Tag Archives: Spain

2008 Travel round up part 3: My Year in Photos

The final bit of my ’08 round-up is a quick photographic journey through the most memorable travel moments of the year. (In case you’re interested, you can see all my 2008 photos over at Flickr)

Wat Phou

January: Wat Phou

Wat Phou is an Angkor-era temple in southern Laos. It’s much less well-known than Laos’s other World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang, and hence gets much fewer tourists. It can’t compete in terms of size with Angkor Wat, but its beautiful hillside setting overlooking the Mekong and lack of crowds make it worth a detour.
Coffee beans drying

February: Coffee beans drying

Another Lao highlight was a visit to the Bolaven Plateau, home to most of the country’s coffee production. Everywhere we went we saw piles of coffee beans drying in the sun.
Crispy Frog

January: Crispy Frog

Moments later, I ate this crispy, deep-fried Mekong Frog, which is not something I ever expected to do. Surprisingly lovely. And no, it didn’t taste of chicken.
Stowe House

February: Stowe House

A beautiful, crisp, cold winter day walking through the grounds of Stowe House, some of the finest landscaped grounds in England.
Alpine view

March: Alpine view

I’d resisted skiing for years. Why did no-one tell me one of the best bits of the experience would be the breathtaking beauty of the mountains?
Bobsleigh!

March: Bobsleigh!

1500 metres downhill on the 1994 Olympic track. Over 100kph, inches from the ice. The best 72 seconds of my life.
Bounce

April: Bounce

You don’t need to spend a fortune on a bobsleigh run to have fun though: an afternoon bouncing on the trampoline at my sister’s house in Essex was nearly as fun.
Wet & windy Snowdon

June: Wet & windy Snowdon

Freezing rain and winds so strong you could barely stand up – but making it to the top of Wales’s highest mountain was worth it.
Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

June: Completing the Yorkshire 3 Peaks

Before I did it, I thought 26 miles of hiking up and down three hills would be a bit tough. I ended up running the last few miles. And I even got a certificate to prove I’d done it too (I’m like a child when it comes to external validation).
My new favourite building

June: My new favourite building

The restored De La Warr pavilion is absolutely stunning, and utterly incongruous to find in town like Bexhill.
View over Glastonbury (madness not pictured)

June: View over Glastonbury (madness not pictured)

Even more fun than usual, thanks to the absence of mud and flooding. I’ll miss the madness in 2009.
the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia

July: the Blue Mosque & Hagia Sofia

Recovering from festivals by going on holiday straight after is totally the way ahead.
24 hours in Ibiza

August: 24 hours in Ibiza

…except it wasn’t even that. We spent nearly as long in Madrid airport as we did on the island.
Boat envy in Formentera

September: Boat envy in Formentera

Still, I made up for it by having a fantastic four days there the following month, seeing how the other half live. Although it did give me boat envy.
Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos

October: Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos

Cool abandoned hotel in Lagos, one of my favourite photos of the year. The town is pretty great too.
Faro - ghost town

October: Faro - ghost town

Unlike Faro, which was just plain weird. Also: I assumed Pigeon-racing was one of those weird eccentric English things. Turns out the Portuguese do it too.
Krakow market square

November: Krakow market square

We kept being told it was the largest square of its kind in Europe. We never did find out what that meant exactly. Lovely place to spend my birthday (although I think Uluru in 2009 may just top it). Just don’t mention the borscht.
View over Windermere

December: View over Windermere

If there’s been one thing that’s really stood out from my travels this year, it’s been falling in love with the mountains, and it’s certainly something I’ll be doing a lot more of in 2009.

Thanks to everyone who has read and commented in 2008. It’s been a bit of a dry run while I get the hang of writing (the only writing I’ve done for the last decade has been on Powerpoint slides, which is really quite different) and posting pictures. Hopefully 2009 and the start of my long-term travels will make this an even better read going forward!

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Top 5 Favourite Islands

I’ve got no more travels planned for a few weeks, so time to return to a few more lists of my favourite places. This one’s a bit short – because I really haven’t been to that many islands*. This is therefore the one I expect to change most over next year, as I’m planning to visit the Bay Islands of Honduras, Easter Island, and lots of islands in Indonesia and the Philippines, and probably in mainland South-East Asia too.

1. Ibiza / Eivissa

Ibiza Town by night

Ibiza Town by night

First place will be no surprise to anyone who knows me, or even people who only know me through this blog. No other place I know has such a great mixture of natural beauty, fantastic beaches, insane nightlife, fascinating history and mouthwatering restaurants (actually, it’s almost worth its first place for the allioli alone). It’s one place I’ll never get bored of.

2. Formentera

Platja de ses Illetes, Formentera

Platja de ses Illetes, Formentera

It’s a straight one-two for the Illes Pitiüses (Pine Islands): I love Formentera nearly as much as it’s much more famous northern neighbour. Formentera scores so highly for two things: it has some of the finest beaches I’ve ever been to (and certainly the best in Europe), and it’s incredibly quiet and unspoilt, not to mention beuatiful. The perfect place to relax.

3. Don Det & Don Khon

Lao kids at a school on Don Khon

Lao kids at a school on Don Khon

Two of the (so-called) 4,000 islands in the Mekong, just before it crosses the border from Laos into Cambodia. They’re linked together by an old French railway bridge that was used to bypass the spectacular waterfalls on either side of the islands. Aside from the hostels and bars looking after travellers, the rest of the islands are taken up by paddy fields, forest and Lao villages. It’s an incredibly laid-back and peaceful way of life, and was the perfect spot to bring in 2008 for me.

4. Koh Samui

The only one of Thailand’s islands I’ve been to, and my first trip to Asia back in 1998. Staying in shack right on the beach was an awesome experience. I’ve heard Chaweng beach (where I stayed) has changed an awful lot since then, to the extent I’d barely recognise it. I’m happy to let it stay as it is in my memories.

5. Mykonos

Windmill in Mykonos

Windmill in Mykonos

The only one of the Greek islands I’ve been to so far – but it hopefully won’t be the last. The stereotype of white-walled villages was as beautiful as I could have hoped for, and the confusingly maze-like warren of streets that make up Mykonos town are charming, and full of fantastic little restaurants and bars.

*I’m not counting Hong Kong or Manhattan – because I think of them both more as cities than islands. And sadly, Thanet doesn’t really count. I may have many happy childhood memories of Birchington & Margate, but it’s not really an island any more.

How the other half live

After nine previous nine trips to Ibiza, I’ve settled into a nice routine – a few days by the pool in my usual hotel, a couple of trips to my favourite beach, dinner at some of the best restaurants on the island (Soleado by the waterfront in Figueretas, El Olivo up inside the city walls of Ibiza Town, the beautiful courtyard of La Brasa). Normally a day trip by ferry to Formentera, a visit to one or two of the big clubs (normally Amnesia & Pacha).

I’m not normally the sort of person who goes to the same place again and again – there’s too much of the world to see for that – but Ibiza is different. It’s probably my favourite place in the world – I can’t think of anywhere else that can combine some of the world’s best partying and dining with completely unspoilt, stunning beaches and the beautiful landscape of pine-covered rolling hills. It’s the perfect holiday destination.

After my latest trip though, it’ll never be quite the same again. One of the perks of my job is the odd bit of corporate entertainment – normally lunch in some of London’s best restaurants, but occasionally the odd jolly abroad (and I do mean occasionally – I’m a crap blagger so this was only my second trip in ten years. My old boss used to manage about three a year). So when I was invited out there this year I leapt at the chance, and boy was it worth it.

For a start – no cheap hotel this time. Oh no. Instead, I got to stay in an enormous villa with a huge pool. I’ve kind avoided the villa thing before because I couldn’t be arsed cooking for myself. The organisers kindly got round the problem by arranging a chef for us. Hard life eh? And she was amazing. She even had me wolfing down the salads she made, and I *hate* salad.

Our villa

Our villa

When it came to eating out, I thought I’d eaten well on the island in the past. This time, I got to eat in probably the poshest restaurant on the island, L’Elephant. By day, we spent too days at different private beach clubs in gorgeous little coves. On the Thursday, we sailed out to Formentera on a catamaran, before having lunch at the best seafood restaurant on that island, Juan y Andrea.

Sunset at Cala Comte

Sunset at Cala Comte

As for clubbing, well, we still went to my usual haunts, but this time we had tables in the VIP areas. In Amnesia, that meant being on a balcony well away from the shellsuit-clad masses, and drinking vodka at the ridiculous price of €400 a bottle (that’s certainly one way of making sure regular people can’t afford to do the VIP thing). That was particularly bizarre – the table next to us was populated by a couple of short, fat, balding millionaires from Russia, accompanied by 5 hookers they’d shipped over from Moscow. It started out quite amusing, but as they leered at them and groped them it got a bit unpleasant.You just can’t buy class. The VIP experience in Pacha was much nicer – it’s the most beautiful club in the world as it is, but having a table overlooking the dancefloor and DJ booth was even better, especially with David Morales, one of my favourite all-time DJs playing. The drinks were equally expensive there – not that I got to enjoy too many of them as I ended up falling asleep at 5am. I’m not as young as I used to be, sadly.

The worlds most expensive vodka

The world's most expensive vodka

All in all, it was the best trip I’ve had to the island. I know they say money can’t buy happiness – but in this case it certainly helped a great deal (especially knowing it’s all someone else’s money). I was going to say I know what it feels like to be a supermodel now – except for the fact that I ate so much good food whilst there I have more chance of being mistaken for a beached whale than Kate Moss now. Time to get running again…

Inevitably there had to be a comedown – and of course, that was provided by Easyjet on the way home. With no full-service airlines flying direct from London, even VIPs have to slum it sometime, and we ended up delayed by two hours taking off, diverted from Stansted to Luton as the runway had shut, and then held for a further two hours after landing before they took our luggage off the plane. Three hours sleep later and I was back at work.

Madrid Airport

I’m not a big fan airports. They’re just a necessary obstacle that gets in the way of being where you want to go. British ones are generally especially bad on that score (and I haven’t even had the misfortune of using terminal 5 yet).

So it’s nice to travel occasionally through one that’s well-laid out and beautifully designed:

Madrid Airport

Madrid Airport

The flowing ceiling is so beautiful I really didn’t mind being there at all. I wish more airports showed that kind of imagination.

It’s not my favourite though – Dulles airport in Washington DC wins that hand down. Designed by Finnish Architect Eero Saarinen (who designed the nearly-as-lovely old TWA terminal at JFK), its roof is in one single swooping curve. It’s breathtaking.

Dulles Airport, Washington DC

Dulles Airport, Washington DC


(Picture by Feuillu)

Top 10 Favourite Countries

I have no plans to make lists a regular feature here (even if people do love them apparently), but I thought it’d be worthwhile to list my favourite places over the next few days, so that I can revisit them when I get back in 18 months’ time, to see how these have changed. So welcome to ‘top tens week’. And if you find lists boring, normal service will resume next week.

1. Mexico

San Cristobal de las Casas

San Cristobal de las Casas

My trip to Mexico in 2007 first got me thinking seriously about taking a year off to see more of the world. I only saw a small portion of the country (the Yucatan Pensinsular, Chiapas, and Mexico City) but it was more than enough to make me fall in love with the place. Aside from the obvious bits – beautiful scenery, stunning beaches, Mayan temples – two things in particular help seal Mexico’s spot at the top of this list: the friendliest locals of anywhere I’ve ever visited, and best of all, the food. I don’t think I had a bad meal the whole time I was there. The only downside being that Mexican food in the UK now tastes like a very, very poor imitation (other than the terrific Mestizo). As I wrote in one of my earliest postshere, it’ll be the first stop on my trip, and I can’t wait.

2. Laos

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Luang Prabang

Wat Ho Pha Bang, Luang Prabang

Only narrowly beaten by Mexico, it was in Laos at Christmas that I decided for certain that I was going to head round the world in 2009. Everyone I met whilst there agreed it was the surprise highlight of South East Asia. Easily the most laidback country I’ve been to, it’s another place I’m heading back to, but this time for longer, so I can enjoy the relaxed pace of life for a while longer without having to rush.

3. Spain

I’ve had more holidays in Spain than any other country, and it hasn’t let me down once, and (along with the next country on the list) is one the only countries in Europe I can imagine living in. The Spanish lifestyle seems so much more civilised than ours back home.

4. Germany

I’m a little biased here – six years living there have left a special place in my heart for Germany (and the Germans). It’s pretty sad that a combination of history and stereotypes dominate the British perception of the country (although I suppose it could be a blessing in disguise…Germany is unlikely to ever end of overrun by the types of British tourists who have ruined large chunks of meditteranean Europe)

5. France

Beaches, mountains, great cities, fantastic food…France has just about everything you could want out of a holiday destination. What’s not to love? (Well, apart from the French themselves…)

6. Portugal

It’s remarkable how few tourists you come across when you get away from the obvious bits (Lisbon, the Algarve). They’re missing out.

7. Australia

The country is so vast, and I’ve only scratched the surface so far. If & when I get to explore the interior more, I can see Australia working it’s way further up my list. Although that won’t be next year – other than a brief stop in Melbourne, I’ve decided not to spend too much time there, as it costs a a fair bit more than everywhere else I’m going.

8. USA

Very similar to the above, there’s so much I still want to do in the US. But what I’ve seen so far, I love. The strangest thing about visiting is that it all seems so instantly familiar, thanks to a million Hollywood movies and TV shows.

9. Georgia

The highlight of my school trip to the then-USSR back when I was 13, which makes recent events all the sadder for me. It’s a truly beautiful little country, and I long to go back to see how much it’s changed in the last 20 years.

10. Azerbaijan

When I visited back in 1988, the combination of modern, brutalist Soviet & older Islamic architecture with deserts full of oil wells, made Azerbaijan feel a world apart from the other Soviet republics I visited, and far more exotic than anywhere else I’d been.

And the biggest disappointment? Well, mentioning this to most people in the UK appears to be tantamount to sacrilege, however my two trips to Italy have not overly impressed me so far. I think I’ve been unlucky, and missed the best bits to be honest, but on both visits I’ve found the locals to be less than friendly, and the cities lacking atmosphere.

Ibiza keeps pulling me back…

I promised myself I wasn’t going to go this year. I’ve been eight times now, the last time being last September. There are so many other places in the world I want to visit, and anyway, I’m getting too old.

And then the hand of lady luck intervened. First of all I managed to wangle a free trip via work in early September for four days. And just now I’ve found out I’ve won another trip next week for a couple of days.

It’s a hard life…

Balenthia

All this thinking about travel has me increasingly desperate for a trip abroad in the meantime. It’s all very well saving all my spare cash, but I figure it’s worth splurging a little just to keep me sane.

I’ve booked tickets to go to Glastonbury again (and this time it’d better be sunny or there’ll be trouble…) and figured it was the perfect opportunity to go away – the state I’ll be in after 4 days in a field in Somerset means heading off to the sun is a far more appealing proposition than having to stay awake in meetings back in the office.

My original plan was to head off somewhere in Eastern Europe where I won’t get fleeced by the Euro exchange rate, but it now turns out I have the offer of a place to stay for free in Valencia. So Valencia it is. Spain just about edges Germany as my favourite country in Europe (it’s the weather, I think), and Valencia is one of the places I’ve never got round to visiting yet.

and for some reason the thing I’m most excited about is trying Horchata. I’m sure it’ll end up being a disappointment.