Liverpool

We spent a weekend in Liverpool recently to meet up with my sister and her partner, Jay before we head off to Shanghai. We booked our flights with Easyjet and accommodation with AirBnB.
We arrived on Friday in the afternoon to rainy weather, a big change from the heat of Barcelona but we kind of expected that! We took the A500 bus from the airport to the centre, getting off around the John Lewis centre. The ticket cost £2.60 each and took around 30 mins. Once we had eaten, we set off to the the Albert docks which has plenty of amusements, many museums including the Beatles museum. We spent some time in the Tate gallery area which was free and pretty interesting. To avoid the rain outside we stayed in the Tate coffee place where we would meet my sister. Once we had met we walked around the other side of the docks and into the centre. Plenty of shops going on in Liverpool. However, we passed these and went to Matthew street, one of the main entertainment streets. We entered the Cavern Bar, which was were the Beatles got signed. There is a cover charge of £2.50 to enter but it’s well worth it. There was live music and a great atmosphere. We stayed there some time and moved to the other sister bar of the Cavern, where a band were playing. The music was great in both places.

IMG_1616 (640x427)

With the Beatles in Albert Docks

IMG_1716 (640x427)

Matthew Street

IMG-20170723-WA0006 (480x640)

Having the chat with John Lennon

We ate dinner in a place called Shiraz Palace near to Matthew street. Great food at good price. Got the bus 432 across the river Mersey to our place. The bus we used for the weekend was called Arriva and we usually bought a single ticket to the centre for £3.30. The great thing about the bus was that they all have wifi.

The next day Anfield was on the cards. Jay booked a time for us online to go visit the stadium so we all met there in the morning. Cost of the tour: £17. The tour was great and included a museum tour as well. We didn’t get to go on the pitch as they are in the process  of extending the  stadium, but we did get our photo taken with the cup!

IMG_1802 (427x640)

In the dressing rooms of Anfield

Once we had seen everything regarding Anfield stadium we took a taxi into the centre, arriving to the bombed church (bombed during World War 2) and later walked to see the entrance to Chinatown which looked impressive. We did some shopping also. Edgar got kitted out with the help of my sister, his personal shopper!

IMG_1826 (640x427)

Chinatown entrance

The rest of the evening was spent in the pub where we met some of Jay’s relations. We ate in a place called Byron Burger which was very nice.

Last day, started with rain but didn’t last long.  It turned out to be a hot day. We had breakfast in Shiraz cafe and walked around Church street. Once we met with my sister we walked by St.Johns Garden and around that area. The time went fast and it wasn’t long before we said our goodbyes. Myself and Edgar had a few hours until our flight so we went back to the docks and hung out there. If you don’t want to carry your heavy bag around like us, you can enter the Tate gallery which is free and put your bag in one of the lockers there for £1. The docks looked so much better when the sun was out compared to Friday when it was raining!

To get to the airport we took the same bus again, the A500 across from the docks near the Hilton hotel.

We had a great weekend in Liverpool. It was great to see my sister and Jay and hang out with them. We really enjoyed it. Till next time Liverpool. You were boss, la 😉
Advertisements
Posted in Liverpool, United Kingdom | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Congost de Mont Rebei

I had seen pictures of Congost de Mont Rebei (a spectacular gorge along the river Noguera Ribagorzana) before and always wanted to go. So, when the opportunity came on the Meetup (Barcelona Hiking and Outdoors Group) we signed up straight away. It was an action packed weekend with an adventurous group of people. We left early on a Saturday morning stopping off a long the way for some breakfast and arrived around 10.30am to where we would start kayaking. Myself and Edgar chose a double kayak. Once everybody was ready, helmets, life jackets, electronics in waterproof bags, off we went around 20 of us kayaking down the river. It was super hot and the water was crystal blue. We kayaked for around 4 hours and arrived at a little cove. Here we left the kayaks and ate some lunch, some swam others relaxed. Around 3pm we started the walk to the Refugio de Montfalco. It was a good walk, tough in the heat and took around 2 hours. Once we arrived at the refugio we all had a well deserved cool drink, got our rooms and showered. In the evening before dinner we took a walk up to a little church with amazing views.

IMG_20170617_134428 (640x480) (640x480)

Where we dropped off the kayaks

IMG_20170617_184337 (640x480)

On top of the world!

IMG_20170617_184949 (640x480)

The view of the gorge from the church near the hostel

We had an early start on Sunday and we hiked for most of the time. We took a break along the way and people went for a swim. The walk back was really amazing. There is a spectacular staircase system built against the rock face which was a bit scary but really impressive. The rest of the path runs along the river Noguera Ribagorzana overlooking where we had kayaked the day before. The path is carved out of the cliff face so looks great. We passed through suspension bridges also. Overall, it’s one of the most scenic and impressive places we have been in Catalunya. I’d definitely recommend going there.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Cost of this trip with the Meetup was:
Hoste (including dinner and breakfast): 32,80€
Kayak rental: 25€
Parking of car: 8€/coche
Petrol of car: 100€/coche (we were 5 people in the car)

 

Posted in Catalunya, Congost de Mont Rebei | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Iran

13 days in Incredible Iran

We have wanted to travel to Iran for a few years now but we were always turned off by the hard work involved in getting the tourist visa. This all changed when Iran announced that the visa could now be got on arrival at the airport. This made it so much easier for us so next step was to book the flights. We booked our flight with Qatar Airways from Barcelona via Doha to Tehran and the same on the way back. The cost for the return flight was 350e each. We didn’t have a clear plan of what we would see and do while in Iran. We just knew that we would move south. We booked our first night accommodation in Tehran with the new hostel: See you in Iran. Here is the website: http://seeyouiniran.org/. This is also the name of the facebook group that was created by them and is very useful. https://www.facebook.com/SeeYouinIran/.

Day 1. Arrival in Tehran – Getting Insurrance and Visa

We had an early start from Barcelona. All was fine except we had to run to make the connecting flight from Doha to Tehran. Luckily we made it. Once ready to land in Tehran, I could see other women starting to put on their head scarves. It felt a bit strange doing this in the beginning but by the end of the trip I didn’t mind at all. We arrived to a cold Tehran, 2 degrees outside. Once at the arrivals, we went about getting our insurance. Foreigners are supposed to have insurance. You can arrange it before you arrive or like we did buy it there. We paid 30eur for both. Euros were accepted. The next step was filling out a form for the visa and paying 75eur each. We then waited around 30 minutes and all was ready. We had our visa’s for Iran! We went to pick up our bags and then to change money. There is a money exchange in the airport on the second floor. Once we had some Iranian rials we were ready to get to our hostel. Make sure you take time out to understand the difference between rials and tomans. Even though the Iranian rial is the official currency, alot of Iranians use the term ‘tomans’. An easy way to remember is that 10 rial is equal to 1 toman.

We took a taxi from the airport to get to our hostel. It turned out there was a crazy fog and it was impossible for the driver to see anything. The fog along with getting petrol, stopping at a garage to fix something wrong with the car and not knowing the address in farsi of where our hostel was, meant the journey lasted around 2 hours. Finally, at midnight we arrived at the hostel. Navid, the owner was there to meet us and show us our room. Price for See you in Iran hostel (Private room): 27eur per night

Day 2.  Exploring Tehran – Golestan Palace – Baazar – Azadi Tower

We woke up pretty early, helped by the bright light coming in through the window. Other than that the room was very nice with a super big heater. However, there was no water, as there was a problem with the pipes, so no shower. We had breakfast in the hostel, consisting of tomatoes, cream cheese and cucumber with some bread and tea. We hung out at the hostel for a bit meeting local people who were all helping out at the hostel getting it ready. We didn’t really have a plan so one of Navid’s friends suggested we go with him to a café. Before we left we went for a walk near the hostel. The former US embassy was within walking distance so we walked by there checking out the park, (Honarmandan Park) and some murals on the wall.

IMG_5833

One of the many murals on the wall outside the former US Embassy

IMG_5861

Probably the most photographed mural there!

Once we returned to the hostel we went with some friends of Navid to the area where the national museum of Iran is located. We walked around there, there seemed to be a lot going on, dancers, musicians playing and a lot of stalls selling drinks etc. We didn’t go inside the National Museum, instead we walked to the famous Golestan palace, a UNESCO World Hertitage Site. It’s one of the oldest historic monuments in the city of Tehran full of gardens and palaces. There is an entrance fee but somehow we avoided this without really realizing. We walked around there checking out the different buildings.

IMG_5925

Checking out Golestan palace

IMG_5912

Plenty of music on the streets

Just a short walk away from Golestan Palace is the Grand Baazar. It’s found in the Arg square and is not open on Fridays. So, we couldn’t explore the baazar but there were some shops open around it. We ate inside one of the local places.

We then decided to check out the Azadi Tower, one of the symbols of Tehran which marks the west entrance into the city. While waiting for the metro a man started to talk with us. He was very helpful and decided to join us on the metro to Azadi Tower. Once there he showed us where the bus station was as we told him that we would go to Isfahan next. Little things like joining us on the metro and helping us out I think would never really happen in Europe. We would probably think the person wanted money or something. Here, everyone seems to want to help and is interested in your background and what you think of Iran. After about a 10 minute walk, the Azadi Tower was in front of us. It was late in the evening so it was all lit up and looked impressive. There seemed to be some construction happening and it was late in the evening so I am not sure if the museum which is found under the tower was open. We took some pictures and made our way back to the hostel.

IMG_6007 (2)

Azadi Tower

On the way back home, we stopped inside Honarmandan Park. There is a restaurant inside called the Iranians Artists Forum. This is a vegetarian place and we enjoyed it. Back at hostel there was live music happening. Water was working once more so we had a shower and to bed early.

Day 3. Exploring Tehran and Arriving to Isfahan

Our plan today was to meet one of Edgars contacts who is from Iran and living in Tehran, go to Darband and take a bus to Isfahan. We got up later around 10, ate breakfast and left. There was nobody at the hostel so we left our bags there. We had seen the previous day in the garden in front of the former US embassy that there would be an exhibition of various propaganda posters on display. We checked out these posters and then had a tour of the museum where the former US embassy used to be. This was free also. We had a local guide explain and show us around the former embassy. On display was some of the equipment that the Americans had and tried to destroy after the seizure of the embassy in November 1979. There was coding rooms, massive paper shredders, a place where fake passports were made. It seemed all very hi-tech considering it was in the 1970s. The doors to the coding rooms were super thick with eye detectors. There were many computers as well. Similar to what the movie Argo portrays some student followers of the Imam published documents seized in the embassy (reconstructing tiny shredded pieces of paper!) in a series of books called ´Documents from the US Espionage Den´. The outside walls also have some anti-American murals which are interesting.

IMG_6091

The book that was reconstructed from tiny pieces of shredded paper

We then took the metro to meet Edgars friend, passing by the defence museum. Interesting to see tanks outside on display. We found the place where Edgar was to meet his friend, the social cafe. I stayed and ate breakfast while Edgar went to change money and buy a sim card (500,000 rial- Iran cell). By the time Edgar returned his friend had arrived. We spent some hours there and later returned to the hostel by metro. We paid Navid for our stay (54 euro) and booked a taxi to go to the bus terminal at plaça Argentina (125,000rial), using the app called snapp. No time for Darband, but next time for sure along with Tochal mountain!

Once at the terminal we booked tour bus tickets to go to Isfahan with the company Seiro Safar. For both of us it was 660,000 rials to Isfahan. We left at 6pm and 7 hrs later arrived. It was a pleasant journey including drink and food given by the bus company. Once off the bus it was a bit crazy. We were surrounded by taxi men. One said Amir Kabir, the name of the place we were staying, so we chose him (10,000 toman). He didn’t want to take it in the beginning, our first Taarof experience. We quickly went to bed, and it was freezing.

Day 4: Exploring Isfahan

Sunday, Xmas day in Isfahan, although it felt just like any other day. We ate breakfast in the hostel, changed our room as the other one was freezing and walked to Imam square. There are many entrances, we entered through Qeysarie Gate. The baazar is huge, full of anything and everything. The square outside called Naqsh -e Jahan square is really pretty. We made our way to the Sheikh Lotfollah mosque. Really impressive architecture and the blue colour is amazing. We didn’t go inside to this mosque but to another closeby called Imam mosque (Price: 2,000 rial). Inside was massive with hardly any people. The whole area is very beautiful. There are horses, and the mosques are really impressive. We had lunch nearby, which consisted of rice and beans for me and a kebab for Edgar and walked down by river, to the bridge Si I seh Pol. We passed many other bridges along the way, but the bridge of Si i seh pol is most impressive. One of the streets we walked seemed to be dedicated to martyrs lost in the war with pictures and their names on display in the centre of the road. Below are some pictures of Isfahan. Click on the pic to see the caption.

Day 5: Arrival in Yazd

We checked out of our hostel in Isfahan (1 million rial per night, Around 23 EUR) and went to buy fruit for the journey. Wasn’t so easy so of course a man helped us, actually walked us to a fruit shop and back. People are not in a rush and genuinely want to help. Amazing. We booked our bus to Yazd through our hostel. (VIP, Cost 560,000 rial). To get to Kevir terminal we took bus 91, costing 1000 toman each (10,000 rial). The bus was pretty fancy having reclining seats and we were given some chocolate bars. We chatted with guy most of the way. It was interesting as he explained a lot of different things about Iran like women, jewlerry, perfume, nose jobs, tattoo eyebrows..etc. and how the man has to have land and a house for woman. The man also has to serve 2 years in the military service. Once that is done, they can travel or if they don’t want to join the military they can get a low payed salary instead of joining the army. He explained that Yazd is a rich city, full of business men. Table cloths are famous there along with sweets. Door knobs circle for woman, and have a long shape for the for man. The sound from each one is different so it lets the person know if its a male or female a the door. We arrived around 5pm to Yazd and didn’t experience much hassle at the terminal. We arranged a taxi for 11,000 tomans and took the taxi mans recommended hotel.  It was actually an old mud house called dalan e bahesht. We really liked Yazd from first moment. We ate in an Iranian cafe and walked to Jame mosque and to other one called Amir Chakmagh.

Day 6: Maybod, Chak Chak and Kharanagh and desert

We booked a trip with Iranian tour and travel agency, beside the Jameh mosque. The trip was to go and visit nearby places: Maybod, Chak Chak and Kharanagh. First stop was Meybod, pigeon house (meybod kaboutar khaneh tower).We had to pay a small entrance fee to get in. This tower includes more than 4000 nests for attracting and keeping birds. Birds poop is collected and used as fertiliser for grape trees. On outside there’s a white layer on top to stop snakes getting in. We also visited a caravanasarai. Here Edgar tried to make some carpet. A lot of hard work goes into making a rug.


Nearby is an ice building. We paid to go in also. It is called: Meybod yakhchal and is an enormous mud and brick Icehouse. Ice used to be made during the cold winter months, stored and used during hot seasons. You can see how big and deep it is from the picture above.

Next stop was Chak Chak (meaning drip, drop). We drove through amazing landscape along the way stopping off to have tea and cake on the side of the road. Chak Chak is a really important place for Zoroastrians, the most sacred of the mountain shrines. It is a pilgrimage point for all Zoroastrians around the world, most of which are now found in India. The drip, drop are supposed to be the tears of grief that the mountain sheds in remembrance of Nikbanou (daugher of Persian ruler). There is a payment to access the temple at the top (5000).

Last stop Kharanagh…Mud brick 1000 years old. Amazing views.

We arrived back to Yazd in the evening and Iman, our driver recommended a local place to eat called: khane-dohad traditional restaurant. It was the best we had on the entire trip. Edgar had some traditional dish. Then we met the Catalans Judith and David, who picked us up in taxi and we all went to the Zoroastrian tower of silence (dakhmeh), built in 1487. It cost 80,000 rial to enter. We walked up to the top where you can see the well where the remains of bodies used to be thrown after it had been eaten by vultures. This procedure is not practiced anymore inIran, only in some parts of India. We then continued onto the Zoroastrian fire temple. The flame has been burning since AD740. (80,000 rial to enter) also. Not sure if I would recommend the fire temple.

Back at the main square near to Amir Chakmagh, I asked woman where we could find Zoorkhaneh. She pointed us in the right direction and we found it. The Zoorkhaneh that we visited was called the Saheb Azzaman, near to the Amir Chakmagh complex. Visiting the Zoorkhaneh was amazing. It is a gymnasium in which a traditional Iranian sport is practised. It’s like a combination of martial arts and strength building with a man playing music and singing in a special room higher up than the athletes. He’s the one that leads them by banging drums and singing.  Its open to the public and there is a small fee to pay to enter (50,000 rial each). Shoes need to be taken off aswell. Overall, an entertaining experience.

 

Day 7: Dune Bashing in Yazd

Last day in Yazd. We got up early as we had an interview with a school in China. Edgar got hair cut, we walked to Yazd art house, had some cold drinks. We had no plans so we decided to take a trip to the desert for 3pm. We ate lunch in silk road hostel. I had shuli soup. ..not too bad. The desert that we visited was pretty close to Yazd, called Banar. It was super windy there but interesting  as there were little lakes.. but apparently the water was from industry. We did some dune bashing there, hadn’t done that since Qatar, watched the sun set and returned back to the hostel. The dune bashing cost 1 million rial. Next task was to get to Kerman for the next day so we went to buy bus tickets for Kerman, which cost 210,000 rial each. Later we went back to have dinner in the place we had lunch day before called khane-dohad traditional restaurant. Edgar had the dizli dish and me eggplant. Returned to hostel, trying to organize trip to Kalouts.

Day 8: Kerman to Kalouts

Caught the bus going to Kerman at 8.45. We had arranged to meet the driver Ali at 1.30pm. but when we got on the bus ..it wasn’t VIP, it was a normal one, so the driver returned some money but it took forever and we didn’t arrive until 2.30. We wanted to see the sunset in Kalouts but now we wouldn’t make it. Ali picked us up and we drove straight to Kalouts. The drive was amazing, big mountain range in front. We stopped in a nearby desert to see the sunset and he showed us a plant called Gus, which locals use to collect sugar. Later we went straight to Kalouts into the desert where we had tea and a campfire. Some friends of Ali sang. Met Shiva also, another guide for Kalouts. We then drove to the village where we would eat and sleep. Room was local room mattress on floor. Bed early.

Day 9: Kalouts and arriving to Shiraz

Left around 5.15am in a 4 x 4 with driver Majid and guide Ali to go into Kalouts to see the sun rise. Amazing.  After that we drove a bit more inside and ate breakfast, typical tomato, cucumber, cream cheese, bread and tea. Majid drove us more into Kalouts. Landscape was incredible. We walked up a few sand formations which had great views. After that we drove to whats known as ‘camel hills’ as the the formations looked like camels back. Once out of Kalouts we stopped at house, had tea and off we went with Ali who brought us to water reservoir, to a caravanserai also, stopped and explained how wells were made and finally Cyprus tree. Once we had seen the main sights we continued the drive to Kerman. Ali brought us to bus station to buy our tickets. Bus 410,00 each rial to go to Shiraz night bus at 10.30pm and left us at a restaurant. He picked us up later on and brought us to his brothers photo exhibition about water. Then brought us to a teahouse. What a great guy Ali. The teahouse was amazing, live music. We were like celebrities there as many wanted photos with us.  Around 9pm we left, got a taxi to the bus terminal. Said goodbye to Judith and David. Cost of Kalouts trip was 70e each.

Day 10: Shiraz and Persepolis

We arrived to Shiraz very early morning. Took a taxi for 8000 to the centre to a hotel which he knew called Shiraz Talar hotel, on Ferdosi st. Hamid driver had no real English but got us a good room in nice hotel. We decided that we would go to Persepolis with him that afternoon. So at 1, we arranged to meet at our hotel. 65,000 toman he charged and he waited until 3.30. It cost 20,000 toman to enter Persepolis. Hamid dropped us off at a kebab place and later collected us and brought us back to the hotel. Even though it was hard to communicate, we arranged to have dinner the next day with him at 8. In the evening we walked to Karim Khan citadel.

Day 11: Shiraz

Sunday, Jan 1st. 2017.Up early to see Nasir-al-Molk Mosque (pink mosque)150,000 rial to enter. Important to go early to avoid the crowd and to see the morning light come through the stained glass lighting up the room. Once we had seen this we returned to the hotel area and found a travel agent so that we could book a flight to Tehran. We decided to go on Tuesday with Iran air. (2million rial for both). We then visited Shah-e-Cheragh Shrine. Amazing. Free entry with guide and they give you a chador. Its massive inside, has a mosque, library, etc. We then checked out the baazars Vakil Baazar. Bought some magnets and bracelets. Had lunch on the way. Talked to some locals. They know Bobby sands and even have a street in Tehran named after him. Had tea in a strange place, looked inside Vakil Bath and had coffee in that square, expensive. Didn’t go inside the Vakil Mosque, instead we walked to go see Tomb of Hafez tomb but the road was blocked. In the evening we got picked up by the driver Hamid and his friend Meru Sa, a cyclist. Turns out he knows the other cyclist I know from Iran. He was the translator for the night. We had dinner and chatted. We left around 12. Planned to meet next day at 10 to go somewhere.

Day 12: Shiraz

Decided to walk to Eram Garden. Didn’t go in. Tried to go into university couldn’t get in. So, we got taxi to Tomb of Hafez. 200,000 rial to enter to the tomb of hafez. hmm. .nice place to hang out and relax, not sure if its worth the money really. We stayed a while and walked to the centre and had lunch.

Day 13: Fly to Tehran
Last day in Shiraz. Went go to Ghelat, nearby country place around 10.30. Walked around up there and had a tea. Hamid brought us but then wanted to charge double when the Catalans came with us. In the end, all sorted and we got a taxi to airport. End of our journey in Iran. 😦

Day 14: Fly to Barcelona via Doha.

Iran was amazing, full of interesting sights and friendly people. Will go back and explore a different part next time.

 

Posted in Asia, Iran | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Amsterdam

Spent 1 day in Amsterdam flying out from Barcelona early morning and back at night. This is the first time that we have flown to a city for a day but it was enough to see the main sights of Amsterdam. There was lots of walking involved. Here are some pics of the city and a list of some places to check out..

Amsterdam makes me think of : Canals, bikes, flowers, museums, parks, markets, and coffeehouses ..

 

IMG_20170520_145445 (480x640)

Grey Area Coffeeshop

Some places to visit in Amsterdam if going for a day are:

Rijksmuseum (with the IAmsterdam sculpture outside it)

Jordann area. Lots of cool cafes, stalls around here. Cloud gallery is a nice place.

Dam Square. Cool square with different things going on.

Red light district. Comes alive at night. It was full of stag parties when we were there

Coffeeshops. The Grey Area above is where my brother used to hang out.

Vondelpark. Big park in the centre. Worth going to.

 

 

Posted in Amsterdam, Holland | Leave a comment

Macedonia & Kosovo

Taking advantage of the long weekend we travelled to Macedonia flying into Skopje from Barcelona. We flew with Wizz Air, direct flight taking around 2.5 hrs arriving early Saturday morning. We located our Air BnB and went straight to bed.

Saturday: Skopje city and up to Millennium Cross

We spent Saturday by going up to the millennium cross and checking out the city of Skopje. Because of where we were staying, we decided first to go to the Millennium Cross, which is a 66-metre tall cross situated on the top of the Vodno Mountain. Apparently it was constructed to serve as a memorial of 2,000 years of Christianity in Macedonia and the world! As we we staying close by we walked in that direction until we got to a notice board with a map of the trails. We started walking up the trail and made it to the middle part where there is a car park and a place where you can get a cable car up to the top. We decided to get the cable up to the top. It cost 120 denar for the round trip. Pretty cool cable as there is a place for bikes on the side. So many bikers take the cable up and cycle down.

IMG_20170429_131825_1493465269139.jpg

Edgar on top of the mountain with the millennium cross

We got the cable down to where we started and took a bus into the centre of Skopje. The first thing that catches your eye in Skopje in the number of statues in the city. There seems to be one on every corner and they are big. The most striking one is in the centre of Alexander the Great on his horse. All of the gigantic monument construction started in 2011 as part of a government project. Having spoken to our Air BnB host who is from Skopje he explained the whole situation of all the statues, basically the current prime minister and his cousin seem to control everything in the country, from the constructors of the statues, the police, media etc…all very corrupt. The cost of the statues has been in the range from 90-565 million US dollars. Unaccounted money..disastrous for the local working community where there is 25% unemployment and the average monthly wage is around 300e euro. Unbelievable.

IMG_0569

Warrior on a horse statue

IMG_0524

Another statue

IMG_0511

There are also plenty of pictures of Mother Theresa around the city as well. As she was born there, there’s a museum and you can see where her house used to be. There’s an interesting quote under one of the many statues, the Porta Macedonian Arch which has an interesting quote from her: “I think that abortion has become the greatest destroyer of peace today.” Bit weird to have that on a gold plaque under the arch. Might have been better to put something different.

The old baazar of the city is very nice to walk around. It’s full of stalls ranging from Armenian and Turkish souvenirs and plenty of restaurants and cafes. We really enjoyed the food in Skopje.

Sunday: Matka Canyon

We decided to get out of the city and take a day trip to the nearby canyon called Matka canyon. It’s only 15 km away from the Skopje and definitely worth a visit. To get there we took bus no.60 from a nearby stop where we were staying. It leaves from the main bus station so its possible to get on there also. We ended up waiting for quite a long time for the bus and when we got on the driver gave us signal to go sit down. Nobody seemed to pay for the bus that day. (I think it costs 75 denar each way). About 30 minutes later we were at the canyon.

At the begining of the trail through the canyon there is a restaurant called: Restaurant Canyon Matka. It’ a really nice restaurant, prices being a lot more that normal places we would generally eat in, but good.

IMG_0608

Entrance to the canyon

Before eating we decided to hike up the other side of the mountain to see the sights from the top. We had to take a boat across the canyon and then hike up around 20 minutes. There’s a monastery on top. St.Nikola. We got caught in the rain so we had to hang out up there for awhile. Once the weather was good again we made our way back down and ate in the restaurant.

There is a huge trail that follows the canyon so we walked a lot of that, all the way to a cave, in which there are boats taking tourists too. The water is crystal clear and views amazing. Once we returned we decided to rent a double kayak and have an adventure in the water. Matka canyon is really a beautiful place to spend a day away from the capital city. To return back to Skopje, we decided not to risk waiting forever or a bus and got a taxi which cost 10euro.

IMG_0676

Walking along the canyon

IMG_20170430_172228

Having fun kayaking

IMG-20170430-WA0005

Amazing views!

Monday: Crossed into Kacanik in Kosovo

Our last day we decided to venture across the border into Kosovo. We didn’t plan on going to the capital Pristina, instead to a village in the mountains called Kacanik. We took a bus from the bus station in Skopje (minibus) to Kacanik stopping at border control along the way. Our passports were stamped and along we went. We were the only ones on the bus that got off in Kacanik. It’s a small place with not much going on but it was nice to visit. The main street is full of coffee bars full of men drinking on the terraces. Didn’t see many women that day. We had lunch there which was super cheap, 1 euro for a pizza. After walking around most streets we headed back to Skopje again. We waited on the road where we had got dropped off and bus came shortly.

IMG_20170501_131646 (640x480)

The locals in Kacanik

IMG_20170501_131746 (640x480)

The mosque

IMG_20170501_122721 (480x640)

Cheers from Kosovo!

Posted in Macedonia &Kosovo | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Lanzarote

Taking advantage of ski week in February we decided to go to Lanzarote. Lanzarote is one of the Canary islands and where my parents go frequently. I have been to Gran Canaria and Tenerife growing up but never to Lanzarote. It never striked me as a place that I would want to visit. However, it turned out to be a great week away from Barcelona. We booked our flight with Ryanair and our apartment called Luz y Mar with Atrapalo. We arrived pretty late on Saturday night so we didn’t do alot. We did venture down to a bar and had a drink.

Sunday – Puerto del Carmen, Honda Bay, Old town

The next day we walked down by Puerto del Carmen and on to Playa Honda. There’s a footpath and bike path that goes on for many kilometers so its easy to get from one resort to the next. Along the beach there are plenty of bars, shops and restaurants. We also checked out the old town, down by the harbour. Very pretty down there. Near to our apartments there is a Lidl so we bought our groceries for the week in there. Below shows Puerto del Carmen and a beautiful house by the port.

Mon – Cycled to Arrecife

The plan today was to go to Yaiza and to to the national park of Timanfaya. However, the buses that passed us seemed to be all full. So, in the end we changed our plan. We rented bikes from a place called Revolution bikes on the same street as out apartment (opposite Lidl). The bikes were mountain bikes (specialized) and cost 10euro for the day, a helmet being 1euro extra.  A deposit of 50 euro is needed in many places and is returned when you bring back the bike. We cycled along the bike path all the way to Arrecife, the capital along the way passing some nice quiet beach towns and stopping off to see airplanes fly over our heads. The houses in Lanzarote are all white  with green rims on the windows and green doors. Houses rarely exceed 2 floors which makes a change from other developed beach places. We got hit with all kinds of weather on the bikes. At one stage there was a downpour that we got caught in, other times it was sunny and windy. We ate lunch in Arrecife and cycled back to Puetro del Carmen to return the bikes by 5pm. Edgar had a problem with the chain of the bike so we ended up walking the last 20 mins.

IMG_8534

Cycling back from Arrecife

Tues – Timanfaya National Park

We had prebooked to do stand up paddle (sup) with Surf Sup & Yoga School3S  school located in Pueto del Carmen. However, it was cancelled for the next day due to the weather being too windy. So, instead we decided to go to Timanfaya park. We were earlier this time and managed to get a bus to Yaiza (bus 161). Cost: 1.40euro. Once we got off in Yaiza we got a taxi to the national park. Cost: 15euro. The weather wasn’t the best and there was a few showers along the way. Once we arrived, we bought our bus tickets (9 euro). Getting a bus tour is the only real way to explore the park. I thought it would be a bit difficult to see everything out of the bus but it was actually fine. We had a bit of an adventure on the bus as one of the buses ahead of us got stuck on a hill which in turn effected our bus and all the buses behind. With just a narrow road we ended up stuck for about an hour. The landscape of  Timanfaya is really unique and covers 1/5 of the island. Once the tour was finished we ate in the restaurant there. On the way in, there is a gigantic well where fire from the ground cooks the meat. It was impressive. We also watched a man pour water into the ground and a few minutes later it was shooting out like a geyser. After lunch we decided to walk out of the park and make our way to Yaiza. This was a bit of a walk, 13km in which we got soaked along the way by a crazy shower. We stopped off to see the camels along the way and kept going. Once in Yaiza we took the bus, 161 back to Puerto del Carmen.Below are some pics of Timanfaya Park.

Wed – Surfing at Famara beach

Wednesday was our day for what we thought our first time trying stand up paddle (sup). We got picked up by Diego and picked up another man from Donegal, Ireland (turns out he knows my dad) who was going surfing. We were talking for awhile in the van, we were explaining that we were doing stand up paddle etc.. After some time in the van Edgar was asking Diego about paddle surf and how it was compared to surfing etc.. it was at this moment Diego asked but you are surfing? Our faces dropped, as we never planned to try surfing ever and seeing big waves in the distance ..well we decided to do it! Got our wetsuits on and Diego explained the movements to get on the board. First wave, Tracy was on the board! We spent about an hour an a half trying the catch the waves. It was brilliant. I think the mix up of surfing and sup was a good thing, otherwise we never would have tried it, and we really enjoyed it. Once our time was up, we drove back to Puerto del Carmen ate lunch and walked on a trail to Puerto Calero, 2.2km each way, stopping off to have some papas arrugadas along the way.  Below: Edgar catching the wave and some papas arrugadas.

Thurs – Cycled to El Golfo
We took the bus to Playa Blanca 161, 5.50e with the idea of renting bikes there and to cycle up the coast to El Golfo. Once in Playa Blanca we walked down by the beach along the front. It took us a while to find a place where we could rent bikes but in the end we found one called Papagayo bikes. We rented the bikes for 12euro. Before we set off we had some lunch nearby and off we went. The first 9km are a bit boring as its flat and not a lot to see. The good thing is that it is a bike path so no traffic to deal with. The bad thing was the wind. Once passed the 9km, the landscape started to get interesting. Smooth tarmac cutting through the rough volcanic landscape and big waves crashing into the cliffs. First stop was the salt plains, salinas de janubio. Another few kilometers and we were at los hervideros (the boiling pots). We stopped here to walk around and see this interesting place. Finally, we made it to our destination, lago de los clicos (green lagoon). This is quite impressive with amazing contrasting colours, black sand and red, orange and yellow backdrop of the crater. The green colour of the lagoon is due to  the presence of Ruppia-Maritima algae. All of these sights are free to enter. In total we cycled around 16 km each way. We returned the bikes in the evening and took the bus to Puerto del Carmen making an appearance in Murphys bar, where my dad is quite famous. There are pictures of him behind the bar.

Fri – Jameos del Agua & Cueva de los verdes
We decided to venture north of the island, unsure of going to the little island La Graciosa or not. We took bus no.3 to Arrecife (3.40euro both) and connected to another bus going to Orzola, bus, no. 9 (7.20euro). It was at this point we decided not to go to La Graciosa as the weather was not great, but instead to go to other sights which were on the way. They were Jameos del agua and cuervos de los verdes. We got off at Jameos del Agua and decided to visit  Cueva de los Verdes (also 9 euro) first. This was interesting. The caves are quite big, 6km in length made from lava. The explanation by the guide was also good. There is a surprise at the end of the tour which is cool. Once we had finished there we walked down the road to the other attraction, Jameos del Agua (9 euro entrance). This was developed by the local artist Cesar Manrique. He created concert audotorium, pool, house, restaurant and bar by using what the lava created. Its quite impressive. After seeing both sites we walked to Punta mujeres, 2 km down the road to catch the bus, no.7 changing in Arrecife to get no.3 to Puerto del Carmen. We booked sup for our last morning.

Sat- SUP and fly to Barcelona

We decided to try sup as it was part of the plan since the beginning. We did sup with the same company as the surfing. It cost: 30e/hr. We had an early start at 8.30am and stayed for 1 hr doing sup in Puerto del Carmen. It was so much easier than surfing. When we finished up, we checked out and spent a few hours sitting and watching until it was time to make our way to the airport (bus.161).

GOPR7422_1488114493830_1488114740829

Tracy doing SUP

Overall, a great trip to Lanzarote!

A useful website for all information about Lanzarote that I came across is: http://www.lanzaroteinformation.com/, along with the company we used to do both surfing and stand up paddle: http://www.school3s.es/en/

Posted in Canary Islands, Lanzarote | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sofia, Bulgaria

Taking advantage of the long weekend that we had for thanksgiving we decided to spend it in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria. We flew with Ryanair and stayed in a central apartment with AirBnB. Once we arrived to Sofia, we took a free shuttle bus to the other terminal where the metro is, and took it to Serdika as this was where we would be staying for the next few days. It was really cold in Sofia, and I wasn’t prepared.Once we found our apartment we left our things are went out for the evening.

We walked around the centre, the main pedestrian street  is called Vitosha, which is full of restaurants, shops and bars. Buildings are a mix between Europe and Communist-style and there are many religious buildings which include a mosque, synagogue (one of the largest in Europe), orthodox churches..any more. There are mineral baths also in the centre and one of the springs is free (nice to warm up your freezing hands) and lion statues everywhere- the symbol of Sofia. We decided to take advantage of a free city tour that evening. The website is:  http://freesofiatour.com/ and the group is on facebook as well. And it’s free! You can email beforehand to say your going so the guide has an idea of how many people will be there. Our guide was from Sofia and brought us all around the city explaining the sites along the way.

We were impressed with the food there. There are plenty of restaurants and we found it very cheap. Currency of Bulgaris is Lev (they are members of the EU), but no euros yet. We ate in Spaghetti Kitchen and other places. We tried to eat in Made In Home: great little restaurant with lots of veg options https://www.facebook.com/madeinhomesofia/, but it was full!  We ate a lot of Shopska salad, it seemed to be on every menu. Is traditionally eaten before a meal and with a glass of rakia. We didn’t have the rakia, but the salad was great. Other typical dishes from Bulgaria are: French fries with sirene cheese (similar to Feta, but of course they say it’s better), Banitsa (phyllo dough pastry filled with either cheese, spinach, or usually in autumn you can find it with pumpkin, yum!) Often eaten for breakfast, Snezhanka salad (similar to tzatziki) with bread, Lyutenitsa-tomato, red pepper, carrot puree spread served with bread usually, Guevetch-stew baked in a clay pot. can be vegetarian but often isn’t, Yogurt and honey: Bulgarians claim they have the best of both of these, much better than the Greeks (so they say) :). They also make delicious jams and marmalades.

On the same street as Made In Home is Zona Urbana: a shop that sells bags, wallets, etc made out of recycled maps, old communist newspapers, sheet music, etc. We didn’t buy anything but it had nice things. Here is the website:https://www.zurbana.com/.

The next day we had planned to go to the developed ski-resort, the Vitosha mountain. But, the ski lifts were not functioning as it was not ski season yet and we didn’t have warm enough clothes to hike up. We were already cold in the city centre…cant imagine how cold it would be at the top. So, we walked around the centre again! This time we checked out Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, one of the largest orthodox churches worldwide. We went inside and it was full of people..and lots of buses parked outside. It must have been a special day. Outside the church, there was a market, people were selling old school artifacts and memoirbilia.  We walked by the mineral baths and then we came across a Christmas market by chance where we got to see some tradition Bulgarian dance.

img_20161125_114910_hdr-640x480

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

There are many statues in Sofia. The most interesting one for us was the head of Stefan Stambolov. This is a giant head of the politian who was killed in broad daylight by two assassins in the late 19th century. He was attacked and slashed his face.The statue shows this pretty well.

img_5412-640x427

Stefan Stamolov Statue

 

Overall, a nice long weekend. Maybe next time we can hike Vitosha mountain and take a day trip to Plovdiv, it looks nice..

Posted in Bulgaria | Tagged | Leave a comment