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Visiting Sleepy Alicante

By on May 10, 2011 in Spain | 0 comments

“Now I wouldn’t want your pants to fall down now would I?” suggested the Customs officer, as I stood in a queue of people standing in their socks. I was clutching onto the waist of my jeans with one hand and with my other hand chucking my bag, including my belt through the security scanners. It had been just under six months ago that I had left from this exact airport for my Greek holiday and I had forgotten how much I loved Gatwick airport – the long queues, the shoes off policy, the utter chaos, the photos on departure and of course how could I forget, the no belt policy. This inevitably meant my over-sized trousers would make themselves at home at the bottom of my ankles. My flight was scheduled to leave from Gatwick Airport to Alicante in eastern  Spain at about 5am, so when Niki and I were running towards our gate at 4.50am, I couldn’t help but smile!   We arrived into sunny Alicante early on Saturday morning, unfortunately though Niki’s baggage had other intentions. Delayed in London, our pleasant Spanish rep for Easy Jet explained that it would be delivered first thing the next day. Interestingly enough, the more this man spoke his smooth Spanish English,  the more Niki’s legs got weaker and weaker – she must of been tired from the flight, poor thing! After a small walk out of the airport and 1 euro later, we were dropped off by the local bus into the heart of Alicante. The city was quiet on arrival and as we made our way to the Goya hotel, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful Spanish balconies lined with potted colour, the aromatic coffee shops and Spanish life getting off too a sleepy start to the morning. Goya Hotel was a budget hotel; clean, conveniently located and oozing with character. After dumping our bags, we headed off towards the sea front via El Bario. El Bario is the quaint old quarter of Alicante with cobbled stone streets lined with affluent designer outlets, boutique tapas bars and secluded plazas. I knew straight away I was going to have problems holding onto Niki. After dodging the various shoe shops we made our way down to the waterfront to come face to face with an ancient tourism tradition – the restaurant gauntlet run! Niki and I looked each other in eye, with a nod of our heads and a look of fear in our eyes, we knew an awesome Herculean task lay before us – we had to pick a restaurant for Paella. So hurdling our way down the strip, our stomach saying yes and our brains saying way too expensive as we passed endless restaurants all offering versions of a paella combinations, we settled on a nice little cafe at the far end. Sitting down to order, we felt the relief wash over our backs; we could now relax into our gourmet adventure.   The meal was fantastic! I had a delicious mixed Paella and for anyone who is new to the world of Spanish food; Paella is a rice dish with has been boiled with stock and seafood, than served in a little iron pan. Beautifully accompanied by an ice cold beer with layered ice on the pint glass. I knew that just as I had tried so many local foods from around the world previously, Paella was rapidly becoming a favourite. With full stomachs and my wallet 20 euros lighter, we were wandering the yacht harbour with gelatos in hand. I got the slight impression, that if the multimillion dollar boats sitting there were any indication to go by, that perhaps the mega wealthy enjoyed stopping by to play here. Only a slight impression though!   “Nic, can you see that castle on the cliffs up there?” is a question I’m sure Niki will think about twice before she answers that ever again. The castle in question was the Castillo De Santa Barbara, a beautiful 9th century fort located upon Mount Benacantil. Over the various centuries it has been bombarded, occupied by various kings and princes, and is now a haunt for tourists alike. The views from the top are incredible across Alicante, with green cactus gardens and olive trees creating an oasis like feel to it. After convincing Niki that the climb wouldn’t be that hard (yes I lied), we started our ascent to the top. The walk was relatively easy and as kids started to pass us on the walk up, we knew that we had to work on our fitness levels. Make sure that you have a hat and plenty of water if visiting, it does get quite hot and there is limited shade.   After spending a few hours at the top relaxing in the sun, we began our climb back down through Plaza Carmen, one of the most idyllic streets. You know when you looking through travel magazine and you see those perfectly ornate streets, lined with pot plants, coloured doors, wrought iron gates, perfect windows, sleepy cats and old mammas screaming out the window to their sons to “tuck their shirts in”? Well this was one of them! Finally I had found a street that really did look like it came from the magazines.   Completing our long walk through the afternoon, late night paella and a sneaky sangria, it was time to retreat to quietness of our hotel...

The Island of Santorini {Photo Junket}

By on May 3, 2011 in Greece | 0 comments

  Everyone’s seen photographs of the Greek Island of Santorini and wondered whether a place this beautiful really exists? Well, I’m here to tell you it does and it’s just as gorgeous in the flesh, if not more than it’s portrayed in those photographs. There are photo opportunities everywhere you look on the Island of Santorini. From the crystal blue waters surrounding the island, to the towns perched on top of the sheer cliffs, to the amazing sunsets that can be captured looking out from the town of Oia – your camera will be running hot! Personally I really enjoyed capturing the beautiful architecture of this Greek Island. The traditional Cycladic style of the houses and buildings on Santorini are so unique to the island. Their use of block colour, rendered concrete and simple shapes is highly recognisable. Many of the houses boasted pretty courtyards overlooking the breathtaking views, complete with pot plants, an intimate table and chairs for two as well as a few lazy cats sleeping the day away. I hope you enjoy viewing the photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them!    ...

The Night Train from Zurich to Prague

By on Apr 30, 2011 in Switzerland | 2 comments

  After sleeping a few hours at Zurich station and dreaming of the brilliant experience I was about to have on my way to Prague, I awoke to the shouts of two backpackers being frog marched down the concourse by three Swiss officers, who seemed to be carrying a bag of drugs. I gathered my belongings and headed off to find my luxury high speed train to Prague, however I was gifted with a Russian mule. Many people would shudder at the thought, but I was ecstatic to being riding in this old stallion. I felt I was really leaving the creature comforts of the west behind. I boarded my train and met my travel companion for the night, Erika. Erika was a very petite Japanese photographer who travelled the world taking photographs for postcards; I personally thought she was a spy. We chatted for a while as we watched the station slide behind us and later learned we were the only tourists on-board bound for the East. It’s a night that I will never forget! We yanked down the window so that the whole cabin was literally thrown open to the outside world. Then we shared chocolate and sherbet lemons. We watched as the Swiss Alps slowly glided by capped by the light of the full moon. The fragrant scent of freshly cut grass from the many farms and the cool mountain air rushed past me. It’s a feeling I can even remember now when I close my eyes. Every stop we made, Erika and I would throw our heads out the window to talk to the conductors or maintenance men working their nights away.   Before our journey started out, our conductor advised us that both locks on our cabin door should be locked at all times and that if we needed to use the bathroom, to leave any valuables with him. He was a very trustworthy man… I hoped. I fell into the most serene sleep and awoke to the conductor knocking on our door to give us breakfast. The scenery had changed dramatically outside from the Swiss Alps to the dry barren woodlands of Eastern Europe. I parted ways with Erika at a small town in the Czech Republic and watched as she walked off into the unknown. I then continued on the rest of my four hour journey in the thoughts of independence and knowing that I could disappear right then and there, with no one knowing anything about it.   On the spur of the moment decision of coming to Prague I had no time to find out any information about this magical city. No guidebook, no idea of the language or currency. I was literally going in blind. All I knew was from the small bits I had seen over the years in brochures etc. I arrived into Prague at lunch time and caught the underground towards my hostel, feeling very worried about being mugged. A false perception I had gained about Eastern Europe. I checked into Miss Sophie’s and was blown away. This was more like a boutique hotel then a hostel and was cheaper than anywhere I stayed before. The beds were great and the shower heads were literally the size of dinner plates. The underground sitting area was funky and a great chill out location.   I spent my first afternoon in Prague at the National Museum taking in the history of Praha, as it is spelt in the local language. The Museum has a few good exhibitions however was mainly directed at geology. The staff were friendly and the location is great, it looked straight onto Wenceslas Square with fantastic views. Wenceslas Square is the heart of shopping in Prague and as I found out later in my journey, it is also the political heart for the freedom of the people. Prague so far was blowing my mind in every conceivable manner and I had great expectations for what tomorrow would bring! But if only I had not eaten that dodgy...

A Raw Truth: Dachau Memorial Camp, Germany

By on Apr 20, 2011 in Germany | 0 comments

This is a day I’ll never forget and it will stay with me till the day I die. I felt like I had never felt before, my soul was ripped apart then put back together in a fashion that is unfavourable. My impression of history was finally given meaning, whilst a raw truth rocked me to the core. Before I continue on, I just want to say that this article may contain information they may disturb some readers (no graphical images),  please read with care.   In my pre-trip plans for visiting Europe I had never intended on visiting the Dachau Memorial Camp however after talking to various people in Prague and Munich, as well as reading many books on WWII, I decided it was something I should experience for myself. Looking back at my studies in school, it was hard to imagine what was happening during World War II in Europe, even though I had grandparents who fought in the war. It was also hard to put feeling and emotion into history when Australia is so young and with history so distorted in the media today.     So when I found myself at the gates reading “Freedom Through Work” at one of the worse (and sadly to say not the worse) concentration camps in Europe’s history, I couldn’t help but feel the sorrow, disbelief and realisation of my history. The memorial camp had a sobering exhibition on the treatment and lives of the prisoners, explaining everything from their day-to-day routines to their living conditions. The museum also explained in graphic detail how the SS troops extracted information from many prisoners as well the processes of the various inhumane “experiments” that were conducted on them.     The Bunker located right of the main camp was one of the most depressing sections of the grounds, with many sobering stories and visual aids to help invoke the utter despair that prisoners faced within those walls. The Bunker was eerily surreal; perhaps as I was the only one in there, but also because it stretched for what seemed an eternity with many rooms leading off the main corridor. It wasn’t hard to imagine what had happened in these rooms during World War II, with telephone aids stuck to the walls providing  the opportunity to listen to the many horrific personal stories relating to the atrocities of war.     The far end of the complex held the “shower blocks” and the various churches and shrines to the people and beliefs that were persecuted here. I don’t really feel comfortable about commenting on the “shower blocks”, except to say that I left the room with tears in my eyes and a deep feeling of pure sorrow. The churches and shrines offered a chance for people from all walks of life to grieve and provided a means for society to move forward and to learn from the past.     Dachau Memorial Camp can be found about 30 minutes from Munich, Germany and is easily accessible by the local train. It’s an emotionally draining experience that I wouldn’t do again, however I would recommend one visit if you have the chance. It’s hard to explain and recreate the atmosphere of this memorial camp and I really don’t want to try. Nevertheless I felt that to truly understand my family’s history and the history of Europe’s’, a trip here is well worth it. As a tourism worker I was worried that this would be a tourist draw card or some gimmick, however I found this not to be the case and it truly reflected a memorial site with donations, rather than admission prices. The various small school groups walking the site made it feel more like a lesson in history than a day at a theme park. The memorial is well worth the visit and as per signs, children under 12 should wait until they are older, as some images and descriptions are highly graphic. This was a day I would never forget and the pages of history would now have a whole new meaning for me. I would never again read history in the same way and I would never again think that history is history and war is just war. Lest we...

Photo of the Week: Cycling in Amsterdam

By on Apr 18, 2011 in The Netherlands | 0 comments

    I’ve chosen to share this photograph I shot in Amsterdam as our Photo of the Week, as it instantly floods me with memories when ever I see it. This photograph was taken during a trip to Amsterdam in the cold winter months. It was a nippy day, yet sunny and still. Peter and I had just enjoyed a warming lunch of pancakes at a great local cafe and were strolling along the canals and charming  lane-ways. What I love most about Amsterdam is the Dutch sense of style. I love that the streets are always full of locals riding around town on their bicycles looking so effortlessly cool, creating a unique atmosphere.  Amsterdam to me isn’t all about the drugs and partying, if you step off the well trodden path, you’ll get the chance to experience a truly unique city pulsating with culture, history, art and style.  ...

Semana Santa, Granada {Photo Junket}

By on Apr 10, 2011 in Spain | 0 comments

  Easter is upon us once again and I couldn’t help but let my mind wandered back to the two weeks that I spent travelling through Southern Spain and the humbling experience of witnessing the Semana Santa in Granada and Seville. I wandered back to when… We jumped off our bus into the centre of Granada and with our heavy packs on we ventured off into the hot humid evening, towards the sounds of the trumpets and drums. Our hostel was in this direction and as we dodged, ducked, weaved, tripped, pushed, be pushed, kicked, screamed, laughed, sweated, choked, sneezed, scratched, and clawed our way through the crowds, I couldn’t help but think this was the running of bulls instead of Semana Santa. I felt like sticking a sign on my back – “Wide Load”. I even got to the point of making beeping sounds when I was walking backwards. As we got closer to the centre, the sounds of trumpets and other brass instruments were getting louder, pulsating and wooing us as if some type of chant has taken control. People were starting to line the roads as we got closer, eating bird seeds and placing their children on top of their shoulders. We could feel the anticipation and eagerness in the air; I couldn’t help but think or perhaps plea silently, that we must be close by now. Then just as we thought we were nearly there, a man in a tall pointed hooded cloak with only slits to show his eyes glided passed us. The shock that came over Niki and I was mesmerising, slightly eerie and threatening yet I couldn’t pull my eyes away. This was a man of god, a member of a brotherhood who by wearing this symbol of anonymity was saying that only God will know his true identity and this is a showing of his faith. The cloak was a deep midnight black with a high pointed hood which made him look over 6ft high. He had no shoes as a sign of faith and carried a staff made of candle wax which burned a slow lingering flame upon the top of it. For those 30 seconds of mesmerisation I was surrounded by quietness in my mind. I hope you enjoy the photos from my  travels below.      ...