Tenerife

Looking for a reasonably priced week in the sun in spring, Tenerife looked like a good option. Though well known with British holiday makers, we were more interested in the northern part of the island and first headed to the capital Santa Cruz. We purchased a bus pass that would cover us for a week and jumped on the bus to Santa Cruz from the airport.

We had booked an apartment in the city and this would make a good base for exploring its attractions. The city waterfront is mainly a port though there is some seafront near the opera house building. Our first couple of days we explored the center of the city and along the coast. With its backdrop of the Anaga mountains to the north it was a pleasant place to be and its squares and varied architecture made for plenty of photos. The TEA exhibition center was another interesting cultural site with its modern architecture, library and range of exhibitions entertaining for a few hours. When we wanted beach time Las Terisitas was a beautiful beach a short bus ride away with its Saharan sand and lagoon not too busy. The small fishing town of San Andreas with houses perched up the hillside making a photogenic backdrop.

The Palmetum on a hill by the waterfront had many species of palm from right around the world and was a pleasant place to wander in the late afternoon. We had four days in Santa Cruz and there was certainly more to see.

We next took the bus to Puerto de la Cruz stopping off at La Laguna on the way. La Laguna having a grid of old houses to walk round with interesting doors and hidden court yards to search out. It was definitely worth stopping off.

Puerto de La Cruz was one of the original resorts on Tenerife before the southern resorts were built. It has a different character to those resorts and the visitors seemed much more international from all over Europe. The resort has black volcanic sand beaches and the sea pounded in the whole time we were there. Only the surfers were out in these waves, though some of the tourists would stand knee deep in the breakers then finding themselves waist deep.

The town is built on a hillside and a short bus ride up the hill is the botanical gardens. This had many beautiful tropical plants centered around a huge South American tree with intertwined branches. Walking down from here is an amazing view point of the beaches to the east of the town with the heavy seas crashing against the rocks.

Past the Playa Grande on the west side of the town is Puntas Bravas, a picturesque headland of old Spanish houses. Watching the sun go down over this from the town is a favourite for visitors with the black sand beach in the foreground.

For our last two nights we chose El Medano – a tip from a regular visitor to the island. This is close to the international airport in the south and an easy taxi ride to fly out. The town often has strong winds and is a favourite with wind and kite surfers. We liked it because of the old volcanic cone you can walk to from the town called Montana Roja – the red mountain. The terrain was much drier than in the north with less vegetation, and you could wander around the desert and sandy beaches before heading back to the town.

Tenerife has much more to offer, and on our next trip we would like to visit the central volcano El Teide – which you may see flying in, drive the roads around Masca, visit the cliffs of Los Gigantes and the laurel forests of the north.

Travel by bus was no great problem with Google Maps, though it would definitely help to brush up your Spanish for some parts of the island.

Berlin

One of the cities that changed the most when the Soviet Union broke up, anyone who lived through the fall of the Berlin Wall will vividly remember images of German’s taking sledgehammers to the wall that had divided their city for so long.

People were hacking chunks off the wall as souvenirs, and those with a business head breaking it into small chunks to sell on the pavements around the city. Street sellers were also selling military memorabilia across the city.

Trabants filled the east side of the city, though these would be replaced in subsequent years by modern German cars, going from being the normal mode of transport to collectors items.

The city could be visited in its entirety soon after the fall of the wall, though initially tourists were only allowed into the east for a day. A day in the east was not to be missed though as many of the city’s best buildings were on the east of the wall.

For getting around, it is a large city and walking the streets can get tiring after a while, it’s better to use the various public transport to hop around the city.

For us, we spent a lot of time walking and playing pinball in bars around the Ku’damm and experiencing the more alternative culture in Kreuzberg at the time. For you, no doubt the city has changed a lot, and you will find favourite new places in this huge metropolis.

Places that stay in my mind are the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag, Berliner Dom, and the TV Tower in East Berlin. There will be many more for you to find on your trip.

Berlin is somewhere that it would be good to go back to, to see how it’s changed, and find new attractions for myself, now that the years have changed me also.

Ceuta

Ceuta is a Spanish territory situated on the north coast of Africa. It is bordered by Morocco, and is a port city offering entry to the African continent from Europe. I decided to go there as a stepping stone from Spain into Africa travelling by motorbike.

There is a ferry from Algeciras on the Spanish coast across the Mediterranean to the city. I had read this made the passage into Morocco easier with a bike. As you leave Algeciras you get a very good view of Gibraltar to your port bow and on a clear day you can see the African coast and mountains of Morocco as you cross the straights.

In some ways Ceuta has parallels with Gibraltar – being owned by a foreign power some distance from the territory. They both have histories of colonial occupation, Ceuta belonging to a number of colonizers, most recently the Portuguese who ceded the territory to the Spanish in the 1600’s.

It has quite a small area of only 7 square miles and arriving by ferry it would only take a short drive to the border with Morocco.

There are also direct ferries from Spain to Morocco, and these might be alternative routes to Africa for you from Spain.

While being quite small, it does have a number of attractions to see while visiting. There are some small beaches, a museum, a park, a fort and a couple of small mountains. For me though it was a stopping place on my way further into the desert, though in fact I would only get as far as the border due to paperwork issues.

If you are visiting the south of Spain though and just want to step foot on African soil, the journey across the Straights of Gibraltar is a fun trip, and makes an interesting day out or you could stay for a weekend to explore Ceuta more.

For me, it was my first sight of Africa, and made me keen to explore the continent more in the future. It offered a taste of Spain in a more exotic African setting with the city getting more beautiful as night started to fall.

Morocco is busy developing the land around Ceuta though and Ceuta’s tourism industry may suffer as a result. Probably somewhere to see sooner rather than later.

Madeira

Madeira had been on the list for a long time, and when it became possible to travel again, it seemed like a good time to go.

Around a 4 hour flight from the UK, it is served by several British airports as well as Portuguese ones.

The island is an autonomous region of Portugal, and while Portuguese is the main language, many locals speak English so is an easy destination for English speaking travellers.

The island is quite a way out into the Atlantic, further than the Canaries, but not as far as the Azores. It is at a similar latitude to Marrakesh so has a generally warm climate. It is very green and lush and has many subtropical plants growing there.

It’s a mountainous island, with the temperature dropping as you get into the higher interior. Even Monte, close to Funchal but up a hill, is noticeably cooler than sea level.

Funchal is the main city, and has many hotels and amenities for visitors, with beaches, promenade, restaurants and boating activities. There are beach clubs and a lido you can visit and these are safe areas for children to play in.

From Funchal you can take a cable car high above the city into the hills to Monte. There is the Monte Palace here with beautiful gardens to look round, including a Japanese garden. From here the roads back to the city are so steep, you can return by road toboggan with two guides taking you down the hill. Has to be seen to be believed.

From Monte there is a second cable car across a ravine to the Botanical Gardens. These are also very beautiful and well worth the entry fee. They have fantastic views back across Funchal to the sea.

Many visitors like to walk the system of water channels known as levadas. They have paths along them, some easier than others to walk. It’s best to get a guide for the more difficult ones.

There are local busses around the city, and a yellow bus for tourists. There are some busses into the island, but these would need a bit more research to figure out. Also you can catch taxis to more distant locations, or hire a guide with a car to find out more local knowledge.

It’s a beautiful place, and not too busy when I visited, it’s far enough away from the European mainland to not suffer too badly from over-tourism and well worth a visit.

Norway

There’s a lot to see in Norway, and we only had a few days there. We made our pick from our guide book and we chose to travel from Bergen to the far north of Norway which we would reach by train.

Bergen is a beautiful coastal town with pretty houses around the harbour. We got some sea food and ate it on the dock side. It has a mild climate and is Norway’s second city. Around the city are some low mountains including Mt Fløyen which has good views across the city. We didn’t have too long there and fairly soon we were getting the train east.

We wanted to see a fjord up close so we got off the train at Myrdal and transferred onto the Flåm line. It’s a popular stop for cruise ships as well as having a railway down to it, and our train took us down to sea level and we had a quick stop by the waters edge before heading back up to the main line.

From Myrdal we continued east on the main line to Finse. Finse is the highest railway station in Norway and a bit colder than down by the fjord. In winter it is popular for cross country skiing, but we were there in summer and we decided to walk to the Hardangerjøkulen glacier. It is about 5km from the station across moorland and was the first glacier I had seen. We stood at the foot of it and watched some better kitted out people head up onto the blue glacier snow. The glacier had a thin moat of grey mud at the bottom of it, deep enough to lose your boot if you stepped into it.

Our curiosity about glaciers satisfied, we headed back to the the station and got our next train. This would take us to Trondheim, part way up Norway, but we arrived on Sunday and there wasn’t much to do so we got back on the train.

We headed to Bodø in the far north of Norway in the Arctic circle. It was a long journey, and we were getting fed up of trains by the time we got there.

It’s not a big city, but certainly a beautiful location. In the distance you can see Arctic mountains and we decided to go and look at Saltstraumen. This is a narrow channel between two pieces of land where a tidal flow rushes through the gap with strong currents. It was about 30km from Bodø and we got some local transport to get there. It was certainly impressive and started to make us forget about how long we had been on the train to get to the north.

Saving money, we headed back to the train station for our long journey south on another sleeper train. We would head across to Sweden and Stockholm, but that’s another story.

Bodrum, Turkey

A good way to get an introduction to Turkey is to fly to one of its resort cities. Bodrum is one of these. You could fly to Istanbul but this would be an entirely different experience. If you would prefer to see a more relaxed side of Turkey then Bodrum is good for this.

Bodrum is located on the southern coast of Bodrum Peninsula in Muğla Province in Aegean region of Turkey. The city is about half way along the peninsula about 30 minutes drive from Milas-Bodrum airport. If you book through a tour company or resort it’s likely they will provide a shuttle bus into the town or to the nearby resort you are staying at.

The city is built around the port and Bodrum castle and there are sea front cafes and restaurants you can hang out at along the waterfront. The architecture for houses in the region are usually painted white with some blue on the doors or windows, and some housing around the port follows this pattern.

The port has a marina for leisure boats and also you can catch ferries to nearby locations including Kos where you can then go across to other Greek Islands.

The sea is a beautiful warm blue and sailing boats dot the horizon. Out to the left from the seafront is the small turkish island of Kara Ada and further away to the right is Kos. You can see Kos from several of the towns on the peninsula and it’s worth considering a trip across there if you have time.

You can catch the local mini buses called dolmus to some of the bigger towns on the peninsular such as Gümbet and Bitez, and Turgutreis is on the end of the peninsula.

We visited Turgutreis, and from here we took a boat day trip around the end of the peninsula ending up at Gümüşlük, a beautiful sea side village with good restaurants where you can sample the local catch.

Getting out on a boat trip was our best day, and the boat stopped several times for swimming in the warm Mediterranean, jumping off the boat into the sea. (You can use the ladder if you prefer).

Bodrum is surrounded by beaches, some are sand, some are more stony and in some places where there is no beach there are beach clubs with steps down into the water. The beach at Turgetreis was quite good, but you might prefer to seek out even better beaches. Gümüşlük beach is quite small, but out in the bay there is a small island you can wade out to at certain times. There are beaches closer to Bodrum if you prefer to stay near the city.

You can arrange tours from Bodrum to nearby attractions. Your hotel or tour company will probably help with this. We booked a tour to Ephesus, which was quite a way away, and a full day trip. The ancient city is very well preserved and has some important archaeological monuments to walk round. It’s good to get a guide to explain the functions of the different parts of the city. We also had a photographer following us, who kept popping out from behind ancient stone walls to grab a shot. It was very warm and you need water and sun protection or soon you will wilt in the sun.

Turkish food is similar to Greek food but there are certainly healthy options. Don’t think it will be all kebabs as there are many restaurants doing healthy food especially tasty fish dishes.

The Turks we met were all very friendly and happy to help us out as we explored the area. They didn’t even mind when we crammed into full dolmus’s and were happy to pass our fares person by person across to the driver.

Sentier du Littoral

Sentier du Littoral

If you’re looking for somewhere to go for a couple of weeks by the sea which would be warm at the end of April, you can always consider Nice. There are plenty of hostels, but I ruled out dorms and most of the hostels were dorm only so I looked for budget hotels.

Nice airport is small and pretty easy to figure out. You need to get a bus into town. It goes along the promenade into the center. I got off a few stops early and walked into town on the prom. The hotel was easy to find, close to the square Messina, a very good location.

My hotel room wasn’t ready so I went down and sat on the beach watching some guys playing volleyball. Next morning, I walked down through the old town markets again towards the beach. They were brilliant and I got some strawberries to eat on the beach for  breakfast.

Nice is a pretty good city but I didn’t want to spend two weeks there. It is easy to get up and down the coast from there by train so I booked a couple of nights next in Cannes. A month before the film festival, the town was fairly quiet and I got a very central hotel for the cheapest price of the trip.

There is a hill behind the beach with a great view of the harbour from a monastery on the top, and you could see over to the St Raphael hills. The sun broke through after the rain and as I wandered down through some windy small streets, I started to see things to photograph. Now Cannes seemed a different place. The streets had more people, beautiful women walking the prom and some beach volleyball going on.

Close to Cannes is the island of Ile  San Marguerite, a twenty minute trip, but so different from Cannes. The island has no cars, is about 5 miles in circumference and is very beautiful and peaceful. Beautiful views across the bay towards the St Raphael headland, views across to a second island, and views to the snow capped alps. I bought a large pack of crisps for lunch and walked around the coast of the island. The island was wooded and had small beaches nestled in among rocks.

The next day I got the high speed train through to St Raphael. St Raphael is a relatively unpretentious resort and quite laid back. I walked the prom towards Frejus and again there was volleyball. I sat and watched the guys and girls punting the ball around. It reminded me of American and Australian beach culture and I was wondering if all countries are starting to look alike at the beach.

The next day the weather was good and I got up early, and having enjoyed walking on Ile San Marguerite, I set off to walk the Sentier du Littoral coastal path east back towards Cannes. The route goes round the Cap d’ Esterel to Agay, a small resort town.  The path was cut into the red volcanic rocks of the headland. The route passes through small bays and beaches and across promontories. The Cap du Dramont is a headland where the path rises up to the top of the cliffs and the vegetation is fantastic – a beautiful wilderness. There are a number of paths going off in different directions and I ended up at an outlook looking into the next bay with a brilliant Mediterranean panorama.

The next excursion was a catamaran across the bay to the legendary St Tropez. The boat crosses the bay, past Frejus on the right then the next set of hills along the coast. We came into the bay. I hadn’t been to St Tropez and as we saw old pastel painted buildings along the port bow I knew this was it. The harbour was so full of enormous boats that the pretty French fishing village image was destroyed. The streets were busy and I was glad I was there out of season.

Getting to the end of the harbour there was an arch in the wall, and looking through was the same pastel panorama seen from the catamaran. By timing it correctly it is possible to get round to the houses without getting soaked.

I saw a signpost for Sentier du Littoral and realized that this continued around the St Tropez headland. I only had a few hours but decided to walk as far as I could in the time. The path was along wild unkempt beaches with quite a number of shipwrecked yachts. They looked like new boats and it seemed a little crazy to leave them washed up on the shore at the mercy of the sea. Inland was very expensive looking villas, often with no one around and there were signs prohibiting entry with high fences to protect the rich from the lower castes.

Returning to the boat, the crew wouldn’t allow anyone on the top deck and they told us it was going to be rough! They weren’t kidding. As we got out away from the shore the waves were big and the catamaran was heading straight into them at full speed, dropping down into the troughs then smashing into the next wave. The waves were going right over the top of the boat washing right across the upper deck. The crew passed around sick bags. It seemed people inside the boat were faring worse than those of us stood at the back. A few macho types sat in the seats at the back unmoved, but gradually looking greener. I stood at the back holding onto a pillar. It was amazing.

Time to go back to Nice and I went down to the station ready to leave. I hadn’t enjoyed the train journey out because the TGV was such a closed environment. It was difficult to get any idea of the country you were passing through. As a way to get quickly from A to B they are great, but as a train trip they suck; so I bought a ticket on an old TER train. The ancient train was nearly empty and I opened a window and hung out the window. The train went slowly, it was a glorious day, and I got the most amazing views of the coast.

Nice beach is split into public and private parts. On the public beach the young hang out, beautiful bodied in groups of friends. It is open and hot, you have to take your own drinks and food, though there are some beach boys bringing beers. The private parts have loungers and umbrellas with waiter staff. There are areas roofed off for fine dining. Two worlds next to each other but so dissimilar. I went on the free public beaches, they had far more life to them.

I had more time to wander now than when I arrived in Nice and I found the rest of the old town up against the promontory and the end of the main beach. On top of the promontory is a pleasant park that is great to go up to as the sun was going down. The old town has some amazing smells especially on the spice stalls and in the flower stalls.

While the Sentier du Littoral isn’t an unbroken path on the Riviera coast, there are enough decent lengths of it to do some good walking and discover some parts of this coast that are still largely unspoiled. On subsequent trips to the Riviera, I’ve used Google Earth to find more paths along the coast for good days out.

Interrail France

Interrail France

Many years had passed since my interrailing holidays in my twenties. What I remembered about them was the intense feeling of freedom at being able to travel at will across many of the countries of Western Europe. In some situations, we had roughed it – like sleeping on the beach in Sardinia, or outside Barcelona station, and many of our overnights had been spent on long distance trains to keep costs down.

Tickets for interrailing had been limited to those aged 26 and younger, and once I’d gone over this age I’d taken holidays in different ways. But now in my thirties the rail companies had changed the rules. Older people could get interrail tickets, albeit at a higher cost and still can.

The rules for ticket locations had also changed. The tickets we had travelled on covered Western Europe, now tickets were banded across groups of countries. It was still possible to get a ticket to travel as broadly as we had, now into Eastern Europe, but these weren’t such good value. I had less than two weeks and one of the banded tickets with two or three countries looked like they would do the job.

When I thought about it, why not just get a ticket for one country and travel across it. So, I decided to get a ticket for the one and a half weeks in France where I had a smattering of the language. It wasn’t a big plan but France has a bit of everything and when asked what my plans were, I replied I was going to see the cities, mountains and the sea.


By far the cheapest way to get to France was a budget flight into Paris from my local airport and Paris’s Charles de Gaulle never fails to impress with its different architecture and glass surrounded elevators to ride.

I’d arranged to meet a friend who was staying over the weekend in Paris with her girlfriend. We met at the Sacre Coeur church in the evening and wandered around the side streets at the top, coming to rest on the steps in front of the church looking down the hill at the city. A scruffy student was strumming a guitar for the ladies and tourists. It seemed quite good and was getting me in the mood for the trip. I was being asked where I was going to go, and the only answer I could give was ‘South’. I didn’t know. I knew my next destination was going to be the mountains.

I booked a night at Annecy youth hostel, and the next morning got on the TGV south. The weather was cloudy when I arrived, but once I got through the town to the lake, I started to see the draw of Annecy. The lake was beautiful even on a crappy day. The hostel was a bit out of town, and up a steep hill. Memories of interrail were coming back – staying in places that were difficult to get to, labouring with giant packs. This time I had a smaller pack, no tent or sleeping bag.

The hostel was sufficiently out of town that I didn’t feel like going back there that night so I hung around the kitchen with my packet soup. That night I went down to the bar, there was a large party of middle-aged French people. They were partying big time. I got talking to one guy – they were Bretons and met up regularly for a party. They were dancing and really going for it. I sat at the bar with the barman managing a little French totally bemused by their antics, and they weren’t even all drinking.

The next morning, I woke early and decided to move on. The lake was beautiful but I was sure there would be something else as good at my next stop. I had formed a rough plan. I would head for Chamonix – somewhere I’d been some years before with a friend and had fond memories of, but my first stop would St Gervais.

St Gervais is a winter ski resort, but in the summer I wasn’t sure what I would find. I had the idea I would do some walking there. The train into the alps was great; it was empty and I could switch from side to side to see the views. The mountains were getting bigger and much closer. The train changed directions a few times. Odd to pull into a station, a bit of jerking and then set off in the way you came from.

Everywhere was closed when I arrived. I got there at 1pm and the hotels didn’t open till 5pm. I wandered up the main street and at 1.15pm found a hotel open till 1.30pm and got a room. The guy seemed a bit surprised to see me and went off coming back with a shower head which was missing in the room. There was a tram up the mountain, but next day when I got there it wasn’t running, so I set off for a walk up the valley. My map showed some tracks up the mountainside but I couldn’t find them and I ended up walking up the side of the road. The road was getting higher, it was busy, and I realised I needed to cross it to get into the valley. It was ascending onto bridges and looked like it was going up a pass. It was not a route for a walker. Eventually I found a crossing place and continued this rather strange walk.

Down a track, through a small power station, then past a river prone to flooding, then through an industrial area and a graveyard. The graveyard was beautifully kept with some amazing flowers and photos of the deceased on plaques. Finally, a long straight road back to St Gervais. It had been a long odd walk in the hot sun through some strange surroundings but all around me the mountains were beautiful. I just wasn’t up there. That night I treated myself to a ham and cheese savoury crepe, dry cider and blackcurrant ice cream with liquor. The next day I took the cute red train into Chamonix.

The first time I’d been to Chamonix was also by train, but in the middle of winter. The line had taken me through gobsmacking amounts of snow. Now the weather was beautiful and I was able to gaze at the mountains through windows set high on the train sides for an unfettered view.

In Chamonix I searched around the hotels, and found a basic 2* hotel for 30 euros a night. It was a bargain and not too scruffy. Not saving money by sleeping on trains and camping I was this time looking for a good deal, but this trip was only for 10 days so it was ok to hotel it now and then.

I intended to get up into the mountains, and over the next two days I did some serious walking. The first day I walked through the forests to the Mer de Glace glacier, and the second day to the Le Brevent peak.

The Mer de Glace was a bit dirty looking in the summer and when I got there it was quite touristy, but the walks through the forests had been beautiful with outlooks across the valley to the mountains on the other side. You could go down to the edge of the glacier, and climb onto it using some iron ladders. There were kitted out people walking up it and you could see the little red helmets disappearing off into the distance.

For Le Brevent I wanted to get up high. I took the cable car to the first stop on the mountain and walked the remaining 3000 feet to the top. The track to the top was quite wide – probably a ski piste in winter and at the top was a cafe for the skiers where the tourists had gotten the cable car right up. It was curious to see old men with walking sticks at the top of a 2000 metre peak gazing across at Mt Blanc.

Walking back down seemed easy to the cable car I’d come from, and I thought I’d walk down to the valley. The track was probably a piste again, but it was endless zig zags all the way. It was exhausting on the legs and at the bottom I was finished. I’d listened to some walkers on the mountain and had learned the best way to walk was to get a cable car up the mountain but then walk across the mountain along the sides of the valley to a cable car further on at roughly the same height.

The next day my feet, legs and trainers were knackered and I got the train along the valley to Argentiere. I didn’t do much there but replaced my shorts which had split up the arse. At the end of the day, I knew I had done with the alps and it was time to head south again.

The train down from Paris had been a TGV but the brill trains in the alps had made me realize that I wasn’t happy on them. Everyone seemed miserable and they seemed quite soulless. People faffing about with laptops and gadgets, this wasn’t travel, it was more like a long commute. So, at Valence I got on one of the old-style TER trains. No need for a reservation and I started to feel happier.

Through to Marseille on an empty train with the compartments I remembered from interrailing days – I wallowed in nostalgia. Marseille station had some interesting characters and some pretty dodgy ones. You shouldn’t really judge a town by its railway station, but I decided to keep going and boarded another slow train, this time towards Nice.

I got off at St Raphael and found a reasonable hotel and headed out to catch the sunset over the sea. It was very beautiful and I took loads of photos on the promenade.

I stayed two nights in St Raphael, just moseying around, it seemed a relaxed place to laze around and not do an awful lot in the sunshine. Then I went on to Antibes. Antibes was a great old town with good views over the coast.

I decided to go on to the party town Juan Les Pins. No party and no pines. The beach was good though, but after finding myself a nice spot and having a swim, a crowd of German teenagers came and sat all around me. They cavorted in the waves noisily with a ball and lilo. They were both entertaining and slightly offensive – but not enough to give up my patch. In the evening. the sun getting lower gave the promenade a gorgeous golden light and I hung around taking photos before heading off to bed.

I’d reached the furthest point of my trip and it was time to head back towards Paris. Once again, I wasn’t tempted to stop off in Marseille. I broke the journey at Avignon, famous for its bridge. It was a well-mannered town, not exciting but pleasant enough.

I’d enjoyed the interrail experience again – doing it a little differently from my teenage years. Travelling alone had changed things, but I’d found plenty to keep me amused … so where next by train?

Oban

Oban

My sister had a new member of her family, and it was arranged that we would all meet up in Oban to get know him. She booked a nice large house in Ganavan a couple of kilometres from Oban town.

We arrived at the house and went into the main room. Our new member of the family was in the sitting room with my sister and husband. It was all very exciting. We spent the next few days in the environs of Ganavan getting to know him and exploring the coastline around there.

The weather was amazing and it felt like we were in the south of Europe but with views of the gorgeous Scottish coastline. Oban is set in the Firth of Lorn and is in a protected harbour with islands across to the west shielding it from the outer Irish Sea. Directly opposite is the island of Kerrara and further to the west the larger island of Mull. To the north west is the island of Lismore.

Oban was an easy walk from Ganavan along a fairly quiet minor road, and the views across the sound are pretty special.

It’s quite a small town but there are some good beaches around it near Ganavan and a ruined castle at Dunollie. The main reason you would go there is for its setting.

From Ganavan you can walk along the coast to Dunbeg and Dunstaffnage Castle. The castle was quite interesting and you could walk to the foot of its keep. It has sea on three sides and dates back the middle ages, though its strategic location has meant the area was inhabited going back 1500 years.

I walked across the fields to get there, while the rest of the family cycled there. The coastline is quite beautiful and many photos were taken.

Another day trip was to the island of Lismore. My family took bicycles on their cars and dropped me off as I was going to walk. We got the ferry across from Port Appin and I walked off into the island. They would cycle down the island while I would walk and we then met up at a great cafe part way down the island called the Isle of Lismore Cafe.

We then parted ways while they cycled to the south west corner of the island and I walked further south from the cafe and we met again at the ruined Achanduin Castle. The views from here across the loch was truly spectacular. I then walked back along the northern side of the island back the ferry port. It was quite a long walk but so worth it. They got back quicker and waited for me on the other side of the crossing for our return journey. The island was so beautiful in the sunshine and unspoiled with very few other visitors on that day.

Lismore

If you are lucky enough to get good weather, I would highly recommend visiting the area. It’s a great place to chill out and relax, and was an excellent place for some family time.

Eastern Australia

Eastern Australia

Australia’s east coast is over 15,000 miles long. People spend six months or more travelling from Melbourne in the south to Cairns in the north or even further.

For my trip I had 10 days and I knew I would have to cherry pick. My original plan was to do a road trip from Melbourne to Sydney but when I started looking into it, the cost of hiring a car one way was prohibitive as I would have to pay for the car to be driven back. The journey between the two cities along the coast would need at least four days to do it justice and that didn’t really leave much time to see the cities.

I decided to fly between Melbourne and Sydney and that left me wondering what I could do to get out of the city for some of the trip. I decided to go out on the Great Ocean Road west of Melbourne as it is spectacular but I didn’t want to hire a vehicle so I booked on a coach to go as far as possible.

Arriving in Melbourne I booked into a small hotel at the end of Little Bourke Street on the other side of Chinatown. It was walkable from Southern Cross Flybus terminal where buses arrived from the airport.

I was pleased I had picked a hotel by Chinatown as it was an interesting area, certainly more interesting than the Central Business District I walked through to start with. There were side lanes off Little Bourke Street that were good to explore and some interesting restaurants from a wide range of Asian countries not just China.

I found my hotel and dropped off a bag as it was still early in the morning then found a cafe round the corner for a bacon sandwich and coffee.

I had no plan for the day so I just started walking. The buildings were low rise at this end of Little Bourke Street and I found this less claustrophobic than the hi-rise of the CBD though the sky scrapers would look good in photos from a distance.

I headed towards the Yarra river which cuts through the center of Melbourne. As I walked I saw the huge arena of the Melbourne Cricket Ground. I did a lap around it but it was shut up and I couldn’t go in. As I walked round I found a door I could look through so I could get a glimpse of the hallowed turf.

I then walked across the William Barak bridge towards the river. I couldn’t understand it at first but I could hear music as I walked. I realized the music was coming from the bridge. Speakers along the side of the bridge were playing aboriginal singing. It was quite cool and surreal.

The city I had walked through so far had been quite empty. As I came down the waters edge I saw there was an event going on on the river. It was a water skiing competition and many people had gathered to watch. I had arrived in the Moomba Festival, I would see water sports, carnivals, fun fair and a very long Chinese dragon parading the streets. I was lucky to arrive just as it was happening.

I spent the rest of the day walking around the river side inner city, there was plenty to see. I walked 10 miles that day.

The next day I decided to do something different. I went to the Fitzroy district. This was close to the hotel and I had read it was more alternative and edgy. I headed up Smith Street and it seemed very different to the parts of the city I had already seen. While it has undergone gentrification since the 80’s, it seemed a much poorer area than the city center. There were many street murals and the shops were much more varied with more artistic leanings. There were alternative clothes shops and some interesting looking pubs. It had a more community feel to it and the housing was quite varied from elegant road side houses with small gardens in front of them to city tenements.

I got a bit lost coming down the end of Brunswick Street and found myself in a park. Fitzroy Park. It was attractively laid out with some interesting buildings to photo and I spent quite some time there.

In the afternoon I figured out the Myki card for local transport and headed out to St Kilda. I had heard that this was a bit dodgy but it was a beautiful late afternoon and I walked out to Elwood and back along the coastal path then back to St Kilda’s beach strip and pier. I got a cone of very nice chips with some special seasoning and went out onto the pier for sunset. It was quite stunning and didn’t seem dodgy at all.

The next day I had read about an area of Melbourne called Yarra Bend. It was a preserved area of bush land along the side of the river near Victoria Park station. It was a short walk from the station and I headed up the far side of the river to get an experience of some bush in the city. It was quite wild and the paths narrowed the further I went into the bush arriving at a weir in the Yarra where the brown water cascaded over. On my way back I encountered an Australian fellow with a big stick. He warned me he had just seen a ‘dirty big snake’ and I should ‘watch my feet’.

The next day was my trip out onto the Great Ocean Road. I walked to Southern Cross early and figured out where to catch the train to Geelong. I had left so much time I was able to get an earlier train and then an early bus onto the Great Ocean Road. The day was beautiful and from the coach I could see glimpses of the coast through the road side trees. It looked gorgeous.

I had thought the furthest I could get by coach was Lorne, but it turned out the bus went through to Apollo Bay. I had booked a room in Lorne though so I got off there. There was a lot more of the Great Ocean Road that I wouldn’t see but at least I’d seen some of it. It would have been better by car, motorbike, or even bicycle as you could pull off at the overlooks to see the coastline.

Lorne is a small coastal town with some tourist shops and a decent beach. I headed to the fish and chip shop and got a very tasty Grenadier fish. I had a quick look at the beach and headed to my comfortable sea view room to chill and write some postcards. The next morning I woke at 6.30 am and decided to go down to the beach. There was a fantastic sunrise and I walked along the beach out to the Lorne Jetty. I woke a sleeping seal lying on the rocks under the jetty and it flapped very agitatedly into the sea. Lorne had scored and I was very glad I’d stopped off there.

The next day it was raining and I retraced my steps to Melbourne. I was staying near the CBD this time and I looked for things to do in the rain. I got some interesting Vietnamese food and headed to the aquarium. One of the better aquariums I’ve been to and not too busy at around 4pm. As well as many smaller tanks it had a large tank you could walk through and see many larger fish including sharks and rays as well many colorful smaller fish.

The next day I flew to Sydney. The weather was atrocious flying in and I only got the briefest of glimpses of the harbour. Not much point getting a window seat.

I had booked two nights at the famous Bondi Beach. The guesthouse was very nice and much better than the rough place I’d stayed in the night before. It was quite a walk from the beach though and by the time I got there it was evening. The beach was lit up and looked good but no one was on it so I headed back.

My feet had recovered from the pounding on the first two days in Melbourne, and I decided to do the Bondi to Coogee beach walk. The weather was quite changeable, sometimes sunny and sometimes raining. The storms coming across the sea were making the sea quite impressive and there were many surfers out enjoying the conditions. You could see the rain clouds coming across and I found gaps between the rain to walk round the next headland before sheltering from the next rain storm. Some of the smaller beaches were really pretty and I didn’t mind not being on Bondi as it wasn’t really a beach day. There were great open air pools next some of the beaches and the sea was breaking over the rocks into them.

I reached Clovelly and I was starting to feel hungry. The Seasalt Clovelly cafe was packed but up in the back streets I found Clovelly Social House. They did me some pasta and it tasted really good.

I finished off the walk to Coogee and found a bus that was heading in my direction to rest my tired feet.

The next day I was moving again – to The Rocks. I caught the train to Town Hall station and came out of the station to torrential rain. I ducked into the nearest shop. It was the Queen Victoria Building. I’m not a fan of shopping centers, but this one was gorgeous. I hung around in there having breakfast until the rain stopped.

I walked down to my hotel in The Rocks and checked in. It was a great old pub and I got an excellent room overlooking the street. All the windows were open and it felt very fresh. In the late afternoon I wandered down to the quay side and behaved like a tourist checking out the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. Even though I’d seen these places many times in photos it is still cool to see them for yourself.

The next day I went to Circular Quay and got the ferry across to Manly. The ferry journey was amazing through the harbour. I always like boat trips and this one was pretty special. The weather had turned good and I arrived in Manly in warm bright sunshine. There was another coastal walk here but I didn’t feel like doing this as it was so warm. I just hung out at the beach and found a good beach restaurant for something to eat. There were many runners going up and down the seafront. I’d expected to see beautiful girls in bikinis in Sydney but these girls were athletes. I walked round the coast to Shelly Beach and got an ice cream. It was a chilled last day, maybe I’d saved the best till last. Manly was a really nice place and a good way to end.