Saturday, October 8, 2011

s c o t l a n d

Over the course of my traveling so far this year I think there are a few things that I realized. One prominent thing I came to recognize was that while I enjoy going to the big and showy metropolitan cities, I really came to enjoy being in the peace and quiet of the country side. This coming from a person who was born and raised in Vancouver, I realize that this might come off as being a little strange. The thing is, every city to me is just that... another city. You don’t get the raw differences and traits that each different country side has to offer. You don’t get the terrain, the weather, the land and seascapes that may be unique to this area and is just not the same anywhere else. It might have been after going to Ireland that I realized how much I enjoyed it, so with that in mind, I decided to go to Scotland following my trip to Turkey.


Saying that, the first place that I flew into was Edinburgh, another big city haha. But we had plans to go into the country side a few days later. It was the Fringe Fest in Edinburgh when we got there. This is a huge event that takes place every year in the month of August in which performers of all kinds set up shows across the city. Stand up comedy and musicals are primarily the hit attractions I think but it seemed like there were huge amounts of people taking part in this. It’s too bad that by the time I got there, it was the last few days of the festival already and most of the tickets were selling out like hot cakes (I can’t believe I just used that reference?). That and I was suffering from food poisoning from my last night in Turkey..... Wanting to hurl every 2-3 hours was not conducive to enjoying this fringe fest in weather that was easily 20 degrees colder than Turkey.

I’m going to sidetrack here but I had to pack a huge bag for this 2 week trip through Turkey and Scotland because I knew the temperatures would be different but I didn’t know I was going from 35+ degree weather in Turkey to about 7 degrees in Edinburgh! So... food poisoning turned into general sickness and flu afterwards. Oh well. All part of the experience!

Moving along... I met up with a friend, Elsa, and we explored Edinburgh together, seeing all the major sights. We took in the views of the city from The Scot Monument (the stairs were extremely narrow mind you. My whole 145lb body barely squeezed through one of the corridors near the top). The thing about Edinburgh is that although it is a big city, you can clearly see the distinction between the Old Town and the rest of the area. The old town was almost medieval looking – very cool and primed for picture taking. It also had an abundance of greenery all around as well. People who go to Edinburgh should definitely make the effort to go up to the top of the Arthur’s Seat. Situated on the east end of the city, the Arthur’s Seat is a very popular exercise and leisure activity as people will job, climb, or waddle along. The views from up there are magnificent. Though a little cold and sick, the view made the climb well worth it. I hear it can be very muddy going up the track during days of rain though so be careful and wear appropriate exercise gear. If you are wearing jeans or nice clothing, you’re bound to get dirty (and not in that way :p). 

After staying 2 nights in Edinburgh, we travelled north by train to the city of Aberdeen. There isn’t much to see here in terms of tourist attractions but we needed to get up here to rent a car which we had prebooked from the airport. From there, we started our road trip towards Glencoe, Ballachulish, Isle of Skye, and the Loch Ness.

Glencoe and Ballachulish

Because the two locations are about 1 mile apart, it just makes sense to put them together. I had seen pictures of the Glencoe on google and couldn’t believe my eyes. With that image in mind, we had to drive south west and go through that area for sure. The views didn’t disappoint despite the cloudy weather we had. There were mountains on either side of the road whose scale really made you feel insignificant. The glen converged on the road as well so it was like you were driving straight through a mountain pass. It was pretty incredible and so grand in scale. I can only imagine what this would look like during a nice sunset (which we did not have unfortunately). We only spent a night in Glencoe but we did take a photography safari from 6-9pm in hopes of catching the sunset. We were driven around by a local who is a fairly well known photographer in the area and he took us to some spots that he believed would give us some good photo opps. I am happy to say that we were not disappointed. Karl is a great guy who is patient, knowledgeable and keen to teach. He had a group of 4 including us and we all varied in experience but he had no issues with making sure that we all received some attention. In total, I think we shot at about 3 locations in the 3 hours but he did spend a good amount of time talking about technical skills, composition, and just general approaches to landscape photography. I came out of it with a deeper understanding of composition and dynamic range through bracketing so it was well worth it for me :) The following pictures were taken during this safari.

If you are in the area of Glencoe during your stay in Scotland and want to learn more about landscape photography, definitely contact Karl. You can find his website here. I would highly suggest you ask for a sunset safari because if the weather cooperates (big IF), you are prime to get some amazing shots no matter what your skill level. Karl will take you to spots he believes provides you with good viewpoints for the kind of light you’re getting so at £35 for the evening, even 1 good shot will make it worthwhile. Unfortunately we had dark and cloudy weather but you make what you can from it! Hence why all the pictures above are black and white or heavily desaturated haha.

We spent the evening in the Ardno House in Ballachulish. It took us a little while to find this place in the dark but when we did, we were pleasantly surprised. After being in hostels for the past 1.5 weeks, it was so nice to come into a warm and cozy home with a huge bedroom, comfy bed, and enormous private bathroom. Alan is the owner of this place and he was nice enough to bring in an extra bed for the floor as the room was only a double and we need a twin. At only £72 for the night, it was a steal honestly. The breakfast was plentiful and incredibly filling. Alan did a great job in suggesting places for us to go along our drive to the Isle of Skye the next day as well. This Bed and Breakfast was only about a 10 minute drive from the Glencoe region so it’s very convenient if you plan to hike or explore this area further.

Isle of Skye

We had both heard about the Isle of Skye from a number of people and the resounding opinion was that it was gorgeous and that it was a beautiful place. We knew we had to go there considering the reviews and the pictures we had seen. So from Ballachulish to the Isle of Skye we drove. It took about 5 hours to get to Portree in the Isle of Skye but the drive was stunning. We were told by Alan that there was a very nice view point if we took the ferry from Glenelg instead of taking the highway so we decided to head for that route. We made the left at the Shiel Bridge and looked for signs for Glenelg. As we drove, the roads got very narrow (only one car could fit through many of the passes and there were winding corners as well). Though, that’s what it is like driving in the UK in the countryside. It was the same in Ireland as well. Roads were fast, narrow, and there were a lot of blind turns so that you have no idea what is coming at you – it was great fun! :D Not sure that Elsa shared that enthusiasm with me though haha.

We followed the road until we saw some stops with high vantage points. There were a few amazing stops for overhead viewpoints of the land and water below. We even ran into some highland cows! They seriously look like the rocker version of our North American counterparts. Too cool right? :) 

After spending some time taking pictures like crazy people, we headed back down towards the ferry. It was a little sketchy to be honest. The platform to get on the ferry was barely on connecting bridge and you just had to think that a slight turn the wrong way and your car would have fallen or tipped over into the water. Anyway, it was only a short ferry ride and we were officially on the Isle of Skye. From there, we drove along a path that was just filled with photographic opportunities. We stopped more than a few times along the way to Portree as we kept snapping away.

We spent 2 nights in the Isle of Skye because we knew that there was so much to see here. We really just roamed around the island for the two days and stopped wherever we saw fit. If we spotted a location that could potentially be a good spot for photos come sunset, we made a note and came back. Luckily, we did get a sunset on one evening after it had chucked down with rain. It goes to show you that just because it rains, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get some good weather for photos afterwards. I am still a newbie at landscape photography but one thing I know that I enjoy is clouds and the sunset colors. I would take clouds over a clear day any day, it just adds so much more drama to the photo. So we stuck around in the car and waited for the rain to stop... and when it did, we quickly ran outside to catch the last bit of light...

We spent the two nights at the Cruinn Bheinn just about 7 miles out of the town of Portree. The room was large for the two of us and the beds were so comfortable! I had no trouble sleeping those two nights that’s for sure. The breakfast portions were huge and the food was quite good – just about everything I could ask for! I even got a lot more grapefruit bits than I requested and who can complain about that? :) The price was only £34 per person per night with breakfast included and for a 4 star bed and breakfast, I would come back here again and again. 

Loch Ness

Our next destination would be the Loch Ness. Most people who know about this place know of it because of the reference to the Loch Ness monster. As children we pictured the monster as being a mysterious dinosaur like creature who roamed the Loch and scared the jebeezus out of the people who encountered her. Well we didn’t see the monster I’m afraid but we did see a great sunset. After finding our bed and breakfast in the very small town called Foyers, we drove out to eat at the local pub in White Bridge. The food was probably the best we had in Scotland – I had a huge craving for steak and Elsa had some haggis and they were both very good and just what we needed after spending hours on the road. After dinner though, we had seen that the sky was opening up and that we could be in for a sunset so we drove along the Loch Ness until we saw a bit of an opening. Sure enough, we got a beautiful sunset that night though... we did encounter a swarm of midges out there (pesky little fly looking things that sucked your blood much like mosquitoes...).

We stayed at the Foyers House for the night. Foyers itself is an extremely small village/town and there isn’t much there to do or see. There are certainly more populated towns to visit if you are staying in the Loch Ness area including Fort Augustus. It was good for us because we really just wanted to put our heads down to sleep here and head back out in the morning but for those looking for a place to stay and to relax... this may not be the spot. We paid £58 between the two of us that night so it was cheap but again, not much cheaper than the previous two places we stayed at and those were much nicer. 


After our night in the Loch Ness, we had a long drive ahead of us towards Aberdeen where we had a flight to catch back to London. On our way back we passed through Inverness and we stopped for a few pictures along the way. The sun was out and we found a wheat field so who can complain? :D We even had McDonalds for lunch lol. Made my day (it was just one of those cravings that comes every month or so but it was so satisfying... until I finished the meal). When we got to the airport, we were both pretty exhausted though. I had been on the go for about 2 weeks and we had driven over 700-800 miles through Scotland. While it flew by I think I was tired enough to go home and get some rest. It actually startled me a bit but I looked forward to getting back to London. Great... just when I am about to leave :/

Friday, September 9, 2011

t u r k e y { c a p p a d o c i a }

Turkey is a huge country with a population of over 70 million people. Although Istanbul is its capital, there really is so much more to visit outside of this city. There is Ephesus and Selcuk if you are into the beach and the ancient Roman ruins. There is Olympus if you enjoy lush greenery and natural sight seeing. Many people though, choose to go to Cappadocia during their visit to this country. The terrain in this region is very, very different to the sights you would see anywhere else really. You’ll see in the photos below but to give you an overview, most people who come to Cappadocia will do so because they want to see the area on a hot air balloon or to simply go hiking. Hot air ballooning in this area is very popular because of it’s wide terrain and its unique landscape. Though expensive, I can tell you that it is well worth it but I will get back to that in a second :)

To get from Istanbul to Cappadocia, most people will choose to either fly or bus. I chose to bus for a few reasons: 1) it was cost efficient at only about 20 Euro’s and 2) it was an overnight bus which meant that I did not have to book any accommodation for that night of traveling. What I didn’t like about this trek was this: 1) it was a 12 hour trip on a bus with smelly people with excessive B.O. and 2) the bus was not air conditioned and the air flow was really bad. Naturally, negative points 1 and 2 together was a very bad combination and this made for a very long and tiring trip. Though I might have saved 80-100 Euros, I had barely any sleep by the time I reached Goreme, Cappadocia. I was not a happy camper but anyway, it was my vacation so no point in complaining! The one consolation is the fact that I got to see one of most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen while on the bus. To give you an idea of what it looked like, it was dark all around except in the horizon where all you could see was mountains, all layered due to their distances away from one another. There was nothing else around us but flat land and endless highway but it was in that horizon that you could see vivid shades of navy blue, purple and even closer to the horizon still, bright orange and reds. I really wanted to get off the bus and take a picture but unfortunately you can't do that! This is why road trips are the best because you can do that whenever you want! Anyway, enough side tracking. The point is, if any of you are considering going to Cappadocia via Istanbul, consider the flight – you will be much more comfortable.

Now, onto the visit: I spent a total of 2 nights and 3 days in Goreme. Cappadocia itself is a huge region, much bigger than I originally thought. Those who visit will likely stay in the Goreme town though. First impressions were that this town was a bit of a ghost town. I don’t mean that in a bad way but coming from Istanbul where there is all this bustlin’ activity, Goreme contrasts greatly. There are a number of restaurants with local Turkish cuisine but don’t expect any bars – there aren’t any.

Hiking - This is a place you go if you enjoy out door activities. I met two girls from New York (Lindsay and Alexandra) and we went out for a hike in the red valley. It was a 5 hour hike in the scorching sun but it was loads of fun and the views made it worthwhile. Between the ghetto speak, the freshly squeezed orange juice, the random fruit picking and the cart wheels, I think we all had a good time! Team KAL made it through alive and well :) In all honesty, it was great meeting you two! We’ll have to meet up again in NYC next time ;)

There are a number of other hikes that you can do while you are here as well so if you like this kind of stuff, make sure you have your hiking boots and sunscreen!


Hot Air Balloon - Like I said before, the main attraction to Cappadocia is the hot air balloon ride. You can book this practically anywhere but expect to pay anywhere around 120-150 Euros per person. The tour group will pick you up from your hotel/hostel at 5am in the morning and you will likely take flight at around 6am. Depending on the time of year that you go, this could be during sunrise or just after it has already come over the horizon. Nevertheless, you are in for some breathtaking views! I was never one to think that I would be interested in hot air balloons at all but I was so glad that I did this one. The flight was smooth and lasted over an hour – though, the pilot gave us a few frights as we almost hit a bridge and a Cliffside :p (I hope she did this on purpose?). Anyway, after an hour and about 100 clicks on the camera later, we were on the ground. It was spectacular and I would recommend anyone do the same. Just remember to wake up on time! I was woken up by mad pounding on my door because I turned off the alarm and went straight back to sleep! D:

Tour - Another popular thing to do around here is to go on an organized tour. I'm not usually a tour type of person because I like to walk around and explore on my own but in an area that is just so big and with the attractions so far apart, it is one of the more efficient ways of seeing the attractions in one go. The most popular tours are the red and green tours. Both are apparently good options but I had to go for the green one for the fact that they took you away from the town of Goreme and into the canyons and an underground city. It was neat to see I guess but after a whole day on this tour, I was itching to walk off on my own. I did meet some cool peeps on this trip as well though, including these two Aussies who wore their hats in the scorching heat all day!

Sunset Point - One other thing you can do while in Goreme is to go up to Sunset point. It is a small climb up to the tip of this mountain but it is situated right in the center of the town and provides a nice view of the sunset. If you get up here during the call of prayer, it gives that much more impact to you being there. It really makes you realize that you are away from the western world.

My two nights were spent in the Guven Cave Hotel (or hostel). It was cheap and comfortable enough. The most important bit was the roof top terrace with the view of the sunset!

Cappadocia was a very worth while side trip - particularly when you have as much as a week in Turkey. The scene might differ from Istanbul in that it is much, much quieter, but for me, it was a good getaway. The added bonus of being able to hike, enjoy the sun, and see the sunrise on a hot air balloon and it is a no brainer to me that anyone who goes to Turkey should come here.  

Thursday, September 8, 2011

t u r k e y { i s t a n b u l }

First off, I'm going to apologize in advance for my photo heavy posts to come! It was a 2 week holiday and I had nothing better to do than eat and snap away so be prepared haha :) Read on with caution...

My longest vacation plan of the year started off as a bit of a mystery. But after meeting people along my travels throughout Europe and through my friends in London, I knew that Turkey had to be one of the places that I spent a good amount of time. With that in mind, I booked a 2 week holiday where I would start off in Turkey and then finish it off in Scotland. With Turkey, I didn't quite know what to expect to be honest with you! I had always envisioned great food and a welcoming culture. A day into my trip, I knew that my expectations were not far from the truth.

The first stop along the way into Turkey was Istanbul. The most well known out of the cities in Turkey, I knew that I would have a good time here. The only thing was, I didn't know how good I time it would be. A city that was hustling and bustling, it differed from London in the sense that it really had an identity. The culture was obvious here... Islam was the culture that dominated this country that housed over 70 million people. It also helped that I came into the country during Ramadan - a period in which those people who practiced Islam would fast for an entire month. They were only allowed to break the fast after the sun set and then it would start up again at the break of dawn.

 I was initially concerned that there might be some complications to traveling into a Muslim country during this religious month but those fears were soon quelled when I learned that a huge amount of locals did not practice this religious fast. We could eat and drink in public without any concerns and that proved to be true! In fact, I am so glad that it was Ramadan when I came here because you could really see and be a part of an interesting part of their culture. Words cannot describe how cool it was to be by the mosque at sunset and to see all the families come together with plates of food in hand as they picnicked in celebration of the day. Seeing people come together like that, you realize that you just don't see that very often where I come from. In hindsight, I would highly recommend that anyone come to Turkey during this month of fasting.

Ok, back to the overview of Istanbul. I finally got into the city at around 2pm in the afternoon but along the way to the hostel, I couldn't help but notice how modern this city was. The airport was down right fancy! It was modern (clean cut lines with lots of windows and polished metal) and it was spacious and well organized. The buildings along the way to the hostel were also of similar look as well. It wasn't until I got into the Sultanahmet area that you saw some of the older buildings but even then it was a mixture of the old and the new. Hopefully the street scenes below will help to illustrate the older side of Istanbul where I stayed primarily. 

Istanbul was beyond awesome and it far exceeded my expectations. Aside from being the one place that has both a European and Asian side (literally, the Bosphorus River separated the area into a portion that belongs to Europe and the other that belongs to Asia!), it was incredible in so many other aspects. I will be back here but what made this visit so good was the people that I had met. Alexandra, Mena, Mattias, Justin and I wandered the city together and had a blast doing it. We might have been from Canada, America, Australia, and Germany but we met randomly in Turkey! This is one of the reasons that I love traveling so much.


There were a total of 3 mosques that I visited during my time in Istanbul. Probably the most famous, the Blue Mosque was the first one that I visited. It really is something to stand next to it in wonder at how large and mythical this place is. Maybe it is just me but there is this mystique about the Muslim religion and how there are so many followers who strongly believe in its lessons and this thought definitely made the visit even more special. Arabic artwork is truly something to behold in person. It is so different from what we are used to in North America and Western Europe. There are just so many different colors, patterns, and designs that are distinctive to the Muslim culture in general. I have never seen anything like it. The scale of the mosque from the outside was grand but it was even more amazing inside. The paintings were fading and you could see it's imperfections - but like anything else to me, perfection is just not that appealing. It gave the mosque such character and feeling of history seeing how the paintings were faded on the edges and that there were markings on the walls and ceilings.

The other aspect of the Muslim religion that I got to experience was the call to prayer. This happened 5 times every day (sunrise, sunset, and three other times during the day depending on the position of the sun). Now I have heard this in movies before and I had heard about it more than a few times in reading... but until you have heard it in person, next to a mosque or on a mountain top, overlooking the sunset, you just don't know. All you are left to do is to listen and relish that moment. No matter what I write, I won't be able to appropriately describe the feeling of listening to this call. It truly is a magical sound that represents the religion so perfectly (at least from an outsider's point of view). I uploaded a video of this sound below.

Note to all that visit the mosques in Europe or any other place for that matter however: the guideline is to always have your shoulders and legs covered up. A long dress that covers the knees is generally good enough for a girl trying to get in - though, you will also be required to wear a scarf around your head as well. Guys need only wear a tshirt and pants (they let me in wearing shorts but you can't always count on that).


There are a few markets within Istanbul that are well worth seeing if only to get a glimpse of the culture and the upbeat tempo of the bazaar. The Grand Bazaar really is grandiose - note that you will get lost but that's alright! I spent about 2 hours just wandering around aimlessly and to me, that's the best way of seeing a place you are traveling to anyway! They sold everything from lamps to Turkish delights to rugs and jewelry. If you are looking for something to buy, you'll likely find it here. The shop keepers can be pushy in trying to get you into the store so that you will be pressured to buy right on the spot. You'll have to build up some level of "rudeness" in order to push them away - don't feel bad about it either, a simple "no" followed up by walking away is a perfectly appropriate response since it saves their time in trying to coerce you as well.


The spice bazaar was a really neat experience. I'm a huge foodie so I enjoy anything tasty and this place was perfectly suited to that habit. The smell of the many different types of spices there was almost intoxicating. They had everything from indian saffron to meatball spices to traditional Turkish mixes. The other aspect about this spice market was that they also sold many traditional Turkish treats as well. This includes Turkish delights in the form of honey and pistachio, cocunut-honey-pistachio and many others. The owners of the store are glad for you to try them out as they are very generous with the tasters. I might not have the biggest sweet tooth but I really enjoyed these treats. Being a bit of a food lover, I enjoyed this market the most of all.

Yes, I am immature but seriously this is a great endorsement of the product? lol
There were also other markets on the street as well that sold clothing, guns, etc, etc. I could go on and on but I will let the pictures give you an idea of what it looked like. 


I'm sure most of you have had some form of Turkish food before. Kebabs and donairs are Turkish in nature and something that you could get in abundance on the street. I'm a huge fan of street food as it gives you an idea of what the locals eat and a better idea of how this food is a part of their culture. I had a ton of this as well as kebab plates which were cooked in a pot. A very meaty diet, Turkish food mainly specializes in lamb and chicken. Luckily, those two happen to be some of my favorite meats so I couldn't complain :) Although, I did get sick off of something I ate on my final night here in Istanbul… not sure what it was but anyway, it’s bound to happen when you travel around so much I guess! 

The turkish coffee is very interesting as well. It comes in a small cup not unlike Italian Espresso but it tastes nothing like it. I am a black coffee man and I like (love) my Italian espresso on the go but this coffee was BITTER. It also has this heavy grit at the bottom of the cup which you are not supposed to drink... If I am to speak honestly, I would say that I did not enjoy Turkish coffee... it just wasn't my cup of brew.

The ice cream that was served on the streets was an interesting experience to say the least. It was chewy and gum like in its elasticity. Yet, the taste was pretty much the same as the ice cream you have on a regular basis. The entertaining bit was trying to get the ice cream from the vender. They play with you until you've given up. In the process, you get made a fool in front of the entire crowd on the street but hey, it was fun :D I am going to work on uploading a video of this taking place with Mattias. It was hilarious, believe me. 


I chose to stay in the Metropolis Hostel right in the Sultanahmet area. It gets some fairly high ratings on Hostelworld and for good reason! Although I stayed in a 8 bedroom dorm, the people I met there is what made this the trip that it was. The bathroom situation was a bit peculiar with 1 bathroom between about 16-20 people but for some reason there were no issues around this at all. They had a great roof top terrace which overlooked the water and it was a perfect spot to chill out and relax before heading out for the night. We spent most evenings on this rooftop, drinking beer and chatting away. Highly recommended! Although... be weary of the food that is served... I got food poisoning on the last night I was here...


Overall, Istanbul was a complete blast. There is just so much to see and do. Anyone looking to come to Turkey will in all likelihood come through this City. The only thing you need to make sure of is that you are open minded and that you give yourself at least 3 full days for exploring and maybe an extra day to relax. 

Friday, August 19, 2011

c o r n w a l l

As part of my travels in Europe, I had always wanted to visit the English country side. Part of that infatuation had been because I had always wanted to see the rolling green hills, the sheep – basically the natural surroundings that would be so untouched in comparison to the city. One of the places that I had been told about many times was Cornwall. Off to the west coast of the island of the United Kingdom, Cornwall was known as the beach town in this region. It was far away however as the easiest way to get there is probably by car and I didn’t have one while I was here. The reason why I say it would be the easiest is because without one, you just don’t get wander around like you would want to. But this weekend, myself and my friend Bhawi drove there (she drove from Manchester!) so that we could explore the area.

The drive did take a little while but it was worth it. The first town we went into was Newquay. There was a surfing and music festival while we were there so the town was buzzing with people but it was a nice vibe. The beaches were all full of sand and the views were brilliant. There were plenty of waves, of varying sizes, so you could see why people liked to bring their boards here.

After we spent some time in Newquay, we continued to drive up the coast towards the town of Padstow. This is where we stayed the night in a fairly budget looking hotel in the Cross Hotel. It wasn’t cheap though! I don’t think Cornwall is meant to be but anyway, there were plenty of more expensive places available, we just chose this one since we just needed a place to put our heads down. 

The next day, we went down to Saint Ives which we really enjoyed. A beautiful coastal town, it was easily the most developed of the towns we stepped foot on in Cornwall. There were even palm trees that made us think twice about where we actually were (were we even in the UK?). In addition to that though, the waters were so transparent and turquoise in color. It was beautiful and it was hard to find a reason to complain, we had some good food there and enjoyed some very welcome sunshine as we walked along the harbor and the beach side. 

The weather wasn’t great while we were here but this is the British Summer. So long as it didn’t rain, I thought we were in good shape. We were able to venture out and see some random cliffs and coast lines. It was still very much worth while.


For dinner, we went to a restaurant called the Cornish Arms. It was located very near Padstow but it had some quality food. Essentially a pub/restaurant, the food produced out of this place were very tasty. They even allowed dogs in as well which most families took advantage of. I love this about the country side – people have the decency to only bring in pups and dogs that are well mannered enough. The other thing is too that the people there are so friendly. Do this in the city and you will have a completely different mix of people…

Anyway, I had a ribeye with peppercorn steak while Bhawi had the whole fresh seabass with fennel mayonnaise and new potatoes. It was delicious and a good way to prepare ourselves for the “sunset” shot.

When in Cornwall, I was told by people that you had to have some of the Cornish food. This included the Cornish ice cream which I did end up trying in Newquay. It was slightly yellow/orange in color but it was distinctively very sweet and refreshing. Oh and I also had the Cornish Original Pasty. This is a pasty which was stuffed with onion, potato and beef. SO GOOD, SO CRISPY, SO HOT. Lol. It was good, if you couldn’t tell. 


I would love to come back here when the weather is nice so that I can take more pictures and actually take in on some surfing. Cornwall is beautiful and a lot bigger than I actually thought! Definitely worth going to and worth staying for at least 4 days – we only had 2 but it was a nice taster of what would be if we stayed for the holidays. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

c r o a t i a p t II { s p l i t }

After spending  3 nights in the old town of Dubrovnik, I headed off for the second half of my trip to Split. This town is due north of where I was staying so it required some travel but there were quite a few options. Whether you choose to travel by plane, ferry, car, or bus, it really is up to your own preference and budget. If you chose to drive up to Split, the benefit is that you would get to stop wherever you would like and take photos from a number of look out points. As you drive through the highways, you really take in the mountainous terrain and the blue ocean – the views were gorgeous.

I chose to travel by bus since it was the most economical way of traveling and it wasn’t too long – only 4.5 hours. It was air conditioned so it wasn’t too bad. Buses run every hour on the hour from 5am to 10pm so you don’t have to worry if you miss one. After traveling 4.5 hours though, you get pretty tired and restless. When I arrived in Split, I couldn’t wait to just stretch and walk along the beach.


My first thoughts of Split were that it is definitely much bigger than the old town of Dubrovnik. There was also a stretch along the pier that is much more modern than most of the areas I’ve seen in Croatia – palm trees and lots of restaurants allowing customers to dine al fresco. The area had a nice summer holiday feel to it. It was the perfect excuse to sit down and down a beer before heading over to find my hostel (which luckily for me, was only 5 minutes away from the beach).

I got really lucky with my hostel actually – staying in a double apartment on my own with air conditioning and a fancy shower, I couldn’t complain. The bigger benefit was that it was a heck of a lot cheaper than any hotel in the area! I stayed with CroParadise Green Hostel when I was there.

The first day I arrived, I really just roamed along the pier area and the palace in the middle of Split. A large portion of the city center is a Unesco site and therefore much of the architecture and surrounding areas are preserved. You could tell too – the buildings were very old but full of character. You could still see some Roman ruins within the city as well. Everywhere you look, you could see that the buildings were worn down but they were so colorful. I could stare at the buildings for a good while but the Mediterranean sun that was beating down on me told me to do otherwise. 

Vis – Komiza – Bisevo
On the second day, I took a ferry to the island of Vis. This is one of the islands that is further away from Split so it took a good 2 hours each way but you go to Vis if you want to see the Blue Grotto in Bisevo. A bit of a natural phenomenon, the sun hits the water in a way that makes the entire cave glow blue – this includes the water and the walls. So with something as enticing as that luring me, I couldn’t resist. The ferry will only take you to Vis but on the other side of the island is where you need to be. Hop on the bus that is right in front of the ferry exit and that will take you right into Komiza (this is the departure point for all boats taking you into the cave). It only takes another 20 minutes or so thankfully – after a 2 hour ferry ride, I was ready to take a bit of a break from sitting haha. 

Once in Komiza, I noticed right away how laid back this place was. All the restaurants had dining areas outside by the harbor and were covered – important as the mid day sun is pretty brutal. It was already 12 but before I could even have lunch, I was told that a boat to the Bisevo Island where the cave was located was leaving at 12:30. I had been told that there are some days where boats can’t even make it to the cave due to the weather / waves. If they were leaving today, I couldn’t take the chance on tomorrow – I would go now. We took a speed boat to the island and I gotta tell yah, cool sea breeze on a speed boat… not much more relaxing than that :) Anyway, when we arrived at the cave, I was amazed at how small it was. You had to duck down to prevent yourself from being hit by the ceiling. Once we were inside though, I quickly forgot about how small the place was or how hot it had been outside. The entire cave was glowing in this cool blue. The water was so transparent, it was as if you could see all the way to the bottom. The light reflected off the water giving the cave walls a blue tint as well – didn’t think I would see anything like it – it is moments like these that remind me of why I enjoy traveling so much. Anyhow, for those of you that plan on seeing this cave in the future, you do not need to stay overnight in Komiza or Vis. You can definitely base yourself out of Split and make it a day trip – so long as the weather works in your favor and the boats can get in and out of the cave. There are lots of agencies that will take you there so there are plenty of options. 


On the last full day that I had in Croatia, I met up with Angela and we went to Hvar. The ferry took us to Stari Grad which is on the Hvar Island but at the end of the day, I wanted to go to Hvar if we had the time. The most random thing happened on the ferry ride though: About ¾ of the way through our ferry ride, we decided it was too hot on the deck and went downstairs so that we could take in some of the air conditioning. That’s where we started talking Josip.

The conversation went from “hi” to “where are you headed?”, to which I replied, “Stari Grad”. He quickly said that Hvar is where you wanted to go, hands down. Hearing that from a local, it quickly set my mind on going to Hvar – the problem was, we would need to catch another bus ride from the ferry terminal to the other side. That is when Josip just asked if we wanted a ride! I was in a little disbelief and to be honest, I wasn’t too sure what to think of it at first but we obliged – we were short on time and it seemed like he was nice enough.

Next thing you knew, we were flying down the highway in his Jeep Grand Cherokee towards Hvar! Turns out Josip was raised in New Zealand but his family is from Croatia. He had recently come back to live in Zagreb which is in the northern part of the country. Then… more randomness, midway through the drive, he says, “do you have time for a drink or do you want to grab a bite to eat? I’ll show you a place that you wouldn’t know unless you were a local.” A sharp turn, an extremely secluded, narrow path and severe drops later, we arrived at this little beach bar which had the most incredible location. It was situated on a small, quiet beach where customers were swimming in the crystal clear waters or having a beer and a bite to eat. When we got out of the car, I was just stunned that we would find this spot of all places to sit down, relax, and have a few glasses of local white wine. We walked up to the bar and saw that there was a VIP Reserved sign for this table he wanted – he promptly proceeded to take off the sign and walk right up. The view from here was incredible. I just can’t even describe the feeling of sitting there, on the highest point of the bar, with a view of the Mediterranean, the cool sea breeze blowing against our faces, and all with a glass of wine at the ready. We would NEVER have found this place had it not been for Josip. You could tell he was a local as he spoke with everyone like they’d known each other for a long time.

After drinking our bottle of wine, he drove us into town – but not before he took us off-roading in the mountains with his car lol. Seriously, Josip had to be the most laid back 45 year old we had ever met! We had to get a picture before we left. 

The rest of the evening, we walked around Hvar and thoroughly enjoyed it. We didn’t see any sandy beaches but the waters, the sun, the beautiful people, how could you say no? The whole town had this vibe to it that drew you right in. In retrospect, I wish I spent at least a night here but I suppose that is something I could do next time I am here ;) 


The food in Split is no different than in Dubrovnik as one can imagine. Definitely recommended that you eat out doors as that is the only way you can enjoy the view and the sea breeze – in fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone dining inside. In Komiza I had a delicious spaghetti with truffles and prosciutto. It also came with a fish pâté which worked nicely with the bread provided. There a bunch of restaurants by the water that will serve the same thing - you couldn't go wrong.

Myself and Angela had dinner one night with people that we’d met during this trip in Split. The restaurant was called Fife (Trumbiceva obala 11, Split 21000, Croatia) – it was highly recommended by at least 3 locals so we thought it had to be good. It definitely did not disappoint. The portion sizes were great, the food smelled and tasted like a properly done, home cooked meal. All at the fraction of the prices you would find on the main tourist strips in Split or Dubrovnik. I ordered the Pork Ribs in Mushroom Sauce and the Seafood Risotto. I would highly recommend anyone who is in Split to give this place a try – you couldn’t beat it if you consider the prices you are paying.

Left to Right: Me, Angela, Annette, Katrina, Maggie

In Hvar, myself and Ange wandered into this alley way where we found a hostel restaurant called, Marinero Bistro (Banket bb, 21450). It is somewhat secluded but it is along the port area, and if you look closely, you will see a sign pointing you up towards the restaurant. It started off kind of quiet but it filled up quickly and before you knew it, there were long queues. The food was very modestly priced - you could get a full dinner for about 5 EUROs. I personally had the tuna spaghetti and Ange had the calamari.


So that does it for my trip in Croatia. Seven days, a nice brown skin tone, enough vitamin D to last the rest of the summer, and a bit of a beer belly later I am now back in London. It was a great trip and it was a great way to get away from the fast paced London atmosphere. I’ve said this before but being born in Vancouver, I have always loved being by the ocean and being amongst the mountains and the natural surroundings – I don’t think I could ever stay away from this kind of environment. Croatia had all of that in a summer holidays type of setting. So if you enjoy the great summer sun, sun tanning or walking along a beach, warm and clean (enough) turquoise / clear water, beautiful people (:p) and friendly people, Croatia is a great place to be. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

c r o a t i a p t I { d u b r o v n i k }

In search of a relaxing vacation, I asked my friends in Europe about places that they've been. Between 5 places that I listed, I asked them to tell me which 3 would be "can't miss" locations - Croatia happened to be one of them. I didn't know what to expect from Croatia prior to this but let's just say that having been here for this trip, I now know what the hype is about.

My trip to Croatia was the first 7 day holiday that I'd taken so far this year (all my previous trips were 4 days or less) so it goes to show you how much you can do in a few days but coming into this one, I was almost at a loss at what I could do. I arrived in Dubrovnik on another 6am flight (I really despise these but you can't argue with the ticket prices) on the 30th of July. It was definitely hotter than in London - 30 degrees versus 16-18. But it was pleasant since you were right by the Mediterranean Sea as it brought this cool sea breeze every once in a while.  Anyway, the landscape was incredibly gorgeous. As you can imagine, being by the ocean, with a mountain filled landscape, it always gave you something to look at.

I stayed in Dubrovnik Old Town which is basically where you want to stay when you are here. At the very least, you might spend the most of your time here when you are in Dubrovnik. It really is small enough to walk around in 1 day, it's almost impossible to get lost here but I love how it is built. Small little alley ways with cobble stone - mostly clean. The thing about Europe is that even if you call it an alley way, there are little cafe's and restaurants strewn all over with chairs outside for you to sit in. That is very much the case in Croatia as well.

Probably the best thing to do here is to walk along the town walls. Dubrovnik is surrounded by a wall that encloses the entire area but you can walk along the wall and see the views of the Mediterranean and the surrounding area. It really is gorgeous and it will only take you about an hour and 10 euros to get through. Remember though, that the gates to the walls close early - about 7:30pm. During the peak of summer, this will likely prevent you from catching any shots during the sunset but if you time if perfectly and are good at persuasion, you might just get it ;)

On my second day here, I decided to go and try something that I've been wanting to do for ages... scuba diving. What better place to do it than in the Mediterranean? Alright, I know there are probably loads of locations that have amazing dive locations but this wasn't half bad :) The beginners course took place in the Hotel Palace which is a 5 star resort just outside of the old town - you have to take bus #4 there and it is the last stop on the line which makes it nearly impossible for you to get lost. Anyway, the experience was awesome! The water was so transparent and clean looking and it had the Mediterranean turquoise color to it as well. Definitely a must do for anyone who is in the area.

There are no real beaches in the old town so you will have to go out of the town a little ways to find one. Maybe a bit of a hassle but considering how small the town is, it is worthwhile to do day trips anyway. On my third day, I went on a day trip to the Elaphite Islands (three were visited including Kolocep, Sipan and Lopud) and spent the day lounging on the sandy beaches and enjoying the weather and scenery. Even got to meet two very nice Aussies who live in London - Katrina and Maggie. Wandering around with them during the day and catching up again for dinner was loads of fun and it was great meeting you two! 


In terms of food, Croatian cuisine is centered around seafood. With that in mind, any time I sat down at a restaurant, I tried to order the fish of the day. The restaurants that I did go to for dinner were not in the main road, Placa. Instead, they were right next to my apartment on the strip called Prijeko - there are lots of restaurants along this stretch and they weren't crowded with as many tourists as those by the harbor. Anyway, back to the food - I sat down at Ragusa 2 the first night and had fresh grilled sea bass with boiled potatoes. It was certainly fresh but maybe a bit over done - still, it wasn't unsatisfying :)

The second night I stopped at Moby Dicks and had the monk fish. These are quite easily the ugliest fish I have ever seen - like something from another planet who was beaten with an ugly stick but slice it up into small steaks and grill it and you have something there. Simply grilled and topped with high quality olive oil, this was a very pleasant surprise!

Another thing I ate with great frequency was ice cream. When you are in the midst of 30+ degree weather, you yearn for certain things - ice cream was definitely amongst those things. Maybe not as good as in Italy but pretty close. So here's an obligatory ice cream shot.


Dubrovnik is a beautiful little town. Definitely small but lots of life here - although much of that life is due to the tourists really. You won't see too many locals living in the Old Town but you won't feel lost either since you are surrounded by loads of people in the same boat as you. I highly recommend anyone going to Croatia to visit Dubrovnik but I would honestly say, 2-3 days max. If you stay any longer, you'll run out of things to do - so supplement that time with day trips to the islands like Korcula or Mljet. Anyway, on a side note: TONS of beautiful people here haha. On to Split now, will be there for the remainder of my trip. I'll be sure to update you when I get back from there!