Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ten photos that remind me why I have to go back to Portugal...

I hadn't even intended to visit Portugal, but after bumbling up through Morocco and along the South of Spain, that was where I ended up. I only had a few days and never made it out of the cities, Faro, Lisbon and Porto, but that was enough to convince me that I need to return- and soon!

Lisbon particularly has some incredible (and enormous) street art, partly thanks to the Crono project, which encourages artists to turn the walls of abandoned buildings into masterpieces.

The artists-
Above- Gêmeos (to the left) and BLU
Below- Sam3 (to the left) and Ericailcane

If you're interested you can read more about the Crono project- http://cargocollective.com/Crono 

As much as I approve of this relatively new street art, nobody could ever have accused Portugal's cities of needing to brighten up. These tiles, known as Azulejo, have been keeping the streets colourful since the 15th century (according to Wikipedia). 

These tiles seem to adorn even the dingiest of corners, making the backstreets beautiful with a quirky charm that had me wandering aimlessly for hours.

The buildings themselves are pretty impressive too. 

Above- Rossio Railway Station, Lisbon                                                           Above- Porto                            
Below- Commerce Square, Lisbon        

Finally, this is the view from the river bank in Porto at night- I think it speaks for itself. 

Have you ever been to Portugal? Where would you recommend I try next?

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Sunday, 19 January 2014

The time a frog got stuck on my face...

Restrained to a small Scottish island for the time-being, I've been having a think back to some of my most ridiculous travel experiences. This is certainly one of them...

It was 2008- aged sixteen and out of Europe for the first time in my life, it was understandable that an expedition into the Honduran rainforest was pretty exciting for me. I'd been saving for over a year and couldn't sleep for weeks before we left, so by the time we had actually arrived in the jungle, I was practically uncontainable.

Look how excited I was by these creatures...

"Oh wow! So many bees! Fascinating! I'll just let them buzz all around me as I take this photo!"

Every new bug was photographed, long, sweaty treks were greeted with boundless enthusiasm and (to my regret) this frog was so interesting that I just had to have a closer look....

...and then it looked at me...

The next thing I knew, it was flying through the air and landing with a splat onto my cheek! I tried to prize it off but its little feet were clinging onto my skin- two of his toes were poking into my mouth. 

"Don't hurt it!" cried the sympathetic, but slightly hysterical researchers we were supposed to be 'assisting'.

I was stumbling around, bent in two with a combination of laughter and panic, until I eventually managed to wiggle my two fingers under the frog's slimy belly and un-stick him. Maybe I imagined the slurping sound as he reluctantly gave up his sticky grasp?

Anyway, that was the last time I looked an amphibian in the eyes.

Honduras is beautiful though- you should go!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Eight amazing seaside spots on the Isle of Islay- advice from a local.

Islay- the location of the majority of my childhood holidays and now home to my family, I've always known there were plenty of amazing places to see on Islay (even if it is a bit chilly at this time of year). I do realise however, that the majority of people will either have never heard of it or have just seen the name on expensive whiskey bottles, so I thought I'd share some of my favorite places... You can't beat the advice of a local!

Where is it? -Islay is one of the most Southery islands of the Inner Hebrides. You can zoom in and out on this map to see where it is and where my favorite spots are.

How many people live there? -Just over three thousand in the winter, but quite a few more in holiday season.

How can you get around? -If you don't have your own vehicle, Hitchhiking is remarkably easy, you can hire bikes, walk or maybe even kayak if you're into that.

What can I look foreward to? -empty beaches, exciting wildlife (seals, eagles, deer, otters etc), friendly people and weather that might not be quite as bad as you imagine.

Know before you go- It's pronounced 'I-la' not 'is-lay' and yes people will laugh at you if you say it wrong.

1. The Oa- that weird blob that sticks out from the South coast. The Oa has some awe-inspiring cliffs and many deserted beaches. It's also a likely place to spot one or two of the island's famous golden eagles. 

Thanks Chalky for the use of your camera! ...oh and your car :)

2. Saligo Bay- an incredible sandy beach with handy rocks to sit on around the edges. Islay is so remote that my family used to get genuinely annoyed when we had to share the beach with another family. 

3. Portnahaven- a little village on the South-West tip of the island. It's picturesque even when the weather is bad and the best place to spot seals. They're really tame here and often come within a few meters of the shore.

4. Machir Bay- over a mile of sand dunes and clean, empty beach. It can get pretty windy down there and watch out for the currents if you're brave enough to go swimming.

5. Sanaigmore- a beautiful sandy beach with the type of strange protruding rocks that Thailand is famous for (admittedly on a smaller scale). It also has an interesting little local art gallery called 'Outback Art' which doubles up as a coffee shop.

6. Killinallan- with these abandoned farmhouses and the endless beach, it's worth exploring the countryside around Killinallan, just give the bull a wide berth. We think he's harmless, but that bellow sounds a bit intimidating!

7. Kildalton Cross- OK, so it's not quite on the seaside, but erected over 1,200 years ago, Kildalton Cross is the only early Christian cross still standing in its original position. That's got to be worth a visit?

8. Proiag Bay- Pretty much as remote as you can get in a day. Firstly you drive to the end of the road, then to the end of that track to Ardtalla Farm. From Ardtalla there's an interesting (and sometimes very boggy) walk to the abandoned farm Proiag. This old farmhouse has been made into a bothy, with working fireplace an often dry firewood, so if you fancy camping out for the night, you don't even need to bring a tent.

Had enough of empty beaches? Maybe this guy will cheer you up...

Thanks for reading! Ever been to the Hebrides? Which island and what did you think?

Thursday, 9 January 2014

How to beg, borrow and steal* your way around Australia when all you have in your pocket is a collection of receipts and an old toothpick...

*Just to clarify- I don’t condone pick-pocketing, it’s just a good phrase.
Watch out for these cheeky chappys...

  1. Hitchhike- in case you hadn’t guessed I’m quite a fan… Tips for hitchhiking in Australia
  2. Make use of free campsites- you could pay $30 to stay in a crowded caravan park with a load of screaming kids OR you could pitch up in a nice, quiet spot by the beach for free. Admittedly some of the places we camped weren’t exactly designated spots, but if you are organised you could locate the legitimate ones on the internet, by asking in tourist offices or download the app ‘wiki camps’.
  3. So that’s your travel and accommodation sorted, what else do you need? I’m afraid I haven’t found a way of getting free food on the road yet (although you could probably get quite a bit of meat off that dead wombat we saw), but the cheapest food we found in Australia came from Aldi. $2.50 for a bottle of wine?! You can't go wrong.
  4. Don’t buy water! Even small towns often have a tap somewhere or just ask in a café if you haven’t got that many bottles to fill up.      NOTE: If you can only find a stupid vertical drinking fountain it’s best to fill up a larger container/cup and decant, rather than go through the frustration we did trying to aim the jet towards a tiny bottle entrance without getting soaked.
  5. Beach towns have showers- they are cold, but it's better than smelling like a tramp when you get in someone's car. If you can’t find an outside shower then it’s probably worth paying to use a swimming pool (maybe shower before you get in…).
  6. There are free BBQs everywhere in public parks. If you don’t have your own stove, then these are a great way to get a hot meal.
  7. Minimise your time in the big cities. It’s very hard to camp, get a lift and they generally gobble up your budget much faster than when you're out in the sticks.
  8. Don’t pay to see koalas, kangarooos etc. It’s kind of cheating and if you spend enough time outside you’ll come across them naturally. NOTE: For guaranteed sightings-kangaroos and koala
  9. Don’t smoke, or if you must then buy your cigarettes abroad. One packet costs around the same as a night in a hostel!
  10. If you have an early flight, just sleep in the airport! ...unless you're leaving from Avignon as apparently they throw you out.  Check if it's possible to sleep in your airport here -http://www.sleepinginairports.net/

Sorry, I just couldn't resist another koala photo.
AND some other things you could try if you had a little more time than we did...
  1. Couch surfing
  2. Working- possibly picking fruit. We heard it pays quite well.
  3. Volunteering- have a look on the website 'workaway' for opportunities with free food and lodging. 
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Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Street Art of Stokes Croft, Bristol

As part of my usual expedition to catch up with as many of my favorite people as possible while I'm in England, I headed down to Bristol for New Years Eve to see my friends Sam and Steve and the rest of their motley crew I associate with festivals, raves and long days of doing very little.

By the afternoon of the Second of January, I'd finally recovered enough to remember where I was and have a little explore...

This is Stokes Croft: Bristol's alternative cultural heart and home to a bohemian selection of squatters, hipsters and others who seem to enjoy a distinctly higher annual drug intake than elsewhere in the country. If you want to find street-art, Stokes Croft is the place to look.

"The Mild Mild West..."

Unless you're walking around with your eyes closed, it is pretty hard to miss this Banksy from Jamaica Street Junction.

According to the fountain of knowledge that is Wikipedia, it's been here for over twenty years, but had to have some restoration work after some idiot decided to smear red paint over it in 2009. It's looking pretty good again now though.

You'd think that a Banksy would be the highlight of my discoveries, but ever since I found him on the internet a year or so ago, my favourite street artist has always been Phlegm. His intricate black and white drawings have the mystical quality of characters from a fantasy novel and here, imposed on top of this red Tsunami, create a striking, but essentially playful mural. I love how he has used stilts to stop their feet getting wet and what is that bird doing?!

At this point I could have left Stokes Croft pretty happy with my afternoon's discoveries, but everywhere I turned there was more...

These two, on opposite sides of a small side street, are particularly fantastic... The expression on that elephant's face is excellent.

There seems to be a bit of a thing about telephone boxes...

The best way to find unusual pieces of street art that aren't immediately visible from the main street is to wander aimlessly down random alleyways until you find one that looks promising. 

Found this guy hiding in a corner...

So that is Stokes Croft. If you're in the area be sure to have a look for yourself as these walls get covered over fairly regularly and you're bound to find something new.