Marvellous Melbourne

Marvellous Melbourne

Author: Fiona Ludbrook (More Trip Reviews by Fiona Ludbrook)
Date of Trip: August 2016

Sometimes you do not have to venture too far from home to go travelling!

Recently I have been exploring Melbourne, a city where I lived for almost thirty years, but rarely had time to get to many of its best offerings, as a traveller there myself. Here’s some suggestions for anyone exploring this vibrant, friendly city.

melbourne tram

Begin exploring Melbourne at the public transport hub of the historic Flinders St Railway Station in the heart of the city. This station not only gives you access to the entire suburban rail network, opposite on both sides run Melbourne’s iconic trams.

Opposite Flinders St station, you will find the City Square, including the Melbourne Information Centre, The Potter Gallery, exhibiting many wonderful works of Australian Art, whilst a short walk over the Prince’s Bridge will lead you to the Melbourne Arts Centre, including performing arts theatres and the National Gallery of Victoria, for blockbuster exhibitions and a fabulous collection of international art. Both the Potter and National Galleries have free admission.

Besides the City Square is the Burrong Mar walk along the Yarra river. Keep going and you will get to the Melbourne Cricket Ground, home of the 1956 Olympics, Australian Rules Football, Cricket and the Sports Museum. Cross the bridge over the railway line and you come to the Melbourne Tennis Centre, home to the Australian Open, every January, with courts for hire should you want to play where the tennis greats have played.

The nearby Melbourne Botanic Gardens are truly glorious and provide a relaxing afternoon or morning. The botanic gardens are ideal for a picnic too. Alongside fabulous collections of indigenous and exotic plants, they are home to an abundance of birdlife, including black swans. Beside the gardens is Melbourne’s wonderful observatory.

Head to the Victoria Market for a wonderful array of fresh produce, inexpensive street food and the cheapest souvenirs in town. The market mirrors the multicultural nature of Melbourne’s population and is always a great place to see Melbourne’s residents going about their lives.

For food, head to Lygon Street. Originally the Jewish Quarter of town, during the 1950s and 60s the Italian Community established itself here and restaurants opened in abundance. Lygon St remains amongst the best places in Melbourne to find fantastic Italian cuisine, but has since been joined by many other local ethnic groups. Here too, you will find Readings Bookshop, and opposite, the Nova Cinema, screening foreign and arthouse films, as well as a few blockbusters. I spend a lot of time in Lygon Street, when I return to Melbourne!

melbourne church

St Kilda, will get you to the beach, the very cool Village Bell shopping drag, Linden Art Gallery and Melbourne’s Red Light District. However St Kilda is also famous for wonderful Eastern European delis and cakes and the Luna Park amusement Park. St Kilda’s small botanic gardens are also worth a visit. On Sundays an Art and Craft Market runs along the beach front of the Esplanade. A small colony of little penguins can be seen at dusk near St Kilda Pier.

Close to St Kilda is Prahran, thesedays centre of Melbourne’s gay and lesbian community. Lots of fantastic shopping here, from designer labels, to antiques great delis and the quirky as well as the neighbouring suburbs of Armadale and Toorak, the most exclusive address in town!

Possoms can be viewed nocturnally climbing up and down trees at the Exhibition Gardens, adjacent to the World Heritage listed Exhibition Building and Melbourne Museum at the Northern end of the city. The Museum itself is well worth a visit. A key exhibit is the legendary Phar Lap, the taxidermied remains of a race horse that became a public favourite during the 1930s Depression, but was poisoned when he raced in the USA. As well as Phar Lap, there are galleries worth exploring, from indigenous species and habitats, to Australian social history, even indigenous mega fauna and dinosaur remains on display. Don’t miss the gallery relating to Victoria’s indigenous people, for both traditional lifestyles and contemporary achievements!

The Melbourne State Library, has ever-changing free exhibitions. Tours of the library itself, including the impressive reading room are held regularaly. The same is true of Parliament House. Both buildings showcase Melbourne’s arhitectural heritage and provide ample evidence that here, were the richest goldmines in the history of the world. Highly recommended if you have time, or visit during winter and want great places to visit indoors!

Catch a train out to Ferntree Gully and see the wonderful temperate rainforest and ride on the heritage train, Puffing Billy.Lovely hikes through the Dandenongs, specialist gardens such as Tulip and rhodedendrons in season.

melbourne at night

One of my favourite suburbs is Brunswick. Go here for the best Middle Eastern food at very reasonable prices, as well as more interesting shopping. Contrast Melbourne’s orthern suburbs, with those of the more affluent East!

Melbourne boasts one of the world’s truly great zoos, with not only a wonderful collection of animals, it showcases plants as well and has an incredible record for its breeding program of endangered species and prides itself on public education on endangered ecosystems and wildlife conservation. It has a very good collection of native animals. However if native animals are your top priority, head out to its annex, Healesville Sanctuary, or the Ballarat Wildlife and Reptile Park, who specialise in Australian animals.


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Day 5: Gilgit to Karimabad (Hunza Valley)

Day 5: Gilgit to Karimabad (Hunza Valley)

Author: Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (More Trip Reviews by Nawab Tanweer Ahmad)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Date: 19th September 2015

Agreeing to our itinerary, we only hold a night stay at Gilgit, but will be persisting for long on our return from Hunza. Today we have to reach Karimabad, a very beautiful town of Hunza. After having a hot bath, we went to the hotel restaurant for Breakfast. One thing to remember for the travelers is that in these budget hotels hot water is only available from 7 A.M. till 9 A.M. so wake up early to have a hot bath. The view of nearby mountains, especially from the roof of the hotel was awesome, you can also have this view from the balconies of the first floor.

mountain peaks karimabad

To travel to our destination of Hunza, we went to a Bus Stand in Gilgit. The Bus Stand in Gilgit is on the outskirt of the city to protect the city from pollution, noise and traffic. From this Bus Stand transport for many cities of Pakistan is available, including Hunza, Skardu, Lahore, Rawalpindi, and even to Karachi. We decided to travel to Karimabad City (Hunza Valley) via Van. These vans travel seat by seat and move after all seats are occupied, hence we have to wait for some time before our journey starts toward Karimabad, Hunza.

We were traveling on Karakoram Highway toward Karimabad, Hunza. Since we are 4 people we have been allotted a complete seat of the van so we all sit together. In the front seats, there are all ladies sitting and behind us there are all gents. They are all local people in the van only we are from outside this neighborhood and can be clearly identified because of our look and speech. People in the region are very nice and friendly and they are treating us very nicely.

We are in the Kingdom of Himalaya and Karakoram with K2 (Godwin Austen), Nanga Parbat and other world’s highest mountains nearby, along both sides of Karakoram Highway there are green plains and valley surrounded by mountains with their summit covered with snow, these mountains are part of the Himalaya and Karakoram ranges.

hunza valley

Considering the marvelous scenery and passing different cities like Sultan Abad, Rahim Abad, Chalt Valley, this valley is extremely beautiful and can be seen from the Karakoram Highway on the other side of the river, we were moving toward Karimabad. Crossing many cities, and also stopping at some cities to pick and drop passengers, we also crossed a point known as Rakaposhi View Point. This is the base of Rakaposhi Mountian and complete view of the mountain, along with its peak is clearly visible from this place. Since we were journeying on a public van we can’t reveal here, but we possess a plan for breaking off here on our return journey toward Gilgit.

Traveling on this beautiful route we reached Aliabad. Aliabad is a main & a business city in Hunza Valley with Banks, Hotels, Restaurant and Market. People belonging to Hunza have Business in this city and they also visit this city for monthly shopping. We stop there for 15 to 20 minutes as some of the passengers need to buy just about fruits from the store before proceeding to their home in Hunza Valley. Subsequently a couple of kilometers from Aliabad we left Karakoram Highway and struck a left turn on an ascending road, the road sign informs us that this road is leading to Karimabad City.

Hunza Valley is situated at an elevation of 2,438 meters and is one of the most exotic places in Pakistan. It is surrounded by several high peaks rise above 6,000m. Hunza Valley is divided into three regions, Upper Hunza, Centre Hunza and Lower Hunza. Karimabad is the capital of Hunza Valley and lay in Centre Hunza region. It is named after Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the Aga Khan Community. The valley provides spectacular views of some of the most beautiful and magnificent mountains of the world which include: Rakaposhi 7,788 m (25,551 ft), Ultar Sar 7,388 m (24,239 ft), Bojahagur Duanasir II 7,329 m (24,045 ft), Ghenta Peak 7,090 m (15,631 ft), Hunza Peak 6,270 m (20,571 ft), Darmyani Peak 6,090 m (19,980 ft), and Bublimating (Ladyfinger Peak) 6,000 m (19,685 ft).

hunza valley mountain view

Dropping some passengers at different locations, our van driver told us that we are now in Karimabad and must mention a place where he can drop us. We need him to drop us at some nearby hotel. We didn’t have any advance reservation for a hotel so we have to look for the hotel. Thither are many hotels in Karimabad, infect there are all hotels along the main road of Karimabad since Karimabad is a tourist place. All around the year there is a number of tourists visiting this area, particularly in the summer season. In that respect are both luxury and budget hotels in Karimabad. After visiting different hotels, we decided to stay at Hotel Blue Moon situated near the main market in Karimabad city. On the ground level are the shops and climbing some steps is the reception and food court of the hotel. Rooms start from the foremost floor. The hotel is at an awesome location, in front there is the beautiful valley of Hunza, with the view of Rakaposhi Mountain and behind is the snow covered mountains of the Ultar Sar Peak and Ladyfinger Peak.

Ultar Sar is the southeastern most major peak of the Batura Muztagh, a subrange of the Karakoram range. It lies about 10km northeast of the Karimabad city and rises over 7,388m (24,239ft). The adjacent peaks are Shispare, Bojohagur Duanasir, Hunza Peak and Bablimotin.

Another popular peak at Karimabad is the Ladyfinger peak. It rests on the southwest ridge of the Ultar Sar massif, the most southeasterly of the major groups of the Batura Muztagh. The whole massif rises precipitously above the Hunza Valley to the southeast. The weather was cold and the sun was shining, the amazing thing is that if in this cold winter you stand in the sun you will start feeling hot.

apple karimabad

Settling ourselves at the hotel after this 4 hours of journey from Gilgit we decided to get some rest and extended into our room to have some nap. We wake up at evening, in front of our room, there is a large balcony with table and chairs positioned around for sitting. We sit in the balcony and placed an order for tea, in front of us is the most hypnotizing scenic view we ever witnessed in our life, The Hunza Valley. The valley in front of us is lush green with countless trees of Apple, Apricot, Walnut and many more, below in the valley we can abide the Hunza River flows in between these trees. Either you look in front, at the left, right or back there are trees all around surrounded by snow covered mountains.

While we were having tasty tea the staff boy at the hotel told us that we will experience a marvelous view of the valley if we climb to the rooftop. Concluding the tea we move upward to the rooftop from where we discovered the valley behind the hotel. The view was alluring, from here we can see the valley of the Altit and Duikar. The green plains, the woods, the sights and the waterfall on the Altit side is magnificent, the historic Altit Fort and the Eagle’s Nest in Duikar can also be observed at a distance. There are apple trees, Walnut trees and grapes branches on the roof top of the hotel too, we picked more or less apples to try them and found them mouthwatering. All of my family members are too much happy on visiting such a heavenly place. The spectacular view makes us feels like we are on the roof of the world, surrounded by snow covered mountains. No wonder this place is called as the “Heaven on Earth”.

grapes karimabad

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Day 6: Karimabad (Hunza)

Day 6: Karimabad (Hunza)

Author: Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (More Trip Reviews by Nawab Tanweer Ahmad)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Date: 20th September 2015

Yesterday we arrived at the most beautiful spot on the earth, Hunza Valley, “The Heaven on Earth”, and stay at its capital city ‘Karimabad’. Today we will be exploring this city. This city is built along the border of the mountain and is sloped upward to Ultar Sar starting from Karakoram Highway. The hotel at which we are staying is at the start of the market, after a hot bath and dressing up we moved downstairs to the main route and started proceed toward the marketplace. There are many shops along both positions of the main road, we went into the first shop that is on the left hand side of the road directly after our hotel. This shop sells gems and jewelry and is led by local women. From the time we arrive in this area we found its people courteous and soft spoken, they steer us at every spot and quick to offer any sort of assistance. After visiting this shop we move toward another shop on the road this shop sells handmade rugs and carpets. These carpets are extremely beautiful and nicely woven by the local workers, there are also handmade jackets and shawls, and since my wife loves shopping she immediately started bargain and pick from the items.

karimabad mountains

The Hunza valley is popular for Camping, Swimming, Hunting, Hiking and Trekking, Mountaineering, Mountain Biking, Horse riding, Eco tours, Skiing, Safari tours, Fishing, Gliding and many other activities, for that there are many shops in Karimabad that sell equipment required for these activities. The equipment can either be bought or can be rented from these stores. Paper maps of these areas are also available in nearly every shop and one can also hire a local tour guide for hiking and trekking.

Going forward, there is a link road leading upward toward Baltit Fort this is a 700 year old fort and belongs to Mir of Hunza (but it is vacated by them in 1945) and is now considered as World Heritage by UNESCO. We have a program to visit Baltit Fort in the evening but not now, at this time we remain in Karimabad. Near this junction we found a small tea shop, it’s named as “Hunza Snack Bar”. It is a small local tea shop that server’s tea, coffee, omelet and a local bread called “Arzooq”. Originated from the Baltit, Arzooq is made with flour, eggs, butter and milk and finally cooked in oil, it is one of the most famous bread of Hunza. As shortly as we sat in the shop we placed an order for tea, my daughter spotted this bread and ask the shopkeeper regarding this bread, and after his explanation about the bread, we add this to our order. The shop owner is a very well-spoken and friendly person and we have a long chit-chat with him while waiting for our breakfast. After the food was served and we taste the Arzooq, we found it very delicious and from that day till we stay in Karimabad, we daily have our breakfast at “Hunza Snack Bar” with Arzooq also a part of it.

karimabad child with cow

Finishing the breakfast we again proceed on the main route, travelled to different shops and take in the beauty of the area all around us, also surprise to catch the name of the shop as “Best Buy Family Shop”, the shop sells cosmetics, children products, ladies products, decoration and gift items, same as sell by the “BestBuy” in the United States.

Enjoying the beautiful and long walk we settled to revert back to our hotel where we are sticking around. At a lower place in the valley there is a large number of Apple, Apricot, Walnut, and Fig and different other types of fruit trees, last night while having a chat with a local guy we were informed that there are no limitations on visiting their gardens and can deplete the fruit from these trees as much as we like, merely not to harm them. So today we have decided to hold a picnic in these gardens, we went down the valley and spread a sheet to sit among the trees, and the kids were thus happy and began running just about. Later on having tea that we purchased from the “Hunza Snack Bar” we began picking some apples, apricot, and walnuts from the tree. In that location there were some local kids also playing and picking walnuts, my kids wants to talk to them but due to language difference they were unsuccessful, but those children were so courteous that they gave the bag full of almond, grapes and apricot to my kids. We also collected a small bag full of apple and walnut and after spending such a splendid time at that place we started climbing back toward our hotel. On the way back my wife meets a local woman she was the mother of those kids playing in the woods, when the woman learn that we are interested in eating walnut she assured my wife that she will arrange for the walnuts. The lady not only arranges for the walnuts but also send a bag full of walnuts for us to Gilgit city after we left Karimabad. We return back to our room and passed sometime in the room as it was afternoon and the sun was shining too bright.

karimabad apples

In the evening, our schedule includes a tour of “Baltit Fort”. Baltit is a 700 year old fort and belongs to Mir of Hunza and is counted as World Heritage by UNESCO. Fort is situated at the tip of a cliff and one need to climb up to the emplacement. The walkway to the fort was amazing itself, on the way we were greeted by the residents of ‘Baltit’ who were sitting alongside the street holding their daily tea and discussion. Many stores and houses exist on both sides of the route with people engaged in their everyday chores. Enjoying the walk we reached the Baltit Fort, we enter the Fort by paying a nominal fee, the well-trained and knowledgeable team of guides give us a well-planned tour of the facility. Built with bricks, mud and wood painted in red, the fort is also a museum that holds items belonging to the Mir of Hunza. The bird’s eye view of Hunza Valley and the spectacular view of Rakaposhi Peak can be observed in front of the Fort and the Lady Finger and Ultar Sar peak at the back. After having a circuit of the fort we started settling down toward the main Karimabad.

karimabad mountain peak

Hunza valley is rich in gems and precious stone there are many stores in Karimabad from where one can purchase these stones, suited according to their birth sign. Thither are many types of gems and stones available in Karimabad, some of them are stones like Ruby, Emerald, Aqua Marine, Sapphire, Tiger Eye, Quartz, Turquoise, Lapis Lazuli, Carnelian (Aqiq), Tourmaline and many others. On the route of Baltit, there is a store by the name “Mountain Art & Gems Gallery”, it is a store with the enormous collection of gems and stones, this shop’s proprietor is a respectful person with tons of knowledge related to gemstones. We purchased many different gemstones from that store, there were also wooden handicrafts in the store that we also bought on a succeeding day. Many statues of “Gautama Buddha” were also there in the store, but they are not for sale and are the collection of the shopkeeper, these are the statues set up during different expedition performed by the shopkeeper in search of the precious gemstones in the nearby mountains.

blue minerals rocks karimabad

There were number foreign visitors around this place, they are from China, Korea, Britain, Germany, USA and many other countries. Roaming and shopping around the city and meeting different foreigners we arrive back to our room. We placed an order for the dinner that is of “White Lentils (Daal Mash)” and bread (Chapati) and watched television while waiting at the food court for the dinner to serve. After dinner, we return back to our room and fell asleep after such a fabulous day, with a plan in hand for the coming day.

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The Republic of Georgia Brings You Mountains & Unparalled Hospitality

The Republic of Georgia Brings You Mountains & Unparalled Hospitality

Author: Marinel de Jesus
Date of Trip: September 2016

Situated between Europe and Asia, Georgia is a truly hidden gem for nature lovers. Georgia is bordered by four countries: Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Turkey. On a whirlwind of a trip, I ventured into the four areas in which one can explore the hiking trails of the Caucasus Mountains – Svaneti, Kazbegi, Tusheti and Lagodekhi. Apart from the mountains, Georgia impresses upon any traveler the sense of hospitality that only a few places in this world still hold. There is the feeling of being “home” in Georgia if you manage to be open to interacting with the locals. Despite the language issues, you are well-cared for because the locals simply treat you as heaven sent as guide books tell you often.

ushguli village shkhara peak

On my first full day in Tbilisi, I was lucky to be invited to the hostel’s birthday celebration for one of its owner’s friends. I was offered a taste of the local cuisine and experienced a wonderful merging of cultures when a fellow hostel resident played a traditional musical instrument from Iran as a way to celebrate the occasion. In Georgia, there is not much of a line between a stranger and a friend/family. By simply being there, you’re already part of the most intimate of all social groups – a part of the family.

On another occasion, I was well taken care of at a different hostel I stayed at in that I was offered a bed, the use of shower facilities, as well as, being able to charge my electronics and make use of their wifi. All these were free of charge while I wait to depart for my late night flight home. The cat, along with unlimited coffee, also came as a bonus. My insistence to pay was refused repeatedly but my presence was highly treated with warmth.

tbilisi old town

After my first full day in Tbilisi, I realized the hospitality at every place I stayed at was the norm, not the exception. So it is easy to feel pampered and spoiled in Georgia. I also had the occasion, as part of my scouting treks/projects for my social enterprise, Peak Explorations, to meet locals who are connected with the tourism industry and they were accommodating enough to meet me at such short notice.

As to the trekking tourism potential for Georgia, having experienced the trails myself, I must say that I anticipate the trekking tourism to explode in the next few years or decades. While most European trekking destinations have already gone far beyond being deemed as “established”, Georgia is up and coming with so much potential to take over the limelight in this arena. It is already being discovered slowly with tourism growth rising each year and trails being established by various local and international organizations. One such organization is the Transcaucasian Trail (TCT), which has its headquarters in Washington, D.C. TCT aims to build a world-class long distance trail in the Caucasus mountain regions that will connect Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. This will attract more hikers and mountain enthusiasts to all three countries as a goal. The last phase would only require further improvements and expansion in terms of accommodations, transports and tourist services. Tusheti, especially, will have a huge surge of change in the upcoming years given that its accessibility has yet to be improved to open its doors to an increase in tourism.

Mestia in Svaneti is already gaining attention with a new ski resort being built; while Kazbegi, the most accessible mountain area of Georgia, continues to have a high demand in terms of tourism which will push it further to increase its accommodation, transport and tourist services.

black rocks lake georgia

Lagodekhi, and its hidden gem called, Black Rocks Lake, come as a pleasant surprise to those who arrive at the town with the same name and definitely deserve greater attention but for now only a few hardy souls partake in the 4400 meter total of climbing up and down the mountain to see this scenic lake that borders Russia.

Needless to say, I have thoroughly enjoyed my adventure in Georgia and I would even go so far as to recommend those who are adventurous enough to go alone. Why? Because Georgia is filled with solo travelers, most of whom you will run into and end up exploring the trails with. In that sense, it is an ideal place for solo traveling as the country is safe and locals are ready to help regardless of the language problem. Just one thing when you meet other travelers – be prepared to answer the question, “Why Georgia?” It’s the number one question of the trip, only because it takes a unique kind of person to decide to travel in Georgia. Take it as a compliment. In my own travel, I did not see any American backpackers although I met backpackers from all over the world such as Israel, Egypt, Sweden, Portugal, Malaysia, Ireland, Poland, Czech Republic, UK, among a few others.

adishi glacier

I am forever changed because of Georgia. Its simplicity, the sweeping views along the trails of the Caucasus and the generosity of the people will haunt me for eternity, so much so, that I would even consider living here in the future. The Georgians are maddeningly warm and hospitable which will only add more to its rise as a worthwhile future trekking destination in Europe. In contrast, in most touristy trekking regions in Europe, hospitality has been compromised in many ways and therefore leaves you wanting for more connection to the place and its locals. In Georgia, experiencing the people will leave you with a sense of openness to the world that is simply contagious. This then leads me with just one last thing to say – Go now before the rest of the world discovers it or risk losing out on the magical experiences from its current level of authenticity and rawness.

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Day 7: Hunza Valley (Attabad Lake)

Day 7: Hunza Valley (Attabad Lake)

Author: Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (More Trip Reviews by Nawab Tanweer Ahmad)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Date: 21st September 2015

Today is our 3rd day in the most beautiful valley on earth the Hunza Valley, for the last 2 days, we were exploring Karimabad, the capital of Hunza. We traveled to the marketplace, the Apple, Apricot and Walnut forest, the Baltit locality and the Baltit Fort, also tasted the local bread “Arzooq”. This area is extremely wonderful one can ramble here for hours or can merely sit and savor the beauty of its surrounding. My spouse even visited the local houses in the surrounding and made acquaintances with them and learn about their lives.

attabad lake

Today we hold a plan to explore the other nearby places, including Attabad Lake, Hopper Glacier, Nagar Valley, Confluence of River Hunza and Nagar, Rock Caving by Alexander the Great, Ganish Village and Altit Fort. Since this area is a pollution free with clean and fresh air all around, we always wake up early in the morning. The rising sun creates the surrounding mountains and the area the most spectacle place on land. After a hot bath, we packed our backpacks and went down for the breakfast. After the first experience, we consistently have our breakfast at “Hunza Snack Bar” with ‘Arzooq’ being the part of it. The Hunza Snack Bar is along the main road and the valley can be distinctly viewed from inside the snack bar, there were people walking toward their work on the main road and students to their school and colleges. People here have to walk long distances to reach their destinations as there is less and limited public transport in this area. And we were also walking too much from the time we are here, as we don’t have any sort of conveyance, but the thing we learn from walking is that you can view and observe more and can feel the surrounding and become part of it.

We roamed around for a couple of hours and then went to “Mountain Art & Gems Gallery”, as from there we have the plan to go on a trip around Hunza on the Jeep owned by the shopkeeper. We waited in the shop, the shop is loaded with precious gemstones, handmade wooden items, carpets, apparel and other handicraft items. As shortly as the shopkeeper handed over the shop to his brother we ride on the jeep and our journey toward our first spot the “Attabad Lake” has begun. After driving down from Karimabad we are now traveling on the Karakorum Highway toward China.

hunza valley mountain

Driving a couple of kilometers we reached Ganish. Ganish is the oldest village in Hunza, with 800-year-old mosques, and is considered the first settlement along the ancient Silk Road. Situated approximately 6 kilometers from Aliabad it has been awarded the UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage. Ganish consists of sub-villages including Garelth, Chaboikushal, Shukunoshal, Khaii, Buldas and Chillganish. One of the most iconic things of Ganish is it Shikaris (watchtowers) made of wood and stone these towers were utilize in old times to keep watch on enemies.

After passing a little time at Ganish we again embarked on our journey toward “Attabad Lake”. “Attabad Lake”, in the valley of Gojal, is created because of water blockage of river Hunza caused by massive land sliding in January 2010. More than 20 people were killed and part of Karakorum Highway was submerged due to this landslide and 6,000 people are displaced from upstream villages. The lake created in this result it is 24 km long, 100meters deep and is at an altitude of 2700 meters, surrounded on all sides by 6000-7000 meter high peaks and glaciers.

We were traveling on the well-built and well maintained Karakorum Highway with warning signs for expected land sliding at some places. Karakorum Highway is constructed in such a terrain that there are mountains on one side and deep valleys on the other of the road and due to its high elevation and difficult conditions in which it was constructed, no wonder it is regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the World. And these mountains frequently cause land sliding and damaging the highway at different locations, but this highway is constantly monitored and is reconstructed on an immediate basis. Watching scenic views with Hunza River flowing in parallel along the left-side of the highway we reached Attabad Lake in nearly one and half hours.

mountain lake

After traveling about 20 KM from Karimabad, on the left side of Karakorum Highway before the Attabad Tunnel, there is a rough and dirt road going down to the lake. Driving half a kilometer along this route we hit a terrific place with a vast lake filled with stunning blue color water, the color we have never witnessed in our life and mighty mountains surrounding the lake. We jumped out of the jeep and sit along the bank of lake dipping our hands and foot in the clear and cold water. The semblance of water is amazingly beautiful, the blue color of water we have never seen before, and so clear that for some distances the bed of the lake is clearly visible, this smoothness of water make it appear like a big mirror in which one can clearly see the reflection of the surrounding mountains.

The calmness of the surrounding creates such a spiritual phenomenon that one will find his body so light that makes you feels like being adrift in the air. There were few boats moored up at the lakeside, these boats were used to transport goods and passengers from one side of the lake to the other side before the Attabad Tunnel was constructed few months back. We chose to have a ride on the boat and tour the lake. The boat was motor driven and the sailor was the expert, the tour began and our boat started moving toward Gulmit on the other side of the lake. We were completely excited and enjoying the ride, our boat was sailing along a most exquisite water and fenced by mighty mountains. At a distance we can see part of the Attabad tunnel up high on the mountain, some construction work was still going on in the tunnel and the huge machinery can be seen engaged.

attabad lake boat

After a spectacular boat ride of half an hour, we return back to the bank of the lake. Capturing the stunning vista of the area in our camera, we hopped back again into our jeep and started our journey toward our next destination “The Hoper Glacier”.

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Two Weeks in Japan!

Two Weeks in Japan!

Author: Deirdre Maloney
Date of Trip: September 2016

Just got back from two weeks in Japan and wanted to get some thoughts down before the blur of this amazing adventure got any…blurrier.

couple at kinkaku-ji

One of the reasons I feel compelled to write up a brief review and also some info/tips, is because I want to give back. After all, my “Japlanning”, as I called it, included a whole lot of information and links from lots of people who went there before me and took the time to write about it.

I’ll share one of those links now, as it was incredibly helpful in assisting Hubbie and me from the start as we figured out the cities we would visit and which ones we would use as home bases. Here it is: http://www.tofugu.com/japan/traveling-to-japan-for-the-first-time/

I also used a Fodor’s travel book to prepare for the trip.

After reading this link and doing other research, we decided to break up the trip in this way:
-Days 1-6: Tokyo, side trips to Kamakura and Nikko
-Days 7-11: Kyoto, side trips to Nara and Hiroshima
-Day 12-12: Mt. Koya
-Day 13-14: Back to Tokyo and our flight home to the U.S.

I’ve divided the blog about this trip into two parts. Part I contains information on Tokyo and the side trips to Kamakura and Nikko. Part II, which you’ll see if you scroll down, contains information on Kyoto, the side trips to Nara and Hiroshima, and Mt. Koya.

You’ll find that I don’t usually go into tons of detail about each specific sightseeing site, as I know there are lots of great books and websites that do this already. This post instead highlights the choices we made as far as our time, and how we squeezed in as much of what Japan has to offer into two short weeks.

One caveat…the info and opinions on this trip clearly revolves around the “world according to Deirdre”. You might have different priorities/interests and other people can certainly chime in with their own opinions based on their experiences.

To better understand our priorities, here are a few things to know about Hubbie and me:

-We aim to spend our travels gaining a sense of the culture, experiences and people. We definitely hit up must-see places, but try to skip the super-cheesy-touristy stuff if possible.

-We’re not big nightlife people…at all. Our idea of a fun evening is a good meal, an even better glass of wine, and back to the hotel early so we can have energy to explore the following day.

-We’re not big shoppers…at all. At the end of this trip we literally declared $25 worth of stuff when we got back to the states.

-We’re into walking a lot to explore an area, but not into great big nature hikes. If we’d gone to Mt. Fuji, for instance, we would’ve walked to where the great photo opp was, but wouldn’t have climbed the thing.

Part I: Tokyo and Daytrips to Kamakura and Nikko

Okay, now that we’re square, and before getting into the day-by-day itinerary for each day, a few more things…

Transportation: After LOTS of research, we decided to buy a set of 14-day JR passes: http://www.japanrailpass.net/en/ They weren’t cheap, but in the end the value was there because we could use them to and from the airport, to and from our day trips, and also around Tokyo and Kyoto on certain lines. Having it all taken care of allowed us to be flexible with our days and make changes based on weather and interests. One thing that was super helpful throughout the trip was the Hyperdia app, which helped us navigate both the rail and bus routes. It works on both the Android and iPhone. Here’s some info: http://www.hyperdia.com/en/

Tokyo Hotel: we stayed at the Millennium Mitsui Garden Hotel in Ginza: http://www.gardenhotels.co.jp/eng/millennium-tokyo/ I would definitely recommend this place for its convenient location, friendly and helpful staff, and relatively spacious rooms.


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Day 7: Hunza Valley ( Hoper Glacier – Nagar Valley)

Day 7: Hunza Valley ( Hoper Glacier – Nagar Valley)

Author: Nawab Tanweer Ahmad (More Trip Reviews by Nawab Tanweer Ahmad)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Date: 21st September 2015

Hoper Valley is a part of Nagar Valley and is at nearly 10 KM from Nagar Khas, the capital of Nagar Valley. Nagar Valley is situated at an altitude of about 8000 feet (2,438m) and is also one of the most beautiful and scenic valleys of this region. Hopar Valley is the site of the Rush Lake, Bwaltar Peak, Kapldongs, Shaltar Peak, Hispar Muztagh, Spantik, Barpu, Bualtar and Hopar (Hopper) glaciers.

Driving on Karakorum Highway toward the direction of Karimabad, we stopped at the point to see the famous Rock Carving by the Brigade of Alexzander the Great when they traveled on the Silk Route for entering China. There are more than 50,000 pieces of rock art (petroglyphs) and inscriptions all along the Karakoram Highway in Gilgit-Baltistan, concentrated at ten major sites between Hunza and Shatial. These inscriptions, mostly belong to the time when this area served as a connecting route between Gandhara and the Tarim Basin, especially under the great Kushans (2nd Century AD and later). These carving shows single animals, triangular men and hunting scenes in which the animals are larger than the hunters. These carvings were pecked into the rock with stone tools and are covered with a thick patina that proves their age.

Before reaching the Hunza Bridge on left-side of Karakorum Highway there is another road going toward Nagar Valley. Now our drive is toward Nagar Valley with Hunza River flowing in parallel to the right side of the road. After a couple of kilometers, there is a spot where the Nagar River merges with Hunza River, we did not stop at this spot as we have to reach the Hoper as early as possible. The surrounding panorama of this route is magnificent, on one side is beautiful villages of Nagar and on the other side is the deep valley and snow-covered mountains can be seen at some distance.

Stopping at Nagar Khas for a couple of minutes, we reached Hoper in 2 Hours. Hoper is a village with lush green plain surrounded by snow covered mountains. We stop at “The Hopar Hilton” hotel and restaurant and the Hoper Glacier can be seen below in a shape of slop coming down from the mountain. We have seen a little portion of a glacier in Naran, but this glacier is so huge. Only solid snow mixed with mud can be seen till miles, this glacier is far below in the valley from where we are sitting. Our jeep driver informed us that it will be of about one and half hour of trek if we wish to get to the glacier, but we choose not to chase down because it seems really tough and exhausting. Thus, we remain at the glacier view point and admire the beauty of the area. The glacier at the place we are sitting is mixed with mud and snow, therefore, look black but the part of the glacier that can be viewed on the mountain is white and neat.

At that place were many foreign tourists from Germany, USA, Australia, China, Korea and other countries who come to this place either to summit the highest peaks, reach the glaciers coming down from the mountains or to camp on the lush green plains along the beautiful lakes. The lakes that exist in between these mountains, like the famous Rush Lake, situated at an altitude of 4,694 meters, it is one of the highest alpine lakes in the world.

We have placed the order for the lunch as soon as we arrived here since we know it will take some time for food to be prepared. Spending about one hour at the glacier view point we return back to the restaurant, the restaurant itself is very beautiful with loads of trees and flowers. After finishing the lunch we simply sit there for half an hour more to admire the beauty of the spot and then began our journey back toward Karimabad.

Going along the same route via Nagar by which we reached Hoper and taking some snaps on the way we again turn over at the “Confluence of Hunza & Nagar River” and this time, we stop at this spot to get some pictures. The Hunza is the only river to slice through the western Karakoram Range. It was there before the mountains and has maintained its flow through a cluster of 7,000m peaks to meet Nagar (Hispar) river at this point. Major tributaries of Hunza River up to this point are Khunjerab, Misgar, Chapursan and Shimshal. Nagar River is also known as the Hispar, originating as it does from Hispar glacier and Chalt River. Then we continued our journey toward Altit.

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Travel Exploration Morocco

Travel Exploration Morocco

Author: Jessica C. (More Trip Reviews by Jessica C.)
Date of Trip: June 2016

Day 1: Barcelona to Casablanca
We arrived in Casablanca from Barcelona (we were on a cruise the week before), but took a very long time to clear customs. The line was very long and inefficient. We met our driver, Tahar, and the first attraction he took us to was the mosque.

We went to see the mosque, called Housan II, to take a few photos. We were taking too long to leave the Casablanca airport, so by the time we arrived the mosque was closed. The outside was still magnificent, and the architecture was stunning. After this, we went to our hotel, Val D Anfa Hotel which is right along the ocean. The hotel was stunning and had a beautiful inside with pool. We decided to explore the area, which is called the Corniche. This is a hip and modern area with lots of restaurants, bars and nightclubs. We found a random restaurant overlooking the ocean and ordered fish Tagine and calamari. Both were fresh caught from the ocean. We wandered the area and stumbled upon a shopping mall. We arrived too late so the stores were closing, but the mall had modern brands like H&M and American eagle. We taxied back from the mall, which was only 1-2 miles, but that cost only 30 dirhams or about $3!

Day 2: Casablanca to Marrakesh
We left around 9am and drove ~3 hours to Marrakesh. We had a full day historical tour of Marrakesh. We started at the Majorelle garden created by Jacques Majorelle, a French artist. He left the garden after his death to the famous Yves Saint Laurent. We were going to walk around the medina (old city) but it was over 100 degrees. We luckily had our driver drop us off at each site. The sites were not far from each other, but the heat was unbearable. We went to see the Koutoubia mosque, which is the largest mosque in Marrakesh. We strolled thru the Jewish Mellah and walked though the spice square (rahba kedima). From here we went to see the El Bahia Palace and the Saadian tombs. The El Bahia palace has over 160 different rooms, but we only walked thru a few. The Saadian tombs comprise of about 60 bodies of the members of the Saadi dynasty. Every detail was beautiful and hand done. There were mosaics, paintings, and fine artwork all over the walls and ceilings.

We wanted to wander and shop the souks so we had our guide take us there. We began at the Djemma El Fna Square. The souks are covered overhead, so they were a nice retreat from the heat. The souks had everything. Fake designer goods, leather bags, shoes, handicrafts, meat works, jewelry, and wooden carvings. After wandering a few hours, we bought shoes, a wooden box, leather goods and random souvenirs for our friends and family back home.

Our guide walked us to our riad, called Riad Adore. It was tucked away but in the main area of the medina and close to souks. It is down a dark side alley, but there is a security guard hired by the few riads located in the alley. From the outside, the riads look plain and unassuming. Once inside, it was a beautiful oasis of powder blue and white washed walls. We decided to shop a little before our dinner, and met a family (father and two sons) selling leather goods and woodwork. They were super nice, so we bought a few things from them.

We had dinner at the upscale Al Fassia. This restaurant had traditional food and was decently busy for a Monday night. Most diners were tourists however. The food was heavy and salty but decent and edible overall. We had a traditional Moroccan soup, filo pastry dough filled with meat, spinach and cheese, couscous with chicken veggies and kabobs, and a fish Tagine

We wanted to explore the city later, so we stopped at the square, Djemma El Fna Square. We walked around doing more shopping. After this, we headed back to the hotel.

Day 3: Marrakesh to Skoura
We had our breakfast ready for us early. It was simple, just fruit, a fried pancake like, juice, coffee, and fruit. After leaving Riad adore, we drove thru the tizi n tichka pass road. We drove thru the High Atlas Mountains for panoramic views. We stopped at the Argan cooperative, which makes Argan products and is completely ran by women. We got to see the Argan oil extraction process and purchased Argan products.

We drove off the beaten road to Telout, and stopped at the kasbah Telout. We had a small private walking tour with our guide, riaad. He didn’t learn English in school, but it was so good! He can do the tour of the castle in elvish, Spanish, French, Arabic, Berber, and the local dialect. That’s amazing! This kasbah is hidden on a tiny road in a small village 20 mins outside of Tichka. The pacha (governor) named glaoui was the one who owned this kasbah. Since it’s the end of the tourist season (tourists season ends in may) we basically had the whole place to ourselves. The exterior is not too pretty, but the inside is splendid. It’s not a UNESCO heritage site yet, so all the money from the tours goes to renovations. The entrance fee is a mere 20 dirhams (~$2) which isn’t going to do much for repairs. We had lunch next to the kasbah, which consisted of a plate of vegetables cooked in various methods, beef, & chicken tagine. It was so much better than the expensive restaurant in Marrakech. The ingredients were all fresh and locally sourced. The tagine had a fig and date sauce for the meat that was incredible.

After lunch, we drove to Ait Ben Haddou which means son of the man named Haddou. This area is famous because many movies were shot here. Most of the people we met were all extras in the movies like Gladiator and Prince of Persia. Game of thrones season 4 was also filmed here. This is a UNESCO heritage site, so all the extra sets built for the movies had to be torn down afterwards. Our guide told us that it took like 30 days to build, 35 mins of shooting, and 25 days to tear it down. We wandered thru the Berber kasbahs. 8 families still live here, including our tour guide, Mohammed. He was kind enough to show us where he lived and we got to meet his mother as well! While wandering thru the maze of mud and brick, we walked past an artist who paints with organic colors. The blue is from indigo, yellow from saffron, red from henna. There is mint tea as well, it turns a darker color when heated. It was beautiful so I purchased a drawing and took a photo with the artist.

We drove to our Riad, L’ma lodge, which was literally in the middle of no where. All the riads are very unassuming looking from the outside, but inside looks like heaven on earth. There is a swimming pool, trees, plants, flowers, and vegetables all beautifully planted and arranged around the area. Since we literally had nothing around us, we could only stay in the riad. It was nice and relaxing. We had a cold soup with the veggies from the garden and chicken tangine dinner. Mint tea was served after the meal as well.

Day 4: Skoura to Erfoud to Merzouga

We departed L’Ma lodge, and headed to the Amerhidil kasbah. This place is well known because it is featured on the 50 dirham note of Morocco. Our guide was energetic and cracked many jokes. He explained a lot about the architecture and reasoning behind some of the elements of the structure. For example, the steps up to the second floor were all different sizes. The first few steps, especially the first was high so the animals wouldn’t go up. The steps were all different highs to slow down enemies from attack. The entrance to the 2nd floor was also small so that you had to bend down to enter the room. This way someone could smack the enemy on the head if u were attacked.

We drove along the valley of 1000 kasbahs. The road had many, ranging from perfectly restored to crumbling ruins.

We drove to a rose distillery to see how rose products are made. We were told 1 liter of rose oil costs around $13,5000 dollars. wow!

We drove thru the Dades valley on the road to the Todgha gorge. It looks like the Grand Canyon, lots of canyon, rocks, and water. Instead of on top of the canyon however, we drove in the canyon looking up at the cliffs.

We stopped for lunch and had tagine again! We didn’t know we would be having tagine so many times!

From here we trekked to Erfoud, the capital of fossils. This area used to be covered by the ocean 300-400 million years ago! We toured a factory that digs up the fossils, prepares, polishes, and sells them. Most of the fossils were sea creatures, due to the area being in the ocean. We saw many fossils of jellyfish and different shell fish.

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Railtours Ireland

Railtours Ireland

Author: Jessica C. (More Trip Reviews by Jessica C.)
Date of Trip: September 2015

Day 1: USA to Dublin
I arrived around dinner time. Took the bus to Central hotel and walked to the the bar called Brazen Head. This is supposedly the oldest bar in Ireland which dates back to 1198. I met a mother-daughter couple and hung out with them. We listened to the band play Irish songs and the locals even pulled us up to dance with them!

Day 2: Day trip to Belfast, Giants Causeway, and Carrick-A-Rede Rope bridge

The day began early at 7am. We drove from Dublin to Belfast, which is the capital of Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is actually part of the United Kingdom. I don’t know much about the political history and conflict between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but from what I learned there is still tension among the two countries.

In Belfast, I went to the Titanic exhibit. The exhibit had 8 sections of history. You started with the H&W company drawing board conception of the titanic and you go all the way thru the timeline to present day titanic wreckage digging up. It was sadly disappointing. The exhibit was only okay. I love history and the Titanic is something I find fascinating, but the exhibit was just “meh”. Maybe if they had artifacts or something? I’m not sure. The displays, interactive exhibits and mini-ride were all new and modern but it didn’t distract from the dry material. I don’t think the exhibit presented the history well. The exhibit was boring and it didn’t come alive.

From here it was an hour drive to Giants Causeway. Giants Causeway is caused by an ancient volcanic eruption resulting in interlocking basalt columns.

I followed an online blog that told me to take the red trail (only red or blue) and I ended up going the wrong way…oops! The red trail goes above the cliffs while the blue goes onto the actual hexagons and along the coast.

The view from the red trail were breathtaking but I wish I did the blue first. The blue showed what I came to see. The red had landscapes and a good overview look of the area.

Once I finally got to the blue trail the causeway wasn’t that impressive. Once I got closer to the hexagons, that’s when I was in awe. I still can’t believe these aren’t man made. There were people but luckily since it was Monday it wasn’t too crowded. I got a lot of beautiful pictures

From here we climbed a bridge 100 feet above the ocean. It connected the mainland to an island where fisherman used to set nets for salmon. From this area, we could see other islands that belong to the UK and Scotland.

Day 3: day in Dublin
Today I went to see the Book of Kells. It was interesting to see but the show stealer was the old library. It had so much character and history. It reminded me of a Harry Potter novel. After the Book of Kells, I did a walking tour. We stopped along some famous landmarks and historical buildings around Dublin. From here I got on a hop on hop off tour. I’m surprised I never did one of these earlier! They are so convenient for going to the major sites, especially for cities where the metro isn’t dominant. I definitely may try to do these in my future travels. I rode the bus for a few stops until I arrived at the Guinness brewery. This place was so commercialized and cheesy. They had fake digital reenactments of the actual brewing process. From fake barely being “roasted” to fake hops plants. I wish the brewery was more real instead of just simulations. In the tour, I learned how to properly taste Guinness and got my free pint at the rooftop bar overlooking the city. The view of the city was gorgeous, but the hoards of people were not. After my pint I was too tipsy to continue to the Jameson distillery. I rode the bus back towards the city center. I grabbed a quick dinner and went back to my hotel

Day 4: Cork/Blarney castle/Killarney
I arrived at the Heuston train station in Dublin bright and early at 7am. We took the train into Cork and drove thru the city. We drove to Blarney village to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. At first I didn’t want to kiss the stone…so many tourists have kissed it. So many germs! However, once I got to the stone I figured I might as well just kiss it. I’ve traveled thousands of miles and I’ll probably never have the chance to kiss it anyway. After kissing the stone, I walked around the area. I stumbled upon blarney house/mansion where some sort of exotic car display or race was occurring. There were porches and old classic cars. It was a pretty site to see. I felt like I was in a James Bond movie. Beautiful cars set against a ginormous mansion.

I had lunch and ordered a seafood chowder. It was delicious! Probably one of the best I’ve had since Seattle.

After Blarney Castle, we headed to the city of Cobh (pronounced Cove). We stopped outside the city at the main cemetery to pay respect. Victims of the Lusitania and Titanic are buried here. This city is called Cobh or Queenstown, after the queens visit. In Cobh, We stopped St Colmans
Cathedral and passed the former white star line offices (of the titanic). We arrived at the Cobh Heritage center, which was the former transatlantic terminal. Most people who left Ireland left from this point. This was also
Titanic’s last port of call. She never saw land again.

This building is also the train station. We boarded a train and changed trains enroute to Killarney. I stayed at the Killarney Plaza Hotel, it was beautiful. Very old elegance, reminded me of being on board the Titanic in first class (or at least the movie set up of what I imagined it to be)

I had 45 mins to walk around the town. It’s a small city but very cute and quaint. In a 4 block radius there was at least 6 pharmacies. All mom and pop type pharmacies but I found that very interesting. Even in Dublin I only saw a pharmacy or two. Does one really need all those pharmacies? Maybe there are doing something else…

I had dinner at a restaurant called the porterhouse. After I went with the tour group to the Killarney Grand pub for a Guinness and to watch the locals do traditional dancing. Some of the dancers were elderly but moved like they were in their 20s! The dancing was so intricate and you had to know exactly what step to take or else you would ruin the whole thing or step on someone’s foot. They danced in groups of 4 couples each (8 people total).

I think being jet lagged finally caught up to me so I left the bar by 10-1030pm and went to bed.

Day 5: Ring of Kerry
Today we headed out for the Ring of Kerry. It’s not an exact spot per se, but a ring road along the Atlantic coast with spectacular views. We stopped to see a traditional Shepard with his sheep. The Shepard explained different types of sheep to us and showed us how he herded sheep with the help of his sheep dogs. I was surprised how much I enjoyed this. The dogs were so well trained. Different whistle commands instructed the dogs to go forward,left, right and to stop. They were amazingly disciplined and accurate.


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THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection

THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection

Author: vagabondginger (More Trip Reviews by vagabondginger )
Date of Trip: June 2016

THE BRITISH ISLES with a French Connection by vagabondginger June 2016

As an Independent Traveler I relish putting together my own personal itineraries and the research and planning takes almost as much time as the trip itself. Afterwards I find writing my travel stories makes it so much more memorable than just photos. Over the years I have been to Europe many times so on this trip I chose places I had not visited before. To start off with I was focusing on the Normandy/Brittany area of Northern France, The Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey, The Isle of Man, Wales and Cornwall, England.

As a budget traveler I choose to backpack, stay in hostels or cheap hotels within the city centre and use public transport. To start this trip off I flew the no-frills WOW Airlines from Boston to Reykjavik and immediately on to Paris. Summer airfares can be a killer so it got me to Europe very cheaply. I stayed at St Christopher’s Inn Hostel by Gare du Nord and with the free breakfast and discounts at Belushi’s Bar downstairs it was a real money saver for such an expensive city.

Because the French train strike was happening and so few trains were running, being on the RER B rail link from the airport to Gare du Nord was like being on the Tokyo subway in rush hour. All the cars were so crammed without an inch to move. It had been 20 years since I was last in Paris and I enjoyed a whole day walking once again to the major sites of Notre Dame, Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Moulin Rouge and Sacre Coeur. It all still seemed so familiar. However, I was shocked by the flooding of the Seine River as all the floating restaurants were cut off and no boats were out. The next morning I took the hostel shuttle to Versailles. The line was already formed to buy the ticket and then another line to get in. The inside of the Palace was so crowded I mainly fought my way thru the rooms and once I saw the Hall of Mirrors I exited and enjoyed wandering around the fountains and gardens outside. Several years ago I visited Peterhof Palace in St Petersburg, Russia which was fashioned after the Palace of Versailles and with fewer visitors I enjoyed it so much more. As I was leaving to get the shuttle back to the hostel, the lines were now ridiculously crazy long as tourism is really heavy in the summer months.

So on Day 3 when I arrived at the train station I found that due to the strike my 10am to Bayeux was delayed 2 hours. When I did arrive there I walked to the Premiere Classe Hotel I had booked and then walked around the beautiful town that was dominated by a huge Cathedral. I had been booked to go on an afternoon tour to the Normandy Beaches, but because of the train delay I arrived too late. Bayeux Shuttle gave me a refund and I had them call me a taxi so I could go on my own for only 15 Euros more. My driver did not speak English but he took me to Omaha Beach and allowed me to wander around a couple of hours. I was very moved by the American Cemetery with the white crosses of 9,367 military dead including Teddy Roosevelt’s son. At the World War II Memorial & Museum are the names of another 1,557 who could not be found or identified. D Day June 6, 1944 was the largest naval, air and land operation in history as Allied Troops moved into Nazi occupied France.

The next morning I used Bayeux Shuttle to go to Mont St Michel on the border of Normandy & Brittany. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site that I had been wanting to see for years. The 264’ high mound of rock is topped by an impressive stone abbey dating back centuries and stands in the center of of a huge bay appearing like a mirage. Along with Santiago de Compostela in Spain and others, it is a pilgrim’s route going back to when the Kings of England were also Dukes of Normandy. Because crossing the quick sand at low tide was so dangerous and lives were lost, a causeway bridge was built. It is the biggest attraction in France outside Paris and very crowded. Lots & lots of steps to the top, lots of tourist shops at the bottom. There and back we passed thru so many towns that were heavily bombed by the Allies during the war. And seeing the thick hedgerows along the road, it’s a wonder how these troops even made that liberation march to Paris. The town of Bayeux was unscathed during these attacks as there were spies & refugees living there. I was ready for a Liberation beer when I got back. Oui -as the French say “joie de vivre” meaning: Enjoy Life!

The French train strike got me again the next day as my 7:30am to St Malo was cancelled and I could not leave until 2:30pm. So being as I had checked out of the hotel I dropped my backpack at the Bayeux Shuttle office as they did speak English. I set off to visit the famous Tapestry Museum. The colorful detail of this 230 ft long by 20 inch high embroidered piece of art shows 50 scenes of the Battle of Hastings when back in 1066 William the Duke of Normandy conquered England and took the throne. The fact that this piece of work has survived over 900 years is just as amazing. The charming Tapestry Garden Cafe was nearby to relax & read a bit. Finally arriving in St Malo late in the afternoon, I just managed to walk to the Ibis Hotel before it started to rain. I attempted to walk the walled city, but got so wet I turned back and just had dinner and more of the excellent Bordeaux red wine.

In the morning it was still raining so instead of walking to the nearby ferry terminal I took a taxi. I was heading out at 8am to St Helier, Jersey in the English Channel just 19 miles from the coast of France. It was a short trip made even shorter by a 1 hour time difference. I had an exceptionally nice studio apartment room at the Sarum Hotel with a view of the water and walking distance from the marina.

Jersey is 5 miles long and 9 miles wide with a population of about 100,000. Altho it is quite British it also has a distinctive French twist. It is almost 100 miles from England’s coast and is not part of the UK or the EU. Both the Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey are known as Crown Dependencies, self governing but defended by the UK government, except of course during World War II when they were cut off from both France and England and were taken over by Nazi Germans. I took the bus to the War Tunnels and spent hours there. It told an exceptional story of that time. After some good fish and chips at Liberation Square I met a few locals at the Cock & Bottle Pub & we raised a glass of beer to the Queen for her birthday celebration. The next days ferry ride 27 miles to Guernsey was an hour long and I walked to the Yacht Inn just across from the Castle and the marina. I was on the top so it was many steep steps up 5 floors, but it had a full English breakfast included and a bar downstairs. This inn dates back to 1854 and was occupied by the Nazi Germans and altho my room was quite sparse, it had a view.

After reading the book “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” I wanted to come here. Altho I knew it was a piece of fiction based on a real situation, I still almost expected to meet some of these characters. I arranged a taxi tour of the island visiting sites from the book and my driver, Mike, was a true local. We had an enjoyable couple of hours as his parents lived here during the occupation, but he too was born after the war. I particularly liked seeing the Little Chapel, a miniature version of Lourdes dating back to 1914. It is the smallest church in the world and holds about 8 people. It is decorated with seashells, pebbles and broken china in a mosaic pattern. Victor Hugo’s house is open for visitors, but I was satisfied with just the drive-by. I was amazed by the flowers growing right out of all the rock walls. The speed limit all over the island is 25-35 mph as it’s lanes and roads are very narrow with high hedgerows that need to be trimmed regularly. Several cruise ships now stop here, but Mike pointed out that the people of Guernsey did not want a movie made from the book due to so many tourists already coming. The island is just half the size of Jersey. There is a rivalry between Jersey and Guernsey including over their cows & the good ice cream. Mike said their cows are better looking.

St Peter’s Port is a lovely town of hanging flower baskets. I stopped for what’s called a “cream” tea, a pot of tea served with scones & strawberry jam & clotted cream to spread on them. Later was a good dinner of moules & frites at the Crow’s Nest overlooking the marina. The next morning I joined a guided tour of the Castle Coronet ending with the noon-day firing of the cannon. Then I just talked with the owner of my hotel for awhile in the bar while enjoying a local Breda beer and a crab sandwich. Late in the day I took an overnight ferry going to Portsmouth, England where I then took a train to Cardiff, Swansea and on to Pembroke, Wales. I walked to the Connaught Guesthouse and truly was made to feel like a guest by Annemarie & Ed. Again, very top floor but a charming single room with the bath one flight down. They recommended taking the Mill Pond walk to see the swans & their baby cygnets on the way to the Waterman Arms Pub. After the long travel day, I was delighted with the walk & a wonderful meal on the patio in the shadow of the huge Pembroke Castle. I was hoping to do more walking of the Wales Coastal Path while I was here, but there was a shutdown of some of the bus lines and it led to a lot of confusion. So instead of wasting a lot of time I just took the bus directly to the town of St David.

The huge cathedral is nestled into a hollow and walking thru the stone arch, it majestically unfolds below, a breath catching view. St David is the patron saint of Wales and founded his monastery here back in the 6th century and his shrine is within this cathedral dating back to 1176. It is another one of the religious pilgrimage sites. The Euro 2016 Football championships were being televised at the Bishop’s Pub with England playing Wales, so I joined a group to drink beer and cheer like a local.

The following day I took a bus to Tenby, Wales, just the most picturesque pretty as a postcard scenic beach town imaginable with lots of cute colorful shops. The high & low tides in all these places are so dramatic. One of the shop owners explained how to pronounce the Welsh name of Wales which is spelled Cymru but pronounced Cumree. The Three Mariners Pub boasted that Prince William spent time there recently. Back in Pembroke that night I wandered into the closest bar to my room and was welcomed like a local. There was darts, football on TV, but mostly it was socializing with everyone joining in the karaoke. The people of Wales are just so friendly and nice. Annemarie even came to the train station the next morning to see me off. The train brought me into Bristol, England & I got on a bus to the HomeStay Hostel in the city centre where I was spending the night. My daughter’s mum-in-law lives in Bristol so she picked me up to take me to The Pony & Trap out in the English countryside for dinner. The narrow roads and high hedgerows and the green, green color never ceased to amaze me. That is what regular rain can do. Bristol is a really cool college city. The hostel room itself was pretty bleak but it had a nice kitchen with a full breakfast in the morning. I was able to walk from the hostel to the main bus station and got an airport bus from there.

I wasn’t able to work out taking the ferry from Dublin or Liverpool to the Isle of Man, so I was flying Easy Jet and I was spending 5 nights there. An airport bus took me to Silvercraig’s Hotel in Douglas right on the seaside promenade. Again I was on the top floor, it had a lift, no breakfast, & no view from my room but a lovely sitting room downstairs looking out to the sea. Strings of lights all along the 2 mile long promenade and the city streets at night turned it into a fairyland. The promenade was such a pretty walk but there were horse drawn trams clip-clopping down the street too. The IOM is 33 miles long and 13 miles wide & has a total population of 100,000. of which Douglas is 30,000 and located on the east coast. This is where the famous TT Race in late May/early June starts and about 50,000 people descend upon the island during that time. It is the most challenging road race event in the world. Motorcycles racing on public streets & roads around the island up to 200 mph doing 6 laps of almost 38 miles each. Since the beginning in 1907 there have been over 200 killed with 5 more this year earlier in June.

So I got outfitted in leathers, helmut & goggles & climbed on a 3 wheeled motorcycle to do just one lap of 37 & 3/4 miles behind my driver, Roy. Now we did not get up to those kind of speeds but there were times I felt like we were going pretty fast at maybe 60 mph. The highest part of the course is over 1,300 ft on Snaefell Mountain. We could see Scotland from there. It was an exciting experience.

Another famous thing on IOM are the railways. My 3 day Explorer card for 30 pounds gave me use of all trains and buses. One day I took the Victorian Steam Railway to the town of Port Erin in the south just 15 1/2 miles away. It still uses it’s original locomotives and carriages and dates back to 1874. Port Erin is a lovely little town and I was told I had to go to see the Sound while there so I took a bus thru Port St Mary and the end of the line was the Calf of Man. The word calf means a small island near a large island and it is a bird sanctuary just off the mainland. In the visitor centre cafe I had another cream tea.

Another day I took the Manx Electric Railway dating back to 1893, it is the oldest in the world and runs 17 1/2 miles. In Laxey I changed over to the Snaefell Mountain Railway dating back to 1895, it is the islands only mountain and we climbed up over 2,000 feet. It only operates from April – Sept. Snaefell actually means Snow Mountain. From the top one can see 7 Kingdoms: England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Heaven, Mann & the Sea. The Isle of Man sits in the middle of the Irish Sea, yet Scotland’s coast (as the seagull flies) is the closest. It is cold and windy and I am grateful for another cream tea in the cafe before heading back down. Laxey has the world’s largest working waterwheel & it’s a can’t miss bright red color in the green countryside. I then continued on the Manx Electric Railway line to the town of Ramsey in the north. The Star of India now anchored in San Diego, CA was built here in 1863. The interesting part of these railways is that they are not just tourist attractions. The locals actually use these trains to go from town to town. Another day I took the bus to Peel, a town on the west side of the island. From the marina there is a causeway to St Patrick’s Isle where I walked around the walls of the Peel Castle, an imposing 11th century fort. Back in Douglas I found a little place on the promenade called Quids Inn Bar. As the name suggests, you have to pay a pound to get in but the beers are very cheap. It was a classic local dive bar to be sure.

This year the Isle of Man became the first entire country to be named as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. The Isle of Man is also a Crown Dependency like Jersey &Guernsey so they too are not a part of the UK or EU but the island has a real British feel & their passports state they are British citizens. Like Jersey & Guernsey, they use the UK pound as currency but they also have their own pounds with their country names stamped on them and they cannot be used elsewhere. So I made sure I always changed them out for real UK pounds.

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