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A Completely Different Land

Canada - Montreal

all seasons in one day 20 °C
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Having spent five days in English speaking Ontario, we were now headed for our final destination, the capital of the French speaking Quebec - Montreal.

I was interested to see just how different it would be. For all, this is still the same country. However upon arrival it became clear the answer was 'very'. Although still having maple leaves everywhere, Montreal felt much more modern, and there was a big drop in the amount of English available. Whilst people seemed to understand it and we were able to get buy, this felt very different, as well as there being a marked increase in the amount of regional flags.

In the run up to the holiday the weather looked abysmal, and so we were braced for some atrocious weather. Up to this point we had been very lucky, however as we emerged from the metro station to walk around the corner to our hotel, the heavens had opened and it was pouring down. Worse still, this particular point was a wind tunnel and we spent the few minutes in the open getting drenched. Worse still, as we checked in the rain stopped, and we realised a short wait could have kept us dry....

Never mind, it had now stopped, and to make the most of what was now a sunny warm day we quickly left to take a walk up Mont Royal, for views over the city which we would explore fully the next day. Walking up some steep slopes, we eventually made it to the entry of the park, where more steep slopes lay before us.

The view from Mont Royal

The view from Mont Royal

Eventually however, we reached the top, and although we weren't sure exactly what we were looking at, the view from the hill over the city was still nice. We then headed back down and towards food and bed.

The following morning we made the most of our last lay in, before leaving the bags at the hotel to explore the city. Beginning with Canada Place, with views over the neighbouring tower blocks and cathedral, we entered a nearby building and made our way into the Underground City - a network of interconnecting tunnels that link many of the buildings together without needing to access the open air - ideal in the freezing Canadian winter.

Hotel de Ville

Hotel de Ville

Eventually emerging at the Palace of Congress, we were by now in the heart of Old Montreal, and after walking through Place d'Armes we saw the Notre Dame Cathedral and bought souvenirs in some of the shops before we reached the heart of the Old City.

The Old City

The Old City

Carrying on down, we made it to the promenade on the St. Lawrence River, walking along the jetties before making our way to the Metro Station.

1976 Olympic Park

1976 Olympic Park

Our next sight was the Olympic Park, where the 1976 Olympic Games were held. Unfortunately the park hasn't had much love since then and a lot of the concrete has started to crumble. Nevertheless it was an interesting sight.

The Biosphere

The Biosphere

We then headed back towards the centre, and back out to the islands in the middle of the city. Getting off at the metro station, we then headed towards the Biosphere before walking around the island and heading back to the city.

And this is pretty much where the holiday ends. After grabbing our bags we made our way to the airport in plenty of time for our six hour overnight flight back home.

Canada was a nice place to visit, and it was particularly interesting to see both the English and French sides. Of the two major cities, I think I preferred Montreal but they were both nice, as was everything else we saw. Unlike America the people are very courteous and friendly, however it lacks the culture of Europe and Asia. Nevertheless it was worth the travel to see it all.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 12:09 Archived in Canada Tagged rain history montreal quebec city island sun hill olympic Comments (0)

The Final Stopover In Montevideo

In Search of the Penguins - Montevideo

overcast 24 °C
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After yesterday's busy day, I woke up early for the final stage of my epic trip. Getting a taxi from my hotel in Buenos Aires before dawn, I made it to the airport in plenty of time for my short flight across the Rio de La Plata to Uruguay. Eventually boarding the small city hopper, we were served a breakfast box after take off. However, no sooner had I started eating and we were already coming back down and landing in Montevideo. This was just a half hour flight across the river mouth!

Landing over Montevideo

Landing over Montevideo

Flying over the city centre, we eventually landed at the small modern airport on the outskirts of the city. Completely contrasting with the overflowing and dilapidated Aeroparque in central Buenos Aires.

Upon arrival I flew through immigration and waited to collect my bag, as I would have to manually check in for my onward flights later in the day. However waiting and waiting my bag was no where to be found. Eventually a man came over to ask my name, and he eventually told me that my bag had arrived yesterday and was upstairs to be collected.

I then proceeded to go through customs without my belongings, making my way to the airline desk by check in and retrieve my bits. Repacking on the concourse floor, I then checked in for my later flights and sent my bag straight through to London.

Heading downstairs I attempted to get my hand baggage put in luggage storage, but after being told the extortionate price and effort it would take I changed my mind and decided to just carry it around with me in Montevideo.

Having done some research before leaving, I was still unsure of exactly how to get into the city, so I went to speak to the tourist information, who told me which bus numbers I required. After grabbing some cash I then headed into the city - not even 9am yet!

Plaza Independencia

Plaza Independencia

An hour or so later, the packed out bus arrived in the city, and after remaining on it until the end, so that I knew where to catch it on my return later, I got off and headed down to the main avenue and the Plaza de Independencia. Named in honour of the independence, the square has a statue and mausoleum dedicated to Artigas - the national hero, whilst being surrounded by many governmental buildings.

Artigas Mausoleum

Artigas Mausoleum

The square is also the site of the Palacio Salvo, one of the most iconic buildings in the city, as well as the old city gate. However despite all this, there is also a disgusting tower block located in the very same square. How very South American.

Beautiful....

Beautiful....


Old City

Old City

Carrying on into the Old City, there were many little shops, cafés and squares. By this point I was getting hungry and thought I might go for lunch in the McDonald's I was just passing. However as it was 11am in South America, this meant it was still breakfast time, so I would have to wait! As I continued down the road towards the coast, the buildings got much more shabby. Quite surprising as this area could be a prime location! Eventually I got to the coast and I continued along a sea wall, gaining views of the city from afar.

Views from the sea wall

Views from the sea wall

Returning, I bought a souvenir and then headed back the way I had come towards the bus station, where I found a bus headed to the airport itself. Heading through security, I then sat in the departure lounge looking at the plane that would take me to Sao Paolo.

Inside the Airport

Inside the Airport

On booking, there were two flights just 45 minutes apart. As I was transferring I figured it would be best to take the earlier one to give myself extra time to transfer. Big mistake.

Queuing to board, we kept waiting and waiting. Eventually messages were relayed in Portuguese and Spanish - there was a technical problem. After finally speaking to someone in English, I was informed that in an hour they would have more information. What of my three hour connection I asked? "You have time at the moment".

Unfortunately on the other flight no one cared, and so I had to wait. As time ticked away I was left with the realisation that if we finally did make it, I would still be lucky to make my connection. Where would I be sleeping? Who knows....this wasn't the EU, so I didn't have any rights either.

Eventually after an hour and a half, we started queuing again and eventually made it to the plane. However I was at the back of the plane and had a tight connection. With lots of faffing, we eventually took off and made it to Sao Paolo as fast as we could. However upon landing we then had to get on an airport bus from the front doors only. The girls going to Madrid were hopeless, but I has 50 minutes to go.

After waiting to take the crew too, we finally headed to the terminal building, where I ran as fast as possible. Clearing security and with no time to put my belt back on, I held up my trousers as I legged it to the gate as fast as possible.

Eventually boarding the plane I had around 10 minutes to spare - Far too little to prevent a stressful experience. And with cold weather at home, I now had to just hope my bag had made it too or I would be freezing in London without even a coat.

Finally on board

Finally on board

The one silver lining? Despite not getting a window seat, I did at least have 2 free seats next to me, so I was able to get some sleep after this long busy day. Taking off on my third flight of the day, I was finally headed home after a long, expensive but fantastic trip.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Uruguay Tagged sea history airport city plane independence penguinhunt Comments (0)

"Are Yous Goin' Saaaaafend?"

Paris

all seasons in one day 10 °C
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Having already holidayed together twice in the summer, Chris and I had another getaway - this time a short distance across the Channel to Paris.

Once again taking off the Friday afternoon from work, we headed to the airport to catch a flight from Luton to CDG for a weekend in the French capital.

The "CDGVAL"

The "CDGVAL"

Upon arrival in Paris we quickly noticed the effects the ongoing state of emergency was having. After buying our train tickets to get to the city centre, we found that the station was shut due to an unattended bag, and thus we had to get on the CDGVAL (pronounced Cheval, like the horse) to the other terminal, and then transfer to the train. However this had now caused issues with the trains to the city, and when we did arrive at Terminal 1, the train we boarded wasn't leaving for another 35 minutes. We did however eventually find a train that was leaving imminently - though still delaying our arrival in the city by an hour or so. Getting through Gare du Nord and onto the Metro, we eventually arrived at the hotel, checked in and then headed out for a meal at a local restaurant.

Moulin Rouge

Moulin Rouge

After dinner we then headed a little bit further down the road to the Moulin Rouge. Having visited Paris twice before, I had already seen the majority of the sites in the city centre. However as this was located outside the inner city it was new site for me too. Taking pictures of the building all lit up in the night, we then took a look inside some souvenir shops, before heading back to the hotel via a local supermarket for some snacks and cheap fruity wine.

Sacre Cœur

Sacre Cœur

After a relaxing evening, the following morning we woke for breakfast before heading out to explore the rest of the city. Starting by walking up a large staircase we first visited the Sacre Cœur, another new sight for me, before getting on the metro and heading towards the Arc de Triomphe.

Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Most sights in the city have reduced rates, with a significant number being free for under 26's from the EU, and so luckily for me I had free entry. However with massive queues for attractions tickets, as well as extra bag security, it still took a long time to actually visit the attractions in the city.

View of Paris

View of Paris

The queue for the Arc de Triomphe was a particularly long one especially in the cold of a November morning - however upon entry to the roof it was definitely worth the wait, as there were some beautiful views over the nearby architectural beauty, La Defense, and the Eiffel Tower. Heading back down, we walked towards the Trocadero, where there are good views of the Eiffel Tower, before heading to the tower itself. Having still not decided whether we would head up the tower itself, we nevertheless went through the security check to enter the complex. After deciding we would walk up the to the lower levels, we then queued up and bought ourselves tickets.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower

Unlike most tall city attractions, you can actually feel the wind through the structure, and see views of just how high you are. After stopping briefly on the first floor - where we were already at one of the highest points in the city, we then headed up to the second floor for even better views over the city. However unlike me, Chris was a little bit nervous of heights, and unfortunately the best form of encouragement I could provide was "Well we've paid for the second floor"....

Taking a look at the views from the second floor, we decided not to buy a top floor ticket, and instead headed down to the exit to continue our walk around the city. Taking in views of the Eiffel Tower once more, we then headed towards the Champs Élysées passing Les Invalides and crossing the Seine.

At the Champs Élysées, a large Christmas Market had been set up on both sides, and so enjoying some Mulled Wine and taking a look at some of the items on sale we then headed towards Concord and the Louvre. We would visit the Louvre itself tomorrow, and so enjoyed some dinner waiting for sunset so that we could enjoy our last site today - the Eiffel Tower by night.

The Eiffel Tower by night

The Eiffel Tower by night

Louvre

Louvre

The following morning after leaving our bags at the hotel, we headed back to the Louvre, where we managed to avoid the queues by entering through a shopping centre side entrance. Unlike the Vatican Museum, the Louvre clearly sign posts it's main attraction, obviously accepting that 95% of the people there simply want to see the Mona Lisa.

Kevin Bear at the Mona Lisa

Kevin Bear at the Mona Lisa

Located on a wall in the middle of the room, the queues to see the infamous painting are much less than we expected and so we were done with the museum pretty quickly.

The Mona Lisa Wall

The Mona Lisa Wall

We then headed out towards Île de la Cité - the oldest part of the city, walking towards the Notre Dame, where we arrived just as the Mass was coming to an end.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

Heading back out, we then made our way over to the Deportation monument, which is almost hidden behind the cathedral, before we stopped for a bite to eat. With almost all the city having been ticked off our list, we then headed past the City Hall, towards the Pompidou Centre.

Our final attraction for the trip was the Catacombs, located in the south of the city. Taking the train, we arrived not long after but found a huge and very slow moving queue. Unfortunately we ended up getting caught in a shower during the two hours we waited and debated whether to skip the attraction due to time running out before our flight this evening. Just in the nick of time, we made it in, and after quickly taking a look around and overtaking everyone we had seen in front of the queue, we viewed the tunnels filled with the bones of residents from centuries ago. This eerie but unique experience was well worth the wait.

Inside the Catacombs

Inside the Catacombs

We then headed back to our hotel to grab our bags and headed for the airport. Luckily no bomb scares this time, but once again the understaffed city meant many delays - with a very slow security queue.

We had arrived at Border Control in plenty of time, but the Essex girls in front of us had diced with danger. Hearing we were also British they hopefully asked "Are yous goin' Saaaaaafend". "Err no" we responded.

Eventually making it through in enough time, the group of girls individually ran towards the gate for Southend just about making it. Our sympathy ran slim however as they had already each bought their duty free rather than making it through in enough time....

Eventually getting to eat, we waited for our plane and after a short flight, we finally arrived back home. A great trip even if Paris was overly busy!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in France Tagged art tower paris history city cathedral hill scenic macabre Comments (0)

Cute Khiva

Central Asia - Khiva

sunny 27 °C
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Waking up after a night's sleep in an actual bed for the first time in four days was a really refreshing experience. After grabbing breakfast, the group (including our last companion who had not been granted a visa for Turkmenistan, and therefore joined us in Khiva) headed off for a walking tour of the Itchan Kala - the Old City.

South Gate

South Gate

Although relatively small, it was brimming with activity and therefore it was a nice place to soak up the Silk Road. We began by starting at the Western Gate before heading to the Kalta Minor - the short fat blue minaret outside the old madrassah.

Kalta Minor & Madrassah

Kalta Minor & Madrassah

After taking a look inside the old madrassah, which has now been converted into a hotel, we headed into the Friday Mosque, with it's wooden pillars and greenhouse feel, before continuing into one of the Emir's palaces.

Juma Mosque

Juma Mosque

Viewing one of the mosques we were then given free time to explore the city at our own pace, and so I went with a group of others to the Islam Khoja Minaret for views over the city. As this is Uzbekistan however, climbing the minaret wasn't the easiest - steep spiral steps with a lack of light, and so after grabbing my torch I climbed to the top to find stunning views over the Itchan Kala and beyond, as well as a rather steep drop to the staircase itself (no barriers here!) - which became a challenge when a dozen German tourists also ascended the tower.

Itchan Kala

Itchan Kala

Heading back down I went off for a walk with Abdo and Jim to the market, before heading back to the restaurant for lunch. With fresh handmade bread from the stove in the courtyard, we were treated to a four course meal, consisting of salad, kebab meat, soup and dumplings.

Homemade Bread

Homemade Bread

After a last walk through the city, we headed back to our hotel at the South Gate, before boarding the coach for the long drive through Uzbekistan to our next destination - Bukhara.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Uzbekistan Tagged mosque history centralasia silkroad Comments (0)

The start of the Silk Road

Central Asia - Konye Urgench

sunny 30 °C
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Dawn at the Door to Hell

Dawn at the Door to Hell

Waking up in the desert, taking one last look at the Door to Hell, we got back in our 4x4s and headed towards the border.

Driving through the desert towards Uzbekistan

Driving through the desert towards Uzbekistan

This was a long drive, taking four hours along atrocious pot hole-littered roads stopping en route at the historic Konye Urgench.

Unlike the rest of wacky Turkmenistan, Konye Urgench was much more like what we would be seeing in Uzbekistan - being a UNESCO Silk Road historic city. However being Turkmenistan the site was relatively underdeveloped and dilapidated.

Konye Urgench

Konye Urgench

Walking around the site, consisting of a number of mausoleums, a minaret and a mosque, we got a feel for the next few days before finally heading to the border.

After a long crossing, including a health check and a taxi ride across no-man's land we eventually made it to our coach on the Uzbek side that would take us to the historic city of Khiva and our first night in a hotel in four days. Bizarrely, as unwelcome as we were made to feel by Border Control, as soon as we drove along the local roads every cotton picker and child stopped to wave at us. A nice touch, even if slightly spurious.

In Uzbekistan there is still a resistance to accepting that inflation has occurred. Despite the fact that $1 buys 3,000 Som, the highest note that is seen on the street is the 1,000 Som note. In addition to this, there is a black market that gives us double the amount of Som.

£25 later...

£25 later...

After us all converting our money for the next five days we ended up with a massive bag full of notes. For just £25 I had two large wads of money to carry around with me. No wallets needed in Uzbekistan - just bags.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Turkmenistan Tagged history fire border gas crater centralasia silkroad Comments (0)

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