Tag Archives: travel photography

A day in Bratislava

Bratislava wasn’t at the top of my travel wishlist.
It was there somewhere but it was lagging behind some very strong competitors.

Then suddenly it climbed to the top. Unexpectedly. A dark horse. Thanks to the  UFO Tower, its 430 steps and an international race I wanted to take part in.
And on a mild September weekend I found myself in the Slovakian capital, ready to tackle a stair challenge as well as  explore a new destination.

Slovakia Bratislava "UFO Tower"
UFO Tower

Bratislava – one of the smallest capitals in Europe – gained its capital city status when the Slovak Republic became an independent state on 1 January 1993.
Small but intriguing, I found it really pleasant to visit. With its medieval centre, its narrow cobbled streets and plenty of historic buildings, Bratislava offers many opportunities for your sightseeing day.

Hlavne namestie (main square) is a good starting point for your Bratislava mini-adventure: considered the centre of the city, this square features landmarks such as the Old Town Hall and Roland’s Fountain. I especially loved the fountain at night: the changing lights, with shades from red to green to blue, made it a very magical place!

Do you like wandering around without a set itinerary, like I do? Then lose yourself in the meandering streets, explore the city and its history, try the street cafes, discover the quirky arts and crafts shops, enjoy the views over the River Danube. There is so much to enjoy in such a small place!

And how can I forget Bratislava castle?! Perched on the top of a hill, what we see now is a 1950’s reconstruction of Emperor Sigismund’s fifteenth-century castle, which burnt down in 1811. The box-shaped building and its four towers are particularly fascinating at night. The views over the city and the Danube are something not to miss!

My time in Bratislava was limited so I didn’t get to visit buildings  or museums properly but I definitely recommend this city.

By the way, for those of you who want to enjoy panoramic views of the Slovakian capital from the UFO tower, you won’t need to climb 430 steps: there is a lift that will take you all the way to the top!

Athens Day 2

My top tip for Athens is: base yourself in the Monastiraki area! This is THE hub. Excellent transport connections to the rest of the city, reasonable walking distance to most tourist sites (I walked pretty much everywhere), plenty of restaurants and eateries of all sorts, plenty of bars for a good night out. And I just loved walking around in the evening, enjoying the view of the Acropolis from below and of the streets full of people. Yes, there are a few dodgy individuals around the train station but, as long as you are not there on your own in the middle of the night, concern should be minimal.

So my second day in Athens started by exploring the area further, and here are some photos.

Next I explored the Psiri district. I spent a lot of time there, fascinated by the rundown buildings, the huge amount of street art (more in another post) and the flea markets.

#Ancient Agora
This is the best known example of an ancient Greek agora, and it remained in use either as an assembly, as a commercial, or as a residential area for about 5000 years. Restoration of this area has been minimal. The highlights are the Temple of Hephaestus,  the best preserved ancient Greek temple from the Classical era, and the Stoa of Attalos, a building of the Hellenistic period that was rebuilt from the ground up based on its ancient appearance.

This is the ancient cemetery of Athens and is one of the least visited sites in the city, despite its importance and beauty. Archaeological excavations in Kerameikos started in 1870 and so far archaeologists have found columns of temples, marble statues, remains of public buildings, funeral offerings and thousands of tombs. I spent well over an hour wandering around the area and I definitely recommend a visit.

#Syntagma Square and Parliament
Syntagma Square is the most important square of modern Athens from both a historical and social point of view. In recent years (2010-2012) this square became the site of mass protests related to the economic situation of the Greek government-debt.
At the top of Syntagma Square you’ll find the Parliament building. Crowds gather outside every day to watch the Evzones, the elite soldiers who guard the tomb of the unknown soldier as well as the Presidential palace. While the main ceremony of the changing of the guard is held on a Sunday morning (this is when the traditional white kilts are worn), hourly changing of the guards occur every day on weekdays too. I watched these a couple of times and found them quite entertaining.


Around the Akamas region

If you are into the outdoors and wilderness and are looking for something more rugged than the standard touristy beaches, the Akamas region is the place for you! This beautiful and still relatively wild part of south-west Cyprus is characterised by desertlike scrubland and stores some amazing secluded beaches, nature trails, and gorges.

Public transport in this area is limited, though, and you will need your own wheels or you must join one of the many adventure tours that depart from Pafos.

Here’s a handful of places not to miss in the Akamas:

Lara Beach:
Beautiful and semi deserted beach, famous for its crystal clear waters as well as the turtle hatcheries scattered on the shore. The wind was quite strong when I visited, yet the sea was relatively calm and a pleasure to swim in.

Avakas Gorge:
This is a popular and easy hiking excursion, with lush vegetation and towering rocks all along the way. Given the time of the year of my visit there was little water in the gorge but there appears to be a real stream there.

Sea Caves:
Created in the limestone rocks, these fascinating formations cover an extensive area mainly around Peyia. Although some of the caves can be reached by land, hopping on the rocks and then descending into the caves, the best way to visit them is by sea kayak. I took a half day sea kayaking trip and really enjoyed paddling in and out of the caves, experiencing the amazing environment in what I consider the best way. Truly recommended!

Do you want more amazing beaches and sea? Next post then ;-)

Discovering Pafos

Pafos (or Paphos) is a popular destination in southwest Cyprus, famous for its beaches as well as its archaeological sites. Thanks to the lovely Mediterranean climate, when I visited at the end of September the weather was still great, with warm temperatures and sunny days and without the excruciating heat (and huge tourist crowds, too) of the summer.

The first thing that I learnt when I arrived is that Pafos is made of two main parts: Ktima (Upper Pafos), up on the hill, and Kato Pafos (Lower Pafos), where the harbour is.

This part of town currently looks like a building site because of lots of renovation work that is preparing the town for the events of next year, as Pafos has been selected as European Capital of Culture for 2017. Saying that at the moment it all looks like a big mess is probably an understatement! Yet just walking around you can get the feeling of what this area is like, with beautiful colonial buildings and a much more relaxed atmosphere compared to Kato Pafos.

Kato Pafos
This is the main tourist area, very popular (and crowded!) thanks to the restaurants, bars, shops located mainly around the harbour area. The promenade is a great place for walks and people watching at any time of the day (sunsets here are beautiful!) and the castle at one end of the harbour offers good views of the area from its upper level (Euro2.50 entrance fee). The beaches in this part of town aren’t that great, yet they can get quite crowded during the day.
Behind the harbour lie the Pafos Archaelogical Park and the lighthouse.

But one of my favourite parts of Pafos was the coastal walk that leads from the Pafos castle  to the Tombs of the Kings, the other main archaeological area in Pafos. I walked it at different times of the day – even after dark – and always loved it!

Do you want to know more about the archaeological sites in Pafos? That’s for the next post :-)

Sri Lanka: south-west beaches

The south-west coast of Sri Lanka has been for some time the most popular with tourists. Beautiful sandy beaches lined with palm trees, blue water and amazing sunsets attracts tourists in flocks. Fancy staying in boutique hotels and get pampered all day? Head to Bentota. Are you a fan of backpacker hangouts and just want to surf and party? Try Hikkaduwa or Ahangama.

I did it differently and based myself in Unawatuna because of its closeness to Galle, then split my beach time between Rumassala and Mirissa.

Rumassala beach, in Unawatuna, is nothing to write home about in terms of sand and sea. Yet if you enjoy experiencing local life, you will end up stuck for hours watching the fishermen pulling their nets in at the end of the day. Like I did. For over 1.5 hours I watched at least 15 men pulling their long nets up the beach, singing and encouraging each other, their muscles all tensed in the huge effort required. It was fascinating! The sun setting on the horizon gave a very atmospheric touch to the scene.
It was almost dark when the last bit of the net made it to the beach. Fishermen, locals and tourists all gathered around the disappointingly small catch, hoping in better luck for the next time.

Mirissa beach will not disappoint your expectations of a typical tropical beach. Located about 1-hour bus ride away from Unawatuna (Rs 60), Mirissa beach is a long strip of golden sand with beautiful clear blue waters, strong winds and powerful waves.  A rocky outcrop on the eastern end of the beach can be easily reached at low tide and you will see tourists walking up to its top to enjoy the view from above.
On my only full day as beach bum, I did a good job at lying in the sun to top up my still poor tan, cooling down at various beach restaurants/cafes sipping coconut water from a fresh coconut, and dipping in and out of the ocean at the western end of the beach, the quieter one.

Later in the afternoon I hopped on a bus to Koggala and headed to the beach there, where I caught the most beautiful sunset of my entire two weeks in Sri Lanka! The sun fired up the sky with amazing red and orange colours and I watched in awe until darkness started settling in.

I rushed to the bus stop to catch a bus back to Rumassala before full darkness, while breathing in my last night in southern Sri Lanka.

Exploring Galle Fort

I had been looking forward to visiting the Galle area since the start of my trip to Sri Lanka. It seemed the most exotic destination on my list, with a mix of beaches, local culture, and colonial heritage.
And I wasn’t disappointed!

Galle is a fascinating and very atmospheric town, mainly characterised by its Fort (built by the Dutch in 1663 and now a recognised UNESCO World Heritage Site). This is the best preserved colonial town in Sri Lanka and beautiful colonial buildings will surprise you at every corner, as they mix with Islamic buildings and Buddhist temples built in more recent years. While the tsunami of 26 December 2004 destroyed large parts of Galle – killing thousands of people – the fortified walls of the Fort protected this area, which managed to survive the devastation.

Nowadays the Fort is mainly crammed with boutique shops, cafes and hotels, but this is also part of its appeal. The magistrates’ court is located within the Fort too, and you won’t be able to miss the queues outside its offices. The windows to the court rooms were open when I walked past (and stopped for a few seconds) but I was quickly told off by the local police and asked to move away!

I spent a whole day wandering around the Fort area, exploring its narrow streets, its buildings, its shops (the latter mainly for relief from the excruciating heat, I must admit!).
I checked out the old Dutch Hospital, beautiful building now turned into shops and restaurants.
I followed with curiosity a never ending game of cricket played on a green patch of grass just below the Fort walls (by the way, the Galle International Cricket Stadium – a couple of minutes away from the Fort – is considered to be one of the most picturesque cricket grounds in the world!).
I swam in the ocean at Lighthouse Beach, a lovely place for a break and a refreshing dip in the water.
I watched monks in their orange robes leading groups of school kids around the walls.
I walked the whole length of the walls and watched the sunset from one of the bastions.
I had dinner in one of the swanky hotels, enjoying a catch up with a couple of friends who happened to be in Galle at the same time as me.

And when you are tired of Galle, a handful of miles away lies the town of Unawatuna, which can be easily reached by bus and is a good base for exploring the area. Do not miss the Japanese pagoda on the top of Rumassala hill!
As for the Unawatuna beaches, oh well, I will leave that for the next post ;-).

Unawatuna "Sri Lanka" Japanese Peace Pagoda
Japanese Peace Pagoda, Unawatuna

People and colours of the Kalpitiya peninsula

A 3.5-hr ride in an overcrowded bus with no a/c, followed by 35 minutes in a tuk tuk, took me from Colombo to Alankuda Beach, in the Kalpitiya peninsula.
Located less than 150Km along the west coast of Sri Lanka, this area is slowly growing as an attractive tourist destination. Its main draws are kitesurfing (thanks to the strong winds that characterise the area) and dolphin and whale watching. Most local people are fishermen.
When there, I spent a few hours exploring the village of Kalpitiya as well as Alankuda Beach. The local people were very friendly and keen on having their photos taken, while showing concern at seeing my friend and I walking in the harsh sun of the late morning with no hat or umbrella!

Here are some of the images that I captured in the Kalpitiya peninsula:

A massive thank you goes to my friend Carolyn of Udekki resort for showing me around the area and giving me a lot of information about it!

Magical Lantern Festival in London

The Year of the Monkey is here!

According to the Chinese calendar, Monday 8th February 2016 is the first day of the New Year.
London’s annual Chinese New Year celebrations are the biggest in the world outside China, and usually revolve around a main parade between Trafalgar Square and Chinatown.
This year, however, an additional event is having a huge success around town: the Magical Lantern Festival!

Set in the gardens of Chiswick House, in West London, this huge installation is described as an extravaganza of lights and illumination, and will entertain you for well over an hour.

Giant hand-sculpted lanterns are scattered along the exhibition trail, with subjects ranging from animals to plants and flowers, to fairytale scenes. It is totally amazing and you will feel like a child in a magical playground!

And when you reach the end, all you want to do is to turn around and do it all over again…

A daytrip to Buenos Aires

My Uruguay trip included a short stint in Argentina too. Too tempting to take the ferry across the Rio de la Plata for a visit to Buenos Aires (and my old friend living there, click here) from Colonia del Sacramento.

I was in Buenos Aires only for a few hours, and of course this was nowhere near enough time for a visit. So I will definitely go back at some point.

Argentina "Buenos Aires"
Tourist bus stop

When you only have a few hours in a big capital city, the quickest way to see the main tourist attractions is to use a jump-on-and-off tourist bus. The Buenos Aires ones have 24 stops and the whole tour takes just over 3 hours. That is if you never get off the bus for a closer look at the sites! Click here for the full itinerary.

What really struck me about Buenos Aires is the shocking road traffic and the modern skyline, full of high rise buildings and skyscrapers. London, you’ve got a competitor here!

I wish I had had more time to walk around the main historic buildings and the colourful La Boca area,  but unfortunately my superstrict timeline (I had to cross over to Uruguay again in the late afternoon) limited my options.

So I will definitely return to Buenos Aires for a longer visit!

For now here’s some photos (it was a grey and very cold day so all a bit dull-looking):

Colonia del Sacramento

When the morning ferry from Buenos Aires arrives in Colonia del Sacramento, crossing the Rio de la Plata and international borders, it offloads hundreds of daytrippers who make the 1-hour trip mainly to visit the Barrio Historico (Old Town), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cobblestone streets and original buildings from the Portuguese colonisation era characterise this part of town, where you can easily stroll for a couple of hours before continuing your discovery in one of the many museums located in the Barrio.
You can also climb up the narrow staircases of the lighthouse and have a better and wider view of Colonia and the coastline.

A visit after sunset (the sunsets in Colonia are amazing!) will be the opportunity to enjoy the historic district under artificial light, which gives a magic touch to the area. Then sit and have a meal in one of the many small restaurants, tasting some amazing seafood or steaks :-).