Saturday 24 September 2011


Otago is the heartland of New Zealand. Dunedin is the capital of this province and has been discussed in another tread in greater detail, so that this can focus on the wilderness of the plains. 

Otago is a fantastic part of New Zealand, and my words here will not be able to do it justice. The golden plains with their amazing rock formations from standing pinacles, gorges, castles, among a few, are amazing. The area around Alexandra has some of the best rock sites in New Zealand. And contrasting the rocks are the golden plains which are amazing no matter what time of the year. But obviously in winter they turn a lovely white, and some of the best ski slopes in New Zealand are found here. 

The Otago Rail trail is something I have yet to do by bike (which is the best way to do it) however you can start the wonder of this journey using the old rail system which is still running out of Dunedin Railway. This old rail line has some amazing engineering feats getting across the gorges that are hard to believe they are standing after so long and looking so perfect. 

There are two key towns in the area that must visited: Cromwell and Alexandra. Both of these towns have important historical aspects and are also useful to use as a base to explore the surrounding nature. Alexandra has its famous mountainside clock and a very cute museum that are must dos. Cromwell, used to look very differently until the creation of the dam (and lake) which actually flooded a fair section of the town. These days there are some remanents of the old town left by the riverside which are great fun to meander through. 

Nearby to Cromwell is New Zealand desert. Seriously. Bannockburn, however, isn't well known for that fact, but its incredible wine. Some of the best red wine comes from these parched lands and well rambling around there its a good way to soak up some moisture trying free samples. Like Cromwell, Bannockburn has a history of gold mining and this is evident in the sheiling that is dotted around the place. Although the best evidence of this is just up from Cromwell on the side of the road. Called Fishbones. 

Wanaka is another great place in Otago that must be visited. The views onto the Mt Aspiring National Park from Lake Wanaka are amazing. However, it is slightly expensive to stay in Wanaka, and camping in Mt Aspiring National Park is a better option or just further up in Lake Hawea. The Aspiring Camp Site though isn't too bad and it has a sauna. 

Mt Aspiring National Park which crosses between Otago and Westland has dramactic colour contrasts (very photogenic), and multiple walks that offer a wide variety of environments to explore. Our favourite is the Rob Roy Glacier walk. Takes a wee while to get there, but the views on the glacier and of the streams are amazing. Not to mention the kakapo and other wildlife are great fun. Do make sure you prepare as, as with anywhere the weather changes fast. We had sun, rain, wind, hail, and it started snowing just a bit further up from the glacier (although we were heading out by then).

Sunday 10 July 2011


Its a bit unfair to not join Dunedin into the main thread of Otago, however, as I spent many years here studying it is hard to describe the different things available without making it a bit of a long thread that would make Otago far too long for most readers.

The top 10 must see things in Dunedin:

1. Baldwin St - The worlds steepest street. Every year there are various acitivties that involve usually running up and down this st for a goal of fundraising usually. There is also the Jafa rolling comp, which is quite amusing to watch.

2. Penninsula - The surrounding bays of Dunedin Penninsula are quite amazing. There are seals and yellow eyed penguins that you can see, and experience some amazing beauty.

3. Albatross - At the head of the Penninsula, Dunedin is home to an Albatross colony. The drive out there is also worth it as you get to travel through some great penninsula area and see the Quarantine Island (where the immingrants to NZ all had to wait 6 weeks to ensure they didn't bring diseases on land).

4. Railway Station - The architecture of the railway station is quite amazing and when it was built, was ahead of its time in structure. It is also a great place to get to start the gorge railway journey to Middlemarch, which is a definite must do.

5. Cadbury Chocolate Factory - highly amusing to see how all the candy is made, and taste a bit at the end. It is advised to eat beforehand as the smell of the choc, can make one very hungry by the end, usually resulting in binging.

6. Speights tour - before Auckland sadly took over the main production of the Speights Beer it was made in Dunedin, in a very historic brewery that is one of the last remaining of its kind in the world (gravity feed system). It smells good, and you learn a lot about the production of beer. Not to mention that at the end there is a very good tasting session.

7. Lookout - At the top of the North East Valley hills is a war memorial and look out over all of Dunedin. Great place to watch the sunset over the whole city and surrounding penninsula.

8. Octagon - The lovely Octagon is the centre of the old Dunedin with lots of shops on it today, and a number of eautifu lold churches on or very nearby it.

9. Beaches - Despite being a bit nippy, the beaches in Dunedin are not only a great place to swim but also area quite historic. It is possible to see clearly the dykes construction holding back the water that would otherwise see South Dunedin township completely disappear.

10. University - Obvious the oldest University in New Zealand is a must see. The beautiful old buildings from the Old Block are in great condition and the ever expanding campus with its Scarfie students is a great place to live and learn.


Most of the time when people think of Canterbury , they focus on its main town of Christchurch, which in the recent times has been hard hit with continours earthquake activity. Not to belittle the importance of Christchurch or its nice gardens and remaining beautiful old buildings, but there is a lot in Canterbury province that isn't just in Christchurch.

Christchurch is a great base to use to explore the surrounding areas of interest, such as Akaroa and Lyttleton. Lyttleton has some of the oldest port buildings left in New Zealand from when it was being intially colonised by Europeans. Unfortunately a lot of these have been damaged in the quakes. But Akaroa and the road out it still remain a beautiful place. The water in the bays are deep blue and the steep drops down to this once old volcanic crater formation are spectacular.

Outside of Christchurch areas, there is the start of the Southern Alps with the famous ski field of Mt Hutt. But more recently the area on the boarders of canterbury and Mt Cook region have become famous for thier role in the Lord of the Rings Triology. Amazing scenery all around the area heading towards the Alps.

There is also Hamner Springs, which is a geothermal hot spot, and a center for some of the best hot pools in New Zealand. Be warned to book early if you are going during peak holiday times as the place fills up fast. There are a variety of facilities on offer if the main pools are too full for you, and the best time I think to go is actually in the evening.

Arthurs Pass which crosses over between Canterbury and Westland, is a spectacular place. It is relitively untouched as its quite a demanding place to live. The national park in this area supports a variety of fantastic hikes, but most amazingly (viewable from the road) is the rock formations. A lot of the amazing rock scenes here are famous from Lord of the Rings, but seeing them yourself is worth the trip. And of course passing through is a great way to see the best part of New Zealand (in my view) Westland.

Saturday 4 June 2011


Kaikoura has a lot to offer a person travelling through it, especially when it comes to nature. I have come here several times now, and each time doesn't lessen the awe at the Kaikoura range in the background from the beach.

The main thing that Kaikoura is famous for is probably whale watching (which I still haven't done), but it has a lot of other things as well. Randomly enough you can do llama trekking and visit a variety of mini zoos in the Kaikoura flats if you fell the urge. But if you dont fell like paying to see some animals, along the coastal route leading and from Kaikoura (both ways) there are a number great places to stop and see seals. However, do not feed, or get to close as they do bite! There is also a large number of different birds from oyster cathchers to standard gulls.

[[image file="kaikoura.jpg" ]]

If you have the time and energy and skills, there are some tramps that are possible. As yet I haven't experienced them. 

One key thing to note for this area is you must fill up before you head on your way there, either in Blenheim or somewhere north of Christchurch, as there are no other gas stations until you get to Kaikoura.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Istanbul, Turkey

The thing that most people associate with Turkey, is their capital city; Istanbul. It has quite a lot of offer a tourist however, I still believe that the best places to go are outside of the cities (maybe spend a day or two in a city then move onto the better side of life).

We had 1.6 days in Istanbul. The .6 was due to us flying out early evening to Kayseri (see Cappadocia). During this time we explored the Asian sides area called Kadikoy. Had a very nice lunch here, but its mostly shops. There is a monument to Ataturk here beside the ferry terminal that is quite impressive, especially with its large Turkish flag.

The best mode of trasnport (and for seeing a lot) in Istanbul is the ferries. They are very cheap 1.75TL one way, and get you over vast distances very fast. Istanbul is HUGE. And the amount of traffic can make other modes very slow. The subway is good, however it doesn't tend to go most places.

So we used the ferry to get from Kadikoy to Taksim. The area of Taksim is apparently a must see point of Istanbul, but unless you want blatent globalisation and have a lot of money to shop, during the day this place really isn't that interesting. The main street leading to Taksim sqaure (which we walked down entirely) is only lined with shops, most of which are not Turkish sadly. At night this is supposed to be the place to go to party, but I have no comment on this fact.

Our second time in Istanbul we had a full long day there. Managed to see quite a number of historical sites. The Hagia Sofia (despite being full to the brim with tourists) is a must see purely for the deep history involved. Started as a church/temple built by the romans, then became a church proper, then a mosque and is now a museum. Most interesting point to see is on the 2nd floor the arches towards the alter are literally squashed due to the tremedous pressure from dome. Awesome.

Saw the outside of the blue mosque (sadly it was prayer session when we were there so couldn't go inside). Then headed down to explore the Bazaars that Istanbul has to offer. These are aamazing. The famous large covered one is incredible as to the colours and smeels that assult you as you enter. Not to mention the crush of people. Head to the side streets, much better. Also went to the spice bazaar, which smelling great, but much smaller than the main one. A definite must do of Istanbul.

After having our fill (literally of sites and food) we headed off to the archaeological museum. This was on my list, but Martin enjoyed it as well. There are artefacts there from the Hittite empire right through to the early Ottoman, as well as, a little bit from all the neighbours that influenced Turkeys development. Fascinating times. Also a must see if you have the time and are that way inclined.A side note is just at the end of the gardens that the museum are associated with, is a slightly expensive outdoor tea house, that has incredible views over the Bosphorous.

Our final push for the day (as the sun was setting - so beautiful) we did another ferry crossing (closer to the bridge this time) to get some nice photos and see more of the architecture. Lovely end to daylight and our time in Istanbul.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

Western Turkey - Troia, Gallipoli Pennisula, Pamukkale, Hierapolis, and Ephesus


After flying from Kayseri to Izmir, we drove up to Oren to stay the night. Oren is a lovely sea side town on the way north to Troia, which is near the town Truva in modern Turkey. If we had, had more time Oren is a very pretty place and deserved more exploring.

Troia is awesome. It is amazing to see the different levels of civilization so easiliy displayed. There is only particular point where the excavations have stopped at each level providing a very easy to see and demonstrate the history of Troy. The place is quite large (although I was expecting bigger) and what is uncovered is being looked after and shows you what life is like. The ramp up to the temple at the back of the place is very cool. You can even sit on the infamous walls at one point. Ignore the giant horse here its crap (see the one in Canakkale instead its much better and from the movie Troy).

Gallipoli Pennisula:

The other reason that we were heading north was to see the Anzac Cove area. As any New Zealander and Australian would know, this place is special in our history as where we formed the ANZAC corps and lost quite badly. It is lovely to see when you arrive the integration with the Turkish loses as well. I was very touched when we met some Turkish people also seeing the area when one of the party (not speaking any English) tried very hard and eventually made it clear to us, that "our" dead are dear to his heart. Very moving.

The actual Anzac cove still has remains from the landing with concrete landing spots being there and the very obvious graves. All over the pennisula are Australia, New Zelanad and Turkish graves, all very well looked after and respected. Each one has its own story and history to it, which is explained on the giant signs carved out of local stone. The Anzac area is a very moving place, and seeing the union between the nations, a heart warming hope for the future, as the words of Ataturk so brilliantly summarise (and are displayed at Anzac Cove):

                                                                                            ATATURK, 1934

Pamukkale and Hierapolis:

This would be the number one must see thing in Turkey, equal to the Cappadocia region. The magnifcience of Pamukkale can never be accurately described. It is amazingly huge and the feeling of it as you walk over the area is awesome. It is amazing how this massive white terrace complex is still around after all this time. As you walk from one area to another, you can actually see how big it used to really be, but without the constant flows from the spring in certain areas they have crumbled away. This is sadly due to humans messing with it (such a shame). As you look down you can mini terraces forming which give your feet a gentle massage as you walk over them, and on the higher up parts much larger terraces. Once again I feel humans have ruined it a bit, as the man made terraces are nowhere near as pretty and detract from the "fairy castle" appearance. But DO GO HERE!

The Greeks were the first to come here and started the amazing city of Hierapolis, a place of healing. The road leading up to the main city is full of tombs of those people that came here to get well, but clearly didn't. The ruins are quite extensive and litter the surrounding countryside. The theatre is very impressuve (although the one at Ephesus is bigger and better) and looking from the top of the theatre onto the site is quite spectacular.

One key tip to remember is to NOT park at the Southern entrance as the parking there is paid. Rather park in the little town near the much smaller northern entrance. This also provides the best route as you walk up fully, around Hierapolis and back down, whereas if you come from the other way the walk down can be off putting as it hurts the ankles (or at least my still recovering one).


Ensure that you have at least 3 hours to properly explore and read everything at Ephesus as its full of history from the Hittite empire onwards. This ancient city is quite amazing mainly due to the the large amount of marble still present decorating not only the buildings but the streets are still paved with marble.

The city seems very crowded with ruins but that is mainly becuase the way in which the crumbled blocks have been displayed. There is a lot of broken pieces of buildings but rather then making it appear tidy, they display everything which can overwhelm the sense a bit.The best part of this city is the library which still has its facade standing at 2 storeys, however the inside at back is missing. The theatre here is quite impressive as well, mainly due to its sheer size. It the biggest theatre I have ever been in.

Saturday 30 April 2011

Cappadocia, Turkey

The area of Cappadocia is a large region that is most easily reached by Kayseri airport (or train station if you have the time). These days most travellers fly in, thanks to the cheapness provided by Pegausus and Andolu jet airlines, and it is only 1.25 hours from Istanbul through flying, whereas by train it can take at least 10 if things go a hundred percent.

After we arrived here we explored the town of Kayseri, which like the rest of Turkish cities, is open late. It was amazing to see how modern and clean and spacious Kayseri is. There are a wide variety of shops and malls to get to even as late at 9:30 pm. During our other evenings here, we also go to taste the local dish of Manti, which is a pasta like dish with a meaty filling, that you eat with yoghurt. We also go to enjoy a traditional Ottoman Tea House, where we drank an extremely lovely drink made from orchids called Sahlab/Salep. If you get the chance (as we did) driving up Mount Erciyes, provides an amazing view. At night the view over the city is very pretty with all the lights (Kayseri has a population of almost a million). But the actual mountain is very interesting with its minor domes and huge size (3916 m), and you can drive up as far as 2200m which is very impressive. There is a lake that was frozen over and interesting alpine birds. It is a good way to spend a half day if you have it to spare (in ski season I am sure its great with a very good chairlift taking you up much higher).

The actual reason of heading to Kayseri was not to explore the above, but to enjoy the wonders of Cappadocia which refers to a geological monument. This area has a lot to offer in sites from the cultural aspects of people living in these magnificent rock formations to the actual rock formations formed through erosion and the amazing tephra soil. The soil here is quite interesting as the different tephra layers has provided the extreme differences seen over the area in formation and colour. It is hard to explain the different aspects of this area, so rather then writing a book on it I will summarise the key areas of must see from our point of view.

One of our favourite areas (2 TL entry) was the Red Valley. Here you could spend days if you had the time. The chimney like domes that are here vary in colour, with white, pink and yellow and the colours in between them. It is hard to describe in words the wonder as you are walking around here. Every so often there is an opening in the rock where in the past someone had started digging or did successfully to build a home. The homes in this area are now modernised (at least close to the carpark) into more touristy things like a winery. But there are also remains of churches as in other areas.

Another partciuarly amazing thing in the area is not the Goreme open museum (you can actually see quite a bit of it without paying to get in) but the relatively unknown Soganli Valley (also 2 TL entry). For the majority of the time that we were there, we had the place to ourselves. Here, are the best perserved rock churches with mostly original artwork from Byzantine times.  Sadly the artwork is being destroyed by stupid tourists putting graffiti over it, but you can still see a lot of it. Like most places in Cappadocia there are houses or group villages gouged into the rock, and it was amazing to see the tunnelling not only in the rock outcrops but leading back into the hills.

The underground city at Derinkuyu was amazing (15 TL entry)! There was extensive tunneling of which you can actually only get into a small percentage of the overall complex. There are many of these underground cities all over Cappadocia but this is one of the larger ones. There are communal halls, churches and living areas, as well as little side places which once housed induvidual families. You get completely disorientated with the constant turns and stairways up and down. One of the main airshafts was a good 30m deep and we didn't even get down to the level of the bottom of it totally.

Uchasir, is a very interesting area to get the postcard pictures of the different types of formations, as well as, Turkish village in one setting. The best part of this town is the Pigeon Valley (just outside) which if you can get away from the throngs of tourists provides an excellent view over the towns massive pinnacle, village, and surrounding "fairy domes". And as the name suggests it is full of pigeons (most of this is probably due to people feeding them these days), as well as, sparrows. There is a great little cafe that provides a great view and good Turkish tea.

The best way to see the many different sites is by car. You can get around with buses but they are not relguar and dont take you to the random little places and you cannot stop when you see something amazing. As you drive along, there is literally something around every corner that is worth stopping and absorbing if you can. There are also tours but they are crowded, noisy and annoying. If you ever go to this area, pay what seems at first the little bit extra as its worth it to have a car.

Sunday 10 April 2011

Life in Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic

Despite the first month of my time in this part of Czech Republic being completely ruined by being almost immobile thanks to my ankle, its not too bad here. Unlike the other parts of Czech, as a forienger you get to experience what it is like to really live as a Czech person. Frydek-Mistek is a town in Northern Moravia, that exists due to a number of factories nearby the biggest being a car plant. People here are lucky in that it is very close to the Beskydy mountains (which are really big hills or baby mountains). The Beskydy mountains are very nice to walk through and are predominantly covered in spruce forests, however in spring some wild flowers appear. 

Near F-M there are also some lakes, which I didn't get to explore this time but have enjoyed on previous occassions (whilst visiting the in-laws when we lived in Brno). As with a lot of Czech countryside areas, there are numerous bike trails that show you different things and nature as you explore them. 

F-M actually used to be two separate towns that were on either side of a river, and as with Buda and Pest (hence the name budapest), they joined together to become one town. From appearances Frydek appears to be the posher half, as it has the chateau or castle sitting above the banks of the river. This castle is quite interesting to look explore and these days is predominantly a museum, or a place for chamber music recitals. Frydek town square is also interesting with its traditional Czech building styles present, it is larger than Misteks, however personally Misteks is more interesting. Mistek town square is small and quite and has a covered arched walkway that is really enjoyable on the hotter days to sit under. 

Nearby to F-M are a number of interesting little villages and sites to see, whcih makes F-M also a good point to use a base if you have a car or are using the bus system. An example is Stramberk. This cute village has part of a ruined castle at the top of the hill, and rebuilt in 1902 a replacement lookout tower for the one that was destroyed. You can go to the top of this tower today which gives you great views over the countryside and onto the Beskydy mountains. In the past this place used to be important for religious pilgramages, and the old houses built to support that are still standing today and agreat example of architecture from that period. Another interesting thing is the baking tradition to make Stramberk ears. When the turkish left the area, they left behind a bag of Christian ears, which these days they imitate in respect to those that fought against the turks. The ears are yummy.

Saturday 9 April 2011

Isle Mallorca, Spain

Palma de Mallorca

We arrived late into Palma to stay at Roc Linda hotel, which is a far cry from the 3 stars it claims, but it does the job for the cheapest price in the area (we stayed here 2 nights). The next day we headed out to see the sights surrounding the main city on the island. The main sight to see in Palma is the cathedral, built out of a lovely brown stone that matches all the old buildings beside it in old town. Inside isn’t anything that amazing but the view onto it from the sea front is quite spectacular.

After enjoying the view from here we headed onto the Castell de Bellever, which in the low season is free (2 Euros otherwise). The castle doesn’t have too much to offer but the views from the mountain top onto the city are worth the trip up there. The castle is circular in nature and the inner courtyard is reminiscent of a very small bull ring.

Playa de Palma isn’t what all the German and English tourists (they were a HUGE majority here of tourist nationalities), make it out to be. Considering the places that we went to afterwards, the beach is dirty, the water is gross, and its very crowded (apparently during high season you have to literally fight for a space on the beach).  But we headed in for a freezing dip and soaked in a bit of the sun. At night the road along here is packed with the crazy cyclists back from a day scaring drivers, some with interesting war wounds. It is a nice place for a dinner if you can find a quiet spot.

Mountains of Mallorca

The eastern part of the island is full of mountains which make for amazing scenery and beautiful (but difficult to get to) hidden coves. We stopped at many places along the way but my favourite were San Elm and Sa Calobra. San Elm had an incredible beach that I wish we had swum in. The water is extremely clear and you can see a variety of fishes. It also has a view onto Dragona Island, which is a national park that is quite pretty. Sa Calobra, has an engineering marvel to get to it. The road you have to drive on to get there is very windy and takes you up and down a lot.  There is even a figure 8 at one point. But once you get over the hurdle of the sheer cliffs beside you as you are driving along you arrive to park at what seems at first rather disappointing area. From here you have to walk the remainder of the way, even through some tunnels to get to a gap in the mountains to a pebbled beach with amazing blue green water and lots of rocks to explore. Unfortunately it was too cold to stay in too long to explore them properly but in the summer it would be very nice (although crowded). Another great thing about this place is that the gap in the rock leads onto a gorge that has a great walk going back into a swallow filled area. There are also a number of wild goats in the area. This would be a lovely place to walk properly and camp in if you got the bus to the area (there are a number of buses that come from various points).

Separately we also went back with our host to explore the towns of Valldemossa, Banyalbufar, and Deia. Valldemossa, is just outside of Palma, and has unfortunately been found by tourists, so the prices for everything have gone up. The village is very pretty with cobbled streets and is set upon a terraced hillside. Deia to me was not as interesting but has some very interesting smells from the plant life in the area. It is set in a bit more of a dramatic position with massive cliffs backing the city. Banyalbufar is a very small village, but the rock formations here are similar to the pancake rocks in New Zealand, and it also has a great cove with a waterfall to swim in if you were brave.

Northern Mallorca

We had two nights in Port Alcudia, which has a great lagoon and beaches. But the main focus of our stay here was to explore the northern tip of the island. The lighthouse at Cape Formentor is the largest on the island and a great place to have lunch. If the weather is good (which it usually is) you can see onto the island of Menorca. The road to get there is also very interesting, like Sa Calobra, very windy and up and down. The cliffs here are also a great view.

The other main thing to enjoy in this area is the beach Formentor. It is supposed to be the most beautiful beach in Mallorca, and it is very nice. The water is quite shallow so its not as freezing (maybe a degree warmer) and there are pine trees growing right onto the beach, so you can shade yourself a bit from the very bright sun, which gives the water its wonderful shimmer and colours. Would definitely recommend this place if you have the time to stop for a while.

Eastern Mallorca

Our last days in Mallorca we spent exploring the much flatter lands of the Eastern side of the Island. We stayed a night in Manacor which is apparently the ugliest city in Mallorca, but I didn’t think it was too bad. It does have a very nice clock tower and a couple of good buildings but it doesn’t really have the appeal of other places. But it is a very useful base to explore this part of Mallorca.

We had our only negative experience in Mallorca in the caves of Porto Cristo (the light ones). Do not go here. Mass tourism and greed has actually destroyed this beautiful caves with the cutting of stalactites and mites to provide slightly better view of further back ones, and the constant leaving of the lights on all the time has caused a very thick layer of algae and other photosynthetic plants to grow on the caves walls, stopping all growth. These caves are dead and have just been used to destruction by the people “owning” them. They are obsessed with audiovisual displays on the caves walls which have been smoothed to make them better viewing. Horrible. In contrast to these horrible caves are some much better ones, also in Porto Cristo (del drach). The tour is actually cheaper here which is an added bonus, and much better. These caves have been well looked after and are still growing. They are also interesting in that seawater wells up within them despite not having a direct opening to the ocean. The karsts are much larger here and the cathedral is impressive. There is also a music concert with live musicians on a boat that goes along an inner lake, which you then get to go on. Much better cave tour.

Apart from the caves, the Eastern part of the island also has some great beaches, although the water is much choppier here. Salinnes is a good place to visit as you can see the other island Cabrera and has some interesting geology. However the mountains and northern parts of Mallorca are much more interesting than the South and Eastern in all honesty.

Friday 8 April 2011

Brief Bratislava

Due to the timing of buses, trains and flights, we had a bit of time to explore the capital city of Slovakia. Bratislava is a very clean city, I loved this about it the first time I came here when I was studying in Budapest. Nothing too much has changed, there are a few new buildings but its still a “little big city”. It is a great place to set yourself to explore Slovakia and other major cities as its very close to Vienna, Budapest and Brno. Within the city there are a lot of gardens, as until recent history (late 18th century) a third of the city was actually still royal gardens belonging to Bratislava castle. This time we didn’t explore Bratislava castle, but it sits high upon a hill overlooking the whole city. These days its mainly a museum with various exhibitions. The stare mestro or old town is still a great place to explore. There are cute statues to play with and the buildings are kept in good condition so there is  quite a bit of interesting architecture.

Another great place to just relax and explore in the sun, is the Danube. This famous river meanders its way through Europe and several major cities, Bratislava being one of them. Along the Danube is a great walk and lots of places to just sit and watch the water traffic go by. Good coffees and ice cream.

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Brno and Punkevni Jeskyne

Our primary goal of heading back to Brno, was to catch up with the friends we had made there, this goal was definitely achieved. Things haven't changed too much since we were last living here, some new buildings, new roads partly done, but apart from the public transport going up in price its still the same lovely "biggest village on earth". 

Brno has a lot to offer for tourists, that are sick of paying too much in Prague and trying to compete with the drunken stag do's from England. During our visit, we went to the Brno Dam and Lake. This area is very pretty esepcially in the summer, with the lake in front and shade from the trees. I recommend after getting off from the tram that you head to the right, as you can see the actual dam (which I learned was completed by Hilter, and there is also a remanent of the highway he was attempting to build), and it has less road noise. Sadly when we were there the ferry was not working (which is a bit expensive anyway), however, we went off to Veveri Castle by car. The castle doesn't have a major historical importance (just general hunting, spoilt rich folk place to stay, and control people from), however I actually enjoyed the view and the layout  more than Brno Castle. Here it now looks onto the Dam Lake, and is perched on top of a neat hill. We only got to explore the old garden (which at one point had a mini train running in it) as well as, the old greenhouse, which were in their original crumbling state, and right by the front gate. This was actually quite amazing to see and visualise how it would have looked once upon a time. 

Apart from the Dam area, Brno itself is full of many different attractions (read other entries for more details), most of which can be found nice and centrally. Namesti Svobody, is the main square and coming off from there nearby are the castle, tower, cathedrals, and my recommended capuchin monastery (really random remains from the monks that due to  the cellar conditions were mummified - very cool!). Despite all this awesomeness one of my favourite and not too visited areas is Konecneho Namesti. The buildings on this square and the roads immediately off from it are my favourite in Brno. The detail and decedance displayed here, is amazing. each window has a different statue face, engaged volutes, gods and goddesses, just to name a few of the amazing features. It is also here that we caught up with friends, as just off the square is our favourite restaurant Pegas (the small one). Best food in Brno. And conviently just off a different street from it is Sklipecek, the best wine cellar in Brrno. Its bascially a bar that only sells wine and really good stuff at that. Here is where we caught up with mates from previous experiences, and had a very lovely night. 

The next day we explored a new thing (for myself at least, and Martin got to do the boat ride this time) the Moravian Karst. We had previously been here, but the tours were closed and we were unable to enter the caves. There are over 1000 caves in the area but only 5 are publically available. We went to Punkevni Caves, which are the best in the area as the main opening is a massive arch with different cave areas coming off from it. The formations in the caves were amaznig (as are every cave) although in particular there was a very high proportion of curtains/fans of extreme magnificance. Part of the tour also includes a boat ride through the actual ceiling area of a different part of the caves. Lovely day trip from Brno. However ensure that you get there early, so rather than paying almost another ticket worth to get the stupid train thing, you can walk the 1.3 km to the main entrance (you have to park a bit away sadly).

Sunday 27 March 2011


One random morning we decided to head of to finally pay our respects at Auschwitz. The ride there from Frydek-Mistek was an interesting one, as thanks to the GPS we were navigated on a lot of back roads, which in Poland are very reminiscent of Albania with lots of pot holes and in general not the greatest of condition. 

Upon arriving to Auschwitz, we seemed to have come at the same time as a massive (100+ easy) group of high school kids from Israel (they had their flags out). The front entrance was packed with people but once you get through you arrive at the famous front gates stating “work makes you free”, Arbeit macht frei, (the original gate sign was actually stolen last year, and they now sadly have a replacement). The feeling that you get walking around and in the camp is indescribable. At certain points tears do come out (for me it was seeing the death wall, and gas chambers/furnaces (they were joined at this part of camp).

The exhibitions inside the old barracks are deeply disturbing, and the starvation one even more so (could only glance in, the pictures were too troubling). There are stories throughout talking about the bravery and resisting which considering the circumstances faced are incredible. There are of course a lot more horror stories. 

Writing about going to Auschwitz is extremely difficult, its not the place you go to enjoy yourself, but more to see this horrific landmark and pay respects to those that suffered needlessly, all for the stupidity and futility of war. The things that humans do to each other is despicable.

After this part of the camp I was definitely in no mood or emotionally ready to see what was literally the extermination camp of Auschwitz Birkenau. One is enough.

Lest we forget

Thursday 17 March 2011

Back to Budapest

This road trip would not have been complete without exploring my “old Hungarian home”. During 2007 I studied at the Corvinus University, and had a fantastic exchange there. It was important that Martin be shown the sites of this fantastic city that at present is not overrun with tourists (which is much nicer than Prague in this respect). After parking the car near Aquincum, the old roman ruins of Budapest, we started off by tramming down one side of the Danube, while I pointed the important sites like the castle, Matthias church, fishermans bastion, parliament, and Gellert hill. Crossed over to the other side and grabbed a bite at the Burger King (gross I know, but back when I was there it was 150 HUF for a chesseburger combo – my how things have changed now 618 HUF!!). Showed him the impressive market place that actually backs my old Uni. This market place is huge and had three floors. It used to actually be a fish market, which when you are in a land locked country seems weird, even though you have the very (now) polluted Danube running there. Corvinus Uni hadn’t changed much, surprised that the works for the underground were still out the front after 4 years (Budapest started the new underground line when I was there, but it is looking doubtful that it will ever be finished). Right by there, is the famous tourists street, Vaci Utca, which I used to live off of. It has a wide variety of interesting shops and a couple of good restaurants.

After resting a bit, headed to my favourite monument in Budapest: Heroes square. When I was there, I studied Hungarian history, and to see it accumulated and displayed in this way was fantastic. You have at the top of the main column is the angel Gabriel holding St Stephens crown (the holy crown), at the base of the main column are the 7 tribes that founded Hungary after setting out from Ural mountains with their chief Arpad at the front, and in the backing colonnades the 14 men important to Hungarian history and angels on the top of the different colonnades, (one represents peace, the other war). Sitting underneath it, is the geothermal spring that supplies the Szechenyi Baths (another must do if you have the time). Either side of this you have two different art galleries, both of beautiful architecture and design.

After that we were lucky enough to arrive on Gluttonous Thursday (to do with the start of Lent), where all the restaurants have their menus half price. We met up with dear friends and had a fantastic night out, eating a bit too much. It was lovely to be back in Budapest, to see, smell, taste, and hear the same things, brought back a lot of good memories. It is a shame however, how much Budapest has increased in price in the last few years. Everything is much more expensive.

Note: there are much more detailed descriptions in my older previous writings from time during my study.

Lake Balaton

After getting in from Croatia, we explored a part of Hungary that I had never made it to while I was studying there. Lake Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe. In the past this part of Hungary was very important to the nobility, but obviously it is now one of the most popular tourist destinations in the summer. The main reason we were going there, was to experience the thermal attraction of Lake Heviz. Lake Heviz is the worlds 2nd largest thermal lake, and the largest one that humans can enter without cooking. The smell reminded me of Rotorua and the togs remained smelling that way for quite a while (and after 2 washes).  If you got in the late afternoon the price of entry is halved which is recommended as you don’t really need all day, and the 1.5 hours we had was enough for us to truly enjoy it. It nice to be surrounded by nature when you are swimming there, and we ever got to interact with some type of duck I had never seen before, that kept popping around. The inside part is much warmer than the outdoor section, and is very nice. We would definitely recommend a dip in Lake Heviz if you are passing that way.

After leave Heviz we headed to Hegyestu geological monument. This place is like the giants causeway in that it is long basalt columns, however it is more of a mountain made of them, which is quite impressive. In general the top half of Balaton has a lot of ancient volcanic remains (Hungary still has a lot of geothermal activity). We stayed that night in Balatonalmadi which is at the northern part of Balaton. The lake is very impressive in size, and the villages dotted along the road are very cute.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Bosanska Krajina

We arrived into Bosnia and Herzegovina, into the area/province called Bosanska Krajina, after a day exploring the Plitvice Lakes National Park of Croatia which is just beside the border.  After passing through Bihac, which is the biggest city in this area, we drove through part of the Una National Park (without realising until later). We were hoping to stop somewhere, however the road here did not allow any pulling over at all and all stops were on the opposing side of the road, which would have been impossible to get to at short notice with someone right behind, so sadly we do not have any pictures of this lovely  area. The part we drove through was an amazing gorge (found out afterwards that there are very famous waterfalls nearby), which with the sun setting on it brought out a variety of interesting colours. The river Una, is fantastic, similar blue and greens to that of the Plitvice lakes, however in a river. The river was also very clean and would have been excellent for rafting (which is possible in the summer).

We stayed the night in the small town of Otoka. Here we had an incredible night sleep in such peace. Even though we knew that most of Bosnia was Muslim (part of their Ottoman heritage) we were still surprised to see 4 mosques in this village (we stayed literally across the road from one), mostly because of the size of the town. As we arrived the valley was echoing with the different mosques calling people to prayer, which was very interesting.

The history of this town was very remarkable (and scary), everywhere there were bullet holes in the houses, and some even had larger gaps from what I imagine was mini bombs (some were bombed). In the past the village was attacked by the Serbians during the Yugoslavian wars, and the only thing that kept the village from being captured was the river Una being such a large obstacle. Such a very different lifestyle and way to grow up, it is just impossible to try and imagine it, even when faced with the evidence.

On the way out of the country we passed through some cute little villages and really enjoyed the scenery. We highly recommend people consider Bosnia and Herzegovina as a tourist destination. As yet it is not over run with people, even in the summer, which means obviously a much nicer experience. And it truly has a lot of history, culture and nature to offer. Bosnians (at least in our experience) are incredibly hospitable. We had a amazing stay here and had never felt so welcome and apparently this welcome, is a cultural trait. It was very sad to leave this country and head on.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Inland Croatia

Our time in inland Croatia, was spread over two days as we did a side step into Bosnia (which I highly recommend you get to!!). We stayed along the coastal route from Omis until Split, then took the motorway inland. The motorways in Croatia are fantastic, well designed and very new (although a bit expensive). The main point of the day was to get to Plitvice Lakes National Park. Here we spent the afternoon walking around observing the park, which was amazing in the wintery glory. The waterfalls were just starting to come back to life, with at least half still frozen, which provided an interesting view of the water running underneath the frozen roof of them. There were also a high number of giant icicles hanging on from the sides of the waterfalls.  The pathways were still frozen or had snow on them which made walking around (especially with crutches) slightly tricky.  This place is definitely a must see in Croatia if you need a break from the amazing scenery on the coast or if you have an extra day to spare. In the summer there, there are also buses and boats going which would help to speed up what you can see in the national park. The water colour that the park is famous for is still present with a lovely mixtures of pure blues and greens, and all the colours in between them.

Plitvicka Jezera in winter

The other part of inland Croatia that we explored was near the Bosnian border and leading up to Hungary. Here there was a lot of evidence of the wars of the past. Pretty much every village we visited, the older houses (or those that had not replastered) had evidence of bullet holes. It is very hard to imagine what it must have been like living in these sort of times, with the constant fear. Apart from the war memories, this part of Croatia, was very similar to other areas of Eastern Europe in house design. Although it appears much sleepier, with older people just sitting beside the road, staring at that weird Czech car driving by, it was very nice.

Coastal Croatia

Dubrovnik old townAfter getting in from Montenegro, we had the pleasure to explore the coastal region of Croatia. Our first stop was Dubrovnik. The old part of town enclosed within the walls was very nice and we had an amazing view over it as we approached. It was sad to learn that most of the buildings were actually new as they were badly damaged during the war. We arrived at a good time it seemed as there was the end of a festival going on, and there was a stage with a lot of kids dressed up with various themes. Not quite sure what it was all about, but was nice to see.

From Dubrovnik we carried on up towards our stopping point of the night in Omis (near Split). Along the way we had to pass through a small stretch of Bosnia. We learnt that night from our host, that the reason this tiny part of land belongs to Bosnia, was because the Dubrovnikians of the past didn’t want much to do with the rest of Croatians, so they gave that tiny portion of land to the Ottomans, who were in Bosnia at the time. And after the break up of Yugoslavia, this part of the land was kept by Bosnia. Or so we were told. The only town in this area is Neum and there isn’t too much to see here.

Once back in Croatia, the amazing scenery continued. Little villages dotted along the coast with impressive mountains behind them. Omiš old town The mountains are also interesting to look at, as they in general do not have many trees on them, and are quite rocky (of course mountains are made of rock, however they looked like they are composed of piles of them).

Stopped briefly in Gradac, where Martin holidayed when younger. This town is adorable. Nice pebbled beach and very nice looking water. Made it to Omis, which is an old pirate town. The castle on the top of the hill was for a ruling pirate family, and the lower tower was a look out point for it. The old town is very pretty  with narrow streets to walk through. Beach of course is also good, although the wind had blown quite a bit of sand away.

This time of year in Croatia there are very strong winds. This was evident the whole way up with mass sea spray and mini water spouts forming.  Also interesting weather to note is that is was actually was snowing at one point. Was really surreal, we thought it was seeds but nope, snow.
After exploring Omis, we headed out for dinner with our host to a very nice place just along the coast, where we had very nice tasting Croatian coastal food. We stayed the night in the small town of Stanici. The view from our apartment in the morning was fantastic; could see over to the island across the way and wonderful sea views.


Unfortunately our plans in Monetenegro  did not go well, due to the fact that it took us much longer to get out of Albania than we had planned. After crossing the border we headed north through a bird sanctuary through to the mountain monastery Ostrog. This place is famous as it is built at the top of, and into the cliff of a very high mountain. The road getting there once off the highway, was a little interesting (sheer drop and single lanes, passing was fun), but once there the view was amazing. Sadly the monastery was not what we had expected, as they have closed off the majority of the place so you can really only appreciate the view and two altars. The higher altar of the two was quite impressive..Using a natural cave the monks/artists have created some extremely beautiful artwork all over the walls.

Ostrog monastery

We headed off to what we thought was a slight shortcut rather going all the way back to the coast, only to find out that both the GPS and google maps were extremely confused. What was labeled a highway turned out to be a dirt track. Seriously, a gravel road in NZ would have been better to drive on than this “highway”. So sadly we had to head back all the way we had come and wasted a lot of time. This meant that by the time we got to Kotor, it was dark. Kotor in the dark was still quite an impressive site. Unlike what is shown in the pictures the old town walls actually go up the hill from the old town which is at the base. This provides a very unusual view. Not quite sure why this is happened as there is nothing visible at night, at the top of the hill.

The next morning we explored the area around Herceg Novi, where we had stayed the night. The Bay of Kotor (which we were at the end of), is very pretty. Beaches are quite nice, and the mountains going almost straight into the sea was very cool. We will have to come back sometime and explore Bay of Kotor properly as I feel we missed a lot travelling at night.

Northern Albania

The roads here made the remainder of our journey through Albania much longer than expected which decreased what we could see in Montenegro, but it was an experience. As mentioned in the other section on Albania, the roads here are much worse. Although it doesn’t seem to deter the Albania’s who speed along clearly without having any suspension anymore. Being much more populated than the south, there is also much more people to avoid as you are driving along, especially in cities where the central part seems to be just one bit market.

The mountains here are geologically different to the Southern ones, with different stones protruding out, and as with a little patch of the south, all on a lean of very odd looking angles. Very pretty. Didn’t have much time to explore the area here as we were trying to get onto Montenegro as soon as possible since were already being our schedule, but sadly we didn’t end up seeing to much there either. But important to note is the honesty of the people in the smaller villages. We stopped for a food break (2 coffees, ice cream, bar, 2 waters, all for 2 EU), and got overcharged at first. When they realized their mistake (we had no idea), they returned the money.

For Albania in general, there is a lot of reminders of the war,. Especially along the coastal regions and the borders (the Greek one was the worst) are gunners holes everywhere. These days though they have fallen into disrepair and some have even been used to create fishing platforms in rivers. There are a lot of abandoned houses, which is in stark contrast to the massive (3 stories in most cases) houses that exist. Of these massive houses though, about 30% are empty or unfinished. Seems that ideas and dreams are big but something got in the way.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Southern Albania

Our first scenes of Albania.
We started our journey into Albania, continuing on from Ioannina Greece. Sadly the Greek part was not as interesting as it had been before, and with the rain was not much fun to look at. There was also the horrible border crossing with hardly any cars, yet took us 1.5 hours to get through the Greek border control (as they only had 1 lane open, and were checking everything).
Albania is a very pretty country and the prettiest part of it is definitely the Southern regions. Here the roads are in much better conditions than the northern part. Although they are only really decent until Vlove, then it turns in to the stereotypical roads that you have probably heard about, where you play, dodge the giant pot hole. The main reason the road is so twisty is that in the south you have to  get along the coastal mountain region. Albania in general has a very large number of mountains, most of which were surprisingly not covered with snow (when compared to the same altitude in Greece there was 30+ cm).


Albanian countryside near Butrint
The main point of our excursions into Southern Albania was to see the archaeological site of Butrint. This wonderful little almost island in Butrint lagoon has evidence from every major occupation and development in the Balkan history from Iron age remains through to Ottoman defenses put on at the beginning of this century. The best preserved part of it was the Roman side of the village, although with the water table rising up, it is slowly sinking away. The Venetian tower provides nice views over the surrounding countryside and of course the site itself. This is a must see if you are ever in Albania.

Southern Albania has some of the nicest beaches of white sand we have seen on our trip. The trees are interesting, and the wildlife that likes to go on the road is also fun (though the cows would hurt the car). There really are no words to describe how pretty Southern Albania is, which is why I highly urge you to go there if you ever get the chance. Although in saying this, Albania is not a country that can be done in a hurry at all. We were planning to get much further north then we ended up. We stayed the night in Durres after about 7 hours of driving in Albania only to get about 2/3 through. In easier terms, we drove about 250 km in  7 hours. This is because of the windy roads, and then later on the max speed of 30km because of the terrible condition.

Durres doesn’t have much to say for itself, despite being recommended as a place to go. It does have a good beach which stretches for miles, but after the beautiful coastal regions we had seen elsewhere it seemed almost dirty.

Nothern Greece

Today started well with weather looking ok, and being a bit warmer. We made good time from Aftios,  through the Greek countryside largely due to the very nicely improved motorways connecting Thessaloniki to Athens. Had a bit of trouble getting off where we wanted, as they had closed it to make another toll booth, but eventually got to the right point. The route we were taking was a lot twistier than expected and we ended up extremely high. The point of this exercise was to take us from the coastal area’s through Mt Olympus foot hills, which we did. However we were not expecting the portions of extremely dense fog (30 m at most) and 40+ cm snow lining the roadside. Not quite sure how another car would have passed us. The view through the gaps in the fog was incredible and there was such peace with the only sound being that of snow falling from the trees. Through these foothills we did not encounter a single car. Had some more interesting scenic driving through a lot more fog, and similar snow, to get from Olympus (the town) to Meteora monasteries, the main point of the day.

The monasteries are located in an extremely beautiful part of Greece. Here there are massive fingers of rock, gouged out by water, standing over 600m+ up, with monasteries perched precariously on top of them. Sadly we arrived just after closing time for them, but did get to hear the bells ringing with the hour. The building of these places must have been a huge undertaking and the size of them on these obelisks is even more impressive. They are doted about all over these fingers, which were the most amazing part to me. They varying in shape and size, and seeing the way the water has worked and is working on them is amazing. Some are slowing being cut in half and will probably fall impressively at some point. Others have already had sections fall off recently too (judging from the colour differentiation to the rest of them). There are also little holes gouged in the sides which have been used by the locals as houses at some point, and some still have things stored in them.

Sadly the fog (there was already some but it wasn’t too bad) that we had driven through made its way to the monasteries, so it was time to move on. We headed onto Ioannina, our camp for the night. The route there would have probably been spectacular as we were clearly driving on a ridge, but of course that nasty fog took away any view, and even made the car in front of us look hazy. Got onto the main motorway, and for the first part fog, but after about 5 mins (and 500m drop in height overall), out we came from a tunnel to find spectacular snowy scenery, with mountains covered brilliantly. Such an impressive site. The building of this motorway was also impressive as we had both never driven through so many continuous tunnels, and each gap between the tunnels was a sight of beauty.

Ioannina is a very nice city. It doesn’t feel to cramped or overcrowded. Has a wonderful lake which reflects the mountains in the morning, similar to that of Queenstown. Here we had a great time going out with our host, and meeting his friends and eating a wide selection of Greek “fast food”, which tasted pretty good. Would definitely recommend it as a place to stay.

Thursday 3 March 2011


Sadly we arrived into Greece, from Macedonia, in the dark, so there was not much to see. But our first day in Greece, was nice, but a bit cool. We explored the finger of Kassandra that we were staying on in Halkidiki. Halkidiki is actually shaped like a trident striking down, and Kassandra is the first finger of these.

Halkidiki Coast
 Did a bit of off-main-roading which provided us some very nice views of the bays and some interesting bird sightings (sadly they were too fast for camera). The whole place seems to be closed down for the winter as we didn’t find a single place open to have lunch. This sadly is one of the more annoying points of travelling off season, but there are a lot of perks (e.g. being 1 of 2 guests at the entire hotel). Not to mention that it was quite annoying that we could not properly explore (although we did manage to get a bit further than fenced off) of the temple of Zeus and Dionysus that is in next town from our hotel. The geological composition of the finger is quite interesting as there is diversity in soil types and colours.

Our hotel was very nice. We had gotten a deluxe room which came with a fireplace and Jacuzzi in it which was very posh for us. They also have a sauna and steam room, and in the summer the pools open as well. Definitely recommend Hotel Nostos if you are looking for a nice place in Halkidiki. However, I would actually never want to stay here in the summer despite the obvious niceness of having good weather. On Kassandra (the whole area we have travelled while here), there is a very large volume of apartments and hotels, and seemingly not enough beach to enjoy properly. I imagine the beaches would be insanely crowded, which coming from New Zealand would be very off putting. But it is a very lovely area, with nice green blue sea, even in the winter.

Petralona Caves
Our second day in Greece we explored the Petralona Caves. This is definitely worth the visit and is priced well at only 7EU standard entry, with discounts available. Due to the time of year, we were lucky enough to have the entire place to ourselves. The caves presents a lovely variation in colours from pure white to brown red tights, mights, candles, fans and curtains (different forms of cave growths). It has 2 main halls, and numerous side passages which are explored at your own leisure if you are alone. I imagine during the summer there would be proper guided tours and lots of noise. It was very peaceful and impressive site. It is also quite unusual cave as all year round it is a balmy 17 degrees, with good level of humidity. The caves are accompanied by a museum, which displays the many archaeological finds. There is the famous Petralonian man which was found here, with his head physically removed and moulded to the wall of the cave over the years, while the rest of the skeleton sunk down. There was a good representation of this fact (and the skull) are in the museum. In addition there is a high number of different finds of human activity, as well as, animal bones.
White tower of Thessaloniki

After Petralona, we did a bit of country wandering up to Thessaloniki. Very very city, and couldn’t imagine trying to drive there in the summer. Saw the white tower and briefly enjoyed the sea front, before heading back via the sea route towards our hotel. Personally there are much more interesting sites outside of the city, but it does offer an easier stay with everything being central. Stopped off in Nea Fokea along the way back, to view the Byzantine tower and church, which still stand. The tower is only accessible through climbing the wall with a rope, as the tunnel to its inside is hidden these days. This town is very cute, and we saw evidence of the famous beach front restaurants.

Pretty beach near Thessaloniki
The food is of course with a mention, as its super yummy. The garlic heavily influences the tastes of the different things we tried, and everything is quite fishy in the area, being so close to the sea. My favourite dish was grilled aubergines with garlic sauce. So yummy! Most nights ended up feeling very fat and bloated unable to move very much.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Macedonian Countryside

Macedonian countryside
Typical village
 On route to Greece, we passed through the country of Macedonia. After driving through Serbia it was a stark change from villages every so often to very sparsely populated. And wherever there was dense populations there was certainly some sort of major industrial site to accompany it. No city was without one our entire route. To me, Macedonia, is a country of pretty gorges. The windy roads are very nicely done, and take you through some very pretty scenery as you follow the rivers path. Houses here are a bit different than in Serbia, in that they are wider than they are tall, but still have a similar style. The tolls for getting around are quite cheap and the roads are definitely worth paying them.

Ruins of Stobi
We did manage to stop at a very well preserved cultural site of Stobi. Here there was a very large Roman settlement that had a large number of palaces from different ages, as well as, some later church inclusions. It was quite interesting to see the different layers, and the palaces were of quite interesting shape and design. The whole site can be seen quite quickly (in about 30 mins) as the signs are not well detailed but give you a good overview of the area. It is also very cheap entrance of 120 MKD, and decently priced souvenirs. It is also a very convenient stop being literally right off the main motorway through the country.

Serbian Countryside

The next morning we headed off early to continue our drive onwards towards Greece, which meant that we got to view the interesting changes through the Serbian countryside. After Belgrade the country gets far more hilly, and the Southern part even more so,that it almost looks like alpine villages from Austria. The southern part of Serbia is really interesting, as there is a clear dividing line about 1 hour from the border, where there is a small pocket of Islamic peoples, as the Serbian orthodox churches disappear and are replaced by minarets. It was really interesting driving through the villages and seeing the differences between city and country lifestyles. For example houses are actually composed of mud bricks in certain areas, and the style of stacking hay actually changes the further south you go. One thing that did make me sad however, was the very large amount of plastic rubbish that was everywhere, especially lining the riverbanks.

Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic to Novi Sad, Serbia

Frydek-Mistek, Czech Republic to Novi Sad, Serbia:

The route down left must to be desired in scenery, but not because it wasn’t there. This time of the year, there is a lovely dose of wog (winter smoggy thick fog), which sadly covers most of the view that is out there. The countryside of Czech Republic was same old, with nice old buildings in a very Eastern European style of building. Onto the portion that was through Slovakia, similar sort of style, although personally I find everything just a bit more disorganised. Throughout Hungary the style changes a bit with things slightly more confined and houses being a bit smaller in the countryside then previously seen. The border between Hungary and Serbia was interesting. For the first time I had trouble with my new pasport (the black very colourful NZ/Aotearoa one). Due to my cover having the word Aotearoa on it, everyone was confused. It took us an hour to get through the border (surprisingly the Hungarians took longer with it than Serbian, but I suppose once I had gotten through one the other shouldn‘t‘ be as bad). Onto Serbia, which like Hungary in that it is very very flat. Although it had a unique twist, with silos for grain being everywhere, which totally relates to the communistic view that Yugoslavia was the silo of Europe. There was still evidence of the crops around with pockets of Hops still standing through the snow. On top of the interesting crops, the roads are quite fun. They are similar to India, in that people tend to use the road fully. There are actually only 2 lanes for most of the journey down to Novi Sad from the border. However, thanks to the large shoulders most people seem to convert this into a 3 lane motorway.

Novi Sad, Serbia

This city is quite fantastic. It is small enough to enjoy the main sites in an evening, leaving enough time to truly taste the Serbian experience. We found a fantastic little (3 tables in total) restaurant just behind the main square that was just us. Had a lovely Slavic soup with noodles, followed by the super main course. We had a shared mixed meat platter that had an extremely wide selection which was amazing. But the best bit was the salad. It was a simple tomato, cucumber, and onion mixed with the best tasting soft cheese I have had in a very long time. It was comparable to sour cream made into a cheese (Sopsky). The wine was also very nice, a earthy tasting red one from somewhere in Serbia. Mmmmm, soooooooooo yummy. Had a mini foodgasm.  Obviously the sites are also worthy of a mention, with the fantastic Fortress on the hill with a colour changing “rainbow bridge” in the foreground. The main square has a number of interesting monuments, but my particular favourite was the church with the coloured tiled roof. Very interesting. Another great side point of Novi Sad in particular, is the honest and cheap cabs. We decided to take a cab in from our hotel (thanks to my ankle still playing up) which round trip journey cost under 4 EUR (which is impressive considering our hotel was an hours walk from town centre).  They cab drivers actually take less than the meter states, and are happy about it. They also do sincerely take the quickest route. Would definitely recommend using this wonderful service if you are ever here.

Friday 7 January 2011

Ireland 2.0

We headed out Friday night to stay out at Stansted airport at the Radisson Blu. Was so fancy and a big change for us to hotel a trip. Enjoyed a very relaxing evening with the sauna and pool. Afterward we had a drink and snack beside the worlds tallest wine tower. Was quite funny to see the lady going up and down inside it on wires getting the bottle from the top (was about 3 storeys tall). Got up early the next day and flew out to Dublin.

Beautiful nature near the national parkArrival into Dublin was smooth, and we headed off straight away North. Our first real stop was driving through the Gortin Glen National Park. This area really reminded us of the Northumberland Dales in England, although it was filled with abandoned old houses. Scenery was quite cool here, and stopped at the Goles Stone monument. Similar in relation to stone henge in druid worship, except that this was much smaller and for observing the moon.

From here we headed North again to go back to our favourite place in Ireland: The Giant's Causeway. We arrived at almost the same tide height as last time (quite low, but not the lowest). These amazing rock structures have not lost their magic and the scenery is still beautiful. Some slight changes in the cliffs nearby due to erosion, but just as amazing. Us at Giant's Causeway Stayed until we were frozen and the sun was setting then headed onto Belfast. We actually ended up finding where we had our first dinner, however it was too expensive now, so we settled to try a very nice tasting Indian place (although they could have turned the heaters on!). Had another drink at the Crown pub (one of the prettiest pubs we have ever been in), then had to head back to the hotel. It was sooooooooooo cold in Belfast (although it was quite late by this point).

National park landscape in the morningThe next morning we headed back a similar direction (not totally the same though), however it had snowed overnight. So this time as we drove to Gortin Glen National Park it was a completely different look. Very lovely, all white and picturesque, just like a postcard. I was quite proud of myself as it was my first time driving on snow. After the National Park we headed to Donegal to see the historic castle there. Considering its importance, it was much smaller than expected. It had been amazingly redone in original style and there was quite a bit of explanation of its history and involvement with both the fighting Irish sides, Scotland and England. Headed back through the middle of Northern/Ireland towards the Boyne Valley area where we sadly arrived after dark, so the beautiful coastline was mostly lost on us. But along the way we did stop at an awesome empty Stone circle with a moon line and cairn called Drumskinny on the boarder of Northern/Ireland. On the way from Boyne Valley to drop off the car we called in at one of the oldest pubs in Ireland called the Cock Tavern just north of Dublin. Dropped off the car, then back very late to Stansted where we missed the bus by 30secs (seriously, pulled out as we arrived). So got home around 2 am, needless to say work that morning was a bit hard.

Drumskinny stone circle Drumskinny stone circle