Saturday, 26 December 2009
Tuesday, 22 December 2009
And, it also turns out that Tane has larger feet that John Wayne. According to a guide Wayne's feet look smaller than they actually were because of his boots, but as I am too dense to follow that logic myself have decided to let this photo do the talking!
Friday, 18 December 2009
Tuesday, 15 December 2009
Uxmal was next, which had an unusual pyramid with circular corners, lots of beautiful carvings, a more laid-back atmosphere than Chichen and - bonus - iguanas.
Kabah is a relatively small but interesting site, with an amazing facade with more than 200 faces of the all-important rain god, Chaak, while Palenque is famous for its beautiful setting in jungle-covered hills, and was Lauren's favourite.
Bonampak's chief claim to fame is its amazing murals, probably the best in the Mayan world. Like the stonework the murals can be pretty grizzly though, as the Mayan kings loved to show themselves torturing, sacrificing and generally being mean to captives.
Yaxchilan´s main plaza.
Sadly we did not have time to fit in what is said to be the most amazing city of all, Tikal, or Copan in Honduras, famous for its stonework. But at least that gives us another excuse to come back to Central America!
Friday, 11 December 2009
Thursday, 10 December 2009
Friday, 4 December 2009
The reputation of Italy is that the further south of Rome you get, the poorer, more corrupt and crime-ridden it is. There´s certainly a lot of scuminess around, but also plenty of gems. Take Naples. There are some of the ugliest decaying apartment blocks you´ll see outside of Cambodia. There´s an air of dodginess around the train station. There´s the murder rate, easily the highest in the country. But there are also plenty of elegant apartment blocks, spectacular state and religious buildings, a superb ancient history museum and real buzz in the air at night.
Then there was the day we spent trying to get to the famous Greek ruins of Paestum. We started off in lovely Sorrento, which is perched on the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, then took a graffiti-covered Circumvesuviana train to our accommodation near Pompeii. Unfortunately, turns out near is a relative term. We were actually in Scafarti, a non-too-nice town next to Pompeii. To get to our b&b we had to trek from the train station, with its distinctive spraypaint, rubbish and concrete decor, in our backpacks down a busy road with no footpaths.
And, maybe best of all, the pizza place down the road from the b&b was sensationally cheap and sensationally good. So at the end of the day, like Southern Italy as a whole, the highs definitely outnumbered the lows.
All for just two Euros and fifty cents
Saturday, 28 November 2009
While the Alhambra has been around for more than half a millenium, the Sagrada Familia will not be finished for decades. But it is still one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. Normally a great building reminds you of others of the type you have seen, be it a Mughal palace, a Hindu temple or a Gothic cathedral. The Sagrada is like nothing I have ever seen before, and I can't say how much that impressed me.
Gaudi was inspired by nature, so the Sagrada is all about curves and organic forms. It looks like it has grown out of a coral reef, or leaf litter. There are snail and lizards for gargoyles, pillars like tree trunks, steepletops like flowers. Go and see it.
A stairwell in one of the Sagrada's towers.
Monday, 23 November 2009
Tane in Cordoba
We have been especially lucky with our time in Andalucia as well as we´ve met interesting travellers, and learnt a lot about Spain. We´ve been given freee sangria, and have seen a local band performing flamenco music. We´ve also been given excellent recommendations for places to eat, and I´ve had ample chances to practice my very average Spanish.
Mmmmm. Tapas. Made even nicer after using the old point and randomly select options method of ordering
I am already sad about leaving Andalucia in a few days time, which is saying something about how great it is here. Lucky we have one more month of travel to get over it, eh? ;)
Saturday, 21 November 2009
History geeks that we are, we have seen a lot of ruins in our travels. But the volcano-buried towns below Mt Vesuvius take the cake. Ephesus, Paestum, Pergamon, Angkor, Luxor, Karnak, the Forum and the other ruins of Rome are all superb, but Pompeii and Herculaneum take it to another level.
Saturday, 14 November 2009
Cassino was a key point on the road to Rome and during the battle for it 45,000 Allied troops and many Germans were killed, and most infamously, the historic hilltop monastery (founded in the 6th Century AD) was bombed into rubble by Allied bombing.
Today there´s little to remind you of the devastation. The town has been rebuilt as nondescript apartment blocks, while the new monastery again sits atop its steep, strategic peak. It´s part of the lovely backdrop to the town, along with the Appiennes rising in the near distance, the higher peaks covered in snow.
The town´s museum was closed for the winter and we didn´t time it right to take a bus up to the monastery, but the Commonwealth War Cemetary was open.
In the New Zealand section, with Monte Cassino in the background.
There were two other visitors to the cemetary, an elderly woman wearing a poppy and her son. It was Remembrance Day in the UK and they were there to lay a wreath on a British grave. The ring of poppies was marked with a poem and a note with one word: Dad. He was 28. She probably barely knew him.
Grandad Jack died when I was too young to talk to him about the war, though I have his medals and memories of playing darts in the garage with he and my father. Uncle Bill I met once, on a trip to the South Island with Dad. He shared some war stories with us. I remember one about a little Italian girl raped and murdered by some Algerians fighting with the Allies, and another about Bill taking a body out of a tank. The man had popped his head out the top and a shell had taken it clean off, the heat sealing the wound.
Bill is gone now too. In the cemetary, surrounded by the graves on a beautiful autumn day, I thought about Bill and Jack and the others who went to war. This entry is for them.
We were thinking about how to rank cities as places to visit. For us, it comes down to five things.
1. Coolness of sights
St Peters. The Vatican Museum. The Forum. The Pantheon. Some of the most amazing buildings, ruins and museums in the world are here. Including this little feat of engineering:
2. Range and number of things to do and see
After two years in London, in which we saw something every weekend we were in the city, there's still a few things I've not seen that I'd like to. Rome's like that. There are more wonderful churches and fountains than you can shake a stick at, and you can't walk without falling over a Roman ruin. Our Western Europe Lonely Planet doesn't even mention the huge city walls, or the aqueducts running through and far beyond the city, or the extraordinary Theatre of Marcellus. These would be among the must-see sights of most cities.
That X factor. The vibe, the feeling in the air, the people. Glasgow on a Saturday night, Paris in the spring. Rome, with its piazzas, rust-red apartments and gelataries, has atmosphere in spades. It´s a mix of chic, chaotic, historic and modern.
Boring but important. Rome´s public transport is only okay, but the beauty of the city is that almost all of the major sights are in a very walkable area from Piazza del Populo in the north, to the Vatican City in the west, to Termini in the east, to the Circus Maximus in the south. Pretty much the only time we left this was to see some fascinating catacombs just south of the city where the early Christians secretly buried their dead.
Saturday, 31 October 2009
Saturday, 24 October 2009
Maybe the reputation was deserved back in the '80s, when the only good thing about the city was the all-conquering football team. But not now. Liverpool was European Capital of Culture last year, it's had some serious money poured into making it look good.
Liverpool's not just famous for the port and football though. There's the small matter of a mop-topped band who had a few hits back in the '60s.
So the next time someone tells you Liverpool is rubbish - don't believe them. Any city that's been home to Gerry and the Pacemakers, Fernando Torres and John Lennon is definitely worth a day trip.