Paris

Paris; This city has absolutely everything you could want from a holiday destination; amazing food, gorgeous architecture, a rich history (dating back to the 3rd century BC) and an abundance of museums, churches and lavish gardens. Paris will always hold a special place in my heart and is a destination that I never get tired of visiting.

The best time to visit Paris is spring or the beginning of summer, the temperature is quite mild and the hordes of summer tourists from not only other parts of Europe but around the world will not yet have ascended on the city. However with a temperate climate all year round there is no wrong time to go, during the winter months the temperature rarely dips below freezing.

Currency: France uses the Euro and almost everywhere accepts card, however having some cash would be advised if you wanted to buy some small trinkets and keepsakes from the numerous stalls dotted around.

Where to stay: My favourite place to stay is the 8th and 9th Arr. here you are far enough removed from the numerous tourist traps of being in central Paris, while still being close enough to walk down to the Seine or alternatively catch the very easy to use and efficient metro.

What to see:

  • Eiffel Tower; the most visited paid tourist destination in the world, this stunning tower was built between 1887-89 for the world’s fair and has become one of the most recognizable symbols in the world. The panoramic views from the top are jaw dropping. The best time to go up is for sunset; however expect long queues and lots of people. But it is worth the jostling to get to see Paris transform from day to night. You can also find yourself a nice spot on the grass and have a picnic as the sun sets over the Eiffel tower, just be prepared to be hassled a few times by people selling selfie sticks.
  • Versailles; The sun kings palace is a 45min train ride from the center of Paris and leaves quite frequently every day (RER C line – but google maps will provide you with the most accurate timetable from your location) and is one of, if not the most impressive palace I have seen, with an estimated 2 Billion Euro being spent on the palace, furniture and the grounds during the reign of Louis XIV. The decadence is extraordinary with more gold and baroque than you can shake a baguette at; you can take your time wandering through the many palace rooms but will usually take around 2-3hours to do a complete circuit. The palace also boasts amazing and gardens and grounds which are the perfect place to relax for a b.y.o. picnic. Be warned though you are not permitted to take bags into the palace so any food you have make sure it’s in a cooler bag which you can leave at the coat room.
  • Louvre; the most visited museum in the world and originally a Palace to the French Royal family. The collection showcases artworks and objects of antiquity from across the globe including the famous Mona Lisa. If you are hoping to see the Mona Lisa try and arrive early to the Louvre heading straight to Mona as crowds can make it very difficult to get close the more the day wears on. Walking the corridors and rooms of a palace while admiring exquisite paintings, collections from Egypt, Greece and the Roman period along with many others is a surreal feeling. Be sure to grab a museum guide/map and don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes even if you won’t be covering every one of the 65,000 pieces of collection on display. While the Louvre is one of those experiences you feel like you have to tick off the bucket list, I would advise that unless you are a big art and/or history buff you could easily give this a miss as it will consume you’re whole day and if you are on a tight schedule it may not be the best cultural experience for you.
  • Arc de Triomphe; Built at the end of the famous high end fashion street the Champs-Elysees, this arc stands as a monument to the fallen soldiers of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars. It also houses a tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War 1 with the first eternal flame lit in Western and Eastern Europe for over 1500 years. It is also the central pivot point of one of the most insane round-a-bouts in the world, and how there aren’t continuous crashes I will never know. While the Arc is cool to take a look at the Champs can be very busy and extremely commercial so if you were looking for an authentic Parisian shopping experience you will not find it here, my advice would be to go see the Arc and take an awesome time-lapse of the crazy driving but then head over towards the district of Montmarte where there is an abundance of boutique shops and originally the home to the poor artists of the city in the late 19th century to early 20th century including the great Van Gogh.  The beautiful Basillica Sacre-Coeur is also located in this district and provides beautiful views of the city. Grab a macaroon at the bottom of the steps at one of the many boulangieries and make your way up the steps to the top. One street over on the top of the hill is a small square called Place du Tertre where the best street artists in Paris sit and for a reasonable fee you could get a hand drawn/painted picture within minutes, a beautiful souvenir to hang on your wall at home. Or if you weren’t keen on becoming a masterpiece yourself you can watch as others sit and get their portraits taken.
  • Notre-Dame; With the origins of this church being laid in 1163 and then continuing throughout the years, this church is one of the greatest examples of French Gothic Architecture. With gargoyles, crypts, a treasury and an incredibly rich interior, this is everything that resembles the wealth of the church in the medieval period. While in the area you can take a walk back down the Seine towards the Eiffel Tower along the way you’ll find some small stalls selling souvenirs and books which are super cute and fun to have a browse.

What to wear;

The girls; A Women’s Floral Print maxi was the daytime choice of garment.

The guys; A Calvin Klein white button up shirt with a pair of tan chinos was the style choice.

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Copenhagen

Copenhagen; the capital city of Denmark and the doorway to Scandinavia, this delightful city is located an 8 hour drive from Berlin and sits in a natural harbour. With Denmark always ranked as one of the happiest places to live in the world, its no surprise that Copenhagen is often rated as one of the best places to live. With happy people, this city is a buzz of chilled out cafes, harbour side restaurants and a harmonious vibe.

The best time to visit would be in the summer months, here the days are long and while it can still be a bit chilly at night, typically a shirt and jeans will be enough to keep you warm.

The Danish have their own currency called Krones, however if you have a travel card that offers free conversions, almost every place has Eftpos and the need for cash is minimal.

Where to stay: Copenhagen has a decent public transport system, however if you stay close to the harbour in the neighborhoods of Kobenhaven K or Norrebro then all of the old town and monuments are within walking distance.

What to see:

  • The little mermaid; Hans Christian Anderson’s influence on the town is obvious, with numerous statues and plaques dedicated to the writer. However the most famous one would be the little mermaid statue. This small figure sits perched atop a rock, overlooking the harbour and is the most popular tourist stop in the city.
  • Tivoli; the second oldest amusement park in the world and a great way to spend the day. You will have to pay an entrance fee to get in, and then if you can decide if you want to get an unlimited ride pass or buy tokens for a pay as you go system. Typically if you are going to do more then three rides, it works out better to get the unlimited pass. With roller coasters, giant drops and a plane ride that does loops and spins at a crazy speed there is enough for the adrenaline junkie and with a host of different eateries and exhibits dotting the park, you can easily spend an entire day here.
  • Food markets; Located on the north east side of the harbour, an old meat packing factory has been transformed into an amazing food market. Here you can try pulled duck burgers, epic hotdogs, Brazilian BBQ and much, much more. If its a sunny day you can get your food and sit outside and watch ships cruise up and down the harbour.
  • Christiana; When the Danish army left an old barracks in Copenhagen, they didn’t think that squatters would take up permanent residency there. But 46 years on, this place has become famous the world over for its uniqueness. Here you will find no running water, power lines or cars. The area is grimy and as you get closer to the center, a large amount of stalls are set up, however you will not find you traditional brick-a-brac, instead marijuana and smoking paraphernalia are these merchants choice of wares. This is not a place for children and not a place that I would personally venture to at night. But it is certainly an interesting experience and dependent on your tastes, I can see how it would be thoroughly enjoyable.

 

What to wear:

For the guys; During the summer days a tee and some Levi slim fit jeans are enough to keep warm. However a good tin waterproof jacket such as the North Face Resolve Jacket will protect you from the wind and rain without over heating you.

For the girls; Long maxi dresses in a light colour or with floral designs like this Vivicastle design where the day time choice, and where also a popular option at night with a cardigan shawl or off the shoulder coat such as this Ilishop Women’s Knitted Cashmere Cardigans Sweater

 

Overall rating:

  • History – 5/10
  • Vibe – 9.5/10
  • Things to do – 7/10
  • How cheap – 3/10
  • Transportation – 8/10

Total Score – 6.5/10

The Conclusion; An amazing city, whose only downfall is the cost. This is not a cheap place to venture to, but if you are looking for a 3-5day getaway or stop on your European travels, and you enjoy chilled out locations, happy people and a beautiful harbour, this is certainly a place to check out.

The Black Forest

The first place that we camped in Europe was the beautiful German town of Freiburg. Located at the southern end of the black forest, it had everything a hiker would need, rolling hills, dense green forest and a myriad of walking trails just waiting to be explored.

We stayed at the “Camping Hirzberg” here the campsite accommodated tents and caravans and was a lovely mix of travelling campers and families on holidays. The campsite was a nice 15-20 minute walk along a running river from town, or a very short tram ride.

The campsite also had a wonderful outside dining brasserie attached to it that sold classic German food and delicious German beer at a very reasonable price.

But the main attraction of this campsite was its location, with the black forest directly behind us, and I mean directly behind us, to get to it we had to open a gate at the edge of the campsite and suddenly we were in the black forest.

So each morning we would wake up and either head west to ramble through the trails before arriving at freiburg or head east and walk for hours in the beautiful scenery. The paths where all well marked, with quite a few stops along the way for water breaks, lunch or even flushing toilets.

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A few people wandered the trails, mostly locals enjoying some daily exercise, but for the most part we had the forest to ourselves.

The hiking was so good that we decided to stay an extra day to really enjoy the landscapes.

Our final day in Freiburg saw us ride a cable car to the top of a ski section, from there we had stunning views of Germany and could even make out Switzerland in the background. The hking in this area was also fantastic, flat for reasonable stretches as well as giving you the classic Bavarian landscapes we had been chasing.

The Gear:

Camping at a campsite in Freiburg, we didn’t need to rely on any specialist gear, we instead just had the basic equipment that accompanied us on our adventures, these included the following.

Vango Banshee 300 – This tent is amazing value, super light at just over 1kg and with a waterproof rating of 5000. While it may say it is a three man tent however, if you want your gear to be inside and out of the rain it is  two person.

Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex – While I wore a different pair of boots for my journey around Europe, if I had the choice of what to wear during my time here, I would opt for the slightly mre ventilated Moabs. They still have the great vibram sole and ankle supprt of a mid cut shoe, but tend to be lighter then the full leather version and a little bit more flexible for summer walking.

 

The Original Marathon

The marathon originates from ancient Greece, when Pheidippides ran from the battleground of Marathon to the centre of Athens to tell them of their victorious battle over the Persians. Fast forward a few millennia and that same path is now home to the original marathon, first re run in the 1896 Olympics. 

For many the marathon has now become a bucketlist item, and the original has been on mine for a while.

Typically most marathon training plans span 4-6 months, mine was just four weeks.

My first run after returning from our travels was a 15k hit out, the legs felt better then expected and I was fairly happy with the time. The next run, a 10ker two days later proved more difficult. Here I developed a very large blister on the bridge of my foot that kept me out of action for a week as it slowly healed. 

My next run was a short 5k, however not long in to the run. The same burning sensation appeared and the blister returned with vengeance. This side lined me for another 10 days. Now only a week out, I got one final 10k run in. Finally my blister had healed and this one went smoothly. 

Total training distance logged: 40k

Marathon distance: 42.2k

This was no longer about aiming for a time, but aiming to finish the race.

We packed our bags and jetted off to Greece, the weather was kind for the entire time here and we enjoyed the sights and sounds of beautiful Athens.

Race day had arrived! I packed my things in to my little kit bag, walked to the center of Athens and caught one of the many transport buses to the starting line. Here we waited nervously for the start. A few nervous stretches, a couple of sips of water and a lot of anxious looks where common place.

Soon we huddled in the race gates and with rock music blaring, the sound of the gun went and we where off! The lead pack tore away as the rest of the field slowly moved towards the start, we eventually arrived at the start and off we shuffled.

The feeling of joy had surfaced, as I realised I was now living out a big dream of mine, the first 10k melted away as I maintained a very steady 6min/k pace. 

We passed small towns and villages who played rock music and cheered the runners on loudly. 15k in and I was feeling good as I kept up my fluids and sipped small amounts of Gatorade at each aid station. As I passed the halfway mark I looked down at watch and was cruising at 6min/k pace. Everything was going well, until the hill started.

Here, placed in front of the runners was a 15k stretch of uphill running. The gradient changed from a few degrees to 15 in places and the struggle soon became real. 

The lactic acid started to build in the quads, the calves slowly tightened and suddenly breathing started to be labourous.

Until the 25k mark I had not strayed from my pace, but the constant uphill started to win and I had to break my run and walk. What followed for the next 10k was a mixture of mostly running with walking thrown in. As the labouring continued, the walking stretches increased. Finally and mercifully however the highest point of the run was passed and the gentle rolling descent into the middle of Athens began. 

By the 35k mark I was in a real battle between wanting to curl up into the fetal position and the urge to finish the race. Water began to taste disgusting and the orange Gatorade I had been drinking now wanted to exit my body as it churned away with every stride. 

I pushed on with my mix of walking and running, the noise began to increase as the crowds grew as I edged closer to the finish line. 

I turned the final corner and suddenly the stadium came in to view. Rock music blared through speakers, and people yelled and cheered encouragement. I eventually crossed the finish line and was overcome with a sense of pride.

I had done it, with almost zero training and without much of a plan I had managed to complete a marathon. My time came in at 4:53:30 which I was very happy with.

I then struggled slowly to the exit, was greeted by my girlfriend and expressed in a few words how exhausted I was. Luckily it was only a small little walk back to our apartment. We wandered slowly back, grabbed some food and I collapsed in to bed with a mixture of pain, pride and a huge sense of accomplishment. 

The Gear;

Running is a simple sport, but having the correct footwear, clothing and nutrition can go a long way.

Brooks Transcend – These shoes combine the best of brooks running technology with a decent amount of arch support. I knew with the amount of hills in the marathon and with my running gait, that I would require a shoe with a high level of over pronation support while still being lite enough to not weigh me down. These fit the bill and then some. Springy responsive runners with enough cushoning to sooth those long downhill sections.

Bridgedale Men’s Cool Fusion Run Speed Trail Socks – I knew with my feet problems in the lead up to the run that I would need a slightly thicker then normal sock to combat my blister prone areas. These socks delivered that and some, incredibly soft and cushioned and still manage to not overheat the feet. Lovely socks to run in.

The Wimbledon Queue 

For many people, heading to Wimbledon to watch the tennis is a bucketlist item. But what a lot of people don’t know, is that they have seats available for the main four arenas which can be bought on the day. However getting these tickets, you have to do what the English do better then most, and that is to form a queue.

And that is where things get interesting, so popular are these tickets that one must camp there the night before in hopes of snapping up these tickets.

So one Friday afternoon, the girlfriend and I trundled along with our tent in hand and joined the famous queue.

Here thousands of people were setting up their tents, when it got even more British and began raining. Fortunately our tent can be assembled quickly and soon we where inside, sipping a cider and listening to people struggling to put up their own tents.

Fortunately the rain passed and we got to go for a wander around the Wimbledon grounds. We returned to our tent where a party atmosphere was developing, that was until stewards came around and informed everybody that their tents would have to be packed away by 5:45am.

We decided after that news, that getting some sleep might be useful. So we attempted to grab some shut eye. Then at around 4 in the morning, people who decided camping was too much effort started to arrive and form their own queue behind the tents. This meant that the wake up call was not needed as more and more people arrived for a day of tennis. We eventually packed up our belongings, stored them in the available spaces and once again went back to queuing.

Here we waited for quite a few hours before we finally started to shuffle in to the complex itself. We passed numerous coffee stands along the way, serving life saving liquid to all those who needed before we recieved our tickets and headed in to the arena.

After waiting another couple of hours, we finally took our seats at our chosen court and indulged in some terrific tennis. We even enjoyed some strawberries and cream with a glass of Pimms.

It was a fantastic experience, that I would recommend everyone to do.

Venice

The floating city of Venice sits in the north eastern part of Italy, and is renowned world wide for its beautiful canals.

The easiest way to access Venice is by Train. It delivers you directly to the heart of the floating town and has great public transport links. Try and book your tickets ahead of time, as they can get quite expensive if you’re only booking a couple of days in advance.

Upon arriving at the train station you are greeted with the main canal of Venice. Here ferries, private boats and even police and ambulance boats fly down the busy sections of water.

Venice is an amazing city to get lost in, the main street which follows the course of the main canal is always a busy mix of people and street vendors, but if you step in to an alley, suddenly the sounds of tourists are gone and you can embrace this wonderful city. Being in Italy, stunning food is never far away and fresh seafood, pastas and wines are all the rage.

In the main square of the town sits a large cathedral with shops and restaurants dotted either side. Pigeons fly around and will even perch themselves on your shoulders and arms if you approach them with food. The view from the square of the water is also wonderful.

Now if you get slightly bored of wondering around this city, you can always jump on a ferry to the island’s of Burano and Murano.

Murano famous for its glass making and shaping, of which you can watch glass masters do live demonstrations and enjoy their work of incredible skill and artistry.

Or the small fishing village of Burano, famous for its lace and brightly coloured houses that just dance in the summer sun

So take your time exploring this amazing seaside town, and at sunset grab yourself a beer or a cocktail at one of the many bars dotted near the canal. Grab a seat on the side of the canal and just enjoy this beautiful town.

The Cinque Terre

The Cinque Terre is 5 small towns built in to the cliffs and overlooking the Mediterranean. Stunning greenery surround the town’s who are connected by one tiny road, a single train network and most famously winding footpaths. 

Due to the height and steepness of the surrounding areas, terraces have been cut in to the side of the hills to create small farm lands that produce most notably wine. 

The most northerly and largest town of the Cinque Terre is Monterosso. Then as you move further south you reach the town’s of Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore.

During our stay here, we based ourselves at Riomaggiore. While the options of food was limited, the food itself was delectable. Fresh seafood and luscious cheeses where the best options (even better when combined on a pizza)

We also loved Riomaggiore as it was a smaller town then the others and had a wonderfully relaxed vibe. The night before our hike we took in a sunset from the small rock beach which was just amazing.

The following day we set out to hike the Cinque Terre. We took the train to Monterosso, grabbed a quick espresso and then journeyed out of the small town and up towards the cliff faces. 

The first part towards Vernazza is a somewhat difficult path, the hardest of the four if you are following the coastal route. And that is why we opted to do it first. 

Climbing higher and higher, we questioned how far until we had reached the top as the cliffs curve and obscure the view of the next ridge. But when you stopped to enjoy the view, the pain seemed to vanish instantly.

The stunning blues of the sea collided with greys and blacks of the cliffs and then seemed to melt into a forrest of dark greens.

We finally came in to view of the township of Vernazza and where met with this view

The township of Vernazza was lovely and we treated ourselves to another espresso before we pushed on towards Corniglia.

Again the winding coastal path twisted and turned around sumptuous lookouts and amazing farmland. The weather was beginning to look a bit dire and as we arrived at Corniglia the heavens opened. We sort refuge in a pizzeria and enjoyed a long lunch.

The rain continued to pour and eventually and we where informed that the coastal path from Corniglia to Manarola had been destroyed by a landslide. So we did the sensible hiking option and went high. Turning out of Corniglia we changed our course and started climbing, the rain continued to fall as we continued our ascent. It was tough work but once again, the views made it worthwhile. 

This was a tough bit of hiking, especially after already completing 15k. Our climb to the top of this was a 450m ascent, so please be aware of your own abilities before attempting this. 

Once we had arrived at the top amidst fields of wine grapes growing upon vines. The rain stopped and the sun began to come out for what turned in to a magical afternoon. We eventually started descending to Manarola and after arriving in to the small town chose the great hiking treat of gelato for a quick sugar hit. 

Once again we were treated to some bad news as the coastal path between Manarola and Riomaggiore had also succumbed to a landslide. So once again we headed high! Like the previous path, this was a little bit difficult in parts. But just like the rest of the trip, stunning views where present at every rest break.

Finally we turned in to the home stretch of Riomaggiore. The walking was over and we celebrated with a beer and some pizza. Our total distance covered was 31km with 1200m elevation gain.

It was an amazing day of hiking and if you are ever in the area head out there for a spot of walking. I wish we had spent more time in the area to explore the hill paths further up the mountain. 

A guide to Paris

Paris will also hold a special place in my heart, it was the first European city I visited and the sights and history of the city always manage to amaze me.

Accommodation: When staying in Paris, especially if you are somewhat budgeted. Be prepared to find your room to be smaller then expected. That being said, you can find some great places in the 9th district that provide everything you need while still being close to the heart of Paris (while still being affordable) you also get to embrace what it is to be Parisian as you are far enough removed from the main tourist areas to enjoy true local cuisine. The 9th has great transport links, but is also only a 20-30min walk from the river.

To do list: Honestly, I could probably spend countless days writing a to do list for Paris and I still won’t have covered it all. Instead I’ll name a top 10 that everyone should see at one point.

1: Eiffel Tower – Go at sunset if you can, beautiful views of Paris.

2: Arc de Triumph – be careful when crossing the road.

3: The Opera theatre – incredibly beautiful building. Pay the extra money to go inside.

4: Luxembourg Gardens – great place to unwind for an afternoon

5: Champs Elysees – Shop till you drop on this stunning boulevard.

6: The Louvre – Go at opening time to avoid the crowds and to see Mona Lisa with only a handful of other people in the room.

7: Notre-Dame – I have been told the hunchback isn’t real. Which disappointed me.

8: Sacre-cœur – Stunning white church with panoramic views of the city.

9: River cruise – A great way to see the city from a different perspective. If you go at night, you can also see the Eiffel Tower with its light show.

10: Versailles – technically not in Paris, but a quick train ride takes you to arguably the grandest palace in the world.

Food: You can spend a lot of money eating at expensive places in Paris. However the small restaurants and hole in the wall style places offer incredible cuisine. My suggestion would be to simply go for a walk at night near your accommodation. Follow the crowds and the noises until you find a restaurant street and then pick whichever style takes your fancy.

Breakfasts are a different matter. Should you require more then a croissant and an espresso, do a quick Google search of the area because otherwise you may be disappointed.

Like this post or feel like I have left something out? Discuss it in the comments section.

The Seven Sisters

The Seven Sisters – A wonderful cliff top hike located only 90 minutes away from London by train. 

The hike begins in the small town of Seaford, arriving by train you head south towards the ocean. Here brightly coloured beach huts dot the coast. 

From the beach, you turn your attention to the east. Here a large cliff juts out to the ocean, this marks the start of our hike. The path is well worn and obvious, so continue you march easterly as you climb up and over the first of the sisters. 

When you get to the top, enjoy the wonderful view and regather yourself, the next few kilometres are relatively easy as you descend on to another beach

After some steady walking across the pebbled beach, you are met with another steep ascent. You can however take your time and zig zag up the hill as there is a lot of space on the path. Once you have reached the top of the second cliff, you can embrace in the knowledge that the two hardest climbs are completed.

The up and down however does not stop, as the hills continue to come. Eventually you will come across the lighthouse. Hitting this marker lets you know that you have almost completed the walk.

From this point it is then a slow downhill descent to the city of Eastbourne, where a train running every half hour can return you to Victoria station in London.

This walk is not an easy one, it’s 22km long and the hill climbs are tough. However there are places to stop along the way for refreshments and lunch. 

It is however a stunningly beautiful walk, with white cliff faces, blue ocean and green meadows that provide a wonderful backdrop.