Travel by Instagram: The twelve days of pictures

Yes, it’s a really bad Christmas pun … the twelve days of pictures is here!

We “Travel by Instagram” to get the story behind your favourite twelve photos from my Instagram account in 2015, including the truth of whether I liked the places in the pictures …

Huuuge thanks to my fellow Instagrammers for the likes, comments and follows that made this post possible. If in return my piccies give you even the smidgenest amount of “Travel by Instagram” inspiration, I’ll be – as we say in Yorkshire – well chuffed.

#12. Kotor, Montenegro

Travel by Instagram - Kotor, Montenegro

Kotor as seen from the harbour

The walled city of Kotor looks out onto a fjord-esque expanse of water, and up to the mountains. It’s special. This pic was taken in October in a post-marmalade croissant breakfast state of satisfaction, perched with my feet dangling over the harbour wall.

#11. Budva, Montenegro

Travel by Instagram - Budva, Montenegro

Budva’s old town – its redeeming feature!

My October walk from the gorgeous island of Sveti Stefan (a couple of miles south) ended in Budva. Budva’s home to a rather ugly stretch of built-up coastline, but redeems itself somewhat through its old town, pictured here. I preferred Kotor, though!

#10. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Travel by Instagram - Dubrovnik, Croatia

It was a tad blustery in Dubrovnik during my October visit!

A blustery walk around Dubrovnik’s city walls gave more dramatic photo opportunities than you could shake a stick at, and gave me a very bad hair day. Frothy-topped waves pounded against the rocks and walls that protect this proud city during my visit there in October 2015.

#9. Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France

Travel by Instagram - Notre Dame, Paris, France

Contemplation in the Cathedral of Notre Dame, Paris

I posted this pic in the wake of the Paris attacks, although Paris is sadly only one of many tragic stories of human atrocity in 2015. Kenya, Nigeria, Iraq … countries where 100s have been murdered or kidnapped without the same level of Western outrage and media attention. I took this pic back in February 2011, when I spent a couple of wonderful solo days in Paris after a work conference.

#8. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Travel by Instagram - Ljubljana, Slovenia

Ljubljana. I know. Gorgeous!

Ljubljana, you’re so pretty! One of Europe’s most underrated and difficult to spell capital cities is home to Viennese architecture, some very fine (rarely exported) wines, café culture and a rather fine castle with a nicely flirty calligraphy-writer. It’s the type of place you could take your mum – even mine, who has never set foot outside UK shores. I visited in October 2014.

#7. The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Travel by Instagram - The Alhambra, Granada, Spain

The colourful tiles and patterns of Islamic architecture at the Alhambra, Granada

I adore Islamic architecture. Tiles, geometric patterns, colourful tiles, symmetrical water features, cool patios: I am a huge fan, or – as they say in Spain – an aficionado. The architectural legacy of the Moors in Andalucia, Southern Spain, has long drawn me, and I captured this shot on my second visit to the Alhambra in June 2010.

#6. London, England

Travel by Instagram - London, England

London, baby!

I’m not sure if it was the stereotypical scene of British dual icons the red telephone box and the National Gallery which made this picture so popular, but popular it was! It was taken on a culture vulture girls’ weekend in August with my oldest school friend, just before a major downpour!

#5. Puerto Banús, Spain

Puerto Banús is about as far from my typical holiday as is humanly possible. After a week spent hiking and exploring near Ronda in May 2014, I visited for the day to catch up with a friend who was then working in neighbouring Marbella. The glitz, glamour and “look at the size of my engine” Ferrari boys provided visual entertainment for a day, but beyond that it’s the anti-thesis of where I like to spend my holidays. Millions disagree with me 🙂

Travel by Instagram - Puerto Banus, Spain

Glitz and glamour in Puerto Banus

#4. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Travel by Instagram - Placa Street, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Placa Street at sunset. Sigh.

The October sunset view from the city walls into Dubrovnik’s Placa Street was as dramatic as it was perfect.

The wide thoroughfare is a stunning spectacle, albeit one that’s manicured to within an inch of its life, or, as my boyfriend put it,“like Disney”. I loved the time I spent in Dubrovnik, but was happy to ditch its glossy magazine qualities for somewhere (aka Split) that felt more real. It still makes for a good photo, though!

#3. The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

Confession: I didn’t rate the Acropolis. I know, sacrilege. I did, however, adore Athens – bustle, food, arts scene and all. Weird, as I’d expected to spend many happy hours at its most famous landmark, and to feel a bit “meh” about the rest of the city.

Travel by Instagram - The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

The Acropolis. Half-decent picture, but I didn’t love this Greek icon.

What can I say? It was heaving – even on a Tuesday afternoon in late October 2014, overwhelmed by scaffolding, and its neighbouring namesake museum was – in my view – far more interesting. Yup, call the culture police on me.

#2. Lake Bled, Slovenia

Travel by Instagram - Bled Castle, Lake Bled, Slovenia

Light fades over Bled Castle,

Lake Bled is an hour or so on the bus from Ljubljana, a journey I spent chatting to fellow Brit and photographer Simon, who happened to have the seat next to mine. We wandered around Bled Castle, drank copious amounts of coffee, sampled the famous Bled cake (delish) and took a lot of pictures.

This one was an impromptu snap in the late afternoon as we were dashing for our bus.

And the “winner” is …

#1. Baelo Claudia, Spain

Where?

Baelo Claudia sits about 15 miles north of Tarifa, the southern-most point of mainland Spain, overlooking a dramatic beach.

Travel by Instagram - Baelo Claudia, Spain

Baelo Claudia. A photogenic place you’ve (probably) not heard of

I left my fellow yogis (I was on a yoga holiday) on the beach in Conil de la Frontera to take a trip in my super-small hire car to visit this ancient Roman settlement. Stone columns, an amphitheatre, a paddle in the Mediterranean and some rather fine grilled sardines made it a top day out back in June 2012.

I used Canon EOSM and Canon Powershot cameras to take the pics features here. The mirrorless EOSM has bags of features and it’s nice and compact. When I want something even more portable to “snap and go”, I use my trusty little Canon Powershot.

Have you ever taken “Travel by Instagram” inspiration and visited somewhere on the back of seeing only a photo? Have you been to Baelo Claudia?! Share your story below 🙂

Art in Athens: images from past and present

Famed for the Acropolis and with a history where culture is prized; a creative exuberance seeps from every pore of Athens’s being.

From mafia-influenced graffiti, to the Islamic arts of the Ottoman era, art in Athens is apparent in every step you take.

Street Art in Athens

Street Art is encouraged in Athens. Murals are favoured over graffiti scribblings, and the walk from the Metro station of Monastraki to Kerameikos via Thiseio gives plenty of opportunities to see the work of the artists.

From the trains – permits are granted to artists to decorate them – to the murals by the old bus depot and the neighbourhood around the trendy Gas Works, there’s seemingly a work of art on every vertical space. Look up as well as around to make sure you don’t miss anything.

Some of the street art of Athens has another legacy, that of the 19th century “mafia” scene in Psyrri.

mafia street art in AthensThe “gangsters” (known locally as mangas or koutsavakides) of the era wore a distinctive uniform of decorative shoes, and a one-sleeved suit – they wanted to be ready for a fight! Not to forget a moustache.

One man managed to clean up the influence of the mafia on the streets through some simple tailoring.

He chopped off half of the moustache of any gangsters he captured, along with half of one of their sleeves and part of one shoe. Such was the shame of the gangsters, they couldn’t return to their masters in their state of being disrobed. They instead took the option to clear out.

Their legacy is celebrated in the artworks of Aischylou Street in Psyrri.

 

Also in Psyrri is neighbouring Pittaki Street – decorated with lamps of all shapes and sizes. Go for a wander amongst the chandeliers.

Art in Athens at the Benaki museums

For art of a different kind, the various Benaki museums dotted around the central city neighbourhoods can keep you amused for days.

From contemporary art to Islamic arts through the ages, there’s a museum to suit every taste.

Greece’s status as part of the Ottoman empire from the 15th-19th centuries gives the country a fine legacy in the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art. The different eras of the empire are celebrated on the different levels of this regal four-storey building.

Practicalities of seeing Art in Athens

The street art in Athens is free. To get around Athens, a single use Metro ticket (valid for 70 minutes) costs €1.20. A day ticket is €4, a 5-day pass €10. Validate your ticket when you first use it.

The Benaki Museums charge entrance fees of up to €7, depending on which one takes your fancy. For discounts of up to 50%, pick up a free Athens Spotlighted card on your arrival at Central Information Counter at the Airport. The card also gives you discounts to other Athens attractions as well as restaurants.

I was hosted by Alternative Athens on their Tale of Four Cities tour (price €40), whose comprehensive four-hour entertaining and insightful itinerary of the less touristed parts of Athens included the street art mentioned in this post.

I explored the Benaki museums independently.

Have you visited Athens? What gems did you find beyond the Acropolis?

Returning home to the UK: reflections

[quote]Here’s to journeys near and far, short and long; to the people we meet on the way, and to those we come home to.[/quote]

I can’t believe it. My month-long trip from Budapest to Athens is at an end.

It’s been awesome. From the hospitality in Albania, to the Greeks who kept trying to overfeed me; from the architecture of Budapest to the “too cool for school” vibe of Zagreb.

As I spend my first 24 hours after returning home to the UK, I’m having a little reflection time – café latte in hand – on what I’ll miss most from my time in SE Europe.

Top 5 things I’ll miss about returning home to the UK

The weather

It’s been a sunny month in SE Europe. Factor 15 has been applied on a regular basis. T-shirts have been worn. I sit writing this wearing a jumper. And it’s not technically even “cold” yet. Boo.

Eating and drinking outside

returning home to the UK

Street-side dining in Athens, Greece

Outdoor coffee culture is alive and kicking across SE Europe – from the streets of Zagreb where seemingly the entire city is on a coffee break, to the wine bars of Ljubljana and the street-side dining in Greece.

Good value

It’s no good something being as cheap as chips if it’s rubbish. The whole SE Europe region was good value, with Meteora and Athens in Greece, and Ljubljana standing out for me.

At no point in my trip did I feel as though I was being ripped off. Example: a 0.75 litre bottle of water at Athens airport was €0.50. Try that in the UK!

Albania was the cheapest destination I visited; and also good value (with the possible exception of bus travel on some journeys – always cheap, just not always cheerful with it!)

Experiencing something new every day

Castles, galleries, new cuisines, the local firewater, meeting new people, learning about history of different places, wandering and getting lost, lakes, the sea, alternative architecture, cool street art. It’s gonna be hard to keep up the same level of wide-eyed wonder back home.

Convivial people

I felt welcome throughout my travels, even where language has been a barrier. It’s not as though us Brits aren’t friendly to people visiting our country, we sometimes just need a little more warming up.

And, for balance …

5 things I’m looking forward to most about returning home to the UK

Café latte

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had a lot of good coffee during my month on the road. I’ve tried all the local concoctions: Turkish style in Albania, strong Greek coffee, to the practically inhaled variety that purveys on the streets of Zagreb. I’ve enjoyed them all, though I’ve drawn the line at coffee and a cigarette for breakfast.

Now though, I need lashing of lattes I can linger over a little longer in the British autumn. I’ve been back home less than 24 hours, and I’ve had two already. Bliss.

Cooking a meal

returning home to the UK

I’ve been to my UK equivalent of this place this morning. With fewer sausages.

The simple pleasure of cooking food. The food on my travels has been plentiful in the extreme and tasty to boot, but the freedom of making my own dishes is calling me. I’ve been to my local deli, butcher and greengrocer this morning to stock up.

Going for a run

Steps up to numerous castles in Albania and up the 498 steps of Torre degli Asinelli in Bologna have been good for my fitness, but only in a sporadic kinda way.

Plus I’ve walked everywhere; but … I miss the gym. God, there’s a sentence I didn’t think I’d ever write. I’ll be buying pay-as-you-go membership for the couple of months until my next trip.

Speaking the same language

In Albania I reacquainted myself with school-girl German and Italian in an attempt to find a mutual language in which to converse. I got by. Kind of. However, I felt a bit rubbish when I was only able to communicate in basic greetings – which has been the whole month if I’m honest. And knowing the Albanian for car wash hasn’t got me too far.

Catching up with my friends

I’ve missed you 🙂 I have a pub-filled social calendar for the rest of this week, where I’ll be raising a toast or two:

[quote]Here’s to journeys near and far, short and long; to the people we meet on the way, and to those we come home to.[/quote]

Cheers!

What have been your experiences of returning home after a trip? Do you find it easy or difficult to readjust?

Greek, long division, packing, and my mum’s email needs: Budapest to Athens here I come!

Budapest to Athens: It’s only five days and counting until I shake off my Eastern Europe /Balkans virginity on my month-long solo trip.

Several practical questions – beyond the emotional ones around the excitement of it all – are whizzing around my head as I count down the days to my departure.

Why hadn’t a trip through Eastern Europe and the Balkans occurred to me before?

Bosnia and other parts of the Balkans have long staved off their mid 90s no-go status. I heard tales of majestic cities, captivating coastlines and historical fascination. “Right,” I thought, “it’s time to put a temporary pause on my long-haul obsession.” Duly decided, I booked myself a short hop flight of a mere 2hrs 20 minutes from Manchester to Budapest.

How do I choose which places to go to en-route from Budapest to Athens?

My next thought, after a brief sojourn through a couple of travel guide books and more than a couple of websites: How the hell am I going to try and see everywhere I want to see?

Simple answer to this one, I can’t. Boo! I’m going to have to pick and choose. For example: I’ve reluctantly decided Dubrovnik and Split can wait, as I can easily fly there direct from my local airport (Leeds/Bradford) in the future.

My route is still only a vague plan, but I do know I’ll be catching up with an old school friend in Budapest, and a former work colleague in Zagreb, Croatia.

Beyond that, I’m torn. Ljubljana? A little detour to my wish-list destination of Bologna? Lake Ohrid? Mostar? Meteora? Delphi? Sarajevo? The Bay of Kotor?

Hmmm, maybe I need to book another trip!

How will I manage with the Greek alphabet? And getting by in Albanian?

As I continue to struggle with improving my Spanish, is there any chance whatsoever I’ll remember the bits of Greek alphabet I learnt in A Level Maths (aged 17), and from preparing a book design layout for Homer’s The Iliad (aged 19) in my first desk-top publishing job? Alpha, beta, kappa, delta, epsilon err … err … *googles frantically*

And what about all those other languages I’m going to need – pretty much a different one for every country from Budapest to Athens. Albanian, anyone?

Money matters: Will I be able to divide by 368 in Budapest?

Budapest to Athens

5000 Forints = £13.59 or about $20. Apparently.

Apparently there are 368 Hungarian Forints to the British Pound. Who knew? Best get practicing my times tables. And long division.

Which countries are even in the Euro? (Yup, showing my “we love the pound” British-ness there!) I’ll be learning to love Lek, Kuna and Forints on my trip.

I’m going to try out a Travel Worldwide Debit Card – one of those cards you pre-load before your trip. I’ve not used one before, but so far the company I’ve used have been super-efficient. I’ll report back after my trip, but I’m hoping it will save big-style on those pesky ATM charges and foreign transaction fees.

Packing

I’m planning on staying mostly in AirBnB places, so I should be able to get clothes washing done pretty easily. Needless to say, that means my major concern is shoes. Obviously. Can I narrow my packing choices down to two pairs? Tricky.

Keeping in touch

Will I be able to meet my mum’s strict instructions of sending her and dad an email ready for her to read every Tuesday morning? “Tuesday, Julie, Tuesday. That’s when I’m going to go to the library to read my email”. OK, Tuesday is it then!

Mum and dad won’t get internet at home, in case it gives them a virus. There are no words.

I’d love to hear your tips and experiences about travel in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Places to go from Budapest to Athens, those I should give a miss, getting from A to B, and more. The comments box below is ready and waiting … ☺