Hello Lisbon! Turning a festival into a holiday.

After spending a fun filled but very muddy weekend at Glastonbury last year, my ‘festival group’ tried and failed to get tickets to this year’s event. Not letting that hold us back, we decided after all the rain last year we’d try something a bit different. 

We had heard good things about NOS Alive, based in Lisbon, Portugal and known for great headliners we decided to give it a shot. Seeing as it was in a City that everyone I meet raves about we extended our trip for a full week, with 3 days reserved for festival shenanigans. 

It was fun to pack just shorts and t-shirts for a festival after years of British ones and exciting to know we wouldn’t have to lug our camping gear around with us as we were staying in an apartment. 

Our flight was from Liverpool so 4 of us drove over from Manchester and got the flight, it’s quite a late arrival into Lisbon so we took an Uber to Alfama, the quirky bohemian district on the edge of the City centre. 

As usual I used booking.com for my hotel needs and a quick call to a guy and we were in! Up the narrowest, steepest stairs ever! The apartment was lovely, quite small but looking out over the cute Alfama streets and rooftops. 

We ditched our stuff and went straight out to have a quick explore and obviously find a bar. A few places were shutting before we found one still open, it was fate as there was a mural made up of marvel comics on one wall for Lee and I and elephants on the other for Sarah. 

We had a couple of beers and were relaxing when a bunch of middle aged English tourists walked in and started getting rowdy. Slightly ashamed we left and went back to the apartment, my Sister was meeting us the next day at lunch time so we planned to have a bit of a lie in before stocking up for the week. 

We headed out and enjoyed getting lost in the small streets with their tiled walls and murals. It’s such a pretty area and filled with atmosphere, we found a supermarket and grabbed breakfast stuff, beer and wine plus some snacks and walked back up to the apartment. The weather was great and we sat in the living area with the windows open and all the sounds and smells of Alfama floating through. 

Sarah made breakfast and we all had strong coffee to perk us up while we waited for Hannah who soon arrived outside! The gang all together we chilled out for a bit catching up and then went out to explore properly. 

We decided to go up, walk through Alfama and take the famous tram around the City. We passed some amazing looking restaurants and found a cool old rundown building area with a load of art work to look at. 

Finding ourselves near St George’s Castle we spotted a bakery selling Nata, small custard filled pastries that Lisbon is famous for. At a euro each we had to try one and some of us got some refreshing homemade lemonade to wash them down with. They were incredibly tasty, the custard lovely and sweet with a burnt caramel taste. It would not be the last one we ate this holiday! 

We had reached the top of our journey and now wound down through the streets stopping to check out more great street art. Once we arrived at the square where the trams arrive and depart we thought we would walk around it a bit. The square itself was cool with fountains and statues where we took some fun videos. 

We queued in the heat for the tram with bottles of water to keep hydrated and jumped on and got a seat. I sat on the rught hand side and missed a lot of the sights that the others saw but it was still fun to wind up down and around these cobbled streets where you could touch the walls if you reached out. We passed Se cathedral which we would check out again later in the week and went through the City. 

Our journey ended at the huge cemetery across town and we decided to get a drink in a nearby park, we grabbed some food and beers and enjoyed the shade in amongst the green of the park. Refreshed we walked back along the streets we had just passed and stopped to view some of the sights including the Palace of St Benedict and Assembley of the Republic.

I checked to see what points of interest were nearby and noticed a viewpoint that looked interesting on Google maps so we headed in that direction. Emerging onto the terrace we had jaw-dropping views of the river and opposite bank over the terracotta tiled roofs of Lisbon.

It was an incredible place, everyone was chilling out on cubes made of rock, with live music performers and a little bar selling cheap beer! Deciding to stay for a bit we got beers and found a space and sat chatting, listening to the music and enjoying the views. We could even see over to Lisbon’s own Jesus statue, built to commemorate their lack of involvement in WWII.

After a couple more beers we kept walking, finding ourselves on some main streets, we spotted a great tram moment on a steep street coming up towards us with views of the river in the background.

We walked in the general direction of the Santa Justa elevator. A lift that takes you up to a platform with amazing views over the City, we got up to the top and excitedly took pictures and pointed out various sights. 

We noticed a cool looking bar down below set in the grounds of a cathedral that was half destroyed in an earthquake in 1755. We walked down to it and got some drinks, there was a brass band going around playing, and a really nice vibe in the place. 

Everyone was starving now so even though we kinda wanted to stay we knew we needed food so we walked over to an underground and took the train back over to Alfama. Once we were back in the district we tried to find somewhere nice to eat but everywhere seemed closed so we lumped for the one place that wasn’t. 

We sat there and realised it was quite a touristy place and expensive for the type of food it served but we were too hungry to care. The food was just okay but it turned out we got our own Fado performance, Fado is Portuguese music that is full of sorrow and emotion and even though it was a bit weird having this lady perform just for us it was really gripping and enjoyable. 

With food finished we were tired and it was late, plus we were up early to visit Sintra the next day, an area out of Lisbon that looked and sounded spectacular. So we headed to the apartment and had a couple of drinks, a bit of heads up and then bed. 

Out of the mountains, into Barcelona. 

Today was my last day of a great solo trip, and it was good to know I could bear my own company for a week. 

I was heading out of Andorra into Spain, purely for economical reasons, as flights from Girona to Manchester are really cheap. 

Unfortunately it wasn’t till after I booked that I realised the only way to get to Girona was through Barcelona. This turned into a nice little bonus, even though I’d only have a few hours there. I had booked a hotel right next to Girona airport as my flight was at 7am. I decided to treat myself by booking a hotel with a pool and spa. 

I travelled from Andorra La Vella bus station straight through to Barcelona, taking about 3 hours and arriving at the Central bus/train station. The descent down from the mountains was ace with golden fields laid out in front if us when arriving in Spain. 

The underground in Barca is so good, especially on a hot day with the air con. As I only had limited time I went straight to the Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, there are still cranes towering above this cathedral but it doesn’t deter hordes of tourists taking pictures. 

This is the second time I’ve visited and for some reason I still haven’t gone inside! It’s a must do really so it’s still on the list. I saw a lot of Barca last time I came so I tried to visit somewhere I hadn’t been before. Checking on the map I realised there was a whole park called Parc de la ciutadella we had missed when I came with my friends. So I walked down towards their version of an arc de triomf, built in 1888, in the sweltering midday heat. 

Walking through the arch and down a long wide boulevard I made it to the breezy park. Here I could slowly meander and check out the sights including a huge water feature which may have been partly created by an unknown Gaudi, a random wooly mammoth, and the castells dels tres dragons, a building designed to look like a castle. The park also houses a zoo and the parliament of Catalonia.

I was getting hungry now so walked towards the bus station that would take me to Girona airport, enjoying the beautiful streets as I went. I ate in the station, some lovely Spanish pastries and a donut. I took the bus out to Girona airport where my hotel was a 5 minute walk away along a main road. Here i relaxed in the spa pool and jacuzzi, after a week of walking non stop, traveling between cities and countries it was an amazing way to end it.

I’ve enjoyed travelling solo, I definitely prefer to travel with someone though. The parts of the holiday where I longed for someone to experience the moment with, such as the riverside in Toulouse, or the top of the mountains in Andorra were also the most enjoyable. It just would have been better with someone for those jaw dropping moments. 

I also wish I had pushed myself to go to bars or restaurants on my own. When I did it was enjoyable and didn’t feel weird but it was also easier to grab takeout and also cheaper! 

It was simple flying back home and I had the knowledge that I would be flying out again soon with my ‘festival crew’ to NOS Alive in Lisbon. 

Exploring alternative Rome. 

Today we decided to get out of central Rome and see some of the lesser known sights. Using our Omnia Card we took a hop on and off bus to get to the Colosseum. Seeing the Basilica of St John the Lateran on the way. 

Arriving just past the Colosseum We headed towards Via di Porta S.Sebastiano, which would take us to our first spot, the old Roman road into Rome. 

The walk was lovely, past lush green parks and through old gateways, one part of the road had no pavements but it didn’t feel dangerous. 

It was nice and relaxed and we got some drinks and ice creams along the way. We walked along Via Appia Antica which is the old Roman road and took a detour onto a grassy tree lined path which was much nicer. Imagining what it used to be like and the legions of Roman centurions who would have trampled their way through was great fun. 

Our destination was the Catacombs of San Sebastiano, located beneath the grounds of a church with the same name, there are so many underground tombs here and we couldn’t wait to explore. 

We paid the fee and were led down into the catacombs, it was seriously spooky and I felt like I was in Indiana Jones. We passed crypts and I was sure you would get lost down here if you didn’t have a guide. 

The catacombs were built by Christians during their persecution, as they were forbidden to be buried inside the walls of Rome. There are also Roman mausoleums located here from the 2nd century, these were incredible. They are in amazing condition, with 3 mausoleums each decorated with different designs. 

The crypt of St Sebastian is also located here, with a Bernini – associated bust of Sebastian in the room. He was a martyr after being killed for his Christian beliefs. 

There are lots of different catacombs dotted around this area, but we just stuck to doing one. We left the tombs into the lovely Basilica and had a look around before departing back towards the City. 

Little did we know there was more ancient road to explore! Our one regret as we managed to do most other things in Rome that we wanted to do. 

After looking at google maps we realised we could walk through the Ostiense area, a rejuvenated part of Rome that was known for it’s interesting street art. We wandered through checking out the graffiti and stopped for pizza slices. It was really tasty and totally cheap, we chose 3 slices each and devoured them. 

We carried on walking in the general direction of the apartment and on the way stopped at the old protestant cemetery. The famous poets Shelley and Keats are buried here, and it was quite a nice peaceful place to walk around. We also got the bonus of great views of the pyramid, a tomb built for Gaius Cestius, a high ranking Roman. Built between 18-12BC, I can’t get over how old some of the buildings are here! 

After this we just headed back to the apartment, stopping off for a glass of wine and getting ready to give Trastevere another go. 

This time we relaxed a bit more, not rushing to find food we had a drink at a bar where you could go upstairs and sit on a wall looking out over the street and the river. 

We carried on wandering but everywhere was pretty busy, so we ended up somewhere that had one spare table. The food was again just ok so we decided that was the end of our Trastevere meals. We finished the night off with a few drinks in a nice bar watching the world go by. 

Edinburgh and a bit of history. 

We woke up in our own time and had breakfast down in the hotel.  Then set off for the national history museum to get some culture. Since it was close to Burns night there were poets in the lobby as we wandered round the animal and geological sections. The museum was really good, loads to see and do but we were mainly there for the national geographic photographs of the year exhibit.  Which didn’t disappoint with some amazing shots of nature and scenery including a haunting shot of a fox killing it’s arctic fox cousin! 

We spent a couple of hours navigating our way around and finally cultured up we went off and had lunch at a little independent cafe nearby….I wasn’t that hungry until I saw breakfast burritos on the menu! 

Nice and full we decided since it was raining we’d go to the pub and watch the football with a couple of beers. The Arsenal game was exciting with a couple of last minute pens. 

The weather was getting worse amd worse at this point, we tried to do some more sightseeing but failed miserably and instead ended up in a nice pub for Sunday Dinner….but they had run out! Not to be deterred we went for the next best thing….desperate dan size pie! 

Although it wasn’t a true pie it was delicious and the pub itself was great with booths that had doors! 

Unfortunately our time in Edinburgh was up…and we headed back down to Manchester on the train.

Edinburgh and the hilly city. 

To beat those January blues I decided the best course of action was to book a little weekend getaway for Peter and I. 

Peter has always mentioned Edinburgh as a place he would love to go to again and I had never been, plus it’s an easy 3hr train journey from Manchester. So train booked for 6pm friday I set the cars up for the weekend…met with Peter after he finished work and we bought ourselves a boozy picnic for the journey. 
We arrived at 21:30 and luckily our hotel was minutes away from the station. We stayed at the Premier Inn Hub, a scaled down version of your regular travel inn at a fraction of the cost. Check in was done via computer and super simple and the room was small but very modern. After a quick freshen up we went out for a well deserved drink…ending up in the Whiski bar where three young Scotsmen sang traditional songs to the enchanted crowd.

 From here we headed across the bridge from old town to new and went into the Conan Doyle pub, near where the famous Sherlock writer was born. 

There wasn’t much in the way of Conan Doyle related stuff in there but it was fun to sit and enjoy a wee dram of whiskey!  

The next day we walked down the royal mile to the Scottish parliament building. Finished in 2004 it’s an impressive post-modernist structure. Though we couldn’t get too close. One wall had famous Scottish quotes all over it which was cool. 

A short walk from here was Holyrood Palace, the Scottish residence of the British monarchy….A stately home dating back to the 17th century.  

Next up was what I thought was a 20 minute or so walk up to Arthur’s Seat…an extinct volcano top overlooking the Scottish countryside and Edinburgh itself. 

The walk was beautiful with the ground covered in frost but it definitely took us a lot longer than 20 minutes and got quite steep at times. However, halfway up and the views were already looking good. 

We could see right out to the North Sea and the morning mist added an ethereal vibe to the whole place. We reached the top and enjoyed the stunning views. 

It was absolutely gorgeous so we took our time up there before heading back down a gentler path into the city. We walked back up the royal mile towards the castle…the old town is picturesque with it’s old stone buildings and little alleyways or ‘Wynds’ branching off the main street. 

We walked all the way up to the castle and took in more views of the city from up there, since it was a lovely day we decided to carry on walking and save the castle interior for if it rained. 

We wandered down one of the little alleyways and found a small museum on the famous writers/poets of Scottish history. The flagstones beneath our feet had different writers and quotes from them engraved into the stone which was really interesting.  

The alley sloped down onto a main road and we crossed the valley separating old town from new and stopped for coffee and cake in the new part of the city. 

After resting our legs we wandered up through the posh part of the city to the ‘new’ town which was actually just slightly newer than the old town with it’s private gardens and big town houses. 

From here we took the main thoroughfare up towards calton hill. On our way we stopped off at a high walled graveyard as the clouds darkened the sky we strolled past old tombs and moss covered graves. It was all very creepy and got us ready for our ghost tour later. 

It wasn’t long till we were up on to the next hill with views over the city and it’s chimneys throwing smoke out into the sky with orange glints of light between buildings.  Up here we could see over to Arthur’s seat and there was information on the volcanic nature of it and the hill the castle was built upon. There were a few bits to see up here so we walked around the summit before descending back down into the capital.  

After all the sightseeing it was time to eat so we had a quick relax and change of clothes in the hotel and walked back up the main street through the old town to the mussel inn. 

I had done some research and this place sounded really good with a good mix of local scottish dishes, I had a crab lasagne to start which was incredible and Peter had scallops which were also really good. For mains Peter had a huge Scottish steak and I had a steaming bowl of mussels in cream and whisky…a lot of whisky! It was all really tasty and we had a bottle of wine to prepare for the ghost tour. 

By the time dinner had finished it was dark and very cold out as we went quietly through the streets to the meeting point. Here we met our guide who took us round the old town regaling us with tales of ghosts and ghouls that haunt the streets of Edinburgh I also got to play a part in the proceedings! Then we were taken down into the catacombs underneath the city and explored the candle lit rooms with warnings of malevolent spirits all around us. It was a lot of fun and really worth doing, we even got a dram of whiskey at the end…sat round a small room with more ghost stories being told. 

We needed a beer after that and to get out of the cold once we were topside so we did a pub crawl down the main old town street which incorporated a pub selling drams of whiskey for hundreds of pounds, a raucous pub with Scots singing, cheering and stamping their feet and a live band singing every song with a thick Scottish accent.  

We eventually found ourselves back at the hotel and stumbled up to bed. 

The Flight, part 2

Arriving in Doha and getting blasted by the desert heat at midnight was an experience, which quickly made us understand the thrill of air con, something we wouldn’t forget after reaching Bangkok.

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We were quickly through security and only had an hour or so to kill in the huge terminal. We didn’t explore much as we were starting to tire and pretty much went straight to the gate.

When we boarded and first witnessed the Airbus A380 our collective mouths dropped at the size of it! Double Decker! Though us poor plebs were stuck on the bottom deck with thoughts of what luxuries awaited those who were in guest class.

Unfortunately the seats on this plane weren’t as comfy, considering we were hoping to sleep for the 5 and a half hours of flight time this was unlucky. Although Leia and I gave it our best bet we probably managed a couple of hours if that. The flight itself was so smooth however you hardly noticed you were 40,000 feet in the air! The breakfast/lunch was a choice of fried fish with Asian influences, Tofu or chicken in peppercorn sauce. None of which went down well with our unrested, slightly hungover bellies.

Even though this flight was an hour or so shorter than the first it definitely seemed to drag on for longer. Probably over exciting ourselves on the first didn’t help.

Anyway, we finally made it to Bangkok at 12:15pm after leaving on Monday at midday to get to the airport. Obviously the time difference is +7 hours and it actually wasn’t as bad as we thought it would be.

We were blasted with a slightly more humid heat upon exiting the plane in Bangkok but definitely manageable. It feels like there is a constant film of moisture on your skin but without causing you to profusely sweat. Liam really struggles with the heat and often gets heat rash but he still found it acceptable.

A quick sort through immigration picked Liam’s bag up and experienced the first of many encounters with Thai friendliness. A lady stopped us as we made our way to the fast train into Bangkok, at first we passed her off as a con artist after she asked us if we had a hotel and if we knew where we were going after Bangkok, but we agreed this is mainly from reading or hearing about other people’s experiences.

All she wanted to do was help, and ended up directing us to the hotel through the sky train and warning us of securities rule against drinks on the train. Just as Liam had got himself a mango smoothie!

We navigated the ticket purchase and headed off on a 30 minute journey to the centre of Bangkok for a pittance.

The Flight. Part 1

The flight so far is incredible. If you’re reading this and you have flown long haul often you will probably think there’s nothing to shout about. However, sitting with your two best friends being constantly served food and drinks while watching (to my left crappy comedies, Leia) (to my right deep emotional films, Liam) is hilarious. We’re excited about the pillows and being able to spread a blanket over all 3 of us. We’re excited about being able to see where our plane is. (Currently Iraq) a lot of this excitement is due to going away on this incredible journey send the little things are blown up, but I’ve flown long haul before and this is good quality attentive air hosting.

We’ll shortly be landing in Doha where we have two hours to navigate through the terminal and board the second part of our journey. Bangkok here we come.IMAG2371

Lift off

So this is it. Flights were booked 30th December 2014, and the day has finally arrived to fly. I recently decided to write this blog as a way of recording all the memories we are about to make.

We’re sat in the airport waiting for the obligatory alcoholic drink and food. The three of us, ready to experience being real backpackers for 6 weeks.

I’m excited to be flying with Qatar airways, my friends have never been on a long haul which makes it better. I can’t wait to see their faces when they see how nice it is.

I am also looking forward to writing a travel blog so that friends and family back home can see what we’re all up to! 

Food is here so I’ll say goodbye for now, and write some more on the plane.