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Castles & Towers

Lithuania & Belarus - Trakai & Vilnius

semi-overcast 27 °C
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After a busy day in Belarus, and with a flight home in the evening, we had the day to explore Vilnius properly, as well as the local area. One place I had missed on my first visit to Lithuania was Trakai, and this time I definitely wanted to visit the small town.

Still having stomach discomfort I ended up skipping most of the breakfast but was definitely on the mend a lot quicker. By the time we had checked out and headed to the bus station, I was already starting to feel a bit better and the half hour bus ride was fine.

Trakai Castle

Trakai Castle

Trakai is located just outside Vilnius, and is a small town located on a thin strip of land between two lakes. At the northern end of the town on a small island just into the lake is a large castle. This castle has now become one of the icons of Lithuania and the whole area is surrounded by gift shops, cafés and boats for hire.

Little shops on the waterfront

Little shops on the waterfront


Castle Walls

Castle Walls

We weren't bothered about visiting the insides of the castle, but we did take a walk around the island outside the walls, and edge of the lake. If we had more time this would have been a nice place to spend the day. Having taken the mini tourist bus up there from the bus station, we walked back through the pretty village on foot, and caught the next bus back to Vilnius.

We had taken a short walk around the southern part of the city centre when we had arrived on Saturday, and today we went to explore the northern part, walking back past the Town Square, before the Presidential Palace and arriving at the Cathedral Square.

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

After sitting and enjoying the summer sunshine in this beautiful square, we then headed towards the Gediminas Tower, and luckily found the funicular was working, saving our already aching feet from a steep walk up the hillside.

Gediminas Tower

Gediminas Tower

At the top, a lot of the castle hill was undergoing renovation which meant we couldn't see the views of the south side of the city, but the views from the north and the tower were still nice.

We then headed back down, and walked passed the St. Anne's Church and through the bohemian Užupis area before finally heading back to our hotel to collect our luggage

St. Anne's Church

St. Anne's Church

Eventually after a busy trip we made it to the airport and without any delays headed home. Unfortunately due to our long delay on the way out it meant the holiday was a little more rushed than we would have liked, but nevertheless it was still an enjoyable trip.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 10:13 Archived in Lithuania Tagged tower church lake city island hill castle lithuaniabelarus Comments (2)

Following Finn McCool

Ireland - Causeway Coast

sunny 20 °C
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With Northern Ireland being the only part of the UK I had yet to visit, it has always been on my list as somewhere to visit. And with Brexit just around the corner causing uncertainty as to how this tense and unique part of the country will look in the not too distant future, we decided to quickly pay a visit and literally walk out of the UK at an unmarked border whilst we still could!

With the weather always being unpredictable, expecting rain constantly, we were pleasantly surprised to arrive to a warm and sunny morning at Belfast Airport.

With the first part of the trip being about seeing the north coast and the Irish border, we hired a car from the airport, being much cheaper than taking our own over on the ferry, and after picking it up we headed out to our first stop, just up the road in Antrim.

We stopped by the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest lake in the British Isles. The legend states that Finn McCool (or Fionn mac Cumhaill), a legend in Irish Mythology, was fighting with a Scottish rival, and scooped a bit of land to throw at him - missed, and this formed the Isle of Man, whilst the missing earth flooded and created the lough. This seems highly unlikely, but nevertheless it was a nice spot to stop after getting used to the car, looking over the lake, which was so big that the other side could not even be seen.

Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh

After getting back in the car, we then stopped by the Tesco in Antrim to stock up on some supplies, before we made the decision to head up to the north coast today.

After an hour or so driving through the Antrim countryside, we made it to the port town of Ballycastle, where surprisingly the beautiful blue skies had disappeared amongst the mist clinging over the town. worrying, as our first site was on 15 minutes down the road, where we had hoped to obtain views over the Straits of Moyle in the North Channel over to Scotland. As we drove around the hilly rural roads towards Torr Head, with the weather clearing, we found a good vantage point, where it was just possible to see the Mull of Kintyre. Guessing that it would likely be no better down the road, we decided to stop here, enjoy the views, and then continue on our way along the Causeway coast.

Straits of Moyle

Straits of Moyle


Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge

Our next stop was just half an hour up the road - the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. The bridge is a modern version of the traditional bridge in use for almost 400 years to connect a rocky island just off the coast to the mainland, at 30 metres above the sea level below. Upon arrival it was quite busy, being a major stop of the tourist trail, and as we walked the twenty minutes down the beautiful coastline we passed many tourists - mostly Germans and Spanish.

Causeway Coast

Causeway Coast

When we got to the bridge itself there was a little wait, as only 8 people can cross at once - however it didn't take too long before we made it to the other side.

Crossing the bridge

Crossing the bridge

After returning back to the car, we headed out for another 20 minute drive along the coast towards the jewel in the crown - the Giant's Causeway. However as we left the car park we were stuck behind a German tourist coach, then then proceeded to take the same roads as us, clearly taking the Germans to the causeway too.

Eventually we arrived at the car park for the causeway, and after taking a look at the visitor's centre, we made our way down the coast to the shore, where we could walk along the causeway itself. The legend of it's creation is that Finn McCool (yes, him again) built a causeway to fight a Scottish giant, destroying it upon his return. In reality it's of volcanic origin (with similar landforms in Iceland amongst others) and these are the last bits to remain above sea level, uneroded.

Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway

Although busy, the area is big enough to still enjoy it in it's full glory, and with the blocks forming steps it was also super easy to get around.

On the Causeway

On the Causeway

As we started to leave the area, we were stopped by a pushy Russian-American who wanted a photo. Before even answering he has given me his camera and directed how I should take the panoramic photo of his family on the rocks. Cutting out the signpost I swooped around, before stopping to cut out the tourist who had just walked into the area. Handing it back to him he then wanted another one, this time wider, and with less rocks - to which his wife smirked "that's what we're here to see". Next thing I was back taking yet another photo for this rude man. Thankfully he didn't want another perfect photo and we quickly made our mistake back up the hill.

As we got back to the car, it was another relatively short drive to our accommodation for the night - a B&B on the outskirts of Derry, close to the border with the republic. We arrived and checked in, before heading out to get dinner. We did however quickly stop by the village of Muff, just across the border. As we couldn't drive across due to the terms of our rental agreement, we parked up just metres away, and walked across the border, where the only sign of the border was a change in speed (km/h instead of mph) and signs welcoming us to County Donegal.

Muff

Muff

We then made our way to the local McDonald's to grab some food, before we went back to our B&B. We then went for a walk just 15 metres down the road where the rural track crosses the border. Even less noticeable than in Muff - just a solitary speed sign at a stream. As we walked back it occurred to us just how arbitrary this really is, and how deeply affected this part of the word is going to become should Brexit not work out well.

Chris over the border

Chris over the border

After a long day, it was now time to finally sleep, and tomorrow we would explore Derry before making our way back to Belfast.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 09:50 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged hills coast borders lake ireland island border geology geography Comments (0)

The Concrete Capital

In Search of the Penguins - Brasilia

overcast 27 °C
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Well over 18 months ago I booked myself the trip of a lifetime to the Antarctic. However in order to get there I would need to get to the bottom of South America - the other continent I had yet to visit. And so after much planning I decided it would be a massive shame to literally fly in, past some cities I really wanted to visit, and thus I planned to go via Brazil en route.

After taking an overnight flight from London, and transferring in São Paulo, I arrived in my first destination on a warm Thursday morning, excited to explore the Brazilian capital of Brasilia.

Brasilia was built from nothing in the final four years of the 50's to replace Rio as the Brazilian capital. And as with many new cities of the same era, it was heavily planned, with sectors and grand avenues. The city is shaped like an aeroplane with all the governmental buildings located around the fuselage.

Arriving at my hotel in the Hotel Sector, right off the main boulevard I quickly grabbed my bits and headed off for a walk before the imminent rainfall expected this afternoon drenched me.

As Brasilia was built for the car it's scale is huge and there is a distinct lack of pedestrian access - crossing Eixo Monumental meant literally running across the 7 lane highway in a gap through the traffic.

Entering the Cathedral

Entering the Cathedral

Beginning by heading past the Central Terminal I made my way past the National Library and Museum to the Cathedral - a concrete and stained glass building that is entered from below, whilst a pool of water surrounds the building at ground level. Whilst interesting from the outside, it is inside that the building is truly beautiful, with angel sculptures floating above the pews.

Inside the Cathedral

Inside the Cathedral


National Congress

National Congress

Continuing down Eixo Monumental, I made my way to the Esplanada dos Ministérios for views over the National Congress, with it's iconic bowl, and built into the ground.

Three Powers Plaza

Three Powers Plaza

Behind the Congress is the Plaza of Three Powers, where the highest branches of government - the Congress, Supreme Court and Presidential Palace are located. Unfortunately like most of the city, the concrete is in a state of disrepair and makes the whole area look shabby, despite the best intentions and interesting architectural designs.

Supreme Court

Supreme Court


Palace of Justice

Palace of Justice

Having already walked two miles from the hotel to this end, it was now time to walk back, past the Palace of Justice and National Theatre, to the TV Tower, where free views looking over the whole city can be found.

Brasilia

Brasilia

At this height, the scale of the city's planned layout can be seen, as well as the JK Bridge over the Paranoá Lake in the distance.

JK Bridge

JK Bridge

After a lot of walking and having luckily dodged the heavy rain, I grabbed dinner and settled in for the night, before my onward flight to Rio the following day.

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Brazil Tagged lake cathedral capital parliament penguinhunt Comments (0)

Bunker Loving in Albania

#BalkanBants - Tirana

sunny 40 °C
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Having originally envisaged a Balkan Tour some time ago visiting all the nations in the area, the biggest sticking point was getting from Montenegro to Albania. It looked as if the only way to undertake the journey was to spend all day on three separate legs making the way from Kotor to Tirana.

Thinking that it may then be best to separate the trip into two week long legs, with the second beginning in Tirana I then accidentally stumbled across the newly set up transfer between the two cities. Saving the whole idea of the trip, I quickly booked the tour before such a transfer may possibly have been cancelled due to low usage.

One of the many unfinished Albanian buildings

One of the many unfinished Albanian buildings

After spending half a week relaxing by the Adriatic, we took a transfer bus for 5 hours from the Bay of Kotor to the Albanian capital, arriving in Tirana around 2pm. As the centre of the city is relatively small, this was plenty of time for us to get to know the city before our onward journey. Driving through Albania is an interesting experience. The roads are a bit basic, and almost every building has foundations ready for upper floors that are yet to be built, whilst on the eastern side there is a beautiful mountain backdrop that runs for the whole length of the country.

Skanderbeg Square

Skanderbeg Square

After arriving and getting sorted with our onward travel, luckily saving us an hour in bed the following morning, we headed into the city, just a minute or so walk from our hotel, stopping first at the very heart of the city - Skanderbeg Square. The beautifully imposing communist style buildings side by side with traditional mosques, well kept grass, the statue of national hero Skanderbeg, with the modern tower blocks in the background gave this whole square a beautiful feel.

Communist Mosaic

Communist Mosaic

After taking some photos and investigating the communist mosaic adorned over the Museum of History, we headed down the main street, passing the Rinia Park, and the city river. Continuing further down the main street we came across one of the famous bunkers built by communist leader Hoxha, built in case of invasion or attack.

Pretending to be hiding in one of Hoxha's Bunkers

Pretending to be hiding in one of Hoxha's Bunkers

Located at the end of the road, was the Mother Teresa Square, which was surrounded by presidential and university buildings, located at the bottom of a hillside park. Walking up the paths we arrived at one of the 'top sights' in the city - a revolting reservoir that proved to show how little the city has to offer outside the main street.

The 'beautiful' lake

The 'beautiful' lake

Heading back down to the central area we stopped off at the Albanian McDonalds - Kolonat, and attempted to eat a meal in the 40C heat only to find that we had completely lost our appetites. Perhaps the heat was the reason for the city being absolutely dead in the middle of a Sunday afternoon?

The Palace of Congress

The Palace of Congress

Walking back past the Palace of Congress we made our way up to the Piramidia - a pyramid shaped building, that can even be attempted to climb upon, that opened in the late 80s as a museum to the late dictator, and built by his daughter. However after the end of the communist era the building has fallen into disrepair and is now left in a dilapidated state. A real shame, as with a lick of paint and refurbishment this bizarre and unique building could surely find some usage as a tourist attraction at least?

The Piramidia

The Piramidia

Heading back towards our hotel, past the opera house and the mosque we settled back into our hotel for the early coach the following morning to Albania's little sister - Kosovo.

Tirana, despite being a rather long diversion off route was an interesting place to visit. Although lacking a lot of tourist facilities, after some days in Dubrovnik this was quite refreshing, and with its independent history and impressive central buildings it was very interesting to see, with Albania being a very pretty country in general with its mountainous backdrops. Perhaps with a few more years investment, and an opening of infrastructure with airlines this could be Europe's newest hotspot? It's certainly cheap right now!

Tips

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Albania Tagged lake city balkanbants Comments (0)

"What happens in Vegas...goes on the Internet"

RTW - Las Vegas & Arizona

sunny 30 °C
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After catching my pre-booked 7 hour coach ride to Las Vegas, costing me £1 with free WiFi and power sockets, and driving past Death Valley, I had eventually arrived in Las Vegas.

Welcome to Las Vegas

Welcome to Las Vegas

As I had done a lot of research before travelling, I had found that hotels in Las Vegas vary considerably in price depending on the day of the week. By making my trip solely in the week I was able, even on my travelling budget, to still stay in one of the resort hotels relatively cheaply - getting my own 4 bed (6 Kevin-sized) room all to myself for around £35.

Stratosphere

Stratosphere

After arriving at the Stratosphere Hotel, the first thing I did in the city was to go up the tower to get a night view over the city.

New York, New York

New York, New York

The following day was spent exploring the city in full - starting at the welcome to Vegas sign and then walking up The Strip, going in and out of the elaborate hotels, with their replicas of Jungles, Ancient Egypt & Rome, Paris, New York and my favourite - Venice (if only because it looked so much like the original, only cleaner).

Inside the Venetian

Inside the Venetian

All of these hotels had their own amenities - pools, shops, casinos and even McDonald's and Starbucks. In many ways this place was like Dubai, not just because of the huge fountains, but the theme-park idea of building anything you want in the desert.

The following day, I had pre-booked myself an excursion to the Grand Canyon - however because of the ridiculous Government Shutdown, the whole excursion was threatened with cancellation - but luckily Arizona State was paying to keep the National Park open for the week.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

The day was very long, taking around 7 hours one way to get to the canyon (what better to do 2 days after after a 7 hour coach journey, than take another one!), and once we had finally arrived there wasn't even that much to do. Although at least we got to see Route 66 and the Hoover Dam on the way.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam

As with Sydney Harbour, it's nice to see, but there's only so many pictures you can take of the same thing - however saying this, I wouldn't regret going there.

Taking a long lie in the following day I took a little flutter on the roulette in the Casino, winning and coming away with a $10 profit after continuing to play for a while after my win.

The Venetian

The Venetian

I then went up the Stratosphere tower again (free as I was a guest of the hotel), however this time in the day, viewing the extreme rides at the very top of the tower, before going for a walk to see the Drive through Wedding chapels, and avoiding the gun shops on my way back. I then finished off the day by heading down to the strip for the night time shows outside the hotels - pirate ships, fountains and volcanic eruptions!

Volcano!

Volcano!

This is one of the few places in the world where even after 3 days, I could go back and still be entertained. The following day I explored the Downtown area, before taking a coach back to Los Angeles.

Drive Through Wedding Chapel

Drive Through Wedding Chapel

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged canyon lake city valley rural rtw entertainment Comments (0)

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