Thursday, 20 November 2014

Mai Hong Son Loop & Chiang Rai

Sculptured hands symbolise desire
Wednesday 23 April: It's hot. I've been travelling northwest from Chiang Mai to the laid back town of Pai for a couple of nights but no hill-tribe trekking as it's so hot and muggy. Now I'm in the lakeside town of Mae Hong Song with a hilltop temple and great views over the town. Colourful little Swallows swoop across the water picking-off the bugs, it's a delight.
Monday 28: I've looped back to Chiang Mai then northeast up to Chiang Rai and some fabulous temples. Wat Phra Kaew has an adjoining museum with a fantastic bronze drum known as a frog or rain drum that was once used in rituals. It's astonishing that you are allowed actually play the thing. It makes a wonderful noise for such an old instrument - it's from the 5th century BC.
Tuesday 29: An half hour or so south of Chiang Rai is the stunning White Temple, Wat Rong Khun. The approach bridge to the shimmering white temple spans a moat filled with hands reaching skyward but the real gems are the frescoes inside the temple (no photos). Painted by artist come architect Chalermchai Kositpipat who is also responsible for the frescos in the first Buddhist temple in Britain, Buddhapadipa Temple in Wimbledon. Fantastic stuff.
 Slideshow of Mai Hong Son Loop & Chiang Rai.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Thailand: Chiang Mai

Ancient temple, Wat Chedi Luang
Sunday 13 April: It's Buddhist New Year in Thailand and the water festival of Songkran is in full-flow. Visiting Chiang Mai's temples is fantastic: the solid teak Wat Phan Tao, the extensive Wat Phra Singh and the massive, if damaged chedi, of Wat Chedi Luang.
Thursday 17: I enjoyed the Nepali cookery course so much that I've decided to take a half-day lesson in Thai cooking here in Chiang Mai. First, we are taken to the little local market where we are shown the various different ingredients that we will be using. Next, it's back to the kitchen where the ingredients have been cleaned and pre-prepared so all we have to do is chop, crush, mix and cook. We have a choice of what we would like to cook so I opt for spring rolls, Thai green chicken curry and, my favourite, fried chicken with cashew nuts.
Slideshow Chiang Mai.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Back in Kathmandu

Nepal's staple diet, Dal Bhat
Friday 4 April: I've arranged an afternoon cookery course and am going to learn how to prepare Nepal's national dish, Dal Bhat. Sherpas and porters eat this twice daily, once mid-morning as a late breakfast and again in the evening at the end of a days work. If it's good enough to get them up mountains it's good enough for me. The main elements are dal (a sort of lentil soup), sag (steamed spinach), a lightly spiced potato and vegetable curry, rice (of course) and chili pickle which is mixed-in on the plate to get the right level of spiciness to suit your taste. It's a great course run by Social Tours.
Sunday 6: To break up my journey back to India I overnight in the Village Lodge at Lumbini, Buddha's birthplace. It's a relaxing place to stop and the proprietor kindly offers me a lift to the border for a small fee.
Monday 7: Back in India and a three-hour shared taxi ride to Gorakhpur where I have a 2nd class sleeper booked back to New Delhi.
Tuesday 8: Overnight in New Delhi.
Wednesday 9: Depart India for Thailand.
Slideshow of Back in Kathmandu.
Slideshow of Lumbini from January 2012.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Tamang, Langtang, Gosainkund & Helambu Trek

Sacred lake, Gosainkund trek
Tuesday 18 March: From Kathmandu I get up at dawn to take the 'Super Deluxe Express' bus, which is not quite as described, for the steep winding torturous nine-hour ride to Syrabrubesi.
Tamang Heritage Trail
Wednesday 19: From Syrabrubesi it's all uphill to Ghatlang (7,342ft), a pretty but basic Tamang village set high on a hillside among terraced fields. It has a Medieval feel about it as the Tamang share their homes with their animals, people on the first floor, cattle, goats and chickens below. This is where I first meet Nina from Germany and a French couple, Pierre and Elodine, playing with the local children. In the afternoon I walk up to a lake but there's not much to see but there are fine views back down over Ghatlang.
Thursday 20: From Ghatlang it's down, then up, to Tatopani (8,553ft) where naturally hot spring water tubs (no photos) sooth aching muscles, fantastic.
Friday 21: I'm walking with Nina, Pierre and Elodine now and we head ever upwards past pretty little terraces to overnight at Nagthali (10,383ft). It starts snowing during our afternoon stroll so we retreat to our cosy lodge for the night.
Saturday 22: By morning the snow is six-inches deep so it's difficult and dangerous trying to follow the steep path down. Fortunately a group of trekkers with a Tamang guide catch us up and are happy to blaze the trail for us. By the time we get to Thuman (7,670ft) the snow has cleared and it's a difficult muddy section steeply downhill through dripping woodland and across the Bhote Koshi (river) to Lingting for a lunch stop, to avoid the rain, then steeply uphill again to Bridim (7,346ft).
Sunday 23: From Bridim (7,346ft) we take the high trail to link to the Langtang route at Rimche (7,874ft). In the afternoon we happen across a wedding party taking the groom, on horseback, to his fiance's home where he will await her appearance later in the evening. We are offered, and accept, complimentary food and hooch - the celebrations last until morning.
Langtang Valley
Monday 24:  Fron Rimche (7,874ft) the ascent continues along the Langtang Khola to Lama Hotel (8,104ft) and more steeply upwards to Langtang village (11,220ft).
Tuesday 25: From Langtang (11,220ft) it's only a morning hike to Kyanjin Gompa (12,401ft) where there's a monastery and a cheese factory selling delicious Yak cheese.
Wednesday 26: From Kyanjin Gompa (12,401ft) we climb Kyanjin Ri (15,649ft) for great mountain views in the distance, spectacular views of glacial moraine and of the village below. On the ascent I'm lagging behind the others. It's not age or fitness, but altitude. The thin air is affecting me badly on this trip.
Thursday 27: From Kyanjin Gompa (12,401ft) we retrace our steps back down the valley.
Friday 28 March: From Lama Hotel (8,104ft) we continue to retrace our steps down to Bamboo Lodge. It's below here, just beyond a wobbly bridge, that we say goodbye to Mina, who is heading back to Syrabrubesi and Kathmandu. She's a music journalist and I'll miss English conversations with her (Later I listen to some artists Mina recommended - Laura Marling is the pick of the bunch). Pierre, Elodine and I continue to Thulo Syabru (7,152ft) then onto Sing Gompa (10,662ft) and Laurebina Yak (13,208ft) on the Gosinkund trail.
Gosainkund Lakes
Saturday 29: From Laurebina Yak (13,208ft) it's down then up to Gosainkund (13,451ft)
Monday 31: From Gosainkund (13,451ft) it's up through deep snow past four icy sacred lakes to Laurebina La (15,124ft) the pass which eventually leads to the basic lodges at Phedi and the slightly better ones at Ghopte and the Helambu trail. Again I'm struggling with the altitude and am glal to reach Ghopte.
Helambu Trek
Tuesday 1 April: From Ghopte it's all downhill on the Helambu trail through Tharepati, Magan Goth, Chipling and Cisopani.
Thursday 3 April: Eventually we drop down to the outskirts of Sundarijal where a local gentleman befriends us and, before we realise, has paid for a round of Tongba (hot millet beer) and some snacks. We try to pay but he insists. So all that is left to do is fit in a barber-shop shave before jumping on a bus for the half-hour ride back to Kathmandu where we say our goodbyes.
Slideshow of:
Tamang Heritage Trail
Langtang Valley
Gosainkund Lakes
Helambu Trek

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Nepal: Kathmandu

Festival of colours, "Happy Holi"
Monday 10 March: Arriving in New Delhi I immediately take my pre-booked 1st class sleeper to, Gorakhpur, near the Nepalese border.
Tuesday 11: Entering Nepal I stop overnight at the border town of Bhairawa where Hotel Glasgow is rather less appealing than it sounds.
Wednesday 12: Continuing by daytime bus I eventually reach Kathmandu, knackered.
Friday 14: I'm planning a long trek so I head first to Shonna's Alpine Designs where her Brummy husband, Andy, kits me out with a down jacket, three-season sleeping bag and down bootees for those chilly evenings (yes, I've shopped here several times before).
Saturday 15: It's the Hindu festival of colours weekend, known as Holi, where all and sundry are splashed with water and slapped with coloured powder to the chanting of "Happy Holi". It's a chilly day and the water is cold but there is no choice but to put on a happy face. Annoyingly the trekking permit office is closed until Monday but Kathmandu is a pleasant place to spend a few days.
Monday 17: Permits and passes acquired I'm off at first dawn tomorrow.
Slideshow of Kathmandu.
Slideshow of Kathmandu in April 2010.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Krabi & Phuket town

Flaming wok, Krabi night market
Tuesday 25 February: The small town of Krabi is one of my favourite destinations in Thailand. It's away from the tourist hoards, the food is fantastic, boat trips to spectacular beaches and islands are easily organised, and, well, I just like the place. The seafood at Tuk Tuk Kitchen in Krabi's cool riverside night market is both spectacularly prepared and delicious.
Thursday 27: Once again I take the enjoyable four island boat trip, my last chance to soak up the sun before heading to much cooler climes.
Sunday 1st March: I take a look at the town's temple then a tuk-tuk trip to the local fossilised beach.
Monday 3: Onto Phuket town where the food is again the main draw card.
Tuesday 4: Downtown Khao Keang, near the local bus stands, is the best restaurant for local seafood fare while Markinny Mate is great for western fare from an Ozzy trained chef who has set himself up here. Fantastic value.
Slideshow of Krabi & Phuket town.
Slideshow of in and around Krabi from December 2013.
Slideshow of Phuket town and Krabi from February 2012.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Thailand: Nakhon Si Thammarat

Wat Phra Mahathat's main stupa
Monday 24 February: Back in Thailand, once again, I head south for some beach time but en-route I stop off at the historic town of Nakhon Si Thammarat in the rarely visited southeastern province of the same name. The main draw here is, the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Wat Phra Mahathat. With a multitude of stupa the main central one is topped by a golden spire, impressive.
Slideshow of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Cambodia: Siem Reap

Sublime Khmer temple, Angkor Wat
Friday 31 January: My visa run, this time, is to Cambodia and to one of my favourite locations in all the world, Siem Reap, the dormitory town for Angkor Wat. I'll relax here in the Mandalay Inn for a few days before visiting the sites.
Wednesday 5 February: For three days I cycle around the outer sites stopping at Bayon and Angkor Wat.
Saturday 8: Today Angkor National Museum is a delight. Not much to see but many displays and information.
Wednesday 12: This morning I visit the interior of Angkor Wat with it's fabulous reliefs, statues and vistas and in the afternoon Bayon with it's giant Buddha faces. Early evening there are dusk views of Angkor Wat across the lily pond, sublime.
Slideshow of Angkor Wat area this time.
Slideshow of in and around Siem Reap in March 2012 and more slideshows from July 2010:
Siem Reap
Angkor's Grand Tour
Angkor's Petit Tour
Angkor Thom
Angkor Wat
Banteay Srei and beyond

Friday, 15 August 2014


Kwai River bridge, Kanchanaburi
Saturday 25 January: I've been here before but this time I want to use Kanchanaburi, the site of the famous Kwai Bridge, to visit places nearby.
Tuesday 28: Today I take the bus northwards to visit Hellfire Pass where, during World War II, gangs of allied prisoners were forced to excavate a pass for the infamous 'Death Railway' which was used to resupply Japanese troops in their bid to overrun British forces in Burma and India. It's an atmospheric experience.
Thursday 30: Train back to Bangkok.
Saturday 15 February: Returning to Kanchanaburi and this time there's space at the comfortable Chitanun Guesthouse.
Wednesday 19: The rarely visited war cemetery out of town at Chong Kai, so I hire a bicycle and pedal out there. Sad and atmospheric.
Slideshow in and around Kanchanaburi.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Bangkok and Nakhon Pathom

Erewan shrine in the city centre
Tuesday 14 January: I've returned to Bangkok primarily to get an Indian visa but I'm disappointed to learn that it will take six working days, so I'm here for a week or so.
Wednesday 15: It's a whopping 4,485 Bhat (£85) for the visa plus 250 Bhat for photos and photocopying, ouch.
Saturday 18: I move from Penpark Place to my hotel of choice in Bangkok, the bright and breezy, Bella Bella Riverview.
Sunday 19: I fill some of my time shopping for bug spray, toothpaste, soap and silk boxer shorts which at 90 Bhat are great value.
Tuesday 21: To escape the hustle-bustle of the city I take a day-trip to Nakhon Pathom an hour and a half by train from Bangkok's little Thon Buri station, just over the river from my hotel. The tallest Buddhist monument in the world, Wat Phra Pathom's great golden stupa is a delight to behold.
Friday 24: Finally I pick up my visa and am glad to leave the political turmoil of the city for Hua Lamphong station and destinations new.
Slideshow of Bangkok.
Slideshow of Nakhon Pathom

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Thailand: Prachup Khiri Khan

Temple topped Mirror Mountain
Friday 10 January: After a couple of days in Hua Hin I head to the Yuttichai Hotel in the laid-back hill-top temple resort of Prachup Khiri Khan (PKK).
Saturday 11: To intensify the flavour the previous nights catch of Cotton Fish dry in the sun ready to be served-up in Ma Prow's in the evening, delicious.
Monday 13: Sleeper to Bangkok.
Slideshow of Prachup Khiri Khan.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur

Colonial architecture KL style
Monday 9 November 2013: Following a short stay in Phuket, with my laptop (sort of) repaired, I take a bus to the busy border town of Hat Yai and overnight at Cathay Guesthouse, a backpacker favourite, to arrange onward transport to Malaysia.
Thursday 12: My comfortable sleeper train arrives in Kuala Lumpur where it's great to meet up with Damian, another one of my old muckers from Portsmouth university, and his wife Julie. I'm astonished to discover that they live, together with their pouch Harry, in a rather bizarrely misplaced five-bedroom English Edwardian-style townhouse with private gardens and pool - we are in Southeast Asia!.
Friday 13: Shopping with Julie I buy a reconditioned laptop and in the evening we all hit the nearby Brussels Beer Cafe, another bizarre but enjoyable experience. Usually I try to experience tastes and culture unique to the country I'm in, so this is quite different.
Saturday 14: Wine and oysters for lunch at the M&S style local supermarket and in the evening Damian prepares a barbecue on the terrace just before the skies open, yes it's still rainy season here.
Sunday 15: An Indian Kingfisher beer with Damian and Harry in their local Bulldog Bar, one of the few bars that allow dogs access. Muslim sensibilities treat pigs and dogs as unclean.
Thursday 19: I've agreed to look after Harry over the holiday period while Damian & Julie are back in blighty - it will give me a chance to rest and recuperate and also improve Harry's lot rather than him being incarcerated at the airport kennels.
Thursday 26: Once again I embark on my annual 10-day detox diet. I have the use of a large modern kitchen so this is the ideal place and time to do it.
Sunday 29: The reconditioned laptop I bought is so slow that, even though it won't be covered in my pre-arranged travel insurance, I treat myself to a brand new top of the range Acer Aspire laptop. I then spend the following week or so transferring files and customising it to my preferred format.
Sunday 5 January 2014: Damian returns bearing gifts. Oops, I'd forgotten all about Christmas - it all seems so overly commercial and far away - not really my cup of tea anymore.
Monday 6: Sleeper over the border to Cathay Guesthouse in Hat Yai.
Tuesday 7: Sleeper north to Hui Hin on Thailand's Gulf coast.
Slideshow of Kuala Lumpur.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Thailand: Krabi

Krabi's mangrove and Karst estuary
Tuesday 19 November 2013: Following a surprisingly comfortable Qatar Air flight via Doha I stay in Bangkok's Penpark Place just long enough to visit my dentist (a filling and teeth polished for 1,700 Bhat, about £30) and have several Thai traditional massages to soothe those aching muscles (200 Bhat an hour, about £4). It's good to be back in Asia even if it is pouring down, I've just caught the end of the rainy season.
Friday 22: My laptop packs-up on arrival so I get it repaired but the keyboard still won't work without a mouse, bloody annoying.
Saturday 23: From Bangkok's Hua Lumpong station I board my sleeper train berth to Surat Thani - I'm on my way to Krabi.
Sunday 24: I wake for breakfast to find that we are still north of Chumphon. The track further south is under six feet of water but the sun is shining and the water levels are dropping. Pessimistic taxi drivers tell us that the railway embankment is washed away and the bus routes are also flooded, would we like to take a taxi to Surat Thani by back roads? Most decide to wait at Chumphon station as the train may 'leave soon'. As darkness falls I book into Chumphon's Suriwong Hotel and call it a day.
Monday 25: The morning train delivers me to Surat Thani's Phun Phun station and the orange railway shuttle bus takes me to into town for the the 'big' bus to Krabi. It's been a long two days, my laptop's packed up again and my blog is so out of date.
Tuesday 26: A long-tail boat down Krabi (pronounced Rabbee) estuary to Railey beach is expensive (300 Bhat, about £6, return) but the trip and beach are great.
Friday 29: I take a pick-up to Than Bok National Park. I've been here before and the waterfalls are fairy-tale fantastic.
Saturday 30: Wat Kaew in Krabi town centre is also a delight with golden dragons guarding the stairway up to the elegant grey hill-top temple.
Monday 2 December: I'm staying in Green Tea Guesthouse, an all time favourite, where the owner (who I'm uncomfortable calling 'Mama' - she's younger than I am) books a super-value (400 Bhat) four-island boat trip, including lunch, for me. The 'Karst' limestone scenery, warm emerald-green waters, soft sand and lovely Muslim women dishing-up snacks from their floating kitchens make it a great day out.
Tuesday 3: Today I take a pick-up to the mountain-top Tiger Cave Temple where I climb the 1,237 steps to the summit. On a clear day the views would be stunning, it's misty. Krabi's night market is renowned for it's good value food and flaming woks churn out delicious meals to order. The big Chang beer is keenly priced too and I eat here every night. I'll have to head to Phuket tomorrow to try and get my laptop repaired, I really need to get this blog up-to-date.
Slideshow of Krabi.

Friday, 21 February 2014

England: London

Leonard Cohen live, Greenwich O2
Sunday 8 September 2013: My tenants are moving out of my Wimbledon apartment so now I have a base in London, fantastic. I'll take this opportunity to refurbish the flat, visit friends and family, and take in some of the capital's culture. Two months should be enough - well that's what I think!
Wednesday 11: I meet my chum Andy and we survey the flat - looks like a bomb hit it.
Thursday 12: I take time off to see Geordie boy Alan Price, formerly of The Animals, at a local venue, The Half Moon in Putney, my first decent ale for a while, sorely missed.
Sunday 15: Leonard Cohen plays a great two-hour set at Greenwich O2, for a man of 79 he's fantastic.
Monday 16: Andy comes over and we start on the overgrown garden. At dusk it's fenced, laid to pea gravel and slabs. I'm knackered.
Wednesday 2 October: Two weeks of working sixteen-hour days and I've cleaned all internal surfaces with sugar soap, all holes and cracks have been filled, ceilings painted, light-fittings replaced, double-glazing and central heating have now been installed, I've chosen the colour schemes and bought the paint so now it's time to start in earnest.
Wednesday 16: Two more weeks painting, the new bathroom suite is delivered and installed. More bloody copper pipes to prime, undercoat and finish, aagh. Gas safety certificate is issued.
Friday 18: The new carpets arrive and all are laid in a day despite slightly tacky skirting boards.
Tuesday 22: Andy returns with ladders to paint the external fascias. By now I've planned and refitted the internal doors to fit the new carpets, redecorated all but the kitchen and bathroom - there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Friday 1 November: More sixteen-hour days and I've retiled the bathroom walls and the bathroom and kitchen floors. Ross Electrical arrive and issue safety certificate.
Tuesday 12: External painting complete: fascias, back stairs, balcony and front door. New bed, mattresses, bedding, cutlery, crockery and fire blanket in place. Now it's time to relax, visit friends, take in some culture and, perhaps, see the inside of an English pub. Bugger, I've only got three days left.
Wednesday 13: Trip to Hampshire to visit cousins John & Joe. A good pub meal and an entertaining evening, it's always good to touch base.
Thursday 14: Trip to Hertfordshire to see old friends Stef & Dudley. Another good entertaining meal and more lashings of red nectar.
Friday 15: Trip to Oxfordshire to see friends Rob & Debbie and more of the same.
Sunday 17: Long-haul flight out of London Heathrow to escape the British winter.
Slideshow of England: London (mostly of my refurbished apartment).

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Spain: Camino de Santiago again

Pilgrims cut-out in iron, Alto del Perdon
Monday 29 July: From Bordeaux airport a convenient tram runs through town to Bordeaux St Jean station where I get the afternoon train to Bayonne for the little shuttle train to St Jean Pied de Port. So, once again, I'm at the popular starting point of the Camino Frances, the 500 mile (800km) pilgrim's walking route across the north of Spain to Europe's Atlantic coast.
Tuesday 30: (day 1): St Jean to Roscesvalles (16 miles, 25km) up and over the Pyrenees we go again from France into Spain, and down to Roscesvalles monastery's comfortable albergue.
Wednesday 31 (day 2): Roscesvalles to Zubiri (14 miles, 22km), Municipal Albergue in the former school house.
Thursday 1 August (day 3): Zubiri to Cizur Menor (17 miles, 26km), Albergue de Maibel marching straight through Pamplona.
Friday 2 (day 4): Cizur Menor to Lorca (20 miles, 32km), up to the iron cut-outs and wind turbines atop Alto del Perdon before dropping down to Puente la Reina and continuing through the pretty saucer-shaped village of Cirauqui to a single small room in Jose Ramon Albergue.
Saturday 3 (day 5): Lorca to Villamayor (13 miles, 20km), I couldn't resist stopping for a picnic lunch at the fuente de vino (wine fountain) west of Estella, private Albergue B&B.
Sunday 4 (day 6): Villamayor to Torres del Rio (13 miles, 19km), Albergue Casa Mariela.
Monday 5 (day 7): Torres del Rio to Logrono (14 miles, 21km), newly opened Check-In Albergue and an evening sampling from the town's famous tapas bars - black pudding topped with a fried quail egg, delicious.
Tuesday 6 (day 8): Lograno to Najera (19 miles, 30km), Puerto de Najera albergue over the bridge on the riverbank.
Wednesday 7 (day 9): Najera to St Domingo de la Calzada (13 miles, 21km), Cistercien nunnery with walled garden.
Thursday 8 (day 10): Calzada to Belorada (14 miles, 23km), Cuatro Cantones with indoor pool and good communal dinner.
Friday 9 July (day 11): Belorada to Ages (17 miles, 28km), El Pajar.
Saturday 10 (day 12): Ages to Burgos (22 miles, 14km), Santa Catalina.
Sunday 11 (day 13): Burgos to Hontanas (19 miles, 30km), hostal en-suite.
Monday 12 (day 14): Hontanas to Itero de la Vega (13 miles, 20km), bed in Albergue Mochila with good attempt at English breakfast.
Tuesday 13 (day 15): Itero to Carrion de las Condes (16 miles, 26km), Espiritu Santo nunnery with beds, good choice.
Wednesday 14 (day 16): Carrion to Terradillos (17 miles, 27km), Jacques de Molay bed and linen, good choice but sadly trouser pocket robbed at night, small money.
Thursday 15 (day 17): Terradillos to Calzadilla (16 miles, 26km), Municipal Albergue with solid four-compartment bunks.
Friday 16 (day 18): Calzadilla to Mansilla de las Mulas (15 miles, 24km), El Jardin del Camino with large front garden and bar.
Saturday 17 (day 19): Mansilla to Leon (12 miles, 19km), San Francisco Albergue en-suite double.
Sunday 18 (day 20): Leon to Puente Villarente (15 miles, 24km), El Delfin Verde with large outdoor pool. Had to backtrack to Mansilla (left my diary behind), as no buses on a Sunday, then back through Leon again (not the prettiest part of the Camino).
Monday 19 (day 21): Puento Villarente to La Virgin del Camino (13 miles, 21km), Municipal Albergue.
Tuesday 20 (day 22): La Virgin to Hospital de Orbiga to (18 miles, 28km), Albergue Verde, dinner B&B with afternoon yoga, great choice.
Wednesday 21 (day 23): Orbiga to Astorga (11 miles, 17km), San Javier Albergue and a fine meal opposite Gaudi's super Episcopal Palace, now a museum of religous art, yawn.
Thursday 22 (day 24): Astorga to Foncebadon (17 miles, 27km), Monte Irago Albergue where a local band offer us an entertaining evening of Spanish and Galician folk songs.
Friday 23 (day 25): Foncebadon to Molinseca (13 miles, 21km), up and through the pass of Irago, the highest point of the whole camino, Municipal Albergue bed in converted church.
Saturday 24 (day 26): Molinseca to Cacabelos (13 miles, 21km), Municipal Albergue.
Sunday 25 (day 27): Cacabelos to Vega de Valcares (18 miles, 28km), Albergue Sarracin.
Monday 26 (day 28): Valcares to Fonfria (15 miles, 24km), Reboleira Albergue.
Tuesday 27 (day 29): Fonfria to Sarria (17 miles, 28km), Don Alvaro Albergue.
Wednesday 28 (day 30): Sarria to Portmarin (14 miles, 22km), Santiago Albergue.
Thursday 29 (day 31): Portmarin to Palas de Rei (16 miles, 25km), Bar Central.
Friday 30 (day 32): Palas de Rei to Arzua (16 miles, 26km), Albergue Da Fonte.
Saturday 31 (day 33): Arzua to Arca (14 miles, 22km), Compass Pension
Sunday 1 September (day 34): Arca to Santiago de Compostella (13 miles, 20km) and the haven of an en-suite room in San Martin Pinario.
Tuesday 3: Bus from Santiago to the little port of Cee then a walk along the coast (8 miles, 13km) to Fisterra, a room in Pension Cabo.
Thursday 5: Fisterra to Litres (9 miles, 14km), As Eiras.
Friday 6: Litres to Muxia (9 miles, 15km) and a day exploring the port and lighthouse.
Saturday 7: Bus back to Santiago and St Martin's Pinario, tomorrow I fly to London Stansted, England.
Slideshow of the Camino de Santiago again.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Vatican City State

Behind the facade, St Peter's Basilica
Wednesday 24 July 2013: Rob's learning to cook pasta today and Debbie's shopping so this afternoon I'm off to see the smallest nation state in the world, the Vatican City. It's a fair walk but I soon cross the white line in St Peter's Piazza and, without customs or passport control, I'm in! A half-hour queue to visit St Peter's snakes to the right between the piazza's colonnades all the way to the church doors. I wait in the baking heat with little shade until we eventually reach the cool naves of the basilica, the final resting place of St Peter and more dead heads of the Catholic church than you can wave a papal sceptre at.
Sunday 28: My friends have flown so with more time on my hands I return to the the Vatican queues to climb up St Peter's dome and visit the Sistine Chapel. The panoramas from atop the basilica over the Vatican gardens and across St Peter's Piazza to the Tiber are fantastic. Adding to the thrill is being behind the basilica's facade of statues featuring Christ, eleven of his followers and John the Baptist. Surprisingly, St Peter's statue missing from the group.
After an early lunch another snaking queue precedes my visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, decorated with Michelangelo's The Last Judgement. More cherubs and biblical scenes lead, via the fascinating map room, to the Sistine Chapel and Michelangelo's famous ceiling. Yes, more cherubs and biblical scenes, but exceedingly well executed ones.
Monday 29: Shuttle bus to Rome Ciampino Airport and soon I land in Bordeaux, France.
Slideshow of Vatican City State.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Italy: Rome

Gladiatorial splendour, the Colosseum
Monday 22 July 2013: Casa Santa Sofia is a quiet B&B overlooking a lively little fountain piazza not far from the Colosseum, ideal. I'm in Rome partly because it's my chum Robin's birthday and Debbie, his partner, has set him up, he thinks that they are there alone. So, I knock on their hotel-room door with a bottle of vino and a glass in-hand.
"Where's the party mate?"
I don't think I've seen anyone so surprised (Rob thinks I'm in Japan).
Tuesday 23: After a boozy night, the great gladiatorial amphitheatre is our first port of call. Unlike Greek theatres, built into hillsides, the Colosseum is entirely free-standing making it one of the great wonders of the modern world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Inside you can just imagine fierce gladiators, starving lions and timid Christians crouched in the underground labyrinth below, awaiting their fate. Nearby we explore Palatine Hill, the birthplace of Rome, and the Roman Forum.
It's Rob's 50th today so we dine in the rooftop restaurant of their five-star hotel, great meal.
Thursday 25: The guys are shopping so I head to the Galleria Boghese where there's more cherubs and religious art than I care for. More to my taste is the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna with a reasonable range of modern western art from the usual culprits.
Friday 26: The Panthenon temple, originally dedicated to the gods of ancient Rome, stands behind the great granite Corinthian columns of it's portico. The rotunda's domed roof has a central hole open to the sky for light and air; rain is dealt with by drainage channels in the floor. Continuing on to splendid Piazza Campidoglio I stop for lunch, it's a blisteringly hot day.
Saturday 27: I've walked past the Trevi Fountain previously but today I dally for a while, if only you could jump in, it's still hot here. Heading up to the famous Spanish Steps where there's really not much to write home about I continue to Castle Saint Angelo which sits above the river Tiber and call it a day. The food and service at our evening meal is awful, less said the better.
Slideshow of Rome.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Spain: Camino de Santiago

Art on the Camino, Hospital de Orbigo
Thursday 20 June 2013: Following a night at Pension Madrid in the Spanish north-coast port of Santander I take Alsa's 9:30 bus east, along the coast, to San Sebastian for the 12:30 south to Pamplona and the daily 14:00 bus east across the border to St Jean Pied de Port in France. St Jean is the popular starting point for the 500 mile (800km) Camino Frances pilgrimage walk to the cathedral city of Santiago de Compostella in the north-west Atlantic coast corner of Spain. Feeling the need to get fit I'm going to walk the whole route at pace. The downside is that I'm unlikely to make many friends, I'll be walking too fast for most especially in the latter stages.
Friday 21 (day 1): St Jean to Roscesvalles (16 miles, 25km) up and over the Pyrenees and back across the frontier into Spain and down to the monastic refuge at Roscesvalles.
Saturday 22 (day 2): Roscesvalles to Zubiri (14 miles, 22km), Municipal Albergue in riverside village.
Sunday 23 (day 3): Zubiri to Cizur Menor (17 miles, 26km), friendly Albergue de Maribel with a little suntrap garden.
Monday 24 (day 4): Cizur Menor to Cirauqui (16 miles, 26km), Maralotx Albergue in pretty village with great food and local red wine served in wine cellar dining room.
Tuesday 25 (day 5): Cirauqui to Monjardin (15 miles, 24km), Albergue Peregrinos with beds rather than bunk-beds.
Wednesday 26 (day 6): Monjardin to Viana (18 miles, 29km), Albergue Izar B&B.
Thursday 27 (day 7): Viana to Naverette (14 miles, 23km), El Contaro Hotel en-suite.
Friday 28 (day 8): Naverette to Azorfa (15 miles, 24km), Municipal Albergue.
Saturday 29 (day 9): Azorfa to Calzada (10 miles, 15km), Municipal Albergue.
Sunday 30 (day 10): Calzada to Belorada (14 miles, 27km), Cuatro Cantones.
Monday 1 July (day 11): Belorada to Ages (17 miles, 28km), San Rafael Albergue with mats on the breezy attic floor.
Tuesday 2 (day 12): Ages to Rabe de las Calzados (22 miles, 35km), Liberanos Domine.
Wednesday 3 (day 13): Rabe to Castrojerez (18 miles, 26km), Meson Hostal en-suite.
Thursday 4 (day 14): Castrojerez to Boadilla del Camino (16 miles, 26km), En El Camino Albergue.
Friday 5 (day 15): Boadilla to Carrion de las Condes (16 miles, 26km), Espiritu Santo Albergue with beds in large nunnery rooms.
Saturday 6 (day 16): Carrion to Terradillos (17 miles, 27km), Jacques de Molay.
Sunday 7 (day 17): Terradillos to Calzadilla de los Termanilos (16 miles, 26km), Municipal Albergue.
Monday 8 (day 18): Calzadilla to Mansilla de las Mulas (15 miles, 24km), El Jardin del Camino, dinner, B&B with beds and swimming pool.
Tuesday 9 July (day 19): Mansilla to La Virgen (17 miles, 26km), Antonia Cinia Albergue, bought new backpack in Leonen-route.
Wednesday 10 (day 20): La Virgen to Hospital de Orbigo (18 miles, 28km), Albergue San miguel B&B with little integral art gallery.
Thursday 11 (day 21): Hospital de Orbigo to Rabinal del Camino (23 miles, 28km), Albergue Gaucelmo B&B run by the Confraternity of St James, Southwark, London, with afternoon tea, very civilised.
Friday 12 (day 22): Rabinal to Pieros (32 miles, 50km), El Serbal y La Luna B&B, long day.
Saturday 13 (day 23): Pieros to O'cebreiro (22 miles, 35km), Municipal Albergue.
Sunday 14 (day 24): O'cebreiro to Sarria (24 miles, 39km), A Pedra.
Monday 15 (day 25): Sarria to Ferrerios (9 miles, 14km), Casa Cruceiro Albergue, painful foot forced a short day.
Tuesday 16 (day 26): Ferrerios to Ventas de Naron (13 miles, 22km), O'Cruceiro Albergue.
Wednesday 17 (day 27): Ventas to Melide (17 miles, 27km), Pereiro Albergue.
Thursday 18 (day 28): Melide to Arca (20 miles, 33km), Pension Bar Compas en-suite with massage shower, luxury.
Friday 19 (day 29): Arca to Santiago de Compostella (12 miles, 20km), Hospedaje de Santa Cruz en-suite. Now I feel fit!
Saturday 20: Renfe train (9:59-15:10) to Leon, San Francisco Albergue.
Sunday 21: Alsa bus (15:30-19:00) to Santander.
Monday 22: Shuttle bus to Santander airport for flight back to Rome.
Slideshow of the Camino de Santiago.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Croatia: Split

Croatia's busy ferry port of Split
Saturday 15 June 2013: Based at Diocletain's Studio within the bastions of the old city, I take a couple of days to explore Split's culture and heritage.
Monday 17: I settle into my comfortable 4-berth cabin, which I have all to myself, aboard Blue Line's overnight ferry (20:30-08:00) heading to the port of Ancona, across the Adriatic, in Italy.
Tuesday 18: Express train (15:30-18:56) from Ancona to Rome (more later) where I stay overnight in the Conte Verde Hotel before taking the airport bus the next morning to Rome Ciampino Airport - it's time to split (aaagh).
Slideshow of Split.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Bosnia & Herzegovina: Mostar

War-shelled ancient bridge rebuilt
Thursday 13 June 2013: Walking north from the station into the old town I soon find Mostar's welcoming Pension Isa, my haven for the night.
Friday 14: The city's 16th-century, Stari Most, Medieval bridge, built by Ottoman-Turks to span the steep-sided Neretva river, was destroyed by cynical Croat shelling during Bosnia's fight for independence in 1993. With the aid of international funding the flag-stone bridge was rebuilt and reopened, under heavy security, in 2004 to symbolise the reconciliation of the ethnic groups.
Wandering down the old cobble-stone streets, past low-key vendors and traders, I soon reach the elegant hump-backed arch spanning the swift-flowing Neretva. The traditional practice of young men jumping from the bridge to prove their worth has resumed but the the icy waters below help me resist the temptation. 
After lunch I backtrack to the newer part of town, opposite the station, where several bombed-out and pock-marked buildings remain, awaiting demolition or repair.
Returning to the riverbank to dine I watch the sun going down over the worn-torn city's atmospheric old bridge and reflect on the devastation of war before moving on.
Saturday 15: Catching the 09:28 train back across the border to Ploce I take a bus northward along the Croatian coast to Split.
Slideshow of Mostar.

Thursday, 6 February 2014


Pleasant little transport hub, Ploce
Thursday 13 June 2013: From Dubrovnik's sea-front bus station I soon arrive at the little ferry port and end-of-line train station at Ploce (pronounced Plochee). I have several hours to wait for the next train across the border to Bosnia & Herzegovina but Ploce's a pleasant enough place for a wander, a picnic lunch and a haircut.
Soon I'm on my way again aboard the 17:06 to Mostar chugging inland along the wide canals of the flat coastal plain.
Slideshow of Ploce.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Croatia: Dubrovnik

Red-tiled rooftops on the Adriatic shore
Monday 10 June 2013: Only one-minute walk from the tourist office, the Old Town Accommodation guesthouse, hidden within the city fortifications (with no alley name or house number to help), takes me an hour to find, but it's clean and central - ideal.
Tuesday 11: The classic walled-city, Dubrovnik is a great place just to wander around (at least until the cruise liner muppet groups arrive) and take-in the sights - ornate churches, clock towers, gates, ramparts and steep little alleys speckled with shops and restaurants.
Wed 12: 'The' thing to do in Dubrovnik is to walk around atop the extensive city walls and fantastic it is too with great views over the red-tiled rooftops to the port and cliffs below. Iron gates lead out to the rocky outcrop on which the city was built where tipsy revellers plunge into the Adriatic Sea below, cool.
Slideshow of Dubrovnik.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Kotor & Herceg Novi

Fortified mountainside above Kotor
Saturday 8 June 2013: A two-hour bus ride north takes me to the walled town of Kotor and the Hotel Galia on the waterfront.
Sunday 9: It's a strenuous zig-zag climb up to Kotor's mountainside fortifications high above the town but the views back down are just reward. Apple, pear and blackberry cider are the local drinks of choice, the perry (pear) works best for me.
Monday 10: Heading north again I stop briefly at the small castellated town of Herceg Novi before continuing to the mother of all walled towns on the Adriatic coast, Dubrovnik.
Slideshow of Kotor & Herceg Novi.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Montenegro: Budva & Sveti Stevan

Privately owned isle, Sveti Stevan
Friday 7 June 2013: Taxi ride over the border to Ulcinj in Montenegro, then a bus north, along the scenic coastline to Budva, a pretty old walled-town bustling with pink tourists. Once settled in at The little Hobo guesthouse I stroll south, back along the beaches and limestone cliffs, to the pretty fortified isle of Sveti Stevan, sadly all now just a large private hotel complex.
Slideshow of Budva & Sveti Stevan.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Slow train to Shkoder

Slow train clickety-clacking along
Thursday 6 June 2013: Tirana's cute little train station, complete with hand-written national timetable, is a delight. Few people here take the train as buses are newer, quicker and more reliable but I'm happy to relax aboard a well-worn compartment on the 13:10 service to Shkoder. At just 145 lek (about 85p) for the four-hour trip it's a real bargain - comfortable seats, room to walk around and great scenery, fantastic.
All too soon we roll into Shkoder and I settle into the tiny Hostel Mi Casa es Tu Casa before climbing up to Rozafa Fortress for fine views over the town and surrounding countryside. A black olive salad, grilled steak and, of course, a carafe of local red gold wind-up a great day.
Slideshow of the train ride to Shkoder.