About 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
When traveling in Norway, time of year actually impacts your experience. Winter is low season and I may be the oddball out that simply loves winter weather. The extreme snow and ice make the landscape beautiful in Winter, especially lovely in the tranquil town of Voss.
In Summer months I imagined that Voss would be loaded with tourists. It’s a small town but a good stop over place and if you plan to visit Gudvangen or Flam, so it’s highly likely you’ll at least pass through Voss at some point. It’s on the main train route between Oslo and Bergen too.
Voss in Norway
I had a morning here before heading out to tour the Fjords and I recommend this quick fire top 5 (it excludes the hikes around the town by the way).
Dawn breaking in Voss, Norway
A cliched thing to do is head down by the Lake and get your photo taken by the Voss sign. The beautiful mountains in behind are simply magnificent. It looked breathtaking in winter.
The Voss sign and my travelling Northern Ireland flag.
Voss Kulturhus is as it sounds – a Culture House. Inside this complex is also a library and a cafe but the museum and cultural rooms explain the history of Voss.
Voss Church – Vangskyrkja. The church was built in 1271 – 1277, is still in use and one of the main sights in the town.
Voss Lake is located behind the town, but of course in winter it was completely frozen over and you could stumble on it and not even realize its a lake.
Fleischer Hotel had the friendliest staff and cosiest lounge I could have hoped for.
The Fleischer Hotel in Voss, Norway
After Voss, I headed by bus to the village of Gudvangen where I embarked on my fjords tour. Norway was a simply magnificent country to travel through.
When traveling in Mexico, sooner or later you will try tequila and mezcal. You might not know the difference, how it’s made or why there are thousands of different kinds. One of the best ways to understand it all is to head to the museum in Mexico City and learn from the experts.
“Tequila it makes me happy” – Terrorvision
Mexico City is a gaping never ending metropolis, a city built on a lake. Luckily, the Tequila Museum is fairly central and is conveniently situated in Garibaldi Square. The museum has three floors so it makes sense for me to split this short review into floors.
The first floor features two rooms; the first room has videos showing the production process from harvesting agave plants until it reaches your mouth.
There is a massive map of Mexico showing where the agave plants all are located.
The important thing to note here is that the drink can only be called tequila if it comes from the tequila region of Mexico…in the same way that champagne is from the Champagne region of France.
There is a full cabinet in the same room displaying hundreds of full bottles of tequila in many styles and varieties!
The top floor is where the terrace bar and restaurant is and it is here where you use your voucher to get a free sample.
Preparing for the tequila tasting.
With no one on the roof, we drank alone and enjoyed both tequila and mezcal samples. There’s a great view from the top floor over Mexico City, but then again not as good as the viewpoint from some bars, restaurants and the Torre Latinoamericana of course.
View over Mexico City
I finally made it to Norway and ended my trip in Oslo where I spent most of my money at a pub with Norwegian traveller Gunnar Garfors who has visited all 198 countries in the world. Here are some useful sights and activities for your planning list.
Oslo City Hall – absolutely loved it. From the outside its dominate and grand and from the inside, it is artistically magnificent.
They hold the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony here.
Askershus Fortress is a castle on the harbour which dates back to the 1290′s. Below, inside Askershus Fortress, Oslo
Askershus Fortress, Oslo
Oslo Cathedral – churches don’t dominate Norway the way they do in Denmark, Sweden, Finland or Estonia but Oslo Cathedral is prominent and at the time of my visit, was being renovated.
Norwegian Parliament – Norway is one of the most expensive countries in Europe, also one of the richest and also a country which needs skilled workers in certain industries and it pays well.
Norwegian Parliament buildings, Oslo.
Oslo Opera and Ballet Theatre: the grandeur of Opera and Ballet in Scandinavia has progressed through the decades and inspires the epic new building down by the harbour, opened as recently as 2008.
The fantastic Norwegian Ballet and Opera building.
The Royal Palace: sitting triumphantly at the top of what could be Oslo’s “golden mile” is the Royal Palace.
Ulleval Stadium: Norwegian football has only taken off in the last 25 years, they made their first World Cup in 1994 and in the 1998 World Cup they even beat Brazil and won their group. The Ulleval Stadium is where the national team play and it’s a bit of the city on the metro line 6 (red line) to Ulleval Stadium.
Frogner Park is actually the number one tourist sight in Oslo – essentially a massive park full of statues. In fact it’s the largest park of statues in the world made by one artist- Gustav Vigeland.
The angry boy with his willy out.
One of the most famous statues is the “angry boy” or “willy boy” statue which takes a while to find and is smaller in real life than you’d expect having seen the photos. It’s on one of the main bridges in the park.
Frogner Park, Oslo, Norway.
Frogner Park, Oslo, Norway.
Frogner Park, Oslo, Norway.
Nobel Peace Prize Centre: of personal interest was the Nobel Peace Prize Centre, having helped with a Northern Irish election campaign back in my days at Belvoir Tech in Belfast in 1998, it was nice to see the reminders of David Trimble and John Hume. Two Northern Irishmen who made strides for peace in my country back in 1998.
Nobel Peace Prize Centre in Oslo
Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize Winners – David Trimble and John Hume, 1998
And lastly, a must visit is The Munchmuseet, which is the famous museum of Edvard Munch who is well known for the painting “The Scream”.
The post Backpacking in Norway: Top 10 Sights in Oslo appeared first on Don’t Stop Living.
I discovered the Clarion Collection Hotel Christiania Teater near Stortingsgata, just past the parliament in Oslo and in front of a massive square and park. The hotel was a perfect way for me to celebrate Norway, my 99th country — here are a few things to love about this hotel.
Spacious Rooms and Bathrooms
View Over the Park - by night and day, relax and take in the view over the park. By day, ice skating and tourists, by night a few people out and about ready to hit the bars and pubs.
The park by night
Sunset from my room
Reliable WiFi and Computer Use
Theatre Ambiance: I have stayed in some unusually themed places over the years, such as the Hemingway Inn in Costa Rica, an English Country Mansion, a Prison in Slovenia and a Boat anchored in Antarctica but this was my first time sleeping in a theatre.
Front entrance to the Theatre
Breakfast Buffet: after a good nights sleep I awoke for the breakfast buffet and the selection was vast. From breakfast cereals like muesli and cornflakes to dried fruit, fresh bread, salad, cheese and meat, fruit, tea and coffee, eggs and even waffles.
Afternoon Coffee: coffee with fruit and muffins are served every afternoon between 3 and 6 pm.
Dinner Buffet – loved their dinner buffet. While I was there, I sampled the five courses: Spicy vegetable soup with sour cream and bread, Pasta and vegetable salad, Cheese and crackers, fresh Norwegian fish and vegetables and Chocolate mousse and cream with coffee.
Central City Centre Location: the Clarion Christiania Teater is a mere two minutes walk from the Teater Metro station, with the following key attractions in the city all less than 5 minutes walk: City Hall, Royal Palace, Nobel Peace Prize Museum, Parliament, Askershus Fortress and Castle.
Oslo City Hall
Tea, coffee and kettle
Overlooking the street
Hospitality – top notch, Scandinavian style.
Clarion Collection Hotel Christiania Teater
Stortingsgata 16, 0161 Oslo, Norge
Phone: +47 21043800
Romania is a fantastic destination for anyone interested in seeing Dracula’s Castle, aka Bran Castle in Transylvania and having an adventure in vampirial culture. Inspired of course by Irish Writer Bram Stoker who rose to fame after his novels on Dracula.
Bran Castle, situated near Bran and in the immediate vicinity of Braşov, is a national monument and landmark in Romania. The fortress is situated on the border between Transylvania and Wallachia, on DN73. Commonly known as “Dracula’s Castle” (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend, including Poenari Castle and Hunyad Castle), it is marketed for resale in 2014 as the home of the titular character in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
There is, however, no evidence that Stoker knew anything about this castle, which has only tangential associations with Vlad III, voivode of Wallachia, the putative inspiration for Dracula. As discovered by the Dutch author Hans Corneel de Roos, the location Bram Stoker actually had in mind for Castle Dracula while writing his novel was an empty mountain top, Mount Izvorul Călimanului, (6,670 ft) high, located in the Transylvanian Călimani Alps near the former border with Moldavia.
Below is Dracula Beer in the town of Bran.
Who is the real Dracula? Legend has it that Vlad Tepes is the man that Dracula is based upon and most go along with this theory so we will stick with it. You will see his statue and head bust around parts of Romania.
Bran is in Transylvania in rural mountainous Romania. It’s a truly gorgeous spot.
The town of Bran itself is sometimes where travelers spend a night and aside from the castle, there are churches, a market, some monuments and lots of decent bars, cafes and restaurants to explore.
The highlight of any trip to Bran is Bran Castle.
Top photo credit only: Bran-Castle.com.
Lake Orumiyeh (also Orumieh or Urmia) in northwestern Iran is one of the world’s largest landlocked salt lakes, but it is shrinking.
Orumiyeh is fed by roughly 60 rivers and streams—some permanent and some ephemeral—that also deliver salts. Because the lake lacks an outlet, those salts accumulate in the basin. As the region’s arid climate evaporates the water, the salts crystalize along the shore.
Before I launch into this I’m just going to mention a list of all the cities, towns, villages and remote places/settlements that we visited during our month in Iran, so you get an idea as to why I still haven’t even covered half of our time there and still need to write about Bazargan, Maku, Tabriz, Orumiyeh, Bandar e Golmaniyeh, Kandovan, Osku, Qazvin, Gazor Khan, Alamut Castle, Tehran, Tarjrish, Zarad Band, Mashhad, Kerman, Kaluts, Rayen, Mahan, Yazd, Chak Chak, Kharanaq, Mesr, Khoor, Khalate Talkh, Bayaziye, Salt Flats near Khoor, Esfahan, Shahr-e Kord, Yaseh Chah, Sadegh Abad, Dakmeh, Shiraz, Persepolis, Marvdasht and Nasqh e Rostam.
Our first few days in Iran, we based ourselves in the city of Tabriz. From here we could do day trips to a load of nearby places and we decided to visit Lake Orumiyeh, famous for being a salt lake and the largest lake in Iran. We also saw some photos of it that made it look like you were in the clouds so we had to visit!
Lake Orumiyeh is a massive salt lake in northwestern Iran near the border with Turkey and Iraq. The lake is between the provinces of East and West Azerbaijan (Iranian provinces – not to be confused with the country, which is separate).
At its full size, Lake Orumiyeh is the largest lake in the Middle East and the sixth largest saltwater lake on earth with a surface area of approximately 5,200 km² (2,000 mile²), 140 km (87 mi) length, 55 km (34 mi) width, and 16 m (52 ft) depth.
Lake Orumiyeh, Iran.
The obvious way is to get to the town of Orumiyeh and head from there. Orumiyeh is close to both the Turkey and Iraq borders, so if you’re coming in overland, you can use it as your first stop in Iran. However we headed first all the way to Tabriz and then to Orumiyeh.
Bus station in Tabriz, Iran.
The bus from Tabriz to Orumiyeh leaves from the main bus station in Tabriz. Just ask around until you find an Orumiyeh bus. In December 2013 it cost us around 60 cents (US).
On the bus to Lake Orumiyeh.
Our map – planning Lake Orumiyeh.
The bus from Tabriz to Orumiyeh.
The journey is memorable as you get a view of the lake as you go past it and across a bridge to the town of Orumiyeh – at points you can see the salt which looks like ice or snow – but it’s not.
The bridge to Lake Orumiyeh.
Most travelers base themselves in Orumiyeh and just visit the lake on a day trip – there are buses in summer season, but we ended up sharing a taxi out there. One thing to note is that the government try not to make it a “tourist attraction” as clearly it’s not meant to be for that purpose, but for a few $US you can get a taxi there and back from Orumiyeh – you’ll have to bargain them down from Orumiyeh station.
Crossing the Bridge to Orumiyeh.
If you’re not keen on the hardcore backpacking adventure to get here, you can always head to the village of Khoor later on, and simply organise a trip to the Salt Flats for sunset – which we also did. I’ll also cover our visit to the lakeside town of Bandar e Golmaniyeh separately.
Gorgeous Lake Orumiyeh in Iran.
Officially standing on the salt is forbidden as the Iranian government protect it and we respected this. Lake Orumiyeh along with its approximately 102 islands are protected as a national park by the Iranian government.
Beautiful Lake Orumiyeh in Iran.
Top photo credit only: earthobservatory.nasa.gov.
Moldova’s Chisinau (previously known as Kishinev) intrigued me, surprised me and overwhelmed me over a four day period in and out of the city, across the border into Tiraspol, Transnistria and a countryside jaunt to Orheiul Vechi and Butuceni.
If you want to travel to Moldova, I’d definitely recommend spending some time in the capital city – I spent three nights there which is ample unless you’re a serious history buff. Chisinau is where you’ll get an insight into the history and culture of the nation. It’s also the biggest city so the easiest place to meet locals and for the socialites out there, it has the best bars in Moldova.
Random art in Chisinau, Moldova.
The city is pronounced Kay She Naow and I arrived after a night train from Bucharest in Romania ready to explore under grey and wet mysterious skies.
Here are my personal 12 easy and cool sights to see in Chisinau’s city centre.
Street statues in Chisinau, Moldova.
Eternal Flame Memorial: The Eternal Flame Memorial is dedicated to the unknown soldiers from Chisinau, Moldova who died in the Second World War. It is housed in a nice park which is worth a walk as you will also see soldiers manning the place and may catch them marching.
Soldiers at the Eternal Flame Memorial.
Piata Centrala (Central Market) – Eastern European cities are not renowned for their central markets compared to the Middle East and Asia, but Chisinau is different. Just off the main street Stefan cel Mare Boulevard you’ll find the truly eclectic and chaotic central market, known as Piata Centrala.
Chisinau’s Piata Centrala – central market.
It is a bustling market that touts a ton of indoor meat, fish and fruit sections and clothes stalls.
Monument to Victims of Stalinist Deportations — outside the main train station in Chisinau is this monument dedicated to those who sadly died under the rule of Stalin in the old USSR.
Monument to victims of Stalinist deportations.
Monument to victims of Stalinist deportations.
GI Kotovski Monument — where Yuri Gagarin Boulevard meets Negruzzi Street, you’ll find a shopping Mall called Atrium and a Casino. In front of it sits the Grigory Ivanovich Kotovski monument. GI Kotovski was an adventurist, Soviet military and political figure and a participant in the Russian Civil War. He was also a Russian gangster and bank robber and later a member of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union. Below, Kotovski sits on a horse.
GI Kotovski statue.
Liberation Monument — outside the swanky looking Chisinau Hotel, on a prominent corner you’ll notice the Liberation Monument. This memorial commemorates the Soviet liberation of Moldova in August 1944.
The Liberation Monument.
Town Hall – Moldova’s main street Stefan cel Mare Boulevard is drenched with stunning architecture. The Soviet times brought some significant buildings, which these days are largely used for local government. The Town Hall jumps out at you, but all along the boulevard you’ll also be admiring the historical buildings.
Town Hall in Chisinau, Moldova.
Stunning architecture on Chisinau’s main boulevard.
Parliament Buildings – Moldova has been a separate republic since 1991, after the break up of the Soviet Union. The city since became known as Chisinau.
Stefan cel Mare si Sfant – you’ll notice Stefan cel Mare’s name brandished around in this corner of the world, so sooner or later you’ll ask someone who the hell he is. He has a statue in the public gardens and the main street in the city is named after him.
Stefan cel Mare statue in Chisinau, Moldova.
Stefan cel Mare is also known as Stephen III (of Moldavia) and Stephen the Great and Holy. He was the Prince of the Principality of Moldova between 1457 and 1504, and the most prominent representative of the House of Mușat. During his reign, he strengthened Moldova and maintained its independence against the ambitions of Hungary, Poland, and the Ottoman Empire, which all sought to subdue the land.
Stephen achieved fame in Europe for his long resistance against the Ottomans. He was victorious in 46 of his 48 battles, and was one of the first to gain a decisive victory over the Ottomans at the Battle of Vaslui, so it is no wonder that Moldova are proud of his achievements. Without Stefan cel Mare’s victories back in the day, it’s likely the current country of Moldova wouldn’t exist.
Stefan cel Mare Boulevard.
Triumphal Arch – Pyongy has one, Paris has one, Vientiane has one and bang – Chisinau can say the same with it’s Triumphal Arch, which is fairly close to the Parliament Building and opposite the Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity.
The triumphal arch in Chisinau.
Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity – I loved the fact that this extremely beautiful church is in a really leafy park bang in the city centre, yet there wasn’t a tourist in sight.
Selfie at Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity.
Chisinau’s Cathedral of Christ’s Nativity.
Dinamo Stadium – this is not the national football stadium in Chisinau, Moldova – that belongs to FC Zimbru on the edge of town (I saw it only from the bus) and it is also NOT the stadium that used to be the national stadium – that one is the Republic Stadium which has been allowed to overgrow and is now a sight for sore eyes sadly. Still, I headed to check out the Dinamo Stadium as I have to visit at least one football stadium per country – it’s a given.
A wet day at Dinamo Stadion.
Moldovan Orthodox Church — while the Nativity Church is the most visited and the most popular, I loved the colour and decor of the Moldovan Orthodox Church even more – it is situated near the Eternal Flame monument and park and on the corner to the left past the Liberation Monument.
Moldovan Orthodox Church in Chisinau.
Aside from these 12 things, it’s just a cool city to hang out in – two of the shopping centres are worth a trip too – MALLdova for its punnery and Atrium which offers a view of the city if you ask the security to get a lift to the 9th or 10th floor.
During my 4 days in Chisinau and Butuceni, it rained non-stop for 24 hours, heavily! Above, the view over Chisinau from Atrium Shopping Mall.
Yaseh Chah (Persian: ياسه چا, also Romanized as Yāseh Chāh) is a village in Hureh Rural District, Saman District, Shahr-e Kord County, Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari Province, Iran. At the 2006 census, its population was 702, in 222 families. (source – Wikipedia)
On our one month long stint in Iran, we loved our time in this remote, small village thanks to our friend Rasool, our host from Shahr-e Kord. Iranian people are the friendliest people you will meet on your travels, and having now visited 100 countries, they are easily the most hospitable I have personally experienced.
Panny crossing the bridge to Yaseh Chah.
Above, entering the village.
If you want a taste of real Iranian culture, don’t book a room in advance –it’s very easy to stay with locals. We had about 5-6 invites to stay with Iranian families and took the opportunity to stay with Fatih and Issa in Zarad Band (near Tarjrish in North Tehran) as well as with Rasool and his family in little known Shahr-e Kord. We also spent an afternoon and dinner with a family in Marvdasht who we met on the bus between Shiraz and Persepolis. All three experiences we had were with local families and simply an unforgettable memory you can never replicate.
No public transport exists in Yaseh Chah so you need to drive yourself. Our contact Rasool drove us there so find someone to take you out to Yaseh Chah if you’re up for something a little different — the nearest big city is Shahr-e Kord.
Nonchalant spot of backpacking in Yaseh Chah with the locals.
So one morning in Shar-e Kord, Rasool decides to take us out for a drive through the mountains. The landscape is gorgeous and we make a few essential “photos stops” on the way. We end up in two really off the wall remote villages, either side of a river from each other. One of these villages is known as Yaseh Chah, so we toured the village.
Yaseh Chah is small desert town nestled in the mountains and very much old school Iran. Houses made from mud, brick and wood make up the village and you can walk through some arches and into mud tunnels where people live their lives. It’s where old meets modern – every place has electric, and most of them probably even wi-fi.
Panny and I were the only two foreigners walking around this ancient village, possibly for the last 6 months or a year — maybe even longer. This means everyone in the village will want to talk to and welcome you.
We walked through the narrow streets through the village, where we have the place to ourselves except for a few locals who come to chat.
The streets of Yaseh Chah. Then, we head down to the river, which separates Yaseh Chah from another village settlement called Sadegh Abad.
Sadegh Abad in Iran – opposite Yaseh Chah.
The river in Yaseh Chah.
Exercising in Yaseh Chah!
On the see saw in Yaseh Chah, Iran.
On the see saw in Yaseh Chah, Iran.