About Jonny Scott Blair

Jonny Scott Blair

Jonny Blair is a self confessed traveling nomad. He sees every day as an adventure. Since leaving behind his home town of Bangor in Northern Ireland ten years ago he has traveled to all seven continents, working his way through various jobs and funding it all with hard work and an appetite for travel. His website Don’t Stop Living, a lifestyle of travel' contains over 1,000 stories and tips from his journeys round the globe. He wants to show others how easy it is to travel the world, give them some ideas and encourage them to do the same but most of all he aims to constantly live a lifestyle of travel. He is currently based in Hong Kong and on Twitter @jonnyblair.


Latest Posts by Jonny Scott Blair

Iran’s Hot & Dry Kalate Talkh Desert Oasis

August 9, 2015 by  

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Iran is sublime and I have so many crazy fond memorable moments from our month there that I will probably never get the time to retell all the tales. Kalate Talkh Desert was surreal.

Khalate Talkh Desert Oasis in Iran

Khalate Talkh is a desert Oasis in the middle of nowhere, Iranian desert wilderness. The nearest village to it is the village of Khoor, where we stayed a few nights. Khoor is best reached by shared car or bus from Yazd or Esfahan. In Khoor, a local family cooked for us.

Dinner at our homestay in Khoor

We stayed at their place, also known as the Hotel Kabir and from here we explored a lot of the nearby areas and deserts as well as doing Camel Riding in Mesr. The best way to get to Khalate Talkh is actually to hitch hike as there is no regular transport out here whatsoever and it is unlikely there ever will be.

In our ride to Khalate Talkh

It’s probably around 15 kilometres from the town of Khoor and we caught a lift from a man named Hassan who took us all the way to our destination.

Hitch hiking to Khalate Talkh, Iran

On the ride there, Hassan told us stories. Apparently the area was once a bigger forest of palm trees but the Iranian government burned them down and destroyed it – I’m not sure of the reason for this.

Palm trees on route were destroyed.

Palm trees on route were destroyed.

Khalate Talkh is officially a desert Oasis though when I compared to our trip to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve, it is completely different. Imagine a marsh or swamp in the middle of the desert, a rare bit of water and vegetation in a completely dry desert area. No information whatsoever exists online about Khalate Talkh.

Khalate Talkh - Iranian wilderness

There are no people, no shops – it’s pure desert wilderness!

Khalate Talkh, Iran

There is a main building at Khalate Talkh but no population who live here. We tried to find out from our driver what the building was for but with no luck.

Downtown Khalate Talkh - top sights

There are a few other remains of walls and buildings beside it.

Remains of buildings at Khalate Talkh

The Marsh and Swamps at Khalate Talkh: amidst the completely dry desert, there is water! It’s a bit marshy and swampy and far from a river, but some water does exist in this desert oasis.

The swamp and desert Oasis at Khalate Talkh

The swamp and desert Oasis at Khalate Talkh

Obviously the sun was beating down and we had been traveling at three months at this point so we didn’t indulge in any serious hiking. There is a massive rock face in behind Khalate Talkh, something similar to Uluru Rock in Australia.

Hiking can be done on this beast if you're up for it!

Vegetation at Khalate Talkh: there are lots of trees and shrubs to admire here in the wilderness at Khalate Talkh.  The hardest bit will be finding a driver in the wilderness to take you there! Thanks to Hassan for our lift there and back and the chance to see this unusual place.

Touring the wilderness at Khalate Talkh

 

 

The post Backpacking in Iran: Visiting Kalate Talkh Desert Oasis appeared first on Don’t Stop Living.

The Ultimate Magic of Coastal Bergen in Norway

August 4, 2015 by  

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As part of celebrating my 99th country, I ended up in NORWAY, visiting Gudvangen, Flam,Voss, Bergen, Myrdal and Oslo. Of course I had to end up in the country’s capital and here I met up with Gunnar Garfors, the Norwegian who has visited every country in the world.  In Oslo, I had a great time touring and taking in a couple of hotel properties, including the Olympiatoppen and the Clarion Collection Oslo. While Oslo has a ton to offer, I really fell in love with Bergen, which is located on Norway’s west coast, houses 280,000 people and is Norway’s second biggest city.

Above, by night, below by day.

Backpacking in Norway: Top 8 Sights in Bergen

Here are a few great sites worth taking in.

Bryggen UNESCO World Heritage Site: Bryggen in Bergen is basically the waterfront old quarter of the city which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The beauty is that it’s free and you can wander around at your leisure and the striking coloured triangularly topped buildings are a standout.

If you want to see this place without tourists – head early morning in the Winter and you will have the place to yourself! There are two museums in the Bryggen UNESCO World Heritage area – Hanseatisk Museum and the Bryggens Museum.

Bryggen World Heritage site in Bergen

Bryggen World Heritage site in Bergen

Bryggen World Heritage site in Bergen

Mount Floyen: For a perfect stereotypical postcard view over the city of Bergen, head up to Mount Floyen. You can walk it or get the “Floybanen” up there – it’s a funicular train up the mountain and costs 43 NOK for a trip up there.

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View from the Floybanen

I took the Floybanen up and walked back down. It was icy and slippy all the way down as I was there in February, but I love the cold weather – the walk back down was extremely scenic and I walked leisurely so it took me around 35-40 minutes. The views are magnificent from the top. Truly sensational – you can stare down at the pure beauty of Bergen. Extra tip: do a few of the walking trails as you might just fun into a few fake trolls.

“It’s all too beautiful” – The Small Faces — by M.People

 Lille Lungegardsvatnet (Frozen Pond): This pond which I cannot pronounce sits in the middle of a leafy park in the city centre, completely frozen when I was there in the winter.

Lille Lungegardsvatnet (Frozen Pond)

Lille Lungegardsvatnet (Frozen Pond). The actual park that it sits in is worth a walk around too.

Lille Lungegardsvatnet (Frozen Pond)

Pingvinen Restaurant and Bar: For a textbook Norwegian Fish Feast and a good old beer, head to “the Penguin” Pingvinen Bar — Splash out and treat yourself here. They change their menu daily but the impressive range of beers (local and foreign) remains constant.

My fish stew and Beer in Pingvinen, Bergen, Norway.

My fish stew and Beer in Pingvinen, Bergen, Norway.

Bergenhus Fortress: You can get your sample of history and battle when you visit Bergenhus Fortress, which is a few minutes walk along the harbour past Bryggen. The fortress is massive but now seems surrounded by ships on the harbour side and housing on the city side.

Bergenhus Fortress, Bergen, Norway

Bergenhus Fortress, Bergen, Norway

It contains buildings dating as far back as the 1240s, as well as later constructions built more recently as World War II. In medieval times, the area of the present-day Bergenhus Fortress was known as Holmen (which means “the islet”) and contained the royal residence in Bergen, as well as a cathedral, several churches, the bishop’s residence, and a Dominican monastery. The highlight for me though was Rosenkrantz Tower, part of the Royal Castle.

Rosenkrantz Tower, Bergenhus Fortress

Rosenkrantz Tower, Bergenhus Fortress

Vagen Harbour: Bryggen UNESCO world heritage site over shadows the equally pretty harbour it sits facing. Boats come and go here all the time since there are routes to England and Scotland. It’s known as Vagen Harbour.

Vagen Harbour, Bergen, Norway

Vagen Harbour, Bergen, Norway

Torget Fish market is worth a walk through, predictably it does reek of fish! At the end of the pier in the centre there is a statue of Shetlands Leif Larsen. A famous Norwegian sailor and army member who helped prevent a German Siege in the Second World War.

Vagen Harbour, Bergen, Norway

Larsen statue in Vagen Harbour, Bergen, Norway

St. Mary’s Church: When you’re traveling in Norway, it’s important to remember the religion in this part of the world. It’s mostly Lutheran — my favorite was St. Mary’s Church but the most touristic one is Bergen Cathedral which has a massive green dome. Below is a photo of St. Mary’s Church which is really close to Bryggen. Notably Bergen has a high population of Polish and Iraqi immigrants.

Local Neighbourhoods: I enjoyed the local neighbourhood housing in a few parts of the city. The hilly streets ohave fantastic views and are typical of Norwegian street life.

Local neighbourhood housing.

Local neighbourhood housing.

Local neighbourhood housing.

Also on the way back down from Mount Floyen, I dandered round the poky back streets and loved the colour of the buildings, the design and the art.

Local neighbourhood housing in Bergen

Local neighbourhood housing in Bergen

Local neighbourhood housing in Bergen

Bergen is one of the prettiest cities I’ve been in for awhile — it’s also the gateway to the Fjords. I headed to Voss and then to Gudvangen and sailed through the fjords to Flam. I’d recommend it in Winter – a gorgeous city.

 Main photo credit from Reddit.

China’s Yangshuo in Guangxi, Known for its Surreal & Luscious Green Hills

August 4, 2015 by  

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Even the most touristic towns and cities in China continue to be epic and inspirational. I’ve mentioned many times before that China is probably the best country in the world to feel remote and off the beaten path. This is what you dreamed of China to be like before you ventured here, even in popular Yangshuo where a smoggy sky gapes down on a town hidden beneath limestone peaks. Food vendors sell snails, pizza, rice and seaweed in equal portions as you work your way through one of the most touristic towns in China. You pinch yourself time and time again. You’re really here and it’s all too beautiful.

Aerial picture of fields and peaks in Yangshuo, China (photo credit travel.nationalgeographic.com)

Our trip to Yangshuo started from the city of Guilin in the Guangxi Province. Guilin can seem modern and changing, like any big Chinese city and it houses a whopping 4.7 million. I ponder on that factoid in disbelief for a second but we leave the city’s monstrosity behind for another day in the lifestyle. As our bus veers its way down hills and valleys and past UNESCO listed limestone peaks, I sip on a beer and I know life is bloody good.

I couldn’t even tell you where we were going at the time. Time is of no element and we drift through endless unknown villages. My maps are all in Chinese, my girlfriend is by my side and we lap up the beauty of the bus trip before we arrive in sleepy spiritual Yangshuo.

Downtown Yangshuo

Downtown Yangshuo

These days, Yangshuo’s popularity as a tourist hub to the non-Chinese is clear for all to see. In fact, most China holidays and tours now offer exquisite jaunts to the Guangxi Province and include Yangshuo on lots of itineraries. The Guangxi “Province” is actually an Autonomous region of China. It’s one of the Provinces I initially dismissed and assumed to be too mainstream for me but I couldn’t be more wrong. The mainstream is actually the river through the town and its breathtaking.

Bamboo Rafting in Yangshuo

Bamboo Rafting in Yangshuo

Bamboo Rafting

We had a bamboo rafting experience on the YuLong River and it remains one of the most recommended activities in the region. While the rivers pass through the town, you’ll need a few buses to get out here to start your trip.

Bamboo rafting on the Yulong River near Yangshuo

Once you are sailing down the YuLong or the Li River without a care in the world, you will feel the magic.

Views from our bamboo boat trying to find the 20 Yuan note background

Views from our bamboo boat trying to find the 20 Yuan note background…

Actually the slow boat through China

Tandem Cycling

On a few of my China adventures I’ve loved the random cycling experiences through unknown towns and villages. On a wet day after the rafting we decided to cycle back to Yangshuo instead of getting a bus and it was incredible.

tandem cycling in China's Yangshuo

It was a very wet day as we made our way from the YuLong River to Yangshuo. The best thing about it is you are in control and can stop and admire the beauty of China all around you.

Cycling in Yangshuo, China

Night Markets and West Street

Yangshuo is famous for its night scene these days and the West Street is popular at night for markets, restaurants and cafes. It was here on West Street where I tried the pan fried snails.

Moon Hill

Moon Hill is so called because of its unusual looking arch like a moon. It takes about 20 minutes to climb up to the arch itself. Some people want to head right to the top, which is a tougher route but obviously better views. The Guilin region Karsts that we visited are part of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list, of which there are over 1,000 of apparently.

Moon Hill in dreamy Yangshuo

Top photo credit: travel.nationalgeographic.com 

 

A Nose Dive Into Denmark’s Helsingor, a Hamlet’s Town

July 31, 2015 by  

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Backpacking in Denmark: Exploring Helsingor, Hamlet's Town

My latest Denmark adventure was a surprise. I had first visited the Danish capital Copenhagen back in 2006. Nearly ten years later, I toured the capital city of Copenhagen again, delve into the mysterious enigmatic wonders of the Freetown of Christiania and visited the magical town of Helsingor. Hamlet’s Town.

The streets of Helsingor, Denmark

The streets of Helsingor, Denmark

To get to Helsingor, there are three options – land, sea and air. By land from Copenhagen, you’re only 45 minutes away on the train.

Arrival in Helsingor just off the ferry from Helsingborg

Arrival in Helsingor off the ferry from Helsingborg

We decided to get the ferry across to Helsingor from the Swedish town of Helsingborg. The distance is only 828 metres and only takes 20 minutes. Once you arrive off the ferry into Helsingor, everything you want to see in the town is easily walkable. A few notable things worth seeing:

1. Kronborg Castle (Hamlet’s Castle)
The main attraction in Helsingor is obvious when you arrive. The magnificent Kronborg Castle sits by the harbour on the end of the peninsula and is hard to miss. This Castle is one of the top sights in Denmark, so it’s very touristy of course. We visited in February on a cold snowy day though and loved it – barely a tourist in sight.

Faster than a cannonball at Kronborg Castle

Faster than a cannonball at Kronborg Castle

Denmark flag at Kronborg Castle

Denmark flag at Kronborg Castle

Church at Kronborg Castle

Church at Kronborg Castle

Touring Kronborg Castle

Touring Kronborg Castle

Kronborg Castle has been covered on countless sites and magazines over the years so if you’ve read anything about the area, you’ll know that it is officially known as Kronborg Slot and was called Elsinore Castle in the Shakespeare play Hamlet. Due to its strategic position at the mouth of the Oresund and the border between Sweden and Denmark, the location is of high importance and was once the place where boats were checked for customs entering the strait. You can walk all around the outside of Kronborg Castle or go inside and take a guided tour.

Walking to Kronborg Castle

Walking to Kronborg Castle

Entrance to Kronborg Castle

Entrance to Kronborg Castle

Touring Kronborg Castle - Hamlet's Castle

Touring Kronborg Castle – Hamlet’s Castle

2. Kultur Verftet
On your way to Kronborg Castle, you will pass by a seafront exhibition centre where there are coffee shops, a library, wifi and concerts and during some months there is a free guided tour. Cool and modern but an anti-climax compared to Kronborg which is the main event.

backpacking helsingor denmark

Kultur Verftet in Helsingor Denmark

3. Axeltorv (Trading Square)
When you see the Axeltorv Square in downtown Helsingor, the history of it might easily escape you. There used to be a farm in the inner city centre but it burned down to the ground in 1684 and so the locals decided to build a square here. It became a trading square for merchants and farmers and of course now has a lot of restaurants on it.

Axeltorv Square

Axeltorv Square

4. The Little Merboy
You might have been to Copenhagen and seen this really small statue of a Little Mermaid with hundreds of tourists (myself included) taking selfies next to it? In Helsingor, there’s a silver naked guy right by the harbour. It’s shiny and he even has a set of silver balls and eerie eyes! I’ll also be honest that I made the name “The Little Merboy” up…..

The Little MerBoy

The Little MerBoy

5. Vaerftsmuseet (The People’s Museum)
The People’s Museum is small and entry is free, so it’s worth a look around. It gives a history into the people of Helsingor and has a focus on ships and the importance of the harbour.

Vaerftsmuseet (The People's Museum)

Vaerftsmuseet (The People’s Museum)

6. Lego
Following my visit to Legoland in Windsor, England, every time I’m in Denmark I love to check out the Lego for sale in the shops.

Getting my Lego browsing fix in Helsingor, Denmark

Getting my Lego browsing fix in Helsingor, Denmark

7. Danish Cheese
Personally, I think Danish cheese is the best cheese in the world. I simply adore Danish blue and have yet to find a cheese in Denmark that I don’t like. I

The cheese shop in Helsingor, Denmark

10. Kobenhavneren: Old Danish Pub

When Daniel and I are together, beers are often involved. We wanted to find an authentic Danish style bar in the town and the Kobenhavneren: Old Danish Pub seems to be the pick of them. They have beer containers on the walls and decent Danish lager but it is a bit of an old man’s pub and can get smoky!

Kobenhavneren: Old Danish Pub

Kobenhavneren: Old Danish Pub

Beer containers in Kobenhavneren: Old Danish Pub

Beer containers in Kobenhavneren: Old Danish Pub and Beers in Strandborg bar

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Danish-US style burger

 

A List of Must Do Activities in New Zealand

July 29, 2015 by  

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Backpacking in New Zealand: Top 20 Memories

I’ve been to New Zealand twice and both times to this disconnected country were enchanting, exhilarating, non-stop and yet over far too quickly.  New Zealand was the first country in Oceania that I visited, some two years before I even landed in Australia.  Both times, I traveled alone, often without purpose. It might be one of the furthest countries away from your hometown (as it was for me) but this list will hopefully convince you that it’s worth investing in some flights to New Zealand. It’s a country just aching to be visited by everyone. Here’s my personal top 20, though a top 100 could easily have been concocted.

“You’ll never see the end of the road when you’re travelling with me ” – Neil Finn (Crowded House).

Bungy Jumping in Auckland, North Island

I had just checked into my hotel in Auckland, jet lagged to the hilt and was asked if I fancied going on a bus tour of Auckland the next day, including the option to do a bungy jump. Why not?

Bungy Jumping off Auckland Harbour bridge in 2007

Breathtaking and transformative at best.

Bungy jumping in Auckland

Glow Worms Trek, Franz Josef Township, South Island

On my second visit to New Zealand, I headed to the west side of the South Island and ended up in Franz Josef for a few nights where I met some fellow travelers who joined me on a glow worm trek. Into the night, we headed with torches through the rain to catch evening shots of glow worms.

Climbing Mount Maunganui, North Island

Steve, Flavia and I walking up Mount Manganui

Mount Maunganui was a highlight as you can see from the views.

Amazing views from the top of Mount Manganui

“Sometimes you need to turn the wrong way round” – Neil Finn

Amazing views from the top of Mount Manganui

Palmerston North “Suicide Capital Tour”, North Island

Most people go backpacking in New Zealand to stay happy and tick off stuff on their Phuket List.  Palmerston North was once described by Basil Fawlty as “the suicide capital of New Zealand” so I made a beeline for it.

Touring the suicide capital of Palmerston North

Touring the suicide capital of Palmerston North

As I dandered through the town centre of Palmerston North, I realized how much I loved it. It’s a great city full of colour and vibrance and off the standard travelers list. Basil Fawlty might have been cool, but he was wrong.

“Dust from a distant sun will shower over everyone” – Neil Finn

A colourful building in Palmerston North

A colourful building in Palmerston North

Waihi Gold Mines, North Island

Together with friends Steve and Flavia, we drove to explore the Waihi Gold Mines, which was a real treat. On a road in the middle of nowhere are these massive mines and loads of information and machinery to go with it.

A massive truck at Waihi Gold Mines.

“Either side of the world, chase the sun. Pay the maximum rate to feel so lonesome.” – Neil Finn

Amazing views at Waihi Gold Mines.

Amazing views at Waihi Gold Mines.

The Other Belfast

I boarded a local bus in Christchurch bound for Belfast and on the bus a guy from Belfast (the New Zealand one) notices my Northern Ireland football shirt. It turns out he has family from Londonderry and spent some time in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland!

Even cooler, after explaining to me some sights to see in Belfast, Sam invited me into his pub for a beer – Robbie’s Bar – where we posed with the Belfast flag! The other one.

Sam and I in Robbie's Bar, Belfast, New Zealand

Running with the Unicorns, Wellington, North Island

Have you ever been to Wellington? Yes. Have you ever been to Mighty Mighty nightclub? Yes. Have you ever gone running with unicorns? Yes. Truly bizarre but in a nightclub that has a table tennis table on the dancefloor (with no winner – just hit the ball as you circle) you run around and around with a bunch of people dressed as unicorns. Yes, really.

People with blue hair and we are running with unicorns

Interislander Ferry, South to North Island

The best way to travel within the two islands of New Zealand is on the Interislander ferry between Picton and Wellington. Having spent a brave length of time working on the ferries in England, France and the Channel Islands, this was dreamlike journey.

South Westland Salmon Farm, South Island

Fishing is significant in New Zealand and in the remote south west corner of the South Island, I visited a salmon farm. Yes, a custom built indoor pool where they make sure there were salmon in reproduction to be caught and sold.

Touring the salmon farm in the south island

Seeing the Kiwi Bird, Rotorua, North Island

I visited the Kiwi bird in a special enclosure on the edge of Rotorua with travelers I met on the road. No photos inside of course and they are nocturnal.

Kiwi Centre - Backpacking in Rotorua, New Zealand

Paragliding over Queenstown, South Island

Queenstown is the world home of the bungy jump — I felt like a bit of Paragliding was needed when I traveled through Queenstown!

Paragliding over Queenstown, New Zealand

Pohutu Geysir, North Island

This is the most prominent geysir in the volcanic area.

Touring geysirs in volcanic Rotorua

Hamilton Gardens, North Island

Sometimes you just want to sit in nature, write and have a cup of tea. After the madness of Sky Diving and Bungy Jumping, I spent a couple of days in Hamilton. It was here where I relaxed by Hamilton Gardens.

Backpacking in Hamilton New Zealand

Sky Diving in Lake Taupo, North Island

Ahhh yes, the day I sky dived over Lake Taupo. I remember all the details of a mad day in Taupo.  So worth doing – consider it a transformative travel experience at best.

Sky diving over Taupo, North Island

Tamaki Maori Village, Tamaki, North Island

This country is Aotearoa in Maori, not New Zealand. The natives were here long before the British came in and it’s highly important to know and respect their culture. I headed to the Tamaki Maori Village in the North Island for a Maori performance and some Hangi food. It was another fantastic memory where they make me perform a dance and ritual in an old school custom built Maori Village by a fire. I was leader of my pack and got a souvenir to keep.

Franz Josef Glacier Hike, South Island

The Franz Josef Glacier Day Hike was brilliant and strange at the same time but oh so very beautiful every step of the way.

On the glacier hike on an icy cold day in Franz Josef in 2010

Zorbing, Rotorua, North Island

Zorbing (rolling down the hill in a huge ball) is a fun and exhilarating thing to do.

Jonny Blair zorbing in New Zealand

New Zealand micronations – Theocratic Unitary States of Holy Gearlist

– 4 Micronations – I’m very keen to check out the 4 Micronations that border or have bordered New Zealand:

1. Soviet Socialist Union of the Wakatipu (no longer active but the location is still there)
2. The Republic of Frigus
3. The Republic of Meropis
4. Theocratic Unitary States of Holy Gearlist (no longer active but the location is still there)

The boot at the Gumboot Manor

The boot at the Gumboot Manor, Taihape, New Zealand

People always ask me if I prefer the South Island or the North Island, but I think that’s unfair on Stewart Island, which is the real south island. The truth is that while the South Island is beautiful, the North Island held more interest for me — travel for me is more about meeting people than it is about hiking mountains. Yes, the South Island has better scenery but my best moments from this country remain in the north.

The Ever So Quaint Town of Hampshire England

July 24, 2015 by  

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Backpacking in England: Top 5 Sights in Hampshire

When I look back at my time living in Bournemouth, I have fond memories of my travels to nearby parts of England. Most of these places I have yet to write about and so here we are.. I toured Devon, Hampshire, Sussex, Dorset and much further afield, sometimes on football trips, other times on my own. Here are five cool things to check out in Hampshire, the county that borders Dorset.

The New Forest

I toured the New Forest frequently over a six year period of my life where I was based in the south of England. I loved the natural appeal of it. You can go for walks through the forest and search for beavers, you can spend a night in pet-friendly holiday cottages in Hampshire and you can ride a donkey at Brockenhurst, feed a pony or have a pint of English bitter in a local country pub. Hampshire is as traditionally English as they come.

Feeding a pony in the New Forest

Feeding a pony in the New Forest

The Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

In the city of Portsmouth near the docks, you can head to the impressive Spinnaker Tower. It almost looks like it should be in Dubai with its design.

Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth

This tower was opened in 2005 and has just done a deal to be re-named the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.

View from the top of Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth

View from the top of Spinnaker Tower, Portsmouth.

The Red Lion Pub, Southampton

I’ve had many nights out in Southampton over the years especially when I managed the rock band the Waves years ago. I used to love the pub life in Southampton but a true stand out is the Red Lion Pub. This pub not only is the oldest pub in England, but it has a talking parrot! Apparently there is a resident ghost of an ex-barmaid too and lots of interesting facts on the walls to read.

The famous Red Lion pub in Southampton

The famous Red Lion pub in Southampton

Fratton Park, Portsmouth

Home of the 2008 FA Cup winners (and losing finalists in 2010), Fratton Park is the best football stadium in Hampshire. The team here, Portsmouth FC are nicknamed “Pompey” and they enjoyed 7 seasons in the top flight before being relegated. They have had a fall from grace and now play in Division Four (League Two) but their fans remain some of the best supporters in England.

They have a big rivalry with fellow south coast team S**thampton and a mini rivalry with my own team, AFC Bournemouth.

Former Capital of England, Winchester

No trip to Hampshire can be complete without visiting Winchester, the former capital city of England. Winchester is a beautiful and iconic English county town. My first memories of Winchester were with my family on a holiday in the late 80s where we had pizza by the river and won a pub quiz and stayed in a country style B and B!

The pretty river in idyllic Winchester, Hampshire

The pretty river in idyllic Winchester, Hampshire. As well as once being the capital of England, Winchester is commonly described as the ancient capital of Wessex – its charming streets show no sign of aging and the Buttercross monument is as pristine as ever.

A serious fire in the city in 1141, during the Route of Winchester accelerated its decline as a powerful city in the country but the legacy remains and it’s a top notch spot. It’s still off the backpacking trail too as there doesn’t seem to be a hostel in town. I hope you enjoyed this quick fire top 5 for Hampshire.

 

Welcome to the Historic Borough of Poole in England

July 12, 2015 by  

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Backpacking in England: Top 5 Sights in Poole, Dorset

Truth be told, I have spent a lot of my adult life in England and each time I return, I love to tour new parts and revisit old haunts. In the last year, I went through Liverpool, Birmingham, Windsor, Sunderland, Christchurch and London and also delved into the Empire of Austenasia.

I spent the best part of 6 years living and working in Bournemouth and Poole. For me, Poole and Bournemouth go hand in hand – the two towns are linked, to the point where the border at “County Gates” goes un-noticed. One house on one side of the road is in Poole, the other is in the Mouth.

The entrance sign to Poole at Westbourne, County Gates (This photo was taken from Bournemouth)

The entrance sign to Poole at Westbourne, County Gates (note: this shot was taken from Bournemouth). Poole isn’t written about much in travel magazines or blogs, so here is a quick top 5 guide to start you off in this traditional English coastal town.

Poole Park

Spectacularly unknown to travelers yet frequented by locals, Poole Park is a relaxing place to enjoy walks or indulge in sport. Bizarrely there used to be a zoo here featuring a Himalayan Black Bear (OK so that closed in the 1990s). Nowadays, the facilities in Poole Park include children’s play areas, tennis courts, a bowling green and of course a massive lake.

Poole Park - the lake

Poole Town Cricket Club have their cricket field and pavilion inside the park grounds. Water sport activities mostly sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, rowing and model yacht racing take place on the lake, typically in summer.

Sandbanks

In an area renowned for state-of-the-art housing, Sandbanks is a good spot for a tourist as well. It is a small peninsula by the coast. In the summer, the cove and bay here also has windsurfers on it and the strip of swanky houses and beaches looks magnificent from above.

You can play crazy golf or eat in a range of restaurants and bars on the Sandbanks Strip. It’s not quite Vegas, but it’s the spot of choice for famous football managers like Harry Redknapp and Tony Pulis. Its reputation is well known, which is why Sandbanks has the fourth highest land value in the world by area. I’ve had a few sneaky pints in Sandbanks over the years but yet to meet anyone famous.

Sandbanks from above

Sandbanks from above

Poole Harbour and Poole Quay

I used to work on the cross channel ferries that run from Poole to St. Peter Port in Guernsey, St. Malo in France and Cherbourg. Poole harbour is massive and includes the main ferry terminal as well as the place for smaller boats and yachts at Poole Quay.

Poole Quay

Poole Quay is great for a pub crawl and sunset watching. Friends Neil, Jody and I enjoyed an epic pub crawl there now over ten years ago.

Jody Casey Neil Macey and Jonny Blair in Poole in 2004

Boat owners dock here and stay the night in the harbour and have a few beers. There’s a guide for solo cruisers for those wanting to check about anchoring their boats or yachts in and around Poole.

Poole Harbour

Poole Town Centre

There’s something traditionally English about Poole town centre and it feels like the genuine article. Old poky pubs, Falkland square, greasy chippies and a few prominent buildings such as Poole Guildhall and Churches.

Falkland Square, Poole

Falkland Square, Poole & Poole Guildhall

Poole Guildhall

Brownsea Island

Back in 2008, I headed on a boat to Brownsea Island, which is a nature reserve island off the coast of Poole. It was actually meant to be a meeting for the South of England Northern Ireland Supporters Club. But it turned into a bit of sightseeing as we toured the island, met some peacocks, had a drink and visited the church.

Getting the Brownsea Island ferry

Getting the Brownsea Island ferry

Brownsea Island is controlled by the National Trust and is one of very few islands in the UK that you have pay to enter. After getting the ferry off, you’ll have to pay the island fee. No passport stamps though – you’re still in England!

Brownsea Island ferry terminal

Brownsea Island ferry terminal

Animal Spotting at the Serengeti National Park

July 7, 2015 by  

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lions serengeti

If you haven’t bee on a safari, it’s magical, especially in East Africa where animals are in abundance. I went on a safari in Tanzania with Shadows of Africa through the Serengeti National Park and truth be told, the Serengeti is one of the most famous jungles and national parks in the world. Having already seen Tarangire National Park, it was time to drive through Ngorongoro Crater and into the Serengeti.

After a restful sleep at the Osupoku Lodge, we headed out on jeeps with our guide Timo and headed to the Serengeti National Park, which passes through the Ngorongoro Crater National Park to get to the other side.  Once inside the Crater, it was a misty drive up before it eventually cleared in the Serengeti. We saw some giraffes on the way and of course, those dreamy African views and skies that take you to another world.

Ngorongoro Crater

Ngorongoro Crater

First giraffe of the day on route to the Serengeti

Above, the first giraffe of the day en route to the Serengeti. At the entrance, there is a small walking trail offering decent views and introductions to the park.  After registering our jeep, it was time for some animal watching before the sun would sink for the day and animal spotting we did, from giraffes and leopards to hyenas and lions.

The Serengeti goes on for miles - it's huge!

The Serengeti goes on for miles, covering some 15,000 square kilometres. Learning about the animals is not quite as fascinating as seeing them, but background knowledge only adds to the experience. Did you know that a hyena was a scavenger?

Our jeep in the Serengeti

Our jeep in the Serengeti. Must brings include a notepad, binoculars, water and camera gear with zoom lenses of course.

Our first hyena spotting

Our first hyena spotting. My personal highlight from the first day in the Serengeti was seeing leopards in a tree with a Thompson’s Gazelle they had hunted down.

Leopards in a tree

We also saw lots of Wildebeests, of which there are over a million here.

3 of a million wildebeests

3 of a million wildebeests. There were some other real surprises too, including spotting a cheetah hiding in the dense grass, below.

Can you spot the Cheetah??

Can you spot the Cheetah??

Animal spotting was becoming a competitive game of banter between my colleagues Annette, Raymond and myself.  I must admit, I’m not very good at it. During the trip, I once confused a cow for a boar and also claimed I saw 5 leopards in a tree. When we pulled over to check, it turned out it was just branches and leaves! My phantom leopards had scarpered. Other animals of note on Day 1 included ostriches and tons of tropical birds.

An ostrich in the Serengeti

An ostrich in the Serengeti

One of many birds from  day 1

It had been a tremendous introduction to the Serengeti and Timo drove us through the rough and tough roads to our campsite for the evening. The sun was just setting on the way to our base and we passed by hyenas and lions again en route.

Pre sunset in the Serengeti

Pre sunset in the Serengeti

We had completed Day 1 of our Serengeti adventure and we retired to our luxury tents for a nights sleep while wild hyenas and gazelles roamed outside.

camping in serengeti

Cheers! Raymond and I enjoying beers on our first night  in The Serengeti, Tanzania

 

* I was on safari in Africa as a guest on a media tour with Shadows of Africa.

 

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