Recently I visited a city in the north of Ireland, Derry, and I noticed that there are still a lot of confusion between the “Irelands”. The confusion has some reason to be, after all there are three Irelands. And with that, people get quite confused between the three. Yes, three! Not one, not two, but three!
Blogging is something I really enjoy doing, it is definitely the hobby that takes most time from what I have left after work. And in the past I dreamt about becoming a travel blogger, but not anymore. Why and how did I change my mind?
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!
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…
Do not travel without Travel Insurance!
I highly recommend World Nomads, travel insurance oriented to travelers. Well detailed before the unexpected happens!
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.
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.
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 🙂
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. So I guess I am going to Nimbin after all.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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, 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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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 🙂
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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 🙂
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.