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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
And, well, the views of the harbor are beautiful!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Mount Byrsa — from here on this hill in the middle of the town you can see the old church, the museum and the viewpoint.
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.
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
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.
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
Quartier Magon — probably the least impressive Roman Ruins of this top 11, is the Quartier Magon down by the sea.
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.
Parc Archeologique — down by the seafront is a park and more scattered Roman Ruins.
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.
Thermes D’Antonin is a series of Roman Ruins which were once bathing quarters by the Mediterranean Sea.
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.