Thursday, August 21, 2014

I am a citizen, not of Athens...

Recently when I did a London to Athens tour with Contiki we had our final night of the tour in Athens at a hotel that had a rooftop terrace and I took these photos of the Acropolis and the surrounding area around our hotel.

Standing on the rooftop I remembered all the legends I had studied at university and the words of Socrates: 

 "I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece but of the world"


The Acropolis

Dubrovnik


Walking up the many stairs you catch your first glimpse of the walls of Dubrovnik so solid and so strong. 

Dubrovnik 

Ragusa, the age old Latin and Dalmatian name for what we now know as Dubrovnik is a gem in the Adriatic Sea. Summer or winter, good weather or bad Dubrovnik still has the power to draw people to visit it in their hundreds.

My first trip to Dubrovnik was during my Contiki training last year. Every person on my training had a moment, a day when they were ready to pack it all in and give up on training. Dubrovnik was mine. It was in this majestic city that I tiredness had reached its limits. Walking down Srd mountain with swollen ankles and a sore knee rushing to get back in time to meet up with our trainer to be quizzed on all the things we had to 'Find Out' that day it all just reached a turning point. That night I was ready to say goodbye and go back to a normal office job behind a desk.

Dubrovnik made me stop. The city was so amazing not only in it's ancient history but in it's modern history as well with the Croatian War of Independence between 1991-1995 that I was enthralled. It was travelling and exploration that got me applying to Contiki in the first place and it was through Dubrovnik that I was reminded of this on training. It kept me going all the way to the end of the 66 days. Four days after which I went out on my first tour and have not looked back.

But recently when I had some time between tours my friend and absolutely amazing fellow tour manager Meagan decided to go back to Croatia and stay in Dubrovnik for the first time since training. The city's wonder had not diminished in the slightest. If anything it seemed even more wonderful as we actually had the time to explore, wander and just soak it all in. There is a very good reason why it has been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979.

George Bernard Shaw once said when he visited the city in 1929 that "If you want to see heaven on earth, come to Dubrovnik".

So here are some photos from my time in this little piece of heaven on earth and some tips for how to spend your time:

Meagan shows her balancing skills with the old town of Dubrovnik in the background. 



View from our apartment that we found on Airbnb a fantastic website for places to stay all over the world. We could not have asked for a better location. 



Walking the walls of Dubrovnik is an absolute must when visiting but I would recommend getting up early to be one of the first to walk the 2km of wall to avoid the crowds and the heat or even make sure you are one of the very last to get access before they close for ticket sales. 












Some may recognise the walls from the TV series Game of Thrones as it is where they film the Kings Landing scenes. 










The main street in Dubrovnik - there are red sign posts by each street telling you what restaurants and stores can be found done them. 







Mesmerised Meagan looks out over the old town of Dubrovnik. 


There is an engraving that can be found on the fortress Lovrijenac that encompasses the heart of Dubrovnik it is: "Non bene pro toto venditur Libertas auro" which means " Liberty can not be sold for all the gold in the world".


Some tips 

  • Bar Gallerie is a small but really cool bar where you can get your cocktails served in little sand buckets.
  • Revlin is a good club to go and get your dance on late into the night and early into the morning. The fire display that the barmen do is so cool. 
  • Buza Bar is definitely worth a visit for a cold local beer with amazing views and photo opportunities but their prices are expensive compared to other places so I wouldn't linger too long. BUT definitely go once it is worth it. 
  • Best swimming spot if you ask me is not the little beach near East West bar ( They have very nice cocktails) as this gets very crowded but head to the rocks where the locals hang out. If you go to the Old Town harbour and head to the right following the city walls you will walk all the way around the corner and find an awesome swimming spot where there are even poles to help you get in and out of the water. Way better than the crowded beach. 
  • Best restaurant with a fantastic view Lady Pi-Pi. We had lunch there and it was so good!!! It is Croatian grill style food. Best to get there early as you can't reserve tables and it is very popular with those brave enough to climb the mountain of steps to get to it. 
  • Day trips to Montenegro are great - Kotor and Budva are so gorgeous - photos below from en-route to Kotor and in Kotor. 


Friday, December 27, 2013

The Majesty of the Cathedral of St Andrews

It was the largest and most magnificent cathedral in Scotland. 
Built in 1158 and dedicated to Andrew the Apostle this Roman Catholic cathedral dominated the kingdom of Fife which in fact did not actually have a king at all. 
It became the centre of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland. 
Yet today it is but a ghost of its former glory.


Today you walk through the stone arch entrance and are graced with a strange feeling of being both inside and out. 
The cathedral fell into ruin and disuse during the Scottish Reformation in the 16th Century.
So long since gone are its 30m high ceilings.
 Yet three of its exterior walls still stand to some extent allowing you to imagine and sense the huge scale that was this cathedrals original 118m length and 51m width. 




Empty spaces where altars and stained glass should be. 


Silent witnesses to watch over the crumbling of something that once stood so tall. 


A longing looking out at the North Sea. 



Funny how no matter how much stone a building can lose it can still stand as tall as the day it was built in the minds of those that visit it.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Bennachie

Forts from over 2000 years ago, the remains of squatter settlements, battlefields and a mineral currently being studied by NASA. Well I don't know about you but that is way more than I thought I would be getting when I set out this afternoon to walk up Bennachie.

Bennachie being typically Scottish is pronounced almost nothing like it is spelt. You would say it a little something like this 'Ben-a-heed'. It is a very distinctive hill with several tops located near Aberdeen in Scotland. This hill is extremely popular with the local walkers, families and trail runners as the surrounding area is quite flat giving Bennachie a feeling of isolation but also of dominance.

The hill has two main peaks, Oxen Craig at a height of 528m and Mither Tap at 518m. Most of the Bennachie range is owned by the Forestry Commission who maintain the trails, car park and even a visitors centre with the help of the Bailies of Bennachie a local volunteer group.


The history of this area and hill are rather interesting as it has seen a battle, the Battle of Harlaw in 1411 when the Earl of Mar faced the Highlanders, and has sustained a settlement of squatters, known as the Colony. Remains of their settlements can still be seen today along some of the many walks available. There is even a romantic tragedy linked to the Battle of Harlaw and the Hosie Well which can be seen when doing the Mither Tap walk via the Maiden Causeway from the Rowan Tree car park side. 

The story tells of a local man, Hosie, who was to be wed but had to postpone because he was called to fight in the battle. He was captured and held prisoner for many years before he managed to escape. Alas he returned home to discover that his bride-to-be had gone on to wed another. Stuck down with sorrow and heartache he felt that he had nothing to live for and died soon after. He was buried on a hill overlooking Mither Tap and the well nearby was called Hosies Well as the water in it is said to be nothing but the tears of Hosie.

 

 The peak that stands out the most when looking at Bennachie is Mither Tap, which at one stage in its life was home to an ancient hill fort built over 2000 ago. Some of this fort is still visible today and when you do the Mither Tap walk you walk through what was the main entrance to the fort. You will be able to make out two distinctive walls that formed the outer wall of the fort. It is thought that there were at least ten buildings within this fort at one time.



Looking into the history of Bennachie when I returned home I was most surprised to read about the mineral macaulayite. That so far is only found in one place in the world and that place is at the foot of Bennachie. Macaulayite is a red, earthy mineral discovered in the 1970s by Dr Jeff Wilson and is named after the Macaulay Institute in Aberdeen. Apparently it is formed by granite which has been weathered by tropical climates before the last Ice Age. Now the even more interesting part is that NASA is currently studying the mineral as it is speculated that it is the substance which gives the planet Mars its colour.


All in all Bennachie is a beautiful and interesting area that has locals and foreigners alike flocking to climb its banks, explore its trails and breathe in the wonder and grace that is the Scottish countryside. 


Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Season of Learning


Have you ever had a moment when you stop, look around and think to yourself that you can't actually believe that your life is actually your life.


This time last year I spontaneously decided to join some good friends of mine from South Africa on a Contiki tour in Europe, as I was living in Scotland working at an office job that had absolutely nothing to do with the Photojournalism that I studied. So in an attempt to change things up I set off to Berlin to start a 14 day trip through Europe.
 
What can I say...it was amazing! I met so many people from all over the world – America, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Korea, China and the United Kingdom. We bonded as travelers and explored Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary together. We laughed, we drank, we sang, we got lost a lot but we also opened our minds to the culture and history of these other countries and at the end it was hard to say goodbye. So I didn't. With the help and advice of my fabulous tour manager Emma I filled in my application form to work for Contiki as a tour manager.


Two interviews, one massive assignment and 66 days of training going to 23 countries later and I was a trained tour manger about to go out on my first tour. Nervous beyond belief clinging to the hope that the intensive training, that I like to refer to as a mixture of the Amazing Race game show and military training, would be enough to get me through my first tour – The European Contrast.


Since training I have been on tour for a sum total of 86 days during which I have completed four tours and taken 194 clients through Europe. I still catch myself not quite believing that my life is my life. Normal people don't have breakfast in the Netherlands, lunch in Belgium and then go to bed in the United Kingdom. They don't walk the streets of Rome describing the ancient Roman history linked to the magnificent sights to be found there. They don't get to experience different cultures on a daily basis and let their curiosity go wild. But as a Contiki tour manager I do, and as difficult as this job can be, which don't get me wrong it definitely can be, it is also the most amazing job I have ever had.


Although this year working as a first year tour manager I have not had much time to do any photographing with my DSLR I have tried to keep in the photographing habit with my mobile phone. So I decided to put some of my photos in a slideshow to give people a look into what I have been doing this past year and hopefully inspire some people to put themselves out there and apply for crazy sounding jobs that can change your life.


video

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Prague


Fear not if you get lost in Prague's maze of cobbled streets and Gothic architecture as beer is often cheaper than bottled water and with no shortage of watering holes I have not doubt that any traveller would be able to find a place to rest their feet, make friends and find a map.  

Wenceslas Square looks more like a boulevard than a square but it is one of the two main squares in the city and is a hub of activity as its streets are lines with hotels, clubs, shops, bars and restaurants. Originally laid out as the Prague horse market 650 years ago the square has come a long way. It can be found in the heart of the New Town area of the city and can hold up to 400 000 people. At the top of the square you will find the National Museum.

Another little bit of info is that if you walk towards the National Museum on your right hand side near the top of the street you will find the Beer Factory where once you have descended the glass staircase you will be able to pour your own beer on tap at your own table. Yip, at your own table and I don't mean one of those beer towers that you buy at the bar and carry to the table but an actual tap built into the middle of the table. It even has a screen where you can keep track how who has drunk how many beers. Endless hours of beer drinking fun. The Czech Republic is well known for its beer some of which have gathered a global following like Pilsner Urquell. Czech beer can be dated as far as back as 1118 when the first brewery was built.


A John Lennon Wall in Prague may seem rather odd especially when you take into account that the man never visited the city, but the wall exists and has a long history of being a memorial and a monument to free speech. In the 1980s the youth of Prague began to fill the wall with Lennon inspired graffiti and lyrics from Beatles songs and despite numerous attempts by the Communist government to keep the wall clean the graffiti keep returning. It's message that voices can not be silenced ringing loud and clear even to this day. The wall is located at Velkoprevorske Namesti, Mala Strana and is worth the visit.




Bursting with activity and a prime meeting spot the Old Town Square is one of the most visited sites in Prague. Dominated by the monument of Jan Hus, who was an important Czech reformer and nationalist, the square is a collage of architectural styles like Gothic, Cubist and Baroque.


The Old Town City Hall can be found on the Square. It is here that civil ceremonies are still held and there is a wedding only exit from the building.


The Astronomical Clock is also housed in the Town Hall Tower which you can climb to get views over the square.








Prague Castle is definitely one of the gems of the city with its 1100 year old history you can get lost in the wonder of its stories. Towering above the city up on the heights of Hradcany you can not miss it. It has managed to survive fires, invasions and World Wars and to the people of Prague it is seen as being a symbol of the living legend of the city.
Inside the castles walls you will find a wonderful example of Gothic architecture in the form of the St Vitus Cathedral which is the biggest and most important church in the Czech Republic. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Prague and the burial site of many important people in Czech history.



If you time your visit to the castle just right you can observe the changing of the guards and depending on the weather you can walk the 278 steps up the Bell Tower.


When I visited the castle we had our own local guide, Shaka, who was great. She made the history of Prague really come alive. If you look closely at the photo below you will see a tower in the background which kind of looks like the Eiffel Tower. This is the Petrin Lookout Tower which was built in 1891 as an observation and transmission tower. You can access the tower either by doing the roughly half hour walk up the paths which can be rather slippery in wet weather or you can jump on the Petrin funicular railway which services the tower.


Parts of Prague will remind you of Venice has it has canals that run through the city. On the bridges that cross these canals you will find padlocks and lots of them. These are love locks attached by couples to symbolise their everlasting love.  


Love locks can even be found on the Charles Bridge which is one of the most famous tourist attractions of Prague. Charles Bridge which crosses the Vtlava (Moldau) River dates back to the reign of Charles IV, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor. It's design and construction was started by Master Otto but continued by Peter Parler who saw it completed in 1402. It was called the Stone or Prague Bridge up until 1870 and is 516m long and 10m wide, which may sound large but because of its popularity now as a tourist spot the bridge can be quite crowded. It rests on 16 arches which are shielded by ice guards and is decorated with 30 statues mostly in the Baroque style which were erected in the 1700s. Although the original statues have been moved to the Lapidary (in the National Museum) and replicas have replaced them the bridge is still a magical portal joining the banks of Prague.