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

London’s Camden Town & Primrose Hill Market

June 30, 2015 by  

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“In Camden Town, I’ll meet you down by the Underground” – Suggs

Canals of London in and around Camden.

Canals of London in and around Camden, a burb in northern London where hipsters and music buffs hang their hats.

James and Neil walking through Camden Town, London, England

James and the famous “Millwall Neil” walking through Camden Town, London, England

When I lived in London many years ago, I used to love exploring different nooks and crannies of the English capital city. After a bit of a breakdown while staying in Bournemouth, I was reunited with my friends James and the famous “Millwall Neil” yet again in May 2015 so we decided on a day out with a difference.  After a bus from Bournemouth to London, I met Neil at Chalk Farm and we planned a day out with a difference – Primrose Hill Market, Camden Town, the Canals of London, Cycling from Bank to Chalk Farm and a visit to St. Martin’s College!

1. Primrose Hill Festival
First up we headed for some street food at the Primrose Hill Festival which was really lively with food markets, kiddies amusements and a dog show.

The markets at Primrose Hill, London

The markets at Primrose Hill, London

It was a hot Sunday and a one day event here at Primrose Hill in London. There were loads of food stalls. I grabbed an English pork sausage roll, Neil grabbed some Paella and we ate relaxing in the park with a view over London. James joined us and we decided to hit up Camden Town. Thousands of people attended the mini festival.

Lovely day at the park in Primrose Hill, London

Lovely day at the park in Primrose Hill, London

2. Backpacking in Camden Town
Camden Town is a hippy place and I’ve been a few times. I’ve always loved it. I’ve watched rock gigs here in the Barfly and Koko down the years, I’ve had some good days out in the nearest thing London gets to Christiania, the hippy Freetown which borders Denmark.

Camden Town, London, England

Camden Town, London, England

I like the vibe in hippy Camden. By day it rocks a hippy sunshine beat and you can smell the wafting marijuana in the air. At night it pumps out a rock n roll beat with the odd bit of sleaze out on the streets. If you have been to Camden at night, you will know that London call girls come out at night and you can feel the sexy drugged up vibe in the air! But we were here to enjoy the sunshine and chill out!

Camden Market by day

Camden Market by day

By day we simply toured the market area on foot, browsed in a few hippy shops and markets and made our way through the busy streets. It was a Sunday – it’s important to note that the London tube closes at Camden Town (and sometimes Mornington Crescent too) on Sundays due to the traffic. Sundays are the most popular day to go to Camden.

Hippy vibe in Camden Town

Hippy vibe in Camden Town

3. Canals of London
On our day out in the city we toured the canals of London. You might be surprised to learn that London has canals. They are actually much nicer to the ones in Venice and Amsterdam in my opinion. We walked part of the way and then cycled some of the way.

Camden Lock in London

Camden Lock in London

Kayakers on the canals in London

Kayakers on the canals in London

Our walk took us past Camden Lock, some kayakers and two Wetherspoons pubs (which we resisted). We saw Hampstead Road Lock and also headed through a busy food market. Not quite the engineering gem as the Panama Canal (A man, a plan, a canal, Panama) but a really cool place to walk along.

The canals of London

The canals of London

4. Cycling from Old Street to Chalk Farm
We headed to collect a friend’s bike from a posh Japanese shop in Old Street. James and I grabbed a bottle of Dr. Pepper each and the three of us decided to hire bikes and cycle it back to Chalk Farm.

JJ's posh bike shop at Old Street

A posh bike shop at Old Street

5. Muriel Street
On the cycle back to Chalk Farm from Old Street we passed a ton of notable places. There was the prison on Pentonville Road of course, about 4 streets on the Monopoly Board and then there was Muriel Street! Named after my Mum of course. I actually totally forgot we visited Muriel Street until I started writing this post and the memory came back.

Muriel Street, London

Muriel Street, London

6. St. Martin’s College
The Pulp hit “Common People” in 1995 was where I first heard of the famous St. Martin’s College in London. Millwall Neil was there on that “oh Melbourne it’s going to be a long night” experience in Melbourne in Australia, also back in 2010. We had now done another full circle by cycling to St. Martin’s College.

“She came from Greece she had a thirst for knowledge, she studied sculpture at St. Martin’s College” – Jarvis Cocker (again)

At St. Martin's College finally - 20 years after the Pulp hit

At St. Martin’s College finally – 20 years after the Pulp hit

Now I was actually outside St. Martin’s College – we went in for a quick look, drank some water and James and Neil asked me for a rendition of the Pulp song, 20 years on.

Chilling on the grass at St. Martin's College

Chilling on the grass at St. Martin’s College

7. Pub for Non-Alcoholic Beck’s
We heard there was football on so Neil, James and I decided to go down the pub. I opted for a non alcoholic Beck’s which was ridiculously more expensive than their pints of real beer. Ah well. At least I was staying alcohol free for 12 weeks. We watched the Arsenal v. Man United match which finished 1-1 and I remarked that next season I’d be watching AFC Bournemouth in the Premier League.

Back to a pub in Camden for a beer (non alcoholic)

Back to a pub in Camden for a beer (non alcoholic)

Food wise we opted for greasy kebabs and I headed back to Neil’s to sleep after a long day. This was a great day out and hopefully the first of many more unusual lads days out. We used to drink 12 pints a day and visit 6 rock clubs. Now we tour posh bike shops, drink alcohol free beer and cycle through London.

James outside a guitar shop in Camden Town

James and Millwall Neil outside a guitar shop in Camden Town

And that was that. I was knackered so had a decent night sleep, which reminded me again of the Beatles song I’m Only Sleeping and even weirder as Suggs did a cover version of that and I toured Abbey Road the next day!  We end as we began with Suggs.

“In Camden Town we’ll walk there as the sun goes down” – Suggs

Taking in the Culture & History of Mahdia Tunisia

June 29, 2015 by  

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Welcome to Tunisia, in all honesty, I see it as a dirty, over-rated and disorganised nation, so much so that our friends there and couchsurfing hosts also admit it, and dream of escaping their native land to earn money abroad. After enjoying the wonders of Monastir, the chaos of Tunis, the history of Carthage, the inland appeal of Kairouan and the touristic Sidi Bou Said, we headed on a train on the east coast, south to the town of Mahdia.

Backpacking in Tunisia: Top 5 Sights in Mahdia

To visit Mahdia, you can easily do it as a day trip! To get to Mahdia from Teboulba (or Monastir/Sousse) I recommend taking the train and handily Mahdia is the last stop on the line.

Once you arrive at the train station in Mahdia, everything is walkable. Mahdia is actually on a peninsula with juts out into the Mediterannean Sea. Although you are in Africa, you could just as easily mistake it for Greece, Italy or Montenegro. Work your way through this easy seven sights then get on the next train or bus out.

Mosque of Mustapha Hamza: Mosques become a way of life when you backpack through Islamic countries and Tunisian towns and cities are no different. The Call to Prayer rings out eloquently for sunset and there are a few first class Mosques in Mahdia to check out. Starting with the green, white and biege coloured Mosque of Mustapha Hamza.

The Mosque of Mustapha Hamza was built in 1722 during the Turkish times and sits opposite the main square and on the edge of a dirty cobbled market street.

Mosque of Mustapha Hamza

Mosque of Mustapha Hamza

Borj el Kebir (Fortress): Right by the sea sits the ancient Borj el Kebir fortress.

Borj el Kebir Fortress, Mahdia

Borj el Kebir Fortress, Mahdia

Borj el Kebir Fortress, Mahdia

Borj el Kebir Fortress, Mahdia

Place du Caire: Place du Caire is an outdoor main square in the town which is full of trees and has a few tea shops and restaurants….though eerily quiet when we were there with just a few kids playing football.

Place du Caire, Mahdia

Place du Caire, Mahdia

Grande Mosquee: the main Mosque may not be as obvious as the Mustapha Hamza Mosque but it’s definitely the most important one for Muslims. It doesn’t actually look like a Mosque from the outside!

The front entrance to the Grande Mosquee in Mahdia, Tunisia

The front entrance to the Grande Mosquee in Mahdia, Tunisia, which is located near the Place du Caire, a few simple easy steps down. The Grande Mosquee is housed inside a courtyard, beyond the outer walls. No photos in the Mosquee part, but the courtyard is fine.

The courtyard of the Grande Mosquee

The courtyard of the Grande Mosquee

Mahdia Medina: probably the easiest tongue twister of all time is the Medina in Mahdia. It’s also a very small Medina. A few poky streets, once you enter the entrance arch to the city and some scattered restaurants, carpet shops and general stores.

The entrance arch to the Medina in Mahdia.

Through the Medina in Mahdia

Through the Medina in Mahdia

Cafe Sidi Salem: After touring the town’s main sights, it was time for an afternoon coffee to watch the sunset. Cafe Sidi Salem is recommended as it sits right on the sea and has great views. It’s about a 3 minute walk from both the Borj el Kebir and the Grande Mosquee.

Sunset at Cafe Sidi Salem in Mahdia, Tunisia

Sunset at Cafe Sidi Salem in Mahdia, Tunisia

Avenue 7 Novembre: this sweeping avenue runs alongside the Mediterranean Sea and makes a perfect place for a leisurely stroll.

Views along Avenue 7 Novembre

Views along Avenue 7 Novembre

As well as these seven easy sights, there are also of course beaches, restaurants and even a Hammam in Mahdia Medina so I’d say it’s worth at least a day trip or if you want a lonely night away from tourists and locals.

A Hammam in Mahdia Medina

A Hammam in Mahdia Medina

You might have guessed that Mahdia was not the most inspiring town of my travels so far and despite the fact we toured most of it, we didn’t feel there was anything special here.

 

 

 

The post Backpacking in Tunisia: Top 7 Sights in Mahdia appeared first on Don’t Stop Living.

Meet Tunisia’s Blue and White Village of Sidi Bou Said

June 2, 2015 by  

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Backpacking in Tunisia: Touring The Blue and White Charm of Sidi Bou Said

On my most recent trip to Tunisia, I landed in more obvious resorts like Tunis, Carthage and Kairouan first, however we also made it to the less traveled destinations of Mahdia, Sousse, Teboulba and Monastir. But, it was the colors of the charming Sidi Bou Said that will probably live longest in my memory from our time in Tunisia.

Unlike the chaotic buzz of Tunis, Sidi Bou Said is a quiet village you can get to via TGM train from Tunis, a mere 5-10 minute walk from the Clock Tower on Habib Bourguiba Avenue. The train station is known as TGM Marine Station or Tunis North (which can be confusing as its more East than it ever will be North). TGM stands for Tunis – Goulette – Marsa and on this line, you’ll get off at the station called Sidi Bou Said and head up the hill to the village.

Here are the top 10 sights once you reach this oh so very blue village of Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said Marina – the harbour glistens over the Mediterranean on the east coast of Tunisia and the sun sinks its head reflecting off boats. Some of these boats are owned by rich people, some are wooden boats which are often used by escaping Africans heading to Italy and the promised land of Europe. Take in the views!

Admiring the Marina at Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said Beach – Tunisian beaches may not have the cleanliness, golden sands or blue waters of the Caribbean and the South China Seas, but they certainly attract tourists and locals alike in the Summer months.

Beach and Marina at Sidi Bou Said

Beach and Marina at Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said Art Gallery - the art gallery in Sidi Bou Said provides a mix of African and European art, given its French influence.

Art Gallery in Sidi Bou Said.

Art Gallery in Sidi Bou Said

Blue and White Buildings – the sublime mix of these two colors is what sets this place apart from other cities, towns and villages in Tunisia. Wander the narrow streets and get lost — everything is blue and white.

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Village Mosque - there are quite a few Mosques in and around Sidi Bou Said and on your walk through the narrow streets, you’ll see the village Mosque, nonchalantly nestled in beside a few houses.

Village Mosque

Village Mosque

Kahoua el Alia Cafe – there are a few cafes in Sidi Bou Said – there’s a charming on on the top of a hill called Kahoua el Alia Cafe and also Cafe Sidi Chabanne which offers scintillating views. Below, enjoying an afternoon snack and drink in Sidi Bou Said.

Coffee and crepes in Sidi Bou Said

Coffee and crepes in Sidi Bou Said

Sidi Bou Said Market – on the walk through the village and up the hill, veer off to the left to find a market. You can find hand made products, ceramics and miniatures of the houses in Sidi Bou Said.

Ceramics in the market at Sidi Bou Said

Ceramics in the market at Sidi Bou Said

Local House – take a guided tour of one of the houses – they’re charming and worth meandering through…

Stunning Views - there are a few fantastic viewpoints in Sidi Bou Said. If you walk all the way through the village, up and down again on the other side facing the beach, you’ll get a good viewpoint. Some of the cafes get packed around sunset and offer fabulous views as well.

Cafe for sunset with great views

Cafe for sunset with great views

Town Mosque – all the sights above can be found up and down streets of Sidi Bou Said, but this Mosque is the town Mosque and away from the tourist trail. It’s easy to spot though since it sits on the roundabout near the train station. Take your shoes off and go inside – non Muslims too. I was unable to find any official names of these Mosques on leaflets, outside or by asking people.

The town Mosque in Sidi Bou Said

The town Mosque in Sidi Bou Said 

Kuwait City’s Simple But Comfy Ibis Salmiya Hotel

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After six years, it was time to head back towards Asia. A new country beckoned on the way though and I plumped for Kuwait. Bordering Iraq and Saudi Arabia, Kuwait is a small country in the Middle East which doesn’t attract as many tourists as it should. I made it a priority to spend a few days here and enjoy the sights of the city.

It should be no surprise to learn that Kuwait is a rich country: rich in culture, rich in oil. Thanks to the oil reserves in Kuwait, the standard of living is extremely high. Kuwait is a thriving country and has pristine streets, state of the art buildings and flashy hotels.

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The Middle East sun shoots down and bakes this place like a furnace. For planning purposes, take note: it was over 50 degrees C one day that I was there but it’s a dry heat without a lot of humidity. I decided to stay in two different parts of the capital city, Kuwait City – Salmiya and Sharq.

I opted for Hotel Ibis Salmiya in the Salmiya part of Kuwait City, not too far from the airport. This was a perfect place for my first night in Kuwait and here are five cool things I loved about this hotel.

Gulf Location: Salmiya is in the east part of Kuwait City and enjoys a coastline on the Gulf. The Ibis Salmiya Hotel is on Salem Al Mubarak Street, which is only one street away from the seafront Arabian Gulf Street.

A Mosque near the Ibis Hotel Salmiya, Kuwait.

A Mosque near the Ibis Hotel Salmiya, Kuwait.

You can walk along the promenade in the vast heat, visit the restaurants, cafes and shops nearby as well as the Scientific Centre and some attractive Mosques. The location of the Ibis Salmiya is perfect for those that want to visit Kuwait but escape the big city buzz that the downtown part of Kuwait City provides. It’s a perfect place to relax and even better was that my room had a view overlooking the Gulf, hazy as it was that day.

The splendid view of the Gulf from my room at Ibis Hotel Salmiya

Fast Wi-Fi: the Wi-Fi in the rooms, and reception in the Ibis Salmiya is reliable and fast, one of the fastest connections I have experienced on my travels. I was able to sit in my room admiring the views, while writing articles and sipping on a cuppa tea. I

Cosy Rooms: A double with water, tea, coffee, a safe and a comfortable bed — nothing extravagant but a nice 3 star+ hotel in a convenient location. Not exactly luxury but accessible to all.

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Extended Breakfast: one of the biggest surprises was the breakfast at the Hotel Ibis Salmiya. Not only is it a buffet from 4am to 12 noon (8 hours of breakfast to suit everyone’s time frames), but the selection is vast. Think: cereal, tropical fruit, orange juice, yoghurt, coffee, tea, croissants, fruit, cheese, meat slices, olives, beans, toast, egg and beef.

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The Hotel Ibis Salmiya has pleasant staff and is extremely welcoming. Some final photos from the balcony, lounge, internet area and around the Ibis Salmiya Hotel.

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Details:

SALEM AL MUBARAK STREET
PO BOX 36442
24755 – SALMIYA,
KUWAIT
(+965)25734247
(+965)25761233
Email: H5970-RE@ACCOR.COM

Top 5 Sights to Explore Monastir Tunisia

April 27, 2015 by  

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My 100th country odyssey continued as we headed on a train south out of Tunis, Tunisia’s capital city. We were heading for the coastal town of Monastir and were pleasantly surprised. As well as being my 100th country, Tunisia was also the first place I decided to try couchsurfing.  Our host in Monastir was Wicem and after meeting him at Monastir train station, we headed out to explore the sights of this surprising city.

Monastir, is a city on the central coast of Tunisia, in the Sahel area. Traditionally a fishing port, Monastir is now a major tourist resort. Its population is about 104,535.

Above photo credit: looklex.

1. Shrine and Mausoleum of Habib Bourguiba
This shrine is the reason alone as to why you should visit Habib Bourguiba. Being his home town here in Monastir, Habib’s shrine, mausoleum and museum is a must visit. You’ll get your bags checked on the way in but be ready for a treat.

Outside the Habib Bourguiba shrine

Outside the Habib Bourguiba shrine

Quite simply, as far as Tunisian Independence goes (dating back to 1956) Habib was the man at the forefront of the whole movement. In fact Habib Bourguiba was the First ever Tunisian citizen. When the country became independent in 1956, he had the identity card number 1.

Habib's Tunisian ID card - number ONE!

You also see Habib’s shrine and a mini museum dedicated to his life.

2. Monastir Fort
Sitting proudly by the ocean sits Monastir Fort. Well worth a jaunt for great views and historic architectural relevance.

Monastir Fort, Tunisia

3. The Old Mosque

Monastir like all Tunisian cities has quite a few Mosques, but my favourite was the Old Mosque down by the harbour. Religion stripped down to a building to practice it in.

The Old Mosque in Monastir, Tunisia

The Old Mosque in Monastir, Tunisia

4. Monastir Harbour
Monastir Harbour reminded me of my hometown. The fact is, both Bangor in Northern Ireland and Monastir have an elaborate Marina complex by the sea. The restaurants and cafes around it are licensed and can be pricey.

Gorgeous day at Monastir Harbour, Tunisia

Marina at Monastir

5. Monastir Medina

As with my top sights in Kairouan, the Medina features again. Every Tunisian city has one and Monastirs is your usual mix of tiny poky streets within walls and a Mosque inside it.

The Medina in Monastir, Tunisia

And, well, the views of the harbor are beautiful!

Backpacking in Tunisia: Top 5 Sights in Monastir

On a negative note, Tunisia is a disorganised country. The public transport networks are horrendous and their national airline carrier, Tunis Air are the worst airline company I have ever flown with in my life. Not only did they lose my baggage, but their check in situation is appauling, and their website doesn’t allow flight bookings either. Take the hint and DO NOT fly with Tunis Air.

 

Where To Go & What To Do in Baku Azerbaijan

April 12, 2015 by  

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Baku is not the disorganised, old school “Russia meets Middle East” stereotype that it was when it first broke away from the Soviet Union back in 1991. After that well needed shift, Azerbaijanis gained not just independence again, but a new sense of pride. Politically and geographically, Azerbaijan continues to be a complicated enigma.

Backpacking in Baku, Azerbaijan

The mainland part of Azerbaijan varies dramatically in landscape. You could be hiking on snowy mountains in Xinaliq by the Russia border, seeing a pink lake (Lake Masazir), touring the charming city of Sheki or checking out mud volcanoes. Terrain wise, you’re in for a diverse treat. Politically Azerbaijan is split into two parts – the mainland and Naxcivan (borders Armenia, Turkey and Iran and is geographically separated.

Oh Azerbaijani!

Naxivan is isolated and can be tricky to get to, given that Azerbaijan and Armenia don’t have any open borders, so you have to go via Iran (which is kind of a waste of a visa, if you’re not stopping to backpack in Iran). Don’t forget about the completely crazy Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. After getting my 10 day Azeri visa in Batumi Georgia, we got a night train to Baku, the capital city, from Tbilisi ready to explore Azerbaijan.

Here are my top 22 things to see and do in Baku, Azerbaijan. Which I narrowed down because if truth be told, this is a beast of a city and in 4 days we only felt we scratched the carpet. We based ourselves in the cosy Caspian Hostel in the Old Town.

baku azerbaijan sights

1. Flame Towers
Get up and personal with these elaborate flame towers. At night they are lit up, all 3 of them shining proudly down on Baku, Azerbaijan.

Baku's iconic Flame Towers hat-trick as viewed from our cruise on the Caspian Sea.

Baku’s iconic Flame Towers hat-trick as viewed from our cruise on the Caspian Sea.

It’s a tidy hat-trick and a defining part of the Baku skyline. This is an oil rich country, and you’d only know that from the capital city. Other parts of Azerbaijan seem poor, lacklustre and lacking modernity. Inside the towers are offices, you can get up to them by walking up steps or taking a Funicular. In front of Baku’s flame towers (I have tried to turn the photo round but can’t)

Flame Tower hat-trick lit up at night

Flame Tower hat-trick lit up at night

2. James Bond Oil Fields
You can get to “do the Brosnan” by visiting the James Bond Oil Fields. This is not really in the city centre though and hard to get to, so I recommend going with a driver. We headed to the James Bond Oil fields as part of our Qobustan tour. It’s on a side road between the Bibi Heybat and Bayil districts in the south of the city. Deem de deem deem…de de de.

3. Maiden’s Tower (Qiz Qalasi)
On the edge of the Old City of Baku, the Maiden’s Tower is the iconic traditional Azerbaijan style building. It’s only 29 metres high but it’s thick, historic and has many tales about it. There’s a mini museum within and a good viewing point from the top. Entry is 3 Manats.

Maiden's Tower (Qiz Qalasi), Baku

Maiden’s Tower (Qiz Qalasi), Baku

4. Siniq Qala Mosque
I’m including quite a few sights inside the Old City rather than just bung the Old City in as a sight of its own. It’s important to wander around freely and explore the nooks and crannies of it. The Siniq Qala Mosque is odd a narrow street and not obvious but it dates back to 1079 and was recently restored after being broken and destroyed during a 1723 Russian attack.

Siniq Qala Mosque

Siniq Qala Mosque

5. Juma Mosque
Right on the street that leads to the Maiden’s Tower you will see the Juma Mosque. When I look back I just think how different the Mosques are between three of the countries in this region – in Iran they are bright, elaborate and colourful. In Turkey they are touristy and chaotic. In Azerbaijan, they are bland and hidden. Though, ultimately, they are architecturally and spiritually important.

Siniq Qala Mosque, Baku

Juma Mosque, Baku

6. Carpet Markets
OK this can be annoying as what backpacker in their right mind goes to a new country to buy carpets? Exactly! However Iran and Azerbaijan are probably the two most famous countries for carpets in the world!

Carpet sellers in Azerbaijan

Carpet sellers in Azerbaijan

You can visit the famous Azar Lime Carpet factory (at Ganclik) and the carpet museum (on Neftcilar Street number 123 in the downtown) but as a budget backpacker who has no desire to buy carpets, admiring the ones in the many shops around the old town market is the best way to do it! Head to the street called Esef Zeynalli Kuc to find all the town’s main carpet and rug sellers.

Carpet and rug sellers of Baku old town

Carpet and rug sellers of Baku old town

7. 17th Century Market Square
Wandering around the Old Town, you come to a small square. These days, it hasn’t changed that much. It’s right beside the Maiden’s Tower and is sunken, it’s also hard to notice as it is quite a small “square”. It’s just behind the tourist information booth (see below picture).

Yes here is the old 17th century market square

Yes here is the old 17th century market square

8. Old City Walls and Gate
While exploring the Old City, you’ll notice that the walls scale the whole way round and have survived to tell the tale of a city clearly good at not being invaded. The brick work gets renovated every now and then of course but you have to admire the walls, and the main gate entrance to the old city.

9. Palace of the Shirvanshahs
This is one of the few sights I recommend paying the entrance fee for and going inside. You can spend a while in here if you want to explore every part of this old palace. The entire complex takes a good hour to see all of it, it’s massive and it’s housed inside the walls of the Old City. The highlights within the Palace of the Shirvanshahs are Dervish’s Mausoleum, the Shah Mosque, the Mausoleum of the Shirvanshahs. Information is written in English at points around the palace.

Outside the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, Baku, Azerbaijan

The Shirvanshahs were the ruling dynasty , the Muslim rulers of Azerbaijan dating back to the mid-9th century to the early 16th century. What feels completely odd (especially in the photo above) is seeing these out of place swanky apartment blocks overlooking ancient ruins and bath houses!

Inside the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, Baku, Azerbaijan

Inside the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, Baku, Azerbaijan

2 Manat ticket for the Palace of the Shirvanshahs, Baku, Azerbaijan

10. Caspian Sea Cruise
Azerbaijani capital Baku sits on the gorgeous Caspian Sea. A dreamy childhood book by Belfast author CS Lewis called Prince Caspian had me wondering about this sea. Once we finally arrived in Baku, we decided we wanted a cruise on the Caspian.

Views are tremendous and the sea is calm. Head to Baku Bay and walk along Bulvar and the promenade south west and you’ll see the pier where the boats leave from.

11. Azadliq Square (Freedom Square)
Lots of ex-Soviet Union states have these freedom squares since the break up of the USSR. Baku’s square is called Azadliq Square and happens to be the place where I met up with some friends and Northern Ireland football fans to collect our tickets for the football match.

Azadliq (Freedom) Square, Baku, Azerbaijan.

Displays at Baku Metro Stations in Azerbaijan

12. World’s Second Tallest Flagmast
During my couple of visits to North Korea, I saw the world’s tallest flagmast – south of the city of Kaesong and at the DMZ border with South Korea at Panmunjom. Azerbaijan takes home a silver medal, as their flag here is the second highest in the world (allegedly).

13. Bibi Heybat Mosque
Being a Muslim country, Mosques are everywhere and the Bibi Heybat is the most famous in Baku. The existing structure, built in the 1990s, is a recreation of the mosque with the same name built originally in the 13th century by Shirvanshah Farrukhzad, which was completely destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1936. It’s south west of the city – get your driver on the Qobustan tour to take you here, or you’ll have to bus it out there and bus it back.

Bibi Heybat Mosque, Baku, Azerbaijan

Bibi Heybat Mosque, Baku, Azerbaijan

The Mosque includes the tomb of Ukeyma Khanum (a descendant of Muhammad), and today is the spiritual center for the Muslims of the region and one of the major monuments of Islamic architecture in Azerbaijan.

16. Fountains Square
I have no idea if it is actually called “Fountains Square” or not, but it has a fountain and it is a big square. This is where vibrant Baku meets the 21st Century. From the square, streets of flashy bars and brand name designers shops lead the way. Proof that Baku has well and truly left communism behind and never really embraced it in the first place.

17. Vahid Garden
Famous local poet Vahid, has his own massive head sculpture and garden within the old city walls. There is also a coin museum and a miniature books museum in the same area if you’re into either of them.

Vahid Garden, Baku

Vahid Garden, Baku

18. Bulvar
The whole park area by Baku seafront is known as Bulvar so I’m bunging it into one sight as well. Enjoy strolling around it day and night admiring the sea and the leafy gardens. There are fountains and light shows at night and lots of bars and cafes.

Bulvar, the park by Baku seafront

Bulvar, the park by Baku seafront

19. Martyrs Lane (Sahidler Xiyabani)
High above the city of Baku, on your walk up to the Flame Towers you will find Martyrs Lane. This is a poignant and sad tribute to those killed in the most horrendous wars in Azerbaijani history.

Martyrs Lane (Sahidler Xiyabani), Baku, Azerbaijan

Martyrs Lane (Sahidler Xiyabani), Baku, Azerbaijan

The main tributes are also in joint recognition with the friendship between Turkey and Azerbaijan. Victims of the horrific 1994 Karabakh War have their graves here as do those who were killed by the Red Army’s 1990 attacks. I found it completely sad that in Yerevan in Armenia they also have the Genocide Memorial to those Armenians killed by Turks and that in Nagorno Karabakh they had museum tributes to those Armenians and Nagorno Karabakhians killed by Azerbaijanis in the Karabakh War. The other side of Martyrs Lane offers excellent views of the city.

20. Eternal Flame
At the end of Martyrs Lane, there is the eternal flame, again I found it sad as there is a similar flame in Yerevan and we both know the 2 countries (Armenia and Azerbaijan) hate each other.

The eternal flame in Baku

The eternal flame in Baku

21. Nizami Ganjavi Statue
The Monument to Nizami Ganjavi, a great medieval Persian poet, is located in Baku in Nizami Square, on the intersection of Istiglaliyyat, Ahmad Javad, Azerbaijan and Islam Safarli streets, just on the edge of the Old City Walls and Gate. The sculptor of the monument was Fuad Abdurahmanov – People’s Artist of Azerbaijan

22. Gardens and Buildings Near Icari Sahar Metro
This area isn’t really listed as anything touristy, but I totally recommend it. It is a leafy parks and gardens area just outside the metro station Icari Sahar and right beside the old city walls. Features included a theatre style yellow and white building, a clock on the wall and pretty gardens and fountains.

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Yellow and white building at Icari Sahar

Fountains and gardens at Icari Sahar

Fountains and gardens at Icari Sahar

That completes my top 22 backpacking in Azerbaijan ‘s capital Baku. There are obviously lots and lots of other things to see and do in Baku. I spent 4 nights and 4 days here in the end and enjoyed the city. The only thing it lacks is atmosphere as architecturally the place is fantastic looking. Weirdly I’d actually compare it to Doha in Qatar.

The post Backpacking in Azerbaijan: Top 22 things to see and do in Baku appeared first on Don’t Stop Living.

Top 10 For Carthage Tunisia, a UNESCO World Heritage City

April 4, 2015 by  

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While traveling through Tunisia, we managed to check out Tunis, Sidi Bou Said, Teboulba, Kairouan, Sousse, Monastir and Mahdia. And, then there was Carthage, a UNESCO World Heritage listed city which deserves at least a full day to enjoy its charms.

Carthage in Tunisia

Some people try to hit Carthage and Sidi Bou Said in one day but I’d suggest dedicating more time to Carthage and its scattered Roman ruin interspersed with Mosques and modern day culture.

Touring the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Carthage, Tunisia

Carthage was first founded by the Phoenician princess Elyssa-Dido and it brought African to the forefront of history at the time. The Punic Carthage of Hannon was queen of the seas and Hannibal’s Carthage ruled the world during its shining hour of glory before it vanished. It was Augustus who built Roman Carthage as the capital of Proconsular Africa.

Backpacking in Tunisia: Top 11 Sights in Carthage

After the Roman era, Carthage was conquered by the Arabs, who eventually decided to ditch it in favour of setting up a city in Tunis. Carthage was left in ruins but it always remained an important watch post for Tunisia given its supreme location on the coast, on the edge of a peninsula.

Carthage, Tunisia

Carthage is an old Roman City, yet has modern Tunisian buildings and inhabitants surrounding the ancient ruins.  The trains to get to Carthage are slow, hot, packed and not very reliable. You should be able to get a ticket from Tunis Nord/Marine to Carthage Hannibal and it takes about 5 stops to get to Carthage.

Carthage Hannibal Station

Mount Byrsa — from here on this hill in the middle of the town you can see the old church, the museum and the viewpoint.

Views from Mount Byrsa

Cathedral — in a Muslim country, it is an extreme surprise to see such a well maintained, striking and magnificent Cathedral. Here at Mount Byrsa the Cathedral is part of Carthage’s Christian history.

The stunning Cathedral at Carthage

Carthage Museum is worth a stop – it gives you full access to the museum and grounds. Once inside the museum, check out the relics before heading to admire the marvellous views all the way back to Tunis.

Touring the museum at Carthage

Carthage Museum

The Roman Ampitheatre is an old roman ruins with a pool of water in the middle. The condition is poor but you get an idea of what was once here. Then, head to the Carthage Seafront, where there are lovely views and beaches. Gaze out at the Mediterranean and take it all in.

Gorgeous seafront at Carthage

Roman Villas — you can walk through the ruins of the Roman Villas – they might check you have the 10 Denar ticket at the entrance though (they didn’t check mine). It’s like a lost city on the hills and inside the grounds, there is also a tunnel full of relics and mosaics.

Roman Villa ruins at Carthage

Roman Villa ruins at Carthage

Quartier Magon — probably the least impressive Roman Ruins of this top 11, is the Quartier Magon down by the sea.

Quartier Magon in Carthage

Theatre Romain — the ampitheatre on the edge of town was the crap one – this one is closer to the town centre. Don’t let the name fool you – the Roman Theatre is much grander, bigger, well maintained and cooler.

The excellent Roman Theatre in Carthage

Parc Archeologique — down by the seafront is a park and more scattered Roman Ruins.

Archaeological Park in Carthage, Tunisia

Carthage Mosque — bring yourself back to reality and up to date by checking out the Mosque in Carthage. It’s up the hill from the Roman Villas and sits clean and pristine high above the ruins. You can also view the Minaret of the Mosque from the top of Byrsa Hill.

Modern day Carthage - the Mosque

Thermes D’Antonin is a series of Roman Ruins which were once bathing quarters by the Mediterranean Sea.

Thermes D'Antonin

Thermes D’Antonin

Traveling to Voss Norway When It’s Covered in Snow

March 13, 2015 by  

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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 is a beautiful town.

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

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.

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 Kulturhus

Voss Church – Vangskyrkja. The church was built in 1271 – 1277, is still in use and one of the main sights in the town.

The marvellous church in Voss

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.

Can you see Voss Lake?

Fleischer Hotel had the friendliest staff and cosiest lounge I could have hoped for.

The Fleischer Hotel in Voss, Norway

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.

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