Visiting Iceland is a dream for many people, and for several good reasons. Mostly for those breathtaking and almost unspoiled views. But not only because of that, also all that mysticism that Iceland brings in us for all of those unique natural activities, that for most of us can only fit in our imagination. Like volcanos, northern lights and the midnight sun. Even for those who only have a few days to visit, the Golden Circle is a short route really close to the capital, and easy to visit. Continue reading “Exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle by car”
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…
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.
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!
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…
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!
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”…
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!
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!
This trip was completely different from all my other travels, it was the very first time I traveled alone with kids! I decided to treat my nephew and niece with a special weekend, they were only 5 and 8 when we did this trip. It was their first time at Disneyland Paris, and they had no clue about where I would take them 🙂
Regarding packing, the way I prepared it was quite simple, my sister-in-law took care of the kids’ luggage, and I did my part. Considering it was just a weekend, of course packing went quite smooth, with a few details…
- charger for the iPhone
- power bank (I have the 6600mAh model, though I didn’t buy it on amazon)
- phone holder for the car
- Canon Powershot (the model I have isn’t available anymore, this is a more recent model)
Considering I live in Ireland, and I was traveling to France, try to guess what I forgot at home? Maybe a plug adapter? Yep, that was my fail… The good thing is that I had the power bank, which was enough for almost three charges, and the fact that I rented a car and it had USB socket, I could charge the phone while driving.
Regarding the camera, why a different and lower range one this time? What was the reason? Mostly to avoid distractions, after all, three days with two kids under my responsibility isn’t a joke. Then, also because I thought it would be a fun way to initiate my niece into photography, which I think it worked fairly well. Which also meant that I didn’t have to use the camera at all 🙂
Clothing, hygiene and extras
- Lowe Alpine TT travel backpack
- 2 small backpacks for the kids
- a plastic bag for the dirty laundry
- conditioner (for her)
- shower gel
- tooth paste
- 3 tooth brushes
- 1 hair brush (for her)
- 1 rain coat
- 1 jacket
- 1 hoodie
- 1 pair of pants
- 1 pair of boots
- winter shirt
- 3 t-shirts
- 3 boxers
- 3 pairs of socks
- Kids’ clothing:
- one full set per day for each one of them
- one extra set for each
- 1 rain coat for each
- 1 pair of boots for each
Even though it looks like a lot, it wasn’t. The spare set of clothes wasn’t needed, but we always carried it with us just in case we would get wet in some rollercoaster, though that didn’t happen. The same applies for the boots, the weather is always quite unpredictable, and with kids…
Of course there must be some kind of strategy when traveling with kids, so I left everything in the hotel that would only be used the following days, and with us we took a spare change of clothes (for them). The goal was not to let anything ruin the day, and thankfully everything went as smooth as possible 🙂
Basically everything went really well, a bit of overpacking on the kids side, and a power adaptar that stayed home…
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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…
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 😛
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.
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.
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?
Besides Greece and Cyprus, greek language is base for several dialects in Turkey and Italy, some even closer to Ancient Greek than Modern Greek!
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 🙂
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.
This year was amazing, and at last I checked out of my bucket list one of my travel dreams, this trip to Iceland! No, I didn’t see the Northern Lights, at least not with my bare eyes… (more about this in another article). But it was a trip that taught me a lot about loads of things, even how to prepare a bag and the trip itself. This time, and I hate to admit this, but my packing didn’t go so well… It was the first time I traveled to a country known to be really cold (ICEland anyone?), and I knew very few about this country too, even though I researched a lot. And I ended up overpacking some items into my bag… So here’s the list.
- camera Nikon D5100 + lens 18-55
- spare battery for the Nikon
- filters for the lenses
- tripod (my tripod is way older than this model, but quite similar)
- lens Nikkor 70-300
- GoPro HERO4 BLACK
- 2 spare batteries for the GoPro + USB and car adaptors
- memory cards
- Selfie Stick for the GoPro
- Car mount for the GoPro
- WD My Passport external hard drive
- cables for the phone and camera
- powerbank (I have the 6600mAh model, but I didn’t buy it on amazon)
- Swiss Travel Adaptor
- Pebble Time Steel
Comparing with other lists I did…, I am starting to think I might have a problem regarding the amount of gadgets I take with me… Anyway, after all of this, I ended up using everything except the Travel Adaptor. Honestly, I don’t even know why I took it with me, considering I already had an USB adaptor for European power outlets, everything would work fine. Please note that Iceland uses the same power outlets as the rest of mainland Europe, if you’re coming from any of those countries you won’t need any adaptor. Regarding the batteries, if I had doubts about their need when I purchased them, now I am certain that it was a wise decision. When I tried to take photos of the Northern Lights I really had to use the spare battery I had, even though most of the photos are still crappy… But it was way better to have a spare battery than not even trying to take those photos. Regarding the SD cards, I only had to use an extra one for the GoPro, the spare ones I had for the Nikon I didn’t even had to take them out. But I was already counting on that, I just took them as a backup.
Clothing and hygiene (e extras)
- Lowe Alpine TT backpack
- 4 travel cubes
- 8 T-shirts
- 1 belt
- 1 hoodie
- 1 sweatshirt
- 1 jumper with a hoodie
- 1 hiking pants
- 1 jeans
- 1 waterproof hiking pants
- hiking boots
- winter jacket
- 1 scarf
- mid layer jumper
- base layer full set
- 1 pair of gloves
- 1 shoulder bag
- 1 swimming shorts
- 10 pairs of socks
- 8 boxers
- beach towel
- tooth brush
- pillow case
- sun glasses
Just by looking at this list it is obvious that I overpacked…, and yes, I over packed it. I had no idea how to pack a bag for a country known to be this cold, and I also didn’t know exactly what to expect. Waterfalls? Hikes? Snow? Rain? My biggest fear was ending up soaked without a change of clothes, and considering it didn’t make sense to plan laundry while traveling for just a week… I decided to be over prepared… but while for some things I was really well prepared, I failed in a few others.
A pair of hiking pants that I didn’t even worn, socks? Three unused pairs… The idea was to wear double pairs of socks in case it was too cold. Oddly, the cold wasn’t as bad as I thought. Underwear? 1 extra pair of boxers, the idea was to wear them after snorkel, though I didn’t even get wet (for another article), so this pair wasn’t necessary. The same regarding the extra tshirt. Regarding swimming shorts and beach towel, the idea was to use it in case I went to any hot springs, which didn’t happen… What was lacking? A spare pair of gloves…, I ended up getting mine wet while I was waiting to get in the water for the snorkel, and a dry spare pair of gloves would be awesome…
So basically, this time I really overpacked. And considering I drove a lot, I actually didn’t need that much, it was just a matter of being careful not to get wet, and everything else would be fine. Considering I had no idea how the weather would be in Iceland, I ended up being over prepared… And regarding shoes, I highly recommend hiking boots, but some proper hiking boots. Normal boots won’t be enough, mostly with ice. A good pair of hiking boots will protect your ankle, I slid a few times and the terrain is a bit unstable in some trails. If you are planning to hike a bit, think about your own safety too. If your boots are really good, like mine are, you won’t need any other kind of shoes. In Iceland you’ll want to see Nature 🙂
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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
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…
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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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…
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…
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…
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.
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…
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 🙂
Find accommodation at the Gold Coast
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!
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…
All my plans to #ByronBay changed when I arrived there last February, some storm was passing by and that affected all my plans, it was time for a plan B) That’s when I decided to try something different, a #tour with @whirlwindtours which was amazing! This photo was taken in some “secret” #waterfall, great fun with an awesome group of people 🙂 #Nimbin #waterfalls #Australia #nimbintour #goprohero4 #waterfalltrail #waterfallporn #goprooftheday #goproselfie
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…
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 🙂
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.
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 🙂
Why do we take photos when we travel?
Obviously that depends on each one of us, for some photography is their way of living, for others it is just a hobby, and for a few others it is a way to preserve memories. But there is something in common to all of us, losing all photos taken during our holidays is enough to spoil at least one day! And for those that make a living out of that, losing photos is also losing loads of money…
Usually I can’t take time off to travel for more than two weeks, but it already happened to me to lose all my photos on a weekend trip, and I still don’t know how I did it…, therefore, backing up my photos is something that became quite important to me. I learnt my lesson, and I because more cautious of my photos.
On my last trip, to Australia, my levels of concern increased to an almost psycho level…, two months on the other side of the world. Those were literally thousands of memories that I will never want to lose, and misplacing one of those cards filled with memories would be enough to have a few grumpy days. To avoid those levels of concern to reach a level of not even having fun, I had to look for other ways to insure I wouldn’t come back without those precious photos of my epic trip. After some research, I decided by a combination of strategies, all listed below. Yes, all of them!
Several memory cards
This is probably the most common way of backing up, actually, technically I don’t even think this can be considered as a backup as there will be no copies. I am talking about the camera’s SD card, where I’ll have all my photos, and we simply change to another card, and another, and another one… Since that was the most obvious option, and since I already had a few spare SD cards, I even considered to mail them home. But then, maybe that would stress me out even more. What if the envelope would be lost as well? I already had a bad experience with something alike, a package that never arrived to its destination… So, I had to think of other options…
Macbook Pro / iPad
At first I considered to take the iPad with me. Perfect to take several books inside a single device, I could take notes, I could edit photos right there, etc. But before I decided by that, for a month I only used the iPad to copy photos, to blog, etc. In fact, I can do all of them on an iPad, but it wasn’t the same as on a computer, and besides that, even the available space for backups was way more limited.
I hesitated a lot in taking the Macbook Pro with me. Extra weight? Well, I did realize quite fast that it wouldn’t be a problem, I wouldn’t carry it with me often, only from the bus to the hostel and vice-versa. Therefore, the extra weight wasn’t even a problem to consider. Safety? Yep, same as the iPad, actually, considering that the iPad is smaller than the Macbook, that makes it even easier to steal… Available space in the hard drive? A lot!
I ended up by taking the Macbook Pro with me, and the fact that it is already quite old and that I was already considering to replace it, the decision became obvious…, but…, what if someone stole it? Memory cards in one bag, backups on the Macbook Pro…, and I was still not happy with it…
Cloud Backups (iCloud)
Yes, my psychotic levels of concern were high! I decided to pay for a iCloud photo storage plan, 1TB. About 10€ /month, and some peace of mind. But I still had some doubts, I did quite some research how to backup while on the road, and one of the comments that made me feel more uneasy was regarding internet access in some remote places. In fact, just to upload all my current library to the cloud it took me almost a full week! The upload speed made me feel even more nervous, even though it sounds like an awesome solution, it could go terribly wrong if I couldn’t find a good internet connection.
Well.., as a matter of a fact, I rarely found places with proper internet. In two months on the road, I didn’t even manage to upload half of my photos…, I still needed a plan D) to backup my photos without the need of internet…
External Hard Drive
And I found the perfect solution! I purchased a 2TB My Passport Wireless! It is an external hard drive with SD card reader, that copies all the card’s content without duplication content previously backed up. I just loved that solution, and to test it, I used it a couple of times before my holidays, and I honestly loved it! They have a companion app for iPad/iPhone, and with that we can have a better control of what is being copied, the backing up progress, free space, etc. We even can used as a router, we can connect the hard drive to a wireless network and from there, we can keep our iPhone always connected to the disk without having to switch network each time we want to access the hard drive and/or to the internet.
Not so good things about the My Passport, I found it a tiny bit too slow, and the fact that we can’t have it connected to a wireless network while being connected via USB to the computer, is a bit of an annoyance… (I took a while to figure this out). But in general, it was the perfect solution, a full backup of my SD card, and an external hard drive that I can just place in some other bag.
The combination of the hard drive with the iPad would be perfect, way lighter than the Macbook Pro. But why still insisting by carrying the Macbook Pro? Mostly because it is harder to blog on the iPad, possible but a bit harder…, and at this point I was already decided, therefore it didn’t even cross my mind to change plans.
- Never delete your photos from the memory cards, it’s always better to have a few spare ones than trusting that everything will be fine, and then…
- Computer or iPad to edit and process the photos directly from the SD cards, also as a backup alternative
- Cloud Backup, not the way I recommend the most, but it is always an option for those who don’t take photos in RAW or are not crazy about shooting every single thing they see…
- External hard drive, to keep somewhere else all the remaining backups. If we get stolen, there are less chances that they take everything from us…
The strategy, obviously, it is up to you. For sure there are other ways to make sure you’ll get home with all your photos.
What about you guys? Do you backup your photos while on the road? Write down a comment with your strategy 🙂
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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.
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 🙂
For a while that I’ve been doing reviews of how I pack my luggage when I travel, and recently I wrote an article about my trip to Australia where I used for the first time this amazing thing that are the eBags Slim Packing Cubes.
When I received the first three cubes, the first thing I thought was that I threw money away for no reason. They are way smaller than I thought they are, and I thought they would be pretty useless considering their size. When I got home I decided to try them, so i folded a few t-shirts to see how many I could fit inside each cube…, I was really surprised that they have way more space than they look like, I managed to pack 5 t-shirts inside a single cube! Really compact, and without reshaping it into a cylinder either, almost perfect parallelepiped.
What better way to test these cubes other than jumping from hostel to hostel for the period of two months? I think I already traveled a bit, and one of the things that annoyed me the most was really to keep my bag organized so that I wouldn’t have too much wasted space. During those two months those cubes proved how a great investment they were, I never had to care much about packing or keeping my bag organized, because the cubes would do it for me, all my clothes were folded all the time and always organized. I needed underwear? I just had to take the cube where I had my underwear, and if that cube was under another one? No problem, I just had to move the upper one without messing with the tidiness of my bag. Simply amazing, sometimes I even threw the cubes to my bed so that I could choose what to wear, and in seconds everything was inside again, compacted and organized!
Different ways to use them
Using these cubes to keep your clothes organized is probably the best way to use them, however I also used them to keep my camera cables, accessories and computer cable together inside the same cube, so to avoid losing any of them. In this case, being compact isn’t the advantage as you can’t compact something that is solid, but it is a great way to keep things organized. Way easier to find that USB cable that you need for the GoPro, and less chances to lose it as well. We just need to make sure we won’t put things in different places and everything will be ok.
I also used another cube for the toiletries, and again, being compact isn’t an advantage here either. Though, it is perfect to take all your shower products with you at once and always having them together. The cubes have a small handle to carry them individually in a more easy way.
Details about the cubes
- These in specific, are longer, which means they aren’t real square cubes but parallelepiped.
- They have two zips so that you can close it from both sides.
- One of the corners has a net, so that you can peak inside without opening the cube and know what’s inside.
- They are washable, but not impermeable (don’t forget about the net).
- They have different colors, perfect keep your bag organized (I have 3 blue and 3 black ones)
- They have a small handle from the side.
Basically, the first impact was a bit scary, but it became love at second sight! These cubes are more useful to keep your things organized rather than compacted. No vacuum compaction, nor any other kind of compaction technology. The goal of these cubes is to make your life easier to pack and unpack your bag, faster way to pack everything inside with less chances of leaving things behind, having everything in the same place even if you chance the position of your cubes.
I tried several different ways how to place them inside my bag, some ways worked better than others, but that also depends on your bag’s format. I also noticed that having lose items inside the bag affects greatly the way you should place your cubes inside. But in overall I never had any issue with packing, I don’t think I could have a better opinion about this travel accessory.
Now that I am back, it’s time to review how well I packed for Australia. Did I overpacked? Or did I packed a bit way too light? After all, it was two months in Australia, always jumping from hostel to hostel, camping, sailing and a few more adventures. Before boarding to such an aventure, of course I had to think how to pack, in a way that I wouldn’t carry my house on my back, but also not having to buy clothes while there just because I overlooked some detail. It’s all part of the big plan!
- MacBook Pro (the model I have is way older, about 7 years old)
- camera Nikon D5100 + lens 18-55
- spare battery for the Nikon
- filters for the lenses
- mini tripod
- lens Nikkor 70-300
- GoPro HERO4 BLACK
- 2 spare batteries for the GoPro + car and USB adaptors
- memory cards
- Selfie Stick for the GoPro
- Chest mount for the GoPro
- WD My Passport external HD
- Nokia Windows Phone
- cables for the mobile phones, cameras and Macbook Pro
- power bank (I have the 6600mAh model, but I didn’t buy it on Amazon)
- Swiss Travel Adaptor
- Pebble Time Steel
Well, this list is simply massive. Looking at the following list, it gets clear how I prioritize my packing for this trip… And the thing is, from the list above, I used every single thing! The only thing I didn’t use that often and I kinda of regret to pack was the chest mount for the GoPro. I only used it once, and I didn’t find it that practical, and oddly the selfie stick was the accessory I used the most (even though, I still think it is a stupid accessory, when used solely for selfies…).
Regarding memory cards, I ended up using them all, and the external hard drive was as a safety mesure, to have always a backup of all my photos. Thankfully I didn’t get robbed, but I had quite some peace of mind knowing I had three copies of everything, on my mac, on the external hard drive and the memory cards. (I’ll write an article about this later).
The mobile phones…, I bet some will find this odd, why having two phones? Since I went on a longer trip, I decided to take three debit/credit cards with me of two different bank accounts, and I was quite afraid of having one of my cards cloned, hence the two phones, one with my Irish number always on, and the other one with the new Australian number, that I used for local calls.
And the Pebble…, well…, at some point it stopped to work…, but that’s a totally different story…
Clothing and hygiene (and extras)
- Lowe Alpine TT backpack
- The North Face Jester backpack
- 6 packing cubes
- 6 T-shirts
- 1 shorts
- 2 belts
- 1 hat
- 1 sweatshirt
- 1 wool jumper (thin)
- hiking pants
- short sleeves shirt
- 1 jumper
- hiking boots
- swimming shorts
- 8 socks
- 6 boxers
- wind breaker
- micro-fiber travel towel
- tooth brush
- comb and oil for the beard (yes, one should keep this clean)
- flip flops
- head helmet scarf neck
- running/walking shoes
- bottle for water
- reading glasses
- sun glasses
- note book
From this list, there are only two things that I never used. The wool jumper, that I took with me thinking that I could need to use it in case I wanted to go out at night, however, something I didn’t know, the bars and pubs in Australia are quite easy going, as long as one isn’t bare chest, and not using flip flops nor bare foot, it’s all fine. And the scarf, I knew that I would get the Autumn time in Melbourne before I came back to Europe, though the temperatures were never that low (and I’m glad for that!).
And the pillow case? Well, it might seem strange, but I gave it in a totally different use that it would be expected. In previous trips I used plastic bags for dirty laundry, the problem with this is that the dirty clothes start to smell a lot, and if mixed with humid clothes, then it’s a disaster! The reason for this is that plastic bags don’t let any air out, nor in. However, with the pillow case, the dirty clothes don’t stink, the wet clothes don’t get a rotten moldy smell…, and the best part is that you can wash the pillow case with the rest of your laundry, which means, you’ll reuse your “dirty laundry bag” and have it clean again! In two months traveling around I doubt one plastic bag would suffice, so this option besides being cheaper and more hygienic, it’s also environmentally friendly 🙂
During two months I met and crossed with a lot of people, and obviously, I also saw a lot of luggage bags. I am proud to say that I never encountered with anyone with less luggage than I! I felt really proud for this, I never felt overpacked, and I never had to use the same clothes twice without having them washed first. However, of course, I had to wash it every 6 days and I had to plan the “washing” according to my adventures too.
What did I buy along the way
- nail clipper
- travel pillow, inflatable
- foam travel pillow
- beach towel
- thermic bag
- zip-less travel bag
- sun glasses
- hygiene products
- SanDisk Extreme Pro 32GBs (mini) SD car
Why did I buy some of these things instead of taking them with me? Nail clipper and hygiene products, since I didn’t dispatch any luggage to Australia, only carry-in luggage, I had to leave a few things behind, like liquids and the nail clipper (which we can’t take in the carry-in luggage). And yes, my luggage was that light that I managed to take everything with me!
Regarding the beach towel, that was simply because someone stole my travel towel (or took it by mistake) and I had to buy another one. The sun glasses, I lost the ones I had, and I had to buy new ones…
And the memory cards, I had a few problems with my GoPro, and the technical support told me that the issue was due compatibility between the card and the GoPro. Nope, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was with the cable, I was using a 3rd party cable…, and well, I ended up spending unnecessary money that could be avoided if they knew how to help me properly…
The travel pillows. Well, this was simply an opportunity I got, I found that modular pillow and since it was on sale I decided to take it. It was a great idea, since the other travel pillow was a bit too uncomfortable, I actually slept worse with it than without any pillow…
The bags…, the thermic bag, I guess the reason is obvious, I was jumping from place to place, and trying to save money by cooking meals, so it was handy to have something to keep my food fresh between cities. The other bag? To go on a sailing boat we can’t take any zips! Nothing at all! The reason is that the bed bugs love to hide inside the zips, I have no idea how, and in boats that’s a big problem, so they simply decided to forbid any bags with zips.
So basically I managed to organize myself really well for a long trip, packing really light, and still, I even listed two things that I never used! What can we learn from this? There is always something we can take from our bags, there is always something we won’t need.
For short trips, this isn’t a problem, for a few days if we don’t use everything it also doesn’t hurt to carry the bags. But for 1+ months trip, the weight becomes a problem, and it gets really annoying to pack between cities, and it also gets easier to lose things. The travel luggage is that thing where we have what we need without being a burden, and after a few weeks, trust me, you’ll hate your bag if you have to carry and pack too much…
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Once upon a time I used to surf couches, but now it seems like just another fairy tale… I still love the concept though, but nowadays I am more into hostels. Those times when I was hooked to couchsurfing, the main reason was the experience and contact I had with the hosts, never for the fact that was for free. However, my last experiences were way too impersonal, even as a host. Nowadays I prefer to pay, and take my chances, I might or might not meet people who I get along with, and to add to that, there is also less responsibilities, as I am not staying at someone’s house.
On what this trip regards, since we were two, the options were totally opened, for both B&Bs and hostels in Scotland, and initially, due to our lack of experience searching for a place to crash for more than one person, we ended up not finding the best options. But everything is a lesson.
This is a new series I decided to create, where I’ll present a few photos I took a while ago. Some more recent, some that I found deep inside my chest box while I checked old photo albums.
To start this new series, nothing better than my own country, that has so much to see! By the end of that road you can see an island, Pessegueiro Island, at the Alentejo’s coast. I took this photo in 2012 on my way to Algarve, by the coast, with my parents, nephew and niece. By then I was already living abroad, each time I go back to Portugal I look at my country from a different perspective, with more pride.
This place, besides it’s natural beauty, it is also part of my childhood’s memories where I spent some short holidays several years ago, with my parents. I don’t remember much in detail, but I remember what I felt. When I wrote the article 5 places in Portugal I recommend to visit, I had this place in mind, and I’ll repeat what I said, this region should really be on your bucket list!
And before ending this article, here’s a song (in Portuguese) mentioning this island, which I listened to while I was writing this article 🙂