Dresden 2 Day Itinerary

We spent a weekend in Dresden in order to combine some sightseeing with a German parkrun. We flew into Berlin, then hired a car to drive to Dresden. Dresden would be an excellent location for a weekend city break, although we opted to tag it onto a tour of Poland. Which is also an excellent idea.

Itinerary

Day 1Drive from to Dresden
Yenidze
Semperoper
Semperoper Zwei
Zwinger
Residenzschloss
Kulturpalast
Beer in the Marketplace
Frauenkirche
Dinner at Zum Schiesshaus
Leonardo Hotel
Day 2Gläserne Manufaktur
Grosser Garten
Dinner from Hamid Kebap Haus
(Day 3)Piescheneralle parkrun

Attractions

1Yenidze
2Semperoper
3Semperoper Zwei
4Zwinger
5Residenzschloss
6Kulturpalast
7Frauenkirche
8Gläserne Manufaktur
9Grosser Garten
10Pieschenerallee

Dresden Day 1

We check out of our hotel in Berlin and set off instead on the 115 mile drive south to Dresden.

Drive to Dresden

Swimmer amidst the Bollards
Swimmer amidst the Bollards

Despite the atrocious weather in Berlin, my weather App claims it’s fine in Dresden. Right on cue, after 110 miles of driving through rain and fog avoiding hundreds of Polish lorries which appear to be involved in a huge game of Dodgems, the clouds turn a lighter shade of grey and the rain finally stops.

Train to Dresden 1988
Train to Dresden 1988

I have visited Dresden once before, in 1988 to attend a football match. It was the day I introduced my German boyfriend to English cider, thus the memories are somewhat hazy. This time, I shall attempt more sightseeing and (marginally) less drinking.

Hazy Memories of Dresden 1988
Hazy Memories of Dresden 1988

Yenidze

We arrive in Dresden at lunchtime, so head for the Yenidze; a tobacco factory built in 1907 in an oriental style with chimneys resembling minarets. It is topped with a golden cupola surrounded with stained glass. It allegedly contains a rooftop beer garden with spectacular views over the city which is allegedly open. However, when we reach the sixth floor beer garden, there is a handwritten sign directing us to a horribly overpriced restaurant upstairs instead. We descend and buy some pizza rolls in a nearby café.

Yenidze
Yenidze

Semperoper

After lunch, we head for the South Bank of the river to the old town, an area which was devastated by British bombing and a subsequent firestorm in 1945. Many of the buildings have been restored to their former glory. For example, the grand 19th Century Semperoper opera house.

Semperoper
Semperoper

Semperoper Zwei

Next door is its funky modern offspring Semperoper Zwei with weird faces on its corners.

Semperoper Zwei
Semperoper Zwei

Zwinger

Next door is the Zwinger, a baroque palace built in the 18th Century for Augustus the Strong after he returned from Versailles with palace envy.

Zwinger
Zwinger

The palace houses three museums; the Old Masters Gallery, Porcelain Collection and Maths-Physics Salon. You have to pay (14 Euros) to enter the museums. The grounds are free. As we were limited by time and budget, we just took a wander around the grounds and admired the architecture.

Zwinger Grounds
Zwinger Grounds

Residenzschloss

Onwards to another palace, the 15th Century Residenzschloss, former home of Saxon kings. It contains a large collection of treasures, split into two; The Historic and the New Green Vault, which we don’t go to see because it’s expensive (19 Euros) and we’re tight.

Residenzschloss
Residenzschloss

The rear of the palace is covered with a 102 metre long mural of ‘The Procession of the Princes’, which is spectacular but very difficult to photograph.

The Procession of the Princes
The Procession of the Princes

Kulturpalast

Instead, we continue to the 1960s Kulturpalast. Built in 1969 as the House of Socialist Culture, here too the walls are adorned with murals depicting ‘The Path of the Red Flag’.

Kulturpalast
Kulturpalast

Beer in the Marketplace

Then cross the road to the Spring Market where we take a break and have a beer.

Cheers from the Spring Market
Cheers from the Spring Market

Frauenkirche

We round off today’s sightseeing at the Frauenkirche. This church was literally reconstructed after the war. The altar alone consists of 2,000 separate pieces, all painstakingly stuck back together like an enormous 3-D jigsaw.

Frauenkirche interior
Frauenkirche interior

Outside, the building is made more striking due to the combination of burned black original stone and pale yellow modern pieces which join together to form an almost replica. The contrasting pieces act as a reminder of the devastation which took place here.

Frauenkirche
Frauenkirche

Dinner at Zum Schiesshaus

We finish the day with dinner at the rather dubiously named Zum Schiesshaus – don’t get those vowels round the wrong way! I have Chicken in Cheese and Horseradish, which is delicious. While the old man opts for the Large’ Pork Escalope; basically a flattened pig.

Pork Escalope at Zum Schiesshaus

Leonardo Hotel

We stayed at the Leonardo Hotel in the old town, which was very pleasant and convenient for all the attractions we wanted to visit. I forgot to take a photo of the hotel, so here is a glossy one from the hotel’s website.

Leonardo Hotel

Dresden Day 2

Gläserne Manufaktur

Gläserne Manufaktur
Gläserne Manufaktur

Today, we start the day with a tour of the Gläserne Manufaktur (the Transparent Factory) where they manufacture the VW E-Golf. The building, made almost entirely of glass, sitting in the corner of a park, is quite a sight. We opt to walk the two miles to the factory because we have been told it is difficult to park there!

Gläserne Manufaktur
Gläserne Manufaktur

To be honest, the factory is little more than a PR stunt. In this high tech, state of the art facility, they make 70 cars a day. Cars are assembled (all the parts are manufactured elsewhere and brought to the factory by tram) by a combination of robots and men in pristine white dungarees.

VW Factory Tour
VW Factory Tour

There are up to 70 factory tours a day, where you can follow a car through the assembly process. Apparently, the robots could function seven times more quickly, but the line runs slowly because the workers feel the pressure of performing in front of so many people. Once complete, the cars are mostly exported to Scandinavia – the Germans are yet to embrace the idea of electric vehicles.

VW Factory Tour
VW Factory Tour

The factory tour is actually really interesting. Tours cost 7 Euros, and need to be reserved in advance. Is it wrong to admit that my favourite bits are seeing a badly behaved child fall into an ornamental pond and watching a remote control lawnmower chasing some ducks round the lawn.

Grosser Garten

Botanical Garden
Botanical Garden

After our tour, we head for the Grosser Garten. As the name suggests, the garden is so large that it has its own railway to transport visitors round its main attractions. Unfortunately, the old man is too tight to pay the €6 ticket price, so we make do with just visiting the Botanical Garden. It’s not the best garden we’ve visited; part of the reason may be the enormous hare we watch scoffing its way through the exhibits.

Hare in the Botanical Garden
Hare in the Botanical Garden

Dinner from Hamid Kebap Haus

We round off our final evening in Germany with an obligatory kebab. I don’t want to walk far so we go to a tiny shop round the corner called Hamid’s, where the kebabs turn out to be stonkingly good. I was so busy scoffing my face, I forgot to take a photo, but this is the mural we passed on the way.

Street Art
Mural

Dresden Day 3

Parkrun at Pieschenerallee

It’s Saturday, aka parkrun day, and we are running Pieschener Allee parkrun. We manage to find the start without problem. There are a total of 26 runners, mostly ex pats. Everyone is really friendly.

Pieschener Allee Parkrun
Pieschener Allee Parkrun

The course is a pleasant out and back run on a footpath along the River Elbe. It’s also very flat, so I run my 3rd fastest ever 5k time. And coming 24th sounds quite good too. Although, in reality, I came last, apart from the tail walkers.

Pieschener Allee Parkrun
Pieschener Allee Parkrun

We return to our hotel, shower, check out and depart for Poland.

Note: Pieschenerallee parkrun no longer takes place. I believe the local authorities took umbrage at people doing running on footpaths?! I have left this in for two reasons:

  1. Pieschenerallee is a pleasant stroll along the river, thus a nice way to spend an hour or so, regardless of whether you’re into parkrun or not.
  2. If you are into parkrun, Dresden is a great location to combine some sightseeing with a run. The new parkrun location is across the river at Priessnitzgrund.

Trip taken: May 2019

Updated: October 2022

Suva 1 Day Itinerary

We spent a week on Fuji’s main island (Viti Levu) as part of a 3 month round the world tour. As it was sandwiched between some hard core sightseeing in California and New Zealand, we were mainly there for some R&R. We did, however, manage to drag ourselves from our sunloungers by our private pool at Wellesley Resort to spend a day in the capital of Suva. As our accommodation was is a remote location, we opted for a hire car. It’s not the most exciting of capital cities, but the main (Queens) road hugs the coast, so it’s worth a visit for the drive alone. It is easy to see everything in Suva on foot, but you are highly likely to get wet at some point!

Itinerary

Day 1Drive to Suva
Picnic in Thurston Gardens
Fiji Museum
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Sacred Heart Cathedral
Walk along the esplanade at Stinson Parade

Attractions

1Thurston Gardens
2Fiji Museum
3Holy Trinity Cathedral
4Sacred Heart Cathedral
5Stinson Parade
Suva

Drive to Suva

Today we brave driving up the hotel’s 3 mile dirt track-come-river and visit the capital, Suva. It’s a further 50 miles along the Queen’s Road, the main road which circumnavigates the island. The road condition plus speed bumps in the villages mean it’s a 2 hour drive each way. We stop en route at a supermarket in Pacific Harbour to buy provisions.

Pacific Harbour
Pacific Harbour

The road hugs the ocean for much of the drive. Scenic to start with, but the closer we get to Suva, the more polluted it becomes with bottles, tyres and all sorts of junk floating along the shore line.

Drive to Suva
Drive to Suva

Suva has a population of 85,000. It’s weird to think of a capital city less than half the size of Bournemouth. Maybe Dorset should become a republic?

Welcome to Suva
Welcome to Suva

Picnic in Thurston Gardens

We park up at the Fiji Museum and have a picnic brunch under a tree in Thurston Gardens before visiting the museum.

Thurston Gardens
Thurston Gardens

The gardens are also home to a 100 year old clock tower and bandstand, built to commemorate the first mayor of Suva.

Thurston Gardens Clock Tower
Thurston Gardens Clock Tower

Fiji Museum

The museum has some interesting exhibits; the rudder from The Bounty (the ship made infamous for the mutiny led by Mel Gibson, aka Fletcher Christian) and the sole of the shoe of a Methodist missionary – the only bit of him the islanders didn’t eat!

Rudder from The Bounty

My personal favourite that essential fashion accessory – the puffer fish hat.

Puffer fish hat
Puffer fish hat

Once we have finished in the museum, we have a drink in the cafe then follow Lonely Planet’s suggested walking tour of Fiji past various buildings of note. It’s not a huge distance; only a couple of miles of walking, but we decide to split the route into two and drive in between. This means that we’re not too far from the car when the inevitable cloudburst occurs.

Holy Trinity Cathedral

We start with a visit the Anglican Holy Trinity Cathedral. It’s a hive of activity – the big boss is in town (not God – the Archbishop of Canterbury).

Holy Trinity Cathedral Suva
Holy Trinity Cathedral

According to my guide book, the cathedral has a unique boat-shaped interior. To be honest, it just looks like the inside of a church.

Inside of Holy Trinity Cathedral
Inside of Holy Trinity Cathedral

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Next, the Catholic Sacred Heart Cathedral. Built in 1902, it is one of Suva’s oldest and most prominent buildings.

Sacred Heart Cathedral
Sacred Heart Cathedral

Growing in the cathedral grounds is the Tree of Knowledge. How this differs from any other tree, I don’t know. Maybe the Tree of Knowledge could tell me?

The Tree of Knowledge
The Tree of Knowledge

We round off our Suva perambulation with a stroll along the esplanade next to the harbour. There are some trees and gardens and souvenir vendors. I purchase the obligatory fridge magnet and we drive back to our resort through a few downpours, but make it back before the mother load hits.

Suva Esplanade
Esplanade

Trip Taken: March 2018

Updated: October 2022

Quito 6 Day Itinerary

Quito was our final stop on a three month South American adventure. We spent a total of 6 days in the city, although in reality, they weren’t consecutive as we took a trip to the Amazon after day 2. If you don’t have 6 days, skip the Tren de los Volcanes; it was fun, but probably didn’t live up to the hype (price). We really enjoyed the guided tour of the Palacio de Gobierno, but it is very popular. I recommend booking online as much in advance as possible.

Itinerary

Day 1Flight to Quito
Casa Montero
La Ronda
Dinner at Casa los Geranios
Day 2Basilica del Voto Nacional
Iglesia de San Francisco
Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Day 3Plaza Grande
Palacio de Gobierno
Museo de la Ciudad
National Assembly
Museo Nacional
Dinner at Bandido Brewing
Kinde House
Day 4Tren de los Volcanes
Day 5Museo de Sitio Intiñan
Mitad del Mundo
Day 6Hop on Hop off Bus:
El Panecillo
La Carolina Park
Botanical Garden

Attractions

1La Ronda
2Basilica del Voto Nacional
3Iglesia de San Francisco
4Iglesia de Santo Domingo
5Plaza Grande
6Palacio de Gobierno
7Museo de la Ciudad
8National Assembly
9Museo Nacional
10Tren de los Volcanes
11Museo de Sitio Intiñan
12Mitad del Mundo
13El Panecillo
14La Carolina Park
15Botanical Garden

Quito Day 1

Flight to Quito

In the morning, we head for the airport for our flight to Quito; the world’s second highest capital. We’re going 800 miles further north and 2850 metres higher in altitude. It’s our 9th LATAM flight and for the 9th time, it lands bang on time. Someone from LATAM needs to come to the UK and give the likes of British Airways and EasyJet a few lessons.

Flight to Quito
Flight to Quito

Casa Montero

We get a taxi to our hotel in the old town. The Casa Montero is OK; a colonial style building with lots of charm, if a little tired. But the surrounding area is a bit rough. It’s on the edge of Plaza de Santa Domingo. The area in general and the hotel steps in particular appear to be a meeting place for winos.

Iglesia de Santa Domingo
Plaza de Santo Domingo

It is, however very centrally located and therefore convenient for sightseeing. Plus the restaurant has a great view across the city to El Panecillo.

Restaurant at Casa Montero
Restaurant at Casa Montero

La Ronda

In the evening, we take a walk along la Ronda, a cobbled street with colourful 17th century houses, and find somewhere for dinner.

La Ronda
La Ronda

Dinner at Casa los Geranios

We opt for Casa los Geranios, a quaint little restaurant which is, as the name suggests, adorned with geraniums.

Casa los Geranios
Casa los Geranios

The food is very good, if a bit pretentious. I have chicken in orange and teriyaki sauce with a chocolate glaze (with chips of course). The old man has steak followed by a flambeed ice cream dessert which looks like it will burn for ever. Then we return to our hotel and lock ourselves in for the night.

Flambeed ice cream at Casa los Geranios
Flambeed ice cream at Casa los Geranios

Quito Day 2

Today, we’re going sightseeing on foot in Quito – primarily churches as most other tourist attractions are shut on Mondays. By now, we’ve been to umpteen Colonial South American town centre, whose layouts are so formulaic I could walk them in my sleep; main plaza with cathedral and government palace. On either side, the churches of San Francisco and Santo Domingo. And somewhere in the middle, the Jesuits, who took a vow of poverty but coated their churches liberally with gold.

Demonstration
Demonstration

After breakfast, we set off for the main square but there is a demonstration underway. The square is completely blocked off and circled by riot police. More and more people are arriving and most are wearing surgical masks. And I don’t think they’re doctors….

Ecuadorian police
Ecuadorian police

Basilica del Voto Nacional

We bypass the square and head for the enormous Basilica del Voto Nacional. The old man decides to climb the tower, which is apparently quite rickety. I opt to sit in the café with a Coke.

Basilica del Voto
Basilica del Voto Nacional

I visit the interior of the Basilica instead. Some of the stained glass is being renovated, so the statues in the nave have been wrapped in a dark fabric. It looks like the church has been overrun by Dementors.

Basilica del Voto Nacional
Basilica del Voto Nacional

Iglesia de San Francisco

Next, we go to the Iglesia de San Francisco. It has a beautiful courtyard, an excellent museum and plenty of of religious art. I try to buy some post cards, but they have run out, so offer me posters for the same price of $0.25 each. It sounds like a bargain, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do with these posters – answers on a postcard (obviously not a postcard of San Francisco church).

Iglesia de San Francisco
Iglesia de San Francisco

We pass the rear of the Cathedral, but it is still closed due to the demonstration. Next we consider the Jesuit Church, until we realise entry is $5 each.

Iglesia de San Francisco
Iglesia de San Francisco

Iglesia de Santo Domingo

We round off our morning in the Iglesia de Santo Domingo; highlight – a colour changing virgin. It’s safe to say that we are all churched out, so we return to our hotel.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo

In the evening we go from one culinary extreme to the other. After yesterday’s fancy meal, we go to a tiny three table shack where a lovely lady whips up a Mexican feast for £20, including four beers.

Iglesia de Santo Domingo
Iglesia de Santo Domingo

Quito Day 3

Plaza Grande

Another day of sightseeing on foot in Quito. We head for the Plaza Grande, which is no longer barricaded off.

Plaza Grande
Plaza Grande

Palacio de Gobierno

We are going on a tour the Palacio de Gobierno. The tour is free, but needs to be reserved by email (in Spanish) so I’m quite proud of my achievement. We head for the security post. Our names are on the list – a triumph!

Palacio de Gobierno
Palacio de Gobierno

We get a guided tour of the museum, which focuses on the political history of Ecuador and finishes with a collection of presidential gifts.

Palacio de Gobierno
Palacio de Gobierno

Then past some rather cool murals by Guayasamin depicting the first European navigation of the Amazon. The tour finishes with visits to the enormous Banquet Room with its own chapel and the Yellow Room which houses portraits of past presidents.

Guayasamin mural
Guayasamin mural

Museo de la Ciudad

Next, we visit the Museo de la Ciudad. This is housed in a 17th century hospital and gives (theoretically) a chronological history of Quito. The old man gets impatient and bypasses a group of school kids, so we are going backwards through history, witnessing the fight for independence prior to colonisation, which is all rather confusing.

Museo de la Ciudad
Museo de la Ciudad
Museo de la Ciudad
Museo de la Ciudad

In the final gallery is a temporary exhibit. There’s no indication of what this exhibit might be until we arrive. It turns out to be the history of Quito’s markets, so rather an anti climax.

Market Exhibit
Market Exhibit

National Assembly

In the afternoon, we walk through Parque la Alameda, past the National Assembly which is lined with a colourful collection of hummingbird sculptures.

Museo Nacional (MuNa)

On to the Casa de la Cultura. This huge, round glass building houses the Museo Nacional (MuNa) which takes you through the history of Ecuadorean art. There’s some great stuff here. My favourite is a collection of sculptures called La Carga, which depict Ecuadorean women going about their daily business.

There’s also a fun ‘play area’ where you can interact with the art and even climb inside a painting.

Interactive Art
Interactive Art

The MuNa also has temporary exhibit; the work of artist Hernán Illescas, which is for sale. The old man determines to win the lottery, come back and buy ‘La Migración sueño en la Memoria’, a snip at $20,000.

Dinner at Bandido Brewing

The three of us walk the two miles back to our hotel (we appear to have adopted a dog), stopping for dinner at a trendy microbrewery called Bandido Brewing. We are the oldest in there by a good 30 years. We are served by a girl with green hair and multiple piercings. The food is good, but we feel terribly out of place.

My new BFF

Kinde House

Our new hotel, Kinde House, is reached by a steep hill. The reward for this exertion – a great view.

View from our Room at Kinde House
View from our Room at Kinde House

Quito Day 4

Tren de los Volcanes

Today, we are going on the Tren de los Volcanes. This tourist train follows a 50 mile route to El Boliche which, it claims, gives you the opportunity to see 15 volcanoes (in good weather).

Chimbacalle Station
Chimbacalle Station

There aren’t any passenger trains in Ecuador; the taxi driver doesn’t even know where the station is, and tries to drop us at the offices of Tren Ecuador. Luckily, a passing motor cyclist explains his error, we get back in the taxi and follow the motorcyclist to Chimbacalle Station.

Tren de los Volcanes
Tren de los Volcanes

We board our train and set off, flanked by a team of motor cycle outriders to keep the tracks clear. We have only been able to book two aisle seats; Ecuadorean families have booked all the window seats (a group of seven have booked six window seats). However, once the train is underway, the families move to sit together and a pair of seats frees up.

Volcano spotting through the train window

After 45 minutes, we reach the outskirts of Quito and pass our first volcano, the active volcano of Atacazo. Next, through a large eucalyptus forest, then into a valley past Pasochoa, a horseshoe shaped volcano which has erupted sideways.

Tambillo Station

We stop for 30 minutes in the village of Tambillo for no discernible reason other than to bring tourism to the area. I show willing by buying a train shaped fridge magnet.

Tambillo Station

After three hours, we reach our destination, El Boliche, where we have two hours of ‘activities’. We are taken on a guided tour by an eco warrior who loves the sound of his own voice. It takes over an hour to follow a 320 metre trail. I zone out of what he’s saying, but basically he loves nettles and hates cow poo. He stings himself a few times to prove the point. Once we reach the end of the trail; a sacred tree, it’s a case of ‘exit through the gift shop’. For an hour.

Sacred Tree
Sacred Tree

We are disappointed to discover that on the ‘Volcano Train’ (which advertises itself with pictures of Cotopaxi and takes you to the foot of Cotopaxi) you don’t actually see Cotopaxi. However, unlike PeruRail, they haven’t cloned our credit card (yet)!

Tren de los Volcanes
Tren de los Volcanes

On the return journey, it rains and cloud descends so visibility is minimal. Now our ‘volcano experience’ is reduced to sitting on a retired Spanish commuter train crawling towards Quito with nothing to do except write my blog and watch the outriders struggle on the wet cobbles.

Machachi Station

We stop for two hours at Machachi station in the middle of nowhere. There’s the station, a café and a fancy ranch. It’s pouring with rain, soaking the poor dancers who are there to greet us. We have some lunch at the station, which leaves over an hour to kill aimlessly wandering round by the train, which finally departs 20 minutes behind schedule.

Dancers at Machachi Station

We return to Quito station and get a taxi. I show the driver the address of the hotel and he nods and drives into town. It becomes apparent he has no idea where he’s going when he starts asking ‘aquí?’ every few hundred metres. The old man loses patience and we get out of the taxi and walk the final mile, find somewhere to eat that’s open on a Sunday (harder than it sounds), return to our hotel, swap rooms (it’s a long story) and go to bed with no alarm set for the first time in ages.

Llamas on the train track
Intruders on the Track

Quito Day 5

Today, we are going to the equator and Mitad del Mundo; a kind of equator based theme park. It’s difficult to reach on public transport, so we have booked a tour. On the way there, it rains so heavily it’s difficult to tell if we’re driving down a road or a river. Rubbish floats past the windows when we stop at traffic lights. Luckily, it eases off before we arrive.

Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo

Museo de Sitio Intiñan

First stop is the Museo de Sitio Intiñan, which claims to be on the GPS equator. Here, we are given a guided tour which includes such activities as balancing an egg on a nail and trying to walk along the equator in a straight line.

Intinan Museum - Walking the Equator
Intinan Museum – Walking the Equator

This is followed by a very lengthy chocolate making demonstration, for no particular reason other than to try and flog chocolate. I get frustrated, time is passing, and we still haven’t reached Mitad del Mundo, which is what we came to see.

Intinan Museum - Egg Balancing Champion
Intinan Museum – Egg Balancing Champion

Mitad del Mundo

Finally, we continue to the Mitad del Mundo, which claims to be on the geographical equator. We only have 28 minutes here and in addition to a plethora of equator based photo ops, there are also more painted hummingbird sculptures. So we devise a strategic photography plan and split up, run round our allocated segments and get back to the bus a mere two minutes behind schedule.

Mitad del Mundo
Mitad del Mundo

There was supposed to be a third stop at the cable car, but we have run out of time. The driver offers to drop us there, but we will have to make our own way back to town (which was kind of the point of booking a tour). As we can’t see the mountain for cloud, we decline and return to Quito.

In the evening, more torrential rain so we retire to the hotel and spend a glamorous evening sitting in the foyer by the Wifi router as it’s the only way to get a signal.

Quito Day 6

Hop on Hop off Bus

Today, we are doing something we rarely do; taking the Hop on Hop off Bus.

Quito
Quito

El Panecillo

The bus heads up El Panecillo; a small hill with an aluminium statue of the Virgin Mary on top. It’s an interesting journey in a double decker, navigating the narrow, winding streets and low hanging electric cables.

Quito
El Panecillo from the Hop on Hop of Bus

The Virgin sits atop a dragon on a globe. You can climb to a viewing platform around the globe for a 360 degree view of the city and surrounding volcanoes.

El Panecillo
El Panecillo

La Carolina Park

We reboard our bus and travel through the old city to La Carolina Park; a large park with sports pitches, a running track, a lake and the Botanical Garden.

La Carolina Park

Botanical Garden

We spend a long time in the Botanical Garden; the best bits are the Carnivore Collection and the Bonsai Collection.

Botanical Gardens - Carnivore Collection
Botanical Garden – Carnivore Collection
Botanical Garden - Bonsai Collection
Botanical Garden – Bonsai Collection

We catch the bus again with the intention of getting off at some other stops but it starts raining and we’re weary. So we return to the beginning and have a late lunch at in a colonial courtyard in the old city, where I order a salchipan (sausage sandwich) and the old man goes, as always, for the biggest thing on the menu. Then it’s back to the hotel, narrowly missing the torrential downpour, to pack for tomorrow’s return flights. It’s been a blast, but after 10 weeks in South America, I’m ready to go home.

Trip taken: March 2019

Updated: September 2022

Copenhagen 2 Day Itinerary

We spent two days in Copenhagen as the second part of a Sweden/Denmark long weekend. It was my second visit to the city, so a combination of past favourites and things I’d missed first time round. Copenhagen certainly warrants further exploring, but if you only have two days, I would still recommend using one for the 30 mile trip up the coast to Helsingør and Kronborg Castle. It’s also worth noting that Amager Strandpark is well worth a visit, even if you don’t intend to run round it.

Itinerary

SleepCPH
Day 1Day Trip to Helsingør
Kronborg Castle
Karen Blixen Musuem
Day 2Parkrun at Amager Strandpark
Langelinie
The Little Mermaid
Gefion Fountain
Kastellet
Glyptotek
Tivoli Gardens

Attractions

1Helsingør
2Kronborg Castle
3Karen Blixen Museum
4Amager Strandpark
5Langelinie
6The Little Mermaid
7Gefion Fountain
8Kastellet
9Glyptotek
10Tivoli Gardens

SleepCPH

Once we have arrived in Denmark, we check into our hotel; SleepCPH. As the name suggests, it’s a place to sleep, but that’s about it. I feel like I’m in a 30 year time warp and back in student halls. The room contains a bed, table and clothes rail. At the end of the corridor are a communal kitchen and bathroom. And this basic provision, three miles from the centre of town, costs £92 a night. The hotel’s main selling point – its proximity to parkrun. The receptionist says many of their guests are parkrunners. In fact, in the kitchen is a three metre long photo of the route for guests to visually feast on.

SleepCPH Kitchen - parkrun route
SleepCPH Kitchen – parkrun route

It’s another scorcher of a day, so I hobble to the shop to buy drinks. There are signs around the hotel stating that no alcohol is allowed on the premises. The only decoration in my sparse yet expensive room is a Warholesque picture of James Dean. I ask myself ‘what would James do?’ And I buy beer.

SleepCPH Bedroom
SleepCPH Bedroom

In the evening, the old man takes a walk into town. I opt for a more leisurely evening. My knee has managed eight miles today, which is more than I’ve covered in the past two weeks altogether. So I take it easy watching tennis on my phone (£92 a night doesn’t get you a TV).

Copenhagen Day 1

Day Trip to Helsingør

Today, we’re taking a trip up the Zealand coast to Helsingør, home of Kronborg castle, setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Helsingør
Helsingør

First, we need to purchase 24 hour travel cards from the ticket machine. The old man requests two tickets plus a receipt and the machine issues two cards; one ticket and one ticket with a receipt. However, he is convinced he has been issued with one ticket and one receipt. He calls the helpline to complain that he has paid for two tickets and only received one. Eventually, a lady who had been waiting patiently in the queue steps in and clears up the confusion.

Helsingør Station
Helsingør Station

Once we have ascertained that we do, in fact, have two tickets, we catch a train to Helsingør. It’s a pretty town from the offset as we disembark at the striking red brick station adorned with sculptures. From here, we walk along the harbourside.

han
Han

There are some interesting sculptures, including Han, The Little Merman and a thought provoking fish made with rubbish from the harbour.

Rubbish Fish
Rubbish Fish

Kronborg Castle

We continue across a bridge to the spectacular 15th Century Kronborg Castle with its green spires standing proud above the fortified walls and surrounding moat.

Kronborg Castle
Kronborg Castle

We’re too tight to pay the £35 to go inside, so make do with a circuit around the edge taking photos, followed by a trip to the gift shop.

Helsingor Castle
Kronborg Castle

Then we take a walk through the quaint town centre of Helsingør, buy provisions and picnic by the waterfront, which is pleasant apart from two facts; 1) we are relentlessly circled by an enormous seagull and 2) it’s so windy I keep accidentally eating my own hair.

Helsingør
Helsingør

We return towards Copenhagen by bus because Lonely Planet recommends the bus, as it runs along the coast and is, therefore more scenic, than the train. They’re not kidding – if we were any nearer the coast we’d need snorkels and flippers. And nose-clips; in places the smell of sewage is overpowering.

Street Art Helsingør
Street Art Helsingør

Karen Blixen Museum

We alight in Rungsted to visit the home of Karen Blixen; (Think Meryl Streep and “I had a house in Africa…”). You can take an audio guide of the home where she (Blixen, not Streep) lived as a child and where she came to die after Robert Redford gave her syphilis. You can also visit her grave in the garden.

Karen Blixen Museum
Karen Blixen Museum

After visiting the grave, which is a ten minute walk from the house, I notice a short cut to the station. But we still have our audio guides. So the old man takes pity on me and returns to the museum while I hobble off towards the station.

Karen Blixen Museum Garden
Karen Blixen Museum Garden

We return to our hotel room, which is just as we left it; £93 a night doesn’t get you housekeeping. It’s probably just as well. The stairs to the fire escape have already been transformed into an obstacle course by bags of laundry. I dread to think what it would look like if they changed the sheets regularly. Never mind, we check out tomorrow – unless there’s a fire, which will probably lead to the ultimate check out.

Copenhagen Day 2

Parkrun at Amager Strandpark

It’s Saturday, AKA parkrun day, and we are going to Amager Strandpark. The run starts at 9 am, but we are awake by 5 thanks to a group of tourists replicating stormtroopers in the corridor. It’s raining heavily and my waterproof is in a car park near Stansted, so I am going to get rather wet.

Amagerstrandpark
Amagerstrandpark

The Strandpark is on a small Island in the Øresund; the strait which separates Denmark and Sweden. We walk the mile to the start, then hide out in a shelter as long as possible.

Amagerstrand parkrun
Amagerstrand parkrun

The route consists two laps along the island, across a bridge, along the prom and back across another bridge. To complicate matters, the first lap is anti-clockwise and the second lap is clockwise. Luckily, I don’t get lost despite being too slow to see the next slowest runner. I fight my way through the wind and rain and the pain in my knee to finish in 37 minutes, which I consider a triumph.

Amagerstrand parkrun
Well that was fun!

We return to the hotel and, once suitably clean and fed, check out. Another thing you don’t get for £93 a night is a manned reception. We finally locate a staff member and explain that we are checking out, but would like to leave our bags until this evening.

Oresund Bridge from Amagerstrand
Oresund Bridge from Amagerstrand

We set off for Copenhagen. It’s not our normal sightseeing routine of hours of aimless wandering. We buy a travel card and take buses between locations to spare my knee, which has already had a hard day.

Copenhagen
Copenhagen

Langelinie

We start with a walk along the quayside, where there are plenty of interesting sculptures to peruse. There’s the Genetically Modified Little Mermaid, some rather phallic offerings resembling a worm with a large penis smoking a cigar. And my personal favourite, a steampunk style man, deep in contemplation; Zinkglobal

Langelinie
Langelinie
Genetically Modified Little Mermaid
Genetically Modified Little Mermaid
Penis envy?
Zinkglobal
Zinkglobal

The Little Mermaid

We continue, predictably to The Little Mermaid.

Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid Photo
Little Mermaid
The reality

I’m surprised by the throng of tourists round the little mermaid. Last time I was here, 30 years ago, we had the place to ourselves and were able to clamour over the rocks to the statue. Now, bus loads of tourists are disgorging onto the quayside every few seconds.

Little Mermaid
Back in 1988 pre-Instagram

Gefion Fountain

We stop for a while to admire the Gefion Fountain, a huge tiered fountain depicting a Norse goddess and some cattle.

Gefion Fountain
Gefion Fountain

Kastellet

Onwards to the star shaped Kastellet, before boarding another bus to the Glyptotek.

Kastellet

Glyptotek

The Glyptotek is the private art collection of the founder of Carlsberg, who made a few quid flogging beer. There bulk of the collection is sculptures, mainly ancient statues with no noses. But there are also paintings; most of the big European names are represented; Van Gough, Degas, Monet, Picasso, Cezanne..

Glyptotek
Glyptotek

Much of the gallery is dedicated to The Changing Collection – currently the work of Pierre Bonnard. It’s not my cup of tea and it feels slightly offensive to read his narrative on searching for the perfect colour, considering that it was WWII and most people had much more pressing matters to contend with. So we head instead for the roof, from where there are great views across the city.

View from Glyptotek Roof
View from Glyptotek Roof

Tivoli Gardens

We had intended to go to 19th Century them park, Tivoli Gardens. But we have run out of time, so have to make do with a glimpse and a couple of photos from the exterior.

Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens

We return to SleepCPH to collect our bags. The entrance is locked and we have a plane to catch. After a stressful few minutes wondering what the hell to do next, we discover the bags hidden behind a chair in the hallway. Luckily, our passports are still there. After a classy picnic in the park by the tube station, we depart for the airport.

Copenhagen Airport
Copenhagen Airport

Trip Taken: June 2019

Updated: October 2022

Zagreb 1 Day Itinerary

We spent a day in Zagreb as part of a Balkan Road Trip. It is a pretty little town, but a day is probably enough to see the main sights.

Itinerary

Day 1Drive to Zagreb
Zrinjevac
Strossmayer Square
B&B at 4City Windows
Cathedral of the Assumption
Dolac Market
Trg Bana Jelačića
Funicular Railway
Museum of Broken Relationships
St Mark’s Church

Attractions

1Zrinjevac
2Strossmayer Square
3Cathedral of the Assumption
4Dolac Market
5Trg Bana Jelačića
6Funicular Railway
7Museum of Broken Relationships
8St Mark’s Church

Zagreb Day 1

Drive to Zagreb

Today is our third and final visit to Croatia, to the capital city of Zagreb. It’s all motorway, so progress is rapid but dull. After days of yearning for a decent road as we picked our way along Bosnian goat tracks and Albanian roadworks, I’m bored of motorways now. The old man alleviates the the boredom briefly by taking a wrong turn and accidentally heading for Austria.

Zagreb
Zagreb

Zrinjevac

We find our way back onto the Zagreb road, cross the border and reach our destination by 10.30. Lonely Planet doesn’t have much to say about Zagreb, which is fine as I am out of clean underwear. So, first port of call is the laundrette. While I’m waiting for the machines, I take a wander in the nearby gardens of Zrinjevac.

Zrinjevac
Zrinjevac

Strossmayer Square

Then, I walk down the road to admire the communist era statues in Strossmayer Square.

Strossmayer Square
Strossmayer Square

B&B at 4City Windows

Armed with clean pants, we check in to our B&B; 4City Windows, which is run by a lovely couple. We are in the Cartoon Room which features hand drawn cartoons from war time animated films.

4City Windows Bedroom
4City Windows Bedroom

Our hosts help us plan a route to visit the old city and we set forth to peruse the various churches, notable buildings and parks. It’s a pleasant walk as most of the roads are pedestrian and there are plenty of parks and squares.

4City Windows Bedroom
4City Windows Bedroom

Cathedral of the Assumption

We start with a visit to the succinctly named Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The twin spires of this gothic cathedral dominate the city.

Zagreb Cathedral
Zagreb Cathedral

The cathedral is undergoing renovation. On display are new and old pieces of stonework to demonstrate the damage which has occurred over time. If pollution can cause so much damage to stone, what chance do our lungs have?

Zagreb Cathedral Renovations
Zagreb Cathedral Renovations

Dolac Market

Next, we cross the square to the market, vibrant with flowers and all manner of produce. We purchase some lunch from one of the stalls.

Dolac Market
Dolac Market

Trg Bana Jelačića

Then we sit on the edge of the statue in Trg Bana Jelačića to eat our calzones. It’s all glamour this travelling malarkey. A peruse of my guide book tells me that the statue is of a 19th century viceroy who led Croatia into battle with Hungary. Tito ordered it to be taken down, but after his demise, the statue was returned to its place in the square.

Trg Bana Jelačića

Funicular Railway

Lunch sorted, we take the 18th century funicular railway to the upper town, where we accidentally get caught up in the filming of a documentary.

View from the Funicular Railway
View from the Funicular Railway

Museum of Broken Relationships

Next, we head for the intriguingly named Museum of Broken Relationships (somewhat ironically in Dverce street). People donate items which remind them of the end of a relationship, together with an explanation. There’s quite a range on display from the moving (a mother’s suicide letter, a court document from a child raped by someone she trusted) to the more humorous (a Divorce Day mad dwarf thrown at an ex’s new car).

Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships

My guide book describes the museum as ‘quirky and innovative’. While some of it is interesting and poignant, there are many long-winded self- indulgent explanations of failed love affairs. To be honest, I can think of better ways to spend £5. However, it’s kind of a Zagreb must-see so I’m glad I’ve seen it.

Museum of Broken Relationships - Divorce Day Mad Dwarf
Museum of Broken Relationships – Divorce Day Mad Dwarf

St Mark’s Church

We round our day off with St Mark’s Church. The roof, tiled in the colours of the Croatian flag, complete with coats of arms is emblematic of the city, and indeed Croatia.

St Mark's Church
St Mark’s Church

We return to our B&B to shower and repack ready for tomorrow’s drive to the 8th and final country of our Balkan trip; Serbia.

Trip Taken: September 2018

Updated: September 2022

Santiago 3 Day Itinerary

We spent three days in Santiago in total. In reality, they weren’t consecutive days; there was a gap between Days 1-2 and Day 3, when we flew to Easter Island. We opted to split our stay between central Santiago and the nearby wine growing area of Pirque. Alternatively, Pirque, which is around 24 miles south of Santiago, is an easy day trip from Santiago. There are plenty of organised trips, but it’s also fairly easy to reach by public transport. We took the metro to the end of the line at Puento Alto, then a taxi for last few (around 6) miles.

Itinerary

Flight to Santiago
La Calma de Rita
Dinner at La Calma de Rita
Day 1Concha y Toro
Travel to Santiago
Bellapart Apartment
Day 2Palacio de la Moneda
Plaza de Armas
Santiago Cathedral
Cerro Santa Lucia
Day 3Cerro San Cristóbal
Cable Car
Japanese Garden
Costanera Centre
Sculpture Park

Attractions

1Concha y Toro
2Palacio de la Moneda
3Plaza de Armas
4Santiago Cathedral
5Cerro Santa Lucia
6Cerro San Cristóbal
7Cable Car
8Japanese Garden
9Costanera Centre
10Sculpture Park

Flight to Santiago

Today we fly to Santiago, then have to travel 33 miles from the airport to our ‘hotel’ in Pirque. This involves a shuttle into town, then two tubes and then a taxi for the last few miles from the end of the metro line.

Flying over The Andes
Flying over The Andes

It’s only a 90 minute flight, from one side of The Andes to the other. I’m not looking forward to it – previous encounters with the Andes have involved way more turbulence than I would like. The captain doesn’t help by announcing; ‘We’re about to fly over The Andes, fasten your seatbelts.’ However, it’s actually quite calm and the view is awesome. White snow and glaciers at the top. Blue lakes surrounded by greenery at the bottom. And it the middle, mountains in every shade of red, yellow, orange and brown.

Flying over The Andes
Flying over The Andes

We reach Santiago Airport, which is basically a huge building site. We park so far out that from landing to reaching the terminal building takes 58 minutes. Next immigration. That takes care of another 52 minutes, then customs, changing money and a queue for the bus. We finally leave the airport after what feels like an eternity.

La Calma de Rita

La Calma de Rita
La Calma de Rita

Our bus, tube, tube, taxi combo is straightforward and four hours after we landed, we reach La Calma de Rita; a quirky little place amongst the vineyards. The accommodation is a mixture of wine barrels and Romany style caravans – we’re in a pink caravan. It’s quite remote (a car would have been ideal) but it has a bar, restaurant and pool, so moving isn’t really necessary.

La Calma de Rita
Our Caravan at La Calma de Rita

Dinner at La Calma de Rita

We agree with our taxi driver to collect us in the morning for a vineyard tour, then settle by the pool for a very tasty dinner.

La Calma de Rita
Dinner at La Calma de Rita

Santiago Day 1

Concha y Toro

Concha y Toro
Concha y Toro

La Calma de Rita is a strange place, balanced precariously between rustic charm and just plain dirty. Our Romany caravan is quaint and the bed was really comfortable, but I could do without the mouldy shower curtain. After breakfast, a similar mix of tasty freshly baked bread and nothing else I’d care to eat, we head for Pirque.

Bedroom at La Calma de Rita
Bedroom at La Calma de Rita

Our plan to tour several wineries has been pared down to just one now that our credit card has been cloned and we are unable to hire a car. But it is the biggie; Concha y Toro, the 5th biggest wine producer in the world.

Don Melchor's villa
Don Melchor’s Villa

We book the basic tour which includes a glimpse of the founder Don Melchor’s villa and gardens.

Concha y Toro Gardens
Concha y Toro Gardens

Then on to a small vineyard, each row containing a different type of grapes. We’re invited to wander round, trying the different varieties. I’m surprised how different they taste, but then I’m no wine connoisseur. I just like wine. Our tour allows us to taste three different wines. Then we are given a funky orange box to pack our commemorative wine glass in to take home. In our case, home is five weeks and thousands of miles away, so I don’t fancy its chances.

Cheers from Concha y Toro
Cheers from Concha y Toro

The tour concludes in the Casillero del Diablo, where we see thousands of barrels of wine, a fake devil and a sound and light show explaining how the legend of the Devil’s Cellar came about.

Casillero del Diablo
Casillero del Diablo

Our hotel is four miles from literally anything, so we stock up on supplies at a local supermarket and return for an afternoon of swimming, lazing by the pool, drinking beer and eating cheese rolls and crisps (which we have share with a very insistent cat).

Crisp eating cat
Crisp eating cat

Travel to Santiago

It’s another long day of travelling; a five hour flight backwards through two time zones, a bus into, a tube and finally a walk along the riverside, before reaching our apartment; Bellapart in Santiago at 8 pm.

Bellapart Apartment

Bellapart
Bellapart

It’s such a relief to be somewhere clean and dry, away from the smell of mould of Easter Island. We have Wifi, a balcony with views across the city to the Andes and the real highlight – a laundry.

Sunset from Bellapart Balcony
Sunset from Bellapart Balcony

Santiago Day 2

Palacio de la Moneda

Today we’re sightseeing in central Santiago. We’ve passed though it via underground three times but not surfaced yet. We start with a guided tour of the Palacio de la Moneda (the seat of the President) where we visit the ground floor; courtyards, the press room, state rooms and the chapel.

Palacio de la Moneda
Palacio de la Moneda

Tours are free but popular, so need to be booked online in advance to guarantee a place. Security is tight; you will need to bring a passport.

Palacio de la Moneda
Palacio de la Moneda

Plaza de Armas

Then on to the main square; Plaza de Armas, a hub of activity amidst its 100 shade giving palm trees and fountains.

Plaza de Armas

Santiago Cathedral

We take a quick visit to the cathedral.

Santiago Cathedral
Santiago Cathedral

This 18th Century cathedral is grand and ornate. To be honest, after several weeks in South America, they all start to look a bit alike.

Santiago Cathedral
Santiago Cathedral

Cerro Santa Lucia

Next stop is the Cerro Santa Lucia. Here, you can climb several hundred steps through various gardens to a turreted lookout across the city.

Cerro Santa Lucia

Here, we are confronted by the rather surreal scene of a family taking their cat on an outing, while a man plays the soundtrack to Grease on a harmonica.

View from Cerro Santa Lucia

The afternoon consists mainly of chores; I do 2 weeks worth of laundry while the old man gets a haircut and buys a new belt (following a rather embarrassing incident at airport security when his old one broke, causing him to accidentally drop his trousers). Then we have a quiet evening consisting of a swim in the apartment’s communal pool, followed by drinks on the balcony while the sun sets. It’s such a good view, going out seems superfluous.

Sunset from Bellapart
Sunset from Bellapart

Santiago Day 3

Cerro San Cristóbal

Cerro San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristóbal

It’s our last day in Chile and we’re going to the Parque Metropolitano on Cerro San Cristóbal; a park on a hill on the edge of the city reached by a funicular railway.

Cerro San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristóbal

First, breakfast from the mini market over the road. The old man buys a cake tossed in a thick coating of icing sugar and coconut. He puts it into a bag, then picks the bag up by the wrong end. The cake falls, he executes a miraculous catch, saving the cake and covering the next lady in the queue in sugar and coconut.

View from Cerro San Cristóbal
View from Cerro San Cristóbal

After we’ve finished juggling/eating breakfast, we walk to the funicular which operates from its own castle and takes you 500m up the hill for great views over the city.

You can then climb past a series of painted crosses to a 22 metre high statue of the Virgin Mary.

Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción
Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción

Cable Car

There are a range of activities available on Cerro San Cristóbal; parks, gardens, swimming, a zoo. The must-do activity is to take a cable car across the park, which has spectacular views of the city.

Cable Car
Cable Car

Tickets for the cable car vary in price according to the day of the week. You can buy a single, return or joint attraction ticket. Details are on the website.

Cerro San Cristóbal
Cerro San Cristóbal Cable Car

Japanese Garden

From here we descend on foot to the Japanese Garden is very pretty and also has great views across the city, including the Costanera Centre – the tallest tower in Latin America.

Japanese Garden
View from the Japanese Garden

Costanera Centre

We slip slide back down the hill and head for the Costanera Centre, where you can take a lift to the top for ‘the best view in Latin America’. We lose interest when we realise they want £18 a ticket. The centre contains not only the tallest tower in South America, but also the largest shopping mall. We purchase some lunch and walk to the sculpture park.

Costanera Centre
Costanera Centre

Sculpture Park

The sculpture park isn’t spectacular. But it is free has some interesting pieces and is a pleasant place to sit and have lunch in the shade. Then, we walk the final 2.5 miles back our apartment (not my idea) bringing the total time spent walking today to a good 4 hours.

Santiago Sculpture Park
Sculpture Park

Trip taken: February 2019

Updated: September 2022

Phnom Penh 2 Day Itinerary

We visited Phnom Penh as a two day side trip from Siem Reap, travelling by bus. It’s quite a long journey; the 200 mile trip took us around 7 hours each way including all the stops. But I’m a history nerd, so always intrigued to see places I’d read about in history lessons. So I though it was well worth it. Phnom Penh is very hot and humid, so if you can afford it, I would recommend splurging a little and choosing a hotel with a pool!

Itinerary

Bus to Phnom Penh
Plantation Urban Resort
Drinks and Dinner at Panorama Mekong Hostel
Day 1The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
The Royal Palace
Day 2National Museum of Cambodia
Walk along the Mekong
Bus to Siem Reap

Attractions

1The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek
2Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
3The Royal Palace
4National Museum of Cambodia
5Walk along the Mekong

Bus to Phnom Penh

It seemed like a good idea at the time; a six hour bus trip from Siem Reap to the capital, Phnom Penh. It’s only 199 miles, so that’s an average of 33 mph. The old man and I reach the bus terminal. It’s rather chaotic, child no 1 has booked the complimentary pick up service and is nowhere to be seen, finally arriving a couple of minutes before the bus is due to depart.

Cambodian Service Station
Cambodian Service Station

We are late leaving; some American kid has his ticket on his phone which he forgot to charge. Then we have to make an unscheduled stop after a few miles; some American kid needs to pee and can’t wait. It’s going to be a long day.

Cambodian Service Station
Cambodian Service Station

The road is less rural than I’d expected; it’s lined with townships for most of the route. And litter – lots and lots of litter. The verges are thick with plastic bags and bottles.

Cambodian Service Station
Cambodian Service Station

After six hours, three scheduled stops at service stations on stilts and two unscheduled stops (Mr ‘I need to pee’ demands to be dropped off when we pass a brewery) we reach our destination.

We take a Tuk Tuk to the hotel. We climb in, but the driver has parked over a tree root and can’t push the Tuk Tuk back onto the road, so we have to get out again. Still no success, so we have to help push. Then he asks me to stand in the middle of the busy road and stop the traffic so he can reverse.

Tuk Tuk ride
Tuk Tuk ride

Plantation Urban Resort

We make it to the hotel; Plantation Urban Resort, but are greeted by guests making a run for the door, followed by staff. They are spraying insecticide round the pool.

After a brief wait outside, we are issued with masks and allowed to check in. (Ironically, when I wrote this blog in 2018, this was the first time I’d ever worn a face mask – little did I know what the next few years had in store!)

Plantation Urban Reseort foyer
Plantation Urban Resort foyer

The hotel is amazing – like a calm oasis in the middle of a bustling city. Our colonial style room overlooks a huge pool surrounded by greenery and is just what we needed after a day spent on a bus.

Room at Plantation Urban Resort
Room at Plantation Urban Resort

Drinks and Dinner at Panorama Mekong Hostel

Child no 1 is staying in less salubrious circumstances at the nearby Panorama Mekong Hostel. However, it does have a 4th floor bar overlooking the Mekong River. And sells cocktails at £1.35 each, so we join her by the river for drinks and (finally) dinner.

Beer by the riverside
Beer by the riverside

It’s a popular area, the river is full of boats and has a footpath lined with palm trees full of walkers and runners. As it gets dark, the boats light up and there are red and blue fairy lights on the palm trees which match the Cambodian flags along the street. It’s a magical sight.

Cocktails by the riverside
Cocktails by the riverside

Walking back to our hotel, we pass the Royal Palace, also illuminated at night.

Royal Palace at Night
Royal Palace at Night

Phnom Penh Day 1

The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek

Some may think it a macabre way to spend a day, but I studied history at university, so the first stop on today’s itinerary is a visit to The Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. In a site a few miles out of town, are the mass graves of up to 20,000 victims of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge.

Choeung Ek Memorial Centre
Choeung Ek Memorial Centre

An audio tour takes you round the site of the graves. Some have been excavated, leaving huge dents in the ground, others left untouched, meaning bone fragments and teeth are randomly scattered around.

Killing Fields - Rags of Victims' Clothes
Killing Fields – Rags of Victims’ Clothes

The tour finishes at a Memorial to the victims, which contains over 5000 victims’ skulls.

Killing Fields Memorial
Killing Fields Memorial
Killing Fields Memorial
Killing Fields Memorial

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

After this, we move on to Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This former school became a prison (Prison S21) during Pol Pot’s regime. The four main buildings can be visited.

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Prison S21)
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (Prison S21)

Building A was used for interrogation. Each former classroom contains a bed. Just before the regime was toppled, the final 14 prisoners were tortured to death and left in situ. There is a large photo in each room showing how its final victim was discovered, lying on the bed, covered in blood. You can still see traces of blood on the floor.

Building B contains thousands of mug shots of those who were detained here. There are photos taken when prisoners arrived (plus a gruesome set of photos taken post torture).

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Building C houses the mass cells where inmates were shackled to the walls.

Prison rules

Building D displays many of the instruments and methods of torture utilised to make prisoners confess to crimes or give names of CIA/KGB agents. One survivor explains that he’d never even heard of the CIA yet managed to name over 60 agents under torture.

Tuol Sleng Memorial
Tuol Sleng Memorial

It’s a long and draining morning, both emotionally and physically; we have spent four hours walking round the sites with temperatures in the mid 30s. So we return to the hotel and cool off with a swim.

Plantation Pool
Plantation Pool

The Royal Palace

Suitably refreshed, we set off to visit The Royal Palace – a huge complex containing many grand buildings.

Royal Palace
The Royal Palace

Most opulent is the Silver Pagoda which is named for its silver tiled floor.

Silver Pagoda
Silver Pagoda

There are rooms full of treasures on display. It’s a strange feeling, viewing so much ostentatious wealth surrounded by so much poverty.

Servants' Uniforms
Servants’ Uniforms

We round off our last evening in Phnom Penh with anouther round of riverside drinks and dinner.

Final night in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Day 2

Today is poorly planned. Our onward flights are from Siem Reap, which means a six hour coach journey this afternoon to catch a plane in the morning.

National Museum of Cambodia

First, just enough time to visit the National Museum of Cambodia. It houses a collection of Khmer artefacts but isn’t really worth the $10 admission fee (plus a further $5 for an audio guide).

National Museum of Cambodia
National Museum of Cambodia

Plus there’s no air conditioning, so we only manage an hour before we are so sweaty our clothes are stuck to our bodies and we go in search of cold drinks and a cooling breeze.

National Museum of Cambodia
National Museum of Cambodia

Walk along the Mekong

Then it’s time to say goodbye to child no 1 who is flying home, check out and begin the long journey back to Siem Reap.

Walk along the Mekong
Walk along the Mekong

We take along the banks of the mighty Mekong which is lined with flags and statues.

Walk along the Mekong
Walk along the Mekong

Trip Taken: April 2018

Updated: September 2022

Sofia 3 Day Itinerary

We went to Sofia as a weekend city break, spending two days in the city and a third day on an organised tour to Rila Monastery, stopping en route at Boyana Church. The Monastery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is around 70 miles south of Sofia. It is quite spectacular, so I thoroughly recommend adding a day to your itinerary to go and see it.

Itinerary

Day 1Flight to Sofia
Arena di Serdica Boutique Hotel
Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
President’s Building
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral
Dinner at Happy Bar and Grill
Day 2Museum of Socialist Art
Borisova Gradina
Monument to the Soviet Army
National Palace of Culture
Saint Sofia Monument
Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti
Day 3Boyana Church
Rila Monastery
Dinner at Vitosha Street Bar & Dinner

Attractions

1Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
2President’s Building
3Alexksander Nevski Cathedral
4Museum of Socialist Art
5Borisova Gradina
6Monument to the Soviet Army
7National Palace of Culture
8Saint Sofia Monument
9Boyana Church
10Rila Monastery

Day 1

Flight to Sofia

The flight to Sofia is uneventful. We head for the metro station and after a few issues with the ticket machine, head into town for our hotel. It’s very hot, so we have booked a hotel with a pool and I am very much looking forward to a refreshing dip.

Sofia Airport
Sofia Airport

We reach our stop. I have checked the map and it looks pretty easy to reach the hotel; out of the station, turn left and it’s a few doors down. I failed to notice that the station is on a crossroads. With four exits. So we depart, turn left, look for our hotel. It’s not there. We realise our mistake, retrace our steps, and depart the station via a different exit. Same thing. And again. Fourth time lucky, we finally select the correct exit and reach our hotel. We are vey sweaty. The pool is sounding all the more inviting.

At reception, we are informed that there has been a burst pipe and an entire floor (ours) is out of bounds. So we are sent, by taxi, to a sister hotel.

Arena di Serdica Boutique Hotel

It’s not often that your hotel is actually a tourist attraction too. When builders started digging the foundations for the Arena di Serdica Boutique Hotel pool, they stumbled upon Roman remains. So the site was excavated and the hotel built over the top (sans pool).

Arena di Serdica Hotel Foyer
Arena di Serdica Hotel Foyer

It’s quite unique, staying in a hotel with its own Roman ruins. And it is a very nice hotel. Also, much more central than the one we’d booked. But I am still disappointed by the lack of a pool. And I’m not sure about the weird modern art draped across the ancient amphitheatre…

View from the hotel restaurant
View from the hotel restaurant

Sveti Nikolai Russian Church

After refreshments in a nearby bar (no pool, so we have to make do with a beer) we set forth for some sightseeing. First, the Sveti Nikolai Russian Church, set in pretty gardens, with its glistening golden onion domes.

Sveti Nikolai Russian Church
Sveti Nikolai Russian Church


President’s Building

Building wise, there’s not much to see at the President‘s Building; security is tight and you can’t get particularly close. But it’s definitely worth coming here on the hour, to see the Changing of the Guard. It’s like military theatre.

Presidency Changing of the Guards
Presidency Changing of the Guards


Aleksander Nevski Cathedral

The number one tourist destination in Sofia is, of course, the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral. This enormous 19th century cathedral is synonymous with the city of Sofia and is quite a sight on a sunny day with the light reflecting off its many domes.

Alexkander Nevski Cathedral
Aleksander Nevski Cathedral


Dinner at Happy Bar and Grill

We usually try to and eat authentic local food on our travels, but it’s been a long, hot day so we just plonk ourselves down at the nearest eatery and end up drinking sangria and eating chips at the Happy Bar and Grill.

Happy Bar and Grill
Happy Bar Sangria

Day 2

Museum of Socialist Art

Way back when, I studied East European Studies at university and love a bit of socialist realist art. So our first full day in Sofia entails a metro ride out to the suburbs and the fascinating Museum of Socialist Art.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art

The museum is not the easiest place to find; technically, only a ten minute walk from the G M Dimitrov metro station, but again we are confused by the number of exits. In amongst a range of modern office buildings, we finally, we spot an enormous red star which indicates we have located the musuem.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art

After the fall of communism in Bulgaria, officials wondered what to do with various sculptures and art work which depicted communist ideals which were in evidence across the city. The answer was to take it all down and dump it in a garden; the Museum of Socialist Art.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art

Here, you can wander round the garden full of Lenin busts, red stars and all manner of other sculptures. There’s also an art gallery. This is my idea of the perfect way to spend a morning.

Museum of Socialist Art
Museum of Socialist Art


Borisova Gradina

We return to the metro and head a couple of stops back towards town for the next on the list on this morning’s socialist sculpture extravaganza. This one is located in the Borisova Gradina, a large area of parkland, with plenty of gardens and statues as well as various cafes and bars for refreshments along the way.

Beers at Borisova Gradina
Beers at Borisova Gradina

Our ultimate goal isn’t signposted, or maintained, but we finally find it behind the trees covered in graffiti; The Mound of Brotherhood.

The Mound of Brotherhood
The Mound of Brotherhood

The mound is home to a 42 metre obelisk flanked by two more gun toting communists.

The Mound of Brotherhood
The Mound of Brotherhood
The Mound of Brotherhood


Monument to the Soviet Army

One final stop as we head back into town, in search of yet more socialist art; this one remains in situ as it is a war memorial; the Monument to the Soviet Army. This WW2 war memorial with a gun toting Russian soldier atop a column surrounded by scenes of struggling peasants is classic socialist realism. Call me weird, but I love this stuff.

Monument to the Soviet Army
Monument to the Soviet Army

On occasions, it has been the subject of some, let’s say paint attacks. My favourite is this Popart makeover, when the soldiers were painted to resemble various American characters, such as Superman, Ronald McDonald and The Joker.

Monument to the Soviet Army Popart makeover


Saint Sofia Monument

Our first stop is the Saint Sofia monument which stands on a column on a traffic island. This statue of Saint Sofia, after whom the city is named, sits on a 24 metre column. She replaces the previous occupant, Lenin. It’s quite difficult to photograph the statue as (1) it’s very sunny and (2) I don’t want to get run over.

Saint Sofia Monument
Saint Sofia Monument


National Palace of Culture

Onward to another icon of the communist era; the National Palace of Culture. This octagonal (in my opinion) concrete monstrosity, built in the 80s, houses a concert hall, conference centre and cafes. It is reached via a fountain lined park; Ploshtad Bulgaria.

National Palace of Culture
National Palace of Culture


Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti

It’s been a long day with a lot of walking. Time to go in search of sustenance. We have chose a restaurant offering Bulgarian food and entertainment.

Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti
Dinner at Hadjidraganovite kashti

It’s a bit kitsch, with wooden menus, staff in national dress and live folk music. But it is an entertaining evening. With very good food.

Band at Hadjidraganovite kashti
Band at Hadjidraganovite kashti

Day 3

I don’t usually opt for organised tours, but today we are heading 70 miles south of Sofia to Rila Monastery, and I don’t fancy doing that on public transport. So, we opt for a guided tour. We reach the meeting point in plenty of time. Which wasn’t necessary, as it seems like an absolute age before everybody is present and we’re ready to depart.

Boyana Church

First stop, on the outskirts of the capital, is Boyana Church. This tiny 13th century church is famous for its muralled walls. Only 8 people are allowed in at a time, so it takes a while before our entire group has been into the church, despite the 10 minute time limit. Also, photography isn’t allowed. It always makes me grumpy when I’m not allowed to take photos.

Boyana Church
Boyana Church

Eventually, weset forth once again for Rila. Next, a pit stop at a service station. Again, it takes a while before everyone is ready to depart. I am very much reminded of why I don’t usually do organised tours.


Rila Monastery

Finally, four hours after departing Sofia, we reach our destination. Despite the onset of a bout of tour group grumpiness, I have to admit it spectacular. Both the building and the location. The 10th century monastery sits next to a river nestled at the foot of the Rila Mountains.

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

The courtyard reminds me of an inside out wedding cake with its tiered arches.

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

The walls are covered in ornate murals.

Rila Monastery
Rila Monastery

It is possible to wander around much of the monastery (there are monks resident here) and there is also a museum housing religious artefacts.

Rila Monastery toilets
Rila Monastery toilets

Allotted time up, we depart once more for Sofia. Just time for a quick trip to the loo before we go. Not the best toilets I’ve ever frequented.


Dinner at Vitosha Street Bar & Dinner

We finally make it back to Sofia. Having spent so much of the day in a bus, we find a restaurant with outdoor seating to enjoy the warm summer’s evening and eat (and drink) plenty of Bulgarian produce.

Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner
Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner – Bar
Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner
Vitosha Street Bar and Dinner – Dinner

Trip taken: June 2016

Updated: September 2022

Rio de Janeiro 4 Day Itinerary

We spent a week in Brazil, split between Rio de Janeiro and Iguacu Falls. The key attractions in Rio are fairly spread out. We chose to base ourselves in Copacabana, close to the beach, and travel to other destinations by public transport. Rio’s Metro system is cheap, clean and efficient. We struggled a bit with the buses, mainly because we don’t speak Portuguese.

Itinerary

Flight to Rio
Rio Design Hotel
Day 1Copacabana
Ipanema
Drinks at Garota de Ipanema
Day 2Christ the Redeemer
Botanical Gardens
Day 3Bonde Streetcar
Arcos de Lapa Viaduct
Escadaria Selarón
National History Museum
Boulevard Olímpico
Day 4Sugarloaf Mountain
Copacabana Beach

Attractions

1Copacabana
2Ipanema
3Christ the Redeemer
4Botanical Gardens
5Bonde Streetcar
6Arcos de Lapa Viaduct
7Escadaria Selarón
8National History Museum
9Boulevard Olímpico
10Sugarloaf Mountain

Flight to Rio de Janeiro

Welcome to Brazil
Welcome to Brazil

We’re off on our travels again – this time to South America, starting in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a long journey; having already got up at stupid o’clock and spent 2 hours on a coach to London, we have 13 hours of flying, 4 hours at various airports, finishing with a 1 hour taxi ride.

We fly via Madrid with less than an hour between flights. After landing, I see the old man get my bag out of the overhead locker, then we get separated by a crazy lady who decides to go the wrong way down the aisle of the plane pulling a suitcase the size of a small hatchback. When I finally catch up with him in the terminal building, he doesn’t have my bag – he left it on the plane. So it’s a mad dash to retrieve it before it gets destroyed/returned to London.

Panic over, we continue to board our onward flight. Seven hours later, I have read The Tatooist of Auschwitz from cover to cover, I look for an English film to watch. There’s not much choice, but I try ‘Mamma Mia! Here we go again’. 5 minutes in, I decide it’s preferable to spend the final 4 hours of the flight sitting in the dark listening to babies cry.

Rio Design Hotel

Finally, we arrive in Brazil, negotiate the enormous airport and take a taxi to our hotel; Rio Design Hotel, which is very pleasant with a large room and comfortable bed – just what you need after a full day of travelling. Equally welcome are the complementary welcome cocktails. And it’s only 100 metres from the iconic Copacabana Beach.

Rio Design Hotel
Rio Design Hotel

It’s already dark so there’s not much chance for a first glimpse of Rio. We head out briefly in search of much needed refreshments (there’s very little service on an Iberia flight and we are quite dehydrated). We don’t go far, it’s been a long day and we’re tired, but we have our first Brazilian beer at a little pizza bar opposite the hotel, then go to bed.

First Brazilian Beer

Rio de Janeiro Day 1

We get up and go for breakfast at the hotel buffet. We deal with yesterday’s dietary deficiencies by consuming a mountain of fruit – mainly mango – the sweetest, juiciest mango I have ever tasted. I also have some sausage and eggs, although there’s a slight delay in proceedings while a women attempts to light her cigarette on the heat source under the breakfast buffet.

Copacabana

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

Then we set forth along Copacabana Beach. It’s 8.30 am and the prom is already heaving with walkers, runners and cyclists out for their morning constitutional. It’s like an exotic Bournemouth; we have the Overcliff, they have Sugarloaf Mountain.

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

We walk the full 4 km length of the beach, and back again. By the end it is 36 degrees and we’re rather warm and sweaty.

Copacabana Beach
Copacabana Beach

After a pit stop at a beach bar, we round off our morning with a visit to Copacabana Fort, perched on a peninsula with a stunning view across Copacabana Beach to Sugarloaf Mountain.

Copacabana Fort
Copacabana Fort

The fort also houses an Army Museum. It’s probably quite interesting (I’m not sure, it’s all in Portuguese) but it definitely has great air conditioning.

View from Copacabana Fort
View from Copacabana Fort

Suitably cooled, we head back to the hotel, stopping at a supermarket to purchase copious amounts of liquids, then head back to the hotel for a cool down and a siesta.

Ipanema Beach
Ipanema Beach

Ipanema

In the evening, once the temperature has dropped to an almost manageable 32 degrees, we set off for to Ipanema. It’s super mega busy. It looks like photos I’ve seen of Benidorm in the 70s when the British discovered the package holiday.

Girl from Ipanema
Girl from Ipanema

We walk along the prom for a while, then can’t resist heading for the the tourist trap of Garota de Ipanema; the bar where the song ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ was written. We have a beer (or two), then go and get dinner somewhere considerably cheaper and less touristy.

Girl from Ipanema bar
Girl from Ipanema bar

We return to the pizza bar opposite our hotel and order a pizza and some chips to share. The amount of food that is produced is akin to an episode of Man v Food. The portions are enormous and the layer of cheese is as thick as the pizza base.

Rio Design Hotel Rooftop view
Rio Design Hotel Rooftop view

Once we have been defeated by dinner, it’s back to the hotel for cheese sweats and an early night. After today’s gentle introduction to Rio, tomorrow we go hardcore tourist and head for Christ the Redeemer.

Rio de Janeiro Day 2

Christ The Redeemer

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer

Today we’re going to see Christ the Redeemer. One of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World. In the school summer holidays. I suspect we won’t be alone…

Funicular Railway Waiting Room

The ascent is made by funicular railway. You need to purchase tickets in advance for a specified time. Turn up late and you lose your slot. So we leave ample time for the bus journey to the station. We find the bus stop, the bus is on time and we get off at the correct place; the result being we arrive an hour before our train. It’s very busy, but very efficiently organised – which is kind of good, because I like order and kind of bad, because there’s no chance of getting an earlier train.

Funicular Railway
Funicular Railway

Eventually it’s our turn to board and we set off, or rather up. The train ride takes 20 minutes and ascends 700 metres. At the top, there’s a further climb of 200 steps (or an elevator/escalator combo if you prefer). And there he is. Christ the Redeemer. 38 metres tall, looking down on Rio from the top of his mountain.

Christ the Redeemer
Christ the Redeemer

There’s not much to do; just admire/photograph the statue and admire/photograph the stunning view across Rio and beyond, together with hundreds of other tourists. So it’s a kind of spectacular anti climax.

View from Christ the Redeemer
View from Christ the Redeemer

Botanical Gardens

My guide book says that you can take a trail through the park back down into Rio, but it’s closed. So we descend by train and take a bus to the Botanical Gardens.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens

The Gardens are beautiful. It’s hard to imagine that you’re in a city amidst the palm trees and lily ponds. There is a spectacular array of plants, waterfalls, lakes and fountains, all watched over by Christ the Redeemer. My favourite bit, however is the cactus garden.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens – Cactus

A gardener sees us admiring the amazing cacti and invites us to try some. He cuts the top off an ancient Brazilian cactus and he and the old man proceed to eat it.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens – Cactus Eating

Beautiful though the gardens are, the temperature has reached 36 degrees. We manage two hours, but that is my limit so we set off to catch a bus back to the hotel. The bus route is circular; you can catch it either clockwise or anti-clockwise. We have a difference of opinion over which direction is correct. I’m right (obviously), but while we’re arguing, the bus sails past without us.

Rio Botanical Gardens

The journey back to Copacabana takes ages. It turns out there has been an accident; some scaffolding has collapsed onto the pavement. I feel slightly guilty about how I used to complain bitterly about Risk Assessment in my former life.

Rio Botanical Gardens
Rio Botanical Gardens

We reach our hotel, stopping briefly to purchase the obligatory supplies of drinks and crisps. I like to pretend that crisps are important in replacing the salt I have sweated out. The truth is, I really like crisps. After lunch, it’s time for a cool down in the hotel’s rooftop pool.

Rio Design Hotel Pool
Rio Design Hotel Pool

Next, a glamorous interlude while I wash underwear in the bathroom sink and hang it on the air conditioning unit to dry. As if life wasn’t glamorous enough, we go to the supermarket to buy dinner. I choose a selection pack of 5 different cheese spreads. Back in our room, I check the flavours with Google Translate; one contains nuts. Who knew you could play Russian Roulette with cheese?

Rio de Janeiro Day 3

Love Rio
Love Rio

Today we are going sightseeing in Rio. So, on a sunny summer Saturday, we set of by Metro from Copacabana Beach to the city centre. Not surprisingly, we are travelling in the opposite direction to almost everyone else. We buy Metro tickets, which are quite decorative and thus a good item for my scrapbook. However, at the turnstile, we insert the ticket and it isn’t returned. I look so disappointed that on the following journey, the old man buys 3 tickets so I have one to keep.

Bonde Streetcar

Riding the Bonde
Riding the Bonde

First stop is the Bonde, the old streetcar which clambers across the Arcos de Lapa Viaduct and up the hillside along cobbled lanes decorated with murals.

Bonde Mural
Bonde Mural

We’re taking the Bonde just for the sake of it, so buy a return ticket, worrying that we’ll look a bit strange when we stay on at the final destination. In fact, when we reach the last station, there is little sign of movement. Nobody gets on or off; passengers simply flick their seat backs over so they are facing forward for the return journey and we set off back down the hillside.

Arcos de Lapa Viaduct

Lapa Viaduct
Lapa Viaduct

We walk back to the base of the 18th Century Roman style viaduc, which consists of 42 arches, to photograph a tram passing over it. And for the obligatory selfie with the ‘Love Rio’ sign.

Metropolitan Cathedral

Bonde and Metropolitan Cathedral
Bonde and Metropolitan Cathedral

Next stop is the Metropolitan Cathedral; from the outside it’s an ugly concrete cone. Inside, however it’s rather beautiful with four entrances, each facing a floor to ceiling stained glass tableau.

Metropolitan Cathedra
Metropolitan Cathedral

Escadaria Selarón

We move on to the Escadaria Selarón; a flight of 215 steps, each decorated with brightly coloured tiles. I’ve seen pictures and it looks quite spectacular; of course in reality it’s swarming with so many tourists you can hardly see the steps.

Escadaria Selarón
Escadaria Selarón

Luckily, most of these tourists seem averse to actually climbing too many steps. Thus, as we ascend, numbers dwindle and at the top, there’s just me, the old man and a water vendor who’s charging 50% more than those at the bottom. We don’t care; we’ve just climbed 210 steps in 36 degree heat. I would have given him my first born for a bottle of water.

Top of Escadaria Selarón
Top of Escadaria Selarón

National History Museum

Next, we visit the National History Museum, which charts the history of the Brazilian people from the first known settlers 25,000 years ago, through colonisation, slavery and independence to the present day.

National Museum
National History Museum

Museum of Art

We walk along the waterfront to the Museum of Art, which is somewhat of an anti climax. The main exhibition is based on Samba; its place in the history, culture and politics of Brazil. But the captions are only in Portuguese, so we have no idea what it says. The remaining floors contain exhibits which cause the old man to go into ‘Call that art?’ mode, so we give up.

Museum of Art
Museum of Art

Boulevard Olímpico

Just time for a wander along the Boulevard Olímpico. This once derelict area near the port, was transformed for the 2016 Olympics. It is lined with street art. The most spectacular is the Etnias Mural – inspired by the five Olympic Rings, the artist, Eduardo Kobra, created five faces to represent the continents. It is enormous and mesmerising.

Etnias Mural
Etnias Mural

It’s been a scorcher of a day and we’ve been sightseeing for eight hours. I’ve had enough of heat and walking and not understanding anything that’s going on around me.

Etnias Mural
Etnias Mural

We return to the hotel and round the evening off with another glamorous session of a supermarket supper followed by washing underwear in the sink. It’s not as successful as yesterday; someone next door is smoking out of the window so my clothes smell of cigarettes and are covered in ash. I consider complaining, but am not sure if smoking in a non-smoking room out-trumps hanging your knickers out of the hotel window, so I decide to put it down to experience and have another beer…

Rio de Janeiro Day 4

It has come to my attention that I don’t apply sunblock right up to my clothes. I have woken this morning with 3 pink rings around my neck and shoulders outlining yesterday’s vest. So this morning I am wearing a T shirt. I feel hideously overdressed in a city where the preferred attire is a bikini which barely covers your nipples.

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain
Sugarloaf Mountain

It’s our last day in Rio, so we’re going up Sugarloaf Mountain. We’ve left it till last because frankly I hate cable cars. It’s not natural to hang in mid air in a glass box on a bit of wire. And Sugarloaf Mountain requires some serious mid air hanging. First, you take a cable car up the neighbouring Morro da Urca. Then you take a second cable car to Sugarloaf. Basically, you travel a kilometre in a glass box on a wire which hangs between two mountains. They’re not really mountains, to use the correct geographical term (Catherine), they’re granite monoliths. It has to be said that the cable cars traversing these monoliths is a spectacular sight which can be seen across Rio. But it’s still against the laws of nature.

Sugarloaf Mountain
About to set off for Sugarloaf Mountain

We set off for the bus stop, but there is some confusion as the bus Google says we should take doesn’t appear to exist. We wait 20 minutes before giving up and getting on a random bus and hoping it gets us near our destination. This non-scientific approach leaves us with a mile to walk, which we consider a marginal success.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Approaching Sugarloaf Mountain

Tickets for the cable car aren’t cheap; we hand over our £60 (that’s around £10 a minute) and board the first cable car to Murro da Orca. The summit is quite small; just big enough for two cable car stations and a gift shop.

Sugarloaf Mountain
View from Sugarloaf Mountain

We take the second cable car to Sugarloaf, which is slightly larger (a gift shop and a restaurant and, rather bizarrely, as we’re up a mountain, a beach bar).

Sugarloaf Mountain
Top of Sugarloaf Mountain

We circumnavigate the monolith to enjoy the views, take photos and generally reach a point where we feel like we’ve had £60 worth of entertainment. At the rear is an area of rainforest populated by very tame marmosets.

Marmoset
Marmoset

We descend and, just as we’re discussing how to reach the hotel, the non-existent bus appears round the corner. We’re not at a bus stop, so we just smile and wave at the bus driver, who takes pity and picks us up.

Sugarloaf Mountain
Descending Sugarloaf Mountain

Copacabana (again)

That leaves just one item on our Rio ‘to do’ list – swimming on Copacabana Beach. The problem is that having walked the length of the bay on arrival, we have spotted the sewage pipes spewing crap into the ocean. So I have a dilemma; do I want to swim on one of the world’s most iconic beaches knowing that I will literally be paddling in my own poo? Not that it really makes a difference whose poo I’m paddling in.

Swimming at Copacabana Beach
Swimming at Copacabana Beach

We walk to the beach, find a few square inches to lay out our towel, and the old man sets forth into the water. I’m not sure why. It’s a rather sinister shade of brown and has all sorts of rubbish floating in it – more brown flag than blue flag. He emerges with a look of horror on his face, takes a shower, returns to the hotel and takes two more showers, all the time muttering about taking precautionary Imodium.

Copacabana Sunset
Copacabana Sunset

Once I have finally finished laughing, it’s time fish my knickers off the window ledge and pack. In the morning we leave Rio and head for the waterfalls of Iguacu.

Trip Taken: January 2019

Updated: September 2022

Sarajevo 2 Day Itinerary

We spent two days in Sarajevo as part of a Balkan road trip, stopping on the way into the city at Jablanica and the Tunnel Museum. Jablanica is around 50 miles south west of Sarajevo. If you’re passing, it makes an interesting stop. If not, it’s probably not worth a detour. The Tunnel Museum is around 7 miles south west of the centre. This is definitely worth a detour! If you’re not on a road trip, it’s near the airport, so still the best place to start a tour of Sarajevo. Both geographically and because it tells a chapter of the story of the city’s turbulent past. Most of the sights detailed are in the old town, so we did all our sightseeing on foot, which was fine, although the hill to the Yellow Bastion is quite steep (worth it for the view). If it’s too much, the city has a cheap and comprehensive tram system.

Itinerary

Day 1Drive to Sarajevo
(Stop at Jablanica)
Tunnel Museum
Hotel Lula
Baščaršija (Pigeon Square)
Cathedral
Dinner at Bosanska Kuca
Day 2Yellow Bastion
Kovaci Graveyard
City Hall
Latin Bridge: assassination spot of Franz Ferdinand
Sarajevo 1878-1918 Museum
Walk along Miljacka River
(1984 Winter Olympic Stadium)
Eternal Flame
Dinner at Cevabdzinica Hodzic

Attractions

1Tunnel Museum
2Baščaršija (Pigeon Square)
3Cathedral
4Yellow Bastion
5Kovaci Graveyard
6City Hall
7Latin Bridge (Assassination Spot of Franz Ferdinand)
8Sarajevo 1878-1918 Museum
9Walk along Miljacka River (to 1984 Winter Olympic Stadium)
10Eternal Flame

Sarajevo Day 1

Drive to Sarajevo

Today is going to be smelly. We have run out of clean clothes and yesterday’s car troubles put paid to our laundry plans. So we will be driving to Sarajevo with the windows open.

Three things I know about Sarajevo; (1) Franz Ferdinand was assassinated here, the event which sparked World War I, (2) during the Bosnian War the city was under siege for several years and (3) it hosted the 1984 Winter Olympics.

Drive to Sarajevo
Drive to Sarajevo

Jablanica

This morning entails another scenic mountain drive, much of it along the valley of the beautiful blue-green Neretva River. We stop in Jablanica, site of a WW2 battle, where Tito’s Partisan forces took out a railway bridge to thwart the advancing Germans. The bridge still lies upended in the river as a monument to those who fought.

Jablanica
Jablanica

Tunnel Museum

On the outskirts of Sarajevo we stop at the Tunnel Museum. During the Siege of Sarajevo, when the city was cut off from the rest of Bosnia, a tunnel was built under the airport to smuggle supplies in and the wounded out of the city.

Tunnel Museum
Tunnel Museum

Now, the ‘Tunnel of Hope’ is a tourist attraction and you can go into the tunnel to see how it operated. Rails were laid through the tunnel, and then trollies, wheelchairs, stretchers etc were adapted to fit the rails.

Tunnel of Hope
Tunnel of Hope

Hotel Lula

After this fascinating insight into the horrors of the war and the resilience of the people of Bosnia, we continue into the city of Sarajevo. Once we have dealt with our laundry, we check into our hotel. The tiny (7 room hotel) is Hotel Lula is a unique place. I can’t quite decide if the décor is shabby chic or just shabby. The stains on the carpet have almost sold me on shabby, until we descend into the basement dining area. More of that later… One thing is certain, it’s very conveniently located, just a stone’s throw from Pigeon Square.

Baščaršija (Pigeon Square)

Once we have donned clean clothes, we take a wander round Sarajevo. We walk through the Baščaršija, nicknamed Pigeon Square. This cobbled pedestrian area in the heart of the old city, lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. And of course, pigeons.

Pigeon Square

Cathedral

We return to our hotel via the cathedral, with its rather unflattering sculpture of Pope Francis, who visited in 2015. Sarajevo isn’t what I expected of a capital city. It’s somewhat down at heel and still has a rather war torn look. I’m surprised how many of the buildings are still peppered with bullet holes almost a quarter of a century later.

Sarajevo Cathedral
Sarajevo Cathedral
Pope Statue
Pope Statue

Dinner at Bosanska Kuca

We round the evening off with beer and kebabs at Bosanska Kuca, sitting outside to enable us to watch the world go by the Baščaršija as we dine. Then retire pending a full tourist onslaught on Sarajevo in the morning.

Beer and Kebabs

Sarajevo Day 2

We get up and go for breakfast at the Hotel Lula. In the dining room, one wall is the breakfast buffet. The other 3 walls consist of a fake cottage, a fake woodpile and a fake forest. Running right through the middle; a fake tree.

Breakfast in the Hotel Lula forest

Yellow Bastion

After breakfast, we set off to explore Sarajevo. We head for the Yellow Bastion, which offers a great view of the city (i.e. involves a long uphill walk).

View from the Yellow Fortress
View from the Yellow Bastion

Kovaci Graveyard

The hill leading to the Yellow Bastion is largely covered by the Kovaci Graveyard, filed with line upon line of war graves. It’s a very visual reminder of the loss this city has suffered. The graveyard is also the final resting place of Bosnia’s first president.

Sarajevo War Graves
War Graves in Kovaci Graveyard

City Hall

Next we visit the beautifully restored neo-Moorish City Hall with its ornate interior and stained glass ceiling.

Sarajevo City Hall
City Hall

The basement contains a museum with interesting displays covering the key events of the city’s history.

Interior of City Hall
Interior of City Hall

Latin Bridge (Assassination Spot of Franz Ferdinand)

We continue along the river to the corner of the Latin Bridge. This is assassination spot of Franz Ferdinand. Here, somewhat bizarrely, you can find a plaque and an illustration of the monument which once marked the spot.

Latin Bridge
Latin Bridge

I studied European History at University. So, standing on the spot where the act which triggered the start of World War I, ultimately shaping the world we live in today, took place is strangely exciting.

Assassination Spot of Franz Ferdinand

Assassination Spot of Franz Ferdinand

Sarajevo 1878-1918 Museum

Across the road is a (very small) museum which tells the story in more detail. The Sarajevo 1878-1918 Museum includes wax figures of the archduke and his wife, who you can join for a bizarre photo op.

Franz Ferdinand mannequin
Hanging out with the Ferdinands

Walk along the Miljacka River

We continue along the banks of the Miljacka River towards the 1984 Olympic Stadium. The river is lined by grand buildings, many still bearing bullet holes, and criss-crossed with bridges. My favourite is the Festina Lente, which has a loop in the middle.

Festina Lente

1984 Winter Olympic Stadium

For a British person of a certain age, the Sarajevo Olympics is synonymous with scenes of Torvill and Dean’s gold winning ice dance Bolero. It’s a bit forlorn nowadays and not much to see, but it was a nice walk!

Sarajevo Winter Olympic Stadium
1984 Winter Olympic Stadium

Eternal Flame

We walk back along the river, past the Eternal Flame (a memorial to those who fought in WW2) and stop for a beer in a bar where a surly waiter seems quite angry that people are ruining his afternoon of drinking and smoking by wanting stuff.

Eternal Flame
Eternal Flame

Dinner at Cevabdzinica Hodzic

We round the day off with dinner; the local favourite; Cevapcici – mini kebabs in a flatbread with onions) and shop for souvenirs amongst the myriad of stalls.

Cevapcici
Cevapcici

After blowing our last few Marks on beer, it’s time to pack ready for tomorrow’s long drive to Split.

Trip taken: September 2019

Updated: September 2022