Tag Archives: travel

A photo from my archives: Umeå

Umeå, Sweden, 2004.

This is another shot from my trip to Sweden several years ago. Umeå was my last stop before returning home. After 2 weeks in semi-remote areas in Lapland, I was invited to spend a couple of days in this city and I had the opportunity to visit the lake nearby at sunset. As you can see it looked so peaceful  and the colours were amazing!

A photo from my archives: Abisko

Abisko, Sweden, 2004.

My trip to Swedish Lapland came to mind yesterday.

Abisko – a small village about 250Km within the Artic circle – was the northernmost point I reached during my trip, and the most isolated one.

Travelling, as I did, at the end of the summer tourist season brought a different perspective to the area. Apart from the locals there was hardly anyone around, I was the only guest at the hostel on one of my nights there, the large convenience store at the end of town had almost a surreal feeling.

What I loved the most there was the lake. I walked down to the shore on my first evening in Abisko, it was very cold (around 4C, I had to buy gloves and hat) but the peaceful and serene atmosphere was what I wanted. When I look at this photo, with the red wooden hut by the shore and the mountains behind, I still find it very calming and it reminds me of my short stay there.

A visit to Echternach, Luxembourg

Just over an hour by bus from Luxembourg City lies Echternach, the oldest town in Luxembourg.

I picked it over Vianden Castle (another popular destination for short trips from Luxembourg City) for no particular reason. Except that I was curious about crossing the border into Germany – just a walk across the bridge over the river Sauer – and back…

Yet the main attractions here are the Abbey of Echternach, which was founded in the 7th century, and the Roman Basilica, rebuilt after World War II. The museum of the Abbey is only open during the summer, though, so I couldn’t visit.

The town itself retains a medieval feel, with its narrow streets, old churches, town walls, towers and a marketplace with a Gothic townhouse. This makes a stroll around very enjoyable.

Echternach has also been recognised at European level for its cultural value: in 2008 it was rewarded by the European Commission as “European destination of excellence”. In 2010, the famous Dancing Procession that always takes place on Whit Tuesday became part of UNESCO’s Intangible World Cultural Heritage.

For the summer, there is also a lake and lots of opportunities for outdoor activities. Unfortunately a cold day wasn’t too suitable for that.

A lot going on for such a small place – really worth adding it to your to-do list for Luxembourg!

Discovering Luxembourg City

The capital city of the small landlocked country of Luxembourg (the only Grand Duchy in the world!) is a mix of old and new. Easy to walk around and with enough to keep you busy for a day or so, it is a good destination for a European city break.

I certainly didn’t expect I would find it so interesting!

My visit wasn’t blessed with good weather, though. Heavy rain and freezing temperatures were my companions during my discovery of the city. Less than ideal but that didn’t stop me!

The UNESCO-listed Old Town (especially the part called the Grund) is the most picturesque area of Luxembourg City. You could wander around for hours exploring the alleys, walking along the corniche – by the riverside – and discovering the old fortress. I must admit that, because of the weather, I quite enjoyed adding cosy pubs to my sightseeing list!

Unfortunately the Casemates, underground galleries used as refuge during military attacks in the past centuries and one of the main attractions of the city, are closed in winter so I couldn’t visit them.

The medieval town core of Luxembourg City is in the Ville Haute. This part of town is home to many historic buildings such as the Palais Grand Ducal and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as famous squares like Place d’Armes and Place Guillame II.

There are also some interesting museums. I spent almost two hours wandering around the National Museum of History and Arts, which is spread over several floors and dedicated to displaying artwork and artifacts from all times of Luxembourg history. Another museum hosted an unusual exhibition about football seen as a religion of modern times (“Football Hallelujah!“). Although unrelated to Luxemborg itself, it was quite good to visit.

Tired of sightseeing? Why not stopping at Chocolate House for some sweet treats?

Luxembourg "Ville Haute" "chocolate house"
Chocolate House

A visit to the country of Luxembourg would not be complete without heading out to the countryside and the villages. Look out for my next post for this!

Luxembourg here I am!

How did I get here? Luxembourg had never been anywhere near my top 20 countries to visit…

But when my Emirates airmiles where converted into an EasyJet flight, all I could reach from London was Luxembourg. So I thought: why not?!

And one Friday evening I found myself on a bus from the airport to Luxembourg City, listening to announcements in French and wondering what to expect from the city.

It didn’t take me long to get excited at the idea of a new destination to discover, though! And with the help of a map, a travel app and an ice cream – while relaxing at my hostel – I quickly set my itinerary for the following day.

A new adventure was about to start!

Travelling on long distance buses in Mexico

I have travelled around Mexico a few times and always catching long distance buses. I find it easy, cheap and a good way to travel.

ADO, the largest bus company in Mexico, covers the whole country – some parts more than others – and you can even buy tickets online in advance. I used www.ado.com.mx/ado2 to check travel times and www.clickbus.com.mx to buy my tickets. In one occasion I decided to change my date of travel and changing ticket at the ADO station was a quick and smooth process.

Long distance ADO buses are very comfortable, with wide seats, lots of leg room, TV, a/c and toilets on board. They are also reasonably priced: a first class ticket from Cancun to Chetumal (6hrs) cost me less than MEX$400 (around £14)!

I caught ADO also from Cancun airport to the main bus terminal in town. The airport bus service runs every half hour and takes around 35min to town. For MEX$70 it’s a much better deal than any form of private transport (taxi or hotel shuttle).

When I was in Bacalar I then discovered another bus company, called Mayab. It is part of the ADO group, serving mainly the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo, and provides cheaper service than the main ADO. The downside is that buses are not as good and travel times are longer due to the higher number of stops, yet they offer a valid and cheaper alternative to ADO. Tickets can be bought online using the ADO website or at bus stations themselves.

And how about the experience of travelling with lots of local people and discovering the country at a slower pace?!

I am a traveller, not a tourist

I am a traveller, not a tourist.

You are a traveller, not a tourist.

We love discovering places, experiencing their authentic side, going under the surface of what glossy tourist magazines show. Smell. Taste. Breathe. Explore.

That’s why we get along. That’s why we immediately click when we meet along the road.

We meet at bus stations, in hostels, at food markets, walking around small towns away from the main tourist paths, sitting on piers while watching the stars.

We talk about the meaning of travelling, the meaning of life, we exchange stories and experiences, we get richer every time, we feel part of a large community, of a family. We belong to the same soul group.

Back home we are often the quirky ones. The ones who never seem to fit in. Our approach to travel, our gypsy heart and our life choices set us apart from most of our family and friends. Comfort doesn’t do it for us. Neither does routine. We love adventure. We love exploring. We need to push our boundaries. We love the sense of freedom. We want to experience the world and learn from it. We crave for it.

That’s why we travel. That’s why we pack our bags so often and always go somewhere new, somewhere where we haven’t been before.

And on the road we meet other travellers. Other people like us.

To all my fellow travellers, to all the friends I have made during all my travels over the years: this is for you. This is a celebration of the spirit that joins us, of our times together and the memories we’ve made. It doesn’t matter if we spent one week, one day, or just one hour together: what we shared crosses boundaries of space and time, ignores our differences in age, nationality and background, and makes us part of a large community with unbreakable bonds.fb_img_1488070750981

Isla Mujeres – part 2

What can you do in Isla Mujeres once you are tired of lazing around at the beach and going shopping?

A popular attraction is the Tortugranja, a turtle farm run by the Government in partnership with private funding that can be easily reached by taxi or bicycle. The centre was established to protect the sea turtles and increase their population. Accessible to visitors, in addition to the indoor and outdoor turtle pools there is also a small section with other marine life like fish, crabs, seahorses.

Not far from Tortugranja there is a beautiful hidden cove that was indicated to us by a local lady. Most tourists go instead to the beach and restaurant area by the Playa Tiburon restaurant. It is still interesting to walk around there and watch local fishermen on their boats or preparing seashells for sale. And don’t forget to try the Tikinxik, a local traditional fish dish!

I also recommend anyone should hire a bicycle and go around and explore Isla Mujeres this way.
Cycle to the island’s southern point, where you will see the ruins of a tiny Mayan temple as well as an open air art exhibition. You may also come across a few iguanas enjoying the sun along the walking path.
Wander around the streets outside the main tourist area for a more authentic feel of the place. Have a fresh conocut from a stall by the side of the street. Enjoy riding in the sea breeze.

Then return to the main town for a drink and meal in the warm evening weather.

 

Isla Mujeres – part 1

mexicophotogallery_062
Statue of a woman in Isla Mujeres

The Island of Women. This is what the name “Isla Mujeres” means. Half hour by ferry from Cancun, this small island (7Km in length) has become in recent years a very popular tourist destination for those who are not so keen on the Cancun party scene and prefer a quieter environment.

mexicophotogallery_066Yet for me, arriving from quiet Bacalar and largely undeveloped Caye Caulker, it was like being in Las Vegas by the sea. I hated the crowds that packed the beaches during the day and the streets/restaurants/shops/bars in the evening. Too many tourists, not enough authenticity.

But there are reasons for the crowds: the island is beautiful.
Playa Norte (North Beach) – with its crystal clear waters and white sand – is amazing. I spent a lot of time in and out of the water, also to cool down from the heat.

The Malecon (esplanade) offers opportunities for leisurely walks. It was especially busy with families on Christmas day, everyone enjoyed the waves and the sea breeze. A section of the Malecon gets busier towards sunset, when fitness-addicts  appear for jogging and a varied range of outdoor gym-related activities. After dark you will also find people sitting for a relaxing end of the day in front of the sea.

The main town is certainly full of tourist shops but if you just wander away from the crowds and explore the streets further away from the main pedestrianised area, you will find interesting sights, including lots of beautiful murals painted on the house walls.

And if you want to buy souvenirs, avoid the overpriced shops along the main drag and head to the Artisan’s Market just off the town centre. Nothing is better than buying something that has just been sewn in front of you! And how about those old Singer sewing machines?!

More on Isla Mujeres in my next post…

The people of Caye Caulker

My first impression of the people of Caye Caulker was: everyone looks Jamaican and is a rastafarian. A striking difference from mainland Mexico, from which I had arrived.

In my few days on the island I got to know a few locals, most of whom hung around the crafts market along Playa Asuncion.

There I met Coco Loco, with his Santa hat. He sells giant seashells. He refused to have a photo taken until I mentioned that I could put the photo online and make him famous. At that point his attitude changed and after eagerly asking “Are you going to put me on YouTube?”, Coco Loco was more than happy to pose. So here’s to you, man: it’s not YouTube but only my humble blog, yet you are now on the internet!

Then there were Debra and Rootsman. They live in the north island and sail to the south island everyday (10 minutes or so) to set up their stall at the crafts market. Debra makes jewellery out of shells, seeds and motherpearl. She explained to me her choice of material and added that most pieces she makes are unique, all different from one another. Rootsman handpaints t-shirts. I had a long chat with them about their crafts as well as Caye Caulker. They expressed their fears about the island becoming increasingly touristy and heading towards what nearby San Pedro has become. It will be very sad if/when it happens.

There was a guy from a stall advertising diving/snorkelling who had spotted me because of my camera and my photography activity around the market, and had therefore nicknamed me “the photographer”. He’d call me everytime I walked past so I’d always greet him in return.

belizephotogallery_064Another artist asked me to have his photo taken, then complained that he looked like his brother!

As a woman you also get a lot of unsolicited  attention from the local guys. As they walk past you they will greet you with “Hello beautiful”, “Hi baby, come over here” and so on. After a couple of days on the island, most of these guys will know you and remember you, they will greet you by name when you bump into them. Because you will, and many times: Caye Caulker village is very small. It can be annoying or fun, depending on your mood. I chatted to a few because I wanted to hear stories about Caye Caulker but always walked away quickly if they became annoying.

One last interesting fact is that there is a high presence of Chinese/Asian people on the island: they run all convenience stores and cheap supermarkets in Caye Caulker village. Quite unexpected for me to be honest!

I didn’t take as many photos of people as I would have liked, for various reasons, including the fact that many refused. Here’s some more random shots though: