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

Eating Our Way Through Poland’s Gdynia With Eat Polska

July 14, 2016 by  

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Photo credit: www.dvo.com. (Not on the tour but a classic Polish dish)

My fourth visit to Poland took me on an exciting new adventure that I concocted in my mind during a history lesson at Ards Tech in Northern Ireland. You see, I remembered the “Free city of Danzig” (once an autonomous region protected by the League of Nations), it wasn’t part of Poland, it wasn’t part of Germany and it wasn’t part of Russia from 1920 – 1939. It was its own wee off the wall micronation if you like. Here, in 2016 however, the city, now called Gdansk is of course part of Poland and the country’s main seaport. It also is home to some great food delicacies!

Backpacking in Gydnia, Poland

It wasn’t the history of Gdansk and touring the sights that left me hanging, however but the delicious Polish food. Not actually in Gdansk itself, but slightly north in Gdynia. I went on a Food Tour with Eat Polska. The tours are limited to just 6 people to make the most of the experience and get a detailed understanding of Polish food and culture. You can do the tours in Gdansk, Krakow or Warsaw. Strangely, I’ve now been to all three cities but this was my first time to team up with Eat Polska. Below are the stops we made on the tour:

Gdynia Market  

We start off in the local Gdynia Market, a very local place and visit various stalls with Daniel, our guide, explaining the history of each place along the way.

Gdynia Market Tour

Gdynia Market Tour

Gdynia Market Tour

Gdynia Market Tour

In the fish section, Daniel makes us aware that seafood will be offered on many of the foodie stops.

Fish at Gdynia Market

Onion Honey Syrup, which is apparently great if you get sick.

Onion syrup

Market Meat at Hala Targowz

Our first food stop in the market is to sample some Polish cold meat. It is a local shop with a good range of smoked, peppered and spiced meats, mostly pork. Here, we tasted Kabanosy long sausage and a type of sliced meat, which is popular in both Lithuania and Poland.

Market Meat in Gdynia

Our selection of Market Meat in Gdynia

Our selection of Market Meat in Gdynia

Market Meat in Gdynia

The Cold cuts selection: kindziuk (smoked and dried pork sausage), kiełbasa myśliwska (hunter’s pork sausage with juniper), kabanos (thin, finger-shaped pork sausage), szynka (pork ham) and schab (pork tenderloin).

Gadus Fishmonger – Delikatesy Rybne

We head to another market called Gadus Delikatesy Rybne where we dive into some fish dishes. Oh so delicious – here, we taste a few balls of cod, fresh herring and a herring in a special sauce.

Gadus Fishmonger

Gadus Fishmonger

Gadus Fishmonger

Two of our samples in Gadus Fishmonger

Two of our samples in Gadus Fishmonger: Cod meatballs, marinated herring with sour cream, onions and apple, marinated herring with chili peppers.

Stuczka (The Trick)

We then head to one of the most recommended restaurants in Gdynia, Stuczka and apparently recognized by Gault and Millau as one of the best restaurants in Poland. It’s easy to see why. Michelin Star restaurants guides have only included two Polish restaurants which are in Krakow and Warsaw, so this is the best it gets in Gdynia.

Stuczka (The Trick)

Stuczka (The Trick)

Here, our treat is three different soups. First, pickled cucumber cream with beef and natural yoghurt. Oh so yum!

Bread and butter

Pickled cucumber soup

Next up is Beetroot soup with Gorgonzola cheese!!

Beetroot soup with Gorgonzola

And lastly, a basic but delicious Minestrone Soup.

Minestrone Soup

Polish people love their soups and is why they included three on the food tour. And this is only the warm up.

GDY 50 Boat Restaurant

We then get headed over to the harbour side part of Gdynia where we sampled fish on a fishing boat called GDY 50, which has been converted to a restaurant spanning two floors.

GDY 50 Boat Restaurant

In true Polish style, we had vodka shots with battered fish.

GDY 50 Boat Restaurant

Fish

We took a stroll along the harbour before heading back into the city centre while listening to interesting anecdotes and stories. Daniel backs these up with photos, including photos of Old Gdynia, which was just a tiny village back in 1920.

Touring Gdynia harbour

Touring Gdynia harbour

Touring Gdynia harbour

Cyganeria – Kawairnia Artystyczna (Artists Cafe)

Of all the venues we explored on the tour, the artists cafe was the most charming. The official name of this place is Cyganeria – Kawairnia Artystyczna, which was once famous for attracting local artists to paint, draw, write, create, produce and dream.

Cyganeria - Kawairnia Artystyczna (Artists Cafe)

Cyganeria - Kawairnia Artystyczna (Artists Cafe)

Cyganeria - Kawairnia Artystyczna (Artists Cafe)

The interior design is exquisite and the ambiance perfect for our Fried Herring with radish, potatoes, onion, lettuce and vinaigrette.

The fried herring

The fried herring above and below, Pork cheek, potato, carrot, beans and onions.

Pork cheek

Marinated and fried herring with potatoes and sour cream coated “butter” lettuce and Pork chick with potatoes and mustard seeds puree.

Delicije

The cafe Delicije (Delicious) is the last point of the tour, which is an old school cafe which was also here during communist times and retains the original decor inside. We head upstairs and alas, it’s dessert time. This is a great place for sweets and coffees! Here we taste scrumptious homemade Makowi, a cake made from poppy seeds.

Delicije

Poppy seed cake in Delicije

The tour was brilliant and gives you a great introduction into Polish cuisines and culture. If you are wondering why Pierogi and Bigos are not included on the tour, it is because they are cliched and most tourists who visit Poland will try these anyway, as I did on my previous visits to the country.

Oh So Quaint Antica Corte Milanese B&B, a Stone’s Throw From Milan

June 15, 2016 by  

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Arrival back into Italy in June meant I would be based in and around Milan for my first few days. I flew into Bergamo airport, which is 45 kilometres from Milan city centre, so rather than be based in Bergamo or the centre of Milan, I decided to stay in Novate Milanese, at the charming Antica Corte Milanese Bed & Breakfast as a way to kick off my trip. 

The B&B aims towards evoking an age-old local tradition, that of offering hospitality to travelers who would journey along the “Lombard” transalpine road which, from the Lukmanier pass, would lead to Mount Bardone.

 

The B&B had been family-run for years in an historic country house that, since 1881, also included an oil and grain press and an inn and include rooms, with entrance hall, kitchenette, and bathroom. In traditional old fashioned European style, they have two beds that can be joined together to form a double bed if needed.

My room

The grounds are what make this place such an incredible gem however, complete with quaint romantic decor in the common areas and in the gardens.

Antica Corte Milanese Bed and Breakfast

Modern day Novate Milanese has been swallowed into the urban metropolis of Milan, however, traditionally this has been a rural farming village. There’s barely a tourist in sight on the main streets and it has an old school village feel here rather than a commercial city vibe.  I met up with Marco and Beatrice, the two owners and Marco dedicated an afternoon to tell me about Milan’s history and the surrounding area.

Marco, owner at Antica Corte Milanese

Marco, owner at Antica Corte Milanese

Once the history lesson was over, I set out to explore the sights and sounds of Milan. I toured the famous Duomo, the San Siro, the Fortress, the “spot” where Benito Mussolini once hanged and I also was on tour with Walks of Italy to review the Pinacoteca di Brera Art Gallery Tour.

What was great was returning to quaint Antica Corte, which felt like home, particularly at the end of a long day sightseeing. It is perfect for a couple who want to tour Milan but avoid the over commercial and over-hyped big city hotels.

Charming Courtyard

Once inside the gate, a charming courtyard greets you and this is the rustic appeal that your travel brochures of Italy showed you. Antica Corte Milanese is a nineteenth-century court that was restored to maintain the atmosphere of a typical Lombard Court.

Charming Courtyard

Shrubs, flowers and painted walls in an enclosed courtyard are the first attractions here. There are storage containers for wine and olive oil. Even the cobbled stonework on the ground has a traditional feel too it, which were designed so that you could walk on water when Milan floods.

The entrance to Antica Corte Milanese

The entrance to Antica Corte Milanese

Antica Corte Milanese in bloom

Antica Corte Milanese in bloom

Storage containers

Village Life

Instead of staying in a soul-less downtown hotel in an area full of commerce and busy streets, this is a village life appeal to the property and surrounding area. There are local cafes and bars and traditional Italian businesses nearby in Novate Milanese as well, all which give you an authentic feel to the place.

Village life

History: Marco informed me that the meaning of the city’s name “Medio Lanum” is: middle of the land. There’s also an incredible history of aspargus and Milan’s importance as a trading capital from all over Europe. Adorning the walls of the dining room are lots of relics and information on the history of Milan. There are plenty of books to be read and you can treat your stay here as an unexpected history lesson.

Reading about Milano

Cosy, Quiet, Tranquil Rooms: with old school beds, a full kitchen, a nice bathroom and a table in the middle for working, a morning cuppa Joe or a late night snack.

Blogging

My kitchenette

My kitchen

Decadent headboards….

My bed

The court offers 15 apartments: studio, two-room, three-room, or four-room for groups. The apartments can accommodate from 2 to 11 guests, depending on the type of apartment, and are furnished and equipped with all that is needed to ensure that any guest here will be accommodated in a charming environment. Your local hosts Beatrice and Marco will meet you on arrival and welcome you to their lair.

Antica Corte Milanese Milan, Italy

Details:

Antica Corte Milanese – Immobiliare Torre Romeo srl Unipersonale

Via della Repubblica, 86

20026 Novate Milanese (MI) P.IVA: 03711150155
Email: info@anticacortemilanese.it

Tel. +39 0239100888 Mobile +39 3387067796 

 

Top 10 To See & Do in Senegal’s Dakar

May 30, 2016 by  

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I was able to see all the sights I wanted to in Dakar despite being on a lost luggage challenge and without my notorious backpacking brace of Osprey and MindShift.  I managed to do some textbook sightseeing while basing myself at N’Gor beach in Dakar at the start in Maison Abaka and thereafter at Hotel Baraka downtown. From here, I toured not only the Pink Lake, but all the key sights in the city that interested me. All this in the middle of a lunatic journey to Gambia and back where I started stroking live wild crocodiles. There is always time for a textbook top ten though…

Thiossane Nightclub

Thiossane is a nightclub owned by none other than Youssou N’Dour, Dakar’s most famous son and the first ever Senegalese person I had heard of in my lifetime, thanks to his duet hit single in 1994 with Neneh Cherry, 7 seconds away.  It was a shame then, after my night out watching bellydancing, that Thiossane Nightclub was shut on my only Saturday night in downtown Dakar. I went back in the day time, but it seemed to be closed for refurbishment. I saw the famous venue only from the outside. I liked how it was in a raw and local area. No swanky bull excrement here.

Thiossane Nightclub without Youssou N'Dour

Thiossane Nightclub without Youssou N’Dour

An advert for a Youssou N'Dour gig

An advert for a Youssou N’Dour gig

Atlantic Mosque (Mosque of the Divinity)

This impressive Mosque not only has a brilliant view but is a good looking building itself. It sits right on the Atlantic Ocean. I visited on a gorgeous clear day. Despite the fact that the Grand Mosque is bigger and more important to the people, the Atlantic Mosque is my personal favourite and if you only see one Mosque in Dakar, head out to this one.

The Atlantic Mosque (Mosque of the Divinity) in Dakar, Senegal

The Atlantic Mosque (Mosque of the Divinity) in Dakar, Senegal

It can be hard to get to on public transport, but my local driver was able to take me here as part of a self organised city tour.

Atlantic Mosque

Atlantic Mosque

Grand Mosque

In the heart of the downtown, sits the prominent Grand Mosque. I got here by flight using Turkish Airlines, from Istanbul. The Turkish and Senegalese have a good relationship, and the Turks helped fund the building of this structure.

The Grand Mosque in Dakar, Senegal

The Grand Mosque in Dakar, Senegal sits in a prominent courtyard and I headed there to hear the Call to Prayer.

Medina

It brought me a reminder of my time whackpacking the Middle East and Tunisia as these Medinas are basically like an old town which are mostly used as market stalls. Dakar’s is the birthplace of Youssou N’Dour and you can wind your way through it, taking in its charms. Be aware of pickpockets and scammers, as ever.

Senegalese souvenirs

Senegalese souvenirs

Medina in Dakar

Independence Square

The Place de L’Independence is the Independence Square. The Governor’s Office and Chamber of Commerce sit here, but really it’s just a large rectangular park with roads on either side.

Independence Square

Independence Square

Independence Square

Independence Square

Independence Square

Independence Square

Independence Square

Palais Presidentiel

Sadly I have no photos of the Palais Presidentiel as the guards outside monitor it strictly and they don’t even allow photos from a distance – they’ll see you. It’s on Avenue Leopold Senghor street (and at the bottom of Boulevard de la Republique) and you can at least admire the Palace from the front of the gates next to the soldiers, who are in impeccable attire.

Gardens near the Presidential Palace

Gardens near the Presidential Palace

Boulevard of the Republic which leads down to the Palace

Boulevard of the Republic which leads down to the Palace

Léopold Sédar Senghor National Stadium

For me a visit here was a highlight. Dakar’s most supported football team, ASC Jeanne D’Arc, play at the 60,000 capacity all-seater/bencher Léopold Sédar Senghor national stadium. It’s situated near Pattie D’Oie, on Route de Yoff, about 6 km north of the city centre. As I also visited Gambia’s national football stadium on this trip, it means that I have now seen 100 different national football stadiums on  my journeys through 116 recognized countries.

Léopold Sédar Senghor National Stadium

Léopold Sédar Senghor National Stadium

 

Léopold Sédar Senghor National Stadium

Senegal made the Quarter Finals in the 1994 World Cup and they had players such as El Hadji Diouf and Papa Bouba Diop.

Plage N’Gor

Senegal is famous for its beaches. Tourists and local go swimming, play football, go surfing and even deep sea diving in the waters by the gorgeous beaches. I spent my first two days in the country by the Plage N’Gor, which is a beautiful tranquil beach.

N'Gor Beach, Dakar, Senegal

Monument du Millenaire

This Millennium Monument is another fine structure and a sign of the future and good times here in Dakar. Again you can easily get here with a driver and just hop out take your photos and admire the views out to sea. They are supposedly building a huge monument soon not far from here.

Monument du Millenaire

Monument du Millenaire

African Renaissance Monument

The most interesting thing about the African Renaissance Monument is that it was built by the North Koreans! It is one of two odd hills in Dakar, often referred to as “Dakar’s breasts”. I saw this one about 10 times while driving round the city yet not once did I feel the need to stop and dander up there, paying the price to see it for real. Still, it’s one of two breasts – a lighthouse sits atop the other one.

African Renaissance Monument

African Renaissance Monument  

 

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.

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