” is represented by a symbol that resembles “u”, and the combination OY is equivalent to the sound U, “Susa” in greek means popping a wheelie.

Not long until reaching Istanbul from Athens, and right on international soil I tried to pass the boarder, which I learnt that I need to pay visa…, I assumed that all EU citizens could get in freely, considering I knew greeks and even french people friends of mine who just visited Istanbul without any visa, but back then I had to pay 15€. No questions ask, I just paid and that was it. Once I passed the passport control, I did my first money withdraw in that new currency, and I headed towards the city center by metro. I had to wander around for a while since my couchsurfing host couldn’t meet with me until only after lunch.

The tram trip was something, I never imagined I would meet so many nice people, actually, I think I never did! One old man, who couldn’t even speak a word in english, started a chat with me (I speak absolutely no Turkish). He was trying to figure out where I am from and trying to help me with my stop. The guy sitting next to me saw my face of desperation, and he helped with the translations, plus a few other tips. First hours in that amazing city, and that was the reception I got! I couldn’t be better impressed!

I got out in Sultan Ahmen, I went for a walk to visit the mosque and the nearby area… I had to pay to drop evidences…, and there were people everywhere trying to sell me water. It seems every country have those annoying sellers with a particular characteristic. In Portugal we have the quéfrô (I won’t even explain this), in Greece the vérynaíce and apparently in Istanbul they have the su (which means water in Turkish). The area is really pleasant and totally different from what I was expecting, and for better! The park was what surprised me the most, I was not expecting to find Istanbul as such a green city, mostly right after coming from 6 months living in Athens…

After a few hours wandering in the European side, it was time to cross the canal and set foot for the first time in Asia! As a matter of a fact, the first time I left Europe! Does this even count? That’s when I met my host and the couch where I would stay for the following days, and then a shower before scratching one of my Istambul ToDo Items! Play backgammon and smoke narghile with a Turkish person! A friend of his also joined us for the very pleasant afternoon. Unsurprisingly, I won the first match! Though, I am pretty sure he did let me win…

While we were playing and smoking, a street food seller came by with oysters with rice. That’s just delicious! Street food is definitely the best thing ever! After that we went to Taksim for a walk, SO MANY PEOPLE!!! The area is really pleasant, filled with bars, restaurants and a few pubs. Loads of people outside, which reminded me of home, like a night of Santos Populares, the most known street party in Lisbon and in Portugal.

And to end such an amazing day, my host took to to a roof restaurant, if I am not mistaken, that’s even the name of the restaurant itself, where we dine with the view to the Golden Horn! What a view! Once back home we kept talking, I was absolutely wrecked but still really eager to keep talking like if he was a flat mate. Yes, like a flat mate, that’s how comfortable I felt with such a welcoming day in Istanbul!

Blue Mosque
Blue Mosque

Second Day

There’s no better way to start a day than with a brunch! My host invited me for a brunch at one of his friends’ place, whom also treated me the same way like he did, like an old friend. Two hours eating, chatting and trying all those Turkish delicacies, the first time I had tea at breakfast, which I really did like and it is something to repeat.

Back to the ferry and back to Europe, or at least the European side of the city. It’s amazing how easy it is to cross from Europe to Asia and vice-versa 😛 We went to the Spices Bazaar, where I took several photos to all those stalls filled with spices, colors and smells of the Oriente. I fell in love with that place! Next to the Spices Bazaar there is a really nice park, maybe a bit also too European style, that totally fascinated me, mostly because of what they were selling there! Leeches!! And in that same park we ended up drinking another Turkish Coffee and play a bit more backgammon 🙂 I play like in slow motion for Turkish standards, but who cares? I am Portuguese, not Turkish 😀 And the rest of the day? Loads of “shots” of tea! Oddly it seems to refresh more than cold water…

How I had five amazing days in Istanbul
How I had five amazing days in Istanbul

We went back to the avenue that starts in Taksim and goes to the Tower, though this time during the day, and again, filled with people! It seems that that Avenue never sleeps! And the fact that cars are not allowed, it makes it even scarier by the quantity of people who passes there. I am not much into crowded places, but I have to admit I did like that atmosphere. We had a late lunch (or early dinner) in one of the restaurants by the University, or is it a school? I am not much into meat, but that was exactly what I ended up eating, when I travel I always make an effort to try the local flavors…, it was nice, but I still prefer other things 🙂

After dinner we went back “home” again, and while my host went to practice some sports I stayed with his friends at the place were we had the brunch, probably more than one hour always chatting with them. And to end the day in a great way again, we went to the park by the sea to drink beers and more chats! We talked about everything, I reckon we stayed there for over two hours, and to finalize it, we went for an ice cream to a place nearby. Probably one of the best ice creams I have ever had! The ice scoops dropped into hot chocolate, which solidified instantly. Simply perfect!

Third Day

Visit to the Historical Peninsula, again…, but way more paced! I went back to the park I been to on the first day, but instead of just crossing it, I explored it a bit further and I noticed how “prepared” the local culture is…, Istanbul is an amazing mix of religions and cultures, no one cares about what the other is wearing, burkas or tops, everyone minds their own business. At the park you can find really cute and romantic corners, perfect for couples to date with a bit more privacy (but not too much). It is really a cosy park.

I went back to the Blue Mosque, and this time I actually got in. I had to take my shoes off and what I saw inside totally amazed me. Nothing alike what the catholic religion got me used to, inside kids were playing, people were taking photos and talking freely, though there is still a segregation for praying. Women and men are apart, and there silence is requested. A sacred place  where you don’t feel tied to religion, but where the same religion also constraints you. A bit like an oxymoron, no?

I get out of the Blue Mosque straight to the Historical Bazaar, right next to the Mosque. There I bought some tobacco for my narghile, orange flavor! Let’s see if it is any good…, the odd moment of the day was the fact that more than one guy offered to clean my shoes… for free! I bet they looked really dirty…

Since I was still in the Historical Peninsula, why not trying to get lost? I opened my map, I saw some kind of a draw, and I headed towards that place without looking at the map again! I passed by a graveyard where supposedly is buried some sultan, which I didn’t find, and then I kept walking towards that draw I saw until I stumble with the Grand Bazaar! Another amazing Bazaar! Though this one seems to be very tourist-oriented, but still amazing. I walked, walked and I kept walking, though I didn’t buy anything… I am not a tourist, I am a visitor 🙂 And from the Grand Bazaar I went back to the Spices Bazaar. I have no idea how I got there…

Since I was enjoying my time, I thought I could do something cool to please my host as a way to thank him for the amazing experience. I remembered that the day before he wanted to buy a watermelon for me, so i did it for me 🙂 Though, when he got home he said “Gil, I have some fruits for dinner“, to which I replied with a bit smile and a “Me too…, check in the kitchen…“, he went back to the living room really pleased by that! Something so simple, though very personal. And that’s why I love couchsurfing, you don’t need to buy something expensive, instead something personal works way better.

But the day wasn’t over…, we crossed the canal again towards Europe! And again on our way to Taksim, we stopped at a tiny food stand, so small that only had a table and three chairs! We ate what they described as “meatball without meat“, something REALLY spicy, but REALLY GOOD!!! Thank you Ozan for this! And as a beverage I drunk a juice of…, peppers our something alike…, interesting, but not that good… We had to wash down our throats with some beers afterwards 😀 Another rooftop bar (I really love rooftop bars…), with another amazing view! And to end the third night in a great way…, we went to a bar with gipsy music, great atmosphere! That was also the greek night, where something interesting and funny happened to me, one of their friends joined us and said “Geia sou fili” (hello friend, in greek), though my brain was already ready to not understand anything that I didn’t even considered that it could be greek, so I looked back at my hosts awaiting for a translation… which I shouldn’t need… And it was time to go back “home”…

Fourth Day

Something I forgot to mention about the third day, I wrote on Istanbul CS group if anyone wanted to join me to the islands next to Istanbul, and only a 46 years old woman replied. Though I changed my mind regarding that, only 5 days in Istanbul, why leaving the city to visit more islands? She still joined me for the day…

I went (again) to Taksim, and I waited for her about 45 minutes (gotta love punctuality), until she finally showed up. Since my plans were only to enjoy the city, we decided to cross the whole avenue and go to the Tower, in a very paced way. Then we would decide where to go. On the way we stopped for tea and for a chat, and after the tower another stop for a freshly squeezed juice (where she starts complaining that it was too expensive…).

We then went down to Karaköy, and while she went to an internet café, I tried to find a map for her in some tourist office. When we met again at the internet café, she was again complaining about the prices. Though this time I started to be annoyed, she KNEW beforehand what the price was, why did she complain again? To ease the moment I suggested to go to a bazaar of cafés (where I smoked narghile on my first day) to drink some tea or a Turkish coffee…, and again, she complains again about the prices. I was really starting to be fed up of her by then… From there we went to the Palace where Ataturk died, unfortunately we arrived right after closure time. We decided to stay in the area for another tea (I think my kidneys never worked that well before…), and again…… she complained! This time she had some reason, all waiters couldn’t speak english, and the café was next to the palace, a very touristy area. Though, if they don’t speak english…, why would one complain to THEM in ENGLISH???

I walked her to Takim where she would meet with her host, we drunk a beer and I went back to my host’s place! My host was tired, and I was tired of the company I had for the day, so we decided to stay at home!

A view over the canal
A view over the canal

Fifth Day

Last day in Istanbul…, and that was the day I realized I actually like to suffer…, I met again with the woman from the day before! At the Historical Peninsula! I went to Hagia Sophia from inside, a bit expensive (10€), but still quite interesting, and the local history is just amazing which fueled a bit more the pet-hate I have for the catholic church! Besides the way the destroyed the Parthenon in Athens, with Hagia Sophia the other religions proved to be way more respectful towards art from other people and religions.

Hagia Sophia was originally a Cristian Cathedral, you can find loads of references and art related to Our Lady, Christ and other Cristian symbols inside the church, however the muslims conquered the church (I am not sure about this part), and instead of destroying the symbols that are not related to their believes, like the Catholic Church did with the Parthenon, they kept it all! Is there a better way to show respect than this? Everything related to the catholic church that is more damaged is mostly due lack of preservation instead of destruction. It is amazing to be inside a catedral that resembles more like  a Mosque but that it has symbols from both religions! Amazing!

Then we went to the Castle, I was not much in the mood to get in at the time…, I was a bit hungry and I was not particularly curious to get it. She wasn’t either, so we decided to go for lunch. After lunch we visited the Basilica Cistern, A M A Z I N G!!!! Half the price of Hagia Sophia, though the surprising factor was twice as much! Something REALLY amazing! I highly recommend a visit, I can’t even describe it besides the obvious, an underground basilica! Flooded with water and FISH! Something really amazing!

After the Basilica Cistern, we went (again) to the park, where she started complaining again…, though this time I understood where all that rage was coming from. Her Turkish ex-boyfriend knew she would be there, and didn’t say anything to her. Apparently I was the perfect target as a punch bag…, it seems like my karma… We ended with an ice cream at the hill with a view to the Canal, and after that I went to Kadiköy to meet with my host and get ready for the night.

We had a light dinner, we bought some beer, and we went to the park by the sea. My third wish in Istanbul! CS Meeting! Amazing night, where I found out that my accent sounds absolutely like Russian, or at least when I get a bit more tipsy… unfortunately that night also meant that my visit was close to an end….

Back home, I said my goodbyes, and a few hours to nap before the very early wake up. I crossed the canal to the European side (my last crossing), and last moments to enjoy of both sides of Istanbul. Got the tram, passing through Sultanahmet, another last look at the Mosques that welcome all the visitors when they arrive. Arrived at the airport, where I met more Portuguese people, though they were unable to have a chat, besides asking how is the weather in Athens. I just politely dumped them and I tried to focus on how amazing those days were! What a trip!

Istanbul left a big mark in me! Amazing city!

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Some random facts about Greece

Some random facts about Greece

The article below is a translation of an old article about Greece that I have deep down inside my memories chest, considering it’s still one of my most viewed articles in Portuguese, I decided to translate it to English and share it with everyone! I tried to keep the same voice as the original version, in Portuguese, but some of these “facts” were mostly my perception of things when I was living there.


Some random facts about Greece

I think I will have a diabetic seizure soon, these traditions are killing me! Here in Greece it is tradition to give sweets to friends/work-mates when it’s someone’s birthday. Nothing strange to us, Portuguese people, because we do something alike…, and if we don’t bring anything to share, we all have that one friend who will force us to pay a few beers at any pub (preferably at an expensive one 😛 ) Well, considering this, the last two days we had 3 birthdays here at the office, which means, this is my third morning sweet :X

Another tradition around here, that I just got to hear about, is that when someone buys a new car that person also should give sweets to their friends/work-mates, so try to guess what I have here right now between my keyboard and belly? That it! What’s left of another morning sweet! This is my second one today…

Crystal clear waters in Skiathos
Crystal clear waters in Skiathos

Regarding the birthdays story, that’s something I still didn’t get properly, according to some touristic books, Greeks only commemorate their birthdays until their 12th birthday, but I’ve seen a few birthdays around here as well…, maybe just because yesterday I had two sweets as well :X And in theory, after their 12th birthday they only commemorate their “Name Day“. Almost all Greek names are based on some Saint (which has a day for them), and in that Saint’s day they commemorate something alike a birthday…, and just by coincidence, while I was writing this article another guy came up here with more sweets! I asked if it was his birthday, and his answer was “Name Day“, I will really become a diabetic if I stay here much longer… I am starting to think this is just an excuse for them to eat sweets for any random reason…

More random facts about Greece, not counting with their really complex and interesting history, but there are a few really odd things still today, one of them that comes from almost 2000 years ago…, the Mount Athos which I am eager to visit one day…, but not during this internship. Check the link that points to Mount Athos, that peninsula is “independent” for almost 2000 years, it survived wars, empires and even Governments…, all because this peninsula is ruled by the church! Alike Vaticano, but on a bigger scale…

From my perspective, this is really absurd and very closed minded, it is a peninsula restricted from women and female animals, but only the domestic kind. Yes, that’s right, women are RESTRICTED from that peninsula! How on Earth does this still happen on XXI century? And from the images I see online, it is a place of an amazing beauty…, at least they kept it unspoiled and they didn’t let it become another touristic place filled with hotels and resorts…

Breaking news -> I just got offered another sweet! This is my third one today, if I am not mistaken :X And this one is definitely a birthday sweet 😛

Some random facts about Greece
Some random facts about Greece

And proceeding with the random facts about Greece…

Another protected area is Hydra island, which I plan to visit one day, if I have better luck with the stupid boat tickets…, it is an island restricted from all motorized vehicles and with a very specific urban plan, all of this to keep the typical architecture of the island intact! You might find many things to complain about the greeks, but in regarding their heritage they know what they’re doing…

Monemvasia is another place like this, a town I am planning to visit in June’s long weekend. It is a medieval town, also restricted from all motorized vehicles, and again, to keep the town/isle intact!

However, you can also find terrible examples of how not to do things, like what they did in Athens… Between the Temple of Olympian Zeus and one of the most typical districts in Athens, of which it’s history and mythology are so tied up, they created a wide and busy avenue…, which means, the Temple and the historical district are split apart by a busy avenue…, this is the price of “process” when people don’t plan properly.

This weekend I will try to visit Meteora, I had other plans, but I guess I really will go to Meteora, I’ll try to book a bedroom today (but first I’ll make sure I can get the train tickets), and I think this time I will finally visit this place. This area, according to everybody, it is absolutely breathtaking…, whoever saw the movie 300 probably remember  that Monastery that was on the top of a cliff…, these monasteries exist, and they are all in Meteora!

Another curiosity, is how precise these old people did things, apparently there are three temples that form a perfect triangle, and they are quite far away from the other ones, being one of them in one island… How on Earth did they do this? Based on stars only? I already visited these three temples, Parthenon, Temple of Poseidon in Sounio and Temple of Aphaea in Egina (the first, and so far only, island I visited in Greece).

And I think it’s enough of random facts, it’s your turn now and come to Greece and explore it 🙂 Even if it seems they don’t care much about the tourism, they have loads of amazing things for you to see 🙂


Now some proper facts about Greece!

As the excerpt above was from a younger Gil, I decided to add a few more things to this article, and some proper facts about Greece that might be unknown to some.

Fact #1

The modern borders of Greece, as we know it today, only has 70 years! Less than a century! Yes, it’s more than known that greeks are the pillars of modern society, democracy, philosophy, arts and much more. We all heard about Ancient Greece, and how important that period was and how that affected, in a positive way, the rest of Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. But, what probably you haven’t noticed yet, is that Greece is located in a very very strategic region. Several wanted that part of Europe, Venetians had part of today’s Greece, then Italians, also the Ottomans, Bulgarians, and other folks. The greeks suffered a lot across times, though their identify as a people prevailed.

Fact #2

Greece, for us is Greece, for them is Hellas! Confusing? I couldn’t find exact information of why this is so different, but for what I could understand it started with the Romans, they called the people living in the area that is now Greece the “Graeci”, while those people used to call themselves Hellenes. Maybe we all should start calling that country by Hellas?

Fact #3

Besides Greece and Cyprus, greek language is base for several dialects in Turkey and Italy, some even closer to Ancient Greek than Modern Greek!

Cats are everywhere in Hydra island
Cats are everywhere in Hydra island

Fact #4

The greek flag has 9 stripes, 5 blue and 4 white. According to popular saying, each strip is for one syllable of their motto, Freedom or Death (Ελευθερία ή Θάνατος), it’s also said that the nine strips are one for each letter of the word Freedom (Ελευθερία). The blue cross, I think than one it is easy to guess 🙂

Fact #5

Greek coffee, Turkish coffee, Arabic coffee. They are all the same. But don’t tell this to a greek, or a turk or an arab, most likely they won’t like it. But you should try and drink it! Don’t drink it as an espresso, let it settle down and take your time to drink it. And unless you want to hate that coffee for life, don’t drink the very last part of it… Just take your time to drink it, and all will be fine. Patience is the trick to drink this special coffee.

How I fell in love with Brisbane while having no expectations

Brisbane

Brisbane is the capital city of Queensland state, and not surprisingly, also the city with more population in the state. It is also the third city with more population in Australia, after Sydney and Melbourne (where I was before). The trip to Brisbane was the shortest I had in Australia, only about one hour away from the Gold Coast, and I was fortunate to have the company of the Canadian guy I met at the hostel a few days before. I’ve been told before that it would be nearly impossible to travel always alone along the East Coast of Australia. We might start alone, but we will end up being part of a group, and this was the point when I started to feel that wave of backpackers following the same route…

A bit of my experience in Brisbane

Water Dragon
Water Dragon

I must confess that my expectations regarding Brisbane were close to null. I only decided to stop there because I had tours booked for the next stop, and I didn’t want to spend way too much time in a town waiting for the adventure. And why not Brisbane? Almost each time I mentioned I would spend three days in Brisbane, the feedback was always the same kind. It doesn’t worth the time. At certain point I even considered changing my plans and not even wasting my time with Brisbane, but I had also a voucher for a tour to visit the Australia Zoo, so I kept my plans as they were.

Going to Brisbane for a Zoo???

Yeah, it doesn’t sound like an amazing idea, right? But it is a special Zoo, founded by the famous Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. Unfortunately, my plans got canceled again, and this time because they didn’t have enough people for the excursion… Yes, I could have done that on my own, but I decided to stay by Brisbane. This cancellation was quite a stress, again, but it ended up as a good thing.

But how? Didn’t you say Brisbane doesn’t worth the trouble?

Well, but it does! I loved the city, and I left glad to stay those three days! The city reminds me a bit of Sydney, maybe only because of the bridge and the architectonic style, but somehow it reminded me a lot of Sydney.

The first day I explored part of the city center with Ben, and a bit of the night, but it was in the second day that I decided to go a bit deeper. First thing in the morning, and I headed towards to the city center and to the City Botanic Gardens, where I saw several water dragons, a kind of iguana (I guess). Really relaxed buddies, and certainly more than used to people, considering how close they let me take photos of them. I love being in the Nature, I think I spent the whole morning in such a small garden, but at some point I head to go back to the hostel, passing again through the city center.

The following day I met a Korean guy that had just arrived in my dorm, and together we went to Roma Park. At this stage I already had a really good opinion about Brisbane, but in this park I absolutely fell in love with the city! The park is really nice, with several theme areas resembling parts of Australia, with a tropical forest zone kept with a lot of humidity. One detail about Brisbane, and probably more in this park, is that there are a lot of spiders! Until my visit to Australia, I had a stupid and irrational fear of spiders…, in Brisbane I still had that fear, but this trip helped me to control my arachnophobia.

Getting to know Brisbane by bus

I love to get to know a city by foot, but when time is a constraint, one needs to be open to other options. I think this was the first I got myself inside a hop on hop off touristic bus, and it happens that the experience was really positive. Brisbane has two touristic bus routes, one through the center and the other one that will take you to Mount Coot-tha. Since I still had some time, I ended up doing both, to get a feeling how the whole city is. And like I said before, it resembles Sydney a lot, but instead of a bay and a natural port, it has a river. And maybe a bit more sharks…, yeah…, Brisbane has a few river beaches, but with several warnings to be aware of sharks…, nope, I was not into swimming anyway…

While driving, the driver will explain details and curiosities about Brisbane, the architecture, the local fauna and flora, etc. Due to the introduction of foreign species, Australia is now struggling to eradicate or even control them. Even though it’s said that everything tries to kill you in Australia, it seems that everything actually loves Australia. Often you’ll hear or see information awareness on how to protect the native species. And those efforts also pass by garden planning and encouraging locals to use native plants. Regarding the architecture, a bit further from the city center you’ll see several houses a few centimeters above the ground , but these are suburban houses. The first thing I thought was that those houses could be subject to be damaged by floods, but then, they are on the top of hills… It didn’t take long until the driver explained the reason behind that, that gap between the floor and the house works as a ventilation system, because during summer months the heat is so high that one can’t even be inside the house…

Conhecer Brisbane de Autocarro
Getting to visit Brisbane by bus

One of the biggest advantages of these 24 hour tickets, is that you can get in and out of the bus as many times as you want, and therefore, you can explore parts of the city that are a bit further away. One of the stops I decided to get out was China Town, I walked a bit around the area to see the bridge and the neighborhood. After that bus, I just jumped into the next one and I changed to the next route, but that story I’ll save for another article.

NOTE: According to the website, these buses don’t run anymore… Though there are other alternatives to explore the city, unfortunately a bit more expensive as well.

Where is Brisbane?

Brisbane is the city capital of the state of Queensland, also known as the Sunshine State, and it is located close to the border with the state of New South Wales. Being the state’s city capital, obviously it is really well-connected, and it is also one of the main hubs for more routes of the Greyhound bus company, which I used during most of my Australia Adventure.


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How I fell in love with Brisbane while having no expectations

How I had three relaxing days in Gold Coast, the party city

Gold Coast

Gold Coast is one of Australia’s cities with more population, and the second one in Queensland. It was also my first stop in this state. The Gold Coast is known by its massive beach, the parties and the man-made canals. The area with more population is centered in one area by the beach, a strip of land bordered by the canals and the ocean, while the rest is very well-connected by the canals and with a more suburban look.

In almost all guides, the city’s name appears as Surfers Paradise, though this is just one of the districts, but the most interesting one for younger people. Everything happens there, parties, pubs, cafés and restaurants. According to the locals, the city isn’t really a paradise for surfers , mostly because of the mass tourism that happens all year round, which then instead of heavenly waves, surfers find overcrowded ones. Though, there is much more than surfing at the Gold Coast, you can also enjoy yourself at one of the many amusement parts, which unfortunately I ended up not visiting any…, I still regret that decision…

Playing games at the hostel 🙂 #LifeInParadise #SurfersParadise #GoldCoast

Uma foto publicada por Gil Sousa (@gfpsousa) a

Regarding the nightlife activities, considering that the city is well-known by backpackers, I guess it is quite easy to imagine how crazy those nights can be. And for those staying at hostels, the fun can be even better. While I was there, they organized a pub crawl for all backpackers staying in hostels, a way to gather young people in the same places. Another way to put this, a night to go wild…

Hostel life

I am not crazy about nightlife, I like to spend time with friends and drink a few drinks, but I am not much a fan of getting absolutely drunk to the point of forgetting what I did the night before. And when I travel, I am even more boring (for some), I just want to enjoy where I am, and I have the opinion that if I want to get drunk, I can do that back home. Before I arrived in Surfers Paradise I was already a bit regretful, the stop was merely strategical to relax a few days and enjoy some sun, but when I found out the main reason why that city attracts so many backpackers, I got a bit uneasy…

How I had three relaxing days in Gold Coast, the party city
How I had three relaxing days in Gold Coast, the party city

I was uneasy even regarding the hostel, I purchased a multi-night hostel pass for a hostel network, Nomads/BaseX, and I wanted to take advantage of all those (already paid) nights. Considering that network is really popular, I was really afraid about how crazy the parties at the hostel could become, and that definitely it wasn’t what I was looking for.., however I ended up loving the place where I stayed, Buds in Surfers backpackers. Though, the first impact wasn’t the best, it is really a budget hostel, but the hostel life was one of the best I found in Australia!

Old bedrooms, without indoors corridor. You open the room’s door and you’re outside…, to shower you need to go outside. The kitchen is tiny, and to eat you have to sit outside, but if it is raining you can sit under the cover they have. The bar is joint with the reception, but it has to close at 10 PM because they can’t work as a pub, and when the reception is closed, if you arrive late you need to use the side gate. If it is raining, better to go to the first floor’s toilet, because most likely the one on the ground floor is already flooded. And yes, this sounds like a horror movie, but despite all of this I loved the hostel-life I found in that place. Sometimes, we have the best experiences at the least likable places.

One of the biggest advantages to stay in such a small hostel, it is the almost mandatory socialization, sooner or later you’ll meet the other guests. I noticed a bit of an age barrier, but it was there where I found it easier to mingle with other people. We played cards a lot of times, and I was introduced to a game that until then I have had never heard of, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, which I ended up buying as soon as I returned to Ireland. I think that it was also after the Gold Coast when I start noticing the pattern of nationalities I was stumbling into, chances were that most likely I would find an English person, and a very good chance to also meet a Canadian.

Besides playing One Night Werewolf for several hours, we also took part in some other activities organized by the hostel. I stayed there for three nights, and the first night we had pizza party and then we all went to a pub. And a BBQ the second night, which was also the hostels’ night and supposedly also the best night to go out. The hangover from the previous night had a heavy part on my decision not to go out two nights in a row…, one night to purely relax, in the party city.

Another detail about the hostel is the salt water pool, I noticed that this is actually quite common in Australia, considering the heat…, it is an excellent way to attract more backpackers. The first thing I did right after waking up was diving into the pool to wake up, only after I went to the shower. Oh, good times…

Since I was visiting, I avoided spending too much time at the hostel, leaving in the morning and coming back by the end of the afternoon. At times I also went back at lunch time to save some money, but I would go out again right after eating. The evenings were spent with the other guests, and as expected I met really interesting people. One of those I met is a New Zealander man who lives in and out in Australia for many years, he doesn’t even have a residency permit! For the past 40 years he has to leave Australia one or two times a year so that he can go back as a tourist. His sons born in Australia, so they have a house, but he insists in being a permanent tourist. That gentleman’s story amazed me, he was staying there just because he got bored and he wanted to go to the beach for a few days, he went on his own and he stayed in a youth hostel.

How does the house numbering system works in Australia rural areas?

One of the curiosities that gentleman shared with us is how the house numbering system works in Australia rural areas. Since some properties and houses can be apart for several kilometers, some even tenths of kilometers, so the house numbering system is based on those distances. The number isn’t sequential, but by “tenth of meters” since the beginning of the road. For example, a house that is at the kilometer 5,340 will have the number 530 🙂

One of the other senior guests was a lady who only spent one night with us, but what made everything different was her unique way to introduce herself. Apparently, she sleep-talks (and swears)…, and she warned us only so that we wouldn’t get scared if we woke up with her shouting swearing words during the night…, ok…, shall I be concerned about anything? Of course not, we even got eager to see that happening, I am sure it would be a great story to share…, though that didn’t happen 🙁

And it was time to get to know a bit of the Gold Coast

Surfers Paradise district isn’t that big, and considering that my hostel was just two or three blocks away from the beach, I didn’t even have to make a big effort… The center is packed with stores and pedestrian streets, with a tram line crossing the whole neighborhood always parallel to the beach. I lost the count of how many times I passed in that street, a really pleasant area and always with that feeling of holiday, even if the skies were a bit too grey… Of course I had to go to the beach, sun bathing in between the rain showers…, and even though I was with a stupid fear of facing sharks, I also went for a swim. And truth be said, the biggest issue at sea are the venomous jellyfish that can induce severe injures to humans, even death.

Being in Surfers Paradise, of course I had to check that cliché item from my Bucket List, I paid for a two hours surfing class with guaranty that I would stand at least once. Since I surfed before in Ireland, I honestly expected I would learn a few things, but the class was for absolute beginners. It was still fun though, even if not just because of the Korean guy that went with me and who barely could speak any English, but really almost nothing, however he was really good at surfing! We were only two plus the instructor, it was almost like a private class in a beach further away from the urban center. I took my GoPro with me, I also made a few videos that one of these days I’ll edit and upload to share here with you.

After the surf class, I went back to the hostel, my last afternoon in that city and still so much to do and see…, I couldn’t decide what to do next, so I ended up going to the canal that was one block at the back of the hostel to see the sunset, a few solo moments to enjoy those magical couple of minutes. After a few quite intense days, it felt like heaven to be there, doing absolutely nothing, only appreciating the sky colors reflected on the canal waters. The canals have a few tiny beaches, and one of them is right where I went to see the sunset, and while I was walking along the beach I saw a few crabs that were there, hermit crabs, the first time I saw them in Nature! I spent so much time only looking at them being dragged up and down by the waves.

Life in Paradise 🙂 #SurfersParadise #GoldCoast #Queensland #Australia #GilAroundOz

Uma foto publicada por Gil Sousa (@gfpsousa) a

And my days at Surfers Paradise were over…, back to the hostel to pack and get ready for another trip…

Where is Surfers Paradise, and how to get there?

Surfers Paradise is a district in Gold Coast, a city that is in Queensland very close to the border with New South Wales, about one hour by bus from Brisbane. Besides buses, you can also get there by plane and by train. You can find really good flight deals to Brisbane, and don’t forget that Australia is one massive country, the fastest way to travel between cities is really by air.

For those, like myself, that arrive coming from south, you should be aware that the timezone might be one hour less. Unlike New South Wales, Queensland doesn’t have follow a Daylight Saving Time timezone, so the time change really depends on when you cross the border. Since I went there during summer, I had to adjust my clock. Therefore, you must take that into consideration when you make bookings, one hour can make a big difference…

I guess it also rains in #australia? #GilAroundOz

Um vídeo publicado por Gil Sousa (@gfpsousa) a

My trip from Byron Bay to the Gold Coast was quite wet, tropical rains during most of the time…, and I think I was really lucky, considering that during my stay there I only got a few drops 🙂 Despite the reputation that Australia has as a hot country, it should be taken into account that part of the country is in between the tropics, and that they have a few rainforests, which means, a lot of rain 🙂

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The Nimbin and Secret Lakes Tour

A trip becomes immensely more exciting when plans change…, well, I bet not all of you would agree with this though…, and to be honest, when this happens I don’t get that amazed either, but then I always end up loving it. The anxiety is absolutely stupid, plans change?? How come??? What about that amazing thing I really do wanted to do? Well… With that in mind, I even wrote an article a while ago with the pros and cons about organizing a trip, and the conclusion I got was that when plans change, there is always something else to do. It is impossible to see and do everything, so, better enjoy as much as we can!
The Nimbin and Secret Lakes Tour

Whirlwind Tour

This trip to Nimbin was a perfect example of that, an unplanned tour. I heard about Nimbin for the first time while I was in Sydney, and to be honest, the idea of a “hippie” town well-known by the light-drugs tourism, isn’t my idea of fun. I didn’t get the hype over that, maybe for some, but not for me. Though, I ended up enrolling for that tour…, why? Because the fun on the way to get to Nimbin was exactly what I was looking for!

At the tourism desk they described the tour as a half day waterfalls and secret lakes tour. Since I love to swim, and it was really hot (despite the typhoon that hit the South Pacific), it seemed like a great plan B! At 9:30 I was ready at the meeting point and eager for a day of adventures with the Whirlwind Tours group!

Swimming under a waterfall

The first stop was at a small waterfall, considering that the tour was named as “secret lakes” I ended up not knowing where I was, and the lack of phone coverage also didn’t help, or I would have marked where I was on the map. Before going to swim, we went to a view-point to see the lake, where a couple was swimming… actually…, skinny dipping… Well, just by that we could tell that the waterfall was indeed a not so known spot 🙂 And to get to the lake, we had to go through a really muddy and slippery trail, but it totally worth it! As soon as we got down there, we could see that the water was quite turbid, and a lot of rocks…, but really a lot of them, I lost the count of how many times I kicked them… Oddly, the water wasn’t even cold, it felt so good to swim there! And that feeling of waterfall shower? Oh, I did miss it…

I lost count to the amount of photos that were taken, and this confirmed that my decision to buy a GoPro was the right one! Our tour guide also took several photos with his camera, which later he gave us to add to all of those we already had, and of course, with our group photo. And taking one of those group photos…, I also got stuck under water because I slid between some rocks and I lost the control while everyone was posing for the photo… Oh well, but I survived…

Cliff Diving at the blue lake

From the waterfall, we headed to another stop to get even more wet, an artificial lake with such a gorgeous turquoise water, I’ve never seen anything alike! For what I could understand, that “lake” is what was left from a clay “mine” (?!), but I swear, I’ve never seen a lake with such blue water, what a beautiful color! The goal with that stop was to cliff dive from half way to the top of the cliff, those that wanted to jump had to climb it through a rope, which wasn’t that hard for the first three or four of us…, but then the wall got a bit more wet, and the clay became very slippery. Being at the top, or half way, there was just one way to go down… Jumping!

The girl who was before me hesitated a lot before jumping, in fact, from up there the hight seemed to be quite different… Trying to look tough I told her to jump, without even thinking. And of course she hesitated, she ended up sitting and jumping like that. Then it was my turn…, I look down and I thought about what I told the poor girl, and of course, I couldn’t look like if I was having second thoughts. I got ready for the photo…, and while holding my camera, I jump! I think I didn’t land well, the right side of my butt was in pain for a while, and my left hand too. How did I manage to do that? I have no idea…

Jumping to the Blue Lake
Jumping to the Blue Lake

I ended up just jumping once, and after that I stayed in the water swimming and having fun with the other people, but there was another guy who jumped from the highest point, and I have to say that for me that was intimidating… I didn’t even consider to get up there… After the fun, it was time to go back to the van, and while we were leaving I noticed a notice board with a warning, scratched with graffiti, but it was possible to read the words “danger” and “health”…, thankfully nothing happened, and honestly, I am really glad I visited that place 🙂

Nimbin

Lojas em Nimbin

Even before arriving to Nimbin we had to decide what to eat for lunch, so that we could just sit and eat. I like these kind of plans! Sit and eat, the perfect duet! A few minutes after our arrival, our tour guide told us that if we wanted to buy anything less legal, that he would really appreciate if we wouldn’t consume it before nor while on our way back. According to him, he already had a few unpleasant surprises with other groups…, still, I found that request quite odd… Is Nimbin really like what everyone say? Yep…, it is… As soon as we arrived we had to cross a kind of yard where we were approached by a few guys…, but we kept walking. Our guide told us that everyone is really nice, and that we had nothing to fear. It looked safe indeed, and regarding being welcoming people…, we had a not so nice situation…

After food, we all went for a stroll to see a bit of that town, in fact, a really cool town with a really nice vibe, and everyone seem to be quite relaxed. As tourists, of course we took several photos, to almost everything… And while I was taking one of the photos, someone just put herself in front of the camera and sat on a bench, since I really wanted a photo from that perspective, I took the photo anyway. As soon as I started to walk away, I heard another person saying that I was extremely rude for taking photos to the other person that was there without me asking first. I got a bit annoyed, and I felt tempted to reply, but again, what was the point?

Nimbin is basically a town in the middle of nowhere, but with a reputation regarding selling and consumption of light drugs, in fact, that’s the main reason why people go there to visit. And they know how to use that reputation, most bars, restaurants, stores and more are decorated with drug related themes, though, most stores have signs informing that they don’t sell drugs. But still, drugs is the reason why tourism there is so popular. In my opinion, yes, it is a really cosy and cool town, but I don’t think it pays off to travel so many kilometres just to visit it, unless you are planning to visit other places and spots on the way, like I did with the lakes and waterfalls.

Going back to Byron Bay

Time to go back, but not before an unexpected stop, at least for me. Right outside Nimbin there is a candle factory, we went there to see how they craft them, several kinds of different candles and shapes. And of course, most of those candles are for sale, for all tastes, horoscopes signs and smells. In fact, I really did like the factory and I found it really interesting, a mixture of crafting and mass production, but it was basically a family factory. One of the things I found more odd but interesting at the same time, was the technique they use to straighten the base of the candle – with an iron! An iron of those that we use to iron our clothes! Simple, but it does its work! And according to what they told us, the iron actually lasts for a long time, it doesn’t get damaged with the wax. I really did love that detail, and I guess that’s a pretty obvious sign that it is a craft business.

Candle Factory
Candle Factory

Since it was still day when we arrived in Byron Bay, I went for a walk to the beach, but again, another heavy shower and I was forced to go back to the hostel. On my way there, I stopped to buy something for dinner. While paying, I noticed that the guy at the counter was looking to the security camera…, someone was shoplifting, hiding stuff inside the pockets and bag! Ah, she was caught on camera! I didn’t stay there to see what happened next, I didn’t want to get involved in any way, so I went back to the hostel.

Food, a few beers and then bed, the next day was road-day again! But not before…, fire alarm at 4am… Everyone had to go outside, and while we were waiting for the firemen, it started also a light rain shower… It was false alarm, but the hostel staff told us that right away, though they had to follow the protocol and wait for the firemen. Everyone got a bit over excited, and I took a while to fall asleep again, due the noise in the corridors. After one amazing day, I guess a fire alarm did spoiled it much 🙂

Edinburgh, the city of the dead

Edinburgh, the city of the dead

An adventure doesn’t have to be epic to be enjoyed, it doesn’t have to last for several months to have memorable stories to tell, and it doesn’t have to be shared with an old friend to feel absolutely comfortable. This trip to Scotland was one hell of a trip, filled with moments to remember and to try not to forget (this blog will certainly help to keep those memories alive).

This trip to Scotland was quite spontaneous, not much planned, but obviously Edinburgh had to be in the list of mandatory places to visit. We checked prices how to get there, and the capital of Scotland happened to be the cheapest option from Cork as well. The first thing we did was deciding where to stay, taking into account we would arrive by the end of the day, we decided to go with it. Then…, we only had to enjoy the city 🙂

Besides the touristic thingies, I had also a personal goal of what to do in Edinburgh, and that was to meet an old friend I met in Greece. One of those friends who visit us countless times, in Portugal, in Ireland, and that we are really pleased to see them again. This time was my time to pay him a visit, it was a very pleasurable “had to“! We didn’t have much time to spend together though, one coffee the day after I arrived, and another one before my departure back to Cork.

National Gallery of Scotland

Regarding the city, after breakfast we walked to the castle, where we ended up not getting in because we already had a tour booked and we assumed we would get inside the castle anyway. We wandered a bit through the historical center while we were waiting for out tour, so that we could also have an idea of what to expect.

Free tour through Edinburgh

At scheduled time we were at the meeting point, ready for our free tour! Our guide was really eloquent, he explained in detail some of the most important moments of Edinburgh’s history, which can be resumed to…, a lot of dead people… Science, mostly medical sciences, have a really obscure past, most of what is known nowadays was due some not so good practices… The way medicine is practiced nowadays is way different from what it used to be just 50 years ago, and unfortunately thanks to those bad practices and experiences that they did. In early XIX century, Edinburgh was considered the capital of medical studies, and a lot was discovered there, a lot was tried…, and a lot of dark things happened there too…

We were fed by real tales of stories that happen in the city, each stop a new story. One of those stories tells the last public execution in Edinburgh city, in 1864, of George Bryce. Our guide has the eloquence gift, sharing with us such an horrific story really made us tremble a bit, it is hard for me to image how killing someone was considered a kind of street performance, and this one went too far. By evilness or incompetence of the executioner, George instead of dying the moment the floor opens, he was suffering for over 40 minutes, because the length of the rope was badly calculated. Even the sadistic population thought that was too much.

But not all horror stories end badly, one good example is the famous story of Maggie Dickson (they even have a pub with that name), which was sentenced to death for killing her baby son, even though she always denied that and all the proofs were inconclusive, she ended up being hanged anyway. She was 30 minutes hanged, and according to the law, her body was then transferred to her town. On the way to her town, the cart driver who was moving her body heard some sounds coming from the back, he stopped to double check what was that sound, and Maggie was still alive! By then, this was considered as will of God, therefore they forgave her for the crime.Maggie lived 25 more years after her death

Being in Edinburgh, obviously we would have to have section of the tour just for Harry Potter. Why? Because J. K. Rowling lived in Edinburgh, and wrote the first book in that city, most of the characters’ names were inspired in local people, and even some popular buildings and alleys in the book were also inspired by some streets in Edinburgh. One of those places is Greyfriears Kirkyard Graveyard, which is right a school that also inpired JK to create Hogwart’s. We walked around the graveyard and we were pointed at some tombs, the names engraved in those tombs were used as characters of the book itself, some of them well known by those who read the books or saw the movies, like Lord Voldemort. But for me, the best part of the graveyard was a less known story, of a dog…

Greyfriars Bobby, another legend-dog though not as known as Hachiko, is another great example of loyalty and how dogs are indeed a man’s best friend. According to the tales, Bobby spent about 14 years, until his death, always laying on the top of his owner’s tomb. Bobby died with 16 years, which means that a 2 years dog got so attached to his owner that he spent almost all his life on the top of a tomb…, if this is not loyalty… It is another story of death and graveyards in Edinburgh, but this one filled with love. Some years ago I was by Hachiko’s statue, and this time I saw Bobby’s, a story that at that point was totally unknown to me. It is great to know that animals also have these kind of homages.

Regarding the free tours, there are two things you should know, first they are not entirely free, these people spend their time to prepare these stories, and they spend even more time to share them with us. They need to have really good people-skills, they need to know how to deal with different kind of people and to keep their customers always happy. In the end of the tour, we give them some symbolic amount of money for the work they did, and it is up to each one of us how much to give. Of course some people don’t give anything…, but well… Regarding this tour, I loved his sense of humor which reminded me a lot the Irish personality and the way they make fun of the English, the Scottish also have history with them, and they don’t lack jokes towards that. It was a really pleasant and interesting tour, filled with culture and humor.

After our tour, we went for another walk, to the National Gallery, where we spent a good while to enrich our soul with art 🙂 We saw art from some of really known artists, I guess we spent around two hours inside, and from there we went to the garden right next to the galleries to rest a bit. It was a really tiresome day, a lot of walking, and that was just the first day, more up to come 🙂

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My route through the Balkans

My route through the Balkans

Being back from an adventure through some of the Balkan countries, it’s time to start writing about it. My first article of this series is about the route I took from Zagreb to Athens, the places I passed through and the reasons why.

Croatia

The decision to pass by Croatia was quite easy, I flew to Zagreb to meet with a friend from there, and that was my plan. She’s from there, so she knows better what to visit, being my first time there, anything would be new and interesting to me . I didn’t spend enough time in Zagreb though, our destination was the Dalmatian coast, mostly Šibenik area. We went several times to the beach, actually our house was literally across the road from the sea, and it wasn’t busy at all. We also went to Krka National Park for a day trip, just amazing 🙂

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Going to Bosnia was a mix of a “mistake” and “will“. Part of my plans was to go to Mostar for its famous bridge, however the real reason why I decided by Bosnia was due the cultural impact I was expecting to face, which indeed surprised me a lot. I still don’t know if it was a mistake not passing through Sarajevo, a lot of people tell me I should have included it in my plans… but just Mostar is a great place to visit, totally worth it, beautiful and full of history.

Montenegro

Of all the countries I passed through during this trip, this one was the one that I actually felt like visiting it and also the one I enjoyed it the most. Even though they are not part of European Union, the currency they actually use euros, a very cleaver way to avoid dealing with currency drops in case of a national crisis. In a few days I visited several national parks, in a so small country, and I spent most of my time in the charming town of Kotor.

Rota pelos Balcãs
The route through the Balkans

Albania

Albania was one of the improvised stops of this trip, initially it wasn’t part of my plans to stop, but I had to cross it nonetheless to get to Macedonia (FYROM). The plan was to go from Kotor to Ohrid on a night bus, but when in Kotor I realized it would be way more interesting to at least cross the country during the day and see something, so I spent that night in Tirana and the next morning I headed up to Ohrid. It was a great decision, the trip was way more relaxed and I saw a few interesting things on the way 🙂

Macedonia (FYROM)

Macedonia, with official name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and where I stayed for two nights at the ancient capital Ohrid, by the lake with the same name. As one would expect, you can breathe history in each corner of the old city, with monuments everywhere that easily you can spot the different historical eras that passed through that city. There I decided to take my time to relax, with a full day dedicated to spend time at the lake sunbathing and swimming 🙂 I only regret not staying in a hostel, besides history, that city is also full of life. Day and night. And being alone, a hostel would be a great way to meet new people.

Greece

And back to my beloved Greece! Not much to stay about this country that I love so much, you can find plenty of articles in this blog detailing experiences I had while living there. I spend one night in the north of Greece, as a strategical stop so that I could take a rest before arriving in Athens, and another night in Athens to meet with some friends only. And as expected, it was totally worth it 🙂


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My route through the Balkans

Madeira Island – Machico and Funchal

Machico and Funchal

This was my first time in Madeira, and the main reason why I went there was for a wedding of a friend of mine, though, I also had time for some sightseeing obviously. One of the things I noticed the most was the huge amount of tunnels, so criticized in Portugal’s mainland, but that make such a big difference for those living there. A few hundred meters make the difference between several hours up to just a few minutes to reach the same destination. Unlike a lot of people think, the tunnels aren’t a matter of luxury or wealth, but something that is indeed needed. It is one of those things that one has to be there to understand.

Machico

My host’s city, where I also stayed and the first place I saw after my arrival. Coincidently, also the first settlement in Madeira Island, where João Gonçalves Zarco and Tristão Vaz Teixeira arrived and stablished the first port of the island.

The landscape is breathtaking, the city is in a valley with has several really steep roads through those hills. More towards east but not far, in Caniçal area, a totally different landscape with a very arid aspect. All part of the same municipality, but so distinct landscapes.

Something I noticed was the massive amount of small lizards, according to what I’ve been told, they are an invasive specie that was introduced by accident, carried by ships. Due lack of natural predators, the lizards became almost like a plague. Cats kinda of helped controlling the amount of lizards, but it is still very common to see those small reptiles through the whole island.

Escarpas na zona do Caniçal
Cliffs in Caniçal area

Funchal

The capital of the Autonomous region, was the place where, oddly, I spent less time at. However, for a Nature lover, I think this was kinda of expected. But I have to admit, the view is also fantastic, either by day or night-time. The historical center is really cosy, several narrow streets with old houses, and with a lot of street art as well. A bit of a paradox, I know, but it all combined really well. As I was the last guest to arrive I missed most of the touristic thingies the other guests did there. I haven’t been to the highest point, through the cable car, but maybe another time 🙂

Ribeira no centro do Funchal
Stream at Funchal’s old town

Something that I really enjoyed to see, but haven’t tried it either, was the Monte’s basket cars. A 2 km ride in 10 minutes, always sliding down the street, a bit overpriced, but certainly a very interesting experience. Again, maybe another time…

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is one of the most enigmatic and known monuments in the world, also one of the 21 finalists of the New 7 Wonders and without a doubt a place to visit, not only by those interested in archeology, but certainly by everyone.

Historical context

This monument is by the same period as the pyramids and the pharaohs, but had a totally different civilization, and apparently not so developed either. However, there are still many unanswered questions about this monument and about the knowledge this civilization had, for example, the fact that the rocks are aligned with the winter solstice and the avenue with the summer solstice. How did they do that?

Stonehenge is a circle of stones, weighting more than 50 tons each, that were carried from about 240 km away (there several theories how they moved those stones). There are other archeological sites in the area that also prove that this civilization had knowledge that was lost and that nowadays it is still unknown to us.

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Some curiosities about Stonehenge

Stonehenge had several construction and reconstruction phases, it’s believed it took thirty million working hours for the three phases. The archeological site is a complex of two main circles, one of them with blueish color stones, an avenue and by some man-made dirt hills in a shape of a circle surrounding the site as well. The archeological site area extends to the surrounding area, and a lot is still to be discovered. Unsurprisingly, this site is part of UNESCO World Heritage‘s list.

Regarding the surrounding area, even though this site is of an extreme importance, until recently it didn’t get the deserved investment by the British government, it was only in December 2013 that the visitor center opened and the busy road that was passing just a few meters from the main site was closed. Slowly, what is left by that road is now being reclaimed by Nature, but it is still quite visible how awful and damaging that road was, literally passing a few meters from those stones.

In order to avoid spoiling (too much) the area of the site, the visitor center was built 2,4km away from the main monument, which isn’t visible from there. At the visitor center you can see several animations of the construction an reconstructions phases of Stonehenge, and in real size. You also can test your strength, there is a fake stone with a rope attached, so that you can try to pull it and see how many people exactly like you would be needed to move that stone 🙂 It is quite impressive, trust me 🙂

How to get there?

The best way is really by car, the parking area is fairly big and without a doubt a hassle-free way to find the site.

Regarding public transportation, from London, you should take a bus to Amesbury, which is about 3km from the archeological site, and from there you can go either by foot or by taxi.

The distance from the nearest train station is considerably more, and even though trains are usually a more comfortable way of traveling, I don’t think it would be the best way to get to Stonehenge.

You can find detailed information how to get there on Stonehenge’s website.

And to conclude this article, it’s quite obvious why this is one of the most visited monuments in the world. It totally worths the time invested to get there to see what was built thousands of years ago. The work done by the local entities to restore and maintain the site is notorious, the visitor center is simple but really a must see. Even if late, it is nice to see that something is being done to keep Heritage preserved. The visitors can be a major reason for the deterioration of important sites, but in this case, at Stonehenge there is a fairly good safety distance to visit it without damaging, and even the entrance fee is to be used to ensure the safety and conservation of the site. You should visit one day.

Red Bull Cliff Diving – Inis Mór 2014

Red Bull Cliff Diving - Inis Mór

Yes, the title is correct. This event took place last year…

What’s the reason for this delay? I let the time pass, and then it wouldn’t make much sense anyway, and now it is time for more Red Bull Cliff Diving. This year’s series already had a few jumps, and again this year one of the amazing stops was the Islet of Vila Franca, next to São Miguel Island, in Azores. And without realizing, I almost saw another jump but this time in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, where they’ll jump from the historical bridge. Unfortunately I was there two weeks before the jump. So, considering my trip and this even, I think this article is now on time 🙂

Red Bull Cliff Diving
Red Bull Cliff Diving

Red Bull Cliff Diving

The competition takes place in several places around the world, is a series of dives in places that might change every year. This event is both for men and women as different categories, men dive of heights between 26 and 28 meters, which is comparable to a 8-9 store building high, while women jump of heights between 20 to 21 meters, more or less a 7 store building high. A bit scary, and even more when you’re there and you see how high that is!

The “pool” in Inis Mór really resembles a pool, a rectangular shape open rock with sea underneath. The event’s reception was a few hundred meters away from the sea, so we had to walk a fair bit before we actually could see the dive stage, with a fantastic view to Dún Aonghasa, a pre-historic fort. The pricing for the event was a bit odd, two different prices for three different areas where you could watch the event. I think we got the worse area possible, even though I don’t regret the money I spent to see it. It was a very pleasant experience and the day was simply amazing! So great, that I got a sun burn!

Red Bull - Inis Mór
Red Bull – Inis Mór

Inis Mór (Inishmor)

Inis Mór island is the biggest of the Aran Islands archipelago, on the west coast of Ireland. It isn’t hard to get there, but it isn’t straight forward either. To those coming from Cork, the best way is through Doolin port. To those coming from Dublin, you have direct ferries from Galway to the islands or a short flight of 20 minutes (if even that long). Since we went from Cork, we took the ferry in Doolin, which took about 1 hour and a half with intermediate stops in two islands, the third and last one was our destination. Inis Mór. The travel was quite ok, with view to the amazing Cliffs of Moher, with the company of a few dolphins that followed us during part of the trip 🙂

To those that enjoy a nice retreat, those islands seem to be the perfect spot! Internet coverage is quite weak, and in some parts of the island almost none. The permanent populate is also quite small, which makes that place even more quiet. Like almost everywhere in Ireland, people are really nice, however with a very bad notion of time and distance 🙂 We almost missed the last ferry because someone told us that it would be fast to get to the port walking (about 20 minutes they said), a distance of almost 9km…, without internet for most of the time to help us having an idea how far we were, we almost had to spend the night over there… 🙂

Dún Aonghasa
Dún Aonghasa

The Aran Islands are also another nice detour from the Wild Atlantic Way. If you’re planing to visit Ireland, and it is part of your plans to do the Wild Atlantic Way, don’t forget to include these islands as part of your plans. Or maybe not, if the weather gets really bad 🙂

Eastbourne

Eastbourne

A few months ago I went to England to visit some friends that were living there. London is definitely the most visited place in England, even all UK, but this time my destination was the south. Less crowded, more country side, more “me”.

My friends were living in Eastbourne, a seaside resort city in the South of England. Tourism is one of the strongest industries in Eastbourne, the pier, the beach and the cliff walks are the most known.
I was lucky with the weather, we went for a walk through the cliff at Beachy Head and the weather was just amazing. Mid-March, and three sunny days welcomed me to England, it was just perfect for the cliff walk.

Sunset in Eastbourne
Sunset in Eastbourne

The highest chalk cliff in Britain is in Eastbourne, the Beachy Head. The name has nothing to do with beach, in fact it is a corruption of two French words meaning “beautiful head(land)”. And it is beautiful indeed, the erosion is what keeps the white color constant. In some parts of the cliff, the erosion destroys up to a meter every year.

Beachy Head was also the scene of two major naval battles in the 17th century. It was also a strategic point during WW2 for radio communications. To reach London, the enemy aircraft had to pass near Beachy Head which would be detected with reasonable time.

The Eastbourne Pier, another iconic landmark, opened almost 150 years ago it is now one of the most popular attractions in the UK. On the pier stands an amusement arcade and several shops and food kiosks, and a tower that contains one of the first camera obscura ever made. Unfortunately it isn’t open all year…

Stockholm and Norrtälje

Stockholm and Norrtälje

Not always traveling is for business or tourism, people travel for all unimaginable reasons and one can’t expect the return of such experience. I went to Sweden to visit a close friend, I wasn’t expecting to do much tourism, my goals were set to have a good time with a good friend and everything else would be a bonus. This said, there isn’t much I can share, on a tourist perspective, about Stockholm.

Tiago was living in Norrtälje, a small cozy town north of Stockholm, where some of the student residencies are, at the Roslagen Campus. It is about one hour away from Stockholm and Arlanda Airport, but the transportation is reliable and good. As far as I can tell, there isn’t much in Norrtälje to see, though it is perfect for a relaxing afternoon or even a full day. One can chill out at the lake Lommarn, a lake near the campus, I was there last February and it was still partially frozen.

About the weather, I chose to go in February because I wanted to experience some “real winter” and to see everything frozen. Happens that this year wasn’t that cold, in February the temperatures were surprisingly high. Not what I was expecting, but still a great experience nonetheless.

Metro stairs

Stockholm

My first stop was Gamla Stan, the Old Town, an island in the heart of Stockholm. Cozy area that reminded me of some old districts in Lisbon, I felt like I was at home. I think I lost the track of how long I walked around, passing through the same streets more than once, just enjoying my time.
The capital of Sweden’s inner city has 14 islands connected by over 50 bridges. During winter the water can totally freeze and people can walk from one island to the other through thick ice. And of course, also ice skating!
Even though the weather was warmer than expected, it was still possible for some ice skating, long time since I did it and I loved it! There I also met two Swedish friends of mine, what a great way to travel, visit new places and see old faces 🙂

Evening in Stockholm
Evening in Stockholm

Besides Gamla Stan, we walked around a bit to the Parliament and the Palace, just for some sightseeing. The only museum we got inside was the Fotografiska, the Photography Museum. I loved it, and totally recommend it!

Sweden is a place to go back some day, I felt like I could live in Stockholm some day. Maybe a bit pricy but I wages are also higher comparing with Ireland.

Another capital and another country to my list!

On my way to Romania

On my way to Romania

This year I was still undecided where to go next, I gave it a though and the decision was easy to make. I owed some friends of mine a visit for more than a year, this was the right opportunity to pay my debt. That’s how I decided to add another European country to my list of visited countries, Romania.

Planning this trip was easy, I told Paul that I wouldn’t make any plans, he is the local so he knows better. When in Portugal I am the one that plans my friends’ trips, so it seems fair to ask for the same, no one better than a local to show you around. Preparing the trip was a total different matter, but I’ve explained that on a previous post.

How to get there

Several airlines serve Romania, besides the local ones, but from Ireland I had three choices. Ryanair, that I swore not flying with them ever again; Blue Air, a Romanian low-cost style company; and KLM, with indirect flights.

I have preference to fly with KLM because of the air miles, but the option of having a cheaper and direct flight sounded more appealing. A 3 hours and a half flight is already a bit, but despite that I gave it a go and I decide to book with Blue Air.

The flight

Blue Air doesn’t seem to be picky about the luggage size as other low-cost airlines are, at least I didn’t see them complaining with people. Though, one must only carry one hand luggage, and a woman’s purse should go inside the carry-on luggage.

I can’t judge an airline for a single experience, but it was obvious that it was a low-cost company. The seats weren’t much comfortable, and there was a mold-like smell in the air – this wasn’t that nice for a 3:30 hours flight…

I started to pay close attention to different cultural habits since my last long trip. And one thing I noticed this time was the orders inside the plane. Not the typical snacks and sandwiches, instead cherries and baked rolls. This was the first time I see cherries on sale in a flight, and yes, the amount of requests really had an impact on me so that I had to share with you.

Arriving

Landed in Romania for the first time, I had Paul there to pick me up by taxi. The first impact of Bucharest was the mixture of old and renewed, the communist architecture still present. Some old and grey buildings, some renewed but with the same concrete blocks architecture.

Driving in Bucharest seems to be a nightmare, though everything seems to work. I had the same experience in Greece, and it wasn’t such a big deal when you get used to a different driving style. Though, I still found it amusing the way the taxis cross in front of old trams to just invert their way instead of going to the next roundabout.

Almost at Paul’s, we stop to buy some flowers, and then we went to his’. He told me to knock the door myself and wait. Irina didn’t know I was going to Romania and it was a surprise for her, just he face and surprise made my trip worth every cent!

Last Day in Tokyo and Back to Europe

Last Day in Tokyo and Back to Europe

Nothing much to say about my last day in Tokyo, just that hangover can be a big mess! I had some plans for the day, and it isn’t pleasant to wake up with no will to do whatsoever when you are 9 hours timezone-away. But well, party is also part of the fun and vacations, nothing to regret!

By the end of the day I went back to Akahabara to the camera shop, though my goal wasn’t that huge shop but the one next to it… a 7 floor sex shop! What an experience!! Yep, sounds strange, but an experience worth to live! A few curious people like me, a few people actually there to buy toys, and… a few creeps too! Well…, nothing too surprising about that place, expect some of the toys that I really don’t even want to imagine how people use them!

And with this, my day was pretty much over! I went back to pack and prepare for the long day I would have ahead, about 23 hours traveling!

Going back to Europe!

The hellish next day started at 4am! I was so afraid I couldn’t wake up, that I set a few alarms, though I woke up with the first one! Got ready, and walked to the train station on an empty street! Strange to leave a place and knowing that your vacations are over…

Getting at the train station I get an email from KLM informing that there are disrupts at AMS airport due heavy wind! This can’t be good… But before I need to get to Osaka, let’s not over think this yet!

Getting to Haneda Airport it is pretty easy, transportation in Tokyo look a bit scary, but if you know where you wanna go, you easily get there. At the airport, I got to find out that the flight to Osaka wasn’t a connection flight, so basically I had to check-out and check-in again. The luggage would still be a hassle, which I thought I wouldn’t have to care about it until Cork. Nipon Airlines doesn’t work directly with KLM, this is the reason.

Kansai International (Osaka), picking up my luggage was really fast, maybe because it was a national flight. But then, having to check it in again…, the guys at the check-in desk warned me that the tripod could be an issue, it was too big, but I managed to convince them to pass with it, after all I didn’t have any problem anywhere else with that same tripod. Though, just in case they would hold my luggage for a while.

As they predicted, I had issues with the tripod… The securities didn’t let me pass, and apparently it was just a matter of two or three centimeters! This was really odd for me, I really never had problems with my tripod  before! But this wasn’t as simple as it sounds here, during those two weeks I spent in Japan I experienced that very few people have good knowledge of English, which is totally fine for me, I am the foreigner I should adapt to them not the other way around. Though, as a tourist I expect some places to have someone who can understand me and communicate with me, one of those places is definitely an international airport. That was not the case in KIX airport. I knew exactly what the problem was and how to solve it, but instead they tried to check if I could pass with it, and the tripod passed from one person to the other, and another one and my time to catch the flight was getting shorter as probably my luggage was up to be finally sent to the cargo. I got really stressed, and unfortunately I ended up yelling at the security asking if they had anyone there that could actually speak english! Things got sorted out, I added my tripod to my luggage and I was ready to go to the departure gate!

KIX airport is quite cool, they even have a monorail between gates! Fast and efficient! I got to the gate, and I had to wait…, and wait…, and wait! At the check-in area I thought I was getting tight with time, at the departure gate I had to wait a long time! But I boarded at last! One of the first to get inside the plane, and I still got to sit at the wrong place! I wonder how I got confused between a 34 and 35… But at my new place I was luckier! 3 seats just for me!! Yeahhhh A lot of hours flying and I could lay down! Until…, a couple asked to sit there, because they were placed apart 🙁 Damn them! And double damn them because they were really nice during the whole trip, I couldn’t even feel angry at them!

Arriving in Amsterdam, last stop! I was up to meet with a friend of mine that lives there, but…, the bad weather blocked our meeting! All the trains were canceled, I couldn’t leave the airport, he couldn’t get there either! 5 hours there, alone, waiting for the next and last flight…, but soon all would be over! Got to Cork and went straight to bed! What a long day!


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Last Day in Tokyo and Back to Europe