Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
Welove adventure, when we have two choices presented to us, we always tend to choose the one with adventure in it, we have trekked the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and jumped off a dam in Switzerland.
Svalbard is not a typical winter destination with blue skies and warm sunshine, it’s the land of the polar bears, they are the king and queen of these group of Islands also known in Dutch as Spitsbergen.
If you are looking for a real taste of the Arctic and an adventure worth mentioning, then pack your bags and jet set to Longyearbyen, the northern most populated town below the North pole
Weather in the arctic region is unforgiving and changes very often, you need to be ready for the varied conditions, so layers is the key to staying warm.
The outer full jacket is a snowmobile clothing and there are a few layers beneath it, here are some tips on the layers for keeping you warm.
The basic idea with layering is to trap air between them which acts as a very good insulator and if it becomes warm, you can remove some to suit you. So don’t make the mistake of buying the thickest jacket available assuming that would protect you from the cold.
Just because it’s the north pole does not mean you don’t have anything interesting to do, there are plenty of incredible activities to take part in, with wilderness experts and professional guides.
The guides have exceptional local knowledge about the area, Harri was our fantastic guide who told us interesting stories and kept us entertained all along, the guides have multiple professions and they grew up in the local wilderness which makes them an expert in the area and capable enough to deal with the arctic conditions.
There is a quick briefing before the start and we go over the safety instructions and route plans and we are informed of any last-minute plan or route changes due to adverse weather or avalanche conditions along the routes. A valid drivers licence is required to be able to ride these scooters.
If you are looking for extreme adventure, you can do the 3 day snow mobile tours where you can witness raw natures in its pristine beauty and access to remote locations and lunch with amazing backdrops.
You also have smaller day trips on snowmobile and dog sledging if you don’t fancy the longer trips out-of-town, the global seed vault, ice caves, glaciers are worth a visit.
On the longer visits you have more chances of seeing polar bears.
The guides are well aware of the polar bears and always carry flare guns and rifles on the tours and they make you feel safe at all times. We took the 3 day tour and the plan had to be changed everyday to cater of the changing weather, it was not as cold as required and rains have made the routes slushy and unridable for the snow scooters, so we could not visit the beautiful Isfjord Radio outpost, instead we visited the mining towns of Svea and Barentsburg.
Lunch spots like these are quite common.
We even encountered huge snow mounds and learning how to rescue stuck snow mobile from a snow mound are all part of the fun and adventure.
The Russian mining town of Barentsburg was a complete shock to us, it wasn’t anything arctic, it had fantastic 4 storey hotels and multi storey buildings which seem to take away the charm of a dusty old mining town.
We only managed to see a polar bear in the dining room, not a live one, now there is a reason to go to the arctic again.
We were quite surprised to find a few vegetarian options at this northern most part of the world, there are lots of good restaurants around Longyearbyen, a popular one is Kroa, the interiors are quite rustic with dim lighting and the food was very tasty too, for meat lovers this place has to be heaven with lots of local delicacies like Minke whale, moose, clipfish and more,
We being vegetarians, chose the tasty Indian Lentil stew with bread.
You can also get custom-made pizzas of your choice in most of the pubs around town.
We stayed at the fantastic Basecamp Hotel, a very rustic and charming place, friendly staff, the rooms all feature a drift wood/rustic feel to it and has big comfy beads and nice hot showers. Breakfast was plentiful with good variety.
Norwegian and SAS fly to Longyearbyen, check flight schedules as there are only flights on certain days, you might have to connect at Oslo if arriving from other major destinations and you would have to stay a night in Oslo for the connecting flight in the morning to Longyearbyen.
If you are part of a package tour, you might have transfers included, else the easiest is to get the airport transfer bus and stops at most of the hotels and costs 75 Nok per head, transfers are linked to flight arrivals and departures. Journey time is around 15 minutes.
The climate of Svalbard is dominated by its high latitude, with the average summer temperature at 4 to 6 °C (39 to 43 °F) and January averages at −16 to −12 °C (3 to 10 °F), summer months have long day light hours and may to September are around 24 hour day light, and Oct to Feb are polar darkness and best for spotting the Northern lights, summers are good for around the island cruises and spotting polar bears.
Svalbard is not part of any Norwegian county, it’s still governed by Norway, so if you need a visa then its a Schengen visa that you might have to apply.
Currency is Norwegian Kroners.
Tours can be booked at your hotel reception, sometimes they get booked in advance as numbers are limited in certain tours, Basecamp also offers most of the activities and adventure that you can book in advance.
Beautiful Norwegian Atlantic and Trollstigen road drives
Fancy driving a rollercoaster?, well your own, let me make it clear, driving a car on a rollercoaster track, yes exactly, sounds weird, that’s exactly what this beautiful road is all about, the Atlantic road is voted one of the best road trips, it begs to be driven and experienced.
The road link connecting the two fishing villages of Vevang in Eide with Karvag in Averoy links 11 small islands and skerries. This 8.2km route consists of small viaducts, causeways and 8 bridges and the most notable one is the Storseisundet Bridge.
Sharp turns, the beautiful curve of the bridge, wild nature and wonderful scenery awaits at every turn, no wonder this is one of the best roads to be enjoyed, there are lots of Panoramic view points and rest areas along the road.
The main highlight of this bridge is the feeling of going no where, the feeling of an abrupt drop, similar to being on a rollercoaster before the free run down the rails, it’s just amazing.
On this road trip to Norway, we drove 2 beautiful roads, this one and the Trollstigen mountain road, see more in pictures below.
Staying by the Atlantic road in Atlanterhavsveien Sjøstuer with nice views and plenty of options for fishing and camping, they have cozy little cabins for small and bigger size groups.
Not far from here is another beautiful and tourist road to Geiranger famously known as the Trolls path, 11 hairpin bends around the lofty mountains takes you to some fantastic view points, from the atlantic road its a 2 hour drive with a short ferry ride gets you to this scenic spot.
Trollstigen Camping provides a base for an overnight stay or a rest stop on the Trollstigen road with a nice restaurant and souvenir shop.
A 5 day, 45Km hike to the Incan Wonder
Machu Picchu and trekking the Inca trail to this wonder of the world was on top of our to-go list for some time and finally this is going to happen, we are fascinated by so many facts and pictures of this dreamy city in the clouds.
Here is our trip report and this one is going to be a lengthy one with loads of pictures and less boring wordy bits 🙂
This is part 1 of the 3 part series to the Incredible journey to Peru and the Inca trail to Machu Picchu
Read Part 2 – Packing and Preparing for the Inca Trail (opens in a new tab)
Read Part 3 – Days out in Cusco (opens in a new tab)
The Incas built it around the 1450’s and abandoned it a century later around the spanish conquest, it then remained hidden in thick Amazonian vegetation before it was brought to attention in 1911 by Hiram Bingham.
We wanted to tackle the trail in a leisure way so decided to do the 5 day 4 night trek instead of the 4 day 3 night option which seemed a bit rushed and also you get to see some extra Inca sites on the 5 day trek.
The trip starts with acclimatisation to the high altitudes that you will be experiencing over the next 5 days, its recommended to land in Cusco at least 2 days before your trip, take in the wonderful sights the city has to offer, which was also th former capital of the Incan empire. You will be flying to Lima from any international destination and then over to an internal 1.5 hour flight to Cusco.
Once you reach your hotel in Cusco, you will be offered coca leaf tea, coca leaves in hot water, it is believed to ease the effects of altitude, Peruvians are very hospitable and kind, they seem to love their coca, this is going to be our wakeup drink for the next 5 days.
The evening before the trek starts with a briefing at the Alpaca office near the main square, we were introduced to our guide who explains us in good detail what to expect over the next 5 days and that he is going to teach us all spanish, at the end of the trek we are going to be fluent in spanish 🙂
After the briefing you will be given duffel bags to pack the items you need during the trek and after until you return to Cusco, this is when all your backpacking skills come in, you pack just the bare minimum as the maximum weight each porter can carry is strictly limited by law, we saw porters bags being weighed before the entrance to the Inca trail, you can carry a day pack with the camera, a camel pack for water, some chocolates, nuts and energy bars for use during the day, check our Inca Trail Packing list for full details on the essentials.
It’s important to get a good nights sleep before the trek, our guide Amorosso picked us up at 5am and after a 2 hour bumpy ride to Ollantaytambo, the trek starts at a point aptly named Km82 its 82 kms from Cusco.
Our porters (called Green Machines from now on) and chef get everything ready and we have breakfast served at 8am, lots of fruits, scrambled eggs and coca tea.
After breakfast, we get ready, fill water in our camel packs and start our pilgrimage, keep your passports ready, there is a check post and your names are verified and needs to be exact as in the passport, else you are not allowed in the trek, if you had a booking in your previous passport, carry it along and you need them all along the trek, you need them to enter Machu Picchu and the hotel stay at the top.
This was going to be a touch day as you will be ascending to 4200m altitude and its all steep steps, the day starts early and we all wake up to the Rooster (cukroo coo coooo) and this is going to be our wake up call for the rest of the nights, our green machines greet us with hot coca tea.
Our Guide Amorosso introduces the green machines and the Chef to our group and thanking us for providing them with a means of living by visiting their country, it was great to hear them speak in their native language Quechua and our guide Amorosso translating their names and details about their family members, basically all of them are farmers and they work as porters on the trek for 3 months, earn some money and go back to their family in their native villages around the base.
Another exciting and big and long day ahead, we are going to cross the dead woman’s pass, the difficult day of the lot at 4215m, but no rush says the guide, tackle it slowly and we can conquer it.
We were very fortunate that the weather gods were helping us the entire trip, we had perfect blue sky days and no rain, which is unusual around the amazon. Plan for the rains, although Alpaca provides ponchos, if you can carry some light rain jackets and over trousers, they might be more comfortable.
It was a tough afternoon pushing uphill all along to the peak, tackling rough stone steps, still getting adjusted to the altitude, we were all huffing and puffing along the climb with a rest stop to catch some breath every 10 steps.
Reaching the peak is an amazing feeling, having dealt with the difficult part of the trail, the feeling of being on top of the world above the tree lines and touching the clouds, there were a bunch of Llamas enjoying the fresh grass on the mountain sides.
The descent was rather difficult given our weary legs and tired body, lots of irregular steps and rocky paths begin to take a toll on your knees after a while. Knee braces or knee support is highly recommended and useful even if you don’t have a wobbly knee, they give overall support to your knees
Day 3 was supposedly a moderate day, we are all excited to tackle the trail knowing the hardest part was done and dusted, everyday was a different challenge though, so we had no prejudices when the guide said it was going to be an easy day, we know by now what “Inca Flat” means and is nowhere near “Flat”, may be Flat means vertical in Quechua or spanish or whatever speak it was.
We visit one of the Inca watch tower and rest site on the way, this was used as a rest stop by the Inca messengers for staying overnight, the messengers carry important information about the weather, crop and cultivation records from nearby villages. The site is another typical Incan architecture with a central courtyard area surrounded by rooms used as night stay.
After this pit stop to fill our lungs with some air, we continue our climb to the pass (4000 m)
This section of the trail is known for its rich flora and fauna and there were more than a dozen varieties of Orchids, wild berries and flowers, with them come bumblee bees and other nectar loving flies that buzz around you on the trail, no one got stung by the flies but we did get some bites from a black mosquito like fly, its advised to apply some sort of repellant to keep them away.
From the pass we begin our descent back into the cloud forest, the trail again is amazing with thick jungle cover and through small caves, about an hour of walking and we reach the ruins of Sayacmarca
After lunch we walk along gradual inclines towards our campsite for the night, this area of the trail is stunning with beautiful views of the Vilcabamba mountain range in the distance with abundant flora and fauna all around.
We reach our most beautiful campsite on the trail in Phuyupatamarca (3680m)
This day wasnt easy or moderate, may be we were all tired from the second day, so day 3 was also equally challenging and that we were walking for 9 hours, a good nights sleep under starry skies and we are ready to tackle the next day.
With the clouds clearing, we have our first view of Machu Picchu, the Urubamba river down below and the snow-capped peaks of Salkantay, we enjoy another wonder breakfast with the great views.
Our Chef baked us a special cake, we are amazed at the presentation and the skills of baking a cake in a pressure cooker at this remote camp site, food like this is very typical of Alpaca Expeditions, we are treated to so much sumptuous food, that we might have gained weight rather lose.
It’s relatively moderate descent from here with the amazing views of the valley,
We were the only ones on this part of the trail, as we slowly walk along the tree covered trail, we hear a lot of bird chirps and we wait silently for a while and we see so many birds native to Peru. We even spotted a Scarlet-bellied mountain tanager, it is found in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Venezuela.
We reach the complex of Intipata (Terraces of the Sun), this beautiful site has fantastic views of the sacred valley and was an important agricultural site for Machu Picchu. We spotted half a dozen friendly Llamas who did not mind us getting closer to them, some of them even posed with us for pictures.
We have our last lunch with the Green machines and bid farewell to the great team, we were like a family for the last 4 days and it was all a bit of an emotional moment, we thank the porters, chef and the team for all the hard work, we present them a tip as a token of appreciation and we bid adios and continue our last hour of trek to the Sun gate where we finally get the first glimpse of the lost city, all the hard work ad climbing all these days just for this view.
After a quick tour of the site late afternoon when the crowds are lean, we are finally back to civilisation, we get a bus down to the town of Augus Calientes and settle into our hotel Rupa Wasi for the night, a good night sleep on comfortable beds at last.
The moment has arrived, all the walking and hiking all these days is to see this magnificent site, we wake up early around 5am and get the first bus up to Machu Picchu to catch the sunrise, don’t be shocked to see how many people are up early to get the bus to see the legendary Incan city. So its best to stay a night in this little town and get the early bus before the day tripper start arriving from Cusco.
The site is in a valley surrounded by mountains, its cloudy most of the time, so catching a sunrise is very rare, the weather was a bit wet, our first drizzle of the entire trip and that soon fades away.
Our tour guide takes on a tour (approx 2 hours) of the site explaining the importance of the ceremonial sites.
The Incas used white granite to build all their important sites of worship like the one below, the stones were all quarried locally and used in the construction, important temples and astronomical observation sites were built with perfectly cut blocks that fit together like jig saw puzzles, as the site is in an earthquake prone zone, the Incans did not use mortar instead when an earthquake happened, the rocks would move and then settle back into their own place, such was the engineering prowess they had.
We thanked and tipped our guide Amorosso for the wonderful and funny 5 days and for the wonderful stories and insights he gave us and left us at the entrance to Huaynapicchu, the tall peak in front of Machu Picchu.
The tickets to climb Huaynapicchu is limited so if you plan to hike this its advisable to book in advance, you can do this when booking your trek and Inca permits and Alpaca will take care of the booking, even though we were dead tired and half hungry (no eating inside Machu Picchu complex), we had packed lunch and decided to have it on top of Huaynapicchu, we mustered the last bit of energy to climb.
Unlike the Inca trail this one is not easy, half the trail is wet, steep and treacherously slippery so use extreme caution hiking this one, and once we reached the top, the view of Machu Picchu city below was truly incredible.
We had planned to spend an extra night in this small beautiful town of Augus Calientes to take in the sights and do some souvenir shopping, we lazily strolled around the markets and rugged streets.
Getting back to Cusco is by train and you have the option of an upgrade to the “Vistadome” train that has windows in the ceiling to give you a panoramic look at the scenery during the 3 hour train to Olantaytambo and 1.5 hour transfer to Cusco or 4 hours to Poroy and a 30 min transfer to Cusco city, you can book this upgrade along with the trek booking itself and if you don’t plan to sleep then its ok to splurge a bit on this extra scenic ride with traditional peruvian meals/snacks and some fashion show showcasing their Alpaca wool clothing
There is never enough time to truly get to know a place and we hate leaving with the feeling of not spending even more time and visit and learn the local culture and customs, but we are honoured to have such a warm reception by the Quechua and the Cusqueñans and the kind hospitality, we are very happy with the experience and will definitely be visiting this lovely country again to fill in the experiences we missed this time around.
Road trip around South Iceland
After our first trip, we have been attracted to this beauty again and again, its hard to describe what Iceland is like, if you come here expecting surreal landscapes and stunning panoramas, am sure there nothing can prepare you for what lies in store for you.
This part of the trip is aptly named the land of waterfalls and Glaciers, if you want to see one, then its right there in the next turn, no exaggeration, there are so many waterfalls all long the southern route that you can lose count of them and each one is unique in its own way.
If you want to experience the Earth in its liveliest form, then there is no other place like it, mud bubbling fumaroles, steaming mounds, water spouting hot springs and countless mountains and magnificent waterfalls at every turn, you will feel you have entered a complete new planet within a few minutes into your road trip.
And a teaser video from our trip, thanks to my dad for the video and editing.
Winters are famous for the Northern lights if you are keen on it else the best time to see and enjoy the scenic beauty would be summer between April and September when you would have maximum day light, an added advantage to your road trip. It’s a pleasure to drive the long and winding Icelandic roads and with a view as far as your eyes can see, yes you can see as far into the horizon as there are no trees in Iceland, it’s a pretty much a martian landscape lookalike.
There are lots of car hire agencies in Keflavik Airport, it’s better to prebook your car via Rentalcars.com or AutoEurope in advance to get the best deals and a good car. I mention again, a good car, I mean a 4×4 is preferred, you would definitely want to drive off track on gravel roads and cross some small rivers if your of the adventurous type like us, even if you’re not, just the sheer pleasure of driving around Icelandic roads would be more enjoyable more on a 4×4 compared to a small car.
GPS hire is also available with the car and is much handy if you hire one to make your way to the many scenic vistas abound.
Fuel stations accept credit cards and they are self-service pumps, you key in the maximum amount you wish to be charged and you start filling up and you will only be charged for the amount you fill, the max amount is just to verify your card.
Reykjavik is the capital and is not far from the attractions, so if you want to be in the city and still enjoy all the sightseeing, rent a hotel in Reykjavik and drive out to the attractions.
If you are like us prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle and love to be in the midst of an action packed farm, then there are numerous fully contained self catering cottages which would make your stay more memorable and enjoyable, you can mingle with the cows and sheeps on the farm and experience a live farm in action. One of the best things you can do to enjoy Iceland is to stay in a cottage in the middle of nowhere and just enjoy the nature and the silence of the surroundings.
On all our trips to Iceland, we have booked our cottages through Farm Holidays Iceland, they are a cool bunch of people and very prompt in setting up everything you need and book the right cottage for your needs.
Ours had a nice outdoor hot tub too, that’s the one in blue on the right, what a way to enjoy the evening with wine after a long days’ drive.
If I have convinced you enough to rent a cottage, then make sure you stock up on food and other items you would need for the of your stay in the cottage, you have major supermarkets Bonus and Haugkaup as you drive out of Keflavik, you wont find many once you are heading towards the villages.
As the name suggests Iceland, even though it’s not as icy in summer as it sounds, you might be comfortable taking some warm clothing with you and some waterproof jackets and gloves, the ice glaciers of Jokulsarlon will be cold and is better enjoyed with proper warm clothing. Icelandic weather is unpredictable to the minute.
Here is a quick video of a few key waterfalls in Iceland
Gullfoss means “Golden Falls” and is one of Iceland’s most beautiful and most powerful waterfall, it features two distinct drops in succession at right angles spanning the entire Hvítá River and it flows free and wide that could be experienced around the year and the mood and appearance are vivid in each season.
Gullfoss carries a lot of sediments that the glacial ice has carved off the earth and this makes the water a bit brownish, on a sunny day the water plunging the multiple staircase step like formation and then tunneling down the 32 meter deep crevice looks a fabulous golden colour and hence the name.
Standing at the edge of Gullfoss and wallow in the wonderful beauty of the water gushing is such an uplifting experience, we felt more energetic when leaving Gullfoss than when arriving. That’s the impact these unique nature sites such as Gullfoss and Geysir had on us.
Top Tip: Enjoy a delicious and amazing hot Soups in the Gulfoss Cafe.
Pictures speak more than words and if its a video with words, well whats more to ask, enjoy a small video about Geysir below.
This 55m deep extinct volcanic crater was formed 3000 years ago in an explosion and is now filled by a deep lake.
The caldera, like the other volcanic rock in the area, is composed of a red (and not black) volcanic rock. The caldera itself is about 55 m (180 ft) deep, 170 m (560 ft) wide, and 270 m (890 ft) across. Kerið’s caldera is one of the three most recognizable volcanic craters because at about 3,000 years old, it is only half the age of most of the surrounding volcanic features. The other two are Seyðishólar and Kerhóll.
Most of the crater is very steep with little vegetation and one side of the crater has a more gentle slope blanketed with a deep moss that can be descended more easily, but take at most care as the slopes are very slippery, we saw a woman who unfortunately skid down the slope and broke her ankle.
The lake itself is fairly shallow (7–14 metres, depending on rainfall and other factors), but due to minerals from the soil, is an opaque and strikingly vivid aquamarine.
Waterfalls and Iceland, each one is as unique as the moss that grow in the volcanic rocks around there, each waterfall is breathtaking that just words not enough to describe.
Seljalandsfoss is particularly unique because you can walk behind the waterfalls for a completely different and a beautiful view as the water cascades down in a smooth fabric of mist and spray. This is one such waterfall that you should not miss when in Iceland.
The hike up to and behind the waterfalls itself is fairly easy but care has to be taken as the rocks will slippery.
TIP: Make sure you have a good wind and water proof jacket as the spray from the waterfall will completely drench you, so if you are carrying camera gear, do have some plastic bags wrapped up around, the spray is almost like standing in a shower
Another grand waterfall that’s worth a mention, it’s a couple of kilometers away from Seljalandsfoss and its popularity is also down to its ease of access, just off Highway 1 and can even be seen from Highway 1.
A classically-shaped rectangular waterfall that drops 60m and 25m wide, the high volume of water roaring and thundering down creates a fine mist and with the sun high in the sky projects a lovely rainbow, a photographer’s dream.
Getting so close to the base of such a huge waterfall makes us feel so humble in front of mother nature
Jokulsarlon is a large glacial lagoon with icebergs floating around, it’s incredibly beautiful with its blue floating ice, black sand and the ice on the shores seem like crystals against the black sand.
A visit to the black sand beach on the other side of the ring road across the bridge is worth its visit and gives great photo opportunities.
The black sand beach is formed from a volcanic rock and is usually filled with crystal clear icebergs that are washed up from the sea, which is actually very beautiful especially when you plan to go here at dawn, sunrise or sunset.
Take the Boat Tour (http://icelagoon.com/) that takes among the ice glaciers and we even spotted two seals happily swimming around.
There are 2 tours operated here, the bigger amphibian vehicle and the smaller inflatable boats, if you prefer a closer encounter with the icebergs and seals, this is the preferred one.
Dyrhólaey a 120m high promontory means “the door hole island”, it got its name from the massive stone arch that the sea eroded from the headland, on a clear day this arch is visible from as far as Skógar and you can get beautiful views of the arch from the top of Skógafoss.
Dyrhólaey is supposed to have been created during an interglacial period late in the Ice Age by a submarine volcanic eruption. The cliffs are a beautiful assembly of basalt columns; forming arches, stairs, towers – whatever you can imagine – and they rise over a long expanse of black sand to the north and south.
A short walk uphill from the parking lot on top of the hill is an old lighthouse. I definitely recommend walking up here although it must be one of the windiest spots we had to endure. We really had to fight our way up and down hill as the wind was so strong. Once we got up there we took shelter, staying close to the lighthouse walls. The very first lighthouse was built in 1910 and the one you see today was built in 1927. There are also a sheepcote and a barn not far from the lighthouse. These were for the first lighthouse keeper. There is a toilet too which would come in handy after a cold and windy walk.
A small fishing village in the south of the island, very vibrant, its famous for the basalt columns and the black sand beach, very famous for its churches and the Icewear shop where you can witness wool garments being made in its factory floor.
If you happen to be in Iceland in the last week of August, make sure you plan to visit the jokulsarlon fireworks show, more details here – Fireworks show at Jokulsarlon
A unique way to see the northern lights
If sleeping under the stars tickles the inner child in you then here is where you have to go, imagine a nap in ice-cold weather being able to slowly dream into a warm bed and cozy glass igloo for the night.
Our quest to stay in some unique and different accommodations led us to this Igloo village in the northern part of Sweden in Saariselka named aptly the kakslauttanen artic resort.
Coordinates: 68.334427, 27.334060
The plan was part of the Norway Aurora hunt and what better way to enjoy the dancing lights from the comfort of a cosy bed sipping some wine, well the Aurora part never happened when we stayed in the igloo but we enjoyed the ambiance and a complete different experience sleeping under the stars, although a bit on the expensive side, but definitely worth the stay.
As we had a week in Tromso to spot the lights, we decided to drive to Finland for 2 days to enjoy a night in the glass igloo, the first plan was a 7 hour drive from Tromso to the resort which should be manageable but as the weather was windy and wet the total drive took us around 9.5 hours with rest spots and nice scenery along the way.
The drive itself was through long winding roads and thick forests filled with pine trees all the way.
As we neared the resort all our last hopes of spotting the Aurora was washed away by the non stop drizzle and thick clouds, it was dark, it was wet and we were tired after the day long drive, we reached pretty late around 10 in the night and managed to get the keys to our cabin.
Finding the cabin the dark was fun to our already long and tired day, the cabins are built among the trees, only dim-lit path ways could guide us and we have to find the right door number for our cabin, hope we don’t barge in to somebody’s cabin and catch them out by surprise.
Finally after some running around in the woods we managed to find our cabin and we logged in, yes its a lovely cabin built using log wood, it had a very unique decor to it and very spacious with a small kitchenette, sauna and a log wood burner.
After a quick pit stop for our weary legs, we took some nibbles and some wine and headed to our Igloo for the night and the first look and we were really amazed, it was a completely different experience from the moment we stepped into the Igloo.
After a nice night stroll around the resort finally we decided to call it a day and a much needed rest, the recliner beds were a nice addition, comes in handy for an Aurora viewing, just flip the head up and you are still lying down with a nice view of the sky.
The Glass roof tiles are made of Thermopane that never frosts or steams up and maintains the temperature well for a good nights rest without freezing the little inhabitants. It comes with a small toilet and a wash basin enough to fulfill the basic necessities.
After a hot shower and a nice breakfast we head back to Tromso to our little red house for the rest of the week.
An Aurora hunting spectacular
The search for the Northern lights began last year in 2012, plans penned down, tickets booked, maps saved and key viewing spots all jotted down, the Dec of 2012 came and went and we couldn’t spot the Aurora in Northern Iceland due to heavy snow and cloudy conditions, but the trip was fantastic and we enjoyed every bit of it. Click on the link above to read more on the North Iceland trip.
The love for the Elusive Aurora grew even more stronger and we decided to plan another trip in 2013, this year the Aurora was supposed to be at its peak and what better place on earth would it be for Aurora viewing other than the famous city of Tromso in Northern Norway and we were not wrong, we had fantastic viewings for 4 days over the week we stayed, intense and dancing mystical lights, not something that can be missed.
After lots of Googling and reading up on the weather patterns, we chose September to be a safe bet and we were right and rewarded with some amazing Auroral displays.
Aurora displays are more active around the Solstices, so the Solstice around September 21 seemed apt, weather in Tromso was also mild with the start of the rainy season, so there are better chances of clear skies around these months than during the peak winter months.
Below are geo-coords of interesting Aurora view points around Tromso, helpful if you are on a Self Drive trip and have a satnav handy.
|(another side of sea) – 69.70005, 18.6163|
|(fjord view point) – 69.74139, 18.4748|
|Ringvassoy nordkjosen||69.96345, 18.9070|
|Ringvassoy dafjord||69.9966, 19.338|
|Ringvassoy hansnes||70.0220, 19.592|
|Skibotn||69.402, 20.270 (Popular with guides), (dry weather)|
|Skibotn astro observatory||69.34837, 20.3645|
|Lyngen view||69.591, 20.418|
|Alta via Skibotn||69.946, 23.183 (6 hrs from Tromso)|
So there is really no best time of the year, Auroral displays are visible during long and dark nights, So August to March is best and you need clear skies, so if you can avoid the peak winter and snow season you might increase the chances of a good display, and the best would be to spend a week or more increasing the chances of clear skies and better weather.
All you need to see the Aurora is some place in the Northern Hemisphere, some notable ones are Canada, Tromso, Iceland, Finland and the like…. and a dark area to look up at the sky away from the city lights.
There is nothing special you need other than a pair of eyes and lots of patience and some hot drinks to help you keep awake long into the chilly nights.
Auroras are difficult to predict with precision, but if you keep checking the aurora forecast often and plan accordingly, the chances of a viewing are greatly increased.
Watch out for the Aurora forecast at – http://www.softservenews.com/Aurora.htm Look out for the Kp Index, do not assume if the Kp Index is low, it stays low for the whole of the night, as we found out in our Auroral adventures, that’s not the case, Kp changes pretty often based on the solar sub storms
We love staying in small lovely cottages away from the hustle and bustle of the city, our first option would be to try to get a cottage if possible and Tromso is no stranger to mountain lodges and cottages, we did find one and we were attracted to it looking at the photos and the view.
Little Red House as its aptly named is a cosy little cabin an hours drive from Tromso, sits right on the water-front with views of the spectacular Lyngen Alps, photos do more justice to the beauty than words, so enjoy the beauty below.
If you are on an Aurora hunt, self drive seems to be the best option as you might have to stay very late into the night and far from your place of stay and you might have to do lots of driving around to find a clear spot with no clouds – Chasing the Aurora as we like to call it. There are car rentals in Tromso airport, book in advance for some good deals.
DC-3 Plane site, Adventure, Offbeat finds
In my research to get some unique and interesting spots to photography in south Iceland, I kept stumbling upon this random photographs of a crashed DC-3 Dakota world war II plane somewhere in the south of Iceland near the town of Vik, my curiosity grew more and my quest to get this plane wreck photographed grew bigger and started my research to get to this place, all I had was some random directions and Google map satellite imagery for the location.
Using the Google maps Geo Co-ordinates marker, I got the approximate co-ordinates of where the wreck is, so i can at least try to reach the place somehow if am completely lost, the black sand beach is huge and it has long coastlines and barren landscapes, so its easier to get lost.
In the winter of 1973 a military version of a DC-3 (Dakota) US Navy plane ran out of fuel, combined with bad weather, had to crash-land on the black sand beach near the town of Vik in South Iceland, luckily everyone on board survived, an attempted recovery led to the crash of a Helicopter and killing some people, with no much luck helping them, the Americans decided to abandon the mess there.
As curious as you and me, a local farmer during his morning stroll found this and to his luck he figured out the pilots had mistakenly switched to the wrong fuel tank and had a full load of fuel on the second tank, the lucky farmer had aviation grade fuel to run his tractors and all farm equipment for a year, stories say the tail was also sold off to a couple who run a hotel out of a DC-3.
The site is off Highway 1, if you are heading east, near the crossing to Sólheimarjökull between Skogafoss and the town of Vik, you would see a fenced field on the right, keep continuing on the Hwy 1, the road slopes downhill a bit, a few hundred meters after, you should see an opening in the fence, it’s a small gate like structure made of wooden poles and attached to the fence using ropes, from the main road there is a gravel ramp leading into the farm through the gate, its approx 2 Miles from this point, follow the gravel path until the farm ends, and from there its just a blind straight drive into the vast black sand beach. You wont have to cross any rivers as some have noted if you take this route.
The weather was a bit dry so we chose to drive as far as we can and then walk from there as we had a 4×4, a 2WD should be fine if the weather is dry, as with any off-road use caution and common sense when venturing out there and even with a 4×4 be careful not to drive too close to the beach unless you enjoy getting stuck in the sand.
You wont see the plane until you are a couple hundred yards away as the wreck is in a small dip in the sand behind a small mound.
Finally caught sight of the plane in the far sands.
Nearing the site, looks like a scene out of a zombie movie.
Breathtaking views of the Fjord from Pulpit rock
Preikestolen also famously known as the Pulpit Rock is a famous trekking destination and a natural attraction in Western Norway an hour from Stavanger.
It’s a massive cliff with an unusual formation where the top of the cliff is flat measuring 85 x 85 feet, the cliff is 604 meters above the Lysefjord and the views from the cliff are spectacular.
Reaching the cliff peak takes around 4 to 5 hours and you need to be reasonably fit as the climb is steeper in many places along the route and lots of rocky boulders to climb and ridges to cross along the way.
Make sure you have a good pair of trekking shoes, trekking poles will be helpful if you have one, water, food (there are no shops at the cliff top) and lots of enthusiasm and when you reach the top, there is nothing that matches the beauty of nature’s painting that beholds your eye, beautiful view of the Lysefjord with blue-green waters and the feeling of standing on top, its just gorgeous.
Trek Note: There are 2 paths that take you 2 the cliff, they separate approx 2/3rds of the way as seen in the track map above, the right hand side path takes you via the hilly area and its tougher than the left side Cliff walk, you might have to climb large rocks and navigate narrow crevices, but takes you to a higher point from where you can have a good view of the Pulpit rock itself. The cliff path leads direct to the pulpit rock.
The Pulpit Rock is in Ryfylke in Western Norway, the nearest ferry terminal is Tau and the nearest airport is Stavanger, the fourth largest city in Norway, 25 kilometers from Pulpit rock.
There is a flybus from the airport every 15 minutes that gets you direct from the airport to the ferry terminal.
During summer time (Mid May to Mid September) there are regular ferries (3 every hour) from Stavanger to Tau and you can get a local bus from Tau terminal to the base of the Pulpit rock hiking trail.
The road to the site ends at a parking facility at Preikestolen Fjellstue. There is a well-marked trail that extends from the parking facility to the site, which goes through a variety of mountain landscapes.
An alternative to view the pulpit rock from the fjord is available year round: a ferry trip sails beneath the Pulpit rock through the Lysefjord. The weather other than in the summer can be wet and cold, and clouds can then prevent seeing the rock. The ship stops at several small docks on the way in and out, including a layover at the end of the Lysefjord .
Sightseeing ferries start from the Stavanger Port which is a 10 minute walk from the Stavanger-Tau Ferry terminal, check tour timings before you plan and the total round trip is 3 hours.
There are other marked hiking trails starting from the base as well and gives you good views of the Pulpit rock from the other side and a walking path around the Refsvatn lake.
The nearby mountain Kjerag (which reaches the height of 1,110 meters, near the bottom of the Lysefjord) is also a very popular hiking destination, and its famous for the boulder rock wedged between two rock faces.
If you want to stay at the base after a hard days hike and can’t be bothered going back to Stavanger, then the only option is the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge.
We stayed at the Preikestolen Mountain Lodge (www.preikestolenfjellstue.no), which is situated at the beginning of the hike idyllically in the Ryfylke moorlands, overlooking the Refsvatn lake. The lodge is built to hotel standards and the new block was built in 2009.
Stavanger Sola airport to City centre by flybus – 100 NOK Per person (one way)
Ferry Stavanger to Tau – 46 NOK per person (one way)
Tau to Preikestolen YHTTA by bus – 85 NOK per person (one way)
Road trip around north Iceland
Iceland has always been on my favorite place list for some time, and combine that to see the Northern Lights aka Aurora Borealis, what better way would it be to explore this fantastic country.
We booked our stay and car rentals through Nordicvisitor, if you are lost and not sure how and what to do in Iceland, I would very much recommend these guys at Nordicvisitor, everything was perfectly planned and all maps and details printed, can’t be any more perfect in planning, a double thumbs up.
Us and a Ford Kuga and some photographic gear and we set out sail to this fantasy land. Before I bore you with loads of text and pictures, here are some Geo-coordinates that might be useful if you are of the adventurous self-drive kind.
Here is a short video that we managed to create to keep you interested in reading further.
Geo-coordinates of major attractions in and around North Iceland. (Paste coordinates in Google maps search bar to see it on map)
|Godafoss Waterfall||65.68342, -17.5511|
|Mt. Hverfjall||65.6002, -16.8833|
|Tröllaskagi peninsula||66.1846, -18.9484|
|Deildartunguhver & Reykholt||64.666, -21.410|
|Hraunfossar and Barnafoss||64.7034, -20.9771|
Iceland Live Webcams here
See the Aurora activity updates here
We arrived at the capital’s Keflavik airport, a nice little airport that’s an hour away from the city centre, getting to the city was just a breeze, look for the flybus counter on the right as you come out of the baggage claim area and just before the glass doors that lead you to the Icelandic fresh air. Get the flybus plus tickets that gets you direct to the Hotel, a single journey costs 2500 NOK per head (Dec 2012) and look out for one the buses like below.
Had a fantastic day in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland and a small and vibrant city, Iceland, not as Icy as the name might suggest but was a moderate 7 degrees, but the wind made it feel more colder than 7, it was more like -1.
Clear skies for the day and some fantastic golden hour, as Iceland is near the northern poles, there is no such mid day sun, so you have sunrise and then some sunrise and some more sunrise and the sun sets, and the sunrise to sunset is just approx 4 to 5 hours, so the golden hour period for photography is much wider than the usual 15 to 30 min window.
The city is all lit up for the Xmas season with lighted Santa figures and Xmas trees abound.
We flew out of Reykjavik in the early hours in a small prop jet to the north, Akureyri, we picked up our rental car here. Only Garmin provides with a navigator that has Iceland maps and can be rented with the car rental agencies.
We drove to Myvatn, our stop for the next 2 days where the search for the Northern Lights begin. Myvatn is a small town 100Kms east of Akureyri, we stayed in our cute little self catering cottage in Vogar farm, on the way we stocked up on Yogurt, Milk and other basic items for the next 2 day stay.
There are a lot of interesting places around Myvatn, the unusual lava formations of Dimmuborgir and the Icelandic Yule Lads in Dimmuborgir, they are visible only during the 2 weeks before Xmas.
Fuming mud pots of Namafjall Hverir, a bit geology and details for the inquisitive ones.
As Iceland is on Mid-Atlantic Ridge that owes its very existence to the molten rock, or magma. Over one-third of Iceland’s 40,000 square miles is volcanically active and loaded with lava fields. Elsewhere, magma too far below the surface to create volcanoes heats the rock above, sending the heated groundwater percolating to the surface in the form of “hot springs.” Iceland is far enough north so that it should be entirely covered by ice and snow, like Greenland to the west. The heat generated by the ridge, however, keeps the country in a constant state of thaw, distinguishing it as the Land of Fire and Ice. This makes Iceland best suited for Ge0-Thermal plants as there is an abundance of natural hot water from the hot springs.
Hot water used in these stations are then diverted for use to local homes for hot water and heating, as the water rises through volcanic ash and rocks, it has a sulfurous smell to it, we were assured its safe to use for normal use and after a day in and around the area constantly fed the sulfurous fumes, we almost became immune to the smell.
Mt Hverfjall, to the east of Mývatn is a gigantic tephra crater about 140 m deep and 1,300 m diameter, a so-called Tuff Ring, created 2,500 years ago. Tephra has been carried from Hverfjall, all over the Lake Myvatn area. A landslide apparently occurred in the south part of the crater during the eruption, which accounts for the disruption of the round shape of the mountain.
The rim of the crater is only accessible by two trails, from the northwest and south. It is strictly forbidden to use other routes up or down.
As it was Christmas day, there were no flights back to the capital, so as the adventurous side of me alert, i planned the trip such i would drive back to the capital and return the car there instead of in Akureyri, it was heavy snow the day before and it was still snowing when we started, i knew its going to be a difficult drive back in such treacherous conditions, but nevertheless we were treated to driving in zero visibility in snow blizzard and icy stretches, but it was part of the fun in exploring.
We visited Godafoss on our way to Myvatn, but the light was not that great, so decided to stop again and get some more clicks, this time it was a treat with the setting sun and was able to get some decent captures in the bone chilling icy cold wind.
We safely arrived at the capital and on the way we did visit the Deildartunguhver Thermal spring, the largest hot water spring that spews out boiling water.
The last day was spent back in the capital Reykjavik and a trip to the best Nature bath – The Blue Lagoon is a must if you visit Iceland, the water comes from the nearby volcanic crusts and is at a warm 30 to 50 Degrees C and its natural volcanic salts make it a very good for skin.
In all this trip was planned as a Northern lights trip and we did everything except the northern lights, the weather was snowing and cloudy and the sun activity was pretty low too, so the quest for the Northern Lights still continues…..
Road trip in Austria, Winding roads, Ice caves, beautiful scenary
Austria, sometimes referred to the poor man’s Switzerland ?? not sure about that, but definitely cheaper than Switzerland and would say as beautiful as Swiss is. More about Austria and its demographics here – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austria
This was a plan made to cover the 3 day long weekend holiday around the August last here in the UK. So we decided to cover some scenic beauty, on the list were a couple of places that we listed out, I have also added the Geo coordinates, this might be useful for anybody with a GPS navigation system.
We flew into Munich and hired a car, the places below can be reached easily by car and there are public transport available as well, but a self drive gives the freedom to stop wherever required and take photographs and change plans anytime.
A view of the entrance to the caves and the path leading to it….
The 3 photos below are scanned from the postcard that bought in the caves.
Winding roads leading to the peak point
The Giant ice caves are the ones not to be missed, these are natural formations high inside the mountains, if you can reach there in the morning around 9, then you can beat the queues, as the site gets really crowded by mid-day, wear warm clothes and gloves as the temperature inside the caves are around freezing (0 degrees), photography inside the caves are not allowed, and the cave is show in natural lighting, using oil lamps, it’s really dark inside and no artificial lighting, checking with the guide he said that artificial lighting really takes away from the beauty of the cave.
Another gem is the Grossglockner high peak, this is the topmost point in Austria, the winding roads with 48 hairpin bends is an amazing experience to drive and the views from the peak are simple breath-taking, there is a toll charge (was 35Eur for a car at the time of writing) but is worth the money.
Salt travertines of Pamukkale
The idea and motivation to visit this place came up when Suni was watching some Bollywood movie songs shot at this place, at first glance we thought this was snow and on closer inspection it did not look like snow and as an inquisitive minded guy, I started searching for this place and found out that this was indeed not ice and its calcium formations in a place near Denizli in Turkey.
As Turkey was in our to go list, the interest grew and the plans began, luckily to speed up the process, there came an offer for flight tickets in one of the travel sites and there it was, we had already decided that the nearest place would be Dalaman, which is a 3.5 hour(215 Kms) drive from Dalaman airport, the next nearest would be Antalya.
Before i could catch another breath, i had already booked the flights, all happened at lightening speed and the dates were all set.
So we flew to Dalaman, reached there in the night, hired a car, we chose to spend the night in Dalaman as it would be too late to drive, after some stunts at my first experience at driving on the right hand side and going diagonally opposite on the first roundabout, I got a hold on driving on the right, then came the next struggle of finding the way to our hotel, we were just roaming around in circles in small lanes where our trusty Renault Clio can exactly fit, no room for error here :), after some roaming around and with some locals help and instructions, we managed to reach the hotel.
The next morning we set sail for the wonderful Pamukkale (37.92253, 29.12400)
the drive itself was amazing taking us through winding mountains roads,
it was such a beautiful and scenic drive that we chose to stop at lots of spots on the way.
Pamukkale (pah-MOOK-kah-leh, “Cotton Fortress”) has been a spa since the Romans built the spa city of Hierapolis around a sacred warm-water spring and is now an unusual natural and historical site, it resembles a white mountain, it’s not ice or salt, the dazzling white calcareous castles are formed by rich limestone-laden thermal springs, creating these fantastic formations of stalactites, potholes and cataracts.
“Pamukkale” means “cotton castle” which tunes to the glorious and spectacular view of the site.
Waters in the terraces are the sediments of the springs with calcium bicarbonate in 33C. Waters, containing mainly calcium salts and carbon-dioxide, run off the plateau’s, as they cool they form dramatic travertines of hard, by depositing brilliantly white calcium that form pools while carbon-dioxide disappearing. The marvelous landscape of Pamukkale has been created by this gradual formation, leaving a cotton-like image. Located above the theater of Hierapolis, the mineral water sources from the thermal springs of Cal Mountain.
More info about the place on WikiTravel – http://wikitravel.org/en/Pamukkale#b
We stayed at a family run hotel Melrose house hotel (http://www.melrosehousehotel.com/), neat and comfy rooms, fantastic location to Pamukkale, it’s just a 10 minute walk to the entrance to the Travertines and a very warm hospitality from the family, it felt as if it was our second home.
and many more choice to feast on….
and to finish off with a nice Baklava with Ice cream
The food was as delicious as it can be, its home cooked food and can’t be faulted.
Keukenhof (“Kitchen garden”, Dutch pronunciation: [ˈkøːkə(n)ˌɦɔf]), also known as the Garden of Europe, is the world’s largest flower garden situated near Lisse, Netherlands. According to the official website for the Keukenhof Park, about 7,000,000 (seven million) flower bulbs are planted annually in the park, which covers an area of 32 hectares.
Keukenhof is in South Holland in the small town of Lisse, south of Haarlem and southwest of Amsterdam. It is accessible by bus from the train stations of Haarlem, Leiden and Schiphol. It is in an area called the “Dune and Bulb Region” (Duin- en Bollenstreek).
Keukenhof is open annually from the last week in March to mid-May. The best time to view the tulips is around mid-April, depending on the weather.
Official Site : http://www.keukenhof.nl/
The plan to visit this wonderful garden was part of the Brussels and Amsterdam plan, but the main highlight was to visit this garden and spend more time here. You just can’t be bored here and no matter how long you stay here, you still feel you haven’t seen it all. It’s such an overwhelming array of flowers, their mind boggling unique pattern of colors and the creativity of the garden itself that makes you spellbound.
Here is our waypoint log showing the route we took, we stayed in Leiden which is just 20 minutes by bus to the gardens.
An ideal timeout would be 2 days if want to do the gardens at your own pace, make sure you reach the gardens before 8 in the morning before the Tour buses arrive and get swamped by loads of visitors. Apart from the gardens itself, another major and unmissable thing that you can do is to hire a bicycle to the fields, just at the entrance to the gardens, you can hire a bicycle to the Tulip fields, there are various routes that you can take, ranging from a simple 5 Km ride to a 25 Km ride, this is one of the best things that we did to avoid the crowd inside the gardens.
We were a bit early for peak bloom but the floral display was still amazing. Not only tulips, but an exhibit on orchids, roses, and the usual hyacinths, daffodils, cherry blossoms, etc. Just a great place to relax. Even though the Tulips were not in full bloom, the beauty of the bulbs are simply amazing, a sight never to be missed.
You can rent the bike for 8 Euros for the day, route map is available for a small fee, just follow the maps and you can cover all the flower fields around the area, and being Netherlands, almost all roads are bicycle friendly which itself is an assurance to have a fun and lovely ride.
Desert trips, waterfalls, fantastic souk food stalls, tasty Tagines
Marrakech or Marrakesh, known as the “Ochre City”, is the most important former imperial city inMorocco‘s history. The city of Marrakech is the capital of the mid-southwestern economic region of Marrakech-Tensift-Al Haouz, near the foothills of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.
Like many Moroccan cities, the city of Marrakech comprises both an old fortified city (the médina) and modern neighborhoods, the most prominent of which is Gueliz. It is served by Ménara International Airport (IATA code: RAK) and a rail link to Casablanca and the north.
Marrakech has the largest traditional market (souk) in Morocco and has one of the busiest squares in Africa and the world, Djemaa el Fna. The square bustles with acrobats, story-tellers, water sellers, dancers and musicians. By night food stalls open in the square turning it into a huge busy open-air restaurant.
3 days for Marrakkech is a bit on the short side, 5 days would be ideal to cover Marrakkech, as with any place there are loads of places to visit and things to do and cannot place a time limit. If you plan a travel to the Desert, then it would need an overnight stay in Tented camps as the travel to the desert would take well over 6 hours. Below is a waypoint map of the places we visited during our 3 day visit.
After checking in to the Imperial Plaza Hotel and a quick power nap, we had to as it was a Friday and most of the shops are closed on Fridays, freshened up and set sail to the famous and most talked about Souk.
The Souks are traditional style markets in tented roofs that sell everything from dry fruits to Moroccan food to rugs and ornaments.
Marrakkech visit should definitely have a slot of Souk visit, else wouldn’t be complete, visit the Souks in the evening.
If you want a view of where many of the major hollywood movies like the Mummy, Gladiator and many other desert scenes are pictured, then you would love this place, Ouarzazate is around 5 hours drive from Marrakkech, it’s a long journey, but the winding roads and amazing panoramic views of the atlas are a definite one not to be missed.
Berber trek to Ourika valley in the High Atlas, this is an hours drive from Marrakkech, on the way we visited traditional Berber tribe homes and see their culture and day-to-day living
This is a flour mill, no electricity or gas, completely Eco friendly and is driven by water flowing downstream from the hills channeled to drive the stone.
from the base of the valley we have to trek for 45 minutes to reach the waterfall, it’s a moderate climb through rough slippery terrain and rocky surfaces.
If you want to eat well in Marrakech, do what the locals do and eat at the food stalls in the square. It is a common misconception that these stalls are here for the tourists. Actually, they have been in existence long before Marrakech became a tourist destination. All of the stalls can be regarded as perfectly safe to eat at. They are strictly licensed and controlled by the government, especially now as it is a popular destination for tourists.
Each night in the Djemaa El-Fna rows of street stalls are set up under giant white tents. These huts serve similar fare and have menus printed in French, Arabic and usually English. Everyone has tajine, couscous, brochette and some variety of soups. Some have specialties like offal, egg sandwiches or special tajines. Be aware that most restaurants use rather insistent “greeters,” who are very aggressive in trying to lure customers for their stall. The line ‘we already ate’ seems to work well to get them to stop.
There are also a few good vegetarian options, not a huge choice which makes the job of decision making pretty simple, go for a veg cous cous or a Tagine.
Marrakech is a generally safe city, with a solid police presence. However, staying alert about your surroundings and taking general safety precautions is always a good idea like everywhere.
Pristine blue skies,Turquoise clear waters and sandy beaches
Maldives is a Paradise, an exquisite paradise, ever dream of crystal clear waters, perfect blue skies, only seen those in movies, you need to visit Maldives then, this is by far one of the best and exquisite places I have visited, it’s a perfect place for that relaxing vacation.
Maldives (/ˈmɒldaɪvz/ or /ˈmɒldiːvz/), (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖެ, Dhivehi Raa’je), officially Republic of Maldives (Dhivehi: ދިވެހިރާއްޖޭގެ ޖުމްހޫރިއްޔާ, Dhivehi Raa’jeyge Jumhooriyya), also referred to as the Maldive Islands, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean formed by a double chain of twenty-six atolls oriented north-south off India‘s Lakshadweep Islands, between Minicoy Island and Chagos Archipelago. It stands in the Laccadive Sea, about 700 kilometers (430 mi) south-west of Sri Lanka and 400 kilometers (250 mi) south-west of India. During the colonial era, the Dutch referred to the country as “Maldivische Eilanden” in their documentation, while “Maldive Islands” is the anglicised version of the local name used by the British, which later came to be written “Maldives”.
We stayed at the Taj Exotica Resort and spa, one of best resorts with world class and award winning cuisines, the Jiva SPA is a class apart in itself, so if you want that much needed relaxation, you wont go wrong with the choice, so better save up to treat yourself, its worth every penny.
As it was a relaxing break, we spent 4 days on the island, with some trips to a local island to see how the local Maldivians live, lots of snorkeling and lazing out on the beaches.
A trip to the beautiful French cities of Marseilles and Cannes and the country of Monaco Monte Carlo.
Day 1 – Flew from London to Marseilles and roam around Marseilles and take a late train to Cannes.
Day 2 – Travel by train to Monaco and roamed around Monaco
Day 3 – Enjoyed the beaches around Cannes
Day 4 – Travel back to Marseilles and fly back to London
The plan is to visit Marseilles, Cannes and my favorite racing circuit in Monaco,
The weather all round was pretty good, the temps reaching 26 deg C and a bit humid, so carry some light clothing, you wouldn’t need any warm clothing in the night too as the temps stay around 20+, but expect a lot of sea breeze.
France is famous for its bread, you get a lot of Ciabattas and sandwiches, croissants, coffee and what not, there are plenty of restaurants to try out, the Vieux port in Marseilles is all lined up with a ton of eateries on all sides of the U-shaped port, Cannes has its selection of restaurants too in the central market place and Monaco can be a feast with posh restaurants, Pizzearias and crossantieries sprinkled all over the place.
We landed in Marseilles by Ryanair on June 04 late night, there is a shuttle bus “Navette” that takes you from the airport to the central station Marseille St Charles, the cost per person is 7.50Eur and the journey takes 30 mins.
Marseille is a small and beautiful city, we stayed in “Vertigo” hostel (booked via Hostel world), it was a nice and decent place to sleep for the night, had our breakfast and the Marseilles exploration begins.
The Vieux Port founded by the Greeks 2,600 years ago, remains the heart of Marseille with its fish market at Quai des Belges beginning just after sunrise daily.
Fort Saint Nicholas on the south, a French Foreign Legion post, and Fort Saint Jean on the north, now city offices. The three quays around the U-shaped Vieux Port are broad esplanades attracting strollers and dog-walkers.
The Cathedral, a few blocks north of the Vieux Port along the Quai de la Tourette, was the largest church — 460 feet long and 230 feet high under its dome — built in Europe in the 19th centuryThe Cathedral is open from 9 a.m. to noon, 2-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday and closed on Monday. Admission is free.
Marseille’s signature is firmly written at Notre Dame de la Garde, the city’s highest location. On top of the 151-foot tall belfry is a bronze statue gilded in gold leaf of the Virgin Mary holding the Baby Jesus with outstretched arms as if to protect the city. At night floodlights shine on the 31-foot tall statue. Inside the church, ship models hang from the ceilings as offerings from seafarers. The interior is layered in gray and maroon marble with mosaics on gold and blue backgrounds. From the parvis, the panorama takes in Marseille basin from the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the Estaque chain to the north, the Etoile chain to the northeast, the mountains of Garlaban and Saint Cyr to the east and southeast and the Marseilleveyre massif to the south. The church is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. It’s about a 45-minute walk, mostly uphill from the port, or take Bus Number 60 that runs between Cours Ballard, adjacent to the port, and the Basilica. The bus ticket is $1.48 (8F; rate for story 1F = $0.185), the price of one bus, metro or tram ticket good for 70 minutes of travel on the city’s transportation system.
We took the Marseille Tour, a toy train like vehicle that takes you to all the places of interest, ticket prices are 8Eur for the Hour and a half trip – route No 1 (Yellow Route), this takes you along the coast, via the cathedrals, and to Notre Dam de la Garde, you can hop off here, and then get the next tour back to the port
Chateau d’If, the 16th-century prison fortress in the bay area on the sea, its a tourist spot now and can be reached by ferry
Admission to the prison is 5EUR. The ferry departs the docks at Quai des Belges, next to the fish market, daily every 90 minutes, starting at 9 a.m., weather permitting, and ending about 4 p.m. The round-trip to d’If is 7EUR, to both d’If and Frioul (the shuttle boat, which also serves the community at Frioul).
We just spent a lot of time in the beaches in Cannes, you have some fine sand beaches to bask in the sun and some museums to visit and a local market near the Cannes SNCF station.
One of my favourite race tracks from the F1, the country is the second smallest and beautiful sitting between the majestic Alps and the Cool blue Mediterranean sea.
Marseille airport to St charles station – 7.50EUR PP
Marseille tour – route 1 – 8EUR PP
Ferry to Chateau d’If and back – 7EUR PP
Entry to Chateau d’If – 5EUR PP
Train from Marseille to Cannes – 30EUR PP
Train from Cannes to Monaco – 8EUR PP
Monaco Tour – 8EUR PP
Entry Monte Carlo Casino – 10EUR PP
Skiing down powdery slopes in French Alps
Come December and the climate gets colder and one thing that comes to my mind is the sight of fresh white powder sprinkled all over the majestic alps, and am sure the very sight of it makes my feet sway around and eager to put on the skis and slide down the lovely slopes.
I felt it much better to book the Ski trip as a package, you get to forget the headaches of airport transfers, buying lift passes for the ski slopes, searching for good Chalets or hotels to stay and renting the ski equipments, so lot less hassle to bother. We booked with the RocketSki.com group, they had pretty good and very efficient on my last Ski trip.
I booked the trip in September and got some very good deals for this trip. – http://www.rocketski.com
Definitely its gonna be cold, but we had blue skies and lovely sun the whole of the week and snow showers in the night on X’mas day 25th to Saturday 27th, the perfect conditions for skiing.
There are a lot of mountain restaurants on the Piste that serve some good food and lots of hot chocolate.
Take some good ski clothing, i would recommend for some good quality ones to withstand the cold and all other bits and pieces for the ski trip.
One piece of technology that was very useful for us was the Walkie Talkie, we purchased the Cobra MT975 license free PMR446 range ones, these had a range of 12Kms and did a very good job, as myself and Sarvanan had skied before, we hit some higher slopes and still were able to be in contact with the other two for lunch time, the range of these sets were pretty good and we were still in contact from the top of the mountain peak at 2700m to the ski Piste bottom where the other 2 were learning skiing.
The nearest airports to Serre Chevalier is Grenoble, Lyon or Turin with a transfer time of approx 2 hours, there are lots of Piste maps available all over the place which you can use while skiing to find your best route to ski down and to find new Pistes.
Beautiful Norway by Flam Railway
Day 1 – Flew into Norway Torp airport, roamed around Oslo
Day 2 – Norway in a nutshell tour of the Fjords.
Day 3 – Trekked up mount Bergen
Day 4 – On the train back to Oslo
Day 5 – Back to London.
Norge, yes another name for Norway is a beautiful country with a lot of Valleys and mountains, I would call it the country of Tunnels, i have not seen such long tunnels and in numerous ones along the way, I almost lost count of how many there were.
The peak season actually is during April to July where the months of may and June being the most colourful with all the trees and flowers blossoming.
We were actually a month early and it was also one of the coldest this year at -13 degrees.
The trip had an amazing start right from the way we landed in Oslo airport, Ryanair was supposed to land in Torp airport, but due to heavy snow and low visibility, we had to land in Oslo city airport. After much difficult and the plane literally flying like a crow with its wings shaking up and down in the torrential wind and snow, the wheels touched the white tar on the runaway created by the intense snowing. Everybody clapped to have had a successful touch down.
We had breakfast in the airport and took the train to Oslo, checked into the Perminalen hotel.
We had no specific plans in Oslo, Oslo had a lot of Museums, so we did not care to visit them, just started a walk around the city, it was white all over the place, played in the snow in the parks throwing snow at each other.
This is one of the major attraction tours in Norway, advance booking can be done from Raileurope.co.uk, the ticket includes the train from Oslo to Myrdal
from Myrdal you need to take the Flam railway to Flam, this is one of the picturesque route with lots of waterfalls, valleys, gorges and beautiful mountains and houses all along the way, this train even stops along the way for capturing some beautiful scenery.
Once you reach Flam, you will have an hour there to look around and then a ferry awaits you to take you to Guduvangen, this ferry ride is also another major picturesque ride on the lake valley between two mountains.
From Gudvangen, a bus awaits there and takes you to Voss, from Voss you can take the train to Bergen, all these can be covered in a single day, but we stayed in Bergen for another day.
This day in Bergen was another eventful and exercising day trekking up mount Bergen. We started at 11 in the morning and as we started the ascend we were greeted by the Snow fall, as we went higher up, the snowing became very intense and the path was completely covered in snow, we played, danced, jumped in the snow to our hearts content and reached the peak.
Quad biking, nature, adventure, Go Karting
This time its 7 people and got a Vauxhall Zafira from the rental agency, even though we wanted a Toyota Previa, after much hesitation, all of them squeezed into the car by 10:00Pm and we set sail to catch M4 from our home in London Fields.