A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: TheNomadWay.com

Kathmandu & Bhaktapur, Nepal

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We had dreamt of exploring Nepal for years, so it was pretty surreal when our adventure was about to begin. From the moment we landed, Kathmandu's unique energy enveloped us. It was an unforgettable journey through its ancient history, vibrant culture, and breathtaking landscapes.

As we wandered through the bustling streets of Kathmandu, the locals greeted us with warm smiles and genuine hospitality. The city's vibrant culture was apparent in every nook and cranny. The blend of ancient traditions with modern influences was fascinating, and it was great to immerse ourselves into their culture.

Temples that Whisper Ancient Stories

One of our first stops was Durbar Square, which is full of history with intricately carved temples, pagodas, and courtyards. The architecture and artistry that went into creating them was very impressive. We were also lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the living goddess, Kumari, peering through a window of the Kumari Ghar. Kumaris are living Goddesses of Nepal. They are believed to be the reincarnation of Hindu Goddess Durga or Goddess Taleju.

The Buddha Stupa, a massive dome-topped Buddhist temple was great to see, as was the Pashupatinath Temple, which is one of the largest temples in the world. The Pashupatinath Temple was classified as a World Heritage Site in 1979 and is a sprawling collection of temples, ashrams, images and inscriptions that have been created over the centuries along the banks of the sacred Bagmati river. It is built on an area of 246 hectares and includes 518 mini-temples.

Swayambhunath - A Peaceful Abode

The climb to Swayambhunath, the "Monkey Temple," was an adventure in itself. As we ascended the steep steps, we were accompanied by mischievous monkeys leaping from tree to tree. The views at the top of Kathmandu were impressive, as was checking out the golden stupa against the backdrop of the Himalayas.

Thamel - A Shopper's Paradise

Thamel is a shopping district, with a vibrant atmosphere and colourful shops. We explored the narrow alleys filled with handicrafts, souvenirs, and exquisite artworks. Bargaining is part of the game, which we left for others!

A Gastronomic Delight

Nepalese cuisine offers a whole mix of options. We savoured momos with dips, had loads of the traditional dal bhat, and enjoyed trying the local Newari dishes. The blend of spices and fresh ingredients were totally unique. We couldn't seem to get enough kati rolls, momo's and the local lassi.

Mountain Biking Adventure to Nagarkot

We decided to take a day trip mountain biking to Nagarkot, a hill station located just 25 kilometres from Kathmandu. The scenic journey took us through picturesque countryside and charming rural villages, giving us a glimpse of authentic Nepalese life outside the city.

As we ascended the winding trails through the pine forest, there were a bunch of panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and terraced farmlands. The journey was great fun and also challenging(!) (some trails were more extreme than we anticipated).

We had lunch in Nagarkot which is perched at an altitude of 2,175 meters, with views of the Himalayas in the distance. After some delicious dal baht for lunch, we tackled some more trails before heading back to Kathmandu.

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Bhaktapur - An Ancient Living Museum

After exploring Kathmandu, we spent a few days in Bhaktapur, a captivating city located about 13 kilometres east of the capital. Bhaktapur is known for its well-preserved medieval architecture and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We wandered through the narrow cobblestone streets, taking in the city's well-preserved palaces, courtyards, and temples. The 55-Window Palace, Vatsala Temple, and Nyatapola Temple were just a few of the stunning buildings we checked out.

One of the highlights was Bhaktapur's Durbar Square, an open museum of intricate wood carvings and historic monuments. The square has a vibrant atmosphere during the day and well into the night. Bhaktapur is not only rich in architecture but also boasts a vibrant Newari culture. We had the opportunity to witness traditional Newari dance performances and tasted some of the local cuisine. The famous "juju dhau" (Nepali yogurt) was delicious.

Namobuddha Monastery, Khopasi & Balthali

We took a day trip to Namobuddha Monastery, Khopasi, and Balthali. A short drive from Bhaktapur led us to the sacred site of Namobuddha, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Nepal.

The legend surrounding Namobuddha tells the story of a compassionate prince who encountered a starving tigress and her cubs. He offered his own flesh to feed them, displaying the ultimate act of selflessness, which is believed to have led to his rebirth as Lord Buddha.

Namobuddha Monastery was peaceful and is surrounded by colourful prayer flags. We were lucky enough to spend time inside as the monks chanted. It's also perched on a mountain, so there were some great views.

Leaving Namobuddha, we continued our day trip to the quaint village of Khopasi and the picturesque hill station of Balthali. These off-the-beaten-path destinations offered a unique opportunity to experience the unhurried pace of rural life in Nepal. The traditional Newari houses and terraced fields in Khopasi showed the simplicity and authenticity of rural living.

Balthali, on the other hand, had stunning views of the surrounding landscapes. Verdant hills, lush forests, and meandering rivers. We enjoyed a traditional Nepali lunch and checked out a nearby swing bridge and returned to Bhaktapur.

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Our journey to Kathmandu and Bhaktapur was an amazing experience and a great way to complement our trek. From the temples of Kathmandu, the mountain biking in Nagarkot and the time-travel-like exploration of Bhaktapur, not to mention the landscapes, Nepal offered us a bunch of unforgettable moments.

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 00:00 Archived in Nepal Comments (0)

Everest Base Camp & Gokyo, Nepal

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Exploring the Himalaya's is one of the most unique and surreal experiences you can do anywhere in the world. It involves trekking through some of the most stunning natural landscapes, pushing your limits, and immersing yourself in the unique culture of the Sherpa people. It's an adventure that will literally take your breath away!

We combined the trek to Everest Base Camp with the relatively unexplored wonders of the Gokyo Valley via the Cho La Pass, ending with an incredible helicopter flight.

Day 1: Fly to Lukla (2,860m/9,383ft) then Trek to Phakding (2,610m/8,563ft)

The journey began in Kathmandu where we explored the city, and gathered all the gear for the trip. A 5 hour, 2:00am bus to Ramechhap Airport was an adventure in itself and was the gateway to flying into what is regarded by many as the most dangerous airport in the world at Lukla.

Lukla Airport, also known as Tenzing-Hillary Airport, is considered dangerous due to its challenging terrain, including a short and inclined runway in the Himalayas, unpredictable weather with low visibility and strong winds, limited instrumentation, high altitude, and a challenging approach through narrow valleys. The airport's remote location and lack of emergency landing options further add to its risks. Despite these dangers, Lukla Airport remains a crucial gateway for trekkers and climbers heading to the Everest region.

The flight to Lukla was spectacular, allowing us to get a clear perspective of the un-matched scale of the Himalayas, before the trek started. After landing in Lukla, we ate some lunch and discussed the trip ahead with our friendly guide Surya and porter, Kedar. They had a wealth of experience and navigated us throughout the journey with some intriguing stories of the region.

After briefly exploring Lukla, we began the trek, stepping into the heart of the Khumbu region, also known as the “land of the Sherpas.” From Lukla, we began trekking towards the Cheplung Village, from where we had a clear view of Mount Khumbila. The trail wound its way along the Dudh Koshi River through green forests and across charming suspension bridges to the village of Phakding, a picturesque village with delightful views of distant snow-capped peaks. It's a relatively tame start in terms of the altitude and physical requirements meaning we could just soak in the beauty of the area.

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Day 2-3: Phakding (2,610m/8,563ft)- Namche Bazaar (3,441m/11,286ft) and Acclimatization

We continued our trek, crossing the famous Hillary Suspension Bridge and entering the Sagarmatha National Park. As we gained elevation, the air became crisper, and the landscape transitioned into dense rhododendron and pine forests. The park is riddled with Blue Pine, Birch and Juniper Berries that are home to many endangered species of animals like Himalayan Tahrs, Langur Monkeys, the Musk deer, and Himalayan Black Bears.

We passed through several small villages including Jorsale and Monjo to the vibrant Sherpa town of Namche Bazaar welcomed us with its colourful markets, prayer flags, and stunning views of Everest, Ama Dablam, and Thamserku. Taking a day to acclimatize in Namche was essential for our successful journey ahead. We explored the town, visited the Sherpa Museum, and hiked to the Everest View Hotel (the highest in the world) for spectacular panoramic vistas of Mt Everest and other Khumbu Mountains.

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Day 4: Namche Bazaar (3,441m/11,286ft) - Tengboche (3,870m/12,694ft)

Leaving Namche behind, we trekked towards Tengboche, which firstly opens out towards the Dudh Kosi Valley at the settlement of Phungki Thanka. From the settlement, the views of Mount Everest were spectacular. The trail marches along the right side of the Dudh Koshi River, surrounded by tall hills covered in rhododendron trees, and upwards to the village of Tengboche, home to the famed Tengboche Monastery, stood majestically against the backdrop of Ama Dablam. The Tengboche Monastery is regarded as the spiritual hub of the Khumbu region by Buddhists and is surrounded by forests that are inhabited by Impeyan Pheasants and eagles. The monastery is a hamlet from where amazing views are possible of Mount Ama Dablam, Mount Everest, and other peaks.

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Day 5: Tengboche (3,870m/12,694ft) - Dingboche (4,360m/14,300ft)

After an early start, we made our way towards Dingboche, where the landscape undergoes a captivating transformation. The trail crossed the Imja River via a suspension bridge, meandering through lush rhododendron forests, quaint Sherpa settlements such as Pangboche, and by terraced fields, offering insights into the local way of life.

The soaring peaks and cascading waterfalls provide a dramatic backdrop to this Himalayan paradise. We arrived at Dingboche, also known as the "Summer Valley." Surrounded by fields of barley and potatoes. It's a charming village with a captivating contrast to the rugged terrain surrounding it. The view of Ama Dablam from Dingboche is mesmerizing, making it a perfect spot to relax, rejuvenate, and appreciate the stunning beauty of the Himalayas.

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Day 6: Acclimatization Day in Dingboche (4,360m/14,300ft) & Hike to Nagarjuna Peak (5100 meters/167324ft)

Another day of acclimatization in Dingboche allowed us to explore further and experience the local culture. We hiked to Nagarjun Hill and marvelled at the panoramic Himalayan vista over the Chhukung valley. We anticipated that acclimatization days would be somewhat restful, however it was quite the opposite! The 5,100m altitude was a real test, making it challenging to breathe and lead to a pretty severe headache the next day.

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Day 7: Dingboche (4,360m/14,300ft) - Lobuche (4,940m/16,207ft)

After fuelling up on oats and eggs, we set off towards Lobuche, where the landscape became more rugged, barren and dramatic. We stopped for lunch at Pheriche at 4210 meters and continued on to Chupki Lhara, a rock-strewn oblique from where we had a 360-degree view of the Everest Himalaya. From there we followed the trail down towards the stunning Khumbu Glacier moraine.

Thanks to the stunning weather, we were able to enjoy views of massive mountain peaks such as Khumbutse, the Mahalangur Himal, Lingtren and the Pumori, which were all visible from the moraine. Mount Nuptse was also visible once we passed the glacier. A challenging yet stunning day, we reached Lobuche which is based at an altitude of 4,940.

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Day 8: Lobuche (4,940m/16,207ft) - Everest Base Camp (5,364m/17,594ft) - Gorak Shep (5,164 metres (16,942 ft)

The highlight of our trek had finally arrived. We embarked on an even more challenging trek to Gorak Shep, a tranquil village dotted with some lodges, and the last settlement before Everest Base Camp which sits an altitude of 5,164m. Gorak Shep is a frozen lakebed covered with sand and surrounded by the Everest Mountains.

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Upon reaching Gorak Shep, we continued our ascent alongside the mighty Khumbu Glacier to the legendary Everest Base Camp. With prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and the sheer presence of the mighty Everest made this moment truly unforgettable. Standing at the base camp, we felt a deep sense of admiration for the courageous climbers who venture forth to conquer the world's highest peak. A moment we'll never forget.

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Day 9: Gorak Shep (5,164 metres (16,942 ft) - Dzongla (4,830 metres (15,850 ft)
Sleeping at 5,164 metres was a challenge! Dipping below -10c degrees whilst sleeping meant our water bladders froze, the bucket of water for the toilet froze and we almost froze! Despite low appetites and splitting headaches, we pushed on, taking comfort in the fact that each night from now would be at a lower altitude.

With our backpacks loaded, we left Gorak Shep behind and trekked towards the enchanting Gokyo Valley, a hidden gem of the Khumbu region. The trail led us through rugged terrain, glacial moraines, icy streams and serene high-altitude lakes, each step bringing us closer to the elusive Dzongla. We traversed primarily rocky paths while being enveloped by the tranquillity of the Himalayan wilderness. A much quieter trail, the silence is almost deafening, broken only by the occasional sound of our footsteps and the distant echoes of avalanches from the towering peaks nearby.

The small village of Dzongla is nestled in a valley, surrounded by towering peaks with a peaceful ambiance. Another breathtaking day, followed by some well-earned hot ginger tea and sherpa stew to re-energize.

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Day 10: Dzongla (4,830 metres (15,850 ft) - Dragnak/Thangnak Via Cho La Pass (5,420 meters (17,782 feet)
After un-freezing our water bladders once more, we set-off on one of the most challenging days yet, tackling the Cho La Pass. The trail ascended through rocky terrain, gradually gaining in altitude. Cho La Pass is one of the most extreme mountain passes in the region reaching an elevation of 5,420 meters and requires navigating on a glacier. It stands as a gateway between the Gokyo Valley and the Everest Base Camp region.

The ascent was steep, however the conditions were great and the effort was well worth it! The sweeping panoramas of glacial lakes, hanging glaciers, and the mesmerizing Khumbu Icefall in the distance were gob-smacking. From there, it was a gradual descent all the way down to Thanga where we were quick to get some rest.

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Day 11: Dragnak/Thangna (4790m/15710ft) - Gokyo (4,750 m, 15,583 ft) & Gokyo Ri (5,357 m (17,575 ft)
From Dragnak, we climbed again and crossed we cross the Ngozumpa Glacier, the second largest glacier in the Himalayas measuring 36 kilometres in length. The trail across the glacier is revised seasonally due to its constant movement. After climbing off the glacier, we reached Gokyo and were greeted by the mesmerizing sight of the Gokyo Lakes. Their turquoise waters reflect the surrounding Himalayan giants and are stunning. The Gokyo village stands by the third lake (out of the 6) and Mount Cho-Oyu – the 6th highest mountain in the world. The lake is one of the most dramatic backdrops of the entire trip.

After lunch, we will explored the village and then set out to climb Gokyo Ri. Climbing in the afternoon allowed us to view the sunset over what is regarded by many as the best view in the Himalayas. The panoramic view is a perfect vantage point to witness the 4 tallest mountains of the world. The view of Mount Everest, Mount Cho Oyu, Mount Makalu, and other peaks was simply breathtaking. We returned to Goyko in the dark with head torches, devouring a local meal before resting our sore bodies!

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Day 12: Gokyo (4,750 m, 15,583 ft) - Lukla Via Helicopter (2,860m/9,383ft)
We had mixed feelings on our last day in the Himalayas. We were physically drained from the trip and were looking forward to creature comforts, however we also felt that our bodies had adapted to the altitude and were ready for more. Plus like any adventure, knowing that we may not get back to such a stunning part of the world again meant there was a hint of sadness.

We spent the morning exploring the village and also explored Gokyo Lake #4 - before yet another highlight of the trip... returning to Lukla in a helicopter that provided a bird's-eye view of the Himalayan landscape. It gave us a unique perspective on the majestic peaks and the vast wilderness below of the area we had been exploring. The descent allowed us to reflect on our journey and savour the final moments amidst the Himalayan splendour.

Day 13: Lukla (2,860m/9,383ft) - Kathmandu
With heavy heart, we said goodbye to Lukla and took a 30-minute flight back to Kathmandu, marking the end of the trekking journey. We had yet another stunning day, allowing is to Indulge in the Himalayan views on the flight one last time.

We landed in the Kathmandu airport, made our way to our accommodation and treated ourselves to a delicious meal before a few days of rest! The journey back provided a contrasting perspective, from the remote mountains to the bustling city. Back in Kathmandu, we reminisced about our incredible adventure and the bonds we had formed with other trekkers and our trekking crew.

The trek offered a perfect blend of adventure, natural beauty, and cultural exploration. It was an experience that will stay with us long after we return home, a journey that transcended the ordinary and provided us with extraordinary memories.

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 03:10 Archived in Nepal Tagged everest nepal base_camp lukla namche everest_base_camp gokyo Comments (0)

Paro & Thimpu, Bhutan

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Located in the Himalayas between Tibet and India, Bhutan has always been a destination on the bucket list. It's home to pristine scenery, that is naturally preserved as part of a harmonious society. There's a true sense of culture and tradition that binds the whole kingdom and clearly distinguishes it from the hustle and bustle of many other countries. Bhutan is the only Vajrayana Buddhist nation in the world and has been called "The Last Shangrila".

It certainly hasn't always been a tourist mecca. It first opened its borders to tourists in 1974 with a "high value, low volume" tourism policy. Then when the pandemic hit, Bhutan closed its borders to travellers until 23 September 2022. We timed our trip well, visiting in October 2022. The high value, low volume policy remains with restrictions on the way you travel. You must have a visa, a booked trip with a guide and predefined itinerary, and pay the mandatory daily "sustainable development fee" of US$200 per day.

With that setup, it meant arriving to an airport that was calm, clean and quiet. There was no frantic tempo that's associated with many other international airports. The countries reputation a peaceful haven was apparent immediately!

We were greeted by our guide Dashi and driver Khandu - two of the friendliest people you'll meet and set off from Paro to Thimpu. The fee you pay covers transport, meals and accommodation, so withdrawing local currency isn't really needed.

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We dropped our gear at the very nice Hotel Admohara and enjoyed a local buffet lunch, followed by - exploring:

  • National Memorial Chhorten
  • The impressive Buddha Dordenma, which coincidently had thousands of monks taking part in an annual pilgrimage.
  • A brand-new riverside market called Kaja Throm, with a huge range of organic fruit and vegetables.
  • Tashichho Dzong, a stunning Buddhist monastery and fortress.
  • The streets of Thimpu which is the only national capital city in the world to not have any traffic lights.

A highlight of the trip was the hike to Tigers Nest Monastery, also known as Paro Takstang. It's a sacred Vajrayana Himalayan Buddhist site located north of Paro, precariously perched on a cliff, 900 meters off of the ground. It is stunning in its beauty and location.

The only way to get there, is to hike, which adds to the experience, as you wind your way through the beautiful forest, over a waterfall and with endless views. The trail to monastery is a wide, dirt trail. It is uphill the entire way but not overly steep. It’s very doable for most people, just take your time and drink plenty of water to help you adjust to the altitude.

  • Distance: 6.4 km (4 miles) round trip
  • Altitude Gain: 520 meters (1,700 feet)
  • Highest Elevation Point: 3,120 meters (10,232 feet)
  • Time: 5 to 7 hours for the entire visit (including a couple of breaks for a hot drink and then lunch at the Taktsang Cafeteria, which is roughly halfway.

It was ideal for us, as a preparation hike before we go to the Himalayas in Nepal.

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Following the hike, we checked out the Tshering Farmhouse, which gave us an insight into local living, as well as a soothing stone bath and a local meal! A short, but very sweet and memorable trip.

Posted by TheNomadWay.com 07:24 Archived in Bhutan Comments (0)

Paris, France

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The final stop on this trip was Paris. A city I haven't explored for many years however it left me gobsmacked again! It's jammed packed with tourists for good reason, it's one of Europe's gems.

You could spend weeks here and hardly scratch the surface. I was fortunate to also catch up with some Parisian friends that we'd met in Canada. We enjoyed some great food and drinks and it also just so happened to be Bastille Day, the national day of France.

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Be sure to check out:

  • Eiffel Tower - Is this the most famous man-made structure in the world?
  • Les Catacombes - A 3,000km network of tunnels that run under the city, containing the bones of six million people.
  • Palais Garnier - A 2,000-seat auditorium and the pinnacle of French opulence.
  • Parc des Buttes-Chaumont - A park with winding paths, waterfalls, temples and cliffs.
  • Arc de Triomphe - One of the world's best-known commemorative monuments.
  • Le Marais - Home to arguably the trendiest part of the city.
  • Galeries Lafayette - a jaw-dropping department store.
  • Sacré-Coeur - One of the most iconic monuments in Paris situated at the top of the Butte Montmarte. It has one of the best views of Paris.
  • The Louvre - One of the world’s largest museums with 35,000 works on public display.
  • Champs-Élysées - A world-famous boulevard and the most iconic shopping destination in Paris.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 17:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

Stuttgart, Germany

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The lure of the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums persuaded me to cross the border into Germany to Stuttgart, via Strasbourg.

Stuttgart's a nice city with a huge amount of development related to 'Stuttgart 21'. It's a rail and urban development that started in 2010 and is due to finish by 2025. I stayed with a great Airbnb host, north east of the city centre and explored the city by foot (despite the rain!). There are some great buildings and areas to explore including the Stuttgart Opera, the Old Castle, Schillerplatz and Mittlerer Schlossgarten and the stunning modern Public Library.

The Mercedes-Benz Museum and Porsche Museums didn't disappoint, with a huge array of information and cars to explore.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 17:00 Archived in Germany Comments (0)

Colmar, France

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When looking at the flight options out of Reykjavík, I decided to go with a direct flight to Saint Louis/Basel on the French border with Switzerland and Germany. It's lined up really well with the Tour de France, which was going through Colmar - a town further north and just an easy train trip away.

Colmar also happens to be one France's most beautiful villages. It's fairy tale like with colourful half-timbered medieval buildings, winding cobblestone streets and a canal. The first day was spent exploring the town and eating classic French croissants, baguettes and crepes!

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The Tour de France is another event I'd always wanted to experience and it didn't disappoint. It drew a huge crowd with loads of entertainment and as Colmar was at the end of the days stage, I was able to see the sprint to the finish. The next stage left Mulhouse the following day, so I decided to take the short train ride down from Colmar to see the start. Similarly, the town was buzzing!

I rented a bike after they left and rode to some of the surrounding idyllic villages whilst checking out the local vineyards! Wettolsheim and then Eguisheim, were just stunning.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 17:00 Archived in France Comments (0)

Reykjavík - Ring Road, Iceland

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Iceland had been on the list of places to visit for years, so it was exciting the time had come!

It's worth spending some time preparing for a trip to Iceland. There are a few things you need to consider -

  • It's a relatively cheap place to get to, however expensive once you arrive.
  • If you plan to explore beyond the capital of Reykjavík, transport is limited and accommodation can be difficult to get (as the towns are small)
  • The weather can be extreme, so ensure you prepared to face the elements!

I planned to explore the country via the famous 'Ring Road' which circumnavigates right around the country. Camping wasn't really an option as I didn't have the gear so I pre-booked accommodation in hostels and rooms using Airbnb.

Just over 2 week was ideal, allowing enough time to enjoy Reykjavík as well as absorb the incredible variety of things the rest of the country has to offer. If you love nature, exploring Iceland is a must. It's primarily volcanic with active volcanoes, geysers and glaciers that have cut pathways through huge mountains. The air is clean, the landscape is surreal and it's not overcrowded like many other places are. There are literally thousands of waterfalls, warm rivers, black sand beaches and geothermal pools and more.

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I took a day trip from Reykjavík on the Golden Circly. It's one of the most popular day trips, which heads north east of the city and allows you to visit three of Iceland’s most popular attractions: the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park.

From there I rented a small car and loaded up the boot with food from one of their biggest no-frills supermarket chains called Bónus. I then headed ant-clockwise and followed the open road. Being summer meant the weather was generally pretty good and with all-night day light - I was in for an absolute treat.

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Be sure to check out:

  • Reykjavík - The capital of Iceland and where most if its residents live, there are great museums, shopping and a great 'cafe' vibe.
  • Reykjadalur Hot Spring - A scenic walk that leads to a warm 'river'. Take a dip anywhere along the river that suits the temperature you want and relax.
  • Seljalandsfoss - One of Iceland's best-known waterfalls, it's 65 meters tall and you can even walk behind it.
  • Reynisfjara Beach - A black sand beach on the South Coast with powerful waves and fascinating Reynisdrangar sea stacks.
  • Skaftafellsjökull - A stunning glacier tongue spurting off from Iceland's largest ice cap.
  • Jökulsárlón - A glacial lagoon with blue water and and floating icebergs. Keep an eye out for the friendly seals.
  • Seydisfjordur - A scenic small town known as the heart of culture, heritage and hospitality of East Iceland.
  • Mývatn - A stunning volcanic lake in the north of the country with Nature Baths, mountains, hot-springs and much more.
  • Hvitserkur - A fascinating 15m high basalt stack that has the appearance of a dragon who is drinking.
  • Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss - A 463m mountain and waterfall that is one of the most photographed spots in Iceland.
  • Hellissandur - Once an important fishing post, it's now classified as Iceland's home of street art.

A surreal and stunning country, unlike anywhere else on earth.

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Posted by TheNomadWay.com 17:00 Archived in Iceland Comments (0)

Cornwall, England

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A direct flight from Malta to Exeter was good time saver after thinking we'd have to get from a London airport. We'd been to Cornwall before however planned to go to areas we hadn't been before landing at a friends wedding in St Austell.

We picked up a car from the airport and drove through some of England finest scenery and villages. We drove to Port Isaac which is a small fishing village on the Atlantic coast of north Cornwall before winding our way down to England's surfing mecca - Newquay for the night. A cool place - and we fittingly ate some tasty pizza with a cider at The Stable right by famous Fistral Beach.

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We explored the town the next day and then toured through the picturesque St Ives which we loved right before getting swooped by aggressive sea gulls trying to eat our lunch!

Zennor was our next stop before we went on a walk from Kenidjack and down the Kenidjack Valley to the ocean. With family roots from this old mining area, it was great to experience. From St Just, we made our way to a nice Airbnb in Penzance before enjoying some local Chinese cuisine!

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The following day stared with a visit to the iconic point 'Lands End', which is the most westerly point of mainland England. St Michael's Mount was next which is a tidal island and civil parish that is linked to the town of Marazion by a man-made causeway of granite setts. The island is only passable between mid-tide and low water. A beautiful area with fish and chips, followed by tea and scones adding even more to the experience!

The wedding at St Austell, right by the water was idyllic - great times into the night.

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Silema, Valetta & St Paul's Bay, Malta

sunny 28 °C
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Malta got off to a rocky start at the airport - as my luggage didn't arrive! A first for me and according to the attendant in Malta, it's a regular occurrence on flights from Rome! It was great to catch up with Lucy with good times ahead.

Malta is a fascinating place to visit.It's small landmass however there's a huge variety of things to discover and it has immense historic significance. As it's located in the centre of the Mediterranean, the area has been fought over fiercely which has led to vast fortifications that need to be seen to be believed. That combined with rocky coastlines, limestone cliffs and golden beaches with crystal clear water, it's a wonderful place to explore.

We based ourselves in Gzira for the first few nights in an Airbnb - and used it as a base to explore Valletta, The Three Cities and we also did a day trip to Marsaxlokk, a fishing village in the islands south east. From there we walked to St Peter's Pool and Il-Kalanka Bay for a couple of swims and a picnic.

St Paul's bay was next allowing us to do easily do trips to other parts of the country. The island of Gozo has loads to explore, Pop Eye Village was quirky and fun, Mdina was beautiful and we relaxed on the beach at Golden Bay.

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Be sure to check out:

  • Valletta - A UNESCO World Heritage site, referred to as 'one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world'.
  • St John's Co-Cathedral - Malta's most impressive church, encrusted with rich ornamentation.
  • The Three Cities - A wonderful mix of buildings and fortresses, with an authentic insight into Maltese life, and without the crowds.
  • Ġgantija Temples - Large megalithic temples with 6m high walls, spanning over 40m and dating from 3600 to 3000 BC.
  • Mdina - One of Europe's finest examples of an ancient walled city with a mix of medieval and baroque architecture.
  • Marsaxlokk & St.Peter's Pool - An idyllic fishing village just a few kilometres walk from a stunning natural swimming pool.
  • Popeye Village - A purpose-built film set village that's now a fun park. A great place to spend the afternoon.
  • Golden Bay - one of the island's best large beaches, with golden sand and warm water.

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Alberobello - Bari, Italy

sunny 29 °C
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We reluctantly left Matera and drove on to another gem in the Puglia region - Alberobello.

It’s known for its trulli, whitewashed stone huts with conical roofs and has around 1,500 of them! It's akin to a Smurf village and wowed us yet again.

We stayed in an Airbnb for two nights which allowed us to wander through the streets and enjoy some great Italian food - pizza, pasta, ice-cream, taralli and calzone di cipolla and more.

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We also took a half day trip to Grotte di Castellana, a vast and complex area of underground caves that extend for a length of 3348 metres and reaches a depth of 122 metres. It's Italy's longest natural subterranean network with an incredible range of underground landscapes, and extraordinary stalactite and stalagmite formations.

From Alberobello, we drove to Bari via some other Italian coastal gems - the towns of Monopoli and Polignano a Mare.

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Matera, Italy

sunny 31 °C
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Matera is not the stereotypical destination to check out in Italy, however it was a highlight of our trip. Not only is it visually stunning, with a fascinating maze of streets and laneways, on a hillside right by a massive gorge, it's also said to be the world's third-longest continuously inhabited human settlement. The first inhabitants were here some 7,000 years ago living in natural caves in the tufa limestone

This year the UNESCO World Heritage Site was awarded the title of the 'European Capital of Culture 2019' and is quickly becoming one of the country's most singular tourist destinations. It's a city that makes you feel like you've been transported back in time and offers so much to travellers.

We explored the town on foot and ate some delicious food at Trattoria del Caveoso.

Be sure to check out:

  • Palombaro Lungo - A giant cistern lying under the city's main square with arches carved out of the existing rock, it is huge and was still supplying water to the city within living memory.
  • Casa Noha & Casa-Grotta di Vico Solitario - A glimpse into the how life used to be in Matera. The house within the cave has a bed in the middle, a loom, a room for manure and an area for a donkey and a pig.
  • Cathedral - A stunning 13th-century Pugliese-Romanesque cathedral set up high.
  • Museo della Scultura Contemporanea - Italian sculpture from the late 19th century to the present day with examples of graphic art, jewellery and ceramics.
  • Chiesa di Madonna delle Virtù - This monastic complex from the 10th century is one of the most important monuments in Matera with dozens of chambers carved into the limestone.
  • Chiesa San Pietro Barisano - From the 12th century, St Peter's is Matera's largest rupestrian churches.
  • Matera Gravina - Take the trip across the gorge and explore more caves as well as getting a great view back over Matera itself.

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Pompeii, Italy

sunny 28 °C
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Pompeii is home to one of Europe's most fascinating archaeological sites. The ancient Italian city, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was buried under 4 to 6 m of volcanic ash and pumice in AD 79 following the giant volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius which towers beside it.

Now largely excavated, it has revealed a preserved city showing a unique snapshot of Roman life, frozen at the moment it was buried. Roads, buildings, paintings, as well as entombed wooden objects and human bodies are on display. It's one of the most popular tourist attractions in Italy and fascinated us for hours as we explored the vast area.

The following day, we drove up to the volcano that caused the destruction - Mount Vesuvius. You drive part the way up, get a shuttle bus to a second point and then climb the rest of the way right to the crater. The views across Pompeii, Naples (which is Europe's most densely populated city), and the ocean is immense. As is the view into the crater itself which is steaming and a stark reminder of it's the destructive forces that lie deep inside.

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Cinque Terre, Italy

sunny 21 °C
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A change of pace was welcome as I caught back up with my travel buddies in Cinque Terre, one of Italy's most famous areas. It's based right on the Italian Riviera coastline with 5 centuries-old villages perched on rugged cliffs with rocky beaches. Each town has pastel coloured buildings, with vineyards, steep terraces and harbours filled with fishing boats. It's home to great seafood and the Liguria region’s famous sauce, pesto. It's a perfect place to hang out for 4 or 5 days as there are walking trails between each village with stunning sweeping views the entire way.

Prior to getting there, I met a doctor during the train trip who couldn't grasp why the region was so famous as 'there are dozens of other villages just like these, right across the Italian coastline'. Wow.

We based ourselves at Monterosso, the largest and northern most village as it was much easier to find accommodation. From there, we did day trips to each of the other villages - first to Venazza where we enjoyed pizza and pasta in the main square. It was a fair walk at 12km, and is the longest between each village however there are trains running between each village meaning you only have to walk one way.

Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore were also great as we indulged in the views, great food and stunning buildings. On the final day, we took a ferry to Porto Venere, which is further south allowing us to take in views of each village from a different perspective. Porto Venere was a great place to see in it's own right with eight-storey harbour front houses and sights such as:

  • Palmara - An island with towering cliffs, picturesque coves and rocky beaches.
  • Castello Doria - A 16th century castle perched up high.
  • Church of Saint Peter - A small church on a rocky point right by the ocean from 1198.

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Nice & Monaco

sunny 23 °C
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Time for a detour, towards one of the annual highlights on the global sporting calendar - the Monaco Formula 1 Grand Prix.

As an avid fan of Formula 1 and having never been to Monaco, this was a true highlight (plus the dates lined up conveniently!). Careful planning was necessary well in advance thanks to the exorbitant prices of not only tickets but accommodation. Anything under €1,200 per night for a bedroom in a flat via Airbnb was a good price!

The alternative? Nice, in France for less than €50 is possible if you book early. Again, Airbnb is the best bet as hostel prices skyrocket over the race weekend. Nice is actually ideal - it's only around 30 mins via train and has everything you need. Plus it's another beautiful city to explore.

I ended up booking grandstand qualifying tickets and a ticket to 'Stars'N'Bars Monaco' an American style sports bar that's based right next to the Paddock. They broadcast the race on loads of large screens and serve great meals that are relatively well priced.

This means you can get the full experience of the cars, crowd and lavish parties in the huge boats on the marina, for qualifying as well as loads of fun in a jam-packed bar on race day. Plus being right by the Paddock, I was able to see and meet some of the drivers. After dark on both days, the track lights up and has a festival atmosphere with live performances, dancing, drinking and more. The whole place just buzzes!

Monaco Is the second smallest country in the world (at just 200 hectares), however it's one of the most densely populated counties. It has a population of just over 38,000 and 32% of them are millionaires. It really is a haven for the wealthy thanks to a unique tax regime and draws in tourists from across the world.

Be sure to check out:

  • Casino de Monte Carlo - Monte Carlo’s legendary marble-and-gold casino is simply stunning.
  • Jardin Exotique - Home to the world’s largest succulent and cactus collection, there are a maze of paths and spectacular views of the principality.
  • Le Rocher - Walk around the original old town, with small, windy medieval lanes.
  • Palais Princier de Monaco - Built as a fortress, this palace is the private residence of the Grimaldi family.
  • Roseraie Princesse Grace - A collection of over 4000 rose bushes!
  • Cathédrale de Monaco - A stunning 1875 Romanesque-Byzantine cathedral.
  • Formula 1 Grand Prix - of course!

After a fun-filled long weekend, I caught the train back into Italy to Genoa and south to explore Cinque Terre.

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Dolomites, Italy

semi-overcast 10 °C
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We said our goodbyes to Venice and despite wanting to stay longer, we were excited about the drive ahead of us and the mighty Dolomite's that await.

With so much to explore, and limited time we picked a few places to visit and were blown away by the whole region as we drove north. We stopped for lunch at Longarone and various towns along the way until we arrived at Cortina d'Ampezzo where we'd booked for 2 nights in an Airbnb. The property was great - a chalet, set on a hillside and not far from town.

We planned on hiking the 'Three Peaks' circuit, however as it was still coming out of winter, there was too much snow to do the full hike. Instead we drove to Lake Antorno and hiked up to a Refugio called Refugio Auronzo. It was slow going in the snow, however still offered an incredible view. It would have been even better if there was an option to stay overnight!

After a couple of nights we set off, stopping at Giau Pass for a tasty coffee and a brief walk to admire the spectacular view. It seemed to only get better as we went on to reach Passo Pordoi, a mountain pass that stands at an altitude of 2,239m. This is situated between the Province of Trento and the Province of Belluno. To reach it there are as many as 28 hairpin bends! We jumped on a the cable car that took us up higher to 2,950m where we enjoyed 360 degree views, right across the region.

We stopped in to bunker down at San Pietro in another Airbnb. This town is home to one of the Dolomite's most famous views - the Church of Saint John in Ranui, with the stunning mountain backdrop.

A huge day, followed by a well deserved meal at Hotel Kabis. Wow.

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