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Chris Lewis's Posts
Chris has posted 63 reports and 70 photos.

Existing reports and photos: (Mouseover any camera icon for sample images. Click on any camera icon for all images)

Abu Dhabi Visit: 2009-12
2010-03-08 - A few days in Abu Dhabi on the way back to Munich. Not really what I expected. Lots of big skyscapers but there are also lots of gardens. It's not as new and gleaming as I expected either. Add in an 80% expats community mainly Indians and Filipinos and it's a mixed up place. But because of all these things I enjoyed it more than expected, great to walk around both on the streets and in the gardens as well as the huge shopping malls.

Anatolia (Turkey in Asia) Visit: 2007-10
2010-03-20 - Bit of a cheat this one as I only did a ferry trip up the Bosphorus which gave me a couple of hours in Anadolu Kava?? on the Asian side. A nice fishing village with some quite cheap fish restaurants.

Austria Visit: 2009-8
2010-03-08 - Großglockner Hochalpenstraße
From the website: "The most famous alpine road leads you into the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park, to the highest mountain in Austria, the Grossglockner (3,798m) and its glacier, the Pasterze. You will have a driving and nature experience of a special kind on 48 kilometres of high alpine road with 36 bends, and an altitude ascent to 2,504 metres"

Probably the best road I've ever driven and the weather was amazing, the sort of day on which to tourist board would take its photos. We drove all the way to Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe where you get a good view of The Grossglockner (the highest peak in the photo on the right).

A great drive but there were bloody idiots cycling up there, I guess for fun. I think I'll stick to the lovely Audi A3.

Baden-Wurttemberg Visit: 1993-9
2010-03-09 - The Black Forest. Checked into a real old German Gasthuis and then hit the road to explore. Drove back after dark. I've never been anywhere so dark. No light pollution at all. First time I've been anywhere so dark since leaving Devon. And it's so isolated, I could imagine running off the road and not be found for a week.

Bavaria Visit: 2010-4
2010-03-09 - Started back and first stop Garmisch. The gateway to Zugspitze (The Top of Germany). We decided to go as high as possible as fast as possible which meant taking the cable car to the top. 1000m to 3000m in one cable car journey. What a view from the top. Peaks, peaks and more peaks. The Alps may not be as high as the Himalayas but they seem to go on for ever.

Once again the top of the mountain was cold 'only' -4, but a bitter wind. How do they build these sky stations up here in such hostile conditions. From the top could see the ski run at Garmisch. I love the mountains.

Belize Visit: 1998-3
2010-03-08 - San Ignacio is a unique blend of America's Old West and tropical backwater where wooden shops line narrow streets. It's a great base for exploring the caves, river and hills surounding. And the focal point of the town for backpackers is Eva's Restaurant and Bar. Afternoon was spent canoeing on the Macal River. We paddled up river, up 4 sets of rapids before eventually stopping. It was hard work and by the end I was starting to get blisters on my hands!

Over to Caye Caulker. Manjana. That's a word we heard a lot. We were told not to order breakfast if we had any other plans before lunchtime. Caye Caulker is everything I'd expect from the Caribbean, sun, sea and a totally doped up, laid back raggae atmosphere. Heaven, but don't expect anything to happen quickly.

Spent 2 days out on the reef snorkelling including 'Shark-Ray Alley' where we up close with the Nurse Sharks and Southern Sting-rays. The place was full of the creatures and they readily approached us, having been conditioned to this by numerous other tourist visits.

Brussels-Capital Region Visit: 2000-3
2010-03-08 - Living and working in Brussels was fun but I wasn't a great fan of Brussels itself. It has some nice areas, some lovely buildings and grand squares but the whole city looks old and tired. Some places can look old and historical, quirky or endearing, but Brussels just looks old. The place needs a facelift, a modernising touch and a complete de-frogging, it's far too French! Oh and of course it's far too bureaucratic.
The photo is of the 'naked' (as it's usually dressed in some costume or other) Mannequin Pis. Yes, that's it, hardly an impressive statue to symbolise the whole city.

Cambodia Visit: 2006-10
2010-03-07 - Crossed the border from Thailand by car and travelled along National Highway 6 to Siem Reap. The rainy season had just finished, the road had been completely impassable 2 weeks before. In many places there was a water running across the road and in quite a few the road had been washed away completely. At a couple of points young boys were directing vehicles through, keeping them on the navigable path. Then we come up to a traffic jam. The road is completely out. But we got up to the front and there were tractors to pull cars through. The water at one point reached up to the bottom of the car windows. Some how we got through and stayed dry.

Temples of Angkor. What can I say about it? It's a lot of temples covering a very big area. Once we'd had our photos taken for our 3 day passes it was off to the first area of temples and The Bayan. A huge fortified area, surrounded by a moot. The most amazing part for me were the intricate carvings on the second set of walls. These show everything from their daily life. The wars, the parades, differing peoples, and most interesting village life. Cooking, dancing, playing games, so much of it seemed much as it is today.

The Land Mine Museum is definitely worth a visit. Set up by a guy who clears mine-fields and collects the different types of mines. He uses the museum to fund teaching for children who've lost limbs through mines. The kid who showed up around had lost a leg walking across a rice field. His sister and brother who were walking behind him were killed.

Next Phnom Penh. Toulsleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields. The museum was quite like Auschwitz, police style photos of those who passed through, torture equipment, photos of torture victims etc and the story was brought to life by our guide, who was surprisingly candid about how life was then and how life still is today.

We left Cambodia down the Mekong on the ferry between Phnom Penh and Chau Doc in Vietnam. It runs once a day and only carries about 30 or 40 passengers. Travelling down the Mekong with the flow of the river, only stopping off for the formalities at the border crossing which is shown below. The bags are meant to be removed from the boat and passed through airport style checks but a few dollars changed hands and they stayed on board the boat. All up the journey took about 5 hours.

Catalonia Visit: 2004-5
2010-03-11 - I love Barcelona. 15 degrees in January. The Ramblas is perfect for promenading. The sights and the sounds of Spain. All the way down to Port Vell. Took a boat trip around the harbour. Amazing how big some of container ship are, towering over our little boat.

Lazy day in a beautiful city. Took the cable car from Port Vell over the port and up to Montjuic. The view is amazing over the port and the city. On the way back I visited the L'Aquarium the biggest Aquarium in Europe. It's amazing covering the whole range of marine life found in the Mediterranean and beyond. It's a strange feeling walking through a tunnel underneath a tank while sharks swim overhead.

Finished off the day with Tapas and rioja for dinner.

Costa Rica (mainland) Visit: 1998-2
2010-03-08 - Left San Jose early evening headed for The Monteverde Rainforest. On the way stopped at some hot springs. Lazed in the hot spa and all the stress of the last few days drained away. We left tired and light-headed from the steam and finally hit our beds after mid-night.

'SKY WALK is a combination of suspension bridges and platforms built in the cloud forest, that offers an opportunity to explore the forest canopy in a safe and easy manner. SKY WALK allows a vision of the forest from a different perspective which starts with a walk on the ground through the forest, and takes you up to explore the tops of the trees.'

Personally I found it too sterile and US tourist orientated. I spent the afternoon walking around the forest floor on my own. Enjoyed having some time to myself and along the way saw the 'Elusive resplendent Quetzal', woodpeckers, humming birds and lots of other brightly coloured birds.

Croatia (other) Visit: 2009-11
2010-03-08 - Dubrovnik is tourist. An ancient port, a beautifully preserved (or is it rebuilt) walled city and a Cruise Boat in harbour so the tiny streets teaming with tourists. The boat / ship / bloody huge floating hotel was called the Costa Fortuna but judging by the people who came off it I'm assuming a place on the cruise didn't. But despite the number of people the Old City is gorgeous. It has been totally rebuilt and I guess is better than new. It City is built looking out to see, perfect City Walls, a main artery and many narrow streets leading off. Cobbled streets, Catholic Churches, fountains, restaurants and gift shops.

Czech Republic Visit: 2001-10
2010-03-08 - Prague looks great. The river, bridges, the old streets and lovely squares. Above the Prague Astronomical Clock and right the Charles Bridge.
Some great Czech beer and tasty gamey food. Venison, rabbit and pheasant not things you see on an everyday menu. My sort of town.

Denmark Visit: 1993-5
2010-03-08 - Over to Copenhagen using the seemingly very efficient ferry service. There was a bridge under-construction which I'm sure will make the journey even quicker in the future. (It opened in 1998.)

Copenhagen seems like a cross between Amsterdam and London. Quite quiet, beer on sale from vans on every corner, the national food seems to be Polse a sort of hot dog.

Spent the evening in the Tivoli Gardens. A big open park full of attractions. Very impressive, rides, concerts, light shows.

Dubai Visit: 2009-12
2010-03-08 - Dubai was not how I expected. It has the huge skyscrapers but also a fantastic old working port. Dubai Creek dominates the old port with boats ferrying people back and fore. There's more to Dubai than the super-rich.

England Visit: 2010-3
2010-03-11 - I grew up in Devon in the South West of England. It's a beautiful rural area with a spectacular coast line. My home town Bideford is now a quiet town near the estuary of the Torridge River but in the past it was one of the biggest ports in England.

"Bideford Quay was first built in 1663 by the corporation. By the end of the 17th century the town had a large share in the Newfoundland trade, sending out more ships in 1699 than any other port except London and Topsham. Above all, it was the tobacco trade with Maryland and Virginia which made the largest Bideford fortunes, a trade which was at its height c. 1680-1730, and ceased about 1760. It was during this period that Bideford became the leading port in North Devon, far surpassing its ancient rival of Barnstaple. The handsome houses in Bridgeland Street (c. 1690- 1700) and the Royal Hotel, at East-the-Water, formerly a merchant's house, testify to the wealth of these days. One after another, however, Bideford's over-seas trades dwindled or collapsed, mostly as a result of the incessant wars of the 18th century, and partly because of the collapse of the woollen industry in the county. By the early 19th century only a coasting trade remained."

Estonia Visit: 2006-9
2010-03-08 - Got the car eventually (it arrived 45 minutes late and I was beginning to worry!) And after saying STAY RIGHT to myself 100 times I set off. Bare in mind I'm in the middle of a city I don't know, reading signs I don't understand heading in some vague direction. Add in the fact that half of Tallinn is being dug up and there are diversions all over the place and you get an idea of the fun I had.

After half an hour or so I hit the open road, and the right one at that. I like add a little bit of educational stuff in amongst waffling on about me so here is today's juicy morsel, Estonia is flat. Really flat. You just won't believe how vastly mind-bogglingly flat it is. I mean, you may think Holland is flat, but that's just peanuts to Estonia. Apologies to Douglas Adams. It's also covered in trees. Over 50% of the whole country is forest. Atleast it gives them something to burn when it gets cold in winter.

Anyway what did I see apart from flat land covered in tress? Some lovely old wooden traditional homes and some horrible Russian built 'council house' blocks. Signs to warn you of Elk crossing the road. Lake Pepsi (Peipsi) which is big. Really big ... I was hoping to be able to see across the lake and see Russia on the other shore. No chance. Just lake all the way to the horizon. After a lot of hunting I found Kauksi Holiday Village expecting to find a beach resort. But the season is May till August and it was deserted apart from one lonely cat that was really pleased to see me.

Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina Visit: 2009-11
2010-03-08 - First stop stop Sarajevo. Border between East and West Roman Empires, the Ottomans, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand, Winter Olympics, Siege. That's all you really need to know about Sarajevo. Some call it the Jerusalem of the West, where all religions meet. No wonder there've been a lot of wars in the area!

As always the taxi ride from the airport was a real white knuckle ride. Why are all taxi drivers in these countries mad. The route in passes through 'Sniper's Alley' the way he drove I think I still thought he had to avoid the bullets. Cutting across lanes and running the lights all accompanied by the sound of a beeping horn. Sarajevo itself is quite nice. River running through to middle, a Middle Eastern area with mosques and a bazaar, generally looks quite poor and run down buy not as much war damage as I expected.

Flemish Region Visit: 2000-1
2010-03-08 - Bruges, the Venice of Northern Europe. Beautiful squares, beautiful canals and beautiful beer. A little gem and only an hour from Brussels.

Greece (other) Visit: 2008-2
2010-03-09 - After an OK lunch of traditional Greek stuff, grilled sausages for starter and fried cod (bakaliaros) for main with a huge dollop of garlicky potato and olive oil sauce (skorthalia) I headed up to Filopappos Hill for some more great views. Athens is dominated by a number of hills that are basically huge rocks. Filopappos Hill is covered in pine trees and a maze of paths. It contains a number of historic sites but it's the view which is most impressive. During the 1687 Siege of Athens, the Venetians stationed themselves on the hill and shelled the Ottoman occupied Acropolis. One shell hit the Parthenon where the Turks had stored their gun-powder causing the explosion that did most of the damage to The Acropolis and treasures that were stored there. As happens the world over idiot governments fight over stuff and just destroy it so that no one can have it.

Guangdong Visit: 2006-11
2010-03-07 - Overnight (14 hour) sleeper train from Guilin to Hong Kong. I didn't see much of Guangdong so here's a piece I wrote on the train leaving China.

Warning: I'm about to go off on one of my rants so you may want to skip to the end of today's entry!

I won't be sorry to be leaving China. The scenery is spectacular but a bit like going to Paris it would be great were it not for the locals. The Chinese in general, and the men in particular, are the most rude, inconsiderate, impolite people I have ever met, the French included! A few examples. When we were in Vietnam there was a lot more traffic but it flowed much better because they filtered, let others into the queues etc, in China two cars can cause gridlock with both not giving an inch. A guy walking down the street will hold up a stream of traffic by walking well away from the kerb oblivious to (and not giving a damn about) the trouble he's causing, rather keeping to the side and letting cars pass. Queuing, forget it. We reached the station and it was a mad scrum to get into the ticketing hall. Worse of all on the way down from Longji we were on a mini-bus and the floor was full of baskets and stuff. An old guy at the back of the bus was trying to get off. Of course no one moved any of their baskets for him, but he was scrambling OK and about to make it to the front. Then a younger guy who must have seen the old guy trying to get off just jumped on the bus and pushed past, knocking the old guy to the side. Surely the letting others off before boarding policy is basic common sense not just politeness?

At first I just thought the complete lack of consideration for others was an anti-Westerner thing, but they all treat each other in exactly the same way. It's so against everything I was brought up to believe. Opening doors for others, saying after you, queuing, all the basic things that make the world a nice place. I can give as good as I get and more when fighting my way to the front of a queue and a couple of guys did catch a couple of quite good elbows from me, but I it really gets me when I see others getting knocked around. I really can not see myself ever living in China.

Rant over.

Guangxi Visit: 2006-11
2010-03-07 - First stop the Chinese border. 14kms then we hit a couple of check points. After about half an hour in total we are at the Vietnamese side of the border at the Friendship Gate and it's a surprisingly easy crossing.

Stayed in a traditional wooden guesthouse on the bank of the river in Chengyang. It is described as 'undoubtedly one of the most special places in China'. The hotel was next to one of the many wind and rain bridges in Sanjiang County. The bridges are built entirely in pegged cedar, and it is said that there is not a single nail used in their construction. It's like stepping a hundred years back in time!

Next Longji Rice Terraces. All the hills around were covered in terraces. All used to grow rice. The area was first cultivated in the 13th century and it took 400 years to build all the terracing that we could now see. Because of the steepness of the mountains each terrace is very narrow and practically inaccessible.
We went out for a 2 hour walk to the imaginatively named View Point 1 and View Point 2. The views were great but by the time we had reached the second one the mist had dropped and the terraces had all but disappeared.

Yangshuo. An active day. Cycling and hiking up a mountain. We hired bikes and went touring around the back roads in the Yangshuo area. Some decent roads, some dirt tracks and some areas that were barely tracks at all. My mountain bike did me good service although I think my bum will suffer a bit tomorrow.

The ride was fun. Through rice fields, mandarin orchards, over rivers and through between the hundreds of limestone pillars of various sizes. The main aim of our day was to go to and climb Moon Hill.

Guatemala Visit: 1998-2
2010-03-08 - Crossing the border Honduras into Guatemala before they built the bridge.

Our first attempt to find a boat to get us across the border ended in failure. Hit Omoa but there were no boats going to Livingstone. So we over- nighted in Omoa. Where the highlights were a lunch of BBQ fish with banana chips, dinner of fish kebabs by candle light because of the power cut and a big fight between some locals involving machetes!

Up early the next day for want turned out to be the high-light of the trip, although the not so adventurous amongst the group hated it.

Having missed the speedboat from Omoa straight to Livingston we went for the adventurous Jungle Route which involves two canoe trips and a few short hops by bus and pick-up truck and pitches you straight into regions rarely visited by outsiders.

The following is constructed from the notes in my diary and I hope the details are correct.

We set off from Omoa and took the bus along the main road get dropped off at the entrance to a ranch. Here we took a pick-up truck across the ranch to Cuyamelito and down to a small river. After what seemed like forever a small boat arrived we loaded up our rucksacks and off we went. It seemed like we could capsize at any moment.

We then switched boats and this open seemed even less well balanced. And then we hit a massive river (the Río Motagua I think), which we cross. With the boat rocking from side to side and none of us daring to move in case we turned the boat over. Like a scene from a Tarzan film crocodiles were slipping off the banks and into the river expecting dinner at any moment!

Somehow we made it to the other side where we transfer into a more substantial boat, with holes in it. We had to bail out as we went down the muddy river land at a huge banana plantation in the Finca La Inca area. The banana plantation was on an industrial scale. The bananas wrapped in plastic whilst growing, pesticides everywhere and perfect looking bananas. The workers houses, football pitches, basketball courts, but the impression I got was of a concentration camp.

A few bus changes and a really dodgy immigration post and we finally hit Rio Dulce.

Hamburg Visit: 2009-2
2010-03-11 - Hamburg has a completely different feel to Munich. I love being by the water, there's canals, rivers and the port, water really makes a city for me. Much better that the little stream running through Munich. Hamburg feels like a working, industrial port city as apposed to the country town Munich. I think Munich is more liveable but I bet Hamburg is more fun.

Honduras (mainland) Visit: 1998-2
2010-03-08 - Copan. Woke up at about 5:30 (bloody roosters) and a nice slow morning in Copán Ruinas. A lovely cobble-stoned mountain village, a mile from the ruins, steep streets containing some nice restaurants one especially good one does Kellogs Cornflakes for breakfast!

Spent the day at the ruins. Having not been to Egypt or Peru, I've never seen anything as big, grand and old as Copan before and I was overawed. 18,000 people lived here at its peak. How could a city like this rise and fall in about 500 years? How could a city like this end up completely deserted?

In the evening had plenty of rum and something called Anafres, which is a black bean and cheese fondue with fresh tomatoes and chili peppers on the side and fresh, hot corn tortillas for dipping. Absolutely gorgeous. Definitely a good food day.

Hong Kong Visit: 2006-12
2010-03-07 - A day of wandering and shopping. Flower Market, Gold Fish Market, Electronics Market, Ladies Market, Jade Market and Temple Street NIght Market. Bought some Christmas presents that will probably cost more to post home than they did to buy and I'm sure I could have got them cheaper but I hate the whole haggling business. So they quote a price I just stand there and umm and argh they keep dropping the price and when they reach a sensible level I say yes and move on.

The highlight of the day for me though was 10 minutes in the evening. No, not what you're thinking ;-) But the light show on the river. Described as the biggest permanent light show in the world. Spot lights, lasers, lights on all the buildings all flashing on and off in time with music being played all around the river area. Took someone long time to sort that lot out.

Disneyland, Hong Kong. Disney has it's own little branch line off of the regular MTR (tube) system with it's own Mickey Trains which made me smile before I'd even reached the park. With it's Mickey shaped windows and Mickey overhead hand holds and statues of the characters in the carriages and the comfiest tube seat I've ever sat on it was great.

Ile-de-France Visit: 2002-4
2010-03-11 - The Louvre is great. The most impressive part is the building itself. The architecture is a work of art in itself. The Mona Lisa is unimpressive, the Venus de Milo just a tatty old sculpture with the arms missing.
French food and French wine, supposedly the best in the world. They are not. From the selection of food that we had it's very, very ordinary. Either drowned in garlic, or tasteless. As for the wine, a lot of it barely drinkable even by me. In the UK you rarely get a bad House Wine, in Paris we didn't have anything but.

The best food and drink experience in Paris. Häagen-Dazs! On the only hot day whilst we were there we were walking down the Champs d'Elyse and came across Häagen-Dazs. Believe it or not I'd never been to a Häagen-Dazs restaurant so we gave it a go. Absolutely delicious.

Islas de la Bahia Visit: 1998-2
2010-03-08 - The Bay of Islands. My first sight of the Caribbean and we have a couple of days of diving planned. The people here are Black and speak English a big change from the mainland. I book up 2 days diving, 3 dives a day out on the reef.

We're told Roatan is the largest of eight islands that are collectively known as Las Islas de la Bahia (Bay Islands). To me it's brilliant clear blue water, palm-fringed beaches, exotic plants, and nature trails. And a chance to get some diving and snorkelling in. The Bay Islands are located slap-bang atop the second largest coral reef in the world. The coral here is simply stunning.

Kenya Visit: 2004-3
2010-03-07 - Beach and Safari Trip with Kuoni.

Driving to the hotel was an eye-opener. My first trip to Africa and the ride gave an insight into life in Mombasa. The majority of people appear to live in tin shacks that litter the area and the roadsides are one big open air market. Food, clothes, iron mongers etc. But also a lot of people looking like they were selling anything they could find to scrap together enough money to eat.

Mini-bus from Mombasa inland to Tsavo East National Park. A long bumpy ride along roads of varying quality. Amazing to see the villages and towns. How basic the houses are and how they take the idea of recycling to a whole new level!

Stayed in Voi Lodge, Ngulia Lodge and Kilaguni Lodge each of which was better than the last. Our first sighting of elephants, they were way off in the distance but the 6 of us in the minibus were excited. Little did we know that within 3 days any elephants more than 10 yards away would be referred to as 'just some more elephants'.
Giraffes, zebra, monkeys and birds of all sizes, shapes and colours. I never thought that we would get so close to so many wild animals.

Laos Visit: 2007-4
2010-03-07 - Vientiane is a beautiful city which completely belies Laos troubled recent past and how poor the country is. If Christchurch in New Zealand is an idealised version of an English City, Vientiane could be seen as an idealised French city. It is built on a very grand scale. Big wide boulevards and grand buildings. There is only one building that I've seen above six or seven stories an that's a hotel which is away from the centre.

Vang Vieng is one of the strange sorts of places you find all over the world, a small back-packer town. Until 10 years ago I guess this was a small village of subsistence farmers. Someone decided to open a hotel or a tour company or something and tourism hit the place. It brings in money and changes the place for ever. The town itself is a mess of concrete and every house is either a hotel, bar or restaurant. Every bar or restaurant is seems is showing an episode of Friends, loudly. Most have got sort of seats come sofas and backpackers laze around drinking (and smoking). Lonely Planet says it's the sort of place you love or hate. All the others on the trip love it, 'Whoa this is amazing, you can laze around and watch Friends!' Yeah but why come to Laos to do that? Anyway I can't complain we'll be here tomorrow night as well and there are bars that show the footy live from the UK so my night is sorted, watching the next instalment of West Ham's slim chance of survival.

A lazy day in Luang Prabang. The weather is fantastic in the high 30s, the sun is shining and LP itself is gorgeous. LP is so gorgeous that the whole town is UNESCO protected. It is a sleepy place in the peninsular between the two rivers. There's no through traffic so the streets are quiet. Most of the town has been taken over by tourism but it has been done in a sympathetic way. Hotels, restaurants, tour agencies, internet cafes and loads of art and craft shops. And of course there are the temples wherever you look and monks walking around in their bright orange robes.

Latvia Visit: 2009-9
2010-03-08 - Riga, what can I say great place for a Stag Weekend, but if it carries on the way it seems to be going it should lose it's Unesco Heritage Site badge very soon. A city catering so blatantly to the drunken Brits can't complain when it get swamped with them. Irish Bar on every corner, all offering Sky Sports, Fish and Chips and a happy hour (or three). Walking around the city in the evening the great British rallying calls of Wey-Hey, Down-in-one and Get Ya Tits Oot Fur t'Ladz can be heard across the old city. Bars bang out dance music and have girls dancing around a pole on the bar, although they were very much over dressed in my opinion! And of all guys on the street all promoting some bar or another. 'Alcohol, disco, striptease', 'Come, come we have happy-hour', and lovely young ladies who for some reason want to strike up a conversation with you, don't know what that's all about ...

Lazio Visit: 2002-2
2010-03-09 - The one thing I had to see in Rome and I wasn't disappointed.

Things I didn't know about the Coliseum. I discovered that the Ludi Circenses were the favourite shows of the Romans (games that were invented in the last days of the Republic to develop a war-like spirit which had made them the conquerors of the world.) Thus, the professional gladiators came into being, and they were trained to fight to the death. As time moved on, the kinds of animals the gladiators had to fight became more and more wild. It is said that "9000 wild animals were killed during the hundred days of festivity to celebrate the dedication of the Coliseum."

The area was also used to stage naval battles. In order to accomplish this, they would flood the arena! Constantine and his successors did try to stop the gladiatorial fights but to no avail. The Romans would not give up their favourite form of entertainment. They changed the fights to an animal hunt about the 6th century. I can just imagine how marvellous this amphitheatre was in its glory days. We are all lucky that at least some of this historical structure has endured and is still the pride of Rome and a must see for visitors to marvel at.

Liechtenstein Visit: 1993-9
2010-03-08 - Driving around Europe and had to do a detour and pop into Liechtenstein. A country with more banks than people or maybe I made that stat up. But it's rich, clean and small. They have their own stamps, own number plates, may be it is a real country after all.

Lithuania Visit: 2006-9
2010-03-08 - Lithuania follows the same progression that Latvia took from Estonia. Still flat and wet, but less forest and more open farm land. Also looks a bit richer but that may just be the area I was passing through. I made a small detour to visit the Hill of Crosses, which is sort of loads and loads of crosses on a hill!. But following the same principle that took me to Lake Pühajärv if it's good enough for the leader of a church then it's good enough for me. Pope JP II this time he was so impressed he told them there should be a place of worship nearby. And as his word is like the word of God they built one. As can see from the photos there are a lot of crosses.

Lucerne Visit: 1993-9
2010-03-09 - Drove down through Basel to Lucerne. Lovely city set on the lake in the shadow of the Alps. Quite peaceful but enough going on to keep you interested.

Lundy Visit: 2007-7
2010-03-11 - Lundy is a few hour boat ride from my home town of Bideford in North Devon. I went once with school when I was a kid but not been back since. So decide to go again and take my Dad who'd never been.

Lundy is a big rock of an island easily visible from the North Devon coast. In the past it was the home of pirates but now it's Marine Reserve owned by the National Trust.

Luxembourg Visit: 1993-9
2010-03-08 - Explored the city and it's a weird place built across a gorge, with what seems like a couple of villages actually at the bottom of the valley. Cut into the cliffs are casements, a maze of caves and tunnels used for defence in days gone by.

The city itself is small, quiet and quite boring, we'd done it in a few hours. Spent the evening down in the valley drinking. In my drunken state I decided I wouldn't want to work in Luxembourg and I don't like the French way of doing stuff, the way they act, the way they talk.

Malta Visit: 2006-3
2010-03-08 - Malta is a lovely place for a bit of Winter Sun. Easy to get around on the 'Old School Bus' bus system. The coast of spectacular especially The Blue Lagoon.

Mdina is the medieval walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the island is a must see. It's the old capital and like the whole island full of history.

Murcia Region Visit: 2003-11
2010-03-11 - In theory the main reason for the trips wre the golf courses at La Manga. Championship courses, perfectly manicured and constantly tended. 3 courses in total North, South and West, all fantastic especially the North which is my favourite. The West Course is more English in feel and probably the hardest especially as it always seems to rain when I play it.

Nepal (other) Visit: 1999-5
2010-03-07 - Some highlights from my 2 rest days in Kathmandu.

- Hindu Temple on the banks of the Ganges. Bodies are brought down to the banks and cremated on funeral pyres. It looks the filthiest river you're ever seen but it has huge religious significance.
- Monkey Temple. A huge Buddhist Temple in a huge square. Absolutely beauty amongst the 3rd world squalor that is most of Kathmandu.
- Wandering on my own around the narrow streets and small square of the old town.
I like Kathmandu but it's so polluted. I've got a sore throat from, the smog that covers the city. History, religion, cars, bikes, cows, ...

Part of my Travel Log from a trek in the Manaslu area.

Finally, we reach the end of the ridge, and the world drops away in front of us. The photo-frenzy begins, one trekker has brought champagne, and we celebrate the awesome scene which envelops us. I wander off to a rocky outcrop, and simply sit and gaze at the view. Further along, the grassy slopes give way to a series of ice-capped pinnacles peeks leading right up to the main peak of Himal Chuli. The 8000 metre summit of Manaslu looms behind, a huge white pyramid etched against a clear blue sky.

New South Wales Visit: 2006-12
2010-03-08 - Still feeling a bit knackered so I decided to do a beach day. And when in Sydney there's only one beach to hit, Bondi. Hooked up with some others at the hostel and we caught the bus down to Congee and walked the 3 or 4 miles along the coast path to Bondi.
It's a great walk and the weather was perfect for walking. Mid-20s, decent breeze and pretty much clear skies. On the way we passed 6 different bays. The biggest were Congee where we started which is shown in the picture and Bondi which is huge. The coast line was more rocky than I expected, but the water was just as crystal clear as you see in the Visit Australia adverts.

New York Visit: 1999-6
2010-03-08 - A trip to New York with Claudette to see Andy. Staying in his mid-town flat for a few days and seeing the sights.
Claudette's been to New York a few times before and she said the first must do was the Staten Island Ferry. Both a great view of the New York skyline and a view across to the Statue of Liberty. As you can see it was a great day and the views were fantastic.

Nicaragua Visit: 1998-2
2010-03-08 - Estelli, Northern Nicaragua. The scenery again is stunning, rolling volcanic hills and valleys. Very little vegetation except cacti. Wild West Country. Cowboys on horses carrying huge machetes. And passing through every little village gives a great insight into day to day life.

Spent the night in Estelli, a one street town, frontier land with recent bullet holes in the walls. Sunday is church day and I spent a couple of hours sat in the square with a book watching the locals going to and from church.

North Island Visit: 2007-1
2010-03-08 - Rotorua (or Rottonrua as some call it). What a strange place. The whole place is on fire. There's steam rising from everywhere and the smell of sulphur (a cross between rotten eggs and sweaty socks) hangs over the whole place. A ring of hills ring Rotorua about 20 km away in each direction. Rotorua is in the crater of a massive volcano, the hills are the crater rim. When it last blow up big time in AD186; the explosion reddened skies as far away as China and Rome, created Lake Taupo and diverted the Waikato River from the east to the west coast. The most recent serious explosion was on 10th June 1886 when villages got completely engulfed Pompeii style. 5000 square miles of land was buried.

I spent the first part of the afternoon in Te Puia. Which is a Moari centre right in the heart of one of the more active geothermal areas. It includes the Pohutu Geyser which blows about every hour throwing steam and boiling water 10s of metres into the air. The whole area is covered in boiling mud pools, steam vents and has an strange sci-fi feel to it. The Maori side was a recreated Maori village with tradition crafts and a show, but I'll skip that for now. Scroll down to see why. The other highlight of Te Puia was the Kiwi house. Kiwis are nocturnal and very rare but they have one and it's house is in light during the night and dark during the day so it was out running around. It's a strange bird. Quite big and dumpy. It's easy to see why they were all but wiped out when mammals were introduced to New Zealand.

North Rhine-Westphalia Visit: 1993-10
2010-03-09 - Up to Cologne, an OK city but had the shit bombed out of it in WWII. The whole city apart from the Dom was demolished and when they rebuilt it they must've used the same architect as they used in Coventry

North Vietnam Visit: 2007-4
2010-03-07 - I spent a few months living in Hanoi. Sa Pa, Halong Bay, Nihn Bihn. Northern Vietnam is beautiful. Here's my write-up on one of my favourite places in Hanoi.

After a couple of hours walked around I decide to pop into the Temple of Literature for a bit of sanctuary. You have to walk mainly on the roads because what pavements there are are blocked with shops and make shift cafes spilling out or motorbikes parked up. So you walk as close as possible to the edge watching out for the open drains and potholes, whilst also avoiding the motorbikes that are zipping around you. In many ways I feel safer in the middle of the road when crossing than at the side. At least in the middle of the road you can be seen and they try to avoid you.
The Temple of Literature is a Confucian Temple founded in 1070 and the site of Vietnam's first University in 1076. In 1484 emperor Lê Thánh Tông started the tradition of carving the names of the laureates of the university on stone steles, which were placed on top of stone turtles. Of the 116 steles corresponding to the examinations held between 1142 and 1778, only 82 remain. The picture shows some of these steles.

I really like the TofL and I can see myself spending a lot of time here over the next few months. It's only 5,000d (20p) to get into a very cheap prices for a bit of tranquillity.

Peninsular Malaysia Visit: 1998-11
2010-03-07 - The Island Hideaway of Kuala Kangsar is situated in the midst of a large lake in rural Malaysia. Our hosts, Intrepid's long-time friends Asiah and Aziz, offer travellers a fascinating insight into Malaysian life. They introduce groups to traditional food, local eating customs, and even dress everyone in traditional sarongs for the occasion.

1/2 day hill and temple trip around Penang. Went up Penang Hill on the railway, great view but being on a tour we were hurried, wish we could've had more time but we're here for a good time not a long time. On the way done we saw a group of monkeys playing with the rubbish left by tourists. Next a Buddhist Temple, huge, beautifully decorated and so ornate. Another couple of temples and we were back to the hotel. Wish we'd hired a taxi between us so that we'd have had more time to see everything.

2 great days in KL. Hotel in Chinatown, right in the heart of the city, easy to get everywhere. Spent Friday looking around KL. Through the markets and up the Petronas Towers to the highest McDonald's in the world. The towers give a great view of the city. I finished the day in Little India having dinner at a street hawker stall. It had a Tandoori Clay Oven and everything. Tandoori Chicken, beef curry, rice and naan all for 10 Ringit.

Queensland Visit: 1998-11
2010-03-08 - I spent the next couple of days touring around Brisbane revisiting places I like in Brisbane and catching up with as many people as possible. Took a river-cat up and down the river. Drove up around my old house, headed down to Queen St Pier and the Botanical Gardens. Spent an hour or two on the South Bank and wandered the shopping malls. In the evenings did all the old favourites. Paddo Tavern, City Rowers, Storey Bridge Hotel and Dooley's.

1998 Ashes Test Match at The Gabba. The most exciting thing to happen on the cricket field was the storm that hit at teatime on the 3rd day. The sky turned a very dark green and there was the most amazing storm. Thunder and lightening. Within minutes the whole ground was under water, thankfully being in the member's area we could taken refuge in the bar and watch the fireworks. I couldn't believe that they started play at 9:30 the next morning.

Quintana Roo Visit: 1998-3
2010-03-08 - Tulum. 10 hour journey by boat and bus, amazing how you get used to travel days, I just hope for a window seat, put on my personal stereo and watch the world go by. As soon as we got into Mexico it was obvious that it is more up to date and far more American than the rest of Central America.

"Not more Mayan Ruins" I thought. But Tulum is completely different and although not as magnificent as Tikal I actually enjoyed them more. But that's probably because I'm a sucker for the sea.

Rhineland-Palatinate Visit: 1993-10
2010-03-09 - Did a tour up and down the Rhine and Loure Valleys. This time of year is grape picking season and the roads were full of tractors pulling trailer loads of grapes. The whole area smelt like a brewery.

Sabah Visit: 1998-11
2010-03-07 - 3 days just north of the Equator. Back in Malaysia, flew into KL and then straight out again to Kota Kinabalu (KK). I didn't get to do the things I wanted to do because no trips coincided with my visit. So I didn't climb Mt Kinabalu and didn't get to get white water rafting. But I still had a great time. A day to check out the town, a day on the beach on a nearby island and a trip up to the Mt Kinabalu National Park.

The day at the beach was just what I needed after all the rushing around a day to myself to relax. Mt Kinabalu National Park is spectacular. I did a local bus trip with some amazing food included. Red Snapper, sizzling fish, squid, lobster salmon and crab, amazing.

Scotland Visit: 2005-2
2010-03-09 - No. 28 on Restaurant magazine's definitive list of the "World’s 50 Best Restaurants", 2002. The guys decided that they had to go there and try it out so having never been to anything better than the local Indian I tagged along to see how the other half lives.
The food was OK but not great but I was impressed with the service. Our waiter had a laugh and a joke with us but I watched him serving another table where he was all prim and proper. He read the tables and served them accordingly. He told us that he'd trained in one of Gordon Ramsey's restaurants in Glasgow, maybe all that effing and blinding does get results.

Singapore Visit: 1996-11
2010-03-07 - A full day exploring Singapore. Not quite what I'd expected from an Asian city. It's so clean and easy to get around using the underground and buses. The harbour looks great and along with Libby and Susanna, Jurgen and Jo who were also due to do the Intrepid Trip up through Malaysia we took the Skyrail, a cable car up over the harbour.

The evening in Little India was amazing. Sunday night is obviously the night off for all the Indians so they were all out on the streets in their Sunday best. All the blokes standing around in groups with their smart trousers and tank-tops. We met up with Evi who's from the North Pole or somewhere very close, had a great curry, and the headed over to the station for the sleeper train into Malaysia.

Slovakia Visit: 2009-6
2010-03-11 - Bratislava itself is nice, small city with a small but beautiful traffic-free Old Town, a castle on the hill and a huge Danube running right through the middle. Fun for a couple of days but overly built-up for my liking. No green space at all in the middle. The city seems to be dominated by two things. The University, students everywhere drinking, and Stag Nights, drunken Brits, Germans and Italians invading for cheap beer and ...

Slovenia Visit: 2009-4
2010-03-11 - Bled is about 55 kilometres from Ljubljana in North-Western Slovenia near the Austrian / Italian border at the foot of the Julian Alps and it is absolutely gorgeous.
A fairy tale castle sitting on a cliff over looking an emerald green mountain lake. In the lake a tiny island (the only one in Slovenia) with a little white church. The Church of Sv Marija Bozja.
On the lake traditional Bled Pletna boats row the tourists along the lake to the island. On the 4 mile path around the lake horses and carts full of tourists trot by.
All of this is surrounded by forested hills and snow capped mountains.
This may sound like something written by the Bled Tourist Board but it's all true. I think it rivals Halong Bay as the most beautiful place I've ever visited

South Island Visit: 2007-1
2010-03-08 - We had overnighted in Te Anau so that we could spend today in Milford Sound. Lets get the geology lesson out of the way first. Milford Sound isn't actually a Sound at all. A sound is created by a river that then floods back from the sea. This is a fjord. A glacier cut gorge that runs out to sea. But who cares it's bloody gorgeous whatever it is.

The drive from Te Anau took about 3 hours with quite few stops for photos and the drive was amazing in itself. Driving through a valley with steep hills and mountains either side of us. Rivers, waterfalls and snow capped peaks. We were still on the East side of the mountains and the weather was perfect, not a cloud to be seen, but we still had our fears as we know how different the weather can be on the west side. To get across the mountains we go through the Homer Tunnel. About 1270m long and runs at an angle of 1:10 downwards. We soon hit the other side and the weather was still gorgeous. Weather Gods I forgive you for what you did to us in Franz Josef.

South Vietnam Visit: 2006-10
2010-03-07 - Chau Doc, Saigon, Hoi An, Hue. Here's an extract on Cu Chi.

Took a trip out to the Cu Chi Tunnels 70kn Northwest of Saigon. It is a network of tunnels used by the Vietnamese first against the French and later in the American War. The tunnels are tiny, less than half of our group could even fit into the original tunnels let alone move around in them, needless to say, I couldn't! The tunnels were used for defence, for living in and for attacking and trapping the enemy. We were given an idea of how they lived and fought, shown examples of the traps they set and tactics used.

Thailand Visit: 2009-11
2010-03-07 - Been to Thailand a few times. Here are some Bangkok Highlights.

Back in Bangkok. Bangkok in winter. 36 degrees and getting steamy and they call this winter. Decided to get my sight-seeing out of the way on the first day. Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha, Wat Pho, the Reclining Buddha and down to China Town.
The Grand Palace complex in massive. Buildings, temples, towers and statues. All ornately decorated with lacquer work, gold, emerald, jade. It's all on such a great scale. The biggest religious draw card here is the Emerald Buddha. It is only 66cm high but very important to Buddhists. So important in Thailand that 3 times a year with the changing of the seasons the King comes to change it's clothes!

Wat Pho next, to see the Reclining Buddha. 46m long, its feet 3m high. Impressive. It's in a small temple, it's hard to get far enough away from the Buddha to fully appreciate it.

Trentino-Alto Adige Visit: 1993-9
2010-03-09 - Popped across the border for dinner and a postcard. Double customs post, as Austria isn't (wasn't until 1995) part of the EU.

Immediately Italy lived up to the stereotype image I had of it. Fashion conscious, riding mopeds, driving like mad-men. Bolzano is very German and the women are good. Basically Germanic looking but the Italian-ness just takes off some of the rough edges. Nice meal and back across the border.

Turkish Thrace (Turkey in Europe) Visit: 2007-10
2010-03-09 - The Topaki Palace was built in the 15th Century for the Sultan his handful of wives, hundreds of concubines and thousands of retainers. As well as being the Palace it was also the seat of Government. It's really one big walled Royal City, which is now a museum to all things Ottoman. There are Kitchens which could cater for 5,000 people, with pots the size of cauldrons, crystal, silver and a huge collection of ceramics. There are bedrooms, state rooms, bathing rooms and loads of stairs and balconies. The two highlights though are the Treasury and the Harem. The Treasury is full of gold, silver and jewels, artefacts plundered from foreign lands or given by foreign dignitaries. Swords, shields, goblets and a pair of 48kg solid gold candlesticks. All these riches in a country which for the most part is very poor.

Vatican City Visit: 2002-2
2010-03-09 - Trip to The Vatican. It's an impressive church but not being religious I was left with an 'And...' feeling. As with anything Catholic it's so hypocritically extravagant. They make collections for the poor whilst owning an amazing building like this packed full of treasures. Surely if the Catholic Church really wanted to do some real good it would liquidate some of its assets and give it where its most needed. No chance of that ever happening they're far too used to the trappings of wealth, charity may begin at home but for the Church not that close to home.

Victoria State Visit: 2007-1
2010-03-08 - A day out on the Great Ocean Road. Described as one of the world's most spectacular coastal routes it runs for about 3 hours or so down the coast south of Melbourne. The coast line is very rugged with high cliffs and limestone stacks, untouched (inaccessible) beaches and heath land and rain forest right down to the coast.

We set off at about 7am in order to get as far as Peterborough without hitting too much traffic. The plan definitely worked with it only taking 2 1/2 hours. We then worked our way back along the Great Ocean Road. Stopping of many times to walk out to viewpoints. The Arch, London Bridge, The Grotto finishing off at the 12 Apostles.

It was a really good day and the scenery is stunning.

Walloon Region Visit: 1999-12
2010-03-08 - Waterloo - I was defeated, you won the war
Waterloo - promise to love you for ever more
Waterloo - couldn't escape if I wanted to
Waterloo - knowing my fate is to be with you
Waterloo - finally facing my Waterloo

Best known for the battle in 1815. The Duke of Wellington kicked Napoleon's ass. Nowadays its just a huge mound with a monument on top.

Zurich Visit: 2008-11
2010-03-09 - Zurich is quite small, has some nice old cobbled streets, lots of trams, has a big lake and is very expensive that's about all you need to know. Saturday had a nice to walk around looking in the windows of the expensive, more expensive and most expensive shops. I limited my actual shopping to a pretzel and gluhwein from some Christmas Market huts on one of the main streets. It snowed on and off all day but unfortunately none of it settled, I think Zurich would've looked great under an inch of snow.
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